Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer and my guest this week is Robert Forman. Robert K.C. Forman, Ph.D. to be more precise. And Robert and I have similar backgrounds, TM practitioners for a long time. We both became teachers and so on. And I think you pride yourself on saying that you’ve never missed a meditation, is that right?
Robert: No, I’ve never missed a day.
Rick: Never missed a day, okay.
Robert: I’ve cheated a few days.
Rick: Okay, well I can actually say I’ve never missed one, so I’m whooping your ass. Besides which I learned in ’68.
Robert: You’re clearly whooping my ass.
Rick: But I think you got a better mantra than I did because your experiences far surpass mine. Having just read your book, which I enjoyed very much, very interesting. And I think people are really going to enjoy hearing about your story. So let’s kind of start from whatever you consider the beginning to be and work our way through it.
Robert: Would you like me to start with the beginning of my meditation or the beginning of my experience that you’re pointing to?
Rick: Whatever you feel is significant, just as you did in the book. You know, like you’re a messed up kid and all that stuff, and then you kind of learn to meditate. And the impact it had on you, and then we’ll talk about significant breakthroughs and unfoldments as we go along.
Robert: I think one of the things that, in retrospect, I’m sort of stunned by, is that as I think back to my life, I used to be, I started out anxious all the time. I had a disease, a mental disease that they didn’t have a name for back then called Global Anxiety Disorder. I was always, always, always anxious. And in fact, when I was, I don’t know, 32 or so, something like 30, 32, I remember the first five minutes I had without anxiety, and I was stunned that people could actually live without anxiety. I had no idea. I thought that was the common human experience.
Rick: Were you so accustomed to it that you didn’t even know you were anxious? It was like that was your baseline?
Robert: Yeah. I did not know human beings lived without that feeling, until I had five minutes without it.
Robert: And then that began to fade away in my 30s, I think. And by the time I was about 40, it was pretty rare I’d get anxious. So that was the beginning, and it was part of the reason that I started meditation. I tried a lot of different things, and meditation was the first thing that I tried, really, Transcendental Meditation, as you know, was the first thing I tried that really seemed to have some sort of impact on me, in a way that was very successful. So, I don’t know if I got the right mantra, but I certainly got the right practice, and it really did seem to work for me.
Rick: Yeah. Right for you, anyway.
Robert: For me, anyway. I probably taught a thousand people, and I would guess 5% kept going after a year?
Rick: Yeah, right. Me too.
Robert: Something like that. So the idea that it works for everybody, I think, was kind of… how should we say? A little delusional.
Rick: Yeah. Of course the TM movement would say that, well, if they stop it’s because they had begun to do it incorrectly,
Rick: or they had just not applied themselves, or whatever. But, you know, I know so many people who learned TM in the early days, and then ended up going on to something else.
Rick: They saw it as a stepping stone, and they found that the something else they ended up doing was much more better suited to them.
Robert: Yeah, I agree. And I know such people as well, a lot of them. Yeah, so what else can I tell you?
Rick: Okay, so you had a lot of anxiety, and that kind of led you to learn to meditate, and then what?
Robert: I meditated for a couple of years, and I went off to a meditation retreat when I was learning how to be a teacher of meditation. And I was fortunate enough to be there for nine months.
Rick: Right, in Mallorca.
Robert: In Mallorca, and then in Italy. And it was surprisingly interesting for me.
Rick: How so?
Robert: And I don’t know if that was true for everybody, but for me it was surprisingly interesting. Well, things started to happen, and I began to have certain kinds of experiences, and I had this really interesting thing that was happening in my epidermis, in my skin, and it was just interesting to see the whole thing. And I was beginning to feel a little better, and it was pretty obvious I was. I was not feeling perfect, which was a surprise to me, but I was feeling a little better.
Rick: Well, that thing you mentioned about your skin was interesting to me, too. You were saying that silence kind of progressively moved across your — What did it start with your fingertips or something, and moved up your arms?
Robert: Yeah, it started at the backs of my hands, and it kind of — can you see this?
Robert: It sort of worked its way up, and after, I don’t know, a week or so ago, it was sort of about here. And then I noticed that it had gone all the way up my arms. And so the experience was that my arms had had a sensation, rather like pins and needles. And then that sensation just vanished, so that there was… I mean, it sounds almost dumb to say it, but it became just skin, as opposed to this kind of nervous, almost as if there was static in my skin. And that sense of pins and needles would sort of disappear, and I never saw it moving, but I saw that it had moved. And then it had moved here, and it had moved here, and so then it covered — this silence covered my whole body, until it got down to about my ankles. And so it sort of worked its way down and down, and it got to my ankles, and it seemed to hang around my ankles for a while, checking to see if my socks were too tight like this one. And then one day I noticed it was gone, and I never saw it leaving, but I noticed that I now had no particular sensation anywhere on my skin. And that was interesting. It was not… I figured it would be life-transformative, and it wasn’t, except in a very subtle way.
Rick: So this thing about your skin, I think the average person, including myself, doesn’t completely understand what you’re talking about. Is it as if there was an excitation in your skin, and somehow that excitation progressively disappeared throughout your body? Is that what you’re saying?
Robert: That’s a way to describe it, but do you know — I mean, think about the sensation of pins and needles.
Rick: Yeah, like if your leg goes sleep?
Robert: Yeah, yeah, or you bang your elbow.
Rick: Right, right.
Robert: When you bang your elbow, it’s quite painful.
Robert: Rid of the pain and just think about what that sensation is like. So you could describe it as excitation, you could describe it as white noise in your skin, you could describe it in a lot of different ways. That’s what we’re talking about. And so imagine that you have that all over your skin, all over your forehead, everywhere. And just imagine one day it just goes “poof”.
Rick: Well, are you suggesting that this is something that everybody has and doesn’t know it, and in your case it started to disappear, and therefore it became conspicuous by its absence? Is that what you’re saying?
Robert: The latter is definitely true. It was conspicuous by its absence. I don’t know if everybody has this sensation. I have no way of evaluating that because I didn’t know I had it before it went away. Yeah, like your anxiety. It was just something you had and you didn’t know.
Robert: Yeah, very much so. I never connected those two dots. That was good.
Rick: Okay, so this thing happened in Mallorca where throughout your body this de-excitation took place all the way down to your ankles, and then I guess…
Robert: And then, all the way.
