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As humans, if all is going to plan, we have five well-known senses of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch.
However, we also have two more: proprioception (the sense of movement and position of our limbs and muscles). We can touch our nose with our eyes closed or step up stairs without looking, and the vestibular sense, which allows us to keep our balance while we walk or run and be upright when we sit or stand.
Then we have the 1999 movie, “The Sixth Sense.” Maybe it should be rebranded, ‘The Eighth Sense” given the existence of proprioception and vestibular awareness. The term “sixth sense” traditionally refers to the capacity to perceive something which isn’t actually there. The child in this movie tells his psychologist how he talks to the dead.
A psychologist myself, trained in scientific enquiry, a left brain activity (seen as the logical side of the brain), I may be slightly unusual in that I have engaged in many spiritual practices of psychic phenomena from a young age—thus engaging my right brain, which is more visual and deals in images and symbolism. It processes information in an intuitive and simultaneous manner.
I am extremely open to the unseen. As a child, I would play telepathy games with my grandmother and would read tarot cards. She taught me the art of gratitude with her early morning stretches and thankfulness for life and made me believe we could create our own reality and that anything was possible. I used to read cards for friends and others helping to fund my (first time) university life. I now have a holistic practice including psychic and mediumship practices.
Many people are confused as to how a medium differs from a psychic as some mediums are psychic and some psychics are mediums. A psychic uses their intuition to receive information about someone’s past, present, and future. They may do this by tuning into the sitter’s (person reading for) energy field, connecting with their own or the sitter’s spirit guides or higher self, or connecting with a Universal Source.
Sometimes, they use divination tools such as cards or pendulums. They may see (clairvoyance), hear (clairaudience), know (claircognisance), or feel (clairsentience) things. Psychic readings may offer new perspectives, guidance, inspiration, or new coping strategies.
A medium connects with the sitter’s loved ones in spirit and gives enough detailed evidence to demonstrate that they’re really linking with a specific individual. Mediumship doesn’t involve predictions or analysis of life’s obstacles—although there may be a specific message from a loved one offering guidance around this.
For me, I would say what felt more natural, as a child, was psychic activity, and my mediumship has evolved more through attending courses at the London College of Psychic Studies, other training organisations, and sitting in development circles over the years. I have recently returned to the College for a course with Tony Stockwell, “Psychic Medium.” Last week, he introduced the group to a technique of “reading beneath the veil”—basically, placing a cloth over your head. This gives a mystical appearance similar to the “wise ones” many years ago.
Veiling itself is a tradition that goes back centuries in various cultures and religions. From hijabs, to Romani head coverings, Western wedding veils, African head wraps, and turbans to name a few. It is used as a tool for psychic protection as it covers the crown chakra (energy centre on the top of the head) and often our third eye (energy centre between the eyebrows), our conduits for spiritual connection.
Hair is also a sacred part of the spiritual self, which receives energy all day. Which is why some cultures encourage hair growth and don’t cut it, such as Native Americans and Sikhs.
As a yoga teacher, I am also aware that Kundalini yoga refers to the importance of head coverings during practice as a means to focus and contain your energy and clarify your thoughts, creating a meditative focus at your third eye or Ajna chakra for spiritual awareness.
A veil, at its fullest, can be an immersion into the sensory deprivation of sight. My experience of veiling for a reading, once the hilarity of how it looked calmed down, was that the deprivation of sight allowed a greater depth of inward focus, leading to far more evidential hits when connecting with deceased loved ones. This is not a space I wish to debate the truth of perceived evidence or not, as in the words of Stuart Chase, economist and author:
“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”
However, as a psychologist, I reflect on why I may have had a greater flow of perceived accurate (sitters’ perceptions) information this way.
My first thought is that the veil detaches the reader from making mental attributions of the sitter’s micro facial expressions, which can bring the conscious mind online. I recall one of my first paid readings in my 20s. I told a narrative of a broken marriage and the impact of this to my sitter. However, I had a conscious thought that it could not be her as she looked “too young,” so I interpreted my perceptions to mean her parents. At the end of the reading, she told me everything was accurate, but it was her marriage and not her parents. My conscious mind’s anxieties and interpretation of visual cues skewed my data.
