Listening In: Dialogues with the Wiser Self


The following excerpt is from the book Listening In: Dialogues with the Wiser Self by Ellen Meredith, D.A. (written in the voice of her inner teachers)

The Dialogue Begins

As a child, I was quite taken with a fairy tale about a stupid man and his peevish wife. They were destitute, and were walking along the road to market, searching the gutters for something they might sell. The man found an old lamp, crusted with dirt, and rubbed it to see what might lie beneath the grime.

It was a magical lamp, of course, and a genie appeared, granting the man three wishes. Without thinking he blurted out, "I wish I had a sausage to eat, I'm so hungry!" Immediately a succulent Kielbasa appeared in his hand. His wife was incensed. "How could you waste a wish on a sausage, you stupid oaf?" she cried.

And in the strangely translated dialect of fairy tales he hollered back, "I wish you had a sausage on your nose, you old cow!"

Immediately, his precious sausage flew from his hands and stuck to his wife's nose! They were both horrified, and chastened. In an act of great sacrifice, the man decided he must use his final wish to remove the sausage from his wife's nose. This led to a reconciliation of sorts, and they proceeded down the road, somewhat wiser, still hungry, and with a worthless, dirty old lamp to sell at market.

My young friends and I were greatly dissatisfied by the course of events in this story. We discussed it at length, and agreed that the first thing we would wish for would be unlimited wishes. We would never be so stupid as to wish for a sausage.

For several nights I lay in bed practicing how I would deal with the genie and his three wishes. After my first wish for unlimited wishes, my second would be that I could never accidentally wish for something bad. That would avoid the sausage-on-the-nose problem. Even at that young age my friends and I, while not able to understand the pressures of hunger and poverty, did realize one truth. You needed more than the good luck to find a magic lamp and get a genie: you had to use the gift wisely.

Years later, I did find a kind of magic lamp. It was not a genie offering me wishes, but rather a group of inner teachers offering me insights, perspective, emotional healing and guidance. Luckily, they did not limit their offer to three responses, or like the stupid man and his peevish wife, I might well have wasted the opportunity. It took me a while to realize that the value of this gift lay in how I used it.

I found my magic lamp in a corner of my own mind. On an early spring day, in the late seventies, I sat at my desk waiting for inspiration. I was a graduate student at a large Midwestern university, trying to be a Writer, with a capital "W". I believed great insight and inspiration lurked just at the edge of my awareness. My dubious and not very original aspiration was to write the great American novel, then go on the Johnny Carson Show to be interviewed about it.

This goal was clearly not sustaining me. The draft of a novel I had just completed (not the greatest book ever written) did not buoy my spirits. Furthermore, the fact that I had won a prize with my writing and received an excellent job offer did not make me happy either. I was depressed. Looking back, I realize that the cracks and fissures of a rocky childhood were opening in my foundation.

My family, like many in the fifties and sixties, had tried hard to look like Ozzie and Harriet, while sweeping differences and difficulties under the rug. When my parents' recent messy divorce brought the structure tumbling down, all my feelings and beliefs shook loose. I was, like many in my generation, desperately searching for the meaning of life while pretending I already knew.

So I sat at my desk, straining to write my way to redemption. I listened and waited for ideas for the next book, like that stupid man and his peevish wife scouring the gutters for something to sell at market. Then a peculiar thing happened. I sensed my grandmother, ten years dead, standing behind me with her hands laid comfortingly on my shoulders. She said,

"Don't wrap yourself up in expectations, Ellen, or they will stifle you." It seemed like good advice, so I wrote it down. Her message was actually far more complicated than the words I recorded. I felt her sorrow because she had been obese during her lifetime, and trapped by the limitations of her cumbersome body. I felt her thinking, "Don't hem yourself in like I did." The messenger wasn't quite my grandmother: it was a loving presence, clearer and more articulate than my grandmother had ever been.