Rick: And then eventually all the way. And then how was life different after it had completed the process? Any way?
Robert: Not at all.
Rick: Just not tingly skin anymore.
Robert: Not tingly skin. In retrospect, I wrote a paragraph in the book. Can I read you a little passage?
Rick: Yeah, sure.
Robert: I wrote a paragraph in the book that describes this. Oh, I wonder if I can find the darn thing. But it describes this quality. Oh, where could you be? If I look up something on my computer, would that disturb your recording?
Rick: No, you can do that. And while you’re doing that, I’ll ask you another question.
Robert: Ah, here it is.
Rick: Oh, good. You got it.
Robert: This is the only way I can kind of get a sense for what that might have done. As I’m thinking back to those days, I’m looking out at the bay window at a wintry scene. I wrote the book “Enlightenment Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be” in a hermitage in the dead of winter and there was a lot of snow. So I’m looking out at the bay window at a wintery scene, watching a flock of birds float by, legs dangling awkwardly beneath the orange beam of the sunrise, pointing straight up behind them. Watching them, I am entirely unaware of the surface of my skin, but I am aware how settled I feel as I watch them, how focused and welcoming I am of this moment. It makes me wonder if just a little of the focus I feel doesn’t have something to do with that cleansing of 35 years ago, and whether without it I would be just that much more distracted for reasons I could never know. I cannot be sure what of today connects to a shift that began back then, but I am settled with the snowfall and the sunrise and the birds, and grateful for the ability to welcome them on this crystalline winter’s morn.
Robert: Yeah, and because what I’m trying to catch there is, and I think this is true for most people that have a spiritual life. You do these things, you have these experiences, and it’s not obvious how they change you. I mean, in the beginning, when this stuff first happens, it’s all very exciting, and you’ve got all this interpretation, but then you live your life and you go, “Well, what difference really did this make?” And so there’s a kind of reflectiveness that I’ve gotten into in the course of my life. And so what I’m reading here is like, I do feel settled, and I think a little of the settled-ness does connect with this skin. As I look back on my life, I would say that that sense of white noise was a quality a little like this, just a slight bit of nervousness or energetic-ness. I see people that have their legs constantly bouncing up and down, and it’s like, I think some of this helped that kind of fade away.
Robert: That’s about as close as I can get, Rick.
Rick: I have a similar kind of white noise thing, but it doesn’t have to do with my skin. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and I’ll be lying there, and there’s this buzz on a subtle level. And as soon as I’m aware of the buzz, I can relax and it stops, and then I’ll go back to sleep. It’s like I can just turn it off just by relaxing out of it somehow. Anyway…
Robert: No, no, no, I don’t want to let that one go. That’s too good.
Robert: I think that what you’re describing, and I would say I also have learned some of this over the years, is that first of all, there’s a real self-awareness in being able to detect that sense of a buzz, but there’s also a kind of shift that you’re able to do and I think– That’s been part of my life. It’s like, “Ah, letting it go.” Or there was a muscle inside my ears that was there in the depths of meditation that somehow it or I learned how to let the muscle go. So I think that part of the spiritual life is learning to be much more in tune with your own physiology and your own mental physiology, if you will, mind-body relationship. And so what you’re saying is, “I’ve learned how to let that go,” and I think that’s part of a lot of people’s experience, and certainly mine. Very good. I like it.
Rick: Okay, good. So what you were doing over there in Mallorca, I know this from experience, is you were doing a process that was called “rounding,” and that’s where that “Dear Prudence” song, when the Beatles sang, “Look around, round, round,” they were talking about that process where you meditate for half an hour or so, you break and do some yoga asanas, do some pranayama, then you meditate again for half an hour, and you go through this all day long. It got long. It was all…it got to…
Robert: All day long!
Rick: Yeah. And people would pride themselves, “Oh, God, I did so many round smoke is coming out of my ears!” But it was a fairly intense process when you did it for nine months. And you mentioned that the next stage of unfoldment happened to be these tubes, as you put it, in the back of your neck that started opening. I couldn’t relate to that one either, tubes. I never had experience with tubes. But perhaps you can pick it up from there.
Robert: Fine. And let me just make a comment on the tubes. I’ve been talking about this now for quite some time, and since the book has come out, I’ve given lots of talks about it, and I’ve never heard of anybody having anything even similar. Now, the result of it, I’ve heard quite a number of people describe something similar, but just the way that mine developed was very, I think, unusual. So let me just tell the story. I was sitting in meditation. This was December something or other of 1971. And there was this sense in the back left side of my head where something like a tube, or in retrospect, I think maybe a nerve bundle or a synapse, or I don’t know what it was, just goes “brrrp!” And in the same sense as my skin before that, of this sense of a kind of white noise or a kind of pins and needles, there were pins and needles in that tube – very, very subtle – and they just disappeared. And they went away with this kind of zipping sensation, or a kind of like a “brrrp!” kind of thing, like something was changing. And that was a permanent shift. It was only in this one little tube in the back of my head, but it was permanent, never changed. And then about, oh, maybe three or four days later, I was again sitting in meditation, and again another tube just to the right of that first tube went “brrrp!” and again got silence. And the first one had this very peculiar quality to it, where I could sort of put myself over here, and I could look over there and I’d say, “Well, it’s maybe an inch and a half long, and it seems to be on the left,” and I could kind of identify it physiologically, or as it were, in terms of spaciousness — spaciality. If I would put myself in the tube, which I was able to do, then the sense was that I was just vast, big, enormous. In fact, it was a little dizzying to put myself in it. It was like, “Whoa!” You sort of lose your bearings. It’s like the bottom and the top both drop away, and it was just open. I mean, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, our teacher, used to… “unboundedness,” and that was the quality. There didn’t seem to be a boundary that I could find. It was quite unexpected. It was so without limit, in a funny way. It was spacious or open. And then the next tube that came in four or five days later simply joined into the first tube, so that the sense of it was that that was a… the same spaciousness, but now it was a little wider in the back of my head. So from over here, I would say it was just that fraction of an inch wider. From over here, there was no change. It was a little easier to get into it, but that’s the only difference I could see. My thoughts weren’t different. My sense of myself wasn’t different. Nothing substantial changed, but now I had this thing. And so this went on, I would say, for about a month, and every two, three, four days, another one of these would kind of blop into place or zip into place, and little by little, the back of my head was being replaced. The sensations that were there were being replaced by absolute silence. Really, no effort involved, no content, no thoughts, no nothing. It was just open, just open. And mostly what I experienced during the time was a… two things. The first was, I noticed that when I would go down the steps or I would be kind of walking around, I would tend to list one way or another. I’d tend to lean one way or another, because I think this side was a little lighter than that side. That was the only effect I really noticed, that and the fact that I was now carrying these two levels.
