Raphael Cushnir Transcript

Raphael Cushnir Interview

Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done about 415 of them now and if this is new to you and you would like to see previous ones then please go to the past interviews menu on batgap.com where you’ll see all the past ones organized in four or five different ways. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers so if you appreciate it and feel like supporting it there’s a donate button on the site. My guest today is Raphael Kushner. Raphael is a leading voice in the world of emotional connection and present moment awareness. He has shared his unique approach to personal and professional development with millions of readers in O, the Oprah magazine, Beliefnet, Spirituality and Health, Psychology Today and the Huffington Post. He is the author of six books, lectures worldwide and is a faculty member of the Esalen Institute and the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. In addition, he coaches individuals and couples as well as organizations and their teams. Raphael’s own heart was opened by an experience of profound grief. We’ll be talking about that I’m sure. So welcome Raphael, good to have you.

Raphael: Thank you so much, it’s really a great pleasure to be with you.

Rick: You’re welcome. I’ve been aware of Raphael for a number of years because he had a great interview series called “Teaching What We Need to Learn” and I downloaded all of those and have listened to a bunch of them over the years. It’s funny, you and I were talking before the interview about how I’ve done so many of these and I’ve made – and you were saying that you know maybe you I guess you’re referring to me, to us, both needing to branch out into other aspects of this whole general topic in order not to, kind Of, get repetitive. And when I was thinking about this interview during the week, I happened, serendipitously, to be chatting with a friend in England named Phil Escott whom I’ve interviewed and just kind of out of the blue… I’ll just tell you a bit about Phil for a moment. He he’s a professional drummer and he suffered from really severe arthritis to the point where he couldn’t drum or do much of anything anymore and he ended up healing himself. And so, just out of the blue he said to me, “I suspect it’s down to not addressing emotional issues which is very common in meditators.” He’s a longtime meditator, “So a lot of issues go unresolved. Pushing down emotions is a classic disease cause. I saw it in myself when I was healing up. For two Years, I obsessed about diet, thinking it was all about that. After all I was a meditator. I had great yogic abilities. I didn’t need some bloody nonsense from Byron Katie or to start tapping my forehead or letting go of childhood traumas. That’s for bored housewives. How arrogant I was. It was exactly what I Needed, and when I did address them, it was a bit of a miracle. Ignoring this is a classic meditator mistake, I think, to the very great cost as their bodies age.” So I thought that was really apropos as a good lead-in to this interview because most of my audience, I think, are people who have been on the spiritual path for a long time and might not immediately recognize the relevancy of a discussion about emotions to their desire for spiritual awakening.

Raphael: Yeah that’s a beautiful lead-in. I’m really glad you read that. He’s got a great way of expressing himself and that perspective and, you know by way of response, what I would say is that, when I first went through my awakening experience and then began teaching, I was invited to hold satsang in a number of different places and I did it for a while, and then I backed away for a couple of reasons. One of them is that I just couldn’t get with the format of sitting even this much above other people. It felt like since – even if there’s a Circle, but I’m the focus, that broadcast that there’s some place I’ve gotten to, or something about what I have to share, that’s missing from the people who are surrounding me, and, of course, that’s the opposite of the message that I wanted to impart. But even more than that, in a satsang context, often you’re whisked in and you’re whisked out. And from my perspective, whenever I saw anybody being whisked, I was really interested in what happened before and after the satsang, not during the satsang. And so when I decided not to be a teacher in that particular way, the question was “What’s my place, what’s the niche, where do I focus?” What I saw is something akin to what your friend described and that is that, whether we are very far along the path, so to speak, or just beginners, the place where we all as humans get tripped up in our awareness and our awakening process is in the emotional realm, because we are humans and that’s how we’re made. So when we bypass or short shrift that realm, it’s always counterproductive. And when we tune into it just a little bit more fully, there’s always something wonderful to be found there. For me I kind of wrap that up by saying that emotions are the nexus between self and spirit. That’s true for me and it’s true for the people that I work with and share with. So, it’s not that somehow I deify emotions. It’s just that I notice that, when we turn toward them, we always open in ourselves and to spirit, and when we turn away from them, we always shut down.

Rick: You probably know Mariana Kaplan.

Raphael: I do very well.

Rick: Yeah, she’s been on BatGap a couple of times and also in a panel discussion I did, and she said that a lot of spiritual teachers confide in her. I don’t know whether personally or Professionally, but she’s had a lot of talks with a lot of teachers, and she said you wouldn’t believe all the stuff that people whom others might deify to a degree are actually going through in their personal lives.

Raphael: Yeah, I think in this regard, I remember hearing a Chinese proverb courtesy of Robert Bly many years ago. He said “the bigger the front the bigger the back.” Originally I think that was meant towards political leaders, but I think it’s true for all of Us, especially people who proclaim to be teachers. So there is a lot of fronting that goes on. Once at a bookstore where I was doing a book tour, the events manager told me in her experience there are really two kinds of presenters who come through. One kind of presenter is the one where it makes total sense to you that he or she is the one who wrote that book, and then the other group, you can’t even believe for a minute, by the way they’re acting, that they actually were the ones who wrote that book with that message. So for me, I took that proverb and I thought, “Well how do you get around that? What do you do if it’s always true that the bigger the front, the bigger the back, if you have something big and beautiful to share?” And so what I thought about it was you make a circle. In a circle there’s no front and there’s no back and everything is included. So when I work with individuals or groups, or when I do interviews like this, it’s always my mission to just include everything. And when I notice that there’s something I’m holding back from including, I know that’s where I want to pay attention, because there’s some treasure there in the sharing.

Rick: Well around this note of teachers and so on – of course we’re not going to name names – there have been so many instances of scandals, you know, of teachers screwing up and having problems of various kinds, sexual, financial, you know behavioral, abusive type behaviors and things. It’s a puzzlement for a lot of people. Sometimes it completely disillusions spiritual seekers and knocks them off the path entirely. Other times it’s just something that traumatizes people that they really can’t figure out you know the discrepancy between the supposed state of awakening that this or that teacher has attained and the fact that they’ve still got so many issues and problems in their behavior. So – I don’t Know, do you want just dwell on that a little bit more, address that a little bit more?

Raphael: Sure, this is one of my absolute favorite topics.

Rick: Mine too unfortunately.

Raphael: I have to tell you that one of my great friends and mentors in the world is a guy named Josh Baron and Josh used to have a nonprofit organization called “Sorting It Out,” which was to help people transition out of organizations that had become cultic or Abusive. He himself had been at a monastery and had had that happen, so he was counseling from his own experience. But the reason I mentioned Josh is because, back in the late 80s and the 90s, when I was first opening to these different teachers that are so renowned, I would find a new favorite teacher and I would say, “What about so-and-so?” and he would say, “Oh yeah ask him why he slashed his sister’s tires.” He always had the dirt. And so, on the one hand, you know, that may be a little bit too Cynical, but the skepticism, I always appreciated. What I learned for myself through Josh and my own experience, is that spiritual power, and even sometimes spiritual insight, is not necessarily commensurate with an integrated whole being. So a person can put his or her finger on your forehead, or with a feather, and give you Shakti pot, and a tremendous amount of Kundalini energy, just for example, may flow through you and that’s real, that’s its own thing. That person is tapped into a dial, a station on the dial of cosmic energy. But it’s not like you get that kind of power, or you get tapped into that kind of energy, because you’ve earned it through your personal growth and healing. It happens in many different ways. So when I said “the bigger the front the bigger the back,” I want any spiritual teacher who I’m going to listen to, learn from, just absorb, I want to hear from that person how they have done their own inner work, what challenges they’ve had, how they opened to what’s been difficult for them to open to, and that’s what increases my trust and my interest in what they have to share. I’ll go even one step further, which is to say, most teachers, myself included, we have our spiel right, the thing that we’ve perfected over time, we’ve memorized for how to talk about us, even how to talk about what led to the teaching that you’re doing today? Whenever I hear myself or anybody else do that in a rote way, I just think, “Tell me more, I need to know more. I need to feel the flesh. I need to feel the uncertainty. I need to feel the humanness in you. Otherwise, I’m going to assume that you’re fronting.

Rick: I think one kind of problem that the famous teachers at least, and maybe even the not so famous ones, get into is they get wrapped up in their own image. They gain a certain public persona and they can’t just let their hair down, whether or not they have hair, and be ordinary Joe, because it would disillusion their followers or something. They’ve kind of painted themselves into a corner in that respect.

Raphael: Yes, absolutely and then stop teaching, right?

Rick: Take a break.

Raphael: If you’re attached to your image, we all are a little bit because we’re egoic, we can’t avoid that. The ego is our operating system. We can’t transcend it as long as we’re here on the earth. We can only expand it, become more skillful in relating to it. But if you’re trapped by your own image, or your need to promote an image, the way that you just described, then it pretty much poisons everything that you have to share.

Rick: Yeah, well some teachers did that whether voluntarily or compulsorily, Andrew Cohen, Amrit Desai and others, and then, eventually, hit the reset button and said, “Okay well I’m going to start again, but I’ve learned my lessons.” And that remains to be seen. Others I think, you know, there’s such a momentum built up around who they are and what they do, somebody like Swami Muktananda, it’s hard for them to just walk away and say, “I’m going to stop now, I have to do some work on myself.” They’re just caught up in this huge event that has been created.

Raphael: Well I’m not here to tell any individual what to do, you know a teacher for example. But I feel what you represent, and hopefully, what I represent is a really authentic offering to the people who are listening or watching this. For me,, what I want to share with those folks is, “Trust your own intuition and trust your own heart when you’re listening to teachers, when you’re feeling their energy.” Because maybe they can’t walk away. Maybe that’s just their karmic path and that’s left to them. But we have the choice to see “When I’m really open, when I’m connected to the flow of energy in my own body, and therefore I’m also connected to what’s going on around me, do I feel something genuine in that person? Do I feel something humble in that person?” And not a false humility, but have they somehow been brought low in their lives, and can you feel what has worked on them and through them, through that process? If you do sense that, go toward that person, and if you don’t, just question it. Not necessarily draw a negative conclusion, but be careful around that. I think that’s the most important thing.

Rick: So I’m just so far conducting this interview by the seat of my pants, just whatever, we’re following a trail here which I think is kind of interesting. But if some thought comes to your mind that I’m not asking and you feel like getting into something, just go ahead and start talking about it. Meanwhile, I have more questions along these lines. One is that some of the Eastern teachers, of course, were raised in a very different culture, often in ashrams, and they didn’t have the human interaction and trials and tribulations and so on that someone in a family setting might have had. Then they come to the West, and all of a sudden, they’re confronted by such a different culture with such different temptations and so on. It begs the question about blind spots and whether … How high a level of consciousness can one actually attain and yet still have all sorts of shadows in the closet that one hasn’t had to confront? One would think that brilliant illumination would be a solvent that would – I don’t know if I should use that metaphor – but that would be a light that would shine into every dark nook and cranny and root these things out. But unfortunately, that really doesn’t seem to be the case.

