The Spirit speaks to us sometimes in dreams about our path.
I have been very impressed with Otherwhere by Kurt Leland, a book he styles as a “field guide” to out-of-body experience. Leland, influenced by his training at the Robert Monroe Institute, was taken on a series of guided adventures in the “other realms.” The book describes each realm in beautiful metaphorical terms, with his commentary explaining the inner meaning of each dream sequence metaphor.
Leland was fortunate to have step-wise training explicating each level of reality he was “visiting.” My own journey seems to plant the needle in different grooves along a less linear path. But all roads lead back to God, and to my own Self and the archetype of the Self; all roads also lead to annihilation, and in that process, also to surrender, a dropping into something ineffably greater than my own individuality.
Most recently in the Dream, my meditation teacher was describing her dream, and with each sentence led me deeper into a place of stillness and contemplation.
I then saw swirling figures, silhouetted, in the form of the painting by Henri Matisse called “The Dance.” The painting was three-dimensional, part on a flat surface and part playing out in empty space.
At that point I heard a great roar. The ocean seemed to be overwhelming me, covering everything. I looked toward the roar and forced myself to stay steady with it: God’s presence, the overwhelming infinity, presenting itself to my limited consciousness as a vast stretching of awareness. I allowed myself to modulate the expansion, and realized I would not be overwhelmed, but could become comfortable with the steady opening toward a greater sense of identification with the larger unity.
Spinning in The Void
In a recent, prior dream, I was falling, spinning in a black tunnel. I heard a voice, which I identified by its authority and the fact that it emanated from everywhere simultaneously, as God’s, saying: Let go, Let go, Let go. As I kept falling into the Void, I heard myself call out, “I love you God!”
This dream presaged travel to the Middle East, during which events played out according to the dream and the advice three times to “let go” provided perfect instruction.
From A Friend of All Faiths:
Julian Jaynes of Princeton had a theory that the ancient Greeks actually “heard” what they interpreted as “the gods” speaking from one of the chambers in the “bichameral” brain to the other chamber. This theory eventually fell into disfavor. By contact with the divine, I am not referring to messages from one part of the brain to another. I am referring to contact with beings like you and me, only their bodies are different than ours, not the flesh and blood to which we are accustomed. By inner experience, I refer to the kind of clairaudient, clairvoyant and clairsentient experience to which I was once a stranger, and that I now welcome as ‘second nature’–the ability to see, hear, and feel non-corporeal beings ranging from spiritual guides to angels to divinity in whatever form it appears to the seeker. Like us, I believe, they come as beggars and kings, kin and strangers, saints and goblins, and they have lineages and hierarchies, just as we do. (Why else do we conceptualize God as “King,” “Sovereign,” “Lord,” “Master,” “Ruler?”) At the apex of this whole cosmic order of being is, I presume, no matter what the name, let’s call Him, Her, It, All of the Above, the Name (in Hebrew, literally Hashem): this ineffable/numinous/transcendent/immanent/overarching/supreme witnessing/all-pervasive/omniscient/omsentient presence whose shorthand is this three-letter word (sometimes two letters and a dash as in G-d).
There must be reasons why we, as a world culture, generally have closed down our channel to the divine. Many would assert that a major reason is not only the general opposition of much of organized (institutionalized) religion to private mystical experience, but also the numbing that religious practice within some contemporary communities can have–ironically–on the direct, unmediated experience of God. Specifically, once mantras (sacred words) become rote, they cease becoming living vessels of embodied divine energy. Once rituals become obligatory, they lose their freshness as living mediators of Earth and Heaven. Once priests become the necessary mediators, individuals lose direct contact with a consciousness mighty enough to connect directly with their bodies and brains.
Some find beautiful, direct connection to their deities (or The Deity) through a church, temple, mosque, or other communal place of worship, though it is generally acknowledged that ‘organized religion’ does not always embrace the private mystical experience. We can have many other hypotheses as to why present human awareness typically denies inclusion of these other parts of our reality. Other social and cultural professional reasons may include the following:
· Inner experiences can be scary and can threaten to overwhelm our psychic boundaries;
· The line between mystical experience and psychosis is not well understood or clearly delineated;
· The field of psychology is dismissed by some as a ‘soft science,’ and even within the field, study of the ‘farther reaches of human nature’ (to quote Maslow) is marginalized by many;
· Unlike cultures in which shamanistic experience is accepted, modern, ‘Western’ culture has split off non-cognitive experiences;
· Further, modern, ‘Western’ culture has split off ‘scientifically validated’ phenomena, which are deemed ‘objective,’ from inner experience, which is deemed ‘subjective’ and therefore unreliable;
· More than ‘unreliable,’ our consensus culture tends to judge such as experiences as inherently not credible, thus dividing audiences into skeptics and adherents.
· Our culture is profoundly materialistic, e=mc2 notwithstanding, and fails to recognize ‘energy’ in an immediate, kinesthetic way.
· Our culture mystifies intuition as a ‘sixth sense’ and thereby fails to integrate innate human potential into everyday use and experience.
Finally, a pervasive concern is potential misuse of spiritual authority. (I have written about this subject, including its regulatory aspects, extensively in my academic writings.) I learned something about this with Nick: he was a brilliant and simultaneously distorted teacher. Perhaps this is why the book begins with him: he helped opened a channel I always had latent inside me, and also taught me (albeit through his destructive behavior) about the ethics of spiritual power. I learned that another major reason why most of us have not ‘opened up our channel’ is that:
· Psychological health and emotional maturity are prerequisites to the successful integration of mystical experience that marks genuine spiritual development.
