Monday, February 18, 2008


Someone asked the other day: "What are Ghosts?"

It reminded me of one of my earliest counseling experiences almost three decades ago. Michio Kushi, the Macrobitotic Teacher I studied with in Boston, used to tell people that they had ghosts hovering over their right or left shoulders. Sometimes one, sometimes two, and sometimes even more. Women with several abortions had many, and so did people who had been harmed by now dead relatives or friends, or themselves had harmed or killed people. Basically it meant unfinished business, and he recommended atonement prayers of apologies, or imaginary conversations of letting go of those people, and the related issues. It was a bit mysterious, and since Michiosan always had this knowing twinkle in his eyes it wasn't clear how literally we were to take this idea of ghosts.

One of my class mates had been told that she had two male ghosts over her right shoulder. She was a young girl from the Midwest and had no idea who could have harmed her, or who she could have harmed or who this unfinished business could be with. She asked me for a counseling session even though I did not know how I could help her with this question, and told her so, but she insisted.

She was deeply religious, catholic, and engaged to be married. She practiced abstinence before marriage and was troubled about several issues relating to that issue, which we discussed in length. She was an innocent looking, beautiful mid-western girl, with blond hair, blue eyes and had a bright Christy Brinkley smile. Yet here and there shadows would play on her face that gave her the hard look of a prostitute, or someone who had issues with sexual abuse. This was in such contrast to who she was and what she had told me about her life and family, it didn't go unnoticed as I was trying to figure out how I could help her.

We talked quite openly and I was confident that we had covered all the obvious suspicions of molestation, deeply buried denials about relatives, religious conflicts, the possibility of being gay and everything else I could think of that may have her feeling troubled. As so often is the case, as we come to the "end" of our session, she started talking more about her life at home, the lake she water skis on in the summer, her brother and father who drive the boat and her upcoming wedding.

Suddenly it occurred to me to ask her whether both her father and her brother are usually driving the boat. The answer was yes. Then I asked her if she water skis in a bathing suit or a wet-suit. The answer was bathing suit . Then I knew what had happened.

Unless wearing a wet-suit, or unless you know how to fall sideways, sometimes when you simply plop down into the water when water skiing, water gets forced with quite some strength up your butt, front and back. I asked her whether this had ever been her experience. She confirmed this with a laugh and rolling eyes. Slowly realization set in. Exploring this "experience" further, it soon became clear that she felt raped and sodomized. The physical, protective tension, the embarrassment, the guilt, the fact of having this "secret", the powerlessness to undo this experience - it was all there. And because her father and brother drove the boat she had connected them in her mind to this.

Her face visibly relaxed and brightened as the reality, and then the harmlessness of it all set in. The shadows disappeared and I knew we had solved the problem. Michio noticed the disappearance of her "two ghosts" a few days later and congratulated her without knowing about our session.

In conclusion, I believe ghosts are our own tensions around people dead or alive that we need to resolve. Houses occupied with ghosts are not my experience and I cannot say anything about those beyond what is generally believed - that they are also spirits with unresolved issues somehow praying on the occupants. Often it is the actions and attitudes of the occupants that resolve those house issues.

I read a few years later that adults, as well as children, can sustain severe internal injuries by falling at high speeds while water skiing and should wear protective wet suit pants.

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