Emma Bragdon Transcript

Emma Bragdon Interview.

Rick: 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. We’ve done well over 600 of them now. If this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to www.batgap.com 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 are PayPal buttons on the website and a page explaining more details if you need those. My guest today is Emma Bragdon. Emma, I’ll read a little bit of her bio and then we’ll just skip around a bit. But Emma received her PhD in transpersonal psychology in 1987. For more than 40 years, she has focused on supporting people awakening spiritually, paying special attention to those in spiritual crisis or spiritual emergency. She is the founder and executive director of Integrative Mental Health for You, IMHU.org, which offers over 40 online courses about effective alternatives to psychiatric medications. Emma has trained 80 spiritual emergence coaches from 14 countries who are now available through an international online directory. While intensely studying and participating in Brazilian Spiritism from 2001 through 12, she wrote three books and co-authored, excuse me, co-produced two documentary films about Spiritist treatment of mental disturbance and spiritual emergency. Emma has been recognized for her pioneering work with spiritually transformative experiences as an honoree on the Spiritual Awakening’s International Circle of Honor and within the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology’s Council of Sages. She was licensed as a marriage, family and child therapist in 1988. Emma is a member of the Self-Realization Fellowship following the yogic philosophy of Paramahansa Yogananda. She’s been a meditator for over 55 years. She also studied with two Native American shamans for 20 years. Currently, she teams with Benjamin Asher, MD, in offering ketamine-assisted psychotherapy in central Vermont. She’s also available by Zoom in her private practice for psychotherapy and integration of spiritual experiences. And the bio I just read doesn’t even do complete justice to Emma. I got the feeling while reading your books, Emma, that you’ve kind of packed about 10 lifetimes into one. I mean, really, you started out, you can fill in any more details than this, but you spent a bunch of time in the Tassajara Zen community, starting with a five-day initiation thing where you had to just sit there and meditate during all your waking hours nonstop in order to prove that you’re up to the task. And that was intense. And you took like 60 trips to Brazil, taking groups of people to see John of God. You’ve done, you travel all over the world even now doing all kinds of things. You’ve done the Yogananda meditation for so many years. And there’s a whole psychedelic component. I mean, so many different things that you’ve been doing with your life. I’m impressed.

Emma: Oh, well, thank you. I was wondering who it was that you were describing.

Rick: I mean, it’s true.

Emma: I’ve done all those things, but it does seem a little unbelievable to me to hear them all together, actually.

Rick: I know. It’s cool. I get that too sometimes.

Emma: It’s like somebody’s going on about something and it’s almost like, who are they talking about? I mean, there’s also a sense, despite all that we do, that we’re not really doing anything. It’s some larger intelligence is the doer and we’re just kind of along for the ride.

Rick: True.

Emma: I have definitely had that sense and feel quite deeply dedicated to being in contact with that larger source. So, and another thing that’s important for me is staying more in the present moment. So, listening to my history takes me out of the present moment. I think, who did that? It was a definite addition of me, but in the past.

Rick: Yeah, some chapters.

Emma: Yes.

Rick: So, let’s consider what we’re going to talk about today. We’re going to be talking a lot about spiritual emergency or spiritual emergence, and we’ll distinguish between those two terms. And I think that’s really important. We often are contacted by people who seem to be going through a spiritual emergency and they ask us who they can talk to. And so, you know, I’m glad that we know about you now because you’ll be a great resource. And there are some other great resources. And there are other people, I think, who are going through a spiritual emergency and don’t even realize it. And so, they don’t seek help or they seek the wrong kind of help. So, we’ll talk about that. We’re also going to talk about Spiritism, which we’ll let you define. And ketamine therapy sounds interesting. And what else are we going to cover today, do you think? What would you like to cover?

Emma: Well, why don’t we go with that and see what else comes up?

Rick: Okay.

Emma: That sounds like a big agenda already.

Rick: Yeah. Why don’t we start with — well, let’s start with a little bit of your personal history. I kind of alluded to it. But, you know, even though obviously you’re living in the now and all that, it’s — [Laughter] I mean, it’s good for — people like to sort of have a sense of who is this person that I’m going to listen to for two hours, you know, and what qualifies her to say all this stuff. So, let’s start with some of that.

Emma: Okay.

Rick: I know as a child, you had some pretty remarkable experiences. Maybe we should start back there.

Emma: Okay. So, the family I grew up in, in many ways, was absolutely wonderful in terms of providing me with opportunities that many people don’t have. So, by the age of eight, I was already able to travel with them in Europe and visit places where I had some pretty strong experiences. And thus, I started a connection out of this world of the United States. But in many ways, I could say also that my family was particularly dysfunctional. And some proof of that is that both my parents died when I was 25 and 26. And my father died from alcoholism, complications of that. And my mother was reportedly suicided.

Rick: Same with my parents, father and mother, exactly the same.

Emma: Oh, sorry, Rick. It’s not an easy road. But so that was the culmination. And so, from my point of view, they weren’t able to move through the difficulties they had on a psychological level and turn to things that didn’t work completely for them. But when I was three years old, I had a near-death experience. And so, as some people report, saw the light during that time as well.

Rick: You almost drowned, didn’t you?

Emma: Well, that was when I was eight years old.

Rick: Oh, okay.

Emma: So, I didn’t write too much about the three-year-old experience, but three and eight. And so, both times, I was able to move close enough into the death experience so that I did see the light and I did see that there was something on the other side of what this life is about that is not only full of light, but full of love and wisdom. So, I can’t report that I had deep conversations with beings on the other side, but I clearly had imprinted on what that other side was about and felt deeply drawn to it and tried to, even at a young age, understand, like, what’s that? And how does it fit into my life? So, by the time I was 17, 18, I fell in love with a man who was studying to be a psychoanalyst. And he said one day, “Gee, let’s try meditation.” And when I sat meditation for the first time, I had an ecstatic experience within the first five minutes. So, some people would say, “Gee, I guess you were gathering up some past life experience.” And maybe that combined with being deeply in love with someone and being in an expansive state because of that. Who knows? But something happened in the first few minutes there where I said, “Okay, this is going to be the cornerstone of my life. I’ve got to really go into this deeply.” So, that happened at quite a young age. And to skip over some of the high points of how I got there, I was at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. During that summer, it was first opening in 1967. And so, at the ripe age of 20, I was proving, as Rick, you mentioned, I was proving my dedication to get into a longer three-month meditation period. And I had to do that by meditating for five days straight. So, yes, I could go to the bathroom. And yes, lunch and dinner were served to us. But we were basically sitting the whole time on our meditation mats. And yes, my knees hurt like heck.

Rick: I can imagine.

Emma: Yeah.

Rick: Go ahead.

Emma: No, it’s just kind of a picky little point.

Rick: But you had to sort of sit without back support, what, in half lotus or something, or kneeling? I mean, I spent a lot of time sitting, so I’m curious how you managed it for five days.

Emma: So, you sit on a zafu, which is a round pillow that’s on top of a zabutan, which is a square pillow. So, there was some cushioning before you got to a mat. And yes, we could change our position from being in half lotus or full lotus to kneeling. But basically, that was it. So, we were sitting there. And the only time we really stood up, and it was a little agonizing even to stand up, was for prayers before each meal. So, there was some chanting and some prayers, and then we would sit down again and be served, along with everyone else. So, that was…

Rick: I recall you had some pretty remarkable experiences during those five days.

Emma: I did.

Rick: Aside from the painful knees.

Emma: Yeah. Well, confronting pain, and also we weren’t supposed to move our hands or arms at all. And Tassajara was quite hot, you know, so there would be flies coming in. And just meditating while a fly is crawling over your lip is something else. But to get into the higher point of this, at a certain point, I realized that I could go, just sitting there, I could go through every emotion that there is that I’d ever experienced and more. And so, I started thinking, “Wait a minute, this life will put me, and I will put myself, into a zone where I feel the emotions, but what’s really going on here on this roller coaster ride?” And then I started reaching into a very, very high state of consciousness. And I thought, “Oh, well, that’s it. You know, I know what that’s all about now.” And I basically got up, stood up, and got my legs underneath me and went to Suzuki Roshi, who was the abbot of the Zen Center at that time. And knocked on his door and just was very anxious to talk to him because I was in such a high state and felt like I’d accomplished something. And I wanted someone in the know to tell me, “Well, what just happened?” And maybe secretly relieve me of some of the need to sit again. And of course, he looked at me and nodded and smiled and was happy for what I’d achieved and then said, “Great, now go back and meditate some more.” [Laughter] You predicted that, didn’t you, Rick?

Rick: Oh, yeah. [Laughter] Saw that coming.

Emma: Yeah. So anyway, I had some very high experiences as well as very low experiences and everything. But reaching into that point where I wasn’t taking my emotions so seriously because it was like being on a roller coaster ride and the emotions happened was extremely helpful. And it has been with me for the rest of my life. I can’t say I’m always in that perspective, but it gave me a perspective that was extremely important.

Rick: Well, I’m impressed. I mean, when I was that age, I wouldn’t have had the discipline to sit like that for so long. And I probably would have gone crazy if I had tried. So I’m impressed. I mean, summer of ’67, I was doing other things that many people were doing during the summer of ’67.

Emma: Well, there were a lot of people at that time who were looking for ways to change consciousness. And a lot of people who were attracted to be, as we call them, monks and nuns at Tassajara had already gone through a lot of journeys and a lot of psychedelic journeys.

