323. Adam Bucko Transcript

Adam Bucko # 323

December 25, 2015

{BATGAP theme music plays}

>>Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer and I am out at the Science & Nonduality Conference (SAND) where I am doing a series of interviews with conference presenters.

Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with all kinds of spiritually awakening people and there are several hundred of them online already, which you can find at www.batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P.

My guest now is Adam Bucko. Adam is an activist, spiritual director to many of New York City’s homeless youth, and co-author of a new award-winning book called Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation.

And in my notes here it talks about [you] growing up in Poland and all that, but I would rather have you just tell me than me reading the notes, so let’s do that first.

>>Adam: Sure. So yes, I grew up in Poland, during what is sometimes called “the Polish Revolution.” And you know, growing up, in many ways, was a very painful experience, to see all the violence around me, to see all the people around me kind of giving up on life simply because the world that they were born into didn’t offer them any opportunities, didn’t offer them any spaces in which they could claim their truth, so to speak.

So early on I feel like I had two choices: one was to become an alcoholic, which a lot of people around me were doing that, simply because … I mean, simply to just get numb, to not feel the pain, or to become an activist, so I chose to become an activist.

And in Poland in that time, the main tradition of activism was spiritual activism; activism that was connected to the Catholic Church, which at that point, over 90% of all Polish people were Catholic. And so early on in life, I was inspired by these amazing priests who were kind of like “Gandhis” of Poland, so to speak, who dedicated their whole lives to working for social change, embodying the nonviolent way of Jesus.

And what I got from them is that saying “yes” to God means saying “no” to everything that violates God’s love in the world; saying “no” to the enemies of life, as some people would say, you know, things like injustice, things like poverty, things like violence, etcetera.

Both of the priests who inspired me were killed. One of them was my parish priest. They were both killed by the Regime and so I also early on realized …

>>Rick: Because they were saying “no” to the things that the Regime was …

>>Adam: Yeah, exactly. I mean some of them, like Father Yeshua, were gathering thousands of people for these worship services, where he would just pray saying, “Blessed Mother of those who are oppressed, pray for us,” or “Blessed Mother of those who are imprisoned, pray for us,” or “Blessed Mother of those who are trying to kill us, pray for us” – the System didn’t like that.

And so he was killed first and then his best friend, who was my parish priest, continued his work. And he was one of the last victims of the Regime, killed just a walking distance from my house in which I grew up. And so early on I also realized that there are consequences for this path of spiritual activism.

>>Rick: When they were killed, did it frighten you, did it dampen your enthusiasm, or did it make you feel even more determined to follow their example?

>>Adam: Well you know, as a kid I identified with the archetype of a priest, and so I remember building an altar at home and trying to essentially see what I saw priests do. And for me it was an authentic spiritual experience, you know, every time I did that I felt helped by this Presence that although everything around me is just falling apart, my life, nevertheless, is worth living because there’s this Presence that I can rely on.

And so when I saw those guys killed I was frightened because I so identified with that archetype and I so wanted to follow in their footsteps, that I literally went into this space where I was like, “Am I going to be next?” I mean I was a kid.

>>Rick: Yeah, and you mentioned you were a kid, I was wondering actually how old you were during this phase when you first began to get this inspiration?

>>Adam: I was pretty young. It probably started … I don’t know, maybe when I was like 6 or 7 years old.

>>Rick: Hmm, you weren’t drinking then, yet.

>>Adam: No, not yet. Even though in Poland those things happen early.

>>Rick: Yeah, okay, so then I guess the “Regime” means the Communist Regime that was governing Poland, and then Lech Walesa came in and there was this peaceful revolution.

>>Adam: Yes.

>>Rick: And how old were you when that was happening?

>>Adam: I was born in 1975 so you know, when Poland went into the state of emergency I was 6 years old, and then a lot of stuff happened after that, until 1989, and even after 1989, it was like an eruption of newness. And even though the system changed, a lot of people felt that we got stuck with a system that no one wanted.

So being there really initiated me into this way of being, way of envisioning my life that is connected to wanting to work for a better world.

>>Rick: Did you actually consider entering the priesthood or did you go to … what do they call it, seminary school or whatever?