Rick: With regard to the two levels, I think I heard you say in your book that it was as if a portal into infinity was being opened. There was a sense of infinity or vastness, but it somehow was localized or being experienced through that specific part of your physiology, which was gradually expanding.
Robert: You put that better than I did.
Rick: I should have written the book.
Robert: Yeah, that’s good. And the portal opening to infinity was exactly accurate. I think I did say that in the book, and I think that’s… Yeah, there was something about it. It’s almost as if you’re living… And this is kind of the struggle of our lives, I think, people that have been committed to their meditation life. In a certain level you’re living, or in a certain way you’re living, two kinds of lives at the same time. One normal, where you’re sort of interacting with the world, and this other one is just this sort of open, wide-open spaciousness. And for me, it was this wide-open spaciousness in my body. And for that month or so this was going on. It was in my body at the same time that something else was in my body, this sort of normalness. So in retrospect it was odd. At the time I just felt like, “What the hell is going on here?” That’s really what I was… you know it’s like… And I’d heard about enlightenment. Whatever this was, it couldn’t possibly be enlightenment. It was too strange. We used to talk about the result of meditation would create these odd experiences, and I was just thinking this was one of those odd experiences that meditation seemed to produce. So this whole transformation lasted about a month. I mean, I wasn’t timing it because I didn’t think much of it, but I would guess about a month or so.
Rick: And then what happened at the end of the month?
Robert: The last tube on the right side now shifted. And then that was the moment that something, quite a number of things, really did shift. And the first thing I would say that I noticed, and it was very striking, was, and just as an aside, I think one of the things that I feel fortunate about is that because this was all so strange and because it all happened so suddenly in a certain sense, I was very attentive to what was going on. So I was sort of very, you know, like, “Oh my God, what’s this?” So I was paying careful attention to this. And the first thing I noticed was that the background of my thinking… the background of my thinking just shut off. And I was expecting, from everything I had heard in those days, I was expecting that my thought process would stop, and it didn’t. I was still thinking, like, “What the heck is going on?” and, you know, “Is it time for dinner?” and all that stuff. But if you imagine that here’s your thought, I’m thinking about talking to you, and behind that thought, before this transformation, behind that thought would be another thought, like, “Oh, my wife is expecting me to come down for breakfast soon,” and then behind that one was, “Oh, I’ve got to remember to pick up the milk,” and behind that one is, “Oh, this book that I read the other day,” and maybe a snatch of music. And I describe those as sort of background thoughts. It’s almost like there’s a scrim that the movie is on, and then there’s all these other scrims, and you’re sort of seeing them all at once in a certain sense. All those background scrims just shut off. It was like the light shifted, and my thought process became, when I was talking to somebody, I was just talking to them. When I was thinking about something, I was just thinking about them.
Rick: And this was unanticipated? You didn’t expect it to be this way, are you saying?
Robert: Oh, my God, no.
Rick: Well, you know, Maharishi talked about that in “The Science of Being.” He said, “Well, ordinarily the mind is full of extraneous thoughts, and in the state of enlightenment, it becomes much more efficient. You think a lot fewer thoughts, and only the thoughts that are pertinent to the situation.”
Robert: Yeah, I agree. That’s what he said, but at the time I didn’t quite realize that. What I thought he was describing was, “Your thought process will shut down. You will not have any thoughts.” That was what I was kind of expecting or looking for.
Robert: And so when this happened, it was like, “What?” You know, it’s like, “So that’s the product of my own naivete and my own bad reading.”
Rick: And so this was kind of like a major shift. You know, you quoted the Mundaka Upanishad in your book, which I had actually looked for this quote mid-interview a few weeks ago and couldn’t find it, but you got it here, which is, “Two birds, inseparable companions, perch on the same tree. One eats the fruit, the other looks on. The first bird is our individual self, feeding on the pleasures and pains of this world. The other is the universal self, silently witnessing all.” And I think that’s a great quote.
Robert: Yeah, you want me to talk about that a little bit?
Rick: Yeah, sure.
Robert: Yeah. This was… the term that I think the Hindu tradition uses for this, is “sakshin” or “witnessing.” And the idea is this, that you’re engaged in your life, there’s this sort of bird doing his thing. He’s living his life, he’s eating, he’s doing whatever he’s eating. But at the same time, there’s this other quality, this sense of openness, and it’s sort of back, and it’s watching. So you’ve got the bird doing its thing, or you’ve got your own mental stuff, you’ve got your own thought process, and at the same time, there’s this sense of openness, beholding or simply looking at, or, yeah, holding, as it were. I think “holding” is about the best phrase for it. So you’ve got this thing holding what’s going on here. Always, you’ve been paying attention to this stuff right along. You’ve been watching yourself do your life, but there’s a quality of being aware that you are looking, or aware that you are aware, at the same time that you’re doing your life. And so that second bird, the one that beholds or watches or witnesses, that second bird is aware of itself as the beholder, at the same time that you’re doing this stuff. So the quality is as if you’re open and wide open, this sense of spaciousness, at the same time that you’re living your life. So there’s this kind of two-foldness that I think was quite noticeable, and I think has been an important piece of my life ever since.
Rick: Yeah. You have another quote here from Shankara, which I thought was good. “The knower of the Atman does not identify himself with his body. He rests within it, as if within a carriage. He bears no outward mark of a holy man.”
