Saturday, February 21, 2009

Getting Your Head in The Right Place to Hunt Ghosts

(This art is one of my son's pieces)

I am a huge advocate of rational emotive methods (see works of people like Albert Ellis and David Burns). I incorporate these into my work as a ghost hunter and as a human being so I can enjoy a healthier more productive life. It allows me to interpret things accurately and believe in my abilities to cope so that whatever comes my way, I’m confident about my ability to cope. Here’s an example of how getting your head in the right place can give you a very different reaction to an event than someone who lets their mind take over without interruption.

My best friend and I did lots of “girl getaway” wild and crazy things together, so I figured that since I was the queen of Halloween, I’d take her to a huge haunted house event. You know, one of those ones that takes 45 minutes to get through and lots of screams. I thought, since we’d gotten into lost of mischief in the past, this would be another fun and silly event for us to laugh about in the future. What I didn’t realize was how much our explanatory styles varied so that what would be a fantastic event for me left her nearly posttraumatically stressed.

It began in the line where I joked about the costumed giants messing with us while she cowered behind me. It was a side of the ruthless businesswoman I’d never seen. I joked near the front of the line that it would be lame to go with another couple since they were doubling up people into groups of four to send them in. I said, “that’s for wimps. I want us to go alone.” The guy at the gate gave us that wish. He laughed at me like I were insane and sent the two of us in alone. My friend immediately grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go.

The first step was into a completely blackened room. We couldn’t see a thing, had to feel the walls to find our way through the maze. She tugged at my belt loop and cowered, shivering, wanting to leave immediately. I’m sure that upon entering that room her thoughts must have gone something like this, “we can’t do this alone. What if someone’s in here? What if I touch them? What if we never have lights the whole time? What if someone touches me?” Of course, without following up those “what if” questions with options in her own mind, she was setting herself up for fear. Fear takes place when you feel you can’t handle the situation that’s upon you. How does that saying go…“there can be no bravery if there is no fear?” I guess for me that meant I wasn’t necessarily brave because I wasn’t scared. My thoughts were going like this, “I can’t wait to see what’s next. I hope the costumes are scary. We’ll get through this room and the great stuff’ll start.” I was, of course, excited by that internal dialogue.

By the time we entered a lit area that had bars and a prisoner locked behind it reaching for us, I turned to my friend and said, “Don’t worry. They aren’t allowed to touch you. Every time we get to the end of a passage, they’ll be to the side, ready to come out and follow us or leap out. Be prepared.” With this knowledge, she was able to let go of my hand. In fact, although the 45-minute cruise through the haunted house was definitely creepy, neither of us were genuinely scared. Knowing the rules and what to expect had deflated the fear. It’s kind of like telling a kid what exactly happens at the dentist. If you sent him without any knowledge, everything would be unexpected.

Explanatory style is critical in ghost hunting. Although people don’t usually enter the trade afraid of the hunt, it’s not surprising that they soon find out they are frightened when it had sounded so glamorous when they saw it on “Ghost Hunters.” What they don’t see on “Ghost Hunters” show is that they have nightvision on the cameras seeing the people. These hunters don’t see each other. They’re in the dark.

You need to review with yourself ahead of time. Can I handle broken down buildings? Indigents? Spiders? Rats? Raw sewage? Complete and utter darkness and silence? Being alone? Hearing something I can’t explain? Seeing something I can’t explain? If you get yourself ready ahead of time, the hunt will be very productive because instead of feeling heart pounding and sitting there huffing and puffing, you’ll give chase. Remember that Ft. Miflin episode with Grant in the narrow passage and his light hits a face in the opening. He jumps, but then he rushes after it right away. He’s allowed to react, but he doesn’t let that hold him back from pursuit. That’s where you have to be in your head. You don’t let your imagination run with you and take over the show. If you hear a sound and you immediately think it’s a ghost, you probably need either more experience or more time getting your head in place.

Here’s the rules I run through my head in any ghost hunting situation:
1. Nothing can hurt me, possess me, or follow me home. (I know there’s a lot of ghost hunters out there who would dispute that, but I can’t speak for their way of approaching ghostly phenomenon, I can only speak for mine).
2. When something happens, I want to be ready with recorder/camera/meters to document it. I am waiting for it to present itself for me to get proof. I’m in control here. This is my show. The spirits, if I’m lucky, will cooperate with my interview. It’s sort of like documenting baby’s first steps. I’m proud, thrilled, and anxiously awaiting those first tries.
3. If something exists on “the other side,” then it’s equally thrilled to be seen or heard finally. I would hope my efforts from the other side would be greeted with excitement and interaction rather than fear and flight. That someone would try to converse with me, comfort me, recognize I exist.

Here’s a key a lot of people don’t know:

Emotions are not natural reactions to any given situation, they are the results of what you say to yourself, how you interpret a situation, what you say to yourself about what’s happening.

When you take four people driving down the road and getting a flat tire, you can get four different emotions: A. In a rush to get to work, the driver snarls, “just great!” now he’s angry. B. Driving down an unfamiliar road, the driver says, “this is not a good part of town,” and this driver feels fear. C. The driver just passed driver’s ed and learned how to change a tire and says, “I get to try it out for real” and feels very proud and independent. D. The driver shrugs and says, “it was bound to happen after driving for 18 years,” and gets out to change the tire with a very practical and non-emotional reaction.

