The Planetary Mystery School
Hidden in secluded and forgotten forests, where only narrow footpaths snake through impenetrable tracts of scrub and thicket, or high atop distant, veiled mountains where only the intrepid dare venture up perilous pathways, there exist shrouded schools of the ancient mysteries. Only individuals who have set all else aside to pursue enlightenment at any cost will find these sequestered schools. Only initiates can teach there-those who have surrendered to, and gone beyond, the laws of this physical plane.
No one can make application to a mystery school. The spiritual seeker can only attempt to meet the normal challenges of daily life with skill and wisdom. In time, he may be noticed by a master whose influence can prepare a way of entrance into a mystery school. Once there, through a series of initiations, the applicants consciousness is molded. He is presented the opportunity to progress as rapidly as humanly possible. He journeys through the hierarchical stages of soul development, as a result of the lessons carefully and specifically designed by an inscrutable master teacher.
....or so I imagined.
In 1972, I suddenly detoured off the mainstream thoroughfare of Baptist fundamentalism, onto the lesser-known spiritual path. Typically, I was like a starving man let loose at a banquet. I read every metaphysical book I could find. I attended dozens of workshops and classes. I formed my own study group. I was eager to try every herb, potion, and appliance. Eventually, I studied astrology, the tarot, the I Ching, and Qabalah.
Of all my discoveries in those early days, nothing fascinated me more than the concept of the existence of mystery schools. I could hardly wait to enroll. I wanted nothing more than to purify myself, master all my lessons, and quickly get to a mystery school.
I was determined. Never mind that the related literature referred only to ancient times when Hermes-Toth was High Priest and Initiator to Egypt, or when Pythagoras wrote his esoteric doctrine in, not words, but secret symbols. In my search for information, I had stumbled upon an obscure teaching: There are still mystery schools operating in this day. They are hidden and impossible to find, but they do exist. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Only then, will entrance to the mystery school be possible.
So, I did everything I could to make myself ready. I continued my disciplines, read my books, practiced what I believed were appropriate responses to my daily challenges. But how would I know when I was ready? How would they know when I was ready? How could I be sure that the talent scout would find me? It was not easy to leave it all to blind faith.
As I was studying and meditating, working to prepare myself, I discovered a law of telepathic communication in the writings of Dion Fortune, a spiritual teacher and author of the early 1900s. The law states, If you can focus on someone, whether in the flesh or not, by picturing his image in your mind and by calling his name repeatedly, his consciousness will be attracted to you.
Why shouldnt that work for a mystery school? I thought. At least they would find me. They would know I exist and take a look to see if Im ready. Maybe I could convince them, if I could just make contact.
So, I decided to try it. I had no idea on which mystery school I should focus. I only had the models as they appeared in the literature. From those descriptions, I formed what I thought was a connection with the tradition of the mystery school. As I sat in meditation, I held an image in my mind and repeated what seemed like an appropriate mantra.
Eventually, I experienced a sensation of touring another dimension, another reality, a separate reality from this one. Suddenly, the room was not there anymore, and I was somewhere else. I felt as though I were floating through space.
What happened next was the most frightening experience of my life. I could see a procession of beings, dressed in long black robes with hoods. It was impossible to see their faces. I was not even sure they had faces. As this line of dark beings began to form a circle around me, I could hear a drumming sound coming from all directions. As the sound grew louder, the beings came closer and closer. Apparently, I was the object of their processional, and I was not sure their intentions were good.
At the same time, I realized that I could not stop what was happening. How was I going to get back to my room? I had no idea how to separate myself from this scene or from these dark beings. What had I gotten myself into? For a mili-second, I wished I had read further in the book before trying this experiment.
All I knew to do was pray. So, I prayed like I have never prayed before. Never mind new age affirmations, or supplications to the popular Universal-Father-Mother-God-Goddess, whoever that is! I turned to what I knew best. I reverted right back to the old-time religious prayers of my childhood-the ones I learned in Sunday School class. I knew I had better get hold of Jesus and beg Him to get me out of there.
Then, it occurred to me that if I could contact these individuals by imaging them and by calling to them, I could probably contact myself by calling my own name. So, I did exactly that. I began to call my name and to focus on the room where I had been sitting before the experience began. As a result, I quickly re-associated with my body, meaning I got back in it, and was suddenly back in my room. I awakened, sweating, physically uncomfortable, dizzy, scared and relieved. I felt thankful it was over.
Once I calmed down, I read the rest of the book by Dion Fortune. I discovered that mystery schools maintain psychic and occult protection. Entrance, or invasion, on a psychic level is not allowed. I assumed that I had encountered some sort of Cosmic Cops.
My next step was to lay low. I had had enough of mystery schools for a while. I had probably made my presence known. They would discover me soon enough-unless, of course, I had flunked the entry exam, which seemed more likely.
So, I went about my business, which was the continuation of the trance readings. Word of our experiences spread quickly, and a small group of interested individuals began to form. As more people showed up daily to share the discoveries coming through the readings, it became necessary to organize ourselves in some way. The demand for our services grew as fast as the enormous amount of information that was accumulating. Out of a need to handle both, the Fellowship of the Inner Light was born as a nonprofit, interfaith, educational organization. By this time, we were offering a basic workshop. Many people wanted to learn the techniques that had been given to us through the trance readings. In addition, we established an interfaith worship service Sunday mornings, which we called Joy in Worship.
Although our schedule was full, and still expanding, I had no idea that we would grow into a worldwide organization. It was inconceivable that Fellowship Centers would eventually exist around the world, offering seminars, residential programs, counseling services, and Joy in Worship Services.
One day, soon after my experience with the cosmic cops, I passed a woman in the doorway of our little building as she was hurrying out. I have to go make love to some trees, she said as she rushed past. Curious, I asked what she meant. She told me that she was enrolled in a bonsai class and that I really should get to know her teacher because he was a Zen Master.
Master? My ears instinctively perked up at the word. Eager to meet him, I decided to visit the Sho-Ko-In School of Bonsai.
Finding it was not easy. I passed the narrow, dirt drive tucked away in the hedges several times before seeing it. Leaving my car, I wandered a narrow path into the woods until I found an unremarkable wooden building that blended with the surrounding trees. I knocked on the door, got no response, and decided to check behind the building.
There, I discovered an outdoor classroom of people who appeared to be intensely involved in torturing miniature trees. Gentle giants in a lilliputian world. Everywhere were tiny pine trees in various stages of transformation. They resembled the gnarled trees that hug the side of a windswept cliff overlooking the ocean, with one side bare of branches because of the wind and salt spray. There were also tiny flowering wisteria trellises and groves of diminutive orange trees.
Each tree appeared to have grown naturally, defying its creator-the hands that had carefully molded its shape over months, perhaps years. The tiny forests sometimes included a lake, a mountain, or a cliff, adding to the authenticity. It was fascinating. Something unusual was happening here. I was certain that the person behind all this must be a master.
A slight, unassuming man appeared and greeted me as if he already knew me. Walking together through his gardens, I noticed distinctive things about him. In contrast to me, he never hurried. I was so excited that I asked three questions before he answered one. He moved slowly and purposefully. As I became impatient, he moved even more slowly, and I became even more impatient. Not that it seemed to matter to him. His attention was fixed on the living world around him. He communicated with his trees as you and I would speak to each other. Our manners were in such contrast that, by the end of our tour, I was certain he was apologizing to the garden for my presence.
This man was teaching me something, but not through wise words, not even by pointing anything out. Apparently, I had the option of not even noticing.
We sat down to talk about his bonsai school. He spoke as slowly as he moved, while he sipped green tea from a tiny cup. I was in mid-sentence when, suddenly, he was no longer there.
There he was across the yard, gently touching the hand of a student as he spoke. You must warn the tree before you cut, or it will bleed. Speak to the tree. It must know your intention, or it will think you mean to harm it with those clippers.
You must realize that this is a living being, he explained to another. Do not think of it as a plant. Think of it as a soul. This soul needs to be molded in a particular direction. These training wires are like karmic experiences that mold its nature into a more beautiful expression.
Do you see that if you place a rock here, he asked another, it will conflict with the direction of this branch? And you will create conflict in this plant. Conflict cannot be created in the plant if you have no conflict within you. Before you touch the plant, be still and resolve your own inner conflict.
This bonsai master was providing more than instruction. He was not just teaching horticulture, or botany, or bonsai. He was illustrating spiritual truths and laws of the universe. A real sage! So slow and understated-acting as if he were not brilliant.
When he returned to his seat beside me, I said, I know that you wont admit to being a teacher of spiritual growth. But I can see that you are. I want to learn from you. Will you teach me?
He appeared to steel himself against what must have seemed an accusation. In a voice almost hurt, he answered, I am not a spiritual teacher. I do not teach spiritual lessons. I do not believe in teaching spiritual lessons.
How peculiar, I thought. I wonder what he does believe in.
What do you mean? I asked him. I know youre teaching more than how to torture these little plants. Theres a bigger message here. I can hear that in what youre saying. What do you mean youre not a spiritual teacher?
You are accusing me of separating life from its essence, he responded, seeming incensed. What I teach is life, a relationship to the universe. I do not separate spiritual lessons from the lessons of life. There is only one law. Spiritual growth is growth. That is all. There is no such thing as a spiritual teacher because such a person would be attempting to separate spirit from life, life from growth. That is not possible. It would be an error to try. Spirit and life are one.
Now, I was really impressed. Again, I asked, Will you teach me?
In answer, he set before me a pitiful-looking pine that I suspected had already died and been thrown out by another inept student. He gave me some tweezers and told me to pick out the brown needles. There were hundreds! Obviously, my first lesson would be about patience. But I was determined to get on with it.
Im going to do this if it kills me, I thought, as I began to pick out the tiny brown needles, one by one. As I plucked and plucked, I thought of all the other things I should be doing. The more I plucked, the more my thoughts raced.
He should be over here talking to me, I reasoned. Instead, he went on an errand. He could be here teaching me fantastic lessons. Instead, here I sit plucking these damned little needles. I
t seemed like hours before he finally returned and approached my table. The brown needles were gone now, but my little tree still looked scruffy and unkempt. At last, he sat with me and began to comment on my work.
If you were going to mold this tree into a more beautiful shape, how would you do that? he asked.
I looked at the beautiful, perfectly-shaped trees surrounding my scraggly one and suspected that nothing could help it. I dont see any way that this tree can look better, I told him.
He stared silently at the poor little tree, so I grasped for anything to say. Maybe I could bend this branch this way, and I could cut this off... I picked up the shears to begin.
Dont cut that yet! he cried in the most agitated voice I had heard yet. You did not ask permission.
What do you mean? I asked, dropping the shears.
You have to talk to the life that is in that plant so that it understands your intentions. In that way, the trees spirit will cooperate with you. That is how you will find out what direction it wants to go in.
This is great! I thought. Hes going to tell me how to talk to devas.
How do I do it? I asked. Just talk to it, he said, his voice displaying the first sign of impatience, his eyes narrowing.
I drew a blank. I had never talked to a tree. And I had certainly never heard a tree speak. But he was watching me, and I was still determined. For the first time, I sensed that behind that calm demeanor, he was laughing at my discomfort.
While I searched for something to say that would not sound too ridiculous, he finally added, If you could see that tree as a human being, what would that being look like?
A particular image had been in my mind all morning. I began to describe a sad, little girl, dirty and unkempt, skinny little legs sticking out of combat boots, scraggly uncombed hair- a lost and unloved waif.
Close your eyes, he said. See the little girl standing before you. That was easy enough. I closed my eyes and could see the little girl.
The bonsai master leaned close to me and whispered, Talk to her. Do not talk to the plant. Talk to the little girl. Ask her what she wants.
With my eyes closed, I saw the little girl, and I heard her say, Youve already washed my face. Now, take your instruments and comb my hair.
I opened my eyes and looked down at my little tree. It had changed. I saw it from a different perspective now. The tree was excited. The tree no longer feared my touch. Just like the little girl, it was excited at the prospect of looking more beautiful.
Without knowing specifically how, I began to communicate with the spirit within that plant. By the end of the afternoon, I had transformed my little tree into a gently leaning, windswept pine, the branches and bark missing on one side. I painted the bare trunk with lime so it looked like it had been bleached by the sun. Looking at it, you could almost smell the salt spray of the ocean. I was thrilled. I felt as if I had seen the transformation of a soul. I had taken something wild and uncontrolled and had created living art, as if made more beautiful by nature itself.
What I learned from this man in those few hours affected me profoundly. Afterwards, I said to the teacher, For a long time, I have wanted to be a student in a mystery school. I want to grow spiritually, as fast as I possibly can. I believe that you could teach me more than I could possibly learn from my little study group. I could learn more in one year with you than I could learn in many years on my own.
Will you take me as a project and shape my consciousness like yours? Will you work with me and mold my life like the masters did in the ancient mystery schools?
He listened to me thoughtfully. Then, at last, he spoke. Paul, could you leave the Fellowship? Close its doors, and come here as my servant? Wash my tea cups, make my bed, sweep my floors, pick the dead needles off tiny pines? Could you do all these things even if I never said anything wise to you?
The question stunned me. The Fellowship was my child, a living being. I loved it more than anything. To close its doors would be like closing a part of my life, like cutting off a limb. It was an impossible choice.
I weighed the options for a moment and realized that there really was no choice. The life of the Fellowship was not confined to a small building, or even a particular group of people. The Fellowship was bigger than that. It would continue, even if the doors were closed. As for me, there was nothing more important than finding a teacher. Yes, I offered. I will come and be your servant.
Looking away, he said, That being true, I cannot teach you.
I was astonished. That was not the reply I expected. What did he mean? I was sure I was in. I knew I had made the right choice and given the right answer. I felt hurt and could feel the tears welling up as I asked, Why not?
For one thing, he answered, you are too emotional. Secondly, if you could close your Fellowship and come here, then, I have need to learn from you because I could not close this school to study at your Fellowship. In that case, you have much to teach me.
For a moment, there was nothing to say. I learned more in that single exchange than I thought I could learn in a lifetime. His was an unacceptable answer to me, though. Here I was, knocking at the door of my mystery school. I had finally found it, and I was being turned away. I refused to accept it. I was determined to get in somehow.
If you wont take me as a student, I asked, will you at least introduce me to your teacher? For years following this exchange, I wondered at my own boldness.
No, was his answer.
I refused to let him deter or discourage me, though I felt tears welling up again. Fighting them back, I repeated the question, Why not?
Because you are too emotional, he answered. This was apparently going to be a substantial problem. Trying my best to sound emotionless, I asked if he would monitor my progress in the future and perhaps make the introduction some day when I was ready.
Only the teacher can make that decision, he said. If he wants to meet you, he will.
I finally gave up and left. I felt dejected, leaving with nothing more tangible than an intimation that someday, something might happen. I went back to my Fellowship and tried again to set aside my hunger for a mystery school.
That evening, I read the story of Annie Besants apprenticeship to Madame Helena Blavatsky who founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. Annies preliminary steps to actually becoming a student were a tale of torture. Until her emotions no longer denied her the lessons, she continued to blunder through each experience, refusing to take no as an answer from the great teacher. I decided to follow her example.
The next morning, I returned to the Bonsai School at dawn, planning to have tea prepared when the teacher awoke. I would not take no for an answer. There was no way he would get rid of me. To my surprise, the back door was unlocked when I arrived and waiting for me on the kitchen counter was a list of instructions. He had fully expected me to show up. Thus began my initial experience as a student of the mysteries.
Over the next months, I arrived daily at the Bonsai School. And daily, I was bent in ways I did not know I could manage. I became the teachers assistant, caring for his clothes, washing his dishes, running errands, helping in his classes, traveling with him to speaking engagements. My greatest challenge? Becoming responsible for my thoughts, words, actions, and emotions. If I could not control myself, how could I ever master anything else? The teacher set up every conceivable situation that would irritate or confound me. It often seemed like I could do nothing right. I made mistake after mistake-from ruining his clothes and making bad tea to causing him to miss his plane. His response? Calm reserve. Nothing was ever explained. There were no wise teachings. What had he said? Could you do all these things even if I never said anything wise to you?
I read Annie Besants story over and over. The first challenge of a spiritual student is to learn to be serene in the face of any situation of life. Week after week, I willed myself to remain calm, no matter what mess I had created around me. I grew stronger at choosing how to respond rather than reacting. After six months, the teacher finally dismissed me. He reminded me that he was not my teacher, had never been my teacher, and would never be my teacher in the future-and told me to go back to the Fellowship. This time, I did as he said.
Over the next few years, the Fellowship grew from a small group of interested followers in Atlanta, Georgia, to a worldwide organization headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia. My days were filled with the business of lecture tours, seminars, residential programs, the development of Fellowship programs and trainers, the operation of the Fellowship Church, counseling sessions, and the never-ending requests for trance readings.
Life was very full when, one day, I received a call from a man at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. He said that he knew the bonsai teacher and asked if he could show me a tree he had been tending. He hoped that I could make suggestions for its care. We agreed to meet that afternoon.
Later that day, a slight, elderly man of Oriental descent arrived carrying a beautiful bonsai still in its training wires. We sat together and looked at the tree. We talked a few minutes about bonsai techniques. Then, he left, asking that I keep the tree and care for it. Thinking that the tree was a gift from the bonsai teacher, I called him to thank him.
I did not give the tree to you, he said.
Well, then, who did? I asked.
Why should one of your students want to give me a tree? I asked.
That was not my student, he said, almost indignantly. That was my teacher.
My heart sank. What had I done? For years, I had waited, hoping that someday I might have the opportunity to meet this master teacher. I had sat right there in the chair next to him without even recognizing him. It had not even occurred to me who he was. I had not asked him a single question. I could not believe my own ignorance. Obviously, for me, mystery schools remained a mystery.
I immediately phoned the Norfolk Botanical Gardens to speak to the man. I hid my eagerness, not wanting to reveal that I now knew who he was. I did not want to appear emotional-I knew the trouble that could cause for me. Instead, I stressed that I was not sure how to care for the plant. Could I please see him again? Graciously, he offered to return.
Again, I found myself sitting with this gentle man, peering at the little tree. This time, I was captivated by every word, every gesture. How could I have missed the signs? The slow and purposeful movements, the strength of presence. I could hardly contain myself, but I knew that I must.
As we sat there, he began to refer to the tree sitting before us. As I was training this branch, instead of bending in a new and beautiful direction, it was stiff and ready to break, he explained softly. That was the period when you decided to teach instead of publish your work.
What do you mean? How did you know about that? I stammered.
He quietly replied, This tree was put in training wires at the time that my student told me of you. Since then, I have watched you in the branches of this tree. Everything that you did was reflected in this image of you. If I met resistance in a branch, I knew that you were experiencing resistance in what you were doing, in your work or in your personal life.
I was astonished by what I was hearing. This teacher of teachers, who I had never even met, had been participating in every experience of my life for the past three years. Looking at the little tree differently now, I realized that every branch had been a point of communication between him and me. He had been teaching me through the tree. He never forced me to learn anything. He never manipulated me by bending the branches in ways they did not want to go. He only made gentle suggestions to the tree, and to me through the tree, that I shape myself in more beautiful, harmonious directions.
I knew that I had come very, very close, and had somehow been allowed to touch the periphery of a genuine mystery school-a tangible, present-day school of the ancient mysteries. I asked the question that persisted in my mind. Are there places, perhaps in China or Japan, where priests and priestesses provide instruction? Where an individual can learn how to respond to every situation of life, how to master life?
There may be such a place, he answered, but you are already enrolled in the highest possible form of mystery school on this earthly plane. You have never been without a teacher. You study at the feet of a perfect teacher who has put the necessary lessons before you, perfectly, throughout your life. Why would you go in search of something less than what you already have?
Then, he told me the story of another young man who had gone in search of a mystery school. A young man found himself enrolled in a Pythagorean School of the Mysteries and waited for the classes to start. As this man left his room and walked down the long hallway to the dining room, he noticed a broom sitting against the wall and some dust nearby on the floor.
Someone has not finished his work, he thought. This place is a mess. This is no way to run a mystery school.
The young man had his meal and came back along the same hallway. He noticed that the dust and the broom were still there. He went back to his room and meditated, still waiting for the classes to start.
After his afternoon meditation, he went again to the dining room for dinner. The broom and the dust remained, and now, a mop and a bucket sat a little further down the hallway.
How careless, he thought. This school was supposed to be the best available. Irritated, he went to eat.
When he returned, the mess in the hallway remained. Im going to tell someone about this, he muttered. In fact, Im not sure I want to stay here. If the masters of this school cant manage things better than this, they cant teach me very much.
And there the young man sits, even to this day, still waiting for the lessons to begin.
Following this encounter with the master teacher, I dropped my search for a school hidden on some distant mountain. I accepted his advice and decided to concentrate on the mystery school hidden within me, within each of us.
Each of us is enrolled in a school that I call the Planetary Mystery School. We entered this school the day we were born. Since our birth, a master teacher has been carefully designing and presenting the perfect lessons that we need to strengthen our ability to master life on earth-our ability to respond appropriately, with kindness and wisdom, to every situation that arises. Through this school of life, we are being shaped daily in more beautiful and harmonious directions.
Not all mystery school teachers are slight, gentle men bearing tiny trees. Teachers come in many different disguises. The training wires in this school can come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.
No waiter or waitress was ever rude to me in a restaurant for no reason. No cashier was ever impatient for no purpose. No family member ever created trauma for me when I did not have something to learn from it.
In this school, it is impossible to need a particular lesson without that lesson appearing. It is impossible for a lesson to appear without my needing it. The next lesson is always ready and waiting. The mop and the bucket are always out in the hallway. The teacher has placed them there so that we will stumble over them, if necessary. Each time we walk by without seeing them, the teachers purpose is to move them a little closer to the middle of our path.
Whatever the lesson we face, we have two choices: pick up the broom and start sweeping, or push it out of the way and say, Isnt it ridiculous that somebody left this here?
Enrollment in the school of life is mandatory. The only elective is whether we do it consciously or not. Some people are sleeping through their classes. Others are awake, paying attention, taking notes, studying old tests, learning the correct answers for when they are called on by the teacher. Guess who gets better scores and passes to the next grade?
When we make the decision to pay attention, to participate in our lessons on purpose, life takes on new meaning. We feel less victimized when the plumber overcharges, the car breaks down, or the promotion falls through. We feel less defeated if our partnership struggles. We feel less alone if we become ill. We move from feeling like a victim toward becoming a master of our own lives.
When we live consciously, we recognize the presence of a teacher, a guide, a partner in our personal growth. No external teacher can ever teach us more about ourselves, about the mysteries of life, or about our creator, than is already garnered within our own hearts.
We are students in the school of life, learning to accept, to love, and to serve one another. None of us is perfect yet. None of us has graduated from this great mystery school. We are still children-child-gods growing up to be what our Father is.
Copyright 1994, Paul Solomon Foundation