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 nearly 700 of them now. 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 whole enterprise is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website and also a page suggesting alternatives to PayPal. If you feel like it, subscribe to the YouTube channel and like the video. Those things trigger YouTube’s algorithm and cause it to bring this content to more people who would be interested in it. And one other thing is that I’ve discovered just the… I’ve been on this campaign for a couple of years now to get all the interviews transcribed, and it’s made a lot of progress. It’s got a long way to go. But a couple of things have happened recently. One is I started using some software created by the people who create ChatGPT, and it’s extremely accurate. So I’ve run all the interviews through that software, but they still need a little tweaking. So I’m kind of looking for volunteers to help proofread them. And I also discovered just this week that if a person is registered as a non-English speaker, they’re given an option to translate, to have subtitles of something they’re watching, translated into their language. And so it’s important to have accurate subtitles in English so the translation can be more accurate. So that’s an added justification for my motivation to do this. So if you happen to be speaking a non-English language and trying to watch this, look at your menus. There should be an option for translating it into your language. They translate into over a hundred languages now. Anyway, my guest today is Jeff Carrera. I’ve known of Jeff for a long, long time. He used to be one involved in a magazine I used to subscribe to, called “What is Enlightenment?” And he’ll tell us more about that perhaps. But he is now a meditation teacher. He’s written many books. He’s something of a mystical philosopher and author, and he works with a growing number of people throughout the world. He offers retreats and courses guiding individuals in a form of meditation he refers to as the art of conscious contentment. I find that phrase interesting. I want to talk with him about that. And through this simple and effective technique, he’s led thousands of people in a journey beyond the confines of fear and self-concern into the expansive, liberated awareness that is our true home. You can tell I’m reading his bio. I didn’t just make that up. As a philosopher, Jeff is interested in defining a new way of being in the world that will move us from our current paradigm of separation and isolation into an emerging paradigm of unity and wholeness. In his books and lectures, he explores revolutionary ideas in the domains of spirituality, consciousness, and human development. He creates courses and programs that encourage people to question their most foundational experience of reality until previously held assumptions fall away, leaving space for a dramatically new understanding to emerge. Jeff is passionate about the potential ideas have to shape how we perceive reality and how we live together. His enthusiasm for learning is infectious. He’s taught at colleges and universities throughout the world. And as I mentioned, he’s the author of numerous books, including American Awakening, Philosophy is Not a Luxury, The Soul of a New Self, Paradigm Shifting, The Art of Conscious Contentment, and one which I just read called The Path of Spiritual Breakthrough, which is somewhat autobiographical account of his own spiritual experiences over the years and his interpretation of them. So, welcome Jeff.
Jeff: Well, thank you very much, Rick. And first of all, thank you for having me. And second of all, I just want to congratulate you for having such a successful podcast over all these years. As you said, I’ve been aware of you, I’m sure as long as you’ve been aware of me. And it’s great to know that the podcast is still thriving and still bringing new ideas to the public forum. So, congratulations on your longevity with the podcast.
Rick: Thanks. Well, you know, like we’re following Joseph Campbell’s advice and just following our bliss. It’s not work, right? And, you know, it’s just fun and it has a good effect on the world. So, it’s wonderful to be serving in such a capacity.
Jeff: It’s fantastic. I love that. I love the idea of following your bliss.
Rick: Yeah, which can actually get us right into the name of your meditation technique, Conscious Contentment. Because as I told you before we started, I used to be a TM teacher. And one of the fundamental principles of that practice was that the mind has a natural tendency to seek a field of greater happiness. And that, therefore, meditation shouldn’t involve effort because if the mind is encountering greater happiness, it’ll move effortlessly in the direction of what it’s encountering. And our innermost nature is supposed to be blissful. So, therefore, we shouldn’t have to force the mind to move in the direction of bliss. Is there anything similar in the kind of meditation you’re teaching?
Jeff: I think so. I mean, you know, in terms of effort and effortlessness, I find that a fascinating question. And I believe it’s exactly true what you’re saying. That in theory, meditation shouldn’t require any effort because it’s really just resting in the truth of who we already are. And yet what I like to explain to people is many years ago, I smoked cigarettes. And technically, not smoking should be effortless because you’re just not doing it. But because of the emotional habit, I found it quite difficult to quit. Even though technically it’s easier not to drive to the gas station, not to buy a pack of cigarettes, not to open it, not to light it, not to smoke it. It’s easier to just sit on my couch and not do that. Emotionally, it took effort to withstand the temptation that I had built up over habit. And I think our minds also have habits of defining things and seeing things as problems that we may need to make effort to counteract. Even though in the end, what you find is the big realization at the end of meditation is the realization that what you are fundamentally is kind of happy and free.
Rick: There’s a verse in the Vedas somewhere that says, “Be easy to us with gentle effort.” And you know, there’s a neurophysiological basis to what you just described. I mean, you had nicotine addiction. It wasn’t just an emotional, mental thing. And of course, whatever our addictions – and everybody’s addicted to something, to some degree, it’s not just a mental thing. It’s also rooted in our nervous system, both gross and subtle. We’ve all heard the term samskaras. They’re sort of deep impressions in the system that condition us to behave in certain ways.
Jeff: Yes, absolutely. And I guess for me, in terms of meditation, my own big breakthrough in meditation came when I realized that I could be content even if my mind wasn’t. So even if my mind was experiencing frustration or boredom or all the kinds of things I tend not to like, I can be content with the fact that my mind occasionally feels these things.
Rick: Because you’re that Beatles song, “It’s only me, but not my mind, that is confusing things.”
Jeff: That’s right, exactly. And when I experienced that in meditation, I just thought, “Oh my god, everybody needs to know this.” This is the secret key ingredient to a depth of happiness, which is a little misleading because I’m not talking about a feeling. It’s not like you feel happy all the time, but you discover that you are content.
Rick: Yeah. Now let’s drill into that. Let’s spend some time on that. So obviously you’re distinguishing between you and your mind because you say you can be content, but your mind isn’t. So elaborate on that bit a little bit.
Jeff: Well, I think we’re all very deeply identified with our minds.
Rick: And what is the mind? Define the mind.
Jeff: So by the mind, I mean the content of thought and feeling. So we’re identified with being the one who’s thinking our thoughts and feeling our feelings. In my experience, at least, in the deep realization of meditation, I became clear that I’m the awareness that’s aware of all the thoughts and feelings. And I’m not necessarily the one thinking them. They are emerging out of – I don’t know exactly what – they’re emerging out of mental habits. They’re mental habits that as the human being encounters circumstance, the mind generates thought and feeling. And I like to say the mind isn’t your enemy. It’s really trying to help. It’s giving you the best thoughts and feelings it has. It’s saying, “Hey, look, try these. They might help.” But, of course, it just does the best it can based on past experience. And especially if new circumstances don’t exactly match past experience, it’s not really able to give you helpful patterns to follow. So that patterning is what I see as the mind, and you are the awareness of that.
Rick: And by past experiences, I think you and I could both extend that back lifetimes. It’s not just what happened in this life. But who knows how much baggage we carry in terms of those deep impressions.
Jeff: Yes, I would completely agree. The Eastern word “karma” fits nicely because the karmic momentum which unfolds through your mind includes your personal experience from this lifetime. It also includes cultural baggage that you adopted, not just through your lifetime, but through all of human history. And who knows how many other lifetimes or cultures you’ve encountered in your soul’s existence.
Rick: Yeah, and then there’s environmental influences, you know, other people’s thoughts, other people’s influences that are impinging upon ours, which we may take for our own.
Rick: There’s so many things, but using that word “samskaras” again, it’s said that we have a storehouse of impressions that is quite vast and loaded with who knows how many deep impressions that condition us and influence us.
Jeff: Right, absolutely. And I would completely concur with that idea.
Rick: So when we say “contentment”, obviously most people seek it outwardly, you know, they want a more comfortable life, they want a better job, they want a happy marriage or relationship, they want to have fun, all the things we do to find contentment. And you are kind of implying that contentment is possible irrespective of outer circumstances.
Jeff: Yes, I think that’s true. And it gets tricky because the contentment that I’m talking about in terms of the art of conscious contentment is probably closer to acceptance. Except, I don’t like to say acceptance because that could be just like, “All right, I accept”, like it could be a sort of resigned to accept something. It’s not that either. But it means, the way that I understand it, or my understanding is that at the very bottom of your existence, there is a contentment with the fact of being alive. And the fact that negative things happen in life don’t have to touch that foundational contentment of being alive. And I can give you an example from my life that I think illustrates this. There was a time about 10 years ago where my wife… I got a phone call to find out that my wife had been in a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler.
Jeff: And, yeah, exactly. And unfortunately, when they tell you that, they then can’t tell you anything else. They just tell you that and say, “Come to the hospital.” And you say, “Well, how is she?” I can’t tell you that over the phone. So I was like, “Oh, that’s horrible.” So I was panicked. I was literally shaking. I couldn’t drive. So I got a friend of mine who lived next door to drive me to the hospital. It was about a 20-minute drive. And on the way, my mind was generating images and thoughts, essentially worst-case scenarios of what I was going to find when I got there because I literally had no idea. And I was completely panicked. And in the middle of this ride, a question arose in my mind. And I feel like this little bit of space is what meditation can give you. So the question said, “If the worst has happened and my wife is either no longer alive or maimed in some horrible way, is life bad?” And instantly I knew, “No, life isn’t bad. Life is just as good as it ever was.” My life might be bad, but my life is a very small piece of life. And life itself – the miracle and privilege of existence – will be just as good, even if my life is bad, even if I have to deal with things. But what that did for me is that my mind was still panicking, my body was still shaking. But inside, I started to feel like, “Okay, here I am. This is happening. I’m about to arrive at the hospital. I don’t know what I’m going to find. But I want to arrive in the most helpful way possible for everybody. I want to get there. I want to be helpful to my wife, regardless of what state she’s in. I want to be helpful to the doctors and nurses who are trying to help her. I just want to be available to help as my best self.” I like to say that I think one of the great benefits of meditation is, it allows us to show up as our best self in all circumstances. Because we have this sense that, “Okay, life is much bigger than me. And this existence is a miracle. And I have to deal with something that really could be horrible.” By the way, my wife – she was in pretty bad shape, but she’s much better now. It all had a good ending.
