Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe
Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying this famous saying. I say quoted loosely as there is information to indicate that he never actually said it all! What I take from it however is that preparation is key. You can have all the best intentions in the world and be a strong lumberjack, but if your axe is blunt and you aren't prepared, you won't be able to cut down that tree as efficiently. How can we apply this very simple principle to the way we approach paranormal research?
When I very first started investigating the paranormal, like most I was a very green person and I had no idea about anything. I didn't think I needed to education as such. While I felt I needed to know about things like residual VS Intelligent hauntings, I never saw myself needing to know basic psychology for example. I was probably even a bit of a smart ass, in the beginning, wondering why people were investing so much in the education of the paranormal because for me initially, it was a bit of fun. As I grew and evolved, so did my approach and viewpoint of paranormal research. Since then I have learnt that actually a bit of education goes a long way. In order to even be able to determine what paranormal is, you first have to learn what it isn't. That means educating yourself with as much information as you possibly can. Psychology, nature and even basic science are all components that every investigator should be learning. Are you using equipment? Make sure you know the ins and out and how it works. There is no point using a piece of equipment if you don't even know how or what it is measuring. Remember, equipment is really just reading your surroundings. It is up to you to interpret the results. If you don't have knowledge, you can't properly interpret the data. It is not just something that comes from hitting the books so to speak, while this is important to a certain degree, you also learn on your feet when you are out there in the field. It doesn't matter if you have been in the field 1 year or 10. We are still always learnings. New learns from old and old learns from new. An investigator that has been there for 20 years doing the same thing refusing to learn or grow is not necessarily wiser than someone new and open that has been doing it for 2 years. We all have a part to play and new perspectives are always welcome and refreshing.
I never thought I would need to understand areas such as parapsychology, however, it has now become an essential part of my research. It comes as part of a natural evolution of many investigators I guess, but there is always something you can learn. It may even change your approach or your perspective on a lot of things!
In the same way that Lincoln could spend 4 hours preparing the axe, preparation is key, especially when conducting a paranormal investigation. While a true investigation is something that is done over a long period of time, realistically most people do not have access to a particular location for more than one night and it is only a few hours if that. You need to make sure you are making the most of your time. In order to do this, you need to have some sort of loose plan before you go in so you are not wasting your precious investigating time while you are there. If you are setting up a CCTV or DVR system, have it planned out beforehand. Don't just concentrate on the popular 'hot spots' of a building. The building should be investigated as a whole. If you spend too much time in one area just because people claim there is activity there, you could potentially be missing things elsewhere. There should be at least one person who has some sort of historical information on the property. While a lot of people don't want to know this information as they feel it can 'lead' their investigation through the power of suggestion, it is important that one team member knows this information as it can be helpful especially if certain information presents itself during the evening. Charging equipment can be a challenge in itself. Making sure everything has new batteries and that you have every cord that you need. It is making sure you have everything ready and raring to go before you even get there so that you can concentrate on the job at hand.
A lot of investigating the paranormal is a big waiting game. There is a lot of waiting around for an investigation to actually come around. Especially if it is not something that you get to do often. When you are out investigating, it isn't a case of walking in a room and suddenly activity is everywhere. There is a lot of sitting around waiting for something to happen, and a lot of the time, nothing does. Then you have to go through all the data you have collected. This can be hours of listening to recordings, watching video, going through photos or graph charts from data loggers. Most of the time, you will likely come up with nothing.
A tree doesn't chop itself down. It takes work, it takes preparation, it takes knowledge and it takes patience. Sure there is more than one way to chop down a tree just like there is more than one way to approach investigating the paranormal. Everyone has a different 'way they swing the axe' but they ultimately get the job done. Some get it done faster, and some may do so using questionable methods. I guess this is one of the reasons people so often separate the terms ghost hunter to a paranormal researcher/investigator. There is a big difference from just rolling up and walking around in the dark yelling questions as opposed to conducting an investigation. Sometimes I feel that people actually underestimate the amount of work we put into this field. Next time say you attend an investigation, think about the amount of research that is gone into it. Think of the amount of time beforehand the investigators have spent just charging and checking the equipment. Think about the amount of planning they have done to try and have the night run smoothly (as much as it can). Next time you watch a video of a paranormal group conducting an investigation, think of the hours of prep work, hours of review and hours of editing. Now I am not just saying that because someone tried hard they should get the participation award. Yes, investigators can interpret things incorrectly and a lot of methods are flawed. We can find problems with just about everything that we do. This isn't about that today. If we put all of that aside just for a moment and recognise that in itself, it is bloody hard work being a paranormal researcher. Then you have to put up with the constant criticism from others. If you think differently or look at things from a different perspective you can be ridiculed. Why on earth would we continue to work so hard then? Simple. Because we love what we do. It is hard work, but we love it. Remember a tree can still be cut down without having to tell the world about it. Social media doesn't need to know every time a tree is cut down if you know what I mean. Share you work and knowledge with the world, but just remember that is not why you are doing it in the first place. Unless you have entered some kind of 'woodchopping' contest, you won't get credit for chopping down that tree. You most likely won't get a lot of credit or recognition for you what do in the paranormal field. It may be deserved, and there will be occasions where you work will be highlighted, but it is the way the field works. This is why you need to love what you do.
When you expand this to extend beyond just one investigation, a lot of researchers quite literally dedicate their lives and spare time to this. It is not something the majority of people are paid to do. There is no obligation for them to be there and do it. No one is making them sit down everything night reading, researching and discussing with others. It is done out of the simple love of the work itself. So it makes sense to educate yourself and take the time to sharpen the axe, but it is something we have all learnt to do overtime. Never stop learning.
He will see that the necessary time spent in preparation for his life-work is better spent than as if he had rushed into it ill prepared. Time spent in sharpening the axe may well be spared from swinging it.
"The Times and Young Men” by Josiah Strong
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