James O’Dea Transcript

James O’Dea 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. I’ve done quite a few hundred of them now and if this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and feel like supporting it to whatever degree, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the site. Thank you for that. I’m really fortunate and honored to interview such wonderful people every week. I take the responsibility very seriously and spend many hours preparing. It’s been very conducive to my growth over the years and I’m especially honored to be interviewing James O’Dea this week and I’ve really been inspired and enriched by what I’ve read and listened to. Since boyhood, James has dedicated his remarkable life to alleviating the suffering of others and he’s done so on a deep mystical foundation. James O’Dea is the award-winning author of Conscious Activists, Cultivating Peace, Soul Awakening Practice and other works. He is a former president of the Institute of Nuetic Sciences, which was founded by the astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who spent about eight hours walking on the moon and had a profound mystical experience on his way back from the moon, which is why he founded the Ions. James is also the Washington office director of Amnesty International and CEO of the SEVA Foundation, which was founded by Ram Dass and dedicated itself to alleviating blindness through cataract surgery in poor areas of India and Nepal. He has taught peacebuilding to over a thousand students in 30 countries. He has also conducted frontline social healing dialogues around the world. He is a founding member of the Evolutionary Leaders Group and is on the advisory board of the Peace Alliance, Cosmos Journal and the Laszlo New Paradigm Institute. I’ve just reviewed the notes I took while reading James’s book, The Conscious Activist, and every single one of them could be a springboard for an extended conversation. I’m afraid we won’t get to all of them, but I think you’ll be inspired by what we do get to, and I really hope to do justice to James’s inspiring life and work and the conversation you’re about to hear. James mentioned that he would like to start this conversation with an invocation, and we’re going to end with one also, so please do that, James.

James: Thank you. What a joy and pleasure to be with you, Rick. I think you’re doing an incredible service.

Rick: Thank you.

James: The depth and quality of your interviews is wonderful, and your own spiritual presence is very evident, so thank you.

Rick: I’m a work in progress.

James: Yes, that’s for us all. I wanted to begin with an invocation because I’m beginning to put together a book of invocations, and I’ll talk more about that process a little bit later. I can condense transmissions if you like. I’m not a poet per se, so I call them poetic invocations, and they’re designed to transmit teaching and uplift. And so this opening one is called “This Consecrated Hour.” Do you not see them, the ashen ones, the gray ones, the starving orphans, the seduced innocents, the decimated specters of conflagration, all the beings trampled in degradation, crowding our collective shadow field? Go find them in this, this consecrated hour of human becoming. Find your estranged, your lost and abandoned family, and embrace them into the vital marrow of your life. Kiss them until the ashes of their betrayal turn from gray to red, and the blush of love blows through the one soul, the one life of all. Do you not feel them, the slicks of poison, the necrotic plastic, the ocean’s dead zones, the cancers, the tumors, the die-offs, the daily extinctions, the breath of life suffocated on a genocidal scale? Do you not feel them in your own flesh and blood? Go heal the pain in this, this consecrated hour of human becoming. Feel your rivers, your lakes, your mountains. Feel their freshness, their pure life force coursing your veins, opening your heart to the one mother, the one soul of all. Do you not know them, the guardians of the moment, the secret listeners, the agents of truth, the instruments of soul awakening, consciousness raising, light resurrecting, power of transfiguration in the center of your own compassionately ripened awareness? Go manifest this power in this, in this consecrated hour of human becoming. Sing the communal choirs of collaboration, showering our wounded world with the divinely fated audacity to celebrate the one soul, the one life of all.

Rick: That’s beautiful. What that evokes in me is, well firstly a memory of John Donne’s poem where he says “No man is an island” you know.

James: “Entire unto himself but is a part of the continent the whole.”

Rick: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” And you know if we aspire to enlightenment, if we aspire to living non-duality and so on then we’re asking to incorporate within our being all that is in the world and that includes a lot of horrific things that you have witnessed in your life and that are still going on and I don’t know if we can truly call ourselves, not that we would brag about it, but truly sort of consider ourselves enlightened or awakened or non-dual or whatever and totally resting in that state without the need for any kind of remuneration or elimination of this suffering until it has been eliminated. It seems to me there’s naturally going to be an overflowing of whatever fullness we achieve in an attempt to bring our world into that same fullness and joy.

James: Yes, well said. I love those words of the Dalai Lama when he says “It is not enough to be compassionate.” Wow! Really? Are you telling me it’s not enough to be compassionate? “It is not enough to be compassionate,” he says, “one must act.” And so it’s that expression and gathering of the inner and the outer together. Even the Bhagavad Gita says you cannot dissolve activity by any form of inactivity. So even though our actions are going to create samskaras, we’re going to mess it up. My own life is a story of development. I look forward to going through some of those stages with you, but we do bungle. We miss the mark. We have to grow up. And when we do, our action becomes more refined and more aligned with the inner. And I think the vibrational level is affected, even when we live in such difficult, sordid, betrayal times as we live in. Yet, I think beneath the radar screen of all the melodrama and nonsense and cruelty and confusion in the world, there is some music to be heard. There is something rising through the good spiritual work of people who say it is time to bring it into the world.

Rick: Yeah, and you mentioned that we can’t act without accumulating some skaras or impressions or bungling it up in some way, but since you evoked the Gita, as we know in that story, Arjuna said, “take my chariot out between the two armies. I want to see these people that I’m supposed to fight.” And Krishna took him out there and he said, “wait a minute, these guys are my relatives. I don’t want to fight them. I’d rather just live on alms than kill these respected elders and so on.” But then Krishna said, “well, but you have to fight.” And Krishna said, “well, I don’t want to.” And then finally Krishna said, “well, established in yoga, yogastar-kur-karmani, established in being, then perform action, and then you’ll perform action in accordance with Dharma, in accordance with the will of God, the flow of the universe, and you’ll be able to do so without creating samskara.

James: Yes, well that’s a very Sri Aurobindian approach too, that when you go back to the earlier stages of wanting to act, there can be too much enthusiasm for the fight, because rather than seeing your relatives on the other side of the battlefield, you see the other. You see the bad guys. You see the ones you want to take out. You see the ones who are the source of the problem. And by God, you are going to get on a high horse, and for legitimate reasons in some ways, you are going to do battle. But spiritually, that creates a crisis. So, you know, both the mystic and the active have a long road of development. And I had a thought I shared with friends on Facebook a few weeks ago. It was really deep, Rick, and legitimate. And it came to me after all these years of struggle and work on both the mystical side and the active side. And it came to me and I said, “It is thought that it may take 10,000 or more lifetimes before we can be liberated. It may take a million years.” And I had this feeling of, “Right, that’s okay. I’m ready for that. I want to walk that path. I want to walk every step of the way. I don’t want to get a quick get-out-of-jail-free card. I don’t want to get a quick miraculous jump to transcendence. I want the sobriety of every moment, not the ecstatic process, which a little ecstasy now and then is good, but that sense of being consciously aware that I am making every step towards the goal of dissolving in the love of it. And that has been a profound growth moment for me.

Rick: Yeah, one thing I think about when you say that is that, you know, it took a long time for the universe to get where it is today and for us to get where we are today, although who knows what our whole evolutionary trajectory has been, but it’s probably been going on for a long time. So you could say that God has a lot invested in us, and should we really be in a hurry to just sort of snuff it out and get out of here and cease to exist, or would it be a more mature perspective to say, “Use me Lord, in whatever way I can be used for as long as you would like to do so. You’ve spent a lot of time developing this instrument and I’m happy to offer it in service for as long as it is useful.”

