Dancing in the Sky

by James C. Ingebretsen

The following excerpts are from Apprentice to the Dawn: A Spiritual Memoir by James C. Ingebretsen (with the assistance of Madeleine Coulombe), Los Angeles, The Philosophical Research Society, 2003.

From Chapter Two: Sage Advice and Dancing in the Sky

The Gerald to whom Ed Opitz had referred was Gerald Heard. Born in London in 1889, he had been educated at Cambridge and then worked in a variety of fields, including a stint on BBC radio as a science commentator and at Oxford as a lecturer. In 1937 he and his friend, Aldous Huxley, chose to emigrate to the United States, and both eventually settled in the Los Angeles area. Here, Gerald busied himself with far-ranging explorations into science, religion, and mysticism, finding much to appreciate in the wide array of cultures and ideas that had taken root in southern California. When I first met him, he was making his living as a speaker and had authored nearly thirty books. Ed Opitz had been responsible for introducing me to Gerald at a luncheon in New York shortly after I became president of Spiritual Mobilization (SM) in the spring of 1954. I knew immediately that I was in the presence of an expansive, deeply penetrating mind, one grounded with a shrewd eye toward everyday relevance, and a playful, wickedly wry sense of humor – a combination that made him an unfailingly charming, sparkling conversationalist. Intrigued with Gerald’s ideas, I attended several of his public lectures in Los Angeles. These talks stimulated me to approach Gerald about writing one or two essays in SM’s monthly magazine, Faith and Freedom. I was delighted when he agreed.

Gerald’s first submission to Faith and Freedom in November 1954 was an article called “The Hunger We Have Not Stilled.” In it, he advocated that those faced with moral questions needed to stop seeking recovery exclusively through psychoanalysis but turn also to a new form of religion which could provide humanity with purpose, awareness, and a capacity to appreciate human potential. As I sat awkwardly with Ed Opitz and his wife that evening, the conclusion of Gerald’s article came back to me clearly. He had said that psychoanalysis was of use only if:

. . . the patient can be brought within the contagion of one who has a whole conviction of purpose, of being part of a process whereby man is being brought to a new capacity for awareness. Man is approaching a new and wider focus of consciousness which the Hellenistic Greek of the Gospels calls “metanoia.” We miniscularly mistranslate it by the word “conversion."

The Greek word metanoia fascinated me. It came from meta which means “beyond” and nous or noia which means “ordinary mind.” Gerald was calling not simply for a conversion of consciousness but for a psychological evolution, indeed a radical mutation of body and mind. Wasn’t this what was happening to me? Simply reflecting on Gerald’s writing assured me that I had undergone more of a revolution of consciousness than a spiritual conversion. While this did nothing to allay my fears or calm my nerves, I had a name for this experience. This revolution of my soul, my abandonment to Divinity was now my “metanoia.” In over forty years I have found no more appropriate appellation.

What I learned from Gerald’s character and concepts proved to be extraordinarily important in advancing my own spiritual journey and growth. When I approached Gerald to share my startling spiritual awakening, I was not seeking a system of beliefs or set of practices nor a priest, guru, or mentor. Instead, I wanted and needed as much guidance as I was able to assimilate at any one time.

I didn’t know then that, like the cuckoo bird, Gerald was always willing to lay his eggs in any available nest!

We began meeting every Monday morning for discussions that lasted for up to two hours. I would always come to his cottage studio, a small, modern structure, located at the rear of a friend’s house in Pacific Palisades. Sometimes we would sit inside peering out through the windows at the mountains along the Pacific Ocean. On warmer days we would confer in the garden, brimming with beautiful rose bushes and shade trees.

Gerald was slim – gaunt even – with haunting blue eyes and a curly, red-brown Vandyke beard and moustache. He spoke quietly with a British accent. It would be impossible for me to recreate our Monday morning conversations or their effect of re-framing my thinking, continually pointing me on toward new possibilities. Like a little chick newly hatched, I imprinted on Gerald, absorbing his way of relating everything to a wider frame of reference and his alert, questioning attitude toward the universe.

Gerald never answered questions directly and never closed a subject. Rather, nurturing a spirit of curiosity and wonder, he would usually respond to an inquiry with a quotation from a seemingly unrelated source. The novelist, Christopher Isherwood, gave the example of asking Gerald, “Will there be a war this year?” Gerald answered, “You know Lipton’s big work on the bee?” Then he went on to quote something about the production of honey. Gerald responded in this way to every question, whether posed by a university professor regarding a recondite philosophical issue, or my young daughter, Kaaren, asking him one summer day to define love. Regardless, Gerald’s response was roundabout and utterly sincere. I think that Gerald believed this kind of free associative dialogue matched the action of inner unfoldment, and he encouraged abandonment to this spontaneous process. He reminded me constantly not to be concerned about the outcome of my solitary meditations or conversations with him, warning that laboring to achieve understanding would result in impatience rather than enlightenment. Once he said, “Sometimes you might feel a bit ashamed after your mediations. You might realize that you don’t want to explore this Divinity which has come into your life at all!” Then he reassured me, saying, “Don’t be frightened of these thoughts. They will rise like bubbles to the surface of a pond. They will break and dissipate. Let them rise. Let them go.”