Robert: Yeah. I mean, one of my problems was, when this first happened to me, I didn’t know what it was, really. In retrospect, if I read Maharishi Mahesh Yogi now, I would think, “Oh, that’s what he was describing.” But at the time, I was quite confused about all this. And it was about ten years later, I went to graduate school to study religion and to study Hinduism, and I started reading that stuff. And that quote from Shankara was one of those quotes that I was sitting Lowe Library — excuse me, the in the Butler Library, and it’s a great, huge reading room, and I was sitting reading this thing, and it says, “Rides in his body, and no marks of an outward man.” And I go, “Ahh!” And I said, “You know…” It was like, “Oh, my God!” But that quote really got me. That was the beginning of a kind of shift in how I understood this stuff. Because it is as if you are doing your life, riding in the carriage that is your life, and at the same time, you’re simply riding in it. You’re simply here, as it were, witnessing. So there is a sense of unmoving in the middle of moving. And I think, one way I think many people can connect to this is, if you think back to your last birthday, you think back, and it’s like, you know, who was there, and I had a dinner, and my friend so-and-so was there. And it’s like it’s right there. It’s like there’s no time. And that quality of no time passing, at the same time that there’s time passing, that things are happening, that quality of the steadiness of consciousness, without time, without place, without movement, at the same time that you are moving and you are doing your life, that I think is the sort of two-foldness that Maharishi was describing, and I think was described in, I see it described in virtually every tradition.
Rick: Yeah. You know, a lot of people have this experience you had of having an awakening and having it be so unlike their preconceptions that they had been gathering for however many years, that they completely misinterpret or overlook that it is what it is. There’s this book by Suzanne Siegel called “Collision with the Infinite,” and I don’t know if you’ve read it, have you?
Robert: I have.
Rick: Where she’s, you know, she had been a TM teacher also and had really been steeped in this stuff, and then had this sudden awakening one day and was completely freaked out because it was so unlike everything she had learned, that she didn’t even connect the dots. And I think this happens quite a bit actually, in various traditions.
Robert: Yeah, and that was definitely true for me. I was not able to connect the dots. Excuse me one second, I have a bug on my desk. I was not able to connect the dots. Even though I’d read this stuff and I’d heard about it, but the word that I like to use for that is, “This is ineffable.” And somebody describes it to you, so somebody says, “Hey, it’s going to be yellow, and it’s going to be green,” and you say to yourself, “Oh, I know what yellow is, I know what green is.” And so you hear the words. But then when this stuff happens to you, it’s so unlike what you expected, that the words are describing it. You know it’s like “unbounded,” for example. I knew that word, but then when this thing came, it’s like, “Whaaa?” And it’s like I had no idea to connect the right words, and it took me many years before I could translate my experience into regular English or regular language.
Rick: Yeah, well when you think about it, any experience is… words are a poor substitute for any experience. If we’ve never had a… Hey, would you lower your mic down? It can be way down by your neck. There you go.
Robert: There it’s okay?
Rick: Yeah, then we don’t get the breathing.
Robert: Oh, I thought you wanted it up here.
Rick: No, down here is better. Like if somebody describes a mango, and we’ve never had one, they could go on, write whole books about it, which we could read and study, and we could become a botanist and everything else. But it doesn’t even give us a hint as to what the actual taste of it is going to be when we actually taste it.
Robert: Right, and that’s the way I felt. I was expecting… Frankly, Rick, I think probably like everybody that starts a yoga practice or a meditation practice, I was expecting something that was very neon-light-like. I was expecting flashy. I was expecting like, “Oh my God, your life will be transformed!” And it’s like what I got was very quiet and very important, but in a much more subtle way than I ever would have known to think. And also, the idea of permanency, which this was, was not something you can quite fathom. Basically, in my ordinary life before this time, and this was 1972, I really didn’t understand anything that was permanent. Everything was sort of shifting on me. And here this thing comes into my life. And it’s like “Vvvvv.” And you don’t quite know what to expect with it. And I think one of the things about that that has been interesting to work on and to think about is that I’ve talked to a lot of people who have had transformative moments, and most of them have transformative moments that come and then fade away. And mine didn’t happen to fade away. But most people, when they talk about it, it’s like, “Wow, and I experienced da-da-da, and it was so interesting!” And that was my response the first couple of days, and then it was like, “And?” And it’s like, “Is this it?” And by, oh, within a couple of weeks I was thinking, “This can’t be it, this won’t be it.” And then within a couple of years I’d stopped asking the question entirely.
Rick: We’re very adaptive creatures, you know? I mean, we get accustomed to just about anything, no matter how horrible, no matter how wonderful, it becomes the norm after a little while. And I think it’s intelligently built into our wiring that that is the case.
Robert: But this was also interesting, but in the beginning it wasn’t wonderful, and that was part of my problem.
Rick: Yeah, well that’s the whole theme of your book, “Enlightenment Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be,” because a lot of what we hear about enlightenment is from reading Yogananda, which makes it seem so incredible. There’s all these guys whose poop smells like roses and who can levitate.
Robert: Can I quote you on that?
Rick: Yeah, sure. And all these incredible things, and you read the journeys about the Masters of the Far East series, those little books I read when I was a new meditator, and it’s like, “Holy mackerel, this is off the charts.” And I expected, in those days I expected, “Okay, I’m gonna get an enlightened rock band together, and we’re gonna to be able to just compose completely brilliant songs extemporaneously on stage.”
Robert: And that will be true for all parts of your life, so that your marriage will be like that, and your work life will be like that, and money will roll in. Oh, well, that would be great.
Rick: Yeah, and this is the sales pitch. Perfect health, full mental potential, ideal social behavior, world peace. And not only in the TM world, but in a lot of worlds, and a lot of books you read, there’s all this incredible stuff. And I think it’s — in a way it’s true, actually, we can get onto that, but just as with your experience of opening up into silence, it’s not true in the way that we conceptualize it when we first hear about it.
Robert: Right, right, right. I want to also mention that, and you’re putting this really well, I’m really liking the way you’re talking about this, but I do a fair amount of spiritual consulting, or spiritual counseling, and what I’m seeing, and the kind of people that find their way to me are people that have had a spiritual life, and find themselves kind of disappointed or disillusioned with the whole thing. And that was something that I really had to work with and struggled with for many, many years. And I think that’s very common, that we have these experiences, or we have some sort of shifts from the meditation, or the shifts aren’t quite what we were hoping or expecting, and so we think to ourselves, “Eh, this isn’t doing what I wanted it to do, phooey.” I think this is very common, this struggle with this stuff. I think it’s much… The long-term meditation does produce results, but it doesn’t produce the kind of results that meet our expectations, in part because it’s ineffable, and in part because our expectations were the result of that sales pitch.
Robert: So, yeah, very good.
