Into the Unknown

Here Be Dragons

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

Inspired by this image of a sea serpent attacking a ship on Olaus Magnus’s Carta Marina of 1539 via livescience.   

Into the unknown I plunge. From my study, late at night, trance-migrated. Night after night, for years now. Familiar maps of the psyche, my early guides on these visionary wanderings, do little good in regions of the imagination where is written “Here there be dragons.” I am called Carl Gustav Jung. Opener of the way. Cartographer of the soul. But what am I? Madman? Mystic? Explorer, I deem, of heaven and hell. On a voyage of discovery to the far side of the world, where the gods and devils I meet along the way are all me.

Read more

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The Fantasy Proneness Plunge

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“All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy.” C.G. Jung

Think about this for a second: there are people—kids  especially—who can venture into other worlds in much the same way Alice plunges down the rabbit hole into Wonderland (Alice in Wonderland), or Lucy climbs into that old mothball-smelling wardrobe and walks straight into Narnia (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe).

Really.

The real-world people, both kids and adults, who can do this kind of thing are called fantasy prone personality types, a trait influenced by both psychological and neurological factors and said to be behind everything from imaginary childhood friends to grand adventures in fantastic realms and even mystical experiences.

The whole idea that some people might be considered clinically fantasy prone was the brainchild of psychologists Sheryl C. Wilson and Theodore X. Barber, who came up with the concept while studying hypnotic suggestibility back in the early 1980s.

Wilson and … Read more

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Peaking on Wow!

Persinger's God Helmet

Part 3: The God Chamber

“I prefer the term ‘the unconscious,’ knowing that I might equally well speak of ‘God’ or ‘daimon’ if I wished to express myself in mythic language.” C.G. Jung

The following story is a work of fiction, inspired by an ongoing “God Helmet” experiment run by Dr. Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada.

Peggy is a confirmed atheist and a skeptic when it comes to any supernatural explanation of natural phenomena. So-called mysteries are simply those things which have yet to be explained by science. Today, Peggy has offered herself up as a human guinea pig in the hope of adding to the accumulating body of evidence that points to God as nothing more than a product of the electrochemical processes of the brain, particularly the right temporal lobe.

Peggy has volunteered to enter the God Chamber, the brain-child of Dr. Mike Singer, a neuroscientist who claims that the experience … Read more

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Peaking on Wow!

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Part 2: Brian’s Miraculous Moment

“To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value is quite illogical and arbitrary…” William James

The following story is a fictional composite derived from case studies of people with temporal lobe epilepsy.

Six months after the surgery to remove a tumor from the right temporal lobe of his brain, Brian still experiences the epileptic attacks his neurologist calls “partial seizures.” They begin with the smell of burning rubber, then he hears bells ringing. Even as these fade, he feels as if he’s caught between the real world and a perilous dream world. An invisible presence, evil and threatening, fills the room. He prays. Sometimes he looks around for a weapon to defend himself. Last week he barricaded himself in his room by wedging a chair under his doorknob and wouldn’t let his mom in. He didn’t recognize her voice. … Read more

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Peaking on Wow!

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Introduction

“I had…an experience. I can’t prove it. I can’t even explain it. All I can tell you is that everything I know as a human being, everything that I am, tells me that it was real.” Carl Sagan

An experience of the “Other” is always a profound moment, no matter how you label it: a mystical peak experience, an encounter with the collective unconscious, or coming face-to-face with God. There is a numinous, mysterious, secret quality about it, of having stepped behind the curtain of this world and peeked backstage into another, and perhaps more fundamental, dimension of reality.

The following three short stories (scheduled to run as three separate blog posts) are about Wow! moments, states, and experiences resulting from encounters with this numinous “Other.” Each story comes at the subject from different directions and points of view. The first is inspired by the The Dream of the Rood, an early poetic account of … Read more

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Stairway to Heaven

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“Creativity is the ability to see the ordinary as extraordinary.” – Dewitt Jones

Professional photographer and inspirational speaker Dewitt Jones tells a story about two Medieval masons, each chipping away on a block of marble. When asked by a priest what they’re doing, the first mason says he’s shaping a rock; but the second, his eyes alight with the fire of his passion, says he is building a cathedral.

