A US reviewer says: “What Juliet finds when she reaches the ranch is an oddly charismatic and dysfunctional group of people…. there are strange things happening in the commune, and when a priest shows up it further traumatizes the group… This loving and freedom-believing cult, while wonderful on the surface is a cauldron of deceit and depravity on the inside… keeps you in suspense… deals with how relationships are formed and how the smallest of happenings can shatter lives… Skillman is a deft hand at creating characters. If you are interested in people and their foibles, you will enjoy this book.” Read the rest of the review on www.amazon.com.
What is dream yoga? Does it really exist? The answer is yes. It is one of the practices of Craig’s group The Wheel of Love, which I describe in my novel. I have investigated dream yoga myself in the past. It originates in Tibet, and through it one aims to achieve wholeness and self-knowledge by mastering the art of “lucid dreaming”.
EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”
When the group gathered around Craig at the back door at six a.m., Juliet was encouraged by the brightness and freshness of the sky. A steady heat, enlivened by a crisp breeze, ensured that most walkers had chosen T-shirts and shorts this morning.
Craig, in bushwalking khakis, swept his arm out over to the north west, where a fence separated the car park from a thick stand of horse chestnuts and field maples. “That’s where we’re going today.”
Juliet spotted a footpath accessed by a stile. Beyond the trees, the side of the valley rose steeply through pasture to a wooded ridge. Her concentration returned to Craig, who was now telling the group that the first part of the walk was to be conducted in silence.
So that meant she wouldn’t get the chance to quiz Zoe further on what she really felt about last night.
Craig led his followers along a track that disappeared among the trees. Zoe walked way ahead of Juliet, who couldn’t see whether or not her sister was sticking close to Craig. Beth, she noticed, seemed to be missing, though Oleg was present. Everything about him suggested depression, even his tired-looking floppy beige hat. So much for the effect of last night’s Dynamic Meditation.
They tramped for several minutes, sometimes through dense undergrowth that contained a lot of bramble, and eventually emerged on the top of the ridge. A glorious panorama of hills and fields spread out before them. But Craig didn’t allow them long to admire it. He instructed them to gather round.
“This is where it gets interesting,” murmured Zoe to Juliet, before Juliet moved forward to put her mike in front of Craig’s mouth.
“Now, in a moment I’ll ask you to start walking again,” said Craig. “But this time I want you to walk backwards. Don’t turn round. Just trust me. I’ll tell you when to stop.”
Juliet shot him a look. He seemed serious. And they were all obeying. She had no option other than to join them, sticking close to Craig so she could be ready with the mike for his next utterance.
After about ten minutes of this, Craig’s voice rang out again. “That’s it, everyone. Stop. Who found it difficult to trust me? Who struggled with an urge to look behind, to check they weren’t going to crash into anything, or fall over a sheer drop? Laura? Sam? Zoe? As I expected. And who thought it was extremely silly? Juliet? Good. You’re here to unlearn everything you’ve been taught to believe about the world and how to behave in it, from the moment you were born.”
Juliet caught sight of Oleg. He was in deep gloom.
She stepped aside with her mike. “You don’t look enthralled, Oleg,” she said. But before he could reply, Craig’s voice cut in again and she swung round once more.
“See that beech tree? Look at the very topmost branch. Concentrate on those leaves. Next, imagine a spot in the centre of your forehead. Visualise a silver cord extending from it, reaching out, further and further, and finally connecting you to the leaves at the top of the tree. Keep your eyes on them. Now walk very slowly toward it, never letting your eyes drop.”
Juliet joined them, unable to notice the reactions of the people around her until they’d completed the exercise. Then Craig seated himself on a fallen trunk, and asked how they’d felt when asked to do it, and during the walk; and whether those feelings had changed now they’d stopped. Juliet could detect no sign of dissent among them, apart from Oleg, who continued to look miserable. He seemed to be weighed down by some heavy problem; she resolved to get him to open up about it as soon as she had the chance.
Craig sprang from the fallen log. “I want you to do this every day. As you walk around, think: This is a dream. Whatever you’re doing, say to yourself: I’m dreaming this. Any questions?”
