I came to the subject of mediumship by studying the early literature of psychic research, which eventually convinced me that it was a real phenomenon. One thing puzzled me, though: the communicators never gave much idea of what being dead is actually like – what kind of existence it is. In fact they seemed to avoid the subject. For serious commentators that seems like a suspicious circumstance, and encourages alternative super-psi type explanations.
Later I discovered books that deal rather fully with the afterlife experience, such as Helen Greaves’s Testimony of Light, and Jane Sherwood’s Post-Mortem Journal. One that interested me particularly was by Neville Randall, which describes research done with the British direct voice medium Leslie Flint. The researchers asked the kind of questions any of us would naturally ask – how do you live, what do you do with your time, etc - and for once were rewarded with detailed and vivid answers.
So the reason the early literature contains so little on the subject is that researchers never bothered to ask about it! (Or perhaps they did, but were embarrassed to mention it in a serious scientific enquiry.) Oddly, that reticence seems to continue. Books by mediums focus mainly on offering evidence of having survived death to relatives and providing them with reassurance, which I still find a bit surprising. If mediums can chat to the dead on a one-to-one basis why don’t they satisfy our curiosity about what they experience? I wonder sometimes whether there’s a hangover of Christian thinking, that afterlife conditions are beyond conception and it’s blasphemous to try to understand it.
So I was interested to come across this book by Jeffrey Marks, a Seattle-based medium, called The Afterlife Interviews. It consists of Marks talking to his sitters’ deceased relatives, having posed questions that only they can answer.
This is the first of two volumes, and doesn’t necessarily add much to what we know, or think we know, about the afterlife state from the near-death experience and mediumship. We learn, for instance, that the dying process is effortless and painless; communication is telepathic; forms are flexible and self-created; there is no time as we experience it; the Life Review is about self-judgement not punishment; existence is stress-free, except for regrets about the previous life; advancement is about working out problems in relationships; and this is done in future lives, in which members of a group reincarnate together.
But the quotes are interesting nonetheless, and there really are a lot of them. I don’t think the author will mind if I reproduce a few of them here. (Marks is speaking to the sitter, quotes in italics are what he gets from the communicator).
On the process of dying:
He says he got down on his knees. The feeling he’s giving me... “I knew life was done here; I needed to prepare.” So getting down on his knees was his act of preparation – prayer... “Then I was approached by three people. Two of them were family members.” He claims one of them as a brother. The other is also a sibling, but he’s not giving me brother or sister, just that the other is also related. The third one is not somebody he knew, but who was referenced to be like an angel. They put a hand on his shoulder and said, “It’s okay, stand up, and the angel here, is here... It's okay, you’re going to be okay.”
Another on the same topic:
She’s making me feel like, “When I got done here with the Life Review thing, the holding ground was up a level, like in a temple.” So they took her up into this temple-setting, higher level, and she’s with multiple people and with lots of people... She says, “These are other people who have died around the same time I did, and who have just completed their Life Reviews. There is the place we’re being situated before moving on to the next place.” She’s saying, “We don’t know where we’re going out of here, just that we will be going somewhere. There’s this recognition inside of us that’s telling us we’re going someplace. We’re okay".
She says you’re standing there with this bunch of people... Some people are in a state of shock, due to the Life Review. Some people are actually socializing about what they experienced.
“What we all noticed was a ‘compelling’ inside of us that was going to lift us somewhere into wherever this new place was where we were at. We didn’t know where, but we knew that we could trust it; there was a feeling to it.” She says, “I was a little bit humbled...” humbled is the feeling... She’s making me feel like she talked to a few people there, but it wasn’t like socializing... it wasn’t a whole lot of talking, because she was still caught in the emotion of what she had just gone through...
There’s nothing in the environment that might cause worry and stress. But individuals can stress themselves:
She says there are some people who hold themselves very seriously in their development and journey ... that they will take themselves too seriously ... and in being that serious will develop an inner stress, which could be interpreted as an inner challenge. Aside from that, she says nobody is forcing you to do anything, nobody is telling you to do anything. "There isn’t a boss chewing on your ass." It’s all very much self-directed. She writes the world ‘self’ out in front of me. "Self-motivated and self-directed." It’s going to depend on the character of the individual as to inner challenges, stress, and issues. She says, "Yes, I have things that I’m working on, but I try not to let it get to a point where it brings my energy down or makes me concerned." She says, "I learned a lot from the Life Review, in terms of holding stress in the body."
