Articles referenced the most within the Multiplex (usually centering on the
Brother Wayne legacy) have been placed first. Articles by Andrew Harvey
and Russill Paul have been placed at their dedicated pages (see the Chicago and Austin
(from One Spirit Journal)
The Journey from
"Interfaith" to "Trans-traditional Spirituality",
"Interspirituality" and "Awakening"
by an ISD Co-founder, based on my
conversations with Bro. Wayne
often asked about the differences between a conventional Interfaith
experience, a more developed Trans-Traditional Spirituality, Wayne Teasdales term Interspirituality, and
how these relate to spiritual Awakening. The
following short comments have proved helpful to many, especially those who have
shopped around a bit on their spiritual path.
If ones spiritual growth began more or less in
the context of organized religions view of religious experience or spirituality,
there is actually a natural evolution here. This evolution moves from
denominational, or tradition-oriented, spirituality to an Interfaith
experience. Then it proceeds to
Trans-Traditional Spirituality, further deepens to
Interspirituality and, finally (with a little grace and luck) to whatever it
is that happens with spiritual Awakening. In short, this is also the
journey from the dual to the nondual (to use spiritual
lingo) and also embraces the nonduals inherent relationship to concern
for world transformation. (Hereafter, for
clarity in this article, I will continue to capitalize these four terms).
The term Interspirituality was coined by
Bro. Wayne Teasdale in his now classic book The Mystic Heart: Discovering a
Universal Spirituality in the Worlds Religions (1999). He developed it
further, in 2002, in his book Bede Grifftiths: An Introduction to his Interspiritual
Thought. The question arises, thenwhat, in simplest brief terms, is
the core message of Interspirituality and how does it differ from traditional Interfaith,
a more developed Trans-traditional Spirituality and, finally, Awakening?
From Denominationalism to Conventional Interfaith:
Most people come into their interfaith experience from one or the other of the traditional world religions or denominational
experiencesChristian, Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, atheist etc.
As these people begin to taste other religious experiences
(and experience is the key word, not just creeds or beliefs), and the rich
historical backgrounds behind all these, they find themselves in an Interfaith experience.
Interfaith, or conventional ecumenism, starts with
its given that our planet has various (and apparently different)
religions, and religious experiences, each providing a different narrative or story
about reality-- who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. Each religious experience naturally considers that its understanding
is most likely true or normative, and since they do not agree with each other,
the interreligious predicament arises. Interfaith, or conventional ecumenism, is a
discussion among these varied views with a hope for mutual understanding, tolerance, world
peace, and so on. However, what remains is overriding concern with differences
and disagreements, all stemming from the ultimate question who is actually
right (and not only this but about who is actually in control in the
spirit world, the so-called world of heaven and hell).
From Conventional Interfaith to Trans-Traditional
As a persons spiritual path matures more, they begin to harvest and enjoy
the riches of varied religious experiences and points of view. Valuing this
richness more than just that of one tradition is Trans-traditional
Spirituality. Trans-traditional Spirituality begins with generally the same
assumptions as Interfaith, but moves toward emphasizing the value in sharing all the
varied experiences of the worlds traditions. It emphasizes less the
interest in deciding, ultimately, who is actually right or wrong,
although this consideration still lingers in the background. That concern lingers in
the background because this religious experience (actually the heart in this experience)
remains shallow enough that there is still a mental concern about who is
ultimately right or wrong, a concern linked actually to deeply
hidden fears about ultimate rewards or punishments. The experience of separateness
is still not lost enough to allow the understanding that, at the depth of mystical
understanding, simple right and wrong (and thus rewards and
punishments) are no longer really at play since Love itself has become the arbiter.
From Trans-Traditional Spirituality to
As people develop in Trans-traditional experience, they begin to understand that
there is a common and deep shared knowing at the deepest core of all religious
experience. This experience-- of a deeper holistic spirituality,
interconnectedness, unconditional love and
non-separation-- becomes the basis of Truth, not the mental concern about
which religious narrative, story, interpretation, speculation, prophecy, practice, method,
leader, Messiah etc. is ultimately right. This is
Interspirituality, a great step into the freedom that grows into Awakening.
Thus, Interspiritualitys assumption about the
phenomenon of religions in our world is different than either Interfaith or the
Trans-traditional experience. Interspirituality steps back into a deeper, more
profound, viewpoint. It sees the entire religious experience of our species as
one experience which has simply been unfolding through many lines and branches.
These are, together, one unfolding experience moving toward an
eventual culmination-- as what the spirituality of our species will be at its highest and
most complete point of evolution.
Thus, Interspirituality is actually about the common experience
within all spirituality. It acknowledges both a shared origin
and process and a shared maturing experiencegenerally known as
the Awakening process. In true Awakening, a human being
actually loses the sense of separation and becomes aware, instead, of a profound
interconnection and continuum among all things-- and all that this implies. Thus,
for Interspirituality, this common experience is (in a sense) the
Consequently, in practice there is a sense in which, for Interspirituality, history
is irrelevant. Interspiritualitys primary experience is about what is
right here, right now. This is why
it is so profoundly connected to the Awakening process.
Yet, because we also live in a manifest three
dimensional world, there is a history of religions characterized by varied
points of view and even outright conflict. Accordingly,
a secondary aspect of Interspirituality involves healing these apparent differences
through dialogue, sharing, and especially co-experiencing.
This matter of primary and secondary is something Brother
Wayne never published, but something he spoke about with his friends in the year before
his transition in 2004. The
secondary here does not mean lesser in importance;
it was simply called secondary because it is mental-- it comes wholely from the past and
peoples memories of the past.
This rubbing up against each other in
this unfolding of religious experience is a part of what Brother Wayne called the
existential convergence of the worlds religious experiences which is an
inherent part of its ongoing evolution toward ultimate emergence in deeper Consciousness and Heart.
From Interspirituality to Awakening-- and the
Movement Toward World Transformation:
There would appear to be only small steps between the description of true, mature,
Interspirituality and Awakening. However, there is much subtlety, even mystery, in
the difference between these two words.
Perhaps the greatest distinction between
Interspirituality and Awakening is the degree to which Interspirituality (if understood
only mentally, even if profoundly) differs from what is involved in truly living it
as experience in all aspects of Being. The latter is true
Awakening. The distinction is real
because different kinds of phenomena occur or
arise at different levels of Awareness. As a
result, it is quite impossible for persons to communicate precisely about phenomena they
have not mutually experienced. This itself is
a major challenge to the collective Awakening process for our species.
Fortunately, true Awakening, with embodiment of all
its aspects, is a stepwise and ongoing (in fact most likely never-ending) process. Generally, the manifestations of true Awakening
will be seen in (among other characteristics) extraordinary love and kindness, although at
this stage of evolution there are still persons
of major clarity who may not yet manifest a full complement of those fruits. In view of that, perhaps we can have some
patience with the phenomenon that some will, with complete empathy, recognize a difference
in depth of experience (distinguishing Awakening) while others will interpret
that same recognition as a condescension. This
impasse about Awakening right now seems to be part of the evolving process.
There is a deepening understanding today of the
difference between visiting clear states of awakenedness (or
unitive consciousness, to use Brother Waynes term) and the living out of
these fully as permanent traits (or, to use other terms, as more permanent
structures or platforms).
The latter would imply Transcendent Truth fully embodied in all aspects of the
manifest, three-dimensional world. Moving Awakening into all of these aspects
of existence is precisely the challenge of our time it seems, and one that involves a maturing
In many ways, it is generally acknowledged that this
mystery, and its attendant challenge, define much of the threshold our species
has reached today. Not only is the awakened
experience trying to emerge worldwide, it is simultaneously trying to emerge at the
individual level of being as well as in the shared (or collective) We of the
wider human interpersonal community. And, if
this is true, it will also evolve further from the interpersonal We to the
embrace the very complicated and complex dimensions of our institutional and social
systems, or (as Brother Wayne said in The Mystic
Heart) to change the very structures of the world in which we live.
This is why, at One Spirit (www.onespiritinterfaith.org) and other
places I teach (www.isdna.org), along with this entire
journey from Interfaith to Awakening we emphasize inherent connection to, and full
engagement with, the manifest, three-dimensional, world of form. Formlessness and form, Heart and structure, were
never two to begin with. This maturing realization is driving the world
transformation movement so closely linked with the phenomenon of Awakening. A major result of this linkage at One Spirit
and ISDnA is our simultaneous emphasis on examining emerging, and profoundly skillful,
models for our worlds future (as in the vision and work of such writers as Don Beck,
Ken Wilber, Willis Harman, Eckhart
Tolle, Paul Ray, Paul Hawken and many others).
Why (and How) we Teach Wayne
Teasdale and Ken Wilber together at One Spirit.
by an ISD Co-founder, based on my
conversations with Bro. Wayne
of you reading here have probably watched the videos of Wayne Teasdale and Ken Wilber at
YouTube. This particular discussion was one of the last public appearances by Bro.
Wayne. He was very ill at the time and his
friends urged him not to tire himself with this trip in Colorado. But he insisted.
There were a number of threads
that Wayne was tying together in the last months before he was eventually too ill to
travel and essentially "homebound" with friends and caregivers in Chicago. Along with his professional caregivers, Gorakh
Hayashi, Russill and Asha Paul, Martha Foster, among others, were able to spend
significant times with him during those last months. In
those last months, after our InterSpiritual Dialogue program together at the Parliament of
World Religions (for which Wayne was too ill to attend) I basically received short notes
from him, or messages passed on through Martha Foster (or sometimes alsofrom Gorakh
Hayashi), noting Waynes regrets that either he was too ill and neglecting the
association in New York or that he must concentrate on tying up [his]
Waynes last individually
authored book , which he was working ambitiously to complete even in failing health, was Bede
Griffiths: An Introduction to his
Interspiritual Thought. The text of this
book had been his doctoral dissertation in Theology at Fordham University. Wayne noted that although he desired to rewrite the
text for a wider audience (as written, the dissertation was aimed at his doctoral
committee, who were mostly Christian theologians) he was too ill to do so. He said he would have to settle for making sure the
book was publishedso that a long important thread of Hindu/Christian intermystical
dialogue would not be lost. Look at the Photo Archive of interspiritual pioneers here at the
InterSpiritual Multiplex, in the row beneath Wayne and Bedes photos, and youll
see the important Jesuits and Benedictines who preceded Bede and Wayne in straddling
eastern and western awakening while living in India. This is the lineage that eventually led
to the founding of Shantivanum ashram there. Among
others, Russill and Asha Paul, Andrew Harvey, and Wayne were a part of that community,
although not always there at the same time.
I mention this regarding the
linkage of Bro. Waynes vision and the Integral work of Ken Wilber for two reasons. First, youll note that Bro. Wayne did not
begin mentioning the work of Ken Wilber until the later years of his published writing. He invited Ken Wilber to write the Foreword to A
Monk in the World although he mentioned "integral" only in a generic sense
within that book. More substantial mention of the integral map itself came in the Bede Griffiths book, his last (other than the
co-edited anthology with Martha Howard, dated July 2004). As I have said, completion
of his last two, singularly authored, books occurred within a narrow time frame because
his progressing ill health. But the mentions in these two last books reflected
Waynes emerging vision about the importance of the Integral map. That was also why Wayne wanted to honor the chance
to have the video chats with Ken Wilber toward the end.
As many know, when Wayne came
to New York we often went to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and sat to chat or, if it was
winter, because I was an officer of The Ethical Society we could go to its meeting house
(which is across the street from the park). Often
we chatted for many hours because Wayne was very concerned with the questions about praxis
voiced by the readers of The Mystic Heart. And,
he had thrown in his lot with this group in New York City, associated with the
UN non-governmental agency community, from which he hoped his envisioned interspiritual
association might emerge (this was InterSpiritual Dialogue, the precursor of
ISDnA) and, eventually, his Universal Order of Sannyasa (p. 248-250 of The Mystic Heart) eventually founded in 2010. The association had been
incorporated in 2002 (to fulfill requirements of the UN Department of Public Information)
through a group of New York residents as incorporators and Wayne, an Illinois resident, as
Wayne only began to talk about
Ken Wilber (at least to me) in the last two years of his life, consistent with the date of
Wilber's Foreword to Wayne's A Monk in the World. That book's issue date is
May 2002 in hardback (October 2003 in paperback, the last time Wayne was well enough to
visit me in New York City). He had been busy shepherding the Bede Griffiths book through publication during his
first instance of cancer (that book's revised edition is dated May 2003) and his
compilation of the short Interspiritual biographies (co-edited with Martha Howard) is
dated July 2004. By this last date he was very ill again.
Much of the connection of Bro.
Wayne to Integral was in reaction to the most common response that Wayne had received from
the public after the success of his book, The Mystic
Heart: that is, great book but now how do we
accomplish this vision?.
Wayne seemed to share very
different kinds of conversations among his varied friends.
At the Tribute Event to Wayne, after his transition, it was apparent that,
for some, Waynes basic topics of conversation included personal or spiritual things. However, with others, and particularly the group in
New York (which Wayne referred to as the association), it was more about
businesshis vision and what he hoped could come of that. Some of this had emerged because of a conversation
Wayne had had with Lama Surya Das (that relationship flowing from Waynes close
friendship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama), who had visited Wayne in Chicago to chat
about the InterSpiritual Dialogue vision after it was formed in 2002.
Wayne had often told me that
one of his (Waynes) concerns was the he was not an organizer. But as Lama Surya Das had told him at that
meeting, and the three of us had discussed before, all I had done for 25 years (first in
the Christian religious life and later the corporate world) was work as an administrator. Of course, I was a research scientist too (with my
PhD in that and working at the American Museum of Natural History) but basically I made my
living in administration. In fact, Lama Surya
Das and I had met, back then, when he and I were part of organizing a big charity event
for the Cambodian holocaust in New York City. So
when Wayne wanted to talk about the structures and institutions he wanted to
see emerge to support the interspiritual vision (p.