>>Adam: Well I spent quite a bit of my time in my twenties in different monasteries. I eventually went to India because I connected with a Hindu-Christian lineage – people like Father Bede Griffith, Sister Vanda Mataji, Brother Wayne Teasdale – and so my goal was to go to India and to become a Christian sadhu, and to follow in that tradition.

And so when I was in my mid-twenties I went to India, but for me, I had a big experience meeting homeless kids, and that changed everything, I feel like I was brought back to earth, you know.

And I guess something to qualify, even though I had this idea about activism and I had all those inspirations, at the age of 17 when I moved to the States, I felt very alienated, I couldn’t speak any English, we were undocumented immigrants, I was playing music on the subway of New York City, trying to you know, make some money.

And all of a sudden my life felt like it collapsed, and a lot of it was just the post-traumatic stress disorder from all the stuff that I experienced in my childhood, combined with the alienation of being in a new place, being completely cut off. And so when I started experiencing that, that experience I guess led me to an ashram, where I was trained in contemplative practice. In the ashram, one of the Hindu swamis said, “Why are you even worrying about Hinduism, you have mystics in your own tradition,” that is how I discovered Father Bede Griffith.

And then from then, I mean the dream was to really live as a Christian sadhu in India, which is kind of funny but I was very serious about it.

>>Rick: Was that a Hindu ashram that you found? Was that in the States or in India?

>>Adam: Yeah, initially it was Satchidananda Ashram.

>>Rick: In Upstate New York?

>>Adam: No, in Virginia.

>>Rick: Virginia, alright.

>>Adam: And Swami Satchidananda was still around. And then after that, when I went to India I was with Sister Vanda Mataji, [at] a small hermitage outside Rishikesh, on the bank of the Ganges, and she was both a Hindu swami and a Catholic nun.

She was very close to Father Bede Griffith, Swami Abhishiktananda, Swami Chidananda, from the Divine Life Society, and Swami Chidananda was her primary teacher.

>>Rick: Had Bede Griffith already died by then?

>>Adam: Yeah.

>>Rick: Okay. I’m going to be interviewing Andrew Harvey in a couple of months, and he [had] spent a lot of time with him.

>>Adam: Yeah, he’s a good friend and mentor, and he was very close with Father Bede.

>>Rick: So how long were you in India and how intense was your spiritual practice there? Or was it mainly a service practice?

>>Adam: Well, so my practice in India was very intense but not intense in ways that you would imagine. You know, I went to India thinking that I was going to be in some kind of a silent hermitage and I was for a couple of weeks, after that I moved to the slums outside of Delhi and I was part of the ashram called Seva Ashram.

And that ashram was a community of over 100 people who were rescued from the streets of Delhi. Most of them were found with maggots in their bodies, completely falling apart, it also had a community of street children. So I moved to that ashram and started working there, and that’s where my real spiritual practice started, but it was a practice of working with homeless kids, sleeping on the streets in Delhi once a week, connecting …

>>Rick: So you can relate to them.

>>Adam: Right, connecting the contemplative practice to service. And you know, that changed my life; I only lasted there for a few months because my body just completely fell apart. But that really took me into the core of my calling, which is to combine contemplative practice with working for social justice.

In the Christian tradition and other traditions we talk about the relationship between contemplation and action, and what I learned through that experience is that not only are they related, [but that] action becomes contemplation, and so in a sense they are indistinguishable.

>>Rick: Do you see it is a dharmic thing, where some people are more naturally inclined to be contemplative or meditative and not worry much about actual Seva in the active sense or do you think that pretty much everyone would benefit from that, at least a lot more people than are currently engaged in that sort of thing?

>>Adam: Well I do think that some people are called to life in solitude. I have mentors who are hermits. But it’s interesting how you phrased the question, you said, people who just focus on contemplative practice and don’t worry about …, and so …

>>Rick: I know a lot of people who have been doing meditative practices for years and they would hardly lift a finger to help anybody; they are just absorbed or interested in their own inner experience.

>>Adam: Right, and I would say they are in some kind of a spiritual coma and they better get out of it. And I was in that kind of a coma myself, and it’s not until I met a Carmelite hermit who said, “The first stage, the first step in the mystical life is to fall in love with life,” I realized that I wasn’t even really alive.

I spent so much time disconnecting from different parts of myself to experience what the books said I should experience, this ultimate peace, that you know, I fell asleep, even though I thought I was awake. And it’s not until I was brought back to the streets that I started tasting God in a new way.

