Spirituality involves an awareness of being connected with something greater than the individual ego or self. This "something greater" has traditionally been called God, Goddess, Allah, Great Spirit, the Almighty, the Absolute, and many other names. Some consider it as the Universe, or as a sense of infinite order and beauty. Many individuals prefer to attribute no name whatever to it. But whether named or unnamed, the awareness of a connectedness with something greater than the "I" has been a source of strength and meaning for individuals throughout human history.
Individuals often find that their power of sensing and knowing expands as they mature spiritually. These expanded capacities often involve the capacity to know yet-to-be events that lie in the future, as the unbroken stream of prophets, visionaries, seers, and shamans throughout history attests. A modern analog of this ancient ability to know the future is premonitions, sometimes called intuition, gut feelings, or sixth sense.
Premonitions are often regarded as unrelated to spirituality, but there are profound connections. The most obvious involves love, as in the following example.
Amanda, a young mother living in Washington State, awoke one night at 2:30 A.M. from a nightmare. She dreamed that a large chandelier that hung above their baby's bed in the next room fell into the crib and crushed the infant. In the dream, as she and her husband stood amid the wreckage, she saw that a clock on the baby's dresser read 4:35 A.M. The weather in the dream was violent; rain hammered the window and the wind was blowing a gale. The dream was so terrifying she roused her husband and told him about it. He laughed, told her the dream was silly, and urged her to go back to sleep, which he promptly did. But the dream was so frightening that Amanda went to the baby's room and brought the child back to bed with her. She noted that the weather was calm, not stormy as in the dream. Amanda felt foolish -- until around two hours later, when she and her husband were awakened by a loud crash. They dashed into the nursery and found the crib demolished by the chandelier, which had fallen directly into it. Amanda noted that the clock on the dresser read 4:35 A.M. and that the weather had changed. Now there was howling wind and rain. This time, her husband was not laughing.
Amanda's dream was a snapshot of the future -- down to the specific event, the precise time it would happen, and a change in the weather.
Love appears dramatically as a mediator of premonitions in sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS, the abrupt, unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby between one and twelve months of age. Premonitions are a recurring feature in the experiences of SIDS parents. An example is Don, a physician in a large metropolitan area. During the first trimester of his wife's pregnancy, he sensed the happiness his son's birth would bring would not be lasting. A few months before the birth, he would occasionally find himself contemplating a nearby cemetery, where his son would eventually be buried. The day he was born and Don first held him in his arms, he felt, for no obvious reason that the newborn was not supposed to be with them. Beginning around two to three weeks before his death, Don would be awakened from his sleep with thoughts of SIDS. The day before his son died, he heard a voice very similar to his own say repeatedly, "Take a good look. This is the last time you will see him."
Don's apprehensions increased when his wife planned a flight with the baby to visit her parents, who lived in another state. Although they disagreed about whether the baby should go, Don didn't make his fears clear to his wife. As he was driving them to the airport, negative feelings came flooding in. At the airport, walking to security, he heard a clear warning that he'd never see his son again. He knew his baby would die during the trip. While walking back to the parking lot, the voice told him to go back and get his son. Finally the voice softened and stopped, as Don ignored it and kept walking. Early the next morning his wife called, hysterically relating that their son had died. He later would find that his aunt had similar apprehensions about the baby.
Looking back, Don said, "The process has been a shock to me since I knew before-hand this [death] was going to happen. The only thing I didn't know was when and where... I have no idea of its meaning. The only thing I can say is that perhaps if I would have listened to 'my heart' many mishaps could have been prevented... I think people have the ability to perceive things and give it a purposeful meaning which can be used for any future event."
Many of the SIDS parents experienced dreams, visions, or feelings of being in contact with their infants following death. They felt uniformly positive about these experiences, and were left with a sense that their baby was being cared for and was in a better place.
There are other benefits that are profoundly spiritual. Premonitions open us up to each other and to the greater world. As mentioned, they show that we are part of something larger than the individual self, that we are an element in the great "pattern that connects," as ecologist-philosopher Gregory Bateson put it. Premonitions suggest that we are linked with every consciousness that has ever existed, or that will ever exist.
Many outstanding scientists have realized this. The renowned physicist David Bohm said, "Each person enfolds something of the spirit of the other in his consciousness." Nobel physicist Erwin Schrödinger also believed that minds are in some sense united and one. He said, "To divide or multiply consciousness is something meaningless. There is obviously only one alternative, namely the unification of minds or consciousness.... [I]n truth there is only one mind."
By linking minds across space and time, premonitions reveal the oneness of which these scientists -- and many spiritual traditions -- speak. Premonitions therefore imply that we are not isolated individuals, but beings whose consciousness operates outside the present and beyond our physical body. They suggest that in some sense we are nonlocal or infinite in space in time. When we deeply sense this, we may become "transparent to the transcendent," as mythologist Joseph Campbell put it.
Through love, premonitions link human beings across space and time. There is no more fundamental aspect of spirituality than love. Premonitions are a window through which we glimpse our connection not only with one another, but with the Infinite as well.
(This essay is based on The Power of Premonitions: How Knowing the Future Can Shape Our Lives, by Larry Dossey, M.D., published by Dutton/Penguin, 2009)