A common bad habit in life is to take in ghost lodgers. What are ghost lodgers? They are ideas, notions, beliefs, which we have once invited into our minds for a few minutes, but which then come to live with us. Often we do not want to have these lodgers, but somehow they are there, with us all the time. Why cannot we get rid of them? They are just ideas, so they are nothing; it should be easy to throw them out. But it is not so.
There is a saying that it is easier to get rid of a burglar than a ghost; that may seem surprising, but it is true. If we think there is a burglar in the house, we can call the neighbours, and the police. Then together we search the whole house, every inch of it. We do not find any burglar, and we can now go to bed and sleep well. But what happens if we have been reading a ghost story, and now get the idea that there is a ghost in the house? We may call the neighbours just the same, and search the house. They find no ghost. They assure us that there is nothing, and they go away. But… the ghost is still there, annoying or perhaps terrifying.
Moreover, it seems to be more than an idea; we can hear it sometimes, moving about. The floor creaks, and a door rattles a little, as the ghost goes through it. A nervous person can tell where the ghost is in the house, by listening to these small sounds. They must be made by something. That something is the ghost.
I knew a nervous woman who got this idea that there was a ghost in her little bungalow; it came when she was alone. Normally she lived with her sister, and when the sister was there, the ghost was not. But occasionally the sister went away for a few days, and then she heard the ghost. She asked my mother for help. So we talked to the sister, and arranged an experiment. The nervous one, the sister, and I sat together one evening, and we agreed not to speak or move about for two hours. We just sat in silence. I had a notepad and a pencil. Nothing happened — dead silence. Then after about half an hour, there was a faint creak from the next room, where we had had dinner. The furniture was cooling now that the room was empty. As the wood cooled, it creaked. I looked at my watch, and they saw me ostentatiously make a note. After another half hour or so, there was a faint rattle at the door – and we heard the garden tree rustle in a gust of wind. I flourished my pencil and wrote this down too. She was not disturbed by any of these things.
After a few more, we explained to her: ‘These little noises are going on all the time. But normally you do not notice them. You are talking with your sister, or listening to the radio. Then you go to bed and fall asleep.
‘But when you are alone, you get nervous, and you begin to put the sounds together into a sort of chain, so that you think you hear a ghost moving about. And when there is no noise at all, you wait nervously for the next one, to tell you where the ghost is. But the truth is that these sounds have no pattern: your anxiety weaves them into a pattern, the pattern of a spook’. She was satisfied with this, and was longer troubled.
Although it seems ridiculous, the same thing happens in life quite often: we put together several little unconnected events, and make a pattern of them.
I had a strange and unpleasant experience of it once. On one visit to India, a scholar told me that if I wished he could arrange that I should live for a few days in one of the very poor families ‘to know how they live’. So I stayed in what was little more than a shed with one wall missing. Thieving monkeys were everywhere, but the people were charming and honest. I left them a donation, which they at first refused. But when I got back, I was infected with lice. The doctor arranged for me to be shaved all over and deloused. But very soon after the treatment,
I began to feel the lice again. I put on the liquid, but they were still there, so I went back to the doctor. He examined me and then said: ‘There are no lice on you, But you feel them, The fact is that our skin is peeling and renewing itself all the time, and the process creates very small sensations which you do not consciously feel at all. And if you should feel a few, you simply ignore them. But you have had your mind focused on lice, and when your nervous system feels a few of these tiny sensations, it does not ignore them, but sends an emergency report: Lice! You have no lice on you, Mr. Leggett,’ and he laughed. I found myself laughing too, and soon forgot the ghost-lice. They had been created by my mind from sensations which normally I did not notice.
I was once told about a similar ghost-pattern in the world of business. A director of a large and energetic company advertised for a high-level salesman. There were many applications, and he reduced these to a short list of five. He arranhed to see them on separate days. His young son, who was just entering the company, was invited to be present at the interviews, sitting in a comer as a watcher. The father arranged a secret signal to his secretary in the next room: ‘When I press the key with my foot, you telephone me and say there is a very important customer who wants to speak to me at once’,
The procedure at each interview was the same. The candidate came in, and the director greeted him, but getting the name slightly wrong, as if he was not much interested in this particular candidate. Then followed some questions and answers: all the candidates answered very well. The director got each one to speak of his particular ideas for selling. In the middle of the enthusiastic response, when the candidate was in full flood, the telephone would ring ant the secretary delivered the massage. ‘Oh’, said the director in each case, ‘well, perhaps I’ve heard enough. Thank you Mr. So-and so (again getting the name wrong)’,and he waved to his son to show the disconcerted candidate out.
After the last of the interviews, the father said to the som: ‘What did you think of them?’ ‘They all seemed very good’, he replied. ‘Yes, they were’.
He called the secretary, and dictated a letter of rejection. ‘Five copies. When I have signed them, send the same letter to all five’, he told her.
The son was bewildered. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked.
His father told him: ‘I want a first-class salesman. To sell our products, I want a man who is not put off by a bit of rudeness, or even a flat rejection. I have rejected them all, and now I shall wait for one of them to persist in selling himself, just as I shall want him to persist in selling our products’.
‘But I don’t see what he could do’, and said the son.
‘Oh, he will write to me saying that it has always been his dream to represent a first-class go-ahead company, and it was a
great disappointment that he failed. Did he make some mistake at the interview? If so, he would greatly value a hint from me. But he does not want to give up his dream, and as we are clearly going to expand, perhaps another job of this kind will soon come up. If so, could he be considered for it? and so on.
‘I was not very welcoming when I saw him, but he knows he has a good record, and he knows that I need a good man. He ought to see that there was something strange about those little rebuffs I gave, and not be discouraged’.
In this case, the ghost-rejection was deliberately created as a test for the candidates. They were expected to see through the ghost. I have found such incidents helpful in life. Many of our anxieties are created by ourselves, and do not exist at all: they are only ghosts. And even when the ghost seems actually to appear, as in the last story, if we look hard at it we can often see that if is only a ghost. Instead of giving it a lodging in our mind, we can walk at it, and find is nothing.
When the Romans conquered a city, the first thing they did was to go into the temple, bring out the effigies of the gods of that people, and bum them publicly. When Titus conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D., he went into the great temple. In the central sacred place, he found just an empty room. He said: ‘Well, we can’t bum Nothing. But I suppose there is no need to’.
© Trevor Leggett