Saturday, May 18, 2019

Paper Just Published in IJODR

I have authored a paper that might interest you was just published in the International Journal of Dream Research, 12, 1, (April, 2019), titled "Fading Light and Sluggish Flight: A Two-Dimensional Model of Consciousness in Lucid Dreams." You can download the paper from the IJODR site, at Enjoy!

When You Are Ready

When I was about 22, I dreamt that I awoke to see a bright white light descending into our side yard, 20 feet outside the window. I was frightened, so I got up and ran from my room, but not before a dark form flew toward me. As it touched the ground, it became a beautiful blond woman dressed in a blue jumpsuit of the kind you might see in a science fiction movie. I asked her what she wanted. She said, “We have come for your brother. You are not ready yet.” Glad that they had not come for me, I went to inform my brother of their arrival. I found him kneeling tearfully in prayer. His head was shaved, and he wore a saffron-colored robe. He accompanied me to where the woman was waiting outside our bedroom window. She and her travel companions laid my brother down and slid his body through an opening in the luminous craft. Before they left, the woman told me that they had put something inside my wrist that would serve as a beacon to them. She said, “We will return when you are ready.”

Between that moment and this juncture in time I have been the recipient of countless experiences of spiritual ecstasy and religious encounter. I have written a book on lucid dreaming, a book on face-to-face encounters with Jesus, a book on visions of the Holy Mother, and a memoir on fly fishing as a spiritual journey that was inspired by luminous dreams. But throughout these important developmental stages, I have never forgotten the woman’s promise to return “when you are ready.”

One sign that I was nearing readiness for her return was an experience I had a decade ago aboard my fishing skiff, while spending the night alone on the Lower Laguna Madre, my home waters from childhood where I have flyfished since my 20s, and guided flyfishers for the past 18 years. I’d already spent several nights on the bay during the full moon, and I decided to do it one night while a tropical storm brewed over the open Gulf to the south of where I anchored.

  I lay there for a while, savoring the view of a clear, starry sky above me, and golden thunder heads to the south lit up with lightning, until I began to drift off to sleep. Passing into the realm between waking and sleeping, I heard something that I had not experienced in months. It was a familiar interior sound — like ocean waves or a rushing wind — and it had often preceded the coming of the Light or the onset of an out-of-body experience. A well-known Tibetan treatise refers to this phenomenon as the “gift waves,” and says that it indicates the presence of a spiritual master who is assisting in the development of the recipient. 
Regardless of its source, I have always considered it an auspicious event, so I surrendered to it without resistance or fear. A few minutes later, I lost consciousness briefly, but not before I felt myself rocking back and forth on the verge of leaving my body.
The next thing I remembered, I was sitting with a group of men in a wide, open work boat that was about 25 feet long. It was a very bright, cloudless day. I was fully conscious and acutely aware that I had somehow been transported from the Shoal Cat to another place. I wasn’t sure that the men could see me, so I remained still and just watched what was going on around me. Where was I? I wondered. I gathered somehow that the men were waiting to go to work inside a building that towered above us in the middle of an ocean. They all wore similar blue-and-white work clothes. I also observed several strange, otherworldly-looking boats passing by, each of which appeared to be exquisitely crafted and personally tailored to its owner’s tastes. 

Then I realized with a start where I was: I was on another planet, and the sun above me was another star! Reeling from this insight, I was suddenly back on lying on the deck of my boat, looking up at the stars again and listening to the retreating sound of the gift waves. 
It was another 15 years before the "portal" between this world and the stars opened up more completely. I have visited so many  planets in faraway star systems, and have said goodbye to countless loving souls whom I will probably never see until I am no longer tethered to this world. There have been so many experiences that I only write down the most memorable ones, some of which are included in this blog. Someday soon, I hope to write about them in a book-long treatment on the subject. But suffice to say, I know that we're not alone in the universe, and that there are countless worlds and souls who will welcome you as a long-lost friend ... "when you are ready."

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Guru's Invitation

I had meditated at 4:30 am, and left my body after lying back down around 5:15. After being out for 30 minutes or so, and encountering numerous beings, ostensibly from another star system (a regular experience), I left them, and walked along alone. I looked up at the sky and prayed that I might receive some help in my writing and be guided or taken someplace where I would receive that help. Suddenly the clouds parted and a huge mandala began to form in the sky. It was beautiful and very ornate. Perhaps it was an ancient Indian mandala or yantra, because there did not seem to be any Buddhas in the mandala.  I was drawn up into it and as I got closer to it, I could see that it was textured rather than two-dimensional, kind of like a quilt. 

Some of the panels was actually mirror-like or metallic and others were more like silk or lustrous material, but it was exquisitely beautiful. Then it seemed that the mandala was draped over a large table or platform and I knew that it had been created by a woman. I was on the platform, on the mandala and then lowered myself onto the floor around this platform. I found myself in what appeared to be on ashram store or a place where spiritual items were sold that were associated with some spiritual tradition. There were vendors all around the periphery of a square room and I walked around greeting each of them and seeing what they had to offer. Each of the vendors was a woman, and they seemed to be overjoyed to see me. They greeted me with great compassion and joy, and it just made me feel happy, on the edge of ecstasy myself. Then someone mentioned that the Guru was coming and I turned, and he came. He stood beaming only a couple of feet away.  He was fairly young and radiant and happy and clearly pleased to see me as if I was a long lost friend or someone he expected.  He had black hair, with white hair or light on the edges of his hair. He then embraced me. 

