By Douglas McElheny
About a year ago I had a series of dreams in the same night with the deceased American spiritual teacher Franklin Merrell-Wolff. I wanted to share these dreams for a couple of reasons, one of which is simply to get his name out there on the internet for someone who might be interested in him and his work, which has the obvious stamp of someone who attained a spiritual realization or ‘recognition’ as he preferred to call it. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea because of his strong intellectual bent, but if you have the kind of mind that can get into his writings, I think you’ll find him as rewarding to read as anyone in contemporary spiritual literature.
The second reason I want to share is because I feel these dreams might be indicating an actual contact with Merrell-Wolff during sleep on another supraphysical plane, and I wanted to use these dreams as a means to explore the possibility of such encounters. In a letter to one of his sadhaks, Sri Aurobindo calls this sort of dream a ‘dream experience’, which he defines as a “record direct or symbolic of what happens to us or around us there (on other supraphysical planes).”1 Now I honestly don’t know how to infallibly distinguish when a dream is a dream experience according to this definition. I wracked my brain trying to see if I could come up with some kind of criteria, but realized I’m just not at the place yet where I have that kind of knowledge and discernment. So this article is going to be more hypothetical than most that I write, and more about presenting possibilities than answers.
I think however we can still expand our horizons through exploring the possibility that this was indeed a dream experience with Merrell-Wolff , while at the same time being honest that I don’t know for sure. To give this idea some plausibility however, and not just build a house of cards, I will support it with some relevant quotes from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Let me also say that I feel that if these dreams were indeed of the dream experience variety, they were a symbolic record and not a direct one. Overall there was nothing really remarkable about the dream environment or the dream substance that would lead me to believe I was bringing back a direct record from something that occurred on another plane. And while there was one beautiful scene in the first dream, it wasn’t the kind of breathtaking beauty I’ve seen in dream environments that I suspect are peering into the subtle physical.2 I have to admit though, that there are many, many things I still don’t know or understand about dreams, so I may be wrong, but since Sri Aurobindo makes the distinction in his definition, I thought I needed to give my opinion on the matter for the sake of clarity throughout the rest of this article.
So with all this in mind I’ll now share the dreams.
I’m with Franklin Merrell-Wolff in a truck in the front seat and he’s driving. There’s also if I remember correctly another passenger and I’m sitting in the middle. We’re driving through some low rolling green mountains. There really isn’t a road though, and at one point the car is almost sideways driving along the side of one of the mountains. I know we’re going to reach a point where we’ll have to go more or less straight up and I’m nervous about this. We stop first though at Merrell-Wolff’s house. I join with a group of people and he’s giving us a tour. At one point we reach a place where there’s a staircase going up, and a staircase going down, and a room can be seen at the end of each staircase. One by one we have to go to the staircases and choose which way we want to go, and some people choose to go up and others choose to go down. When it’s my turn I can see that downstairs there are some chairs and the people there are watching a video presentation. I don’t now recall what was going on upstairs. My first inclination is to go upstairs, but then I change my mind and go downstairs, because I think that’s where Merrell-Wolff is. He’s not there though, and I realize he’s off somewhere else outside with a few other people and that I didn’t get to go. I find my way outside and can see a wide desert plain below that has some rock formations in the distance like something you’d see in the badlands in South Dakota. It’s a very beautiful scene. After that I find myself in a bigger room like a theater watching something on TV. I don’t remember now what it was about.
I’m with Merrell-Wolff in a truck again and he’s driving. We’re talking about spiritual realization, and how you get there. Something in our conversation (I don’t remember what) prompts me to say, “Well maybe I’m a weak person.” But he tells me that on the contrary I’m a very strong person, and he tells me why, but I can’t remember now what he said. Also during the conversation I asked him if surrender was the most important thing for gaining spiritual realization, and I seem to remember he answered in the affirmative. I also asked him if it’s just a matter of letting go, and I don’t remember now how he responded.
We’re back at Merrell-Wolff’s house in the mountains, and an airport taxi has come to pick me up though it looks like a trolley. Merrell-Wolff comes to say goodbye, and I’m feeling emotional because I don’t want to leave him. For our parting he reaches out to shake my hand while I try to give him a hug, which results in a kind of awkward embrace. He gives me a kiss on the cheek, and then he points his index and middle fingers of one hand at my eyes, but not directly, as his hand is a little bit on the left side of my head. He says reassuringly something like “You’re gonna get it. You’re gonna figure it out” or I may have just understood that that was what he meant by the gesture and he didn’t actually say it. I can’t recall for sure. I’m feeling very emotional because I figure I’ll never see him again.
Franklin Merrell-Wolff died in 1985. In a video interview I saw of him that took place near the end of his life, Merrell-Wolff states his belief that it’s possible to make the transition to death consciously and without falling into a swoon from which one would have to regain consciousness later. He also voiced his desire to accomplish this during his death.3 I have to admit I don’t have any idea what would be the benefits of entering death without losing continuity of consciousness, but I will say that I feel a realized being has a lot more control over what happens to them in death than your average joe, though I obviously can’t prove that.
Being familiar with Merrell-Wolff’s writings and having a sense of the stature of the man, I would guess he was developed enough to achieve his goal of entering death consciously. Developed enough also I would guess, to still be active on the other side guiding and helping the living, especially those people who are directly under his spiritual care—assuming of course that sort of thing is possible, and in my case I assume that it is. And if it is possible and this dream is transcribing an encounter with Merrell-Wolff, and if it’s a fairly accurate transcription in its basic details, then perhaps I actually went to his abode on the other side, his inner ashram you might say, somewhere where he meets and mixes with others. Now I don’t know where his abode might be on the other side, but the Mother said more than once after he died that Sri Aurobindo was dwelling in the subtle physical plane and that “you can meet him when you sleep, if you know how to go there.”4 She also made reference to a world on the subtle physical plane she visited during sleep “where the living and the dead intermingle without feeling any difference.”5
If you’ve read a lot of other blog posts of mine you know that I focus mainly on trying to show how dreams connect to actual occurrences in waking reality. So one could ask: what makes me think this dream isn’t just showing what was manifesting in my waking life at the time? Maybe, you might argue, it was showing a day or span of days that I was ‘up in the mountains’ spiritually so to speak, maybe feeling some peace or detachment. Unfortunately, I don’t recollect now what my waking life was like at the time, so I can’t refute that possibility by saying I was struggling with something then, but even if I had been uplifted at that time that wouldn’t necessarily invalidate for me the idea that this was a contact with Merrell-Wolff. That encounter might have been the thing that helped me to get clear. I should also point out that dreams have a depth and multi-dimensionality that’s hard for our waking consciousness to fathom, and this dream could very well have been showing both a personal uplift in waking consciousness and a contact with Merrell-Wolff at the same time.
One of the things that leads me to believe that this was a contact with Merrill-Wolff is years of dreams of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and my strong conviction that they’re my teachers, and that they are consciously active and guiding people from the other side.6 And while I don’t know of any examples with Merrell-Wolff, there are scores of stories of people encountering Sri Aurobindo and/or the Mother in their dreams (both while Aurobindo and the Mother were still alive as well as after their deaths) and receiving help or guidance from them. In one of his letters, Sri Aurobindo pointed out to a sadhak that encountering the Mother on the vital plane is an experience “all the sadhaks have in their sleep and dreams, if they are a little conscious there. Even those who are not sadhaks or others who do not know her come, but they are not aware of it.”7
Another question the reader might ask, and which I asked myself, is: could Merrell-Wolff be representing someone or something else I encountered in sleep and the dream just used him as a symbol because its one I would know and recognize? I recently came across an instance in Questions and Answers where a child tells the Mother a dream she had where “you took me in your arms and embraced me for quite some time.”8 The Mother then tells her that during sleep the child had entered into contact with Forces “which are full of love and tenderness, which help and welcome all those who come,”9 and “when you woke up, this was translated through images you know, that is, that you come to see me, receive blessings, and then as there was a new feeling —that of contact with this Force which envelops and helps— this gave you the impression that I was taking you in my arms and embracing you. It was translated in this way. The fact is there; the translation is that of your brain.”10 Based on this it certainly seems quite possible that Merrell-Wolff could have been a symbol for a Force like the Mother describes here, but it also seems possible to me that the dream does indeed record a contact with Merrell-Wolff.
While he’s not my primary teacher, and he admittedly doesn’t enter my dreams often,11 I have a tremendous admiration for Franklin Merrell-Wolff and his incredible mind, as well as a great enthusiasm for his written works, which I regard as some of my most prized possessions. That by itself seems to me would be enough to open up the possibility of a contact during sleep, but I’ve also reached out to him to a small extent over the years, asked him for his help. It’s only been in small spurts whereas I’m reaching out to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on a daily basis, but when I think of him it sometimes drums up a little bit of bhakti along with the enthusiasm I feel for his books. So I think there’s enough here for there to be an inner connection between he and I, and I think a spiritually realized man like Merrell Wolff is going to give his help to anyone who sincerely asks, even if its just in a small way, and even if for the most part he leaves that person to the care of the people directly in charge of his or her sadhana. I think also that the element of Merrell-Wolff giving me guidance in the dream as well as my desire to be with him and the emotions I felt at our parting could indicate that this was indeed a contact with him, and that the bhakti and enthusiasm I feel for him in my waking life are perhaps the outcome of a deeper inner connection. How you distinguish infallibly though between a dream experience that shows an actual encounter with someone like Merrell-Wolff or Sri Aurobindo, and one that uses them as symbols for helping Forces or other beings, is something I don’t know, and I have to wonder which of my many dreams of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother over the years were actually showing a contact with them and not just using them as a symbol.
I think after having hashed all that out, it’s appropriate now to briefly look at some of the movements in the dreams in the context of a dream experience and under the assumption that this was in fact a contact with Merrell-Wolff. Now as I said previously, I think that if this was a dream experience, it’s a symbolic recording and not a direct one. Given that, going up into the mountains might just be symbolic of rising up through the planes and in the scale of consciousness to Merrell-Wolff’s abode. According to Sri Aurobindo’s descriptions of other planes in his epic poem Savitri however, other supraphysical planes can have features like mountains, lakes etc.12 So it wouldn’t seem to me to be impossible that Merrell-Wolff, who loved the mountains and even built a small ashram in the Eastern Sierra Nevada during his lifetime,13 would set up his abode in a mountainous setting. This however is admittedly pure speculation.
