Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done about 620 of them now. If this is new to you, and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com – b a t g a p – and look under the Past Interviews menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website. There’s also a Donations Page which explains a few other alternatives. My guest today is an old friend Connie Zweig. Welcome, Connie.
Connie Zweig: Hi, Rick.
Rick Archer: The reason I know Connie is that for quite a few years before I started BatGap, she and I participated in a local satsang, I guess you’d call it. It was just a gathering in somebody’s living room, where we talked for several hours every Wednesday night. When Connie was home in California, she and her husband would join by speakerphone, and when they would visit Fairfield, they’d come there in person. And it was during that period where I first had the idea to do BatGap. The guy in whose home we met really encouraged me. At first, I was conceiving of it as something I would do on the local radio station, and they weren’t interested. But for several months, I was haranguing with them and trying to convince them it would be a good idea. Then at one of those Wednesday night meetings, I remember I was sitting by the windows, and Connie was on the couch. I started going on about the radio station, and Connie said, “Forget the radio station. You’re thinking too small. Get it out on the internet, don’t waste our time talking about this radio station.” I realized she was right, and Irene was saying the same thing. So that was a necessary kick in the pants. One thing led to the next, and here we are. Some 12 years later now, Connie has written yet another book, and I’m just going to read a quick bio of her here. She is a retired therapist, co-author of Meeting the Shadow and Romancing the Shadow, author of Meeting the Shadow of Spirituality and a novel, A Moth to the Flame: The Life of Sufi poet Rumi. Her new book is called The Inner Work of Age: Shifting From Role To Soul, and it extends shadow work into late life and teaches aging as a spiritual practice. Connie has been doing contemplative practices for 50 years, she is a wife and grandmother, and was initiated as an elder by Sage-ing International in 2017. After investing in all these roles, she is practicing the shift from role to soul. I managed to listen to the entirety of Connie’s book over the past week or so, doing a lot of walking and bike riding and stuff. If you get the audio version, it’s about 15 and a half hours. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was really interesting, not at all a chore to listen to, by any means. Connie, about midway through your book, you had a little section where you described sort of major stages of your life that you had gone through. Remember that part? You were a meditation teacher, and then some kind of an editor/journalist and then a therapist and this and that. I thought as a way of getting to know you a little bit better at the start here, you could review those stages.
Connie Zweig: I think you’re referring to the life review process. In my chapter on the life review, which is one of the tools to become an elder to actually harvest all the lessons we’ve learned from our lives. I discovered some very profound things about myself, and I’m not really a person who tends to look at the past very much. I’m not nostalgic, and I don’t look back, although I love the music of the 60s and 70s, but other than that. When I did this life review, one of the things I found was that I spent about a decade as a TM (Transcendental Meditation) teacher. Then I spent another decade as a journalist and an editor at a publishing house. Then I spent three decades as a psychologist working in clinical practice. You would think that on the surface those careers are really distinct and have nothing in common. But when I really looked at it at the level of my soul’s journey, what I saw was they all had the same mission, which was to transmit information about consciousness. When I saw that thread that went through the whole tapestry of my life, it was very gratifying. It really moved me. It allowed me to feel that this new book is a continuation of my soul’s mission, except that now I’m transmitting information about consciousness in later life. It was kind of a unifying experience.
Rick Archer: Nice. So I could say a similar thing in terms of consciousness being the kind of fundamental interest and in fact, when I was in my late teens, early 20s, I came to the same realization I bet you did, which is that I wanted to have as much of an impact as possible, make contribution in my life. I felt like with consciousness, I’d have the most leverage. Working on that level, I could have a greater impact, do less and accomplish more so to speak, than working on various more manifest levels.
Connie Zweig: Right. We learned so many profound lessons at a young age. And even though I left TM and moved on to other practices, a lot of the teachings have stayed with me.
Rick Archer: Sure.
Connie Zweig: Because they were so formative.
Rick Archer: I know. Your book is full of little familiar phrases.
Connie Zweig: Yeah.
Connie Zweig: Aging is structured in consciousness, right?
Rick Archer: Yeah. Why did you leave TM, if it’s not too controversial to ask?
Connie Zweig: When the sidhis were given out, I didn’t trust the whole process. Then I saw people lying about their experiences, and I saw a lot of ego involvement, competition. When I went on a six-month course, Maharishi told me that I was in some high level of consciousness, and I knew that I wasn’t. That sort of left me without faith in him.
Rick Archer: Hmm. Interesting.
Connie Zweig: Yeah.
Rick Archer: You were up on the mic asking a question or something and he said you’re in a high level?
Connie Zweig: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Rick Archer: Well, he always used to use this catchphrase, he called us Governors of the Age of Enlightenment. He would always say, the Already Enlightened Governors of the Age of Enlightenment, and people would kind of scratch their heads. But I now understand that in the context of the types of things Ramana, Maharishi, or Papaji, or somebody might have said that. In reality, ultimately, fundamentally, you are already enlightened. You just don’t know it. He kind of left that part out.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, that’s the basic Advaita teaching, isn’t it?
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Connie Zweig: Yeah. But the missing piece is if we’re not conscious of it, what good does it do us?
Rick Archer: Yeah, a sea slug is already enlightened on some level, but you gotta be conscious of it.
Connie Zweig: Right.
Rick Archer: One thing you brought up in your book a lot, or at a certain section of it, anyway, was that you’d been sort of plagued or driven by this yearning, feeling like I gotta get enlightened, enlightenment or bust kind of a feeling. I got that sense from our Wednesday night satsangs also for years. I got the feeling that has kind of mellowed for you now.
Connie Zweig: I didn’t experience it as an angst or a got to. I experienced it as like a whisper. That led to a restless feeling.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Connie Zweig: I allowed that feeling to guide me all my life. I took it seriously. In one of my books, I called it the holy longing. It’s the part of us that longs for transcendence. I actually believe that that’s in every human soul. Again, some people are conscious of it, some are not. But it was for me, it was a kind of a precious, like a lure that has called to me. I haven’t seen it as a problem. I haven’t seen it as my ego. I’ve seen it as the evolutionary impulse within us, and so with that frame, I’ve allowed it to guide me. It’s guided me to so many fantastic teachers, and teachings, and books, and practices. And is it different now? I would say that I have less restlessness now in the level of consciousness I’m in. I have less restlessness now as an elder, and I have less restlessness because of where my husband is at, who has attained a very high level. I kind of feel like that was a blessing for me.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Connie Zweig: And a teacher, that restlessness. Yeah.
Rick Archer: It’s interesting because we hear stories about great saints and sages, like the Buddha or Amma, or many of them, who basically were just desperate for enlightenment. Buddha nearly fasted to death and did all these other things. I think Amma threw herself into the ocean because she didn’t want to live if she weren’t enlightened. And there’re a lot of other stories. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says that the yogis who are driven by vehement intensity are the ones who are going to get enlightened the most quickly. So there’s that, but then on the other hand, people can struggle and strain. I was up on the stage one time shooting my mouth off, and Maharishi interrupted me, and he said, “Every day is life.” He said, “Don’t pass over the present for some glorious future.” Somehow those two things need to be balanced. Yeah, go ahead, elaborate on that.
Connie Zweig: I think there’s also a quality of attachment that traps us in that urgency. I can remember in my 20s, I didn’t care about anything else. I didn’t build a career. I didn’t care about relationship. I didn’t want to have kids. That was all I cared about. I think that’s true for a lot of people in the baby-boomer generation. Many of us then left our practice, gave up basically, became so spiritually disillusioned, heartbroken, that people gave up their practices and just got into sort of empire building.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Connie Zweig: Career, and family, and conventional life-it didn’t go that way for me. There is a kind of a grasping that’s paradoxical, because I think we have to want it in order to hear the guidance. But at the same time, if we want it too much, we can actually block it, because our egos get engaged. Ken Wilber made this beautiful point about spiritual bypass, which is his way of saying when we prioritize spirituality, just what Maharishi said, when we prioritize only transcendence, then we bypass our emotional development, cognitive development, moral development, and artistic development. All these other lines of development get overridden, because we’re only focusing on developing one.
Rick Archer: Yeah. We’ve seen the consequences of that in many cases where even very advanced spiritual teachers who lived and breathed consciousness were quite undeveloped in certain respects, and that caused all kinds of problems.