Raphael: Yeah, you know in my life, I’ve been blown away a few times by pieces of information. The first one, I think, was when I was in high school and I found out, back then in the 70s, that related causes every day.

Rick: Wow.

Raphael: It’s more now, but back then, my whole world stopped. I thought, “What does that say about us as people?” I was maybe 15, so I was pretty black and white. But at that time, I thought, “You know what? The world needs to stop.” Like “No more football games, no more going out to dinner, feed these people and then we can get back to our enjoyable pursuits.” I know that it’s much more nuanced to question that, but there’s some part of me that still believes that. How do we walk around saying that it’s okay? How do we walk around saying that we’re based on love and kindness and compassion, when you know hunger still exists and poverty to such an incredible degree? The second time that I came across a piece of information that just blew my mind, it really set me back for a while, was when that same mentor of mine, Josh Baron, who I mentioned to you earlier, who had been a Tibetan meditator and a follower of some of the most profound teachers from Tibet for many years, told me that, for all of the vaunted way that we speak about the Tibetan teachers and those practices and those lineages that you were just sharing about, in the basement of many of those most famous monasteries, were torture chambers. The competition for patronage was so high in those monasteries, that often there were spies and there were people trying to tear one monastery down and build another up. That sounded so preposterous and so egregious. It took me a while to integrate that. But in the integration of that, it comes back to the very thing that you’re mentioning, that somehow, the way we’re made, we can access profound spiritual energy and realization while leaving in the shadows what’s uncooked, those blind spots that you described. And that’s why I was so moved, when I learned about Spirit Rock in California and Jack Kornfield and his Buddhist teachings, because he basically went out there and said “Spirituality without psychotherapy is not trustable. It’s not enough. Psychotherapy without spirituality, same thing, not enough.” So for me, finally I was able to come to peace in that. Which wasn’t saying that I was going to vilify or judge or criticize any particular person or tradition, but rather what I was going to say is that the sign of someone whose guidance feels really deeply true and heart-based is somebody who’s doing both. They’re doing their psychological work and they’re doing their spiritual work. And that’s true of a teacher as well as anyone on the path.

Rick: It’s interesting. It kind of parallels the meeting of spirituality and modern science, such as quantum physics, and how people are finding parallels between the two Traditions, and they’re able to enrich one another, and out of their mingling, or out of their collaboration, something greater comes. Reminds me of that. Do you feel that the psychotherapy has to be formal, in a sense, or are there ways that people can do it on their own?

Raphael: Well, I love how you pose the two sides of that question because the first part, my own response is “No, it doesn’t have to be formal.” There are many different ways to move through the opening and the healing of your wounds and your psyche. But the second part you said is “could they do it on their own?” and to that my answer would be “Absolutely not.” I’ve never met anyone, myself included, who can see their own blind spots and could enter into a relationship with themselves that’s vulnerable and difficult and challenging while not relating to another in that process. We need someone to hold the space for us. We need someone to reflect an unconditional acceptance to allow us to go to those places where our shame or our pain is too great and… I was one of those people, for sure, in my early 20s, because I was a whippersnapper. I had always solved my own problems until life started kicking me in the butt and I couldn’t solve my own problems. But for such a long time I would say, “Why do I need a therapist? I have good friends that can show me my stuff or I could do this on my own.” But it was only when I got truly humbled and broken open that I realized what I’m sharing now. Again, anybody who, from a place of ego, self perception, feels like they can see their own blind spots, that’s just proof of way more blind spots than they even imagine are there.

Rick: Yeah, but does it have to be a professional? Like I’ve been married for 30 years and when I first got married, it was like pie in the face, you know, confrontation with blind spots [laughs] because I’d been a completely different lifestyle, monastic lifestyle for 15 years before that. And so much stuff had been sort of denied or ignored or whatever. So can a personal relationship do it or does it really have to be a professional?

Raphael: Well first of all, I always like to make it very clear that I don’t think I have all the answers and I’m a whatever-works guy, and relationship certainly is an amazing teacher. I know the Buddhist couples counselor Bruce Tift, have you had him on your show? [Rick shakes his head no] So Bruce Tift, he came through the same lineage as Pema Chodron, I’m forgetting, you’ll remember the teacher Trungpa.

Rick: Yeah, the alcoholic. [laughs]

Raphael: Well there was alcoholism. There was a lot more than that too, from what I gathered, because Reggie Ray came from that tradition, and many other teachers who brought forth really incredible pieces for us. But yes, there were shadows, there were great challenges. But Bruce says “I’ve been married for “ whatever 30 years, something like you, and he says “You know there’s not a single day that this woman doesn’t confound me and disappoint me and irritate me in some way.” So it’s absolutely true that relationship can be an amazing teacher. The way I think about that is that we’re all as humans sandpaper facing outward. And when we have a friendship, maybe our sandpaper is like this [hands few inches apart, facing eachother] most of the time, but when we get into intimate relationship, our sandpaper has to do this. [hands rubbing against eachother] So it’s going to reveal what otherwise won’t be revealed. But coming back to the question that you’re bringing up, it’s not that someone has to be professional. It’s not that they have to have a certain training or licensure. It’s their ability to hold and reflect and engage without getting triggered. Because the minute that whoever it is, your wife, your husband, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, or just your friend, as soon as you share something with them in your own vulnerable and humble truth that they don’t approve of, that they’re not comfortable in their own selves, then the safety of the container is completely gone and what happens next is not trustable. So I would say, rather than getting hung up on the particular schooling or particular direct healing direction or modality that somebody is sharing, it’s much more helpful to really check in and see how full and deep and rich that container is that they can share with you.

Rick: Good answer. Okay. Let’s get back to you a little bit and I’m sure we’re going to branch off into more discussions like this. You mentioned in your bio something about an experience of profound grief and then a little bit later in your notes I noticed, I don’t know, something really floored you and it triggered an awakening and you referred a little while ago to your awakening. So do you mind saying what this thing was that hit you so hard and what the nature of that awakening was?

Raphael: No, I don’t mind at all, and I’ve been writing about this for the first time in like 20 years, so it’s very present in me. What I want to do is… To honor this discussion that we’re having and also to honor your overall offering and the relative breadth of wisdom of your community, if they’ve been with you for 400 some odd or even just a bunch of those. I want to give you the simple short version and then let’s expand into the broader version. The basic story is that my marriage and my profession fell apart at the same time and I was in a dark night of the soul. The details don’t matter but the dark night of the soul, for most people, is that whatever you’ve been using to through, get back on your feet, those things aren’t working anymore. So you’re really helpless. You’re in the dark and you don’t know how you’re gonna get out of this hole that you’re in. Some of my mentors at the time shared with me an idea that, on the one hand it makes total sense, and also it’s radical and impossible at the same time. They said, “Why don’t you do nothing to try to change the way you feel? Instead why don’t you turn towards the experience that you’re having, the pain and just be with it?” And other people at the time were saying things like, “It’s good to keep busy,” and I just knew that distraction wasn’t the road for me.

Rick: Like George Bush said after 9/11, “Go shopping.”

Raphael: Yeah and even I think yesterday Donald Trump was in Houston or Louisiana or somewhere. After talking to the people at the center where they were homeless, they’d been robbed of everything, he said, “Have a good time everyone.” There’s an allergy to pain. There’s an allergy for lots of reasons, even evolutionary I believe, why we do that. It’s not Bush’s fault or Trump’s part. It’s hardwired until we rewire. Maybe we’ll get to that later. The main point is that in a very bumbling and imperfect way, I just decided to commit to that approach. So every time I noticed that I was turning away from my pain, I would just reel myself back in. And I did this without knowing how long I needed to do it or where it was going to take me. But it felt authentic and therefore the best possible option. About six months after that happened, I was challenged to go even deeper in my acceptance. The path that I was on included staying open to the possibility of the woman who I loved who had betrayed me with an affair and who was going into a hellish addiction cycle. I was choosing not to leave out of pain. I believed that there would come a time, if necessary, when, from a place of peaceful presence, I knew it was time to go, which was against all the advice I was getting. People were telling me left and right, “There’s no marriage to save, you know you’re living in an illusion.” And I wasn’t in an illusion. I just wanted to leave in peace, if that’s what was going to happen. So there was a time when I came to see that, it’s not just that I had to endure this choice, but I actually had to champion it. Like I saw “I’m doing this because it’s who I am. It’s not about whatever happens with Linda.” I’m saying to myself that I choose my family, that I want to stay connected, I want to stay present, I want to stay open in myself and between myself and those in my family through it all. So when I made that deeper permanent “Yes!” to this whole situation, not to the choices of what I would do along the way, but to the experience of this turmoil and chaos and pain that I was still in. Shortly after that, I was sitting on my meditation bench and I had the quote “Opening,” the “Awakening.” When I share about it publicly up until now, I talk about the heart opening, because that’s what matters ultimately. There’s lots of… Well first of all, everybody comes to their own heart opening in their own way, so I try to make it really clear it’s not about, as they say in Buddhism, fireworks. It’s not about how it happened to me. Some people come to a gradual opening of the heart that’s even imperceptible on a daily basis and in some ways that’s more helpful, because they don’t have to overturn their entire life and start from scratch trying to figure out who to be in the world. But for me it was a BOOM! And that powerful explosion did start and end and center in an opening of the heart. It was also a lot more wild and crazy and chaotic than that. That’s the part I haven’t talked about until now and that’s the part I’m writing my memoir about.

Rick: Can you give us a sneak peek? I mean you want to talk about it some?

Raphael: Sure, yeah. You might know the people at Brown University who have been doing the research project around people who have difficult or challenging or unusual experiences in meditation. Does that ring a bell for you?

Rick: I may have heard about it but that topic interests me a lot, so let’s talk about that as part of what you’re going to say here.

Raphael: Yeah, so the reason I mentioned it is because I was put in touch with them and I shared this story first in a clinical way because… When people hear and read about spiritual awakening and especially awakening that’s energetic like Kundalini awakening, Shakti… You can read in all kinds of books from thousands of years old until yesterday, that Kundalini awakens in the spine and then moves through the chakras until it reaches the Sashumna and then either it creates full enlightenment or it comes back and it rests in the Hara, you know there are all these maps. So the first thing that I would want to share a little bit more of is that those maps, for me, were ridiculous. Either I had the energy of the cosmos by the tail or it had me in its grips. None of it made any sense. None of it was predictable. None of it followed any particular linear course or any map or template. It was like, through that opening process, I was now connected up with and in the throes of all kinds of energy that is here all the time, but we’re screened from so that we can live, so that we can eat, so that we can care for our loved ones. But suddenly I was, in a raw, direct and immediate way, in the fire and the flow of that. So my life, especially for the first years after that, but even to this day to some degree, looks behind the scenes, anything but orderly. Anything but quiet.