248 of The Mystic Heart) that dominated much of our conversations. And, one of the first things we had set our
taskings to was the program that InterSpiritual Dialogue planned to do with him in
Barcelona in 2004. By then time was
already running out for Wayne. Although he
says at the end of his Bede Griffiths book that
he was celebrating his cancer being in remission, that remission was short-lived.
This returns us to the
conversation about Ken Wilber and Integral theory because it seems to be a simple fact, to
which many in the awakened consciousness arena will attest, that awakened
awareness recognizes the Integral Map as darn close to its natural language. So, similarly, it is no surprise that the more
Wayne became familiar with Integral (and that was not an easy task given what had been
written about Integral spirituality in 1999-2000 compared to now [Integral
Spirituality was published in 2006 significantly after Waynes transition]) the
more Wayne started to also recognize the skillfulness that the Integral vision had for the
Gorakh Hayashi and I point out in our retrospect on Bro. Waynes vision in Vision in Action (see link directly below this
article) there is another profound natural synchronicity between Wayne and
Wilber. Wayne wrote in an inspirational
styleso inspirational, in fact, that often the structure of his thinking and vision
ends up hidden within all the stuff that is moving in the heart of the reader. Meantime, Wilbers work in high on structure,
high on comprehensiveness, but some find it less spiritually inspiring or a
tough go intellectually. So, we
have one voice (Waynes) being profoundly about the spiritual intention and
transformative mission inherent in mature spirituality, while the other voice
(Wilbers) gets down to profound skill sets on how to get it done. As I said above, it is not that all of this could
flow together quickly. Wayne begin talking to
me about Wilber in 2003-2004 and I have no personal contact with Wilber until 2006 (and at
which time I myself had not had the time to sufficiently immerse myself in
Integralthat only came later when I could retire from science and
business three years ago). But obviously there
is profound synchronicity between Waynes prophetic voice from the Formless dimension
and Wilbers comprehensive skill maps for the dimension of Form. The syncronicity is there for everyone to see (and
it is clearly there in the quadrant map of Integral, and that is only the
tip of the iceberg).
So, this is why we began
teaching Wayne and Wilber together at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary and
Learning Alliance three years ago and now continue to build more comprehensive
relationships between the Wayne (ISDnA and others) communities and the many gifted
teachers emerging today in the Integral world. When
Michael Pergola, Loch Kelly, and I began the program in Integral Spirituality at One
Spirit Spirit we simply used Waynes vision to set up the Diagnosis of
the planets ills (the whole story about separation, disjunction and
dysfunction among all the realms of discourse and action in the world) and the Integral
Prescription that might get it right (to get it re-balanced integrally). Anyone who reads Integral Spirituality (2006)
will see a profound navigation of these two worlds what has gone wrong in the world
of form due to lack of congruence with the high consciousness/ formless and how we might
get it rebalanced and re-integrated. So, as we
say at One Spirit, we use Wayne to set up the problem (and this
moves people in the heart) and Wilber to project a solution (and
this gives people satisfaction in the realm of head and hands).
That being said, there are many ways that this congruency is skillfully weaved
but this is the basic historical reason for the synchronicity and why I report it here. Bro. Waynes early interest in Integral
(although he had very little time to explore it in any depth before he was too ill to
continue his work life) was consistent with his trying authentically to respond to the
many questions about his vision in The Mystic
Heart. To put it simply, by 2002 he was
also having to ask how?. And, on
this we had many significant discussions, the last of which, in person, was during his
final trip to New York City at the time we were planning the program for the Parliament of
the Worlds Religions. That was October
of 2003 when, as Gorakh Hayashi and I reported in our Vision in Action article, Wayne shared his
Omega vision with us. There is much more to say about all this.
Hayashi and Johnson at Vision
"A human being is part of the
whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves,
our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion
of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal
desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free
ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living
creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is
determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the
self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to
(Albert Einstein, 1954)
is not limited to any one religion or philosophy.
If anything, awakening is discovered to be of the Human Being
lineage that we all share. It is
equally available to each of us, as each of us, connecting each of us. In a simple sense, awakening begins with a shift of
awareness. If it is here now then why does it
seem so elusive? If it is closer than our own
breath then why is it so hard to access? We
have missed it primarily because it is not a thing. Awakening is the shift into the direct
experience of a reality that had been obscured by a kind of ignorance or delusion. The ignorance turns out to be a habit of perceiving
through our dualistic mind in a way that creates an ego identity that feels separate,
solid and really real. When we wake up to this
we realize that the optical delusion of consciousness, as Einstein called; it
is simply a case of mistaken identity. The
other reason we have missed it is that the one we take ourselves to be, the one who is
seeking awakening, is itself an obstacle.
The word awakening is used
because many who have experienced this shift have tried to describe it to others by saying
the experience is similar to awakening from a dream which seemed real only to realize it
was not the whole of reality.
More and more people are waking
up these days. When we are seeing and knowing through reflective thinking we are always
viewing reality as an image or a story and at least a half second out of the now. Ego Identity is not the real identity, it is a
temporary state and stage which can be grown beyond.
Awakening is different than a
mystical or spiritual experience. What we call
a spiritual experience is the highest experience of an ego identity. I am one with the universe. What we are wakes up from the seeker and
feels life from a more inclusive perspective rather than one small point of view of the
mental emotional constellation. No person is
enlightened. Enlightenment is enlightened. The awareness realizes this and includes us. It's not about the ego identity having a more
pleasurable experience. Always awakeness
always unfolding. There is a paradoxical
nature which is one of the reasons it is called non-dual.
Everything that is happening is an appearance of the same thing. That thing that is the most important thing is not
a thing. The root word svi is the
invisible life force in a seed that makes it grow into a tree. Full awakening is a shift of the perceiver so that
the old center has been shifted out of. The
seer becomes the seen. This is easier. This is not esoteric.
This becomes the new normal. This
is why awakening is called ordinary mind.
When you awaken, you awaken
from the point of view that was called "you".
This limited, isolated, aperture on a camera lens cannot close down completely but
can go into the larger background where some dimension of being is discovered, uncovered,
recognized and realized to be who I am.
What most of us have
tried to do in order to relieve suffering and find happiness is to get rid of or control
negative thoughts and feelings and increase positive thoughts and feelings. The
approach of awakening is radical because its not about what thoughts and feelings
are arising. Its about who or what thoughts are arising to.
We start by finding the
awareness that has been hidden in the background and recognizing that it is also in the
foreground. It means finding that which is already free, awake, and connected, whether our
thoughts are positive or negative. There is a
shift of knowing and of Identity, discovery of an awareness that is prior to thought and
awake. This awake awareness is the root of our
identity which is a shift from looking for identity through thought or roles in the world. Indian scholars and mediators identified four
natural states of consciousness: sleep, dream, everyday consciousness, and awake
awareness. We in the west recognize only the
first three, so to us awake awareness may be a new distinction. This fourth state of
consciousness suggests being awake and aware without being identified with everyday
consciousness, or with sleep, or dream.
In ancient wisdom traditions
the term awakening is used because the experience resembles waking up from a dream. In a
dream we believe that what is happening is real. When we wake up another dimension of
conscious becomes primary and from there we can see: Oh, that was only a
Waking up from a dream,
the dream world is seen as only a part of reality and the perspective when we were
identified with the dream character is now seen to be limited. Waking up from everyday consciousness, the external
world remains externally the same, but our identity changes to a similar degree as it did
from dream to everyday consciousness. We wake
up from being fully identified with the separate self as an solid ego encased in a limited
to a body mind. The small ego concerns now appear like dream images; the self-centered
obsessions about are no longer central.
When this shift of identity
the waking up happens, it extends to our deepest doubts and fears. The
feelings of Im not good enough, somethings wrong with me, Im
unlovable are no longer convincing. We
may feel as though were coming out of a movie theater after an emotional drama. What
seemed threatening before to the small sense of self is seen to not be a real danger. When we wake up we stop the cycle that generates
suffering through confusion.
Awakening is the shift into the
direct experience of a reality that had been obscured by a kind of ignorance or delusion. The ignorance turns out to be a habit of perceiving
through our dualistic mind in a way that creates an ego identity that feels separate,
solid and really real. When we wake up to this
we realize that the optical delusion of consciousness, as Einstein called, it
is simply a case of mistaken identity.
The word awakening is used
because many who have experienced this shift have tried to describe it to others by saying
the experience is similar to awakening from a dream which seemed real only to realize it
was not the whole of reality. It is a
realization that who I am is not a solid separate thing. And with this comes a
profound new sense of connection and freedom.
is an abiding in this but not a landing in any state.
It is a stateless state and a centerless center. But it is also
ordinary in that there is a feeling of being comfortable with things as they are, and,
just being who I am as a limited human as well part of the living universe.
website: (Chicago Circles, in progress)
A Remembrance of Bro. Wayne
Given by Dr. William (Gorakh) Hayashi
(Professor and colleague of Broth. Wayne at Columbia College, Chicago and a co-founder of
ISDnA) given at the Tribute Event to Brother Wayne Teasdale, The Crossings, Austin, Texas,
December 7-9, 2005
I am so happy and honored to
be here at the Crossings participating in the third annual Common Ground gathering, Common
Ground on Higher Ground focusing on the amazing faith of Texas.
I also feel privileged to be
able to share something of our late friend and brother, Brother Wayne Teasdales' vision of
the "interspiritual age," a vision of hope in these "the best of times, the
worst of times." I was really delighted to receive a copy of that remarkable book, The Amazing Faith of Texas, from Joyce and Ken. I
was deeply moved by it, particularly by the personal stories of faith, of Spirit, from so
many traditions, and also by the photographs which reveal so clearly the Light of God
within the faces and bodies of its narrators.
This inspired me to flesh my
comments this morning in the form of stories also, both of Wayne and myself, and to
discover in what ways these stories could be seen as signs, images holding deeper worlds
of integrated meaning and feeling, like the eyes of those Texas seekers within the book
communicating truths far beyond the conscious mind.
In Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare uses the phrase,
"There you touched the life of the design." I hope my stories and images will
point to essentials, evoke universal and archetypal patterns and truths, even as do the
shining eyes of Texas' amazing faith.
I found as I let my thoughts
and feelings pour out in this way, I spontaneously created a for me new prose-form,
something like "spoken word," music without strict meter, poetry with freer
perimeters. And because the wording is precise and consecutive, I'm going to indulge
myself in reading them, Although I am doing so from deep inside my inmost Heart.
I'd like to begin with a
story of being welcomed by the Southwest. Some weeks ago, I attended a conference on Sound
and Healing in Santa Fe. I flew from Chicago to Denver and took a connecting flight from Denver
to Santa Fe. I hadn't realized this would involve a tiny two-seater, quite exposed and
vunerable in its non-jet/old propeller status. To distract myself during the short flight,
I took out Amazing Faith and zoomed in
hard. I soon lost myself in the stories and in the images. At one point, glancing up and
out the window, I was greeted by the most splendiferous of sunsets- deep golds and roses
and purple violets- it was radiant with glory and I was truly transfixed. I couldn't take
my eyes away and it continued to bestow blessings until we landed in Santa Fe. In some
deep way, I knew I was being welcomed to and by the Southwest.
Later I realized this
welcome involved your native peoples, their deep sacred legacy of Spirit and Heart; it
involved the vastness, openness of the land and sky themselves; it involved the stark
truth of things simply being what they are. It radiated Spirit, that which is most alive,
most inspired, what cuts closest to the core in people, land, history, and time. And I
knew again why Wayne always said that Spirit goes far beyond men, women, children,
involving all sentient beings, all elements of nature, the earth, the stars, the planets,
other universes, galaxies, departed beings, angels, deities, infinite realities beyond the
I know Wayne would have
loved The Amazing Faith of Texas, and he
would have wanted sequels; The Amazing Faith of Illinois, of New York, Europe, China, of
Earth, the Milky Way, the infinite All-Pervasive. And he would have wanted to include
photographs of artists and politicians and educators and scientists, of animals and plants
and rock formations, and he would have tried to get illustrations of aliens and
extra-terrestrials whom he was convinced were doing their part in the evolution of our
Thus, inspired by Roy
Spence's wonderful book, I grasped at a whole other level what Wayne might have intended
by the Interspiritual Age, what he might have included as vital and intimate, akin and
aligned, one with the Totality, one with each of us, in Spirit and in Adoration.
Way of the Mystic
I'd like to organize my
comments this morning around three aspects of Wayne's vision, Wayne as mystic, as
contemplative and as prophet, almost Biblical in their implications.
First, Wayne as mystic. A
mystic is one who sees "into the Heart of things," who seeks the unity of all
life, who lives as the One holding the many. Wayne himself described a mystic as "any
individual with a direct experience and awareness of the absolute, the divine, or
boundless consciousness." For Wayne, the common ground of it all is Consciousness,
the great Light of Awareness. There is always subject and always object, yet without
subject, who or what would perceive object? When it's dark at night and our eyes are
closed, what's the source of the Light that illumines our dreams? And when we sleep like a
log or a rock throughout the night, who or what recognizes that we didn't move one little
iota? What's the difference between our thoughts, our brains and our Consciousness? Who or
what is the Knower, who remaining ever still and unmoving yet grounds, differentiate and
connects our ever changing emotions, cognitions, perceptions? What is taking in these
words, these ideas, these images right now inside our many different heads, our varied
histories, and somehow weaving a collective consensus of understanding?
