When a middle-aged clinical psychologist begins working with a client describing bizarre mystical experiences, his own world changes radically, taking him on a breathtaking journey through divine consciousness into the revolutionary spirituality of aging.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
Book Review: “Breakthrough” by John C. Robinson
by Fred Plumer on January 20, 2016 |
John Robinson takes on a challenge that befuddles most of us in this interesting and even challenging book, Breakthrough. How does a scientist, or in this case a psychologist, deal with someone who has had a deeply, life changing spiritual experience, and yet has had no religious or spiritual experience himself. Most professional psychologist are not trained for this kind of thing, and Tom was no exception.
Tom, a psychologist in practice was clearly someone who had very little personal background in “matters of religion,” or anything that smelled of spirituality for that matter. With the exception of a couple of significant characters, neither Tom’s family nor colleagues had anything to do with things spiritual or religious. This is a story about how Tom struggled through this dilemma with some surprising results.
The book opens at the First Christian Church of Mayhew. We meet Emma Jensen and her husband Paul, as well as Pastor Hoeller, a Bible thumping, fire and brimstone pastor. One day Paul, someone who worked in a garage, has a significant spiritual experience that alters his vision of reality. He was dramatically changed in the process. When Emma started talking to the Pastor about her husband and his new way of looking at the world, with love for all sentient beings, Pastor Hoeller decided to force Paul to give testimony in front of the entire church. When Paul’s testimony did not add up to the same dogmatic view Pastor Hoeller was preaching, Hoeller became incensed. It became a war.
Both Paul and his manipulating wife were eventually kicked out of the congregation. His wife begged him to change his story but Paul really could not understand why anyone would do that. He was confused and was not certain which direction to go. Without an appointment, Paul found his way over to Tom’s office. When Paul briefly told Tom what was going on in his life, Tom agreed to see Paul professionally. He asked Paul to come back later in the day, making an appointment he thought Paul would never keep. Paul did show up and he began to tell his complete story. Tom was at first surprised, then curious, and then moved to learn more about what had happened to Paul… and that is when Tom’s seemingly perfect life, went into a tail spin.
The rest of the book is devoted to watching Tom’s life fall apart and we watch him put it back together again. After listening to Paul, Tom decides to cancel his appointments, and go to a Vision Quest in the desert to see if he can get some idea what Paul had gone through. His family, including his wife were wondering what was going on. What he learned helped Tom seek out other people who he thought might help him gain some further insight. He does gain some insight and we the readers are benefactors of the struggle that Tom goes through. We are the winners as Tom goes through an Alice in Wonderland experience.
If you are not comfortable with spirituality and the thought of a loving Presence around and among us, I would not recommend this book. For the rest of us, I think Robinson has provided an interesting and stimulating book.
Robinson is a retired psychologist who has written several books on this topic. If you are interested in further research I would recommend his books to you. ~ Fred Plummer, President: Center for Progressive Christianity
By John C. Robinson
When I worked at Rainbow's End Publishing Company, Bettie Tucker, publisher and I worked on a book where we were introduced to the phrase, "God Incident." I've never stopped using that phrase since then. Some people use the word coincidence, some fate...but as I've grown older, I have felt that many events that happen in my life were, "God Incidents." For instance, during the last two years, I've been asked to review three books. Breakthrough is the third and, for me, concluded the trilogy presented for my consideration... To me, it was exciting to have briefly discussed mysticism during my discussion with the author of Prisoner of Belief, only to have John C. Robinson's Breakthrough come into my hands next... Now all that has nothing to do with my review of this latest book, but I did want to highlight it as we go into our discussion tomorrow. If you'd like to see the evolution of my reading, there will be links shown tomorrow... Until then... let's move on to Breakthrough...
This novel is written as fiction, but has a ring of truth...something like, the "names have been changed to protect the..." Indeed the author has confirmed that he writes about things he knows. And has already written a number of non-fiction books on the same topic. He chose a novel for this latest book to provide a better conduit into the mainstream reader. That's how it made its way to me. I thoroughly enjoy authors who use reality upon which to base fictional novels.
The book opens at the First Christian Church of Mayhew and we get to know Emma Jensen and her husband Paul, as well as Pastor Hoeller. Paul has had a spiritual experience and it has not only changed him, but has caused a major, you might say, uprising in the Church. It all started when Emma started talking to the Pastor about her husband and Pastor Hoeller decided to force Paul in front of the Church, demanding his testimony...
Next we meet Tom McLaughlin, a psychologist, in practice, who had very little personal background in "matters of religion." Science had pulled his family away and Tom had made little time for spirituality.
Then a routine day started, with Tom waiting for his first patient and checking the mail. He noticed one ad, for a Vision Quest; not knowing entirely why, he did joke to himself that something like that might "force him to look at his meaning-of-life questions. Then soon after, Tom got a call from an old friend who had referred a man to Tom. Clarence Kelly was a priest at a Catholic Retreat Center. Neither expected that there would be follow-through on the contact... but they took the opportunity to plan lunch after such a long separation.