Rick: I would say “placid.” Well it’s interesting. Using your map metaphor, you take a map of the United States and the most direct way to get from New York to San Francisco is on I-80. But there are an infinite number of other routes you could take and combinations of different roads. So this whole Kundalini thing, I don’t think any two people’s experience is going to be the same. And people often get in touch with me who are going through really intense stuff, sometimes completely incapacitating. They can’t work anymore. They can’t even leave their room sometimes, because this thing is so powerful.

Raphael: Yeah, if I had lots and lots of money, one of the first things I would do would be to create a center somewhere.

Rick: Oh God, there’s such a need for that.

Raphael: Where people could go and people could hold their hands and say, “You’re not crazy. We can support you in all ways, from conventional to the most esoteric. You can stay here for whether it’s a month or two months or three months or a year and not have to destroy the rest of your life to get through the most intense part of that kind of experience.”

Rick: Yeah, believe me there really is a need for that and sooner or later such a center is going to arise. I mean, there are people dealing with this kind of thing. Joan Harrigan has her place in Tennessee, but she doesn’t like to take people who are in crisis. She just likes to take advanced students who want to clear away the pathway and progress. Bonnie Greenwell also deals with people like that. I actually have a whole category on BATGAP for “spiritual crisis” and “Kundalini” and so on. But there really is nothing adequate that somebody can… I mean a lot of these people they don’t even know what the heck’s going on. They weren’t doing spiritual practice. There’s one guy, I think he was in the UK, said “I just like to sit in the couch and have a beer and watch football. And all of a sudden, I’m going through this thing, you know. I couldn’t work anymore and I didn’t know what it was. I eventually found out it’s Kundalini.” So there’s something happening in the world. Maybe it’s because there’s an upwelling in collective consciousness or something and people are popping more and more. We’re just not anywhere near being able to help all these people.

Raphael: Yeah, everything that you said I just say you know “Amen” to. It can happen because you fall off a horse in a certain way. It’s not a sign of spiritual progress. It’s not that you’ve been chosen in some way. It’s just that somehow, whether it’s through practice or through accident or some combination, a channel opened up on your ‘dial of being’ that wasn’t there before. What we don’t get – and here’s something I’m passionate about sharing with people whether they’ve had any kind of surprising experience or not, because I don’t think it matters, I don’t think it’s something to grasp at at all. We’re living in this extraordinary chaos all of the time, but we’re just used to it. What I mean is, we don’t know how to digest our own food. We don’t know how to communicate with the 90 plus percent of cellular organisms in our body that don’t have our own genetic signature.

Rick: Yeah, they’re not even human, the microbiome.

Raphael: Yeah. We’re a host organism for all kinds of life forms that sometimes play nice and sometimes don’t…

Rick: But without which we’d die.

Raphael: Yes, exactly. The reason I’m bringing it up is to say that nobody listening or watching this program is freaking out all day long because there’s this chaotic inner world happening that they don’t have any understanding of how to control, right? Because since they’ve been born, they’ve just been accustomized to recognizing that’s all just how it goes. So their ego structure isn’t really confronted and challenged by that, even though we could say it should be, right? An ego that realizes it’s not in control of digestion, it’s not in control of all these organisms that sometimes invade its body, that would be cause for alarm for the ego that always wants to control and understand, right? But because it’s usual, customary, it gets a pass. And what happens when we experience some kind of energetic opening for whatever reason, is that seems like it’s “not me”. It’s not coming from the place of will or perception that I’ve grown accustomed to as the “I” that travels through the world. And then what happens is that you’re now sharing your body-mind with something that doesn’t feel like “you.” And that thing that you’re sharing your body-mind with also has a very willful quality. It’s not your own personal will that you’ve grown up thinking is what guides you through the world. But it too has a push, has an impulse, has a will to it. And at that point everybody’s got to figure out, “Can I do it? Can I expand my consciousness? Can I stretch my ability of what’s real and true and possible to include all of that mystery and all of that conflict in my everyday life?” And I think that that’s the question and the challenge that everybody faces, whether they came to it by accident or whether it was part of their path to begin with.

Rick: Yeah, Nisargadatta said something along the lines of, similar to what you just said, he said, “You know how your digestion and your blood flow and your breathing and all that are completely automatic and you don’t have to attend to them?” He said, “That’s how my whole life is.” I think that one way of describing the attainment of enlightenment might be that the transition from a sense of individual authorship and individual control to the experiential realization that the Intelligence which governs the universe governs us in our entirety. There’s sort of a balancing act of keeping your act together and, at the same time, surrendering more and more to letting, as they say in the Veda someplace, “letting Brahman be the charioteer.”

Raphael: Yeah. I love how you put that. “Amen” to that as well. Just to add a little bit to it, you mentioned Mariana Kaplan earlier. She and some other people refer to what’s sometimes called the “Advaita shuffle,” the idea that once you get a grasp that you’re not separate, it becomes kind of, “hey you know whatever.” You become passive rather than more active because you know it’s all One anyway. You can’t change what’s happening, which is a temporary stop on the evolutionary path. Because, in this amazing rich paradox, everything that you do you ultimately come to see as a co-creation. You can’t “let go and let God” completely, as they say sometimes in the New Thought movement, because the paradox is that the more that you open, yes the more spirit moves through you, the more it animates what you do, the more you feel like the wind is at your back rather than you’re pushing the boulder up the mountain. And yet, if you advocate, if you abdicate, excuse me, personal responsibility, if you don’t work your ass off, then spirit also just says “Yeah, this isn’t working. We need both. We need you to give it your all to be the fullest expression of you that you are and then, at the same time, to recognize that you’re not the author,” as you were just saying. When you can hold those two seemingly contradictory aspects of life inside of you at the same time, that’s when the magic happens.

Rick: Yeah, well there’s “God who helps those who help themselves” and there’s also “trust in Allah but tie up your camel.”

Raphael: Both absolutely beautiful to remember. [laughter]

Rick: And I think, in my opinion, the “Advaita shuffle” problem happens when people mistake an intellectual understanding for the actual experience. When I speak of somebody like Nisargadatta, he didn’t live whatever he lived by virtue of an intellectual understanding. Genuinely living in a higher state of consciousness doesn’t happen by virtue of getting a clear understanding about it and then maintaining that understanding in your mind throughout the day. It becomes as visceral and as natural and as spontaneous as breathing or as digestion or anything else, something you wouldn’t think, you even need to think about.

Raphael: Right, and that’s why one of the best compliments I was ever given was when I was giving a talk at a conference and I was really concerned about getting my message across and being very precise with my words and my ideas so that people could really get the message. Then I asked someone who I cared about a lot afterwards, “How did I do? How did I do with the delivering of my message?” And she said something like this, “Dude, you could have been reading the phone book, really doesn’t matter. It’s not the words that you’re even saying.” You’re standing up there and if you’re doing your job, which in that case gratefully I think I was from what she said, there’s a heart emanation. There’s a connection, there’s an embodiment, if it’s true, you know. That is what’s actually coming across, that’s the communication. And so yeah, I still want to give my talk. I still want the ideas to flow together. I still want to take people by the hand through what otherwise might be skipped over to their detriment. But I think I took on what she was saying and recognized that, if I’m connected to my heart, and if I’m meeting people in that space, that’s really what matters.

Rick: Yeah, that’s it, and I think that kind of illustrates my point that, if we talk of enlightenment or higher states of consciousness and all that stuff, we’re talking of a genuine state of experience from which one speaks or acts and you can’t intellectualize yourself into that and then try to be a teacher or something, it’ll be phony.

Raphael: Right, and just one more quick thing to add to that is that, if you have that realization and it happens to come along with strange or unusual energetic phenomena, you still have to figure out how to live. I remember reading Sylvia Borstein’s book, I think it was the one that was called “That’s Funny You Don’t Look Buddhist.” She didn’t use words like “Kundalini,” but there was a particular passage where she talked about being in the supermarket and her hand starts flapping like this. [flaps his hand] She’s in the bread aisle. There’s people looking and watching and she’s not choosing to move her hand.

Rick: Right.

Raphael: She’s just looking for whether she should get, you know, whole wheat or rye and suddenly this is happening. And no matter how much intellectual understanding that you have, no matter how much realization even that you have, you have to figure out, “What the hell do I do with my hand?”

Rick: [laughs] Yeah. When I first started having Kundalini stuff in about 1970, I was driving an ice cream truck. If I sat still, my head would start to go like this, [head twitches] twitching. Even in my ice cream truck, if I would come to a stop sign and be still for a moment, my head would start to go. [laughs] Then it happened a lot when I was meditating and stuff. I understood what it was, otherwise I probably would have gone to see a doctor and I would have been all freaked out. So understanding is an important part of it so that you don’t think that there’s something seriously wrong with you. Although in some cases, it might be good to go see a doctor because there might be something wrong and you shouldn’t just write it off as Kundalini.

Raphael: Yeah, I mean I think that you’ve got to check out everything.

Rick: Yeah.

Raphael: But we don’t have to talk endlessly about this particular aspect of things, but Georg Feuerstein, the yoga scholar, he died some years ago, I was fortunate to get a chance to talk to him during the middle of that whole process for me. Everyone else who I was going to was telling me “Do this, do that.” The energy in me, whenever I tried to assert some kind of control over it, or some instruction that I was given from someone else, it would laugh at me. It would just say, “Yeah, yeah, try that, right,” like “Oh, you think you’re supposed to ground the energy and do Qigong, right?” So then I would like focus and ground the energy like, “Whoa!” and it would only get bigger and bigger and bigger. What George said to me, when I was fortunate to have a brief conversation with him by phone, he said “In my experience, in almost every case, this is a self- governing process. Everything that we do to try to hasten it or control it only makes it last longer and become more difficult.” And that’s, I would say from my experience, mostly true. It’s not a hundred percent true because at a certain point, the energy wanted me to jump off a balcony because it wanted up and out. It wanted to fly and it didn’t even know what a body was. So I couldn’t trust the energy in that moment. But in a more global sense, to recognize that I’m in this fire of transformation that has, as you suggested before, its own intelligence, and to recognize that I can’t let go of my own survival needs. Beyond that, if I can let this move through me, it’s going to be more peaceful than if I keep trying to intervene.

Rick: Yeah, it’s interesting in the literature, Kundalini is often referred to in the third person, as a deity, as “she does this” and “she does that” and “she wants to move this way” and “she’s not going to rest until she purifies all your nadis” and so on. So, it has that connotation of “you’re not… forget about any sense of control, there’s a powerful goddess moving through you.”

