Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually Awakening people. We’ve done over 560 of them now. If this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P and look under the past interviews menu. For those listening to this particular interview with Jim Finley, you might particularly like to listen to my interviews with Cynthia Bourgeault and Father Thomas Keating. In fact, Thomas, Father Keating, liked that interview a lot apparently because he took a transcript of it and made it the first chapter of his next book that he wrote. My guest today is Jim Finley. Welcome, Jim.
Jim Finley: Good to be here.
Rick Archer: Good to have you here. Jim is a contemplative practitioner and has been a clinical psychologist most of his professional life, and he helps seekers who desire to live a contemplative, whole life. Drawing from his experience as a former monk and spiritual directee of Thomas Merton, Jim offers trustworthy guidance for the spiritual journey through his website, online courses, occasional retreats and the Center for Action and Contemplation, where he serves as a core faculty member of the Living School for Action and Contemplation with Cynthia Bourgeault, whom I just mentioned, and Father Richard Rohr. Jim is the author of several books, including Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, The Contemplative Heart and Christian Meditation, Experiencing the Presence of God. Jim has a podcast which I’ve been listening to all week, entitled, Turning to the Mystics, and it’s for people searching for something more meaningful, intimate and richly present in the divine gift of their lives. As I mentioned, Jim was a clinical psychologist. I guess you’re retired from that aren’t you, Jim?
Jim Finley: Yeah, yeah.
Rick Archer: But anyway, he offers a modern take on the historical contemplative practices of Christian mystics, like Teresa of Avila, and Thomas Merton. And I think he’s gonna do St. John of the Cross next. He’s already gone through Merton and in the middle of Avila. Leaning into their experiences can become a gateway to hope, healing and oneness. In each episode, Jim reads an excerpt from a mystical text, unpacks the meaning and symbolism and then concludes with meditation and prayer. Together with Kirsten Oates from the Center for Action and Contemplation, they explore listener questions and examine their own paths as modern contemplatives in this beautiful and broken world. So, so Jim, what we usually do, at the beginning of most interviews is, you know, go over some of the biographical stuff, just so that people get to know who it is they’re about to listen to, and you know, what qualifies them to be saying what they’re saying. So, I, you know, you’ve told these stories many times, but perhaps you could just familiarize ourselves, familiarize us with, you know, how your life unfolded, and from an earlier age and how you ended up at the abbot of – the Monastery of Gethsemani, studying under Thomas Merton.
Jim Finley: Yes, well, I was, I was born in 1943, in Akron, Ohio. The oldest of six children. My father was a violent alcoholic, and my mother was a devout Catholic. And so I think through her, my faith was a sustaining presence in my life, kind of getting through all the things that were happening. When I was 14 years old, I read the Sign of Jonas, which is a journal that Thomas Merton wrote as a monk in the monastery. I was deeply moved by it. And for the four remaining years of high school, I just felt strongly drawn to enter the monastery and seek Merton’s guidance and finding my way to this deep union with God. And when I graduated, and I did that I went there and I entered the community, and in 1961, and lived there for six years as a monk, a member of the community. And for three of those years, Thomas Merton, in his role as master of novices was my spiritual director. And so under his guidance, he guided me into this, the traditions of contemplative Christianity. And also in an openness to all the contemplative traditions. Thich Nhat Hanh came there to visit him. And the Jewish mystic and philosopher Joshua Abraham Heschel came to visit him. Sufis came to visit him, different people. So I got this broad sense of this, these contemplative lineages. I also had the opportunity to study medieval philosophy of a – at a Dominican school, Franciscan school, Duns Scotus and Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. And, so when I left the monastery, I still felt called to live this contemplative way of life in the midst of the world.
Rick Archer: Let me, let me interject a question here. Most people listening to this will have heard of Thomas Merton, but a lot of people might not know too much about him. So could you just say a little bit more about who Merton was and why he’s so well known even all these years after his death?
Jim Finley: Yes. Thomas Merton was born in 1915. In France. He had one brother. His father was an artist. And he, when he grew up his, his family, his mother and father were kind of suspicious of anything overtly having to do with religion. And, he went to Cambridge University for one year in England. The story is that he got a woman pregnant and he was drinking too much, and so on. So his family sent him to New York, where they thought there was family members there to keep a closer eye on him. And at Columbia University, he started having a series of religious experiences there, which led to him being baptized as a Catholic, and at 28 years old, becoming a cloistered monk, entering the monastery to be a monk. And when he entered the monastery, he wrote his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, from the Divine Comedy, seven story mountains of heaven.
Rick Archer: Where, is that in Dante?
Jim Finley: Dante, yes, Dante. He was, he was a literary major, so he was very big into literature and poetry and literature, the literary realm, and so to Dante, and .. So he wrote his spiritual autobiography, and it went on the New York Times bestsellers list. And he went on from there, I think, to write 50 books, and became one of the best widely known and deeply respected, spiritual religious writers, really, in the Christian tradition. In the 1960’s, through his own ongoing growth, he started corresponding with DT Suzuki, and he wrote a book called Zen and the Birds of Appetite and Zen Masters and Mystics on the Dharma, the integration of the meeting of these two traditions, and also deep involvement with Sufism, these other traditions, and he also got very involved in social justice. He wrote a book called Seeds of Destruction. It was kind of exploring the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, anti Vietnam anti nuclear movement. The Berrigan brothers came there and visited him, he was part of that activist movement from within the monastery.
Rick Archer: Did he get blowback from the Church for …
Jim Finley: He did well, he, what happened is that the superiors of the church, of his order, the Cistercian order, they said monks shouldn’t be writing about things like that. You know, but it was an ongoing kind of arm wrestling thing, that he thought the opposite. He really felt, toward the end of his life, he had an experience, he had to go into Louisville for medical treatments. There’s a famous scene where he was standing at a busy intersection in Louisville, people waiting for the light to change. He said he suddenly realized he loved all those people. And at this time, he was becoming a hermit on the grounds of the monastery. And so he thought that his solitude was a way of radicalizing his union with the world and concern for the world. And so what happened then, as he was invited to attend an international conference of Buddhist – Christian – and Hindu monks in Bangkok, Thailand. And he got permission to go there because he thought it would give him first hand exposure to the Buddhists. He met with the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist practitioners there and while there, he was electrocuted in his room. Yeah, by a faulty ceiling fan as I recall Well, they say it was a … first of all there were rumors the CIA murdered him. It is on video, his last talk, you can watch it on video, he said: ‘At night I shall disappear’, and he went up to his room and … They think he was going to take a siesta, like there was a fan and a high windows, so then he went to turn it towards … the thing, and it was a short in the fan and he fell backwards, (he) was on his chest, when they came into the room he was dead. And, 58 years old, December 10, 1968. The same day Karl Barth died. And so that was, that was Merton, who he was. So it’s just one of these people whose voice touches a lot of people. It has a very deep authenticity and depth to it.
Rick Archer: Were you still in the monastery when he died?
Jim Finley: No, I left a year earlier. And, so I got a call from the monastery, letting me know that he had died.
Rick Archer: Yeah. How was life in the monastery for you? I mean, did you … were you like a fish in water? Or was it difficult for you to adjust?
Jim Finley: Well, what, I entered just before the Second Vatican council, so there was a, like, renewal in the order. It’s an order that traces its origins back to the 11th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the Cistercian order, which is a reform of the Benedictinen Order, Bernard, St. Benedict in the fifth century, so it’s just an ancient … it was one of the cloistered monastic orders within the Catholic tradition.
Rick Archer: Yeah, like you were in silence and things.
Jim Finley: Yeah, we didn’t, there was no talking. We used a simple sign language. It was the idea of solitude and community. We got up at 2:30 in the morning, and chanted the Psalms. And that’s how we spent the seven canonical hours throughout the day. So it was a life of Ora et Labora, like prayer, and work in silence, seeking this deep experience of union with God for oneself and for the sake of the world. It was this notion that in our fidelity, in our search for God, it radiates out and touches the world in ways we don’t understand. And it … I felt very much at home there, I had the silence and then sitting with Thomas Merton. Then he introduced me to the Christian mystics, a deep reading of the mystics. And it really changed my life, it just had a profound effect on me. Were you thinking at the time that you were going to stay there your whole life? I was, it was my thought, I was, I was, I had taken simple vows, temporary vows. And, had I stayed, I would have renewed them once again, taken solemn vows, gotten ordained to the priesthood. And then when you got ordained they sent you to Rome for licensure for two years of study. I wanted to study philosophy, there. And, so I was planning to stay, but I was sexually abused by one of the monks there.
Rick Archer: I was wondering about that. I heard you say there was something traumatic that happened to you.
Jim Finley: Yeah.
Rick Archer: Yeah. So that was the impetus to leave, huh?
Jim Finley: Yeah, I fell apart. Because I was severely abused by my father.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Jim Finley: And so I thought it was safe there.
Rick Archer: Right.
Jim Finley: I mean, I thought … This monk was a priest and was highly respected in the community. And like, I had no refuge. I didn’t know, I just … so the trauma I came in with, which I never really looked at, I kind of brought it in with me.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: (It) kind of reopened. And I just had to leave, I could just tell I had to leave. So I left.
Rick Archer: Did that that guy get busted for his behavior?
Jim Finley: He didn’t. I never … no …
Rick Archer: It got covered up or ignored?
Jim Finley: Ignored, yeah,
Rick Archer: Yeah. But it was, things have really changed in the church. You know, there’s all this horrible stuff about the abuse in the church of clergy, and so on. So I think the church … it still has a long way to go. Yeah
Jim Finley: It really is, is beginning to come into the clarity of the need to address this, look at the causes of it, to take care of that and so on. But back then, there was a kind of not being consciously aware of it. And so I knew, I just knew I had no recourse. I mean, it went to no one. I just, I just know, I needed to go, so I left.
Rick Archer: Yeah, with some people can’t even bring up the subject of Catholicism without them kind of starting to have steam blow out their ears.
Jim Finley: Yeah.
Rick Archer: You know, I’m so upset by all the stuff that’s happened. But apparently you have … Well, you know, I mean, it’s always been a spectrum. I mean, there have been, on the one hand, people are getting tortured and burned at the stake and other on the other hand, on the other hand, you know, great saints. And so the whole gamut of …
Jim Finley: Well, you know, as a human …welcome to the human family. Exactly, yeah. And really, I would say this, that, if anyone is upset about all this, about clergy abuses, it’s the priests. Other priests are being faithful to their celibacy and they’re heartbroken by all this. (It’s) complicated, the layers of historical ways of how this happened. The same way at the monastery. I want to say I wasn’t the only one there that this happened to. I think it’s relatively rare, really, most people, like Thomas Merton and many others, you know, it’s just part of the brokenness of the human condition. And we’re always needing to look at it, address it, be honest about it. And we’re all like precious broken sinners, all of us. And we need to acknowledge it.
