Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done quite a bit, over 500 of them now and if this is new to you and you would like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu where you’ll see all the previous ones organized in several different ways. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and would like to support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website, batgap.com. My guest today is Cassandra Vieten. Welcome Cassandra.
Cassandra: Hi, great to be here.
Rick: Great to have you. Cassandra is Executive Director of the John W. Brick Foundation, which she might tell us about a little bit later on. Scholar in residence at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at the University of California San Diego and a senior fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences where she worked for 18 years and served as President and CEO from transformative experiences and practices, the development of mindfulness-based interventions for emotional well-being and development of media technologies to inspire awe. She received her PhD in clinical psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies and completed her research training in behavioral genetics at the University of California San Francisco. She’s authored three books, published numerous articles in scientific journals and is an internationally recognized keynote speaker and workshop leader. And I first became aware of her at the SANS conference, Science and Non-duality Conference where she’s spoken a number of times. So, those who listen to this show regularly will know that I’m fascinated with the interface between science and spirituality. Not so much science and religion because religion tends to be based on, belief and rituals and stuff like that, but spirituality, experiential spirituality we could say. And it fascinates me because I see both science and spirituality as means of gaining knowledge. I don’t see knowledge as being segmented into two different realms, really knowledge is a totality and science and spirituality each bring different tools to the task of understanding what is, what reality is. So, maybe we can start with that, Cassandra, because I think you’re nodding and I’m humming there. I think that you resonate with that point yourself.
Cassandra: Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I’ve described it as if there is a ultimate reality and you think about that as being something that’s on the inside of a circle of mirrors that are all pointed inward and that circle of mirrors is each reflecting the true nature of reality in its own way. So, one of those mirrors is science, one of those mirrors is spirituality, one of those mirrors is art or poetry or dance or nature. There are tons of different ways that we can understand the nature of reality, but it may be that we can never actually directly observe that true nature by itself. So, we’ve got these mirrors or we’ve got these reflectors, each one of which has its own element to contribute, but none of them have the whole picture themselves.
Rick: Yeah, incidentally for those listening, well anybody who’s watching this is listening, there’s a music festival going on in Cassandra right outside her house basically and she didn’t know about that before the interview, but it would have been too difficult to find a new place. But it’s not very loud and we don’t mind a little bit of background music. Pretend we’re riding up in an elevator having this conversation.
Rick: Well what I would say to that comment is that, and what I think some of the Eastern traditions at least say, is that ultimately you are that reality, you are the ultimate reality. And so, you don’t know the ultimate reality as something separate from yourself, you know it by recognizing your essential nature as that. And as in that way, it can be known in its entirety.
Cassandra: Yeah, and it may be that that nature of reality, number one, is not a thing, it’s a process. And number two, these are subjective experiences, you know science, we’re doing some work at looking into some of the clues that might help us understand the nature of reality, but from a philosophical sense, it may be that it’s not a thing, it’s a process or a flow of information and energy, so you can’t ever really look at it. It’s sort of like when you pin a butterfly to a card so that you can examine it, you kill the butterfly. And so, I think that that may be true. There’s also a friend of mine, John Astin, who’s a mind-body medicine researcher as well as a non-dual teacher and musician.
Rick: Yeah, I’ve interviewed him.
Cassandra: John’s great, so he’s a good friend, but he’ll say, look, if this is consciousness and you’re looking for it, you can’t see it, you are it. So, it’s sort of like really going back to the mirror metaphor, you might be able to see some mirrors, but you can’t actually see yourself from inside of it. So, if we are that, it’s hard for us to reduce that to something that we can observe.
Rick: Yeah, it’s like the eyeball trying to see itself, they say.
Cassandra: Exactly, yeah.
Rick: And there’s a verse in the Gita which actually is that the self realizes itself by itself.
Rick: So, in other words, but it doesn’t do that by dividing itself into pieces and saying, okay, I’m getting a good look at this self here. It does that by transcending everything else and just merging into oneness and then it is known in a direct, by being it, you could say.
Cassandra: Yes, direct knowing. And as you know, I worked at the Institute of Noetic Sciences for 18 years and that word noetic is what that means, that direct form of knowledge. It comes from the Greek that had a few different words for knowledge and one was the knowledge that you see on the external level and one was the knowledge that you experience on the internal level and that’s what noetic means.
Rick: There’s an interesting story as to how and why the Institute of Noetic Sciences was formed involving Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell. I think it would be worth having you tell that story.
Cassandra: Sure. Ed was a friend, he passed away a few years ago now and so he was Apollo 14. He was, if any of you saw the movie Apollo 13 or you lived through it, you know that the guys who stepped onto Apollo 14 were pretty brave.
Rick: That’s one of the Tom Hanks, was it?
Cassandra: Yeah. So, Ed helped them get back to Earth and it didn’t diminish his desire to go to the stars at all because he knew from a very young age that flying and as soon as he heard that space travel was a possibility, was his destiny. So, he made it to the moon and he was one of the first scientists to go to the moon and did the first scientific experiments and when he was on his way back to the Earth in the space capsule, he had what he called the window seat and so he was viewing the Earth and the sun and the stars and the moon in this 10 minute rotation in the space capsule because the capsule rotates so that one side of it isn’t directed to the sun too much. They call it barbecue mode. So, he had this rotating view and was overcome with a deep, profound and blissful epiphany, a very deep and direct knowledge and understanding that he was interconnected with everything he saw, that in fact there were no differences between the molecules that made up the space capsule or the stars or the sun or the moon and his own body and being and he also saw that there was an, intelligence or divinity or order shining through everything. He was realizing that we’re not the product of random processes but there’s this force that permeates everything and he also looked at the Earth from space and had an accompanying sense of despair and, you could even call it outrage, it was like we are crazy, we’re acting so insane. There are no boundaries between countries. We’ve drawn those ourselves. We’ve made them up and now we’ve spent thousands of years fighting over these imaginary lines and spending so much time coming up with new and improved ways to kill each other and to defend what we think are limited resources which are actually, there’s plenty of food and water for everyone on the planet and that he felt like that sense of separation, that artificial sense of separation from people on the other side of the planet was just a limited view of reality and so when he came back to Earth he really wanted to do something to, as you said at the beginning, bring together science and spirituality. He saw that Cartesian split between the two was perhaps necessary at the time but it’s really an artificial split between science and the natural world and spirituality in the inner world. It’s not that they’re the same thing, it’s just that they’re not incompatible and that the nexus of the two we might be able to come up with solutions that have eluded us for millennia.
Rick: Yeah, when I think of their compatibility I think of, alright, well what can each bring to the other and, I’m sure you can expand upon this but I think, science can bring to spirituality a kind of a rigor and empirical quality where spirituality isn’t allowed to get away with indulging in fantasies and thinking that may not actually bear any resemblance or correlation with reality. It could test things neurophysiologically and in various other ways to see if they’re really working. And then spirituality can bring to science something wonderful because the human nervous system is far more sophisticated than, the Large Hadron Collider in doing certain things that it can do, that it alone can do. And so, it’s an investigative tool you could say, which enables us to experientially probe very deep levels of reality. And science couldn’t build an instrument that could do that as well as the nervous system can if we know how to use it properly. So, in conjunction with one another, the two can actually provide a much more comprehensive and effective means of understanding how the world works.
Cassandra: Yeah, it’s a great way of saying it. I’m not a revisionist scientist and in other words, I don’t think that we should, I think the scientific method has evolved over time as a very powerful methodology to investigate things in a way that tries to, as much as possible, eliminate biases and false illusory kinds of thinking and noise. And spiritual practices and transformative practices have evolved over millennia in very particular ways to be able to get at other aspects of reality. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t use the scientific method to investigate spiritual phenomena or what have been called spiritual phenomena. And it doesn’t mean that spirituality has no bearing on scientific investigation. So, for example, we know that many of the greatest hypotheses, the greatest discoveries, the greatest inventions have come out of dreams or have come out of contemplation, have come out of hypnagogic states. Some people would even say they’ve come from multidimensional sources of wisdom or beings or entities from the divine. And so there certainly is a role for that deep internal contemplative beyond time and space type of information that one can access and then taking that into the scientific world to be tested using the scientific method with humility. The scientific method is extremely powerful but it’s not the only game in town. And so everything that the scientific method discovers is the best new working hypothesis we have at the time. And science dictates that that hypothesis can always be disproven by a counter instance. That’s where scientists get in trouble is when they believe that science has proven something once and for all and that any counter instances should be discarded or dismissed rather than being an opportunity for the hypothesis to be refined further.