Raphael: Yeah, and also it’s a relationship and it’s really intimate. And those two wills that I described earlier have to figure out how to dance together.

Rick: Yeah.

Raphael: Prior to having that kind of energetic awakening, already for a number of years I’d had a very serious case of chronic fatigue syndrome, which I still have, which really means we don’t know what’s going on. We have a collection of symptoms and different people have different degrees of different symptoms. I was struggling and I still have to deal with that every day. The reason I mentioned it is that, when the megawatt spiritual energy channel opened up on my human dial, one of my first thoughts was “this is just going to totally kick the ass of my chronic fatigue syndrome,” because how could you have so much energy moving through a body and have non-restorative sleep and have to crash every day and feel shitty most of the time? But what I found is that, in terms of that relationship, psyche doesn’t, or can’t, just roll over and say, “Kundalini, goddess, take me.” It, by its very own nature, has to assert itself. So, much to my chagrin, I found these two channels lived next to each other, often independent of one another and sometimes they would interact a little bit, but no such luck in terms of getting burned free of my chronic fatigue syndrome. It just still stayed right there through the process.

Rick: That’s interesting because sometimes you see teachers, like Amma for instance, who’s such an incredible dynamo and you think well it must just be that there’s this full Kundalini energy completely unrestrained that is being channeled through this physiology and how else could she do what she does?

Raphael: When I’m on, in front of a group, or even in a session with an individual, people can barely even believe what I’m telling them about my physical energy. “How do you do what you do? How do you show up? You seem, if anything, abundantly energized.” What I would say to that is that first of all, “Thank you.” Second of all, “It’s not something I’m doing.” I wouldn’t take credit for it. But also, “Come see me at the break during the workshop, when maybe you’re going to the dance class at lunch and I’m crashed in my room, and I’ve got to set the alarm so that I wake up 20 minutes before our next session, and caffeinate to wake up my system faster.” This is the thing about making a circle and including everything. I feel, if I were to only say to that person who says “You can’t have chronic fatigue syndrome,” if I only said to them “Thank you, I appreciate that beautiful reflection,” and I didn’t tell them about what was happening when they weren’t watching, they get the wrong idea. I don’t know Amma personally, I don’t know anything about her beyond what I’ve read and what a usual person would know, but unless or until I saw her by herself offstage, I wouldn’t presume that what I’m feeling, the energy that I’m getting from her on stage, necessarily translates to when no one’s watching.

Rick: Good point, yeah and we don’t need to go into a lot about Amma but after sitting for 14 hours or something, without even getting off the couch, and then she finally gets up to leave the hall, there’s often this feeling I get from her like “Okay I’ve given you people all I’m going to give, I’m out of here, leave me alone, let me go.” [laughter] So I’m curious. This happened I don’t know 20, 30 years ago, this initial Kundalini awakening, right?

Raphael: Yeah, it happened when I was 35 and I’m turning 57 this month.

Rick: So 22 years ago.

Raphael: Yeah.

Rick: Do you feel like it’s pretty much been integrated or are you still riding the bucking bronco?

Raphael: Both. When you said before that you enter that place of recognizing that you’re not the the only author of your experience and maybe not the primary author of your experience, I’m at peace with that. So if I’m working with you individually, either just the two of us or in front of a group at a workshop or presentation, and suddenly I start feeling an upwelling of energy and it moves into my hands and I feel like the energy is showing its healing quality and it wants to do this, [reaches forward with his hand] I would say to you, “Is it okay if I put my hand right here?” And if you say “yes,” we’ll go with it. Maybe years ago, I would have been worried about what everybody was going to think and “Is this really my message” and “Is this getting in the way of what’s applicable to everybody? Is it going to create a sense of specialness or separation?” You know, yada yada. Now, it’s integrated enough to the point that I’ll just let my hand do its healing thing and I’ll get out of the way. On the other hand, it’s still the bucking bronco. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and words will be coming out of my mouth that I’m not choosing to speak. And if that’s…

Rick: English words or gibberish?

Raphael: Both. And I wouldn’t even say gibberish because sometimes it feels like it’s ancient language that I just don’t understand.

Rick: Yeah.

Raphael: Or in intimate sexual connection, I’ve learned that the energy itself leads in a way that’s so much more powerful and profound than where I would necessarily want to take it. So in many ways in life, if you saw me 24/7, sometimes I would look like this nice smart Jewish guy. Sometimes I’d look like this wild crazy shaman who is chanting and yelling and stomping around like he’s in some kind of crazy trance. Sometimes I’d look like a loving healer. Sometimes I’d look like a counselor and sometimes I’d just look like this ordinary guy who loves to play basketball and play with his daughter. And so for me, it’s integrated in the sense that I’ve stretched big enough that those aspects of my being, those “stations on the dial” that I mentioned don’t have to compete with each other for supremacy and they’re not freaked out. They’re familiar enough with one another that they all get along. But it’s not as if they’ve merged into one kind of unified energy that’s consistent throughout my life.

Rick: That’s interesting. I won’t even comment on that because I think it was a very complete statement. Regarding the intimate sexual connection thing, sometimes people… well traditionally, the sexual energy is correlated with kundalini energy, and there are some people who deal with kundalini that advocate celibacy, like Joan Harrigan for instance, wants you to be celibate if you’re going to her her treatment facility and so on. So in your experience, if you don’t mind my asking, how do you relate to that notion? Do you feel sexual activity in any way lets the air out of the balloon or is it not relevant or actually enhances things or what?

Raphael: Well again I can only speak for me, and I don’t pretend to have the answer for everybody, but I think the question about celibacy, to answer that honestly and most clearly, I’d have to ask, does celibacy, in the way that Joan is mentioning it, mean no sexual congress with another person? Or does it mean refraining from any kind of sexual expression of energy, like through masturbation or things like that?

Rick: I think she would say no, not that either.

Raphael: Okay, so that makes it easy for me to respond, which is that in the first years, let’s say four or five years just to be able to live life I needed to devote four or five hours a day to just letting the energy run. It was too big to hold in the container of me without that. And that could mean a lot of different things. That could mean going up onto the roof of the building that I was working on in San Francisco and letting primal roars disappear into the cacophony of the city, as opposed to if I did it downstairs in my workspace, I would have been fired and committed. But similarly, if I’m just sitting on the cushion, and letting the energy run, because it just needs to do that, if it ran towards sexual expression – you know, like when the hand moves in the supermarket, it’s not choosing to move – if that same hand, that I’m not choosing to move, if that same hand starts touching myself, if in that moment – and believe me I tried probably a thousand times – if in that moment, I were to say “No we’re not doing that,” then the Shakti energy would be like “Fuck you. Who do you think you are? We are doing that and we’re going to do that no matter what. You could tie your hands behind your back and we’re still doing that.” And it’ll find a way to do it. So I would just say, for me in my own experience, I could pray for it not to express that way. I could ask for it. I could try, and I could definitely choose to abstain from connection with other people. But to abstain from myself? That would have been totally impossible.

Rick: Okay well that’s very honest and vulnerable of you to admit that, to say that, and so the whole notion of sublimation, which is sometimes discussed in these circles, is not really relevant to your experience.

Raphael: It sounds good. The ego likes that idea. But the energy was like “the universe is more powerful than that idea.” I would like to share, just as a follow-up, that sublimation is an older term, it’s a kind of super ego term in a way. But there’s another term that you’ll hear across the span of healers and adepts, whether they are acupuncturists or naturopaths or spiritual teachers. That’s the idea of “integration.” I heard that, and still do, so much from so many different people. That sounds nicer. That sounds less controlling, less super egoic. “Let’s integrate everything,” because integration is, let’s say, an optimal state. But going back to what George Forrestein told me, “You can prefer integration. You can even be as open as possible to it. But it’s not something that you can create by force of will.” So I had to recognize, in my own experience, that it would integrate if and when and how it chose. So, let alone sublimation, even integration, I had to let go of.

Rick: Okay great. I listened to maybe five or six or seven of your “emotional connection” dialogues that you had with the various people and I was very impressed. I’d be listening along and I’d think, “How is he going to deal with this?” Then you’d very patiently, almost like a Sherlock Holmes type, [Raphael laughs] go step by step, and I’d say “Okay, this is leading somewhere.” Then you’d end up getting right to the core of somebody’s issue, whether it was overeating or hoarding, clutter, that kind of obsession or different things. I thought, “Well I could never do that.” Is that something that you learned through academic study? Do you feel like this kundalini awakening gave you a gift or awoke in you a gift for being able to get to the core of people’s issues like that?

Raphael: Well first of all thank you, I appreciate that. I guess the best way to answer that story is a little bit roundabout because I don’t think that that was really a gift from kundalini or that awakening experience, primarily. The real gift of that was the heart opening and the expansion of consciousness that we’ve talked a lot about. Back when I was a kid, even a teenager, I was definitely mystically inclined and also really drawn to inner work. I took an independent study psychology class in summer school with a teacher who just happened to be a cool guy in the 70s, and who was willing to do that with me. At that time, I read “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim” by Fritz Perls. For those who don’t know, Fritz Perls was really at the beginning of the human potential movement in the United States. The people who started the Esalen Institute in Big Sur brought him over from Europe and they built a house for him in the last years of his life. I read the transcripts of him doing his process in “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim” and I was blown away at where he got people to. I also didn’t get it at all. I was like “I don’t know how he got from A to B, there’s some kind of voodoo, there’s some magic in what happened.” So, this is the part I thought would be interesting to share, people might like to hear this. As they say in the movies, cut to later. I’m now a teacher at the Esalen Institute and I’ve been invited to do something called the “Visiting Teacher Program.” It was kind of half vacation, half you do open sessions for long-term residents for a week or so. I’m given, I’m housed in Fritz, which is the house that they built for Fritz Perls. So I’m staying in the place where he lived and did these sessions that I was to mention to you that I read As I’m checking in, some wonderful person there says to me, “You know we have very early primitive videotapes of Fritz Perls doing his hot seat work here in the room where you’re staying. Would you like to check them out?” So, in this very weird kind of time-warpy experience, I sat in the room where those were happening and watched a video of them happening I would say a couple things. One of them is that the mystery was still there. It wasn’t like, “Oh now I get what he was doing.” The other thing is that, what looked completely different than any retreat center that you would go to on either coast or anywhere around the world, is that while he sat next to the person going through the experience, surrounded by the 20 or 30 people in the room, the main difference between then and now and him and us is that you could barely see anybody because of the cigarette smoke.