Rick: Yeah. And when I hear you say that, I interpret the word “life” as meaning not just biological life, but the foundation of everything, the essence of everything, which you have a picture of Ramana Maharshi over your head, which we understand to be, in our kind of orientation, we understand to be pure consciousness, pure awareness. We could attribute divine qualities to it — God, pure intelligence, all-pervading intelligence, that sort of thing. And as it says in numerous scriptural verses in all traditions, many traditions, that is indestructible, unperturbable.
Rick: You know. And there will be a time when the earth will become a molten blob, when the sun becomes a red giant. That won’t be disturbed, that foundational. And that’s what we are, you and I, and essentially what we are. So, “None can accomplish the destruction of this immutable being,” the Gita says. So, I think that’s what you’re alluding to, and that’s not just a philosophical attitude. I mean, you do enough spiritual practice, and that becomes a living reality for you.
Jeff: Absolutely. And yes, you’re totally right. You could call it existence. I tend to like to call it the source or the divine.
Rick: Yeah, source is good. All good words.
Jeff: You can use all different words. They all have their shortcomings, because there is no word that can contain the reality of it. But some words are better than others, for sure. But yes, and you’re right, that with enough practice, it actually becomes a living reality. And your life rests in a sense of completion, of wholeness, that doesn’t change, even though circumstances may be very very difficult.
Rick: Yeah, and you don’t intellectualize yourself into it, either. I mean, a few years ago, I was playing pickleball with some friends, and I tripped over something and fell flat on my face, and smashed my nose, and blood was coming down. But as I hit the pavement, there was just this bright, clear, silent awareness, and the face hitting the pavement. And it almost like that zoomed to the foreground as the event happened. Whereas ordinarily, if you’re going about your daily life, it might not be so noticeable, but when there’s an extreme contrast, sometimes it kind of becomes more evident.
Jeff: Yes, and isn’t that interesting? I mean, there’s a lot of similarity between that and the story of me going to the hospital. That in the extreme circumstance of falling on the ground or driving to the hospital to see what happened to your wife, it’s like the absolute – there’s another word we could use to talk about it – it’s like the absolute shows up for you. And it says, “Okay, I’m still here.”
Jeff: And you’re like, “Okay, good. Then everything’s going to be okay.”
Rick: Yeah. I actually played a few games of pickleball after that. People kept handing me Kleenexes and things.
Jeff: Oh my god.
Rick: Yeah, so, contentment. So, to go back to your original statement, one can be contented even though the mind might still be discontented.
Jeff: Right, right. And I like to say that one of the essential understandings of meditation, at least from my point of view – and we could talk about it in terms of contentment or we could talk about it in terms of freedom, both words are words I use – but I say you really have to understand the difference between feeling content and being content. Because feeling content means that you’re dependent on the arising of some kind of emotional experience of contentment. And like I like to say, it’s not hard to be content when you feel content. Pretty much anybody can do that. What is more a sign of the depth of your practice is when you can be content even when you feel discontent. That’s when you start to see in a person a kind of equilibrium. They’re able to ride the inevitable waves of being human gracefully.
Rick: I think there are degrees of challenge to that.
Rick: I mean, one is you’re hungry, okay. Another is you are seriously injured, okay. Can you rise to that challenge? Another is you’re being crucified. I mean, to what extent can you deal with stuff and yet retain that inner contentment?
Jeff: Yeah, well that story I tell of my… of going to… traveling to the hospital to see my wife… At this point in my life, I would say that’s the limit to which I’ve been tested. You know, I mean, I’ve been tested in lots of other ways, but I feel like that was probably the limit. Like, I don’t know what would happen beyond that.
Jeff: And like I think Ram Dass said at one point, you know, death is the ultimate test. How am I going to pass through that transition? And I guess none of us really knows until we get there.
Rick: There are stories about Ramana and Sri Ramakrishna dying of cancer and apparently suffering. There was one about Ramakrishna where, you know, he was moaning and groaning and some guy came to him and… I don’t know how the story went exactly, but everyone else thought he was suffering. And the guy said, “But sir, I see you are in bliss.” And Ramakrishna said, “Ah, the rascal has found me out.”
Jeff: That’s a great story. I don’t think I’ve heard that one.
Rick: And there was a similar thing with Ramana, you know, where he was seemingly suffering, but not. Which is not to say his body wasn’t suffering.
Jeff: Right, exactly. But for great saints like that, the degree to which they know themselves to be the awareness that is aware is so high that, yeah, it would make sense to me that they wouldn’t necessarily be moved at certain depths, even by the physical body’s expression of pain.
Rick: Yeah. But, you know, even on the cross, Jesus said, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” So, perhaps for a bit he did get overshadowed or, you know, despaired for a moment. So, it’s a bit speculative what we’re saying here, but the principle you’re establishing is that there’s a source of contentment that we can establish in our experience that won’t be disrupted by outer events.
Jeff: Yes. And that there isn’t… you know, and this is not, obviously, this is not anything new. This is old news, but, and it’s found its way into popular culture in many ways, you know, the idea of seeking happiness within versus without. I just think it’s more profound than maybe some of the popular expressions of it point to. But the interesting thing about conscious contentment is the attainment of that kind of contentment, to whatever degree, can become the foundation just for a beautiful life on earth. It’s also the foundation for a profound spiritual life, if that’s someone’s calling. But I find that it works for pretty much anybody. I sometimes teach meditation in the context of stress reduction and just living a happier life. I teach more or less the same thing in terms of creating the foundation for deeper spiritual exploration. Because it is, to me at least, kind of the necessary foundation for both, just life on earth and spiritual life.
Rick: Yeah. So, a related theme – and we’re not necessarily done with this one, but we’ll keep going at it – is that… well, here’s a quote from your book. You said, “Seeking ends when you decide you are done seeking.” And so, I want to probe that a little bit. If I’m thirsty, I seek water. If I’m hungry, I seek food. If I’m freezing cold, I seek warmth. Everyone does. But you’re referring to spiritual seeking, and I can’t just decide I’m not hungry, or decide I’m not thirsty, or decide I’m not cold. I have to remedy the situation in some way. So, how would you contrast that with the spiritual situation?
Jeff: Well, this is very fascinating, but it relates to something you said just a few minutes ago, which is this happiness that we’re looking for, this contentment, this peace. It already exists. It already is the foundation of who we are. We may have all kinds of habitual ways of seeing ourselves as not that, but in the end, we always were. And so, it’s a very fascinating — to me, at least, it’s very fascinating. My experience of coming to the end of seeking happened on a retreat, and I was a very earnest seeker. But earlier, we spoke about effort and effortlessness, and I was saying, “There’s a kind of effort you need to make.” And you mentioned, I think, a quote about the gentleness of the effort which is well said, because you can’t force this kind of spiritual awakening. It’s a different kind of effort required. But I, being an earnest seeker, I started every retreat like I was the star of a race. I was waiting for that first bell to ring, and I was going to meditate so hard I was going to enlighten myself, which is kind of hysterical to think about, but it was true. But after about 18 or 19 years of doing retreats, 10-day retreats every year, sometimes twice a year, weekend retreats, I mean, so much practice, I was at a retreat, and I was ready to go, “just ring that bell”. The bell rang, and I just realized I didn’t have the energy. And my initial thought was, “Oh, no. I’ve lost my spiritual drive.” But my second thought was, “No, I don’t have the energy because I have realized that I don’t need this.” I was always meditating to have what I thought would be big enough to enlighten me. And what I realized in that moment is that I know…
Rick: Say that again, because you had a little glitch in your audio.
Rick: You were always meditating to “haaaah” and hung up there.
Jeff: Okay, so I was always meditating to have an experience big enough…
Rick: Have an experience big enough?
Jeff: And I kept having big experiences, but then they apparently weren’t big enough. But this time, I just realized I don’t need any more experience because I already know the Absolute exists, and I don’t have any doubt about it. I don’t need to be convinced. And something just let go, and I still love to practice, and did after that time, but I wasn’t needing it in the same way. I didn’t feel like I was incomplete without it.
Rick: Yeah. You’re probably aware of Ramana’s comment that experiences which come and go are not the reality because the reality doesn’t come and go.
Jeff: That’s right.
Rick: Remember that story of Papaji? He went to see Ramana, and he said he had been cavorting with Krishna or something, and Ramana said, “Is he here now?” [laughter] That was kind of a wake-up call for him. But, you know, could you have had that realization 10, 20 years earlier, or did you have to go through all you went through before you could reach that point?
Jeff: This is a fascinating question. One of the things that I personally realized from this experience was from an absolute theoretical point of view, I could have dropped it at any time. But, from a more practical point of view, it seems I needed that much practice in order to come to the place where I had enough faith to let go. In other words, in theory, I could have let go at the beginning, but I didn’t have the faith. I didn’t trust the absolute enough to let go. I still felt like I needed more, and it took a long time. I always say I was kind of a special-needs spiritual seeker, because it took 18 years to accumulate enough experience to finally be able to say, “Okay, I get it. You exist. I don’t have to do anything else.”
Rick: Yeah, but accumulate enough experience also means undergo a lot of neuro-physiological transformation. It might be more than a matter of faith. It might be a matter of burning through a lot of those samskaras we talked about earlier and getting to a point where your mind-body system is actually capable of sustaining.
Rick: “Santosh” is the Sanskrit word for contentment. Sustaining that contentment. And you couldn’t go up to a psychotic or schizophrenic or deeply, chronically depressed person and say, “Just be content. Make that decision now.” Because they’ve really got to undergo a process before they could reach that ability.
Jeff: Yeah, I would say that is definitely true. It’s all very subtle and tricky, because there is a certain way in which, theoretically, I think anybody could let go at any time. And there do seem to be rare cases of people letting go that you wouldn’t think shouldn’t be able to or wouldn’t be able to. And yet, it does also appear that for the vast majority of us, a lot of work needs to happen before it’s both possible to let go and possible to sustain what’s discovered in the letting go.
Rick: Yeah. Have you heard that Zen saying that enlightenment may be an accident, but spiritual practice makes you accident-prone?
Jeff: Absolutely, yes. Very much.
Rick: So, you know, when somebody like Papaji says, “Give up the search,” I think, “What does he actually mean there?” I think that statement has done more harm than good, because, I mean, you said in your book, if you’re seeking, if you’re inclined to seek, seek. But you may reach a point, and you also say that the end of seeking doesn’t mean the end of growing and learning. I think it just means the end of that sort of annoying, empty, desperate kind of angst, because enough contentment has bubbled up that, “Ah, I can relax now, but whoa, am I finished? No way!”