Rick: Yeah.

Emma: So from that experience, they had said, “Well, I can’t just be high all the time. How do I reach that without the psychedelics?” And so some of them landed in Zen Center, San Francisco Zen Center, and then ultimately at Tassajara to create the first Zen Buddhist monastery in the United States. It was a very exciting time. Very exciting.

Rick: I actually applied to a Zen monastery in Rochester when I was around, what was it, 68 or so. And they said, “Well, you first have to go and be with a roshi for six months and then get his approval.” So I went and visited the Roshi. But then I went to an advanced lecture on TM and ended up becoming a TM teacher. But anyway, I had that same kind of yearning. In fact, it was reading Zen books that first inspired me to get on the spiritual path.

Emma: Yeah. Well, we live in a time where we’re very fortunate, I think, because in our lifetimes and when we were that age, in our 20s and things, there were a lot of books coming out that were making the Eastern philosophy available as well as different teachers making wonderful things available to us.

Rick: All right. So then after that, how long did you do Tassajara?

Emma: So I was at San Francisco Zen Center basically from 1967 to ’71. And in 1970, I married a man who had also been deeply involved as a disciple of Suzuki. And in 1971, all kinds of things happened, like Suzuki passing away. And Tim, my at that time husband, and I moved out of San Francisco and we started working with a man by the name of Harry Roberts, who was a shaman of the Yurok tribe. His story is a whole other story in itself. But Tim and I were very drawn to him. And the person who replaced Suzuki as the abbot was not someone that we felt we wanted to train with. So we continued doing a lot of self-work with Harry in a different vein, obviously. And also started a family and made an effort at translating the great spiritual truths into our marriage. But unfortunately, that was extremely difficult. And we shortly after being married and having a child, we divorced. So just to give you an impression, I’ve had highs and lows. And that particular year, in fact, within 14 months, my teacher died, my mother died, my father died. I had a miscarriage. My employer died by suicide. My father’s new companion had died. He had separated from my mother years before. It was like a war zone. And I relied on the philosophy that I’d gotten from Zen Buddhism to get me through that. And a lot of phrases would come to mind in terms of what life was all about that came directly from Buddhism. But fortunately, a friend of mine in the Zen Buddhist community also said, “Gee, why don’t you try Neo-Reichian psychotherapy? It might be really helpful right now.” So I got involved with some of the best teachers and psychotherapists who were doing Neo-Reichian psychotherapy in the San Francisco Bay Area. And that really allowed me to… to fart. Because there was, of course, huge grief, as well as some anxiety and a lot of other things going on at that particular time. And I was so impressed with that psychotherapy that I started training to be a body-oriented psychotherapist. And that has stuck with me so that I’ve been able to move into various forms of energy therapies throughout my life. Actually, I don’t do as much now because here we are on Zoom, right? But it attuned my perception to working with people through perceiving energy in subtle and not so subtle forms. And so, let me see, after that particular…

Rick: One question here. I think you said that you’ve been doing… Have you been doing Yogananda’s meditation for 55 years? Or just meditation in general and several different varieties?

Emma: No, because I moved really from Zen Buddhism in 1971. Tim and I really moved away from the community in important ways. And so my meditation took on more of what I was learning in shamanism. And then it proceeded later into other forms of meditation, Rick. And since… How long has it been now?

Rick: Since ’71?

Emma: It’s been 10 years since I’ve been involved with a Self-Realization Fellowship.

Rick: Oh, okay. Yeah. I interviewed Joseph Selby the last two weeks, you know, who lives at Ananda there. You might know him.

Emma: No. Ananda is like a separate branch.

Rick: Oh, okay.

Emma: So you might not know about that, but one of the students of Yogananda, Kriyananda, whose name was Kriyananda, separated himself and created the branch called Ananda.

Rick: Okay. Yeah.

Emma: And so they are quite individuated. So let’s see, where shall I pick up with this story? So Harry was an extremely important part of my life in terms of my own spiritual awakening process.

Rick: The shaman guy.

Emma: The shaman guy. Exactly. And at a certain point he said to me, “Emma, it would be good for you to find a female shaman that you could work with. And good fortune landed on me. And I met a woman by the name of Marilyn Youngbird, who is a Rikara Hidatsa, which is associated more with the Lakota tribe. And fortunately, she lived in California quite close to me. And so I was able to do a lot with the sweat lodge ceremony, as well as later do vision quest and basically befriend her in a very deep way. So that we were working together. And at a certain point she said to me, “Emma, would you like to take my place and learn everything that I can teach you?” I was profoundly honored, of course, and then contemplated it and looked at my skin and said, “Well, it looks to me like I’m a white person this time around. And thank you, Marilyn, but I think I’ll integrate as much as I can from you. And thank you for all the learning, but I’m not going to take on that position.” So another thread that got woven in here is around the time my mother died, I consulted a psychic, a woman by the name of Anne Armstrong, who had a very fine reputation, had been teaching at Esalen Institute in California. And I came to realize that I had some psychic abilities that in Brazil is called mediumship. Here it would just be called, I think, being very sensitive. And so I took also some training from Anne Armstrong. And that has woven itself also into how I practice in working with people, because I don’t give psychic readings, but I have some sensitivity that can go into being more empathic with clients, that some people don’t have, not because they’re not sensitive at all, but because I’ve developed that sensitivity through trainings. So let me see, how do we manage the next part of this? I’ll skip to the point where I at one point fasted for 10 days because I was in another transition point. And what I got from that water fasting for 10 days was get yourself to the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and get your PhD. So off I went, and that was tremendous to be there during the 1980s. And I have a great sense of honoring the people that I was able to work with, many who were doing formative work in transpersonal psychology. And from there, I was licensed as a psychotherapist in California. And then because California, the Board of Behavioral Examiners, did not think kindly about doing body work at the same time as doing psychotherapy. And what I felt was really important was to do body work as part of psychotherapy. I decided to opt out and do more teaching. So since 1991, I’ve really been focused more on teaching than I have on doing body work psychotherapy. And that teaching led me to getting invitation in Brazil. I went to Brazil in 2001. A friend of mine who was paraplegic said, “Emma, when you’re going to Brazil, please go to John of God and see if he might be able to help me, because I want to walk again, and maybe he can help.” And Jim, who I’m speaking about, had been all over the world. He was able to afford the best that medicine has to offer in every country. And so he’d done a lot of traveling and to no avail. He was still paraplegic. So I visited John of God, and when I met John of God, he said, “I know you. And yes, I’ll work with your friend. And yes, sit over there.” And it was an energetically very profound meeting, and I could not understand what was going on except something big. And I ended up really looking quite carefully at what was happening there, created a documentary film with a friend about the work there, interviewed a lot of doctors and nurses who came there just to find out what they thought, how they perceived it, because it was so unusual. And then from there, I was invited to travel through Brazil by people who were deeply into leadership of Spiritism in Brazil. Spiritism is very different than what John of God had to offer, but I became introduced to Spiritism when I was in Brazil. And so since that time, which was 2000 and… Well, I started traveling actually in 2001 as well. So I’d be at John of God Center, and I’d also be traveling around Brazil. And since 2008, I started leading health care providers to see what was going on in Spiritist centers, which offered kinds of spiritual healing, as well as what was going on in Spiritist psychiatric hospitals, of which there are 50 in Brazil.

Rick: Perhaps you should just briefly explain Spiritism, what the word means, and we’ll get into it more later.

Emma: Okay. So a lot of times when people hear the word Spiritism, as I did the first time, I thought, “Oh, someone doesn’t know how to pronounce Spiritualism, and so they’re abbreviating it.” But it’s actually a different beast. So if we go back to the origins of Spiritualism, people in the 1840s to ’60s were getting introduced to spiritualism in the United States, which basically was a kind of fascination with the phenomena of beings who were not in body, communicating with beings who were in body. And so people spent a good deal of time watching some folks who were mediums, who seemed to have rapping going on, or musical instruments being played when there was no one playing the instrument, or pianos even rising up off of the floor with no one physically moving them. So there were a lot of phenomena that were pretty darn interesting. But Spiritism grew in the 1860s in France, and it was after Spiritualism had come to France, because people were fascinated with the phenomena too, but a man who was an academic said, “Wait a minute, let’s ask these so-called mediums some important questions about life.” And because he was very well organized, very studious, I don’t think he ever cracked a smile, in fact, but he said, “Well, let’s ask people questions, and I’ll collate the answers that are the same from up to a thousand mediums he was in touch with.” And he was asking important questions. Why is there life on earth? Where do we go after death? How do spirits communicate with human beings? The most evolved spirits who can communicate with us, what would they advise us to do in terms of how we live? So anyway, he collated the answers that were similar from the mediums and wrote five books, which are the foundations of Spiritism. And basically, Spiritism moves towards encouraging and supporting spiritual evolution. And the phenomena that go on are not of as much interest as they are to Spiritualists. But I think there’s a kind of integration that’s going on now. So many Spiritualists today would say, “Oh, but wait a minute, we’re into spiritual evolution.” That’s not something we’re not into. We’re not just into the phenomena. So I don’t want to offend anybody in the way that I describe it, but in its origins, Spiritism was quite different than Spiritualism.

Rick: Okay, good. And we’ll get back to that in some detail. All righty, what next?