Rick: Oh right, yeah. [laughter] The whole room was just completely swathed in smoke. But coming back to your original question, you were listening to me and in your own authentic experience you were saying, “I couldn’t do that, I didn’t quite know how he did that, how he drew that out of people.” What I would say is that when anybody opens up to their own insight, to their own healing capacity, there is a really profound getting-out-of- the-way process. So I try, sometimes, to formulize what I do. I like to pass along some basic principles and practices to people, to get the most out of their sessions. On the other hand, I have to honestly say I get out of the way and therefore I can’t explain it to you.

Rick: Yeah.

Raphael: So what feels sort of hard to follow as you’re experiencing it, in my version of it, would probably be the same if I watched you in a session with somebody else doing your magic. So I think, ultimately, it’s about learning how to trust, learning how to open to your intuitive presence. Once you’re that open, the rest of it happens through that co-creative authorship that we were talking about earlier.

Rick: Yeah, and we all have our talents, right? I mean I watched Stephen Curry and I think “I couldn’t do that,” and I’m never going to be able to do that, but it’s not my thing.

Raphael: The difference between you and me, since I’m such a basketball loving guy, is that I go out and try to do what Steph Curry does, never coming even this close, but I try. I imagine myself being able to do it.

Rick: Probably makes you a better basketball player. So this is an abrupt segue, but I understand there’s some significance to those baby shoes that you have hanging from your doorknob there. What’s that about?

Raphael: [laughs] Well, okay. We were talking about transparency and full circle. I’ll tell you a couple things to answer that question. The first thing is that we’re having this interview a week after the crazy awful flood in Houston and Louisiana. Well, through some strange circumstance, my house that I’m talking to you from had a horrible flood while I was away on vacation last week as well.

Rick: In Portland, Oregon?

Raphael: Yeah, it wasn’t weather related. A pipe…

Rick: A pipe broke or something, yeah.

Raphael: So I came back from vacation and found my home literally uninhabitable and it needs to be mostly torn down and rebuilt. So I’m in a big sort of crisis state around that. But interestingly, your assistant supporter or team member who checks out people’s videos…

Rick: Jerry Bixman.

Raphael: Yeah, Jerry, to see, is it light enough? Are they sitting in the right way? Where’s the camera? I met with him before the flood. I’m not staying in the house right now, but I came back to the house to do the interview with you in the room that he approved.

Rick: Nice of you. [laughs]

Raphael: That’s one thing I want to share with the people and answer to your question. The other thing is that my daughter, who’s nine years old and who I’m super close to and adore, she told me, prior to this interview, that I had to change my shirt because the shirt that I had chosen to wear for our interview was really hideous, as far as she said. And this one is passable, according to her, not excellent. She’d have to pick it out or she’d have to take me shopping for it to be excellent. So this shirt is courtesy of Aria, my daughter. And then coming back around, why I have the baby shoes on the door. First of all, those are my baby shoes. They don’t make those kind anymore. So those were when I was one year old or something, back like 1961. And I don’t know why or how my mom saved those, but when I saw them in a box, I grabbed them. Because for me, I think we’re always being born anew in each moment, and so I want to represent that. But the other thing, maybe more important, is that we are always so much more vulnerable and fragile than we like to think, whether it’s because of a flood or a pipe burst or just the triggers and challenges of emotional connection between people. So I keep those shoes there as a kind of reminder to me, and anybody else who’s watching, of that aspect of being.

Rick: That’s nice. In fact, there was a quote here I wrote down from one of your articles. I think it said, “For decades I’ve recognized that the wisest among us are always, in their own view, absolute beginners. Those who believe that they’re done with healing and self inquiry are the least reliable teachers and companions on the path.” So it’s nice here, so we’re always babies in some respect.

Raphael: Yeah, and I think that we don’t always get to ask our teachers or authors this kind of question one-to-one up front, but if you do ever get to ask, I think one of the best things to do is to ask a teacher, you, me, anybody, no matter how famous they are or anonymous, “What are you working with now? What’s challenging for you? What are the places where you get hooked?” And in my work with people, I always share the basic premise that there’s nothing wrong. There’s no problem, there’s nothing wrong with you. That’s the starting place. But where it feels like that’s not true, that’s the door we want to walk through. So when I think that something is wrong with me, or something is wrong with the world, or something is wrong with you, that’s not something I’m trying to transcend. That’s a door I want to go through. And so I think to ask a teacher of that is to find out, “Is that their worldview or do they feel they have somehow transcended that?” For me, if somebody says that they’ve transcended that, I immediately don’t trust. I trust the more somebody is willing to share that. Just a tiny anecdote, you mentioned that interview series “Teaching What We Need to Learn” that I did some years ago. One particular teacher who shall remain nameless, I worked so hard to get the vulnerable expression of what we’re talking about. This teacher did an amazing job of coming through in a way that I hadn’t seen in any other interview. I was so excited and then afterwards, I got a call from this person’s office saying they want to redo it. They didn’t represent what they offer well enough. And my response was, “You know what, there are thousands of interviews that do that. This is something beautiful and different and your people and newcomers to this work will be so overjoyed to hear this authentic expression.” And they said, “Nope, it’s in the contract. We can say no. Either do it again or we’re not going to let it put up.” And I sat with that and I sat with that, and it was challenging for me, and I ultimately thought that, to do it again would have violated the very purpose of the series in its first place. So I decided to let it go. I was heartbroken. I mean I could be with it, it wasn’t my choice, you know, how this person responded, but I was heartbroken that that really full unique expression was available in the teacher, but somehow ultimately wasn’t allowed to be shared.

Rick: Without identifying the teacher obviously, how has their career gone since then?

Raphael: Let’s just say that this person and I’m also, as you can see, I’m saying ‘they” to keep it as anonymous as possible. I think before the interview, great guns and after the interview, great guns. So it’s not a question of the value of the teacher or the teaching, but my perspective is that the teaching would be so enriched if there was this added degree of humanity and humility and vulnerability.

Rick: Yeah, well I was curious because I think sometimes you know what trips people up is their unwillingness to do that and I wondered whether this guy, you know, the bigger they are the harder they fall. I was wondering whether this person had reached a dead end because of his or her refusal to open up in the way that you got.

Raphael: Not that I’m aware of.

Rick: Yeah, interesting. Yeah, you say in your book, “Whenever you’re not willing to experience a particular emotion, your life is run by your resistance to that emotion. You make choices that are about avoiding the feeling rather than serving your best interests. Emotional resistance therefore is the one thing holding you back…” which is the title of your book, “The One Thing Holding You Back.” And so I don’t know if this person was resisting emotions but they certainly weren’t willing to admit that they had them or whatever it was that you got them to admit.

Raphael: Yeah, and I really appreciate you reading that sentence because that’s an encapsulation of the work that I do, down to the core. I believe, through all of my own work and all the work that I’ve done with other people, that whenever we’re in resistance to anything, it’s because of how it makes us feel.

Rick: Yeah.

Raphael: If it made us feel open and connected and loving and positive and blissful, there’d be no reason to resist it. So we resist things that feel bad and therefore all of our resistance is emotional at the core.

Rick: I want to talk more about the work that you do, but one thing that always comes to my mind is the question of capacity. What I mean by that is, I think some people have a greater inner strength and capacity to dissolve the stuff that they’re confronted with or that they find within themselves, whereas with others, the capacity might be very limited. Take a simple analogy. If you had a cup of water and you tried to dissolve a handful of mud in it, the cup really wouldn’t contain the mud very well. It would really gunk it up. But if you threw that same handful of mud in the ocean, it would just be gone. So some people are more kind of oceanic in their inner state, in their inner capacity and they can deal with something actually much bigger, totally with greater ease than someone else with a smaller capacity can deal with something rather small. Am I making sense and how do you deal with that issue?

Raphael: Well I love that question and we could talk about this all day. The first thing that comes to me to share is that “the self” is a container.

Rick: Yeah.

Raphael: You’re absolutely right, that the starting place of anybody’s process is recognizing “How is that container? Is it big? Is it small?” In addition to what you were describing, about the relative size of the container, is also how porous it is. Because, while most of us are on a journey to fall apart before we get made whole again, to soften and to open the container, to allow us to connect more with energy that’s all around us and within us as well. People talk about destroying or surrendering the ego. But, as other teachers have said very wisely, you also have to have a strong ego…

Rick: Yeah.

Raphael: …to surrender itself. So some people’s journey is to recognize “I am the ocean but that’s not helping me. I need to figure out how to curtail that oceanic quality of myself into something that can move and live and have a job and have relationships etc.” So not just size, which is really important, but also “Is the journey about cohering or is it about disintegrating and where am I on that path?” Those are really important elements to consider in working with anybody or supporting them in their process in a peaceful and a positive way. So that’s one huge piece.

Rick: I just want to throw in there that I think some teachers, their whole modus operandi is to break down people’s egos and that could be exactly the wrong thing for certain people who’re at a stage where they need to strengthen their ego.

Raphael: Yes, and just to put an exclamation point on that, I think it comes from the Bhagavad Gita although I’m not sure, the idea that the right strategy at the wrong moment or in the wrong situation is the wrong strategy.

Rick: Right.

Raphael: So I feel that part of that “getting out of the way” that I described earlier means being willing to surrender your entire formula, whatever you’ve concocted, if, with a particular person or in a particular moment, it’s not really what’s called for. That’s part of getting out of the way and that’s something that I try my best to do ongoingly. I believe, just to add a little bit more to this discussion, that everything is about relationship. Relationship to self, relationship to others, relationship to the world and relationship to spirit. The fundamental relationship is Shiva and Shakti or consciousness and energy. Always that’s a dance. In any individual, how they do that dance is really important to consider, to explore. Some people are very much in the awareness place, like those meditators you talked about who can hold tremendous amount of awareness but are emotionally stunted. Then there are other people who are in the flow of energy, they’re yummy and they can dance and they can move and you can feel life energy moving through them but they can’t contain it in their consciousness. So coming back to this big, broad, wonderful topic that you brought up, what I would say is that part of the healing work for an individual – or also somebody who’s supporting another person or group – is to recognize “What does that look like? What is that dance between Shiva and Shakti? What is the particular shift in that moment or circumstance that’s going to deepen and strengthen that relationship? That’s… Within the subject of container, is “How is energy related to consciousness and how is consciousness related to energy?” That’s, from my perspective, the fundamental relationship of all existence.

Rick: Yeah, so this thing about the right teaching at the right time. The ‘Gita may have said it one way but Sly and the Family Stone said “different strokes for different folks.”

Raphael: Yeah, in different moments let’s say too.

Rick: Yeah, at different times. But I guess one of the things I’m thinking about is this whole container metaphor. You think of people with PTSD who actually have suffered physiological damage and the stress is a form of physiological damage, chemical and structural, and it renders the nervous system weak in a way and unable to deal with things that you know ordinarily one can deal with. So I guess in your work, what do you do to help people strengthen the physiology, if you think in those terms at all, or to expand their container, make it more capable of dissolving the things that are stuck in one’s psyche and nervous system?