Rick: Yeah, I want to get onto that in just a second, but as an example of what you just said, what was that one where the guy had a dream about a snake biting its tail and he came up with the benzene ring or something?
Rick: What was that thing?
Cassandra: So many different ones, I can’t remember that one exactly, but, somebody showed me a slide the other day of all the different things that came out of dreams. And, one of the ones I remember the most was, well, this was an invention, but the person who was trying to invent the sewing machine was trying to figure out how to get the needle and thread to go through fabric mechanically and couldn’t figure it out and had a dream where he encountered an indigenous tribe that had spears and at the end of the spears was a hole. And so when he woke up, he was like, oh, the hole has to go at the end of the needle, not at the top. So, those kinds of things just happen all the time. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a science team that had a built-in embedded shaman spiritual guide who was there when they got stuck on an issue and said, okay, we’re stuck on this problem. Let’s intentionally look into the inner world or the interconnected world to find out what the answer is.
Rick: Yeah. Well, Paul McCartney dreamed yesterday and he woke up and had this song he said.
Cassandra: Yeah. That was another one.
Rick: Called it “Scrambled Eggs” to begin with.
Cassandra: That’s right.
Rick: Several threads here I want to follow up on. One is that I know that at some creative places, I don’t know about which companies, but I’ve heard that there are places where they will do micro-dosing on Fridays or something just to jog their creativity.
Cassandra: Yeah, right. I’ve heard of that.
Rick: Yeah. Well, what you described a minute ago about science and spirituality was kind of the ideal in a way because there’s been a lot of nuttiness in the realm of spirituality and in the realm of science there’s been a lot of stubbornness, a lot of, well, I’m not even going to look at this because it couldn’t be true. That kind of thing and sort of reluctance to allow one’s paradigm to be dislodged by something newer and better. And I was listening to a talk by Julia Mossbridge recently and she was talking about how she was having this discussion with some guy about the kind of research she was doing about, psychic phenomenon or something and, he refused to look at the data.
Rick: And finally she said to him, “Okay, I get it. So, you’re practicing religion, but I’m going to keep practicing science.”
Cassandra: Yes, exactly. It’s incredible what we’ve come up against with some of our studies when I was at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. We’d get these reviews back from journal editors that would say, this is an excellent, well-written paper. The scientific methodology solves many of the problems of previous trials and, we can’t really quibble with the methods or the statistics and if it were on a different topic it might be publishable. But, because the very premise is impossible, foolish, ridiculous, unscientific, etc., we are not going to publish it. And that is, as Julia said, not science. That’s just dogma.
Rick: And I presume that you had showed them data that —
Cassandra: Oh, yeah.
Rick: That demonstrated that the premise was not foolish or impossible, that it actually had merit.
Cassandra: Yes. But, if you come from a place — I mean, it’s irrational. The next paragraph in that particular review was, “Not only am I not publishing it, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure this kind of crap doesn’t ever get published.” Like, it’s a crusade against it. And I do tend to have a little bit more sympathy for that perspective maybe than some of my colleagues, because I am a psychologist and I come from this understanding of, a lot of the people who are in that irrational skepticism really feel like they are trying to protect — they’re trying to protect enlightened society. They’re trying to — it’s almost like post-traumatic stress disorder from the dark ages. So, a completely religious perspective took us to a very dark place where we were only able to trust in truth being delivered to us from the priests. We were, killing people who had any kind of blasphemy, any kind of, ideas that even that maybe we should measure something. You remember when Galileo was trying to show that a feather dropped at the same rate as a rock and said, “Look, I’m going to show you. I’m going to go to the top and drop them both.” And the church was like, “Do not take another step. We don’t want to know.”
Rick: Yeah. They wouldn’t look through his telescope either.
Cassandra: Exactly. So that’s, and that took us to the Inquisition, like very dark places. On the other hand, so it was a good thing that science took over and said, “Look, you guys have gone crazy. You’ve gone too far the other way. Now everything from here on out is going to be rational and scientific.” So we took that route for a while and, that has doubled our lifespan, has reduced, mortality, reduced tremendous amount of suffering by, curing polio and sanitizing water and all this stuff. But then by the time we made it to the atomic bomb, it became very clear that science by itself, without any ethical or spiritual dimension to it, also takes us to an incredibly dark place. So when these skeptics are being incredibly cautious about the claims, as you mentioned before, there has been a ton of misbehavior on the sort of spirituals, false spirituality, snake oil side of things, and we’ve done that to ourselves. And I think they’re just overcompensating by saying, “Let’s never go back to that dark place again.” So there’s a, it never really works to denigrate people like that or to fight against them or to yell and scream. What often works for me is to be like, “I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’d really like to have another conversation with you about the data and about why we’re doing this and why we feel like it’s important.” And, a lot of times I’ll go to scientific meetings and people will fight against it all day long, but then when we’re out at dinner, they’ll say, “Okay, don’t tell anyone this, but I had this amazing experience one time. It’s exactly what you’re talking about.”
Rick: Yeah, it’s been a few decades since I read it, but as I recall in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn, he talks about how it’s a good thing that paradigms can’t just be blown away like a feather by the slightest new challenge or anomaly. That they have a certain, they provide a certain stability and that it’s good that it takes a certain, what would you call it, momentum or abundance of evidence to the contrary before a paradigm can be overthrown. Otherwise, everything would be topsy-turvy and chaotic all the time.
Cassandra: Yeah, exactly.
Rick: I think even in the Vedic tradition, they have the idea of the three Gunas, Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, and Tamas is supposed to be the sort of the heavy quality dullness and whatnot, but it also provides stability.
Rick: And consistency.
Cassandra: Yeah, there’s absolutely a space for that. And the onus is on those of us who are interested in the further reaches, pushing the frontiers of what we know now. It’s really on us to create robust, repeatable studies that, and then it’s also upon us to be strong and stand up for ourselves when the data are there and people are saying we refuse to look at it. And I do think there’s a lot of interesting developments in the sense that citizens now can begin to push for things to be funded or advanced faster. So it’s not just the ivory tower that gets to decide anymore what’s going to be used or what’s going to be studied. And also things like corporations and the vast amount of social and financial capital that’s in the private sector is now being able to help support some of this research. And so, I think there are new ways to advance knowledge that have evolved since the Kuhnian time, where paradigms can shift in different ways now.
Rick: Yeah. In a way it seems like the stubbornness of certain scientists challenges you to rise to a higher standard,
Rick: Because you really have to have your act together, you really have to be meticulous and careful and you can’t just throw things out there and expect them to be accepted. It forces you to build a stronger case.
Cassandra: Yeah, in a way. I don’t really believe in the idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I don’t think you should move the goalposts for certain topics. I think the rules should be the same for everyone. But certainly if you’re thinking of changing a whole way of thinking, a truth system, that requires a lot of robust data. And it also just requires the ringing of the bell of truth. There are people who use the data and that’s one way we do it. But we also just give it the sniff test. And if it doesn’t sound true, if it doesn’t feel true, that’s almost more important. And so there are a lot of studies that show, highly statistically significant, but it’s 51% to 49%. It’s just not as convincing to the clinical population as something bigger. So, it’s kind of the great, I think the way to do it is to take it as a challenge and to use it to ramp up your creativity and ramp up the quality and rigor and, keep inventing new ways to demonstrate things that appear to be true.
Rick: Yeah. What do you think about what goes on in society and commerce in a larger sense where large percentages of the population and almost the entirety of one political party can reject the scientific consensus as fraudulent or a hoax? And then you have, I think, who was it? Naomi Klein who wrote “Merchants of Doom” where large amounts of money are being put into paying so-called scientists to come up with really misleading evidence to support something that’s economically advantageous to a particular industry.