James: Right, and behind some of this conversation is that troubling issue of, “Why do we come here in the first place?” You know, what sort of a deity or divine entity creates this place of such appalling cruelty, of such deep misery and deep suffering, and then says, “Oh yes, and I’ve given you some escape routes, you know, you can get out this way or that way.” Well, why did you create that in the first place? As a good Catholic boy, I learned about original sin, you know, and Adam and Eve being thrown out of the garden because of their curiosity. And so, one has to come to, I think, some understanding of what that story is. And for me and for many mystics of different traditions, it becomes, there is a purpose. You know, the great Sufi mystic Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi, many people don’t know of him. They know of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, who in Sufism is called the Pole of Love, and Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi is called the Pole of Knowledge, and very difficult to read, so most people don’t go there. But he starts his great work, the Bezels of Wisdom, the Wisdom of the Prophets, with this thought that God wanted to know his own most beautiful and powerful qualities. God wanted to know. He wanted to know himself as the whole story, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And so then you look at creation and the eminent Pole of creation and say, “We can be the eyes and ears and hands of the divine. Maybe we can’t be the autonomous, what Ibn al-Arabi calls the principal autonomy of the divinity, but we can be instances. We can be moments. We can be motivations of the divine. And that then we can express beauty and truth and justice and these qualities that express through us. And that for me changes the story. It says it’s not about escaping, you know, this hellhole of a world. It’s about discovering the beauty. You remember the vinegar story. Buddha is asked when he tastes vinegar, he says, “It’s bitter.” And this is a reflection of his understanding of the bitterness of human suffering and the terrible pain. It’s sort of a symbol of that. And then Confucius is asked to taste the vinegar and he says, “It’s sour.” And the sourness is a reflection of the injustice of the world, the corruption. That’s what I’m looking for. And so he, his Buddhist path is out of bitterness is compassion. Confucius’ path, out of sourness, is to create structures that represent social order and high levels of governance. And Lao Tzu is asked about the taste of vinegar and he says, “It’s sweet.” And for him that’s a reflection of the Tao and the sweetness of the Tao. That if you look deep enough into it all, there is sweetness, there is sweet truth in the way of nature. And for me that journey has been decidedly bittersweet. I have a saying, “Let the bitter be bitter and the sweet be sweet until the bitter and the sweet are one.” And what happens when we don’t let the bitter be bitter? We really get into falsehood. That’s the path to falsehood. When we create the false positive. Don’t worry about the negative. Our world needs positive and negative. And negative, you can see negative and positive, it’s that false positive where the danger is. Again in Tzuism, Mahmud Aptal simply says, “Your heart must face its tests until some sweets turn bitter in the end. Your heart won’t answer yes.” Why won’t your heart answer yes in this instance? Because the heart is an organ that wholeness. It cannot be a partisan of the sweet. I know some people really believe that it’s all the journey through sweetness. And that if you’re acknowledging the bitter, that you’re being negative, oh my goodness, you know, be positive all the time. I’m sorry but I cannot do that. That would not be faithful to what I have learned on the path. I need to say torture is horrific nightmare of human immorality and cruelty. And I don’t think that I am being negative by saying that I’m pointing out the negative, I’m unveiling where the false truth lies.

Rick: I think there’s a distinction between what you just said, you know, where you’ve dedicated your life to trying to eliminate horrific things, and so in order to do that you’ve had to put your attention on those things. And kind of indulgence in negativity as a form of entertainment, you know, like porn or violent video games or something like that, which are only going to pollute our minds and hearts. So in that sort of thing, yeah, don’t put your attention on the negative, but if people are suffering, starving, being abused, mistreated in any way, then how is that going to be solved unless some well-meaning people put their attention on it and try to do something about it?

James: Right, I think you’ve got it there. There are very deep nuances in everything in all of these stories, but if you take, for example, a story that I often share because it’s so powerful, about a social healing dialogue that was convened, that I helped convene, and present was Gottfried Lief, a former Hitler youth, and Mary Rothschild, daughter of Holocaust survivors, and she asks him, she describes what happens to 23 members of her family, extended family, and she asked him for what he did in the story, and he said he was active Hitler youth, he wasn’t like Pope Benedict, who apparently was somehow connected to Hitler. He was old enough to punch up people and burn things and be nasty, and now we’re in the zone, you’ve been helping to clarify, around false positives, negatives, what negative you pay attention to, etc., and she says to him, she’s hunting, she says to him, “What if you had been ten years older? Would you have taken my family and put them in the gas chambers?” Wow, what a question, and you can do that in a dialogical environment of social healing. You can get to the heart of the matter, and he paused for a long time, and then he said, “I just don’t know.” We were so caught up in it, and Mary said that was the moment, one of the most important moments in her life, because she heard truth being spoken by the liars, by the representatives of, former representatives of Nazism or whatever, and she heard the voice of truth speaking through saying, “I could have been a mass murderer. See how far we can take this conversation?”

Rick: Yeah, and you and I could have been boys in Nazi Germany or soldiers in Nazi Germany and have fallen into the same mindset that was predominant and that we probably would not have had a choice to opt out of, so it’s good not to get too self-righteous.

James: Yes, well, if I could just share from my early life to try to bring in this developmental aspect. First of all, I’m conceived days before my sister dies, and my mother, when she is in the mourning process, discovers that she is carrying me, and so I am conceived in mourning. So my experience, and we know from contemporary science, health science, that a lot happens in utero. So I’m in the utero of a woman whose mourning, and yet there’s new life coming.

Rick: And she died suddenly and unexpectedly, so it was a real shock to her.

James: Right, and 11-year-old girl. So that sets the whole story for me. That’s there’s the bitter and the sweet right in the womb. I am coming into this world sort of born out of the bittersweet, and yet there is something in it that also tells me, because I’m born after this. I’m born into my mother’s love, and so I can go through these hell stories, because I know it’s not the end of the story. There’s something else that carries me forward. But where I want to take you to, when we were talking, when you said you and I, so as a young boy I had a fervent mystical path. For people who really bang on the Catholic Church, I say, “Wait a minute, it has a mystical training for children that you really need to value.” I mean, having Christ enter your body and feel the mystical union of being told God himself is in this process, whether you believe that or not. As a child, I went through my own story with it, you have a communion with communion. It’s a beautiful process. So I told my parents I wanted to become a priest, and they said, “At ages 10 and and went to a remote Catholic seminary. And again, it was unbelievably rich for me. The days of silence were days, as I think we should really recognize, childhood spirituality can be much more potent than it’s often portrayed. But things unraveled, and I would just say that part of the unraveling was a kind of psycho-spiritual crisis that I had from early one morning vomiting up the communion host. And here, you know, with all the seminarians standing around me in the entrance to the church, you know, we’re looking at the floor at these white particles of vomit that I had just vomited up. What was that? What kind of mystical crisis was that? You were rejecting the body of Christ there. Right, exactly. And then the priests, you know, ushering all the seminarians out and huddling, conferring with the rector of, you know, how do we deal with this? And I heard whispered to me and then said to me, whispered and then said to me, and this was an unpremeditated sacrilege. And I was like, wow, I had to investigate the whole process. But where I want to take you is my struggle with that and the crisis that developed. I should have written to my parents and said, I’m, I need to leave. You know, things are unraveling and it’s not right for me anymore. But probably the sin of pride, probably that. Other factors too. But I went into this incredibly interesting criminal process whereby I studied how to steal the money from the bursar’s office, leave in the middle of the night, take a plane to Ireland. I mean, my family had already moved to England. And when you said, you know, each of us could have been in the hinter youth, I get it because there was some perfection in this criminality and the execution of this that maybe I got rid of it at age 13 and I didn’t have to become a criminal in this life. But each of us I think have capacities whether or not they get fulfilled in that way.

Rick: Yeah, it’s something ironic about the fact that they were so shocked about your vomiting up the wafer, you know, because I mean if you think about it, everything we eat usually comes out the other end, so I don’t see how that is any, you know, less shocking than occasionally having it come out the end it came in, but perhaps they don’t follow everything through to its logical conclusion in a Catholic Church.

James: But what happened to me was, again, being thrown out of the garden. I mean, after I my family brought me back to London, there was this incredible grayness. I mean London can, the suburbs of London can be gray and foggy, but there was a spiritual grayness. I was thrown out. I no longer had those spiritual days of retreat where my soul really wanted to go, and that I was responsible for casting myself out. And so, again, in my development, there is this intensification process that’s beginning to work its way up through adolescence, which is very interesting, of communion from early childhood, you know, deep spiritual contact, loss, self-rebuke, and longing, then the beginning of a deeper longing. What have I done in my life to lose the impulse that was so rich for me? And what happened, which I think it was meant to happen, I don’t know how you feel about those kind of things in life, but I started getting, channeling that energy into activism, into work on behalf of the poor and senior citizens, and it was both related because it was compassionate, but it was also the beginning, then, of my learning as an activist. And I got a Teenager of the Year Award for my activism, and got a lot of prominence, as by this time, a 16-year-old in the media for things I would say. And the minister responsible for social welfare wrote to me and said, “You know, it seems as if you have a serious critique of our treatment of senior citizens. Would you kindly come and discuss it with us? I’d love to meet you.” And I wrote back, and with that viciousness that can be in the activist, in which I said, “You know what you have to do, and when you do it, we can meet.” And that sort of refusal of dialogue is acceptable in an adolescent, but my goodness, there is a long way to travel as an activist until you get to the point that happens later in my life, where you’re about healing, where you’re about dialogue, where you’re about reconciliation, where you’re about forgiveness, where you’re about bringing the parts together and believe that the intergenerational transmission of wounds can be dealt with. That’s a marker, isn’t it, of a learning trajectory.