So I think for me, spirituality that doesn’t involve action is a big problem, and I think that yes, some people are called to life in solitude, but the people who I know that are truly called to life in solitude, they spend most of their time praying for the world. They are breaking with suffering more.

>>Rick: That’s a nice point. So whether they are actually actively doing something for the world or quietly doing something for the world, you are kind of saying that it would benefit or behoove a spiritual aspirant not just to be concerned about his or her own subjective experiences, but be concerned about the world.

>>Adam: Yeah. For me, spirituality without engagement doesn’t exist and doesn’t mean anything. That’s my, you know …

>>Rick: Yeah, well it’s an important point. I mean, there are a lot of voices out there that say, “The world is an illusion,” and you know …

>>Adam: Yeah, and I think it is … that the world …It’s interesting because you know, traditionally, when you look at some of the spiritual structures, especially structures that advocated that whole philosophy of the world being an illusion, it’s interesting because a lot of those teachers didn’t exist in a vacuum.

Oftentimes they were kind of connected to the ruling elites, etcetera. Like for example, when you look at India, how many gurujis are connected? It’s like when I lived in India, you know, you gained a good reputation as a guru when business people and government officials started visiting you and endorsing you. And so yes, the world is an illusion but what does [that] mean, you know?

>>Rick: Yeah. This is an interesting story. You know Amma the Hugging Saint …

>>Adam: Yeah.

>>Rick: Does a lot of stuff to help people in India and elsewhere in the world. And you know, all these projects, working day and night in hospitals and orphanages and schools, helping get prostitutes off the streets and all sorts of things. And one of her swamis once said to her, “What more can we do for the world?” and she said, “What world?”

So she realizes that ultimately there is no world and nothing ever happened, but at the same time is spending every ounce of her energy to relieve the suffering of the world.

>>Adam: Yeah but see, I have a problem with that thing that “nothing ever happened. I think that things do happen and I think it’s a difference in the framework. And I think that the frameworks that we adopt for [the] spiritual journey have ultimate significance because they determine and color our realization, and that then determines our engagement with the world.

>>Rick: Yeah, but I think it actually is symptomatic of a certain stage of development and perhaps a very advanced one, of consciousness, that one can actually perceive that the world appears to have manifested but actually never did so, that it’s just an appearance. And yet that doesn’t, if it’s integrated and balanced properly, that does not in any way diminish one’s zeal or determination to improve the world.

>>Adam: Yeah sure, but that’s a very specific framework you know, and I just don’t know that I would agree with it … even if it means challenging …

>>Rick: Challenging is good.

>>Adam: Because I mean, you know, so many people are saying, “This is not real, this is not happening,” but if we throw this bottle at someone they will experience pain, right?

>>Rick: Oh yeah.

>>Adam: And so yes, in an ultimate sense, but what does that mean? That’s not my experience of God. My experience of God is an experience of God who is breaking this suffering, who is crying with all the children of the streets.

>>Rick: Yeah, well the reason I bring up the point is to actually, I think, make the same point you’re trying to make, which is that even if one either understands or experiences that ultimately there is no world, that does not absolve one from the … should not absolve one from the responsibility of helping the world.

>>Adam: Right.

>>Rick: You know, it doesn’t let you off the hook.

>>Adam: But it is easy then to use that as not wanting to do much, and we see that in so many spiritual circles where as you mentioned … you know, the way that we started this interview, so many people think that there is nothing to do.

And on a certain level of realization, there is a way to interpret that where, “there is nothing to do” means that “God does through us,” but it’s dangerous to make that statement without that kind of a realization because then it is oftentimes just used as an excuse for non-engagement.

>>Rick: Yeah. We talked about this in the last interview with Dorothy Hunt, that knowledge is different in different states of consciousness and one can misapply an understanding that is appropriate for one level of consciousness to one’s own, and it’s a very impractical kind of arrangement.

>>Adam: Right.

>>Rick: And so one thing that can be an incentive to people who are kind of caught in the cul-de-sac we just described, kind of a narcissistic or self-indulgent focus on their own development to the exclusion of the world, is to better understand how service to the world is actually conducive to one’s personal growth. I mean if that’s primarily what people experience … are interested in, maybe they would be more inspired to help the world if they thought it was going to help them, and later on, they might feel that there’s an intrinsic value in just helping the world. What do you say to that?

