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|John Franklin |
|I was born on 24th February 1935 in the country town of Cirencester in Gloucestershire in England, of professional parents (my father was a school-master, my mother a musician). I was raised up as a member of the Church of England, went to a local Prep School, and Sunday School, and was later sent to boarding school at Christ's Hospital near Horsham. After school, after one or two false starts, I trained as an architect, studying at the Oxford School of Architecture. After qualifying and becoming a Member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, I took a post-graduate course in Town Planning, becoming a chartered Town Planner and a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute. My subsequent professional career was in Local Government, working in London as an architect/planner, firstly for the then LCC, then for L.B. Lewisham, the Government of Bermuda and lastly for L.B. Greenwich. I retired at the end of 1985, to start work in a voluntary capacity for the then Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College, Oxford. I was always of a rather serious and imaginative disposition, inclined towards solitude (it was not until I was nine that my sister was born), with a love of nature, (classical) music and literature (and an abhorrence of sport). |
The major spiritual incident in my life occurred in June 1949. It was a hot summer Sunday afternoon, I had gone out for a walk, and was lying on my back in a copse (on a knoll under a lime tree) lost in reverie. I was aware of the singing of birds, the buzzing of insects, the sound of bat against ball in the cricket nets near-by, aware of the scents of summer, and watching the flickering of the sun-light through the leaves of the lime tree. I was not really thinking of anything, and then my mind went a blank - suddenly I found myself surrounded, embraced, by a white light, which seemed to both come from within me and from without, a very bright light but quite unlike any ordinary physical light. I was filled by an overwhelming sense of Love, of warmth, peace and joy - a Love far far greater than any human love could be - utterly accepting, giving, compassionate total Love. I seemed to sense a presence, but did not see anybody ........... I had the feeling of being 'one' with everything, of total unity with all things, and 'knowing' everything - whatever I wanted to know, I 'knew', instantly and directly. And I had the sense of this being utter Reality, the real Real, far more 'real' and vivid than the ordinary every day 'reality' of the physical world. I do not know how long this lasted: it did not seem to be a long time in that dimension, and in this, a minute? a few seconds, a split second, I don't know. Back again in this world, lying under the lime tree, I felt thunderstruck. What was that? What did it mean? I felt that it was of great importance and must have some tremendous meaning ..... but what? What was I supposed to do? Why me? Was I being 'called' for anything? Was I being called to be a priest (I was preparing for Confirmation at the time)? but that didn't seem right. I toyed with the idea of becoming a monk, but that didn't seem right, either. I remember at the time being puzzled that the experience did not seem to relate to the 'religion' I was being taught. and in which I had been brought up: I saw none of the iconography of Christianity: I did not see Jesus, or 'saints', or 'angels', nor were received concepts of 'God' or 'Heaven' any part of this experience. I remember asking myself. Was that God? - but surely not: 'God' wouldn't come to me, an insignificant small boy! But, whilst puzzling over this (and feeling intense chagrin that I was quite unable to remember anything of the wonderful 'knowledge' that I had then enjoyed) I was convinced, beyond all shadow of doubt, of the 'reality' of the experience, the Reality, the overwhelming Love, the 'Oneness' of all things - and this has lasted, despite all reasoning, later 'reductionism', and suggestions that this was just my 'imagination', or that I was 'dreaming', or 'hallucinating'. But, at the time, I could not 'ground' the experience, and I felt that I could not talk to anybody about it, so I locked it away, pondering over it - a very big, unexplained, question ...............
A month later, I had a powerful experience of a different sort. Again, it was a hot Sunday afternoon and I was in the Music School practicing a Mozart sonata on the piano. It was a 'stick and carrot' situation: I had a music lesson the next day, and had to get the piece right, but it was a piece of music I really liked and so I was enjoying the practice. But, suddenly, I felt an urge to go for a walk. I remember resisting this strongly, not wanting to go for a walk, but wanting to play the piano. But the urge to 'go for a walk' became too strong and, eventually, I had to put the music away. Going out of the Music School I thought that if I had to go for a walk I would go over to a high mound of land just outside the school bounds the other side of a railway line from which there was a lovely view over the countryside (there was a foot bridge, and I had often gone there). But as soon as I set foot in that direction, I found I could not proceed - some 'force', exterior to my own will, prevented me, and so I had to take another direction! So, I walked across the school playing fields towards a copse (which I didn't think had a way through): however, the fence was broken in one place and a track led to a road, which I recognized. Picking up my bearings I decided to turn right and go to a place called Marlpost Woods, where I knew there were wild strawberries, but, as soon as I started walking towards Marlpost Woods, the 'force' came back, and I found I could not proceed. So, I had no alternative but to take the other direction! Turning to the left, the road led to a T-junction where I knew that taking the right fork would bring me to a village, where I thought I might be able to get some sweets (finding sixpence in my pocket and knowing a shop there would be