Therapeutic Benefits of Visionary Fiction – Examination – Part 4

This is part 4 of the Visionary Fiction as Personal Therapy Series inspired by  an article on bibliotherapy by Debbie McCullis in the February, 2014 issue of the Journal of Poetry Therapy.  In part 1, we discussed recognition, which is when a reader experiences a sense of familiarity while reading. In part 2, visionary fiction authors expressed their feelings of recognition while they were writing their stories. In part 3, various authors discussed how they reacted to issues in books they read. Today we will discuss juxtaposition, which is when a reader develops insight from the  books they have read.


Inspirational books remain with us long after we read them. Sometimes the text speaks to our souls, extracting truths that have been hidden from our awarenesses. When recognition first strikes, we get a sense of familiarity, as if what we’ve read is something we’ve already known.  Some of us might experience elation, others dread, especially if what is pulled out from us is something that challenges our world views. For those of us courageous enough to continue examining the truth that was drawn out of us, we develop insights—at times powerful enough to change our world views and even the course of our lives. I asked some of my author friends about insights they gleaned from books they’ve read. Following are their responses.

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Saleena Karim

Although I had read a few works of Parwez in English, I learned much more from translating him over a number of years. It was challenging work, since I am not fluent in Urdu and so I always had to co-translate with my father, but this also afforded me the opportunity to slow down and think much more deeply about what I was reading. Parwez was looking at some big questions about life and reality. Along the way I discovered a new worldview – one that linked the human quest for a so-called “ideal” society to the unlocking of human potential. While finding some satisfactory answers for myself – in my own self-study as well as from Parwez and also others including Iqbal – the old identity issues that used to bother me faded away, and these were replaced by a new sense of self-assuredness and purpose of being. Best of all, they opened up new and more exciting avenues of exploration, and these were soon to be applied in what was then my fledgling novel.   (Website)

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Murray Morrison

Books that have given me deep insights are many and one that remains deeply embedded in my mind is The Wizard of Earthsea. Although a fantasy the struggles of the young wizard are those of all of us seeking some understanding of the unseen and the powerful in our lives.

Much more recently I read Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child (2012). Her story retells a profound fairy tale and involves the same tale in the narrative. As a piece of writing it is a tour de force. As visionary fiction it has to be one of the best examples, because the snow child in her tale changes the lives of all around her. For a long time in the story you are kept guessing as to what is real and what is imaginary – which is a challenge for all visionaries. Are they/we self-deluded. Or are they/we seeing a deeper reality that it is our gift and duty to bring to the attention of those who are not looking!

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Eleni Papanou

Reading  What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada  by Walpola Rahula taught me about the Buddha, and how he became liberated by eradicating all past conditionings by searching for the truth within himself. To explain how I gained insight from this book I have to reveal the foundational elements that led up to it. At the time, I had given up all forms of religion in search of spiritual truth. I told myself I would not believe in anything unless I experienced it for myself.  This declaration came after I had my kundalini awakening. All the different viewpoints of what a kundalini awakening meant made me realize they were subjective narratives of personal experiences. If I attempt to explain what happened to me by attaching a symbolic meaning from a religion, my explanation would also be subjective. In essence, I would be attaching a symbol to my experience because of a bias toward a particular religion. That is not truth, at least not from my understanding of it.

When I read What the Buddha Taught, I was stunned to discover that my spiritual journey was similar to the Buddha’s. Although our motivations were different, we both abandoned past beliefs and intense spiritual experiences to search for the truth. He found his truth. I found my truth, the only truth I can ever know…that absolute truth is an illusion. The only truth I can experience is the experience itself. I sense a divine presence, but I use this description for context only. For me, spirituality is about the experience, knowing I had a kundalini awakening and  knowing I can consciously work with the energy. That’s enough for me, and that was my insight. The end of my quest for definitive answers liberated me and made me happier.

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Vic Smith

In my last contribution to this series re the immediate impact of reading a VF work that led me to deeper examination, I worked with my primary interest, reincarnation, and the novel The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975) by Max Erlich. To show how a VF novel can then go from examination to insight, per the scheme under study here, I’ll stay with Peter Proud.

With its serious presentation of reincarnation as fact rather than curiosity or fantasy, which goaded me to firstly pause and think, “Hmm, what if there is actually something to this?” Peter Proud then flipped open a Pandora’s Box that challenged just about everything important I had come to believe that far in my young life. Having been indoctrinated from birth with an eschatology (which the Oxford English dictionary defines as “the department of theological science concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell’”) that I never dared question, I couldn’t consider an eschatological alternative like reincarnation without questioning my previous dependence on external authority. Before I could think about something as far out as reincarnation, I had to give myself permission to think for myself; and then, more radically, to hold two opposing interpretations about some really important stuff (death, judgment, heaven and hell—it doesn’t get more dire than those four horses) in my mind at the same time. Finally, I would have to choose between the alternatives, based on my experience, or suspend judgment until more data became available. Fortunately, all this mental and spiritual angst did not hit in one sitting; it took me years to migrate from dependence on authority to the courage to embrace the best “truth” I could glean from personal education, experimentation, and experience.

