[Issue #10, Fall 2003]
We Are Eternal: What the Spirits Tell Me About Death
By Robert Brown
Warner Books, 2003
Reviewed by Dana De Zoysa
Let's cut to the chase on this. What is a psychic? Dictionaries define "psychic"
as "inexplicable with reference to present knowledge or scientific
True enough, but it doesn't go very deeply into the reality of the thing.
Another definition is, "Sensitive or responsive to phenomenon independent
of normal sensory stimuli; also a person who has this ability."
Much hangs on the phrase "sensory stimuli," but let's clear up
some definitions first. People with psychic abilities receive their information
in several ways. A clairvoyant ("clear vision") sees things not
perceived by normal vision; some believe this happens via the so-called
"third eye." A clairaudient ("clear hearing") hears
words or phrases in their heads that do not come from a physical source
(this is to be distinguished from the hallucinations of certain mental illnesses
wherein one "hears God" or some other figure). A clairsentient
("clear feeling") receives sensations such as a pain in their
foot that is actually being felt by another person; sometimes this is described
as "tuning in and feeling the sensations in someone else's body."
Finally, and most important in the context of Robert Brown's book, a "medium"
is a person who connects directly with the spirits of people no longer on
the earth. When a medium receives a message from someone "in spirit"
and conveys it to the individual to whom the message is directed, the medium
is a go-between, not an interpreter.
At heart is the principle that the message, not the messenger, is what counts.
Even hardened skeptics come to doubt their skepticism if they go to enough
demonstrations by enough mediums. The facts and relationships communicated
are simply too numerous and too accurate to idly dismiss. There are, to
be sure, varying abilities among mediums -- it is, after all, a largely
learned ability -- and there are some who use "cold readings"
or the power of suggestion to zero in on what the sitter really wants to
hear. Aggrandizing one's abilities happens with just about any profession,
so it's unwise to blacken the profession of mediumship too hastily with
the doubting brush. Those who remain skeptic to the last should visit the
website of a University of Arizona professor named Gary Schwartz ( http://www.openmindsciences.com/
). Mr. Schwartz has conducted numerous, stringent, double-blind scientific
studies in which the medium can't possibly know or ferret out the sitter's
expectations. Despite all the barriers, the messages from beyond this life
still come, and are accurate.
The cumulative effect of all this research and practical experience is that
mediumship and psychic receptivity are just as valid as other forms of evidence.
Psychics and mediums know, for example, that there are other senses beyond
touch, sight, smell, and so on. What might these be?
Well, sense of balance, sense of awareness, sense of direction, sense of
self, sense of intuition -- these are a few. In a room with other people
in it, what draws your eyes to the one person there who is looking directly
at you? If these elude the explicable and yet are still facts of experience,
why are psychic phenomenon so far-fetched?
Robert Brown's book is about the development of his mediumship abilities
and the things he has learned practicing it. He has several important messages
to convey. The book's title, We Are Eternal, sums up his message
in three words. In anecdote after anecdote, combined with his well-thought-through
philosophical explanations, he demonstrates that our personal identity as
it exists on earth lives on after us. In the state of being called "in
spirit," our identity keeps its sense of self and of one's family.
There is, in other words, no "death" except in a cellular sense.
Death is the closing of this life's biophysical door to enter a different
kind of room, the domain of the spirit self. The person who passes through
it is unchanged; only the room has changed.
This spiritual claim is denounced by every major religion. Most religions
insist, without a shred of experiential evidence to say why, that upon death
the spirit or soul becomes an abstract, transcendent entity void of any
identity except for its relationship to the Creator. Why exactly this attitude
exists is hard to say, but most religions flat-out deny that emotions, personality,
and memories can pass into the spirit state and exist there just as they
do in this world. Our emotions, personality, and memory are irretrievably
glued to our spirit, not our life. A person in spirit is an actual person,
the same person who was alive on earth.
Institutional religions are not the only naysayers. Psychic phenomenon are
likewise rejected by the two dominant intellectualisms of the Western Grain,
scientific method and the rationalist view of truth founded on the principle
of methodical doubt.
Let's take the first. Certainly psychic phenomenon are "unscientific,"
based on the term's self-definition. But in the unsolved mystery department
the sciences have plenty of skeletons in their own closet. Cosmologists
haven't a clue what makes up the 75 percent of the universe called "dark
energy," and are still pretty clueless about an additional 20 percent
called "dark matter" (though they are confident they will one
day quantify it). Yes, those numbers are correct: All the ordinary matter
-- electrons, neutrons, protons, and so on -- that comprise our bodies,
the earth, the stars, and the entire universe totals to less is five percent
of all that is there. Anthropologists tell us all about the survival of
the fittest, but go silent on the issue of why it exists and for what reason
it was put here. Physics? What keeps electrons in atoms flying around at
specific distances from the nuclei of atoms? It isn't gravity because their
infinitesimal mass would fly off in all directions at the velocities at
which they orbit. The answer is: light. The constant exchange of light between
the electron and its nucleus keeps the electron bound in its orbit. Give
it enough extra energy from outside, e.g. heat, and it bounces up to a higher
orbit and ejects a ray of light that is so characteristic in its properties
that we have the word "spectrum" to define its energy state. Our
eyes interpret this as red hot versus white hot.
