Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

Posts tagged ‘psychological’

Rocky Hillsides, Dark Valleys and the One Voice You Can Trust

In our lives we can often find that there seems to be one poem or a prayer which has been most helpful, most meaningful to us. For me this has been the 23rd Psalm: The Lord Is My Shepherd.

In times of strong negative emotion, the words though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil are the only ones which have the strength to meet the greatest spiritual and psychological challenges.

Last Monday I went to a Quiet Day led by Rev. Anne Hibbert of  the Well Christian Healing Centre.

The Rev Anne Hibbert, whose vision led to the creation of The Well Christian Healing Centre

The Rev Anne Hibbert, whose vision led to the creation of The Well Christian Healing Centre

Hampton Manor, Hampton-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Hampton Manor, Hampton-in-Arden, Warwickshire

It was held in the gracious surroundings of Hampton Manor in Hampton-in-Arden, Warwickshire. The theme was Following the Good Shepherd in 2014.

Anne is one of the most inspirational speakers I have ever listened to.  During the course of the day she opened up for us the reality of life as a shepherd in Israel, which the psalmist based his poem upon: nothing at all like our concept of sheep and shepherd in the enclosed fields of green fertile England.

The shepherd in Israel, I learned, is responsible for his sheep all the time, in a harsh, challenging environment, on brown, rocky, barren hillsides; he will build stones around caves to act as a sheep-fold; he will drive the sheep to fresh new pasture, going ahead to club the snakes and scatter salt to provide extra nutrients for the sheep. The voice of the shepherd is the one voice the sheep will respond to; ringing out over a great distance, to call in the sheep even from the furthest point to which they have wandered.

Additionally, the oil which the psalm uses as a metaphor, would be a concoction of olive oil, sulphur and spices, which would be daubed on the heads of the sheep to banish flies, gnats and parasites. Sheep, too, I learned, have a “butting order”; this disappears when the shepherd is present.  The hills of the Judaean terrain might be bright and sunny and scorching; the valleys fearful and cold; as you go under the overhang, the darkness can be overwhelming.

Several of these details of the shepherding life in Israel were previously unknown to me. Anne used each element as a metaphor for different stages of our life journeys. Now I know what inspired the psalmist to use the images he did, the meaning of the psalm is enriched enormously – as well as its application for my life.

Try having another look at the psalm here and forget about green velvety meadows, a romantic-looking figure with long flowing golden brown hair, and white fluffy sheep. Think instead of rocky hillsides, dark overhangs and snakes, and you’ll be getting closer to what the writer had in mind when he wrote those words.

Promises of Freedom and a World That Refuses To Be Healed

I’m off on holiday for a week. While I’m taking a break from my laptop my blog will be quiet. However there’s a post or two in the pipeline for when I get back – but you can expect a delayed response to any comments etc.

Mystical Circles new edition

Mystical Circles new edition pub. August 2012

Meanwhile, though, consider this thought from an excellent book I’ve just read, Jeff Goins’ “Wrecked”:

The world is broken and remains that way, in spite of our efforts to help it…. In a world that refuses to be healed, we must face the fact that we are not the heroes of our stories. It teaches us to rely on something bigger than ourselves and teaches the source of true compassion.”

I think this is a very profound statement: an acknowledgement that the world “refuses to be healed”.

I spent the first part of this book relating what Jeff Goins says to my own life experiences; and the next part seeing those experiences in a new light, and perhaps making sense of them. Finally the book challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone and to be willing to behave in ways that are “counterintuitive”. I found this book very moving and penetrating. It is full of wisdom, compassion and humanity.It’s an ideal book for young people to read – and the sort of book I wish I’d read during my university years.

In my romantic suspense novel “Mystical Circles” you will meet a number of people who ostensibly do want to be healed, and have come together – into a very beautiful, idyllic place – for that very purpose.

Not necessarily physical healing – but healing in mind and spirit.

You will also meet somebody who believes he can heal, and that he is the hero of his story.

We enter an esoteric community of people all of whom have come here with a range of different emotional and psychological and spiritual needs.

Freelance journalist Juliet believes she’s only here to rescue her sister from the arms of charismatic Craig, the group leader. And she feels distinctly put out when the group members start targeting her with questions about her own feelings and  “needs”.

“Therapy or treatment?” queries one of the group members, Edgar. “What about those, Juliet? Have you ever had any?”

“No. There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with you, dear. But you’ll have needs. We all have those. And they are what have brought us here.”

