I was an angry young man, though I didn’t see myself as such at the time.
I was a loner, had no ambition and lived without hope. Life had no purpose; thus, I had no purpose. For me, God didn’t exist. Given the horrors of life that are all too common in our world, how could there be a purpose? Yes, there’s art, beauty and majesty in nature. So what? The same miserable outcome awaits us all in our life’s finale—a sure and certain death. Oblivion.
It was 1976, and this lack of meaning gnawed away at any ‘tree of life’ that was perchance rooted within me. It sapped my willpower, sabotaging the occasional daydream of heroic re-emergence into the mainstream of life. No carpe diem here. Carousing at strip clubs and the like cooled my fevers of hopelessness well into the tranquilizing nights, only for me to feel the relentless scorch of reality with every rising sun.
Going to the J-O-B. Going to bars, going to bed, going it alone. It was survival for the sake of survival.
“What’s the point?” I’d cry, itching to stir a sympathetic reaction from any gods lingering nearby. “Why even bother?” I’d plead, surely annoying any untapped holy of holies lurking about, with the hope that they’d take pity on this unwitting soul.
The response? Nothing. Of course. What the hell did I expect?
The living of our lives is just a game we all lose in the end, I’d profess with the cheeky certainty of my 20-something years. Why seek the good and better within absent enduring tomorrows?
The only restorative statement I’d previously heard about my soulless malady was the oft-repeated, “You must have faith, my child.” Well, I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t have the internal fortitude to accept that Simon Says instruction.
How could I drink from an empty chalice?
Things, however, were about to change. Big time. It was as if some obscure life pendulum had reached the top of its ponderous swing and cracked open an invisible esoteric door, so that my better self could squeeze through, if I’d but try.
This reversal of fortune began when I woke one morning from a vivid dream so real that I was shocked to find myself still in bed.
Returning home from work, I pull the car over to the curb in front of my modest apartment complex in Buena Park, California [U.S.]. Getting out, I see my pet parakeet, Dangerous Dan Defoe, in easy flight overhead, circling the perimeter of the complex as if awaiting my arrival.
Sure enough, he swoops down. Hovering an arm’s-length away and peering straight at me, he beams to me happy affection and acknowledgment of my care for him.
More than anything, however, he’s explicitly saying goodbye.
With a nearly imperceptible nod and a hard turn to his left, he soars gracefully up and away until he disappears into the far skies.
He’s gone. Staring after him, I feel abandoned … alone. What happened? Why is he leaving?
Then I woke up. Replaying the dream, again and again, I could feel my care for Dangerous Dan. I loved the little guy. In the mornings, he would tweet his variations on, “Top of the day to you, Tom.” In the evenings, he’d sing his bright, chirpy notes to me. He seemed happy and gave me good cheer.
But, hey, it was just a dream, and it was time to get going with the chores. Prying myself out of bed, I walked to the kitchen while tossing a quick “Good morning, Dangerous!” in the direction of Dan’s birdcage, next to the front door.
… Wait a sec!
The door was wide open. And where was Dangerous Dan? Stepping to the cage, I found him on his back. Lifeless.
Instantly, I knew what had happened. Returning home from a late night of wanderlust and Dutch courage, I’d gone straight to bed—and failed to close the door. The cold and breezy night air had battered his tiny body for hours, and my Dangerous Dan Defoe died of exposure.
Yeah, as in exposure to me!
I sat on my sofa for quite a while, rightly wallowing in my guilt.
Oh, my god. The dream!
Dangerous had said goodbye to me in the dream, and then I woke up to find him dead? How could that be? I was astounded. For weeks, I drifted in and out of absent-minded self-examinations and knew that I could not, must not, continue my meandering through life.
Was life truly just an exercise in survival? Nothing more? Despite my conviction of the grey nothingness awaiting us all at life’s end, I needed to find out, one way or another.
Was life truly just an exercise in survival? Nothing more? Despite my conviction of the grey nothingness awaiting us all at life’s end, I needed to find out, one way or another—get a grip on the here and now or give it up already.
Fish or cut bait.
Perhaps prompted by the dream, I recalled a book I’d read in my youth titled, There is a River: The Story of Edgar Cayce, by Thomas Sugrue. Bizarre at the onset, the story of Edgar Cayce offered the concept of life beyond this life. It just felt right. I was excited. When I shared it with family and friends, however, their responses were, at best, indifferent. Unsupported by people in my little corner of the world, I forgot about it. Until that morning.