This was not the kind of visitation you read about in books. For instance, I did not think there was someone actually standing there. I felt no cold fog, heard no distinct voice or strange bells tinkling. In fact I didn't know until later that I had had a visitation. I was always having imaginary dialogues in my mind, hearing people tell me what I wanted to hear. This appearance of my grandmother felt familiar and pleasant in a bittersweet kind of way. She had been the closest, most affectionate of all my family.

The event would have faded into the murky oblivion of my journal if it hadn't been for what happened two days later. An adventurous friend dropped by on her way to a "psychic tea" at a spiritualist church in a nearby small town. She invited me to come along and get a fifteen-minute psychic reading.

It sounded like a good diversion. I'd never seen a psychic before or even given much thought to the phenomenon. My stereotypes were fairly conventional: I expected this person to wear flowing robes, speak with a strange foreign accent, and have an unearthly light in her eyes. The reality gave me quite a chuckle. The church was a newly-built rectangular house with aluminum siding. The tea was held in the large basement recreation room, its cinder block walls decorated with children's drawings from Sunday School, and crepe paper Easter bunnies. Forty to fifty people, typical country Midwesterners, sat around long folding tables, gossiping about events in their families.

There was a certain hush in the atmosphere, in deference to the eighteen psychics up at one end of the room, who sat at small, numbered card tables talking earnestly to what were obviously clients sitting across from them. At first glance the psychics were disappointingly ordinary people. Three quarters of them were women you might see in the grocery store, in flower-print dresses or stretch nylon slacks. The rest were earnest looking middle-aged or older men, with dark-rimmed glasses and hair carefully oiled in place. They reminded me of folks I used to see when I was a child at the annual chicken barbecue offered by the Junior Chamber of Commerce.

My friend and I checked in, paid our ten dollars, and chose our psychics by number. We sat down at the long tables to wait our turn. On one side of us five women whispered, exchanging zucchini recipes. On the other side a weathered older man was describing in great detail the untimely breakdown of his backhoe. It was not what we had expected, to say the least!

Then the bell rang, and it was my turn to see "number 11," who introduced herself as Joelle. A woman in her late thirties, Joelle was a solid, kind-faced person, the sort I might have gone to school with but wouldn't have known very well, because she lived out in the country, and was more engaged with helping out on the family farm than with academic studies. Or so I imagined. But her presence at the card table made me realize that people I knew casually and thought of as ordinary might well have dimensions I had never before perceived.

I sat down for the reading, and Joelle said with very little preamble, "Your maternal grandmother is standing behind you with a message. She does not want you to hem yourself in like she did in her life. She says not to wrap your expectations around you like a blanket or they will stifle you."

This time I did hear music: the theme song from "The Twilight Zone." This was long before Shirley MacLaine's books and the term "New Age" had reached the Midwest. I remember thinking that either Joelle had just done an astonishing act of mind reading, or else my dead grandmother really was standing behind me. Either way, it was amazing. If it had been a question of wishes, I would have wasted my three right then. I remember sputtering a variety of meaningless comments, before coming to my senses and asking her, "How did you do that?"

She told me I had received other messages but just didn't know it. If I wanted to hear them, I should "slow down and listen."

As I told my friend about the "reading" on the way home, I puzzled over Joelle's instructions. It was probably good advice, but it made little sense to me. My life was already pretty slow-moving. As a student I wasn't exactly in the fast lane. And I had already spent years at the typewriter listening my heart out.

What I learned over the next few weeks, however, was that the quality of listening is intimately connected to the questions you ask. It had never occurred to me to ask consciously for dialogue with a source of wisdom. I had never thought about the possibility of communication with inner teachers (or dead relatives for that matter).

I had spent a lot of time tuning into my unconscious, filling my journal with images, impressions and snippets of writing that I later came to recognize as a vocabulary for what I call the wiser self. But my genie, in the form of my grandmother, had pointed me in a new direction, a more conscious kind of relationship where I could eventually learn the grammar and syntax of that wiser self.