Jeff: Yes, absolutely. I think that’s very true. And I think those of us who share, like meditation, in the end, we always share based on our own experience. And in the end, I believe we serve best people who are similar to ourselves, who are spiritually similar to ourselves. So, in my case, as I said, I was very earnest, and I had a lot of faith in my ability to enlighten myself through effort. And so, for me, the big breakthrough came when I actually realized, A) I couldn’t, and B) I didn’t need to.
Rick: Stop pulling on your bootstraps.
Jeff: Right, exactly. I exhausted myself. And so, I tend to emphasize the letting go in meditation. And what I find is the people who tend to be attracted to that message and attracted to work with me are people who often have been meditating for a long time, but are maybe in a kind of effortful relationship to it that isn’t yielding the results that they’re hoping for. And somehow, hearing the emphasis on letting go helps them release a little bit the effortful energy that they’ve been built up as a habit.
Rick: Yeah, I was kind of fortunate in a way, because the way I was taught to meditate originally, if you were exerting any effort whatsoever, you were doing it wrong.
Rick: That natural tendency of the mind I mentioned in the beginning was the key to it. And I discovered recently that this was not unique to TM or anything, it’s a tradition going back hundreds, maybe thousands of years, in the Shankaracharya order, especially the monks of northern India. They had this method of meditating where they had a mantra, but it was a very gentle sort of repetition of it with no effort or control or concentration whatsoever. And Maharishi just kind of marketed it and systematized it. But anyway, he always was quite emphatic that control or concentration was really not an efficient way of going about allowing the mind to settle down into a state of contentment or bliss.
Jeff: And I guess the way that I think about that, which I think is quite congruent to at least some of the things I’ve read from Ramana, is I think what most people, what is often commonly thought of as meditation is really the work that it takes to get to the point where you start meditating.
Rick: Like put your ass in the chair and close your eyes.
Jeff: Yeah, and develop concentration, focus, you know, whatever it is that you need. Because to me, once real meditation starts, real meditation is just letting everything be as it is. It’s not trying to do that. It’s not like the art of conscious contentment isn’t trying to be content or working to be content. It’s just resting in contentment. Done.
Rick: Yeah, I remember Eckhart Tolle telling a story about some Persian saint or something who got enlightened from watching a cat looking at a mouse hole – you know, just kind of staring at the mouse hole, waiting for the mouse to come. And somehow that seems relevant to me, because the cat isn’t concentrating effortfully, it’s just riveted on the mouse hole because that’s where the attraction is, and it’s just kind of spontaneously focused without forcing itself. It’s not tempted to be distracted by something else because the mouse hole is so alluring.
Jeff: That’s beautiful, yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense. And I like to make that distinction, and I think that it really relates to what you’re saying, that meditation really is an effortless event. But it may take us a lot of effort to get to the place where we are able to rest effortlessly that way.
Rick: Well, what if you don’t make an effort? What if you just sit, I mean, I don’t know how you teach it exactly, maybe you can explain it to us. What if you just sat down and closed your eyes, and next thing you know your mind is wandering? I mean, how do you teach? Can you convey some of how you actually instruct people?
Jeff: Sure, I’ll give you one of my favorite little instructions. I ask people, I say, “Okay, we’re going to meditate.” And in this instruction I use different instructions, different guidance. So this one I’m giving the guidance, “Don’t make a problem out of anything,” which essentially is the same thing. So I say, “When I say the meditation has begun, don’t make a problem out of anything, and then when I say it’s over, then you can make any problem you want, but in between you can’t.” And so I tell people to close their eyes, and I say, “The meditation has begun,” and then I say, “The meditation is over,” after about five seconds. And I say, “Did you have a problem?” And everybody says, “No.” And I say, “Great, now just do that for half an hour.” Exactly what you did in those five seconds, which is you didn’t make a problem out of anything. The challenge is – your mind’s going to do more stuff if you have half an hour, and the temptation to see it as somehow wrong or problematic is going to build, and it’ll be hard for you to not get caught in a loop. Now, what’s interesting is even if you get caught in a loop, that’s also not a problem. In other words, there is essentially nothing to do. So I will sometimes give the instruction, I’ll say, “Okay, in this meditation, we’re going to sit for whatever, 20 minutes, and besides sitting and being quiet, just do whatever you want. Do whatever you want inside”. It’s no different than not making a problem out of anything. And I always tell people that the experience they’re having during meditation is not the meditation. The meditation is being relaxed about whatever experience you happen to be having.
Rick: Now, don’t people say, “Okay, well, I just sat there and daydreamed for the last 20 minutes,” or, “I fell asleep,” or, “I was bored,” or, “What’s the point of this? How does this benefit me?”
Jeff: Right, that’s exactly what they say. And I say two things to that. One is, do it. Do exactly that every day for the next five years, and then let’s see where you get to just doing that. And second, I say, “Well, if you’re in meditation and you have some state of consciousness that you are defining as the meditative state that you’re preferring, and then you’re working to achieve that state, you’re not really letting everything be as it is. You’re not really relaxing. You’re trying to achieve something, which is kind of the way we always operate in the world.”
Rick: Yeah, that’s like trying to go to sleep or something. “Damn it, I’ve got to go to sleep. I’m really going to try harder.”
Jeff: Yes. Well, you know, I guess I think you and I probably both know meditation leads to depths of realization that you can’t draw a direct line from the instruction to the realization in the sense that… so for instance, you mentioned sleeping. Sleeping was my nemesis in meditation for years. I worked with a spiritual teacher, and I was always falling asleep in meditation. No matter how awake I was before meditation started, as soon as meditation started, my head would be bobbing. So eventually I was singled out as a sleeper, and we had to meditate. There were about five sleepers, and we had to meditate together in a small circle.
Rick: Did you sit without back support?
Jeff: Yes. Oh. Yeah, we sat cross-legged without back support. And then the idea was in our little circle, we meditated eyes open, and as soon as someone fell asleep, we slapped them on the leg. And we did this for about six months. Sometimes it was just slap after slap. It sounded like a crowd cheering. And I don’t think it really ever helped.
Jeff: It seemed like the more effort I was trying to make to stay awake, the more I was asleep.
Jeff: And I think you read about this in the book that you read, but my big breakthrough with sleep happened on a retreat when I was so sleepy one night. I was really tortured by exhaustion. It was late at night. I’d been meditating all day, and my eyes were burning, and I really was… I didn’t know how I was going to stay awake. And I was just forcing myself to, and suddenly I had this thought arise that said, “You’re not really sleeping. You’re not really tired.” And I don’t know what happened, but my awareness slipped back, and I realized, “Oh, I’m not tired. I’m perfectly awake looking at the inside of a tired body.” And from there, it was clear to me that I had never been tired, that I had always been this background awareness that is always perfectly awake, and that sometimes I was aware of a very tired body and concluded that I was tired. And I went through the next two nights completely awake through the process of falling asleep, process of deep sleep, through the arising and falling of dreams, back into deep sleep, back into the alarm waking up in the morning, my body fluttering to life, me walking to the meditation. I was some awareness from beyond the body that was seeing through the body, and it occurred to me that — and I never would have imagined that the effort that I was making to stay awake, which seemed to be part of what triggered this experience, I never knew that this would have been a possibility. The best I was hoping for was just sitting on my cushion awake and not falling asleep. So, the practice works in very mysterious ways. And like you said, it makes you accident-prone for certain accidents that you couldn’t make them happen if you tried.
Rick: Yeah. That phenomenon you referred to is very interesting. It’s sometimes referred to as “witnessing sleep,” and I actually have a file on my computer of quotes and references to it. There’s something from the Song of Solomon in the Bible that says, “I sleep, though my heart waketh.” And I have a friend, Harry Alto, who’s been on BatGap a few times who hasn’t slept in 60 years.
Jeff: Really? That’s amazing.
Rick: His body sleeps, but inner awareness has been crystal clear all that time. Interesting character. You’d like to meet him. And yeah, you were heroic. I mean, I’ve been on long meditation retreats and stuff, but boy, the way you did it from 4 in the morning till 10 at night, sitting without back support… God, that was like Olympic-level meditation. And fortunately or not, I had different instructions, which were, if you’re falling asleep, it’s because there’s some residual fatigue, so just lie down and take a nap. And then when you wake up, you’ll be fresh, and then just meditate in a refreshed state. I did that this morning. I was starting to nod, and I thought, I’ll just lay down, slept a little while, sat up, had a nice, clear meditation. So this whole thing of fighting the temptation to sleep wasn’t part of my background. Not that you want to indulge in it. That could be there, too. But the physiology is, the body is the temple of the soul. The temple of the soul has to be taken into account.
Rick: There’s verses in the Gita where it says that this yoga is not for him who sleeps too much or too little, who eats too much or too little, who is too active or too inactive. It’s kind of a middle-way, Buddhist-style way of living a balanced life.
Jeff: Absolutely. No, I think that’s really true. And I also feel, because my motive in my spiritual life, and even now as a teacher, my main motive is that I just find all this fascinating.
Jeff: I’m utterly fascinated by spiritual life and spiritual experience, and I try and promote that in people. So when people ask me about sleeping, first of all, I say, look, the instruction for meditation is don’t make a problem, so don’t make a problem out of that either. But I say, you know, if you want to do something fun, try and stay awake while you fall asleep in your meditation. See if you can maintain awareness through the process of falling asleep, because that’s way more interesting than just staying awake.
Rick: Yeah, there are actually techniques for that. I mean, one that I heard is, like, you’re lying there and you’re getting ready to fall asleep, just sort of gently, without trying to strain or do anything, see, even though your eyes are closed. Just allow you, as if you’re looking through your eyelids, just keep some kind of visual activity and see what happens. It might result in that witnessing sleep.
Jeff: I’m going to try that.
Rick: Yeah, try it. See what it does.
Jeff: I like that one. You know, my first… before I got formally involved in spiritual work, my entree to spiritual consciousness or something, whatever this is, was lucid dreaming. In my 20s, I was very interested in lucid dreaming. I was reading Carlos Castaneda and Stephen LaBerge, and I got, you know, pretty good at it. I could…
Rick: See your hands in front of you during your dream.