Rick Archer: I wonder if it has to do with the fact that everybody in that, you know, in that position is supposed to be celibate, perhaps a lot of people sign up for it, and it’s not their natural tendency to be celibate, and so they’re straining and you know
Jim Finley: Exactly. See, I think there is the like, like, for example, the Buddhist tradition is a celibate tradition. Thich Nhat Hanh is celebate. Some of the yoga traditions also are a celibate tradition. But the thing is, instead of people coming into it in a mature way as a calling, in a kind of basic sexual health within themselves, how they sublimate that to deepen into these unitive experiences. They kind of come in completely in the tour, unaware. And then when they get into it, this stuff starts coming out sideways, they don’t know what to do with it. And then there’s a kind of institutionalized lack of acknowledgement of the importance of helping people understand this, and, you know, happen from there. So it’s, it’s in the process of being addressed and dealt with, but it’s an ongoing part of the human experience, I think.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I know, in the yoga traditions, by yoga, we mean, the whole Vedic Hindu thing. Many of the great sages and rishis, throughout history have been householders and had, you know, sons and daughters and the whole deal. But also in that tradition, there’s kind of understanding of what to do with that energy if you are going to be celibate how to supplement it, sublimate it, as you say. And so it doesn’t just get sort of blocked with no outlet.
Jim Finley: Exactly. So in the yoga tradition, for example, they say the Kundalini yoga of the chakras, and you integrate that libidinal energy, into this Namaste, you see. And the same is true in the Christian tradition. In the Christian tradition in the Christian mystics is nuptual mysticism, you know, mystical eros. You get this training and guidance in that. But I think the more noble the aspiration, the more fragile the container that tries to be faithful to it. And so, people often don’t get the guidance that they need, to do that. And that’s just, that’s what it is …
Rick Archer: Say that again, the more noble the aspiration, the more fragile that tries to be …
Jim Finley: That’s right, say the more …, let’s say, I’ll speak of it in the Catholic tradition. So in the tradition of Saint Benedict, it’s in the fifth century. And he was a hermit, who’s living in a cave, seeking his life, as a solitary prayer, and he was inspired also by the Desert Fathers in the desert and others, the stories coming through Evagrius and different people. And he had one, he had this kind of unitive state of consciousness. This kind of state of being deified, love. And when people recognized this transformation in him, that’s how it draws people, like; help us so we can find this, too. And more and more people started coming. And so he wrote a rule, the rule for monks, which has played a significant role through the Middle Ages, of feudal society, and so on, on the formation of the society. So the whole monastic ethos, the whole monastic aspiration, towards transformation into this ultimate state, of Oneness with God, oneness with us in every breath and heartbeat, and radiating out to touch the whole world. The nobility of the aspiration is held within the fragility of the social structures that try to maintain it, you know. The weakness of certain people, the lack of spiritual groundedness, in those who are trying to lead the thing. And so there’s an ongoing .. Thomas Merton once said; ‘All, all spiritual renewal in religious societies is returning to the fire of the founder, because it was a person who was kind of a flame with this realization. And we’re trying to get back to the purity of the founder and how to be faithful to that. Because along the way, it tends to crumble around the edges and you fall into these compromised things. That’s why it’s so identified with Richard Rohr in the Living School, like contemplation and action. Like the, the new orthodoxy, which is the original orthodoxy of love, and fidelity to love be transformed in that love for the sake of the world. And so, every time it kind of falls apart and starts to crumble, a new form of it surfaces somewhere else. And people gather around it. And that’s how it, that’s how it works in all these traditions, I think.
Rick Archer: There’s several themes in what you just said, as I understand it. One is that you know, as you begin to ascend to higher levels of mystical union or higher levels of consciousness, or whatever you want to call it, in a sense, you become more vulnerable because it’s a very refined, delicate state. And it’s, it’s like if you were, you know, if you go into a coal mine wearing a black suit, you’re not going to notice any smudges, but if you go in wearing a white suit, then it easily gets smudged. So the more pure you become, the more careful you have to be in order not to sort of transgress? Is that what you were saying there?
Jim Finley: Yes, yes. And there’s another thing here too. And I’ll share a story how I experienced it. Is that the, when we are awakened to this, we get a taste of it. Sometimes we labor under the idea that somehow it’s leading us into a realm of holiness, this dualistically – other than beyond the brokenness – within ourselves. So when I went into the monastery, I had all this trauma inside of me. And when I went in to see Thomas Merton, I was just out of high school, and I saw him as an authority figure. And I thought the trauma was behind me, I had the monk’s robes on, my head was shaved, and I was, I was sitting with Thomas Merton. And when I tried to talk with him, I started to hyperventilate. I couldn’t breathe. And he asked me, you know, what’s going on? And I, my voice was shaking. And I said, I’m scared because you’re Thomas Merton. And he said, to me, it was one of these life changing moments. I worked at the pig barn at the time, it had a lot of livestock, it was a big farm. He said everyday, under obedience, I want you to come into work in work early, and before you go to Vespers, I want you to come here and tell me one thing that happened at the pig barn that day. And I can remember thinking; I can do that.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Jim Finley: And I would go in and I’d sit down and I’d level the playing field. And by openly admitting the wounded place within myself, he brought me into kind of a compassion. By accepting it, I could accept it. And that happened to me over and … And I see that a lot in therapy, too. Where, in the very, in the act of risking, sharing what hurts the most in the presence of someone who will not invade us or abandon us. We can learn not to invade or abandon ourselves. And deeper down, in risking what hurts the most in the presence of someone who will not invade us or abandon us, we can come upon within ourselves, what Jesus called the Pearl of Great Price, the invincible preciousness of ourselves and our brokenness. And that’s the paradoxical nature of the path, really, the laying bare the broken place, and the light shines out through that broken place, by accepting it. And … big thing, really.
Rick Archer: Yeah, so Merton was basically … one of the things he was doing there, he was saying, hey, you know, you know, calm down. I’m a regular guy, too. I can talk about pigs and ordinary stuff. And, you know, I’ve got my quirks and foibles, I imagine he was implying. Yeah. And the thing is, what were talking about, I mean. You know, there’s so many … there have been so many instances of Eastern gurus who come to the West and then get into trouble with various behavioral things. So it’s not, obviously it’s not restricted to Catholicism or Christianity. And, but in the case of … and, well, and there’s a similarity in that many of them were raised in sort of ashram situations without a lot of social interaction. And then they come here, and they probably didn’t realize … you know, various weaknesses and tendencies that they had within them that hadn’t been resolved. And so then those things become their Achilles heels. That’s right. It was really, I think, significant. Now I want to apply it to marriage for a minute, to show how universal this is. It is that when someone sincerely seeks this, but they have unresolved issues within themselves, they’ve not addressed. And they have a certain charismatic attractiveness, too, and people start being drawn to this. Sure, yeah, they radiate ..
Jim Finley: The brokenness in that person will use that charismatic energy to exploit and sexualize the relationship.
Rick Archer: Wow.
Jim Finley: And, and, but I want to apply it in a more subtle way and how it applies to marriage, to all of us. You know, it seems to me in marriage two people, they get married because they fall in love with each other. And then when they get married, as they get into the trenches of it, they discover the each one brought in with him, you know, the internalized abandonments and traumas and so on. I’d say unwittingly start acting out on each other. And they either despair or they go deeper. See, so I think we’re always sifting out and bringing the broken place out into the openness of love. And, and that’s the drama of transformation. You know, that’s what we’re always working on, that’s what all of us are working on, I think.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I also think it’s the sort of, the divine intelligence quality of the universe, and of every experience we encounter, which, if we’re able to accept it, as such, serves as an opportunity for learning and growth, you know, and, and an opportunity to sort of look within rather than just point the finger outward and say, oh, this person is behaving this way. It’s, they are the problem.
Jim Finley: That’s right. And I think another side of it is, you know, and on this point we’re making Cardinal Newman once said, that often in life, our failures are more significant than our successes.Because our successes have a way of reinforcing our illusions about ourselves. You see our failures force us to despair and go deeper. But there’s another side of it, too. Sometimes what happens, we discover we have a gift, of creativity, or some – whatever the gift is. And we can’t hold on to the impoverished impression of ourselves and open our arms to receive that gift. So I think the ego is always being broken open from both ends, you know, by being asked to accept the brokenness within itself to be transformed. And also how to surrender and be open to what the gift is asking of you. Like how it can be a way of channeling love, energy and healing to the world and to people. And Thomas Merton once said, at the monastery, he said, we can’t love and live on our own terms. He said, he said, we should all get down on our knees right now, and thank God we can’t live the way we want to. Because the humility and honesty, it breaks us open. And like, we’re asked to walk that walk.
Rick Archer: In spirit. There was a rather amusing story of how you ended up getting married. I didn’t quite gather in listening to your talk, whether this was the woman you stayed with, throughout your life or whether you had a second marriage, but you got out of the monastery, you asked a girl out on a date, you went to see Lawrence of Arabia, and then right after that you proposed to her, boom!
Jim Finley: I came out of the monastery, because I dropped out of the church. And I took refuge in the Dharma, I was introduced to Buddhism through Merton. It was really refuge for me. And I moved in with my parents. My father was still beating my mother.
Rick Archer: How did you … I don’t want to sidetrack the question I just asked, but how did she tolerate that so many years?
Jim Finley: Battered wife syndrome, battered wife syndrome, and also the Catholic church at the time said it’s a sacrament. You know, you offer it up, you do your bet, like this. And also the person who’s caught into the pattern of that where he would apologize to her then do it all over again. And there was six children and it was it was horrendous.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I had a similar thing. But it wasn’t physical. It was more verbal with alcoholism involved, but there was always this passivity. Now, I think I should have intervened. I should have said something. I should have done something. But when you’re a kid, you know, you.
Jim Finley: You don’t know better. And ehm, so that was that, so when I came out of the monastery, then I, I wanted to …, I think maybe the very first person I ever dated, … Dr. Zhivago is what we saw.
Rick Archer: Oh, that was it. I said, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago.
Jim Finley: Yeah, we took … , I came out of movie theater and I couldn’t find the car. We were walking on, trying to look for the car. And I proposed to her.
Rick Archer: Before you found the car?
Jim Finley: Yeah, right? That was, it was just was it about a week later. We were at a picnic, I had a few beers and saw her and asked her to marry me. And she came from an abusive background. I had no job, I had no money, nothing. And we looked at Monroe, Michigan, and we moved in with my parents. And I’d awake at night listening to my father beat my mother downstairs. It’s a horrible thing. I have two children by that marriage. So, when I left that marriage, I got, when I got my scholarship for my doctorate. And I was still giving retreats, through all of this, on Thomas Merton and mystical union and so on. So when I was, when I got my doctorate in clinical psychology, I, I started integrating the mystical spiritual dimensions of life into the healing process, like what’s that look like? And as I worked through that process with myself, I left that marriage. I saw it was so destructive to my daughters, and I would like … those two. So then what happened is, in leaving the marriage, I was giving a retreat. I was early on Merton’s Palace of Nowhere in the book I wrote, and a woman attending the retreat … it was on a Dark Night of the Soul and St. John of the Cross. And a woman attending the retreat asked if I would see her for spiritual direction. And I did end up marrying her. So we were together for 30 years. She just died four months ago. We were very close. It was very, it was a very precious relationship. We were both therapists and spiritual directors. We lived here at the ocean. And it was just one of these life changing, spiritual gifts to me. Really.