Connie Zweig: That’s what my book Meeting the Shadow of Spirituality is about, because how can someone be enlightened and act out the shadow? That heartbreak for me led me to really research that and try to understand it. And you’ve started that whole community about spiritual integrity that’s about this.
Rick Archer: Yeah, you’re a member of that.
Connie Zweig: Yeah.
Rick Archer: I’m very reluctant to use the word enlightenment, because it sort of has this static superlative connotation. But if I were to use it, it would be referring to Ken Wilber. I would reserve it for those who have developed very fully. I don’t know if there is such a thing as all the way, but very fully along all the lines of development. There’s this holistic kind of development where you’re not only deeply established in consciousness or being, but you’re ethically sound, and compassionate, and perhaps intellectually developed. All the different things according to your individual makeup, but you’re not going to be an alcoholic or something and yet claim to be enlightened, which some have done.
Connie Zweig: Right. Who was that Tibetan?
Rick Archer: Chögyam Trungpa Rinphoche. Drank himself to death.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, Chögyam Trungpa.
Rick Archer: He died in his 40s.
Connie Zweig: There you go. This is a complicated topic and difficult, I think, to handle for people who hear the word enlightenment. The word is like a Rorschach test, we just project all over it. We project according to our own wishes and fantasies, according to our own knowledge and information, according to our own experience. It means totally different things to different people according to our lineage. There is no sort of monolithic environment and enlightenment that everyone agrees on. So I didn’t really use that word.
Rick Archer: Then there is the phenomenon, which I’m sure you’re aware of, of people sitting before a teacher who really seems to glow in the dark and has all kinds of charisma and eloquence and so on. It becomes evident that the teacher is misbehaving in certain ways, but the students lack self-confidence. They’ve invested so much confidence in the teacher that they say, well, he seems off, but who am I to say, what do I know, how can I judge? So they kind of go off the rails with him very often. And I say him, because it’s usually a him.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, did you see that film about Osho Rajneesh?
Rick Archer: Wild Wild Country? Yeah, I watched that.
Connie Zweig: Wow, what a powerful film. You can kind of see there how people really get entranced and even hypnotized by charismatic teachers. You can witness the whole thing unfold in that film as he degenerates, really. So my position is, we need to develop psychologically, emotionally, as well as spiritually. We need to bring our shadow awareness, our self-awareness, our blind spots into awareness, as we do our spiritual practices and hang out with spiritual teachers. Otherwise, it’s really risky.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And segueing into the whole aging discussion, they have something in India called the ashramas. You can elaborate on this, but it’s different stages of life. It’s traditionally thought that the time when you’re going to really get focused on spirituality is the last stage of your life. But there have been a number of teachers, Indian teachers, who have refuted that and said that spiritual development should be something you do at every stage. Maybe you do other things in addition to spiritual development at some of the earlier stages, and maybe you’re only focused on spiritual development at the end, but the spiritual development should be the foundation, and a significant focus at every stage of the game, because if you wait until the last stage, it may be too late for you.
Connie Zweig: The mystical stream of every tradition teaches that the purpose and meaning of late life is spiritual practice. Whether the traditions are monastic or if they’re householder, I think, changes the message about whether you do that all of your life. In India, that traditional teaching, which I don’t think is too current over there anymore, was that first we’re students-Brahmacharya. Then we’re householders, we form a family. Then we’re grandparents, and we kind of begin to relinquish our possessions and live more simply. Then we’re sannyasas, we are renunciates. And perhaps we leave everything and wander. That was the traditional framework, which doesn’t really translate into the West, unless we look at some Christian monastic traditions, and people who enter the monastery later in life and do contemplative prayer and other practices. In Judaism, it doesn’t really fit because there’s no kind of monastic stream. A lot of mystical Jews like Hasids are doing practice all their lives, although men only. Each tradition has its own kind of adaptation to this teaching. I do think that there’s this risk of starting young, which is that we don’t develop in other ways. If we prioritize it too much, we don’t develop in other ways. Maharishi tried to make a householder practice, but you and I saw how many people were not doing it that way. They weren’t meditating 20 minutes a day and living their life.
Rick Archer: He had a monastic group too called Purusha, and I was on that for 15 years or so.
Connie Zweig: Yeah. It was held as the ideal of monastic.
Rick Archer: Yeah, it was. I felt very guilty about leaving it, because I felt like I was compromising. I wasn’t going for the highest as I always had. But I just felt like…
Connie Zweig: Exactly.
Rick Archer: my time there had finished. I gotta move on. I’d known Irene for 12 years. My usual line was, well, I love you, and if I ever wanted to get married, I’d marry you, but I’m a monk. I’m gonna stay a monk all my life. It was this schizophrenic kind of struggle.
Connie Zweig: Yes, right. Right. There are those parts of us. This is my framework on that. At some time in our lives, we’re living out one part of our personality. Because we all have these multiple parts, these pluralistic personalities or psychologies. We live out these different parts at different stages in a lifespan. You were living out this monk part, and the married man at that point was in the shadow; it was your unlived life. But when that desire started to shift, to be with Irene and live like a householder, then the monk part went into the shadow – not entirely because you do your practices. The same thing happened to me. I was living this myth of Athena, the Greek goddess Athena, who never bonds with men. She’s independent. She’s born of her father’s head, and she’s a warrior. I lived every single aspect of her story. Then I met Neil. So Athena who had given me a successful life, that story became a shadow figure, because every time Neil tried to get close to me, I’d smash him. When I started to realize that it was a part of me, a shadow part that was sabotaging the intimacy, I discovered how to work with it, and bond with a man and have a very different life, a married life. If we don’t have that understanding, it’s hard to make these transitions. It’s really difficult to make them. That can lead me to the book. Is that okay?
Rick Archer: It is, but I want to make one more comment before we go on. That is, and you can perhaps get into this more as we talk about the book, but I still don’t want to leave people with the impression that spirituality can wait. I learned to meditate when I was 18. By that time, I had dropped out of high school and gotten arrested a couple of times and done a lot of drugs and really kind of messed up my life. It had been a difficult life anyway, with an alcoholic father and all that business. But I wish I had, I don’t live like wishing I had done this or that, but speaking hypothetically, it would have been nice to have learned TM, or learned to meditate when I was a kid. And therefore been a better student and not done the drugs and all that stuff. So I think spirituality has its place. A meditative practice, for instance, has its place throughout life. It just needs to be integrated and balanced just like exercise, or relationships, or good food, or anything else. It’s a good component of a healthy life that can be practiced from start to finish really, in proper proportions.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, I totally agree with you. And it depends on our psychology.
Rick Archer: Okay, good. So let’s get into the book.
Connie Zweig: This transition from monk to husband, or husband to monk, or wife to nun, or vice versa is a transition in identity. We identify with whatever part of our psychology we’re living out at the moment. In post midlife there are many transitions that we go through in which our identity changes. We can identify with what I call the doer, the part of us that is always achieving and trying to succeed and striving to do more, whether we’re in our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, if that’s our identity. If I’m a CEO, the shadow expert, the mom, or the provider, if that’s who I am, then as the roles fall away, which they do; they do with retirement, they fall away with illness, or with loss. As the roles fall away, then who am I? We’re thrown back on this essential spiritual question. As I approached my retirement, I started to feel kind of disoriented. Who am I, if I’m not the writer, the therapist, the shadow expert? Of course, I have so much history of spiritual education that I knew who I was, and yet, my ego trembled. Because if I’m not the doer, if I’m not continuing to give and to achieve, then that ‘who am I?’ that existential question comes up. The same thing happens around illness. The same thing happens around emotional loss. There are all these transitions that happen to us that create what I call this late life identity crisis. When that gets triggered, and we start to ask again who am I, we have practices. We have practices from all the traditions to remember who we are and to become even more deeply established in a spiritual identity, our essential nature that’s independent of what we do, how we look, what we achieve, or what other people think of us. When I say it’s important in later life, that’s the context for me.
Rick Archer: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I would say that the knowing who you are project can carry on throughout life. So it’s not just a matter of cramming for the exam when you’re old and getting to know who you truly are, but it can be growing incrementally and naturally as one goes along. I think if it does, it diminishes the likelihood that there will be some crisis or some great upheaval as one thing drops off and another thing takes its place. As you know, and as listeners know, true self-knowledge also doesn’t really associate with strong attachment. So if one is sort of resting in the Self, there’s much less of a tendency to cling to things. There’s also much more of a tendency to go with the flow and recognize the wisdom of nature that orchestrates our lives, don’t you think?