>>Adam: Well, we know from the Bhagavad Gita that it’s possible to use the path of service as a way of spiritual practice, but I wouldn’t reduce service just to a tool that can enable us to experience God. I think service is both: on one hand yes, it is a tool for us to touch God, for us to experience God, for us to feed God, for us to house the homeless God, so to speak, but at the same time, the way I experience it is [that] it’s a form of prayer, it’s a form of me letting God use whatever it is that I have and turn it into something that could be offered to the world.

And in that sense yes, it is I guess beneficial to my spiritual development, but … you know … in that space, it’s all just about saying “yes” and living in surrender. And so in a sense, even the development itself, I’m not in charge of it, right?

>>Rick: Right … yeah.

>>Adam: So, in that sense, it’s just a practice of surrender, [that] at all times to allow God to live through me as much as possible.

>>Rick: Yeah, and that’s a rather mature level of experience and understanding. Most people don’t start out with that; they think, “What’s in it for me? How could this benefit me?” That’s why I brought up the question because, I don’t know, maybe even you started out that way or maybe not, but over time

>>Adam: No, I mean where I started I wanted to sit on the mountain and experience God, and I didn’t realize the experience of God only started happening when I actually started working with the poor, but I think the years of contemplative practice informed it and prepared me for it. But it’s only when I started engaging with the poor that God kind of broke into my experience and I began to … feel like this life is not mine.

>>Rick: Beautiful! “Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace.”

>>Adam: Right.

>>Rick: Yeah. So, if somebody asked me what are the mechanics through which Seva is conducive to spiritual evolution, my response would be that kind of attenuates the ego, because it’s not all about me but it’s about serving him, and serving her. And when that’s your orientation, there’s naturally an attenuation of the ego, a diminishment of “me, me, me.” Would you agree with that definition or would you like to elaborate upon it?

>>Adam: Yeah, I agree with that definition but I don’t really think much about that, you know, because for me, it’s a simple act of showing up and making myself available, and being in a state of receptivity and openness and not knowing, and then just saying “yes” to the Grace that wants to take this life and use it for something.

And so in that sense, I’m very much, kind of, not engaged in even understanding the process of how this action, or this pattern, or this engagement is going to take me to the level that I want to be at. Having said that I think that yeah, what you said, I would definitely agree with that.

>>Rick: When you did begin engaging with the poor and helping in the ways that you do, and you mentioned that then you began to really feel like an instrument of the Divine, let’s talk about that a little bit more. I mean, what was the real felt-sense of being an instrument of the Divine? For instance, what sort of things began to happen in your life that hadn’t happened when you were sitting on the mountaintop?

>>Adam: Well for me it’s a very, kind of simple situation: you show up, you sit with a homeless kid who is breaking, a homeless kid who let’s say has been abused sexually for 14 or 15 years. And so what I used to do is I would show up and I would try to use all the skills that I have to try to make them feel better, to try to solve whatever problem I thought they had. Eventually, I moved into a new space where I started showing up and treating that encounter as a form of contemplative prayer.

And the form of contemplative prayer that I practice is a simple, receptive method of just being in the state of curious not-knowing and resting in the Divine presence, trusting that there is a Divine presence. And so I started showing up like that, putting everything, all of my skills, everything that I know aside, and just being there in that kind of state of curious not-knowing, in that kind of state of complete trust and surrender.

And what I started experiencing is that then, I would just feel their pain, and it would be really intense. They would be breaking and I would be breaking with them. And then what I started experiencing is that every time that happened, there was this something that would just begin to kind of arise, a kind of an energetic impulse. And then it was all about just following it and allowing it to bring proper words, bring proper actions.

I mean it’s very hard to describe, but it was a very physical, almost, way of arising. And what I started experiencing is that every time that I have the courage to just follow it, the right words would come, all of my skills that I had would be somehow used but maybe assembled in ways that I wouldn’t normally think of assembling them.

And then it would just … there would just be this kind of a something that is doing the work. And what I would also experience is that it was not really clear who was helping whom, because I would feel that my own wounds are being touched as well. And it just felt like an experience of deep prayer, you know?