But Paul did come...
Without making an appointment, he walked into McLaughlin's office and explained who he was. He promised to return later after Tom's next patient. And that's when Tom's world turned upside down... Paul quickly started telling him why he was there...
Paul began describing the barrenness of his life. Tom mentally checked off the typical signs of Major Depression: depressed mood, loss of interest and pleasure in customary life activities, feelings of worthlessness, diminished concentration and memory and recurrent thoughts of death. Paul repeated his nightmare of Jesus taking him into the lake, which had become a recurring dream, and described his lonely wanderings through empty streets at night. His childhood history cried out for its emotional austerity and deprivation, and Tom felt a pang of empathy for the profound grief and depression this man had endured as a boy. Paul's next comments, however, were entirely unexpected.
"Dr. McLaughlin, there is more to the dream. Now when Jesus takes my hand, a peace surrounds me and I feel like God is present. It fills me with joy. For days afterwards I don't care what happens around me. I am happy. I notice wonderful things, like the beauty in nature or radiant light shining everywhere in the world. And then it slips away and my depression returns. I cannot work. I can barely talk to my wife. She is certain my condition is the Devil's handiwork. I can't go on like this. I don't know where else to turn."
Knocked momentarily off balance by these unusual remarks, Tom asked. "What do you think this dream means?"
"That's just it," Paul replied. "I no longer think of it as a dream. I think it's real. I think Jesus has come for me. I just don't know why and I don't think I'm ready to go."
Sensing Dr. McLaughlin's struggle, Paul resumed his soliloquy, filling in more details and repeating his wonderment and gratitude. Finally, as the morning sun poured through the office's mahogany shutters, Paul concluded, "When I called you I was still high. I was beyond myself. Even now, it has not really left me. This feeling of Presence is like an ocean of love holding me and everything in its deep peace. I can sense it. I am in it. Don't you see? God never left the world, God is the world. Do you understand what I'm saying? There is no ugliness or sin. Heaven is here! We're in it. I'm no longer afraid of death, for I know now that death is just the doorway into this total love."
Though Paul felt genuine compassion for his doctor's bewilderment, it didn't really matter. It was enough now just to be alive. "I've returned to Eden," Paul mused aloud to himself. "I have been given a new life."
The session ended anticlimatically. Paul simply got up, said goodbye, and started to leave. His movement broke Tom's transfixed state enough for him to ask, "Will you come back?
Paul met with Tom until he was able to understand he had more than likely had this mystical experience and that he was quite all right mentally... But Tom had been first surprised, then curious, and then moved to learn more about what had happened to Paul...
I tended to identify with Paul, having accepted that this really had happened, he moved to savor his new closeness with God and work to fit his new life into his old one. Tom, however, was confused and agitated. Soon, he remembered the ad for the Vision Quest and abruptly decided to cancel his work, told his family he was going...and left, thinking it would be a learning experience in spirituality...
The experience Tom described was very intriguing...
Day three began with the same sunrise. Last night's mood, however, was not the same. God were amazing thoughts and feelings from the top of the butte. Tom could recover the words but not the mystical consciousness accompanying them...There was no escape from his suffocating heat. I don't think I can do this all day and then stay up all night, thought Tom..."Am I in Hell? How can this be spiritual?
Then, as if he were having a conversation in his mind with someone else, came a response that he recorded in his journal. "It is the hell known to all addicts, whether the addiction is heroin, alcohol, gambling, work, money, sex, power, things, beliefs, security, perfection, even the idea of a future. Addictions are attachments that separate you from the divine. This separation is hell, psychologically and literally. It is the outcome of choosing ego over soul."
Indeed it was and it led him into more and more research, discussions with those who he could truthfully share what was now happening to him. Ultimately, a specific issue caught his attention...Many of those with whom he talked were in their later years. Changes were happening as their years went by. If they pursued learning and spent time accepting and engaging, he realized a new awareness, a new consciousness--an acknowledgment of the world around him and a response to the divine order of that world... He began to refer to it, conceptually, as The New Aging...the spiritually of aging...
If you are unable or unwilling to explore what your own spirituality is all about, don't read this book. Paul and Tom, two men who met because something mystical had come into Paul's life, and then totally turned Tom's upside down. Reading this type of book is a challenge to me. I feel if I cannot consider what others have experience spiritually and evaluate it, then I will never be able to believe that God loves all of us--including those whose religion is different from mine. Each of us has been born into the faith of others. Must we, should we, continue to claim there is only one way to God when we can readily see that historically, that belief has led to nothing but war after war.
Robinson has presented a story that is simple to read, fast-paced in many ways, and yet filled with a totally unique experience as discovered by people living today. But is it totally new? Or, rather, is it as old as mankind, found by a few, and now being considered more and more as communication brings the world together. Mystical experiences have been known for thousands of years. Can a single man, working in a garage, now find himself faced with the mystical experiences that came to those ancient people who lived secluded lives of study? Certainly John Robinson has done so. And he talks of many others who are also experiencing and seeking.