open). But, again, starting to turn right, I found that I could not proceed: once more the 'force' stopped me. I tried again to go down to the village, but I couldn't. There was just nothing for it but to take the left turn. Walking down this road I came to four red-brick workers' cottages outside one of which a woman was clipping a high hedge. It was a very hot day, and it seemed only right and natural that I should offer to help. She looked at me quizzically, but gave me the shears and, after I had cut the hedge, she invited me in for a cup of tea. It transpired that she was the wife of the school butcher, Fred Rookwood, and she was so nice, warm-hearted and hospitable. I subsequently often went there on Sunday afternoons for tea - and came to call her 'my second mother'. The 'force' never came back, and never again have I received such a direct physical or mental 'urge'. This experience was very different from the 'mystical' experience of a month earlier but, nevertheless, I felt that in some way the two were connected. I wondered at the time if this second episode was a 'guardian angel' or possibly the spirit of my Grandmother, who had died three years previously, looking after me? but, the connection? and what did it mean? In fact, that 'meeting' was extremely meaningful - Marjorie, the woman, and her husband, Fred, were very supportive to me at my time at school, and I have found that in later years I was able to be of help to them -especially to Marjorie after Fred died shortly after his retirement. [Interestingly, visiting Marjorie for the last time, as she lay dying in July 1999, from the window of her room at the Care Centre, I could see, not so far away, the water tower at Christ's Hospital, and I noted that it was Sunday and exactly 50 years from when I first met her - the wheel had come full circle]. That meeting I felt was 'meant' - I had been 'led' there, literally by 'force', by a power different from myself. This experience, coming so soon after the 'mystical' experience, therefore became linked with the other in my mind. Both, in their different ways, had overwhelmed and over-ridden 'my' consciousness and will-power. And the thought and remembrance of the two experiences affected in a very formative way my life subsequently. I have come to see that the form and nature of these two experiences was the best thing that could have happened to me, really opening me to the significance of the spiritual dimension. And the fact that I had to think about them so much was good: they left me with a questioning and 'open' mind, not locking me into any 'faith-system' - which enabled later developments, little by little, to widen my horizons, and 'perspective', more comprehensively.
After my great 'introductory', 'mystical', experience, my 'experiences' might be said to fall within the categories of 'direction' and 'response'. The following are further experiences -events, 'insights' and meaningful synchronicities - which I have had, and which influenced the development and 'direction' of my life.
In the spring of 1956, my second term at Oxford, I developed a relationship with a woman who happened to be a Roman Catholic. It seeming logical to me then to join her in her faith, considering the accidents of history, I started a course of instruction with the then Roman Catholic chaplain at the University. However, on coming up, now personally, against the intellectual conflicts of the 'claims' and demands' of the 'Church of Rome' against those of the 'Church of England', and told that I would need to be 're-confirmed' and, moreover, have to renounce and leave my own Church, I felt that something here was really and basically 'wrong'. Trying to sort this out in my mind, I went for a cycle ride, and came to a little church to the north of Oxford. Kneeling down and thinking things over, I experienced a kind of vision: I saw two warring medieval armies with spears, lances, swords and banners slaughtering one another in the plain below: one was a Catholic army, the other a Protestant army - and I was above it all, looking down, and feeling a terrible pity for the tragedy and waste of it all. It was all so 'wrong'. Then a great peace came over me - and I knew exactly what I had to do. I cycled back to Oxford, and said to the Roman Catholic chaplain that I was sorry but I couldn't go on with the 'instruction'. I told him of my vision, and that I was a 'catholic' (but with a small 'c'), but was also a 'protestant' (though with a small 'p'), and that I felt that this must be the course for me: he said that I was 'sitting on the fence' and that one day - and it didn't have to be now - I would have to get off that fence, on one side or the other. Naturally, I brooded much over that - but, on later coming into contact with other faith-systems of the world, the writings of the mystics, other 'scriptures' including the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita and books on religious experience and mysticism, and especially on reading about the spiritual/religious experiences and near-death experiences of others, and responding to all this, I came to a better understanding of the 'fences' - and of the 'compartments' (or 'gardens', or 'worlds') divided by the 'fences' - seeing all 'fences' and all 'compartments' ultimately part of and leading to the 'One'; and that, whilst in the world I had to play a part within certain 'compartments', nevertheless, my real position was above all such fences and compartments in the Love and unity of the Reality revealed to me in my 'mystical experience' back in 1949. I am minded of and empathise with Jalal al "Din Rumi in his poem;
"What is to be done 0 Moslems? For I do not recognise myself. I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Gabr nor Moslem. I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the sea ..... I am not of this world, nor of the next, nor of Paradise, nor of Hell. My Place is the placeless, my trace is the Traceless. ‘Tis neither body nor soul, for I belong to the soul of the Beloved. I have put duality away, I have seen that the two worlds are One. One I seek. One I know. One I see. One I call."