Emma: Well, I’ll just say in 2012, I became extremely interested in bringing what I had learned in Brazil back to the United States. And at that point, I created the Institute, excuse me, IMHU, which is Integrative Mental Health for You. And we give now about 40 online courses and a couple of courses on location, basically to assist people to recognize, yes, there are really effective alternatives to the more conventional psychiatry and psychology that might say, “Well, if you’re depressed, just take a medication and you’ll feel better.” So unfortunately, a lot of psychology and psychiatry has been reduced to oversimplification and over-reliance on drugs. And we’re just trying to educate people that there are other things that are extremely effective that can be helpful, and also to integrate that there’s great positive potential in adding spirituality to mental health care. And unfortunately, the big book of mental health care, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, hardly recognizes spirituality or the experiences that people can have in spiritual practice or even outside of spiritual practice, for instance, with sacred medicines.

Rick: I think the use of the word “integrate” is significant because from everything I’ve absorbed of your work, you’re really good at kind of appreciating the best of both worlds. And that’s a little bit rare, you know, because there are a lot of people these days, I mean, the mainstream people would say that everything you’re doing is just ooga-booga, you know, and nonsense, and we shouldn’t pay any attention to it. And then there are people that are sort of really into the kind of stuff that we’re alluding to, the more spiritual types and wellness people and everything, and they say, “Oh, big pharma, mainstream medicine, you know, just ignore it. It’s just a money-making scam.” And, you know, both are wrong because there’s something to be appreciated and gained from every approach, and it’s just a matter of sifting out, you know, what’s really useful and how– which things can complement one another and work together and so on. It’s, you know, it’s not an either/or affair.

Emma: Yeah, and I definitely see it that way, Rick. You’re absolutely right. And there are times that it can be extremely important for people to have someone, like a psychiatrist, supervising them and assisting them, for instance, to get some sleep medication because they haven’t been able to sleep for two or three hours.

Rick: Two or three hours or days?

Emma: Days. Excuse me. Thanks for that. So–and it’s not just for sleep medication. There can be other medications that are extremely useful. And also when people are at a point where they say, “I want to withdraw from psych meds,” it can be extremely important to be supervised by someone who’s very knowledgeable about the medications. So–and those aren’t just the only two instances. But I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some absolutely wonderful psychiatrists who are interested in the full toolbox that’s available in integrative mental health as well as the full toolbox that they learned about when they were becoming psychiatrists in the more conventional medical schools. So there is absolutely, I think, a place for all of it to be, but there aren’t so many psychiatrists who really are familiar with both.

Rick: And I think what we’re talking about here is a subset of an even larger picture, which is that modern science has a lot to offer the world and has had a huge impact on the world, but it doesn’t have the complete picture. And without the spiritual dimension, it has wreaked tremendous havoc and damage on the environment and all kinds of things. So there too, we’re not going to go back to an agrarian society where we’re all running around in loincloths and we don’t respect science. Science is here to stay, but it needs to be supplemented and augmented by what spirituality has to offer. And then I think we can have a much more evolved approach to gaining knowledge and also translating knowledge into technologies that could result in a society unlike anything that we recall in our history.

Emma: Well said. Well put.

Rick: And so this is part of it, actually, part of the same need for integrating modern and ancient wisdom, or we could say material and subtle wisdom. And they both have a part to play. There are things that science can tell us that sitting with your eyes closed are not going to reveal, and there are things that sitting with your eyes closed can reveal that science doesn’t even know exists. So somehow they need each other if we want a fuller understanding of life and how best to live it.

Emma: Well, what’s curious to me at this point, Rick, is science is telling us quite a bit. For instance, all the research that’s being done with people who are long-term meditators who reach very high states of consciousness, we can now do brain imaging and find out exactly what’s going on in the brain and equate that then with those high levels of inspiration, creativity, and peace that these people reach and say, “Well, wait a minute. This might be just universal because it seems to be happening across different kinds of religious practices with, in this case, meditators.” So wouldn’t it be important then to find out more about what leads people to go into these high states of peacefulness and wisdom and creativity and then integrate that into assisting people who are struggling with emotional issues to move into those higher states? And the closest we’ve gotten, I think, is mindfulness. And that’s a wonderful contribution to be able to teach people outside of religion that they can move into more peaceful states and have less anxiety, less depression, less pain even by practicing mindfulness. But we can go deeper than that. And that’s where I think things have kind of bogged down at this point. For instance, the DSM still says, “Well, spiritual experiences may become an issue that are brought into psychologists or psychotherapists, and it’s not really indicative of pathology.” And so we can recognize that it does exist, but let’s call it a cultural phenomenon. And so there can be respect for it as a cultural phenomenon, but not as a universal phenomenon that impacts all people, and thus all people in all cultures need to learn more about the path to greater peace, more love, more compassion, more empathy. Anyway, I’m getting–that’s my soapbox.

Rick: We both have our soapboxes. One of mine is just the sort of fear and resistance in the materialist, reductionist worldview or paradigm to recognizing that consciousness is more fundamental than just a product of brain functioning. And the contortions that people will go through to dismiss evidence to the contrary, evidence that consciousness is fundamental and that life does exist after death and that you can view something remotely or have an out-of-body experience or all those kinds of things. It just–the people who resist it that vehemently are really not scientists, in the true sense of the word. They’re kind of–they’ve got their own cult, their own religion, and they defend rather dogmatically. That’s my soapbox. [Laughter]

Emma: I can share that with you. I think there’s room on top of your soapbox. [Laughter] But I–so let’s say a word for the people like Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychologist and neurophysiologist, great man from England who wrote the book The Art of Dying. I don’t know if you’ve read that, but it’s–he’s a wonderfully engaging man. His talk is available on TEDx about dying, and he makes the case really for consciousness surviving death and talks about what people experience when they have been clinically dead for a period of time and what that tells us about consciousness, that it does function independent of the body. And, of course, impacts what’s going on in our brain, but there is consciousness independent of the body, which is a whole other point of view in terms of looking not only at life, but looking at the possibility of reincarnation or at least some kind of life.

Rick: Yeah, there’s a categorical index on BatGap where we have all the interviews broken down and categorized, and there is an NDE and OBE category, and people like Bruce Grayson on–

Emma: Near-death experience.

Rick: Near-death experience, and Jim Tucker on reincarnation, and also a whole lot of people who’ve actually had near-death experiences, and so people might want to check that out. Anyway, so I would say that you’re kind of a harbinger of things to come, what you’ve been doing with your work. I don’t think that society could survive indefinitely when predominated by the materialist, reductionist worldview. It’s got to change, and it’s changing. So, you know, you’re kind of avant-garde. You’re pioneering therapies and approaches that perhaps one day will become mainstream, as has so often happened, where there’s denial and resistance and eventual grudging acceptance, and then eventually it’s like something becomes mainstream and people look at those who originally resisted as being kind of primitive in a way. [Laughter]

Emma: Right.

Rick: Yeah. So maybe we should–unless you feel like there’s something else we should flesh out here–maybe we should shift into a discussion on spiritual emergence and spiritual emergency.

Emma: Sure.

Rick: Okay. So why don’t you define those terms and the distinction between the two.

Emma: Okay. So I think of spiritual emergence as the process of awakening to higher states of consciousness. So some people might just call it the process of growth and include personal growth. So that means it’s both psychological as well as spiritual. But spiritual emergence generally includes spiritual experiences. So that doesn’t mean there’s dialogue with something that is out of body, but it can be just listening to music, for instance, and moving into a state of ecstasy or transcendence because of being inspired by the music. The same being in a forest or watching the sunset. So people have these kind of expansive experiences quite frequently, children as well as older people. They may not call them spiritual, but it is part of the collection of experiences that can definitely change a person’s sense of identity and also sense of what life is all about. So that, I would say, is a spiritual emergence process, and it’s lifelong. Spiritual emergency is a term that was coined by Stan Grof, Stanislav Grof, who was a psychiatrist, and his wife, Christina Grof, and that was in the late 1970s. And they recognized that some people were, for instance, going to a Hatha yoga class, maybe having a good long practice of Hatha yoga, and beginning to experience expanded states of consciousness, but also something called Kundalini rising, which can be an energy that lies usually dormant at the base of the spine, but as people move into higher states of consciousness, that energy that is usually dormant awakens, and it starts moving through the system and can actually run up against areas of energetic congestion and then produce a kind of shaking in the body or produce a lot of emotion. There’s even a term, Kundalini psychosis, for people who can move into very uncomfortable, disturbing states because of the movement of Kundalini. So Christina Grof actually had an experience of Kundalini during a childbirth for one of her children, and she was diagnosed with psychosis. The child was taken away. She was seen to be an unfit mother, and Stan was looking at this saying, “Wait a minute.” In that experience, if she had had medical help that had been able to discern that she was actually having a Kundalini experience rather than a psychotic experience, it would have made all the difference in terms of her ability to look at herself as well as her ability to be a new mother. So they created a support system called the Spiritual Emergency Network in 1980 that exists to this day. It’s unfortunately not funded well enough so that it can provide 24-hour crisis care, but it can provide some kind of linking up with people who are aware of what spiritual emergency is about, can recognize it, and can assist a person to manage it in a way where they don’t have to immerse themselves too much in the conventional psychiatric system.