Cassandra: Yeah. Well, Another good reason for science is that we are notoriously wrong. One of the greatest things I learned when I started practicing meditation myself is, don’t believe everything you think. In fact, don’t believe most of what you think. A lot of what we think and perceive is extremely biased and highly filtered and very much riddled with all of the cognitive biases that we’re familiar with, the confirmation bias. And so I think that that’s true. And, I developed a thing called Campaign Science. It’s at campaignscience.com. And it’s because I was alarmed at the direction that the country was taking politically in the United States and was noticing how the progressives and the Democrats were really using ineffective techniques to try to counter the incredibly powerful, emotionally, emotionally powerful methods of the other side. And so, that kind of disbelief in climate change or the, holding fast to things that you believe in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, always finds its basis in non-conscious processes and schemas and biases that if they were to agree, yes, this is correct, it would threaten other parts of their meaning system so much that it would risk disintegration. And it would also risk ostracization from their community. So when you threaten somebody with disintegration of their understanding of how things work and ostracization from their community, it’s just too high a bar. So I don’t think that scientific data has the opportunity to overcome such deeply ingrained things. And so campaign science teaches how to use cognitive social science and the science of worldview transformation to communicate things in ways that reach into that non-conscious realm and also are delivered with a little bit more safety that allows people to maybe consider taking those risks to allow them to see the benefit that might come to them through moving forward in their thinking as opposed to everything that’s going to be taken away from them if they endorse that way of thinking.
Rick: Yeah, that’s very interesting. Maybe we can dig into that for a few minutes. I know, for instance, Katharine Hayhoe, who’s an environmentalist, and I believe her father is an evangelical minister, goes around speaking to religious groups about climate change. And I saw some documentary about her, she seems to do a masterful job of presenting it to them in a way that’s not threatening. And, it seems to me that it’s such a critical issue and there’s so much at stake in getting a change in collective thinking so that there can be a coordinated effort to do something about the problem that it really, some people might wonder, well, what does this have to do with the theme of BatGap, spiritual awakening and all that? Try awakening spiritually without a planet to live on. I do think that a shift in consciousness is fundamental and instrumental and necessary to, and by consciousness I mean in the deeper sense of spiritual awakening, is a necessary underpinning to a shift in the collective mentality which would enable us to understand and accept these issues in a more agreed upon way, a more coherent way, and thereby take effective action. So, maybe you can just comment on that thought.
Cassandra: Yeah, I think there’s even more to it than that. So, a program that I’m still doing at the Institute of Noetic Sciences is called Consciousness, Communication, and Change, and it has some similarities to the Campaign Science Project except it’s not specifically political. It’s more for activists, people who are working on climate change and advocating for a ton of other things, ocean health and, reduction of plastics and all kinds of things. And so, half of the program is these cognitive tools that I mentioned, the way you say something, the words you use, the mindset you come in with, but the other half of it is who you are as the person who’s saying it. Who are you and what are you connected to? Are you in alignment with the deepest source of your inspiration? Are you in alignment with what the universe has put you here to do? And are you intentionally connecting with that place and allowing it to come through you in a way that all of us have experienced when you’ve encountered a great change maker and they’re talking about something that they care about, even if you don’t fully understand what they’re saying or you may not even agree, but you’re getting chills and you’re feeling your heart open and you’re feeling almost a sense of awe and that ring of the bell of truth that I talked about earlier, that is just as important as the content of what you’re delivering to your audience and the methods that you’re using to deliver the content. So we teach people almost a spiritual practice that allows them before they go in to give a talk, before they do a podcast like we’re doing right now, even before they write an advocacy email, to connect with that interconnected aspect of our awareness that’s beyond space and time, that’s bigger than all of us, to intentionally spend some time with that and allow it to rise up through the particular topic that they have decided to spend their life working on. And what you’ll see is that most change makers, even the ones we love, are not coming from that place. They’re coming from a place of ranting and outrage, anger, dismissiveness, even elitism, which is what progressives are always accused of being. And when you engage in this practice, when you put it along with the tools, it’s a very powerful new way to use your awakening to help create change.
Rick: Well, as a couple of cases in point, what do you think about the way the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School went about talking about, the need for changes in gun laws after the massacre there? And what do you think about the way Greta Thunberg is approaching the whole climate change issue? I mean, they’re pretty much in your face and kind of saying rather shocking things to people in positions of power. Do you think that they’re being too blunt or aggressive in the way they’re speaking?
Cassandra: Well, it’s really interesting you bring that up because when I’m doing the training, I play a video of especially the young woman from the Stoneman Douglas School who gave a talk on the National Mall and sat quietly for about 60 seconds to let people know this is how long it took for my friends to be killed. So even though she’s being very blunt and very forthright, she is deeply in touch with a much larger and deeper emotional core and a level of authenticity and dignity and genuineness that comes through her that you can hardly ignore. And Greta’s the same way in a different way. She’s not so forward with her feelings and crying and all of that stuff, but you can feel something more than Greta coming through Greta. So there’s something there that’s different than let’s say, and absolutely love them, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, people who I agree with almost everything they say, but they still are up on the stage going, look, it’s very simple. Here’s what we need to do. And there’s just not a connection with, I mean, I do think they’re pretty authentic, so that’s good. Hillary Clinton probably lost because she couldn’t quite get that authenticity. Her face was doing something, her words were doing another thing, and what she really believed was another thing and everybody could feel it. So authenticity practice is really important to some people that comes naturally. I’m sure that the kids at Stoneman Douglas and Greta maybe didn’t even have to think about this. It happens to come naturally to them, but the rest of us have to practice. We’re not naturally like that because we’ve been trained to not be. And that’s why I think the younger people are better at it because they’ve had less training to get divorced from their deeper soul when they’re talking about these things or to put on masks. And so a lot of us have to unlearn all of the tools that we learned, whether it was in academia or business or whatever it was, and strip all that stuff out to make a clear and coherent case. And not to mention that we were taught methods that didn’t work, like just that hyper debating way of doing it works in a classroom, works in some settings, but it doesn’t work if you’re talking to people who don’t agree with you.
Rick: Yeah. About 10-15 minutes ago you said something about how a lot of scientific innovations and discoveries were inspired by some mystical experience or some higher knowledge that came in a dream or in some way just sort of seeped into the awareness of the scientists as if from on high, as if from some other dimension or something. I don’t know if you exactly used those words, but I sense something similar with these young people who, and these are just a couple of more famous examples that we’ve just used, but they have counterparts in many different countries around the world now who are doing some amazing things. It makes me optimistic. It makes me feel like, wow, something is waking up and it’s just waking up more readily in these kids who are more open, but there’s something as Swami Beyondananda says, there’s an upwising taking place.
Cassandra: Yes. Or as Crosby, Stills, and Nash said, there’s something happening here. I do think we’re on the verge of-
Rick: I think that was Dylan. There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?
Cassandra: Yeah, what it is is not exactly clear.
Rick: That was Buffalo Springfield. I’m sorry.
Cassandra: Yeah. That’s another one. Back to our 70s music.
Rick: You’re not old enough to know this stuff.
Cassandra: Yeah, I’m pulling from my dad’s records, but, I do think it’s true. And I have a lot of optimism too, that if we can begin to not only think about what we’re saying, not only flood people with data, but also, and not only flood them with outrage. I would just reiterate that when you’re asking somebody to do something different in their lives, and let’s broaden this beyond politics or climate change. Let’s say you’re asking a loved one who’s engaging in unhealthy behaviors, or let’s even say you’re talking to yourself about trying to change something that you’ve been trying to change for a very long time, a pattern that doesn’t work for you. What I can guarantee you is that filling yourself with information or filling the other person with information probably doesn’t work very well, but trying to increase their motivation through giving them increasingly urgent threat primes. In other words, telling them that the world is going to end, telling them how they’re going to die if they don’t stop doing this, or making them feel terrible about how they are and what they’ve done so far and how they’re thinking. None of those things work to make change. They don’t work for yourself. They don’t work for your loved ones. They don’t work for society. So we as progressives really have to start to intentionally use our consciousness and use our awakening to help us be better change makers. That requires practice, just like most of the people on this podcast probably have a meditation practice that has helped them to either connect with something larger or to help them self-regulate, to help them dethrone the tyrannical mind. That practice is great. It’s kind of a similar practice that allows you to now take that practice off the mat and into the world for social justice or for just improving the health of your family and community.
Rick: Yeah. What came to mind as you were saying that was another rock song. All you need is love. And that’s not all you need, you also need logic, but perhaps if we’re just speaking from this chakra and not also from the heart chakra, then the message is partial and therefore is not received. So perhaps the prescription here is to be more holistically developed ourselves and to be coming from the heart as well as the head and then there’ll be a certain sweetness to the message that’ll come across even subliminally that’ll make a difference.
Cassandra: Yeah, that’s right. When are we most likely to take a risk? It’s when we feel safer. It’s not when we feel more threatened.