Rick: Yeah, I wonder how much, well, let’s see how you answer this question. To what extent do you think that learning trajectory resulted from ordinary maturation that we all go through, regardless of what we experience, or, you know, was it a result more of the sort of various trials and tribulations you went through as an activist, which taught you humility and sort of imbued you with greater wisdom?

James: I think every step of the way.

Rick: Or mat be both.

James: Right, I think both. You know what I said earlier about on the mystical path, every step of the way, that’s what, when I look at my own life, every step of the way seems given, and I can celebrate that now. I can celebrate and say openly on a call like this, “I was a thief.” You know, “Look at me, look at where I came from. I could have been a really good thief.” But I learned something in the process, and my heart learned something by being crushed. I would say by tasting the bitterness of loss. I thought I had lost my God. I thought I had, you know, there was a really deep sense. I never completely felt I had lost God or lost the mystical, but enough to then vitalize the energy. And then as you progress, you see how each phase helps, you know, both on the mystical path and the activist path, refine. And when I had my next sort of really significant mystical experience, I would like to share if that’s okay.

Rick: Yeah, before I do that, I just want to comment on what you just said about each phase helping. We were talking a little while ago about, you know, God creating creation, as it were, to experience all of his powers or qualities or something like that. And as you were saying that, I was thinking, you know, show me a place in which God doesn’t permeate and which actually is anything other than God, you know, from the tiniest to the largest aspects of creation. It’s all just sort of the divine playing or interacting within itself, and so you can’t sort of blame God for doing bad things to people because God is doing it to himself, so to speak. And I also was thinking that, you know, if there’s going to be a creation at all, it seems to me there have to be relative qualities. If there’s going to be diversity, that by definition means there is going to be, you know, hot, cold, fast, slow, big, small, pain, you know, happiness, and all the polarities that we can think of. And so how does that relate to what you’re… So in terms of what you were just…

James: We’re in a zone here, so I’d like to respond to that. We have to be so careful in this discourse because we have a theological, cosmological discourse, and we have an existential discourse, and there is never a moment when we are not invited to try to end the cruelty or the suffering. We cannot in any way say, “Well, it’s God’s experience, so that’s okay.”

Rick: I wasn’t implying that.

James: No, no, I didn’t say you were. I just was flagging it because that’s where things can get hairy, and people make a choice or a decision to go spiritual and religious and mystical or whatever and say, “It’s all inevitable anyway, because this is God’s self-discovery process.” And, you know, boy, do I like to invite people to really say, “Then let the God in you be powerful in manifesting the supremacy of compassion and the power to change and transform the world.” And that energy, as you know, is an energy that feeds my life because I have seen people rescued from the torture slab. I have seen the power of mobilizing consciousness and conscience and dramatically changing the story. So, we can say in this, my cosmological take on this is that it’s all related to evolutionary process. It’s all related to those impressions. I was a tiger. I was a vulture. I was, you know, I was a murderer. I was a thief. I, you know, in my lifetimes, as you know, Pythagoras had a mystical school and he was, we don’t know what they were, but he taught his students. He could remember back even prior to human lifetime. So, rather than being a force of autonomous evil, which believe you me, I’ve had to explore deeply in my life, is there autonomous evil? And that sense of evolutionary process that we gain all of these impulses, these instincts, and then there comes a moment, there comes a lifetime, like the lifetime you and I are having now, when we wake up sufficiently to begin to see that we are actually vast and we are our source, our basis is love and truth and compassion. I know this is a big conversation.

Rick: We have time. And I don’t want you to forget the story that you were about to tell, but just to carry on with the point you just made for a minute. So if everything has a sort of evolutionary purpose to it, if that’s God’s agenda, so to speak, then how do you respond to somebody who says, “Well, tell me how the Holocaust had an evolutionary value for those who suffered from it?” And I’ve heard people give rationale like, “Well, the Jews took on the karma of the world and made in making this sacrifice,” or “It was somehow instrumental in their personal spiritual evolution in the big picture,” and that can seem very glib for somebody who doesn’t kind of share that philosophical perspective. So how do you respond to such questions?

James: I go back to, I guess, my take on the evolutionary process, which is, as mirrored in my own life, it’s a developmental process. So what we are seeing in things like the Holocaust are developmental. They have nothing to do with God’s wanting it to be this way, but that I’m, for example, very influenced by spiral dynamics and looking at the evolutionary process of the social order through tribal affiliation and then empire and military and then true Scots. I’m sure in your conversations you’ve gone over spiral dynamics.

Rick: A little bit with Ken Wilber and some others, yeah.

James: And gone back, of course, to the master teacher of that. And what you see in that theory is that there is a positive and negative for each phase of our social development, of our evolutionary development as a species. That, can you take the red code, the warrior code, the phase where militarism dominates society. The positive of that is a great positive, is that there are beings who are willing to offer their life to protect the rest of the social order. And then the shadow of that is domination, is ethnocentrism, is power over and moving through that is very, very challenging. And so that’s how I see these genocidal periods, is moving through those social evolutionary phase changes. Then we can go down another road and talk more about those. But does that answer your question sufficiently?

Rick: Yeah, let’s leave it at that for now because there’s so many things we want to get to. And five or ten minutes ago you were about to tell us a story and I interrupted you.

James: I wanted to tell you a story of moving up in the refinement process in the mystical area and that was by 1977, so I’m now 26. I read Trungpa’s “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” and as you read in the book “The Conscious Activist” I read those riveting lines of Trungpa when he says, “Better for some that they not even enter the spiritual path in this lifetime.” That it will be so challenging. It’s like having your nerves raw and exposed to the universe. And there was something in that that said to me, “This is my guy. This is what I feel. I want to go through that burning off, that peeling away process to the truth.” Not that I’m a masochist, but of course it’s also very, very subtle. And our growth in the subtle, and I think we need to spend a little time talking about the subtle domain. I’ll tell you the story first because I think there’s a lot of confusion around the subtle domain.

Rick: Some people don’t even acknowledge its existence and yet consider themselves spiritual teachers. They say things like, “There’s only this,” and you try to discuss any kind of subtle domain with them and they think you’re just off in fantasy land.

James: So here’s the story of the beginning of my deeper refinement. This book says I can’t get to Tibet, but I can get to the Tibetan community in exile in Dharamsala. So I headed off to Dharamsala in Dharamsala were two separate towns. Now it’s all one big sprawl and it’s a Mecca for spiritual hunters. But it was during the monsoon period and I needed to buy an umbrella. So I went to the umbrella store and there was one very beautiful umbrella with a rainbow panel of colors on it. But it was expensive and I thought I’m only here for a short period studying at the Tibetan library. So I bought a cheap black umbrella and one day outside the Tibetan library, it’s all changed now, but there was a huge open patio and it started, the rain and thundergards started pouring. I got put my umbrella up and then ran to a lean-to where there were some monks and others. And in the middle of the patio was a sadhu sitting in the rain with the rain pouring over him. And I thought, oh my goodness, my little activist self, I need to go rescue him. I need to go take my umbrella. So I go over with my umbrella and I feel his silence. I feel the center of his being. He is not worried at all about any drops of rain. He is in another place. And it’s my first contact with that density or that subtlety of being that I backed away. And and like, okay, I rushed into this now, I need to move. And as I moved away, he lifted up his hand so gracefully. Like again, he seemed to be in contact with the inner and the outer. It was just fluid. He lifted his hand like, take my hand and lift me up. And I helped pick him up. We went to my little cell and he lay on the floor and then we went up to McLeod Gange for dinner. And I was somewhat radiated by his presence, as I mentioned. But we ordered lassi and the owner, the Tibetan owner, brought the lassi. And the sadhu said, sifted and said, “Take it away. It’s watered down. It’s really watered down. Take it away.” And I looked at the owner with embarrassment. I mean, we have to get into the subtlety here with that superiority. Like I’m paying for dinner. I’m so embarrassed by this guy’s behavior. And even when he brought the lassi back, I tried to kind of indicate to the owner, like, sorry. But the lassis that were brought back were thick and creamy. And when we walked down the hill back to my cell, he was going to go on down into Dharamsala. The Shaktipat moment came and he turned. And it’s a wonderful moment for a beginner. I considered myself, even though I’ve had some development, a beginner. One’s always a beginner, right? And he said, “Because I choose to live without a house over my head does not mean I do not appreciate true quality when it is given, when it is presented. Like time with you, my beloved James.” It was a combination of stabbing the heart and breaking it open. I saw there my shallowness, my arrogance, my superficiality. And it was given to me with love. It was pierced with love and a beautiful teaching. And I just want to finish the story by saying how the umbrella comes back in. The next day that I saw him, I gave him a bunch of money. I don’t know, I think I was feeling guilty or something. I go, “I’m just going to give you money. We’re going to eat. You’ll take the money and you’ll go get the food you need.” And the day before the last day in Dharamsala, I was out in the town and I saw him. We never connected, but he had taken the money and he had bought the big, expensive rainbow umbrella. And that was a teaching, both the opening and again the teaching of quality. Your quest, my friend, needs to be around quality. What is the deeper quality? It’s not about umbrellas. It’s not about anything like that, right? But a way the universe can teach you and deepen your process. And so you see at each phase we get this growth and deepening. And we may at some point get to Turkey where it really breaks open and then later where it really comes together.