Rick: Yeah. I think sometimes the difference between emergence and emergency is just a matter of understanding. Like after my first long one-month meditation course, I went through a phase where I was going through shaking and movements and stuff. And I knew what it was, so I was like, “Okay, this is fine. No big deal.” I was driving an ice cream truck, and if I’d come to a stoplight, I’d start to shake just because I was sitting still. But it’s like if somebody didn’t know anything about that, they might think, “Oh my God, do I have a neurological disorder? I better go see a doctor.” And the doctor would look at that and think, “Ooh, this person has problems. Let’s give him some drugs.” So understanding can make the difference between an appreciation of something good happening and fear and inappropriate reaction to that.

Emma: Yes. And sometimes it’s not a matter of energy moving up and through the system, like you very well described, but it can be an experience that someone has where they start hearing voices, which might be the voice of higher intelligence being more accessible to them in ways that are extremely helpful. But we have been kind of, let’s see, conditioned, I think is the right word, into thinking that if you hear a voice in your head that is not something that you planted there but seems to be coming from another place, then it’s an auditory hallucination and there’s something really wrong with you. And it’s one of the things that would be checked off if you went to a hospital and said, “I’m hearing voices.” They would say, “Oh, that sounds an awful lot like psychosis, so maybe you need an antipsychotic.” And in a similar way, if people start seeing things that other people can’t see, and it might be, for instance, perceiving someone who had passed away as if that person is in the room or as if that person is telepathically communicating to them, but there’s a change in visual perception. So again, that might be a symptom, not meaning negative at all, but that that person is able to perceive things that they couldn’t perceive before and there’s nothing negative being communicated. It might, in fact, be that person who is now in spirit form communicating a profound sense of love, maybe some kind of a message that is inspiring. And in that case, it certainly isn’t destructive to the person who is perceiving the image. But again, if you were in a conventional hospital and you said, “Well, I talked to my dead mother last night who was really sending a lot of love to me,” the person who is assessing you in the hospital might say, “Whoops, seeing invisible things that aren’t there. Uh-oh, check that box. That’s another sign of psychosis.”

Rick: So as a professional, how do you distinguish? Because there could be psychotic people who are really psychotic and are just hallucinating and there’s nothing salutary about it. And there could be other people who are having subtle perceptions and psychic things and ESP and all that. And there’s not necessarily a clear demarcation between them. I mean, there could be people who probably need to be in a psychiatric hospital who are actually having subtle perceptions, but it’s out of control or they’re really imbalanced. And I don’t know. It’s kind of unclear to me, anyway, how you would sort it all out. I’m sure that there have been so many people who have been hospitalized and medicated who were having something really good happening and they just needed proper guidance and didn’t get it. But on the other hand, there are people who actually need to be hospitalized. So I don’t know. It’s messy.

Emma: Yeah, it’s a very unclear area, Rick, and you just got right in there, didn’t you? And that’s fine.

Rick: My mother went through a lot of this. She was seeing auras around trees and she felt like she was talking to her mother and she was using a Ouija board and all, but she was kind of out there and ended up in the hospital. And I’m sure it could all have been handled better. And she ended up eventually learning to meditate and doing much better and living a good life, sort of. She still had issues. And that was all precipitated, I believe, from a stressful experience, years of a stressful experience dealing with my father’s alcoholism and abuse, which you mentioned in your book as sometimes being a trigger for these kinds of things. But at the same time, they can be very destabilizing.

Emma: Right. So as you’re talking, I’m thinking also about experiences that I’ve had working with people, and it might be helpful to illustrate this storyline and this area by some stories. So there’s one woman that I’ve been working with off and on for a few years. I won’t give you her name because that’s private.

Rick: Sure.

Emma: But she reached a point — I’ll call her Ann. Ann reached a point where it was the middle of the night, and she got up out of bed, ran to the phone, called 911, and said, “My husband is trying to kill me.” Her husband was in bed asleep, and she was completely lost into this world where she really felt that he was actively trying to murder her. So she’s a trained social worker, and she’s had not only training to be licensed as a social worker, but she’s a trainer of social workers, very well-educated woman, and very savvy. And when she realized her husband kind of came along in a sleepy way in his pajamas once the 911 emergency crew had arrived, and everyone agreed something was really off balance for Ann. So she was taken into the psychiatric ward, and she willingly went because she realized that she was being moved by things that were clearly extremely irrational. So in the psych hospital, she was basically seen as someone who was in a psychotic process. She was given antipsychotics. That likely she had something that needed to be taken care of for the rest of her life through medication. And at that point, she was so disturbed and distraught by what had happened, she was very willing to accept what she was being told.

Rick: It’s so presumptuous. I mean, this thing just came on suddenly, and all of a sudden, they’re telling her this is going to be a problem for the rest of your life.

Emma: Yeah. Well, one of the things that did not happen in the hospital was nobody asked her, “Did something just happen recently that was disturbing for you?” Or, “Tell us a little bit about your early history. Is there something that happened that was very disturbing to you now that somehow that might have been put on the shelf when you were young and has now raised its ugly head and is disturbing you?” Nobody asked her. And so she didn’t ask herself. She just was upset and, as you can imagine, somewhat ashamed that this was going on because she definitely couldn’t operate more in her professional life at this point. So she left the hospital, went back to live with her husband and her son, and with this new identity of having some kind of serious mental illness and wasn’t able to really work because the antipsychotics had changed her. She had to accommodate herself. So to make a longer story short, this went on several times so that she had a disturbance. She felt, because of what she’d been told, that it was a severe mental illness. She was put back in the hospital. Medications were changed and shifted. Nobody asked her what was going on. And then, again, she went home to her loving husband and son. Well, as I worked with Anne, it became obvious that there was something going on from her past that was disturbing to her. So I started to–as she was comfortable with it, of course– I started to ask her some more questions about her early life, and she started to really want to research. We called it “picking up the black pearls at the ocean” just because, you know, let’s go into the most disturbing aspects of your life does not sound like a fun journey. So together in our sessions, we would go down to the beach, as it were, and pick up the black pearls, recognizing there were white pearls there too. And she started to remember there were times in her early life where she had been severely traumatized, and that her father, in fact, had tried to kill her mother on numerous occasions. And her mother had a very deep process of denial. So if Anne would go to her mother–and Anne being a young child at this point– would go to her mother and say, “What happened last night? This is what I saw.” Her mother would say, “Oh, no, that didn’t happen. No, your dad and I are in a really nice, loving relationship. Why don’t you go out and play?” So there was just a huge denial system that had been built up in her over years. And one way to look at it is that it had broken apart that night when she had perceived that her husband was trying to murder her. And so it was all resurfacing, likely because she was more comfortable in her life and at a time in her life where more of this needed to be integrated. So since that time, she is now working with an integrative psychiatrist to move out of all of her medications. She’s had a journal in which to write about her black pearls. And she has a very active way of moving into the white pearls in her life, which are many in terms of her really being a very happy individual with a wonderful life and a beautiful place to live and a great circle of supportive friends. So she’s moving out of that identity as someone who is a mental patient. So that doesn’t completely answer your question, Rick, in terms of how do you tell the difference. But one of the things that I ask when I’m in the position of counseling someone is what has happened to you recently? Do you have significant trauma in your life? Tell me a bit about your life. Are you taking medications? Are you taking drugs? How much alcohol are you drinking? All of those questions are extremely important, as well as what kind of meditation practice or spiritual practice do you have? And do you feel like it may be impacting your life? So I see a person’s story is extremely important. Also, if they are hearing voices, and in this case, Anne did hear voices, but it was the voice of Christ that she was hearing. And Christ was telling her when she was in the hospital the first time that basically she was part of God, and she moved into an identity of being God at times, feeling the God in herself. And now she would say, “It’s not that I’m God and no one else is. Everyone is.” In fact, she went on to write a book about it, how everyone could be deeply, personally connected to all that is, or higher power, or God, or whatever person chooses to call that source.

Rick: There’s a Ram Dass story about that. His brother was in the hospital, and Ram Dass visited him. He said, “Now, the reason you’re in here and I’m out there is that we both think we’re God, but you think only you are God, and I think everyone is.” It might be interesting to hear from people in the live audience, if anyone listening to this feels that they’ve had a spiritual emergency or perhaps a spiritual emergence, which they misinterpreted as an emergency. It would be interesting to hear your story and have them comment on it. So in your book, you cover a number–you have a number of chapters in which you discuss various things that can trigger a spiritual emergency– athletics, or childbirth, or sexual activity, or drugs, or meditation practices, and all kinds of different things. Would it be worth going through some of those? Is there something to say about each one that’s a little bit different than you might say about the others?

Emma: I’m happy to go through it, Rick, if you’d like.

Rick: If you wish. Whatever comes to mind. We don’t have to spend a lot of time on it.

Emma: I think you know your audience better than I do, so I’ll follow your lead with this.

Rick: Yeah. Well, just–I think the audience is pretty– obviously people who are interested in spirituality and awakening and consciousness and enlightenment and all that stuff, some might be interested in psychedelics or just all the different things we’ve mentioned. And I know many have had–based upon people who contact us– many have had profound spiritual experiences and sometimes spiritual emergencies that they’ve had difficulty dealing with. So we just want to be as helpful as possible to people in understanding all this. And as we were discussing a little earlier, understanding can make the difference between something– the realization that something good is happening and I just need to sort of go through it or feeling that I’m in some kind of crisis and I need help. It’s like there are many experiences we can have in life where if we have no inkling of what’s actually going on, something which should be an inspiration can be a source of fear.