Jeff: Yeah, exactly, and wake up in a scene like this. If you and I were having a Zoom conversation, but it wasn’t you, it was my mother interviewing me, and then I’d think, “Oh, my mother wouldn’t be on this interview,” and then I’d realize it was a dream. Then I’d be like, “All right, I’m going to go somewhere else.” I just found that utterly fascinating, that your dream experience can be virtually identical to your waking experience.
Rick: Although usually a little bit more fluid and bizarre.
Jeff: Yeah, especially in retrospect. What’s interesting about, at least my experience of lucid dreaming, is in the dream, it doesn’t feel… Mostly I notice the bizarre parts later when I remember it. They seem more reasonable in the dream.
Rick: Yeah, yeah, you’re doing strange stuff, and it’s like, “Okay.”
Jeff: Like as if this happens all the time. Of course there’s zombies coming in the windows. They’re always coming in the windows.
Rick: Yeah. I share your enthusiasm, and even regarding sleep. I mean, when I go to bed at night, it’s like, “Oh, boy, this is an adventure,” you know, because it’s always either deeply restful or inner bliss or dreams which are fascinating. I wake up to go to the bathroom, and I’m just chuckling to myself because of the dream I just had. It’s just totally fun.
Jeff: That’s amazing. I actually have been thinking — I think you’re helping me right now. I’ve been thinking to reinvigorate my dream practice, keep a dream diet, because I haven’t done it for years. It’s been coming up again as something I really want to engage with.
Rick: Yeah, but you’re making a good general point, which is that… what you and I are talking about and what we’ve been doing with our lives and what a lot of the people who are listening to this have been doing with their lives is just such a great way to live. I mean, it’s just so fascinating and interesting to be pursuing all this stuff. And it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get enlightened next month or something. But it’s just so great to have your attention on this stuff compared to what most people put their attention on all the time.
Jeff: Yeah, I guess the attitude that I take is some people are drawn to this. Who knows why? I was, right? From a very early age, I was drawn to life. I mean, of course, I’m drawn to it. I see its merits, and I promote its merits. But I shy away from getting too into it being somehow better or superior to any other life. You know, lots of lives are good, and lots of lives are not good. And people living spiritual lives can live good spiritual lives, and they can still live a bad spiritual life. So there’s no guarantee. I just think, to me at least, the best reason to pursue this is because you just love it, and you’re fascinated by it. And you know, I’m in such an amazing position because I’m able to do what I love and what I literally did for decades without getting paid a penny. And at this point, I’m able to do it and, you know, make a living doing it so that I don’t have to have another job.
Rick: Yeah, me too. And this thing about – you made a good point, which is that spiritual people can become elitist and think that they’re better than others, and they can be actually really acting like jerks but think they’re superior. So you really got to watch out for that. And there are all kinds of people who aren’t interested in spirituality at all who are wonderful and who are doing incredible things for others. And, you know, very generous and kind and so on. So we got to be careful of spiritual elitism.
Jeff: Yes, absolutely. And I think I’ve enacted spiritual elitism at least at various periods in my life. So I try to shy away from it. You know, I just try – like you just said, you know, there are just amazing people in this world. And some of them are spiritual, some of them aren’t. Some of them are spiritual in ways that I wouldn’t necessarily recognize as spiritual until I get to know them. And then you find out, oh, yeah, they have a deep – there’s a deep purposefulness and meaning behind what they do.
Rick: Yeah, I remember my teacher saying one time, you know, don’t think you’re so highly evolved just because you’re meditating. There are plenty of people in this world who are a lot more highly evolved than you are who have never thought of meditating. So, you know, just –
Jeff: Oh, that’s beautiful, I love that.
Rick: Yeah. It’s a good caution. Okay. So keep in mind that you can steer this conversation as much as I do. Anything that pops to mind that you want to talk about, just lead us into it.
Rick: And I’ll do the same. So let’s get into your book a little bit for a bit. And you’ve written so many books, and I’ve only read one of them. So if you want to talk about some of the others, that’s fine. Okay, so your book was – the one I just read, “The Path of Spiritual Breakthrough,” was really an account of some of your biggest breakthroughs.
Rick: And a main point you made was that it depends a lot – a lot depends on how we interpret our spiritual experiences. That will have a big impact on what we derive from them. So you want to elaborate on that a bit?
Jeff: Sure. And this is – you know, I just think this is a very… it’s a very profound point. And this is something that my teacher also taught. And, you know, the idea is two people can have exactly the same experience and draw very different conclusions. And then that experience will result very differently in their life. I had a friend who – he was out with a friend of his and his friend’s dad, and overnight the dad died. And that put my friend in this incredible state of consciousness. This wasn’t someone he knew that well, but the fact that someone he had just seen the night before was gone by morning had sort of blown his mind. And he was in this very open, you know, kind of enlightened state. And he was not interested in spiritual things at all. He and I had a conversation. We’d never been able to connect spiritually, but suddenly we saw everything eye to eye, you know. And a few weeks later when I talked to him, it seemed to be gone. And I said, “What happened to that experience?” He said, “Oh, that. I don’t know. It just happened and went away, thank God.” And his conclusion was it just was kind of this weird thing that happened. That’s how he related to it. He didn’t relate to it as he had had an opening to a deeper reality. He related to it as if it was some weird experience that happened and thank goodness went away. And therefore it didn’t have much effect. You know, his life went on more or less as it had. And I guess over the years of being part of the spiritual community and then, you know, teaching meditation myself, I see so many people have experiences, and oftentimes you’ll hear people explain the phenomenological experience of the experience. Very similar. But one has drawn one conclusion, another, another conclusion, and then life unfolds. So that’s why I wanted to write this book because I wanted to show how my own spiritual progress moved from one breakthrough experience to the next. But that it wasn’t just having an experience that mattered, it was the conclusions I was drawing about the experience that kept propelling me toward the next one. So we have an active role to play. We aren’t just, we don’t just develop based on having spiritual experiences. We develop based on the experience plus how we relate to them. Yeah.
Rick: Yeah, that brings up a couple of points in my mind. One is it reminded me of the parable of Jesus’s parable of the sower where someone is sowing seeds on the ground. And the ground varies in its receptivity to the seeds. You know, some of it’s just thorny and others is, you know, it’s fertile, but the fertile soil is very shallow, so the thing sprouts up, but then it dies quickly. And others is, you know, it’s fertile soil that’s deeply fertile, and so it really thrives. So, you know, people can hear the same teaching or have the same experience, but, you know, it withers in some people and thrives in others, depending upon perhaps the fertility of their karma or their spiritual readiness.
Jeff: Right, absolutely. I know, and I never did EST or the forum or anything.
Rick: Me neither.
Jeff: I’ve worked with people who did, and one of the things I hear from them is the fact that we need to take responsibility for the listening. I guess that was a thing. And the idea is that you can hear something, but you have to be responsible for how you’re listening and where you’re listening from. And I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that, because, like you said, lots of people are exposed to all kinds of teaching, and they have very different effects. And that’s why, for me at least, what was really important – an important part of my spiritual path was always study. I studied Eastern teachings, I studied Western philosophy, and I know that in some spiritual circles, study gets a bad name as being overly intellectual. And I understand that you can be overly intellectual, because as you said earlier, you’re not going to intellectualize your way into this. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any value, because the background of understanding within which your experiences happen, that’s how your conclusions are going to emerge, is through that. So if you’re within a tradition, for instance, then you have that background of understanding that is being provided. If you’re not in a tradition, you kind of have to be responsible for what is your background of understanding going to be.
Rick: Yeah. No, that was the second point I was going to bring up, actually, was study. Which I think knowledge and experience are like the two legs of progress, and you can make progress hopping on one leg, but it’s not very easy.
Jeff: It’s not very efficient.
Rick: Right. So, you know, you can just intellectualize your way, and you can actually… I think a lot of the Neo-Advaita people these days have intellectualized themselves into the assumption that they have attained realization. Whereas, there’s a Tibetan proverb which says, “Don’t mistake understanding for realization, don’t mistake realization for liberation.” So, you know, but everything in due proportion. So, if you’re culturing both your understanding and your experience, apace, then they supplement and enrich one another.
Jeff: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that’s a very concise way to state what I see the point of the Path of Spiritual Breakthrough book is. I talk about it more in terms of interpretation, but essentially that means understanding. That your understanding has to keep upgrading with your experiences so that they stay at pace.
Rick: Yeah. And that could mean reading the same book over and over again every year. Because some of these books have a great depth to them which you can’t fathom in the initial reading because your experience isn’t that mature. But as your experience matures, you gain deeper and deeper insight into the book or the teaching.
Jeff: Absolutely. You know, there’s different books that I regularly return to. One of them is Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. And sometimes when I read passages from that book, I almost feel like I can see the words vibrating on the page. I can see the transmission coming through the words. And when I find a book that affects me that deeply, they become like very good friends.
Rick: Yeah. That’s great. And just another thought that comes to mind is I think in some cases or certain stages of a person’s path, it might be a good idea to just stick to one teacher, one tradition, one teaching. Don’t confuse yourself. Just go deep on that. Dig one deep well rather than ten shallow wells. But at other stages, or perhaps for different people who are wired differently, it’s more advantageous to be somewhat eclectic. To just kind of explore everything that is of interest and see what resonates and what doesn’t. What do you think about that?
Jeff: I would definitely agree. It follows the course of my own work. In the beginning, I was exploring. When you’re new to the path, you’re just exploring. I was reading anything. I had a very new age teacher and we were going to the other side of the moon to speak to the aliens that live there and all kinds of stuff.
Rick: What did they say?
Jeff: They didn’t really speak that well to me. They spoke more to her. I was a physicist. I studied physics as an undergraduate. I was an engineer, actually. And I decided that I was to… Is the left brain the analytic brain?
Rick: Yes. It’s more complicated than that, but basically, yes.
Jeff: Right. I was too analytic, so I wanted to go in some other direction, so I hunted out things. I was experimenting. Then I found… I started working with a teacher. And from that point on, for the next, say, roughly 20 years, I didn’t really look at much else. Some, but not really. Not personally. As you said earlier, I think we had a magazine and I did some work for the magazine, so we were always exploring things in that context. But in terms of my own personal path, I wasn’t. But when that time came to an end, I started to explore things that I had ignored, and realized there was a lot. There were a lot of holes to fill in my spiritual education and growth. And I explored some Kundalini work of different… energy work, really, called to me. I did Lomi Lomi massage for a while and became a practitioner of that. And I just started to open to domains that I hadn’t been examining. And I think it’s important. I don’t know that it’s everybody’s path. Maybe some people just are on one trajectory indefinitely. But I think many people get called to explore more eclectically at some point in the journey.