Rick: Yeah, and it’s kind of hard to do that when you inform yourself to the extent that somebody like Greta has, for instance, and realize that we actually are in a planetary emergency, I think it’s difficult for many people not to become strident, to feel like, get the hell out of the burning building, we’ve got to do something. Not just, when you get around to it.
Cassandra: Yeah, it’s a fierce kindness. It’s not just love, it’s a fierce love. And so, you’re still being fierce about what you will not stand for and the dedication to the belief that we can do better. So, there is that fierceness, but it’s not unkind. It’s not, you’re an idiot if you don’t think it and how come you can’t open your eyes? What a terrible person, what an awful thing you’ve done. And, imagine saying that to someone and then saying, you should join us. It’s like, why would I want to join you? You’re telling me how stupid and awful I am. So it’s an interesting paradox. And, what comes to mind is when we were doing the study at the Institute of Noetic Sciences on transformations and consciousness, we interviewed a whole bunch of different teachers of transformation, which then became the book Living Deeply. And one of the people that we interviewed, I think it was Father Francis Tiso, was talking about meditation, contemplation, prayer, transformative practice. And he said, “Meditation and prayer and transformative practice is not to awaken you, it’s to help you, it’s to condition your body, mind, spirit complex as you awaken to be able to tolerate what you see.”
Rick: I actually wrote that down. I heard you say that. Elaborate on that a bit because that point kind of jumped out at me.
Cassandra: Well, I just thought it was great. It blew me away. It was like, we’re not meditating to awaken. We’re meditating because it’s almost a law of nature. You are going to be allowed to awaken as much as you can tolerate being able to hold the truth, the good, the bad, the ugly, the painful, the beautiful. The extent to which you’re able to hold that, you’re going to be allowed to see more and more and more. And I don’t mean allowed by some divine person. I mean, just the more you’re able to see more, the more you can actually contain it. So the ability to stay regulated emotionally, mentally, spiritually, from my perspective, actually, it’s the ability to stay kind and fierce while you’re seeing the truth is awakening to me. So it’s a different way of looking at why we do the practice. The practice is there. It’s almost like training for the marathon. The practice is there to help us train to be increasingly awakened to what’s really happening. And the more awakened we get to what’s really happening inside of ourselves and outside of ourselves, the more we’re able to take wise action or make conscious choices as opposed to ignoring, reacting, or taking unwise action.
Rick: That’s good. You actually just answered a question that came in from one of the live viewers. Akshay from Pune, India asked simply, “What is enlightenment?” And there’s all kinds of pat answers we could come out with of what is enlightenment, but the answer you just gave is a little different, than the usual ones. Usually, it’s getting into this blissful, unbounded, beautiful space, but in terms of the idea of Brahman or totality, it’s actually developing the capacity to subsume within yourself, yourself being that totality, the whole gamut of experiences and situations and everything else that exists in relative reality. And obviously, that gamut goes from way dark to way light. It’s not all butterflies and ponies.
Cassandra: Right. I’m a real fan of embodied enlightenment. So, there’s transcendent enlightenment, there’s embodied enlightenment, and so it’s like there is an aspect of us and our realities that is likely non-material and transcendent and not locked into this body or even this material reality we’re in. And there are methods for gaining information, spending some time in that aspect of our reality, even when we’re in our bodies. But the capacity to navigate between that and this embodied reality and to be able to employ what we’ve learned in those moments to our actual lives, to how we treat each other, to how we treat the planet, to what we do every day, to how we are, what our being is like in relationship to other people is just as important. And I think enlightenment in a way is not the transcendent side and it’s not the embodied side, it’s the ability to seamlessly navigate between the two.
Rick: Yeah, to integrate and stabilize, you could say, the transcendent in the midst of whatever life demands of you or throws at you.
Cassandra: Yeah, or the dance. It’s the dance between this embodied realm and all of our addictions, all of our biases, all of our failures, all of our weaknesses, and then all of those beautiful things. And then that very spacious, unbounded, unconditioned, completely, already, wholly enlightened aspect of us. Some people’s destiny is to go there and stay there. Ramana Maharshi went there, stayed there, people went to visit him, and they got enlightened just by being in his presence. That’s some people’s destiny. But the vast majority of us, our destiny is to do something in this world, large or small, that makes a positive difference. And so, that requires being able to move back and forth between the two.
Rick: Yeah, and actually, moving back and forth between the two can very often be the way in which they are integrated with one another.
Cassandra: Yeah. I say between the two because I’m obviously not fully enlightened. In the end, it’s non-dual.
Rick: I don’t know if anybody’s fully enlightened, actually.
Cassandra: In the end, it’s not really two, right? But I loved what Suzuki Roshi said, which was, “Not two, not one.” So, yeah, I brew on that for a little while. I think that’s, it’s probably even beyond non-duality.
Rick: Well, one thing’s for sure, to put it in simple language, and that is that, if we think of, we can hold up Ramana Maharshi as the sort of gold standard of enlightenment, but the vast majority of us, as you were saying, cannot adopt his lifestyle and are not cut out for it. And even if we could, we’d be sitting around in a loincloth, but we wouldn’t be enlightened. It’s not the lifestyle.
Rick: But what we can do, Is find the means whereby we can access the transcendent, or whatever we want to call it, and then, but we’re not done. Even if we have a beautiful, clear experience of that in a single meditation or on a week-long retreat or anything else, it has to be integrated into one’s life, and that, I think, is a lifetime undertaking. It’s not something you do in a week or a month or a year or anything like that, because there’s no end to the integration, is there?
Cassandra: Yeah, maybe lifetimes, who knows?
Rick: Could be. But, I mean, and this actually doesn’t clash with traditional knowledge, because traditionally it’s understood that we have a vast repository of impressions or some samskaras or whatever that need to be resolved, and they don’t just get resolved all in one fell swoop.
Rick: It can take a long, long time to work them all out, and we see examples of this where people have profound awakenings and they really see, they’re glowing like a light bulb, and yet, behaviorally, there’s some serious shortcomings that hadn’t been addressed, and eventually it catches up with them and, either they address them or they crash and burn and then maybe try to address them or something, but you don’t get away with it forever.
Cassandra: Right. I truly believe that every single one of us can get lost, even the most enlightened, the least enlightened, everybody in between. Everyone can get lost if the conditions of your life, either self-created or imposed upon you, get to the point where they no longer support the thriving of the individual. We can get so stressed out that we engage in behaviors that end up harming ourselves and others. We can get mad with power, we can get sexually improprieties, there’s just a ton of different ways to get lost, and I think we have a misunderstanding of awakening or enlightenment as sort of a ladder where you’re going from the bottom rung to the top rung, and once you get to the top rung, you can hang out at the top rung, and you might fall down to other, I just don’t think it’s lower and higher, I think that’s a false metaphor. It’s probably just more aligned and less aligned. Somebody told me that the actual definition of the word sin in the Bible came from the archery term, which was the distance from the mark is the sin, and so I feel the same way about the extent to which we’re aligned with our purpose and our values and the greater mystery, whether for you that’s God or whether for you that’s some limitless vast ground of all being, and then your own personal purpose, and then the actions you take and the words you speak, when those are in alignment, things work better, and when those become out of alignment, things start to not work, and we start to get lost, and most of the spiritual and religious traditions have tried to build in safeguards for that through communities and through the various aspects of the practice, and one thing that the West likes to do is skim the cream off the top of the practices. So, we take a tradition, we take the fun parts, we make that into like a westernized version of that tradition, but we left out a whole bunch of the safeguards that keep people sane.
Rick: Yeah. What you said about that we could always fall or we could always, screw up, I think that in itself can be a safeguard if you really take it to heart and realize that you’re not, an exception to that generality. It could happen to you too. And you don’t really have to look far to see examples of it. These days it almost seems like every week there’s some new article that comes out about some Roshi or somebody who’s. So, it just sort of, who was it? Well, I’ll give you a couple quotes that I’ve used before in these interviews, but I think they’re very helpful. One is from Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, Don Juan. He said, “A warrior has time only for his impeccability.” He was big on, just be impeccable and be attentive. That implies sort of attentiveness to that, not just resting on your laurels, oh, I’m impeccable. No, you have to sort of be on your toes. And –
Cassandra: That’s a practice, yeah.