Emma: Yes, absolutely. So I’m–in fact, tomorrow I’ll be meeting with someone for the first time and I gather an older man has a daughter and wife and the daughter, who is now college age, had a big opening recently and feels very connected to God and is connecting with a lot of people through a very loving way because she feels the God in everyone and he’s very uncomfortable with her being animated in such a way and feels like she belongs in a psych ward. And she feels like, no, that’s not at all what’s going on and she doesn’t deserve any kind of psychopathological label.

Rick: Are you meeting with him or her or both?

Emma: I haven’t found out yet. I’ve invited him to meet with me, but we’ll see.

Rick: It would be nice to have both, but anyway, go ahead.

Emma: So circumstances can be very different, of course, when your loved ones look at it one way and you look at it another way and maybe the doctors will look at it another way.

Rick: Yeah, which is why it’s very important that the general, the understanding of the culture and of the psychiatric and scientific community be evolved and clarified so that all this stuff is incorporated and understood. I mean, as it is now. I’ve heard you say and I’ve heard others say that psychiatry is largely a matter of drug prescribing, you know, and because that too, again, springs from the notion that consciousness is just a function of the brain. So all we have to do is change the chemistry of the brain a little bit and it’ll solve the problem. And it’s upside down because consciousness is fundamental. If anything, consciousness creates the brain and the whole universe and it’s by kind of exploring in the field of consciousness or developing in that area that we can rearrange the material creation in a more favorable way.

Emma: Agreed. Absolutely agreed.

Rick: So you’re up against a pretty big block. There’s an analogy of changing a paradigm or changing the culture is like a massive block on a frictionless surface. And you can sort of run up against it at full speed and just break your shoulder and not actually move it very much, or you can just kind of apply pressure and keep applying it. And because the surface is frictionless, eventually it’s going to start gaining momentum.

Emma: Yes, I like that image. One of the things that’s going on now that’s very exciting to me is that there is a lot more openness. So in Brazil, for instance, they are allowed to bring energy work into the psychiatric hospitals. In the Spiritist psychiatric hospitals that I take people to, they do something called depossession, which is done through mediums in a group to benefit a patient when the patient is not there. So they’re doing it remotely through a form of remote healing and having some amazing results. So I have met people in Brazil who had been formally given the diagnosis of schizophrenia, who had then had the Spiritist treatment and then been able to recognize that they were actually highly sensitive people who needed to harness their abilities. And they had gone on to–in one case, a man is teaching in university as a physicist. In another case, the man has recognized that he’s actually highly gifted doing energy work with people, and he’s doing that. And they’re not taking medication, and they’re not functioning as schizophrenics. So it’s wonderful to know that 20% to 40% of Brazilians actually use these Spiritist centers when they feel unbalanced physically or emotionally. So here’s a whole country that is willing to say, “Yeah, we like what’s going on with modern psychiatry, and we need to add to the toolbox.” And they’re adding spirituality, and they do a masterful job of helping people in spiritual emergency because they have medical intuitives who are working in the hospitals who can perceive if someone is just in need of emotional care or in need of harnessing their sensitivities. And then within the Spiritist community centers, they can provide that training and that harnessing. So it’s well beyond, I think, what we can offer here. So it’s not a matter, again, of it’s an alternative and it’s against what we’re doing in the United States. It’s everything we do in the United States and more, integrating spirituality. So that’s going on, and they have conferences in various parts of the world so that more people can learn about this paradigm. And then recently I had someone who was–two people who are in the American Psychiatric Association in leadership positions come to take the course that we have at IMHU on Spiritist therapies and giving high marks and wonderful reviews for what they’re learning. So there’s a lot more dialogue going on, and so I have a lot of hope for the process that’s happening right now in psychiatry and psychology. And maybe it is because we’re leaning in to that spot you were talking about.

Rick: Yeah. Has Spiritism been a thing in Brazil for a long time, or has it just come up in the last couple of decades, and has it met resistance from more conservative factions of the psychiatric community?

Emma: All good questions. So it was actually in the 1890s that Spiritism really took hold. There was a physician at that time who was very willing to stand behind Spiritism as a path of life that would allow people who were not well-to-do to get some kind of medical care for free, because everything in Spiritism is offered for free, including the kind of just conventional medical care they make available. So if you picture a community center that sometimes offers the conventional medical care, as well as energy work, as well as working with medical intuitives and mediums who do disobsession, you’ll get closer to what a Spiritist center is all about. I’m certainly not completely describing it, but you’ll get closer to what it’s about. So since the 1890s, so that’s over 100 years, and the psychiatric hospitals began in earnest in the 1930s and have continued. So now, as I mentioned, there are like 50 of the hospitals and over 13,000 of the Spiritist community centers. So it serves a very important function within the society, because the government will subsidize the Spiritist psychiatric hospitals to some extent and completely allow what’s going on. So on the other hand, there are certainly people who are Brazilian, who would say Spiritism is just too, to use an American term, “ooga booga.” And if those people were in their right mind, they would just be Catholics or evangelicals, full stop. So there is some conflict. But on the other hand, if you look at 20 to 40% of all people in Brazil making use of the Spiritist centers, clearly there’s a lot of high positive regard and positive experiences that people are having.

Rick: So for those who run the centers or provide the care or the services, is there some kind of training? Is there some kind of standardization or quality control or accreditation or anything, so that you don’t just have a hodgepodge of people, some of whom might be genuine, some of them might just be highly imaginative and not very effective?

Emma: So they don’t have accreditation, but their supervision is extremely important within the system. So in order to be working with other individuals, as for instance, a medical intuitive, or working on a team to do the disobsession, you likely have been in training for over a decade, in order to prove not only your ability, but also prove your ability to stay balanced. So I’ve participated in watching many of these meetings, and always there’s dialogue about assisting a person to see what their strengths are, assisting a person if they are beginning to feel out of balance, and recognizing that if a person is out of balance, that they may need to take time out and just not practice at all for a period of time. And so they’re really looking at assisting everyone who is interested and may be gifted in this work to lead balanced lives, which is not what you get in the United States. A lot of people here who may be extremely gifted as medical intuitives or mediums, generally work alone, they generally work for money, and they generally don’t have a supervisor. And that is baked into what Spiritism is all about, is you have to have a supervisor. And if we think about John of God, again, because you brought him up earlier, he was a man who was a Spiritualist, he’s still alive, but he’s a Spiritualist, but he didn’t have a supervisor, he didn’t have someone that he would meet up with who might say, “Gee, you’re getting a little out of balance,” or “What about this shadow side of your personality that needs some attention right now?” The supervisors within Spiritism can be, I don’t want to use the word tough or exacting, but let’s say tough love in terms of really assisting a person to recognize what their weak point might be. And of course, if you’re doing that kind of sensitive care with someone, as a medical intuitive or a medium, what you say can have a huge impact on someone. And so you’re being put in a very powerful position, and the supervisors are there to really make sure that that is being treated with great care. But again, if we go to the United States or Europe and see that there are practitioners without any supervision, without any caring influence for getting feedback, sometimes things can happen that are destructive.

Rick: Yeah. Well, it’s good you’re bringing that up because as we’ve been speaking, several people have sent in questions about John of God, and they’re disturbed by the fact that you had some association with him given his now known abuse. And so we want to clarify that you recognize that and you want to comment on that. I have another thought or two to express, but if you want to respond to that.

Emma: So I would like to say that I was there between 2001 and 2012, took a number of groups there. Everyone had extremely positive experiences. And this means remissions of cancer, the ability to, in some cases, die very peacefully, where there had been a huge amount of fear and agony going on, people moving out of addictions, all kinds of extremely positive experiences with people that I took and also with the people that I noticed who were also attending. And when I had the opportunity, because I was funded to do a film about him, I did everything that I could to try to examine what is the shadow of this man. And I couldn’t find anything. That was back in 2005, 2006. And as soon as I discovered that there was likely a very clear shadow, I left and have not been back since. So it has been extremely confusing for people who went there and had, let’s say, a very positive experience to then recognize that that John of God’s shadow was extremely destructive and secretive. And actually, there were people in the community who knew about this side of him that were not sharing it with the public. So the shadow went further than just the man himself. And to come to terms with that has been extremely difficult for a lot of people. So many people have asked me, you know, what was my process about it and what did I do about it? And could I help them come to terms with their own experience being there? And so I’ve written a number of blog posts that you can get to easily at imhu.org/blog about what I’ve gone through and about more of the story about what I suggest other people consider. And in a nutshell, I’ll just say that I think the challenge for all of us is to recognize that someone can be extraordinarily gifted as a healer, which John of God has been gifted as a healer. And that was recognized by even heads of state who would come to him from all over the world for healing, as well as people who were very poor, but he never charged. So his gift was very well recognized. But on the other hand, he had the gift of being secretive about abusing people, and that did not come to light until a couple of years ago. So in other words, just to say one more sentence. So I think the bottom line is you can have both the highest and the best and the worst in one human being and have that human being functioning. And that’s what John of God has been able to do.

