G. Scott Sparrow, EdD, LPC, LMFT

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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. 
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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.


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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.
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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 http://dreamanalysistraining.com/page26/styled-39/page90.html, 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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An Incubated OOBE with Black Light

I received a letter from a friend M. who asked me to incubate a dream about the nature of her lifelong sadness, and what to do about it. So, Julie and I did what we could. Here's what  wrote to our friend upon awakening the next morning:

Julie and I got up at 3:30 am, and meditated for about half an hour. We took galantamine before we meditated, and then I meditated further upon lying down. Julie could never get back to sleep, but she had a dream before we awoke about being in a house in India, serving pastries to the guests—which is so much like her!

The first part of my dream was not lucid, and seemed to address my own sadness. I was visiting the spiritual community with which I was associated in the 70s and 80s—the Edgar Cayce Foundation. Friends were playing and dancing, and I stopped and hugged two women I’ve known for many years. I felt reconnected with the group, and as I left, I had tears in my eyes, and thought about donating some money to the organization, and offering my services. The Board chair is an old friend, and I may contact her to ask her how I can get re-involved. I am speaking for the organization this fall, too, so there is some renewal afoot. Of course, the dream reminds me of the importance of the IASD community, as well. I often dream of being alone at a conference, feeling entirely bereft of relationships.

As I left the area, I went to look for my car, which I could not find. Then I realized I was dreaming, and thought of your question. 

I rose up into the air, and began flying north toward the headquarters building of the EC foundation. Hands supported me in my flight through the dark sky.

I came down into a building, and decided to meditate. I sat on the floor and closed my eyes. A black velveteen darkness, full of flashing light filled my vision until a scene opened. A spinning yantra lay on the floor where I sat crosslegged, and a beautiful woman in black stood before me. The yantra moved on the floor, and I seemed to move with it.

Then I was with several women in another room. I told them about your question concerning your sadness, and one of them, who was an artist/creator told me that you needed to work with “shapes of red.” She referred to some hoops that lay on the table—like dream catchers--upon which luminous red cloth was stretched across. It looked like silk, and was very bright red with irridescent features. As I looked at it, and then looked away, it would change but retained the stretched red cloth in different shapes. She said, “This will help her connect with people, and with own energy.” I was grateful, and reached out to thank her by touching her hand, but she pulled away as if to assert a more formal relationship.


Then I left the room and went looking for more guidance. At the end of the experience, I met two or three women in a kitchen and asked them for help with your question. One of them told me that you should focus on/embrace “the cuts” which were puncture wounds in your chest. She was starting to talk about how to address this issue when I felt drawn back to my body.

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Meeting the master

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.


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More on emotion in dreaming and out of body experience

Again, thinking about Lakoff and Johnson's (Metaphors We Live By) contention that consciousness is metaphor based, and metaphors are always grounded in embodied experience--Well, obviously, people who have out of body experiences report emotions, so Lakoff might argue that consciousness is tethered to the body during the OOBE state, and once the body dies, then consciousness must subside, since there is no grounding or emotional anchor for metaphor construction. It could be, however, that whereas all feeling may have to be experienced within a state of division or tension, it doesn’t have to be a division between self and body or self and other. The division can be constructed within the self rather than between the self and the body.  If emotion is based on metaphor, which provides a phenomenal interface constructed in a state of duality, then metaphors could constructed out of a convenient division within the soul/monad itself, not between self and the physical body. The experience that renders the abstract as specific and knowable doesn’t have to be physical as much form-based. Form is the currency of the mind as much as the body: the mind doesn't need the body for that. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that there is no consciousness without division, and that division can be erected by the mind itself. We all know that, don't we?
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Emotion in Dreaming

 The question came up in my online dream group concerning emotion from the standpoint of co-creative dream theory. I think of emotion as the degree of dissonance between the dream ego/staus quo, and the emergent dream content that may consist of unresolved past memory, current new issues, or future-oriented aspects of our calling. When the dissonance is resolved, then the dream imagery dissolves into light, and the remaining feeling is ineffable, in that it does not derive from dissonance, but from the experience of union. Lakoff and Anderson make the case that dream metaphors always have an embodied component which grounds the abstract dimension. They also conclude, erronenously I believe, that there can be no consciousness truly beyond a body, since all consciousness is metaphor based, and needs an embodied experience to make it conscious. I believe that the feeling that is left once the dissonance is resolved is the nature of the type of feeling beyond the body, and once experienced, it becomes obvious that the emotion that we experience when embodied, based on dissonance, is fundamentally distinct from the feeling that we have once the dissonance is resolved. One can argue that this feeling is still based on what Wilber refers to as “subtle oneness,” which retains a subtle division between self and wholeness. But I think that anyone who has experienced light and ecstasy can say with conviction that the feeling that coiners with the experience of radiance is not related to any previous embodied experience, and is an elixir that is wholly distinct.
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More Adventures Beyond the Body

A couple of recent middle-of-the-night post meditation experiences. Please contact me if you want me to mentor you in your own middle-of-the-night meditational/lucid dream practice.