As I write, I’m watching a YouTube video of Jones winding up his cathedral story before a packed house of rapt listeners: “I’m building a cathedral,” he says with evangelical intensity, letting these last words hang in the air for a moment before repeating them very softly, “I’m building a cathedral.” Now his voice rises: “One man was a stone chipper and the other was a cathedral builder, and the only difference was vision – vision.”

Jones has me by the throat. He’s good. I want to hear more, but … Read more

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Let There Be Light!

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“We see not with the eye but with the soul.” – Mike Samuels

Blinded by a freak accident at school one spring day, eight-year-old Jacques Lusseyran (1924-1971) was suddenly confronted by the total absence of light and color: the world had vanished from sight, filling the boy with panic and despair.

Fortunately for Lusseyran, a future World War II French Resistance hero, a profound and life-changing Wow! moment followed soon after, bringing light and color back into his life.

He tells of this moment in his autobiography And There Was Light. One day, out walking with his father, the desperate Lusseyran felt driven to turn his gaze inward. In that moment, he was confronted by a radiance rising up from deep within himself. “I found…light and joy at the same moment,” he writes, “and I can say without hesitation that from that time on light and joy have never been separated in my experience.”

Lusseyran’s inner light flowed out … Read more

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Synchronicity: More Than Mere Chance

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“Synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance.” Carl G. Jung

I’ve yet to meet a person who hasn’t been wowed by the power of synchronicity, that strange interweaving of mind and matter that breaks into our everyday lives every now and then. Maybe you remember the 1983 hit song Synchronicity by The Police: “A star fall, a phone call / It joins all / Synchronicity.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of synchronicity, here’s the short version: Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the Swiss psychologist (a free-thinker and dreamer, much like Einstein and perhaps just as important in his field), came up with his synchronicity theory while working in close collaboration with Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), a subatomic physicist. According to Jung, synchronicities are “meaningful coincidences [that] are unthinkable as pure chance…”

For example, suppose I’m trying to decide if I should take a job in a different city. … Read more

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The Wow! That Is Shangri-La

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“Gentlemen, I give you a toast. Here’s my hope that Robert Conway will find his Shangri-La. Here’s my hope that we all find our Shangri-La.” Robert Riskin

Of all the Wow! experiences imaginable, stumbling across a paradise hidden away in some far corner of the world has to rate right up there. And I’m not talking about an unplanned layover on a tropical island in the South Pacific or anything like that. No, I’m talking about finding a way into a real earthly paradise and refuge – a Garden of Eden.

Since the time of Gilgamesh, dreams and visions of such a place have stirred the souls of adventurers, luring them into uncharted waters in rickety wooden ships, or across burning deserts by camel, or over high mountain passes on frost-bitten feet in search of wondrous lands of milk and honey, and eternal youth.

I’m talking about a place like Shangri-la.

Turning to my bookshelf, I reach … Read more

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The Wow! of Happiness

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“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” Dalai Lama XIV

It’s said that an earnest young man once asked the 19th century philosopher and satirist Thomas Carlyle how he should go about reforming the world, and Carlyle told him to “start with himself.”

The same might be said for making the world a happier place: start with yourself. Decide to be a happier person.

But can one simply decide to be happier? Or, looking at the subject from an even more practical perspective, can one approach something as elusive as happiness as a self-improvement project?

There are reasons to suspect that you can. There are even reasons to suspect that you should if you ever want to move beyond the pursuit of happiness as some ideal future state and actually attain a bit of of it in the here and now.

Intrigued? Read on.

One sodden gray morning in April, a cross-town bus pulled … Read more

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Ancient Wow! – ‘Great Pan Is Dead!’