This is the original Mystic,
joining us together in awareness of Awareness. This is what the quantum physicists mean by
the Ultimate Observer. And for Wayne, this is the ground of all Being, the ever present
Source of the One in the many, fully Sensate-Awareness ever pulsating as vibrating,
cognizing Substance, multi-leveled frequencies of information, Consciousness and, above
For Wayne, it particularly
mattered that we apprehend this apparent many as the essential One in religious and
spiritual institutions and practices, the storehouse of the world's sacred treasures, the
perennial wisdom, the lifeline of Spirit. Like blind men in narcissistic isolation
mistaking the trunk, the tail, the legs and the tusks of an elephant for different and
separate animals, we need to stop indulging our solipsistic proclivities and instead
apprehend the underlying gestalt, the one inclusive integral Body bonding all faith
traditions, all individual spiritual seekers, into one quantum field of all-pervasive,
ever-changing, Super-Elephantine Consciousness.
And now for a personal
story. For Wayne, who lived much of his life as a mystic, there was still some resistance
to the complete embrace of non-dual Reality when it came to his own physical demise. He
had so many books still to write, so much work yet to do. He wasn't quite ready to leave
it all and merge into common ground. He held on to the hopes of western medicine,
submitted to intense chemo therapy for his cancer. After one particularly excruciating
session, we meditated together in his hospital room. Sometimes the meditations (and the
medications) worked, sometimes they didn't.
This time he went deep and
awoke with a puzzled look on his face. "Bill, I think I've had a vision. I saw myself
in a mountain monastery in Tibet. I was wearing the robes of a Buddhist monk. Somehow I
got too close to the edge, and suddenly, found myself catapulting downwards. At first I
was afraid and fought the fall, but then I grew quiet and just let go. When I hit the
bottom everything was fine. What do you think it means, Bill?"
I paused and listened deep
"Well, Wayne, I think
it means that you've done so much great work for the Lord, that when it's time for you to
go, Hell catch and hold you in His embrace."
When I left, Wayne was
inward and still. Somehow in this meditation and vision, our brother had gone beyond the
dualistic and resistant mind and grasped again the fundamental unity of all things. He
knew himself as both a Buddhist monk and a Catholic priest. He felt the interconnectedness
of life and death. He lived the co-simultaneity of past, present and future. And some days
later when they found him, his Spirit departed, with a smile on his face and Light pouring
into the room, We all knew he had returned to that unity. His Lord had gently come, caught
and carried him back to where he belonged.
For Wayne, we embrace our
mystical core. Through following the path of the Heart. For the mind, everything is
binary, this or that, true or false. The Heart, however, can contain opposites, welcomes
paradox. We can be ready to kill those whom we most love.
During one of our last
visits together, I asked Wayne whether he had any yet unrecorded teachings he wanted to
share with others. He paused, reflected and wrote down two. The first was this: "The
Divine is infinite sensitivity." "The Divine is infinite sensitivity."
Sensitivity is a quality of the Heart not the head. It feels, intuits, apprehends; it does
not analyze, dissect, figure out. It takes in, receives with wonder, gratitude,
appreciation and wants to co-create. It does not broadcast, control, judge, and need to
Wayne says, "It is a quality refined only in
the mystic heart, in the steady cultivation of compassion and love that risks all for the
sake of others." It is both a feeling and a discerning. It is a never-ending
wellspring of responsiveness, support, and blessings. To develop sensitivity would be to
bring awareness into the cave of the Heart and to empathize, resonate, feel at One with
all life, all vibratory frequencies, all unique and wonderful expressions of Spirit. It
would share in the unfathomable generosity of Christ: "Father, forgive them, they
know not what they do," And the supreme offering of Self: "Take, eat, this is my
body broken for you." It would mean to be infinitely responsive to the fall of a
single rose petal and to the footfalls of each and every ant. It is through the
cultivation of such a Heart that one becomes a Mystic, that one can, indeed, own the
Mystic Heart. Only then will we be able to look into the mystery of all things and
discover there a holy mirror reflecting back to us our own face beaming out in infinite
beauty, wisdom and blessedness.
There was so many times when
I would see and hear this sensitivity in Wayne. Whenever he would call our home and leave
a message on the answering machine, he would always say, "And many blessings to all
the Hayashi's including Precious (our
poodle-terrier mix), the other sentient member of that wonderful household." I knew
he was reminding me to never forget the delicate sensitivity of Precious' loyal, sometimes
disobedient, especially when hungry, often times needy soul.
I would also see this
sensitivity in Wayne's kind and respectful treatment of street people. He would always
know them by name, always pause, conversate, authentically engage, and then move on with a
smile. He would never ever condescend, never patronize. I remember being in his apartment
one day deep into a conversation on Spinoza and transcendent substance. The buzzer rang
and it was James, one of the street folk Wayne often invited into his home. He said,
"James, I'm with a friend now and we're having a heavy conversation. Come back in an
hour and we can talk then, brother." Limit-respecting love, but always with such
grace, such discerning sensitivity.
And lest we be deterred from
our own embrace of such clarity and refinement, feeling ourselves too small, too worldly,
too unprepared to put on the mystic's robes, let us hear Wayne's gentle words of counsel
don't need to enter monasteries to become mystics or to cultivate our spirituality: We are
all mystics! The mystic heart is the deepest part of who or what we really are. We need
only to realize and activate that essential part of our being." (p.12, M.H.)
For Wayne then, we just need
to relax, let go into our natural state, simply rest in what is most common and most
fundamental in us all. And then, behold, we become living Grace in its infinite variety!
Way of the Contemplative
The second dimension of
Wayne's vision of the mystic path is the way of the contemplative. Often, as Wayne
indicates, we don't need to leave the world and retire behind cloistered walls to engage
in contemplation. We simply need to shift the center of our focus from outside to inside,
from the world without to our hearts within.
We need to begin addressing
such questions as, "Who am I really? Why was I born? Where am I going? What is my
life purpose? How truly am I honoring it?" Wayne very much loved the writings of
Saint Teresa of Avila. He was particularly fond of her "Interior Castle" and the
image she uses to describe the human condition. Teresa metaphors the human body as a
castle. She says within this castle there are many corridors, many rooms. At the very
center of this castle, there is a chamber filled with silence. Most people, however, have
not ventured very far into the interiors. Most of us live on the parapets of the castle,
walking round and round always looking outwards: diversions, opportunities, dangers,
entertainments Occasionally we have a life crisis, start a little therapy, begin to
explore some of the outermost passages and rooms.
But very soon we become
distracted, an argument, a problem, a desire, and quickly we rush outside again to see and
engage. And Teresa says this is very sad, for if we but ventured into that innermost
chamber, if we would but enter and pause, we would find in its stillness and sweetness all
that we seeking so desperately on the outside.
And for Wayne, this is why
we contemplate, why we meditate, why we take some time each day to come back to ourselves,
re-connect with our inwardness. For Wayne, to do this we must engage in daily spiritual
practices, whatever those may be. As an intellectual, he understood full well the dangers
of mental diversions and substitutes, why he encouraged hard core practice.
As the Zen proverb asserts:
"A point of practice is a worth a ton of theory."
Or as my teachers say,
"Meditation. Do it. Contemplation. Do it."
Of necessity, these
practices must involve the body, must incorporate and awaken the Heart as well as the
mind. We need to feel, know and enjoy through all our bodies, physical, mental, emotional
and spiritual. For Wayne, it was particularly effective to share practices with others,
either in one's own tradition and thus create a collectively enhanced energy field, or
across traditions, interspiritually, to learn from and co-create a more diverse, rich and
novel container of Bliss. For Wayne, champion of the Heart, practices shared in community,
particularly diverse community, were simply "the best thing since sliced bread."
He ever emphasized the importance of friendship, of encountering the full being of another
with your own inner and outer totality.
We need to stand before one
another in our wholeness and realness, offering to and greeting each other through out
naked authenticity. He felt that institutions could preserve order and traditions but that
friendship and intimacy created and bonded families of Spirit. He knew that shared
practice was the fastest and most direct way to that collective feast.
This is why he so often
encouraged interspiritual projects and pilgrimages. When people travel and work together,
they share hearts, minds, bodies and souls; they come to know each other in their fullness
and complexity, discovering unexpected beauties and greatness even in the midst of hidden
shadows and fears. We gratify the longing to be known and accepted not as stranger, not as
associate, but as sister, brother, friend and Beloved.
My wife and I teach a course
together at Columbia College Chicago called Spirituality and Empowerment. We share
practices and rituals together with our Gen Y students. We begin each class with a
round-robin discussion of a time during the week when we each experienced Spirit in our
own way. The responses are often surprising and usually filled with power.
Taking an hour long shower,
relishing each minute of it, noticing the snow falling in the park across the street,
really, truly listening to a friend in need, discovering miraculously that Spirit can come
alive though taking in the Eucharist through new eyes.
Each week different students
present a personal altar, choosing 4 cherished objects to represent 4 different passions
which inspire and uplift them. They also select an object from nature, a light source, and
a sacred cloth to hold and honor their sacred symbols and passions. We've had Puerto Rican
flags, thread-worn baby blankets, much handled stuffies, candles, strobes and camping
lanterns as light source, shells, sand, leaves, grass and countless flowers from nature ,
engagement rings, photos of family and friends, favorite books, films, dvds and video
games, along with the occasional White Sox cap that grandpa, now deceased, would always
wear to the season opener. And everyone writes a note of gratitude honoring one thing they
particularly liked from the altar to be hand-delivered to the presenter like a personal
valentine. My wife then guides the students in a half hour of hatha yoga.
They moan, groan, bitch,
sweat, and do it.
And after sun salutation,
warrior I & II, mountain, cobra, downward facing dog, they lie down for 5 minutes in
shavasana or corpse posture, their minds and bodies really still for the first time in
decades, allowing themselves to simply rest in Being and Silence, they usually don't want
to get up but instead stay forever in that peace that passeth all understanding. And they
realize, sometimes for the first time ever, that there is whole other way besides constant
doing, technological efficiency and digital fragmentation to be and to live, and that
something deep inside themselves already knows this, indeed, hungers for it. And then we
usually don't have to work all that hard to introduce meditation,get them to consider the
In the first half of the
semester we explore teachings and practices from different world faith traditions:
Hinduism, Lao Tsu, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sufism and Krishnamurti. Kiyomi and I
choose these texts and guide the discussions and experiences. The second half, however,
the students choose their "sacred texts" and share them with all of us. These
have to be short, xeroxable and have touched their hearts in some deep way. We get some
scenes from films, an occasional poem, a piece of philosophy but generally and most often,
lyrics from songs that have changed their lives. They type out the lyrics for all of us to
follow, play the songs and offer up personal commentary. And this is where we have
recognized the deep wisdom in Wayne's suggestion to exchange practices.
It is in their music that
Spirit most comes alive for these young people. Their songs are truly their scriptures.
Their music is the heartbeat of their souls. It was the words and beat of a Dream Theater
Heavy Metal song that kept one Girl, Stacy, alive during really hard times. She says she
played it over and over again for three months straight.
Another boy, infinitely
sensitive, plays us a folk melody about when kids are young and innocent and see the
wonder and light in it all, and how they find a bird dead from flying too hard into a
window and how they bury it together with a popsicle stick cross and made-up prayers, and
then they go to school and learn to play the kid games of rejection, bruises and picked
last, and growing up, they find it's the same old kid games only tougher and harder, and
to stay intact and true, they have to find ways to believe in something, even if its just
writing your names with a friend in hardening concrete, to hold onto something permanent
and lasting and good. And then Frank, dear, dear Frank, tells us his own story of how he
gathered his friends together in his basement and played this song for them and made them
listen to it over and over again, and how they all got inspired and jammed together and
co-created some music that he wanted to share with us all, and then he told how in the
midst of it, one of the guys got inspired to hold the mike outside the basement window and
that's why we would hear birds singing in the background, and that maybe, just maybe it
was still "all good."
In retrospect, we realized
this young man had created his own community ritual in that basement and was sharing it
with us in our classroom right here, right now, and that we had all entered into, become
part of his "sacred space," the classroom transformed into "virtual
Another girl, Mindy, reads a
poem she wrote about what her music is for her and for her friends. She named it
"There's a song:"
That you hear, and what I like to say is that it hits you like a ton of bricks.
That you're hearing for the first time or the thousandth time but either way it's the
You're really listening. And the lyrics are the words you never could get out.
And the music is the sound your synapses make when they release endorphins. Or adrenaline.
And the vocals are like angel's wings. The chorus feels like home.
And the sounds reach in and take your heart in their hands and everything is slow motion
and you can't breathe. It's all a little too real right now and you weren't prepared for
And you cry.
And you hit repeat. And it's the only song you listen to for days and days because you
cannot imagine what life was like before you knew someone else knew.
And you're not alone for once. This is the theme song to your moment. This moment.
And you get a little scared that maybe, just maybe, this is what God is like."
Then there was the Christian
rock song that Lauren played when her grandpa died, the only person who had ever given her
unconditional love, and how she too had pushed the replay button and did so over and over
again. It started out soft and gentle, a little bitter-sweet, but then got louder and
stronger and started to shriek and wail like heavy metal and I couldn't hear and
understand the words any more but only feel, just feel, and I let myself do that, fall
into it, get off on it; and when it was done and everything was quiet, I felt totally
spent, released and alive.
Another student, Elisha,
gave feedback. She said she liked the way the song communicated the feelings of the loss,
sad, sweet, deep, but then confused and angry and hurt and frustrated, and that it was
good Lauren could feel all her feelings and get them all out; and I understood for the
first time ever why this music is so hard, so loud, so in your face; it's the only way
this generation can express their pain, their outrage, their frustration, their hope.
And again I thanked Wayne
for his wisdom in suggesting we exchange practices across traditions, indeed, across
generations. It's the most immediate and direct way to share Spirit, to open to one
another and forge community. It breaks down barriers and lets in understanding, empathy,
love. We discover we are one Heart singing one Song, one Light Body embracing the whole
rich music of humankind. So it is through this path of shared contemplation, through
contemplating, meditating, studying texts, offering service, moving our bodies, chanting
and singing together that we recognize, honor and celebrate our diverse Oneness.