About a week after the psychic tea, while cleaning my house, I noticed that a tickertape, like one of those stock brokers' market updates, was ticking through my mind, unrolling a scroll of letters. I decided to write the letters down, to see if they formed words.

What appeared on the page before me was: "You have asked to know us, and so we are here. We have been with you for a very long time, and now you are ready to come stand with us. We will work with you. Let your wiser self which observes continue the writing at night, and we will come through with a few lines. Simply don't block the connection. Past awareness of us is imminent. Someone will give you a plant to water, be aware of the plant processes of growth. Surely you can grow plants?"

It's a short message here, but taken down letter by letter it exhausted me. And excited me. And scared me. Who was this "we"? It certainly didn't sound like my grandmother. And if the message emerged from some weird trick of my subconscious, then why did it arrive letter by letter? The strangest part was that I had had a dream about a plant the night before, which I had written in my journal that very morning.

In the dream, my sister, with whom I didn't get along in real life, showed up at my door holding a plant. She said, "I'm leaving town for a while, and I want you to take care of this chameleon plant for me." In the dream she was affectionate and so was I. "Sure," I said. I set it on the counter next to the remains of my breakfast, a plate of scrambled eggs, and bid her a fond farewell. When I turned back to water the plant, it was gone; on the counter where I had set it was a second plate of scrambled eggs.

I realized that wherever I set the chameleon plant, it would change into its surroundings. I grew very worried about how I was going to take care of this plant, especially since I didn't know when my sister was coming back. The dream progressed, with several incidents of accidental transformation. The plant became a newspaper. It became a glass with liquid in it. Eventually the plant disappeared altogether.

I had awakened feeling anxious about what my sister would say when she realized I'd lost her plant.

As I read over my tickertape message about "the plant processes of growth" I remembered the sensations of my dream, which felt charged with meaning. The problem was that I didn't know what the significance was. Only later did I discover that that charged feeling is a common starting point for dialogue with the inner teachers. Your curiosity is piqued by a strange coincidence or seemingly significant juxtaposition of ideas. You begin to explore, to ask why, to create an opening for guidance.

When I was writing the letters from the tickertape, I felt hot. Energy coursed through me in a rush similar to sensations I had felt before in the throes of inspiration. I sensed a group of... what? People? Presences? I didn't at that time have a concept of "entity" or "spirit." These beings who seemed to gather around me as I wrote were familiar to me, on an emotional level, and I had the nagging sense in the back of my mind, like a forgotten dream, that I had known them somewhere.

Reading the message over again touched off in my mind whole pockets of meaning that had been built up in the past. Curiously, while my mind was puzzling over the details of who, what, when, where and why, some part of me felt very comfortable and easy with the whole process.

In the ensuing days, I tuned into this "we" repeatedly with questions about who they were, what the images meant that were appearing in my mind, why I was feeling what I was feeling. They soon began calling themselves "the council," in messages that contained a funny mix of clarity and further confusion. They told me that they were teachers, and that my wiser self was a member of their council. They also told me that to think of them as a council of teachers was a useful metaphor, but that I shouldn't get hung up on the hierarchy or details of their existence. The importance of their message lay in its effects on me.

I treated this communication as a game at first, playing with the messages and symbols I was given, trying to make sense of them. And my whole life seemed to explode in interaction with this dialogue I was having with the council. For example, a day after my chameleon plant dream, I received a letter in the mail from an old friend who had been deeply influential in my life. The letter began (with no greeting) "I am a chameleon." One of my fellow students decided, out of the blue, to give me a potted plant as a gift. Since I do not have much of a green thumb, I felt that the universe was trying to tell me something.

What the universe was offering me, which I couldn't quite grasp yet, was an invitation to explore the processes by which seed ideas grow into full-flowering experiences. I was being invited to learn about cultivating consciousness, which, like a chameleon, transforms in adaptation to its context. The message, the dream, the letter and the gift from my friend had many layers of meaning to them, like a good poem, some universal and some extremely personal. And because these events intrigued me, I was pulled more deeply into exploring the strange dialogue.