Raphael: Yeah, so this is a moment where I’m gonna roll up my sleeves and we’ll have a little bit of shop talk, kind of behind the scenes. Many, if not most, of the people that I work with are victims of some kind of significant trauma so I’m really devoted to, and sensitive to, this issue that you’re describing. There are many techniques that are well known out there to really support people in that process. For instance, in Peter Levine’s work around trauma, as the creator of something called “Somatic Experiencing,” he talks about titration, the idea that you can only process a certain degree safely in any given experience. So one thing that Peter Levine recommends is that, when you bring your Shiva, your consciousness, to an upset inside of your body, because that’s where the trauma lives, maybe you can be with it for a few seconds and then it becomes overwhelming. So what’s suggested in titration is, at that point, a skilled practitioner would ask the person to back away, to move out away from that traumatic place and find some place in your body, even if it’s just your big toe, that doesn’t feel swamped, where you could start to anchor back into a place of presence and wellness. At that point, maybe you go back in. You titrate a little more, or maybe you don’t. Maybe it’s complete for that day. I’ve always really appreciated that. In my own work, I’ve hopefully added something positive to that, which is what I call “working with the zoom lens of consciousness.” Many people say “There’s nothing, not even my big toe, that is safe in this trauma.” Those people often are challenged because, on the one hand, they need to dissociate in order to feel like they can be here but, of course, by dissociating, they’re not really here. I have clients who say why “Would I want to come back into my body when it’s a place of horror and terror?” So going back to the relationship between Shiva and Shakti, energy and consciousness, what I’ve seen is that you can, first of all, zoom out with your conscious awareness. Even if you don’t have a big toe that feels okay, you can pull out into the room, you can pull out to the moon if you need to. As long as you can still feel just the subtlest emanation of that original overwhelming trauma you’re not dissociated. You’re taking care of yourself. You’re shifting the dance of Shiva and Shakti in a way that’s going to support your healing, your wholeness. Simultaneously, you can also zoom in. This is a paradox of life in the universe that we understand through the use of an electron microscope. Meditators know this too, if they’ve followed a particular tradition. When you zoom into the heart of something, that feels like it’s on fire, it’s intolerable. The more you zoom into the center of it, the more you find space. Zoom out, you create space. Zoom in, you create a different kind of space but sometimes an equally or even more powerful space. In working with people and trauma, I’m often recognizing all that we’ve been exploring, and supporting them in zooming in or out, in whatever way and in whatever moment, feels like the right approach for them.

Rick: Cool. I’ve heard it said that thinking, as we ordinarily understand it, is actually a subtler aspect of the sense of hearing, like those little voices in our head. It’s the same sense as our ears but it’s a subtler aspect of it. You can imagine, visualizing would be a subtler aspect of the sense of seeing. If you can picture a nice sunny beach with palm trees, you’re using your sense of sight, but it’s a subtler aspect of it because you’re not using your physical eyes. In the same vein, I’ve heard it said that emotions are a subtler aspect of the sense of touch. I just wonder if you find that interesting or if there’s anything that you want to comment on along those lines?

Raphael: Well first I just appreciate you sharing all of that because it’s new to me. I hadn’t heard that before. What comes to me to share about emotions and touch is that there are only three realms in which we can sense. There’s the external realm. There’s the realm of thought. There’s the internal realm, what we said what we can sense within our physical bodies. We’re constantly, with or without awareness, moving between those three realms. There is also a spiritual sensing. We could think of that as like the backdrop out of which these three realms that I’m describing, like a Venn diagram, intersecting each other, those three realms are showing up. The reason I mention that is because I would say that emotions would be like inner touch.

Rick: Yeah.

Raphael: And while some of those, like thought and visualization that you described, might be subtler versions, I’m not even sure I would say that the inner touch is more subtle because when people do start to tune in, it’s like a landscape that was unfamiliar to them. They usually tuned into the inner realm when it wasn’t working well. “I’ve got a stomach ache, I’ve got a headach.” But when they actually start recognizing that all emotions are physical, that all emotions arise, move, shift and depart from the physical body. Sometimes the ability to touch the emotional experience with a gentle and accepting and yielding awareness is as intense, as palpable, even more so sometimes, than what you can touch outside of yourself.

Rick: Yeah, when you think about there’s so many varieties in the field of touch. I mean there’s sandpaper and there’s jello and there’s cactuses and there’s hot stoves and cold ice and a million different things that are so different from one another that our sense of touch can enable us to experience. And in the same sense, there’s so many different emotions. I mean in your book you list a whole bunch of them and positive and negative, all kinds of different things. What you seem to come back to, again and again, is that these aren’t just abstract mental things in any sense. Every emotion has its seat in the physiology and in some physical sensation that can actually be identified.

Raphael: Yeah, I actually tell people, when they’re first getting used to this approach, that you don’t even need a name for what you’re feeling in order to surf your emotions successfully to a place of expanded presence. In fact, looking for a name pulls you away from the wave and often isn’t helpful. Plus, those labels that we use are like lies of convenience, because if you ask me how I’m feeling, and I say “Sad,” then you say “Well how do you know you’re sad?” You might notice my chest is aching. Another time I might say that I’m sad and you might still ask me “How do you know you’re sad?” and I might say “I feel like I have a hole in my belly.” So those are two actually very different experiences using your inner sensing. We’re using, for convenience, we’re using one label to describe them. So, since we are so over-developed in our heads, what I’m asking people usually to do is to really drop the label, to drop the idea of controlling their emotional experience and actually going for the ride. We don’t need words, but when I ask people to share words, I ask them to use individual descriptive words not abstractions. So “hot.” “Spinning.” “Blue.” Those words help you stay on the wave rather than abstract you back into something that’s conceptual.

Rick: Okay, so we have maybe 20 or 30 minutes left and I keep having this feeling like we haven’t really gotten in… I haven’t really given you an opportunity yet to explain what your process is, how you work with people. We alluded to it and touched upon it and then we come back to other things. So I want to give you an opportunity to… You have this whole “two times two” process and there’s a lot of things you explain in your books. I want to give you an opportunity to really explain that to people so that you and I and the audience will all feel satisfied at the end of this interview that they’ve really gotten a sense of everything you have to offer.

Raphael: Sure, thank you. I really appreciate your presence in space and time to address that. Actually, the good news is I think that everything that I’m going to share now is implicit in everything that we’ve been sharing before. So now this is just a process of making it explicit. So the first thing to recognize is that, as we said, emotions are physical. They need to be felt. When they are felt, the message that they’re sending, which is the physical sensation in your body, no longer needs to be there anymore. So the emotion dissipates and leaves you in a state of expanded presence which is what we want. If there’s a goal to this, even though it’s really a goal-less process, that would be the goal, to become more connected, more present, more peaceful within the moment that you find yourself.

Rick: Yeah.

Raphael: So the first key explicit piece that we haven’t shared is that the way you make that happen is that you surf. I’ve even dropped the two-by-two process that you mentioned before and just talk about surfing, because there’s a lot about surfing in the ocean that’s very similar to surfing your emotions. But in the interest of time, what I’ll just say is that you bring your awareness to the place in your body that you are experiencing sensation. That’s really important because, for those meditators who’ve learned for 25 years to let the movie pass, to stay out of it, they can’t use that approach to strong healthy emotional connection because you have to actually go to the wave. So it could be in your belly, it could be in your thighs, it could be in the tip of your head. Wherever you’re experiencing sensation, you go there, and then you stay connected to, you let the wave lead your awareness. You follow it where it goes, maybe it moves all over your body. Maybe it just pulses for a moment. Whatever it does, you notice and allow. You notice and allow. And through that process, if the emotion has needed your attention, you’ve given it, so the emotion dissipates as I described. But if you started – and this is the second part I’m going to get to in a moment – if you started from a place of contraction, holding against that emotion, then also, through that process of surfing that I just described, that contraction will release and leave you in a state of expanded presence. So this very, very simple but not easy and also very deep practice in a way is everything, because it allows you to recognize and release your resistance. Remember all resistance is emotional. It allows you to recognize and release your resistance when it arises, when you notice it as quickly and efficiently as possible. In the process, you heal emotional wounds because truly, as others have said “Feeling is healing,” that’s all that healing is, feeling something that you have kept at bay. Now you’ve said it can belong to you. You can mend it into your experience. So you heal the past by riding this wave. You open to the most luscious presence by riding the wave. And then also you create the best possible future because now you’re creating out of acceptance rather than resistance. Creating out of resistance usually only creates more resistance, whereas creating out of acceptance can actually create a positive evolution towards whatever is your intention or your goal. So by this simple surfing practice, you heal the past, you open to the present and you grow towards the best future.

Rick: Is there one of your books in which you explain that so that people could actually learn it from the book or what?

Raphael: Well the textbook really, for it, is both the actual written book and the audio program from Sounds True. It’s called “The One Thing Holding You Back.” It doesn’t use the surfing metaphor, but it does the trick. The later book in which I switched to the surfing metaphor is an easier book to read. It’s shorter, it has beautiful pictures, it’s more inspirational. That one is called “Surfing Your Inner Sea,” and that would be an easier place to start, for people who don’t want to dive in and get to the meat of it.

Rick: Okay, so would you agree that our subjective experience and our physiology are very closely related to one another? You don’t have an exact subjective experience, whether emotional or mental, without there being some corresponding physiological activity in some part of the body? And so, if you’re having emotions, which are subjective experiences, there’s got to be some physiological correlate? What your process is doing is, by enabling us to bring the attention to the physiology, rather than keeping it up in the emotional realm, we get right to the point where that emotion is being generated and we actually facilitate physiological change, which could actually probably be measured, in terms of biochemistry and so on, which actually resolves the thing once and for all. At least, resolves a degree of it. Without that kind of process, we can get hung up perpetually in the emotional realm and never really get to to the root of it.

Raphael: Yes, and I think that, although I’m not a consciousness philosopher or somebody who is really well versed in that, I’m really drawn to the idea that human consciousness is wet, meaning that it arises out of the biological substrate and it can’t be separated from it. The idea that, somehow, we could have artificial intelligence and our brain is up on a shelf in some science fiction way without a body, that doesn’t make any sense to me. We live into and through our bodies. The more our intellectual process is rooted in our bodies, the more there’s a wedding of body and consciousness, the more whole we are and the more sustainable our vision for sure.

Rick: Yeah, I always say I bet you if you hooked Ramana Maharshi up to a sophisticated EEG machine, it would be kind of impressive what you would see. If his consciousness were indeed radically different than the norm, his physiology should be radically different in some way, if we have the wherewithal to measure it.

