Benny is forty-five, married and has three children. His law practice focusses on mediation and negotiation, on calming situations down to keep them from getting out of hand. He describes himself as conservative, unpredictable, and generally open. His clients and friends sense his integrity and respond to it and to his soft-spoken slightly Southern speech which adds to his natural warmth. Benny likes to travel to the desert, the ocean, the mountains—places where few other people have been. He recently visited Mt. Rainier and talked with the mountain. (Interview: late ‘80s)
Benny’s inner life:
One of my most interesting experiences happened the day I was born. I remember the doctor beating on me a lot to try to get me breathing because I had turned blue. They were ready to go out and tell my grandmother I hadn't made it, but I decided to stay around. I felt angry: “What a way to be greeted." I had no control over my environment, but I was aware that what he did was inappropriate.
According to my parents, I had a vivid imagination. When I was three, I would tell my parents about times which they thought were imagination, but really were experiences of past lives. Most of them were about times when I was with my parents before. I often talked about being in the army. Years later when I first heard about reincarnation, I mentioned those stories to my mother and she said, "You used to tell us all about that." My dad had been in the air force, not in the army, and he never talked to me about that.
In one story my father and I were brothers and soldiers in a war. Later I saw a picture in a book of soldiers in particular uniforms wearing tall hats, and I knew then that my dad and I had been soldiers in the Prussian War. It was snowing, it was cold, we had a little fire, we had rifles. I described what it was like to live in tents and be outside and be a soldier. It was as vivid as the memory of the day before and just as normal and natural as something I'd done an hour before. I usually told my story to my mother or whoever would listen, and as I told it I watched it unfold and then I described what I was seeing the way a child would tell something he had just experienced.
When I was five and my sister had just been born, I got a big jolt. We had company and I started regaling them with my stories. The man laughed. He bent over and patted me on the head and said, "How did someone so little get in the army with someone so big?" pointing to my father. I didn't know what to do with that. They all laughed, and I went to my room where I sat down and thought about it. It didn't seem possible. He had pointed out a logical reason why I couldn't be remembering it, so I didn't talk about those things much after that. My parents had treated my stories as childhood fantasy, but the visitor jarred my intellect in such a way that I shut the experience off because I couldn't answer his question.
I'd also start to do something and remember having done it some other time. When I played with toy guns as a child I'd remember having used real guns. It was quite familiar, nothing foreign about it. That continued even when I went into the Army years later. I knew the system. I had no mechanical ability, and with a car I was pathetic, but I knew how to take any gun apart and put it back together and had no apprehension about it. Every man in my forty-man platoon recognized that I knew what to do and came to me, although I'd never been through basic training before. I wanted to blend into the background like everyone else and get it over with, but they recognized that I instinctive knowledge and wanted me to help them.
I remember flying as a child, and it was as I imagine being in a glider would be with no sense of sound, just quiet. The aircraft was from some other time long ago. The feeling and even the laws of nature of that time were different. I think it was another age, perhaps a different place. I fell out of the aircraft and dropped like a stone. When I landed, I died. My remembering it was like watching a motion picture. After I died the vision faded out. This experience was a common one for me.
I'd see things other people didn't that floated around in the air. I don't know what they were, but one night I got frightened by one. It came over my bed and I could see it. It was ethereal like a white cloud, nothing but eyes and an adult-sized human outline. It was off the ground, vertical. I don't know why this particular one was frightening, but it felt cold and not good. I told it to go away and it did.
When I was five, I saw a luminous child which looked just like a normal kid my age. We played together. When I told people about him they discounted his existence, so I stopped. I had the experience a second time and communicated it, but they discounted it again. My experience seemed completely natural to me, but when adults called it into question I didn't want to do anything that wasn't right. They gave me the idea it wasn't all right to have this experience. I didn't like to be ridiculed and my Leo ego had to be accepted, especially when I told stories about my experiences. If I were going to be ridiculed, I'd stop.
I felt people. If someone weren't good, if they weren't telling the truth or didn't mean good to me, no matter what they said or how they tried to appear, I would know the truth. Sometimes it was hard to convince those who were older and supposedly wiser than I, that I knew I shouldn't be around this person. For example, the music teacher abused children emotionally, and I sensed that in her. At first my parents thought I just didn't want to take lessons, but they finally realized something wasn't right and they supported me. They wouldn't force me to do anything unless it was something required by social standards. I might experience it in a preacher in church or someone held in high esteem. I was often surprised.
In the early days of school there were certain people I felt I knew as adults and knew things about them. I didn't know what to do with that knowledge or quite where to fit in. In first grade the teacher tried to teach us the alphabet, and although I had above average intelligence, the alphabet was simply wrong. It didn't hit me right. I remembered an alphabet that was different from ours which used double sound combinations differently. It was something like Sanskrit, both written and verbal. I flunked all my early spelling tests because I refused to do it her way. I put the words in my system and resisted the alphabet she was trying to teach for some time. Even after I understood, I'd do my work in both alphabets, one to turn in for the teacher to grade to show I knew what she wanted and one in my alphabet to keep for myself.