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Part 3:  Twilight of the Gods

“Winds tore over the earth and lightning fell from the sky. When it was quiet, the islanders said that some mighty spirit had passed away.” Plutarch

The brazier emitted a fierce orange glow. Otherwise, the cell was dim and filled with shadows. Thamus, naked, lay strapped to a plank. His sweat reeked of fear. The questioner held up the red-hot flaying knife for Thamus to inspect. For an instant, the man looked like a blacksmith showing off his work. “What was the message?” asked the questioner. He had a kind voice, but somehow that made it so much worse.

“Would you have me disobey the gods?” pleaded Thamus, undone by fear. “What would become of me?”

The flaying knife descended until he felt the searing heat of it singe the dark hairs covering his right pectoral muscle. The sharp smell terrified him. “Please nooo!” he cried and burst into tears.

“Then tell me … Read more

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Ancient Wow! – ‘Great Pan Is Dead!’

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Part 2:  Signs and Portents

“So there is no navel-stone, center of the earth and ocean; And if there is, it’s known to the gods but hidden from mortals.” Oracle of Delphi

The morning dawned fair with a favorable wind, as did every morning thereafter. And the merchant ship was wafted from port to port toward its destination – Rome, mistress of the world. For the remainder of the voyage, Thamus’ fellow passengers cut him a wide berth and whispered behind his back. Even Heracleon, though he smiled and spoke as a friend, was short on his usual friendly banter and long on awkward silences.

At last, on a hot afternoon, Thamus and Heracleon arrived in Rome. Heracleon had spent that morning walking the dusty road in the company of his own thoughts. But as the two men joined the press of sweating humanity passing into the city, he moved up beside Thamus and said in a … Read more

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Ancient Wow! – ‘Great Pan Is Dead!’

Oracle of Delphi

Part 1:  A Voice in the Darkness

“For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those dreams that pass through the gate of sawn ivory deceive men, bringing words that find no fulfillment. But those that come forth through the gate of polished horn bring true issues to pass, when any mortal sees them…Homer

Not all Wow! experiences are joyous. Some might be described as burdens, trials, or even ordeals. I based the following story (fiction) on an essay entitled The Passing of the Oracles by Plutarch, the first century historian, biographer, and essayist.

Thamus awoke in a cold sweat, threw off his cloak and stood on the gently heaving planks of the merchant ship, breathing deeply to quell his shuddering heart. The evening breeze smelled of the wine-dark sea and of wood smoke.

Unable to stifle his feeling of unease, Thamus hastily stepped over his snoring … Read more

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Wowed by Joy

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“All joy…always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.” C.S. Lewis

C.S. “Jack” Lewis (1898-1963), author of The Chronicles of Narnia, often spoke of a Wow! moment from his childhood he called being “surprised by joy,” a phrase he later chose for the title of his autobiography.

In short, the story goes something like this…

One day Lewis’ brother tracked him down to showoff a “toy garden” he’d made, which was little more than a biscuit-tin lid covered with moss, twigs, and flowers. Simple it may have been, but Lewis was enchanted by it. “That was the first beauty I ever knew,” he writes in Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life.

Young Jack Lewis – who would grow up to pen stories about a green land of mythical talking beasts ruled by the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve – lost himself in his brother’s toy paradise for a time. And … Read more

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Chronos: A Wow! Reflection on Devouring Time

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“Formation, transformation, the eternal mind’s eternal recreation.” – Goethe

Reflections on time, change, and eternity can result in profound Wow! moments and states. The 1985 film Chronos offers just such an experience of devouring time, if you relax and allow it to play out.

As you watch and listen to Chronos, remember the phrase Sum quod eris: “I am what you will be.” For it speaks of continuous change, of eternal transformation, the one constant of life on this Earth. As our planet cycles through the days, years, centuries, millennia, and aeons, change remains the one constant. One after another, the skeletal ruins of past civilizations and empires call out to ours from across the ages: Sum quod eris: “I am what you will be.”

No one knows this better than Destruction of the Endless, one of seven super-supernatural beings featured in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novel series.