Then he had his followers bring me an abundance of gifts of various types and they inundated me with bags and boxes full of things. He was so happy, and he would lean over to tend to the gifts. At one moment, he said, "this is for your bath," and he took something out of one of the containers and brought it to my attention and smiled and as if he was taking great care and making sure that I understood how all of the gifts could be used. Finally I asked him, “Who are you?" And he said that his name was like two names starting with s and he used the acronym s a m as if somehow Sam was a short name that described his longer names. But as usual, it’s hard to hear words distinctly in the OOBE.

Then it seemed I was coming out of that particular episode and looking around for him and didn't see him anymore and I asked somebody if a man that I was standing next to was the Guru and the man I asked said, "no, no, he's down the hallway sitting in his chair." So I walked down the hallway and there was a woman kneeling in front of him with her head bowed to the floor. Meanwhile, he sat in the chair and in a very stately, meditative pose. The woman got up and then I took my position in front of him and he said something like, “Do whatever feels comfortable for you," as if to say "you don't have to go by our traditions." Nonetheless, I bowed down and put my head to the floor and it felt very right to do that. When I stood up, I aked him, “How can I find you? Can I visit with you again?" He said, "certainly you are always welcome." And then he said, “ Come to Montreal." And then I began to come back to my body.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Dream: The God Within the Garden

I awoke at 5 o’clock, and took 4 mg of galantamine before returning to bed without meditating. My goal was modest, that is, to just remember a dream. But I had a dream in which I became lucid and began flying. I considered going up and heading for the stars, but for some reason I stayed in the world, feeling that my out-of-body condition was fragile.  Then, I was with many people who were involved in ARE. We were in a rural setting, which had been endowed by some donor at the tune of $10 million or more, which was facilitated by Charles Thomas Cayce before his death. We were exploring the area. At some point, we became aware that the plant life of the earth  had been struck by some kind of force or disease that caused it to wither. Somehow we were aware that there was an ancient being who was underground, and we hoped to find that being so it could assist us in addressing the problem that the world faced. We used what looked to be a metal detector that we swept over the ground seeking for some signal of the being’s presence. After we had swept a garden area, a lettuce plant begin to vibrate, as if to signify that something was beneath it. I took a shovel and began to dig gently into the soil, eventually exposing a red light, which we knew to be an eye or sensor for the being. The being emerged from the ground in a non-humanoid form, looking like a plant made of flesh or non-woody material. It came close to me, and touched me. I knew that it recognized me. It then transformed into a little male child who was on my back with his arms around me. It seemed to be morning, and we were all eating outside. I fed the child buttered toast while we visited with the people around us. Then I addressed him more formally, asking him if he could do something for us to save the world from the dire situation it faced. He seem to rise up into the air and address the problem globally and taking a while to do so. Then, upon his return, he and I were face-to-face, and I was feeling deep, almost unbearable love. I told him I loved him and he told me the same. I asked him, "Where have we known each other?" He replied, “Everywhere.” And then I gradually awoke in my bed.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The First Cause of Dreaming

A recent realization of mine has been percolating for some time, and has matured in the context of doing online dream groups for the past two years. The question is, "What gives rise to a dream?"

Neuroscientists have their own answers, but I'm a phenomenologist, and therapist, so I'm looking at the initial moments in a dream to provide hints pertaining to the background reason for its emergence.

I believe that the first cause is the experience of dissonance between the status quo dream ego awareness, and some discordant or emergent feeling that collides with it.

In the Gospel of Thomas, it says, "When the one becomes two, what will you do?" In essence, consciousness depends on dissonance; for otherwise, there would be no other, no awareness of difference, only a kind of immersive, formless awareness.

If you study the first sentence or two of any dream narrative, you will usually find some sense of edge or uneasiness that lays the groundwork for everything that follows. It doesn't have to be unpleasant, only sufficiently "different" to evoke awareness upon which the imagery then populates the dream interface as an expression of the evolving sense of difference or dissonance. I know this sounds abstract, but it provides very practice ways to structure effective co-creative dream work.

Take for instance the opening words of a dream that a dream group member once shared. "I heard the howl of a wolf, and realized that my chickens were vulnerable to attack. I grabbed a hoe and ran out the back door in order to protect them." One ways to structure the dream work is to reflect on the fact that even before the dreamer heard the fox howl, she was aware of a sense of uneasiness and threat, and the wolf's howl and everything that transpired thereafter provided an experience of confronting and resolving (if possible) the sense of threat.

I will be writing further about this, but consider a couple of dreams of your own, and see you can come up with an initial sense of dissonance, and describe it. Then proceed to work on your dream using the FiveStar Method, and see if this preliminary step aids you in conducting more effective dream work.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Grace in a Flower

Grace in a Flower 
by G. Scott Sparrow

     It was almost dark as we made our way out of the piney woods and into the fresh-cut corn fields on the way back to my uncle's house. I rode old Smokey bareback, and my two cousins rode the full-size horses on ahead of me.  We were
tired, and so were the horses. As usual, we had all gotten up early and ridden until midday. Then, we'd gone back out again in the cool of the evening.  And now, we dropped the reins and let the horses' hunger carry us back across the fields toward the farm house. 
     It was like heaven to be in Alabama with my cousins, and I visited there as often as my parents would let me.  My grandparents and aunts and uncles treated me so kindly, that I looked upon each of them as near-perfect.  In my child-like bliss, I could not see the real-life struggles that would eventually bring them to their knees. 
     A popping sound interrupted my half-sleep, and I looked down to see what the horses were stepping on.  But it was too dark to see the small green fruit that grew on the vines that lined the edges of the fields. 
     "What's that sound?" I shouted. 
     "Maypops," Dub yelled back.  "They're all over." 