Rick: Okay, so we can keep weaving back and forth between these kinds of reflections and the development of your experience, but let’s go back to your experience again now for a bit. So after a month, a shift had really matured in which this silence, if we want to call it that, this vastness, this infinity, was kind of rock-solid, I guess, and just never departed, right?
Robert: Right, and that was unusual, I think. I mean, when I talk to people about their own experiences, there’s a friend of mine out in Seattle, and hers kind of came and went, and came and went, and finally it was permanent. And this was, these tubes just went “vrrrp,” and then a few days later, “vrrrp,” and it was very systematic, almost like a machine. And each time that happened, it was utterly permanent. There was never a question of this stuff fading away. And so that by the time the last one came in, whatever it was, it was obvious that it was going to be a long-term thing, and it turned out to be permanent. This is 40 years ago now. Never left. But I was describing to you the results I noticed immediately. Would you like me to keep going with that?
Rick: Yeah, sure. Please.
Robert: The first one I noticed was that the scrim faded away. The second one I noticed is very hard to talk about. I think a lot of people are going to have trouble quite fathoming this, but who I was shifted. It’s a very subtle thing to talk about. If you’d asked me before who I was, I would have sort of pointed here in some way, and I would have said, “Me! Bob! Robert Forman!”
Rick: Pointing to your chest, for those who are listening in the audio.
Robert: Yeah, yeah. Somehow, I would have been… Yeah, there’s a sense… Bernadette Roberts calls it a “vaguely localized sense of a self,” and I think that’s pretty accurate. But then I noticed rather instantly that who I was now silent, or better still, it’s going to sound really weird to say it, but nothing. This “who I was” was now this sort of silent nothingness, this open sense. So that now if somebody says, “Who are you?” It used to be I’d be kind of confused about that. I was sort of here and… And now, even today, if somebody says, “Who are you?” I have this sense of openness. It’s almost as if I’m kind of spread out. And that’s what I am, or who I am.
Rick: So who’s this guy?
Robert: That’s the Bob guy.
Rick: Yeah, there’s still a Bob guy.
Robert: Yeah, there’s still a Bob guy. But who I really am.
Rick: Yeah, who you really are. But there’s an association with the Bob guy. I mean, you’re not the cat, or maybe you are, or the tree. If somebody takes a hatchet to the tree, it’s regrettable, but it’s not like them taking a hatchet to the Bob guy’s leg.
Robert: Clearly. Yeah. Bob guy’s leg would say, “Hey, wait a minute!”
Rick: There’s some affiliation with this.
Robert: Oh, absolutely.
Rick: But maybe it’s a matter of predominance. Predominantly, you are that… Your primary identification is that silence.
Robert: This is hard, Rick, and it’s hard to say primary or secondary. I know that when I’m in an argument with my wife, this is still very much there. There’s no question that it’s always been there.
Rick: The silence.
Robert: But I completely ignore it. And so I’m like, “How dare you say that?” And I’m very preoccupied with that. When I’m for a walk on the woods, it’s as if this quiet part that’s always been there becomes more dominant. I drive a sports car too fast, and there’s something about the experience that I find is very opening, and so that there’s a sense of being clearer about being silent when I’m doing that. So the predominant part comes and goes somewhat.
Robert: But I think what you’re pointing to is, there is a very fierce sense of “I am silence,” and that sense of “I am silence” has never changed. I mean, the silence itself has changed, and we’ll talk about that down the road, but the sense of being silence has never changed. And I’ve never gone back to the sense of, “Who are you?” “Well, I’m Bob. I don’t know quite… in here someplace.” So that was a noticeable shift.
Rick: Do you find that when you’re in situations which aren’t emotionally challenging, which is an argument with your wife would be, but which are nonetheless tumultuous, like you’re running through an airport or you’re shopping in Walmart or something like that, that the silence kind of rises to the fore and just becomes louder in a way? Do you have any sense of that? I don’t mean to say louder silence, but the contrast becomes more glaring under circumstances like that, or is it more obvious if you’re walking in the woods?
Robert: It’s hard to answer because my experience of that has changed over the years, so let me talk about those two in the beginning and then what it became over the years.
Robert: In the beginning I would say that it was almost like a sine wave, where it would be more obvious, less obvious, more obvious, less obvious. Over the years what I’ve found is that — and this really shifted on about 10-12 years ago — over the years what I’ve found is that the silence and the noise somehow have become more, as it were, woven together, integrated. There’s a sense that the silence and the noise are kind of coterminous, almost. And so that the sense of being pulled out of something, being pulled into something, is kind of faded or fading away. I’d say it’s not 100%, but that’s less and less over the years. I’ll give you an example of this. I was talking to somebody last night, I was at a party last night, and this guy said, “Yeah, that when I get all upset I can kind of remind myself to blah, blah, blah.” And he was describing some sort of spiritual practice, and he sort of brings himself down from that feeling of being upset. And what I’ve found –and I’m not trying to say this in any kind of way that’s full of myself — but what I’ve found is that I just don’t seem to get upset much. I do some, especially when I argue with my wife, but it doesn’t tend to come up so much. And that’s, I think, so that if I was running through an airport, in a certain sense it would just be running through an airport, and there wouldn’t be a kind of churning inside, Ricky; No, exactly.
Robert: a kind of emotional Sturm und Drang about that. So that in that sense I find that the sense of silence is becoming, as it were, more all-inclusive, a little more powerful. And I think, over the course of my life, it’s become more that way.
Rick: Yeah, and you don’t have to do anything to evoke it. Whether you’re walking in the woods or running through an airport, you’re not manipulating in order to have the silence be there. It’s just there, like a rock.
Robert: Yeah. It’s just what you are. I can say, though, that even to this day, I can be more or less aware of its being there. It becomes more dominant, but when I’m talking about it right now, I’m sort of reflecting back on, “Well, what’s that like as I’m talking to you?” But if I was, I don’t know, I’ve got to do my budget later on, or pay my taxes. When I’m doing that, I’m busy paying my taxes. I’m not thinking about, “Am I aware of this?” I am, but I’m busy doing something.
Robert: So that’s a different… This is very difficult to talk about.
Rick: Well, it’s a good point, though, because I think sometimes people get the impression, listening to spiritual teachers, that there’s something that we ought to be doing to be in the now, or to be in silence, or some kind of attentiveness, or vigilance that we ought to exercise. Whereas what you’re suggesting, and I concur, is that it’s there… it’s there or it isn’t, and it’s too late to do anything about it if you’re already engaged in activity. It should be as spontaneous as breathing, or as the blood flowing through your veins, or as the food digesting in your stomach.