And it is from this space of
compassion, unity and courage that we enter the third and final dimension of Brother
Wayne's vision of the Interspiritual age, the role of prophet and visionary.
Wayne Teasdale was, indeed,
a prophet, a visionary, a radical. He fearlessly challenged and confronted the Catholic
church, indeed, the papacy, for its treatment of Tibet, for its silent condoning of
Chinese imperialism. He stood at the forefront of those criticizing the church for its
provincialism and exclusivity, boldly demonstrating his solidarity with His Holiness, the
Dalai Lama, indeed with all faith traditions in championing Interspiritual dialogue and
action. He left behind the cloistered walls and identified himself as a "monk in the
city." He welcomed as brothers and sisters all sentient beings, all forms of life,
including the impoverished and marginal, all birds and animals, especially endangered
species, all angels, saints, and departed beings of Light, and, most definitely and
passionately, all extra-terrestrials.
Again, for Wayne, the Heart
was of the essence.
Only through the Heart can
we both know and feel what we must say and do.
Only through the Heart can
we apprehend the deepest truths, truths grounded in One Life, One Spirit. The Heart alone
can provide the courage and the motivation to follow through with what we must do and say.
Only the Heart can name the Truth and persevere until it is realized. And the Heart alone
can say and do it in the right way, in the way of love and not anger, cooperation and not
competitiveness, as blessing and not curse.
As my teacher, Swami
Chidvilsananda, puts it, "Leaders must learn the art of diplomacy. Diplomacy is
learning to speak the Truth without using words as a knife and a sword."
Way of the Prophet
Earlier, I mentioned the
first of Wayne's summary teachings: "The Divine is infinite sensitivity." The
second is equally profound: "In God there are infinite possibilities, and the
greatest of these is to will love."
I reflected on these words
for a long time, indeed, continue to do so.
It is one thing to
understand the meaning of words; it is another to "grok" their significance and
put them into practice.
What does it mean "to
will love," why is that so important and so very, very difficult?
I began to think of the
different times I have been angry, hurt, wanting to strike back or simply withdraw,
contemplating just why it is so hard to "will love" in these moments: the driver
who cuts YOU off and gives YOU the finger, the teen-age son who will not stop
text-messaging when you want to speak from the heart with him; the students who never ever
have time to prepare fully and appreciate the texts you want and know can change their
lives- I let each of you fill in the blanks for yourselves.
What does it mean, require,
demand for each of us in such moments to pause, consider, weigh, and choose the path of
Love and not of fear?
Definitely it asks that we
cultivate patience and empathy, deepen our faith in God and man, choose understanding over
blame, have the humility to recognize our Truth and the courage to execute it.
The final story I would like
to share with you this morning is how this final teaching of Brother Wayne made the
ultimate difference in my continuing existence on this planet at this time, in effect, how
it helped me to choose and manifest life.
In a strange set of karmic
circumstances, visiting Wayne daily in his hospital room during his clearly transitional
days, I myself had an intense dizzy spell in my school office. I informed Wayne that I
would not be able to come see him as planned the following day since I needed to go and
see the doctor myself. I had an EKG at the doctor's office, was sent to see a
cardiologist, was informed I needed open heart right away and was scheduled for major
surgery the following day. Ironically I had called Father Thomas Keating, Wayne' spiritual
advisor and mentor, to come to Chicago and offer a mass for him.
I had planned on picking
Thomas up at the airport and taking him to see Wayne on the very day my surgery was
scheduled. I began to somewhat morbidly joke with myself about which one of us, Wayne or
I, would exit our physical bodies first? As I began to reflect and try to pray about all
of this, I realized that it was, indeed, no joke. My mother had died on the operating
table of unsuccessful heart surgery when I was 14 years old.
The night before she died,
she grabbed hold of me and hysterically asked me to pray to my Jesus to save her. Since I
felt very close to Jesus, I asked Him to do me this favor and was quite sure He would
comply. When He let Mommy die on the operating table instead, I felt horribly betrayed and
alone. In that one moment, I lost both my mother and my faith in God. For many days
afterwards, I tried to understand just why this had happened, what could possibly have
gone wrong? Then one day some years later, I read a book called "A Man Called
Peter." In it, Catherine Marshall, wife of Presbyterian minister, Peter Marshall,
shares the story of how when her husband was having a heart attack, she went inside and
found the strength to offer it all up to God. She prayed, "Thy will be done,
Father," and really believed that it was through her willingness and complete faith
in leaving it totally all up to God, that Peter made it through his crisis. Immediately I
knew why my mother had died. I had been selfish, unsurrendered, lacking in faith. If I had
simply been able to turn it over to God and gotten my personal fears, needs and desires
out of the way, my mother would more than likely be alive at that moment. So here I was,
once again, in a real quandary, in a real pickle. Here I was again in a life and death
situation, wanting life, this time for myself and especially my wife and 10 year old son,
but afraid to ask for it for fear of jinxing it, being punished for being selfish and
lacking in humility, surrender and faith. I really didn't know what to do.
As my thoughts fixated on
this issue, I remembered Wayne writing out his second teaching and handing it to me:
"In God there are infinite possibilities, and the greatest of these is to will
love." The greatest of these is to "will love." And I began to ask myself,
what would Love will in this situation. I thought of my wife, so sweet, so pure, and so
unprepared to make a living for our son and herself. I thought of my 10 year old boy, so
much in need of a father and a guide, so sensitive and so vulnerable at his age. I thought
of not being there for his high school graduation, his violin performances, for his
eventual marriage, and my heart exploded in longing and in love. And I knew, absolutely
knew,that it was ok to ask for life, to choose and to will Love. And then I began
prayingdeeply and from the Heart, began asking with clear resolve and absolute faith for
the gift of Life. I stated it as a personal "preference" rather than as a demand
or "fait accompli," "Beloved, I would prefer to be around for a while
particularly for Kiyoshi and Kiyomi." And I somehow knew that God was listening and
responding, somehow I sensed He understood and cared.
One of the things that had
haunted me for days after my mother's death was the image of her going to sleep on the
operating table terrified that she might never wake up, and, indeed, never doing so. One
thing that I clearly intuited was that when I went under the ether, I could not question
my return or be afraid I would be forever lost in the shadow realm. I knew enough of the
"Tibetan Book of the Dead," to realize that this would not be good. And because
of the clarity of my intention, faith in a benevolent Higher Power, and taking the support
of Wayne's teachings solidly to heart, I never even thought about not coming back or
needing to negotiate or even pray in that moment of losing Consciousness. Like Wayne, I
simply let go into Love. And it all worked out perfectly. I recovered immediately and was
back in the classroom within 2 weeks time having just received 5 by-passes. My colleagues
thought it was a "medical miracle;" I knew it was a much deeper one.
So I learned from my own
experience of illness and recovery that to be a prophet, to see and manifest a desire, a
vision, at this time on the planet, we need to enter deeply into our hearts, contemplate
honestly and bravely what it is we really want, what will make us truly happy, all of us,
all others concerned in that decision. If we then ground our clear conviction and
intention in pure Love and absolute Faith and send it out into the universe without
expectations, worries or questions, completely letting it go, like a butterfly into the
sky, it will manifest in some form, sometimes different, always greater than any we might
This is the secret of being
a prophet and manifestor in this the Interspiritual age.
In closing, let us hear the
words of our friend and mentor, Brother Wayne Teasdale, words he uses to conclude his
seminal text, The Mystic Heart:
finally, is awareness and sensitivity, and sensitivity is itself awareness-in action. It
is this quality that we most require in our time and in the ages to come, but it is a
quality refined only in the mystic heart, in the steady cultivation of compassion and love
that risks all for the sake of others. It is these resources that we desperately need as
we build the civilization with a heart, a universal society capable of embracing all that
is, putting it to service in the transformation of the world. May the mystics lead the way
to this rebirth of the human community that will harmonize itself with the cosmos and
finally make peace with all things." (M.H., p 249-50)
And so it is. World without
[we apologize for minor
formating problems in this piece; it was received in a computer template that did not
allow complete re-formatting to the Multiplex styles]
Women, Wisdom & Dreams
The light of the
I can see as clear as daylight
that the hour is coming when women will lead humanity to a higher evolution. Hazrat Inayat Khan, 20th
century Sufi mystic
During a difficult time of my
life, I had only my dreams to guide me. As I began to understand them, I saw how the shift
in consciousness that the dreams brought me became reflected in changes in the
circumstances of my life. These personal dreams were followed by more universal dreams,
showing how women can give birth to a sacred quality of being that heals and transforms
I am told that war is everywhere.
And, that an antidote is found within women. I then see a vibrant, healing green stream
that runs through women from head to toe. I am told that women need to find this stream
and recognize it in themselves, so that it can flow out into life.
From these dreams and from my own
life and work, I came to realize the power that
lies hidden in women, a power that is often released when an experience such as a dream, a
loss, or a shock, opens her to a new dimension of consciousness. If heeded and tended to
with love, this opening awakens her feminine nature.
The work I have done for 20 years
has allowed me to listen to womens dreams while conducting retreats, womens
circles and gatherings, and collaborating with women from diverse spiritual and religious
traditions. Over time, this work was tested in the field of womens lives. But it
wasnt until I had worked with women who had lived through the wrath of Hurricane
Katrina, that I realized that this model of healing and change was effective even in the
midst of devastation.
I was scheduled to give a
retreat in Baton Rouge a few days after Hurricane Katrina. I thought the retreat was going
to be canceled, but I was asked to come anyway. I stood in the room there feeling somewhat
helpless in the face of the catastrophic conditions this group of women, some from New
Orleans, now faced. What could I offer to them?
I realized that I could share the
dreams that I had gathered from women around the world. These dreams offered potent images
that spoke of a deeper reality connecting women as one. At the end of the day when the
women were asked what they received from our time together, a response of hope echoed
around the room.
A year later, when I returned to Baton
Rouge to give another retreat, a woman spoke about her experience as a lactation nurse
when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. Towards the end of the retreat, after listening to
the dreams of other women, a new clarity broke through the beliefs that had confined her
I was in the womens
hospital during Katrina. Overhead I could hear the sound of helicopters transporting
babies from a hospital in New Orleans. The hospital was darkened due to limited
electricity, and I was in a small dimly lit room with a mom and her newborn. On the other
side of the room the father was asleep on a cot. I was teaching this young woman how to
nurse her baby, when I heard an inner voice that said, This is what its all about. All that
mattered was to be aware of the sacredness of that moment, although I didnt realize
its meaning until today, a year later. I can now see how the separate fragments of my
liferelationships past and presentare all connected.
From my experiences in Baton
Rouge, I decided to write this book to make the dreams of women available to many other
women, and to provide tools for understanding the language of dreams. For we must each
offer our deepest attention to the glimmers of new life that beckon to us whether
our own, or those we see and hear from those in our communities.
We are each so valuable in this
infinitely bigger scheme of things. Our dreams and stories speak of what is coming alive
and awakening during a time of great uncertainty that affects us all.
This book is designed to help
women, and men, access and make conscious their forgotten or hidden wisdom, and their
potential for self-healing. This is vital work. For when we heal ourselves, we heal and
nourish all of life. Reclaiming the language of dreams, cultivating states of awareness
and stillness in our outer lives, and gathering in groups to share from a deeper place,
offer rich ways to reconnect to the joy, love, and creativity that is our birthright and
our contribution to life.
Why We Need to Listen to our Dreams
Our modern culture has lost its
understanding of the inner world, and as a result the unconscious becomes something to be
feared, rather than a fertile garden. We forget that at night, when we close the door to
our daily activities, we can rest in the infinite and be nourished by our dreams. Instead,
many of us lie awake, worry or wonder about the next day, or the next problem, instead of
resting in the creative abode of silence.
and meditation are valuable tools to help us bridge the unconscious, to access our own
innate wisdom. Dreams, in particular, help us touch the wellspring, the creative spark of
knowing, which is a gift from the divine. Each dream, like a poem, is a kernel from the
inner world. The simple turning of our attention inward, and learning to value our dreams,
can help us heal what has separated us from our wholeness.
Dreams as Guidance
Dreams are a precious doorway
through which the energy from the inner world can be made conscious, ultimately guiding us
towards healing our wounds and reviving life. Dreams often provide hints as to how we can
go about such healing. And because we are all different, for each of us this process is
uniquely our own.
To receive the wisdom of dreams,
we dont actively delve into the unconscious. The messages emerge as they will. We
can learn to hold a space in which our rational mind does not interfere, where the deepest
part of our self is held sacred and can speak to us.
Dreams Give Voice to our Longing
A woman carries the wholeness of
life within her, even if she isnt aware of it. When she begins to look within, a
deep longing can arise which may not be understood. This longing to reconnect with our
wholeness is the root of life, the root of our existence. If the roots of a tree are cut,
the tree will wither and die from lack of water. Sadly, this has been the effect of our
Western culture, which for centuries has valued the rational world and denied the inner
world of the feminine. We have learned to see everything as separate, thereby cutting
ourselves off from the flow of grace from inner to outer. For this we are crying in our
Many women experience this
longing and think it is a problem, one of depression, isolation and loneliness. We
dont realize it is a call from another place, a call for help, maybe a cry for help. The danger becomes that we try to
fill the lack we feel with food, drugs, alcohol, or more activities, without learning
about life itself; this understanding is not reflected in our culture. But dreams and
meditation can reconcile this separation. When we realize that life needs our attention,
we can listen to what it is asking of us.
I see an ancient bird in the sky.
It is so unsightly that I am repelled by its appearance. Then it falls to the ground and
when it touches the earth, it turns into a woman. She is emaciated, with barely any skin
on her bones, and I cannot even look at her for more than a second. But a voice tells me
that I have to take her in and care for her, and that after a year this woman will be
healed. Then she will work with me and care for my house.
