Into the Land of Woo-woo: My Hunt for the Afterlife

Photo © Lionello DelPiccolo on Unsplash

I was an angry young man, though I didn’t see myself as such at the time.

I was a loner, had no ambition and lived without hope. Life had no purpose; thus, I had no purpose. For me, God didn’t exist. Given the horrors of life all too common in our world, how could there be? Yes, there is art, beauty and majesty in nature. So, what? The same miserable outcome awaits us in our life finale — a sure and certain death. Oblivion.

It was 1976, and this lack of meaning gnawed away at any tree of life perchance rooted within. It sapped my willpower, sabotaging the occasional daydream of heroic re-emergence into the mainstream of life. No carpe diem here. Carousing at strip clubs and the like cooled my fevers of hopelessness well into the tranquilizing nights only to feel the relentless scorch of reality with every rising sun.

Going to the J-O-B. Going to bars, going to bed, going it alone. It was survival for the sake of survival.

“What’s the point?” I would cry, bent on stirring sympathetic reactions from any gods lingering nearby. “Why even bother?” I’d plead, surely annoying any untapped holy of holies lurking about such that they take pity on this unwitting soul.

The response? Nothing. Of course. What the hell did I expect?

The living of our lives is just a game we all lose in the end, I’d profess with the cheeky certainty of my twenty-something years. Why seek the good and better within absent enduring tomorrows?

The only restorative I had previously heard of for my soulless malady was the oft-repeated, “…You must have faith, my child.” Well, I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t have the internal fortitude to accept that Simon-says instruction.

How can I drink from an empty chalice?

A Wing…
Things, however, were about to change. Big time. It was as if some obscure life pendulum had reached the top of its ponderous swing and cracked open an esoteric door so that my better self could squeeze through. If I would but try.

This reversal of fortune began when I woke one morning from a vivid dream so real that I was shocked to find myself in bed.

Returning home from work, I pull the car over to the curb in front of my modest apartment complex in Buena Park, Calif. Getting out, I see my pet parakeet, Dangerous Dan Defoe, in easy flight overhead, circling the perimeter of the complex as if awaiting my arrival.

Sure enough, he swoops down. Hovering arm’s length away and peering straight at me, he beams to me happy affection and acknowledgment of my care for him.

More than anything, however, he is explicitly saying goodbye.

With a nearly imperceptible nod and a hard turn to his left, he soars gracefully up and away until disappearing into the far skies.

He’s gone. Staring after him, I feel abandoned…alone. What happened? Why is he leaving?

I wake up. Replaying the dream over and over, I felt my care for Dangerous Dan. I loved the little guy. In the mornings, he’d tweet his variations on “Top of the day to you, Tom.” In the evenings, he would sing his bright, chirpy notes to me. He seemed happy and gave me good cheer.

But, hey, it was just a dream, and it was time to get going with the chores. Prying myself out of bed, I walked to the kitchen while tossing a quick “Good morning, Dangerous!” in the direction of Dan’s birdcage next to the front door.

…Wait a sec!

The door was wide open. And where was Dangerous Dan? Stepping to the cage, I found him on his back. Lifeless.

Instantly, I knew what had happened. Returning home from a late night of wanderlust and Dutch courage, I had gone straight to bed — and failed to close the door. The cold and breezy night air had battered his tiny body for hours, and my Dangerous Dan Defoe died of exposure.

Yeah, as in exposure to me!

I sat on my sofa for quite a while, rightly wallowing in my guilt.

Oh, my god. The dream!

Dangerous had said goodbye to me in the dream, and I wake up to find him dead? How can that be? I was baffled…at sea. For weeks, I drifted in and out of absent-minded self-examinations and knew I could not, must not continue my meandering through life.

Was life truly just an exercise in survival? Nothing more? Despite my conviction of the gray nothingness awaiting us all at life’s end, I needed to find out one way or the other. Get a grip on the here and now or give it up already.

Fish or cut bait.

…And a Prayer
Perhaps prompted by the dream, I recalled a book read in my youth titled, There is a River: The Story of Edgar Cayce, by Thomas Sugrue. Bizarre at the onset, the story of Edgar Cayce offered the concept of life beyond this life. It just felt right; I was excited. When I shared it with family and friends, however, their responses were, at best, indifferent. Unsupported by people in my little corner of the world, I forgot about it. Until now.

My memories of the “good-bye” dream from Dangerous Dan, together with my reading of Edgar Cayce’s life story, caromed back and forth in my thoughts for weeks, refusing to relent to my usual malaise.

The two memories together were like salt poured on an icy road. They gave me sufficient traction to begin a private inner journey, a quest for the truth — if it could be had. It was an expedition into the unknown though far short of any kind of crusade and provisioned with hope alone. There would be no fires of courage throwing light upon the path, certainly no pipes and drums heralding the way.

