I turned the radio on at the tail-end of the NPR interview, and heard the voice of Byron Janis, renown pianist, and author with his wife, Maria Cooper Janis, of a book with a very unusual title: Chopin and Beyond: My Extraordinary Life in Music and the Paranormal. This is a book I recommend as providing a rare glimpse into the surprising connections between creativity, partnership, and the paranormal. Here’s a statement from a chapter called “Paranormal High Jinks,” which covers such topics as table-tilting. Byron Janis writes: “I generally seem to be able to activate tables quite quickly, and this one came to life within a couple of minutes.”
Well, I can vouch for the veracity of this claim. We were at a conference on parapsychology, Byron, Maria, and myself, and we decided to try a table-tilting experiment as a break from listening to papers. I forget whose room, but we found an appropriate table, laid our hands on it, and addressed it, intending to stir up its spirit--as it were.
This is what I recall of the experience. Almost immediately upon laying hands on this modestly-sized but substantial table, it became agitated. Instead of asking questions of the “spirit” where it raises a leg and knocks once for yes or twice for no, this table, inspired by our threefold presence, moved about excitedly, and seemed to lead us around as if it wanted to break free, or, at any rate, take off on a romp of its own.
And that is exactly what happened. What I recall most clearly is that, barely keeping our fingers on the table, myself losing contact with it several times, it moved, and jauntily. I did not push nor did it seem that Byron or Maria were pushing; rather, we tried to stay in contact with the table as it pulled away and led us out of the room into the hallway wherein it ran around in a display of exuberance as we chased it, hands intermittently touching it.
Somehow we seemed to animate a physical object with an unexplained capacity to move through space. Levitate means to make light, and indeed we somehow caused a table to lighten up and indeed behave bizarrely, almost comically, in space.
My second eyewitness levitation experience was an experiment I performed in a course on personality development at City University of New Jersey, in which we studied and practiced a variety of mental training exercises such as meditation, breathing exercises, image-holding, and chanting in unison. We had, in effect, formed a kind of solidarity of consciousness.
It was suggested that we play a childhood game called “light as a feather,” in which four persons try to levitate a fifth, by uniting consciousness around the target person and lifting him up merely by touching him, just as in the previous story, we caused a table to take off in space.
So now, in the presence of another professor, we sat a two hundred pound ex-marine on a chair, and four of the least brawny female students placed two fingers face-up under the two knees and two elbows of the target person.
After breathing in unison and clearing their minds a bit, I made the command: lift! And much to my (and everyone else’s) amazement, the ex-marine rose into the air, the women in no way making any effort, pushing or puffing; he, afloat in the air, his eyes popping with amazement. The ascent was brief; the descent smooth; and our minds were blown.
I tried the same experiment again several times with other groups, without success; the class where we had been meditating and chanting probably laid the groundwork for success by enabling us to create a group rapport.
My experiences—in the two examples given—raise a big question. Why can a group of people do things that one person alone cannot do?--even things that seem impossible, as the levitation of the marine.
The question applies to destructive and creative performance. It is well known that in certain group situations like war or ritual people will do things savage and inhuman. More to our liking, special groups may also display creative power. For example, James Merrill and William Butler Yeats relied on the presence of an intimate friend or wife. Sometimes highly creative people are unable to fully manifest their gifts without the right psychic partner. Two seemingly ordinary people who achieve the right rapport may do extraordinary things.
I suppose that many potential partners of latent creativity are wandering about, unaccountably dissatisfied because their complementary spirit is missing; the necessary spark for mutual ignition is missing.
The take away idea: if a special rapport among people can bend the most basic of the four forces of nature out of shape, gravity, then who knows what the limits are of what we might accomplish together. It seems that the society we keep may determine the limits of our creative achievement.
If you’re interested in levitation and other extraordinary mind-body phenomena, see my book Wings of Ecstasy, available from Amazon. It contains the Life of Joseph of Copertino, the most extraordinary levitator on record, a master of consciousness and of a spectrum of supernormal powers.