Spiritual health requires psychological health–religious maturity, psychological maturity; that is why religious doctrine alone will never produce the best humanity has to offer; why religion and compassion or love are not necessarily synonymous; and why faiths and beliefs can differ, but the healthy qualities religious maturity can produce can be shared and described universally across religions (often through experiences of the mystics). As a corollary, it may be the reason most of us do not exercise our latent spiritual gifts is that collectively we are not sufficiently strong and mature to handle these experiences–a point easily made given the way we misuse “outer” technology (imagine if we would wreak equal destruction through mental power, not even having to ‘press a button’). Einstein’s equation–like nuclear power–proves that Kali and Shiva are equal as metaphors for destruction and creation. We can bless or curse, enlighten or clog.
As one in a series of ‘dark teachers’ of spiritual power, Nick like Darth Vader in Star Wars, presented the one who has been lured by the ‘dark side of the Force,’ but whose face is sweet when finally able to rip off the mask. Without presuming to explain the origins of this darkness, it is sufficient to recognize it exists, a temptation lurking within spiritual power correlative to the dark side of ambition in political power. We all face the Dark Side. I can be one with God and at the same time, when will the elevator arrive might just be one thought darting across a frustrating afternoon. Like my gentle, already enlightened cats, I can have a “bad fur day.” I not only have to recognize my shadow nature when it pops up, I also have to “eat” it. Only by acknowledging and assimilating back the dark power projected onto the world can we fully embody our light and be whole. Some call for sublimation of negative emotions, others for their cathartic release–in either event, recognizing one’s shadow appears critical to psychological and religious maturity and avoidance of delusion of self and repression/oppression of others.
One of the negative experiences I report in this book is that of perceiving a demon speaking through one of my law school faculty colleagues. I hope the reader will resist the temptation to see this as projection or metaphor on my part (academic politics can’t be that bad!), and consider the truth of experience. Withy our channel open, you, too, may someday–like Jesus–see a Legion of demons spilling out of someone nasty at work. But perhaps you do not want to. I can understand that. Believe me, personality dynamics in meetings can be quite sufficient for a day’s work–Earth being karma bumi, the land of action-reaction; watching the ghosts and goblins (and angels and deities) fly across the mahogany table is not for the faint of stomach. Paradoxically, it takes a great deal of inner strength to allow one’s self to be so vulnerable and sensitive.
Not all mystical explorers have admitted to the paradox of fiery strength and incalculable fragility. Indeed, many deny it. When surveying the mystical literature–both historical and contemporary–one typically finds two paradigmatic formulas for narrative structure, neither of which gives full credit to the experience of encountering the divine in all one’s humanness. First is The Conversion Story. This is exemplified by Saul’s journey on the road to Tarsus, and again by St. Augustine’ Confessions. “I was an ordinary shmuck, but through grace–a blinding, divine light; a voice; a vision; whatever–I found You, and now I am healed/saved/redeemed/made whole.” The modern version of this would be Conversations with God by Donald Neale Walsh. One day God simply spoke to him through a movement of his pen. Then everything changed.
Second is The Believer’s Tale. This is written by someone already converted, someone who expresses mystical experience in the dense symbolic and metaphorical language of the individual’s faith. I think of Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross or writings by Theresa of Avila. These works are rich with personal experiences of the ‘inner castle,’ the ‘many mansions’ of the body, mind, and soul in which Spirit is said to dwell. Today there are writings by channels and healers, who purport to bring messages from non-corporeal beings; these writers ‘travel’ out-of-body or receive transcendental messages in slightly altered trance states, echoing the mystical experiences of saints from different traditions. But then one wonders, to what are they already converted? To the persuasive stories of former doubting Thomases turned converts? To the holy accounts of authoritative scriptural texts, or perhaps to their own idiosyncratic formulas?
Perhaps it does not matter–their conversion is already a given. In any even, neither the Conversion Story nor the Believer’s Tale are totally satisfying, if one is neither a Convert nor a Believer. These structures favor our penchant for duality–for splitting, between one extreme and another, and then flipping between the two. The first extreme: One day I was this and then such-and-such happened and I became that, and believe me, that is the truth and you get can there too, just in a snap. The second extreme: This is true, this has always been the Truth, and here is my experience within that never-ending, never-beginning truth.
My journey is neither a Conversion Story nor a Believer’s Tale. I did not “convert” from a specified religious path to another specific path; nor can I identify a set of beliefs other than openness to trusting my experience and the mature ability to differentiate psychological projection, wish fulfillment, and other defense mechanisms from genuine metaphysical encounters. Mine is the story of a variety of religious experiences, accumulated over time and with different stripes and stars and accents, all intermingling, a smorgasbord, melting pot, palimpsest, whatever metaphor you choose. All these experiences have informed my scholarly work.
While the Conversion Story and the Believer’s Tale seem simplistic from a literary perspective, they seem to form the bedrock of religious tradition. On the flip side, to non-believers, they are inherently suspect–if not ridiculous. As suggested, mental health care professions have not successfully sorted out creative psychological states involving out-of-body or mystical encounters from destructive, distorted ones. Arbitration is indeed difficult. William James, for example, laments the way “medical materialism” attempts to reduce such gems as the inner experience of St. Francis of Assisi to the fruit of an epileptic seizure.
As to the yardstick for discernment, the measure for healthy inner voyaging, the one James used–true to his pragmatic philosophy–was, “by their truth ye shall known them.” Psychological states, or encounters ‘beyond this dimension’ that are healthy produce healthy results in this world. Of course, representatives of different religious traditions have their own ‘tests of discernment,’ corresponding with their religious ideology. My own test is love: have these experiences cultivated greater compassion, love for all beings, active works of compassion and love in the world? Is my heart more still, more full, more open than before? Or as Ronald Reagan used to ask when running for President: Are you better off than you were four years ago? Do spiritual experiences lend themselves to greater good works of compassion and caring of all peoples, not just those belonging to one or another “ism.”