The bird is an ancient symbol for
the soul, or consciousness. The earth is the ground from which we create our lives. If a
bird appears in a dream as hungry, or dying, we know that somehow we have lost our way and
need to align with the deeper needs of our soul. This
dream suggests that with a willingness to face her wounding and bring it down
to earth with compassion, the dreamer can heal her soul, her feminine nature, and be able
to join with and nourish life.
Dreams Give Access to the Feminine Soul
When did a collective shame over
the rejected feminine soul take root? This has taken place so gradually, over centuries,
that we dont quite realize the devastating effect this separation has had on how we
perceive women, the receptive aspect of life, or the earth. But we must now relearn this
lost language of the soul, as our full consciousness is vitally needed in order to bring
new life at a time such as ours, when the old structures are falling away.
Every young girl somewhere knows
wholeness, the state of union with her soul. She may not call it God or the sacred, but
when she looks outside at night and sees a star, in that moment she has touched her own
essence, and felt connected to all of life and the spirit within it. That moment comes as
grace. Too often this magic is forgotten.
Yet our dreams give us access to
the forgotten wisdom that we need for our lives and for life itself. Once we turn our
attention to them, we learn to adjust to their cycles, how dreams come and go like the
seasons. Sometimes we hunger for their nourishment, for that reconnection to the inner
world, but at times they seem to leave us alone in our outer life. At times, after
confusing dreams, it can seem we have lost a connection altogether. But with faith in our
deeper wisdom, a dream will eventually come, a dream filled with simplicity and clarity.
We begin to trust the process of allowing dreams to unfold in their own time, with their
Imagine columns of light that
reach from earth to heaven. That is who we are. We need only come together from our
and in the space between our
can nourish the earth.
The Spirit of Change
is a value and strong need for individuals and groups to come together now, to witness and
practice the healing work which transforms not only those of us who commune for the sake
of the inner life, but which transforms the collective as well. This is how women have
worked in ancient times. Today, we can remember in a new way the significance of restoring
the link between feminine spirituality and social change.
When we come together without
judgment, creating a sacred space for this place of truth in each of us, love pours
through our differences and creates new pathways. We become the vehicles for an awakening
which can take place in our own lives. There is a beauty to this that has nothing to do
with our problems. Within it are the qualities of peace, healing, and nourishment for
As I listen to the dreams of
women from different parts of the country and around the world, one consistent message is
this: women need to come together. When we gather together to sit in silence, to share our
dreams, to speak about our lives, we are nourished from within. We make a space for the
I began to hold groups of women
in this way many years ago. A teacher of mine told me simply, Learn to hold
something and nothing at the same time. I had to learn to create a space, and not
impose anything on a group, but to listen, and to not want anything for myself. This way
of being was initially frightening, mostly because it was unfamiliar. I had the following
dream at this time:
am preparing for a womens group when a great wind blows through my house. Its
so terrifying that I jump into bed and pull the covers over me. My husband says, You
need to stand up or else the wind will destroy you.
What is the wind but the spirit
of change, of healing, which serves the soulwhich serves life? I had to learn,
through mistakes, when I was trying to do something
in a group, and how to simply be present, attentive, and to listen. My dreams helped me to
align with this feminine way. Most of all, I found it required trust, which can only come
with time and experience. This can be difficult for women who have been hurt, and who have
created patterns of protection against life. There
is an old Sufi prayer: Please empty myself of all
except Thy presence. This is the feminine way of beingreceptive, open, alive
with our natural devotion.
A woman from Germany had a dream
that helped to deepen my understanding of this practice of being:
A wise old woman tells me,
When enough come together, the world will change. This must be done in the way of
It has been valuable for me to
work with women of diverse cultural and spiritual traditions, because I have seen how the
energy of love flows through our differences. We need
these differences. Leading groups with women friends such as a Zen Buddhist lay-ordained
nun, a community leader from Mexico with Catholic and Aztec heritage, a Sufi with
Pakistani and British background, an Episcopal priest in Georgia, and a Blackfoot
environmental scientist from Canada, I have seen that although our paths are different,
what we have in common supports us to help strengthen and giving confidence to women to
live from their true self.
Each woman stands in the center
of her own life stream. Once we know our true value, we are not so quick to judge
ourselves, or to see others through comparisons. In a group, the open-hearted sharing
heals our fragmentation or isolation. This work of both attending to each other and to the
silence, with heart and presence, builds a bridge to the greater Circle of which we are
all a part.
Carl Jung wrote that when women
are restored to wholeness, generations before them and after them also are healed. All
unnecessary obstacles are cleared out of the way of the life-stream that is meant to flow
Dreams of Women and the Earth
an aboriginal man coming towards me out of the darkness. He says, It is time for the
women to care for the earth. He then recedes back into the darkness.
-Social worker from Australia, a few days after 9/11
am standing on the ground, and look down and see that my legs from the knees down are
inside the earth. I look more closely and see that my legs have become roots that
interconnect with the roots just inside the surface of the earth, all around the world.
These interconnecting roots are feminine and belong to all women, but there are areas not
lit up, still in darkness. I understand that these areas are where women still do not
value themselves and each other.
-Clinical psychologist with Pakistani and British heritage, England
I wake up hearing these words
from a dream:
A song to the earth of joy.
-Restaurant waitress, South Carolina
was right after 9/11. I am in a desert and a Native American man walked towards me with a
stick. I ask him, What can we do about this? He hits me on the head with the
stick and blood pours down me, into the cracks on the dry earth like rivulets. It flows
all across the country, and wherever it touches I see that flowers grow out of it. It
flows all the way to New York and right to the feet of a fireman. His face is exhausted
and he is in despair, but a flower grows out of the blood that has flowed to his feet.
This flower gives him hope and the blood nourishes the whole land.
Maori healer, Australia
I see a
woman with no specific features who is clothed in a flowing burnt orange garment.
The woman is bathed in a radiant light and cradles in her arms an ancient globe of
the world from which a red heart pulsates.
grandmother and psychotherapist from the Midwest
women, including spouses of returning Iraq war veterans
A woman tells me, You can no
longer remain silent. You can no longer bow your head in silence. You must hold your head
high and speak from the deepest part of yourself. Even in front of the king.
Dreams of Oneness
wake up from a dream in which I hear, The problem is that people have forgotten they
- Business development manager, Virginia
am walking in the pitch-black night of the world, like all the darkness in the world right
now. As I am walking I see a beacon of light that is surprising to me. Then, as I keep
walking, I see, one by one, thousands of lights stand up out of the darkness
beacons all over the world. Each one a person, holding their own portion of light in the
darkness. I get the sense that each of these beacons is outshining the darkness
is more powerful than the darkness. The lights are lighthouses or beacons for the souls on
the world to gravitate to they will be attracted, so to speak, to the light.
A mother of four children and founder of a catalog company, Washington
My whole body seems to become
the universe and there are fibers of light, interconnecting everything with everything
else, like the delicate threads of a dandelion seed.
-Minister and childrens
book author, England
EMERGING TOWARD HIGHER
Before Rafael was eleven years old he
had already lived in four countries and spoke five languages. These formative years
conditioned him to constantly adapt to changing cultural realities. In retrospect this
coping capacity has become an asset, but as a teenager he struggled to acquire what his
peers took for granted: a conventional identity.
Three events helped him consolidate an
expanded sense of selfhood. The first event happened when he discovered meditation
at the age of twenty two. Within a few short months he unexpectedly underwent a
life-changing spiritual transformation. This experience enabled him to recognize the
ineffable aspect of his being that lay beyond his childhood programming and
The second event took place a few
years later when he encountered the work of Integral pioneers Ken Wilber and Don Beck.
This expansive body of knowledge enabled him to contextualize his cultural
shape-shifting as the ability to whirl up and down the Spiral of human
emergence. He realized that in fact, he had already developed a strong identity, only one
that was post-conventional, dynamic, growth oriented, and global in scope.
Meeting a Qigong master named Robert
Peng constituted the third life-altering event. Robert's extraordinary spiritual
powers represented higher functions latent in human beings that lie dormant like seeds
waiting to be awakened. Rafael befriended Robert and became his student in order to learn
how to integrate, refine, and empower his own spiritual potential.
Over the years these and other
developmental strands have twined together to form the qualities that now
define Rafael's presence: he is a compassionate catalyst adept at finding elegant
ways to transform lower level complications into higher level simplicities, in virtually
any kind of human context.
To contact Rafael, please email him at
Rafael is a graduate
of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, has trained under Dr.
Don Beck and worked with him in the Middle East, is certified as a Qigong instructor under
Robert Peng, is a certified evolutionary astrologer under Steven Forrest, and author of
two books, Under One Sky and the upcoming Qigong Master co-written with Robert Peng. He
writes, lectures about a host of topics, and counsels individuals seeking to actualize and
consolidate their evolutionary potential.
and teaching are two entirely different matters. Being awake does not qualify one to
teach; being a teacher does not mean one is awake.
I have no
interest in teaching; I point.
There is only one teacher.
May you find him now.
Awakening can start with an
experience and then be followed by knowledge, or it can start with knowledge and end with
an experience. Both approaches are valid.
The journey here began with an
There was no interest in
advaita, meditation, new age, non-duality, yoga or enlightenment before the experience.
Some seem to be born with a
core intuitive understanding of the nature of reality; others must be hit over the head
with a baseball bat, a dark night of the soul. Here, it was a baseball bat squarely to the
back of the head.
This experience was an
unexpected organic reaction resulting from complete resistance to the present moment.
In other words, this jiva had a
burning desire to be absolutely anywhere but in the present moment.
The resistance ultimately
resulted in a complete "collapse", followed by an "opening" into a
"spaceless space" where what was formerly called "I" witnessed Chris's
thoughts spontaneously appearing at a great distance.
This revelation came with the
very obvious question:
"If what I am was
witnessing Chris's thoughts from afar, then who was I?"
This was a completely
destabilizing initial experience.
I thought that, perhaps, I was
Thus, began the seeking. Along
with seeking there were more and deeper experiences. A profound samadhi became the beacon
of Truth as knowledge caught up with experience.
We are all hardwired for
happiness. It's absence is the driver of all action. The search for happiness can not
occur without unhappiness, or suffering. It is this desire to complete ourselves, to make
ourselves whole and complete, this notion that we are incomplete as we are, that motivates
everything we "do."
In the end, it is realized that
happiness can never be found in an object, that this search for happiness is the exactly
the same as the search for our true nature, which was always right here, right now. It is
the true nature of all of our seeking, be it for money, fame, relationship, sex, vanity
or, more subtle enlightenment.
In the end, it is the
realization that the seeker itself is the illusion, apparently separating the seeker from
the sought. It is ALL the only journey ever occurring: the journey home.
To call this journey a shift is
an understatement; it is the absolute and total dismantling of all boundaries, containers
and the core sense of limitation until there is nothing to shift at all; infinity has no
Until the subconscious depths of avidya and belief in mentation (arisings)
is seen clearly for what it is, there can be no true happiness.
Maya is mentation and ignorance
is belief in Maya.
How can one realize how grand
it all is without complete willingness to investigate the Truth of our experience and the
clarity of seeing, actually seeing, that there is no substance whatsoever to this so
called "solid" world; it's substance is nothing other than us, the gift of the
creator to itself.
In the beginning, there is no
such thing as grace. During the sadhana, sometimes, there is
grace. In the end, all is Grace.
Absolutely nothing is personal
but everything is Love.
Africa on Transforming Self and Societies
compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
them, humanity cannot survive.
the Dalai Lama
For nearly 25 years, Africa has been
an integral part of my spiritual journey and an ongoing source for exploring and
experiencing Love as a powerful, transformative force that is essential to personal,
societal, and global evolution. I have made over 20 trips to African countries, including:
Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria,
Rwanda, and my beloved Sierra Leone. Almost all of these countries haveexperienced violent
conflict, so it is often hard for people in the United States to comprehend the level of
sadness and, at the same time, incredible inspiration I have encountered on these visits.
In this essay, I will share some of my
insights in the hope that others may benefit from what I have learned from the people of
Africa: My Spiritual
After college, I left my family of 10
siblings and hometown in Indiana and joined the Peace Corps. I was assigned to Sierra
Leone, where I worked for four years to overcome water shortages and prevent deadly
diseases like diarrhea. I lived in mud huts in remote villages: the first two years in
Kagbere and then two more years in Masongbo. There were maybe 30 houses in each village,
which meant there were approximately 300 people in each community. There was no running
water, no electricity and no telephones. While living in these bush villages, I grew
to Love many people, such as the Conteh family of Masongbo. Like many Peace Corps
volunteers, I found that what I learned from my friends far outweighed my contributions.
The Contehs welcomed me into their
family. I often fished with the brothers at a nearby river and together learned how to
make fishing lures from sticks and wires. We ate dinner collectively, usually from the
same plate. And we would pass the nights telling stories or playing drums. They tried to
teach me how to drum a futile exercise that always ended in laughter.
For all its lack of Western
conveniences, the Masongbo village was rich in social connections. There were frequently
three or four generations of family members living together in the same huts. The elderly
were respected for their wisdom and life experiences and helped take care of the younger
ones. I often marveled at how each person seemed to know his or her place in their family
and village. This was in part because of the education provided by the
societies, traditions that were hundreds of years old and that existed right
alongside Christianity and Islam. There also was a deep sense of spirituality that came
from a daily connection to nature.
As subsistence farmers, the people
followed the rhythms of hungry season, when previous crop yields were low and
it was time to plant, and harvest season, when there was abundance. There also were
rainy seasons and dry seasons, and the cycles of the moon. On nights with a new moon in
the rainy season, it was dark and people went to bed early. When the moon was full in the
dry season, there was lots of light and the children laughed and played throughout the
And, ultimately, there was the cycle
of life and death. When Pa Conteh, head of the Conteh family, died, people grieved openly,
and for days family members arrived from around the country for the funeral. When I went
to see Pa Contehs body, he had been dead for three days. The hot, humid weather had
turned his vibrant face and twinkling eyes into a skull wrapped in dry brown skin. The
pungent odor was so strong it was difficult to breathe. Finally, PaConeths body was
wrapped in a white piece of cloth and placed directly in the ground.