Rick: And another was attributed to Padmasambhava who reportedly said, “Although my awareness is as vast as the sky, my attention to karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour.”
Cassandra: I love that. So true. I mean, I do wish that we could normalize our weaknesses and our failures a little more because I think that secrecy for people is like the lubricant of these negative things happening. And if there was just more normalization of people saying, I’m off the mark here, I’m not feeling like, or their students being able to say, having something really built in that’s like, here’s something that seems to be drifting off what the teachings are. Let’s, almost like a truth and reconciliation ongoing instead of after the shit has hit the fan. [ Laughter ] But, I’ve certainly experienced that being in the field and being like, I’m not allowed to have these thoughts or feelings or tell anybody about it because I’m supposed to be an expert. I’m teaching this stuff. I’m writing this stuff. But every time I’ve done it, every time I’ve become vulnerable and said, I think I’m getting lost here or I don’t know what the answer is or I need help around this, of course there’s 10, 20 people with wide open arms saying, thank you so much for telling me that. I’ve had the same thing or I know exactly who you should talk to and that kind of takes us to my work at the John W. Brick Foundation which is working on promoting holistic and alternative approaches to mental health and, in that mental health domain, it’s the same thing. There needs to be this way that people can say I’m struggling without it being shameful.
Rick: Yeah, I think the key word there is vulnerability. You used the word a second ago. I think it’s better in a way than normalize because normalize can imply that, I can drink all this and smoke all this and do all this and have all these sexual affairs and it’s normal.
Cassandra: It’s normal, right.
Rick: And who are you to judge an enlightened person?
Rick: That kind of thing. I’ve actually had someone say that to me whose interview I took down because he was behaving that way and, who are you to judge me? I’m enlightened.
Rick: But vulnerability is like if one has the attitude of, I could screw up and maybe I am screwing up and help me out here and I don’t know this and I’m a work in progress like all of you are and maybe I have a few things to share that maybe you haven’t heard yet and great, well, I’ll share them but don’t by any means put me on a pedestal because I don’t belong there or deserve to be.
Cassandra: Yeah, and it certainly doesn’t mean to not hold people accountable. I mean, being able to allow for vulnerability and all that stuff doesn’t necessarily mean that they get to keep teaching or, there may be a time when somebody has to take a leave or, there’s a particular teacher I’m thinking of who had a spectacular public demise and I think it’s only three years later is back teaching and I’m like, wow, that takes some real cojones. But, so it’s not about, I think what you said about not normalizing it, it doesn’t excuse it, doesn’t make it okay. It just means that it’s not shameful. It’s to be expected. There’s a part of my change model that I was talking about earlier with the consciousness, communication and change. And when you’re working with places where you’re trying to affect change, whether it’s climate change behaviors or an organization or a loved one who’s having a problem and one of the eight sections of it is called leverage obstacles, which means expect relapse, expect people to get lost, expect people to go back on their word or to not be able to manifest what they said they were going to do and utilize those opportunities to say, okay, something’s missing in our system that we need to fix. Something is not working. Let’s see what it is. You do a chain analysis and find out what led up to that behavior and oh, I see, now we’ve got to shore up that part of it.
Rick: There’s something I helped found in the last year or so called the Association for Spiritual Integrity. Did that along with Jac O’Keeffe and Craig Holliday and more recently Mariana Caplan and Miranda Macpherson have joined us.
Rick: Yeah, but it’s not a policing organization or something that is granting or revoking licenses or any such thing, which is sometimes people’s first reaction to it. And it’s not moralistic or, holier than thou, but it’s an attempt to just articulate what should be appropriate for teacher behavior and teacher-student relations and all so that teachers and students can perhaps get a better sense of what is appropriate because so very often I’ve seen instances where teachers do something or say something and students think, well, that sounds kind of screwy to me, but this guy seems so enlightened, so I’ll doubt myself rather than doubt him.
Rick: But if there’s kind of a clearer sense of what’s appropriate, and often it’s common sense, then perhaps things won’t go so far afield.
Cassandra: Yeah, and just letting people know, hey, it’s pretty common. It happens to people either to get hoodwinked by somebody on the, some organization on the spectrum of cult. And it’s also very likely to happen when somebody’s in a position of power that they will have a couple times or more that they step out of line. And wouldn’t it be great if we could just be like, hey, there’s one of those times, let’s break the glass, everybody stop, here’s the deal.
Rick: I think it’s getting that way more and more. I mean, there’s still examples of, insular communities who are going off on tangents, but I think more and more the collective spiritual community is realizing there’s been enough examples of screwy shit happening that people have lost patience with it and maybe it’s not going to be possible for things to get so crazy so easily anymore. I don’t know. I hope.
Rick: Tell us, well, first of all, I want to make sure that during this conversation, and maybe we don’t have too much more than half an hour left, I want to make sure that you get to cover everything that you consider to be important and interesting for people. So, don’t let me just steer the conversation too much and exclude things that are interesting to you. Just to give you a little catalyst, I mean, for instance, you were at IONS for, I don’t know, 18 years or something.
Rick: What are some of the most significant and interesting and inspiring things that happened at IONS during your tenure there?
Cassandra: Well, the Institute of Noetic Sciences is, I would call it a destiny organization for me. It’s just such a great organization and I was so happy to be able to work there for 18 years. It’s been around for 47 years and it’s one of the, I would say, one of the pillars of the consciousness movement. And, one of the things that I really love about the Institute of Noetic Sciences is it really does bring together both the spiritual and the scientific in ways that are very positive and thoughtful, rigorous and careful, but also very heartfelt and willing to explore the boundaries. And so, the membership and the communities of the Institute of Noetic Sciences are made up of people who really do trust the value of science, but they also trust their innermost self. And, the more we could have of that, the better. When I give talks on behalf of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, I’ll ask the audience of 20 people or a thousand people, how many of you had one course in your K through 12 education or even one class on how to use your gut feelings, hunches, intuition to help guide your decision or how to pay attention to synchronicities, how to access information and energy that isn’t just available to you through the five senses or isn’t just through reading, writing, and arithmetic. And almost no one, unless they went to a Waldorf school or something, had anything like that in their entire education. So, it’s really not surprising that people don’t do it more often. It’s not surprising that we don’t have more consciousness integrated to healthcare or consciousness integrated into business or consciousness integrated into education. And so, what I’m really proud of at the Institute is we’ve done a ton of work to try to break down those unnecessary barriers in medicine, in healthcare, in business, in education, and in people’s everyday lives to say, these noetic experiences are incredibly common, they’re important, they’re meaningful, and they hold the potential for healing and transformation. And that doesn’t mean to throw science out the window. In fact, it means to bring the lens of science closer to those experiences so we can learn more about them. So, over the 18 years I was there, we increased our science team from three to six, seven full-time scientists, five international fellows, multiple research programs underway that are really amazing. Another one is called the IONS Discovery Lab, which was launched in the last three years where we have a campus of our partners who are primarily doing transformative education and spiritual practices. And they all have the opportunity to get measured before and after to see if those practices enhanced their well-being and compassion and positive psychology, but also to see if it expanded their capacities for things that are more far out like precognition or telepathy or remote viewing or that kind of intuitive knowing that all of us, most of us, have had at one time or another. And most of us have had experiences that we think that just can’t be put down to chance. But there’s been very little relative research on it. And so, I’m really happy that that’s an effort headed up by Helané Wahbeh that I would recommend that you have on your show as well. She’s the director of research there and it’s going to be the largest database ever collected on transformative practices and their influence on human potential. So, that’s one example of something that I think IONS is just right on the cutting edge with.
Rick: Will it include an attempt to compare the practices like this practice is more effective at doing this and that practice is more effective at doing that. And if you really want this to develop, then don’t even bother with that one. You should do this one. Is it that kind of thing?
Cassandra: Exactly, we’ll be able to look at baseline characteristics and, what did people come in needing? What gender were they? What age were they? And maybe be able to eventually match people to practices that might be great for them. Also looking into mechanisms, why might it be happening? So, we measure what happened during their retreat. How much time did you spend meditating? How much time did you spend in movement? And then some mediating factors, like to what extent did people have a transcendent experience? So, we might find, people who spent more than 20% of their time walking the campus in nature had a 50% increase in their scores on, positive feelings. So, let’s make sure that every workshop has 20% of the time walking in nature. Who knows? We just don’t know which parts of these practices do what. So, I think it’s really exciting.