Connie Zweig: Yes, and my training in psychology tells me that ego development is really important. We can’t transcend the ego before we have an ego. We can’t be nobody until we’re somebody, like the old phrase. It’s very hard to practice transcendence while you’re developing an ego. It’s really tricky. I think there are stages in life. But when you’re busy with the addiction to doing, scrambling to put food on the table, take their kids to school, or be caregivers – yes, we can still do spiritual practice. In fact, it’s more important in some ways then. At the same time, we need to do our psychological work, our emotional work, our creativity. So where’s the time for everything? It’s very challenging. Whereas after we stop working for paid work, there’s this new longevity now. We have more time than we’ve ever had in the history of humanity after retirement until death now. I’ve been interviewing hundreds and hundreds of people, and they’re all asking what do I do with this time, and nobody is really guiding them to look within. Nobody’s guiding them to a rite of passage for this period of life. That’s really my hope for the book, my hope is that it’s a rite of passage. As people walk through the practices, step by step, they emerge on the other side, with a different level of consciousness.
Rick Archer: Well, I think it’ll help inspire that. You do provide different practices after each chapter or refer to certain practices. I remember Shankara in one of his books, of course, he was a monk, but he was saying (I don’t know why I’m harping on this point) take advantage of your youth, you have a lot of energy, you have a lot of strength, you have good health, you want to be sure to be doing spiritual practice now. You may not have good health or energy when you’re older. And yet, I would say, obviously, there’s no guarantee of this, but if you do spiritual practice on a regular basis as part of your routine (and it needn’t take as much time in your daily routine as even eating does), chances are your health will be better in the long run, you might have more energy and better health when you’re older, and so on.
Connie Zweig: What was the lifespan at the time of Shankara?
Rick Archer: Oh, yeah, you’re right. He lived to be 32 or 33, or something like that. And in many cultures,
Connie Zweig: 50 more years.
Rick Archer: it’s been the norm to be 40 if you’re lucky before you die. So I mean, make hay while the sun shines, but on the other hand, the sun might be shining for a long time. So we have a lot of time to make a lot of hay for horses.
Connie Zweig: Good for vegetarians.
Rick Archer: They’re vegetarians. You tell a lot of stories in your book about people who were workaholics or high achievers, and so on, who did go into crisis. I remember one guy who was working really hard, and he had insomnia, and he started having these heart arrhythmias. Remember that guy? He hated the idea of slowing down because he felt like his work was who he was and thought people wouldn’t respect him anymore if he eased up on it. And maybe he wouldn’t have enough money. He had these really high financial goals, and so on. But his health condition kind of forced him to shift gears. You might want to elaborate on people like him, and how people can make a successful transition to a more inner-directed life when it becomes evident that they’re at the stage where they should do that maybe.
Connie Zweig: He was in the conscious aging movement, but one thing that’s been missing from this movement is an orientation to the unconscious and the shadow. There’s just no other book about that, about how we meet the shadows of age, the unconscious fears and beliefs that we bring to this stage of life that we’ve carried throughout our lifespan. One of the reasons I wrote the book is when I found this research out of Yale University from a psychologist named Becca Levy who spent her whole career studying internalized ageism and how we unconsciously internalize young is good, old is bad. Becoming old means XYZ, useless, invisible, decline, memory loss, geezer, over the hill. We all have these associations. I, for example, didn’t have any positive elder model in my childhood, not one. I couldn’t internalize an image of that and carry it with me as I aged. I found this research about these unconscious fears, and beliefs, and attitudes, and images affecting our cardiac health, our memory, our cognitive health. They affect our emotional and mental health. They affect our will to live, and they affect our longevity. These unconscious beliefs in the shadow are shaping how we experience aging. This spoke right to me because with this career studying the shadow and the impact of unconscious process on our daily lives, I just thought, oh my god, this is what I can contribute. One of the shadow characters is the doer. And that part of us, like the man you were describing, was identified with his doing, but it was unconscious until he really became aware that that was actually damaging his health, he couldn’t slow down. It’s the same with the shadow character that I call the inner ageist, the part of us that internalizes it’s good to be young, and it’s bad to be old. It’s good to be independent and bad to be dependent, or good to be strong and bad to be weak. We get all these messages. As we recognize that we have an inner ageist, we start to pay attention to all the anti-aging messages, and buy products, and try to stay young. Then when we recognize that we’re doing that, that we’re colluding with the social ageism, institutional ageism in the culture, we can do something about it. We can work with that internal part of ourselves. For me, this is spiritual work. And let me explain that. For me, there’s no such thing as separating psychological work from spiritual work. My method of shadow work involves learning how to witness your thoughts. As we meditate, whatever practice you use, we begin to learn how the mind works. We begin to observe our thoughts, and our feelings, and our sensations, whatever, depending on the practice that you use. Before you can do that, your mind is completely, Maharishi used the word ‘overshadowed’ by your thoughts. Whatever is going on, you’re just in it, lost in it, taking it for granted. But then you start to meditate, and you start to see it and separate from it. Then you can recognize that there are repeating patterns in your thoughts. Once you identify a repeating pattern, you’ve got a shadow character. You’ve got a part that’s coming up from the unconscious and giving you this message. It could be the message that you’re no longer attractive, or you’re no longer doing enough, or you should be doing that instead, or you need more time alone, or you need less time alone. All these internal messages, some of them contradictory, we need to learn to witness. As we do that, then we can begin to do shadow work. Without a spiritual practice, we can’t really begin to make a relationship with the unconscious. So for me, these are totally twined together.
Rick Archer: You know the analogy of the movie screen, I’m sure, where the movie projects on the screen
Connie Zweig: Yeah.
Rick Archer: and overshadows it, and you think you are the movie – all the characters and everything, but you’re really the screen. So when you say witness the thoughts you’re saying, recognize that you are the screen of consciousness on which the impressions fall, you’re not the impressions and that includes the impression of the body. We think usually I am this body, but we can reach a stage of experience where our primary identification is as consciousness. The body is my body in a sense, but it’s not essentially who I am, not fundamentally or primarily who I am. That would go along with witnessing the thoughts.
Connie Zweig: Yes, it’s another level of the witness. I am not my thoughts. I am not my body. I am not my feelings. And guess what? I am not my story. That’s really a big one because the story is so glorified in our culture. Everybody talks about narrative, and I am, but no, I am not my story. Who am I? I am pure consciousness, or I am soul, or I am spirit, or I am the Self, whatever terminology works for you. The practices in the book help to turn your attention each day from who you thought you were to who you really are.
Rick Archer: You told a story in the book about how when we were in that satsang group, you were saying something, and people kept saying that’s just a concept. Then you’d say something else, and somebody else would say that’s just a concept. This happened three or four times. Finally, you had this breakthrough where you realized that. The reason I remember that story is because of what we were just saying about knowing who you really are, and you’re not the body, and you’re not the thoughts-that’s not a concept. That’s not something you can conceptualize your way into. It’s really an experience, or it isn’t. But it really has to be experientially grounded.
Connie Zweig: That was John, I don’t remember his last name, in the satsang. That was John. No matter what I said, he kept saying, that’s a concept, that’s a concept. Then my mind stopped, the world stopped like Castaneda. Stop the world. What happened was, the contents of consciousness spilled out on the floor. I could see them, and I had this hollow head. My eyes were open, and I had had that experience in meditation, but not in waking state. Ever since then, I’ve had a very different relationship to my mind. That’s one of the reasons when I wrote this book, I didn’t write this book from my mind, Rick. It really came through. It was a very different experience than the other books. That’s one of the reasons that the book is not about beliefs. Because beliefs are more mind stuff: your beliefs, my beliefs, his beliefs, the Pope’s beliefs. Beliefs. Concepts. I don’t want people to feel that I’m telling them what to believe. I’m actually hoping to move people beyond belief to direct experience.
Rick Archer: The book doesn’t give one the impression that you’re trying to get anybody to believe anything. You give them plenty of perspectives to choose from, and you take them all lightly. You make it clear that we’re talking about a deep experience, an experiential thing, because beliefs are just not the foundation of anything. They’re just mind stuff, as you say.