Rick Archer: Beautiful. Yes, I’ve been listening to your podcast and in the early episodes, she had just died days before and you’re making an episode, it was very poignant. Okay, what was I gonna say next? Well. Let’s shift a little bit, we’ll loop back into personal anecdotes and things but um, you know, we’ve already used the word God quite a few times. And someone here, Elizabeth from Colorado sent in a question asking, is there something in the path of Christian mysticism that is more or less equivalent to what is called enlightenment in Buddhism? We might also say, you know, Hinduism, they use the same word. Have you experienced this or known anyone who has? So there’s, there’s that question, you know, something in Christianity that correlates or corresponds with enlightenment in Eastern religions. And also, I’d like to sort of get into your understanding of what God is. Because we’re, you know, it’s a word that has so many meanings to so many people and if we’re going to be using it, we better define it.
Jim Finley: Doing, we’ll do enlightenment first, just for Christian corollary to enlightenment or to Namaste to the deep union that occurs and realized Yogi’s, and is there a Christian analogy to that. And there is, and, and really those who realize that experience are mystics. The Christian mystics are men and women who have been transformed in a mystical experience, or a series of mystical experiences, in which they mystically experience everything that they experience. And the mystical experience, Romano Guardini, one Catholic writer put it this way, the mystical experience is the realization that; Although I am not God, I’m not other than God either. And although I have not any of you, I’m not other than any of you either. And although I have not the earth, I’m not other than the Earth either. It’s really a state where we in God, cease to be experiences other than each other. And our ultimate destiny is infinite union with the infinite mystery of God as our destiny. And even on this earth, we can be awakened to it as this unitive state. And so mystic teachers, like John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, they offer trustworthy guidance for the person who feels interiorly called to realize that Unit of State. So Thomas Merton, when he started corresponding with DT Suzuki, the Zen scholar. And so when I read these stories of enlightenment, these koans where the master meets the disciple. He says something leaps off the page at me and says, this is true. And I’d like to know if I, as a Christian monk could talk with you as a Buddhist about the common ground. And so really, that’s what drew me to the monastery, it’s that common ground of this ultimate realized … I’ll put it this way, I put it in a Christian term. What if right now we could all close our eyes, and with our their eyes closed, we could be interiorly awakened. So that when we opened our eyes, we’d see through our own eyes what Jesus saw in all that you saw, what would we see? We’d see God. Because Jesus saw God in all that He saw. And what’s fascinating about it, when you sit with the Gospels, it didn’t matter whether he saw a prostitute or his own mother, his executioners or his disciples, a person of great wealth and power, or a widow dropping her last coin in the box, or a flower, or a bird or a tree. Jesus saw God and all that he saw, and he said; You have eyes to see, and you don’t see. And so as we, if we could really, really, really see right now all that we really, really, really are, we see the infinite mystery of God pouring itself out and giving itself away, as the intimate immediacy of all that we really are. That state, that vivid state, and the fullness of that state would be the Unitive Mystical Experience. And then we can learn to be habituated in that state, and translat it into love for other people. So it’s very much at the heart. Thomas Merton once said that he said, there’s a lot of Catholics losing their faith, and they’re losing it in church, because the church doesn’t teach its own mystical lineage. People don’t even know about it, but it’s the lifeblood of the lineage. Like all this, you know, in Judaism, it’s Kabala. And in Islam it’s the Sufi Way, and Hinduism it’s this deep Raja Yoga, this deep Bhakti Yoga. All these traditions are traditions that have passed beyond ideologies and theological formulations. That what Richard calls the, you know, the universal Christ Consciousness experience. And that’s, that’s very much why I try to help people that are seeking this on retreats, regardless of what tradition they’re in.
Rick Archer: I interviewed a young man a few weeks ago named Aaron Abke and he was raised by a fundamentalist minister. And he went to Oral Roberts University. And he was, you know, he found himself sitting there listening to these fire and brimstone sermons about what was going to happen to all the people who didn’t believe what they believed. And there was too much of a clash, you know, between what he felt God must be, and the fate that was supposed to befall all the people who didn’t believe in Him. So he ended up stepping out of that and branching out and broadening his perspectives. And we had an interesting conversation.
Jim Finley: You know, Thomas Merton once said, so he said, a regrettable thing about the missionary work of the church, is that all too often the Christian missionaries didn’t realize that the people they were converting were as holy, were more holy than they were.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I’m sure some of them went to India and thought these Yogi’s were just a bunch of dirty bums you know. They were actually in a very high state.
Jim Finley: And instead, yogi’s were coming to Merton to visit, to meet and talk with him. He was one of these people who saw this unity. He once said; the world will not survive religion based on tribal consciousness. He said, but if the people in each tradition will go to the heart of the tradition, which is this unitive experience, they recognize each other. In that recognition that they would speak out of that unity, religion could be a source of union in the world. So it’s …
Rick Archer: Yeah. On the note of mysticism, sometimes when I hear the word, I think, well, you know, ideally, there could be a society in which the norm was what, you know, the mystics have experienced that, the rare exceptions that we call mystics, that could be the norm for people. And then perhaps even in that society, there would be people who had gone beyond that norm. They were still at the edge of that bell curve. And we would call them mystics. But it’s really a matter of, you know, what is what we’re accustomed to. There is no reason why the deep experience – the unitive experiences of the mystics couldn’t be normative for human beings. We all have the instrument with which to have that. It’s just a matter of, you know, developing it in large enough numbers, wouldn’t you say?
Jim Finley: Yes, I would say, there’s an intuition that helps me with this. Imagine it with the ocean, here’s why I think of it this way, I guess. Imagine you’re walking along the ocean shore ankle deep. It’s true, you’re only ankle deep. And if you head out into deeper water, it’ll get plenty deep soon enough. That’s true. So in ego consciousness, there is incremental degrees of entering ever more deeply endeavor, deeper depth, that’s true. But what if poetically, we would say, in its hidden center, the ocean is infinitely deep. And the infinite depth is infinitely giving itself away, holding complete, in and as each incremental degree of entrance into it. So why did two people who have loved each other very much for a long, long time, why do they never tire reminding each other the first time they saw each other the first time they kissed, the first time .. Is it not because unbeknownst to them, they were already in the water – way over their head? And I think we’re trying to calibrate our heart growth, find enough scale, to recognize this depth and richness is present in the simplicity of things, and how to live in greater fidelity to that.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Well, some people, when they have a profound spiritual awakening, the first thing they say is; I’ve always known this, why didn’t I recognize it, you know? So it’s like unbeknownst to them. And unbeknownst to us, and unbeknownst to everyone, we’re already enlightened. You know, we already are that, that fullness of divinity, just not quite ready, yet.
Jim Finley: We are. The thing is, I think there’s another way to look at this. See, there’s a moment, a moment of awakening like, that we’re momentarily enlightened. But the trouble is, it tends to dissipate. And that momentum of the day’s demands, I think closes in on us again. But we can remember the moment we were enlightened and there can begin to grow in us a desire to abide in the depths of fleetingly glimpse, and that’s the path. You see, how can I learn to keep the aperture of my heart open for more vitual state of this oneness that I know is always there? And that’s, there’s, these are these paths of transformation, in all the traditions.
Rick Archer: Yeah, it gets stabilized and integrated. As a matter of fact, Patanjali has all these different Sanskrit names for different Samadhis. And some of them pertain to, you know, the brief glimpses and then there’s ones that pertain to longer stretches, and then there’s Nirvikalpa Samadhi, I believe it is, which is, you know, unbroken, it doesn’t turn on and off.
Jim Finley: Yeah, that’s exactly it, it’s stable, it becomes habituated in the person.
Rick Archer: Yeah, it’s interesting that you’re attracted to Buddhism. Although, you know, it’s understandable because Thich Nhat Hanh came to the monastery and Thomas Merton turned you on to it and everything, but Buddhism doesn’t seem to talk about God very much. Go ahead, what were you gonna say.
Jim Finley: Yeah, well it does and it doesn’t. Say, there are these traditions in the world as theistic traditions. So, the ones that trace the origins of the call of Abraham, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Also Hinduism, a Brahman, Brahman, Vishnu and Shiva, Sikhs, so on. So what you don’t have in Buddhism is freestanding transcendence. You didn’t have in the Buddha, this idea of there being a divine origin of all things. But what you do have in the enlightenment of the Buddha is the divinity of everything. But the Dharma field is pure and undefiled in all directions. That’s why, in a story of Yasutani Roshi, in an interview with one of the monks working on a koan. And the koan is ‘mu’. You know, like you sit with the word ‘mu’. And this person comes in for the interview with Yasutani Roshi, and he’s radiant. And he says, you look like somebody who just saw ‘mu’, like you were awakened. And he said, now you know that seeing ‘mu’ is seeing God. And by the way, also in Christianity, the freestanding transcendence, in a way tends to disappear. Because it transforms us into itself. And the union is realized. And, so Merton was so quick to pick up these resonances or affinities between these traditions, and follow the path that we’re on, open to all of them.
Rick Archer: Uhm, Elizabeth’s question included the question; Have you experienced enlightenment or known anyone who has?
Jim Finley: Yes, right. In the way we’re talking now, my sense with Merton is that clearly he had. I saw him, he was a lineage holder. Shunryu Suzuki, the Soto Zen scholar, Soto Zen Master, he said; the primary task of the spiritual teacher in these traditions, is to give living witness to the secret that what the seeker seeks is real. That is, you know your heart has not deceived you because you center in the presence of someone in whom this has been realized. And I sensed that in Merton. I saw him as a lineage holder of this ancient tradition all the way back to the – down to the centuries, back to Jesus, spending whole nights in prayer and beyond. And, so I saw him that way. And I asked him to lead me in that, and to my own awakening that I had and the effect that it had on me.
Rick Archer: Yeah. I hesitate to use the word Enlightenment myself just because it has this superlative static kind of connotation, like a terminus point you reach and that’s it. That’s like saying, I’m educated as if you couldn’t learn anything new. So ..
Jim Finley: That’s right, that’s right. Gregory of Nyssa, one of the great Fathers of the Church, had this idea called Glory unto Glory. It’s speaking of it poetically. Imagine you die and you go to heaven. And you’ve been in heaven for a trillion – trillion – trillion years. And you finally got the hang of it, you know, all the angels on a first name basis and so on. He said, then God pulls the lever and eternity starts all over again, amen. But there’s no end to the endless. That the endless nature of the mystery keeps granting itself to us, it’s every breath and heartbeat. That’s, its has that tonal quality to it.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Here’s a question that came in from Paul in Santa Cruz. Having been raised Catholic, I am not drawn to mainstream Catholicism or for that matter, Protestantism. However, Christian mysticism has always intrigued me. Is Christian mysticism, by definition, a solitary practice? Or is there a denomination that focuses on the mystic – on the mystical aspect? I guess he means is there a way that it can be participated in, in a group, you know, a Sangha or a Satsang?