Destruction, pony-tailed and lantern-jawed, is a personification … Read more

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The Wow! Moment That Changed Everything

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“In the beginning was alpha, the end is omega, but somewhere in between came Delta, man himself. Man became man by breaking into the daylight of language…”  Walker Percy

On a bright, summer-like day in March 1887, Anne Mansfield Sullivan arrived at the home of six-year-old Helen Keller, who later described the day as the “the most important in all my life…”

Deaf, dumb and blind since she was 19 months old, Helen lived more like a wild animal than a human being (her howling, dish-smashing temper tantrums were legendary). Yet somehow she knew that Sullivan had come to lead her out of the “dense fog” she’d inhabited for the past five years.

A month after her arrival Sullivan was still battling (almost literally) tooth and claw to introduce Helen to a form of sign language for the deaf that involved spelling words into her hand, beginning with d-o-l-l for the doll that she had brought Helen … Read more

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Cosmic Wow! – A Voyage to the End of the Universe

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“The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.” Carl Sagan

Thirty years ago, in an episode of his groundbreaking TV series Cosmos, Dr. Carl Sagan imagined radio telescopes on Earth receiving a message from deep space containing a vast Encyclopedia Galactica. An advanced civilization somewhere nearby in the Milky Way, say within 200 light years, had made contact with us at last.

Sagan went on to imagine humanity tirelessly poring over the Encyclopedia Galactica, learning of other intelligent creatures, civilizations, and of the treasure-trove of life-bearing planets – gems set against the velvet backdrop of deep space. Perhaps the message would provide the impetus for our first long-term global initiative to venture out among the planets and stars, once and for all – no looking back.

We have yet to receive the message bearing Carl Sagan’s Encyclopedia Galactica, but it seems that we’re well on our way to building our own. … Read more

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Wow! Moment with Methuselah

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“They call us Brislecone Pines. They call me Methuselah.” Roger McGough

It is the twenty-seventh century B.C.

High up in what will one day be called the White Mountains of California, a bristlecone pine seedling has taken root in the arid soil of a grove set in a hostile landscape. Gnarled old trees surround the young one, eking out an existence.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, pharaohs and gods rule in Egypt upon the River Nile. Across the wide, uncharted world it is an age of immortals – gods who, men believe, will live and rule forever.

Ages of the world come and go.

Generations of humankind are born and die.

It is now the summer of 1957 A.D. The ancient gods are all dead and gone. Their temples are in ruins. Their shrines are no more. And yet, though some trees are nothing more than husks, the bristlecone pines high up in the White Mountains still … Read more

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10,000 Year Clock – The Long Wow!

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“I want to build a clock that ticks once a year. The century hand advances once every one hundred years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium. I want the cuckoo to come out every millennium for the next 10,000 years…” Danny Hillis

The idea of a clock that ticks for 10,000 years has sci-fi action thriller written all over it. Here’s the concept: Sometime in the future, a party of hikers comes across a crack in the side of a desert mountain in what was once eastern Nevada. They enter to find a hollowed-out chamber in which a huge, alien-looking device is ticking away. Scientists determine it has been on earth for at least ten thousand years and is counting down the last few weeks to Doomsday.

Okay, lose that part about scientists and Doomsday. Oh, sorry, the movie studio executive isn’t interested now that you’ve redlined the Doomsday part.

Okay, so let’s put a dystopian spin … Read more

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Masters of Wow!

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“I think of the self-actualizing man not as an ordinary man with something added, but rather as the ordinary man with nothing taken away.” Abraham Maslow

A profound Wow! moment is an extraordinary state of mind, which can’t necessarily be induced by following a prescribed set of steps. Whatever your approach – from being an artist to free-falling in zero-gravity – Wow! either happens or it doesn’t.

What I can say with some confidence is that certain attitudes/stances/views/values are more conducive than others to bringing about a Wow! experience. I don’t ask you to take my word for this, but the word of the renown psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908–1970).

In addition to his famous Hierarchy of Needs, Maslow researched and developed a profile of exemplary individuals he called the self-actualizers. Now, the term self-actualizer doesn’t by definition mean success in the material sense of the word; rather it indicates success in living a human life fully and … Read more

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