I got up at 2:30 after 5 hours of sleep, and meditated and prayed. By the time I laid back down, I felt at peace, and expectant.

I wasn’t very sleepy, so used the countdown from 100, hoping I’d drift off before reaching “0”. But before I became very drowsy, the gift waves/energy activated. I was fully conscious, and was so awake I knew I could simply open my eyes, and the energy would cease. But I meditated on it, and it grew stronger and flattened out. At that point, I rolled to my left out of my body, and was free. I flew eastward threw walls, and into the sky. Then I turned upward and toward the “portal,” dropped my arms and began to accelerate into the darkness. I flew for some time, feeling especially positive and expectant. I felt that instead of passing through transitional domains, I would arrive in a planetary domain associated with some distant star system. As I flew, I felt someone’s hands supporting me from behind, grasping my legs above the knees. So I reached down, took the hands into my own, and spun around in the darkness to face the guide. Suddenly, things began to appear, and I found myself with a younger man, holding my hands, spinning around in space. Two other men were nearby, flying alongside us.

We came down into a world where there were many other people. The domain had not consolidated fully, so I looked at my hands to fixate on the image of them, and as I did, the world began to light up and become fully physicalized. I found myself with several men, who greeted me, and seemed to know that I was from another world. I told them I was from Earth, but they did not seem to recognize the name. I asked them where we were, and they said their star was 6720, but that it had other sub-specifications for the purposes of interstellar navigation. One man added that the system had an extinguished star, so I gathered that it had once been a binary star system.

I observed the men closely, noticing that they all wore similar clothing—a kilt-like garment with a light plaid or Madras-like pastel print. The waistline was far above their waist. For a shirt, they wore a tunic with a short standup collar that was open in the front.

They offered me a beverage in a bottle similar to a long-neck beer bottle with a white and golden label or covering. I wasn’t sure I could "drink" it in the out-of-body state, since I haven't been able to eat or drink anything in previous experiences (probably a mental block of sorts), but I took it and found it quite cold to the touch. I was surprised that I could presume to drink it. I spent quite a bit of time with them, and eventually finished the beverage. 

Meanwhile, there was a multi-tiered platform that I was standing on at one point. Each level —separated by a foot or so—was covered with iridescent sand, or microscopic jewels. It was a beautiful sight, but I realized that I was standing on it, and needed to get off of it, because a woman was trying to toss an object onto the levels, as if it was a game of sorts. She politely asked me to move so she could toss the object, which I did. I understood that the apparatus had been constructed by the brother of my principal guide.

As I walked around, I came upon three women who were seated, eating. I looked into the eyes of one of them, and she seemed to recognized me on a deep level. I asked her, “Are you the reason I’ve come here?” She nodded. Then she stood up and embraced me for a long time. She thrust her pelvis into me, and I could tell she was aroused. She seemed to grow taller at first, then shorter until we disengaged. She was smiling.


Finally I decided to leave the domain and, instead of simply willing myself back to my body, I flew westward into the darkness, emerging again in a landscape that appeared to be earth or earth-like. After exploring that for a while, I found it rather mundane, so I forced myself back to my sleeping body.

On another recent night, I meditated as usual around 5 AM, Julie was out of town, so I expected to be able to conduct my out of body exploration without any movement around me, unless the cats interrupted me. In my initial passage out of my body I moved around a lot to consolidate my stable identity in the other body state. And I moved into the darkness where I traveled for while meditating. I could see my hands in front of me even though there was some distortion over their size and distance from my present body. That’s been common. I thought to myself that it’s been a while. Since someone had taken my hands or feet as they used to do more often. Suddenly, I saw below me the passage of a landscape or a texture that was mostly blue. I reached down, and found that it was only a couple of feet from me seeming to be the bottom of the pool that I was passing through underwater. I looked Ahead of me and realize that I was just below the surface of about a 3 foot deep pool of clear water, and I was passing quickly through the water or above it. Suddenly I felt someone take my hand and I looked to the side and saw a woman with green hair smiling at me. I seem to recognize her from the past, and I asked her name. She told me, but I have since forgotten the name she spoke. She escorted me into a domain where there were people around and left me there for a while. I have forgotten the details of what happened there, but I do know that I moved on into the darkness again affirming that I would pass to another domain that was more meaningful and deep. After a long while of traveling in the darkness I wanted again if someone was going to guide me to the next locale. Suddenly I felt hands beneath my feet lifting me and pushing me onward. The person appears next to me as a man, and as soon as I saw his face the darkness dissipated, and I found myself in an extraordinarily beautiful, bright scene characterized by terraced gardens and people milling about happily. I was on a hillside and below me I could see white aircraft of a highly advanced technology passing quietly below me and above a valley, which was green and punctuated with buildings. The whole place, Which I believe to be a planet in another star system,was like a paradise of sorts. I spent a considerable time visiting with people, and sharing deeply. There was even one moment where I was sharing with a group of women about one of the ladies’ mothers, who had not been very nurturing to her. I spoke about my work with women who have distant or abusive mothers, and told them that the work of recovery is a very meaningful process for me, and a necessary one for them. At some point someone announced that there was an event occurring eminently, s very special auspicious event that took place in the sky, and seem to happen as a result of some higher consciousness breaking through into this world. We are still looking east, and one man advises me not to get too close as if the event could be harmful if one were to close to it. Suddenly there was a loud roar, and the shape of lightning jaggedly crossed the eastern sky, and opened a window into another world of sorts. The people around me look into it, finding layers of beauty and gifts from whomever was behind this rupture are renting of the veil between the world I was in and some other world. At some point, ask one of my posts what’s the name of this place was. She said, the Garden.