Rick: Yeah, this is true not only of him and maybe some other healers, but of some spiritual teachers also. They definitely have radiance and eloquence and charisma and darshan and all the rest. And then you find out they’ve been seducing young women or doing financially unethical things and so on. I’ve heard so many stories like that. It motivated me to help with a few other people found something called the Association for Spiritual Integrity, which is at spiritual-integrity.org. Not as a policing body of any kind, because we don’t have that sort of authority, but just as an articulation of what should be considered appropriate in a spiritual community or from a spiritual teacher, so that people don’t doubt their own sensibilities when they see a teacher misbehaving. And then they begin to think, well, he’s supposed to be enlightened and I’m not. So maybe this is okay. Or maybe this is crazy wisdom or something, because that kind of stuff has really hurt a lot of people. And I think it really needs to be cleaned up and continue to be observed or corrected in order for the whole spiritual enterprise to be maximally beneficial for individuals and the world. And just one quick addendum to that is one thing that I find helps explain it is Ken Wilber’s lines of development notion where we have various lines of development and a person can be quite advanced along certain lines, but really retarded in their growth along certain other lines. And for me, spirituality is about holistically advancing all the lines of development and keeping them in balance.

Emma: Well said. And I think the organization you just described that you’ve been part of is just fantastic.

Rick: Yeah. Okay. Thank you. A few questions. There’s a couple of questions about…

Emma: Rick, can I say one thing before we go to that? And that is one of the courses that has been most popular at IMHU is how to effectively support someone in spiritual emergency. And in the first webinar in that particular course, we look at the 12 or 13 categories of experience that a person can have that will move them into a spiritual emergency and describe them in some more depth. And the first one really is betrayal, especially religiously. And of course, the first thing that jumps to mind for most people these days is if they were identified as Catholic and then started recognizing that there has been a lot of…

Rick: Abuse.

Emma: And inappropriate sexual abuse within the organization that was not handled in a way that would be really supportive for the communities. Wasn’t handled immediately and maybe hasn’t been handled fully now. So obviously that kind of betrayal, which can happen also from Eastern religions, not just in Catholicism, that can lead into a real identity crisis and crisis of meaning for people. And I think one of the things that needs to be added actually to that dialogue is that there are a lot of people who would look for someone who was a guru figure. And maybe that person does have a great gift in some areas, but as you were talking about, not in other areas. And that in itself, like the need to have someone who is like a guru or a very highly evolved teacher, to have someone like that can be extremely important at a certain point in a person’s development. They’re looking for it, but then if they don’t find it, that can throw a person itself into a kind of spiritual emergency. Like how do you find someone? How do you discern if someone is really a guru figure or if they’re out of balance or as you were saying, retarded in some way? So it’s a really big topic and a really important topic, especially now when there’s so many more people who are really looking for advancement. And they’re searching YouTube or they’re searching in one place or another for free advice and sometimes coming up with teachers that have something to offer, but it’s hard to discern. Like what is it that may be shadow here that is not serving?

Rick: Yeah. Swami Sarvapriyananda, whom you may know, sometimes says you can have ethics without enlightenment, but you can’t have enlightenment without ethics.

Emma: Oh, beautiful.

Rick: Yeah. And some persons might look at a supposedly enlightened teacher and say, well, so-and-so, he seemed to be enlightened and he was pretty unethical. That’s not enlightenment in my book. That word deserves to be reserved for something more fully developed, more well-rounded. Sure, somebody can have, like I was saying earlier, they can be eloquent, they can be charismatic, they can, you know, Mick Jagger is charismatic. He’s enlightened. So, and that’s part of the effort of this whole organization that I was referring to is just to sort of popularize the notion that ethics, and traditionally this is well known, and Patanjali and other ancient sources that you have to have that foundation. The yamas and the niyamas, Patanjali called them. But to popularize the notion that ethical development is very much a part of the whole spiritual enterprise. And, you know, you can’t be behaving like a scoundrel and really be an effective teacher for people. And there are people who argue to the contrary, for instance, you know, students of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, or Adi Da and all who, you know, were indulging in all kinds of decadent behavior and feel they got a lot out of it. And yeah, okay, you got something out of it, but I mean, I got a lot out of growing up with parents who were deeply disturbed, but it could have been more wholesome, it could have been more ideal, and, you know, maybe we learned some of our lessons the hard way. But I don’t know, I’m just rambling here. You should, you might want to comment on what I’m trying to say.

Emma: Oh, well, I basically agree with you that enlightenment is a very powerful term that needs to be reserved for people who truly reach not only the heights of expanded consciousness, but are able to act in a very ethical and caring, compassionate way with all beings. And not everyone reaches that. So from my own personal experience, it was back actually in Zen Center when Suzuki died and Dick Baker became the abbot of Zen Center. And in many ways, he was extremely charismatic. He was a wonderful speaker, Harvard graduate, and had been educated in Japan about Zen Buddhism as well as in the United States. He was in some ways the perfect model, but actually, he did move into saying on one side, you know, it’s a good idea to be celibate if you really want to get into higher consciousness. And on the other side, he was sleeping with some of his students, even though he was married with a child.

Rick: Same old story.

Emma: Yeah, and you know, what happened in that story actually was a more enlightenment in the community in that they said, whoops, this doesn’t work for us to have this happen. And what kind of structures can we build within the community so this is most likely not to happen ever again. And so I admire spiritual communities that are kind of moving outside of the box of the culture they were born in, in this case, Zen Buddhist monasteries, and saying, you know, how does it fit in the United States? And how do we bring a more sophisticated look at psychology into our spiritual communities? And that’s an important integration that’s going on in some communities now.

Rick: Yeah, good. Yeah, the whole thing is kind of evolving and stuff that some teachers were able to get away with years ago is people have less tolerance for it.

Emma: Yeah.

Rick: Quicker to recognize it, you know.

Emma: Yes.

Rick: Yeah. And that’s so important. I mean, I know people, I know of people who committed suicide because they were so deeply disillusioned by betrayal by a spiritual teacher, or at least, if not something that extreme they kind of washed their hands of the whole spiritual enterprise and just went, worked as a stockbroker or something. If an exemplar of spirituality is going to behave that way, then what am I even bothering about?

Emma: Where your organization fits in.

Rick: All right, let’s have a few questions from listeners. So, Denise, Denise, Denise, you’re going to have to tell me how to pronounce your name because you’re from Toronto and you’ve asked questions before and I don’t know if it’s Deni or Denise, but anyway, this person asks, I have recently completed a 10 day silent Vipassana retreat. Leading up to the retreat, I was experiencing mild energy pulses in my hips and legs while meditating. On the course, these vibrations and shots of energy became very intense to the point that it was distracting to those close to me, which caused me to draw back on my meditation. Since coming home, I have not had a good deep meditation, but I am confident I will. Please note that my experiences to date have not been disturbing to me and I feel like its part of a natural process. Any thoughts or advice on how I should move forward?

Emma: Well, especially since it’s not disturbing to her. It sounds to me like just proceeding is a good idea, allowing it to flow. And then on the other hand, because of my experience in energy work, it can be extremely useful as a meditator continuing to meditate to also have energy sessions with someone who can assist in possibly opening up the obstruction in, let’s say, a part of your body that that is not yet completely open. And, and thus, as the obstruction becomes less than the energy vibrations or shaking that you’re having will also become less because energy will be able to flow more fluidly through your whole system. So, you know, I think Rick gave us a great example when you were having the shaking going on and you just let it happen because we can just say it’s a natural process and we just need to be in a situation where it can happen, where it doesn’t disturb other people. And I’m convinced that certain forms of energy work and it may have to do more with the energy worker rather than the energy work itself, but certain forms of energy work and specific energy workers can be extremely helpful in allowing the energy to flow without the shaking going on.

Rick: Yeah, I’ve seen examples of groups where the group psychology got into this thing of let’s see who could do the coolest kriyas or make the weirdest noises, you know, and everybody’s trying to, there’s this one-upmanship that starts happening and it becomes kind of a zoo. And we’ve even received videos from people who wanted to be interviewed, you know, saying, you know, look at all the weird kriyas and mudras that I do. And I think that, you know, one can get into encouraging or indulging in this stuff unnecessarily. So you don’t want to repress it, but you also just don’t want to make a show of it or, you know, it’s not necessary. I mean, it happens, it’s natural, but if it’s not happening to you, you shouldn’t feel like you’re missing out on anything and certainly don’t try to exaggerate it.

Emma: Yeah. Reminds me of actually looking at a waterfall that is adjacent to my property here. And at this particular point, as the lake becomes defrosted, as it were, water flows over the dam, but sometimes there’s a log that gets in the middle of it. And then the water will spurt up over the log and down. So it’s exciting. It’s beautiful. It’s lovely to watch. It’s interesting, but basically there’s a log jam there. And if someone can just right the log a little bit, then there’ll be an increased flow of water and everything will return to a more natural space. But seeing the spray is nice, but in a way, who cares? The water’s just going over the dam.

Rick: If somebody wants to, go ahead.

Emma: I just wanted to mention one other resource, and that is I’ve had several people come to me who were having difficulty with a lot of shaking in their body. And they would ask me about my knowledge of Kundalini, etc. And one of the things that can be extremely helpful actually is something called TRE. You can look it up literally as TRE. And it’s a practice that you can learn to do easily by yourself by watching videos, or you can go to a certified practitioner of TRE and learn how to discharge pent up energy in your system. And that will sometimes also even out the Kundalini difficulty that you may be having.