Rick: And it might be your path at one point and not your path at another point. Same person, you know? It goes through different stages. Sometimes I like to take that analogy of digging the wells to say, “Well, yeah, dig one well, but maybe you could use 10 different tools to dig the well.” You know, you need a jackhammer and a shovel and a pickaxe. It could be a variety of things that could help you go deep. It doesn’t mean you’re a dilettante.
Jeff: Yes. No, I think that’s definitely true. And I am still very open in the sense that I love exploring stuff. I love to read things. And I don’t find a lot of teachers that I really want to work with, but I do occasionally. And when I do, I dive in. I found this Lomi Lomi teacher five years ago in Hawaii. And I actually just was there getting a massage. And I just thought, “Something’s going on here.” And I found out that she was a kahuna of one of the Lomi traditions.
Rick: That’s like a shaman?
Jeff: Like a shaman.
Jeff: And that she does retreats. So I immediately did a 10-day retreat because I just thought, “Whatever she’s got going, that’s amazing.” And I ended up becoming a Lomi practitioner. I was doing, I don’t know, I did a few hundred Lomi Lomi ceremonies for people over a couple of years. I had no time to do this, but I was so compelled by what I was exploring and what I was learning that I just kept going.
Rick: Yeah. I think I saw something about Tarot on your website. You’re doing something with Tarot?
Jeff: This is a very recent opening. This kind of Western esoteric tradition, you know, astrology, Tarot, is not something that’s ever really been much part of my path. But I started reading… when I wrote not the book you read, but my next book, which is on the path of cosmic consciousness, I bumped into the work of P.D. Ospensky.
Rick: Oh, yeah.
Jeff: Because Ospensky was very into cosmic consciousness.
Rick: How do you define cosmic consciousness?
Jeff: Cosmic consciousness, so the term “cosmic consciousness” comes from Edward Carpenter. Edward Carpenter was an English poet and activist in around the 1880s. He went to Sri Lanka and spent six weeks with a Swami. And he coined the phrase “cosmic consciousness” as what he considered to be the best possible translation of “satchitananda.” And he said, “Satchitananda” doesn’t mean anything in English, but I would say “cosmic consciousness” is kind of what it is.
Rick: Yeah. Well, literally it means absolute, what, “sat” is existence, consciousness, bliss. Those three.
Jeff: Right. Yes, exactly. And so he wrote about that in a travelogue that he had written. He was a devotee of Walt Whitman, and another of Whitman’s devotees, Maurice Bucke, got the phrase from him and then wrote the book “Cosmic Consciousness.” And so I would say cosmic consciousness is the recognition that you are the awareness that is aware. You are the awareness of the whole cosmos, the living conscious substrate beneath everything else. And Ouspensky had read both Carpenter and Maurice Bucke, and then he wrote about cosmic consciousness. And Ouspensky also wrote a book on the tarot. And as I started reading everything by Ouspensky, especially his earlier pre-Gurdjieff works, and found that he was very into the idea that reality was simple. That if one knew how to read the symbols, they could take you to deeper realities beyond them. And that really resonates with me. And so then I started getting into tarot. I’ve been creating my own tarot cards and oracle decks, and really trying to explore the symbolic nature of reality. Which, you know, this kind of brings up something I’d love to mention, which is, you know, I’m…. So, there was Andrew Cowan. He was in the lineage of Ramana Maharshi. So it’s an Advaita Vedanta lineage.
Rick: Which, if you were to talk to David Godman, he would say, “Ramana never established a lineage… …Stop saying that”.
Jeff: Well, which is true, of course. But, so that was my main spiritual influence for 20 years, was that Advaita Vedanta philosophy. But I was also interested in Western philosophy during that time, and I got very interested in it at some point, particularly because I discovered Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I fell in love with Emerson. And so, I sometimes feel like my spiritual heritage is a mix of Advaita Vedanta and Emersonian transcendentalism.
Rick: Did you ever read Phil Goldberg’s American Veda?
Jeff: I have read Phil Goldberg’s American Veda.
Rick: Right, good book.
Jeff: It’s an excellent book. But a big part of what I teach is very reminiscent of Emerson, because, you know, Emerson was teaching self-reliance. And what he meant by that was, there is the oversoul, which is kind of the big soul of humanity, and when we allow ourselves to be moved by that, we become an expression of the very best that’s possible for humanity. And he had this incredible circle of people around him, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville and Louisa May Alcott, and he was preaching, you know, rely on the oversoul and then express from your highest.
Rick: And it reminds me of a verse in the Gita.
Jeff: How does it go?
Rick: “Yogastha kuru karmani,” established in yoga, perform action.
Jeff: Yes, absolutely. And I really, I don’t know how this all works, but I think some of us are called to express creatively. And so one of my expressions, of course, is writing. So you’ll, I think, appreciate this. You know, I think at this point I’ve written 36 or 40 books.
Jeff: I think 30 of them were written in the last three years.
Rick: That’s impressive.
Jeff: It was this thing, because sometimes, because I come from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, especially that, what they call the Neo-Advaita tradition of the people who are somehow, you know, came out of Ramana’s slightly further circles, maybe. People would say, well, because sometimes in that tradition it’s interpreted as there’s nothing to do, and anything that you’re doing is an expression of ego. And so I would occasionally go into these self-reflective feelings, like, is this just all egoic, you know, me wanting to write and express? I mean, why don’t I just sit in silence, you know? And so at some point about three years ago I was on a retreat, and on the retreat I had this feeling like, I need to stop writing. I just need to quit, because, you know, this is not an expression of non-duality. There’s too much egoic doing in all this, and I need to let it go. So I decided I wasn’t going to write anymore. And then I was still on retreat. Then I went through three days of… depressed, because I wasn’t going to write anymore. And in that time, ideas for books kept coming, you know, all the things I thought I needed to write about, that I wanted people to know about. And I finally just came to the realization that if it’s true that, you know… if the truth of reality is that everything is perfect the way it is, then that’s got to include me wanting to write books.
Jeff: You know, there’s no reason why that’s the one thing that’s not okay in the grand scheme of things. And so I just said, I’m going to write a book a month for the next three years.
Jeff: And just do that as a disciplined practice. And, you know, some of them are short, because it’s hard to write.
Rick: Did you just, like, you were giving talks and lectures, and you took the transcripts and refined them into books or something?
Jeff: Well, you know, I did a combination of things. Sometimes I did take lectures and talks and edit them into books. Other times I just wrote books out. And I also started writing novels. So I wrote six novels during that time.
Rick: And I’m Louis Lemoore of spirituality.
Jeff: Yeah, exactly. And I want to write. So I have a new book that’s just come out called The Soul’s Journey to Wholeness, which I am very excited about. It’ll be released next month. And I’m working on a kind of a sequel to that, you could say, or a second part, which is called See for Yourself. And after those are done, and the second one is about half done, I would say, I really want to embark on a real dive into the novel as a vehicle for spiritual expression. I want to try to take that format and see how it can be extended to be useful as a spiritual transmitter.
Rick: Well, there’s some great spiritual novels, of course.
Rick: I mean, I first cut my teeth on Siddhartha, you know, and then I read everything by Herman Hesse, because I like Siddhartha so much, and Lawrence Vander Post, and all kinds of people who, throughout history, have written wonderful novels that are rich with spiritual…
Jeff: I mean, I always loved, well, of course, Way of the Peaceful Warrior was a big one for me when I was young, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance…
Rick: Oh, yeah, that was great.
Jeff: ..was one that I loved.
Rick: I remember I was driving with a friend from Iowa to New York, and I was so into that book that I was reading it with a flashlight as he was driving. I couldn’t put it down.
Jeff: That was a great book. I actually bought a copy about six months ago, which I haven’t re-read, but I bought it because I felt like, “Oh, I need to re-read that book. I could spend decades.”
Rick: But you know, your point about it’s supposedly egotistical to be doing relative things, you know – I don’t agree with that at all. I think that there’s no conflict whatsoever between self-realization and creative expression, whether you’re a writer, a musician, an athlete, whatever you’re cut out to do, why would there be a conflict? And, you know, I interviewed Jill Bolte Taylor last week, who, you may remember her talk, “My Stroke of Insight,” where she had a stroke.
Jeff: Yes, right.
Rick: Half of her brain was incapacitated, and anyway, she recuperated from that. But one of her main things now, she just wrote a book called “Whole Brain Living,” in which she talks about four anatomical structures in the brain, each of which is responsible for a distinctive character or aspect of our personality. And only one of them is really the interface with the transcendent. The others are involved in intellectual or emotional faculties. And so, we have all these faculties, and her attitude is that the full and harmonious development of all four of these characters is the evolutionary future of humanity. So, there’s nothing in that about just being a blob who sits there and negates the ego and doesn’t want to accomplish anything, and so on.
Jeff: Right. And I guess where I’ve landed is, and this is part of what’s in this new book, The Soul’s Journey to Wholeness, is that I don’t know exactly how spiritual growth works, but it makes sense to me that we all have a soul that has lived through many lifetimes. And that soul has particular needs of this lifetime. And that can look different for different people, which is why there isn’t one path that’s perfect for everyone.
Jeff: Everyone’s on a different soul journey. And there will be souls that need to express, that need to create, and you will feel a compulsion for that. But there could be souls that need to just, you know, go to a mountain-top and meditate.
Rick: Yeah, it’s rare. And the average person who tries to do that usually ends up discovering that they weren’t cut out for it.
Jeff: Yeah. Well, that’s because what’s to me most important is that the urge is authentically coming from that deeper place.
Jeff: It’s not just an idea you’re imposing. Like, what I realize is I was imposing an idea of non-duality on myself and then trying to stop writing.
Jeff: But the deeper urge was the desire to express, in my case.
Rick: Yeah, the Gita says, “The dharma of another brings danger.”
Rick: You know, we can only, you know… and look at God. I mean, if we see the universe or the world as an expression of God, divine intelligence, look at the fecundity, the diversity, the richness, the variety.
Rick: Look at the rainforest and all the stuff going on. And if man is made in the image of God, if we are one with God ultimately, then why shouldn’t we be, you know, creatively expressive in our own way?