Jim Finley: Yes, I would say, first of all, there’s both. You have a solitary dimension to this thing, but also very often, it’s actually it’s communal. So in the Benedictine tradition, for example, it’s a community. You realize it within the community. But also what you have today for people in the world again, the Living School with Richard Rohr would be an example. But also a centering prayer. Father Thomas Keating, Contemplative Outreach, and the International Christian Meditation Society, also. And so you can go practice these, these, this wordless path in a community of seekers in the Christian tradition, seeking this realization within that tradition. That’s why I came back into the church after I left. But I came back into the Church, come back into this mystical Christianity, you know, in this mystical lineage open to all the traditions. So in many – probably the nominative way it is communal. You can seek out those places where the practice might be and learn from them and listen to audio talks, different things.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Yeah, I want to make sure that everybody got that because you said it rather quickly. But the Living School that you do with Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault is – has a whole systematic curriculum that you can go through for a couple years. There’s a whole curriculum that one can engage in. And so essentially, you are doing a communal thing with a bunch of people that is totally focused on, on deeper mystical experience, right?
Jim Finley: Yeah, what the Living School is, it’s a great program, really, that Richard and I and Cynthia Bourgeault, and then Barbara Holmes, and Brian McLaren. They take 200 people a year. And it’s non academic, there’s no papers, there’s no tests, it’s all commitment to a daily meditation, contemplative practice and prayer. The reading of these classical texts of the Christian mystics, and translating that mystical lineage into service to the world. And so you’re in for one year, and they have dialogues with each other, and with the teachers, and then .. We’re improvising now, because of the pandemic we did over zoom last time. It went well, went pretty well. And, and then they, they translate it into a form of service to the world. And it just, I think, touches a deep longing in people to have no agenda, but love. That has no agenda, but to be transformed in this love, to go deep into the tradition, and then share it with people. So …
Rick Archer: What sort of service? It’s called the Center for Action and Contemplation, so in that little title you’re indicating there is some kind of action and service and then contemplation, the inward stroke. But what are you talking about, working in food banks, or what kind of service?
Jim Finley: Well, let’s say this first. Let’s say the broader overarching umbrella here say; the Center for Action Contemplation. So it was a movement started by Father Richard Rohr, in this kind of contemplative traditions of Christianity. He’s a Franciscan priest. So it fosters fidelity to the deepening of contemplative prayer, and then serving the world in different ways, different forms of social service, and so on. So it’s an open ended – with books and audio talks, and retreats, and so on. But the Living School emerged out of that, as this program that I just referred you to, that’s where they accept people, they walk them through this kind of a chance to kind of mature and settle into these traditions and how to live by it every day. But the broader overarching, of the Center .. the Center for Action and Contemplation is itself a chance to listen to talks and read books and how to apply to your own life in your own parish or your own situation. And its …
Rick Archer: It’s probably an interaction amongst the members where you can discuss things, is it?
Jim Finley: Yes, yes, of course. Yes. Yeah.
Rick Archer: What was I gonna say? Yeah, so it sounds like the service aspect is a matter of one’s proclivities and abilities, and you find a channel that works for you.
Jim Finley: That’s exactly right.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And in your case, essentially, you were a therapist. And a lot of times a lot of spiritual teachers these days are saying, you know, you may need some kind of therapy, in addition to your spiritual practice, because your spiritual practice alone isn’t necessarily going to, you know, untangle all the knots of trauma that could be an impediment on your spiritual path aside, you know, in addition to messing up your life in various ways. And yet, you know, people then think, well, how do I find a spiritually oriented therapist? Because if you just look in the yellow pages, you know, chances are the person you’re going to find isn’t going to understand the spiritual path as you understand it.
Jim Finley: Yeah, sure. Here’s how I see it. Here’s how I approach people with it. Let’s say, say, someone’s spiritual director. And they’re coming to the director and with their director, they’re practicing methods of prayer. How to find God’s experience in their daily life and the path of spiritual direction. Then the director may say to the person; you know, there’s certain things that are going on here with you, when you talk about being depressed or feelings of self loathing or struggling with addiction, or anxiety with panic attacks, irrational fears, and I’m not trained to deal with that. I’m not trained to do with that. Therefore, I would think it would really be in your best interest, to work with someone who is trained to do that. Now there’s two ways I can go with it. One, they could say, I’ll still see you for spiritual direction. But all you want is a clinician who’s a skilled clinician, who knows how to work with trauma, to work with whatever the presenting problem is. Once in a while, and I also think you’re looking for someone who possible .. they’re here and he or she doesn’t themselves have to be on this path but they have to respect it.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: They have to realize that. And once in a while, you’ll find someone who does both. That is, you’ll find a clinically trained, contemplative person, or contemplative person who’s clinically trained. That really what you’re looking for most typically, you have your spiritual direction, you have the .. you have your therapy to work through the psychotherapy, stuff. And those two points, those two merged at a certain point, you get past the symptomatology, you continue on. And so you don’t really need a spiritually – you need just a therapist who respects it, that knows his or her skill set, and how to help you through these problems.
Rick Archer: There’s a categorical index on batgap.com and one of the categories is, you know, therapists of various kinds, and there’s some subcategories under that. So these are people who, you know, understand the spiritual dimension, and also are licensed therapists of various kinds. So it’s good if you can find somebody like that if you need them.
Jim Finley: And by the way, you’re seeing more and more of that in mental health. Back in the day, if you do a word search for categories, in mental health in the journals, it’d be hard to find spirituality. And there’s more and more acknowledgement of spirituality as a dimension. We’re a resource in the healing process, and the important role that it can play presents a kind of integrative approach and Ken Wilber’s work on this. He’s has been a key figure, I think, on this integrative model.
Rick Archer: As a matter of fact, I betcha there have been therapists who would diagnose spiritual experiences and spiritual awakenings as some kind of pathology, you know, some kind of ‘you are going nuts, you see angels, oh, we give you a drug’.
Jim Finley: No, they would. They would. But likewise, you’d find untrained spiritual people who have someone who’s psychotic and told them that they’re really seeing angels.
Rick Archer: Yes.
Jim Finley: So we’re trying to find a healthy balance. You know, trying to find that healthy balance.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: Between someone who respects dimensions of reality beyond the empirical, the non objective, non objective, viable dimensions, and respects them, and at the same time at the psychological level stays there. And the spiritually grounded person who sees the psychological is real in its own right and needs to be addressed at that level. And you’re always working toward that balance.
Rick Archer: There was a story about Ram Dass. He went to visit his brother who was in a mental hospital and Ram Dass said to his brother; ‘so the reason that you’re in here, and I’m out there is that you think you’re God, but you think you’re the only one who’s God. And, you know, I’m out there. I also think I’m God, but I think everybody is’.
Jim Finley: Yeah, yeah
Rick Archer: Well, speaking of God, let’s get back to God. I think we could, we could go subtler in terms of our discussion of what God is. I always hear, I have a quote, somebody sent me the other day a passage in the Bible, which pretty clearly indicates the notion that God is omnipresent. That I think Jesus or someone said, you know, every single blade of grass, you know, God resides in it. So, and also, there’s the omniscient part and the omnipotent part. So is Christianity as a whole kind of on board with that? Or would it again, be the mystical, you know, subset that appreciates that kind of idea.
Jim Finley: You know, let’s talk about this God, the Word of God and how .. in the Christian tradition. Here would be one way of starting to get a sense of it. Let’s say one way to look at it would be to say that God is a transcendent, ineffable, beyond all categories, beyond all designations. God’s revealed as hidden, is beyond, because it’s infinite, infinite, the hiddenness of God. And the hidden mystery of God is revealed to us. As intimacy is divine relations, a subsisting relations of the Trinity; the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. And God is origin, God is Abba, Father, patriarchal society, or Mother, God is origin. We put it this way, that ultimately just one thing is happening. The infinite presence of God is presencing itself, pouring itself out and giving itself away, in and as the intimate immediacy of our very presence and presence of others and all things. This is the God given Godly nature of ourselves, others and all things. This is not to say that we are God, but to simultaneously affirm our absolute nothingness without God, for God would cease creating us into this present moment at the count of three, we would vanish. Because we’re nothing, absolutely nothing, apart from God’s self donating act of pouring itself out as our reality itself. But it’s a very nothingness without God that makes her very presence to be the presence of God. To experience that is the religious experience. And since love, is the overflowing fullness of presence, just one thing is happening. The infinite love of God is pouring itself out and giving itself away, as the intimate immediacy of ourselves. So that love is our origin. Love is our sustaining ground, and love is our destiny. And that’s God, God is love. So if God is omnipresent, can there be anything other than God? There is in relative consciousness of relative reality, everything’s other than God. That is the universe. It can be understood in relative consciousness of relative reality, as being distinct from God. The ocean, the trees, the palms of my hands, the view out the window. But the ultimate ground of everything that I see, is God’s manifested presence, giving itself to me as each single presence.
Rick Archer: But are things really distinct from God? Or is it due to incompleteness of vision that they appear distinct. Whereas in fact, if our vision were complete, we would see that God pervades this cup as much as some transcendental ground.
Jim Finley: No, it’s distinction, it is indistinction and distinction. Distinction and indistinction. It is not monism. It is not as if it’s really just this one thing; God. And it’s only through illusion, we think there’s anything other than God. It’s that, ultimately speaking, the infinite reality of God is giving itself away as the reality of everything. And yet that divinely given divinity of everything stands on its own, as distinctly real, in it’s groundedness in God. So you and I are really here now having our conversation. We’re real, in relative consciousness. There’s an integrity to this, a reality to this. But if we were to go down into the depths of who we are, deeper, deeper, deeper, deeper, the more we get down to the depths of ourselves, the depths of ourselves drops down into the bottomless abyss of God welling up and giving itself away as if having this conversation. And so, it’s, it’s like that. So each, each level, is allowed to stand on its own, for the reality that it is, but it’s fully understood and in relationship to this interpenetrating pattern. The Holiness of ordinary experience.
Rick Archer: Yeah. I think what I’m thinking or what I would say is that, you know, the, all these levels, that we can say knowledge is different, in different levels of consciousness or reality is different at different levels or…, and so on. But if you, if you could appreciate any level deeply enough, you would see that that which is in the depths is also on the surface. There ultimately is no deeper or shallow, it’s all one ocean.