Rick: Okay, good. Another reference is a woman I’ve interviewed named Joan Shiva Pitta Harrigan. You can look her up on Batgap. She’s not actively doing it anymore, but she did it for years and she has proteges or people who have taken over for her. But she’s written two large volumes all about the detailed mechanics of Kundalini and all the different ways it can get, you know, log jammed or sidetracked. So if you really want to go into it, you know, kind of a detailed study of the subject, that’s a good resource. Here’s a question from Paul D. in Santa Cruz, California. I’m considering doing a 10-day meditation retreat this summer. It seems that every four years I’m called to do this. Each time I am able to connect with a deeper and more expanded real self. When integrating back into normal life, the lessons and sense of embodiment tend to dissipate quickly, even while maintaining a meditation practice. So why even go? [Laughter]

Emma: Perspective. So my sense is that when we have these high experiences, like the one I described where I was in this five-day meditation and got into a very high zone in terms of being able to see my whole emotional life from a new perspective. That even though that isn’t always 100% active in my mind and heart all the time, it reinforces, well, it becomes a place I can move to, to give me perspective so that I don’t indulge in taking my emotions too seriously. And I think in the same way, even though we don’t retain exactly that high of a retreat, that it offers us perspective that we can return to. And maybe it’s not there 100% of the time, but it’s there. And that can be not only very useful, but it can also be a stepping stone to move us into higher places. So the next time you go to a retreat or the next time you meditate for a longer period of time, you might move not only into the space that you achieved in that longer retreat, but also go further.

Rick: Yeah. I mean, one analogy is, you know, we have a nice lunch and six hours later we’re hungry again. So why did we bother with lunch? [Laughter] But actually, you know, lunch, the food got digested, it got assimilated, it built tissue in the body and so on. So, and yet, and so with a spiritual retreat like that, I think that certain changes take place in your neurophysiology and your consciousness, which you later integrate. And, you know, you get back to normal, so to speak. But something has shifted in you, which wouldn’t have shifted had you not done the retreat. And those things, it’s cumulative, like, you know, you’ve been meditating for 50-something years, and, you know, you’ve had nice experiences in each meditation, I’m sure, most of them. And later on, you know, that experience has passed. But over time, you’ve been transformed by that regular practice. So, you know, an occasional retreat is just another engine on the train or another part of the cycle of one’s spiritual practice that can be useful.

Emma: I agree.

Rick: Yeah. Okay, so let’s see here. This is an interesting one. This is from Ed Kelly in Dublin. Do you have any experience of meditation or intense spiritual searching causing or highlighting physical ailments, such as, in my case, chronic tinnitus, loud ringing or pulsing sensations or pressure in the ears and head?

Emma: Do I have any experience with meditation bringing on something like that?

Rick: Yeah, that’s what he’s asking. Or spiritual practice of some sort causing some of that kind of thing to start happening?

Emma: I haven’t heard about it with tinnitus. And certainly, some practices can possibly bring on difficulty. I was just reading something last night in the Self-Realization Fellowship materials that spoke about a man who was very diligent in his practice and expected that because he was connecting so much to God that everything would flow really well for him in his life. He’d have plenty of money. He’d have a good relationship with his wife. His children would be doing well, etc., etc. But that was not happening. Actually, the more he meditated, the deeper he got into some really difficult places. Whereas someone who in the materials I was reading last night was called Mr. Sham was leading a life of very low ethical standards and yet making a lot of money, having a better relationship with his wife, etc. So, ultimately, what it was getting to is that at a certain point, things were going to shift and did shift in the story once Mr. Honest had taken care of some of the effects of some experiences in prior lifetimes. That’s not to say that he was being punished by things not going well in his life, but more to say that there was a balancing going on in his life. And at a certain point, he turned the corner on that and basically, you know, his karma shifted so that things did start going well. And the same happened for Mr. Sham because his bank account, karmically speaking, went the other direction. And at a certain point, things turned really bad for him. So, I’m not saying that your tinnitus is a result of bad karma from a previous lifetime, but just to say that there are a lot of different threads that can come in, in terms of impacting our daily life. Some of it is aging.

Rick: Yeah. Maybe Ed used to be a rock and roll drummer or something. But, you know, so obviously something like that you want to have checked out by a doctor. But there are, you know, hearing inner voices, not inner voices, inner sounds and ringings and stuff like that are sometimes considered symptoms of kundalini activity. One can read up on that. There are books. You read Gopi Krishna or Joan Harrigan’s book that I was just talking about. There are explanations like that. But you make a good point about, you know, why sometimes people who are leading hedonistic or unethical lives seem to be the ones with the big yachts and everything’s going well for them. And others are leading a good life and things aren’t going so well. And I think your explanation of the eventual karmic repercussions is a good one, if people believe in that kind of thing.

Emma: Yeah. You know, just as a little aside here, Rick, one of the things that was, to go back to our conversation about the more reductionist model versus a more expanded model in psychiatry.  And they say that 62% of people in the United States believe that after death, they either go to heaven or hell or some other place.

Rick: Go somewhere, yeah.

Emma: Yeah, but 62% basically means that there is a recognition that there is consciousness that survives death.

Rick: Yeah.

Emma: And it’s just how else could you go to heaven or hell, right? In that, and I didn’t see anything, you know, on that page that said, how many Americans believe in reincarnation? I don’t think we’re there yet.

Rick: Many do, especially anybody who’s gotten into yoga and that kind of stuff.

Emma: But if you look at around the world, there are some statistics that say basically it’s over 50% now of people who do believe in reincarnation throughout the world. So bringing this in then when we look at questions around diagnosis can be impactful. And in Brazil, they definitely say, you know, some people who become psychologically deeply unbalanced may be in the process of balancing something that happened in a previous lifetime.

Rick: Yeah.

Emma: It’s not that that’s the only way to diagnose, but that’s one thread that we can bring in for any kind of diagnostic, whether it’s physical or emotional.

Rick: Yeah, we can also put a positive spin on it and say, you know, how did somebody like Mozart show such genius at the age of five, you know, and perhaps there was some development that he’s just kind of carried into the next life.

Emma: Yes. And when this topic comes up with friends and all who are skeptical about anything continuing after death, I sometimes refer them to out of body experiences because there are so many people who’ve had those who experienced things. Like in your book, you were talking about the guy who had a serious car accident and he broke 27 bones or something and he was under deep anesthesia in the operating room. And first he rose up to the ceiling and he could hear and recount later what the people in the operating room were discussing and he could see dust on the top of a lamp that couldn’t be seen from the ground level. And then he went outside the hospital and saw a red sneaker on the fifth floor ledge, which a nurse later went up and found. So this at least shows that some aspect of us, even including senses, can operate outside the body when the body is incapacitated. And so if that is true, it’s not a big leap to consider that maybe if the body dies altogether, that something which could have such experiences still carries on.

Emma: Yes.

Rick: Yeah. And if it carries on, then it’s not a big leap from there to think that it might take on another body.

Emma: Yeah. Or that it has had some prior to this lifetime.

Rick: Yeah. And I find that it sort of makes the whole philosophical puzzle fit together nicely. Because otherwise, if there’s this wonderful possibility of such high spiritual development and we’ve seen examples of it, and if the average person doesn’t attain it, that doesn’t seem very fun or fair. I mean, how about if we just, you know, it’s like grades in school where each grade advances our knowledge and eventually we get to our postdoctoral work, you know, so to speak. There’s a vast span of potential spiritual development and we just move along that spectrum as from life to life.

Emma: Yeah, from life to life. I just want to insert in that analogy that it’s very possible for children these days, and maybe in the past as well, to learn something about meditation and what it can give them and be used as a tool for the rest of their life, to bring them into higher states of consciousness, but also to be a tool that can be very useful during emotional periods in life.

Rick: Yeah. I have a good friend who’s the head of the David Lynch Foundation. They teach meditation in inner city schools and things like that to kids who are growing up in tough environments and it has a dramatic effect on the kids and on their grades and their tendency to stay in school and reduction in fighting and all that kind of stuff. As well as the peace in the whole community.

Emma: Yeah, exactly.

Rick: Yeah. I think it’s really important to bring in this context right now when all of us are so worried about what’s going on in the Ukraine and Russia. Just to recognize that there are more people rising up against invasion, which Russia is doing in the Ukraine right now, and more people really contributing from all around the world to a way of life that has more empathy, more compassion, and less aggressiveness. And so maybe there is a spiritual emergence process going on in the world right now that is being evidenced by the amount of help pouring in for the Ukrainians.

Rick: That’s a good point.

Emma: And that’s indicative of a spiritual emergence process going throughout the world, I think. We’re recognizing that if we’re going to survive on this planet, that there has to be a delving into what we call spiritual qualities, which are compassion, empathy, more love, and also, as you brought out very well, more ethics, too.

Rick: Yeah. I know of at least three. I’m sure there are many, but the TM group, Amma’s group, and this lady I’m going to interview named Shelly Tegelsky are all, and she’s a very influential yoga teacher, they’re all over there in Ukraine or in Poland. Some of them just meditating in groups, others doing service work to help the refugees who are streaming out of Ukraine. And it’s a beautiful thing. And of course, it’s not just something that spiritual groups are doing. But you’re right, I think the world’s reaction to this has been encouraging. It’s like people are less tolerant of this kind of thing anymore.

Emma: Yes.

Rick: Yeah. And there’s more of a sense that, you know, Vasudev Tukumbakom, the world is my family.