Rick: It’s completely natural.
Jeff: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I also think that, and you alluded to this earlier, I think, but part of the path for most of us, there’s a period in which we, in some form or another, need to take a break.
Jeff: You know, that we’re embedded in the wheels of whatever karma, culture, personal conditioning. We’re very identified with all that, and there’s a period of time in which we need to step out in order to authentically express ourselves, in order for a real choice to be made.
Rick: It helps to draw the arrow back on the bow before trying to shoot it forward.
Rick: Yeah, just sort of, “Here it goes, I’m not going to pull it back, blah,” it just falls to the earth.
Jeff: Absolutely. And the amount of time it takes for any given individual is probably different, but some amount of time seems to be important.
Rick: Sure. And that’s true of anything. I mean, you want to become a doctor, you’re going to go to medical school for eight years or something.
Jeff: No, that’s very, very true. So yeah, I find that it’s a very interesting time, that time where one needs to — in my case, it ended up being a very long time, probably a little too long, but sometimes you overstay your welcome.
Rick: Yeah, I don’t know. You may be right. I mean, I could think the same thing. I could think, “Well, maybe I should have left X years earlier,” but all is well and wisely put, you know?
Jeff: Absolutely. It’s all where, in my case at least, I have no regrets. All of my time and community and deep practice has borne incredible fruits that I would — yeah, that I feel deeply grateful for.
Rick: Yeah. And, you know, it’s good to take the long view. This life is just one step on a long journey, so — and you want to use your time wisely. I mean, I think time is precious, but on the other hand, you know, our existence is not measured in decades.
Jeff: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, this kind of brings me to a point I would love to discuss with you. I have a very… I love sharing. I love expressing myself. I love writing. I love teaching. I love sharing the things that I love. And I am very cautious about the role of a teacher. I generally never call myself a spiritual teacher, and because I’ve had interesting experiences with that from a number of different points of view. And, you know, I guess in terms of my work, I just love to share what I love. You know, if I loved something else, I probably would have shared that. In fact, I was doing that before. And then I fell in love with spiritual practice and spiritual philosophy and spiritual exploration, and now I share that. And I am deeply grateful that I have people who want to share that with me. And I always want to be very careful about not over-stepping, you know, because that relationship of sharing spiritual knowledge and wisdom. And, you know, I do have some very valuable things to share, and I like… I know, but I want to keep it to that. You know, I have some sense of what I have that’s valuable and important, and outside of that, I’m kind of wanting to just be a human being who has opinions.
Rick: I know what you’re saying. And there’s a widespread sentiment these days in the broader spiritual community that maybe the guru era is over or coming to an end, that the hierarchies haven’t worked out so well, and that we should think of ourselves as, you know — remember that thing? Well, Tami Simon has a nice phrase, you know, sounds true. She says, “We like to think of ourselves as your partners on the spiritual path.” And so, you know, friends, you know, maybe you have things to share that those with whom you’re sharing them need to hear or would benefit from. So, otherwise, why would they want to get together with you? But that doesn’t make you superior to them. You know, fundamentally, we’re all bozos on this bus.
Jeff: Yeah, and I think you had said before we started that you had heard this — you heard me speak at that conference in Harvard a couple of weeks ago, where I was speaking about mitigating the risk of extreme spiritual practice. And, you know, what I wanted to say there was, look, there are always people who are called to do extreme degrees, extreme amounts of spiritual practice. They have always been throughout history, and there are now, and there will always be, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And in that context, there are lots of stories of people who get hurt, especially by teachers. And one of the things that I started to do research in while I was preparing that paper was the idea of consent. Because I think a lot of the challenges that people run into or that teachers run into, stems from the fact that there’s a misunderstanding or there’s not a good mechanism for, as the writer that I was reading says, maintaining consent. In other words, knowing, what do I have permission to enact in your life? And what do you have permission to either follow or deny? You know, and I think in that sense, I think there is a role for spiritual mentorship, but I think it needs to be wedded with a very clear sense of consent.
Rick: Yeah, well, I mean, secular professions have had this figured out for a while, you know – psychiatrists and doctors and professors and so on. You know, being your therapist doesn’t give me the right to sleep with you or take all your money or various other things that spiritual teachers seem to think that they can do because they’re not really the doer. God is doing these things, and I’m just the witness, or whatever alibi they’ve come up with. So, I think that contemporary spirituality needs to be held at least to the standards of some of these established professions.
Jeff: And part of the way that I think about it is, as someone who’s in the role of some degree of teaching, I want to be clear what I’m willing to be responsible for. And I’m willing to be responsible for teaching meditation. I’m willing to be responsible for teaching about spiritual philosophies. I don’t want to be responsible for your choices in your life with your partner or with your job. I don’t know anyone well enough to really have anything but an opinion.
Rick: Do people sometimes ask you for advice on such things?
Jeff: Oh, you know, earlier on more so. I think I’ve made it quite clear that these are not domains that I… You know, I do some mentoring with people that’s a little bit more personal, but even in that context, I always want to give… You know, I have advice, and I can be… and that’s a great… this goes along with what you just said. I can be a friend, and I can be a somewhat objective friend, because I’m not involved. But in the end, I don’t know what you should do, really. And I don’t… I’m giving you a perspective that can be of value. But yeah, I’m finding people generally don’t. In the beginning, I think because I was coming out of a tradition, which was more of a guru tradition, and people were more expecting that, but I think I’ve made it clear that that’s not really my area.
Rick: Yeah. One of the codes… one of the points in the Code of Ethics of the Association for Spiritual Integrity is, you know, not presuming to offer advice on areas outside your expertise. You know, people are coming to you as a spiritual teacher, and you know, you overstep your boundaries if you start offering… telling them to break up with their spouse – a specific teacher comes to mind, as I say that very example. You know, so it gets… you know, like you and I have both been saying, you know, spirituality is such an important thing. It’s important for individuals, it’s important for the world, and I think it’s a shame that there’s been so much misbehavior in the name of it by spiritual teachers who might have been better off if they’d waited a decade or so before beginning to teach.
Jeff: Yeah, I think that’s… there’s been a lot of challenges. I think there are a lot of people who are offering spiritual guidance at a level that’s small enough that you don’t really see them.
Jeff: And I think many of them do it fairly well, but I agree with you. It’s given spirituality a bit of a bad name.
Rick: It has, and it’s… I mean, I know of someone who committed suicide because she had given her life savings to a teacher, and then she realized that was a mistake, and she asked to have it given back, and the teacher refused, and she killed herself.
Jeff: That’s horrible.
Rick: Yeah, really. And actually, while we’re on this note, you know Timothy Conway? You know who he is?
Jeff: No, I don’t know Timothy Conway.
Rick: He’s a friend of mine. I’ve interviewed him a couple times. He’s a very scholarly fellow. He has a website called enlightenedspirituality.org or something. But anyway, on the whole point of crazy wisdom, he sent me something a while back which reads as follows, and it’ll take me a minute to read it. “It should be stated clearly and adamantly that rigorous historical scholarship has shown that the supposed crazy wisdom tradition was a literary invention by later writers one to three hundred years after the periods in which the supposed early crazy wisdom adept lived. Furthermore, it is no valid excuse or justification of bad behavior to say that after the literary invention of the crazy wisdom trope, later generations witnessed numerous spiritual teachers actually behaving abusively in such manner, shouting at students, kicking, beating, humiliating them, and otherwise testing them in extreme ways. Today we know from additional historical scholarship that such later bad boy behaviors imitating the literary trope were scathingly critiqued by numerous esteemed spiritual masters as an unfortunate, inauthentic development, and aberrant style of spiritual instruction.”
Jeff: I mean, I think all of that… how do I want to respond to this? I want to respond to this by saying that I want the best for people. And so I have this interesting contemplation going on in my head because, you know, my teacher exercised a fairly significant degree of crazy wisdom. And the fact is it did sometimes have very profound positive effects. And some of the crazy wisdom antics that I was subject to had positive and profound effects on me. It’s also true that more often it has very negative effects. And oftentimes it has a short-term positive effect and a long-term negative effect. And my personality is such that I don’t want to have any negative effects on people. I just don’t want to. I like people, and I want them to be happy. And it does bring to my mind the question, you know, I experienced some very profound, extreme spiritual breakthroughs. And a lot of those happened under an incredible pressure of duress, you know, from this kind of crazy wisdom teacher. And I don’t know to what degree those breakthroughs were because of all that pressure, because of the duress and the hardship, and to what extent that was a valuable thing, at least in terms of those breakthroughs or not. I am convinced that there’s another way to open to the Divine, and that it may be slower, it may not be as dramatic, but it’s healthier. And it can maintain the integrity and the sanctity of the individual. You know, the challenge with Advaita Vedanta teachings is that it’s easy to denigrate the value of the individual, of the earthbound self, in comparison to the self-absolute. And I just don’t see that as being… I don’t know that that’s the intention of the tradition. I don’t think it’s the intention of the tradition, but it lends itself to that misinterpretation very easily. I don’t… given my experience, I want people to feel that they’re important, and that they’re loved, and they’re cared for. And yes, there are possibilities beyond this sense of self that we can experience that are magnificent and amazing, and I really want to encourage people to be fascinated by those and devote their energy to those, but never at the expense of the personal self.
Rick: Yeah, I mean, perhaps even, you know, parenting might be a good allegory or example. I mean, parents can discipline the children. They may need to be strict with the children. They may need to raise their voice sometimes. They might need to deprive children of certain things that the children want, and so on. But if you make your kids stand outside in a snowstorm for eight hours, or immerse themselves in a frozen pond, or, you know, if you beat them… – I’m not saying all these things happen in your circumstance – but there are many things you might do to children that spiritual teachers have done to their students which would cause the parents to lose those children, have them put into protective custody. Which is not to say that, I mean, you know, you guys weren’t children, you were adults, but I think there’s some validity to the comparison, because, you know, cruelty and physical and psychological abuse are generally not good learning methods, teaching methods, you know?
Jeff: Definitely. I think that’s definitely true. And I did experience a lot of those things you just mentioned as part of the path. And look, there’s an interesting way to look at that, and sometimes I do. For myself, personally, you know, like standing out in snowstorms for hours at a time.
Rick: Yeah, now if you’re skiing, that’s another matter.
Jeff: Of course, then it’s okay.
Rick: Go for it.