Jim Finley: So that’s what I meant earlier by saying, poetically; what if the ocean and its hidden center is infinitely deep and it’s infinitely giving the infinite depths of itself away holding completeness each incremental degree of entrance into it. Then even in the shallow water you’re in the water – way over your head. Which is the religious experience. It’s a sense of amazement or wonder, like the boundaries fall away, you know it’s this unspeakable holding us to the immediacy of the gift to the moment, the beating of our heart, our breath, like that.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And don’t mystics say, maybe some of the mystics that you’re going to cover in your in your podcast, that, you know, they do see God in everything. They look at the cup or they look at the cat or the horse or the wall or something and they can see. They’re not just seeing the material thing. They see that, but also they see its essential reality, which is God or Divinity or Consciousness.
Jim Finley: Yeah, I like to say, Carl Jung said somewhere, he said; How can we claim the years have taught us anything? If we’ve not learned to sit and listen to the secret that whispers in the books? So that if I look at a fire, for example, and ego consciousness, I see a fire but if I gave into the flames, connecting, contemplative gazing of the flames, I sense in the flames, the intimations of the Holiness and the mystery, manifesting itself as this, as this flame. And that’s why I think, when we try to talk about it, it gets, we’re trying to grab it in words. A bit more when we sit in meditative silence infused with love with a state of wonder. We intimately taste directly for ourself for which no words can be found. And I think that’s the key to this. This is why we long for the experience of what our words are alluding to.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: And how to stabilize in it and share it with people.
Rick Archer: And that’s true of everything. I mean, you know, you and I can talk about some exotic fruit that neither of us has tasted like, let’s say we’ve not neither of us ever had a mango. And we’ve read books on mangoes, we’ve seen movies about mangoes, you’ve heard all this stuff, but we have no idea what they taste like until we actually taste one.
Jim Finley: That’s exactly right.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: St. John of the Cross says somewhere, he says – in the Dark Night. He says; imagine someone who is born blind. And you tell them about the color yellow.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: Faith comes through hearing. So they would believe the color yellow exists. But because they were born blind, they’d have no substantial knowledge of what yellow is. This is what all our language of God is about.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: We say God is eternal. He said, but we don’t know what this means. We don’t know what it means. But we can, although we can’t grasp what it means, we can realize what it means. But it grants itself to us in the unitive experience, of tasting the contemplative moment.
Rick Archer: I want to ask you about faith, but I want to use your fire analogy just to make one more point here and see what you say about it. And that is, let’s say we’re looking at a campfire or something. And, you know, we could see a nice warm fire, roast some marshmallows, but if we actually consider what we’re looking at, there are these chemical reactions which abide by certain intelligent orderly laws of nature, that are converting, you know, a log into gases and so on. And, you know, going subtler there, you know, on atomic levels there, that are going on, and each of those little atoms uncountable trillions of them, is abiding again by certain laws of nature and functioning in an orderly way. And, when I when I contemplate that sort of thing, I think; it’s all God, I mean, everything from the galaxies to the tiniest microcosm, is this play and display of divine intelligence, keeping the whole thing, orchestrating the whole thing.
Jim Finley: Yeah. So, this is why I see science as a spiritual path, for example. Science at one level, empirical science, it makes direct objective observations that are quantifiable. And you can subject them to equations and formulations and theorems and so on. But the truth of science, you know, the truth of science is no this is my … this is Einstein on Wonder, for the power the imagination. The truth of science, is what energizes the scientist, it’s a path to the truth. For the truth of science transcends the sum total of all the truths of science. But the truths of science of cells are filled with wonder, you know, the intricate. The utterly intricate unfolding mandala of the phenomenal world, and to learn to appreciate it and respect it. Sure.
Rick Archer: right Yeah. A lot of scientists are mystics, because they have, they come up with their theories in a sort of a mystically cognitive kind of way. When Sir Arthur Eddington went to Africa to view a solar eclipse and verify the bending of starlight, which confirmed Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Some reporters said to Einstein; well, what would you do if the theory had been disproven wrong? And Einstein said, I would have been sorry for the dear Lord, that theory is correct.
Jim Finley: Yeah. And that’s why they often say theoretical physicists will say, the truth of it .. I say quantum mechanics for example, if the theory is elegant.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Jim Finley: If it’s elegant, see, that’s really good, that sense of intimations of the manifestation of something. It’s revealed to us, it’s fine. Yeah.
Rick Archer: So how would you compare, let’s say, a mystic who has belief in some deeper realities or belief in God, faith in God, with a scientist who doesn’t yet have any evidence for a hypothesis that he has formulated but has faith that it’s a good hypothesis and that it’s worth putting time and energy into.
Jim Finley: I share with you a story, a true experience. Just a couple of months after I got my doctorate, I was just starting my private practice. And I was on a plane, because I fly around the country given these silent contemplative retreats. I was going to retreat on Meister Eckhart. And I was sitting in an aisle seat and the man sitting next to me, I was just … 40 years ago, an elderly gentleman, my age now. And my handwritings, I had the sermons of Meister Eckhart open, and with my fountain pen, I was writing, I have terrible handwriting. He said; pardon me, I don’t even mean to interrupt, he said; what language is that? And I said it’s English And I said I was going to give this retreat on Meister Eckhart, that I was a psychologist. And so, he said, he said he was an Israeli Jew, who taught physics at a major university. And he said, I myself see no proof for the existence of the non empirical. Even when someone questions your worldview .. I was gonna say to him; Well, if there’s no empirical proof for the existence of the non empirical, is it also true, there’s no empirical proof for the non existence of the non empirical?
Rick Archer: Good point.
Jim Finley: That is, the evidence would have to be commensurate with what it is evidence of. I didn’t say it. Because I told him I was a therapist. I didn’t tell him I just been a therapist for three weeks. He said; do you mind if I ask you a question? I said; no. He said; my wife and I had one daughter. And she was in doctoral work. She was a brilliant young woman, and she was killed. And he said; my wife and I were devastated by it. He said; we still are. He said; we’ve set up a trust, in her honor. So in perpetuity, anyone getting a doctorate in that field, would always have a free PhD. And then he said; but regarding the trust, he said; it helps, but it doesn’t. And we flew along together talking about that. I would say, in my language, the holiness of the moment, that God’s the infinity of the holiness of our interaction, like that. But if I would say to him; have you ever considered deep Torah study? Or you know, I was so touched by Martin Buber’s book; I and Thou, I know it would help you, I would be disrespecting his root. That’s why there are some people who aren’t religious at one level, that they hold a deep religiosity, at a very deep, intimate level of themselves. So when the conversation was over, as I was getting my bag, and so on, he said, thank you. And I said thank you back. I’ve often thought about him.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Jim Finley: And that’s why I think, what I like about therapy, it peels back the layers, you get to this vulnerable moment where you come up from behind the curtain, and try to stammer out something for what you have no words for. And I think, when you’re with somebody like that you’re on holy ground. And I think God is a name that we give for that.
Rick Archer: Yeah, your story brings up a good point, which is, you know, Christ often alluded to – and He mentioned not throwing pearls before swine, although swine is a little bit of an insulting term.
Jim Finley: Why?
Rick Archer: But the point is, yeah, the point is that, obviously, there has to be a certain receptivity, and it helps to sort of teach to the level of receptivity that you find in the person. And, you know, you can’t just sort of .. well, you get the point.
Jim Finley: I do. Yeah, yeah. That’s why ..that’s why I was thinking, if we’re, let’s say, we’ve been touched by this way, and whatever. And we want to share it with somebody. It’s very hurtful sometimes, especially as the person that you know, you try to share it, and they, they just look at you funny.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: You know, and there’s a solitude about it. And it really hurts if they make a disrespectful remark towards it. And so I think we’re always watchful, over knowing whom we disclose it with is someone who’s receptively open to it. And likewise, we return the favor and never speak in a disparaging way. Yeah About something sincerely shared that has touched somebody.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: That’s big, I think.
Rick Archer: And these days, there’s lots of interesting, I mean, with, you know, the advances in modern medicine, for instance, a lot of people are having near death experiences who would have died before, and they come back and they tell about their experience. And there’s 1000s of accounts like this. And it’s, it’s kind of interesting. It gives you a … it descends the veil, I would say, between this side and the so called other side. And so there’s tidbits like that, that one can use to perhaps, as far as the grief of someone who has lost somebody. I love Gabriel Marcel, he says somewhere, the philosopher. He says; we know we’ve learned to love someone, when we’ve glimsed in them that what’s just too beautiful to die. Nice, yeah Yeah
Jim Finley: And, and so it’s the deathless beauty of the beloved. So although the beloved, is dead in manifested reality, the deathless beauty of the beloved, you intuite – is still very much with you. In the unseen, foundational interplay of your souls with each other, that you shared when you were together in the body. That’s why, in my own life right now I’m thinking writing reflections on the way of the widower, like widowhood is a spiritual path. Because the veil between life and death starts to become more ephemeral or diaphanous. And I think there’s a certain contemplative, mystical, tonal quality to that sensitivity. The ancestors and the intermingling of the living and who we call dead. Who we’re going to be joining here in just a few minutes, you know, we’ll be … laughter
Rick Archer: Yeah, for certain it is … how does that go; “For certain indeed, is death for the born and certain is birth for the dead, therefore over the inevitable, you should not grieve.” Here’s some questions that came in. Oh, do you want to say something?
Jim Finley: No, no, just, I love the Bhagavad Gita so much. It is so much at the heart of what we’re talking about.
Rick Archer: Yeah. This is from Angel from Barcelona asks; Could James suggest ways by which I could directly experience God. Most of the time, it is suggested that a direct experience is something that will happen spontaneously with grace. I am a regular meditator, and I intellectually understand that I am part of God – like you and I have just been discussing – and that everything is God. But she wants the direct experience. – Who doesn’t? – Yeah, my wife said; who doesn’t? Well, a lot of people don’t. Well, they think they don’t but they actually do.
Jim Finley: Yeah, right. People are lying. Well, first of all, I think questions, like this, these are the real questions. And I say they’re right at the verge of spiritual direction. Because this person, I would have to have a dialogue and what she means and sit with it, but I’ll make an initial response to it. I’m going to pretend that I’m God talking. Okay. And I hear, you’re telling Me that you’d like to have a direct experience of Me. Ok, that I say to her; you know, that’s lovely, I really am. I’m touched by that. As a matter of fact, I’m the one that’s placing in your heart, the desire to have a direct experience of Me. And what I’d like to suggest to you is this, really; you sit, very, very still. The sincerity of your desire to have a direct experience of Me is already the beginnings of the direct experience of Me. Because that desire arises as a gift in your heart. And if you just keep staying open, and keep leaning into it, and keep the heart wide open, to be ready for unforeseeable things, that will keep him or her, and some of the quickenings of your heart, and seeing Me, might come when you’re not praying at all. It might come in unexpected little flashes. And so a lot of it is so extremely subtle or delicate. It’s like this, the essential, never imposes itself. The unessential is constantly imposing itself. But we can learn by a higher order imperative of our awakened heart, to keep ourselves open to the intimate immediacy of the subtlety of our desires, and start to see already the beginnings of what we’re looking for, there. I think that would be one way to start to …
Rick Archer: Yeah, in your podcasts, you mentioned eight themes in Thomas Merton’s work, and one of them was the fact that if you’re seeking God, it means you’ve already found him. In other words, if you’re interested in this stuff, you’re getting, you’re getting warmer, you’re getting close.