Connie Zweig: Right.
Rick Archer: This is a bit of an abrupt segue, but as I was listening to the book, I was thinking about death, which you talk about in the book, and I was thinking about attachment to the body. An analogy occurred to me. See what you think of it: if your doctor said, ‘well, it looks like you have about a year to live,’ that would evoke a certain reaction, emotional and whatnot. If your car mechanic said, ‘well, you know, your car has seen better days, you’re probably going to have to get a new one in about a year,’ that would evoke a different reaction, much different for most people than your doctor’s comment. And yet, in a way, there’s something very similar about both of those predictions because they both refer to a vehicle, the body is a vehicle, your car is a vehicle. In both cases, in my opinion, talking about beliefs, you’re gonna get a new vehicle. Yet, obviously, we are naturally more attached to our body than we are to our car. If someone said, ‘okay, I’m going to hit something with a hammer, it can either be your body or your car,’ I would say go for the car. So what do you think about the notion of actually being at a stage of experience where you’re so well grounded in being or in the Self that you truly do regard the body as a vehicle, and you don’t see its demise as being your demise? Perhaps you, if you believe in reincarnation, just see it as something which is no more tragic really than buying a new car.
Connie Zweig: I opened the book with a dream, one of my dreams that was about discovering that the vehicle was different from the identity. I suggest that to become an elder there are three qualities of awareness that we need: Pure Awareness or whatever we call that – silence, transcendence, vast emptiness, whatever we call it, pure consciousness, sunyata, turiya, whatever we call it; Shadow Awareness, a connection to the psyche and the unconscious; and Mortality Awareness. Before COVID, I would say that mortality denial was really epidemic in our culture. People are trying to stay young, and they’re denying age, and they’re denying that their bodies are gonna die. As there was a shift with COVID, as we saw so much death, and as so many people lost people they knew, I question whether that’s going to stay there, if it’s going to penetrate. But my sense is that there was a shift, or there is a shift happening around this. Mortality awareness, again, doesn’t depend on beliefs, because we might believe that the body is molecules and atoms that are going to go back into the atmosphere and come back in another form. Or we might believe that we’re a drop that’s going to fall into the ocean and rise up as a cloud. Or we might believe that there’s nothing, that it’s, nothing’s going to happen. The body will be buried or cremated, and that’s that. To me, it’s not about what we believe about death or afterlife that’s important; it’s about the reality that this body, my Connie-ness will pass, and this body will go wherever it goes. Now, beliefs can come up about what’s next, but that’s not my point. My point is what do we do with the time now knowing that? A woman said to me this week, “I’m 67, I’m not thinking about death, I have lots of time.” Then an 89-year-old man said to me, “I don’t want to be with those old people, I’m not like them.” What I’m trying to do is investigate that resistance to the age of the body, the chronological age, and what it means to how we want to live now. So instead, when we’re 89, we need to be asking, what now, what’s really important? What if I don’t do or say something, will I die with regret? We need to be asking those questions. If we’re in denial of mortality, whether it’s because of a spiritual belief, or a psychological block doesn’t matter, it has the same effect. We won’t actually have the alchemical impact on our lives now of recognizing I need to give forgiveness to that person, or I need to be forgiven by that person, or I need to take up this spiritual practice now. Whatever it is, or I’m going to learn to play that instrument that I always wanted to play. I have a friend who is 73, and he’s written all these books to support himself. He said, “I’ve got to get to that novel now, because it’s the one thing that if I don’t do, I’ll die with regret.” If we don’t acknowledge mortality, we don’t get there.
Rick Archer: I think that friend you might have been referring to is our friend Phil, right? Yeah, I was just talking to him about something recently.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, I didn’t want to say that.
Rick Archer: Yeah, well, he wouldn’t mind, right? If it’s Phil Goldberg, he’s been on BatGap. He’s written some great books, American Veda, and he just wrote a biography of Yogananda. So repeat what you just said about when you’re 89.
Connie Zweig: This friend of mine, who’s 89 said to me, shocked me, said, “I don’t want to be with old people. I’m not like them.” There’s ageism in that, first of all, because he’s projecting onto them what he’s not owning in himself. But there’s also the loss of not recognizing that his body at 89 years old, may have a minute, may have a year, may have five years, we don’t know, but that his time horizon is short. He will miss out on whatever his priorities are if he doesn’t recognize and acknowledge that. It may be spiritual practice. It may be reconciliation with a loved one. It may be a creative project. He’ll miss out if he doesn’t recognize that.
Rick Archer: It’s funny, because I don’t know about you, but I’m 72 now. I just turned 72. All my life, I haven’t really felt like I was an age of any sort. When I turned 30, that concerned me a little bit. I thought, ooh, 30, that sounds really old. But I thought about it for a day or two. Obviously, the body can’t do everything it used to do, but that’s not me. I think a lot of times it takes weird turns and twists. Sometimes old gnarly guys will hit on young women and think that they’re attractive to them. I think it’s a true perception that we, and everybody has it to some extent, that we are not this body. We are the same person we were when we were five or whatever.
Connie Zweig: Well.
Rick Archer: Essentially.
Connie Zweig: We are not our age. I have 72 years of life experience, but who I am is not 72. Who I am is timeless. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Well, it is what we’re talking about in terms of shifting from role to soul, shifting our identity from our doing to our spiritual nature, it is what we’re talking about. But it’s not what we’re talking about in the context of mortality awareness, and the end of this lifetime, and the end of this body. This body at 72 years has a lot less time than it had it 32 years. We don’t know how long; it could be 30 years, or it could be two years. We don’t know. But what does that mean? How can I allow that awareness to really penetrate and change me? For me, when I really got this deeply, it meant leaving my private practice, beginning to research aging, and beginning to deepen my spiritual practice. Moving – we downsized our house. I like to say we downsized our egos, because we had this huge house in the mountains, and we moved to an apartment by the water. For me, that is metaphorical, because it’s about letting go. It’s not just physical to move. We let go of our possessions, we let go of our furniture, our stuff, we let go. There are transitions that don’t happen if we deny our mortality. It’s like we don’t open an invitation. That’s what it’s like, we don’t open an invitation to a new stage of life. We can’t become an elder, we can’t move from heroic ego, or let’s say hero to elder without this inner work. I called it The Inner Work of Age, because it has to be intentional. It actually requires our attention and our intention to take some steps to make this internal shift in awareness. The listeners on BatGap know what I mean when I say this shift, this internal shift is independent of circumstances. Some people will continue to work, but they can make this internal shift from role to soul, or whatever we want to call it. In the aging world it’s called gerotranscendence. It’s moving beyond ego. You can make that shift and still be very active in the world. There’s a group called Elders Action Network. These elders are activists in social justice causes and racism and all kinds of reform, but they’re doing their inner work along with it. I think that’s different from when we were activists in the 60s, at least for me, it’s different. When I was in Berkeley at the late 60s, I didn’t have the self-awareness that I have now. We can bring that to whatever we do. I can bring it to my grandparenting and give my kids this model of a thriving elder with a new book. My 10-year-old grandson is so excited about the new book, so he gets to internalize a picture of someone who’s really thriving in her 70s. All of these different aspects are kind of a part of the big picture.
Rick Archer: I remember Amma often said that we should live like a bird perched on a branch that could break at any time. Meaning that we should be aware of our mortality. Your next breath may be your last even if you’re young. Obviously, it gets more and more possible as you get older. That 89-year-old guy is gonna die a lot sooner, chances are, than a 39-year-old. But I don’t think it’s morbid or psychologically unhealthy. You can tell me, because you’re the psychologist, to have this kind of attitude at any age. Often, teenagers think they’re immortal, and they behave as though they can do all these crazy, risky things. Then as we get a little older, we get a little more realistic. But a lot of people, they don’t act realistically in terms of their mortality, and they do live as if death isn’t going to grab them at some point.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, and if we live as if we’ll never die, then we don’t truly live.
Rick Archer: Also, eat, drink, and be merry, because tomorrow we may die, there’s that saying. Then I don’t think we’re really living either, because eating, drinking, and being merry is not necessarily the most ideal preparation for anything, much less death.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, the answer is not hedonism or nihilism.
Rick Archer: There used to be a beer ad, where these two guys are out on a boat drinking beer. And one guy says, “Oh, you only go around once in this life, so grab all the gusto you can get.”
