Tag Archives: William James

Mystical experiences & J. B Priestley’s Dream

Numerous children, if not all, bring along an openness that allows them a peek through the chinks in the veils that cover ordinary reality. Sudden insights, call them special, spiritual, paranormal, transpersonal, mystical, timeless, ecstasy of oneness … dreams … experiences that make no sense to a rational adult and may evoke fear of the unconscious. Sooner or later children may learn that a vivid imagination, as it is often called, brings no rewards and is of no solid use in a world geared to material respectability and control.

To have one’s experience belittled is humiliating. A child may react with rebellion, remain silent, or learn to deal with contradiction. At worst, the door will be shut against random revelations and curiosity about anything unfamiliar. This is a great pity, since a whole range of dimensions remain untranslated. Fortunately there are those who refuse to have their imagination squashed, who find a medium to hold and share encounters that do not fit prevailing assumptions, concepts of reality or theories of time.

They are truth-seekers – artists, writers, musicians, painters, dancers, physicists, biologists, astronomers, mathematicians, inventors, mystics … people with a passion to re-discover realities beyond appearances from multiple perspectives, including deeply personal ones. In short, anyone adventurous enough to explore the jungle of diverse interests, the way inner and outer truths mysteriously mirror each other and spark mystical consciousness. But since the boundaries between light and darkness are porous, one is always well advised to hold one’s balance, like a skilled martial art practitioner.

Having listened over decades to thousands of client stories, I haven’t yet met anyone who hasn’t shared (often for the first time) a near-forgotten mystical experience. Such experiences are the best kept secret nobody dares to talk about. For fear of ridicule, we let the poets speak for us.

‘To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.– William Blake

Take heart, it is possible to find words, like J B Priestley, to convey the indescribable …

Drawing by Douglas Fenton

I dreamt I was standing at the top of a very high tower, alone, looking down upon the myriads of birds flying in one direction; every kind of bird was there, all the birds in the world. It was a noble sight, this vast aerial river of birds.

But now, in some mysterious fashion the gear was changed, and the time speeded up, so that I saw generations of birds, watched them break their shells, flutter into life, mate, weaken, falter and die. Wings grew only to crumble; bodies were sleek and then, in a flash, bled and shrivelled; and death struck everywhere at every second. What was the use of all this blind struggle towards life, this eager trying of wings, this hurried mating, this flight and surge, all this gigantic meaningless biological effort?

As I stared down, seeming to see every creature’s ignoble little history almost at a glance, I felt sick at heart. It would be better if not one of them, if not one of us at all, had been born, if the struggle ceased forever. I stood on my tower, still alone, desperately unhappy.

But now the gear was changed again, and time went faster still, and it was rushing by at such a rate, that the birds could not show any movement, but were like an enormous plain sown with feathers. But, along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves, there now passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on; as soon as I saw it I knew that this white flame was life itself, the very quintessence of being; and then it came to me, in a rocket-burst of ecstasy, that nothing mattered, nothing could ever matter, because nothing else was real but this quivering and hurrying lambency of beings.

Birds, people or creatures not yet shaped and coloured, all were of no account except so as this flame of life travelled through them. It left nothing to mourn over behind it; what I had thought of as tragedy was mere emptiness or a shadow show; for now all real feeling was caught and purified and danced on ecstatically with the white flame of life. I had never felt before such happiness as I knew at the end of my dream of the tower and the birds, and I have not kept that happiness with me, as an inner atmosphere and a sanctuary for the heart, that is because I am a weak and foolish man who allows this mad world to come in destroying every green shoot of wisdom. Nevertheless, I have not been quite the same man since. A dream had come through a multitude of business. –  J.B. Priestley (Sept 1895 – Aug 1984)

In case you’ve not come across William James, read his ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience.’

And look up a recent sweeping epic that breaks all the rules by Philippa Rees, ‘Involution.’

And, of course, my novel 🙂

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… then they lived again – friends – soul families …

How we make friends is a mystery. What is the unremembered that draws people and groups together as in a mirror? Are there families of souls tasked to exchange particular reflections during particular times?

Via serendipitous events my son was born in a Hamlet in the deepest Somerset hills among neighbours who adored him. The phase lasted five years, enough to provide me with a much needed hiatus after intense years of work, travelling and communal life.

Our selfless neighbours left an indelible impression on my son. They made him a valued and loved part of a small community. Our farmer friend, Hope, was hungry for knowledge, though never realised her dream of travelling as a journalist. She had however the most vivid visions of Tibet; a place neither of us had visited but felt strong emotional connection with. Not the first time, I had a shock of appreciation for the unremembered sparking instant rapport slipping through time.

‘We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.’ – William James

I was thirty then, had travelled much and been involved with innumerable internationally composed groupings, circles upon circles – this was to continue for decades to come. Among the groups were people who felt strangely familiar, like Hope. We would guard out solitude, cry together, or laugh hilariously about silly things. Equally there were those wary of me, often for reasons unknown to themselves, which made me wary of them. You may know this treading-on-eggshells feeling.

Serendipitous time-jumps weave through my novels. The cast of ‘Shapers’ has characters from ‘Course of Mirrors’ set in a future time, but caught in similar psychological dynamics.

It has been said that behind every creative expression is a desire for immortality, the prolonged influence of personal achievement. This seems simpleminded to me. I think our desire is to create beauty and meaning to make our existence worthwhile. It is the human search for our spiritual identity, generated by three persisting questions: who are we, why are we alive and what is the purpose of it all?

In this illusionary play of differences and multiple meanings we need friends. To have even one friend is a blessing. Friends distanced by space, and time, reside in the heart nevertheless. They include those who died. They may be writers, artists, innovators, past and present. They include friends who moved to other continents. They include the sympathetic minds we encounter via the internet, who greatly enrich our lives.

Friends I shared core experiences with are especially dear.  A few of them I see face to face at yearly intervals. We may catch up on the narratives we hold of each other, though there will be new thresholds – moments where the known encounters the unknown.

My mum used to put a ruler or a book on my head and mark my height with a date inside a doorframe during my rapid growth years. More than a physical measurement, these marks made me think of what else had changed during the months since the last recording. Our essence abides, but our persona grows and is mutable in the way we evaluate ourselves against the passage of time.

This is why I like having guests. When a Dutch friend visited last month, the thought arose as to how the time gaps between our actual meetings affect us. He suggested I write something about this. He works presently in Germany, so our conversation slipped into German, with snippets of Dutch and back into English. He uses one language for business, another for philosophy, and yet another for emotional subjects. This strikes me as a neat arrangement. A little space between feeling and thinking, and a choice between modes of operating can make one’s internal communication more finely tuned and coherent.

The occasional visit of a friend eclipses my routines and opens extra dimensions, like the virgin pages of a notebook where our idiosyncrasies are redrawn, edited and updated. Connective threads shift past memories or future visions.

We are re-imagined and in the process re-connect to our essence.

The lens we focus on each other is subtly adjusted by the most intimate of all friends, the angel that is our inner story teller.

 

 ‘Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.’ ― Henry David Thoreau

‘No human relation gives one possession in another—every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone.’ ― Kahlil Gibran

 ‘Mankind is interdependent, and the happiness of each depends upon the happiness of all, and it is this lesson that humanity has to learn …’ –  Hazrat Inayat Khan

 

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