Rick: That’s great. Because I think a lot of times researchers study a particular thing, like there’s a TM, researchers study TM, and maybe some Buddhist practitioners who are also scientists study their Buddhist practice and all, but I’m not sure how objective some of those studies are sometimes. It almost seems like there’s an attempt to prove something. Whereas, your thing sounds more objective and even-handed.
Cassandra: Yeah, it’s really trying to get a handle on the whole, spectrum of transformative practices and how they work. And yeah, we definitely, IONS is not, doesn’t follow any one dogma, doesn’t have any one teacher. That’s a real strength, I think, of IONS is that it’s not beholden to any guru or specific methodology. It’s not trying to prove a particular thing. We’re just trying to look at how do we shift people’s worldviews? How do we enhance human potential? And in the end, how do we help people be kinder to themselves, others, and the planet? Another project I think would be interesting to your listeners was called the Future of Meditation Research. And that was a project where for four years, we gathered about 25 of the world’s, well, the country’s leading scientists in the meditation field. And we said, now we know that mindfulness helps people with depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, pain. It’s become like going to the mental gym. You’re going to improve your focus and increase your memory and all these good things and change your brain structure and function. But what the science was beginning to do is ignore the aspects of meditation that were more transcendent or enhancing potential or focused on awakening and liberation and, those really key aspects of meditation. And so we got all these people together and met several times to determine what the future directions in meditation research could look like and what kinds of things should be studied. So we have a paper that we published in Frontiers in Psychology. And we also have a, sorry, we published it in PLOS One, which is a very high-ranking journal. And then we also created an online course called The Future of Meditation Research, where 16 or 18 of these people who participated talked about these various aspects of meditation, like experiences of awe and wonder, experiences of connection with a teacher, death and dying, and, all these various aspects of meditation that are less well understood and some people would say are not amenable to science, but we think they are, and we think in fact they’re the next wave of what we should be doing.
Rick: That’s interesting. I have a question related to that. We started out our conversation talking about how science and spirituality might each contribute to our greater understanding of reality and in the realm of science, obviously, there are a lot of things on which there’s a great deal of consensus, certain in physics, for instance, what we understand about the speed of light or the way gravity works or various aspects of Newtonian physics, and I’m sure this is true, that’s true of every branch of knowledge of science. There’s a great deal of consensus on a lot of things, and then obviously, there are probably exploratory areas on which there’s not so much consensus, but they’re working on progressing and acquiring more consensus. Now, in the realm of spirituality, you have all these different traditions that have all these different cosmologies or ontologies about the structure of reality and the various states of consciousness that one could experience. The Vedic tradition has, Patanjali says this and Shankara says that, and Buddhism has all the jhanas and all these different levels and all. Now, are they actually, is there any way of dovetailing those things together and reaching some kind of consensus? Are the experiences one has through spiritual practice so subjective and so colored by individual, nervous systems that there could never be a complete agreement on all these different potentials and higher states of consciousness? And if so, does that mean that these things are just to some extent fabrications of the individual mind without any, basis in the actual reality of the universe?
Cassandra: Yeah. There’s a tremendous amount of variability and I guess my answer to whether science can, whether there could ever be any kind of coherent theory around it is that there’s, a tremendous amount of genetic variability. Every single person has a lot of shared genes. In fact, we have a huge amount of shared genes with even a grain of rice. But then that subsection of variability is tremendously variable. So I do think that even phenomena that have a massive amount of variability, especially with new analytic techniques that come from artificial intelligence and machine learning will be able to make some generalizable statements or some helpful statements. Now, I do think that as a culture, we’ve hit a point scientifically where we have solved a lot of the basic problems, like the basic binary problems where there’s a yes, no, or an up, down, or a one-to-one correlation. And now we’re getting into the mode of looking at much more complex things. I’ve done research on alcoholism, or I have colleagues who do research on schizophrenia, which seem from the outside to be like, that’s when you drink too much, or that’s when you have hallucinations, when in fact, these disorders are incredibly complex and no gene or brain region really has been identified that accounts for any more than 10 or 15% of either one of them. So, we are in a place where the problems that we’re going to start to face are much, much more complex and it doesn’t mean that we can’t do it. It means that we’ve got to improve our methods.
Rick: So, just to press the point a little bit more, let’s say in science, if every microscope were somehow different such that each person who used a different microscope saw something different when they looked at the same amoeba or the same thing, we’d have chaos. So, if we regard the human nervous system as a scientific instrument for exploring subtler realities, can there be any standardization or is it going to be that, every individual who observes the same subtle phenomenon, presuming these subtle phenomena are universal realities and not just subjective fabrications, is going to see those subtle phenomena differently and therefore it’s going to be very hard to arrive at any kind of consensus?
Cassandra: Now I see what you’re saying. No, I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to reduce everything into categories or component parts and I don’t think science is up to the task of solving the whole issue of subjective consciousness and I don’t think probably any form of spirituality is up to that task either and I hope not. I mean, I remember having a great conversation with Stan Grof and I was telling him all about the science at IONS and, all of what we were up to and he said, “Well, I sure hope you’re not successful.” And I was like, “What?” And he said, “Well, then it’ll be game over.” So, I think that science is an incredible tool to explore the nature of reality but I also think poetry is an incredible tool to explore the nature of reality and, certain dance forms and artistic pursuits and, religious and spiritual traditions, all of these things are these very unique ways of looking at what is happening, what are we here for, who are we, what is that thing over there, is it even a thing? And, what I would love to see is a lot more cross-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary kinds of mosaic approaches to these things like, that old thing about all the guys touching the different part of the elephant and thinking that their part was the only part, I’d love to see there be more meetings and conferences and projects that brought together multiple different far-ranging domains. There’s still a huge amount of silos in the academic community where the humanities are on one side, the sciences are on the other side, and even within humanities and sciences, chemistry doesn’t talk to biology, doesn’t talk to physics, and I think we’re reaching a level of complexity in what we’re trying to solve as humanity right now that we’re going to have to start reaching across those boundaries. So, one example is when I was putting together this program on consciousness, communication, and change, one of the things we realized that progressives were pretty bad at was painting a picture of an alternate future that was believable and that people wanted to go there. And so, we brought in game developers who do world building all the time. That’s what they do, is create world building. And, we said, what are the elements of world building? What do progressives need to do to do a better job at building a future world that people want to be in and explore? So, that kind of transdisciplinary collaboration between different ways of knowing the truth, I think, is on the horizon in the future. And I think meditators and contemplatives should be a part of that, and indigenous wisdom keepers and shamans, people who can come in and say, well, this is what I see about this. And that happens a lot at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. And another place where there’s that kind of cross-disciplinary interaction is the new place I’m affiliated with called the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UC San Diego. I’ve just been there for a couple of months since I became a fellow at IONS, and I stepped down from the presidency role. And so, I’ve moved to San Diego, and I’m spending more time down there and have become a scholar in residence. And this is a place that is actually inspired by Arthur C. Clarke, the writer of 2001 and many other science fiction novels. And one of the things it does is look into how science fiction has been a way for society to speculate about the future in a way that’s safe. So, you’re not going up against the academic paradigm, you’re just brainstorming about what might happen in the future in these very engaging ways. But as you know, a lot of those science fiction stories from the 40s and 50s came true and probably inspired a lot of these inventions.
Rick: I heard that Arthur C. Clarke was actually, he had a pretty good batting average in terms of predicting a lot of things that happened.
Cassandra: Yeah, I mean, essentially, they’re futurists. So, it’s a really interesting —
Rick: I know.
Cassandra: Right, and Isaac Asimov, the rules of robotics, that is a totally valid place to speculate about what could be possible in ways that aren’t often allowed in academia or in science.
Rick: Yeah. Well, there were guys back in the 1800s who were saying, science has everything pretty much figured out. There isn’t going to be anything much new now.
Rick: And obviously, they were wrong. But I think what you just said about siloing and how science has become so complex and diverse that it’s hard for all the different, branches. There’s a verse in the Gita. It says, “For many branched and endlessly diverse are the intellects of the irresolute, but the resolute intellect is one pointed.” So, if there’s a state of consciousness which might be defined as resolute intellect, where all the fragmented streams of attention have converged into a single point, perhaps if one could be established at that point, then in examining all the fields of knowledge that science offers us, one would see a unifying foundation to them. And like, the spokes of the wheel would no longer appear separate if you’re at the hub.