Since that session, I now make little eye contact during a reading and look to one side, allowing myself to stay in my inner process.
So, it seems we have ego (with its need to be right and please others) as a potential inhibitor to connection and sensory deprivation as a potential enhancer. Children are often reported to express far more potential spiritual phenomena: imaginary friends, knowledge there is no verifiable way they could know, past life memories, visions, and sounds that others cannot see.
The frontal cortex, the managing director of the brain that organises our other functions and offers enhanced reality testing is not fully developed until we are in our 20s. The anterior cingulate cortex and fronto-insular cortex have been found to house the sense of ego or awareness. The free flow of information from all sources therefore could be greater without optimal frontal lobe functions, which will inhibit information that it deems unnecessary as it hasn’t passed reality testing.
The mental health condition of psychosis, which involves auditory and visual hallucinations, aside from being evidenced to be something less distressing if formulated as a spiritual experience, has dysfunction in the frontal cortex. I once had an experience, working in a forensic secure unit where a patient believed they were telepathic, and a colleague, disbelieving such phenomena, placed them under rigorous telepathic testing—to challenge what was thought to be a cognitive distortion (thinking error) and permit them to have a greater sense of reality testing. Results showed high levels of accuracy. Anecdotal as this may be, it’s another example of how freedom from egotistical inhibitors of getting things wrong and worrying what others may think (a benefit of less frontal lobe functioning) can benefit other senses.
Further support for the importance of detachment from the frontal lobe and outcome of information delivered was gleaned by researchers at Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. They analyzed the cerebral blood flow of Brazilian mediums during the practice of psychography (a form of writing whereby a deceased person or spirit is believed to write through the medium’s hand). Ten mediums—five less expert and five experienced—were injected with a radioactive tracer to capture their brain activity. They were scanned using SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) to highlight the areas of the brain that are active and inactive during the practice.
Results found that the experienced psychographers showed lower levels of activity in the frontal lobe regions of the brain during psychography compared to their normal (non-trance) writing. This means that the experienced mediums had reduced focus, lessened self-awareness, and fuzzy consciousness during the practice.
For the less experienced mediums, the opposite was observed with increased levels of activity in the same frontal areas during psychography compared to normal writing. This suggests there was an element of trying or reaching for data. When we reach for data, this is the conscious mind, the ego at play. We want a result. Greater accuracy is seen when we passively receive unconscious information similar to the free associative manner that Psychoanalyst Freud encouraged with his patients, in having a couch facing away from him. They were detached from the impact of their words upon the therapist, creating less inhibition.
Altered states of consciousness can be achieved by many means. Essentially, it is a withdrawal of senses to focus inward. It is said that when a person loses one of their senses, all of their other senses become heightened to compensate for the loss. I have lost my sense of smell and taste, due to COVID-19. It has been gone a year now. Our sense of smell is primitive and linked to survival. I found it quite scary to lose at first, but I’ve conceptualised it as a chance to enhance my other senses. I’ve experienced what I perceive to be a deeper intuitive awareness.
In a similar experience of sensory deprivation, I attended a “dining in the dark” experience years ago in London. You eat in the darkest of dark rooms, and taste, smell, and sound become intense. I could taste washing up liquid on my plate and the restaurant felt like a stadium full of people whereas in reality there were a few other tables. Not the best culinary experience but a fascinating display of the impact of sensory deprivation.
Longer term deprivation has been shown in brain injury research to create neural plasticity with perceptions of sight improving in the deaf and hearing improving in the blind. In my own neuropsychological practice, I have had patients report similar phenomena following brain injury and high accuracy in available senses for those with congenital conditions.
So to see or not see? That is the question. It may well be that in order to see, we must first stop seeing. Stop seeing all that is around us in order to focus our senses on what is beyond our third dimensional perception.
Of course, that withdrawal of the senses can occur with meditative training to alter our internal states of consciousness. There is, however, a Hollywood appeal to the drama of the veil—that I think should be a key part of any process of spiritual development.
This brings the gift of an experiential window that trains us to sidestep ego and tolerate any mental chatter we may have around getting things wrong. Over time, we can learn to sense the veil without its actual presence mirroring any process of connecting with the spirit world.