As the one person to whom I revealed my complete disorientation, Gerald understood my panic and urge to abandon my former life. With amazing patience, he worked to convince me of another possibility: that what had transpired in New York was not intended to wrench me away from my family and professional life but was a call to invest my activities and relationships with greater significance and awareness. Without advocating one particular path, Gerald introduced me to a variety of methods of meditation. He himself spent hours each day in silent contemplation.

The publication of Training for a Life of Growth in 1959 marked the end of one phase of my relationship with Gerald Heard. During the following decade, I would continue to pursue projects — some of which are detailed in the next chapters – to promote Gerald’s ideas. These efforts continued even after 1966, when Gerald suffered the first in a series of strokes which paralyzed his body and rendered him incapable of communicating. Although Gerald would probably disagree, it is a tragedy to me that none of these projects got off the ground, and it saddens me that this incredible personality who had a remarkable effect on so many famous writers, thinkers, business leaders, academics, and social reformers is virtually unknown today. Gerald’s friendship, his advice and teaching, as well as his writings, continue to exert a powerful influence on my interests and practices. As you will see, his name appears again and again as the impetus for me to plunge into new adventures and face new challenges on my search for knowledge and my journey of inner unfoldment.

Perhaps, in one sense, my personal development over the past forty years has been my becoming a “Heardian” – that is, learning to maintain a nondogmatic state of mind which is completely open and willing to entertain any new idea in pursuit of the ultimate truth. “After all,” Gerald often explained to me, “the poets and the prophets have always known about it. Now the psychiatrists, the physicists, chemists, and brain surgeons are discovering it. Everyone is waking up to the power within the soul.”

From Chapter Four: Koan of the Cross

Gerald Heard’s influence also continued to exercise a pervasive influence on my life. Although we saw each other infrequently prior to his death in 1971, he kept me informed of his public speaking engagements, his prolific output of books and essays, television and radio broadcasts, and research into psychedelics before a series of strokes left him unable to speak or write.

From Chapter Eight: Gift of God

I had felt moved on the plane, in the aftermath of that glow, to compose a brief note to Gerald, now paralyzed and bedridden, and to tell him that perhaps his hopes for me to reach an additional stage of awareness had been realized. His longtime, devoted assistant, Jay Michael Barrie, who was caring for Gerald, replied on June 20, 1969:

I read your letter to Gerald and it did get through. I waited until what seemed a propitious moment – when his power of attention seemed best. He smiled a most radiant smile and then burst into tears. So he got the message and was deeply moved.

This was my final communication with Gerald before his death two years later, on August 14, 1971.

"Gerald never answered questions directly and never closed a subject. Rather, nurturing a spirit of curiosity and wonder, he would usually respond to an inquiry with a quotation from a seemingly unrelated source."


Born in 1906 in Salt Lake City, James C. Ingebretsen was educated at Stanford University and enjoyed successful careers as a lawyer, businessman, and libertarian leader. On May 22, 1955, while in New York City on a professional trip, Mr. Ingebretsen’s life took a dramatic turn when he experienced a spiritual awakening. Ingebretsen was fortunate to have already made the acquaintance of the writer and thinker, Gerald Heard, who guided him through the first months after his awakening, helping him to reconcile the seemingly disparate existences of father, husband, executive, and newly-initiated spiritual seeker. His search for spiritual knowledge, which began with his background in Christian teachings, soon expanded to encompass Eastern religions, several forms of meditation, and various experiments with Heard and others to achieve a more profound understanding of divine energies and their interplay with human consciousness.

In 1957, Mr. Ingebretsen purchased a 270-acre property located in the foothills of Mount San Jacinto in Southern California, which he eventually operated as a retreat center known as Koan Of The Cross. From 1957 until its closing in 1974, Koan Of The Cross was a gathering place for dozens of inspiring and gifted teachers from all over the world in a variety of spiritual, religious, psychological, and cultural disciplines, including Gerald Heard, Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, Dane Rudhyar, Ira Progoff, Pir Zade Vilayat Inayat Khan, and J. Krishnamurti. Mr. Ingebretsen passed away on March 16, 1999. The selections above are excerpted from his spiritual autobiography, Apprentice to the Dawn, by kind permission of Dorothy Ingebretsen. For more on James C. Ingebretsen, visit the website Apprentice to the Dawn.