     That told me nothing, but a few days later, I walked over the same ground and noticed the bright green vines that ran along the edges of the fields.  Small green fruit were everywhere, and to my child's mind, they had to be good for something. But for what, I did not know.  Then, I discovered something far more intriguing than the fruit. Lifting the leaves, I exposed a delicate, violet flower with a tiny white cross in the middle.  I was transfixed by its beauty, and I took one back with me to my uncle’s house.  But the hair-like petals were fragile, and they quickly drooped. 
     Later, after returning to Texas, my mother helped me look it up in a plant book.  I discovered that it was a passion flower, and that its Latin name was  passiflora incarnata. Obviously,  the delicately framed cross had suggested  to someone years before the passion of Christ. I learned that it was was a medicinal herb, too, but that part I forgot until later. 
     It wasn't long before things went downhill for my uncle's family.  At the height of his social rise, he was a prominent businessman and an officer in the largest town bank.  But when his corn fields along the Tombigbee River fell prey to an overpopulation of deer, he took the law into his own hands, and began to kill the starving deer to protect his crops. The game wardens came to arrest him one evening as he sat upon his tractor, armed with the old .35 Remington with a barrel that always looked like a cannon to me.  For a while, it was not clear that he would surrender to them. He was defending his livelihood, after all; but his resistance to the law on that day precipitated his fall from grace in that community. 
Adding to the family's losses, my uncle's younger son was killed a few years later while driving his tractor trailer home one night.  He left the highway to protect another motorist, and was fatally injured when his rig flipped over.  
     Along with other rude awakenings, my short-lived childhood fantasy of perfection and bliss collapsed under the reality of human frailty. 
     Even though I embarked on an intense spiritual search at the age of 19, and have continued ever since, a sense of sadness and despair has dogged me since my childhood years. So it is perhaps not surprising that my anxieties about life came to a head one night in my young adulthood when I was visiting my childhood home in south Texas, just before I was supposed to be married.  
I am not sure why it happened, but I awoke in the middle of the night in sheer, indescribable terror.  It was my first panic attack.  Although I had a Master's degree in psychology at the time, I had no real first-hand experience with such things.  Like most people when they have their first panic attack, my sense of confidence was shattered in an instant. I was convinced in that moment that I was on the verge of madness or death, or both.  Anyone who has ever had a full-blown panic attack will know that I am not exaggerating. 
     Up to that time, my spiritual life had been unfolding at a pace that was difficult for me or my friends to comprehend. I felt blessed by God, but for what I did not know. 
     And so, the night time terror seemed to come from out of nowhere, and left me deeply shaken.  For over two years, the panic attacks recurred, further diminishing my belief that somehow I could avoid the tragedies that befell others. Around that time, I would awaken in the middle of the night, paralyzed with terror. I would grab my Bible, and  read the promises of Jesus in  the book of John, clinging desperately to the shred of hope that Jesus' words instilled in me. 
     While reading the Edgar Cayce readings one day around that time, I discovered that  the passion flower vine -- that intriguing southern flower from my childhood -- had curative properties.  Specifically, he recommended it for epileptic seizures and, sometimes, for anxiety.  Looking for relief in natural ways, I promptly ordered some passion flower from an herbal supplier. Since I had to order it in bulk, I received a three-pound shipment in the mail one day -- an amount that lasted me for years. The bag of pulverized herb went with me wherever I went, and it was my own poor-man's remedy for despair. For the months that followed,  I would drink a cup of passion flower tea before going to bed each night.  I imagined that it calmed me and protected me from the raw panic that could rise up in an instant. A cup of passion flower tea and my Bible were my unfailing companions on those sleepless nights when the panic overcame me. 
     The panic went away for a while shortly after a dream that I had one night after reading from my Bible at 2:00 a.m. 
     I dreamed that I was in Palestine at the time of Christ.  I was living in a one-room house with my parents.  I knew that I'd never seen Jesus, only heard about him. I went to sleep on the dirt floor of the house, and had a dream. In it, Jesus called me to come and follow him. When I awoke, I was filled with yearning to find the one who had summoned me to his side. I bade my parents farewell, and went in search of him. 
     That dream was a turning point, and for a season, the nighttime panic subsided. 