If you fall into that group that is curious about the mysteries of God, I believe you will find this book highly worthy of your consideration. If you are looking for a way to understand and accept that differences in various religious structures and doctrines may very well be moving toward the same God as you, then I highly recommend you consider that potential BREAKTHROUGH that is described by the author in his first fictional novel based upon years of study, research and personal experience. I would add that if you find this book of interest, I would suggest that you consider his non-fiction books as well. The overall philosophy of his thoughts are certainly presented in this novel, but there is mostly experiential activities that may not totally satisfy interested readers to move further... ~ Pat Luboff, Underrated Books
After writing several boo-fiction books, our University of Creation Spirituality colleague John Robinson has com rout with a fictional book, Breakthrough. It is published by Roundfire Books who has a mission:"At Roundfire we publish great store. We lean towards the spiritual or thought-provoking. But whether it is literary or popular, a gentle tale of a pulsating thriller, the connecting theme in all Roundfire fiction titles is that once you pick them up you won't want to put them down."
That is a good description of John's book. Both my husband and I read it straight through. I would classify Breakthrough as a genre between fiction and non-fiction. The storyline - of a psychologist whose patient's mystical experience creates havoc and awakening in the life of the psychologist (Tom) is what makes the book a page turner. The method John used in parts of the book to have Tom dialogue with God through journaling and have discussions/interviews with professional friends is a direct effort to fill the book with a lot of nonfiction, thought provoking material on the mystical life and the purpose that individual might find in their aging process.
I loved the book. I found it to be one of the best descriptions of mysticism and something I wouldn't have chosen to read in strictly non-fiction format just now. Although John focuses his description of the book on the spirituality of aging, I feel that cuts the book short. only the last third is really on aging and ther are many who would miss a great book on the mystical experience if they were turned way from the aging focus.
As a professional therapist married to a psychiatrist, I also enjoyed the accuracy of the psychologist's professional experience. You can tell John wrote from his professional experience. And if you know John, you will also see through some fictional story ones to some of the truth of his lived experience - which is moving and sweet. Check it out. It would be a great book to use in a book discussion group.
~ Sussan Coppage Evans, Creation Spirituality Communities
"Breakthrough" is a thought-provoking work of spiritual fiction. This satisfying story is of particular interest and importance to aging Boomers who will resonate with the author's central message: that life, with all it's twists and turns, can be lived as mystical experience and that the longevity revolution we are experiencing holds the potential to change the course of human evolution. Rivets your attention and delivers the goods. A must read!
~ Carol Orsborn, editor-in-chief of Fierce with Age, the Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration & Spirituality
John Robinson has given us a rich offering of spiritual wisdom in this book. He aptly delves into psychology, spirituality, metaphysics, theology/philosophy, science vs. religion, current evolutionary thinking, and conscious aging. He artfully leads the reader to the possibility of divine union and highlights the importance of spiritual mentors to aid us in our journeys to that end. John's background as a therapist, minister, and wise elder who has done his own searching adds great depth and believability to his ideas.
~ Dr. Carol Scott-Kassner, Spiritual director, Commissioned minister of the UCC, and Past President of Sage-ing International
I just finished reading Breakthrough. It’s about what happens when a psychologist has a mystical epiphany and then faces the difficulties of trying to integrate this experience with a conventional life. This is a tough topic to write about and Robinson does it well. The plot is terrific and the descriptions of mystical experience ring true. The descriptions of the conflict between religion and mysticism are realistic and pose many questions for reflection. This book will spur much book-club discussion.
~ Robert C. Atchley, author of Spirituality and Aging
Not since reading Illusions half a century ago have I been so moved by the enlightenment experience. Well written with engaging characters, I related to their inner and outer struggles as they encountered mysticism. Placed within the constraints of fundamentalist Christianity and traditional psychotherapy, interwoven with family and personal dynamics, the main character, Paul tries to understand the bigger questions of life. Without pat answers, the journey of unfoldment moves with ebbs and flows as Paul cycles through the different stages of his life.
~ Cathy Severson, MS, Career Counselor, Retirement Life Coach RetireWOW.com, Creator of the Retirement Life/Map
Hold on to you seatbelts! A gripping story of the stages of the soul in later life. ~ Harry (Ric) Moody, Editor, Human Values in Aging Newsletter, retired Vice President and Director of Academic Affairs for AARP in Washington, DC. and author of The Five Stages of the Soul.
John Robinson deftly encapsulates the whole spectrum of conscious awakening, from the fears, doubts, ridicule and pressures of “normal” society to the restlessness, longings and ultimately knowings of the soul. In a narrative that feels deeply personal and familiar, the book encourages readers to acknowledge mystical experiences they may have had but didn’t know how to process. ~ Miriam Knight, New Consciousness Review