There’s a particularly interesting section about perception of time, which they recognise is an illusion, but without really understanding how it works.
He says, "Our Time here on the Other Side is completely not relevant to your Time there. This is where the worlds disconnect." It’s like he pulls a second earth out and disconnects it and says this is where we really separate in terms of our atmosphere and environment. "Time doesn’t have meaning here, where you guys really drag things out."
"Time is a process that whittles down products of experience... Now we can consciously put ourselves in a moment-by-moment experience, but we accept it as an illusion."
But if past, present and future are all wrapped up in a simultaneous sort of being, how does that fit with past lives? There are several statements to the effect that one can look back and see the personalities one was in the past, but without wanting to associate with them.
He recognises them, but he does not socialise with them. It’s not because he’s afraid, it’s just because he doesn’t want to get caught up in the whole Time thing. He understands he is his own individual and these are just aspects of a greater portion of his being, but he still wants to move forward in expressing himself, who he is as an individual, and not let any of these others dictate to him... or ‘codify’ his possibilities.
There are consistent statements to the effect that relationships continue across different lives, in which everyone benefits.
He says, "Yes, I even chose those family members that did not like me and that I did not get along with. But at the time you make these choices, you understand the gains and the losses that are going to occur through the nature of the relationship." He says, "You do formulate the pattern and everything. You can go into... not necessarily liking it... but it is still your choice, because you understand what the parties are going to get out of it."
Another individual made a similar statement – that there are certain people in the family that you don’t necessarily like, but provide opportunities to grow – but added that there are others who are there to provide an opportunity to work out past problems.
There are some people in the family that really are not of your inner circle, but you have had dealings with in the past, so you are balancing out these relationships that you may have had prior that may have had issues, problems, things out of balance... inequality, inequality. He says, "When you go through the Life Review, and you understand your injustices to others, it is a natural reaction for you to want to repair that injustice with that person; and to do it in a much more meaningful way than to just say ‘I’m sorry.’ You want to make it a vital, physical, emotional, and spiritual connection of forgiveness. The only way you can do that ... is through engaging them through these processes." He’s making me feel like, "Yes, you could change that nature of the relationship in the spiritual realm, but some people come from the perspective of since they got messed up down on earth, that is where we need to correct it; that’s where the balance will come in; they have to have the balance in the same dynamic in the same areas. Some people will have these reincarnational experiences to provide these experiences to bring balance."
Marks himself seems thoughtful and perceptive, and shows a willingness to question the process. In the introduction he anticipated some of my concerns, in particular what confidence can we have that he’s not just imagining this stuff. He says in each case the interview proper only started when the communicator had answered all kinds of evidence-based questions, in order to establish his/her identity to the satisfaction of the sitter, and adds:
Every spirit has a unique feeling to them and along with that feeling comes nuances in personality, tone, and style of response. What I soon discovered was that these nuances found their way into the responses of the questions. What’s more, on several occasions, the deceased would forego answering a question until they had an opportunity to throw out another personal validation to reveal we were still ‘in sync’.
One rather curious detail is that he says that when he played back the recordings he picked up quite a few EVP (electric voice phenomena) comments, which were consistent with what he was receiving psychically and reporting to the sitter.
I started by thinking that I wasn’t really learning anything new. But cumulatively the book had an effect on me – it’s not just about facts, it’s about people like you and me giving a sense of lived experience in a recognisable contemporary way. The quotes are a lot funkier than what you find in the older books, where the presentation tends to be rather formal. Here one is left with a feeling of survival as a reality, and not just an abstract notion. So it's a sort of meditation on the subject.
This first volume sets the stage, Marks says, while volume 2, ‘goes deeper into the landscape, lifestyles of the deceased, and philosophical viewpoints on the nature of creation, God, etc.’ Since all kinds of new questions emerged while he was doing the interviews, he’s thinking of doing another round for a third volume. I shall look forward to seeing them, and I’ll be interested to know what other readers think.