Rick: Before we go to Turkey I’ll tell you a story. This is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s guru who was Swami Brahmananda Saraswati who became Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath, who lived most of his life in the jungles and you know as a sadhu. He eventually became Shankaracharya and one time he was traveling on a train and he was in the first-class compartment and someone came up to him and said, “You’re a Swami, you know, you should be living a simple humble life. What are you doing in first-class?” And he answered, “I’m a first-class Swami.” That’s great. Kind of like the colorful umbrella. Yeah, so there’s all kinds of things I want to talk to you about and we’ll interweave those with the stories you tell. For instance, I want to at some point I want to talk to you about the deeper meaning of forgiveness.

James: Let’s do it.

Rick: You want to do it right now?

James: Whenever you’re ready.

Rick: We’ll get to Turkey and all that other stuff too. You don’t want to leave those things out.

James: By the way, this is wonderful because in Ireland we weave a conversation. Yeah. It’s not linear.

Rick: Right. Yeah, well about forgiveness, you know, I mean I was thinking about this as I was thinking about our interview and I was remembering some examples of like for instance about a decade ago some guy shot up an Amish schoolhouse and killed a bunch of children and immediately the Amish people, you know, I think he was killed or perhaps killed himself, but the Amish people went and baked pies for his widow and you know just forgave him and all this stuff. Or like, you know, a couple years ago when Dylann Roof shot those people in the church in Charleston and you know immediately the surviving church members were expressing forgiveness for Dylann Roof and so on. And I wonder when I hear that kind of story, you know, are they really forgiving or is it just sort of the way their spiritual tradition works that you’re just supposed to say that and you know how could they so instantly feel forgiveness and what effect is that having on Dylann Roof? Does it humble him? Does it shame him? Does it make him realize that perhaps he didn’t do such a good thing? And so you’ve encountered so many experiences in your life where people who’ve been severely affronted by others, such as the people who were hacked by machetes in Rwanda, turned around and forgave their murderers, their attackers. And so how have you come to understand the deeper significance and mechanics of forgiveness?

James: Somebody wrote to me a little while ago and asked about a man in prison and how to do the forgiveness with them. I said do it in a way that makes it real and valid for you. Don’t, because there are books out there that say the only way is total unconditional forgiveness. Don’t fall into that trap because it’s about two. It’s about the process between you and the other. And so make it real. In dialogue, you know, at one point with Father Michael Lapsley, who was the ANC pastor who had a religious magazine that blew up in his face and he lost his hands and he lost sight in one eye. And he is in one of the dialogues we’re convening with a young man from Northern Ireland who had a rubber bullet pointed at his face and he was an 11 year old boy and he was blinded. And they’re talking about forgiveness. And the boy says, “I believe in unconditional forgiveness.” And Michael Lapsley says, “Well, I believe in forgiveness. I created an institute for the healing of memories. But I have a good idea who sent me that letter, Bob. But they’ve never come to me. They’ve never asked for forgiveness. So how am I supposed to forgive them?” He said, “It’s like somebody who steals your bicycle and comes riding on the bicycle and says, you know, ‘Forgive me’ and then they go off on your bicycle. Doesn’t make sense. It’s got to be real.” And the Irishman said, “Sure, I would have put a pretty little bell on the bicycle for them.” He said, “Because I gained so much from my blindness. I became an international voice. My destiny was revealed to me through this process.” And, you know, Everett Worthington for many years taught forgiveness to couples. And then he came home and his mother was found beaten to death with a baseball bat. And he talks about releasing the toxic poison of unforgiveness. That are you going to live your whole life as a subject to this travesty? And in the end they win not only the victim, but they win you. And, you know, so you see that from total unconditional to make it real and give apology, to release the toxin that’s poisoning you because if you don’t forgive you’re going to be in a very wounded state. And finally, to the example of Albie Sachs in South Africa, again had a bomb, a blow off, an arm and an eye. And during the truth and reconciliation process, he was also in prison and tortured. His torturer admitted before the commission, that was part of the reconciliation process, if you went up and you spoke the truth, truth reconciliation, the truth could help literally set you free. And he told the torturer, the torturer told the committee how he had tortured Albie Sachs. And after his testimony, Albie went up to him, his right hand was blown off, but with his left hand he shook his hand. And the torturer, it is said, Albie Hurd, went away and cried convulsively for two weeks. And Albie Sachs said, in forgiving him I had my vengeance, my vengeance, he called it soft vengeance. And you know, he could, he said I got more out of that, that he cried when I offered him forgiveness, than that he be put in jail and punished. And that opens up the arena then of the larger emerging restorative justice movement, which again says, it may not be just as simple as some, and they do, you’ve probably seen their books, some people say, unconditional forgiveness, it may not be the way, the unconditional, I don’t want to deprive anybody of unconditional forgiveness, but as you can see I’m trying to paint the larger framework in which make me forgiveness meaningful. And the restorative justice process says, how are you going to atone? How are you going to show that your life has been changed? Now that’s a restorative justice process, was there in Rwanda, it was not simply a matter of forgiving those who had machete’d you. In the gacaca process, you know, the perpetrator is brought before the community and is asked to speak the truth, and if they speak the truth, that’s heading in the right direction. If they are really want to atone, and they agree to atone, then the forgiveness process, well now I need some help with my house being built, and I need some farming help. So there’s the rejoining of the community, it is not done in abstraction or without these other elements that come together.

Rick: So perhaps in conclusion we might say that whether or not the perpetrator knows he has been forgiven by the victim, if he does it may have a transformative effect on him as with the case in South Africa, but even if he doesn’t, forgiveness if it can go deep enough, frees the victim from carrying a burden all his life. You know, it liberates him and cultures his heart and so on. Would that be a fair synopsis?

James: Yes. And then just that other element of the restorative justice process of bringing the community together.

Rick: Yeah, there’s certainly some situations in the world that could use that.

James: It’s really on the rise, restorative justice in schools and in some countries it’s much more prevalent.

Rick: Somebody sent me a documentary of this group of Israelis and Palestinians who are kind of reaching across and connecting with one another and creating a fairly sizable and growing bubble of harmony in that tractable situation.

James: The bereaved families form, that’s what you’re referring to.

Rick: I’m not sure if that was it.

James: People who on either side have had experienced violence come together and deepen this reconciliation.

Rick: Yeah. Well, tell us another story. I think you were going to tell us about Turkey, but I’m not sure. Whatever you would like to say next.

James: Well, I want to say that just before Turkey, in terms of the activist developmental process, of really going, you know, in a place like Amnesty and seeing the power of mobilization. But what led me to Amnesty was working in Beirut during the war with the Middle East Council of Churches and being there during the Sabra-Shatila massacre, where children were found murdered under their beds.

Rick: By who? Who murdered them?