I clearly remember the day I faced the inevitable question: what if I am wrong? And the best possible answer: better a self-created error, which I could reverse or correct, than someone else’s truth, which I could not adjust simply because I can’t change someone else. No bones about it, it is freaking scary to march to the beat of your own drum rather than repeat the tried-and-true tunes that “everybody already knows.” To my credit—although I have to confess to often glancing over my shoulder for lightning bolts or closing my ears to the chorus of boos—I decided to give reincarnation a look-see and—who would have guessed it?—it became my life’s passion, the one thing I would rather think, speak, and write about ahead of just about anything else. (Website)

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Stephen Weinstock

Besides revelations and deeper meanings, I thought of a very basic kind of insight gained from reading fiction.  This is in-sight, a vision of something inside me, within my mind.  My imagination!  We all recognize the way a vivid description, an evocative setting, or a character introduction triggers pictures inside our mind during reading.  I am cursed with a hyper-active imagination, but reading a novel is a safe way of flexing my in-sight muscle.  In-sight does not have to be visual.  I am not particularly a visual thinker; in guided meditations or chakra readings the images that come are murky.  But the thoughts accompanying them are clear.  Like other visionary experiences, in-sight can be clairvoyant (clear images), or clairsentient (clear thoughts).  So in our imaginations, reading makes us all in-sightful visionaries. Goodread’s Site


Next month’s installment will be the last in the series. We will discuss how we apply insight learned into our lives.


Eleni Papanou is an award-winning author and perpetual student of life.  Visit her website for news and updates

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20 Responses to Therapeutic Benefits of Visionary Fiction – Examination – Part 4

  1. libredux says:

    Great post, Eleni. What you have described in your own journey here in particular (and Vic's as well) makes me think of Kierkegaard (owing to the existentialist tone). Stephen, I like your word "in-sight".

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    • Admin - Eleni says:

      Thanks for bringing up that connection. I happened to have used a quote from Kierkegaard in Beyond Omega's Sunrise. "Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced." Exactly!

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  2. I love the in depth exploration in this article series, Eleni. Saleena, what a profound and devoted experience for you in translating Parwez!

    Seems like a common thread amongst the authors whose experiences are portrayed is the marching to the beat of one's own drum, not settling for outside authority.

    I admire and respect everything portrayed in the article. And I particularly loved it when you said, Vic, when referring to honoring your own experience – "although I have to confess to often glancing over my shoulder for lightning bolts or closing my ears to the chorus of boos—"! Yes, it is sometimes challenging to throw off the mantle of our conditioned beliefs, I think VF is a great way to expand consciousness through, as what you refer to Murray, our imaginal minds.

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  3. drstephenw says:

    Wow, what a diverse collection of responses. Really – from translation to speculative fantasy to spiritual awakening to reincarnation to clairsentience. As Jodine suggests, with a group eradicating conditioned beliefs, there's got to be such individualistic viewpoints. Happy to be in such good company.

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  4. Tui Allen says:

    Vic, you showed immense courage to walk the path you walked against such strong and fearful early conditioning.
    Eleni, how amazing to discover parallels between your journey and the one the Buddha walked. In both your cases, Vic and Eleni, I love the emphasis on the need to think it out for yourself and not surrender to the easier course of prescriptive thinking. It is wonderful when our reading can trigger directions like these.
    I read all the posts above with great fascination. A good question has inspired truly in-depth answers.
    I felt a response similar to what you describe when I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull as a young woman. It convinced me of the need to try to see the world through the eyes of species unlike ourselves and to recognise and grapple with the ingrained arrogance I hold as a human being, particularly one, who like others here, was raised in an easy-way-out prescriptive religion, viewing humans as the pinnacle of existence and denying all possibility of spirit in other species.
    V&F fiction flung open a great door that had been firmly shut. It let a mighty wind blow through to awaken me.

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    • Admin - Eleni says:

      Tui, That is an amazing connection. I love how art has the ability to make us compassionate. Your book is truly a demonstration of seeing through the eyes of dolphins and treating them as the truly unique beings that they are. Where I live now, I'm constantly seeing dolphins. They like to come into the bayou to hang out, even more so in the winter when the manatees come in to keep warm. I hope your book blows enough wind to awaken people.