Raphael: Yeah, yeah and I just want to add one other thing, which is that we have such a bias against what we’re talking about right, now deeply embedded in our culture, because we’re cross-wired evolutionarily. What I mean by that, just to say briefly, is that emotions, as I’ve described, need to be felt. They’re generated primarily by the limbic system. But the primitive or reptilian brain actually can’t distinguish between an external threat, like footsteps in a dark alley, and an internal threat, like grief or despair. So our primitive brain actually thinks that our difficult and challenging emotions are going to kill us. So when those emotions arise, instinctively it shuts us down. So we’ve got one part of our brain saying “Feel this,” and another part is saying “No way.” We’re stuck. We’re screwed as a culture, let alone as individuals, as long as we don’t address that. The good news part of that is that the primitive brain, as powerful as it is, knows that it’s not the whole show and it doesn’t run everything. So when we say “Hold on. That despair that you’ve just balled up inside of us and tried to make unavailable, we want to go there. We want to, just this one time, we want to see what’s happening.” Then the primitive brain says “Well, I don’t know if this is okay but okay for a second.” We touch that despair or shame and we don’t die. The primitive brain updates, and it continues to update over time. “Oh, shame, not footsteps in a dark alley don’t have to shut down as long and as hard as we thought.” So the brilliance of the human being is that that updating is possible and shifts us into a more open state. I was saying before about how incredibly pervasive it is, here’s the example. The forefront of teaching this new way of being in the world is what’s called “Social and Emotional Learning,” SEL. So bless the people who are bringing that to kids and schools etc. Even in that progressive world, there’s still the mental the bias. So you can read the literature, and often what it says is, “Let’s help kids become aware of their emotions so they can better manage their emotions.” So, “Feel it so you can go right up here again, top down.” In my experience, the best “management” comes through the process of feeling. When you feel fully, and you heal, in the way that I described earlier, you get the deepest insights. You get greater peace of mind. You get greater clarity and creativity. This isn’t just spiritual philosophy, because Dan Siegel, the mindfulness neuroscientist, talks about a circuit in the brain called “the experiencing circuit,” which I would call Shakti and the “awareness circuit,” which I would call Shiva. He says that, when those two come together, they create what he calls “integration.” We could call that “wholeness.” We could call that “a moment of enlightenment,” not an endless stage of enlightenment but a moment of enlightenment. I’m sharing this because, as powerful a tool of living and growing and healing as this surfing is that I’m describing, we still, even at the forefront, when we’re not careful we’ll just drift right back up to the head and out of the process that has so much treasure for us, if we stay with it.

Rick: Okay. I want to give you more opportunity to talk about your process. Let’s say I’m out there listening to this and I’m thinking, “Okay, I don’t quite get, what would I actually do, if I worked with this guy? If I read his books and somehow put into practice what he advises, what would be my daily routine?” “If I got upset with something at work, how would I deal with that?” “If I have an eating disorder, how would it help me?” Give us some practical examples and just make the whole process a little bit more clear to people who might find this interesting.

Raphael: So the first answer is that, in doing this work, we follow the resistance. Where is your “No?” You gave some examples. Guy has a problem with his boss at work. My job isn’t to help you come up with the strategy for how to deal with your boss. I believe that, if we can recognize and release your resistance to whatever is triggering you and keeping you stuck and tight in the exchange, then your own natural intelligence and your own co-creation of a spirit will lead you to the best possible strategy. As long as you’re in resistance to some aspect of what’s going on, then you’re not going to be able to get there. So, for that example, I would start to ask you “What about that exchange, that crisis that you’re experiencing at work? What is the most difficult for you?” In this example that you suggested, of this guy at work, something in his relationship and the tension, the challenge, between him and his boss is created inside of him because it touches a feeling that he won’t or can’t feel, and that’s keeping him tight. Our goal is to get him to a place of expanded presence. So at first, our dialect might sound more traditional, “Tell me more about it” kind of thing. But eventually, we’re going to get to “What’s the feeling at the heart of the matter here?” It could be shame. It could be grief. It could be longing. It could be invisibility. Something is being struck that, if he can find, with my or anyone else’s support, and ride through, if he can start to embrace and include that experience of despair or unworthiness, then he’s not going to be acting from a contracted, from a resistant place. Recognizing and releasing the resistance is what we do, and we do it through the process of this emotional internal surfing that you and I have been talking about. Take another quick example. You mentioned someone with an eating disorder. A person with an eating disorder again, while it has physiological or mental aspects to it, is using the behavior to avoid certain feelings. Whether it’s an eating disorder or whether it’s alcoholism or porn addiction, whatever compulsions that are involved, whatever strategies people have used to not feel, we try to reverse those. Once you become intimate with the feeling, once you let it be a welcome part of you, you don’t have to like it, but you have to love it. You have to let it be a part of you. Then what happens is, you no longer need that coping mechanism which comes with so many debilitating side effects, like addictions do. One example I like to use that really makes this clear for people is a client I had who said that her neediness was destroying all of her romantic relationships. That was her self-identification. I asked her, from the approach that we’ve been exploring today, “Would it be possible, just for a little bit, for you to welcome in and start to experience more directly what you’re calling neediness?” and she said “Absolutely not. I would like to surgically remove that part of my being because it’s the source of all my problems and if I didn’t have it I’d be fine.” I had to pause, because that’s a strong belief, and like we said before, I don’t have all the answers. But I had a sense that we never grow by exclusion or excision. We grow by inclusion and spaciousness, like you and I were talking about before. So I tried to think, “What do I have to help her see this?” I knew that she had come from a background in her family where her parents had really rejected and abandoned her. So my last card to play was to say “Is it possible for you to recognize, just maybe, that relating to your neediness in the way you just described is actually perpetuating, and doing the same thing, that your parents did? That you’re abandoning and rejecting this aspect of yourself, by deciding that it’s the problem and that it needs to be cast out?” And because she never wanted to ever have anything to do with these parents who she had vilified, that gave her an opportunity to just pause, and look at it a little differently. And in that process, for all of us, when we welcome in the aspect of ourselves, especially in a physiological feeling-filled way, that we’ve been talking about, we are enacting wholeness. We are, in those very moments of taking our attention and placing it on the part of ourselves that feels like it’s never going to get its needs met, what does that feel like? Where is that in your body? Don’t get caught in the verdicts and the ideas about it. Could you actually just go to the place where you’re feeling it and let that be? Stay with it and see where it wants to take you? That’s the psychological and the spiritual treasure right there, in that moment.

Rick: One thought that came up while you’re speaking is that you have quite a few of these emotional connection dialogues on your website. That’s where I got them to listen to. Others can go there and listen to them too. Oh, and before I say that, somebody had sent in a message “How do you ask a question?” If you want to ask a question during the live interview, go to the “Upcoming Interviews” menu on batgap.com which is under “Future Interviews.” Down the bottom of that page is a form through which you can submit a question. In any case, I listened to a bunch of these emotional connection dialogues and the thought I kept wondering, I thought, “Wow, this is so insightful,” and “You’re really getting right” and “You’re really hitting the nail on the head.” Do you follow up with these people? I mean, if you were to check with everybody a year later, what do you think your track record is, in terms of people really undergoing significant and lasting change?

Raphael: Well I love the kind of evidence- based approach that you’re bringing up. I think that’s really valuable, because we can all say “I’ve got this great technique.” But if it doesn’t really support people in their growth and transformation, then it was just just an idea. So one of the things that I tell people, whether they come to a workshop or they have one session or five sessions with me, is, I always say, “Once you meet me you can’t get rid of me.” Hopefully this is a good thing. What I tell them is what comes with the price of admission is that, from now until the time I retire, you can write to me at any time. I’m the only one who reads my emails. You can say “What about this?” or “I’m stuck here” or “Help, it’s not working.” If it’s something that I can respond to by email and do justice to, I will, usually within a couple days. If it’s something that feels more complex than that, I’ll ask the person “Can you get on Skype with me or Zoom or the phone even just for 10 or 15 minutes, no cost, and can we maybe unravel that together?” So because I’ve done that over the course of the last 15 years. I’m in a lot more contact ongoingly with people than I might be if it was just a traditional therapy relationship and they left therapy and they moved on. So I’ll get people who I haven’t talked to – I just had this happen yesterday – someone I hadn’t talked to for like eight years who says, “Hey I want to do a refresher session.” Or “There’s a new thing coming up.” So that’s one way, at least that I personally, It’s not double blind or anything like that, but that’s how I personally see the way that changes happen and sustain. The other way is that, in addition to the workshops that I do, and the individual work, I have year-long programs that I do. My most renowned renowned program so to speak is called “P4” which stands for “Presence, Purpose, Passion and Power.” I take a small group of people through a year’s work of community that focuses on recognizing and releasing resistance in all of the aspects of our lives. The reason I’m mentioning this is because, at the end of a year, often some part of the group… Let’s say we start with 12. We do in-person work and also distance work, so people come from around the world and join these groups. At the end of the year, let’s say we had 12 that year, maybe six people say “We want to keep doing this work together.” Sometimes they do it with me, sometimes without. Sometimes I come and go with them. The point here is that I’m working with groups now that I’ve worked with for five or six or seven years. I’m in constant contact with them. We work together. We have a conference call every month at the least, So, in a way, we’re like an emotional-connection family. I’ve seen incredible changes in lives through this process. Because we’ve talked about transparency and vulnerability here, I want to be really clear. I’ve also seen people continue to struggle. I’ve seen people who sometimes wonder have they gotten anywhere? Or, “I think I know a lot more and I have more tools now, but I’m still subject to some of the same darknesses that grabbed me and that brought me to you in the first place.” This brings us to a deeper answer to the question, which is, it’s not about fixing. It’s not about changing. It is about including. So even if somebody is still stuck in their stuff, to have a place where they’re welcome as they are, in that, as that, not needing to be different, creates a value that moves me and clearly moves them enough to continue in the community. Most of us don’t come from a family of origin like that. Most of us don’t have a community that’s based on mutual supportive acceptance and presence. So that’s what I love. That’s why I do this. That’s why I want to keep doing this, and why I wish we could make it worldwide. Not just based on me but just continue to grow these communities of emotional connection and support. Through that time, I don’t say to someone, “Drop your naturopath.” “Don’t go to see Gangaji,” you know whatever. “Whatever works…

Rick: Sure.

Raphael: … as a part of your whole, bring it on, right? The point is, if you don’t say you’re done with us, because we haven’t helped you, we’re not going to say we’re done with you, because you still have depression or anxiety or something like that.

Rick: Right.

Raphael: In essence we’re all living with our stuff and hopefully, what we do is we grow in greater ease and peace and acceptance with our stuff. That’s what I would say is what I see consistently comes through this work and what I see consistently shows up in the people that I work with over time in these different ways that I’ve described.