James: Well, the Israelis invaded West Beirut, then they encircled the Palestinian camps, then they allowed in the phalangist right-wing Lebanese militias who wanted to expunge – they were ethnocentric, hatred-filled people – expunge all the Palestinians from Lebanon. So the Israelis, the whole Kahan Commission dealt with this crime and Israel’s role in it. They allowed in the phalangists who murdered the whole families. And I won’t go into the whole story in depth, as there’s not much to cover, but some weeks after that I went to another Palestinian camp and it had been bombed to the ground. When you think of camps, by the way, you think of bricks and mortar, established since 1948. And the whole camp was blown, it was just rubble, and in the middle of the rubble black flags mourning all the women and children who had been killed. And it was particularly deep betrayal because the Israelis had agreed to the PLO leaving Beirut, so all the men, young fighters, had left Beirut and then they massacred the women and children. And in the middle of this rubble was a man who was calling to me and some of the medical doctors I was with, and we went over. I thought he was going to show us the body or something, and then he said, “I’d like to make you coffee.” And I couldn’t believe it. Like he had a calorie gas stove, a little… At first we said no, and then it was clear for his dignity he needed to do that. And so he apologized, the cups were broken and cracked, but with incredible dignity. He had come from Jaffa, now called Haifa, and he made the Arabic coffee. And at that point, Rick, I was at the lowest point. I really felt humanity was evil, that things were lost. The world was too dark for me. I said to God in my prayers, “I cannot live in a world this cruel, this dark, this difficult.” And then slowly as I watched this man, I had an epiphany, which resulted in my ending up in Amnesty International. Because I saw in this man the indestructible, inviolable nature of the human spirit. I saw that no bombs could blow apart this dignity. Like here in the rubble after the massacres, after the war, after all of this, I was allowed to see the human being rising. He didn’t say a word of hatred about Israel. He talked about the beauty of Jaffa and the orange trees. And that’s when I saw it’s possible, because at our core we have an indestructible spirit. We’re spiritual beings having a human experience. And out of that I was able to crawl out of the darkness and desperate cruelty and start to work, mobilize action and do that incredible work that organizations like Amnesty do. Pulling people off the torture slabs, saving lives, alerting the world to how to help the world become a better world. And really mobilizing young people and people of conscience everywhere and linking that rather old-fashioned word conscience with consciousness. But before I went to Amnesty, I had my final experience in Turkey where I lived and taught. I was, if you read the book, I was night and had all those experiences. But there was a period, and I suspect for many of us, there is a period in our spiritual development where it gets very concentrated. And I feel that this was really the place where my spiritual mystical life was anchored, was really deepened to a very powerful extent. And it was meeting with different spiritual masters. One was Sufi master in antique bookstore Sheikh Musa Farah, and the great, great being. After that meeting, Hassan Shushud, author of a book called “Masters of Wisdom in Central Asia.” And what happened with Sheikh Musa Farah was I spent this time and there was deep transmission, but he did not initiate me into his Sufi mystical path. And this is why I’m telling the story this way. But through his energy, I believe, and his grace, I was, and magical synchronicities, I was led to this other master who was the most protein. I mean, he could change his body. He changed his body in front of me. I had never, ever seen him in this kind of cities before. What way did he change it? He was a little old man who told me on the phone, “I’m too old and I don’t take students anymore.” But then he said, “But there’s something in your voice that tells me we’re going to meet.” And quite balding and small and petite. And then at a certain point in the conversation, he moved towards me because he was going to give me the transmission of the zikr or the prayer practice and the instructions. And as he moved towards me, I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. It was extraordinary. He started to change. His face started to change. I was, and as he stood, actually sat close beside me, there was a young Mongolian, Central Asian or Tibetan face. It was that part of the world. It was young. It was luminous. And he started to give me the instruction. The breathing process. And when the whole instruction was complete, he sort of pulled back. And there was that little old man. And I went into the most intense period. He had given me the breathing experience. He said, “Fast, do night vigils. Pray, do your zikr fast, night vigils.” And that’s all I could do. I mean, I did day work, but I lived for several months at this intensity of as much night vigiling as I could do, fasting as much, doing this breathing and zikr. And at that time, and I thought this was complete, I thought I found my spiritual master. And I am so grateful that after all the journey of these years, I was now about 32, that, you know, I had been given the grace of a master away. And this young man, who was a spiritual colleague, said, “I want you to meet my teacher. He’s almost your age, a little older than you.” And at first I put him off, saying no. And then I sort of agreed to go. And I could feel the intuition on the day of the meeting. You know, Mehrababa says, “Intuition, inspiration, illumination, realization, that’s the path.” And so the intuition clicked in. I am going to meet a great master. And I bought honey and herbs, a sort of traditional gift. Well, the herbs were more inspired, but in Turkey you often give the master something like honey, as you do in other traditions. And he was in the back of a pots and pans store. And this meeting totally transformed me again and became the new anchor and probably the lasting anchor of my spiritual journey. And as I approached him in the back of his pots and pans store, he said, “He brings herbs and honey to the Baptist in the desert.” And I sat down and he said, without any interruption, “When Jesus Christ was on the cross, he asked, he spoke to his mother and the beloved disciple.” And the beloved was John. And he said to his mother, “Woman, this is your son.” And to the beloved disciple, he said, “Son, this is your mother.” He said to me, “Could you tell me why?” He said, “Woman,” to his mother, “and son,” to his disciple. I said some words, but he said, “Well, try this hypothesis. At this moment, Jesus is entering the cosmos, becoming the cosmic Christ. He is leaving all of those filial relationships with his mother, and so on. But this is the woman who has been his mother, and he wants her to be taken care of. So he says, “Woman, this is your son.” And when he says, “Son,” to John, he is at that moment where he pours the fire of his love, the unconditional fire of his love, into the only heart that could bear the unbearable intensity of this earthly fire of Jesus. And you can imagine, even in telling this story, the Shakti that’s in the room at this point. I’m feeling the Shakti. And he said, “So James O’Dea, the reason you are here is that the game is up, that there is no religion, there is no formula, there are no set of practices for you. There is no way but to hunt that fire. You, my friend, are a hunter of that fire, and you will keep hunting.” And at the next meeting he said, “Stop praying, stop fasting, don’t make yourself a saint.” He said, “For six months, completely abstain from any kind of spirituality, don’t even think about God, don’t ever get on your knees, and let the page be emptied out.” Very Zen in some way, so that you can be written on. He said, “At the moment your book is too full, and it’s got a lot of different chapters, so empty it out.” And he said, “After six months it will be clear.” Six months after I did that practice with him, I started with Amnesty International. So I don’t know if you have any commentary or reflection.

Rick: Well I do have something. I don’t know if this is the man you were just alluding to, but there’s an excerpt from your book where you say, “The bishop lifted his head with measured deliberateness as if about to speak. He threw a glance at me that ruptured forever the membrane of the separate self. Gold threads poured from his eyes into mine. The threads were finely braided. They entered through the portal of the eyes and gathered in a pool in the center of my chest. I had witnessed the divine in a human being.” Was that the same man you were just referring to?

James: It was at the same time. The same time, yeah. He wasn’t a Sufi master, he was a Suriyani Syrian Orthodox bishop. I won’t go into the whole story, but what I learned from reading Meher Baba’s book, who’s my central teacher at the moment, just about two months ago, is that that transmission through the eyes is a particular transmission that is given to someone who has reached what he refers to as the sixth level of initiation or consciousness. So the zero to first is the gross level. Levels two, three, and four are the subtle levels. We said we’d get to the subtle, so maybe here it’s coming. The fourth level is the end of relationship to any form of energy or subtle energy. And the fifth, sixth, and seventh levels are the causal level or the mental level and the different aspects of the mental levels. And if you get that, he said, even you might discover that the seating has been arranged so you’re given this eye transmission. And in the book, I didn’t know this at all, but I talk about the seating, but in an interesting way, I am the dinner between four people and I am sitting opposite, made to sit opposite the bishop. And this initiation, in Sufism, it would be called a wali, someone who has reached the sixth level, the pure mental consciousness, no relationship to subtle energy at all, but causal of all that happens in the subtle planes. And that’s where I, and at the sixth and seventh level, Meher baba says, you can see the divine. It’s not that you have merged with the divine, that comes later, that you see the divine. And that experience, Rick, was something that was a profound mystery to me for many years. It was feeling like I had been, I had seen the divine, these golden threads had come through his eyes, and I had experienced Shakti as never before, but beyond Shakti, beginning to see the edges of the edges, of beginning to see the divine face. And that is something that feeds me and will feed me all my life.