Going this one further, cosmologists have learned a lot about the properties
of the universe but still can't say why it was made in such a way as to
proceed from its original state of infinite density to a state of utter
nothingness. Physicists have very clear ideas about the various laws that
govern the behavior of matter, but haven't a clue why these laws came into
being or for what reason. Hence it is arbitrary to single out psychics and
mediums and say they're nothing but speculative dreamers or overly gullible.
Let's examine the message, not the vehicle, at the core of Robert Brown's
book. We Are Eternal says the front cover of his book, so then, "Does
the gentleman really prove it?"
You must decide for yourself, but my conclusion is Yes. But first, full
disclosure time: I have been read by Robert and three other professional
mediums. All of them pulled information literally out of the air they could
not possibly have known. Robert once accurately described the close friendship
between my deceased wife and my deceased aunt, accurately giving their names
without any knowledge of my family background. A psychic named Peter Serraino
once looked at me, seated in the midst of a dozen others in a room, and
said, "You have a pain in your left foot." I did, a callus that
Mediumship can be better thought of not as hearing voices but as parting
of a veil. There is an excellent metaphor that, to me, captures the truth
behind the veil of Robert's message. It goes like this:
A guru and his doubt-ridden disciple were waiting for someone to bring them
some food. "Why are you any different from me?" the disciple grumbled.
"We're both sitting here waiting for our dinner." "That's
true," the guru said. "We see the same room," the disciple
went on. "We live in the same world. There's no difference at all."
The guru shook his head. "You say we live in the same world, but we
don't. Your world is private; no one else can enter it. It is made of personal
memories, desires, feelings, and dreams. My world is not private, it is
open to all. It is eternal and unbounded. Nothing exists in it that I claim
as my own. Wherever I look I see love, trust, truth, and eternity."
The disciple rebutted. "If your world is so much better than mine,
why are you here?" "Because your world is only a dream,"
the guru said quietly. "And it gives me pleasure when someone wakes
If you substitute the word "medium" for "guru," you
can better understand the psychic's and the medium's role. Everyone has
personal memories, desires, feelings, and dreams. The psychic or medium
is no different from anyone else. But by proclivity and training, mediums
have learned to slip beyond their own sensory limits for a time, to enter
the state of claiming nothing as their own, enabling themselves to see love,
trust, truth, and eternity without the colored lenses of a point of view.
Think of this state as a spiritual steam bath, in which all the pores of
awareness are open and clean. The medium perceives with the eyes of the
spirit, not the senses, just the same as the guru.
That's not to say mediums are saints one and all. Even the spiritually in
touch have their bad days. On page 179 Robert points out, "One of the
reasons that mediums cannot function all the time in 'receptive' mode is
that at some point they have to be their physical selves."
The full reality of "the spirit" as understood by Robert is set
forth simply and cheerily in 210 pages. In plan, the book proceeds from
the particular to the general. This parallels his personal development as
a medium. The first several chapters are an engaging biography of a somewhat
wide-eyed young boy, at once curious and dubious of everything he's told.
His first psychic apparition was clairvoyant and occurred at age five: he
saw a man out a window laughing in at him in the dark night. This is easily
dismissable as boy-sees-bogeyman stuff, except for the fact that three years
later he came across a photo of the same man in a family album and showed
it to his mother. She blanched and had to sit down to regain her composure.
When she recovered she explained it was her brother, who had died some years
In time Robert became acquainted with a circle of folks who realized they
had psychic abilities and met regularly to hone them. As he engagingly tells
it, in some of his early efforts that he self-evaluated as spectacular,
the best he could wring out by way of encouragement from more experienced
hands was a "Not bad," and invitations to return.
The rest of his biography is something of a spiritual rags-to-riches tale.
Robert is among the handful of truly top-ranking mediums in the world. Yet
he remains modest about it. He is not one for name-dropping, but a number
of celebrity names do appear. TV and bestseller personalities like John
Edward and James Van Praagh consulted him by phone without revealing who
they were -- and then rang up for more. A lesser person might crow this
to the skies, but Robert expends little ink on hobnobbing with the celebs
and much more on his relationship with Peter Close, who among today's generation
of mediums is the equivalent of the writer's writer.
Robert's book really takes off in a chapter named, "So What Have the
Spirits Told Me?" There he deals with the vexatious issues of suicide
("taking oneself over"); the passing of a child; what biological
and psychological disease reveal about our psychic state; the afterlife
of pets (there is one, though the cats don't shed so badly as before); and
a critique of traditional religions from a medium's insights of the afterlife.
