The spirits that move (some of) us

It’s that time of year…when everyone’s attention turns to spirits, haunts, apparitions, and manifestations. So this week I thought I’d get into the “spirit” myself and share some of the surprising science and eye-opening anecdotes I’ve uncovered related to the science of what’s called “paranormal” through my experiences in pathology and anthropology.

Stories of ghosts and haunts abound in all cultures throughout oral and written history.

But instead of being “paranormal,” my investigations with emotion researcher Michael Jawer uncovered evidence that there may be a genuine mind-body foundation for such mysterious perceptions.

In other words, some people may have a greater emotional sensitivity to “feeling” or “sensing” such phenomenon, which is based on normal variations in the way our brain processes emotions.

So let’s kick things off today with a quick story out of history to help set the stage…

Following is a passage from my book with Mike Jawer, The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion. It highlights the observations of some Washington “insiders” who made it IN but may appear to have never made it OUT…

Could dissociated body-mind energy play a role in the enigma of apparitions?

Ghost stories are as old as the hills, and cover the gamut from prince to pauper. Here is one I came across quite by accident. It is taken from a reminiscence by Christopher Buckley, a former speechwriter in the Reagan White House who now satirizes politics through his novels. Buckley relates that, in 1983, he had the privilege of dining with the president and two royal princesses visiting from abroad. Discussion at one point turned to the Prince of Wales Room, where, in 1865, a partial autopsy and embalming were performed on the martyred President Lincoln.

Buckley writes: “…Reagan turned to one of the princesses and remarked that his…spaniel, Rex, would begin barking furiously whenever he came into this room. There was no explaining it, Reagan said. Then he told about Lincoln and suddenly the president of the United States and the two princesses began swapping ghost stories and I was left openmouthed…”

Like many other history-laden buildings, the White House has long been rumored to be a haunted locale. Lincoln’s ghost has reportedly been sighted (and nebulously felt) often. While some may take issue with the worldview of President Reagan, no less a pragmatist than Harry Truman wrote to his wife, “I sit here in this old house, all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway. At 4 o’clock I was awakened by three distinct knocks on my bedroom door. No one there. Damned place is haunted, sure as shootin’!”

Over the years, Lincoln’s presence (or some type of presence, at any rate) has also been remarked on by residents ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt and Ladybird Johnson to presidential daughters Susan Ford and Maureen Reagan; as well as by notable guests such as Winston Churchill and Carl Sandburg. So, clearly, apparitions and other strange phenomena are not merely the province of the ignorant, the backward and the lame.

Mindful, perhaps, of this aspect of the building’s reputation, the White House marked Halloween 2003 by adding a page to its website featuring an interview with its longtime chief usher, Gary Walters, concerning some of the strange phenomena that staff members there have been privy to. In a video clip showing him to be entirely sincere (since taken down by the Obama administration), Walters gave a firsthand example:

“I was standing at the state floor….The [two] police officers and I felt a cool rush of air pass between us and then two doors that stand open closed by themselves. I have never seen these doors move before without someone specifically closing them by hand. It was quite remarkable.”

It is often said that ghosts represent the spirit of someone who still had something to do in this life, who had an unresolved purpose (or perhaps a lingering regret), and who is either unaware of being deceased or unwilling to depart from earthly existence. Such superstitions, I posit, are not far from the truth — but the truth lies in the biochemistry of the brain and the body, and in the emotional energy retained in our being. I will state my concept again: that the frozen energy of the stress reaction, combined with issues or preoccupations held in the brain, can generate the phenomena we know of as ghosts, poltergeists, and similar haunts.

While I realize this is all very “heady,” and may seem unbelievable…the science of energy and of emotions and how the brain and body are connected, provide a very feasible explanation for why some places are reportedly more “haunted” than others…and why some people can “sense it” while others can’t.

Ff you liked this story and would enjoy hearing more, you can order a copy of The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion.