A Spiritual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe: Travel Tips for the Spiritually Perplexed
Written by Paul Rademacher, former executive director of The Monroe Institute
Reviewed by Matthew Fike, PhD
Paul Rademacher’s purpose is to understand his own spiritual experiences in relation to familiar Bible stories in order to promote “a new reformation that could emphasize the mystical journey” (69). His book thus cultivates common ground between the Christian and metaphysical communities. Its title—A Spiritual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe: Travel Tips for the Spiritually Perplexed—provides an outline of its topics. In sharing the story of how he worked through his own psychological and religious perplexity, Rademacher provides a guide to the spiritual hitchhiker (traveler, seeker, explorer) who wishes to see biblical texts as reflections of the universe beyond the five senses.
Hitchhiking is a literal activity that allows the author, as a young man, to experience oneness with strangers; but it is also a metaphor for spiritual growth through the movement from one learning experience to another. Spiritual hitchhiking can involve either events in the physical world or “hitching a ride into the ether” (175), which means allowing consciousness to ride along with the unconscious. Like literal hitchhiking, the projection of awareness beyond the body requires courage because both activities may seem life-threatening. However, when expanded states are consciously achieved, one then becomes like a driver of one’s own vehicle, able to give rides to others, as Rademacher does at his Gateway Voyage® program in the fall of 1997 when he takes a hitchhiker to what the Bible calls the New Jerusalem.
Despite a fairly traditional church upbringing, Rademacher was fascinated by the possibilities described by Carlos Castenada and later found himself at forward-thinking Goddard College. After some hitchhiking out west, he embraced family life and construction work, the books’ two autobiographical leit-motifs. (One may wish that the author had explored the link between Jesus’s days as a carpenter and the psychological and spiritual benefits of manual labor.) Earning an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, Rademacher then had a fifteen-year ministerial career at Presbyterian churches in Muncie, Indiana, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Along the way, he benefited from psychic guidance that he should study the works of Rudolph Steiner, who advises readers, as did Bob Monroe, to “go see for themselves” (93). Rademacher also learned techniques to alter consciousness at The Ecumenical Theological Center in Detroit (today it is called The Ecumenical Theological Seminary). Another fortunate discovery was Monroe’s Far Journeys, which led him ten years later to TMI for the Gateway program. Following his resignation from the church in Charlotte and another stint in construction, he became a TMI residential facilitator and later the Institute’s Executive Director. He resigned in 2011 in order to do more writing.
The most significant events that stoked Rademacher’s curiosity all involve deprivation or disaster. Two take place during his hitchhiking adventures. Alone at dusk and feeling sorry for himself in the redwood forest of Big Sur, California, he hears nature’s spirit and sees her inner light. Some overlooked literary connections would have been helpful here. The vision illustrates Gerard Manly Hopkins’s assertion that “the grandeur of God . . . will flame out, like shining from shook foil” (“God’s Grandeur”), as well as William Blake’s injunction that humans must learn to see “through the eye” to a thing’s spiritual significance (“Auguries of Innocence”). Later, when a car in which Rademacher hitches a ride flips over three times, the surprising presence of a wise old man within his own psyche helps him realize that he has had many previous lives and that the mind is much more than consciousness. The third experience is the most dramatic: when a fall off a roof at a construction site cracks his hip, the resulting pain drives his awareness into another dimension. What happens next has the hallmarks of a near-death experience. He encounters peace, unity, timelessness, and an avatar who communicates with him telepathically. These three moments of revelation concerning nature, the soul, and the realm of pure spirit motivate him to explore “the outrageous nurture of creation” by looking within (20).