Jim Finley: That’s right. And he says, …???… is deeper still, he’s already found you.
Rick Archer: Yeah, yeah
Jim Finley: And I like that.
Rick Archer: And the fact that she’s meditating is good. I’m a big advocate of that. I, at least, you know, there’s different kinds of meditation. But basically, if you’ve found an effectivee form of it, and when it gets refined enough, then the possibility of God consciousness begins to dawn.
Jim Finley: Yeah. And by the way, I think she’s really hitting on something too, in the sense that, a lot of the path is this; we’ve gotten a taste of the desire to experience God, and then we realize the unconsummated longing to experience God, as unconsummated. And a lot of the path is the ongoing obedience or fidelity to the unconsummated longings. Because, as we sit with it, God unexpectedly consummates the unconsummated. In our bodies, in silence, in all different ways. We’re surprised by the unexpected nearness of it, when it happens. And we just need to stay open and receptive and stay on the path, I think.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Was it Jesus who said that the Kingdom of Heaven sneaks up like a thief in the night, or some such thing.
Jim Finley: Yeah, it comes like a thief in the night, death. He said that death comes like a thief in the night. But also, we’d say that death then, is the great teacher. You know, because also likewise, your point is well made, the awakening you’re looking for comes like a thief in the night.
Rick Archer: It does. And I think a lot of times, it’s if you’ve been on a spiritual path for a long time. It’s been growing subtly and incrementally. It’s not flashy. There’s no big contrast. And yet, if you could step back to where you were 10 or 20 years ago, the contrast would be unbearable and extreme.
Jim Finley: That’s true, sure. I’ll show you, there’s something .. Tammy Simon had, she called it a meditation summit. It was a very nice series she did with meditation teachers in different traditions. And I, I shared one of those. I’ll share an example that I gave out of meditation. It is that, when we start to meditate, searching for this experience, we’re searching for something. What we don’t expect as the unexpected nearness, so what we’re searching for is this. Here’s the example I give. So let’s say we’re sitting in meditation, still and straight. And when I do these meditation retreats, you look down the rows of people sitting. You see a lot of people nodding off like that. And I tell people; that really gets to God, by the way. He goes; oh, gosh, that gets to me. So I see you sincerely seeking me like this. And then; here’s the image; imagine a little baby crying. And the mother’s holding the baby. It is crying, crying, crying, crying, and it finally stops. She takes the baby and puts it in the bed, and she eases her hand out from under the baby, being careful not to wake it up. The thought I have, is that when we meditate, when we realize we’re stooping forward like this, we should renew the straightness of our posture with a delicacy with which the mother slides her hand out from under the baby. Because God’s the infinity of that delicacy. We don’t expect that what we’re looking for, is in the immediacy of such simple things, as that, which is the essence of non violence. So often, it doesn’t come in a firestorm of some big event. When it comes to being surprised, by the inscape of an utterly simple act, that is luminous, and simple. And we get a taste of it like that. I think a lot of the interior path has to do with kind of habituated sensitivity to things like that.
Rick Archer: Yeah, the thing about Nadi.(?) I taught, I don’t know, maybe over 100 meditation retreats myself back in the day, and a lot of fatigue would come out. You know, you’d be on a long meditation retreat for a weekend. You’re not used to the usual stimulation. And I had people sometimes lie down on the floor and take a nap during a meeting, just because they were just overcome with fatigue. So, it’s good to let the fatigue come out. I mean, every afternoon before I meditate, I lie down and take a little nap for a while and then I’m all nice and fresh and have a better meditation. So you got to respect the physiology. Yeah, speaking of the Gita, there’s a verse in there, which says; this yoga is not for him who sleeps too much or too little, who eats too much or too little. It’s the kind of the middle way, you know balanced kind of approach.
Jim Finley: You know, also read by other historians; The Sabath, It’s Meaning for Modern Man, Heschel’s book. And he, in one of his stories he said there was a rabbi, Rabbi Schmelke. And Rabbi Schmelke tried to become a Holy by reading the Torah without stopping. And when he started falling asleep, he would hold little candle between his fingers, and it would burn and wake him up. And it says, things didn’t go well for Rabbi Schmelke. So a friend finally convinced him to go to sleep. And he was so sleepy, he overslept. So when he woke up, he was already late for services at temple. And when he walked in, he was asked to sing from the parting of the Red Sea. And as he sang about the parting of the Red Sea, everyone in the room had to lift the hems of their robes to keep them from getting wet from the waves splashing up to the right and to the left. So, out of the Holiness, of accepting the Godly nature of sleep that was released in him. This energy that touched everybody in the room. That is true.
Rick Archer: Yeah, respecting the physiology. Here’s a couple of questions that I can roll into one. The first part is from Suzanne, from .. she doesn’t say where she is; Is suffering a necessary element on the path to awakening. And the second part of it is about how a mystic, a Christian mystic understands the crucifixion and resurrection. Because obviously, there was some suffering and all of that, in the crucifixion part. Is it literal, historical or symbolic? Or both? So maybe I should have asked these questions one at a time, but I’m sure you can handle it.
Jim Finley: Well, so first, I would have no .. what she means. But the question is, what obstacles on the path to enlightenment are …
Rick Archer: Well, suffering. Is suffering a necessary element? Do you have to suffer? I mean, obviously, there have been monks who have inflicted suffering on themselves, you know; wearing hair shirts, and beating themselves with birch branches, and doing all this austerity, and the same thing in India; sitting on beds of nails. Does (is..) that at all conducive to awakening?
Jim Finley: It tends not to be. Let’s put it this way; asceticism, the art of asceticism, that is the art of denying ourselves at one level to break through to a deeper level as part of the path. We see that all the time even in love, sometimes. We have to deny yourself at a certain level to be more fully loving at a deeper level. But sometimes, ascetical acts, penances, and so on, for their own right, tend to be ego driven, and tend not to be all that helpful. And, so really, what we’re trying to do is how to die to, or let go of patterns in our mind and heart that violate love and violate openness. And, so the true asceticism is the asceticism of dying and letting go of these patterns within ourselves. And then in … and we bring that to prayer. I think, that same attitude of kind of openness and then the suffering lies .. there’s a kind of unproductive suffering. But there’s the sweet suffering, a suffering and unconsummated longing that you’re powerless to realize. That without which your life is forever incomplete, and you quote – suffer it – , that as you undergo it, with love. And so this whole question of suffering is subtle, I think, it depends on …
Rick Archer: Let me ask it this way. You were traumatized as a kid, and then you worked as a therapist all your life and you dealt with a lot of traumatized people. And you’ve, you have whole audio series on trauma and so on and so forth. Trauma, as I understand it, gets bottled up in so we might not even be aware that it’s there. And is there’s inevitably going to be some suffering as the bottle gets uncorked. And the stuff has to start, you know, getting resolved and come out in order for us to progress spiritually or even be a normally adjusted person in regular life?
Jim Finley: You know, let’s say first, trauma, say is a life threatening overwhelming event. And when it’s actually happening, we’re out of control.
Rick Archer: You mean like, getting mugged, or you are in some terrible thing.. The really bad stuff
Jim Finley: Or incest, you know what I mean, that you’re being … that traumatizing, overwhelming … There is that, and then there’s less intense, but no less real traumatizations, the cumulative effect of which can be very traumatizing. So what we try to do then, we don’t like that feeling of being out of control. We don’t like that. So we push it out of our conscious awareness. But the fact that is out of our conscious awareness doesn’t mean it doesn’t live in our body, in our limbic system in our body. So a triggering event is anything in the present, which is resonant with the original trauma. For example, someone comes back from Iraq, from the war. They’re sitting at a red light, the next car to the left backfires, they have a panic attack. So what happens, triggering events bring out these reenacted scenarios, and so on. And so a person gets help, and how to find a safe way, in the presence of someone to incrementally bring these experiences out, at the feeling level, to integrate them. So there’s, there’s that. And if a person never gets triggered, they’re still incomplete. Because they’re holding inside of themselves, things that they’re not yet ready to… So their spirituality at one level is very authentic, but incomplete, because it’s being used as a psychological defense, against feeling unfelt things that are still within them. They would be more whole if it would come out into the open so they could integrate it, accept it, learn to walk with it, and so on. It’s always a very intimate, personal thing.
Rick Archer: Yeah. I was a student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for many years, and he used to speak of trauma as being a sort of a, like you said, imprinted in the nervous system as actually some neuro physiological, chemical and structural abnormality that you know, the intensity or the impact of stressful experiences would cause, and it gets lodged or held there. And we can hang on to it for years or lifetimes. And that when you go deep enough in meditation, it would start to unravel or unwind. He used to call it unstressing. Sometimes we take like six month meditation courses and, you know, doing many, many hours of meditation per day, and all kinds of stuff. It would be, you know, really amazing what would start coming out. But you sort of had the capacity to deal with it at that point, or at least most people did.
Jim Finley: And by the way, there’s such a big movement today, like compassionate therapy with the brain in mind, Dan Siegel and Mindfulness Practice, Bonnie Botnick (?), others, that are working on medic – on mindfulness practice, as a therapeutic intervention that provides and helps people to integrate, these events. And then for some people that can segue into the spiritual implications of mindfulness.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: That kind of goes beyond simply not being symptomatic anymore. That how to be realized in this Unitive state of wholeness, and so on.
Rick Archer: Alright, now that other question that I asked you, we didn’t quite get through it; Millah from the US; How does a Christian mystic understand the crucifixion and resurrection? Is it literal, historical, or symbolic? Or both?
Jim Finley: Well, I think the sense of it is that the crucifixion is literal. The crucifixion happened. And the death of Jesus happened. My sense is that the resurrection is a trance historical event. In other words, put it this way; if there were to be like, say motion sensitive cameras inside the tomb where Christ was buried. I don’t think you’d see all of a sudden where He sits up and unwraps himself and rubs His eyes. He gets up or a flash of light or an angel comes and folds a cloth for him and rolls the stone back. See, I think it’s an a-historical trance-historical event, in, that Jesus lives. And then the mystery of the Christian is that we live, also see the deathless … the resurrection of Jesus, then is our poetic metaphor for the deathless nature of ourselves. So I think the mystical dimension of it is this; that Jesus has followed me, and Jesus takes us to the cross. The cross is the crucifixion of our dreaded and cherished illusions, that anything less or other than an infinite union with infinite love will never be enough for us. That’s the cross. Thomas Merton once said; There’s something inside of us we must struggle with very hard, where it will destroy us, this is the cross in our life. Some self destructive pattern, whatever it is, but by dying to that, through love, than the eternal life, the mystery of the resurrected life, manifests itself in us. And that’s how I think it’s understood. I think the Mystics are saying, ultimately, we’re addicted to the finite. We’re addicted to the finite. It’s been an adequate base of operations. And so we learn to break the thread of overly identifying with the finite so that the infinity that shines out through the finite can be realized.