And so in terms of this “felt-sense,” it’s kind of like, I don’t know, being on some kind of wave that just arises and takes all of your stuff and turns it into something that at that particular moment could be beneficial.

And then, the next stage of that experience was: how can I restructure my life, and how can I develop a rule of life, a set of practices that can enable me to go back to that space as often as I can? And then eventually when I started doing that, that sense of being in that Presence and that Presence living through me began extending.

>>Rick: Expanding.

>>Adam: Expanding in terms of it wouldn’t just be when I meet with a homeless kid, but it would be a shift that would take place, in terms of me just being in this kind of a state of awareness of you know, whatever … you know what I’m talking about.

>>Rick: Yeah. Are you in that state of awareness right now?

>>Adam: I can be if I want to, I mean it’s just a matter of coming back to the heart and, here we are.

>>Rick: Is there any reason, any advantage to not being in that state all the time? And do you expect that one of these days it will become so deeply engrained that ….?

>>Adam: No, but I forget, it’s like I have all this stuff and …

>>Rick: Stuff going on …

>>Adam: And so it’s a matter of … I mean, I love the word that the Sufis use, “remembrance.” And it’s not so much the remembrance of what that Presence feels like, but just the remembrance of, “Okay, here we are, alright.”

>>Rick: Yeah. In the Hindu tradition too, Arjuna says at the end of the Gita, “I’ve remembered my true nature.”

>>Adam: Mm-hmm.

>>Rick: Yeah. So from the perspective of that kid (the homeless kid), or perhaps from a third party observer, what would they have seen different about the Adam who was mainly working from his skill-set and the Adam who was mainly working from his heart?

>>Adam: I don’t know, I mean I’m not quite sure, to be quite honest with you, but a lot of our kids when they come to our center they say, “Well, I come here because this is my church.” And so there’s this sense that when they walk into this space that they feel loved, they feel that the space is filled with something that holds them in a unique way.

>>Rick: Hmm, and now you’re doing it in New York City, right?

>>Adam: Yeah, we’re doing it in New York City. We’ve had this organization called The Reciprocity Foundation for the last 11 years, and it’s an organization that has a rhythm of life so to speak it’s almost like a new monastic enterprise; everyone who works there works from that kind of contemplative perspective.

Now the help that is being provided is not just about helping kids to develop a contemplative practice, it’s about getting them jobs, it’s about sending them to college, finding money for college, it’s about really getting them out of homelessness but it’s all done from that kind of a contemplative perspective. And our kids call it “church,” you know?

>>Rick: I bet you have some fantastic before and after examples.

>>Adam: Yeah, I mean in the last 11 years we’ve probably have helped, I don’t know, maybe fifteen-hundred people and most of them are no longer homeless. And some amazing stories, both big and small, but the stories that really touch me are when I see that someone was able to discover their gift and then use that gift in service of building a world that reflects more compassion.

I had this wonderful mentor who was a street Rabbi and he was a Hasidic Rabbi, and he was trained by some of the greatest Hasidic masters in the Middle East. And he always tells me about this thing about the Jewish tradition, this thing about “tikoom el-alam” – the work of healing, the work of repairing the world. And he says, “Every one of us comes here to fix just one thing, and so what is that thing that you’re here to fix? And no one else can do it!” And so, therefore, everyone is so important, because what you can do no one else can do, what I can do no one else can do.

So for me, the most beautiful stories are when people find that one thing and then they do whatever it takes to reshape their lives, to heal from their trauma, to do whatever it is that they need to do so that they can restructure their life in such a way that … fixing that one thing becomes the center of their life.

>>Rick: Nice. You know the starfish story?

>>Adam: No.

>>Rick: Well … I’ll bet you do. So an old man and a young man were walking down the beach and there were all these starfish that had washed up on the sand, and the sun was out and they were all going to dry out and die.

And so as they were going along the old man was reaching down and picking up a starfish and throwing it in, and they’d keep walking and he would pick up another one. And the young man said, “What’s the point of doing that?! There are so many starfish, you can’t really save them all.”

The old man reached down, picked up another one, threw it in and said, “Well, I made a difference to that one.”

>>Adam: Yeah, I do know that story. It’s beautiful. Yeah, yeah … yeah.