Yet Rademacher remains spiritually perplexed for a variety of reasons that readers may share. The foremost reason (and the forbidden fruit) is duality, the assumption that we are separate from God. His take on the provenance of duality is instructive. After a religion begins with someone’s experience of the kingdom of heaven (whose “cornerstone” is “an essential oneness” ), doctrine begets duality. As a result, talking about God prevents the experience of oneness with him; even worse, biblical inerrancy and scientific materialism distort the Bible through literalism and demythologizing. As well, Christianity’s emphasis on hell reverses Jesus’s emphasis on the kingdom of heaven, transforms the devil (an “adversary” on God’s side) into a bogeyman, and promotes “a spiritual vacuum” (255) in which the avoidance of damnation blocks psychological wholeness and spiritual exploration. As believers focus on correct behavior in order to avoid post-mortem consequences, eternity supersedes infinity. In the process, they ignore the possibilities that Jesus’s life enacts: “He had so trained his attention that he could see beyond duality and gaze upon the spiritual dimension permeating this material reality” (20). Given that the author held these beliefs during his fifteen-year ministerial career, the cognitive dissonance must have been enormous.
The tips that Rademacher offers for addressing duality are not confined to the final chapter, “Tips for the Spiritual Hitchhiker.” Rather, they permeate the book. To begin with, we must shift to a paradigm of unity/oneness because the link between ourselves, the universe, and God is the basis for experiencing higher states of consciousness. That all-important shift from duality to unity, however, may require a dark night of the soul to free us from self-imposed limitations. Our own thinking is the key because the time-space illusion has only as much power as we give it. Once illusion lifts, our potential is unlimited. The other obstacle in this process is the role that the brain plays in everyday life. Rademacher relies on Aldous Huxley’s claim in The Doors of Perception that the brain’s “primary function is not to gather sensory input but to reduce it” (104). At this point, the author might have noted that of the brain receives over 11 million bits of information per second versus only two hundred that reach conscious awareness. He might also have quoted Blake’s statement from which Huxley takes his title: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). These words nicely sum up Rademacher’s experiences and message.
Much of the book is devoted to metaphysical rereading of the Bible. Since many of these sections resemble a sermon in length, paragraph structure, and tone, one may wonder if Rademacher ever shared any of the material with his parishioners. In any case, he addresses the creation story, Moses and the burning bush, Jonah and the whale, the parable of the sower, Jesus’s raising of Lazarus from the dead, and Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. The finest reading—of Jesus’s casting Legion out of the demoniac—is spectacular in its use of depth psychology. According to Rademacher, Jesus shows us that rather than repressing and projecting the lost parts of ourselves, we must make them consciousness and bring them into the wholeness of the total psyche. Then the energy formerly funneled into self-deception can fuel psychic exploration.
Rademacher also has some tips for the church and even for TMI. If we shift our belief system from duality to unity, then various implications arise. If Jesus becomes the model for seeing the kingdom of heaven within and among us, then there is no gap between the mystical and the earthly. For example, sex, birth, and death have special potential to help us see the link between body and spirit. In addition, we have to take Jesus literally when he says, “‘The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these’” (xv; John 14:12). The implication is that those who pass through TMI have the potential to do exactly that.
Although Rademacher describes the Institute as “the modern version of the ancient mystery school” (181), he recalls that “Bob Monroe was adamant about keeping his system free of any connection to established religion” (242). However, when Rademacher and TMI facilitator Karen Malik offer a workshop for members of his Charlotte church, they both “realize that this process of facilitating the spiritual connection by shifting consciousness is what church was meant to be” (244). The author treads lightly here, but the implication is clear: if Jesus’s kingdom of heaven and Monroe’s expanded states of awareness are really the same thing, then perhaps it is all right for TMI participants to relate their experiences to the Bible, as Rademacher does in his book. After all, the alternative is duality.
The book’s most important tips are that, as spiritual hitchhikers, we should live honestly (follow our inner yearnings versus cultivating a persona), assume that we are one with the universe (stop separating the sacred and the earthly), and develop a meditative practice (cease thinking, start experiencing). Readers will especially appreciate Rademacher’s simple, straightforward advice on effective meditation and his gift for storytelling. The sections on Abigail, the daughter he never knew, and the doctor who, when possessed by a higher power, counsels patients about their futures but does not remember doing so are especially moving and inspiring. Still, the author’s penetrating insights into the Bible are his greatest strength. They make this wonderful book a “must read” for anyone struggling with the culturally imposed schism between religion and metaphysics.
Matthew Fike is a Professor of English at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC.
|Book Title||A Spiritual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe: Travel Tips for the Spiritually Perplexed|
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Written by Paul Rademacher, former executive director of The Monroe Institute