In fact, this was but a plea on spiritual knees for truth, a private affair between myself and whatever Higher Intelligence there might be. My task was to transpose that etheric prayer to reasoned action in the grit of the here and now — this world, my life.

Though I had no plan, I knew that I must immerse myself fully and unconditionally. I could not be the critical observer in the balconies waiting to be handed the facts of the matter. Of course not. It is I who must act. It is I who must participate and do so in good faith. It is I who must be especially responsive to others, not the reverse.

Let the hunt begin.

Is there an afterlife or not? I intended to find out. Up or down, I wanted the facts of the matter if they could be had. Would I prove to be the fool’s fool in the doing? The only thing I knew for sure was that my little odyssey must remain undeclared, undisclosed and unvoiced. At least, for now.

It was 1977, and I was heading straight into the mythical land of woo-woo. Little did I know then that I would be entering a sphere of consciousness undocumented by science and typically panned by the religious community.

The Jungle
My journey began in earnest when I finally stopped into a converted church building in Anaheim, Calif., called Psynetics Foundation. I had passed it hundreds of times over the years, and the event and lecture titles on the outdoor marquee had always struck me.

Skimming over a variety of brochures and the schedule of events in the foyer, I found myself torn. There was all manner of happenings, including guest speaker lectures on various spiritual topics, live clairvoyant demonstrations, classes on personal development, and monthly psychic fairs. Intriguing but too weird. But it was one thing to read about this stuff, quite another to show up in person. Regardless, this was exactly the spiritual jungle within which I could begin my hunt for meaning and purpose.

I went to the next scheduled event and slithered into the back pew. It was a lecture related to metaphysics given by a professor of astronomy. The guy was fantastic! He loved the possibilities within metaphysical philosophy and was unapologetic for his interest in the paranormal.

Just what the doctor ordered.

I could breathe again. For me, it was a cool breeze on a hot day, reviving my determination to enter the sweltering jungle.

Animal psychic
Perusing the new schedule of events, I saw that the next lecture was a demonstration by an “animal psychic.” A what?

One week later, I was sitting in the same back pew watching as audience members, one at a time, brought their pet to the front of the room for the psychic to “read.” Greeting the animal with a friendly hello, he proceeded to comment on the pet’s preferences, foods, environment, moods and daily experience. He would end the reading with observations — both warm and witty –on how the animal felt about his/her human companion.

The pet owners’ reactions ranged from shocked disbelief to shiny-eyed smiles of understanding. Yes, there were moments of doubt or confusion for a couple of people. They were, however, quickly followed by startled “ah-ha” moments as the animal psychic would “telepathically” ask the pet for additional information.

Sitting in the audience of 60 or so, I watched the reactions of the animal owners for nearly two hours. I was transfixed. Their laughter, knowing smiles, and tears, not to mention facial expressions of utter, sometimes embarrassed astonishment, mesmerized me. I found myself slack-jawed and mentally cross-eyed.

That is when I put my face flat up against the window pane of Psynetics to better see within; immersing myself in their activities, I volunteered to set-up and clean-up at workshops, lectures, prayer meetings and potlucks. I took classes in psychic development and the like, quickly becoming known as the Doubting Thomas in that I was always giving the class teachers a hard time, coming up with alternative explanations for experiences and phenomena they called “psychic,” “mediumistic” and “spiritual.”

Yes, I had tagged myself with the ever-convenient self-image of skeptic (to all things paranormal), but underneath that wimpy labor-saving device was just an inner-boy terrified of becoming the town idiot.

Dear Beverly
I had experiences that were indeed suggestive of something outside of ourselves, beyond this physical life. However, for every fantastic moment of inspiration, there were seven or so disappointments.

Then I went to the locally infamous Psynetics Psychic Fair. It felt like a carnival. I went from one tent or stand to another: a palm reading, astrological reading, aura reading, numerology reading, sitting with a medium, and so on. Nothing hit home for me. In retrospect, though I was always polite, I came to understand how ungenerous I had been in my conclusions.

As I continued to shuffle through the fair, I heard a woman’s voice ask, “Would you like a reading?” I turned and saw a middle-aged lady looking at me with a beautiful and gentle smile. More than that, it was a smile of knowing, as if she knew me. Her eyes sparkled.

I remember looking behind me to see if she was looking at someone else.

She laughed and asked me to sit down across from her. She cupped my hand in both of hers. Without fanfare, she proceeded to tell me about me. Nonstop. No questions. I could not believe what I was hearing. She told me things that were impossible for her to know. She told me about my inner self — my hopes and fears, and how I saw myself. She talked to me about my talents, habits good and bad, loves lost, and home life. Halfway through, tears were streaming down my face. Forty minutes later, she finished.