Robert: Yeah. It’s just who you are.
Rick: It’s there to whatever extent it is… Right, exactly.
Robert: Or, some people ask me about, “Well, gee whiz has it really been permanent?” And I say, “Yeah, think about your right hand. You don’t have to think about your right hand being there. You just have a right hand. That’s part of what you are.”
Robert: And so after this shift in 1972, it’s just like, “This is what I am.” It’s not a huge… I don’t claim to be some god-like guy. I’m just this guy, and I have this experience, and this is what I am. And it’s no more of a shift. I don’t have to work at it. I don’t have to think about it any more than I have to think about the fact that I’ve got a right hand.
Rick: Yep, exactly. And when this happened in ’72, did you begin witnessing sleep? And you can elaborate on what that means.
Robert: Yes. I don’t know if this is true for everybody. I haven’t talked to too many people about this. Perhaps you would have a better sense for it. You probably talked to a lot of people about this. I noticed a couple of weeks after… I’d heard about witnessing sleep, and the experience that I’d had was, you’d sort of lie in bed all night, and you’d think to yourself, “Am I ever going to get to sleep?” And then you’d wake up the next day, and you’d say, “Well, I don’t feel so bad.” But it was very self-conscious, and you were kind of working at it, and “Will I ever get to sleep?” About two weeks after this event kicked in, I noticed one day I woke up, and I just had this very clear sense I hadn’t gone to sleep. And I’ve come to think that’s really what witnessing sleep is like, for somebody with this kind of experience. It’s very quiet. It’s not a big deal. You don’t have to work at it. The one advantage I’ve noticed from all this, and in fact it’s been a huge advantage, is what it used to be when I woke up, I had to hit the snooze alarm, and I had to keep, like, “ahh-haaa…” [groggy yawn sound] You know? And it’s like, now when I wake up, I’m just awake. And the phone rings, and, “Yes, hello.” And that’s a shift for me. I don’t know about anybody else, but it was hard for me to wake up before. And then after this thing switched on, it’s like I never went to sleep, so I don’t have to wake up. So it’s not hard. So those are three or four experiences. There was one — I don’t tend to talk about this in talks, because it tends to be confusing — but the other thing, and this happened to me, and I have heard now from a couple of people, is that things became, almost instantly, more 3D. And I don’t know how to talk about that, except that… Well, my favorite place in New York City is driving across the Triborough Bridge — I live outside the city — and driving across the Triborough Bridge, and you look down, and you see New York, and it’s an unknown part of New York. It happens to be the northeast part of New York. And I look down that, and New York City, it’s like there’s canyons, and they go so deep. And the sense of depth, or… Like when I’m looking out my window right now, there’s a hill, and then another hill. And it’s like the sense that there’s a hill behind the hill is more tangible, more tactile now than it used to be. And I’ve now talked to two or three people who have had similar experiences, and one of them said, “I was reading your book, and I saw that, and I thought, ‘Oh, that…'” So it’s become a kind of interesting bit for me to think about this experience. Bernadette Roberts was the only other person I ever knew that talked about it, and she wasn’t very clear talking about it.
Rick: Might it have anything to do with the fact that awareness — your sense of self has expanded to include the hill, and to include the environment, and to see yourself in those things? Does that have anything to do with it?
Robert: No, that was later.
Rick: Oh, okay.
Robert: Seeing myself in the hill has been a later development. That was one that happened, as I said, about ten years ago. My best guess, Rick, is that because I’m watching myself watch, I’m looking at myself looking, there’s a sense of, “Oh, the looking process somehow has kind of increased the vitality of my senses, the vitality of looking.” So my sense would be I’d connect it with that, but again, I haven’t heard too many people talk about this.
Robert: And I’m a little fuzzy on exactly what I’m seeing.
Rick: Sure. And actually…
Robert: But let me say, it’s very striking. In fact, it’s one of the things where I go, “You know, this thing happened so long ago. Really? Did anything really happen?” And then I look out, like I’m driving near New York, or I look out at the hill, and I go, “Wow, it’s so striking. There’s a kind of… oh, the trees are in front of that hill, and there’s something much more dynamic and much more tactile about it now, and it’s very striking.”
Rick: And I just want to emphasize that when you say you’re looking at yourself looking or watching yourself watch, you’re not referring to a practice or something that you’re making any sort of effort to do. It’s just the structure of your experience, spontaneously, without even thinking about it.
Robert: You’re very…
Rick: Because a person could actually hear that and think, “Oh, I’m going to start doing that, and I’m going to keep watching myself looking, and get all kind of bollocksed up with some sort of… ”
Robert: And before this time, if I had ever thought about witnessing, it would be trying to make myself do something like that. And it would be very self-conscious, and it’s almost like you’re standing with your arms folded, looking at yourself reading. It’s very like you’re not reading.
Rick: It’s manipulative. Yeah.
Robert: Yeah, you’re working at it. And I think that one of the things that I’m very appreciative of the TM practice is, whatever shifts come along, you don’t have to work at them. You don’t have to have a practice that makes you do blah, blah, blah, but rather it just is part of your life now. And I think I’ve been very pleased about that piece. It has not taken extra work to do this. And by the way, I want to compliment you, Rick. You are articulating this very sharply and clearly, and I’m very appreciative of talking to you about this.
Rick: Oh, thanks.
Rick: Well, I just wanted to emphasize that. In fact, Maharishi always used to do that too. I remember hearing him say, some guy got up to the mic and said, “Maharishi, I seem to be watching myself.” And Maharishi cut him off and said, “No, no, no, no, no.” He said, “This witnessing thing is not a practice that we do in activity. It’s a spontaneous structure of experience, but you can really divide your mind and make your activity less efficient than everything else, and you try to sort of manipulate all day long to bring about the kind of experience you’re describing.”
Robert: Absolutely, yes. And I think all of us have had the experience of trying to imitate what witnessing might be like, which is very different than witnessing. I think witnessing made the senses much more acute, so that the cool felt cooler, the warmth feels kind of cozier, the greens seem greener. And I think that that’s not what you expect. You expect that you’re sort of going to be watching yourself. And rather, what happens is you just kind of become more alive to your own sensations.
Robert: Very good.