As I pondered Pa Contehs body
being consumed by the Earth, the village began a huge celebration! This caught me
completely off guard, as I was still grieving. The entire village danced, sang, ate, and
well into the next day. It was during this death celebration that I noticed
the music contained rhythms from nature like the calls of birds in the bush, and the
dancing reflected movements of daily life such as pounding rice or making love.
It would have been easy to romanticize
village life if not for the fact that Sierra Leone was, and still is, one of the poorest
countries in the world where one in every four children dies before the age of five.
Decades of government corruption had all but destroyed the infrastructure.
The country had vast natural resources
of diamonds, gold, and rutile (a major ore of titanium), but these riches did not benefit
the villagers. There was a huge contrast between rich and poor. Government officials and
wealthy businessmen drove expensive vehicles while my friends were lucky to have sandals
on their feet.
Meanwhile, signs of Westernization
were ever present, and usually in bizarre ways. Throughout the country, even in the most
remote villages, people wore t-shirts and other used clothing from the United States. When
the fashion trends changed in the United States, Sierra Leone and other countries got the
hand-me-downs. I frequently saw people wearing clothes that looked utterly comical from my
perspective such as an elderly man who wore a shirt that read
baby on board.
Nevertheless, the social tapestry of Sierra Leone appeared to be holding together under
the strain of poverty, corruption, high infant mortality rate, and onslaught of Western
Shock: Going Inward
It was when I returned to America that
I realized how much I had changed while in Africa. Suddenly, I was aware of the wealth,
material abundance, and incredible waste in my home country. Electricity was accessible 24
hours a day with the flip of a switch, so that the cycles of the moon went unnoticed. Safe
drinking water was readily available without having to carry buckets of water. Stores were
filled with everything a person could ever want. I remember pausing at the pet section of
my local grocery store and counting over 50 varieties of cat food. I found myself
translating the cost of everything into cups of rice and calculating how many members of
the Conteh family it could feed and for how long.
American abundance literally bombarded
me. Everywhere I looked, I saw a culture obsessed with youth, beauty, sex, and various
products designed to enhance these goals. Therealso was unbelievable violence on TV and at
the cinema. I remember the first time I saw a person killed in a movie I flinched
and then was disturbed to see that the people with me did not seem to notice
anything wrong. Even now, I am sensitive to seeing people killed in the movies.
After returning home, it didnt
take long for me to experience a deep crisis a void. People seemed too busy
to connect as deeply as my African friends and I felt alone. This void jolted me and then
sparked me to pursue a conscious spiritual journey through a daily meditation practice. My
inward exploration intensified as I watched Sierra Leone succumb to a terrible war.
All I wanted to do was help. My body
was in America but my heart and soul were in Africa. So in 1997, I joined Search for
Common Ground, an international conflict transformation organization. Since then, Common
Ground has sent me on numerous African missions. Each of my trips would begin on a Sunday
morning, when I would go to my favorite meditation center. I enjoy meditating with others,
as I have found that it is easy for me to experience deep states of peace, bliss, and Love
when with a group. After service, I would go home to Arlington, Virginia, finish packing,
and then fly out from Washington Dulles International airport. Within 24 to 30 hours, I
would land in Monrovia, Freetown, Kinshasa, or some other war-torn city in Africa.
The contrast between the peacefulness
of a meditation hall and the impact of deadly conflict is shocking, to say the least. My
meditation practice trained me to be present, open, and in many ways vulnerable. This was
both a blessing and a challenge, as it meant I would be more open to the depth of
suffering of people around me, especially of my friends in Sierra Leone.
My first trip back to Sierra Leone was
in April 1998, as part of an assessment team for Search for Common Ground. There was a
lull in the on-going civil war, so I was able to reach my friends in Masongbo. I had mixed
emotions about returning to the village while I desperately wanted to know if my
friends were okay, I wasnervous about seeing the impact of war on people I loved.
Needless to say, when I saw the Conteh
brothers I had a deep sense of relief! They, too, were astounded to see me suddenly
appear. We hugged, looked into each others eyes, and smiled.
The entire village gathered around,
hugging me, laughing, showing me the babies named after me, children conceived during the
war. I could not help but notice how emaciated my friends looked people I
remembered being lean and strong from farm work. Now, their hair had a reddish tint from
malnutrition and the children were more frail and vulnerable than before. Moses Conteh and
his cousin Sanpha told stories of how they almost starved, surviving at times by fishing,
using the methods we learned together when I was a PeaceCorps volunteer. While telling
these stories, the Contehs offered me a live chicken and palm wine, traditional
gifts for a special guest. Children handed me mangos and coconuts, while the The Contehs love and generosity was overwhelming, especially when they had
so little. Here Sanpha, the Contehs cousin, offers a 30 pound fish and home-made
fishing lures. The village chief gave me kola nuts, a customary greeting
which means: He who gives kola, gives life. Later, the Contehs went fishing
and caught a 30-pound Nile perch using a lure they made themselves enough fish to
feed their families for days. They were so happy to offer the fish as a gift.
The Love I shared with the Contehs and
their village opened my heart. Their generosity, when having so little and surviving so
much, still moves me beyond words. A few weeks after this visit to Sierra Leone, the civil
war surged and the village of Masongbo was once again sacked by rebels, known as the RUF.
During this horrific period, I had no way to contact the Conteh family or my other
friends. I watched in dismay as the news from Sierra Leone became increasingly bleak. The
reports about the number of people killed or mutilated were not like other bad news
stories. No, these were people and communities I loved deeply and who loved me. I would
later learn that the RUF unit that raided Masongbo was headed by a teenage boy named
Colonel Rambo. For nearly two years, Rambo and his men held the Contehs and
others hostage, taking whatever they wanted from the villagers who livedon less than a
dollar a day. The RUF even took young children from the village as new recruits.
And a dear friend, Adama Conteh, who
had daughters named Peggy and Patience, died giving birth to her third child, having been
denied medical care by the RUF. My meditation practice became a life raft as I struggled
with frustration, rage, and sadness. I desperately wanted to know how to bridge the refuge
of inner peace I experienced in meditation with the outer world of conflict and peace
building. Often, I would look to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a source of inspiration.
He dealt with enormous international problems with China annexing Tibet. His people
suffered tremendously and, yet, His Holiness constantly came from a place of compassion
and Love, using meditation as a source of strength. His example helped me to keep my faith
A Breakthrough in
A breakthrough came in May 2000. The
United Nations had peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone and Search for Common Ground had
just received the funding needed to start a program there. Meanwhile, my supervisor and
two other colleagues had just left the organization for a start-up dot.com company. I was
suddenly promoted to oversee our West African programs, including the new one in Sierra
I was in Monrovia, having just left
Freetown in Sierra Leone, where I had hired some staff members and a contractor to set up
our office. I was scheduled to fly back to Freetown, but Members of
the Conteh Family & the author during a return visit. During the war, their village
had been sacked by a teenage boy named Colonel Rambo.
A friend called hours before the
flight. He strongly encouraged me to stay in Monrovia, because Foday Sanko, head of the
RUF, was planning a coup in Freetown. Sure enough, the coup attempt did happen and the
house where I would have stayed was caught in the crossfire. As a result, I stayed in
Monrovia, which had survived numerous attacks during its own civil war and was a
bombed-out city with no running water or electricity. After making the decision not to go
to Sierra Leone, I remember going back to a bare apartment and meditating.
This time, I entered a meditative
state besieged by new responsibilities, wanting to help people in Sierra Leone, but not
knowing what to do. Generally, I do not talk about my meditations; however, they were
evolving dramatically. On that afternoon, a wave of ecstasy came shooting through my body.
I was overcome by an intoxicating amount of Love in which I experienced a profound
connection with everything in all directions at the same time. In that state of Love, I
felt at home and trusting. The Love went on and on, lasting for hours, until I finally
The timing of this blissful event was
incredibly powerful. Just as I was feeling helpless and distraught, an invisible presence
enveloped me with a deep level of comfort. I was confused at first, wondering how so much
Love could exist next to so much pain and suffering. Love was leading me somewhere
just did not know where yet. I needed help navigating these inner terrains and the
range of emotional reactions I was having to the deadly conflicts in Africa. I had a
meditation practice and a larger meditation community as a foundation. Still, I wanted a
mentor. After creating this intention, I met Dr. Rick Levy, who later published Miraculous
Health: How to Heal Your Body by Unleashing the Hidden Power of Your Mind. Over a
seven-year period, while going back and forth to Africa, I went to Rick for advice. Having
studied spiritual practices from around the world, Rick accompanied me on a trip to West
Africa, where he assessed what role indigenous spiritual healers might play in the Sierra
Leone peace process. Moreover, through our one-on-one sessions, Rick helped me release the
negative emotional reactions I was having to the atrocities in Africa. We would go into
meditation together, then shift the focus of my consciousness to the inner realms of my
being to my soul.
This took me into even deeper states
of peace and Love that rejuvenated me and enabled me to continue working in difficult
situations without getting burnt out. The work with Rick and my daily
meditation practice became means of purifying my consciousness, helping me
realize from an experiential perspective that my true inner state was peace and that I am
connected to and part of a larger source of Love. I started to envision the negative
thoughts and emotions as waves natural reactions to a troubling world that
would rise and pass away if I allowed them, not part of my identity.
I began to fall in Love with Love
itself, to write ecstatic poetry, to study the mystics. Paramahansa Yogananda once
described Love as the divine power of attraction in creation that harmonizes,
unites, binds together. With this lens, I started to see Love permeating everything:
the Love I felt for my parents and siblings; the Love they expressed for me; the
Love felt with friends; the Love between my cats and me it was all Love expressing
itself. I listened to a radio station that played Love songs. I substituted the
Love for the object of Love in the songs and the songs took on a whole new level of
On a practical level, I could not
maintain this state of intoxicated Love indefinitely, but I found I could cultivate Love
in my daily life by removing barriers that held me back from connecting with other people
and nature. For example, I practiced being fully present and focused on a person when
greeting him or her. Could I see the other person as a soul whose essence is Love? Could I
listen to his or her every word, I mean really listen? Sure enough, my familial,
personal, and office relationships all began to shift through this simple exercise. The
question became: How much Love could I handle?
Ultimately, I concluded that the
amount of Love we experience is based on our openness to connect. Invariably, ever
deepening connections bring old fears to the surface that need to be released. In this
way, I discovered that openness to Love is an integral part of the purification process
and the inner transformation necessary to create harmonious and loving environments.
Cause of Conflict
A human being
is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.
He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest...
a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us,
restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion
to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
My personal exploration of Love as a
transformative and unifying force provided me with a new perspective on how to contend
with deadly conflicts and peace-building efforts in Africa. For instance, the very idea of
Love presupposes duality, as there is an exchange between two entities. As described by
many spiritual teachers and implied by Albert Einstein above, it is the illusion of
separation that is the root cause of conflict, including a sense of separation from God,
Spirit, or Universe (whichever word works for you).
Michael Singer, author of The
Untethered Soul, describes this idea by saying each of us has within us a soul that is
part of the larger Spirit, filled with bliss, peace, and Love. Intuitively, we know that
these exalted states exist, but instead of looking inward to experience them, we look
externally in an attempt to create peak moments.
Tara Brach, a psychologist and
meditation instructor in the Washington, DC area, explains this phenomenon by saying we
identify with our thoughts and emotions and then believe they are real. This starts a
process whereby we separate from others and everything around us. With separation comes
fear, which in turn gives rise to the wanting self (e.g.: I want to be happy
and avoid suffering). Everyone on the planet has this basic operating software package
running we are all trying to rearrange a constantly changing world to avoid
suffering and get what we want.
Conflict is inevitable, as a result.
It also is a natural part of the human experience, as we bump into other people trying to
avoid suffering and create happiness. A child wants a toy to be happy and will fight with
another child to get it, adolescents struggle over identity and romantic relationships,
and adults continue the drama with even more involved conflicts. In a warped way, we can
see that the people who sold AK-47s and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) to the RUF were
doing so to make money so they could be happy.
Meanwhile, humans are governed by
three basic spiritual laws: the first one is choice or free will; the second is cause and
effect or karma; and the third and most subtle law is evolution.
Often, free will is usurped by
emotions, societal expectations, or cultural norms. Still, we slowly learn by trial and
error and by reaping the fruits of our actions how to choose behaviors that benefit us and
those we Love. In this way, we evolve.
Eventually, we learn to look inward,
to reconnect with our souls to find the bliss, peace, and Love we long for. Once in touch
with our soul, we sense our oneness with others and all of nature. This connection gives
rise to the highest qualities of the human spirit, such as tolerance, compassion,
forgiveness, and Love. Then, our outward actions are qualitatively different they
express our unique gifts without the need to get anything in return.
of Happiness: Creating Complex Problems
Unfortunately, the Western model for
happiness is based on individual consumption, which I find terribly disturbing after
living in Africa. To me, it is clear that the Western pursuit of material satisfaction has
created a global spiritual crisis that now threatens human survival. There literally are
billions of people striving to avoid suffering and be happy through massive consumption,
all of which is being accelerated by technological advances. Yet somehow, we do not see
the cause and effect impact of our collective individual actions on the environment,
people who live thousands of miles away, or geo-political struggles for resources.
Although the global economy may be
weaving together humanity, without the unifying power of Love greater and greater global
conflicts will arise. Also, the individual pursuit of happiness through consumerism
usually results in less human connection, less connection with nature, and, ultimately,
less experience of Love. This in turn creates isolation, suffering, and an inner hunger
that leads to more craving and consumption. It is no surprise that many of the topselling
prescription drugs sold in America deal with depression and anxiety. Material progress
without Love and compassion leads to suffering.