Connie Zweig: Yeah. Let’s talk about completing unfinished spiritual business.
Rick Archer: Yes, please, let’s do.
Connie Zweig: Because this is the place to do that. Most of my interviews don’t go there, and I’ve never seen this really discussed anywhere else. Everybody talks about completing emotional unfinished business. But what about spiritual? Part of what I mean by that is, what are your beliefs now in your 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s? What are your most cherished values? What is your priority now? And can you have the experience that you are not those beliefs, that there’s something more to you than those beliefs? Is there a way that you’ve been a fundamentalist in your thinking in some way? And boy, the TM fundamentalism is one of the reasons I left, but we can be fundamentalist about anything – about veganism, about Islam, about anything. If we reexamine our beliefs now in light of our long life experience, we might discover something surprising. We can go a little deeper, and try to uncover what are the images of the Divine that we’re carrying. What are the pictures in the shadow that we hold of God, or the gods, or heaven, or paradise? And do those fit who we are now? Because those tend not to develop alongside our other development, because they’re not really uncovered and examined. I mentioned in the book, I had a client who was practicing mindfulness. But when we really explored, he had this image in his shadow of a pope-like figure telling him he was gonna go to hell because of his sexual thoughts. That was underneath all his Buddhist beliefs and concepts. The third thing is, what practice fits you now? Are you doing a spiritual practice that is appropriate for you now? Are you doing practices? Do you want to do practices for flexibility, for concentration, for managing memory and attention, for centering, or relaxation? What kind of practices do you want to be doing now? It’s easy to find them. They’re everywhere. They’re on apps now. There are teachers everywhere. There are books everywhere. Those three – beliefs, images, and practices, those three categories will help us to kind of update our spiritual orientation to who we are now, rather than just kind of leaving it or continuing old stuff or leaving it unconscious. I really advise that for people.
Rick Archer: Let’s get into some concrete examples, or specific examples of the point you’re trying to illustrate here.
Connie Zweig: Completing our spiritual unfinished business.
Rick Archer: Let’s take two or three examples that you know about where people either have or haven’t completed their unfinished spiritual business, so people who are listening can relate it to their own experience.
Connie Zweig: While I was writing the book, two very dear friends of mine died. I took care of one of them very intensively and write about it in the chapter on illness. She had been with Muktananda. Eventually, after a long time, left him over the scandals, and then she was with Vishwananda. Then he had his scandals, and she was very, very upset about it, because she was actually having very clear spiritual states with him. So she couldn’t decide if maybe it’s worth it; maybe it doesn’t matter that he lied and acted out. Maybe that’s not the issue if I’m getting what I need spiritually, but eventually she left. As she became really ill, and it became clear that she wasn’t going to recover from the cancer, she began to explore with me her whole life, like a spiritual life review: what she had given away in her projections onto these teachers, what she had lost, and what she had gained from being with them. She was also in Arica, which is a mystical community. She began to explore. What happened, Rick, is that a lot of anger came up, and she couldn’t manage it, because she was in chemo. She couldn’t manage it, and she felt that she was betrayed by God. I could help her with everything else, meaning I did all her finances, and ran her life, and got the caregivers, and took her to doctors. But I couldn’t help with this. What I observed was someone who couldn’t die in peace, because she hadn’t really worked through what she experienced as these betrayals, and she felt like a victim of these teachers. She lost all faith. She said, “I don’t believe in anything anymore” right before she died. It was heartbreaking for me, because I was powerless. My sense is that we all have a lot of unfinished business in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of arenas. Maybe there’s no such thing as resolving all of it. It was never going to be perfect in our psyches, this is not going to really be tied up in a nice bow. But there is a way in which we can put attention on it, and examine what we could do differently, how we feel about it now, what we need to reclaim. My book Meeting the Shadow of Spirituality is basically about looking at spiritual projections, and how to reclaim that power for ourselves, or that consciousness, or that charisma, or that love. My friend didn’t do that work. She was very strong, she was a very independent person, really smart, really quite evolved. And yet, she died really unhappy. I think it was a teaching for me to just kind of advise people to get clear. Get clear about what you doubt. There was another woman. I was with her when she was dying, and she was Catholic all her life. She looked at me and she said, “What if none of it was true?” So, I’m just suggesting that there’s a kind of an inner work here that we don’t get any guidance for in our culture. Maybe there are some people who are spiritual directors who help people with this when they’re ill, but I’ve never had any experience of anyone helping me with this. So that’s kind of what I’m talking about. It’s in the context of impending death, but it’s also in the context of the life we have left, and how to really enhance the quality of our spiritual life that remains if we don’t drag that long bag of garbage along behind us.
Rick Archer: One thing that comes to mind with regard to these women you mentioned is that, from my perspective, my belief system, if you will, when they did die, they were pleasantly surprised. They probably found that they had actually done very well in this life, focusing as they did on spirituality. I think when people cross over they do have a life review, and they have a much broader perspective on things than it’s possible to have when you’re embodied. In my own experience, I feel like things have changed for me over the decades. I feel very inner directed, or self-referral, or something now. It’s almost like I don’t care if every spiritual teacher who ever walked the Earth was corrupt (of course, I would care), but in a way, my own inner experience is just so gratifying, that it really doesn’t matter what anybody else has said or done, or anything else. I know from my own experience that there’s something really precious and fulfilling, and I experience that every day. So I’m just not that dependent upon. I’ve certainly gone through phases where I was very outer directed devotionally toward a teacher and went through some cynicism when that teacher didn’t quite live up to my expectations. But now, I just feel kind of grateful for everything that’s happened in life. I once said to my mother, “Mom, don’t ever worry about the way you raised me if you feel you might have made mistakes or anything, because really, I’m happy with the way I kind of turned out.” That was when I was in my 20s, I said that. I feel that even more now, and I feel there’s sort of a Divine hand that guides us whether we’re aware of it or not. In my own life, I’m pretty aware of it and appreciative of that guidance, even for the periods which were difficult or bleak in some way.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, I think from my perspective, I feel the way that you do. I feel such gratitude for the way my life unfolded. If some of these spiritual teachers hadn’t acted out, I wouldn’t have been initiated into the shadow, and my whole life would have really unfolded differently. When I mapped it out and really looked at it, I saw these certain doors open as a result of these traumatic experiences. When you can see it that way, then you’re not looking at it from the ego’s point of view.
Rick Archer: A fellow named Martin Kline from Freiburg, Germany sent in a question. He said, “At which age exactly do you see the shift from hero to elder?”
Connie Zweig: I don’t think it’s an age, it’s a stage. Someone at 50 could be living with pure awareness, and shadow awareness, and mortality awareness. They could be oriented to the world beyond ego, could be giving his or her gifts as an elder and grateful for the way the life unfolded. There’s a lot of material in the book about what is an elder. At 50, that person could be an elder, whereas at 85, or the person I mentioned at 89 who doesn’t want to be with old people, is not an elder. He’s in denial. And we’ve all met older people who are rigid, bitter, and regretful, but they’re chronologically old, so that’s not an elder. I like to say elder is a stage, not an age.
Rick Archer: That’s good. And pretty much everyone is aware of that. We’ve seen national leaders who are very childish in their emotional development, and we’ve seen very young people who are really wise. I interviewed a woman a couple of weeks ago named Lucy. Everybody’s loving her interview. She’s 40 years old now, but she’s not a spiritual teacher. This is the first time she ever did anything public. But she’s had such a wonderful blossoming of inner experience, and has so much wisdom and so much, I would say, Divine guidance, and so on. A fellow on the TM program, the monastic program called Purusha, emailed me, and he’s probably my age. He thought, what happened to me? I mean, she’s 40, I’m 70, and she never even did any spiritual practice, and look at her.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, so let’s talk about this. The evolution of consciousness is not about age. People can be born at a high level. The quality of consciousness that I’m talking about can be invisible to other people. If people looked at me now, and the level of business that I have with this book, the number of webinars, and interviews, and everything I’m doing, they would look at me like I’m a heroic midlife striver. But that’s not my internal experience. My internal experience is not driven; it’s quiet, it’s about contribution, it’s about orientation to future generations. It’s not about money; it’s about meaning. It’s not about obligation and should; it’s about flow. The state of mind or the quality of awareness that I’m talking about and trying to guide people to cultivate isn’t dependent on circumstance, age, ethnicity, or any of the outer stuff. It isn’t visible to other people. It doesn’t surprise me that a 40-year-old woman could have qualities of wakefulness that an 80-year-old person doesn’t have, it’s just not dependent on that. It is dependent, for most people, on doing practice, some kind of contemplative practice. There are exceptions where it’s spontaneous, we know about that. But for most people, it is dependent on contemplative practice. That’s why I put so many of them in the book.