My relationship with the council was not formal. I would say, "Hey you guys, are you there?" and would hear a rather portentous, "We are here." Then they would begin to discuss whatever question or concern was on my mind. I learned to hear (and write) their messages more efficiently, getting past my need to take letter-by-letter dictation, receiving whole impulses and thoughts, putting them into phrases that were partly my language and partly seemed to come from them. If I distorted the thought or intent they were trying to communicate, they would correct me, often with gentle recognition of my need to hear things in certain ways.

The messages from the first several years of dialogue are garbled, and leap between wisdom and banality, the universal and the personal, in the way our minds do when we are speaking to ourselves and don't need to explain the connections to other people.

The topics were often mundane, of no interest to anyone but me. Like the man who was hungry for sausage, I was primarily hungry to understand myself and my relationships to other people. I remember, for example, asking the council if I should call a friend of mine, since she was on my mind. I got a dual message: "Isn't that something you can decide for yourself? Do you wish to call her?" Yet then they added somewhat cryptically: "You will hear your voice echo in the emptiness of her room. Her heart is sore right now."

It affirmed my inner sense that I somehow ought to call my friend, and when I did, I discovered that her partner had moved out on her, taking all the furniture. She was indeed sitting in an empty room, not very capable of response because of her pain.

My relationship with the council remained secret for several years as I finished school and moved through various editing and teaching jobs. It seemed so private, a kind of therapy I was conducting with myself. But I also realized that this talking with spirits might be considered very strange and perhaps even raise doubts about my sanity. The secrecy allowed me to explore more freely: I didn't have to explain myself to others or stand behind the messages, when in fact I did occasionally distort or misunderstand the teachings. I was free to learn through trial and error how to hear and articulate more clearly the multi-leveled perceptions I was being given.

On the other hand, right from the start, this council discouraged any sense of special secrets and insider information. They did not want me to think I was an initiate of some secret order, as many systems of occult exploration encourage. They repeatedly led me to test my insights in everyday reality. Their philosophy was that ordinary existence is magical: each individual is special and is an initiate in this business of living.

My life filled with events that validated the inner work I was doing. For example, I grew concerned about a pregnant friend. Although we had not spoken in a while, I got the sense that something was not quite right. An image came to me of a baby bound in tight ties. The council explained: "Your friend is choking the child with her fears and desire to control. There is not enough room in her mind or her womb for this child to be herself."

They continued, making a link to a group project I was leading that seemed to be going all wrong: "You too are choking your baby project. You can not control it with your will. You must let the energy of each individual create the ultimate shape. Let go of your "deadline" and let the "live lines" come together. We suggest you take a few days off. Let a space open for this child to gestate. Like magic, the seed you all planted in the first week will begin to realize its form."

Emotionally, taking time off felt like the wrong strategy. I wanted to push harder and do the unfinished work myself. But when I followed the council's advice, the uncooperative members of the project group did get their work done, and the product did indeed take a shape I could not have achieved alone.

A few days later I found out that it was true that my friend's pregnancy had run into problems. Her baby had stopped growing, and appeared to be in some distress. Her doctor ordered bed rest, and soon thereafter the baby started to grow normally.

I came to see that the council was training me, using the events of my everyday life as the arena for my lessons. As they put it, they were teaching me to stand with them, to see as they saw. They were also teaching me to travel in consciousness: to go on imaginary journeys in my mind, meeting an amusing cast of characters and learning to develop greater compassion, flexibility and sometimes humility.

They taught me to be more flexible with language and metaphor, playing with shifts in perception. They guided me to remember my past lives and deeper connections with others. They introduced me to other councils and alternate realities. They guided me through a long illness, then taught me to do healing with others on the energetic, physical, and emotional levels. Together we explored various belief systems, both esoteric and exoteric, and they showed me how to apply these teachings to the problems and concerns of everyday life.

After my illness, the council popped into my mind one day to ask me if I would be willing to use their teachings to work with others. I agreed, somewhat tentatively. I was teaching at a state university in California at the time and couldn't imagine how I could introduce such topics into my classes.