With all this said, my colleagues at
Search for Common Ground often remind me that most conflicts in the world are handled
peacefully or at least non-violently, a fact easily forgottenwhen traveling to war-torn
countries or watching the evening news. They also point out that conflict is an engine of
growth and transformation when handled constructively (or, as I now believe, with Love). I
see this in my own life close friendships deepen after an argument if we are able
to communicate openly. And my own spiritual journey has been enriched as a result of the
inner conflict I felt after returning to the United States from Sierra Leone.
However, when conflicts are handled
destructively, fear becomes the driving force. People become polarized and their extreme
positions drive the agenda. The people with the loudest voices often use fear as a tactic
to unify their group against the others. As fear increases, people narrow
their multiple identities (such as father, mother, musician, artist, sports fan, farmer,
teacher), down to just one whether an ethnic group (Im a Hutu and youre
a Tutsi), a religious sect (Im a Muslim and youre a Jew), or a political party
(Im a Republican and youre a Democrat). Instead of seeing what they have in
common or what connects them, they see only how they are different and what separates
them. In Rwanda, this dynamic played out to an extreme level. In the early 1990s, radio
programs amplified the fear and mistrust by fueling ethnic tension. As fear increased,
people became more polarized, thinking in terms of us and them. Tutsis and
Hutu moderates were identified as the problem. To get rid of the problem, the radical
Hutus believed it was necessaryto get rid of the Tutsis and even te moderate Hutus. As in
all destructive conflicts, the aggressors created an atmosphere where it was possible to
strike out and kill first stereotype and then dehumanize the others.
Thus, Tutsis were called dogs, since it is easier to kick a dog than a human. Then, they
were called cockroaches, as it is easy to kill a cockroach.
The Common Ground
Approach: Transforming Societies
My colleagues at Search for Common
Ground did just the opposite in neighboring Burundi, a country populated largely by people
with Hutu and Tutsi ethnicity. Burundi was teetering on the brink of all-out violence
immediately after the genocide in Rwanda. Quickly, my colleagues assessed the situation
and then established a radio studio where Hutu and Tutsi journalists worked side by side.
They produced programs that provided balanced information and which rehumanized both
I remember the first time I went to
Burundi. I was nervous because the Rwanda genocide was such a hallmark of horror. But I
was amazed to walk into the Common Ground office and see a large team of people busily
producing radio programs, all committed to working together.
One of them was Adrien, a tall,
soft-spoken man with deep compassionate eyes. He was a Hutu and in his youth Adrien missed
school one day the day his entire class was massacred by Tutsis. In the office next
to Adrien was Agnes, a powerful robust Tutsi woman who had lost 79 members of her family
to the ethnic violence. Indeed, everyone on the staff had a story of personal loss, yet
each was willing to take a stand, together, for a new way of resolving conflict.
Coming from a large family myself and
having seen the impact of war on the Conteh family, it was both mind and heart boggling to
imagine working side-by-side with people from an ethnic group that committed atrocities
against loved ones. Adrien, Agnes and others across Africa became my teachers on the
practical ways to embody compassion and Love, and how to promote those values across
Their techniques were similar to what
I learned in meditation. For example, my meditation training taught me to look at and
accept the realities of a situation, no matter how difficult. I did not have to like the
situation; just accept it. This could be an outward state of affairs, such as the war in
Sierra Leone, or it could be the anger and sadness that arose as a response. Tara Brach
calls this approach radical acceptance.
All of Search for Common Grounds
programs face harsh realities head-on, accepting that such situations exist. There is
nothing Pollyannaish about our work. The idea is to shift the focus from what
separates people from their perceived enemies to what they have in common their
The Common Ground approach is based on
an implicit trust in the human spirit. When there is recognition of common humanity,
innate spiritual qualities of tolerance, compassion, forgiveness, and Love can be
awakened. With these positive human qualities present, it is easier for people to shift
their mindset. A new consciousness arises, one where they can face problems together
instead of attacking each other. In essence, our approach is similar to a meditation
practice: We help a person move beyond fear, expand their identity or consciousness, and
experience a sense of oneness or connection with other people and nature. This process
opens people to their innate spiritual potential and allows them to create win-win
This may sound simple, but it is
profound. Meditation teaches that wherever you place your focus, that is where your energy
and consciousness goes. Scientists now theorize that the physical world arises out of
consciousness, something yogis and sages have taught for centuries.
Many motivational speakers and
spiritual teachers talk about the power of positive thinking and positive affirmations.
One teacher says if you want to reduce the power of negative influences, do not battle the
negative; rather, increase the positive. Yogananda once said, If you want to change
your circumstance in life, change your thinking. This may sound idealistic when a
society is facing potential genocide, but this is exactly what our staff employed in
Burundi we helped an entire society change its consciousness.
One of the Common Ground radio
programs produced in Burundi was a radio soap opera called Our Neighbors, Ourselves.
It told the story of a Hutu family living next to a Tutsi family. Like all good soap
operas, it was filled with laughter, tragedies, drama, and Love affairs. Through more than
1,000 episodes, the program helped rehumanize Hutu and Tutsis to each other by
highlighting what they have in common. Nearly 90% of the population listened to the show.
It became so popular that during a break in programming, a General in the army came to our
office and demanded a copy of the next episode! He said his men were anxiously waiting to
hear what happened next.
The core message of Our Neighbors,
Ourselves was pretty close to: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Adrien, Agnes
and other staff were modeling behaviors taught by the great spiritual traditions and they
helped reweave the social tapestry of their society with compassion and Love.
Steady Bongo and the
During my travels in Africa, I met
hundreds of people like Adrien and Agnes, people who bravely risk their lives to promote
the search for common ground or common humanity. While their stories and situations may
differ in detail, they possess a distinctly similar focus a commitment to bridging
the walls of separation that divide them, their communities, and their countries. In this
sense, and without relying on any religious affiliation, they promote the universal
expression of Love, drawing together and healing fragmented parts of the whole.
Sometimes, this search for common
humanity can take unexpected twists and turns that lead to joyous celebrations, even in
the direst situations. An example of a surprising outcome involved a Sierra Leonean pop
musician named Steady Bongo. A year after our program started, there was a tenuous peace
agreement between the government and RUF rebels. The RUF heldmost of the Northern and
Eastern regions of the country while United Nations and British peacekeepers controlled
Word came to Frances, our director in
Sierra Leone, that the RUF were harassing UN workers who were trying to get humanitarian
aid to the region. Steady Bongo was visiting Frances at the time, and Frances had a hunch
that Steady should go with her to the front lines. Keep in mind, the RUF had committed
terrible atrocities people were terrified of them and rightly so.
Frances and Steady drove more than 12
hours across the country. When they arrived at an RUF checkpoint, teenage boys wielding
AK-47s started harassing Frances. She calmly asked if they liked Steady Bongos
music, to which they replied, Yeah sure hes our man. Then, she
pointed to the back seat. When they saw Steady Bongo, the combatants went from being thugs
to young boys. They danced and sang, The war is over, Steady Bongo has come!
Then, the gruff, hardened commanders met Steady; they went from being terrorizing
combatants to starry-eyed fans in seconds. The RUF commanders asked Steady to play some
music and Frances jumped in, sensing an opportunity.
Ultimately, the RUF commanders agreed
to give safe passage to Steady Bongo and his band, provide security, pay for half the
expenses, and allow Search for Common Ground staff to interview people for radio programs,
which we broadcast across the country. Steady Bongo and his band the Cultural Heroes did a
peace concert tour across the RUF area, helping to open the lines to humanitarian aid.
They were greeted by enthusiastic combatants and civilians alike, and our national radio
program broadcast voices of young RUF combatants, who said they were tired of fighting and
wanted to end the conflict. Our interviews started to rehumanize the RUF rebels, allowing
the slow process of reconciliation to begin.
After supporting Sierra Leone through
the tenuous peace process, disarming combatants, reintegrating refugees, and holding
national elections, we now are addressing the root cause of the war poverty and
corruption. We also are giving a national voice to those who have been marginalized, like
women and children. Sierra Leone, like Burundi, still faces incredible social and
political problems, such as a lack of opportunities for a generation of youth who grew up
with violence. These countries are evolving, slowly growing out of difficult periods. The
ongoing challenge is to reweave the social tapestries and integrate the best of
traditional African cultures with the positive aspects of globalization. The new social
fabric will need tolerance, compassion, and Love to withstand all these pressures so that
people can explore creativesolutions without resorting to violence.
In a sense, the lessons from Africa
are universal to the human experience. Humanity is facing complex problems, such as global
warming, that require us to look beyond our individual and national identities. If we
start to view all of humanity and nature as being interconnected and interdependent, we
will be able to move beyond behaviors that are fueled by a sense of separation and fear.
Then, cooperative solutions will come at an unprecedented rate and scale.
But first, we must reevaluate how we
individually and collectively pursue happiness. As Einstein prescribed, we must widen
our circle of compassion.
In Africa, the human spirit has proven
to be incredibly resilient. From direct experience, I know it is possible to cultivate
Love on an individual level through spiritual practices such as meditation, and on a
societal level by applying emerging methodologies of conflict resolution such as the
Search for Common Ground approach. The next step will be an evolutionary leap: To weave
a new global tapestry based on the universal principle of Love.
While this global challenge may seem
overwhelming, I have found that if I focus on my immediate environment, I am empowered. In
meditation, the idea is to be present. I believe that my contribution to world
peace starts right now, with every breath, choosing to be present in my own humanity and
honoring the humanity in whoever is in front of me. This simple exercise allows me to
connect spiritually with people all around the world. And it enables me to be open to the
unifying and transformative power of Love.
When I look back on my many journeys
to Africa, one of the most important lessons I have learned is simple: slow down and
keep time a Sierra Leonean expression for being together and connecting
with others. Surely, our collective future depends less on science and technology and more
on the art of cultivating compassion and Love.
Contact: Philip M.
Hellmich email@example.com; 1 (202)777-2202 or 1 (703)887-5636
This essay will
appear in The Oracle Institutes upcoming book The Love: Of the Fourth Spiritual Paradigm and an
edited version will be in Kosmos Journal.
Principles of Interfaith Formation
INTER-SPIRITUAL HEARTS, EDUCATING INTERFAIL MINDS
Our approach to formation is based on creating a worldly monastery that
holds our students in an experience of community that is simultaneously safe enough to ask
difficult questions without judgment and challenging enough to encourage students to reach
beyond their limits. All of our programs address the inner life of the individual (the
I space); the shared life of relationships or community (the We
space); and the structured experience of organizational life (the It space).
Each program seeks to embody certain core principles, including:
Inter-spiritual perspective honestly exploring the spiritual treasures and
institutional shortcomings of the worlds great religious traditions,
Being based on experience and understanding rather
than history or belief,
approach weaving together the ancient traditions with contemporary knowledge in
psychology, science, and interpersonal dynamics,
Aspiring to a healthy integration of body, heart,
mind and spirit,
style simultaneously heartfelt, experiential, rigorous and personally transformative,
Using everyday experience to move closer to what
is true, and
developmental view presenting human evolution as a multi-step process that unfolds to
an inner rhythm in each persons soul
of these core principles is to invite students into a transformative fire that can burn
away the obscurations to their true nature. This begins to happen when they move outward
from their own spiritual history to study and experience a variety of less familiar
teachings in a direct and personal way. In the course of moving outward to study and
experience the diversity of spiritual wisdom, students also move inward to strengthen
their psychological foundation, deepen their spiritual life and develop their mind, heart
and will. Students are invited to listen deeply to themselves, to each other and to the
various people in their life outside the program.
process unfolds they experience relationships with their peers that are free of shame,
open to curiosity, and provide an opportunity let go of automatic patterns, old stories
and emotional reactions that tie them to the past. Within the contemplative
evolutionary field that is created, a safe and open space emerges that includes both
the interior life of the individual and the collective life of the community. As a
learning community takes form within this contemplative evolutionary field, certain characteristics emerge within and
between students and faculty who participate in the experience. These include:
seeing life as the ultimate spiritual practice,
using our relationships as an opportunity to
polish each other (rather than irritate each other),
viewing every perception as a perspective that is
an out-picturing of our inner world,
working with our shadow to free us from the
stories that bind us to the past and the fantasies that draw us to the future,
learning to be centered in the present moment,
coming to terms with our religious history,
experiencing various spiritual practices from the
great traditions and contemporary teachings to open our hearts, minds and bodies to the
incorporating a regular set of practices into our
studying the esoteric and exoteric teachings of
the great traditions,
understanding how contemporary knowledge brings a
new perspective to the ancient teachings,
exploring contemporary spiritual teachings and
related areas of knowledge,
developing the desire for lifelong study and
engaging in service to the larger community,
dedicating ourselves to an intentional life and
creating personally meaningful vows to embody that aspiration
all of these characteristics emerge in students who participate in our various programs.
At the same time they manifest in somewhat different ways in different programs. The first
year of the two-year professional training in interfaith ministry includes study of the
worlds great religious traditions as well as contemporary spiritual expressions and
relevant psychological principles. These studies become the foundation for serving a
diverse spiritual audience that increasingly transcends traditional boundaries. At the
same time a variety of approaches aim to further develop the students inner life and
to support their capacity to more fully embody the Divine Presence in all aspects of life. Students explore their relationship to the western
spiritual tradition and to their own religious background in order to come to terms with
any unfinished business they have with their spiritual or religious history.
addition to traditional academic work students are invited to enter the experience of each
tradition as fully as possible. They are expected to participate in ritual expression as
well as daily spiritual practice based in the tradition they are studying. Each month
students are asked to choose a spiritual leader and to explore how that person can serve
as a source of inspiration for the student. During class, students are exposed to guest
lectures from long term spiritual practitioners and leaders of each tradition, as well as
experiential exercises that include other students and bring the study home in a personal
way. Students share their experiences in a variety of settings, take part in each
others journey and learn to listen to themselves and to each other in new ways.