Emma: Yes. So, you know, if we think back 40 decades, four decades, let’s say, it used to be that things like meditation or expressing compassion and empathy, you know, in these kinds of situations was a little bit woo-woo, or could be considered a bit woo-woo. Obviously not in some organizations like the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders, whatever, there are lots of organizations. But to see this kind of international outpouring and to recognize that people, so many people want peace and are willing to create structures where there is peace and willing to create sanctions instead of going to war, and a more peaceful way of managing crises, I think is a good indication that spiritual emergence is going mainstream.

Rick: Yeah, let’s hope. A couple of questions came in from Renu Pariyadath from South Carolina about shamanism. She asks, “You were trained shamanically and in non-dual meditation. Would you say the two worldviews, cosmologies, are compatible? Is shamanic journeying the same as meditation, or is it more a method of channeling? Where is the knowledge coming from, from the self, capital S, or from another higher being outside the self, capital S?”

Emma: That’s a big question. Thank you for asking. It’s a really interesting question, and I actually have friends where we’ve had discussions about this same thing. We were looking at it more from the point of view of, is the goal the same within shamanic work and the meditation work, especially moving towards non-dual awareness? I’ll share a perspective. I’m certainly not saying that I’m the authority on it, but from my perspective and my experience with shamanism, is that there’s obviously a very strong connection to the natural world and to those beings that are associated with a natural world. It’s a very rare shaman who has moved into the context where they have really cultivated non-dual awareness. That’s my personal experience. As far as I’m concerned, the people who are identified in the shamanic culture as shamans and being leaders in a culture that is more oriented toward shamanism can be wonderfully compassionate, empathic, loving, wise beings. Certainly, we have a lot to learn from them right now in terms of how do we live on the earth that shows interdependence with the earth. Interdependence is a big, long, mouthful kind of word, but in shamanism, we feel very strongly our connection to everything that belongs to the earth and all of its creatures, no matter if they have four or two or no legs, whatever they have. All of that is important. Within the traditions that I studied in, there’s also recognition of the higher beings and higher forces that aren’t necessarily part of nature, but are part of the divine, for instance, Tankachla. I would say that in the more eastern traditions, there isn’t as much emphasis put on the association with nature. It’s certainly not demoted to something that’s insignificant by any means, but it doesn’t have the same significance as you find in the shamanic cultures. The notion that we can move into a transcendent space that is, in some ways, independent of the physical body and thus independent of nature to some extent, that that has not been as strongly developed within the shamanic cultures. So it’s not to say that one is better than the other or one will take you further than the other, because I certainly know people who are shamans that have developed an extraordinary high consciousness. And I know people who are in the eastern traditions who will feel most dedicated to Divine Mother, and Divine Mother often times represents for people nature itself or the manifestation of spirit and form. So I don’t think it’s helpful for us to really put them against each other and compare them as if we’re going to find huge differences, because you can find huge similarities depending on who it is that you communicate with as shamans or as leaders in the eastern philosophies.

Rick: Perhaps some kind of hybrid would be a healthy thing. I was at a conference one time and there was a non-dual teacher up on stage and somebody got up to the mic and started talking about the environment and how important the environment is and what we should do about it and so on. And the non-dual teacher was like, “Oh, the earth is just a speck of dust. It doesn’t matter what happens in the big picture of things.” So there can be this sort of dismissal of relative considerations as being maya or beneath our concern and so on, which I feel is half-baked in my own personal opinion. And that we can have both and should have both. We can have our non-dual realization at the same time, be full of compassion and concern for all beings. And it doesn’t have to be either/or.

Emma: I like your story, Rick. I agree with you. I agree with you very much.

Rick: There’s another question from Renu here, which is along those lines. She says, “Is it okay to practice shamanic journeying and also regular non-dual meditation? I ask as someone who had a transmission once from journeying, but now I have a daily meditation practice and I am nervous to put on drumming music and journey as it is so different from my mantra practice. What are your thoughts on and your experience in balancing these two practices?”

Emma: A great question. You know, I had as my first teacher Suzuki Roshi, who was again the abbot of a Zen Buddhist monastery. And I felt like being as much in tune with him as possible would assist me to move as far as I could go. So I didn’t want to split my attention from my dedication to all that he could possibly offer me. And now that I’m involved with a self-realization fellowship, which follows the wisdom of Yogananda, the same thing is stressed that if you completely, first of all, shop around for what makes the most sense for you, and then make a decision and then go as deeply as possible in attunement with whoever it is who is your main teacher, that that is actually the most helpful in terms of reaching the deepest depths or the highest heights, however you want to view that. But at a certain point, I think when people haven’t yet decided who it is that they want to follow or what particular philosophy they want to follow, that there can be a kind of mingling around or shopping around and comparing which one works at any particular time, which is totally fine. In fact, very necessary. We have to engage our mind and our discernment to understand and recognize what way do we want to go. But I think this is not particularly you, but there are some people who are really doing a YouTube guided meditation from one philosophy and then shifting to going to a shamanic practitioner in the afternoon and then going to a different kind of teacher in the evening, just in one day, going, visiting and participating in several different traditions. And of course it can be enriching, just like taking a course in comparative religions can be enriching. But at a certain point, where are we going to reach the depth if we are distracted by several different philosophies? I hope that answers your question.

Rick: Yeah, there’s that old saying of digging one deep well rather than 10 shallow wells in order to hit water. But then you might also say, well, how about using several different tools to help you dig one deep well? And I’m reminded of Nisargadatta Maharaj, who, as you probably know, is a pretty non-dual dude. But at the end of his discourses, someone would get out a harmonium and he’d get out the cymbals and they’d have a big rousing bhajan session. Or Papaji, who would, you know, prostate on the floor in devotion to Ramana Maharishi, to a picture of Ramana every day. And Shankara, who said that the intellect imagines duality for the sake of devotion and wrote beautiful devotional poems in addition to all of his profound Vedantic exposition. So, you know, teachings can be very non-dual and yet very kind of devotional or exploratory of subtle realms at the same time and not dismiss those relative considerations. Okay. So we’re roughly almost at the two-hour mark. So do you just kind of scan your mind at this point, Emma? And, you know, is there something that’s important to you that we really haven’t mentioned at all that we should cover a little bit? Obviously, something like this is just a little taste of all of your work. And there’s plenty, I’ll be linking to your websites, and there’s plenty that people can explore, and you have books, your books they can read and so on. But is there anything more we should give them right now?

Emma: Well, I don’t want to sound like an advertising agent, but on the other hand, I would like to let people know that one of the things that is a niche for the work I do is training spiritual emergence coaches.

Rick: Oh, yeah. Very important.

Emma: And so it’s a two-part training program. The first part is an online series of five webinars that goes over five weeks, plus meeting twice live to talk about what’s being learned. And then the second part is a two-day live on-location workshop, which is more about experiential skill building. So the reason I do this is not to create more people who are invested in woo-woo, but really to assist there to be throughout the world, in other words, internationally, more people who are trained to recognize what spiritual emergency is, what spiritual emergence is, how can we assist people who want to move into higher states of consciousness? How can we assist them to do it in a safe way? And those people who have fallen into a spiritual emergency, how can they get the care that they need? So the spiritual emergence coaches are much more trained than most conventional health care providers in order to recognize a spiritual emergency and offer teamwork to assist anyone who’s managing a spiritual emergency. And so having them available online and readily accessible can be a tremendous benefit internationally because so many health care providers don’t have the training. So I invite you all to take a look at what we offer there. And we do offer five different free courses. One of them is Spiritual Emergency, What Is It? And Steve Taylor, who authored the book The Leap, and did a lot of research on what causes spiritual emergency, also gives a talk that’s for free on spiritual alchemy. And it’s a lead in. So those of you who are really interested in going further and possibly becoming a spiritual emergence coach, not only to be more secure in yourself, managing your own spiritual emergence process, but also to help others, we invite you to participate. And we’ve got one of those series of five online webinars starting tomorrow.

Rick: Oh, that’s, today is March 6, 2022. So if a person could still sign up for that.

Emma: A person can still sign up for that. Yeah. And the webinar becomes available. The first one becomes available tomorrow, but it’s not at a specific time because it’s a prerecorded webinar.

Rick: So people could sign up any time this week. Oh, OK. They’ll have access to it. Yeah. And is there a directory on your website of all the people who have qualified as coaches?

Emma: Yes. You can go to IMHU.org. Just think I’m human. The first four letters in I’m human.org. And then in the main index, you’ll see about coaching and it’ll take you directly to the directory rather than give you a long URL.

Rick: Right. And I’ll link to that on your page on BatGap. OK, thank you. OK, well, it’s wonderful work you’re doing. And so many it’s multifaceted. I mean, you’ve done so many interesting things in your life and you’re still doing it. You’re bopping around the world. You’re going to go to England in the summer or something and probably still taking trips to South America.

Emma: So now that the pandemic has lightened up, I hope to be getting back to Brazil, too.

Rick: Yeah. So it’s really been wonderful to become more acquainted with you and with your work. And I’m happy to have made you more, you know, made more people aware of what you’re doing.

Emma: I think a lot of people will benefit from it. Thank you, Rick. It’s been a pleasure to be with you. Thank you so much for inviting me to be interviewed by you. And it’s been a pleasure to converse with you, too. I just noticed how we see so many things from the same point of view. It’s been a pleasure to be with you and your audience. Thank you.

Rick: Thank you. So thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching. And visit BatGap.com if you wish and check out the menus. And I will send or subscribe to the YouTube channel if you want to be notified of new interviews as they’re posted. And we will see you for the next one. Talk to you later.