Rick: Yeah, and there’s a lot of stuff you know. I mean, most of us have a lot and you’re not going to clear it out in a weekend seminar or something. I think you… well I guess I already read a quote like that, but it’s really a lifelong process I mean are we ever done?

Raphael: Well I think that… There’s another whole chapter in this but I’ll try to condense it. I’m sure that in many of the interviews that you’ve done, and certainly in your own wisdom, you’ve come to recognize that there’s a problem with seeking. I said there’s no problem before, but in a way, there’s a problem with seeking, because it tells you that there’s something wrong with where you are. There’s some place that you’re meant to be, that you’re meant to arrive at that you haven’t gotten to yet. And of course that keeps you from the fullest acceptance and embrace of yourself and the experience of this moment. So in a way, all the work – even the work that you’re describing that never gets done as we continue working on ourselves – is always leading back to here and now and this. So the work, once we stop seeking and thinking that we’re missing something, is always about, first of all, what “Right now is asking to be included?” We have that phrase which I know you know well, “And this too,” right? What’s here right now? This flood I just experienced. What is here for me to embrace around this flood? I don’t like it. I wish it didn’t happen. But what’s here for me that I can open to, that I’m not fully open to? So deepening in places that I have already begun to deepen in my expression, in my opening, in my wholeness and then, also, new places that show up. But all of that is not to say “I’m getting better and better and I’m moving deeper and deeper” towards some goal. It all ends up still every single moment coming right back to the gift that’s that’s here and now. And so, for me, what I find is the signature of people who recognize what you’re describing, is that they’re freer. They’re more supple. They’ve got more channels on the dial. So they’ll shout it out. They’ll dance it out. They’ll chant it out. They’ll sit in silence. Some people come to me sometimes and all we do is gaze for an hour and they say “Oh that’s beautiful. That’s exactly what I needed.” So we open, we expand, we include, and then we’re always challenged, in the moment, by what we haven’t yet brought in. That becomes the sacred journey as opposed to “I’m getting better, I’m going farther, I’m closer to something.”

Rick: For me, the seeking thing is one of those both-end paradoxes where “Yeah you’re right here and this is all the only place you’re ever going to be,” and on the other hand, “there’s no end to refinement and depth, deepening of wisdom” and all that stuff. There’s no incompatibility between both of those perspectives.

Raphael: Yes! Yes-And. I’m using your thought about that. I would say that the key, the signature quality of people who are walking this path in an exquisite way, is curiosity.

Rick: Yeah that’s what I was going to say.

Raphael: Yeah, you know ,in my book “Setting Your Heart On Fire,” there are seven invitations to liberate your life and the second invitation is “Question everything.” What I describe in there is that an answer is done. It’s finished. It’s complete. It’s kind of dead on arrival. Whereas a question engages us for what more is present. In my first version of this emotional connection, I created something called “Living the Questions” process, which was based on the Rilke quote about living in the questions. The first question is, “What is happening right now?” and the second question is, “Can you be with it?” That’s really all there is. I refine that to focus on the body and emotions, because that’s where usually the answer is “No I can’t” or “I won’t as yet be with it.” But living the questions is a way to stay alive and fresh and ultimately curious. So again, for myself, and then also for teachers or authors or people who I’m inspired by, what I’m looking for is that curiosity. People who are alive in curiosity are always going to be growing and expanding, just by their very nature.

Rick: Yeah I think sometimes, when teachers come down too hard on the seeking thing, people who feel they don’t really feel satisfied. They feel like “I am seeking, I don’t… This isn’t good enough. I do want more. I’m searching. I’m looking. There must be something wrong with me because this teacher says just give up the search, I shouldn’t be seeking.” So I think you have to acknowledge that that’s a legitimate phase. But there may also come a time when that kind of annoying emptiness drops off and you feel content and you don’t feel like you’re seeking any longer. But then, I think, the curiosity can kick in even stronger than before.

Raphael: Yes and so let me give you a really interesting example of that, that combines the embodiment piece we’ve been talking about and also connects to the wild spiritual awakening piece that we talked about earlier today. When I was in some confusion and trouble with the energies, because they were chaotic, one person said to me, around the subject of, “Is this okay? Should I be trying to cast it out? What is this entity? What is this energy?” She said, “The best thing that I can tell you is that, in any moment, you need to ask whatever you’re facing, “Are you here for my highest good” If you are, you’re welcome and if not, you can’t stay.” Another version of that is to say, “What opens your heart? What allows you to connect and love more?” That’s always what you can trust. So when it comes to curiosity, we can be endlessly curious in a way that’s dry and brittle. That’s not helpful. We could also think there’s something wrong with our seeking, as you described, because we’re getting the message in a way that’s not helpful. So, as far as how to move, how to dance with one’s curiosity, is to ask, “What lights you up? What opens your heart? Follow that and you’ll always be okay.” I think that one of the things that I’ve always loved as a guide post around that is, even though I come from a Jewish tradition, I love the symbol of the cross, and the idea of “As above, so below. As within, so without.” What I love especially about it is that the nexus of those two beams on the cross is the heart. Anything that feels like it’s coming from the heart is trustable. The heart combines everything good about the body, everything good about grounding, everything good about what’s transcendent. Sometimes people call the marriage of transcendence and imminence to be completely here and also recognize everything that’s out there. That’s the beauty. Taking that kind of lofty talk and making it very practical again, I think curiosity is key but also following – once you start releasing your resistance – following your energy, following where your heart draws you to connect. I think that’s where you can always trust.

Rick: Yeah beautiful. That would almost be a good point to end on but here’s what I want to do in the next five minutes. I want to ask one question from a listener that came in, because we only got one today. I also want to ask you a couple practical questions like “How do people get in touch with you?” and “When’s your next one-year program starting?” Then we’ll wrap it up. So this is the question that came in from Anne Marie Fitzgerald from Corral de Tierra California. How would you explain, in the language of Shakti Shiva, the technique you describe to heal parts of the self that seek integration?

Raphael: Let me see how I can be helpful with that. Well if something is seeking integration, it’s because it hasn’t yet been welcomed. So let’s say a person says it’s about shame or it’s about abuse that happened to me and the wounding there or the PTSD we were talking about before. We bring… We talked about Shiva before as awareness and how necessary that is. But it’s also important to include what we didn’t talk about, which is the quality of awareness. We want it to be soft and spacious and gentle and then also clear. So we bring those qualities to our awareness, to the Shiva, to the place inside of ourselves that feels broken or hurting or excluded, and that process of bringing it close, holding the space, staying present, is the beginning. Then there’s another aspect to it. I have a blog on my website where I talk about something I call “strong arms soft heart,” which is where we hold those difficult or painful or tantrumy parts of ourselves, but we also, while sharing empathy, while letting them know we’re there, we also give them a boundary that they can work with. “I’m not going to let you hurt yourself or anybody else.” That’s a quality of the enlightened Shiva awareness as well. So it may take some time, it may take repeated encounters, but the more that hurting or broken or resistant part of me starts to lean into and test that awareness, the more that it experiences the strong arms and the soft heart combination together. That’s where the healing magic happens.

Rick: Great, well that’s a good answer and you and I have covered a lot of stuff in this interview and I feel like we could go on another two hours and probably break fresh ground. But I think this has given people a good taste of who you are and what you have to offer and I think people are really going to enjoy watching this interview. So if they want to get in touch with you just go to Cushnir.com and…

Raphael: Yes, C-u-s-h-n-i-r.com luckily not spelled like the current White House resident.

Rick: Yeah.

Raphael: All my stuff is there, all the books. There’s even under Work with Raphael. There’s an extensive page about the P4 program that you just described. The next iteration of the program will begin at the end of January in 2018 and people are more than welcome to look at all the videos and the audios about the program. Read up on it and then email me, if they’re interested. I’d be happy to talk to people about that. My workshop schedule will be up soon for how to work with me individually, all that stuff is there at Cushnir.com.

Rick: Great, okay well thanks Raphael, really appreciate your time, it’s been a lot of fun.

Raphael: Yeah, I’ve loved it.

Rick: Yeah, every one of these interviews, for me, is like opening a, it’s like I’m a 10 year old kid opening a Christmas present or something, like “Oh this is exciting, a new sled!” Have I said that before?

Raphael: I just want to share with you, as a quick reflection, one of the people in my community who loves your work and has listened to dozens and dozens and dozens of your interviews, told me that. She said, “What I like so much about him is that he’s playful and curious and excited and enthusiastic.” I really have appreciated that as well. I feel like it was easy for me to include as much, and as much depth, as I wanted to because you have this quality of full engagement, and also a balanced neutral space. Those two things together just make it… like, when you said you could talk for two more hours, I could too. I’d probably have to pee a few times, [laughter] but other than that, I’d be right with you.

Rick: Yeah, well you know we send out headsets and and our microphones and webcams and all to our guests. Maybe we should send around catheters. [laughter]

Raphael: That sounds painful, I hope not. Maybe that thing that Burt Reynolds used in the movie “Semi-Tough” called the, I think it’s called, the “Fisherman’s Friend.” Do you know what I’m talking about?

Rick: No, is it some kind of diaper or something?

Raphael: No, in the movie “Semi-Tough” there’s a scene about EST, they didn’t call it EST, you know right there.

Rick: Oh yeah, you couldn’t leave the room to go to the bathroom.

Raphael: You’re not allowed to pee, they wouldn’t let you pee. So his girlfriend, Jill Clayburgh, I think you know forces him to go and he’s like, “Yeah I’ll do it honey” because he wants to be really giving. And then he’s looking at everybody else who’s totally squirming around. And then you hear the audio, because he’s got like a funnel inside his pants that leads to a holding tank in his boots. [laughter] He’s like, “Ahhhh, whatever you got to say, I’m all good.” [laughter] Maybe if you send one of those that would work.

Rick: Yeah, well we’ll have to work on that. [laughs] Okay, so let me just make a couple of wrap-up points. You’ve been listening to one in a series of ongoing interviews. As I mentioned at the beginning, there have been hopefully there’ll be at least as many more as we continue to do this over the years. If you’d like to be notified of each one, each time a new one is posted, you can either subscribe on YouTube and you’ll get an email from YouTube, or you can subscribe on our website and we’ll send out an email once a week when a new interview is posted, or you can do both. There are also some other things to explore on the site, such as the fact that this is an audio podcast. There’s links to sign up for that on the menu, and just explore the other menus on the site. It’s pretty simple. You’ll see everything we have to offer. So thanks for listening or watching. Next week I’ll be interviewing Dean Radin who’s the chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and always one of my favorite speakers at the Science and Non-duality Conference. So we’ll see you then and thanks again Raphael.

Raphael: Yeah, thank you so much.

Rick: It’s been fun. So everybody take care. I’ll see you next time.