The focus of the
second year is on the journey from
birth to death and the capacity to offer skillful service to a diverse population. Given
the increasing number of individuals in our society who are no longer rooted in a single
tradition, many of the people our graduates will serve require a perspective that both
includes and transcends elements of a particular tradition. The inner exploration in our
programs is aimed at deepening the students spiritual life. Simultaneously, the
outer journey builds the skills and capacities necessary to serve others effectively. This
dual focus of attention is apart of all of our offerings, and is similar to the two edged
approach of the first year seminary experience.
their second year students investigate the stages we pass through in life, including;
birth, childhood, adolescence, entering into relationship or marriage, relationships
themselves, old age, sickness and death. At each stage of lifes journey the
challenges and opportunities presented by the relevant transition are explored. In order
to develop the capacity for presence, students
deepen their ability to listen to another person without judgment and to hear the hidden
subtext that animates the conversation beyond the words. By gently asking open ended
questions with a receptive heart, they create a safe space that allows those they serve to
express and understand themselves in a new way. All of this is held in the context of
inter-spiritual counseling that provides support and guidance to others without
necessarily using any particular language to bring God, Source or True Nature into the
room. At the same time, students learn the
basic approaches and language that springs from the various traditions so they can speak
that language when it would best serve those they are working with. Prayer, meditation and
the power of silence are all explored through both the great traditions and contemporary
spiritual and psychological knowledge.
students explore the various stages of life they prepare and participate in rituals to
celebrate and deepen the experience of that particular stage. Prayers, poems, traditional
ceremonies and teachings from all of the traditions serve as inspiration for teams of
students to create and present a custom designed interfaith ritual. Honest, constructive
feedback helps class members learn to speak truthfully and with kindness, while at the
same time helping celebrants hone their skills and thin their ego identifications. As the
teams of students study a particular life stage and prepare their ritual, a profound inner
experience takes root in most students. They confront their own hopes, fears and wounds in
relation to the particular experience they are studying, be it birth, marriage, or death
for example. As students come to terms with themselves in each of these situations they
build a foundation of compassion, equanimity and presence. They begin to distinguish a
need to be good in order to appease an inner critic or to fulfill an ego ideal from an
outflow to others that springs from a new, larger sense of identity.
(from One Spirit Journal)
Part of my spiritual practice
includes doing what I can to keep myself inspired on a daily basis, often through reading.
Not long ago, I came across this passage, written by progressive historian Howard Zinn,
who died a few months ago. It is from Zinns article The Optimism of
Uncertainty, published in The Nation magazine
An optimist isnt necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler
in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is
based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of
compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex
history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do
something. If we remember those times and places and there are so many where
people have behaved magnificently, this gives us energy to act, and at least the
possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
(quoted in James Baraz & Shoshana Alexander, Awakening
Joy, p. xx)
me, one of the reasons for being optimistic and hopeful in the dark of our
time that has included the rise of religious fundamentalism and religiously-inspired
conflict and violence, is the concurrent emergence of what Wayne Teasdale, in The Mystic Heart, termed
interspirituality, or intermysticism. Interspirituality refers to
the sharing of the interior resources, the
spiritual treasures each tradition has developed to directly and experientially access the
underlying unity of being that is the deepest revelation of all authentic wisdom
Throughout the more than 20
years I have been teaching and training interfaith/interspiritual ministers, one of my
guiding principles has been this teaching from A
Course in Miracles: A universal theology is impossible, but a universal
experience is not only possible but necessary. (ACIM, C-in.2:5) And so I was deeply moved when I
read in The Mystic Heart:
The real religion of
humankind can be said to be spirituality itself, because mystical spirituality is the
origin of all the world religions. If this is so,
we might also say the interspirituality the sharing of ultimate
experiences across traditions is the religion of the third millennium.
Interspirituality is the foundation that can prepare the way for a planet-wide enlightened
culture. (The Mystic Heart, p. 26)
There are three aspects of the
interspiritual emergence that especially give me hope. The first is what I
consider one of the most wondrous developments of our time: that the great mystical and
transformational teachings and practices of all the spiritual traditions and paths are,
for the first time, widely available to anyone with the desire, determination, and
commitment to seriously explore them. This kind of exploration makes possible a spiritual
life that is authentically inner-directed and rooted in the deeper wisdom available
through integrating multiple perspectives.
a mature spirituality means taking responsibility for our own inner journey, recognizing
that our own path is unique. Thomas Merton likened the spiritual life to the search for a
path in a field of newly fallen snow: we walk across the snow, and that is our path.
Similarly, Teasdale wrote, Interspirituality is open to growth in perspective; it
implies a commitment to always push forward toward a more adequate understanding of the
source, the meaning of life, and the best methods of proceeding in our spiritual
lives. (The Mystic Heart, p. 28)
expression of interspiruality that has encouraged and inspired me has been the coming
together, in community, of sincere and accomplished teachers and practitioners across
traditions, not only to share experiences and insights, but to begin to discern together
how the unique wisdom of the mystical, contemplative perspective can be brought to bear
(both individually and collectively) on the considerable challenges that confront us in
our world today. I feel deeply privileged to be participating in the emergence of two such
communities: the Global Peace Initiative of Womens Contemplative Alliance, which
held its first gathering in Aspen in November 2008 and sent a delegation of spiritual
teachers and leaders to the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen; and the newly formed
Universal Order of Sannyasa, based on a vision articulated by Teasdale in The Mystic Heart. Participation in UOS is
something that will be open to the larger One Spirit community, and I look forward to
sharing more about it with you over time.
third aspect of the interspiritual perspective that gives me hope is the emergence of my
friend Andrew Harveys teaching on sacred activism, clearly and
powerfully articulated in his book The Hope. Unlike
much of traditional activism which, though born of a sincere passion for justice, often
grows out of and reinforces the adversarial us and them consciousness that
gives rise to many of our most intractable problems - and which so often leads to burn out
sacred activism marries this passion for justice with a deep commitment to mystical
practice that grounds us in the unshakable, inexhaustible love and joy that arise
naturally when we directly experience the underlying unity of all life. Through this
marriage, our lives become a force of transformative love in action, to serve the healing
of the world and midwife the next step in conscious evolution, what Andrew calls the
birth of a divine humanity.
support and participate in the emergence of interspirituality - with all that I believe it
makes possible for our world is, for me, the heart of One Spirits purpose
that we may be a living part of the possibility of sending this spinning top of a
world in a different and more life-affirming direction together.
Vladimir Serkin from the Russian)
Vladimir Serkin (above, right):
WITH THE SHAMAN
to Dialogues with the Shaman
Laughter; and Shamanic Forest
Prepared for revised abridged
Author: Serkin Vladimir
Translated from Russian by
July 16th 2005
I do not know where they came
from. I glanced back after the Shaman did so and I saw a man and two women with the
sunset background. The man had a short spear. I never saw such a spear before.
His spears blade was like the double-edge blade of a large knife. The
spears point was obviously made out of iron.
One woman had a bow behind her
back with relaxed bowstring made out of deer sinew. Arrows were probably in a bag.
Their faces seemed as harsh as their fists. They were dressed almost
completely in skins. The one with a bow had a sweater under her skins. The
second woman had a military winter hat. They probably trade with shepherds or
probably robbed someone. Their stature was straight and proud. Maybe they are
people and maybe not. I felt something foreign and strange. From the first
look it is obvious why the Evelns avoid them. In the Evelns conversations, they are
referred only as they. I silently called them Dark and not
because of the color of their skin. Their tanned and weathered faces are not darker
than the Evelns faces. It felt as if the evening became darker and heavier in their
presence. I would not like to meet these people without the Shaman nor in their
territory where no civilized person has ever visited. This is territory under four
thousand kilometers (about 2.5 thousand miles) between Magadan and Yakutsk. They may
not be cannibals, but
They communicated only with the Shaman. They
ignored me the way people would normally ignore a neighbors cat. I also tried
not to look. God forbid offending these. They would tear you to pieces first
and think about it later. Ne-e-e, they would not think later either. Their
language was a combination of the sounds and gestures, as if gestures were equal to
sounds. Their sounds were hoarse clicking with short vowels and strange tones.
They waited for the Shaman to create a mixture for them, and than they nodded, said
something hoarsely and left without looking at me. The evening suddenly lightened
Are those The Twilight
Yes. It was them.
Why are they so gloomy?
They are most ancient.
Even more than the local Evelns?
They older than any people here.
How do you know?
By their language.
What is so special about their
The older language gets more primal
How is that?
With primary language all words are
I do not understand.
For example the word
bear translates to formidable sleeps all winter.
What about their gestures?
Bear is pronounced as:
threat as a sound, sleep as a gesture, winter as a
sound, always as a gesture.
This is great. A new concept.
This is not new. All
languages started as this one.
Please tell me more.
The Tambourine sounds like
goom-denn by the sounds a tambourine makes.
Can you demonstrate with gestures?
(The Shaman made a gesture meaning
he is too busy now to deal with language lessons.)
It is difficult to communicate with
people using such language.
But their spells are much stronger.
(The Shaman laughs.)
July 17th 2005
We climbed to the highest peak
of this shore. We placed a gift to the Mountain spirit and rest. The view is
like outside an airplanes window. We are probably the first people to ever
climb here. It is possible to get here by only using special mountain snow shoes.
In the summer this place is unreachable due to the thick growth of cider stlanik.
In the winter skies would brake on rocks under snow. I brought expensive snow
shoes from Alaska. They have a metal frame and sharp teeth and all this under 3 kilo
(6.6 Lb). I remembered the Twilight people. By now they have
to be about 60 kilometers (37 miles) away from us, going home.
How can they walk through those
mountains using wooden snowshoes? They must break daily.
Right now they rest.
How do you know?
They have to go for a few hundred
kilometers, many days. They are conserving their strength.
What, later in the darkness they
use less strengths?
This time of year light is not
important, but snow. Later in the evening and at night the snow becomes frozen and
harder. It is easier to walk almost without sinking into it. At about noon to
8 pm the snow is soft because of the sun. You use up a lot of strength and walk a
Somehow I did not notice it.
We walked on the mountain ridge,
the snow here is hard. We would encounter soft snow by 6 pm. You would notice
Why had no one ever discovered the
They do not want to be discovered.
Who cares what they want.
Others have been discovered.
Their speech is stronger than our.
It would be the way they want.
What does their speech have to do
Speech creates the world.
What makes it so strong?
I told you, their speech is primal.
They have much less separation between a word and an action.
November 06th 2005
This morning the Shaman was
sitting on his bench, for a few hours, somehow differently, turned to the left.
What is it?
Not everything in my city life went
the best way.
You are remembering it?
I was correcting it.
You corrected the past?
Only my own. Who am I to be
involved in someone else life?
How can you correct something which
Little by little. I create a
different image of the situation.
But you can only remember it.
I remember because the situation
can influence thought process. But the thought process can influence the situation,
But is this situation over yet?
It is over and it exists forever.
How come forever?
Now it will not disappear.
It disappeared already.
Did the past disappear?
But you think now, and
your situation is in the past.
Firstly the situation is extended
until now, since I thought about it. Secondly, you forgot about the world of ideas
being outside of time. You yourself teach it to your students.
I teach them by Plato only.
And I practice by Plato.
Sure, you are Plato yourself.
(We laugh.) This way everyone who is not too lazy can change the past.
All people do it but not very
effectively because they do it unskillfully and they are not systematic enough.
But this is
Do not get upset. The world
is a self preserving system. Otherwise it would not have lasted all this time.
Then here is another danger.
By trying to correct the past a person can be destroyed by placing himself across the
Write this down. Better not
to practice than to practice unintelligently.
So, what do you do?
Everyone decides for himself.
Most people pray.
So, to correct the future it is
needed to turn to the right?
This is irrelevant. What is
important is the correlation to your concept of time.
January 22nd 2006
For the last few years in the
area of Magadan here is plenty of wildlife again. This is understandable. From
my generation of all the people I know, I am the only one who hunts. A generation
ago it used to be every second person. When I told my thoughts about it to the
Shaman, he just laughed.
The locals used to live by hunting
professionally for thousands of years and they got more meat than any layman now.
But there was no shortage of animals.
Contemporary hunters kill animals
in barbaric ways and the locals behave in a civilized way hunting.
What is the difference?
The locals killed only by
necessity. They followed rituals for the hunting and slaughter of animals, so the
soul of the animal is not offended and again can reincarnate in the same locality.
How are hunters today offending
For those who need the meat as
necessity for a family budget there is no real offence. This kind of hunter thinks
about his children, we can say that he thinks about life.
What about the others?
Many contemporary hunters kill
animals for a sport. This is an offence. They kill without asking for
forgiveness. They do not follow any rules and treat the carcasses badly. After
such treatment the soul of an animal does not come back for a long time or goes to other
places. Sometimes it even goes to the other worlds because of the offence. It
may also lead other animals away after it. It may improve in Magadan, but what about
Yes. This is barbaric.
At least it is good that animals do not take revenge.
The Spirits of the locality take
They mark anyone for wrong killing
with a killer mark. This sign is recognized in almost any world. It natural
for the killer to meet more hostility everywhere until the end of his life. As a
result he lives worse and for shorter time.
But many nonprofessional hunters do
not suspect it.
What is important is not the
knowledge, but the actions. When a hunter repents, the mark is removed, but the years
lived worse under a killer mark nobody can reverse.
But a human being does not know!
He is not guilty, but the education system and the system itself.
(The Shaman parodied a guru.)
Everyone born into a specific system not accidentally, but all who are born can
improve. (The Shaman smiles.) Do not bother me anymore with
questions, whose answers exist in a thousand books. Master stopping your