Moving on, I have to say I have no idea what the choice between going up and going down in the first dream might mean, but the TV screen that was in the room downstairs and also the one at the end of the first dream perhaps indicate being given information or knowledge. It’s interesting I wasn’t included with the group that went outside with Merrell-Wolff. I don’t know what that represented, but for whatever reason I wasn’t invited. Maybe that’s because I’m not fully his student or maybe it was something for the more spiritually advanced people. I seem to recall that in the dream I understood that I wasn’t spiritually advanced enough to go, but since I didn’t record that in the dream’s description in my dream journal I can’t rule out that that’s a false recollection my mind has tacked on to the memory of the dream.
Looking at the guidance given in the dream, it’s of course nice to be told by someone like Merrell-Wolff in a dream that you’re a strong person, and that you’re going to figure it out. That gave me a little confidence boost after the dream that I can still recall, and one I must have needed though, as I’ve said, I can’t remember what my general state was at the time. The fact that I asked Merrell-Wolff if surrender was the most important thing for spiritual realization was prompted I feel by the memory of one particular part in his work Introceptualism that discusses the importance of self-giving to the sacred. That particular passage really resonated with me and has stuck with me more strongly than anything else I’ve gleaned from Merrell-Wolff’s books.14
So in conclusion, though this is all hypothetical, my feeling on the matter is that this was indeed a dream experience with Franklin Merrell-Wolff. Of course, that’s admittedly what I want to believe, but if you’re willing to take Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as authorities, I think I’ve presented a plausible argument that this was a dream experience, and that these sorts of supraphysical encounters with other people, be they dead or alive, are possible in sleep. But then there’s still the question of whether or not I actually encountered Merrell-Wolff in sleep that night or if my dream was just using him as a symbol for someone or something else I encountered. Regarding this I must be honest and admit once more that this is a question I can’t answer at this time, and one that almost got me to shelve this article before it was finished hoping that at some point in my life I’d have the knowledge and discernment to answer the question one way or another. It makes sense though that it really was Merrell-Wolff for the reasons I’ve stated previously, and I think my belief that it was indeed him can be presented as a reasonable, even probable possibility by the reader if you’re willing to admit the existence of such dream encounters with a spiritual teacher with whom you have an inner connection. It was this, along with Donny’s encouragement that convinced me to carry on with the endeavor and finish the article. Dreams are still a largely unexplored frontier, and some amount of hypothetical speculation is inevitable as we attempt to map this territory, or re-map it perhaps since past civilizations may not have been as in the dark about dreams and other occult phenomenon as we are. So if this inquiry has broadened anyone’s ideas of what’s possible in sleep and dreams and done it in a credible manner, that I feel is sufficient, and it’s served a useful purpose. And if it further prompts a reader or two to take a closer look at their own dreams for evidence of such dream experiences or even for just a deeper understanding of their dreams in general, so much the better.
Notes and References
- Sri Aurobindo, CWSA Vol 30: Letters on Yoga III, pg 260.
- The subtle physical is Sri Aurobindo and The Mother’s term for another world of physical matter like ours, but one of incredible beauty in comparison to the gross physical world we inhabit in waking consciousness.
- Those interested can watch the interview here https://youtu.be/39kZf72LlE4
- The Mother, CWM Vol 13: Words of the Mother I, pg 12.
- The Mother, CWM Vol 10: On Thoughts and Aphorisms, pg 147.
- For what I think is a good clear example of a dream experience with the Mother, please read this article on my old blog The Chipmunk Press. Scroll down to where it says ‘From First, From Within’ to find the article.
- Sri Aurobindo, CWSA Vol 32: The Mother With Letters On The Mother, pg 290.
- The Mother, CWM Vol 6: Questions and Answers 1954, pg 143.
- pg 147-148.
- pg 148.
- In my dream journals, which I’ve got on Word docs back to the beginning of 2013, Merrell-Wolff’s name only comes up twice, and in both dreams I was reading something he’d written and wasn’t actually with him. I have a vague recollection of another dream where I was actually with him, but that could be a false memory.
- Please refer to Book II Canto II and Book XI Canto I in Sri Aurobindo’s
- Merrell-Wolff built the ashram in Tuttle Creek Canyon near Lone Pine, CA with the help of a group he and his wife Sherifa founded called the ‘Assembly of Man’. This building still stands and is known as the ‘Tuttle Creek Ashram’ by the U.S. Forest Service.
- Here is the quote for those who are interested:
‘Sacredness implies self-giving, while secularity implies self-withholding. In the transformation process, everything else is incidental to the attainment of the pure self-giving attitude. For the most part, one attains this attitude only after a desperately painful crisis, but if the individual can accept it without waiting for the crisis, he or she simply avoids a great deal of discomfort.’
Franklin Merrell-Wolff, Transformations in Consciousness, pg 150