My memories of the ‘goodbye’ dream from Dangerous Dan, together with my reading of Edgar Cayce’s life story, caromed back and forth in my thoughts for weeks, refusing to relent to my usual malaise.
The two memories together were like salt poured on an icy road. They gave me sufficient traction to begin a private inner journey, a quest for the truth—if it could be had. It was an expedition into the unknown, though far short of any kind of crusade and provisioned with hope alone. There’d be no fires of courage throwing light upon the path, and certainly no pipes and drums heralding the way.
… and a prayer
In fact, this was but a plea on spiritual knees for truth, a private affair between myself and whatever Higher Intelligence there might be. My task was to transpose that etheric prayer into reasoned action in the grit of the here and now—this world, my life.
Though I had no plan, I knew that I must immerse myself fully and unconditionally. I couldn’t be the critical observer in the balconies, waiting to be handed the facts of the matter. Of course not.
It is I who must act. It is I who must participate and do so in good faith. It is I who must be especially responsive to others, not the reverse.
Let the hunt begin.
Is there an afterlife or not? I intended to find out. Up or down, I wanted the facts of the matter, if they could be had. Would I prove to be the fool’s fool in the doing? The only thing I knew for sure was that my little odyssey must remain undeclared, undisclosed and unvoiced. At least, for now.
It was 1977, and I was heading straight into the mythical land of woo-woo. Little did I know then that I’d be entering a sphere of consciousness undocumented by science and typically panned by the religious community.
The spiritual jungle
My journey began, in earnest, when I finally stopped into a converted church building in Anaheim, California. It was called Psynetics Foundation, founded in 1964 by Walter Tipton, a Methodist pastor, and now called The Learning Light Foundation. I’d passed it hundreds of times over the years, and the event and lecture titles on the outdoor marquee had always struck me.
Skimming over a variety of brochures and the schedule of events in the foyer, I found myself torn. There were all kinds of happenings, including guest lectures on various spiritual topics, live clairvoyant demonstrations, classes on personal development and monthly psychic fairs.
Intriguing but too weird. It was one thing to read about this stuff, quite another to show up in person. Regardless, this was exactly the spiritual jungle in which I could begin my hunt for meaning and purpose.
I went to the next scheduled event and slithered into the back pew. It was a lecture related to metaphysics given by a professor of astronomy. The guy was fantastic! He loved the possibilities within metaphysical philosophy and was unapologetic for his interest in the paranormal. Just what the doctor ordered!
I could breathe again. For me, it was a cool breeze on a hot day, reviving my determination to enter the sweltering jungle.
Perusing the new schedule of events, I saw that the next lecture was a demonstration by an animal psychic.
One week later, I was sitting in the same back pew, watching as audience members, one at a time, brought their pet to the front of the room for the psychic to ‘read.’ Greeting each animal with a friendly “Hello,” he proceeded to comment on the pet’s preferences, foods, environment, moods and daily experience. He’d end the reading with observations—both warm and witty—on how the animal felt about his or her human companion.
The pet owners’ reactions ranged from shocked disbelief to shiny-eyed smiles of understanding. Yes, there were moments of doubt or confusion for a couple of people. They were, however, quickly followed by startled ‘a-ha’ moments as the animal psychic would ‘telepathically’ ask the pet for additional information.
Sitting in the audience of 60 or so people, I watched the reactions of the animal owners for nearly two hours. I was transfixed. Their laughter and knowing smiles and tears, not to mention their facial expressions of utter, sometimes embarrassed astonishment, mesmerized me. I found myself slack-jawed and mentally cross-eyed.
So I put my face against the window pane of Psynetics to better see within, immersing myself in their activities and volunteering to set up and clean up at workshops, lectures, prayer meetings and potlucks. I took classes in psychic development and the like, quickly becoming known as the ‘Doubting Thomas,’ in that I was always giving the teachers a hard time, coming up with alternative explanations for experiences and phenomena they called, ‘psychic,’ ‘mediumistic,’ and ‘spiritual.’
Yes, I’d tagged myself with the ever-convenient self-image of a skeptic (in relation to all things paranormal), but underneath that wimpy labour-saving device was just an inner boy who was terrified of becoming the town idiot.