On my sojourn across the country, a night spent camping in Idaho's mountain wilderness demonstrated to me the power of the human mind to create a physical reality from its deepest emotional fears.
A phone call in Boston foreshadowed the mystery to come. Half asleep, I picked up the receiver in my Boston apartment at 1 a.m. Who could be calling at this hour? It was my good buddy Gary in Boise, Idaho. He wanted me to come out to his neck of the woods and go hiking at 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.
"You've got to come. It'll do you good. Fresh air, endless space, perfect quiet," my friend implored.
"Sounds like fun, but why are you calling me right now after three years of no contact?" I asked incredulously.
"I had a dream last night. You and I were on a most excellent adventure in some alpine mountains and we both had major spiritual awakenings," he explained breathlessly. "I want to find that dream."
I was already planning to drive right through Idaho on my way to the West Coast. On some level, Gary must have known I'd be ready and open to his proposal. The coincidence didn't really surprise me. Since the good old days when Gary and I hung out in Boston with our wild and beloved spiritual mentor Michio Kushi, we always had a synchronistic connection and a natural harmony of desires. For years, we'd get the same intuitive hit at the same time to travel to a specific place in the mountains or by the ocean, or to explore a particular new metaphysical topic or meditation method.
Besides, Gary knew I was not a person to pass on an adventure, especially a spiritual one. I had that feeling in my gut that demanded I say "yes." So I did. I was intrigued. The core of his invitation was thrilling: to deliberately go after a vision! To place oneself in the setting of a dream and welcome the substance of that vision to manifest. What a concept! I was "in!"
A new perspective on life was just what I needed at that time. The fact that the opportunity came through a dream vision of Gary's made the prospect all that much more exciting. I'd just lost my bid to be selected as the official instructor in Boston for the Release Technique, the human potential program of my current spiritual mentor of many years, Lester Levenson. This teachership had been my primary goal in life for the last five years. With the prize taken away, I felt lost and empty. I needed to fill myself again with new purpose and joy. The rugged, remote beauty and tranquillity of the Sawtooth Mountains of northern Idaho provided a most favorable environment to begin my search for the next focus of my Earth journey.
At the end of our first day hiking in the pristine wilderness, Gary and I discovered an inviting natural hot spring. We floated under the starry umbrella of the Milky Way for several hours. If you've ever soaked in a hot tub or hot spring, you know that not only does your body relax, but also your spirit, heart and emotions. In this open state, people often experience heightened awareness and direct connection with their inner coach. Often this opening also causes unconscious feelings to bubble up. In this state of extreme relaxation, some people spontaneously go into an innate rhythmic breathing that liberates extremely suppressed emotions.
In the soothing, warm waters of the alpine hot tub, Gary instinctively entered into this natural process of release. During the evening, Gary courageously encountered many childhood memories and adolescent traumas. Buried fears resurfaced from his past. He spent hours confronting, embracing and dissolving deep-seated anxieties he'd carried around since early youth. It was a poignant evening of intense feeling, letting go and cleansing in the hot spring. We crawled into our two-man pup tent later that night feeling light, open and vulnerable. After securely zipping up and sealing the tent at both ends, we finally drifted off to sleep.
About halfway through the night, Gary's fierce thrashing and screaming abruptly roused me from my tranquil slumber.
"It's got me! It's got me!" he was yelling.
Trying to calm him down, I reached over, gently massaged his shoulders, and said in a soothing voice, "You're only dreaming. It's okay. You're all right now."
Still asleep and trembling violently, Gary cried out, "This animal! Its teeth! It has me!"
I continued to murmur comforting words and softly nudge him. Gary gradually awakened from his nightmare. I asked him if he could remember what had frightened him.
"A wild animal grabbed my wrist and was gnawing at it. I was afraid I couldn't wrestle my hand free from the beast's iron grip."
Gary was shaking uncontrollably. It was obvious the nightmare still had a hold on him. I kept trying to calm him down, repeating that it was just a bad dream. Then I felt something wet on my hand. I reached behind me with my other hand, retrieved a flashlight and shone the light on Gary's wrist. It was bleeding profusely! There were sharp teeth marks across the whole back of his hand. His flesh was ripped open, exposing a few small wrist bones.
I quickly applied some antiseptic salve from my knapsack and wrapped his hand in a pillowcase.
"There has to be some creature here in the tent with us," Gary said in a strained, terrified whisper. "You probably spooked it when you sat up. It must have gotten scared when it realized there were two of us."
I concurred. We frantically started checking our securely zipped shelter for some sort of small wild animal. We searched every inch of the little pup tent. Both sleeping bags were turned inside out. Our knapsacks were cautiously emptied. No animal could be found. Then we searched for any tears or openings in the tent that a creature could have passed through. There weren't any openings.
Gary and I talked. We searched our worlds for a possible explanation. We couldn't find a plausible scenario, much as we wished it. But the conversation served to dispel some of our trepidation.
In the course of our exploration, I shone the flashlight on Gary's face and mouth to check for blood-or any other sign that he might have gnawed at his own hand. None. I even examined my own face and teeth, desperately searching for some rational source of the bites. Nothing.
Exhausted from the traumatic attack on his person and frustrated at the mystery of its origin, Gary eventually sought refuge from his ordeal in sleep. However, rest eluded me. I lay awake contemplating the enigma of my friend's chewed wrist, Gary had been in the throes of a scary dream. In the nightmare, an animal had grabbed his wrist and chewed on it. It took me a long time to wake him from his horror. It was very real for him. But there were no animals in the tent. If any creature had been inside the shelter, it couldn't have escaped without leaving a rip or some sort of opening.
I recalled how, just prior to our retiring, we spent a few hours in the relaxing hot spring. Gary confronted and resolved many fears in the therapeutic waters. I knew the mind was powerful. I knew fear was a potent force. I also knew dreams were symbolic.
Maybe, I pondered, some entrenched anxieties arose in Gary that he hasn't consciously acknowledged or released. In my healing practice, I've witnessed many instances of unresolved emotions materializing into physical form. Ulcers are a prime proven and accepted example. Hives and rashes are two more. So, I theorized, when we have a fear and don't deal with it in some way to free the energy of the feeling, the fright can manifest in some physical form.
Gary presented himself as a macho, rough-and-tumble, Wild West type of guy. He liked to be seen as a modern-day John Wayne, strong and stoic as a rock. He definitely suppressed and denied a lot of his emotions in life. Although he tried to hide it, I could tell from previous conversations that he was extremely worried-perhaps even terrified-that his life was falling apart. Recently his wife had threatened to leave him, taking with her the three children he adored. And his business was failing. In the hot spring, Gary liberated some of his bottled up tensions. But obviously, he only released a little steam from the top of the pressure cooker, just melting the tip of the iceberg of panic within him.
The more I reflected on the situation, the more enthused and intrigued I became. I didn't know exactly what unresolved fear was "eating away" at Gary, but I could hardly wait for morning to discuss it with him. I'd glimpsed the unleashing of Gary's mind and its power to manifest the energy of his dread. I'd witnessed how the mind can use emotions to create physical experiences in the physical realm. Once Gary isolated his anxieties and fully felt his feelings, he could resolve the nightmare. The wounds would lose their mystique. The power would be drained from the issue.
Lying there in the quiet of the night, I contemplated the personal import of the night's drama. I promised myself that from this day forward, I'd make a conscious effort to recognize and acknowledge the fears in my life. I'd open myself to feeling the energy created by each apprehension. I'd find a way to integrate and dissipate the energy and power of my feelings. I'd seek methods to handle my anxieties internally so that they wouldn't have to externalize in my physical universe.
Indeed, Gary and I had found his dream vision and opened to a most excellent spiritual breakthrough. I drifted off to sleep, thankful for the life lesson I learned, and looking forward to enlightening my friend at dawn.