      It returned at a time that it became clear to me that my years in Virginia Beach were coming to a close, and that it was time to return to south Texas. It was not easy to close up a counseling practice of 16 years, say goodbye to most of my friends, and -- most grievously -- leave my 10-year-old son, who lived with my ex-wife. Indeed, it was difficult to absorb all of that loss and change, however necessary.
     Not surprisingly, the nighttime terror returned as I was preparing to leave. Actually it had started up some time before, but it intensified during that time of stress. It was more than a bad feeling this time: It was compounded by an absence of breath. I would awaken on the edge of blacking out, having not breathed for some time, and completely out of breath. I would run gasping down the hall -- and often out the door into the night before waking up all the way. When I shared my symptoms with a psychologist friend, who had researched various forms of apnea -- the sleep disorder that causes breathing to be interrupted. Most snorers suffer from "obstructive apnea," in which a closed air passage temporarily suspends breathing. But I didn't snore, nor am I overweight, so my researcher friend said that my form of apnea sounded like "central" apnea, a rare and more ominous form of the sleep disorder in which the brain -- for some reason -- tells the body to stop breathing. But then she quickly ruled that out, saying -- not very reassuringly -- "If you had central apnea, Scott, you'd probably be dead." 
      I knew that I was on the edge of life, and that I needed something to pull me back.
     One evening before we left for Texas, I was leaning against the deck rail behind the house. Looking down into the yard, I spotted a tiny green plant rising above the thick St. Augustine grass. Nearby I could see another, and another. Five young plants were spread over a 10-by-10 area, revealing the deep green, trilobed leaves of passiflora incarnata.  Needless to say, I was stunned. Even though I knew that the plant grew in the south, I had never seen a single plant inside the city limits of Virginia Beach, much less five plants. 
     It was, I am convinced, one of those little miracles. In the weeks that followed, I harvested the leaves and fruit from those plants, and drank the tea each night before going to bed. When we left for our new home in Texas, I carefully wrapped up three of the maypops and took them with us.
     Stories that end with closure appeal to our hopes, but rarely capture the truth of the never-ending journey. However, about the time we left for Texas, I had a dream in which the blossom of the passion flower took on new meaning. 
     The first part of the dream concerns my discovery of a great tragedy -- the murder of a native American man by a group of white hunters who considered the Indian as little more than an animal. (In analyzing this later, I realized that my impulse to return to south Texas was driven by the realization that an essential, natural part of me had to be restored.) I am so deeply saddened and outraged as I discover this crime that I know I have to report it to the authorities. As I call to report this tragedy, I look up and see a red plane overhead. A young pilot is saluting my efforts. He swoops down again and again, and does magnificent barrel rolls and loops as he pulls out of his dives. His maneuvers are so amazing that I finally realize that the experience has to be a dream. 
     I walk slowly across a grassy area, carefully observing the beauty of everything around me in the dream. A large hibiscus towers over me, and it's dew-covered red blossoms droop down over my head. 
     From past lucid dreams, I know that the holy light has to be near. So I raise my eyes to look for it, and see instantly that a white light fills the sky. I know that the light is Christ's light. There is a pattern that radiates outward from it, like white lace, or delicate latticework.  
     Then I notice an elderly woman approaching me. I feel great love from her, so I put my arm around her and kiss her on the forehead. I know somehow that she is Mary, the mother of Jesus. 
     We turn to look again at the Light, and see that there is a second light to the left and slightly below the white light of Christ. The second light resembles a passion flower blossom, with bluish and lavender hair-like petals radiating outward from a central light. 
     I turn to her and ask, "Is that your light?" 
     She nods. 
     I look back and see that there is now a third light -- to the right and again, slightly below the light of Christ. It radiates from a window on the top of a tower that has spiral steps leading upward. 
     I ask Mary, "Whose light is that?" 
     She says, "Mary Magdalene’s." 
     "Do you want to go there?" I ask her. 
     She nods again. 
     So we begin climbing the steps of the tower. Then I awaken. 

    The passion flower resurfaces from time to time in my life, as a symbol and as an herbal remedy alike. When I contemplate its delicate beauty, I am reminded that the word “passion” -- that is often used to describe Christ’s suffering -- has nothing to do with what we usually think of that word. It has to do with his submission to the forces that were at work to bring his life to fruition, however tragically. The word as it is used has more to do with “passive” than with “zeal,” and has a disturbingly out-of-control ring to it. But there are no guarantees that we will survive in responding to spirit's call. Indeed, we may be crushed, as he was, in our attempts to serve the good. But then again, what better choice do we have? 
   Whether we see ourselves as one who consents to our calling, as Mary did, knowing frightfully little about what the future holds -- or as one who suffered to love deeply as Mary Magdalene probably did -- we, too, will surely flower if we can bring ourselves to follow our soul’s calling without regard to the consequences. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Does God Deceive Us?

This is an essay I wrote several years ago that stirred up quite a controversy when I submitted it for publication to a magazine. They published it, but asked a priest to write a rebuttal to it. Please note that I use God and the masculine pronoun throughout without intending for it to be taken literally. - GSS

Does God Deceive Us? 

  Last December, I left my dock at daybreak and boated eastward toward the lower Laguna Madre --  a clear, shallow bay on the Texas Gulf Coast.  It was cold even for a South Texas winter day, so I wore my fleece, neoprene waders, and fingerless wool gloves.  While I shuddered uncontrollably, I never considered turning back, because for many years I had dreamed of catching a record speckled trout on my fly rod.  As I skimmed over the water, heading into the rising sun, I thought, This could be the day.

  After all, many dreams had indicated -- if taken literally -- that this dream might eventually come true. In one, I was fishing and I spotted a great fish feeding. Excitedly, I cast my fly to it, and the huge trout rose to the surface and inhaled it without hesitation. Immediately I thought, There is simply no way to land this fish. But then, the huge fish leapt 50 feet into the air and landed on the ground, right at my feet.

