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A man who ‘sees dead people’ - in this case his grandfather - while listening to guided imagery for

14 Nov
A man who ‘sees dead people’ - in this case his grandfather - while listening to guided imagery for cancer, is startled, disturbed and puzzled by the experience and wants to know what to make of it...
Dear BR,

You know the trailer line from the Bruce Willis movie, The Sixth Sense - "I see dead people" ?? Well, I think I saw one too, and it’s freaking me out some, even though it was in essence a positive experience.

I was resting peacefully, listening to the guided imagery to Fight Cancer in a very pleasant state of mind (I have a slow-growing prostate cancer that is under good control) when I saw my grandfather, who is long gone, at the foot of my bed. I could actually smell the tobacco from the pipe he was smoking. He was smiling and nodding approvingly at me. These were both things he did often when he was alive. I was quite close to him as a boy and young man, when I went through some troublesome, hard times with my own parents. I am now a grandfather myself.

I don’t know what to make of this experience. It was not a simple daydream, but very real - especially the smell of pipe tobacco. What am I to make of this?

Call me "Confused in Chicago"

Dear Confused,

If it''s any comfort to you, you are not the first person to write me this matter of becoming frightened, confused or disoriented by perceptions of people who were supposed to be dead - ghosts, if you will - during a guided imagery experience.

It''s not that these people were unwelcome - in fact, it was usually just the opposite - these were often the people who were most supportive and well-wishing in real life. But, being as how they were supposed to be long gone, it was startling and disturbing to see them (or more accurately, sense them) in such a real way.

I think you can look at this in one of two ways, depending on how you see the world. Either you were in a deeply altered state, during which your unconscious, which perhaps was longing for some reassurance or connection with Grandpa, produced him very vividly for you in your richly resourceful imagination; or you could say that this same altered state slowed down your brain waves, shifted your biochemistry and juiced up activity in your temporal lobes to such an extent that it allowed you to see things at a different level of reality - things you don''t ordinarily see in your everyday, waking state. Some people perceive these "presences" all the time, but most of us don''t. (For what it’s worth, I go into a pretty straightforward explanation of these phenomena in Chapter 5 ("The Physics of ESP") of my book, Your Sixth Sense.

Either way, I would suggest that it''s nothing to get frightened about, because this person, who represents support and caring to you, is showing up to do you some good (and in fact did so by conferring the blessing of his smile and his nod of approval). Whether this was real or imaginary, the positive effect is the same. I wouldn’t read any more into it than this - support at a time when you could use it.

I suspect that what is disturbing to you is the way this messes with your idea of reality, and that can certainly be unsettling. But, hey, maybe this is expanding and exciting, too. I suggest that you just let the new possibilities, boundaries, perceptions just sit with you, and see what if anything transpires .... a new adventure of sorts.

Best wishes to you, and I hope you have fun with your current version of reality, whatever it is!

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award