Craig promises to “heal” the members of the group. This is what his brochure promises:

If you’ve been searching all your life, but have so far not found what you’ve been looking for, you’ve come to the right place. Here at the Wheel of Love, you may sharpen your subtle knife and cut a window into heaven. There are no limits to what you can achieve here: only those you impose upon yourself. You’ve chosen to come so we promise to supply the necessary tools. If you accept these tools and use them well, you’ll enter a freedom you’ve never dared dream of.

Craig will reach deep down into your spirit and touch a part of it you never knew was there.

Read the novel, and judge for yourself whether Craig – and numerous people like him whom you may meet  – delivers on his promises.

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 6 – An Inspiring Project in Brisbane, Australia: The Relaxation Centre of Queensland

In Australia I found a unique Centre – located in Brisbane, and run by an Englishman.

35 years ago, LIONEL FIFIELD, formerly an accountant, set up an organisation called The Relaxation Centre of Queensland, using premises in Brisbane.

I spent nearly five years living in Brisbane, and during that time I must have tasted every kind of course, workshop  and seminar that the Relaxation Centre had to offer.

There was only one problem. Attending courses at the Relaxation Centre was addictive.

And I have not found any similar organisation in England – though I believe that it would meet a great need.

Lionel Fifield

Lionel Fifield

Lionel Fifield was an engaging inspirational speaker. He had an entertaining, at times Monty Pythonesque style. And the Australians loved him – and I have every reason to believe they still do.

Here is what Lionel says of himself: “For over 35 years now he has been co-ordinating and developing a programme at the Relaxation Centre of Queensland focusing on managing stress, facing fears, building confidence, improving communication and exploring potential. Lionel likes to talk about his own “funny ways” and how quickly we can separate ourselves from each other and from our own sense of knowing.”

The Relaxation Centre maintains that it advances no one particular religious or spiritual system, and   many who teach there have different spiritual outlooks. Spiritual healing, however, has long been on the agenda. I explore spiritual healing in my current work-in-progress, a romantic suspense novel called “A Passionate Spirit”.

BERT WEIR, leader of The Centre Within courseat the Relaxation Centre, was another inspirational figure. Formerly a salesman, Bert was a man full of humour and practical hints.  “I’m a very practical man,” he would begin his course, “and I will only talk about things that work.” There was much psychological wisdom, too, in the Centre Within Course, and many practical strategies to combat stress and anxiety and false attitude. Again, The Centre Within Course was addictive. I must have taken the complete course at least four times.  And therein lies the danger of inspirational speakers – do we attend purely to delight in the entertaining style of the speaker? Maybe – but we can always hope we are learning something along the way that is permanent!

Bert Weir

Bert Weir

A third individual stands out in my memories of the Relaxation Centre, and this was a character I shall name only as GREG, teacher of a Dream Interpretation course. Greg again was a very down-to-earth character full of wisdom and humour. Nobody would have guessed he was a spiritual adept in the art of dream yoga – an art he had learned from an old Tibetan lama he’d met in Sydney.  Later he was to provide inspiration for my novel “Mystical Circles”.

When I took Greg’s course in dream interpretation there grew upon me this feeling. “There’s something light and bright and fluid and flexible about him… something Puckish, childlike, teasing and infinitely wise and spiritually attuned… he’s like a children’s storyteller, a street corner entertainer.. . he’s mobile, passionately involved and sincere, yet also detached, low-key, non-judgemental.”

It was from Greg that I first heard of the concept of having “a fluid and flexible ego” (mentioned in my novel “Mystical Circles“).

An adept in Tibetan Dream Yoga, Greg possessed the gift of “shapeshifting”. I witnessed his face changing during the course of one of the dream yoga sessions. I later put this experience into my novel “Mystical Circles” when Juliet sees Craig’s face changing. I had by that stage learned that this is one of the arts of a shaman, and part of the skills of shapeshifting. I make no value-judgement at this point; I simply tell you what I have observed, and what has arisen from my own experience.

All these people were way-markers for me. It’s no accident that for me, my spiritual journey began with a mountain and that journey took me to another mountain, in Australia again.

As T.S. Eliot says in his poem “Little Gidding”:

For the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time (tweet this)

If you live in the UK, have you ever found a centre which runs courses like The Relaxation Centre of Queensland? Whatever you believe, does the work of this centre ring any bells for you? Do you identify with this journey? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit. I’d love to have your comments!

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 4 – Cottingley Fairy Photographs and Esoteric Teachings

I want to be a very serene loving being in tune with the universe.

Theosophical Society

Theosophical Society

So said a fellow-member of my study group at  The Theosophical Society, at 50 Gloucester Place, London W1.

She spoke those words in answer to a question from my next inspirational figure. He had asked, “Why are you here? What do you hope to find?”

I’ve remembered her words for decades. And they appear in my romantic suspense novel Mystical Circles. Those words speak to my heart. Why? Because they seem to sum up the spiritual hunger many people feel, well outside the gates of  organised religion.

The Theosophical Society was my next port of call after THE CENTRE FOR SPIRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES.  Ever-hungry for new spiritual experiences, I  alighted upon the Theosophical Society, and discovered the esoteric teachings of Helena Blavatsky, and started attending talks by another inspiring teacher.

His name was Adam Warcup, and unlike me he has sustained his commitment to Theosophy over the years, and still lectures at the Theosophical Society.

So what is Theosophy?

Theosophy, maintains its adherents, is nothing other than a body of Ancient Teachings. And the motto of the Theosophical Society is: “There is no religion higher than truth.”  But the first person who brought those teachings to the West and who managed to convey them in an understandable and accessible form was Helena Blavatsky ( on 21 June 2012 she was, together with Annie Besant, the subject of a programme presented by Melvyn Bragg on BBC Radio 4).

The idea that The Truth was to be found in this body of Ancient Teachings appealed to me strongly, as a spiritual seeker who had already  discounted what the organised religions had to offer.

And so I entered a world in which I heard, for the first time, of the Cottingley Fairy Photographs; of elemental beings; of the Devachan, (the Abode of Shining Beings), of visions of life after death much more detailed and vivid than those to be found in the Bible (as I saw it then). And fluent communicators who sounded intellectually respectable and who were able to express all these things in a way I found compelling.

I was so won over by what I heard at the Theosophical Society that the BBC producer I worked for in the Religious Schools Radio office in Portland Place asked me to go there and make notes on the lectures  for him, so that he might include an item on these “ancient teachings” in one of his programmes about spiritual seeking in London today.

Whilst I may not now, as a Christian,  subscribe to many of those beliefs, I still look at the world through the eyes of someone who understands what the other person believes. (click to tweet)

I think the reason for this is the level of my emotional engagement with those beliefs. I first heard of the Cottingley fairy photographs through a book I found at the Theosophical Society. I believed in the fairies at the time – as of course did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle several decades earlier, whose name will be forever closely associated with the case. Many years later Elsie Wright, one of the girls, confessed to having faked the photos. And yet there are those who insist on believing. And the story has an enduring fascination, as shown by the movie “Fairy Tale – a True Story”.

Fairy Tale - a True Story (movie)

Fairy Tale – a True Story (movie)

I  will always have empathy with all those who seek as I did, and rest awhile in these beguiling teachings.

I may also end with another quote, this time from Shakespeare, through the words of Hamlet to Horatio in Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5:

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Whatever you believe, does this ring any bells for you? Do you identify with this journey? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit. I’d love to have your comments!

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 3 – Sir Laurens Van Der Post, Explorer of the Spirit

We shall not cease from exploration wrote TS Eliot in his poem “Little Gidding”.

Sir Laurens Van Der Post with bushman

Sir Laurens Van Der Post with bushman
(credit: http://www.jonathanstedall.co.uk/heaven/sample.php)

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

These words seem very appropriate for author and explorer Sir Laurens Van Der Post (1906-1996), whom I first came across at a talk he gave in London, and whose spiritual writings had a profound impact on me.

I met  Sir Laurens at a meeting of  THE CENTRE FOR SPIRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES, a group I mentioned in my last post. Based in London, it was run by a lady who seemed to have a talent for booking charismatic spiritual figures as Keynote Speakers at the various meetings.  Sir Laurens Van Der Post was one of them.

Sir Laurens gave a talk, accompanied by a slideshow of his Africa photos, called “All Africa and Its Heart Within Us”.

As I listened to him, I felt that for him Africa proved the touchstone for his spiritual seeking.

We can all be explorers of the spirit and we don’t need to travel anywhere to do it.

Different life-experiences may trigger religious or mystical experiences for us. But Sir Laurens wrote: I was compelled towards the Bushmen of the Kalahari  like someone who walks in his sleep, obedient to a dream of finding in the dark what the day has denied him.

I loved Sir Laurens’ philosophical ideas and his way of approaching the mystery of life. He was a friend and close associate of Carl Jung, another man of wisdom whom I greatly respect and admire. The first book of  Sir Laurens’ which I read was Venture into the Interior. In that book I remember him describing his experiences in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in World War II. He said that as his eyes met those of his torturer, The distance between us was the distance of unreality.

Those words have stayed with me across the years. And they have linked into many areas since then. For instance, they remind me of John Berryman’s poem The Song of the Tortured Girl, in which the girl is clearly spiritually, emotionally and mentally detached from the physical torture she is suffering. And they also link in to Sir Alister Hardy’s research into triggers for spontaneous religious experiences. He found that in the greatest number of cases, Depression/Despair was the trigger.

Sir Laurens’ ideas also link in to a film which I loved. The Gods Must Be Crazy came out in 1980, although I didn’t see it till several years later. Set in Botswana, and made by a South African film-maker, it tells the story of a scientist, his romantic aspirations, and a Bushman of the Kalahari meeting up with the ‘civilised world’. As I watched it, enjoying the comedy but also the wisdom, I couldn’t but be reminded once again of Sir Laurens and his deep respect and love for the Bushmen.

Sir Laurens Van Der Post with a praying mantis (credit: www.jonathanstedall.co.uk/heaven/sample.php)

Sir Laurens Van Der Post with a praying mantis (credit: http://www.jonathanstedall.co.uk/heaven/sample.php)

We can all be explorers of the spirit, and we don’t have to travel anywhere, geographically. As a famous example of this, I like to cite Emily Bronte. She travelled little in her life but she was herself a mystic as her poem No Coward Soul is Mine testifies. What she learned of life she learned in her own home, through her own family members, and through those who lived in the Yorkshire moors she herself inhabited.

For Sir Laurens it was Africa. For each one of us it may be different.

Have you done any spiritual exploring? Did you need to travel far? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit.  Have you been inspired by any books or authors in this way? I’d love to have your comments!

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 1: Stirred By A Scientist to Share a Childhood Religious Experience

What’s the difference between nature or music appreciation… and a mystical experience?

Early Morning Mist, Beddgelert, Wales (deryckdillon.co.uk)

Early Morning Mist, Beddgelert, Wales (deryckdillon.co.uk)

When does “being moved by something beautiful” become a religious experience?

Surely the criterion for a mystical experience is that it changes your life?

In my case, it did.

My early childhood mystical experiences ultimately led me on a spiritual journey of many years – which, along the way, bore fruition in my novel “Mystical Circles”, and is now bearing fruit in my new novel  “A Passionate Spirit.”

And for me this spiritual journey didn’t start by opening a book or listening to a clergyman. It started with a direct personal encounter with Divine Reality.

And the person who encouraged me to take it forward was a Scientist.

The name of the scientist was Sir Alister Hardy, Marine Biologist, who wrote the book “The Biology of God: A Scientist’s Study of Man the Religious Animal.”

Sir Alister Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre, and winner of The Templeton Prize 1985

Sir Alister Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre, and winner of The Templeton Prize 1985

At the University of Wales, Lampeter, you’ll find the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre. Find out about it here if you want to enquire further, or contribute an experience of your own.

Sir Alister found in a study of 3000 contributed experiences that there were 21 triggers for spontaneous mystical experiences. These included such things as childbirth, the prospect of death, illness and crises in personal relations. But top of the list came  depression/despair, and then prayer and meditation, and then, natural beauty.

A few months before my 17th birthday, I wrote to Sir Alister, having read an article in The Times about him.

He appealed “to all those who have at any time felt that their lives have been affected by some power beyond themselves, to write an account of their experience and the effect it has had on their lives” and to send it to him.

I wrote the story of my childhood religious experiences, and sent it to Sir Alister. In his reply to me, he wrote that my experiences were “the feeling of an ecstatic joy in relation to the universe brought on by some particular aspect of nature… what Rudolf Otto called the numinous, the sense of the Holy.”

Thus began a journey of many years – a fascinating journey of spiritual enquiry and research – and several more mystical experiences along the way.

For me, then, University intervened, but after my graduation and return home, I wrote to the R.E.R.U. at Oxford again.

“What can I get involved in?” I asked. “How can I further my spiritual search?”

Edward Robinson, the new Director, replied, and pointed me to this organisation:

The Centre for Spiritual and Psychological Studies.

(find out about more about my involvement with this organisation here)

And thus, with a weekend symposium in rural Gloucestershire and a group of diverse and sometimes eccentric people of many religious backgrounds (celebrated, in fictional form, in my novel “Mystical Circles”) I began my long spiritual journey.

But don’t forget, as T.S. Eliot says in his poem ‘Little Gidding’, the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time (tweet this).

My first childhood religious experience involved a mountain in the early morning. And my journey took me to another mountain at the other side of the world where I was to recapture that same experience, early in the morning.

In this mini-series I’m going to tell you about some of my “glimpses of eternity” and also introduce you to a few of the fascinating individuals who’ve been way-markers on that spiritual journey.

Join me in my next few posts and find out about my roll-call of spiritual guides (saints as well as sinners).

And do share your own experiences with me, if you wish!

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 2 – The Curious Case of the Kindly Professor and the Cunning Cult Leader

This sounds like a case for Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson, doesn’t it?

"Holmes gave me a sketch of the events"

“Holmes gave me a sketch of the events”

The kindly professor in question is:

Dr Raynor Johnson, Physicist, and Master of Queen’s University Melbourne – scientist turned spiritual seeker.

And the cunning cult leader is:

Anne Hamilton-Byrne,a “self-appointed mystic” who led a cult proclaiming herself to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

I met  Dr Raynor Johnson at a meeting of THE CENTRE FOR SPIRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES, a group which had its base in London.

It was run by a very correct, well-spoken and elegant lady called Alison Barnard who lived in Wimpole Mews, and seemed to have a talent for booking charismatic spiritual figures as Keynote Speakers at the various meetings. We met in the Royal Overseas League, St James’s Street, London. Speakers included the likes of Sir Laurens Van Der Post, Dr Raynor Johnson, and similar figures. I’ll be focusing on Sir Laurens in a later post.

RAYNOR JOHNSON  was born in Leeds, spent much of his childhood in Whitby, read Physics at Oxford University, and later moved to Australia to live where he became Master of Queen’s University Melbourne. He was influenced by the author Ambrose Pratt to study psychical research & mysticism, and he was transformed from “one of the most promising scientists of the age to a spiritual seeker.”

During his life he published many books on spiritual philosophy, psychic phenomena and mysticism. His most popular book is “The Imprisoned Splendour” (published in 1953).

The Imprisoned Splendour by Raynor C. Johnson

The Imprisoned Splendour by Raynor C. Johnson

I remember him as a gracious, kindly, modest man of immense spirituality and wisdom. I was bowled over by him, spoke to him after his talk, subsequently read many of his books, and wrote a letter to him at his home in Australia to which he replied in a letter I have kept ever since.

Of Raynor Johnson I think it would be true to say: I thought what he said was true because I was so enamoured of his personna.

After I read his books – particularly “The Imprisoned Splendour” –  I lived in an elevated state for several weeks. I have a vivid memory of walking up the platform at Charing Cross Station to catch a train, surrounded by people rushing to and fro, and I felt wrapped in a limitless joy and peace.  I understood why things are as they are, I understood the over-arching spiritual purpose of it all, and I felt at peace with it.

It was many years later that I discovered that Raynor Johnson was instrumental in starting the group which later came to be called “The Family” (an Australian cult which kidnapped and abused children,) together with Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the “self-appointed mystic” who led the cult proclaiming herself to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Raynor Johnson provided premises (called Santiniketan Hall) at his home in Victoria (from which he wrote an inspiring letter to me in 1976) and recruited middle class professionals who all subscribed to the bizarre beliefs of the cult whilst adding to its respectability. I knew nothing of this association during the entire time I was enamoured of Raynor’s Johnson’s writings and spiritual ideas, and continued to know nothing until a number of years later.

After one of the children was expelled from The Family, and exposed its practices to the authorities, the cult was raided by the Victoria police on 14 August 1987 – (as it happens, the year of Raynor Johnson’s death). Anne and her husband were arrested in June 1993 by the FBI in the USA. In August 2009 Anne’s grandaughter and a former cult member successfully sued her for psychiatric and psychological abuse and “cruel and inhuman treatment”.  She was also sued for misappropriation of money, and made a secret out-of-court settlement with a victim as recently as August 2011.

I believe that this kindly professor was exploited by a cunning and manipulative person who later went on, using his cloak of respectability, to commit evil acts  – but none of us are proof against being exploited or used.

However, if you follow the links and read of the case, I hope it will serve to help you understand why people do become deluded by self-appointed mystics, why they join cults, and why they become drawn in by false teachings.

Some of these experiences and reflections have played into the characters you will meet in my novel “Mystical Circles” – as well as those in my current novel “A Passionate Spirit”.

And perhaps the best postscript to this lies in these words: Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them.

(New Testament: Matthew 7:  15,16)

Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey. Do you identify with it? Have you ever been drawn into beautiful philosophical teachings by a charismatic figure? Have you been inspired by any books or authors in this way? I’d love to have your comments!

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