Apprentice to the Dawn: A Spiritual Memoir by James C. Ingebretsen


Book Cover




I am alone, ceaselessly climbing an invisible ladder in pitch-blackness. No far off beacon summons. Only the dark, timeless space surrounds me, stretching perpetually outward. Somehow I know the ladder I climb is as everlasting as this darkness, and I am scared.

Drawing of Ascent

I had this terrifying dream at the age of thirteen. During a game of football at school, I had broken my arm. The doctor administered ether while he set the fractured bone, and it was under the effects of the drug that I had this haunting vision of an endless ascent in darkness. I emerged from the ether literally quaking in my boots. I was also violently ill, my lunch before the game having consisted entirely of cokes and chocolate bars. At the time, all I wanted to do was to shake from my mind the image of that inexorable climb.

I never did shake off the memory of that dream, yet I was nearly fifty years old before I ever sought its possible meaning. Now, at the age of ninety-two, I understand that my endless climb is not some Sisyphean labor, but that the ladder represents a passage. I am between darkness and light, consciousness and unconsciousness, humanity and Divinity, in a place which is no longer shrouded but is permeated with the sense of expectation that comes with the end of night and the first hint of day. As I prepared to write these memoirs it was the ladder which came to me as a consistent theme in my experiences. The age of ninety-two seemed as good a time as any not only to reflect on the life that has been lived, but on the commencement of the journey of the soul. I am no newcomer to body, time, and space, but as I approach a dimension that is without ego, age, or physical form, increasingly I feel the full weight of my mortal existence and its imminent passage into a nonmaterial state. I sense acutely our human exchange with Divinity. Divinity sends us a soul at birth, and we return it marked by the events of our lives and by our deepened consciousness. I am considered an old man but I know that I am still an apprentice who has dedicated himself to the germination and growth of the soul. I am engaged in self-unfoldment, that is the process of becoming conscious of and connected to Divinity. My story is the tale of how self-unfoldment has taken place in the life of one man, how one man has been an “apprentice to the dawn”.

Of course, during the first half of my life, the whole idea of having or contemplating a soul, let alone devoting my memoirs to the subject, would have been completely laughable to me. It never occurred to me that there could be higher meaning in one's life, stemming from a divine source. Besides, I was too busy leading an existence that most persons in our culture would view as successful and exciting. A record of this life — meetings with statesmen, captains of industry, and political leaders as well as my careers in jurisprudence, business, and public affairs — could easily provide the basis for a conventional autobiography.

Drawing of Ascent
Spiral drawing by James C. Ingebretsen

Then, on May 22, 1955, I underwent a mysterious spiritual awakening — which I will describe in the first chapter of this book — during which I became aware that I was connected to tremendous energies of divine origin. The conviction came to me that it was both possible and necessary to discover and implement a relationship with these universal forces. The pursuit of this relationship has been my task and adventure ever since. In the second half of my life, my greatest successes and most challenging adventures no longer occur in the sphere of the outer world. My achievements in life — one that has not only spanned but also come into direct contact with much of the twentieth century's radical changes in technology, political thought, and philosophy — pale in comparison to the ineffable treasures which have been the reward of spiritual exploration. For such a long time after my awakening, I saw my life as having rapidly changed course. The advantage of having gained the perspective of ninety-two years is seeing how the personal and professional scaffolding I built in the first forty-nine years of my life provided a resilient skeleton for the decades to follow. I know now that I make my home, that I have always made my home, in a magic circle where nothing happens by chance. My youthful love of games, my intuitive manner of following career and business opportunities, my devotion to my wife — so much of what characterized the first half of my life and which I initially feared would have to be discarded in the second — proved to be invaluable.

This book concerns itself with the various rungs of the ladder I have climbed as an apprentice to the dawn, beginning with my spiritual awakening in New York City in 1955. Over the past forty-four years, I have investigated hundreds of mythic images, methods of personal practices, and rituals. I have sought out and formed close relationships with fellow spiritual explorers by establishing a retreat in the desert where individuals could focus on their personal processes of self-unfoldment and by providing financial and organizational assistance to writers and thinkers. I have attempted, wherever I could, to facilitate the growth of consciousness in our society.

It has taken me more years than I wish to admit to complete this memoir of my spiritual unfoldment. Perhaps it is justifiable that a life that has taken over ninety years to live should take over twenty years to tell. This prolonged period of reflection, while maintaining my practices of inner growth and sense of attunement to divine sources of energy, has granted me a new mode of vision. Indeed, as I sit here, I have no idea whether it is I who am collecting, arranging, and reminiscing or whether I am being used as a convenient place for larger ideas and cosmic relationships to meet and mingle for a while before they go their separate ways toward new places and new meanings.

Drawing of Ascent
Primordia, a sculpture by James C. Ingebretsen

I could say that forty-four years ago – on May 22, 1955 — I took a sea voyage to an uncharted island. I have lived in that newfound territory almost as a Robinson Crusoe, but with many guides appearing. This whole time I have been exploring and mapping and, to some limited extent, I know my way around the place. Now, as I complete my memoirs, I feel that I have returned home but have an open bridge over the waters across which I can dance back and forth to share my journey and help others embark on their own explorations. With this return, just when I should be leading a quiet, relaxed life, I am distracted with bursts of creative energy and mythic understanding. Just when I should be doing little more than “wrapping up loose ends”, whole new vistas continue to open up before me.

It is my wish that you will finish this book with an increased sense that your life is a unique expression of greater forces. I wish that you will always find the will to be present, attentive, and responsive to all the possibilities of the universe as, day by day, together and alone, we unfold our strange destinies.


© Copyright 2003 Apprentice to the Dawn
   Design by Hop Studios