Rick: Sounds like a great product if you could market it. Cooler Cools, Greener Greens, Warmer Warms. Buy Witnessing! Call now and we’ll throw in a free Unity!
Robert: Absolutely. Very good. And don’t we all know spiritual hucksters?
Rick: Oh boy. I took a lot of notes and we don’t have time to go through them all, but here’s three questions you posed, which we might riff off of for a little bit, on page 80. Question 1, “What actual practical differences do shifts like these make?” what might be enough?” And 3, “How do we foster that?”
Robert: How do we get that?
Robert: That was the question. In a funny way, when you write a book like this one, like “Enlightenment Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be,” you become aware of life as a whole. The book is structured around a memoir, as you know, and though it’s not memoir, it’s really more reflection than strict memoir. It’s certainly structured that way. And as I wrote the book, I was beginning to say, “You know, I’ve been wondering about this my whole life without being able to articulate it.” So the book kind of articulated that for me. And I would say, to cut to the chase, for me, though this experience has been interesting, and though I believe it’s helped me a good bit, I think that the fading way of anxiety, for example, was not unconnected to this. I think that the shifts themselves didn’t make the kind of change I was looking for. Frankly, I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be satisfied. I wanted to feel like I was living a good life. I wanted to be good to my children, good to my spouse. And these experiences, as interesting as they were, were not making the kind of life changes I was looking for. And that was very sobering to come to terms with. It was like, you know, here I was witnessing, and still in the beginning I was still anxious. I was getting depressed. I went to school. I was having panic — bloody panic attacks in front of my professor’s offices.
Rick: You were shoplifting, for God’s sake. Stealing spaghetti.
Robert: Oh, shut up!
Rick: It’s in the book, folks.
Robert: Oh, no, now, I’m really embarrassed. Yes, it’s in the book. I have to admit. Yeah, there was one time I was stealing… Oh, by the way, it cost 15 cents in 1975.
Rick: I know. You should go back to… You should be like Lincoln. He actually got given too much change one time, and he walked like 20 miles back to the shop to give the guy… So you should go back to that shop and say, “Given the price of inflation, here’s what I now owe you for that spaghetti.” I’m just kidding.
Robert: I don’t know what to tell you about all the other things I also shoplifted at the time.
Rick: Well, you know, let me just interject a quick thing and then let you go. I mean, not let you go, but let you elaborate. You know, Maharishi used to say that there was a tight correlation between development of consciousness and development of every other aspect of your life: physiology, health, behavior, morality, all these things. He said it was like pulling the leg of a table and all the other legs would come along. I think what we’ve all experienced is, at least that I am aware of people experiencing, is that it’s more like a big, long, elastic rubber band that’s attached to some heavy object, and you pull the thing, and initially nothing seems to happen. But if you keep pulling, then eventually it kind of starts moving along. But the correlation is much more flexible and loose, and it takes a while for these realizations to actually percolate into practical life.
Robert: Yeah, that’s very good. And I would also say, not only does it take a while, but it also takes a number of different tools and techniques to help you do it.
Robert: So what I was going to say, when you say there’s a tight correlation, is I would agree 100% at this point that there is a correlation between this sort of internal shift and the rest of your life, but it’s a very loose and open and pliable correlation. So you put it very well, I really appreciate that. And what I found was that things were not changing the way I was hoping they would, and that was very, very sobering to me. Because I had heard “tight correlation” and figured, “Ah, instantly you’d be a nice guy!”
Robert: And I wasn’t. And in retrospect, I’m somewhat embarrassed about some of the stuff that I did, and some of the people I… hurt along the way. And yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to look at what you have and haven’t done. For me, part of the shift was, here I’d been meditating for 12, 14 years, and I’d had this witnessing thing going on now for 10 years or so, and finally standing in front of a professor’s office, I had to say to myself, “This is a panic attack, man! I’ve really got to do something!” So enrolling with a psychotherapist was very, very sobering for me. I had to let go of pretty much my whole fantasy that my life is good, and I’m going to be okay. It was all very sobering. But going to a psychotherapist was a huge deal. It was a very great grip for me. I found a very good guy, and it had a remarkable effect on me. But that was the beginning of bringing this into my life, which is something that I’ve been reflecting on for a while.
Rick: Yeah, I don’t know about other spiritual movements. I know in the TM movement, it was even like you wouldn’t be able to go on courses anymore if you went to a psychotherapist. They’d see that on your application form and say, “Oh, we’d better not let this guy on a course.” And I think that was rather unfortunate, that sort of fear of taking recourse to other forms of help hurt a lot of people.
Robert: In the movement, in the movement. But I think it was necessary, and I think we didn’t quite realize that at the beginning.
Robert: So for me, psychotherapy allowed me to deal with my mom’s stuff, with my dad’s stuff. Stuff about my professors was all about my dad. It’s like, I had to do the work that was underneath this stuff. There was something that was making me so anxious, and something that was making me get depressed. And it was being with a psychotherapist that began to let me find my way into that, and it was a huge gift. But there was a secret in there, and this relates to those three questions. And the secret was this, that when I… This first started in psychotherapy, so I’ll talk about it that way. When I discovered what was really going on with my professors was about my dad and his need for order, and his wanting me to be much more orderly and keep everything under control. When I finally was able to say that to myself, and I was finally able to say what the real issue was, kind of sneak under what I thought was going on, and start to articulate the real issue, then with reference to my professors, I became open, much freer. I mean, I was never entirely — well, not never, but at the time I was not entirely calm, but it was so much easier to deal with this stuff, and so much easier to talk to my professors. And getting a lousy response to a paper was not nearly as threatening. And the key was telling the truth there. The key was saying, “Oh, this is what this has been about.” And when you get to that nub of truth-telling, somehow that opens up the ability to be in your life without a kind of resistance. So I was resisting my professors, but telling myself what was really going on, which was I was resisting my dad’s stuff. The beginning of just going like, “Ahh,” with that. And that “ahh” quality was the same sense of effortlessness, or openness, or the lack of resistance that I was now feeling inside. And I think that the truth-telling for me has been the key act in bringing that sense of non-struggle, non-fighting, into my everyday life. Yeah? Yeah. Do you want me to keep going with that? Yeah.
Rick: If you like. No, I mean, you know.