When I think back on any past event it's as though I'm watching it. The clearest experiences of that came later in childhood, in high school and college, usually when I was under such extreme self-imposed pressure that I had to let go. I remember the last basketball game I played in high school. I wanted to make that a good game so badly because I'd been playing there for many years. My perception shifted the first time I jumped up to shoot the ball. I saw the basket as huge and couldn't understand how I'd ever missed it before. It was as if I were right on top of it and could just drop the ball in, yet I was forty feet from the basket. I knew exactly what was happening as it occurred, and I scored half the team's points that night. It was a low-scoring game, but I scored seventeen or eighteen points.
My experience went in snatches, and I would get brought back when the coach called a time out. I remember the coach looking at me like, "What's going on?" I was real loose, and always before I had approached the game with life-and-death seriousness. When I was in complete control of the game it was magical fun and I could do anything I wanted. I was exhilarated from the experience, and suddenly I sensed why some superb athletes could play so well. That experience felt the most magical because my perception radically shifted. I played forty basketball games during the season every year, plus pre- and post-season games. I usually played as I was trained, where play was structured and I had good coordination. This game was different. It happened in other games than that last game, but never for as long.
When I was fourteen or fifteen and beginning to play football, I always knew where the man was going with the ball and I went there without thinking about it. In one game I had eighteen or twenty tackles which is an enormous number for a football game. I came to see that when intense desire and mind-body coordination are honed in a particular area, suddenly, 'click.' I talked to the guys about it and other athletes have these experiences, some as a matter of course.
About the same time I was a lifeguard so I read a huge number of books. I'd pick a subject and read about it, and, because of the experiences I'd had, I was interested in abnormal psychology, parapsychology and psychic phenomena. When I was younger and people had discredited my experiences, I withdrew, but as I got older and saw that people didn't know nearly as much as I had thought they did, I would be strong in what I knew and read to buttress my position.
One day when I was fourteen or fifteen I was reading at the swimming pool about how the mind can control the environment. For example, by desiring and seeing it, a hole would appear in a cloud. I lay down on the grass, and when clouds came over the pool I'd make holes in them. At first I didn't think I was doing it, but it was totally consistent, and I got scared and stopped.
Later I did it some more and showed some other kids. Their reaction was disbelief, skepticism and fear. I made the clouds change. I made holes. I'd point and say, "Right there," and a hole would appear in the cloud. They thought it must be something like a card trick. It was too much of a stretch, and they didn't want me to do it anymore. As for me, it was beyond how I experienced daily life. Everybody told me, "This is life. There isn't anything else but this," and then I had those experiences. By the time I got to law school I had decided that no one knew what they were talking about.
My freshman or sophomore year in college I asked a psychology professor, "Are we going to talk about psychic phenomena, and especially telepathy, in this class?"
The guy laughed at me and said, "Those things don't exist."
"But I've had this experience, and I don't understand why everyone says we can't talk about it."
He gave me a ten line presentation on the lack of scientific validity of my experience. I'd had the experience and his explanation didn't mean anything to me.
Members of my family would communicate nonverbally. From my parents the experience would come in simple messages, "Call us." When the phone rang, they'd know, "Susan's on the phone. She wants to come home tomorrow." We used to laugh about it when I was in college. "That's Benny." With my sister the communication would also be in small things. She would get something and bring it to me. I don't think she knew whether I had asked her verbally or not. It was a very common experience, and still is.
The experiences I had didn't seem any more unnatural than being able to do well in math. They were completely natural. Now they are more tangible because with greater awareness of myself my childhood experiences have stabilized. Today spiritual life is my whole life. There's never any time of stepping out of it. If I'm moving with wholeness, stepping out of it would not be much fun. My life revolves around my heart remaining open and flowing. For me, the heart is the seat of my awareness.
More about Benny’s childhood:
I lived in East Tennessee until I was five, then in Nashville through college. My sister is five years younger than I. We had a happy, stable family life with very few conflicts. I remember only a couple of arguments between my parents during my childhood, and these were precipitated by the children stretching Mom to her limit. I had the perfect childhood for what was available.
I was a normal-looking little boy with brown hair and eyes and a medium build.
The most important thing to me was being independent and able to do what I wanted to do, although I was seldom out of a structured environment.
We had a forest and creeks near our house and I played there by myself a lot, making believe I was going through the jungle. There was a riding academy nearby and I'd hide behind a tree and watch the horses go by. I was an enthusiastic and lively child who loved to tell stories. Sometimes the other kids and I would play out a story with our parents and younger kids for an audience.
I got along well with kids in lots of different groups and was usually the leader. We played football in the neighborhood or divided into groups for a game of war in the woods. Until I was nine or ten, if I couldn't be outside, I played inside by myself with a set of little soldiers.
School was boring. I had to go and did what I was supposed to, but it was a waste of time. My religious background was fundamentalist Christian and that wasn't important to me either. I couldn't understand what they were talking about. It was like school—everybody did it. It was a long time before I realized that not all people went to church.