Rick: I was a student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for many years, and he talked about stages of consciousness also, as Meher baba does and others, and he referred to a stage after self-realization actually, which he referred to as cosmic consciousness, but stage after that as being the blossoming of celestial perception. And he said it’s as if prior to self realization we have foggy glasses on, which is like in the Bible, seeing through a glass darkly, and then with cosmic consciousness the windows of perception have been cleaned, so the glasses are clear, but then through the growth of deeper appreciation and refinement comes a phase where it’s like having golden glasses on. And everything, yeah, and as you know, I presume, I haven’t reached this stage, but I presume as your day-to-day appreciation or perception of the celestial field, which is a very subtle field of the world that we all perceive, but ordinarily we’re stuck on the gross level of perception, but beneath that gross level are strata of greater and greater subtlety, and the most refined level is one which we might call celestial, and the perception of that would be one of sort of a golden glow characterizing or shining through all the objects of perception.

James: Beautiful, that’s wonderful, thank you. I agree, and since we both agree that there is something about the subtle level that I think is really important. If I may say, you know, we mentioned earlier Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo says in this conversation around mysticism and activism that you don’t worry in the beginning about the path of service or activism. Serve others, be compassionate, but focus on going through those subtle planes and then bringing down the supramental into the world. So it’s a very powerful story for anyone interested in spiritual activism to explore Sri Aurobindo. It’s not exactly the path of taking, I’m taking more a simultaneous switching between the two, and eventually we get to the merging, but I think that bringing down is so important, whether it’s going up or bringing down, to acknowledge where you are and what you’re learning and what you’re receiving and where you’re growing in relationship to the subtle path. I mean, I love that expression by Mozart when he went to see the emperor and he said to the emperor, “Your imperial majesty, I am a vulgar man, but my music isn’t.” And another one, he says, “From whence this music comes, I do not know, but I thank the good lord.” It is Mozart, and what Mozart obviously does not realize or is trying to articulate is the subtle, the beginning of the subtle plane. In Sufism, in many paths, as you were saying, there’s a movement from the gross to the subtle, and the spiritual path is the entrance to the subtle. You had as your guest a dear friend of mine a while back, Kabir Helminski, and his society is called the threshold society, the threshold between sharia and tariqa, between the world of logic, order, reason, even intellectual prowess, they’re all in the gross level. And then the subtle level is where the music really takes off, where the cities begin, and where as we go through the illusion, they’re still part of the illusion, but they’re the entrance to the illusion that draws deeper into the story of going ascending, but also I believe and feel passionate about is the bringing of those powers into the world. After all, this story about illusion can get very illusion or not illusion kind of, and you have the illusion of his horrific behavior in the world, and massacres and things like this, and you have as the illusion Mozart’s music. Which do you want? To bring a contact with the subtle powers into the world so that we can transform. And this is where it gets very exciting, where I think it does, the story does come together. And we’ve meandered through parts of it in my life, but when health and healing start to say it’s all about the subtle, you go to the doctor and the doctor says, “Do you meditate? Do you meditate?” I mean, 20 years ago a doctor wouldn’t have asked you that, because are you empathic? Do you serve other people? Are you bringing down those subtler states into your body? You know, Sri Aurobindo said the supramental has to be taken into the cellular level. So we have a story where they’re in science and health and education that really can bring these worlds together. I mean, look at science. Science is exploring the subtle realm like nobody’s business, and begins to tell us that what we thought was the vacuum is now the plenum. You know, the subtler it gets, the more powerful it gets. Same metaphor, same analogy with spirituality. The subtler and more refined it gets, the more powerful it gets. So, yeah.

Rick: There are several things I’d like to say in response to that, but before I do, I just want to remind those who are watching the live interview that if you have a question you’d like to have me ask of James, go to the upcoming interviews page on batgap.com, and there’s a form at the bottom of that page through which you can submit your question. So a couple things you just said about, I just want to comment on, have you comment back, but one is about what Aurobindo said about the supermental being brought into the cellular, which brings to mind the thought that what we’re talking about here, in addition to its other aspects, is a physiological transformation. You know, the whole physiology has to be restructured in a way, in subtle ways, in order for it to be a fit vehicle for what we’re talking about here, and that goes right down to the cellular level and to things which are understood in Eastern traditions, you know, as energy paths, nadis, shushumna, kundalini, all that business has its relevance. And another thing is I think that something that is clearly associated with this growth of subtlety is growth of the heart. You can’t really imagine a hard-hearted person having sort of refined subtle perception. There’s a kind of a melting of the heart and a blossoming of deeper values of the heart that correlates with being able to function, perceive and act on a subtler level. I have more to add, but would you like to react to that?

James: Absolutely. That sense that we understand more fields and fields around the body, and so when the heart shifts deeper into empathy and love, the field of the body, the electromagnetic field of the body changes, the vibrational tone, the limbic resonance in a group. So you have the subtle and the physical affecting the psychological and emotional and the cellular level of the body. In these social healing dialogues and in deep dialogue, dialogue does not mean with two. It comes from the word “dhya,” which means “through,” and “logos,” “higher mind.” So “dhya logos,” “through higher mind.” How do you get to a space of such communion with people that they can really leave the platform of the rational, sequential, linear mind, go into that higher state where they are experiencing through listening fields and so on, this communion with each other? It’s physiological. We know that the electromagnetic field around the body is holographic, fascinating, and that it extends outward. Certain fields can be measured to a certain degree, but they extend quite far. So now you and I non-locally have created a field together, and the hologram of the electromagnetic field becomes the hologram of the two. So we change the fields of rooms, we change the body’s field, we change all of that electric… The heart has 5,000 times the electrical strength of the brain. The more neural ganglia going from the heart to the brain and the other way around. So the heart plays a central role in helping create these resonant fields where massive, deep, psycho-spiritual work can be done in healing ourselves and the planet and ending the transmission of our woundedness. So thank you.

Rick: Now there’s two things I want to talk to you about. One is complexity and simplicity, which I think relates to the topic of subtlety that we’ve just been discussing. But now you brought up the topic of fields, and that’s another thing. So I’m not sure which one we want to do first, but maybe we should take a crack at fields since you were just mentioning it, and then we’ll come back to the topic of complexity and simplicity. With regard to fields, I think we’ve all heard the phrase that consciousness is a field, the field of consciousness. We’ve heard of that term used in physics, there are fields such as the electromagnetic field, the gravitational field, and so on. Some physicists like to speak of a unified field which may underlie all fields and give rise to them, and some physicists go so far as to equate the unified field with consciousness. There’s a fellow named John Hagelin whom I’ve interviewed who wrote a whole paper about that. But also I think humans are rooted in and influence various degrees and levels and circumferences of fields. For instance, in a family there’s a sort of a group consciousness in that family which you could think of as a field that is contributed to by all of its members and which influences all of its members. And the same with the community, you know, state and nation, the whole world. And just as in, let’s say, you know, the atmosphere of a cloud, enough static electricity accumulates in that field to result in a sort of an imbalance between positive and negative forces and lightning strikes in order to neutralize it. I think that there can be a building up of tensions of negativity and so on in all these other types of fields I just mentioned, family, national, global and so on. And often when we see an outbreak of strife in a family or war among nations and so on, it’s kind of like the lightning effect of neutralizing the accumulated tension or stress or negativity in that field. But in the same vein, we can do something which Patanjali recommends in the Yoga Sutras, which is avert the danger which has not yet come by neutralizing the tension that is built up in the field through meditation, various spiritual practices, and thereby perhaps circumventing the inevitability of a gross physical outbreak. In other words, we can tone it down, we can neutralize or diminish the tension that has grown in the field. I’ve actually participated in groups in Iran and places like that, that were attempting to do this. But anyway, that’s enough of me talking. Go ahead and respond to what I just said.

James: Yes, yes, yes. I love, I believe, the Maharishi effect that has been tested in various places. There’s evidence of this, that the violence level can be brought down, the field can be softened. Lynn MacTaggart’s work on the field, the intention experiments that she does, the work she did on Sri Lanka on a large scale. She’s done one that she will soon have the results on, in terms of softening the field in Cleveland, bringing down the violence in Cleveland, U.S. So how the fields are interpenetrated, I do not know. We know that the important thing, one important thing, is the non-locality dimension of fields, that they are not dependent on spatial time relations the same way that material reality is.

Rick: Sure, we see that when we turn on the radio, you know. I mean, it’s just we’re seeing that the electromagnetic field is carrying a signal from perhaps 100 miles away and playing it on our radio. So there’s a, and we can’t see that field, but the radio can see it, so to speak, and transmit the influence that’s being propagated through that field and turn it into music.