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    • Thanks, Tui. Just got back from a Reunion in San Diego of classmates from the seminary, all exes now, from some 40-50 years ago. Made me very grateful that I did have "courage to walk the path…against such strong and fearful early conditioning." Not all of the men were so fortunate as they are still struggling with their resentments, guilt, etc., from that conditioning. On a positive note, though, there were several who lit up when I told them about my research and writing work, including reincarnation and Visionary Fiction. Made me understand that all human beings are meant "to think it out for themselves." May not be this time around, but eventually IMO.

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  5. It seems I see a common thread in the insights gained by all of the contributors to this post as a result of their reading — the freedom to break away from past conditioning and be themselves.

    SALEENA expressing how her readings opened up new and more exciting avenues of exploration and provided her with a new sense of self-assuredness and purpose of being; MURRAY expressing how he gained an understanding of the unseen and powerful in his life; ELENI expressing how she eradicated past conditionings and ended her quest for definitive answers; VICTOR expressing how he gave himself permission to be himself and follow his passion; and STEPHEN expressing how he gained a vision of something inside of him and the ability to flex his insight muscle.

    Sounds like liberation to me. The best kind of liberation. The liberation of the mind — and soul.

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  6. That's why I like to read and write visionary/metaphysical fiction. It's fiction that is more than fiction for these exact reasons. When the writer has a strong background in metaphysics of some kind, ie, their writing is based on deep knowledge and experience, such stories can be truly liberating. What is better for our own spiritual path than reading about others as they walk the path?

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  7. esdragon2 says:

    Just catching up after my trip to Portugal I started reading these only today, and was intrigued in particular by Vic's piece about his long and 'heroic' journey to find his passion; Reincarnation. I too was brought up Christian, but (thankfully) not a Catholic. I found that reincarnation, when I finally came upon it in my late teens, seemed like plain common sense. It fitted exactly into my – how to call it? – World view. So I claim no credit for having accepted it naturally. My only puzzlement was why traditional Christians opposed it as being unGodlike, heathen and sinful. Poor them, I thought, they don't know what they're missing.

    Thinking back on it and asking myself why, when my family and all its extended members clung so rigidly to their beliefs in heaven, hell and judgement, and their need to have an external authority figure, did I find it relatively easy to go my own way? Well, luckily by the age of 15 I'd become an art student. Once in that liberating environment we students were soon discovering all the 'way out' ideas; psychological, metaphysical, musical, literary, philosophical, surrealism, super-science. Reading Sartre, Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Jung, Freud, etc. etc. with one in particular, a Christian monk who'd traveled East and discovered Buddhism, (and whose name for the moment Ive forgotten!) but whose writings opened my mind to reincarnation — all of this I credit for making my path a lot easier.

    Artists are licences to explore within themselves and without, and to create. And yes, this freedom can be both extremely scary and liberating in the same moment.

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    • Admin - Eleni says:

      "Artists are licences to explore within themselves and without, and to create. And yes, this freedom can be both extremely scary and liberating in the same moment."

      That's absolutely true. Conquering my fear allowed me write a great story that I know will be controversial because it taps into mass cognitive dissonance. At present, I’m reading it to my writing groups and am getting the strong reactions I expected. I’m lucky to have found these group as they are very supportive. Through feedback, I found areas I can tweak to make it gentler without losing the power of the theme.

      Fear can also come after publication, particularly if you have a controversial book. How do you overcome that fear? How I see it is that VF writers strive to write from a non-judgmental perspective; however, readers bring their own views into a story, which is well understood by bibliotherapy practitioners. What I also discovered from reading reviews of VF books is that no matter how nonjudgmental their tone, there will always be those who feel judged in their own lives. The right story can pull that judgement to the surface. This becomes apparent in some reviews. If you understand this, you won’t take the comment to heart and fear vanishes. You also become stronger from the experience.

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      • esdragon2 says:

        'no matter how nonjudgemental you are, there will always be those who feel judged in their own lives.' How true! I just hope that that I do become stronger from the experience. There are times when I feel I'm going backwards. It's all a learning curve, I think. Step by step.

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  8. esdragon2 says:

    I remembered his name immediately after I'd posted it up!!!! Allan Watts.

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  9. Admin - Eleni says:

    I only just heard of Allan Watts. I was watching a Jung documentary that led me to a Watts video about transcending duality.

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  10. esdragon2 says:

    Wow! Blimey!

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  11. Admin - Eleni says:

    Hi Esme:

    In response to your feeling as if you're sometimes moving backwards, I think it's a natural aspect of spiritual growth. In these backwards steps are the lessons that keep us moving forward.

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  12. esdragon2 says:

    Thanks Eleni.

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  13. Pingback: Therapeutic Benefits of Visionary Fiction – Application – Part 5 | Visionary Fiction Alliance

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