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Elliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.
An Agnostic Skeptic with Mediumistic Abilities
My Reflections at a Mediumship Mastery Workshop
This past weekend I attended medium Steve Hermann's Mediumship Mastery workshop at a retreat center in Western Massachusetts . Steve invited me to attend his workshop as a guest participant and speaker, as he wanted me to honestly convey my impressions of the weekend to his students. Steve believes strongly that it is important for mediums-in-training to be aware of the perspectives and arguments of skeptics, and he actually wrote the forward to my book Life after Death: An Experiential Exploration with Mediums by an Agnostic Investigator . Actually Steve was one of the research mediums I worked with in my Ph.D. psychology dissertation, which is the basis of my book. But what I found very ironic is that nearly 3 years ago I experienced major disappointment in my actual personal experiential session with Steve during my dissertation research at Temple Heights Spiritualist Camp in Maine, which I fully wrote about in my dissertation/book. And yet Steve has been enthusiastically promoting my book, wrote the forward to it, and invited me to be a guest at his workshop. And the title of this essay—well this is how Steve recently described me on his facebook site, thanking me for my participation in his workshop and referring to me as an “agnostic skeptic with mediumistic abilities.” And here are my reflections and musings from having participated in Steve Hermann's Mediumship Mastery workshop this past weekend.
Friday Night Reflections
I like it here—very rustic and I'm feeling relaxed. Steve is great—very authentic and up-beat—and all the people are nice and I'm feeling comfortable with them. I chose to honestly convey my background from my dissertation research with Steve, and I'm glad
I chose to do so. I feel like both Steve and the group accept me for who I am, and like in my own unusual way I somehow belong here.
But as far as mediumship is concerned, I so far have the same basic feelings I experienced from my involvement with Steve at Temple Heights a few years ago. Tonight we shared about ourselves, meditated, and did a psychometry exercise (psychic sensing of objects). Steve put everything in the context of connecting with the spirit world, and I translate this to getting more in touch with ourselves. I must say that I did not experience anything tonight that gave me reason to believe in a spirit world. The meditation was guided by Steve, and some people got more into it than others. But I see this as nothing more (nor less) than people getting more deeply immersed in self-awareness. The psychometry exercise appeared to me to have had very little reinforcement from people of what the other person was picking up on them about, including in my own case—both as receiver and sender. It feels very clear to me that people are simply reading into the object whatever thoughts and feelings it brings up for them—as I did with the object I chose. I did not see any signs of psychic connections or spirit connections—what little reinforcement I saw could easily be explained by suggestibility, sensory cues, coincidence, and subjective validation .
But Steve puts everything in a spirit world context, and he obviously has “faith” in his beliefs. I see things very differently from Steve, and yet I feel a connection with Steve that I don't quite understand. Well my mind doesn't understand it, but perhaps a deeper part of me does? Steve has already hinted at me coming back to Temple Heights Spiritualist Camp this summer, and promoting my book there. I actually miss Temple Heights, and was picturing being back there in my meditation—but I don't believe in mediumship so it makes no sense for me to go back to Temple Heights—intellectually. But there is more to me than my mind—this much I agree with Steve about. I cannot imagine anyone who attends Spiritualist functions wanting to buy my book, as I am quite critical of mediumship as a genuine phenomenon. I still don't really understand why Steve has been so supportive and encouraging about my book—persuading me to make it into a book from my dissertation to begin with. But I suppose this is similar to how Steve persuaded me to read George Lawton's book in the 1930s about his experiences at Lily Dale Spiritualist Camp, as Lawton's reactions to mediumship were quite critical and similar to my own . And yet Steve thinks Lawton did great research and recommends Lawton's book to all his students. Oh well—enough musings for a Friday night. Lets see what the weekend brings.
Saturday Night Musings
A long day. And a good day. Somehow or other I have gotten in touch with myself on a deeper level than I ever pictured would happen at this mediumship workshop. The comfortable small group atmosphere, Steve's authentic and engaging facilitation, and the back-to-the-land communal atmosphere of the retreat center all contributed to helping me come back to myself in a way that I needed more than I realized. But what were the significant events today in my actual workshop that had particular impact on what is starting to feel like some kind of potential transformation for me?
Well the psychic drawing exercises didn't have much effect upon me, nor did the psychic sensing exercises. But Steve's receptivity to my morning philosophical question about how the spirit world goes along with evolution, and hearing myself answer my own question and the group being patient with me and attentive, this was meaningful to me.
It helped me gradually loosen the reigns on my analytical mind and let my deeper self start to emerge.
And my deeper self did start to emerge during our energy healing work, that was essentially Reiki healing , this afternoon. I have not done Reiki since my 3 year romantic involvement with a Reiki master ended, nearly 10 years ago. But the calm peaceful relaxing feelings I used to get from doing Reiki—both giving and receiving—returned to me this afternoon. Actually I now recall doing some similar energy work to Reiki at a retreat workshop about 5 years ago. But feeling myself return to this calm peaceful relaxed state resulted in me being receptive to Steve's subsequent advice that
I should start doing energy healing work again. Steve explained that engaging in healing of others is a good step to becoming attuned to the spirit world that mediums tap into. I still don't resonate with this spirit world, and I don't particularly believe in a non-material universal Reiki energy (see my Reiki essays in my Modern Religions book (cf. )). But I do know that whatever is going on in a Reiki healing session works for me—and perhaps this is all that is important right now.