James: Yes, so we have this non-locality and we have memory. We know that electrons that meet and spin together seem to potentiate back when that spin is recalled. So just think of all of your journey through spinning electrons that have spun through you and your family and others and the interfoliation, interconnectivity, interpenetration that creates the resonance where we get synchronicities and we get extraordinary things that happen. I encourage people to read the book if they’re interested in a major event that happened to me in Belenus.

Rick: Oh, I want you to tell that story, actually. You can tell it now if you want or we can come back to it, whichever you prefer.

James: I’ll tell it quickly. I was on my way to a spiritual heart of service meeting in Kalamazoo when I got to Chicago. They canceled it because of snow. I came back, took the day off work and went out to Belenus. And here from the get-go you begin to see massive levels of field connectivity. I’ve also written about this in an essay that is coming out in a book by Irvin Laszlo early next year on spiritual insight and scientific insight. I was going to meditate at the Commonweal Institute above in the above the plateau above Salinas, but I went into the town, got out of my car and this house seemed to dance at me, just seemed to like call. I went over and this inner voice said, “Go inside and introduce yourself.” And my feet took me running in the other direction and my rational mind said, “You joking? You get arrested for that? I mean, what are you going to say?” And then there it is again, Mehrababa’s formula, intuition first. Stopped strong intuition for whatever reasons beyond the rational mind. It was the right thing to do. I went in the gate up the path. The door of the house was a glass door. I knocked on the door. There were three women sitting on couch and sofa and as one woman came towards the door she screamed out, “It’s Jim O’Tee!” And when she opened the door she said, “What are you doing here?” And my jaw would not work. I could not speak. I was in distress like, “What is going on?” And she said, “You’ve missed the meeting. Everybody’s left. I’m totally confused.” What evolves or what unfolds is that I had known everybody who had been at a meeting in that house. They were the leaders of the human rights movement in the United States. They had come together because another friend, Larry Cox, at Ford had said, “We’ll give you a million dollars to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights if you work together.” They had discussed that and they had all left. And I was very angry inside. I was disoriented. This is the time when the higher powers really got me because I said to them in my inner voice while sitting with these women, “No, you are not pulling me back to Amnesty International and the human rights movement. You know, I gave you my best. I really did and I have another path to follow.” And I got up and I said to the woman, “It’s been fascinating. I don’t know how all this happened, but I’m going up to meditate.” And this young woman, Christy Rodelius Palmer, I mean how could you forget a name like that, from the Minnesota Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, said, “Just before you go, I have a question for you. What is the relationship between spirituality and human rights?” And it was as if I was pulled back into the room. It was as if this was the question that I really wanted. And I spoke about healing and bringing spirit and action together, all of these things that I’ve now been doing since that day. And that was a pivotal day in my life. And then I left and went away. So what was happening in terms of the field? There was clearly, since I had been together with many of those people in the house, we had had field experiences before. Remember what I said? Field is non- local and has memory. So not enough to kind of take shape in my consciousness, where I got out of my car and I could say, “Oh yes, there are some people,” but enough to jolt the subconscious mind with like something I remember. What was it? There’s a connection here, and a very passionate and deep connection with people I had worked with and gone through intense experiences. In other words, intensified that field potential. What we have to know about fields is their potentiation that get actualized when there is an observer, when there is an actualizing, potentiating circumstance. And here it was, me with a quest, they with their vibration, the field that they created. But it gets fascinating to look at the layers of consciousness, that out of this meeting, we won’t go into too many details, the Fetzer Institute funded a meeting and I was allowed to invite anybody I wanted on spirituality and human rights. Very shortly there afterwards I started these social healing dialogues, looking at the perpetrator as wounded and how do they heal. Much different place than amnesty, which has to stay in a more binary, who’s right, who’s wrong relationship. So you could look at linking me into the fields of health and healing, by then becoming president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. And it’s fields within fields that got activated by my missing a meeting on the spiritual heart of service, but in some ways bringing me to the spiritual heart of service.

Rick: Another thing about fields is that they’re not just homogenous, amorphous things, they are full of dynamism and impulses of intelligence. You were referring earlier to David Bohm talking about how in, I think it’s said that in a cubic centimeter of empty space there’s more energy inherent than there is in the entire manifest universe, at the subtlest level, at the level of the vacuum state. But there is also obviously, or not so obviously, inherent in this sort of most fundamental field, all the impulses of intelligence that give rise to the whole universe. Otherwise, where does all this creativity come from? And part of what we were discussing about subtlety and subtle perception is that when that really dawns in a person’s experience, they discover that a world of beings inhabit this subtle realm, which are every bit as real as you and I, they just don’t have gross bodies, they only have subtle bodies. And those beings, from the accounts of people I’ve spoken with who perceive them routinely, are constantly engaged in interacting with us in various ways. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, you know, whatever these beings may be, if you were, if many of the intuitions we have are actually promptings from them. So, you know, the desire to go up to Balinas, the desire, you know, that voice in your head that said go back to this house, could be this little angel on your shoulder saying, “James, this is what you’re supposed to do,” because they have a kind of a broader vision of the whole course of events and interconnectedness of everything than we do, and can guide us if we’re open to that guidance.

James: Yes, I fully agree with that, in that sense, that in the earlier parts of the subtle realms, you know, these beings are very much identifiable as beings themselves, just as you so clearly said, without bodies.

Rick: Without gross bodies. They still have subtle bodies.

James: Right,

Rick: Right.

James: But are interconnected in a more conscious, facile way than we are. You know, we are interconnected. We know we’re interconnected. We’re finding ways to, in systems thinking and in our communal development, acknowledge that interdependence. But if we could lift the veil, we would see how vast that interconnection and interpenetration of realities is. And it goes back to bringing these realms together, that thought that they need to be there in potential form, that need to be actualized. So a willing heart, an open heart, a meditative state, is not about somatic relaxation and taking it easy and having a nice time. It is to be receptive, not passive. To be receptive vehicles of these subtle powers radiating through that really can be an enormous resource in the evolution of humanity. And that leads us to the tantalizing question of, are we a new species in development? When Meher Baba and Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo and many others say a new humanity will emerge, a new humanity that experiences love, that knows love, not as any form of forcing or coercion, but as the force, as the state that can spontaneously connect being to being, that we will illuminate as a species, you know. It’s certainly very tantalizing. I think the universe is deeply structured to hint there’s so much more to come and there’s so much and the story gets so much better, which is, again, when we started with my story of the bittersweet in my childhood, that sense in me of this is not the end of the story. Whether we have a sociopathic president or whether we have, you know, terrible crises in different parts of the world and cruel leaders in politics, this is not the end of the story, I think.

Rick: Yeah, and that’s no trivial comment coming from someone who has seen far more than most of us ever will see of horror and terrible things. I mean, did you find that some of your associates in amnesty just became bitter and disillusioned and discouraged and even suicidal seeing all they saw? I mean, are you kind of rare in terms of coming through that whole process with a optimistic outlook?

James: I would say burnout rather than bitterness. You know, every day you deal with torture, murder, mayhem and you’re trying to alleviate it. At some point it takes a toll. And I think living in the polarity takes a toll. It was a deep healing moment for me when I began to see that you can talk about impunity and that topic is very big in the human rights movement. More human rights laws, get those responsible, stop impunity. But it doesn’t feed me as much as the perpetrator is wounded. Where did that wound come from? How did the perpetrator get so wounded that they would do these things? So the paradigm moves from right and wrong, which we need morally. You know, in non-duality we still have right and wrong, right? We still have torture is bad. We don’t want to do that. But moving from right and wrong to who’s hurt and how can they heal is a big element in my own transformation. And that brought together to me the worlds of spirituality and action. Once you talk about healing, the root of the word “heal” is to make whole, to make whole again. We can be whole. As I said earlier, you know, the heart is not healthy if it’s made to be a partisan of the part. The heart is an organ of wholeness. It says in the Quran, “universes cannot contain me, but I am contained in the heart of my beloved servant.” In other words, the heart of my beloved servant is wider and bigger than the universe.