Rick Archer: Yeah. So, you think that perhaps, obviously, by what you just said, I would assume that you don’t take the Bible necessarily literally, in all things. You know, maybe, I mean, was Jesus born of a virgin? Or, you know, did he really bodily rise from the dead, and somehow the stone got rolled back? So you have no trouble sort of seeing parts of it as allegorical and parts of it as literal? Well, it’s a, I think there’s a … it’s kind of complicated in a way. You know, the gospels were written some, I think, the first one some 30 years after Jesus. They were oral tradition.
Jim Finley: Handed down and … they were collected stories. And, so there’s the historicity of the story of Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure, and the trial and the death of Jesus. I think all that’s historical.
Rick Archer: Sure. Right
Jim Finley: And I also, I don’t think the, the resurrection of Jesus is factual but it’s not allegorical, either. The resurrection is a mystery of faith. It’s a mystery of faith. It is incarnate infinity. It is the deathless nature of God identified with our deathless nature, manifested perfectly in our midst, the resurrected life. It’s a faith consciousness, kind of a resurrection consciousness, I think ..
Rick Archer: Well, the other day when I listened to you, in your podcast tell about Mary Magdalene going into the tomb and finding Jesus’s body gone, the stone rolled back and all, and then, but then he appeared to her and, and I, you know, the way I interpreted that, from my worldview of things is that, no problem, I mean his physical body was gone in one way or the other. But we have a subtler body than just … even …
Jim Finley: That’r right, yeah ..
Rick Archer: Even while we’re alive we do. We have an astral body, we have a celestial body, and a being of that magnitude of that level of enlightenment, could probably immediately begin functioning and interacting with people in a celestial body. And he said, then, he said, I have not yet ascended to my Father. So he was, perhaps in some intermediate stage there, still in his subtle body and able to interact with people who are in their gross bodies. And then probably he moved on and up.
Jim Finley: That’s right That’s right, trance …, That’s why … trans cosmic consciousness. You know, Thomas Merton one said of the ascension of Jesus, ascending into Heaven. He said; how does the second person of the Trinity ascend to the first person of the Trinity? As if the ascension was for our sake, like waving goodbye.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: But the trance, the trance cosmic reality of the Christ reality is symbolized in these stories, which are … the truth of which is realized in our faith and in our prayer, in a way. It’s the same with all these traditions, you take the Bhagavad Gita, if you really go into the depth and the richness of these poetic metaphorical stories, they allude to realizations of the Divine, and are called to be transformed in those and lived by those and share those, mystery with other people..
Rick Archer: You just mentioned the Trinity and a question came in from Dan in London. Maybe you’ve actually partly answered this, but maybe you could say more. Would you be able to explain the Holy Trinity from a mystical point of view?
Jim Finley: In this … Richard Rogers had a book on the Trinity and Cynthia Bourgeault did one also.
Rick Archer: It was you and Richard and Cynthia right, the Holy Trinity ? – laughter -.
Jim Finley: I didn’t write one on the Trinity. There was hers and .. all three .. and then Richard, the Universal Christ, a new name for everything. The one on the Trinity is escaping me right now, it is a lovely book. But I’ll share a brief; please explain the Trinity, we have four minutes kind of thing, that I’ll offer a poetic thing about it, poetry. The Trinity is that, God’s ineffable and hidden.
Rick Archer: I know … Say that again, God is in…
Jim Finley: God’s ineffable and hidden, beyond relations, beyond terms, beyond the unknowability of God, utterly. And the unknowable mystery, the unmanifested mystery of God is manifested as Trinity, which is manifested in divine relations of knowledge and love. So the relation of knowing is called Father or Abba, and patriarchal society or mother, and God is origin of God, that from all eternity, God, the Father Eckhart says, like a woman in labor is giving birth to God. So God the Father, is eternally expressing himself as his Word. So this has a Gnosis, he’s infinitely emptying the total reality of himself as the Word. So the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God, and God the Father eternally contemplate each other, and the love arising between them as the Holy Spirit. So the mystery is this, the mystery is this; if you would go and try to find God the Father, who’s in any way whatsoever dualistically other than the Son or the Holy Spirit, you’d look and look and never find, because there is no God the Father. Because God’s totality of the Father is completely poured out in and as the mystery of the Son and the Holy Spirit. If you try to find the second person of the Trinity, you’d look, there is no second person of the Trinity, who’s dualistically other than the Father or the Holy Spirit. If you look for the Holy Spirit, the dualistically – other, because distinction and unity – unity and distinction, trans- subjective communion. And then what we’re saying is this; from all eternity, God the Father eternally contemplates in the Word, eternal possibility of you hidden with Christ and God forever. So we would try to find you, who’s in any way dualistically other than God. Ultimately, you’d look and look and look, there is no you, that is dualistically other than God. Because who you are is who God eternally knows that you are, hidden with Christ and God for the origins of the universe. And that you, yes, you that never, never, never, never began, because God has never, never, never not known who you are. And the you that was never born as you that will never die. And that you as the you, that is realized in the mystical experience, in an infused way through faith.
Rick Archer: Kind of sounds like what I was trying to get at earlier on. If God is all pervading, then how can there be anything which is not God? Also, what you just said, reminds me of something from the Upanishads which says something like; this is full, that is full. Taking fullness from fullness, fullness remains. Elizabeth from Colorado, again wants to know, are you familiar with the Course in Miracles material?
Jim Finley: I love the Course in Miracles, yeah
Rick Archer: She has a question about it. Then, she said, since you’re familiar with that, what’s your sense of it? Is it authentic to the essence of the spirit of the teachings of Jesus, as you understand it?
Jim Finley: Yes, in a sense. You know, the person … It is a very mysterious book really. It just started coming to this woman like, automatic writing, just put it out, see. That which is real cannot be threatened, that which is unreal cannot exist, herein lies the peace of God, see? And talks about Christ consciousness in those mystical terms. It has helped a lot of people, you know. So in that sense, it has the, it has that mystical authenticity to it. But it’s not consistent with the theological heritage of how I would understand Christ and Trinity and incarnation and so on. But it’s mystically or spiritually authentic, as a spiritual work that touches the hearts of people and, and helps them.
Rick Archer: Was it said to have been dictated, as it were, by Jesus? Is He the author, and she’s just sort of the scribe?
Jim Finley: Well, she disavowed it. It’s interesting, as I understand it. I think she’s passed away now. She disavowed it … within she … like it stood on its own for what it was, and when it was over, it was over. But I think it stands on its own. Like the beauty of it is the presence of God and the beauty of it. Like this, I think she, she didn’t know what to make of it, you just, it’s like something that had … was one of these… That’s why they’re mystical awakenings. That’s why there are some people that are deeply in these traditions outside of world religions. I mean deeply, as with certain poets, and certain artists, and certain philosophers and those who serve the poor. You know, there’s the vibrancy of this mystical consciousness outside these lineages of traditions. And the Course in Miracles would stand outside of the orthodoxy of that, in a certain mystical consciousness of Christ, and we can understand it that way. But I love the Course in Miracles, it’s beautiful.
Rick Archer: Do you, I mean, Christian iconography, and stories and all, are full of references to divine beings, such as Angels, and there’s a whole hierarchy of, what do they call them; Seraphim and all the different things ….
Jim Finley: Yeah, Seraphim and Cherubim … and the hierarchy ..
Rick Archer: And all that is said of celestial realms, and then Jesus himself, you know, appears to be interceding in human affairs, and many people have seen him or heard from him. There are people who claim to be, you know, channeling Mary Magdalene and so on, so I mean, is your sense that there actually is a kind of a celestial realm that, you know, that is highly populated by all kinds of Divine Beings and that they are very much concerned with what happens to us here on Earth and engage with us in various subtle ways.
Jim Finley: Yeah, and I put this in the introduction I sent to you when Maureen died. When I was with her and, and I quoted there that as I was sitting with her, as she was dying. I remembered something that Thomas Merton told us at the monastery, after one of these old monks died. He said; it’s important to realize that when we die, we don’t go anywhere. You see, you don’t orbit the Earth a few times and go to God, you know. He said, In God, we live and move and have our being. So all the angels are here, all those who have crossed over are here, in the interconnectedness of the spiritual order. It’s all here. And these presences, these incorporeal, angelic presences, and corporeal beings that have crossed over, beyond history and to God, they’re all here. And they can communicate and convey their presence to us in all kinds of ways. And there’s just a kind of a natural faith or a certain sensitivity, that you know, there are more things in heaven and earth around you than what you’ve ever dreamt of in your philosophy.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Jim Finley: And so there are things beyond what the physical eyes can see that we can learn to live by, it is the truth we recognize in our heart.
Rick Archer: Actually, I found that passage in the thing you sent me. You said; All the angels, along with all the blessed who have crossed over into God, are here with us in the vast interiority of God, in whom we subsist, as one – as light subsists in flame.
Jim Finley: Yeah, yeah, matter of fact, I think, you know, the Buddhists say there are 10,000 worlds and I’ve traveled to them all. And suddenly it happens in meditative paths – is that in deep meditation, we’re alowing our customary boundaries to fall into the background. And there’s a kind of boundaryless vulnerability, that calls for a certain kind of trust, or a certain kind of prudent courage, where all of a sudden, ones previous assumptions… I like Martin Heidegger’s understanding of transcendence. It is that which actively surpasses all set limits. So in a moment of wonder, if you were to draw a circle around it, try to inscribe it. Because that is what it likes to do. And that boundaryless mystery is giving and granting itself to us in the concreteness of our breath, our beating heart, the next person who walks into the room, and we’re really trying to sensitize ourselves to that, and live an openness to it.
Rick Archer: What is your sense of the value of effort versus grace? Marie from the USA asked, what is grace? And, you know, it’s sort of like, well, there’s that old story, you know, the footprints on the beach, and, you know, at a certain point, God, you know, that story? That the guy said, he was having a rough time. And, you know, you tell the story and talk about grace.
Jim Finley: The two sets of foot prints?
Rick Archer: Yeah, yeah, exactly..
Jim Finley: Yeah, he’s walking along. And what is it that … the person is walking along with Christ or whatever the divine figure is?
Rick Archer: Yeah. And then there’s just one set of footprints. And then he thought God had abandon him? And he said; No, at that point I had picked you up and I was carrying you.