The dream, however, did not come true that day. Hours after leaving the dock, I was wading a mile from my anchored boat in soft mud and a foot of water.  The sun had risen and the day had turned surprisingly warm. Exhausted and unable to shed some of my clothing, I turned around to make the arduous trek back to the boat.  As I considered the toll that the dream of catching the big fish had taken,  I also realized that it had played a small but significant role in luring me onward in my decision to leave Virginia after 25 years and to relocate to my "home waters" of South Texas.  This decision had been one of the most difficult steps I’d ever taken, for it had involved becoming separated from many of my friends and my son, and redefining myself as a fishing guide and innkeeper in the remote, natural setting of my childhood. As I reflected on the dreams and spiritual experiences that had pushed me toward this decision, an idea suddenly came to maturity after years of germination. I laughed, and knew that it was one of the most important realizations of my lifetime.  It had nothing to do with fishing per se. It had to do with how God gets us to do the work we need to do. 

 My thoughts went back to 1970, when I first met my spiritual mentor, Hugh Lynn Cayce. He sauntered up to me in the meadow below the A.R.E.'s camp's dining hall and casually introduced himself like he was just another camper.  Even though we'd never actually met before, I knew who he was. Further, I had encountered him in a dream several months before.

In the dream, Hugh Lynn asked me if I'd like to take part in a passion play. Having only a vague notion of what that would mean, I nonetheless felt honored that he would choose me, and so I gladly consented. Moments later, I was told to lie down on a cross. Two men approached, and prepared to nail me to it -- with real nails.  Then I awoke. 

As I made my way back to the boat, I reflected on this dream, and others like it, that seemed to indicate that I would be called upon to do important spiritual work in this lifetime. In one dream, I arrived at the A.R.E. and filled the only empty chair of twelve that were lined up in front of Headquarters. And in another, I was told that I would write a book, titled The Second Revelation. Well, as you might imagine, I felt pretty special as a result of such dreams; and they accounted, in part, for my decision to move to Virginia Beach and to go to work for the A.R.E. after graduating from college. I went on to write two books, which taken together could conceivably have been titled The Second Revelation.  My agent and my editor predicted that the books would become bestsellers, and the major New York publishers fought over the rights to publish the books. But in spite of all the fanfare, the books did not become bestsellers. The books may have been good, and they may have been what God wanted me to do. It was true that the books brought me a lot of advance money, but only because my publishers also believed in something that never came true. They must have felt deceived by their own expectations, but they never spoke to me about their feelings. Regardless, it was embarrassing and painful to become a failure in their eyes, and to experience the "real nails" of my chosen path.

As the sun bore down, I once again felt tricked by the dream of catching the big one. I skirted the yucca-covered shoreline of Rattlesnake Island, and wondered if perhaps the snakes were stirring from their wintry slumber. I felt some relief when I finally spotted my boat anchored off the south shore, and knew that I'd be there soon enough. 

 Meanwhile, I considered how the disciples must have felt when Jesus chose them. Here was this new teacher, rumored to be much more than an ordinary Rabbi, who was choosing them to be his followers. We can imagine how special they must have felt. But Jesus must have known that he was choosing men who would conceivably lose everything, even their lives, in the course of following him. We can also assume that he did not emphasize this part of the discipleship agreement at first -- the "real nails" part. Instead, he kindled in them a great dream that would sustain them in the hard years to come.  And then, after shattering this first dream by dying as he did, he awakened in them another by promising that he would return to finish the work that he'd started. With this single assertion, Jesus instilled more expectancy and hope than the world had ever known. 

 When Jesus did not return immediately, and his followers started to worry, Paul brilliantly focused on the redemptive power of the risen Christ as a sufficient fulfillment of Christ's mission in order to quell their understandable misgivings. However, others who assume that the Master meant to be taken literally, have pointed out that Jesus has never made good on his promise to return.  Some explain this by saying that Jesus, being a man, was simply susceptible to occasional error. Others, who believe that the tangible fulfillment of this promise is crucial, say that the time has not yet come for his return. And still others have regarded the return of Christ as an interior reality. My own work, I am With You Always , is arguably a collection of such interior "second comings." 

 But no one that I know has ever accused Jesus of deceiving us.

 There have many promises and prophecies, since the time of Christ, that have convinced countless believers that dramatic change was indeed imminent. For instance, as we approached the new millennium, I know that many of us expected that the close of the century would bring changes, the likes of which the world had never seen. At least that is many people came to believe from Biblically derived prophecies, or from the Biblically inspired prophecies of such from one of the best-known seers of our times -- Edgar Cayce.  Steeped in a life of devotion to his Master, and informed by prodigious Biblical study, the Sleeping Prophet described scenarios, similar to those found in The Revelation, that would unfold from 1958 through 1998 that made spiritual sense, and which provided a motivational basis for innumerable seekers during the last half of this century. Other modern seers concurred with Cayce's assessments, and offered their own flourishes to his compelling millennial vision. 

 But, by and large these changes have not yet come to pass. 