Rick: It’s beautiful. As perhaps a final topic, I want to talk to you a little bit about complexity, and it’ll be clear in a moment why I want to do that. Here’s some quotes from your book. You said, “If you really tried to obtain a comprehensive analysis of every problem before you decided to act, you would end up being paralyzed. There is actually no end to the analysis of how things got to be the way they are.” I’m reminded of a verse in the Gita which says that the complexity of karma is beyond the capability of human intellect, can’t be grasped. Then you go on, “How can we change the world when it is so entangled in complexity?” Again, a quote from the Gita, there’s this verse that says, “For many branched and endlessly diverse are the intellects of the irresolute, but the resolute intellect is one-pointed.” So take a field of knowledge, for instance. If you study chemistry or statistics or any field that is studied in a college, you discover as you learn that the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. It’s as if the ignorance increases faster than the knowledge does as you study. You realize that you could not possibly incorporate all knowledge within your awareness because it’s just too vast and complex and you have to specialize more and more and more specifically, more precisely, as you advance in your learning. But the saints and sages talk about what they might call the simplest form of awareness, that which is the home of all knowledge, that which from which all the branches of knowledge spring and to which they ultimately ultimately merge. Kind of like the way the spokes of a wheel, you know, they seem real complex if you’re out on one of the spokes, but if you get back to the hub you see that all the spokes emerge from that hub. So the reason I’m saying all this, well, here’s a bit more, I’ll read a bit more from you before letting you respond. You said, “Take away this noisy and opinionated mind and you create a vacuum into which the energy of the universe will flow in an orderly and coherent way. Rather than setting out to fix things, we need to cooperate with a masterfully creative universe by getting out of its way. When we switch from ego to witness, we become so much more receptive to the creative agency of a universe ready to help us transform, and it is in that state of receptivity that epiphanies occur and synchronicities abound.” So the reason I wanted to set the stage with that is that as an activist, as a, you know, head of amnesty in Washington and so on, you must have often felt frustrated by the political complexities and, you know, cultural complexities and clashes that, you know, seems so intractable, so hard to sort out. And it seems to me that if we could function from a simpler form of awareness, that ground state of awareness from which the universe itself emerges, and if enough of us could do that, then the sort of simplicity of our consciousness and the cooperation with the universe, which you mentioned in the quote I just read, which would result from that simplicity, would sort of spread through the collective consciousness, and all these problems which seem too impossible to solve on their own level, hopelessly impossible, hopelessly complex, would somehow begin to diminish. Perhaps we’d actually find specific solutions, or perhaps we’d find a problem which seemed intractable. We woke up one morning and it was no longer there, or it seemed a lot simpler than it seemed the night before. So, kind of in my own course of life, you know, when I was back in the late 60s, early 70s, and everyone was protesting and all, and I had learned to meditate, I was thinking, “Well, that’s fine for them, but I think I’m going to try to take as my approach consciousness and explore that, and hopefully my exploration of that will enable me to contribute to the world in a way which will bring about peace from a more fundamental level.” Which is not for a moment to diminish what you’ve done, because I completely honor it, and I think it’s essential, and I feel a little ashamed that, you know, sometimes that I didn’t take a more active course. But I think what you’ve gotten to in your life and your understanding is that a marrying of the two is in order, and that one without the other, development of consciousness without compassionate action in the world, or vice versa, is just not going to make it. It’s like you can’t really walk without two legs, and those are the two legs. So please comment on all that, and it kind of relates to what you said a minute ago about your optimism, that a better time is coming. I think a better time is coming because of that sort of more full-bodied approach of spirituality and then the translation of that spiritual development into compassionate action.

James: Well, I first have to acknowledge you as a teacher here, because that was a beautiful riff that you just gave.

Rick: I get inspired every now and then.

James: Thank you. Now, I think you said a lot. There isn’t a lot to add. There is that contemplation that Thomas Merton has that trying to solve every problem, the kind of frenetic part of the activist, is a form of violence. It’s a form of violence to the self, trying to run at every problem in the world and think that you can just throw more energy at it and be the savior, is really violent in its core.

Rick: Oh, and there’s also that quote attributed to Einstein about trying to solve problems from the level of consciousness at which they were created, is not going to work.

James: Right. That complexity is hugely terrifying to me, because I’ve experienced it. I experienced it in the Iraq war and having testifying in Congress about how brutal Saddam Hussein was and then have the administration get up and say, “We don’t acknowledge a pattern of gross human rights violations in Iraq.” And then three months later say he was the butcher of Baghdad and we needed to stop a force like that. There’s existential crises that are created by the level of complexity, and it’s only gotten deeper. But as you so eloquently said, and I think it’s true, that there is a way to bring it down. I think that in the second tier of consciousness of the spiral dynamics, there is this feeling now that in the final tier of the final level of the first tier, the green level, that the millennials and others are exhausted with the complexity. There is so much complexity. There is good will. We want to save the planet. We want to do good things. We want human rights. But it’s all gotten so complex. How do we get out of it? And so the path forward is a leap. It’s that new humanity theme. It’s a leap to the next tier of consciousness that says there are solutions. We have to organize out of a global framework. It up pops this word “glocal.” I don’t know if you’ve ever Heard.

Rick: “Global” and “Local” combined.

James: Right. That you live locally. You build community. You build sustainability at its roots. Part of the reason I came to a place like Crestone that is spiritually conscious, building community, ecologically focused, that you try to enact in simple, verifiable ways with your neighbors, in your community, what you want for the world. So that that second tier of consciousness says you have to be world conscious. You have to have global systemic things. But they have to be based on inner values, on being the change that you seek in the world. Maybe that’s a good kind of synthesis. If you become the change, if you are the change you seek in the world, it does bring that complexity down to “I know what I can do to be a part of it all.” And somehow those resonances make it real. I know we’re finishing up, but as I said, I did want to end with…

Rick: Before you do that, I just want to tag one comment onto what you just said, which is that I think if we can become one with that intelligence which governs the universe, to which we’ve been alluding, and function from that field as an agent of that field, as an instrument of the Divine, then our actions will kind of incorporate or embody the intelligence of that field. Even if we don’t completely comprehend, I don’t think we can begin to comprehend the vastness of that intelligence, but without our even knowing it, our influences will sort of reflect the evolutionary value of Divine intelligence. “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.” We’ll be an instrument of that peace, quite spontaneously, even unwittingly.

James: Amen. Yeah.

Rick: Okay, let’s hear your invocation.

James: So, one of the things that’s really fun for me is that I’ve been collaborating. I think collaboration is not a thing we dealt with in a major way, but it’s one we would definitely agree is part of the new paradigm. It’s dialogue and collaboration are going to lead us forward. I’ve been collaborating with an artist who’s deeply inspired by Sri Aurobindo, who’s majorly immersed in Sri Aurobindo. Her name is Marika Popovic, and she paints paintings about consciousness and states of consciousness in the Akashic field and all of these elements. Brilliant, brilliant paintings. And I sit with the paintings and then write invocations from them. I don’t write descriptions of the paintings. I go to, if you like, the same source that she painted from and paint my words. So, I wanted to close out with an honoring and celebration of that work. And that work, by the way, has now been picked up by dancers. The famous choreographer of Martha Grain has done a dance performance interpreting the paintings and the poetic invocation. So, it’s again collaboration within collaboration. The title of the painting and the invocation is “The Eternal Instant,” which is a quote from Sri Aurobindo. “The eternal instant is the birth of years,” I believe is the full quote. “The eternal Instant”. The universe has a center and you are standing in it.” They burned Giordano Bruno to death for this idea. The center is everywhere. Everywhere you go in the universe you are in the center. The same could be true for time. There is no moment which is on the periphery. No moment which is not harvested by eternity. Not a single heartbeat has a solitary domain but is pulsed by all life and belongs to all families of being. Come here then. Stand here. Even here where Giordano stood as his body was torched by ignorant hatred. He stood wide open to immortal truth knowing that time’s masks of past and future melt in the fire of the eternal instant. Stand here in the burning center of your own imagination and see the infinite rhythms, brilliant flourishes and subtle dimensions of time’s masterful illusion all orchestrated for you to come alive, for you to offer your own gift to eternity, to sharpen the convergence of every instant of your existence where inner and outer conjoin to vivify body and soul and dissolve every grasping achievement of minutes, days and years until all that is left is the luminous essence of your true self, glowing, forever glowing, with the freshness of a new dawn and a new day to rise up and greet your immortal destiny. Thank you so much for the time with you.

Rick: Oh, thank you.

James: You are such a brilliant listener. You create such a deep field of resonance. It’s really been wonderful to spend time.

Rick: Well, it’s been an honor spending time with you and preparing for this interview. I’ve just, I feel blessed, you know, and it just has been a very profound experience for me, just having this conversation with you, so I’m really grateful.

James: Thank you.

Rick: Thank you.