Jim Finley: Yeah, here’s my sense of it. Let’s say grace. Let’s put it this way; to be a seeker is to be an intimately awakened, by the intimacy of that which cannot be explained. That is the grace, is that what simply appears without effort is the grace. You see, it’s not the consequence of effort. And so we put it this way, it’s all up to God and it’s all up to us. If I don’t commit myself to a life of prayer and meditation, there will be no life of prayer and meditation. But the very desire to commit myself to that is a grace. And the fulfillment that I seek in it, is a fulfillment that comes to me as a granting, and not the consequence of effort. I may never have realized the Unitive state had I not tried very, very hard to commit myself to it. But if realized, it has about it, the quality, which I know cannot be explained in terms of the consequence of my effort. So the grace is … I’ll put it in another way in terms of love. Two people love each other very, very much, love one-and-other. That when we don’t know someone very well, it’s easy to express our opinions about them. Let me tell you about so and so. When we’ve loved someone very, very deeply, for a long, long time, and we are asked to explain who that person is to us. We don’t know what to say, in our heart breaks when we try. And we’re grateful for having been broken, having been rendered whole by having our heart broken by love. So the love is the grace. And the grace grew in wayward fidelity to being faithful to it. So there’s always the effort, the effort is an openness to a grace that empowers us to make the effort. And the grace transcends the effort.
Rick Archer: Somehow, when I hear the word grace, I’m reminded of that, you know, knock and the door shall be opened, seek and you shall find, that verse that if you take some initiative, even take one …, a lot of Indian gurus also say, take one step toward me, I’ll take 1000 steps toward you. If you if you show some interest, some initiative, some desire for God, then, you know, it’s as if God says; Okay, we got a live one here, let’s give him some juice, you know, let’s start to give him opportunities to pursue this impulse.
Jim Finley: That’s true. You see this in marriage counseling, too. People come in and say; things are in deep trouble. The first question is; if it is possible to save this marriage, do you want to save it? As long as the desire to save it is there, there’s something to work with. So it is the desire to go deeper into this, that keeps alive the possibility of going deeper into this. And so we’re always being faithful to the desire. And then kind of the artistry of this … that’s why the Mystics are so helpful and offering guidance in this. How do I actualized the desire? What is the wisdom of the path along which the deepening occurs? Because the ego is subject to self deception. We get veered off track and get confused.
Rick Archer: I was listening to your podcast. You were taking questions and there was some guy who said; you know, I’ve been kind of on the path for many, many years now and a regular meditator and all this stuff, but it’s gotten really difficult for me and I’m beginning to feel very frustrated. And it’s like I, I can’t really continue. And you said; well, yeah, just go easy on yourself. Take a break, watch reruns of Seinfeld, stop meditating for a while, you know, what the heck, you can always come back to it.
Jim Finley: Yeah, yeah, that every beat of your heart is the gift, your life is the gift. Going over to close the kitchen window is a gift. Step back into the gift of the ordinariness, back off a little bit. And let it come to you. You know, sometimes we try so hard, we drive away what we’re looking for.
Rick Archer: We strain, we struggle. We strain with it instead of … there’s a kind of a … it’s the stance of the artist or the stance of the lover. There’s a kind of non-impositional sincerity. That kind of forms the path actually, I think. Like you said about that guy that was holding a candle, so it would burn his fingers if he fell asleep. It’s like, you know, chill, dude. I mean, just like, yeah. Kill .. but I meant to ask though; Have you encountered very many people who have dedicated their lives to spirituality for a long time, who are feeling like it has not amounted to anything or do you almost universally feel that if … where there’s a will, there’s a way and if people have been sincere about it, it bears fruit?
Jim Finley: Well, I would say in my retreats that I give, and people would come to me for therapy, because they want spirituality to be resourced in their therapy, and so on. Well, they haven’t given up on it, or they wouldn’t come to the retreats. So they’re still hanging in there. But I have talked to people in therapy, who have given up on their spirituality. I have talked to them.
Rick Archer: Because they felt like it wasn’t working for them.
Jim Finley: It just wasn’t working, that’s right. But then what we find is, is that by then, their integrity on working on their healing path is their spirituality. In other words, there’s a deep intuition inside of you that your life is worth saving. It has an innate value that can’t be calculated. And that which motivates you to be faithful to the gift of your life, you might not put it in those terms. But that’s a very deep spirituality.
Rick Archer: Yeah, well, the phrase; ‘Your life’s worth saving’, do you do … are you contacted by many young people or is it mostly people our age? And the reason I ask is, you know, there’s a high incidence of suicide among the young. And I think that’s really tragic. And whenever the subject comes up, anything that I or my guests could say, that might save a life, you know, that might inspire a person to discover something more deep and meaningful and not take that course of action, is well worth spending a little time on.
Jim Finley: But you … I used work with youth a lot of years ago, because I taught seniors at an all boys Jesuit prep school in Cleveland, taught religion. And I found that if you talked about dogma or doctrine, they weren’t that interested, but how to experience God or to find God, they were very … I used to take a group every year to the monastery, down to Gethsemani. You get up at 2:30 in the morning to chant with the monks. And it really courses on prayer and death and different things. And so, but I’ve not really worked with youth significantly since then, because I don’t work with adolescent population of children. I haven’t. But young adults come to my retreats, you know, seekers come to my retreats, so they’re on the retreats. But it tends to be people who are a bit more along in the journey.
Rick Archer: Are you still teaching retreats?
Jim Finley: I do. Well, now with the pandemic. When my wife got sick, about three years ago, I stopped because I couldn’t leave her. And now with the pandemic, and so on, I can’t, but through the Living School through the podcast, I can teach at home, you know, I teach from my home, and through my writing and different things. And who .. I don’t know how long I’m going to be on the earthly plane, who knows. But if the pandemic dies down, I may resume some, giving these silent retreats, different places, and I’d like to do that. We’ll see what happens.
Rick Archer: Yeah. So in our remaining minutes, let’s start by giving people sort of a clear outline of in what ways they could engage with you. There’s your podcast that I mentioned, and I’ll be linking to that in the show notes. You can sign up on iTunes or Stitcher, any of those things. What else? I’m showing it on the screen right now.
Jim Finley: Yeah, they could go to my website. That’s CAC, for me; JamesFinley.org.
Rick Archer: You did that with Sounds True?
Jim Finley: Yeah, a lot of things are there. And then there’s the podcast; Turning to the Mystics. Also, I have an online course through CAC on the Interior Castle of Teresa. And they were just able to liberate. They thought they had lost it for a while, on Mystical Sobriety on the mystical dimensions of the steps of AA. And, so there is the podcast, there’s the online courses. And also, with Sounds True. I did several audio sets. Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere, Christian Meditation and Indestructible Joy and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. And then with Richard Rohr, I did a set, the Divine Ambush on St. John of the Cross and Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate. With Richard Rohr, that was with Richard.
Rick Archer: With Richard, ok.
Jim Finley: With Richard Rohr, Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate. And oh, and Jesus and Buddha, on finding the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha in the Heart of the Gospel.
Rick Archer: So you can find all this on the CAC website.
Jim Finley: On CAC. If you go to the Center for Action and Contemplation you’ll see those audio video sets there. And yeah, I guess I think that’s it.
Rick Archer: That’s quite a bit. Yeah. So, ehhh …
Jim Finley: And I have this book I’m working on. I hope I finish it, on the Contemplative Dimension. How to be a healing presence in an all too often traumatized, and traumatizing world. And, so I’m writing that book now on my sense of the spiritual dimensions of the healing of trauma. And then it’d be another volume after that, I’m going to get into. It was first with Sounds True, with Carolyn Mace on transforming trauma. But then more, I got a grant from Fetzer Institute, a more developed form of that. So I hope to do a second volume. It’s been transcribed, and so on, on more of the clinical formal sense of that. How to be a contemplative clinician, how to be contemplative patient. You know, how to .. what’s the depth dimension of the healing encounter. But this first one is more for sincere seekers, seeking the interior dimensions of healing. So I’m writing that, and I have a few other unpublished manuscripts. They are trying to help me get published. I’m slow, I’m persistent but slow.
Rick Archer: Well, it’s really, you know, it’s inspiring what you’ve done with your life. How you’ve just dedicated it to, you know, your own personal exploration, and then, you know, translating that into benefit for other people. I guess that’s what the Center for Action and Contemplation means, you know, you kind of contemplate and go deep, and then you act and, you know, share the fruits of your contemplation. So, you know, I think your life has been an inspiring example.
Jim Finley: Yeah, I’ll end on this little note. To .. help .. find .. a variation of this, on following this path. It’s to find your practice and practice it. And a practice is any act of fidelity which takes you to the deeper place. And little by little, your whole life becomes practice. The second is to find your teaching and follow it. And a teaching is any teaching the bears witness to this unitive state of consciousness we’re talking about and offers guidance in it. And then you realize that all life is your teacher. And thirdly, find your community and follow it. Just one other person, in his presence you’re not alone. Which is the value of your podcast, and similar ones. It’s this resonance and interconnectedness with each other. And eventually, you realize that the whole world is your community. And I find those three guidelines to be very helpful frames of reference for us on this path.
Rick Archer: Yeah, those are great. And, and the resources are there, you know. I mean, it is possible to find your practice and your community and all these things. And, again, seek and you shall find. If you have a sincere intention, then opportunities present themselves. Yeah, and I, what I do with this podcast is, you know, I try to offer a smorgasbord and, you know, obviously, there’s no one thing that’s going to be for everybody, and all things can’t be for any one person. Because there’s only so much time in life, you can’t do everything. But I hope to just give people a taste of this teaching and that teacher and so on and so forth. And if they resonate, you know, find something you resonate with.
Jim Finley: And that’s why I agreed to do this. I don’t accept all these invitations. But I just sense the integrity and the quality of what you do. I just sense the affinity with what I do. Like monasteries in cyberspace, you know. We’re kinda .. we’re all interwoven with each other.
Rick Archer: Yeah
Jim Finley: Like this. And the more interconnection that goes on, the better off the world is really.
Rick Archer: Yeah, it’s a collaborative effort, really.
Jim Finley: It is. Yeah.
Rick Archer: Well, I felt that too. And you and I chatted a year or two ago, and I guess, you know, you’re at that point, you’re saying, Well, my website’s not ready. And this and that. So this just felt like the right time to do it.
Jim Finley: Yeah, that’s good. I’m glad we did it.
Rick Archer: Yeah, me too. Thanks so much, Jim. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a fun week listening to your podcast. I’ve been doing a lot of walking in the woods, which you’ve done a lot in your life. And all the while listening to your podcast, and it’s been great having this conversation.
Jim Finley: Thank you. I’m so glad I did it. It was great. Thank you.
Rick Archer: So, to those who have been listening or watching, as usual, there will be a page on batgap.com about this interview with, you know, links to all the appropriate things, websites and the books and everything. So go there. If you happen to be listening to this in your car, you don’t have to write things down, just when you get home, look at that page. And you can hop over to Jim’s books or, you know, website and so on. So, thanks for listening or watching and we’ll see you next week. And thanks again, Jim. Take care.
Jim Finley: Yeah, thank you so much. Good. Thanks. Good.