Three days later the doctor who had helped me when I was ill called to ask me to consult on some cases with her. She had noticed that I could see what was going on in my own body, physically and energetically, and wondered if I could do that for other people as well. I agreed to try.

The first patient was a woman with a back injury that did not respond to treatment. I found, to my amazement, that I could see a hairline fracture that had not shown up on the x-ray. And to my further astonishment, I heard the council inside my head saying they had a message for her.

In some embarrassment, I explained that I had a message for her from my inner teachers. I proceeded then to speak for the council, making connections between the emotional issues that had created the imbalance in her energy and the physical habits which turned that imbalance into injury.

The patient took the situation in stride, thanking my teachers for the guidance. I, however, drove home quaking with fear, knowing I had crossed a line and gone public with something that had always been a deeply private experience. I halfway expected the gods of Normalcy to rise up and expose me as a fraud.

Instead I received a phone call from a woman I'd never met, saying she'd heard a rumor that I did psychic readings. Without thinking twice, I scheduled her for a session the next day. The council said, "Don't worry," and I felt a strange glow of certainty, even though I could hear my mind in the background gearing up to panic. I told myself that I could always share with her some of the council concepts I had learned over the years.

What happened instead was that the council arose in my mind, chatting with her as they had always chatted with me. I'd always believed that the insights I received about friends were predicated on my own knowledge of them. But sitting with that first client, I discovered to my utter surprise that the council knew details about her life that I had no way of knowing. Although I had studied with them intensively for six years, I never fully believed they existed until that moment. Within a year I left my university job, because I was doing so many psychic readings and healing consultations that I didn't have time to grade papers. Within another year, I found myself not only doing full-time psychic counseling, but I had also joined the faculty of another California university, this time doing thesis advising for Masters degrees in Consciousness Studies.

To this day, I am not certain whether inner teachers in general and my council of entities in particular are a separate consciousness or some part of my own mind and imagination. I have decided it doesn't matter. The training and teachings I receive from them are interesting, useful and admirable. And the insights and lessons they have offered to my clients and students over the last ten years make me feel honored to be listening in.

A few years ago the council asked me, in their usual low-key way, if I would be willing to write a book, making their teaching available to a broader audience. I agreed, wondering how I would ever find the time. Shortly thereafter, my friend the chameleon called to invite me to join her in Switzerland. She offered to provide a financial and emotional safety net while I wrote this book.

Listening In is written in the voice of the council, because students have told me over the years that listening to the council helps them to hear their own wiser self more clearly. The material has been channeled, by which I mean I transcribed hundreds of pages of meandering council chats, then reorganized and rewrote the material several times in dialogue with the council, who wanted you to hear, see and feel their teachings on several levels.

The book works best when you read it slowly, perhaps just a section or two at a time, and then let the resonance of the ideas echo in your mind and the seeds of suggestions take root in your imagination.

It is divided into two parts. The first is an exploration of what I might call the "cosmology of the self." It offers many seed ideas about finding meaningful ways to live authentically and express your deeper values. Part Two explores wiser self perspectives on love and change: issues the council is most frequently asked to address. Throughout the book I have included sample groundings, which the council likes to use at the beginning of group sessions in order to help listeners bring their attention into clearer focus.

The ideas in this book are not intended to be seen as rules or precepts for living. They are suggestions of a way of thinking, a way of perceiving, that allow you to get in touch with your own wiser self and recognize your own understanding. The council does not want followers or disciples; they don't want to be seen as some Strange Phenomenon. Their identity, as they say, "is immaterial."

What is important in the council's teaching is the opportunity it provides for listening in. The true learning occurs when we, the listeners, actively tune into that wise resonant place within us, connect to the wiser self, and examine our lives and actions from that perspective. The Dialogue happens each time we are able to get to the heart of a matter, make connections between ideas and events, and hear the extraordinary resonance of the life force within our everyday experience.

Listening In: Dialogues with the Wiser Self