For some reason, I decided to move on, so I said goodbye to the people who embraced me lovingly with the feeling. I headed east and upward into darkness again, until I found myself escorted by another male figure. I came out into a less bright and harmonious place, where the people seemed strange the ominous. They took me aside and they prepared to give me something that look like wine into which a vial of elixir had been poured. Apparently, The liquid would permit me or require me to stay there much longer. I was a bit alarmed, but not really afraid, because I didn’t understand whether this was a good thing or not. So I decided to return my body, and I told him that I wasn’t from there and I would be able to return my own world at will. So I stretch my arms and made a strenuous effort to reconnect with my body. It was difficult at first, as it has been in other deep out of body explorations. But I was able to return to my body within a few seconds after trying.


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The Importance of a Meditative Attitude in the Out-of-Body State

Normally, I meditate every morning for 30-60 minutes, and then in the middle of the night every other day or so. But this past week, I had the flu and so I found it hard to meditate for several days. Not that I didn't try, but my physical condition kept interrupting my progress.

Finally, I felt good enough to get up at 4:00 and meditate for 30 minutes after taking galantamine. I hoped that I could resume my regular out of body adventures, which have often involved apparent journeys to other star systems. To make sure my excursions are not interrupted, I go down the hall to one of our spare bedrooms for the remainder of the night.

I have been able to have a lucid dream/OOBE just about every time if I do everything right--at least 30 minutes of meditation, a sufficiently positive state of mind, and 8 mg of galantamine taken about an hour before my first dream upon returning to bed. On many occasions, I experience a WILD--that is, a "wake-induced lucid dream" without a break in consciousness from waking to dream.

Sure enough I find myself with another man, and I point out to him that we are in a dream. He resists the idea at first, then realizes it is true. I take him by the arm and lift him off the ground to show him that we can fly, and proceed to explore the domain with him. After a while, I decide to leave him and set a course for the stars, which usually means dropping my arms to my side, and orienting myself to a certain part of the eastern sky.

But as I begin to fly upward, it becomes clear that I am losing buoyancy, and I become unable to fly or pass through barriers. Everything is becoming increasingly dense, and I am becoming heavy. The harder I try to counteract the effects of gravity, the heavier I become and the more trapped in form I feel. Suddenly, I know that I need to meditate. So I close my eyes and meditate. Immediately, a brightness fills my closed eyes, and I feel myself floating upward weightlessly. I open my eyes, and find myself with several people, including a woman whom I recognize from somewhere and from whom I feel a timeless, deep love. We continue to visit for a good while in a state of heightened awareness and luminous surroundings.

Meditation is like putting money in a bank. If your account is full, then your experience in the OOBE state will be luminous, refined, subtle and full of love and connection. But if you have been unable to keep your account "full" due to distractions or illness, then you'd be better off not leaving your body, because none of the ineffable properties available to you will manifest in your phenomenal experience. At least that's my experience.

I have heard many people talk about their own lucid dreams and OOBEs, and I've come away thinking that each of us encounters what we have built in our lives. A person who does not meditate will report rather pedestrian OOBEs that mirror the waking state with fair precision. Speaking of the after-death state, Edgar Cayce captured the self-fulfilling, self-mirroring nature of nonphysical reality by once saying, "A dead Presbyterian is a dead Presbyterian." He was saying, I believe, that death alone does not confer any particular release from what we believe, and have built in our lives. In my experience, neither does lucidity/OOBE awareness. I wrote back in the 70s that the so-called OOBE  simply mirrors the observer's own beliefs and paradigm about the world. If one tends to be a "realist," measuring life in empirical terms, then the OOBE state accommodates this believe system by mirroring the physical world, and is often identical (with some variations) to one's waking reality. Does that make the OOBE "true?" Not at all. It's just a mirror of one's paradigm, confirming it in most ways, but often revealing along the edges of the experience a reality that is far greater, and much less ego-centered. It takes meditation, or an attitude of surrender to take us beyond our own reflection in the mirror.


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