Mike Jabalee seems to specialize in prophetic dreams.
The Columbia resident, an acupuncture student, once dreamed that something was about to crush his leg and that he threw himself out of the way. The next day, while Jabalee was working around a stable, a horse gave a sudden stomp and he had to move fast to keep his leg from being caught between the horse's leg and the stall.
On another occasion, Jabalee dreamed he awakened to find a man dressed in black standing over him with a knife.
He went to his martial arts class the next day and sat down to do some yoga exercises before the class began.
He was seated with his eyes closed, relaxing, when another martial arts student decided to tease him.
Jabalee opened his eyes to find the student standing over him with a rubber knife in his hand.
What does it all mean? To some, no doubt, coincidence. To Rick Bianci, Odenton resident, follower of the Eckankar religion and instructor of a weekly class in dream interpretation at theLocust Park Neighborhood Center, Mike's dreams were glimpses of the future.
Prophetic dreams give the dreamer a chance to escape what is coming or to alter the circumstances to produce a more favorable outcome, Bianci says.
"If you dream of a horse running over you, don't go to the stable," he says.
"Or it might be a symbol. The horse might be your boss yelling at you. . . . You can avoid your boss, or if you can't avoid him, go out of your way to do what he wants you to do."
Seems pretty logical and down to earth, nothing you couldn't find in any book on dream interpretation, until Bianci tells the eight members of the class, "Let us declare ourselves as channels for Eck," closes his eyes, touches his fingertips together and leads themin the chant of a single word, "Hu." Hu (pronounced Hugh) is an ancient name for God, he explains.
Then Bianci comments that if a ghost looks real and bumps into things, it's because that ghost has a lot of ectoplasm. Ghosts inhabit the astral plane, which is just one step above the physical plane, the sensory world. Several planes beyondis the soul, which can leave the body and travel to other worlds.
"If you have had that experience, it will change you," Bianci says. "You have no fear of death because you have been to other worlds."
Eckists know how that sounds to unbelievers. Sometimes, Bianci says,it's better not to talk about it in front of them, because they'll throw a lot of negative energy at you, as in "You believe that stuff? You're some kind of nut."
The dream interpretation classes are open to the public but are suffused with the teachings of Eckankar, a modern Western interpretation of Eastern metaphysical teaching that is called by its adherents "the ancient science of soul travel."
The religion goes beyond psychological interpretation of dream symbols tofocus on dreams as a tool for self-mastery. Eckankar basically teaches that enlightenment comes from the inner being, the soul, which is deeper than the mind, Bianci explains.
Six-week classes, sponsoredby the Maryland Satsang Society, a subsidiary of Eckankar, are conducted in Columbia once or twice a year. Instructors are volunteers. Inthe past, they didn't even ask for donations, but Bianci says each member of the current class wasasked to contribute $15 to cover handouts and the cost of renting the room.
People could just buy a book on dream interpretation. What they gain from the class are the tools of dream interpretation with a spiritual element, Bianci says. Students learn how symbology can differ for different individuals, how to list the key elements of a dream -- but the instructor doesn't tell them what the dream means.
"We can't interpret for you. Nobody can interpret for you," he says.
Michele Rutledge, a homemaker from Woodbine, had never heard of Eck before she signed up for the dream class, but she wanted to learn something from the hours she spends sleeping. She says she gets some interesting responses when she tells people about the class.
"They look at you like you've finally gone over," she says. "But why should I just let these thousands of hours of sleep be wasted, when I could use them?"
Rutledge has been having trouble remembering her dreams, which is the basic prerequisite for dream interpretation. Bianci's advice is to remind herself each night before she falls asleep, "I will remember my dreams."
Cathy Bourne remembers her dreams. The Owings Mills resident, a wildlife inspectorfor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been a student of Eck for 12 years.
Initially, her family didn't approve of her membershipin Eckankar. Then one night, Bourne dreamed that she had gone home and her family had added a new room to the house. Family members brokedown the doors blocking the room and carried in furniture.
Bourneinterpreted the dream to mean that her family had finally come to accept her religion, and in fact, she says, she has met more acceptance.
She also finds meaning in what she calls "waking dreams." For example, at a time when she was planning to move in with the man she was dating, she was driving to an Eck seminar when a bird flew into theside of a van and died.
Bourne says she understood the waking dream's message right away but began living with the man anyway. "It wasthe biggest mistake of my life -- well, one of them," she says.
Asked if Eck removes the role of intellect from the search for meaning, Rud Moe, president of the Maryland Satsang Society, replies, "When you interpret a dream, you interpret it with your mind. But not everything falls into the domain of science."