>>Rick: And the reason I bring up that story is I wonder if you went through a phase where you felt like, “This is just a drop in the bucket! There is so much suffering in the world and over 11 years I’ve helped fifteen-hundred kids, but God, there are billions of people who are in bad shape.” Did you ever get a feeling of overwhelm or inadequacy that you couldn’t do more?

>>Adam: You know, I think I felt that in India, but I think once I came back, and especially once I went through the shift that I went through in my work, [where it] moved from kind of therapeutic work to prayer really, I stopped working for results.

I do the work that I do because I feel called to do it, it’s the right thing to do, but in terms of what comes out of it, I mean there are never any guarantees. And sometimes I’m surprised, someone calls …like not too long ago I had a call from someone who said, “You know, I just attended a couple of classes at the foundation and I still have the telephone number. It’s been 6 years, and I just wanted to let you know that it changed my life and now I just graduated from college.”

>>Rick: That’s beautiful.

>>Adam: Now, what I remember of that kid is that he was staying at a shelter, he got drunk, was kicked out, got arrested, and then we never saw him again. But something was planted, some kind of a seed, and obviously it made a difference.

So to be quite honest with you, I have no clue what happens! I mean obviously, yeah, I would like to see changes, I mean who wouldn’t, but I stopped working for results because all I can do is just show up and do my best.

>>Rick: You probably know that verse in the Gita which says, “You have control over action alone and never over its fruits …”

>>Adam: Yeah, don’t be attached to the fruits.

>>Rick: “… and no thought to the fruit of action nor attach yourself to inaction.” That kind of hearkens back to what.

>>Adam: Yeah, yeah, I mean Gita, that’s like one of the best teachings on service, really.

>>Rick: Yeah, it also says, “Even no obstacle exists,” there’s that, and also, “A little of this removes great fear.” So just those couple of exposures made a huge difference in that kid’s life.

>>Adam: Yeah, yeah.

>>Rick: Nice. I want to take more time for audience questions than we did in the previous interview, so be thinking if you want to ask a question, we can start bringing some of those in as we go along.

Um, so do you have any plans to extend this beyond New York or have you already done so? I mean, is it becoming some kind of nationwide network or anything?

>>Adam: No, we actually don’t want to grow our center. I think scaling is a model for banking, but even in banking, it doesn’t seem to be working.

>>Rick: Are there any like sister centers that are unaffiliated with or taking inspiration from you?

>>Adam: So what our way of expansion is, is to train big, established organizations, some of the leaders in the field, and infuse them with the skillsets that we have developed and infuse them with our model.

And so for example, in New York City right now, all of the big organizations, or most of them that work with the homeless youth and foster youth, are being trained by us, and this is happening in other states and other cities. But as a center we’re very clear: this is what we do, this is who we are, and the center feels more like a family and you know, you [don’t want to] make a family too big, right?

>>Rick: Right.

>>Adam: It gets messy and confusing.

>>Rick: If you want to ask a question come on up and I’ll hand you the mic because otherwise, we won’t have it on the mic. So we’ll wait for her to come up …

>>Audience member: I’d like to know more about your center. Do the kids sleep there? Do they come just a session with you …?

>>Adam: So they don’t sleep there, it’s a center where they come during the day and in the evenings. And the kids who come there come from all the shelters, from all around New York City, and the kids who don’t have shelters, we place them in shelters and help them to have a place to stay.

And so we deal with everything but housing. We provide a lot of holistic, medical stuff, we help them to find a sense of vocation, we connect them to leaders from different industries and organize projects where they can learn certain skills and develop a professional portfolio, then after that, we place them in formal internships and then eventually help them to go to college.

The goal for every kid is to essentially graduate from college and come back and serve others.

>>Audience member: Boys and girls?

>>Adam: Yes.

>>Audience member: And where are their parents and how do you get your funding?

>>Adam: So that’s a complicated question in terms of where are their parents. You know, sometimes kids become homeless because they identify as gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, and especially religious parents tend to kick them out, thinking that somehow the streets will, you know, “fix” them. So that’s about 40% of our kids.

In addition to that, you have kids who grew up in the foster care system and whenever they aged out of the system, they were simply dropped off at the bus station and told to “go follow their dreams.” That happens quite often.