All these are canapés, so to speak, leading to the salad, his discussion
of reincarnation and the laws of karma. These two notions are not necessarily
linked, nor are they native to most regions in the world. They have often
been appropriated by people who believe that anything from India is better
than anything else. That does not make them ipso facto true. He suggests,
" the evidence for man's survival after physical death as an intelligent,
conscious individual has been well demonstrated and documented over many
centuries Through all the thousands of spirit contacts I have had I found
no evidence to prove that man reincarnates My problem with [karma] is that
we are, according to those who believe in reincarnation, a sum total of
all that we have been." In keeping with his primary thesis -- who we
are in the physical world is who we are in the spiritual world -- Robert
ascribes "reincarnation" phenomenon to deja-vu instead. Deja vu
is a sense, by memory or feeling, that you have been somewhere or perceived
something before. And too, humans are famously wont to wish upon those they
dislike some form of agonizing punishment in the fires of hell. (Those who
believe in a retributive system of just desserts never seem to consider
that others may be wishing the same upon them.)
Robert's thesis is clearly Western in its linearity. His could be the tale
of time, if time had a spirit self, for time, too, leaps over the illusory
barriers of the material and immaterial. He leaves aside the prickly and
indeed pointless questions of how spirit originates and what it does after
the earth ends billions of years from now. His more important point is that
our spirit comes into this earthly form with full knowledge of what it needs
to experience, and proceeds along the path of learning till "death,"
whereupon it passes into the spirit realm as a realized being. However --
and equally Western -- he posits a free will. It is this free will that
can opt to return, perhaps to more fully realize its own being, perhaps
to become a Bodhisattva figure, postponing personal full realization in
order to guide others to theirs.
Alas, all the foregoing is lamentably "Robert Lite," a mere taste
of the thoughtfulness of his book. His is a lucid read, solidly presented,
and shorn of sensationalism and self-aggrandizement. A hint of his character
can be divined by the fact that he shuns TV as the vehicle of his message
and instead sticks to public gatherings and private sessions. Sitting there
on a dais, except for the messages he pulls out of the spirit realm and
conveys to attendees, you'd think he was a shoe salesman who blundered through
the wrong door.
It is time to step back from his book and look at his message in that second
tradition of the Western Grain, rational doubt. He is, to be sure, "Western,"
but only to a point. His message is that the great truths from our souls
are not hidden behind the appearance of things, they are hidden in plain
sight. They are uttered to us by voices we can hear, if we are willing to
listen beyond our cloud of unknowing.
To the cloud of unknowing our egos have two responses: doubt till proven
true, or believe till proven false. Much of the Western approach to knowledge
is founded on the first. It has rewarded us rather well. We doubted myth
and we got to hope. We doubted theology and got to humanism. We doubted
authority and got to democracy. The French philosopher Descartes founded
his entire worldview on doubt, inspiring much of Western thinking that followed.
He doubted and doubted till he could doubt no more, and what was left was
the mind doing the doubting. This is codified as "I think, therefore
I am." Somewhat later Immanuel Kant came along and threw cold water
on all that, asserting that one can never know the true nature of things;
we can rely only on appearances, and of appearances, thought is but one.
Robert offers us something entirely different, that we should feel neither
loss nor despair at our unknowing, but rather bewonder the beautiful flowering
that unfolds from impenetrable mystery. Robert has generous company. Nearly
every artist tries to capture this same flowering, but in the realm of feelings
instead of the spirit.
Robert's method is to ask what happens if we instead systematically accept.
Accept and accept until we can accept no more. What do we get? We get that
all knowledge is valid, and if all knowledge is valid, all knowers are,
too. We get "I am of you as you are of me." Keep up this chain
of acceptance and we arrive at a destination almost every belief system
posits somewhere in its core: We are one with all beings who have ever lived,
and ever will. The great unity of being slides in and out of this world
that we call life. This unexpected juxtaposition moves the astute reader
of Robert's book past conceptual oppositions toward that certain point in
the development of the mind from which life and death, the real and the
imaginary, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, the
high and the low, cease to be seen as contradictory. I am not a me, I am
a we. All of us are all of each other.
The medium's relationship with the spiritual makes possible moral guidelines
by which one can manage one's life in society -- guidelines that do not
depend on heroic archetypes, myths, poorly understood natural phenomenon
that later are found to be purely natural, or an architecture of humanity
devoted to explaining it all and tidying up the loose ends. Robert's is
akin to the Buddha's ethos: you alone are responsible for what happens to
you. The only way to attain a sense of balance in the face of so many conflicting
beliefs, and perhaps the best way to come into touch with one's own spirit,
is to do exactly the opposite of Descartes, accept, accept, accept, and
discover where we are taken. The medium, truly, is the message.
Are Eternal from Amazon.com.
Dana De Zoysa has lived for many years throughout Asia, including the Philippines,
Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and India. He has also lived in Holland and France,
and traveled throughout Europe and Northern Africa. He has published numerous
books, articles and reviews on Asia-related and developing-country topics.
CBR Home | Reviews | Excerpts
& Features | Guidelines | CBR