Friday, January 20, 2012

Zen and the Art of Paranormal Investigating

During the past couple of years, I've known a few good investigators who walked away from the paranormal field entirely. Why? Did they encounter a frightening entity? Did "something" follow them home from an investigation? Were they pushed or slapped by an invisible force? Nope. They simply got burnt out and sick of all the drama and negativity weighing down the field.

Some people seem to forget that at this point, this field is based only on theory and speculation. Since there are no accredited degrees in ghost hunting, no one really has any more "authority" than anyone else. And while there has been data collected that support some opinions (i.e. what really causes orbs in photos and video), there is still quite a bit left open to exploration and research. Just as some become too emotionally attached to their evidence or beliefs, others become attached to their opinions, agendas and inflated egos. Obviously, this creates conflict when any of these are challenged.

Unfortunately, paranormal investigating offers a venue to some who need to feel superior to others. On one hand, you have those claiming to be more "spiritual" or "attuned" who can sense and see things that the rest of us do not. We are supposed to believe their claims without one shred of objective evidence. They are convinced that the most garbled piece of audio or the blurriest picture of dust are concrete proof of ghosts. If you argue with them, you are labeled closed minded, trapped inside the proverbial box. Some even go as far as wishing skeptics to encounter demons - just to prove them wrong! (Which brings their spirituality into question, but nevermind).

On the other side of that, you have those who are convinced all paranormal evidence gathered by other teams fall under two categories: misinterpretation and fraud. Some prowl the internet, actively seeking out groups who post questionable pictures or audio, and under the guise of "education" attack these teams publicly and call them idiots, liars, frauds, etc. But then, many of these same people who dish out the most criticism of others, are unable to take criticism when it is aimed at them. Many are asked to present their professional credentials that give their criticism some authority, but fail to do so. Many hide behind the safety of monikers or fake names while they drag other's real names through mud. I've seen some of the most vocal critics of others go ballistic if their own evidence receives valid criticism. Hypocrisy at its finest!

Then you have teams who have major jealousy issues and act like rabid chimps, flinging verbal poop at other teams. Yes, there are teams who might get more cases than ours. Yes, there are locations I'd like to investigate but can't because another team has "marked" it as their territory. Yes, there are other investigators who dislike me because of my opinions. So I have two choices: a) obsess over it and be upset over something I can't change or b) shrug it off and move on. I choose to move on. There are plenty of other opportunities and experiences waiting for me. I'll never get to them if I wallow in a mire of frustration.

There are also conflicts within teams. Sometimes personalities or opinions clash and people take it personally. That is why I suggest teams create a mission statement. Our team also has a contract for our members which details what protocols, equipment and techniques and criteria we use. If an individual can't adhere to them, then their membership may be revoked. This is not because we think our way is THE right way or that we're better than anyone else, but to function well as a group and serve our clients better, we all need to support a common agenda.

Some investigators find they cannot work well with clients and residential cases. For some it is the responsibility that they're not comfortable with, and with others, it's the constant battle of competing against the misinformation many clients insist on clinging to after they've put in time and effort to provide reasonable answers for them. While it's okay if these investigators want to leave the field, they do have the option to change their focus to other venues or avenues of research.

During one semester when I was music major at a conservatory on the west coast, I studied under a guest professor from the prestigious Paris Conservatory. I was anxious because I was expecting an intimating task master who would demand nothing less than perfection. Instead I met Harry: a warm, unassuming but brilliant teacher who could breeze through the most challenging concertos like they were nothing. While he did assign demanding repertoire and studies which helped me excel as a musician , he also instilled an invaluable life lesson. He warned me that I was becoming too hypercritical and overly concerned with technique that I was missing the big picture. He explained it is a common mistake that "real" musicians think they have to live, breathe and eat music every second of the day, and he advised me to find hobbies and friends that had nothing to do with music. To step back, and get some perspective. Why? To regain the most important component of music: ENJOYMENT. Since then, when I go to concerts, instead of picking out the french horns lagging or flutes off-pitch, I hear the piece as a whole - as it was intended. And I enjoy it.

So my advice to those who are feeling the burn-out: take a step back. Gain some perspective. Remember what brought you to the field in the first place, what fueled your curiosity, what answers you're seeking. If you are unhappy with the group you're in, either recommend changes to teammates or find another group. Online forums and networking can offer some positives: information about equipment, analysis, techniques, etc. from others. Unfortunately, this is often overshadowed and even devoured by the drama created from conflicting egos. Does that mean to avoid paranormal networking? Not necessarily. But, if you want to avoid unnecessary stress, just don't actively participate. As one humorous saying goes: "How do you start an argument on the internet? 1. State an opinion. 2. Wait five minutes." So read through the forums and get what you can from them. Nothing says you have to partake in any discussion. But if you do, understand that you automatically become a target. (Just like junior high all over again!) Ignore all the petty pissing matches, name calling, chest thumping, jealousy issues, etc. and find the nuggets of information you can use and research for yourself. If a forum, site or page is full of negativity, it's okay to leave and find one that is more constructive.

Also, find some balance in your life. Let's face it: paranormal research can be a tad morbid. If you become too entrenched (or obsessed) with it you will miss one of the biggest lessons ghost stories have to teach us: don't take LIVING for granted! Enjoy what life has to offer while you can. One friend comes to mind. He has a positive outlook on life and spends his free time with his family enjoying the great outdoors, going to rock concerts, enjoying cultural festivals, and visiting historic locations. He actively creates balance in his life to counteract his his job - in the funeral industry. Proper perspective will help achieve balance. Balance will help achieve proper perspective. Now, step away from the computer and hug a puppy.

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