Her name was Beverly McLaughlin. Dear, dear Beverly.

I was stunned, shaken to the core. The skeptic part of me, Mr. Doubting Thomas, was in his death throes. Not unlike the Wicked Witch of the West, I was melting. More than anything, however, I was smiling from wonder.

In the weeks that followed, however, I came to realize that I could no longer merely be the observer, because I would again be required to have faith in what others proffered as truth. I must be willing to be the observed. For it was I who must become the medium if, in truth, mediumship was a legitimate phenomenon. How else would I know if there was life after death?

Dear William
Over the course of a year, I became a vegetarian, went on a three-day water fast, and meditated, ad nauseam. I prayed to God, asking Spirit to touch me, to communicate with me.

The result? Deafening silence.

Regardless, I signed up for yet another meditation class. This time it was with a fantastic medium whom I’d met months earlier. As with Psynetics, I volunteered to help with his organization. Contrary to every other medium I had experienced to that point, he was outstanding. Like Beverly, he left me breathless.

His name was William Rainen. Dear, dear William.

The purpose of the class was personal well-being, but we prayed for contact from spirit as well. On several occasions, a few people reported that spirit might have –in one fashion or another–communicated with them. I wanted to believe them.

For me? The usual. Nothing happened. Yes, I would achieve an inner peace of sorts but contact with spirit? No.

I was losing hope.

Week twelve, the final class! I entered into my meditation. Nothing.

That’s it. Enough already, I’m done.

While still in the middle of my meditation, I decided to end my search once and for all. Finis! Yet, I was at peace. Completely so. No rancor or resentment, just complete and utter surrender.

And that’s when it happened.

While still in meditation, I experienced a huge contraction in my solar plexus, my upper stomach. It felt as if a bellows from my belly was forcing an intense column of air up my windpipe and through my voice box.

And I wasn’t doing it!

I was fully aware of a force of energy “semi-breathing” for me while struggling to form words. He managed some vocalized sounds not dissimilar to a young child learning to talk, I suppose. I was conscious and fully aware. My body was hot, my brain on fire, and I felt warm tears running down my face. The force left after five minutes or so.

And my life changed forever.

Spirit Speaks
“There is no death; there is only change.
There is no failure; there is only growth.”
— Spirit speaking through direct voice medium, Thomas Jacobson

What followed were private daily sittings with several people from the class to see what, if anything, would happen. It did happen. Again and again. But then it didn’t. For two weeks I’d go into meditation, and nothing would “happen.” I thought it was all over. In truth, I felt abandoned. Worse, I pondered, had I somehow manufactured the whole thing out of my unconscious?

Then, in week three, it happened again! In the days ahead, Spirit proceeded to inform me they hadn’t come through during my meditations because they wanted me to be clear that it was them, not me. Several different spirits came through, including a female named Miriam. In the coming weeks, the quality of their voicing improved as my ability to surrender to their presence progressed. Word got around, and increasing numbers of people wanted to experience my mediumship.

My “little odyssey…undeclared, undisclosed, and unvoiced” of 1977 evolved into a fantastic career spanning 15 mind-bending, heartbreaking, heartwarming, and extraordinarily uplifting years (1980-1995). I was not looking for “a career,” it just turned out that way in that I was driven to share the reality of life after death and genuine purpose to our lives with as many people as possible. I was excited; I wanted to help people. For years, I offered weekly freewill-donation demonstrations in Los Angeles. I went into a trance live on radio shows, and a book was written about my work.

I had many successes, but failures, too.

Think of a 1930s radio set with occasional static and the signal fades in and out. It’s the same for mediums. For that matter, it’s true for all of us as human beings in our innate and subliminal communion with the Other Side. Though mediumship generally — or, at least my mediumship specifically — is flawed and well beyond the ability of the medium to control, necessarily so, I was determined to go public so that I could share the good news. There were several heartbreaking failures when — for a moment — I much regretted that decision.

Please don’t misunderstand; it was a joyous experience beyond words. Every time I came out of my trance, I felt enlightened — for about 10 seconds. While in my trance state, I experienced the depth of Spirit’s compassion, their unwavering devotion to the well-being of whomever they were addressing. They were an intensely electric, vibrant, and shimmering presence within and closely around my body. You might say I was the cello; they were the cellist. I learned there is, for us all, great purpose in the living of our lives.

I discovered that there is indeed life after death; I had found the Afterlife. Moreover, in the doing, I found love beyond my “wildest dreams and imaginations.” Love that surrounds each of us though often “behind the scenes” to our physical senses.

“Celebrate, celebrate — for you are eternal.
You cannot fail, and all of the challenges of Earth
are nothing but schoolbooks in a big school called Planet Earth,
where you are guaranteed graduation … eventually.”
— Spirit speaking through direct voice medium, Thomas Jacobson


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