 Some say that Cayce was simply not perfect, even though he was a great visionary and modern disciple of Christ, and some say that Cayce was not so much wrong as unable to anticipate the choices that we would make -- individually and collectively -- that would alter the outcome. Others contend that his timing was just a bit off, and so they push the dates forward into the next century. And still others say that many of the changes have occurred, only that they are internal and symbolic, rather than literal. 

 But no one I know has ever accused Cayce -- who was as devout as any man who has lived in modern times -- of intentionally deceiving us. 

 Indeed, in all of our thinking about the promises and prophecies that have not yet come true, the one obvious possibility that we have not considered is that God -- through our own dreams and through those who serve him best -- regularly and intentionally misleads us for our own good.

 Indeed, there is good evidence that God -- or whatever you choose to call that power that sustains us and beckons us forever onward -- engages in at least two types of deception. First, He seems to makes promises that may be spiritually true -- and which inspire us to do the work we need to do -- but that never come to pass in this world. Second, He seems to withhold information that would undermine our willingness to to do the work we need to do. 

 In the latter case, let us consider the experiences of Henry Suso -- a 14th-century Christian saintly monk.  Like most of the great Christian contemplatives, Suso -- once sealed by his vows to the Church -- ceased living in the world as an ordinary person. He was otherworldly and deeply spiritual, and was known as a healer of peerless integrity. 

 One day, while plunged deep in thought, Suso was rapt from his senses. He rose up out of his body and encountered a young man who told Suso that he done well in the "lower school," but that if Suso consented, he would be admitted to the "higher school."  Not really knowing what that would mean, Suso nonetheless gladly consented, at which point he was ushered into the presence of the Master.

 After Christ welcomed Suso to "the school of perfect self-abandonment," and explained something of its purpose, Suso returned to his body and happily waited for more instruction. A few weeks later, the young man appeared to him again in spirit, and proceeded to give Suso spurs and other apparel that only knights wore. When Suso protested that he had not earned his spurs in battle, the young man laughed and said, 

  "Have no fear! Thou shalt have battles enough!" 

   Then Christ appeared and told Suso that he should cease all of his rigorous, self-negating practices, because thereafter He, not Suso, would administer the tests. When Suso asked Christ what the tests would be, the Lord responded,

  "It is better that thou know nothing, lest thou shouldst hesitate." 

  A few weeks later, Suso suffered the worst imaginable fate for a man wedded to the Church. A woman in the village accused him of fathering her illegitimate baby. For years thereafter, Suso struggled inwardly and outwardly with this test. And while the story is too long to tell here, suffice it to say that in the end, he surprised everyone by offering to support the child as though it had been his own. He passed his test, but would he have consented to it if he'd known what lay in store for him? 

 Christ said that even Suso may have hesitated.

Many of us have a way of assuming that dedicating ourselves to God's work will set everything to right in this world. Indeed, we are quick to latch onto rosy scenarios of our well-earned successes. Although we may give lip service to the idea of meaningful suffering, privately we might not expect it to apply to us. "He suffered for us," we might say. "We don't have to do what he did." The Master knew, however, that none of us can expect to be repaid for spiritual right action in the currency of this world. Indeed, he eventually made it clear to his disciples that they could not expect to be treated any better than He had been treated. Even so, Jesus believed that the "real nails" part was a tolerable price to pay for love.

  But why didn't Jesus tell them everything ahead of time? Why did he wait until just before his own tragic death to tell then the "rest of the story"? Perhaps it was because he knew that his followers had finally grown to the point where they could hear the complete truth without giving up. And, in telling them not to expect an easy life thereafter, he effectively insulated them from hopelessness in a different way than before -- by "promising" them that they would face humiliation, mistreatment and suffering in the course of serving Him.

 If it's still hard for you to accept the idea of God withholding the truth from us, then consider the example of a loving father who must decide whether to tell his child a devastating truth, or to deceive him in a way that will keep his dreams alive. More specifically, consider the example of a father who dearly loves his son who suffers from an incurable disease. As the father sits by his son’s bedside, feeling the anguish that only a parent can feel when his own child faces death, what does he say when his son asks, 

  "Daddy, can we go fishing in the mountains next spring?" 

  Does the father say, "If you're still alive then"? 

  Of course not. He smiles and says, "Sure we can. And we'll do much more than that." And he may even place a fishing pole near his son's bed so that when the little boy awakens each morning, he will dream anew of the coming springtime.
 It makes perfect sense to me that God, too, would mislead us to keep our dreams alive  -- at least, as long as we cannot yet hear, nor benefit from the complete truth. But as we grow in spiritual stature, we can presumably handle more. For instance, when Bernadette of Lourdes asked the apparition of the Virgin Mary if she'd achieve happiness, she heard Mary reply, 'Not in this world, but the next." At that point in her life, Bernadette could hear the sobering truth without shying from her committed course, and she went on to dedicate her life to God. But like the father at his son's bedside, the Holy Mother did not tell Bernadette everything. She did not tell her that she would die of an excruciating illness while she was still only a young woman. 

  Love ever upholds the promise of our reunion, but may shield from us the price of the journey. This, I contend, is the highest form of love, and the most gracious form of deception.