Cassandra: It’s so true. You think about, very early in our education, kids are asked to begin to specialize. What do you think you want to go into? What do you want to major in? When you’re 18 years old, what do you want to major in?
Rick: You don’t have a clue, or at least I didn’t.
Cassandra: Right. And then if they say, well, liberal arts would be good, people say, let us know when you get serious. It’s like, what if liberal arts was serious? What if being, and that’s why I use the word transdisciplinary, because it’s not just multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary, there needs to be a new wave of transdisciplinary thinking that pulls from multiple domains and multiple truth systems to be able to really adequately address some of these issues, not just problems, I always talk about addressing problems, but also advancing human potential.
Rick: Do you have a sense of, I mean, a lot of people have a sense of gloom and doom in terms of humanity’s future, the way things, they see us having passed the tipping point already from which there is no return, and they’re talking about sort of post-apocalyptic possibilities, and some of these are very serious people, I think Michael Dowd and, perhaps Joanna Macy and others, and others are not even thinking about it and think that life is just going to continue to go on as it always has, but it’s never going on as it always has. I mean, if we go back 50 years, 100 years, 150 years, each time there’s a huge change in terms of how much has changed. So, are you yourself a futurist, and if so, what sort of future do you envision for the world? What’s your best guess?
Cassandra: I just love to think that if we’re going to spend our energy on anything, you may want to spend 10 or 20% of your energy on the contingency plan, and get your Earth ship out in New Mexico so that you can have a place to be off the grid if everything does collapse.
Rick: Are you doing that?
Cassandra: But I hope, I’ve thought about it. I’m not doing it. I probably should, but I don’t even have an earthquake kit in my house. So, I don’t tend to be quite as risk averse as I should be. But I do think that 80% of me, and I hope that 80% of everyone else will be spent on prioritizing what it’s going to take to solve the problems. I think it’s insane to think that if we all turned our attention or some very, even a strong minority of us turned all of our attention to finding a way to use renewable energy to power the Earth, to get food and clean water to everyone, to get shelter to everyone, and to regenerate some of the damaged areas of the Earth, there’s no doubt in my mind that we could do it. So I do take those people seriously. But I don’t think, what I think the most is that we as progressives, in order to recruit the kind of energy and people that we’re going to need to do this, have got to stop talking about how awful it all is. And we have to start building the future world that looks great. The way that we do it now is here’s the future world where you’re not going to be able to eat fish and you’re not going to be able to have straws and you’re not going to be able to have cheeseburgers. You’re going to have to live in a house made of trash. And, that’s how it’s going to be. And everyone’s like, great, sign me up. So I think it’s really important to, there’s these kids who are coming up with machines that clean up thousands of pounds of plastic out of the ocean every day and recycle it.
Rick: Then again, there we go again with the kids.
Cassandra: Right. There’s young people who have made a better leather out of mushrooms. There’s, speaking of mushrooms, whole species of mushrooms that know how to eat up waste and plastic. So I think we need to be working on advancing those with the same level of determination that we did in the Apollo program, the same level of innovation that we’re putting into the space program now, the same level of innovation that we put into our iPhones, certainly the same level of energy we’re putting into defense and ways of killing other people. Let’s get our ingenuity and everything together. And I’m really, I think things like Paul Hawkens draw down and, right around the corner from me right now is this festival called Planet Home, where they’re bringing together all these people to talk about solutions and the phrase that they used under each speaker was “solutionist.” And I loved that. It’s not a futurist anymore, it’s a solutionist. So I’m going to sign on to being a solutionist.
Rick: It’s interesting because within that paragraph that you just said, and even within individual sentences of it, you swung from individual innovators such as the kid who invented the thing to gobble up the plastic or collect the plastic and, government projects such as the moonshot and, we can think of building the interstate highway system, things that an individual couldn’t do. So it seems to me it has to be multi-pronged where you have individual creativity and you do whatever you can to allow that to flourish and to support that. On the other hand, there has to be a concerted government effort to do the things that only governments can do on a large scale. I mean, for instance, we could probably put solar panels on every roof in the country, but you’re not going to get every individual to do that because they don’t have the financial means nor the incentive, but that kind of thing could be done. And so many other things.
Cassandra: Yeah, and it happens faster than you think. I mean, this is
Rick: It can, yeah.
Cassandra: Consciousness changes faster than you think. So this is true, in your own meditation practice, you’ll plateau for years and then all of a sudden have this huge amount of growth in three months. You know, we saw the issues of LGBT rights and, gay marriage plateau for so long and then incredibly rapidly become legal and, those are being walked back now, but that was an amazing thing. None of us could imagine today somebody walking into a restaurant smoking a cigarette where that was different 40 years ago, 30 years ago. So there are these ways that, there’s an analogy that I’ve heard of about a certain type of bamboo that grows in China and it grows under the ground for two years and then within six weeks, it grows two feet tall. And I do think that’s sometimes how change is made. So, I don’t really subscribe to the it’s too late philosophy. I think that there are rapid paradigm shifts that can happen very quickly, but we have to do better as people who love the planet and as progressives in the way we talk about it and who we are while we’re talking about it, the spirit that we bring to it. We have to do our own practice to become compelling change makers. And then it’s just a matter of prioritization and, actually walking our talk.
Rick: Yeah, I agree with you. And the example of the bamboo is a good one because I think you could also use a metaphor of a train going through the tunnel. It doesn’t look like any progress is being made, but then you come out the other side of the tunnel and you realize you’re in a whole different place. So, I think a lot of change sometimes festers beneath the surface and then finally manifests or expresses.
Cassandra: That’s right.
Rick: It’s not that it suddenly just happened. It’s been happening all the while, but it took us to, we had to get to a certain point before it could sort of express.
Rick: Yeah. So there’s three or four things you’re working on. You’ve mentioned some of them, How We Change and Why We Don’t is the title of a current book that you’re working on. Have you said everything you want to say about that or is there a little bit more you’d like to say about that?
Cassandra: Yeah, that’s just sort of an encapsulation of what we’ve been talking about in terms of the change model. So, we’ve got consciousness, communication and change, which is the outer change, people working on advocacy issues and how we change and why we don’t is for individuals who are working on themselves or maybe they’re therapists or spiritual teachers who are working with other people to help implement this model of change that we’ve created that takes a new approach to change that’s not based on giving people information about what they should do and not even based on increasing their motivation to do it, but really providing the conditions under which it’s most likely that they’ll be able to take that risk of exploring a new way of doing things and then, instantiating that into their lives with multiple support structures around that. And, How We Change and Why We Don’t is the book that I’m working on and I’m also teaching that workshop along with my colleague, Mike Sapiro, who’s also working, writing the book with me at the Esalen Institute this November and also next April. And then Consciousness, Communication and Change will be an online course that is starting, I think, October 19th and registration opens October 2nd. So, if you’re…
Rick: And we’re talking about 2019 for those who might be listening to this five years from now. Yeah, sorry about that. So, 2019 and hopefully the programs will still be going five years from now. How We Change and Why We Don’t is for individuals and people who work with individuals. Consciousness, Communication and Change is for people who are advocating socially and want to become more effective, progressive advocates and people who are making change out in the world. And then campaign science is for the political domain.
Rick: You’ve got a lot of irons in the fire.
Rick: You also mentioned in your notes that you’re interested in, and I think you mentioned earlier today, that you’re interested in integrative approaches to mental health care, how mental health care can be transformed so that it includes fitness, movement, nutrition, mind, body, and client spiritual and religious beliefs and practices, etc. So, that’s a cool thing.
Cassandra: Yeah. So, I wrote a book called Spiritual Competencies for Mental Health Professionals and currently have a grant from the Templeton Foundation to look at how psychotherapists could do a better job at increasing their training in their inclusion of more holistic aspects of people’s mental health over and above talk therapy or antidepressants. And I’ve just recently started as executive director at the John W. Brick Foundation that is supporting and funding work like that. So, that’s a thread of the work that is very, very important to me. And I just got back from a meeting working on this topic with Patrick Kennedy, who is the congressperson from Rhode Island and has been an untiring advocate for a mental health policy. All these things have one thing in common, and that is just how can we help people have shifts in perspective that lead to them being kinder to themselves, others in the planet? And the key word there is the shift in perspective. We can’t really tell them to do it. We can’t really motivate them to do it through either reward or threatened punishment. But we can provide the conditions under which people shift their perspectives in ways that make it much more natural for them to engage in more productive activities. And a large part of that does have to do with the kinds of wisdom that come out of the meditative practices, being able to observe your thinking, being able to observe your sensations, being able to connect with something larger than you and allow it to begin to move through you so that you’re walking with the flow of life as opposed to walking against it. And you’re leveraging that to do good in the world. So, even though they sound like they’re kind of separate to a certain extent, they’re really just different applications of the same concept.