Juliet looked around, mike at the ready. Silence. Surely, someone other than herself must have doubts? But nobody expressed any. Were she and Don the only people in this community who still saw things from the perspective of the outside world?
“This,” said Craig, “is part of my strategy to teach you all the art of lucid dreaming. Remember, if you master this art – the art of knowing you’re in the middle of a dream, and then taking command of the dream at that point – I tell you, if you master this art, death will be a breeze.”
Not one of his followers spoke, or moved. A dreamlike quality had settled upon them all.
Craig spoke again. “If you follow what I’ve taught you this morning, lucid dreaming will become second nature.”
Juliet has already heard quite a bit about Theo from various Wheel of Love group members before he first appears on the scene. And what she learns about him raises her curiosity. What exactly is this “wilderness experience” he has only recently emerged from? Why is James surprised he managed to get ordained? What can he possibly have in common with the members of Craig’s group? And what is he doing here anyway?
EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”
“Before we begin,” said Craig, “I’d like to make an announcement: one I feel sure will delight you all. On Monday evening, we’ll have Theo Lucas with us again. He’s agreed to come and be our guest speaker for the week.”
A buzz ran round the table.
James snapped his fingers. “Excellent. The Reverend Theo Lucas,” he said. “Splendid man. Though I still can’t believe how he managed to get himself ordained.”
There was a good deal of table-thumping and laughter at this, until Craig’s voice dropped into the swell of sound. At once, hush descended. Juliet allowed her eye to skim the diners. Craig’s presence and personal style exerted a powerful effect upon them.
“The Wheel of Love is a tribute to the dynamic power of change,” observed Craig. “And Theo fits in with that perfectly. We all bear witness to it ourselves. Which one of you can say you’re now exactly where you were on your life’s journey when you first arrived?”
The group burst once more into animated chatter, alongside much clattering of cutlery and glasses. But Juliet felt faintly oppressed by her vulnerability. She had no idea what to expect over the coming days. How would she balance her commitment to do interviews with the need to keep track of Zoe?
One thing was for sure. She certainly wouldn’t be seduced by Craig’s brand of healing and wholeness, if that was what it was.
She turned to Don. “Have you met Theo?” she asked in a low voice.
“No. But this lot seem to give him high marks. Doesn’t inspire much confidence, does it?”
Leaning forward, Rory supplied some new information. “I met Theo at a talk Craig gave in Tetbury last November. Chatted to him for twenty minutes. Wondered what he was doing there. Then I discovered he’d had a wilderness experience. Lasted eighteen months. Crisis of faith. And I understood.”
“Yes. Felt I’d met a soulmate.”
This startled Juliet. “He doesn’t sound like a regular sort of clergyman.”
“He isn’t,” said Rory. “Though of course my knowledge is limited.” His lip curled. “Haven’t darkened a church door for years.”
“Theo sounds more than a little unorthodox,” she remarked, “if he’s willing to come here.” She heard Don chuckle.
“Oh?” Rory queried.
“Well, for instance,” she said, “it’s clear from the brochure that Craig believes we’re in charge of our own destiny.”
“Quite right, he does,” agreed Rory. “But Craig welcomes anyone who’s in retreat from the outside world.”
This intrigued her. “What of you, then, Rory? Are you here to renounce the world?”
“You do it in style.”
Before he could reply, Don distracted her, holding out the dish of risotto Beth had passed him.
“Like some, Juliet?” he asked.
“Oh, yes please. That smells and looks very good,” she said.
Rory she noticed had handed the serving dish on without helping himself, and his plate remained empty. She wondered whether he knew something about it the rest of them didn’t. He put his water glass down, and continued. “After Theo was ordained he served for a couple of years, then vanished from the face of the earth for several months. When I met him, I understood he’d not long returned.”
James interjected. “He visited us here in February. Rory missed him that time. You remember that was the week you fell ill, Rory?”
“Oh yes. Dreadful week.”
Laura spoke. “We’ll all be delighted to see him again. Such a dear man. Not a spark of hellfire in him. He knows all about me. He’s very forgiving.”