There are few times when you are more faced with your crazy interpretational styles and inner dialogue as when you’re sitting in dark silent place awaiting the unknown to happen for hours on end. Learn to have a good internal relationship with yourself and a healthy explanatory style. Put all your fears on the witness stand and cross-examine them to find them not true. Once you start feeding your brain the right diet, it begins to clean up its act. Insecurities, fears, anxieties begin to melt away, replaced by healthier emotions like pride, ambition, and independence.

Once you have your head in the right place, the hunt will be a successful one. Even if your location didn’t end up having evidence, you just met yourself in a very challenging place, eager, ready, and willing, and you can walk away knowing you can truly handle anything else that comes at you in life.

After all, ghost hunting is just a metaphor for life


  1. Brilliant article/post Autumn! In all my years of being intrigued bby ghosts-ghost stories-ghosts on film/EVP and of course the more recent phenomenon of people being filmed while ghost chasing -I have never asked myself "What would I really be like if I were in a rundown place?" especially the huge ones like old hospitals/sanitariums and things of that nature -some of these places are so remote and large that I imagine one's mind COULD and DOES really start to work on you -your posts always get my mind going and in a good way-I am still going over your post that posed the question of a person about to die-the more I think about it-especially in times like the last day when it feels like my health is tanking badly -I really like your idea! I would like to be surrounded by those closest to me -scientific instruments-and have just one preselected person to 'communicate' with -if possible-the only reason i came up with the one person idea is that it seems that it might be very hard to get a message across from 'over there' and I thought if you had just one person to concentrate on -who was also concentrating on you it might be better-I dont know perhaps my thoughts are foolish-I do love speculating -and in regards to this article I really wonder if I would have the guts to go overnight or for a few nights to somewhere huge and remote like waverly sanitarium (may have name wrong) best as always to you and thanks so much for your superb articles!

  2. Devin;
    Glad you liked my article. It's something I run into a lot. Some ghost hunters are very old-fashioned and believe in possession and evil and they can drive me nuts to have to hunt alongside. I realized I can't clean up their thinking, they have to do that. I can just deal with how I handle their silliness. As far as how you'd handle a scary place, I suspect that you'd have to check your internal dialogue. I've told people time and again to observe their dreams. When they have a nightmare and it's the end of the world or someone is chasing them, do they dream that they outsmart the bad person? Do they form a group and dole out chores to survive? It's how you handle what happens to you in dreams that shows how you feel at the core of your being. I always have a lot to say about disease and pain issues for folks. I think my best advice on that front is to realize that no matter how much you try to recreate the same day, you never can. So, today is a crappy day and you don't think you can make it through, then tomorrow something goofy happens and you laugh and then you feel almost human again. Whatever you feel today, you can't maintain. It changes. Whether you wish it or not. I've had a lot of trials in my life, but I remember at 16 watching my dad have a heart attack and die and I thought, "My life will never be the same. I'll never laugh again. I'll never be happy again. I'll never get anything done because he was my cheerleader." I had a piss-poor mommy relationship and in that poignant way life gives you what you need, I ended up at 16 teaching her to pay bills, drive a car, and become independent and along the way we became close finally. And, after father passed away, I had the happiest days of my entire life and achieved a wide variety of dreams (in his honor). So, when things happen, sometimes they seem like a dead end, but life is dynamic. You can't recreate the same crappy day twice. But, you can have an exceptionally different day if you talk to yourself in a different and encouraging manner. When I was laid up after my foot surgery and couldn't get around, I had to depend on my husband and son. When I was growing up, when I was sick, my mom pretty much left me to myself. I had to figure out how to feed and care for myself and there was no comforting or assistance. This experience had me sobbing for days. I had to ask them to get me something and then I freaked out worrying that they might not come back with the item I asked for. It was very childish, that's true, but I didn't realize at the time that I didn't like the vulnerability of having to receive care. I know how to give it great, I just don't know how to trust someone to help me when I'm vulnerable. Life is lessons. They make you better. I keep idols like John Walsh (America's Most Wanted) before me. I think, "if John can lose a child and change the world, I can do something with this dilemma before me..." We so look forward to your writings. Keep it up, if just so that others can look at the world through the philosophical questions you pose and you can change the population one person at a time.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. You definately had alot of great advice. I think that emotions play alot when it comes to what we see or what we think we saw in the darkness. Even the expert ghost hunters have to stop and think about what they just experienced before rendering a decision about it. The scariest haunted house I've been to during Halloween was an old two story house in south Phoenix. I was in middle school and went with several friends. We started upstairs and they were only letting two at a time in. My friend and I got so scared that we ran and got caught up with the girls in front of us. The four of us screamed, hid our faces, grabbed each other, practically peed our pants and ran like crazy on the two floors to get out. After we were out and safe, we laughed about the experience while another girls was crying uncontrollably. I have never found a haunted house that matched the terror that this one had. It was fun......Julie

  4. Julie;
    I agree about finding the right haunted house. One year, I dragged my hubby out to Queen Creek to one that was out there that sounded scary. It wasn't! It was sooo horrible. What made it even worse was they had a screwed up idea of what was scary. They put a train whistle hanging overhead and when you entered, it went off. Have you ever heard a train whistle from miles away--kind of romantic, but only 3 feet overhead--deafening. We were holding our ears, eyes watering the entire time. In fact, my ears were still ringing on the way home, we had to yell at each other. I wondered if they got any lawsuits over that one! I know how I'd do my ideal haunted house. Hey, maybe I should do an article about that some time. You always inspire me to try new subjects!