Sometimes kids come from poor families and [their] families are simply not able to take care of them, and then you also have kids who have to run away because they’re being abused. So that’s kind of how that works.

And I think the second part of your question was, how do they find us? Oh, “fund” us. Well, we get our funding through individuals and foundations and different kinds of philanthropic initiatives. And it’s never easy, you know, no one is really interested in homeless youth.

>>Rick: Sir … stand up, so we can see you on camera.

>>Audience member: Enjoyed greatly listening to your stories, especially about Indian kids. I’ve been there … New Delhi. And so a couple of questions. Talk about an approach with curious non-knowing and a sense of prayer. And you said that awareness suffused you, you were carried by a wave, so was there a sense of somebody praying to somebody else? Who was praying to that? And what was the dynamic … what was it like when that current happened over a few months, what was the metamorphosis from that current, from initially wanting to do something for yourself, perhaps, to it carrying you by itself, on a wave?

>>Adam: This sense of praying to someone else, yes, there was a little bit of that as an introductory practice. I often start with praying to someone else, and then that allows me to show up in a specific kind of way, a way of just being in a state of openness and receptivity.

And then what happens after that is usually just that there’s a sense of grace just kind of taking over and doing the work, and it’s not like I’m completely lost in that; there is a sense of …

>>Rick: Individuality.

>>Adam: There is a sense of individuality but it’s a different sense of individuality. It’s a sense of the things that are me exist, but in a slightly different configuration, sometimes in kind of a surprising configuration. And I feel more than myself and more of myself, than at other times.

So that’s kind of what the experience is like for me. I don’t know if that answers your question.

>>Audience member: Yeah. I remember Mother Teresa was asked this: “Why are you hugging these children with leprosy?” She said, “I’m not, I’m seeing Christ in each one of them.” So was that a similar paradigm? Like you’re seeing God in them, in whatever formation … in your service, or what?

>>Adam: I like to say that my God lives on the street, and so as a practice, yes, I’m kind of, in a sense, trying to relate to everyone as if they were God. At the same time, the actual experience … so there’s that, but that’s the starting part, and then the Presence … the wave comes and it just happens, and that’s when I don’t really need to think much about that anymore.

And it’s kind of hard to describe that but you know, for me, a lot of those kinds of images and formulations, they’re always a starting point. And I love this idea that I’m serving God and touching God, but that still happens here (pointing to his head), and it’s good enough of a story for me to get me going.

>>Rick: But it’s just not happening here, I mean, there must really … your heart is so open.

>>Adam: Yeah, no, yeah, but you know, it’s like … it’s something that motivates me to show up and then once I show up, something else happens. And then it’s not so much that I’m serving God, it’s that God is serving God, you know?

>>Rick: Yeah, I know what you mean. I mean, I sort of feel like that with this, although I have much more respect for what you’re doing than what I’m doing …

>>Adam: No, everyone has a different experience …

>>Rick: Yeah, we all have different roles to play, yeah. But there’s this kind of sense that, “Oh yes, I’m serving as an instrument of the Divine,” but there’s also the actual visceral felt-sense that … “That’s really what I’m doing!”

>>Adam: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

>>Rick: Which is much more than an idea. And which has a very … personally I asked [myself] that question earlier about what personal evolutionary benefit might come from this, and I feel that a lot more voltage has been plugged into my life as a result of being willing to serve in that capacity. Yeah, can’t even sleep at this conference J

>>Adam: That’s good, or not so good! I haven’t slept much since I got here.

>>Rick: Yeah, it’s like, “Whoa!”

Any other questions that anyone would like to ask? Okay, so what can I … we have a few minutes left and I’m sure there are a million brilliant questions I could ask you that I haven’t thought of, so what am I missing? What would you like to say to us and to everyone who will watch this that I haven’t thought to ask, or anyone else has thought to ask?

>>Adam: Well so you know, working with homeless kids is my way of prayer and practice, and out of that for me emerged, in a sense, a very specific kind of practice and almost a way of working with people.

And now, the second part of my work is just working with young people in general and building what we are calling … or rather, helping to build what we are calling “the new monasticism.’

>>Rick: The new monasticism?

>>Adam: Mm-hmm, and it’s essentially: how can we organize young people and offer them a mature framework for their spirituality, where they can begin to do traditionally what has only been done in monasteries, but do it in such a way that their spirituality begins to take them into the heart of the world, that their spirituality allows them to have more meaningful relationships, including family and etcetera.