  When I reached the boat, the tide had receded so much that I had to push it two hundred yards to deeper water before I could start the motor and head back home. Straining against the weight of the boat, I recalled another "promise" that had come to me as I wrote and rewrote a little book, titled The Perfect Gift. Almost as soon as I began writing the Christmas story in late 1997, I began having visions in meditation of a Christmas tree ablaze with lights. My wife, too, began to have the same vivid experience.  From this, we believed that the book would succeed, and so we never gave up hope, even when a major publisher almost bought it, but ultimately did not. We went on to publish the book ourselves, and she wrote a screenplay for it, believing that the story would, in time, win wide recognition. But while a new agent has high hopes for its eventual success, it still has not sold. We are thousands of dollars poorer, and I sometimes wonder if we were foolish to believe in it.

 But then I realize that we tend to measure the fulfillment of our dreams by the wrong criteria. Like Peter, who wanted to erect a booth and sell tickets when he witnessed his Lord transfigured, we tend to evaluate the meaning of our lives in crude, numerical terms, and then find ourselves either acceptable or not on the basis of this assessment.  To God, I am sure, it's not the number of books we sell that matters -- but the lives we touch. 

 This morning, a lady came to the door to check out from our bed and breakfast. She was aglow with praise for the little book that had moved her to tears the previous night before noticing who had written the book. She gladly purchased a copy as she left. When I forget to count how few books we've sold, such a response is reward enough for all the effort that we have made. 

  After working on this essay last night, I had a dream. In it, I again saw a Christmas tree ablaze with lights. I thought, Isn't Christmas over? 

  Apparently not. Nor is the great Dream that will sustain us to the end of our quest.

 Now I am not so naive as to think that every time we feel tricked by fate, or by God, or by whatever seems to pull the rug out from under us, that God is up to his tricks again. No, in most cases I would agree that our sense of God's betrayal stems from holding onto the reasonable expectation that good things should happen when we do the right things. It makes sense, but that's not the way the world works, at least not at first. We usually have to wait a long while for some of our efforts to bear fruit  But the human proclivity for expecting to be rewarded for doing the right thing does not account for all of the promises and phophecies that have been made -- and that remain, as yet, unfulfilled. No, there is something far greater than our own active imaginations operating to keep us expecting things that do not come true.

 I submit to you that God, or Higher Power, will do whatever must be done to keep our deepest dreams alive. He may make promises whose time of fulfillment is both always and never -- always in heaven and in His heart, but perhaps never in this world.  He may hide from us what would make us hesitate in our commitment to our path. He may work through well-meaning seers, and through our own dreams as well, to mislead us lovingly so that we will keep doing the spiritual work we must do.   Above all, He knows that the great Dream of fulfillment must be kept alive to bring us all the way back home, and that vague, open-ended promises  -- as well as insignificant omissions in what we are permitted to know -- can keep us moving in the direction of our greater destiny without falling prey to hopelessness or paralyzing grief. 

 In the end, if we feel betrayed when certain things do not come to pass, let us remember that even Jesus trembled in Gethsemane, and that Edgar Cayce reportedly doubted the value of his life work in the final days of his life. It is essentially human for us to hope that the great Dream will manifest in its fullness in this world, and in our own time. And, it is essentially human as well, to weep when it does not. 

  And after considering this sobering truth, let us celebrate the work that all great men and women of God have done in keeping alive the greatest dream that there has ever been -- the Dream of our eventual reunion with God. 

  And let us celebrate, as well, how far we have come by believing it.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Back to the Future

Three days ago, I managed to overcome my usual resistance to getting out of bed at 4:00 and meditating for half an hour or more. It's always a little cold in the house this time of year, and it's tempting to think I can meditate lying down. It hasn't happened yet :-)

So I got up and meditated for about 40 minutes before going back to bed. Instead of leaving my body before going back to sleep, I fell asleep and became lucid a while later. I had three possible directions, and chose the one with the most light. I ran down a wooded path, and turned west, flying toward a meadow and a bright sky. Suddenly, a small being took my right arm and flew with me. It seemed to be covered with hair and feathers, and it was a male child. Then, above me his father joined us, looking down at me as we flew. He looked like a cross between a golden eagle and a human being. His gaze was regal and kind.

Later, I turned and flew upward toward the "portal" where I often enter into planetary domains, or parallel domains. In this case, I emerged into a enclosed environment where I met with five persons, two women and three men, who announced that they were from the earth, but far in the future. We spend a long time discussing climate changes that had occurred over millennia, and they laid out maps of the world and the continents, showing how the ice caps had advanced southward. I realized that the continents were so different that we had to be hundreds of thousands of years in the future. We visited for a long time--over an hour from what I could tell upon my return. When I left, I told them that I'd begun to be able to return to the places I'd visited before and that I wanted to find them again. I spent a while memorizing their names, and affirming that their "address" would be duly recorded in my psyche. As I began my return to my body, the memory of our time together began pouring out of my mind to the point where I could recall only a small part of what I'd experienced. I did recall the name of one of the persons--the woman who was the last one to tell me her name.

The hardest part of these rich, engaging experiences, is knowing that I may never see my new friends again, and that the memory of our fellowship is all but forgotten.

Dream groups break for holidays

I have been leading two online dream groups for the past three months, each of which meets bi-weekly on Zoom for two hours. Until recently, most of my application of the FiveStar Method was individually, in therapy sessions. When I started leading online dream groups, it was a bit of a struggle to translate the steps of the FSM, which I had totally internalized, into a set of working principles and rules that would govern the group process. I think we all know how dream sharing uniquely activates a desire to contribute feelings and insights into the dreamer's experience, and how that can become problematic. Indeed, the principal focus of several schools of dreamwork is to protect the dreamer from invasive projections. While I think that is very important, I think the FSM largely prevents the greater excesses of member-to-member projections by focusing on process over content.