What else had significant impact for me today at my workshop? Well hearing Steve talk about the alternative science afterlife researchers that I am very familiar with, some of whom he has actually worked with, was exciting to me, and made me realize that I miss doing my experiential afterlife research. I would like to connect up personally with these afterlife researchers. Who knows—perhaps my Life after Death book (cf. ) could be a vehicle for me in which to do so.
And then there was my short mediumship exercise this evening, which I'm not sure what to think about. I was able to picture a woman whom I had been romantically involved with many years ago, from the image my partner saw from me, but this was likely nothing more than the suggestibility subjective validation factor (cf. ) going on for me. It was hard for me coming up with an image for my partner, but somehow I focused on an image of a kindly and concerned slim elderly man with a goatee and thin white beard, and my partner said that I described exactly her former business partner, and she added that yesterday was the anniversary of his death and she had been recently thinking about him. Earlier this afternoon in the psychic sensing exercise I came up with the image of a well-dressed woman in a business suit who was losing the sense of her femininity, and one of the group participants said this described someone she knew very well.
I can see how mediums-in-training become full-fledged mediums from this kind of positive feedback. It is gratifying to hear, and it certainly would be nice to finally believe in an afterlife. But then the skeptic in me remembers how easy it is for people to let their suggestibility take over, and I must say that I think whatever I would have said, my mediumship exercise partner would likely have found a way to find personal meaning in it, especially as she easily gets images and believes completely in mediumship. In a similar way, I think Steve attributed far too much meaning when the woman who had my watch in yesterday's psychometry exercise said she got an image of Benjamin Franklin, as Steve said this was a connection to me because my last name is Benjamin. Old watches being connected to Benjamin Franklin is pretty standard—I see no reason to engage in a spirit world to explain this.
So when all is said and done, what are my conclusions from having participated in this mediumship workshop? Well I have learned that for whatever reason, participating in Reiki healing groups as well as experiential afterlife research, feels good to me. Actually more than good—it feels “spiritual.” I really don't understand much more than this right now, but somehow this mediumship workshop has awakened the dormant spiritual inclinations in me that motivated my life after death dissertation research to begin with. And for this I am thankful.
Mediumship Workshop Conclusions
I'm now back in Maine, as my Mediumship Mastery workshop ended yesterday. Sunday morning I experienced two more mediumship exercises with different partners, and to my mind the interpretation of suggestibility and subjective validation was most definitely the explanation for what took place in these exercises. I tried hard to stop my analytical mind (“analytical mind” is the phrase Steve frequently uses to describe my very active mind) and let my deeper self take over (following Steve's instructions) and somehow I found that I am able to come up with images and thoughts. But this to me is nothing more than the ability of any creative individual, and I do not see any justification for thinking that these are messages from the “spirit world.” Perhaps if there truly had been “detailed and accurate” information conveyed that could be objectively confirmed as true, this interpretation would hold more legitimacy to me. But I did not find any information conveyed by anyone in any of the mediumship exercises this weekend to deserve being called “detailed and accurate.” No—I have not moved any closer to believing in mediumship from my experiences at this Mediumship Mastery workshop.
But as I wrote in my Saturday night musings, I did move somewhere within my own self this weekend. It felt good and right to me being at the workshop, and selling all four Life after Death books that I brought with me was very self-affirming for me. I very much appreciated Steve for how friendly and supportive he was of me and my book, and it was his promotion and support that resulted in my book sales this weekend. Yes I may very well stay in contact with Steve and attend some of his Temple Heights sessions this summer. And I may very well start attending Reiki sharing groups again, as well as eventually start attending afterlife research conferences again.
My own afterlife research is experiential; i.e. it is autoethnographic research—where the experiences of the researcher are a significant part of the research . Steve thinks that I have real abilities to be a medium, as he frequently complimented me on how well I was doing with getting images from the “spirit world” that my partners resonated with. And I must admit that a part of me was flattered by Steve's complimenting me like this, but I also know that I do not believe it is true. I believe I was simply using my imagination to get these images, and that my partners were using the mechanism of subjective validation to connect to them. But then again Steve made much sense about mediums using healing energy, and his advice to me about doing healing energy work again resonated with me.
I'm still an agnostic, but I will agree to meet Steve half-way; i.e. to engage in the kind of activities that I got in touch with this weekend that I somehow miss doing—such as Reiki, and attending Spiritualist camp functions and afterlife research conferences. Perhaps I need to “raise my vibrations” in Steve's language, in order to connect to the “spirit world” if a spirit world truly exists. And then again perhaps the skeptics' interpretation of coincidence, sensory cues, suggestibility, and subjective validation is all that is going on here. My inclination is that the skeptics are right, but at this point I will open myself up to Steve's interpretation that there is an actual spirit world that survives death—but that I need to meditate and engage in healing energy work to connect up to it. Why? Because it feels “right” to my inner deeper self to engage in this kind of activity. And thus perhaps I will have more to say about all this at some future time.
1) See www.stevehermannmedium.com/mediumship-mastery-program
2) See Elliot Benjamin (2013). Life after Death: An Experiential Exploration with Mediums by an Agnostic Investigator. Natural Dimension Publications (available at www.lulu.com).
3) See R. T. Carroll (2008). Subjective Validation. The Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved from http://skeptic.com/subjectivevaluation.html
4) See George Lawton (1932). The Drama of Life after Death. A Study of the Spiritualist Religion. New York: Henry Holt & Co.
5) See my Reiki healing essays in my 2013 book Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Natural Dimension Publications (available at www.lulu.com).
6) See Carolyn Ellis (2009). Revision: Autoethnographic Reflections in Life and Work (Writing Lives). Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.