Rory fiddled with his linen napkin. “I expect you’ll find him interesting, Juliet,” he said. “And you too, Don.”
“Last person to judge.” Don shrugged. “Count me out.”
Before Juliet could say more, Don added, “Put it this way. When Theo shows up, he may need protecting. From my influence.”
She started at this. Rory took upon himself the task of satisfying her curiosity. “Why?” he said. “You’re not tattooed with the number 666, are you?”
When they were ready to set off, Juliet looked straight at the clergyman.
Theo wore an open expression on his face. “What your sister wants,” he said, “is to experience the spiritual reality here on this earth, in her own body.” He opened the door and stepped out.
She followed. “And has Craig delivered on it yet?” she asked.
There was a pause, as she wondered how Theo would take this question, together with all its implications.
Theo smiled. “I don’t think so. If he had, I imagine she would have told you, Juliet.”
He began to stride across the car park. Juliet had no time to consider her riposte to this evasive answer. She hurried to keep up with him, holding the omni
–directional mike. She checked the sound levels as he walked briskly past the north side of the house, and across into the orchard. It looked as if he’d settled on the same route that she, Al and Laura had taken last night on their trip to the top of the valley to look at the stars.
“Zoe’s told me nothing, Theo. So I’m relying on you. How do your beliefs and certainties stand up against Craig’s?”
“Certainties?” Theo’s tone continued amicable. “I’m human. And God’s God. He doesn’t need me. He chooses me. So sometimes I say: What’s going on? and Why am I doing this? or Why is it so hard?”
“And yet,” she said, surprised, “you seem to have it all together. Mostly.”
He smiled, and headed on through the orchard, toward the gate at the other side. “I’m glad it looks like that to you,” he said.
“If this isn’t the whole picture,” she said, matching his pace, “how come you’re in the position you are?”
“A long story,” he said, “and one my bishop’s probably running through right at this moment.”
“I don’t imagine your bishop’s very pleased that you’re here at the Wheel of Love.”
Theo gave a chuckle in response to this. “I’m a renegade,” he said. “I’m all about working with people on spiritual journeys. I’ll go anywhere, come in on anything.”
“How do you find Craig’s teachings?” she asked.
“Some have wisdom in them,” he replied crisply. “And you?”
“I admire Craig’s idealism. I don’t accept all his theories. Nor do I believe in God.” They reached the gate.
“What sort of God don’t you believe in?” asked Theo.
“The Judaeo-Christian one, of course,” she replied, feeling slightly ruffled by this question. “The fire and brimstone one. The one who punishes the children for the sin of the fathers, even to the third and fourth generation. The one who is supposed to be so loving, not even a sparrow can fall without Him knowing about it, but He still lets the good suffer and the evil go unpunished.” She stopped. “You know the one I mean.”
“I certainly do,” he said. “And I’ve known what it’s like to feel very angry with Him.” Theo unlatched and opened the gate. “Are you angry too, Juliet?”
Today Ezine Articles have published my article on “What can we learn from the sacred places of other religions?” (see below). I wrote this after a visit to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in Central Australia, back in 2009. The thoughts expressed in this article feed into the content of my new novel “A Passionate Spirit”. I am working on this now, and it is a sequel to my first published novel “Mystical Circles”.
I am particularly fascinated by the relationship between spirituality and place. Last night I was reading “The Spiral – Crop Circle News” published by the Wiltshire Crop Circle Study Group. What stood out for me was the crop circle enthusiasts’ idea of places “where the Otherworld prevails and the veils are thin.” This connects to the awareness of the Celtic Christians that some places are “thin places” where the veil between this world and the spiritual world is thin. This applies to all sorts of places which have numinous quality e.g. Lindisfarne/Holy Island, or Iona, or St Cuthbert’s tomb in Durham Cathedral, or Cheddar Gorge, or Wells Cathedral, and there are many other examples that readers of this may already be well aware of.
I am reminded of something Rabbi Lionel Blue wrote: “Eternity is all around us. Part of us inhabits it already.”
Read my article on Uluru here: