Jim Grob on his East-West Contemplative Life

An Interview with Jim Grob on his East-West experiences
A Series of Dreams
Journal Entries

The Forum has been highlighting four important elements in the current renewal of Christian spirituality: a genuine rediscovery of the Christian mystical tradition, deep encounters with Eastern forms of meditation, and with depth psychologies like Jung's, and attempts to simplify our lives so we will have the time and interior stillness necessary for our spiritual journeys.

In this issue we are going to meet Jim Grob who helped come up with the original idea of the Forum, and in whose life many of these elements have come together. Jim had been a successful and rising school administrator when his district was thrown into turmoil by funding cuts. He found himself on a roller-coaster ride that took him to the unemployment lines, back into the classroom, and finally back into administration. The following excerpts are from his journal.

An Interview with Jim Grob on his East-West experiences

Eight years ago it appeared that a very solid professional career, which had been building steadily over the previous 14 years, had been cancelled. All doors on my career had been slammed shut, and I could not find the key to reopen them.

In retrospect, I now regard this devastating period to have been the essential ingredient in removing my life from the wrong track and getting it firmly on the right track.

My internal state at this time was a mess. It seemed that the meaning of a large segment of my life had been blotted out. I was deeply depressed.

Prior to a family trip to Japan in the summer of 1978 1 had read D.T. Suzuki's Zen and Japanese Culture. This led to other works on Zen and this, in turn, to a rapidly developing interest in 20th century psychology and the esoteric (mystical) traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. The last time I had been seriously involved in such reading was more than 20 years earlier during my five years in a seminary.

Responding to what my reading was strongly suggesting, I began a somewhat sporadic regime of meditation. The form which felt best was a combination of Zen and Christian techniques which started in from where I had left off in the seminary.

The one hour per day meditation in the seminary had been exclusively "discursive" (readings followed by use of imagination and emotions). After about three years of this my mental processes froze totally during meditation periods. I could do nothing but sit helplessly in chapel with an ever mounting sense of frustration.

My boss took a job in the Southwest. District administration was reorganized. Once again I was without a job. The year in central administration led rather easily, however, to an assistant principal position at a middle school.

The first three months of this job were utterly exhausting - physically, mentally and psychologically. I went on to finish the year well in control of this very strange and demanding job (dealing with the anger, frustration and occasional violence of students, parents and staff members).

Meditation was now a definite daily event. I began stealing 2-3 minutes whenever I could, in my office (between discipline referrals, irate parents and phone calls), or outside during my lunchtime supervision patrols. These minutes were used to try to get and keep myself centered on what was happening inside myself.

A meditation period is now a fixture every day with occasional two per day meditations. I now build my supervision walks around the need/desire for brief islands of quiet time.

Reading has opened out over the past year or so into a vast range of books from various historical periods, all the great religions and various schools of psychology. Forty or more books going at one time. The bit I've learned and experienced so far seems to help me always get the right page in my hands at the right time.

Chris (my wife) reported one day that her office staff had discussed dream interpretation in a meeting and were going to read parts of a book on the subject. We talked about dreams. I'd never thought much about them before, seldom seemed to have any, or at least couldn't remember them.

Within a few days of this discussion I began having and remembering dreams - an intensive series, all on different aspects of the same subject.

A Series of Dreams

Thus begins a series of dreams that ended with the following dream:

I'm in the maternity section of a hospital, in an incubator room. A woman, clearly not a nurse, is in charge. She shows me an almost fully developed infant which is clearly alive, well and growing, then places it back in its incubator slot. I see a number of other, much less fully developed infants. Finally the woman takes the first baby back out to show me how it has developed even more in the short time that has elapsed since she first showed it to me.

(interpretation) The woman is my anima, or creative, female aspect. I have met female representations of myself in previous dreams.

The premature baby is my own internal life, which is growing nicely, but apparently not yet ready to emerge as a fully developed new infant. The only part not yet completely .developed was the face (the full identity of my Self is yet to become clear).

Journal Entries

Starting on May 14th this spring and continuing for 13 days, my experience of God's presence became a tremendously powerful and controlling factor in my life. This presence was exhibited in a number of ways almost continually, and in some special ways which included, among other characteristics, a playful sense of humor.

I kept a daily record of this period. Here are some of the experiences:

* the best analogy I can find for what is happening is that it is like having an internal furnace with a pilot light. Early in the morning- I become aware that the pilot light is on - very much like a small flame burning. To turn on the furnace and bring a full blast of heat it is only necessary to spend a few seconds letting myself go and turning myself over completely to this process.

* this heat also has the characteristic of magnetism. While working with students or teachers, patrolling the halls, or talking on the phone, the heat is felt to be burning away and I feel drawn - pulled with varying degrees of force to drop whatever I'm doing and simply sink into it totally.

* the sense of the heat/magnetism being an Intelligence, a conscious effort being done to me with love, for my own good, is just as real and vivid as the heat and magnetism itself.

* feeling that if this force gets much stronger I'm going to have real problems carrying out my work.

*when I can get alone and quiet (few minutes at work, on a park bench, or in a church, at home after dinner), I can sink into this process in seconds and stay in it for as long as I wish with almost no effort whatever.

* sat in bed one night determined to stay with this presence as long as possible. Started at 10:00 p.m. and the next time I checked the clock it was 1:00 a.m. Three hours had passed in what seemed a very short time and the experience of presence was uninterrupted.

* not even a typical Friday in an Assistant Principal's office can turn off the furnace. Fights, suspensions, referrals, staff problems, phone calls, supervision, but the fire burns merrily on, pulling at me to jump in and drop the rest.

* after another day in the furnace, I had a parent, student and counselor in my office at 2:30 for a conference. The heat and magnetism were so overpowering that it took a strong physical effort to stay focused on the conference. As soon as the conference ended I went to my car. The drawing inward by the magnetism was now so intense that it took another strong effort to start the car and drive downtown. I spent two hours in a church letting go as fully as I could: just staying in the intense heat of the oven (I sometimes use an oven as the appropriate analogy as at times it is very much like being inside the heat rather than having the heat inside me).

* a loud pop took place inside my brain. Whether it was audible to anyone standing near I don't know, but it certainly was audible to me. Also felt strong pressure on sides of brain. This worried me for a while, but everything else seemed fine so I assumed that with the great filling and expansion that had been taking place inside me the darned brain had just expanded a bit to help deal with the process.

Spent another two hours in the cathedral waiting for Chris to get out of work. Oven baked non-stop until I fell asleep that night. During days like this one I sometimes felt as if I were burning up - hot and dried out. A few times I was physically exhausted by the experience.

* As I sat in my office one afternoon another experience unique to me occurred. It was certainly related to the dream series and it certainly came out of my unconscious - but this time it came when I was wide awake.

I asked myself how I would characterize, in a symbolic, pictorial way, what had happened to me as a result of this continuing experience. Instantly, with no effort to search for ideas, a completely formed image came to mind.

I saw myself, sitting Japanese style, on the floor of a somewhat darkened cathedral. On my lap I was holding a gigantic gemstone. I sat with my head slightly bowed in a dazed, wondering and grateful attitude staring at the stone - obviously representing that which I'd found within myself.

* a new thing has begun to happen, and continues steadily (even at night, as it is there when I wake up). This is some physical process going on in the core of my brain. It is a steady feeling of pressure with an occasional touch of nausea related to it.

At the end of 13 days with this process I found myself with a severe head cold which lasted a week. The fire went out during this time.

During the days after recovering from the cold my prayer continued with no decline in intensity, although the vivid sense of presence, and all of its effects, was gone. Prayer was now easier and, in a way, solider than it had been before the experiences began.

No sooner was I reconciled to the fact that life had returned to a more standard mode of operation, and would probably remain that way, than the furnace turned back on again. The heat and magnetism are as before.

* tremendous pressure being exerted on parts of my brain, most especially at the core, but also the sides, lower back section, and sometimes the front. What is this? It is described by writers from the Hindu tradition as being part of the standard awakening process involving the "opening of the chakras" by a force within us called "Kundalini." The process is one of preparing the body for more and more intense awareness and involvement with the Presence within.

* although the area of the body most directly involved has been the brain, the heart is also involved, and at times both seem to be one thing - a kind of almost tangible bridge with the heart at one end and the brain at the other. It is completely as if both organs are merged into a single organ running from the head into the chest. This "one" organ gets fully involved in the heat/magnetism process.

Flying to Tokyo today. This is the 16th day since this "process" started up again. The day was filled with rushing around and it was difficult to get into my internal oven. It was turned on while walking the dog, off during the wild car ride to the airport with a "mad driver" friend of the family. After the plane took off and the initial excitement of being on the way to Tokyo settled down, the oven came back on while I listened to Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto on a pair of headphones. The heat was there, sort of beneath the music and I could put myself into it.

In a lakeside souvenir shop in the mountains near Tateshina I found, and picked up a beautiful wood carving of the Kannon Bodhisatva and was immediately "grabbed" again by God's presence.

After starting the day with a salt mines type of meditation period, and then spending most of the morning working on various job tasks, I was suddenly inundated with God's presence. It was as if someone turned on a symphony recording and gradually turned the volume from off to low, to medium, to high, and finally to a deafening level.

At mass during lunchtime I experienced the new way some verbal prayers affect me. Making the sign of the cross is now a vivid and literal greeting of God in an intimate, up-close way. It is like a bugle call against a velvety black, silent background.

Since the last entry I've been feeling the weight of my humanity to a distressing degree. The frequent ease of the past year's experiences is now, for the most part, gone. Progress now seems to be made step by step, through a dense swamp, with mud up to my knees.

There have been reassuring moments when it's clear all is still well:

* peeling and dicing onions while preparing a meal - the onions, the knife, the window and the outdoors, everything in sight was highly charged with God's presence and I was breathing, working and loving in that same presence.

* periods of varying length, usually late in a session of silent sitting, when everything, including myself, drops off and nothing remains but God's presence in the darkness and silence.

Of the period since my last notes (nearly two years ago) I can say that it has been a time of increased demands that I let go of non-essential support (such as frequent conscious experience of God's direct relationship with and actions in me) in order to gain both confidence and strength in standing upright in the swirling whirlwind of daily life with no support other than the faith that I am always in God's hand and within his protective embrace.

In recent months I've felt like I have been plucked, gutted, skinned and nailed to the barn door to dry. Until a few days ago the only sustained change in that condition was the sense of the sunbaked skin being vigorously scraped and stretched.

Jim Grob, 1125 Greenwood Blvd. SW, Issaquah, WA 98027.

Blossoms of Silence (66 minutes, $20, audio $6 - plus $2 shipping) by Jim Grob is a video on his life and reflections on the relationship between contemplation and enlightenment.


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