My colleague Leslie Ellis with the Professional School of Psychology has delineated two different approaches to dream work in an upcoming book that she's writing. In it, she differentiates between dream-centric and self-centric approaches. The former focus on the dream process without trying to translate its meaning into something the dreamer can immediately understand, and it preserves the mystery of the dream by not trying to arrive at interpretive conclusions. Hillman was particularly aghast over the way that self-centric dream interpretation effectively "kills" the dream image, and renders it something easily understood rather than something that beckons the self beyond it current understanding. He once said, if you interpret a snake, you kill it. 

In contrast, the dream-centric approach explores the dream process, including feelings, themes, and relational dynamics. This is the province of co-creative dream work, because it is constantly examining "what's happening" rather than "what it means." This may seem to frustrate some people, who want to know what the dream "is saying," which leads us to arrive at "equivalency statements" that identify a dream image with a waking person or counterpart. This approach reduces the dimensionality of the dream image and equates it with something already know--one thing to which the dream is allegedly referring. 

I think you can see that a self-centric approach is only interested in getting something that the self already can understand, thereby stripping the dream's richness in order to get to a simplistic "therefore..."

Back to the dream groups...I feel that both groups have done remarkable work in appreciating the dream-centric flavor of the FSM.  As the dream group leader, I am always listening for the abrupt shift from dream-centric to self centric focus. Recently, for instance, a dream group leader said something like, "This is clearly a dream about death." Something within me reacted--it's my "reductionism alarm" that goes off when something makes a "nothing-but" comment, reducing the richness of the dream to something categorical.

What seems to work to preserve the dream's sacredness is for us to reflect on the metaphors and relational dynamics that arise in dreams without drawing a direct parallel between them and the waking state. I often say, in respect for the Tibetan Buddhists who voiced this opinion a thousand years ago, the dream and the waking state are both "dreams" in which the same need for awareness and development exists. So I try to keep my dream group members from saying "x image means y waking person," and instead say, "x image and y waking person point to the same underlying qualities." This keeps the dream work from abruptly ending when the dreamer makes a bridge between the dream and the waking state. Instead of stopping and declaring victory, we pose this question, instead: Given the similarities, what do you want to do differently in relation to both? This keeps the focus on dreamer instead of a narrow agenda of acquiring something partial that one can erroneously declare as one's own.

As for practical measures, I have recently come up with some language that you can use to start each of the steps of the FSM. I have posted them on my website at, but here's the summary:

Sample Language for Using the FiveStar Method
The following statements and questions are designed to guide you through an effective application of the FSM when working with an individual. If you are working with a group, you would do well to give this handout to each of the members, along with the one-page summary (available on this website). That will prepare your group to use the FSM accurately and effectively

I’d like to explore a couple of dimensions of your dream before we discuss the meaning of the imagery or symbols, ok? (Get consent.)

Specifically, I want us to arrive at what’s called a process narrative, which is the story line from beginning to end of the dream without regard to any of the specific names, places, objects, etc. It’s a generic statement of what’s happening. Then I’d like for us to examine your responses over the course of the dream—where you felt, thought, chose, or reacted in some way to what was happening.
(If the dreamer is familiar with the process narrative, as him/her to formulate it. If not, you can formulate it, and then get the dreamer to ratify it, or suggest changes. If you’re working with a group, then ask someone to offer one, then get the group and dreamer to modify it until it feels accurate.)
So, what I see happening in this dream is that you (or someone) …Formulate process narrative with dreamer group and dreamer’s participation.
(example from “Julie’s dream”) You go on a journey with others, and your journey is interrupted against your will to which you assert yourself, and continue. Then it is threatened, but you are careful not to allow the threat to defeat you. Then you are temporarily delayed due to relationships with others. And finally, you reach a destination, where embark on a continuation of your journey with someone you care for, and under someone else’s direction.
Now, as for your responses in the dream, it occurs to me that when x happens, you feel/react/choose to(all responses summarized sequentially)
Let’s look at what was familiar or habitual about your responses and how they impacted the dream characters or situations… Go through them. Let’s look at what’s new or creative about your responses and how they impacted the dream characters or situations… Go through them. 
What would you like to have done differently in the dream, and what you like to do differently or continue to do in future dreams? 
Now, if necessary, conduct an analysis of the dream imagery, using dreamer-centered, non-invasive methods, such as amplification (What are your associations to…What do you like or dislike about him/her/it? What is he/she/it good for?, etc.), or Gestalt role-play. Ullman-Taylor “If this were my dream…” interactive process. Then shift back to a co-creative model by encouraging a process bridge, as opposed to a content bridge. A process bridge explores relationship parallels (e.g. The way I reacted to the black cat in my dream is similar to the way that I react to my husband), whereas imagery analysis encourages a content parallel (e.g. The black cat represents the qualities I see in my husband.)
Are you aware of any relationships or situations in your waking life exhibit similar relationship challenges? What new, creative, and appropriate responses do you want to commit to in order to apply the dream work in your waking life?

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