Rick: Yeah. I just want to actually just read a couple more little paragraphs you sent me because I think they are interesting. And you’ve kind of said both of these things, but maybe this gives it a bit more emphasis. You’re interested in conditions that foster imagination, innovation, and creativity. What environmental and internal conditions, agents, practices, and states of consciousness stimulate imagination, and particularly the ability to see new possibilities? And this shift in perspective thing you just said, it’s one thing to shift an individual’s perspective, but you’ve also given us some examples of the entire society’s perspective shifting around gay marriage or whatever, just different things that are segregation and things like that that have undergone pretty huge changes, even though there’s, obviously more shifting that needs to take place. But it’s interesting to hear.
Cassandra: Yeah. It’s really about seeing new possibilities. How do we make it possible for the future that we’re working toward to happen? And a big part of that is helping ourselves and other people see it. Helping us see what if, what if that were possible? And then following it up with, I think it might be possible if we did these things, we might be able to create that world. And that’s just different than trying to get away from the world that you don’t want, or trying to eliminate the parts of you that you don’t like, it’s an additive model of awakening and mental health as opposed to a subtractive model.
Rick: There’s that Margaret Mead quote about, a small group of dedicated individuals bringing about large changes and her saying that, that’s the only thing that’s ever done it. So, it might seem like you’re sort of pie in the sky thinking about these things and your little thing there out in California, but these things have a ripple effect.
Rick: And, I think that doing what you’re doing is enlivening something and will have, a great deal of leverage, in terms of shifting collective consciousness.
Cassandra: Yeah, I guess so.
Rick: And of course, you’re not the only one doing it, there are other people. This sort of thing becomes contagious.
Cassandra: Yeah, it’s like popcorn.
Cassandra: It’s popping up all over the place, yeah.
Rick: Yeah. There’s a principle in the way the heart functions, as I’ve been told, where 1% of the cells in the heart are called pacemaker cells and their coordinated beating causes the entire heart muscle to beat in a coordinated fashion.
Cassandra: I love that metaphor. That’s great.
Rick: One final thing. You talk about induction of awe, self-transcendence, and worldview change. How does introducing people to awe-inspiring ideas and environments allow people to stretch their imagination or see things from a new perspective, leading to self-transcendence, shift in worldview and perspective on life and other pro-social emotions and behaviors? So, how can we inspire awe in a big way? I mean, certain things have done it, the moon landing and looking at the earth from the moon and things like that have really rocked collective consciousness. So, what are some things you hope to achieve that could really give us all an injection of awe?
Cassandra: Well, it’s a good full circle for us to end on, which is that I’m working on a project right now with Loren Carpenter, who is one of our scientists at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and he was the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and has two Academy Awards for helping to invent 3D landscape modeling that you see in almost every film today. And also Bristol Bond, who is an Emmy Award winning media producer and several other people, and we’re working on creating a virtual reality experience of Edgar Mitchell’s experience in space. And so, we’re programming, there is a group of people called Immersive VR Education in Dublin, Ireland, who created a couple of really big award-winning VR experiences. One was Apollo 11, and one was Titanic. You can find them at Immersive VR Education. So, they are programming the Edgar Mitchell overview effect experience, which we’re in the middle of it right now. We just finished the audio, and we’re working on matching the video. And so, what we’ll do, we just applied for Sundance, and we’ll be applying for South by Southwest. And the idea will be that anybody with an internet connection and a headset will be able to have at least a mimic of Edgar Mitchell’s, a hint of Edgar Mitchell’s experience in space. And for those of you who haven’t experienced virtual reality yet, I say a hint, but it’s actually quite compelling once you’re in it. With the audio, the video, we’ll be using some vests that vibrate a little bit. And then, in the full version, we may even be using a little chair, sort of a beanbag chair that makes you feel like you’re almost floating. And so, what we want to do is give people the experience of that many astronauts have had of viewing the earth from space. And it has original footage of Edgar describing the experience, and then hopefully people having their own. And so, that’s just the beginning of what I hope are multiple virtual reality experiences that we can use with adults and with children, with elders, with people with mobility issues, so that they can really have that moment of, wow, there’s something much bigger here and I’m a part of it and see how it shifts the way they look at themselves in the world, does it actually shift their perspective?
Rick: Would it be the kind of thing where you put on one of those Oculus goggles? And could it actually be the kind of thing where, you could have the beanbag chair and the Oculus goggles or whatever else you needed and have it in your basement and all the data needed to have that experience could be piped through the internet so you wouldn’t have to go someplace to do it?
Cassandra: That’s how it will be.
Cassandra: Yeah, it’ll be available on Steam, it’ll be available on all the major platforms, so that’s just the first in a series of these things. And there’s a ton of great work happening in VR. There’s a lot of people, for example, who have a really hard time meditating. When you say, witness your breathing, they just can’t really do it. It’s very hard for them. And so there’s a super interesting VR program now where you put on the headset, you sit in meditation, it senses your breathing so that when you breathe out, you actually see a little cloud of air come out and go back in and out and in. And it helps people, it’s sort of a training wheels for meditation. And then there’s, obviously the world, the sky’s the limit because you don’t have to follow the Newtonian rules in VR. So you will be able to walk through walls and you will be able to have an out of body experience. And, if you’re working on pain, you can say, I want you to imagine a cool waterfall moving through the sciatica, and you’ll be able to see the waterfall. So I just think there’s a ton of potential for this tool, not to replace reality and certainly not to get obsessed with, but to use as a scaffolding to help us have different experiences that again, allow us to see new possibilities.
Rick: That’s really cool. Probably most people have had an experience of watching some really inspiring movie, that took them into outer space or some such thing and they just feel kind of, and you come out of the movie theater feeling, wow, like a different person. And then of course, it wears off.
Rick: But I know one time, way back, this was like 1971, I was teaching meditation and I played that film, “Powers of 10.” You’ve probably seen something like it.
Cassandra: Yes, it’s amazing.
Rick: Yeah, it goes out and out and out, and then it goes in and in and in, showing you the hugeness and tininess of everything. And I got so stretched by that, that I couldn’t speak afterwards. I had a hard time coming back and talking to the people in the room and I was speaking very haltingly for about 15 minutes, because I just couldn’t bring it back together again. I should watch that more often, Irene says.
Cassandra: Yeah. Well, I know people have the same experiences with psilocybin, it’s very hard to bring it all back and to squeeze it back into the envelope that is this life. But there are some great data showing that those experiences where people have those subjective moments of feeling stretched actually increase their positive emotion, decrease their negative emotion, and make them feel like they have more, literally more spaciousness in their life. They feel like they have more time. It’s almost as though it’s been stretched.
Rick: Yeah. Think of all the kind of impact that near-death experiences have on people and life-changing changes in perspective and all. And, what you’re talking about here is, we won’t even have to die. We could just put on a goggle and sit in the beanbag chair and have this profound experience.
Cassandra: Exactly. I’ll end with this. There was a Buddhist teacher, you might know who it is, who shared a quote which was, “Enlightenment is always an accident, but we can make ourselves more accident-prone.”
Rick: Yep, I often use that quote. I forget who said it, but it’s a great quote.
Rick: Alrighty, well, thank you Cassandra, or Cassie. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation with you.
Cassandra: Thank you! Great to talk to you. Thanks for having me, and thanks for the wonderful show, and the great work you’re doing.
Rick: Thank you so much. It doesn’t feel like work, as I’m sure you also experience in your life. So, let me just make a really quick concluding remark here. This has been part of an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people and about spiritual topics. If this happens to be new to you, please go to batgap.com and explore the menus. You’ll see an audio podcast and index of all the previous interviews and so on. You can sign up to be notified by email of new ones. You can subscribe to the YouTube channel for that matter if you’re watching this on YouTube, and YouTube will notify you when there’s a new one. So, thanks for your attention and time, and thanks again Cassandra. I really appreciate it.
Cassandra: Thank you so much.
Rick: The opportunity.