Another experience of 'direction' (?) came later in the summer of 1959, at the end of my last year at college. By then my first relationship had ended, and 1 was very much in love with a German girl who had come to Oxford to study English. However, when the time came for her to go back to Germany, she told me that she could never live in England, and that this was 'good-by'. I was simply heartbroken, for I felt very much that we were 'twin souls', and I really did want her. But I also felt that I could not force the issue - and had to face up to the separation. Four months later, in Cirencester (where I was doing my year's 'professional practice' in a local Architect's office, prior to being called up for National Service) I met a French girl who was teaching at the local Grammar School also on a one-year's contract. We had a very good, but what I expected to be only temporary, relationship. However, in 1961 I found myself becoming 'engaged' to her, and fell into a panic thinking that, for a long term relationship it would be a disaster (I felt she was too different, too good for me, too quick-witted and gay, and would soon tire of me) and I thought of my desire still for the German girl. However, events were to prove right (and me wrong). The French girl, now my wife, and I have been married now for 38 years, and deeply love one another: the 'marriage', in fact, was absolutely 'right', for both of us, as if 'meant' - which I now feel it was. Here, again, but in a more subtle way this time, my own will and desire had been 'overruled' - Just 'force of circumstances' ? or was 'direction' at play here ? -
Yet another instance of 'direction' (?) came in the summer of 1972 through a remarkable series of 'coincidences', or strange synchronicity. When I was nearly half way through a very happy, for me, three-year contract as Deputy Director of Planning for the Government of Bermuda, a letter arrived from our landlady, from whom we were renting a comfortable house on the outskirts of Hamilton, close to the offices of the Planning Department, to say that she was having to sell the property, and could we find alternative accommodation. The same post brought a letter from my agent back in England to say that the Canadian couple to whom we had let our own house for a three-year period had found they were being summoned back to Canada, and could she have fresh instructions for the letting of our house. About the same time I received a letter from a former colleague who had moved to Greenwich, to say that the L.B. Greenwich was now setting up a new Urban Design Section in the Planning Department, and would I be interested in putting in for the job of heading this? It so happened that interviews for the post were to be held at the very time I had, a few weeks previously, arranged to be back in England on holiday (the air-tickets were in my desk). When I mentioned this strange series of coincidences to my wife, she suddenly confided to me that she was not, herself, at all happy in Bermuda, it was just not her scene (life can be much more difficult for wives of expatriates), and that she would be very happy indeed if 1 applied for the Greenwich job! So I did, and was called to the interview - and found myself offered the post: which, of course, I accepted. Things went so very smoothly - and, without any hitch, we found ourselves back in our own home the day after the Canadian couple had left: the house and garden were in an absolutely immaculate condition, all we had to do was unpack: the next day I started work in Greenwich -
The last incident revealing for me a sense of 'direction' came in the period 1984-87. In late 1984 I happened to read an article by Mick Brown in the Telegraph, I think it was, about the work of the Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College, Oxford, and was astonished to read that many other people had had experiences like my own, and that this phenomenon was being studied seriously by an academic establishment. I immediately wrote off to Edward Robinson, then Director of the Research Unit, giving an account of my experiences, and asking an awful lot of questions. Edward Robinson kindly wrote back straight away with some answers, and asking me to complete a questionnaire to give background information about myself. This I did, immediately, with another string of questions. This time I was invited to Oxford to meet Edward, and was much struck by what he said and his approach to the subject of spiritual/religious experience and I bought up copies of every book the Unit had to offer on the subject. I mentioned to Edward my interest in possibly becoming involved in some way in the work of the Unit, feeling that this line of research was most important. He said, fine, but he couldn't offer any payment! I understood this, but had an outstanding mortgage and other commitments at the time and couldn't afford to work for nothing. So we parted. Change was in the air, though. In Greenwich the Council was having to consider cutbacks, and 'redundancy' and 'early retirement' was being talked about, and in this climate my own position was very much on the line. Things dragged on until the end of 1985 when the crunch came, forcing me to consider fighting on or accepting 'early retirement', for which by then I had just become eligible. The time had come: here was the 'push' the 'direction' (?), and so I accepted, left L.B. Greenwich with a good pension, paid off my mortgage - and became able to offer my services to RERU (soon to become the Alister Hardy Research Centre, and eventually the Religious Experience Research Centre). This move has greatly broadened my knowledge and understanding of the spiritual side of life - and assisted in my own development and direction -
Together, all these 'experiences' add up to tacit knowledge of, and faith in, the 'spiritual' dimension of life, of a greater Reality and Love and of links from, to and with this, giving direction, meaning and purpose. I have leamt much from my own experiences, and the experiences of others - and from knowing, from the work of the Religious Experience Research Centre and, later, the Exceptional Human Experience Network, that so many people have and are having these experiences, and that there is nothing special or unique about me. There is still much more to leam - and it is good that the questions keep on coming in. But for me, the path has now become clear and straight and I know where I am going (or where I am being carried) - I have all the 'proof I could possibly need. My life is, indeed, being 'directed', and I know that all I have to do is to 'go with the grain', follow the 'direction', love, serve, and obey - and this is all I want.
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|kismesam | John Franklin | felix-aka-James Hamilton | David Camp | | Norman Beeler | Tim Pendergast | Grace Shellito | April Alden | Norman Beeler / zmachine2 | Richard Evans | Gabriel ||
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