So not necessarily something that takes them outside of the world, but that takes them into the heart of the world, spirituality that allows them to claim their gifts and use them in service of building a world that, you know, reflects compassion, justice, and nonviolence.

So that’s kind of the second part of my work, but a lot of that stuff for me, in terms of how I work with young people, all of that I would like to say that I learned it in monasteries or somewhere else because that sounds cool, but I didn’t.

>>Rick: Sounds like you learned it by doing it.

>>Adam: Yeah, I learned it by sitting with homeless kids

>>Rick: Yeah, and this new thing you’re doing with the kids who aren’t necessarily homeless, is that being well-received?

>>Adam: Yeah, it’s being well-received and the primary question for young people, the primary spiritual question for young people nowadays I find is: What am I called to do? Who am I called to be?

And I think that’s why we look at books like you know, Rick Warren’s A Purpose Driven Life, I mean, I know so many people who disagree with his theology but still read his book, and that’s because all of us are trying to figure that out.

And for me, to know what your vocation of requires you to be in a state of prayer, where that impulse of God … where you can be aware of that impulse of God that is arising in your heart and then say “yes” to it and allow it to live through you. And so your life can be reshaped in such a way that you live as an expression of that impulse.

And so for me, that’s action and contemplation, that’s what knowing your calling is about. And that’s what spiritual practice is and everything else [is about]; they are there for us to [help us] be in that state and to allow that to happen.

>>Rick: Is there a fairly significant percentage of young people who are thinking this way, or are we talking about some little subset and the vast majority are more concerned with sports?

>>Adam: I think there’s no way to know but I think that you know, everywhere I go there are so many young people who are interested in this stuff. And you look at some of the recent movements like Occupy Wall Street, for example, a few of years ago, or even now, Black Lives Matter – the environmental movement, and some of the evangelical and even post-evangelical youth who are deciding to move into places abandoned by “the Empire” and dedicate their lives to service, it’s happening everywhere, it’s just that it’s not always detected by the media. But that’s probably good because this way they have time to build without being distracted, you know?

>>Rick: I think that gives us hope, this is happening.

>>Adam: Yeah, absolutely.

>>Rick: Great. Everyone seems to … I’m getting all these smiles, people are making all these noises of appreciation and everything. You can’t pick it up on the mic but the audience is very happy about what you’ve been saying.

Well, that’s great Adam. I really appreciate the opportunity to …

>>Adam: Well thank you for this opportunity. I’ve watched your talks on YouTube, I loved especially the one with Father Thomas Keating, who has been …

>>Rick: And your friend Chris Grosso.

>>Adam: Yeah, and Chris Grosso, absolutely. And I’m excited that you’re going to be talking to Andrew Harvey.

>>Rick: Yeah, we were going to do it just before I left and a squirrel got into the power line at our house and blew out the fuse, and so I had no electricity. So I called him and said, “Can’t do it!” so we decided to reschedule once he came back from India.

>>Adam: Yeah, good.

>>Rick: The squirrel made a sacrifice because somehow or other that will probably end up being a better time to have done it, so thank you to the squirrel.

Alright, well thank you to you, Adam.

>>Adam: Thank you.

>>Rick: Yeah, let me just make a couple of concluding remarks. Those of you who are watching this online, this is – and I’m sure there are always those people who stumble onto these interviews for the first time – this interview is part of an ongoing series, and there are over 300 of them now.

So if you would like to check out the rest of the series, go to www.batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P, and there’s a ‘Past Interviews’ menu where you will find them organized or categorized in four or five different ways. And so if you explore that – ‘Alphabetical, ‘Chronological,’ ‘Categorical,’ … – you’ll probably find something that appeals to you.

This exists as an audio Podcast for those who don’t have time to sit in front of their computers all day but would like to listen to stuff while they’re commuting or whatever. There’s also an email sign-up thing where you can sign-up to be notified each time a new interview is posted.

And there’s a ‘Donate’ button, by virtue of which I’m here at this conference and which enables us to do this whole thing. We’re a 501C-3, as I’m sure you are. So thanks for listening or watching and we’ll see you for the next one.

>>Adam: Thank you.

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