Rick Archer: There was a story on the news the other night about what a large percentage of Americans who are older, our age, maybe, living paycheck to paycheck, if they even get a paycheck. They interviewed this woman who said, “I’ll never retire. I’ll die on this job. I can’t retire.” And then you see interviews with people whose houses have burned down or gotten destroyed by floods, and they don’t have the appropriate insurance, and everything they worked for all their lives is gone. In a way, when you consider how many millions of people are in those kinds of circumstances, it almost seems a little glib of us to be talking about shifting into a more leisurely lifestyle when we get to this age. I wonder what you would say to those people, if any of them are even listening, about what they can do given their circumstances?
Connie Zweig: Well, I know this sounds a little bit idealized. But what I’m trying to say is that this internal shift is independent of circumstances. I know that people who are struggling at a survival level don’t want to go meditate, but the meditation is a refuge from your circumstances. Even if it’s only a few minutes, or if it’s prayer, or if it’s walking meditation. Whatever it is, it’s a few minutes that can bring you back to your center, so that you can handle the stresses you’re living with, so that you can manage the challenges is better. This is not about having enough money to be able to do spiritual practice. It’s about a state of mind that’s available to everyone regardless of circumstances.
Rick Archer: Yeah. I would again come back to the theme of fitting some kind of spiritual practice into your life all along from the time you’re fairly young. There are many exceptions to this, but as a rule, things tend to go better if you do that. Maybe the likelihood of ending up broke at the age of 70 will be diminished if you have. Like the saying from the Bible, ‘first seek ye the kingdom of heaven and all else should be added unto thee.’ There is a tendency, not an assurance, but a tendency for greater, we can say supportive nature or sort of greater success. In the Bhagavad Gita, it says Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam: yoga is skill in action. To be more successful, if you’re established in being, or in pure consciousness, or at least developing that establishment.
Connie Zweig: And if your life didn’t unfold that way, and you didn’t pick up practices early, now’s the time. If not now, when?
Rick Archer: You know what you were saying a few minutes ago about unfinished spiritual business? I may not be phrasing it the way you did. But how about in your own case? Do you feel like there’s anything, if you were to die tomorrow, would you feel any regrets or you missed something? Was there something you should have done, something you didn’t do, you’re not finished with, anything like that?
Connie Zweig: I don’t feel a lot of regret. I have this sense of possibility for more spiritual development for myself, because of the man I live with. I just live with this really high guy, so I see every day what that’s like. But I also don’t engage my ego about competing, or envying, or any of that. At the same time, it’s aspirational for me. I’m experiencing something with this book that I didn’t experience with my other books. With Romancing the Shadow, I was in my 40s. Now I’m in my 70s, and because of social media, I’m in a constant dialogue with my readers. Every single day, I’m getting appreciation and gratitude from people. That’s been so fulfilling for me. In some ways, I’m completing my ego story. That’s how I look at it. The book has a chapter on life completion, and that means very different things to different people. I feel like I’m completing the ego story with this book, that there’s a way that I’m being received, or my teaching is being received that I’ve never experienced before. The training that I had to become an elder was so precious. The practice of doing the life review gave me this profound gratitude for how everything happened. I’m not complete today, but I can feel the movement there, Rick. I don’t feel tugged by regret. I don’t feel pulled to the past. I do feel, because I’m very connected to the collective in a profound way, I do feel the disturbance in the force. There’s a lot of psychosis out there now, with a lot of disturbance and a lot of paranoia. That’s very disturbing and sad for me. I was trained by Al Gore years ago as a climate reality leader, and for me, that’s the number one crisis right now – climate and voting. My connection to those two things is strong. I’m as active as I can be. And I’m really sad that that’s what’s going to be left to my grandkids, those two issues. I feel more incomplete in relation to the collective issues than my own.
Rick Archer: Well, those aren’t going to resolve in your lifetime. But a couple of comments on what you just said. In my own experience, and I’m really not just making this up as like I’m hanging on beliefs, but I just feel it so viscerally and so intuitively that life is such a continuum, and it far exceeds the lifespan of this body. Whether this body dies tomorrow or 30 years from now, is obviously not in my hands, but I really trust in the sort of Divine wisdom of things, the Divine orchestration. I fully feel that I’ll continue. What was that song from Titanic, My Heart Will Carry On or something like that? I’ve interviewed so many people and have read so many books about near-death experiences. I feel like life is a continuum that just goes on, and on, and on. I’m sure you’ve talked to our friend, Harri Aalto, about that. He’s been on BatGap three times, and we’ve had some interesting discussions. I guess the reason it’s worth dwelling on this is, although we don’t want to make too much of a fuss about beliefs, it seems to me that if a person has the orientation that I’ve just described – versus the orientation that this is me and when this dies, that’s the end of me – it seems to me that that would make a big difference in how they viewed their life and what they felt about death. It would be a very different orientation, don’t you think?
Connie Zweig: Yeah, it is a different orientation. We have a psychologist stepson who’s a scientist, and there’s only the material world for him, and that’s all there is. I look at it as a level of consciousness. That is a stage of development where there is nothing beyond the material world. That’s a stage, and many people go through that stage. Some people get stuck there. But rather than sort of devalue it, I just look at it as a stage.
Rick Archer: I wouldn’t even necessarily say that he’s at a lower level of consciousness than somebody who believes that there’s life after death or anything. It’s really hard to judge levels of consciousness.
Connie Zweig: No, it’s not beliefs. It’s experience.
Rick Archer: I see. Right. He hasn’t experienced a lot of transcendence.
Connie Zweig: Right. Or any.
Rick Archer: I guess that’s why you and I feel the way we do. If you add it all up, we’ve literally spent years sitting in the transcendent, over the past 50. I’ve calculated it. It’s at least six years for me, or seven years, something like that, sitting there with my eyes closed. And that definitely grounds you in something that you can’t shake. You wouldn’t want to shake.
Connie Zweig: Yeah. People who haven’t had that experience, have no idea what we’re talking about. They have no idea. It’s like, have you eaten curry? You’ve eaten curry, or you haven’t eaten curry. You can’t imagine it, if you haven’t eaten it. I believe that a lot of the craziness that we’re seeing in the culture right now is about consciousness, and that in some ways, it’s a regressed stage that’s happening now. It’s an earlier, more primitive stage of consciousness that Trump elicited. We don’t know what’s going to happen as a result of that, but it’s all out of the closet now.
Rick Archer: There’s a bunch we can talk about on this topic. I’m reminded of that quote from Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but no one is entitled to his own facts.” Whatever the situation regarding anything, regarding life after death, or COVID, or who won the election, or anything, there’s a certain reality to that situation that doesn’t hinge upon anybody’s opinion. It seems to me that spiritual aspirants should want to align themselves with the reality of any situation. What I see, and this would perhaps get us into this new topic you just raised, is that there’s a tendency in society at large and also in the spiritual community to divorce oneself from facts. Who was it – Kayleigh McEnany or one of those peoples? I remember she was talking to Chuck Todd or something. And she said, “Well, these are alternative facts.” And he said, “What? Alternative facts? What are those?” So in fact, if anybody’s listening, there’s going to be an interesting webinar in two days with the Association for Spiritual Integrity on the importance of discernment on the spiritual path. If you miss it, it’ll be up there permanently, so you can go there and find the link. But I really feel like discernment, or discrimination, or being able to separate truth from untruth is critical on the spiritual path, particularly because the finest levels of realization actually involve discerning Self from non-self at a very subtle level. And if you can’t even do that at a gross level, what hope have you of being able to do it at a very, very subtle level?
Connie Zweig: Yeah, it’s a path of yoga.
Rick Archer: It is.
Connie Zweig: Discrimination, right? It’s a main path of yoga in India. If our minds are just jumbled and full of noise, we can’t discriminate the truth from the non-truth, or the relative from the absolute. We can’t discriminate if our minds are full of paranoid feelings or misinformation. There’s no discrimination left.
