Robert Johnson and the Golden World

More about Robert Johnson’s search for the Golden World


After his childhood and young adulthood experiences (described two posts ago) Johnson felt that his life would never be the same. Indeed, he would spend many years seeking for more such experiences, and trying to find a balance between living on earth with his vision of heaven. Johnson repeatedly went to watch sunrises again – hoping to hear and see another glorious dawn, but it didn’t happen. Firmly believing that there is no such thing as chance, Johnson saw that our lives are controlled ‘by those slender threads of an intelligence far superior to our own’. All openings into another realm and encounters with the divine can be mentally dangerous, but also offer a glimpse of the essence of life. Whilst children are easily open to such experiences – it is a birth right – a gift, later in life it has to be earned. This Johnson calls inner work, which is not to do with material success, but rather about bringing some sense of meaning and purpose to one’s life. Carl Jung said of the earthly world (the ego) and the Golden World (the Self) that they are two faces of the one reality, and it is a lifetime’s work to reconcile them.

The psycho-spiritual searching that Robert Johnson undertakes throughout his adult years also included a spell (despite Jung’s advice to the contrary) as part of a monastic community that Johnson felt should have been a step toward the Golden World. Initially this was exciting work as he offered counselling to the monks, novices and the guests who came to stay – but this gradually became an impossible situation. He continued as a therapist, but moved away from the monastery to work alongside a church. During this time Johnson had a further breakthrough into the divine world, when a command came into his head whilst walking along a road: ‘Now make up your mind: either everything is the body and blood of Christ, or nothing is. Make up your mind.’

That was such a shock that I still recall the angle of the sunshine, the colour of the trees, the type of cars driving by on the street – it was a terrible/wonderful moment. I knew the answer immediately, but I didn’t know what to do about it. If I said that nothing is the body and blood of Christ, I would die immediately from a lack of meaning in my life. Life is not possible without meaning.

The Golden World did return in Johnson’s maturity in his 50s when staring at the minarets of a great mosque in India at the first light of dawn:

All my senses were set spinning, I heard the music of the stars singing; it was the same intensity, the absolute glory and joy that I had experienced thirty-five years earlier … I was caught in the grip of divine ecstasy.

Although the vision itself only lasted a few moments, for the rest of that day everything seemed touched by God. For the next 19 years India became Johnson’s spiritual home, although he remained working as a therapist affiliated to an Episcopal church in San Diego and writing books.