Jeff: But I never thought that there was a guarantee. In fact, my teacher told me at the very beginning, there’s no guarantee that any of this is going to work, because I don’t really know.
Rick: But he was winging it.
Jeff: Yeah, he was winging it. And I became his personal assistant, so I knew he was winging it. And I thought there was something beautiful about the fact that someone like myself and many others, we were willing to go along with the wing. We were all in it together. None of us really knew how to do this, but we all really, really, really wanted to experience the ultimate. And, you know, we were willing to go along with it. So there is that part of it that I still find very beautiful, that to have gathered a group of people who are that committed to something beyond what they could imagine and willing to really, I guess, in the end, though, yeah. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know if we could have done it better or not. We did it the way we did it, but I, see, I told you I was an engineer, right? So one of the things I learned from my first boss as an engineer was experiments never fail. They just end. And when an experiment ends, you collect the data and you do another experiment. And I kind of look at my time in community as that. It didn’t fail. It just ended.
Rick: Yeah, you learned something.
Jeff: I learned something. And I learned from the things that were positive, and I learned from the things that weren’t positive.
Jeff: I learned from the whole experience, and I can create a new experiment.
Rick: Right. And, of course, you know, certain precautions are taken when experiments are done. Like Elon Musk just sent up a big giant rocket about a month ago, and it exploded. But he said “that was great, perfect. I learned something. We learned something from that. You know, the next one will be better”. But he didn’t put people on that rocket.
Jeff: Exactly, yes. Well, that’s one of the things you learn from earlier experiments. The time you did put people on them and they blew up. So I’m not going to do that anymore on my first rocket.
Rick: Right. So there can be a certain recklessness in all this that is not justifiable.
Jeff: And it gets very… I noticed in the piece that you wrote, he used the term “bad boy.” And there can be this attitude of kind of a bravado, and I don’t think it’s a healthy attitude to have in relationship to other human beings. You don’t want to be a bad boy in relationship to other human beings. Even if you are a very sort of severe teacher or you hold very high standards, but you’re doing it for—it’s happening in the context of your love for what’s possible.
Rick: Yeah. And I think one thing that happens is each violation, if it’s a violation, further degrades the teacher’s judgment and discernment and integrity to the point where it can go way off the rails, but it has happened incrementally. So both the teacher and his students may not realize how far off it has gotten. And then at some point, the whole thing totally crashes.
Jeff: No, that is definitely true. And of course, you create… this is a big part of the point I wanted to make in my paper for that Harvard conference, which is there are always going to be people who pursue extreme spiritual practice. And I loved extreme spiritual practice. I loved my teacher because I knew he was going to really push me to extremes, and I wanted to be pushed that way. But my point is if that’s not an option that’s embraced as a possibility in society, then that kind of extreme practice always happens out on shadowy edges of culture, where it’s the least in view and most susceptible to bad forms. Where there’s a lot of other things that people want to engage in that are dangerous. And as a culture, we accept that. I would never want to get helicoptered onto a hundred-foot wave, but I get that some people do want to do that. And it’s done out in the open. People view it. People watch it. And that helps keep those safeguards in place. And I feel like we need to do that with spiritual pursuits. That if people want to pursue these things in a more extreme way, they can. And that may not be a choice most people want to make, but if they do, it can happen here, where we can all see it. Where it’ll be best observed.
Rick: Yeah, I’m not sure exactly how that would be accomplished in terms of the transparency, but it’s a good idea.
Jeff: Yeah, I agree with you. I have no idea how that would be. Because we didn’t really want transparency either.
Rick: I think one thing is, and this is something I hope that we can accomplish more with the ASI, the Association for Spiritual Integrity, is that there’s a broader awareness among students of what is and isn’t acceptable. So that they can kind of hold teachers’ feet to the fire and call bullshit when they see it, and either leave or confront the situation in some way. Because people doubt themselves. They sit there, teachers behaving in a certain way, they think, “Well, that seems weird, but hey, he’s supposed to be enlightened and I’m not, so I guess I’ll just keep sitting here,” and then they regret it later on.
Jeff: Right, yeah. I completely agree. What was the acronym you just used?
Rick: ASI, for Association for Spiritual Integrity.
Jeff: Oh, that’s good.
Rick: Yeah, spiritual-integrity.org. We also spoke at that Harvard conference.
Jeff: But yeah, I think all these things are important. Because the other thing that I like to point out in relation to this is there’s a lot of negative things in the spiritual world, for sure. But there’s a lot of negative things in the world.
Rick: True. Politics, education, anything.
Jeff: Right, it’s not that the spiritual world… You know, people will often ask me about the art of conscious contentment, and they’ll say, “Well, isn’t that just spiritual bypassing?” And I like to… So the idea of spiritual bypassing is where you use your spiritual practice to avoid things that are difficult in life. I don’t think real spiritual practice should do that. It should do what I described earlier, which is it made me available for the challenge of arriving at the hospital. It allowed me to be more available to be fully present and fully engaged with a very challenging situation. Now, I realize that people use… Spirituality and spiritual practices can be used to avoid challenging situations. People do that all the time.
Rick: Arjuna said, “I don’t want to fight this battle. I’ll just live on alms. I’ll give up this whole thing.” And Krishna said, “No, no, you have to confront it.”
Jeff: Absolutely. But I like to point out that there’s all kinds of bypassing. You can bypass through drugs and alcohol. You can bypass through promiscuity. If you want to avoid the challenge of life, there’s lots of ways to do it, and spirituality is not the worst one. I have a friend, I don’t think he ever wrote this book. He was a psychologist, and he wanted to write a book called Psychological Bypassing, because he said many of his clients seem to be using their therapy as a way to avoid their problems, because they can say they’re in therapy and then not deal with it. So I always say, you know, the issue with bypassing needs to be addressed at the root, which is wherever the place is where we might want to avoid the challenge of being human.
Rick: Yeah, I’ll just leave it at that. That’s a good point. I think I see a picture of Anandamayi Ma up on your wall there, and you were talking earlier about the intensity of your spiritual practice and of the community that you were in. And I think it was she who said something like that the main determinant of the rapidity of your spiritual progress is just the intensity of your desire. And Patanjali talks about that in Yoga Sutras. He said yogis are of mild, medium, or intense determination, and he said the ones who progress the quickest are vehemently intense. So there’s nothing wrong with it, but you can also go crazy or jump off a window ledge or something if you push yourself too hard too fast.
Jeff: Absolutely. And also, again, I think that when I teach to people, at least, I always say going the fastest… this isn’t a race. It’s not about going the fastest. It’s not about being the most intense. It’s about being as aligned as possible with your soul’s actual needs in this lifetime. And so there are going to be, I think as you alluded to earlier, there will be those rare individuals that are going to be completely intense. That doesn’t mean it’s better. That just means that’s karmically appropriate for their life. But when we get an idea in our head that says, “Okay, the only way to proceed is by being intense,” and then we try to force ourselves to be intense, and then I think that’s where we end up running into trouble.
Rick: Yeah, which brings up another good point, which is don’t compare yourself with others.
Rick: Either in terms of what they’re doing or in terms of what they’re experiencing. We should never feel jealous because so-and-so had this flashy experience and we haven’t had it, that kind of thing.
Jeff: Rick, I think that is just such an important point because everybody’s on their own journey. And you can’t compare to someone else. There’s no value in comparing. I think it’s incredibly important to note that. That’s why I have some… I like to share my own spiritual experiences with people because, one, I think they can be inspiring, and two, I think they can be instructive, especially when coupled with how I interpreted them and what the result was. My hesitation around it always is I don’t want to create…
Jeff: …envy or a goalpost or an idea that I should be doing that because that’s not my point. I actually, because I publish, besides my books, I publish other books, and I recently published a book of essays from people who are in my circle. I think there were about 16 essays where people described their most powerful spiritual experiences. And I did that partly because I wanted to show, like, a lot of people in the spiritual worlds that we run in, lots of people have had really powerful spiritual experiences. You know, they happen. And even people who think they haven’t had them often have had them. They don’t remember them or they didn’t count it as a spiritual experience until they tell you about it, and you say, “Well, that’s amazing.” And I often tell people the thing is our own spiritual experiences often seem less significant than somebody else’s. And the main reason is because we had it.
Rick: And it seemed normal to us.
Jeff: Yeah, it feels like it’s normal, but you tell someone else, they think it’s amazing. So I think it’s a very important point that comparing isn’t useful. We can inspire each other, but we shouldn’t become models for each other.
Rick: Yeah. I mean, there were people on the courses I attended back in the ’70s who were getting up on the mic and reporting these amazing experiences, and a lot of them totally crashed and burned later on. I would not trade places with them today. You know, and I was sitting there, you know, kind of in the nil group, you know, nothing much going on. But, you know, so I mean, spiritual experience, flashy experiences are not any kind of absolute indicator of anything. Some people are just wired for them.
Jeff: Absolutely. I think that’s very important. I’ve seen the same thing. I was, for a great deal of my spiritual life, kind of a very middle-of-the-road practitioner. And, you know, then things did start to happen. But it took a long time. Did you spend a lot of time in India?
Rick: About eight months altogether.
Rick: But I spent several years in Europe doing long courses.
Jeff: Were you in Rishikesh?
Rick: No, just the New Delhi area at the time. There were some courses in Rishikesh in the earlier days, like with the Beatles and everything, but I wasn’t in it in those days.
Jeff: Well, I remember we used to do retreats sometimes in Rishikesh, and I think there was a remnant of a retreat center, a TM retreat center, which is the one, I think, where the Beatles went.
Jeff: So I used to do a little pilgrimage.
Rick: That’s been renovated now. It’s a big tourist attraction.
Jeff: Oh, really? This was years ago. So I used to do a little pilgrimage walks there, just to be in the whatever was left of the field of that time.
Rick: Incidentally, Igal, you know Igal Harmony?
Rick: Yeah, he used to go by the name Igal Moria.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah.
Rick: Yeah, he’s a dear old friend of mine. He’s been on Batgap, and we had a lot of these adventures together.
Jeff: Oh, nice. Yeah, he was a good friend of mine as well. We lived together for years.
Rick: I assume, yeah.
Rick: Okay, a question came in. Let me ask this question. This is from Miguel Pipa in Portugal. “I’m a bit obsessed with seeking. I live alone in the mountains, and I’m feeling alone, and a bit exhausted. I do meditate. I want to ask why this kind of situation happens. Why has life brought me to a beautiful place where I feel compelled to be alone and seeking and seeking? I’m almost ready to stop seeking.” That’s his question.