Rick Archer: You and I are both aware of the cult phenomenon. We were just talking about Wild Wild Country, and we’ve witnessed various cults and, as you know, the way it works with cults is you don’t just sort of snap into cult mentality overnight. It’s incremental. It progresses stage, by stage, by stage, and you don’t snap out of it overnight, either. You were talking about how there’s this sort of craziness in society right now. I think that somehow or other people have, perhaps because of social media – you’ve probably also watched the Social Dilemma, that documentary – people have somehow slid into this alternate universe of seeing things. It would be nice if somebody could wave a magic wand, and everybody would come back to their senses, but I don’t know how it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna take a while.
Connie Zweig: Well, I think it’s also related to what you were describing as the lack of a social safety net. There are people in desperate circumstances now in the health care, food, and housing systems with terrible lack of security. I think that that enrages people, and it makes them hate the government. It makes them project the shadow on to groups like immigrants, who they believe are stealing their resources. There’s a lot of shadow projection going on now and other-making, enemy-making with all the communities. I’m just trying to kind of transmit something for every generation. It’s not just for baby boomers, but it’s something for all generations about how we can cultivate self-awareness, and how we can use these years we’ve been given to do inner work to be contemplative. It’s about how we can make this internal shift in identity from role to soul. As that happens, we can give back to the common good. We can contribute a different quality of gift when we have that awareness. I’m kind of trying to make that my focus right now. I can’t fix the gridlock in Congress. I can’t fix the fires in California. I can’t fix the ageism that’s in the healthcare system or the media. But I am trying to transmit my life’s learning about the shadow and spirituality, which is what I’ve always tried to do for this time, for this cultural moment.
Rick Archer: Yeah. None of us can fix those big things, but we can all make a contribution, and if enough of us do, maybe some of those things will change. Big changes have happened before rather abruptly, like the Soviet Union collapsing or the Berlin Wall falling or various other things like that. Perhaps a tipping point is reached in collective consciousness through enough people sort of doing something that we don’t see the shift coming, but when it comes, it’s quite abrupt.
Connie Zweig: Jane Fonda, who’s 82 or 83, just launched a new organization with Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, called the Third Act for elders who want to be involved in the climate crisis. There are many, many elders who want to be contributing, who want to find a way to share their life’s learning, gifts, abilities, and their talents to solve some of these problems. For people who are listening who have that inclination, who may be more extroverted and not so drawn to the inner work, there are lots of groups doing that now. You can find community in these groups like Elders Action Network and Sage-ing International. You can find community there of like-minded elders, some are doing spiritual work, and some are not. Some are doing political and moral work. But I think that that’s a really important thing to add onto our spiritual perspective. conniezweig.com is my website, and right now all the workshops are on there, because I’m teaching a lot. They’re all online.
Rick Archer: Teaching workshops related to this topic of aging.
Connie Zweig: Aha.
Rick Archer: Let’s dwell a little bit more on this topic of what’s going on in society. You mentioned that voting and climate were your main two issues on a larger scale. As we know, in a lot of states efforts are being made to make it more difficult to vote. The people who make those efforts are also inclined to doubt that climate change is a problem and are also less inclined to get a COVID vaccine. Consequently, death rates are quite high in such states. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Perhaps the death rate is compensating for the voter suppression. I’m not sure.
Connie Zweig: It’s level of consciousness.
Rick Archer: This is a good question. If everything hinges on level of consciousness, if that’s the ultimate fulcrum through which society moves or laws are made, the obvious question is, what can we do to improve the level of consciousness? I think you and I have been thinking that for 50 years and have been doing what we can. But also, there’s a theme that’s come out in this interview that the way we are educated and the values that society holds and the advertising that we’re bombarded with all the time, really does not prepare one for any stage of life properly. It often sends us distracting signals as to what’s valuable. It certainly doesn’t prepare us for the end of life, because it’s been drummed into us for a long, long time that we shouldn’t get old. What was that ad I sent you the other day where it said, ‘we can’t avoid getting old, but we can avoid looking old,’ or something like that? Which, of course, is absurd, because we can only postpone looking old slightly. I’m rambling a bit, but I just want to say one more thing. If I look at a picture of Mother Teresa, or this friend I had in Fairfield who lived into her 90s, they had such beauty and in their faces, even though they were all wrinkly. They didn’t look old to me, they looked wise. When I think old, I think handicapped in some way or compromised in their ability to radiate and enjoy life. But these women and many other people we can think of, Nelson Mandela and others, they just didn’t look old. They looked like they glowed with life, and their very appearance inspired people.
Connie Zweig: When you think old and you think crouched, crippled, handicapped, or debilitated, that’s your inner ageist. Some people’s bodies will go that way, but more and more, our health span is catching up to our lifespan. Many people are older adults now who are not declining and who are doing fabulous things. And yet, we’re still carrying these images and stereotypes inside of us because we internalize them as kids. When kids are asked if they’d rather be older, they all want to be older up to a certain age, but not after that. They already think old is bad.
Rick Archer: What I was thinking just then is in a way, old as a state of mind. The state of mind manifests as the state of the body, as the appearance of the body to a certain extent. There are exceptions to every generalization. But the state of mind that Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, or some of these people were in, it was evident in their countenance.
Connie Zweig: That’s what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the state of mind or the quality of awareness at the level of consciousness, whatever we call it. That’s really what I’m trying to describe and prescribe for people, and that this is a possibility. This is not a remote, romantic fantasy. This is a possibility for this time of life.
Rick Archer: I was walking along in the woods listening to your book, and you had a section where you had interviewed Rick Hanson (whom I’ve interviewed a couple times). He was saying what’s really good for preventing mental decline is to walk while listening to stuff. I thought, wow, that’s perfect.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, because the body and mind are kind of both being stimulated together.
Rick Archer: There was also a section where you outlined a number of things, which if you did all those things, they would keep you sharp and enhance you.
Connie Zweig: Are you talking about the brain?
Rick Archer: Yeah, I think it was mostly about the brain. But there were a half dozen different things. I wonder if you could tick those off from memory?
Connie Zweig: I read this book, The End of Alzheimer’s by Dale Bredesen: B-R-E-D-E-S-E-N, and it blew my mind, because he was the first doctor who was able to reverse memory loss through lifestyle only. He’s now done it with hundreds of people. So I put myself on that program, and there were some differences. He has women taking hormones, and I didn’t do that. There were other supplements that I take that he didn’t include. But basically, my brain feels like a 15-year-old brain. It was really startling what happened. I put it in the book, because there’s this epidemic of memory loss now. When I ask people in interviews what they fear most, it’s Alzheimer’s. I wrote this section about being with my father who had Alzheimer’s and what it was like. I was making the point that that’s not who he was; that there was an essence in him that shined through even when he was forgetful. That our presence with each other could elicit that even though his brain, because consciousness is not limited to the brain, wasn’t working well. He wasn’t at the point of not recognizing me, he died before that happened. We could continue to have conversation, but his brain wasn’t working well, yet, he was so aware, present, and grateful in his heart. I wrote this whole section about memory just to address these stereotypes that say part of becoming old is losing your mind, and that that fear does happen, but it only happens to a small percentage of the population. There are actually lifestyle changes that we can make that can help.
Rick Archer: What’s the name of that book again, people are going to want to know.
Connie Zweig: The End of Alzheimer’s. Dale Bredesen.
Rick Archer: Have you heard of that phenomenon where people who have had severe Alzheimer’s, they’re really checked out, and they’re just about to die, then all the sudden, they sit up in bed totally lucid and carry on a conversation for a few minutes? Then they lie back and die not too long after that. It astounds researchers, because given the condition of their brain, they shouldn’t be able to do that, and yet they do.
Connie Zweig: They’re also finding that music that has a connection to the person enlivens memories that they thought were lost. My dad loved bossa nova. Whatever the music is that they’re connected to and earlier in their lives can be really great.
Rick Archer: Did you see that thing with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga? They did this concert at Carnegie Hall recently. Tony Bennett is 95, and he’s suffering from Alzheimer’s. But when he got up on stage, or even when he was at home practicing with a pianist, he just came back to life. He just remembered all the lyrics. He did his whole act and everything.
Connie Zweig: Yeah.
Rick Archer: That was cool.
Connie Zweig: Yeah. Isn’t that incredible? Yeah. Are we near the end?
Rick Archer: We’re getting there. Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to cover?
Connie Zweig: Well, the theme of the book is how to shift your identity from what you do to who you are. There are practices for doing that. There are practices for aging into awakening; for really letting go of outworn roles and masks, outworn obligations, and personas and moving into who we really are now and becoming that. How do we embody that? How do we live that in our daily lives? Whatever name you give to that doesn’t matter to me, the language doesn’t matter, just like the beliefs about it don’t matter. But that experience is available to people who do the inner work of age. I would say that for our frame, yours and mine, the shift from role to soul is an initial stage. It’s an initial step on the journey. It’s not the highest level of consciousness we can reach, but it’s the beginning when we identify with pure awareness, Self, or soul. The term role to soul was not coined by me, it was coined by Ram Dass. I want to give him credit. I borrowed that. I remembered it from decades earlier when I was working on the book and realized that’s the shift I’m talking about. So I borrowed it from him. That’s what people seem to be intuitively recognizing in the book – oh, my God, that’s what I want. I want to shift from my doing to my being, from my roles or my masks, to who I really am. There’s a part of us that intuitively knows, it’s not who we are. That intuitively, it has always known. Being a mother is not all of who I am. Being a provider, a CEO, or a writer, that’s not all of who I am. I have to let go of that now. So who am I? And how do I discover that? Whether you feel a resonance with a lineage, like Vedanta, Sufism, Judaism, or Christianity, you can find these practices in your lineage. If you don’t feel that, you can explore things like BatGap, and find practices that fit who you are now, and age into awakening.
Rick Archer: Good. There was one point in your book at which you, I don’t know if lamented is the right word, but it felt like you had always heard about this unity consciousness, just being oneness, being one with everything. It almost seemed like a bit of regret that you hadn’t experienced that yet, or you felt you hadn’t. Is that still a thing?
Connie Zweig: I think that’s in the section on life completion. I asked a number of people what that looks like for them. It was very different for different people. For me, it’s about higher stages of awakening. I feel good about my level of consciousness now. I know there’s more. So it’s my intention, when things slow down next year around the book, to do more practice, and make and have more focus on that. I’m looking forward to that. I’m really eager for that.
Rick Archer: And I would say, just speaking personally, I don’t sweat it. It’s like when I look at a tree, I don’t see myself. Some people say that’s their experience, but I’m just not worried about it. I just sort of feel like all is well and wisely put. I’m doing a pretty good solid spiritual practice and focusing on this kind of stuff all the time. If there’s something that I’m not experiencing, well, I’ll experience it when the time is right. It’s kind of in God’s hands. That’s not to say that I’m not doing my part. God helps those who help themselves, and I’m doing my bit. I’m just really not worrying about attaining this or that level of experience. It’ll unfold when it unfolds.
Connie Zweig: I learned a different frame when I read a book called Kundalini Vidya by Joan Harrigan.
Rick Archer: Oh, right. I’ve interviewed her, she’s great.
Connie Zweig: Yeah. That book really added to my understanding in a significant way.
Rick Archer: Of why different people experience things differently?
Connie Zweig: Yeah, of how involved the Kundalini is in awakening higher levels and where it gets detoured and blocked. I don’t know that she’s teaching anymore, so I’m not here recommending people go to her.
Rick Archer: She’s not. I don’t think she’s accepting people at her center in Tennessee, but she has been a bit more active lately. I’ve seen her pop up on YouTube.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, she’s teaching online, but I don’t know that she’s taking students anymore. But that really expanded my frame on all of this. She was another teacher I was really lucky to meet when I did.
Rick Archer: Oh, that’s great. Yeah. Cool.
Connie Zweig: For years, yeah.
Rick Archer: It expanded your frame of reference, how – in terms of understanding that maybe your Kundalini is sidetracked, or something?
Connie Zweig: Yeah, exactly how it’s detoured and how to unblock it. A lot happened there and for Neil. I think the sense of it all unfolded in the way it was supposed to, like it is a great gift at this stage of life. That is really a great gift. I feel so fulfilled. I think that is available to people. I was kind of secretly hoping that therapists and psychologists would pick up my book and use it with clients, and I’ve been getting that response now. Actually, tomorrow, I’m teaching for a big psychology conference. I’m getting that response now that the book is like a rite of passage for people. As they work through all these different practices in it that you listen to, they feel differently when they are done with it. They can then go out into the world and give their gifts with this different quality of awareness. So I feel very fulfilled about that and really grateful that things happened the way they did. It was really hard to sell the book to publishers. I ended up with this fantastic publisher who hired a publicist. But, if my ego were looking at the whole thing, I would have just been struggling with the timing and the rejections and all this, but it just unfolded perfectly.
Rick Archer: That’s great. You were saying earlier that COVID seems to have woken people up to their mortality or to mortality in general. Perhaps we’ll see a lot more of those kinds of things, not necessarily pandemics, but a lot more things where there’s a big shift in collective consciousness where people start seeing things differently, including aging. The fact that you’re now speaking to a conference of psychologists about this topic, which you might not have been able to do a few years ago, even if you’d written the book then, but now they’re receptive to it. There could be a big shift where all kinds of receptivity to things open up with different ways of appreciating things. In fact, even spirituality has gotten a lot more mainstream since the 60s, but it could become way more mainstream.
Connie Zweig: Let’s hope so, Rick.
Rick Archer: Okay, here’s a question that just came in. It’s a little late in the game, but I like to include them. This is from someone named Gabriella Shizaf in Israel wondering, “What is your definition of need? And is there need in soul?”
Connie Zweig: I never really thought about that. I think what I would say is what I said earlier, which is that the soul longs for transcendence. It longs to join. It’s the lover that longs to join the beloved. It’s the part of us, the little bit of God that longs to join God with full awareness. Like Atman and Brahman, or in Judaism, like the sparks that were distributed into the world. I’m talking to Gabriella. If there’s that spark in us that wants to come back to the source, is that a need? I would say it’s its nature. It’s its nature to desire that. It’s its nature to return to the source. Need I tend to think of as more human and more personal. This is the part of us that wants to move beyond those personal needs to something greater.
Rick Archer: That’s a good answer. Couldn’t have answered it better myself. So thanks. We’re about the two-hour point. Is there anything else that we really should have talked about that we didn’t?
Connie Zweig: Thank you so much for listening to the whole book.
Rick Archer: Oh, I loved it.
Connie Zweig: And oh, and I’m so glad to reconnect with you. My listeners can reach me on my website. My email is email@example.com. If you read the book, and you want to send me a comment or a question, you’re welcome to do that. Don’t send me clinical questions. I’m not doing therapy anymore. And listen to BatGap. It’s fabulous.
Rick Archer: Since you’ve announced your email address, I will put it on your page on BatGap, if you want me to. If at any point you want me to take it off, I’ll do that. But because somebody might be driving while they listen to this, and they say what was that email address, I forget it. So I’ll put it up there as well as link to your books and to your website. And maybe one day we’ll get the illustrious, illusive Neil on the show.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, I can’t get him out of the closet.
Rick Archer: I remember when I was first starting this, Tom Traynor said, “Okay, Ricky. Now, here’s Neil” (Neil was sitting next to me on the couch). “Interview him.” And he was like, I don’t want to do it.
Connie Zweig: Yeah, gotta wait till he’s cooked.
Rick Archer: Stick a fork in him and check. Okay, thank you.
Connie Zweig: Thank you, Rick.
Rick Archer: Yep. See you again in person one of these days.
Connie Zweig: Sending love, love to Irene.
Rick Archer: And thank you and love to all the people who have been listening or watching this. As always, we’ll have another one next week. Next week I’ll be interviewing Rhonda Byrne who wrote The Secret and now The Greatest Secret. She’s written a new book called The Greatest Secret. And if you look at our Upcoming Interviews page on BatGap, you’ll see who we have scheduled. And of course, if you look at the Past Interviews menu, you’ll see all the people going back over the last decade and more. So thanks for sticking with us, and we’ll see you for the next one. Thanks again, Connie.
Connie Zweig: Thank you, Rick.
Rick Archer: All right. Take care.
Connie Zweig: Bye bye.
Rick Archer: Bye bye.