Jeff: Okay, well, Miguel, first of all, I am a Portuguese citizen as well as being a U.S. citizen. I love spending time in Portugal, and it’s a beautiful country. So if you’re going to be alone somewhere, that’s not a bad place to be. But I can’t tell you why it’s been set up this way, but it’s interesting that it is. And the advice that I would give to you is to really look at it in terms of what are the opportunities it makes available to you, because there are ways for you to connect, especially today, via the Internet, with seekers all over the world if you’re feeling lonely and feeling like you need more of a community. And at the same time, you’re in a beautiful mountain location that I’m sure is conducive to deep practice. So I would first encourage you to think about the opportunities that your circumstance is bringing you. And secondly, saying, when I hear – as I think Rick’s smile betrayed – I hear you saying you’re ready to stop seeking, and who knows, that could be a big moment for you in which the way you have been seeking comes to an end and something else starts. So who knows what’s about to happen.
Rick: Alrighty. So let’s see, we have a little bit of time left. I took some notes down, I don’t know if we want to end on a more abstract philosophical point, but there was an interesting section in your book where you’re talking about what we know, what we don’t know, and what we don’t know that we don’t know. And some other points related to that kind of thing. So, let me just read some of these points quickly, and you tell me which ones you’d like to discuss. One was that being able to accept that there could be more than one absolute truth about things. Idealism versus materialism, some things that William James was talking about, that there’s no universal mind, the universe is constructed by the perspective of each individual mind. And then in your group with Andrew Cohen, you had this group thing where you were doing intense practice for a long time, and you ended up in this enlightened group mind, which additional people popped into one by one, until you had this collective state of enlightenment going on. So all those caught my attention, and I noted them down in my notes. But want to talk about any of those before we wrap it up?
Jeff: Sure. Let’s see. I think I want to talk about idealism and materialism. Because I am fundamentally an idealist, which means I don’t believe that physical matter and three-dimensional space is the ultimate form of reality. I believe it’s an experience that arises within a larger mind, you could say, or that reality is fundamentally a consciousness. And this is, of course, very aligned with Hindu tradition – with most spiritual traditions actually. That there is a fundamental living consciousness, and one of the things that arises in this living consciousness is this experience of a three-dimensional world, and being a human being within it. But this is actually more like a dream, in the sense that when you go to sleep at night, you could have a dream that you’re on a ship going across the ocean, and it feels huge and expansive and real when you’re in it. But when you wake up in the morning, it’s nowhere to be found. It’s a different dimension of existence. It’s not happening in this three-dimensional world. We have a way of thinking about mind that I think is going to be radically expanded over the next few decades, because I think we have access to not just one interior mind, but to multiple, who knows, maybe infinite dimensions of mind. That’s what my new book, The Soul’s Journey to Wholeness, is about, how once we liberate ourselves in that way we spoke about in terms of conscious contentment, and we are now living within the direct recognition of wholeness, we’re free in a certain way. And what we’re free to do is explore higher dimensions of being. And what I’m feeling right now in my own personal exploration and practice, and in the work that I want to do, is wanting to embark on a deeper exploration of higher states of consciousness and higher dimensions of being. Henry Corbin was a French philosopher who coined the term “the imaginal realm.” He was an Islamic scholar, and he read a lot of Persian texts. And one of the things he said that really struck me was, in the Islamic tradition, pre-modern era, or the Christian tradition, pre-modern era, you know, lots of pre-modern traditions were very preoccupied with angelic realms, heavenly realms, that there was the idea that there was heaven and there was earth and there was all this stuff in between. But in the modern era, all that stuff seemed too woo-woo, and so the traditions all became about heaven and earth. There was earth, which was the life we know, and there was heaven, which was some idealized, unimaginable god realm, but without there being any mention of the realms in between. And Corbin’s point a hundred years ago was, we’ve done ourselves a disservice, because all of those realms are, you know, the path to the higher realm is through these middle realms. And in looking back at my spiritual experiences, you know, there’s all different ways you can interpret them. But one of the ways I can interpret them is I see them as a journey through middle realms of being. And I’ve always had the sense that I have encountered other beings along the way, and sometimes I’ve heard them speak to me, sometimes I’ve just felt them, but I’ve gotten guidance from non-material beings. I haven’t had the courage to really write about that or talk about it until this recent book, maybe because I’m getting old now, and it’s getting harder for me to deny. And I don’t know if that’s everybody’s experience or just my experience, but it’s a very real part of my experience. And as Corbin writes about, when we begin to explore the higher dimensions of being, we experience an inversion. So we used to think of the material world as the outside, and then we looked inside at the mental world. When we start to discover the higher dimensions of spirit, we realize that this existence is actually embedded in a universe of higher dimensions, and that those are really the context for this, versus the material being the context for the spiritual. So that’s what I am currently just utterly fascinated by.
Rick: That is great. And I could say everything you just said. I mean, I’m bored. I couldn’t say it as eloquently, I don’t think, but I’m totally on board with all of that, and I’ve come to the same conclusions, and I’ve had some experiences that were very real. I’m not the type of person who just routinely sees angels or something, although I know such people, but I’ve had enough little things here and there that I know it’s there, you know? And I’ve interviewed a few people on that kind of topic, like David Spangler, who is one of the founders of – I think his name is David Spangler, his last name is Spangler – who’s one of the founders of Fynhorn, who has been having that kind of experience since he was a child, and Harry Alto, whom I mentioned earlier, who’s experiencing this kind of stuff all the time for decades, and what you say about guidance, I think, is very true. I have friends who have routinely been able to see, like, guardian angels kind of hovering around people or attending to them in some way, and I think that we’re all guided in ways that we’re not fully aware of. So I mean, it doesn’t matter what I think, but I’m just saying I agree with it.
Jeff: No, no, it’s great.
Rick: I agree with everything you just said, and I know a lot of people who…
Jeff: I’ve had experiences of, you know, my guardian angel, and what I realized retrospectively is that I never took it seriously. I didn’t doubt it, I knew it happened, but I didn’t think it was that consequential. But as I’ve more recently been looking into this, I thought, “Wait a minute, that’s very consequential!”
Jeff: The fact that there are guardian angels looking over you is not something you can just say, “Oh, well, that happened.” I mean, that is a radical change in your world-view, and so that’s why I’m getting so excited about it.
Rick: And this is not incompatible with Advaita Vedanta, by the way. I mean, Vedanta means the end of the Veda, but adherents to Vedanta don’t dismiss the rest of the Veda as useless. I mean, and a lot of that tradition has to do with precisely this, you know, being able to connect yourself to these higher entities in a way that is mutually beneficial.
Jeff: No, this is… I completely agree. I think it’s, you know, I do think, at least in my encounter with Advaita Vedanta has been neo-Advaita, you know, and I think in that tradition, it’s really emphasized – the non-dual awakening. But yes, as I’ve looked back at the tradition, you go, “Oh, there’s all this stuff we don’t really talk about.” And Ramana didn’t talk about it much, you know, but he would sometimes say, “Okay, well, you can study, I’m not going to talk about that, but yes, that’s important, you should study it.”
Rick: Yeah, and he alluded in his own experience to having things happen that, you know, indicated the existence of these subtler realms.
Jeff: I’m going to need to explore the Hindu tradition in that way more.
Rick: I remember hearing a story recently where, this was like, happened maybe hundreds of years ago, but some student came to a teacher and he was kind of, had a neo-Advaita orientation, you know, dismissing all of the relative phenomena, and the teacher said to him, “This Brahman of yours is one-footed,” meaning you’ve only got half the picture here, buddy.
Jeff: Right, right. No, I think that’s true.
Rick: And there are also precautions against this. I mean, Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras warns against being allured by the celestial beings who might want to waylay you on your journey for some reason. And there’s stories of the gods being jealous of humans who get too uppity. And obviously, people can get totally off the beam and indulge in this stuff and it becomes largely fantasy. And we get inquiries all the time from people who are in touch with the Intergalactic Council and want to talk about that. It’s possible to have a vivid imagination, and it’s also possible to actually experience subtle phenomena. There’s one particular panel discussion I did about refined perception with a group of people. It was like 10 years ago, but people can find that on BATGAP if they look.
Jeff: Oh, that’s fantastic. I would like to see that myself.
Rick: Yeah. All righty. Well, this has been really fun. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how people can connect with you and what kind of stuff that they would do if they did connect with you?
Jeff: Sure. I mean, the easiest way to connect with me is just go to my website, which is Jeff at – sorry, Jeff, JeffCarrera.com.
Rick: I’ll link to it on your BATGAP page.
Jeff: And from there, you can find – I teach a lot of – I teach online programs. I teach retreats in various locations. My retreats are generally smaller. I kind of like to work with 12 to 15 people at a time. And I also have an online mystery school, kind of a members program where I teach. It’s a place where I teach ongoingly, and it’s certainly the best way to – I would say the best way to get introduced to me is to go in there. It doesn’t cost you very much, and you can download a lot of information in a very short amount of time if you’re so inclined. So that’s how I would… just go to my website and explore.
Rick: Okay, great. And again, I’ll put a link to it on your BATGAP page, and I’ll put a link to several of your books. So thanks a lot. This is really fun. I really enjoyed listening to your book in the past week, walking in the woods while I listened, and I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.
Jeff: Well, that’s fantastic. And when the new book comes out, I’ll send you an audio of that one.
Rick: Great. I like audio books.
Jeff: Good. I’ll send you an audio of that, and who knows, maybe someday we’ll have a conversation about the higher realms of the soul.
Rick: Yeah, that’d be interesting.
Jeff: So I really enjoyed being here, Rick. I’m honored that you invited me, and it’s been a delight to talk to you.
Rick: Okay, thanks so much, Jeff, and thanks to those who’ve been listening and watching – or watching. And the next interview I think will be in a couple weeks, and it’s with a guy named Chris Neubauer. And he also is some kind of brain scientist, as Jill Bolte Taylor was, and he has a book called No Self, No Problem. So I haven’t yet dove into what he has to say, but I will, and that’s what we’ll be talking about in a couple of weeks. So thanks for listening or watching, and we’ll see you for the next one.
Jeff: All right, thank you.
Rick: Thanks, Jeff.