Robert: No, no, well, it’s like I found that in… The one thing that’s been interesting to me, and we’ll probably come back to this, but I found that in all my relationships. That if I can, if there’s something going on — Now, you and I don’t know each other very well, but if we were hanging out for a long time, stuff would start to come up. And inevitably, I would… The struggle would be to say, “Why is Rick bothering me so much? What’s going on?” And what I find is that there’s generally something that’s going on in there that I’m unwilling to acknowledge to myself. Mostly about me. Not about you so much, but mostly about me. And if I can start to acknowledge, “Oh, this is what Rick is reminding me of,” or, “He’s doing something, and that always makes me feel blah, blah, blah.” If I can fondly tell myself the truth, and it takes a certain kind of courage to admit to yourself what a schmo you’re being. And so it’s like, for me, truth-telling seems to be the way that I have found that frees up my relationships. And that’s, I think, the kind of leitmotif I’ve been coming up with. But go ahead, you were about to ask me something.
Rick: I’m not even sure what I was going to ask you. I’m glad you finished that thought. I lost it, doesn’t matter.
Robert: Okay, well, let me keep going on this a little bit.
Robert: The one thing I can say about this is that I used to think, when I was hearing about this, that truth-telling had to do with telling the other person what a schmuck they’re being.
Rick: Yeah, it has sort of the connotation of being rude and blunt.
Robert: Yeah, right. And that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the much more interesting and much more difficult and generally scary stuff of telling myself the real truth about me.
Robert: Like, “Yeah, I have to admit it, but I’m being a little selfish here.” Or, “Yeah, I have to admit it, but I’m really ignoring your needs.” Or, “Generally, it sounds kind of like that.” Or, “Yeah, generally, I think I’m just afraid right now, and I don’t know quite why.” So the truth-telling is always about me, and it’s always… If I tell something that’s really true, it always carries a certain little bit of nervous energy or anxiety. It’s like, “Ooh, I don’t know if I want to say this to you.” It’s like, “Eeeh!” You know, just a slightly bit of “Eeeh!” like that. And that’s kind of my marker for, “Yeah, I’m really getting to something here.” Often, I’ll start a sentence, and I have a friend, and my friend in Seattle does it this way. She’ll say, “I don’t know quite how to say this.” So it generally kind of begins with that. It’s like, “I don’t know quite what I’m feeling here,” but there’s something, and you kind of feel your way into it, and that’s the marker that you’re getting to something that’s new and really fresh. Yeah?
Rick: Yeah. It’s interesting because a little while ago you were talking about how really you are that silence. That’s what you know yourself to be, but there’s still this Robert character.
Rick: And yet now when you hear you talk this way, it has so much to do with the Robert character and the way he’s wired, and what his hang-ups are, and his conditioning, and his past experiences, and so on and so forth. And some people might find that paradoxical or contradictory.
Robert: Well, let me talk to that.
Rick: And also in light of the whole genre and non-duality, which says, “Oh, there really is no person,” that whole thing, which tends to dismiss any kind of consideration of psychology or relative hang-ups or anything like that.
Robert: Right. And as we all know, there’s an awful lot of wounded non-egos walking around. [Laughter]
Robert: Yeah, let me talk about that, because you asked me in the beginning about, “Well, how do we find integration between the silent part and the Robert-ish part?” And it’s right here, I think. If you think about the quality of what the silence is, the quality of silence is open, free, non-resistant. There’s a certain kind of ease to it. The word “bliss” is too strong, but ease to it. And so that what keeps me from being easy with you, or what keeps me from being open, there’s something that I’m holding inside that’s like, “Oh, I don’t want Rick to know this. I don’t want this person to know such and so about me.” So there’s a sense of resistance. If I can tell the real truth, now I’ve got nothing to resist. I’m just telling the truth. So if I can live my life in such a way that I have nothing to protect… There’s a wonderful poem by Rumi. I don’t have it memorized, but it goes something like, “A Sufi goes into a battle, and he gets wounded, and so he takes off a piece of his armor. And then he gets wounded again, and he takes off another piece of his armor, and he takes off another piece, and ultimately he’s naked and invisible, and just walks right through the war.” And there’s a quality, I think, of if we can tell the real truth, what’s really been bugging you, then there’s something that allows you to be in your own life with the same quality, the same sense of openness and non-resistance that you feel inside, with the permanent sense of silence. Silence carries this quality of openness. Truth-telling allows me to live it out in my everyday life. And that’s, I think, for me, integration between those two qualities, or those two sides of my life, is the key act of finding how to live it in your everyday life.
Rick: Reminds me of Dylan, too. “When you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. You’re invisible now. You’ve got no secrets to conceal. How does it feel?” [Laughter]
Rick: That’s interesting. It’s like the impression I get from what you just said was… We’re talking about correlation and table legs and elastic bands and all that, but it’s as if the silence, the super-fluid level of life, does indeed, over time, percolate into and infuse the relative structures, the much more dense, concrete, rigid, relative structures. And as it does so, gradually, gradually, those begin to take on the characteristics, in their own way, of that super-fluid, silent level.
Robert: Yeah, you just put it back into the TM language, or the quantum mechanics language, which is interesting. That word “super-fluid” I find very interesting. Because super-fluidity… I mean, most people don’t know what we’re talking about, but according to Larry Domash, what we’re talking about is the sense of when something is cooled down near absolute zero, there is no longer any resistance between atoms and between the electronics of the atoms, and whatnot. And so things can just flow, one way or the other, absolutely without effort. And that quality of being without effort is very different than what I used to know. But then when you start to see it, you say, “Oh, I want to live that way all the time!” And I think we can, actually. But it goes more slowly than I was thinking, and I think it takes a little more self-consciousness and a little more work than I used to think. But that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about truth-telling. I’ve got nothing to resist. If I’ve told you the most embarrassing secret about myself, like you just told about my shoplifting… And I’ve got nothing to protect. I’ve got nothing to run from. I’ve got nothing to protect about you. If I’m really acknowledging to myself that I’m afraid of not being loved, and I’ve said it, and I’ve got nothing else to hide about that, then when somebody treats me in a way that’s not terribly loving, it’s like, “Okay, that’s a drag, but okay.”
Robert: So I think the key to being non-resistant is to live in such a way that you have no more secrets from yourself.
Rick: Yeah. And I think there’s a… I mean, I’m not a psychologist, and we can’t get too far into psychology here, but I think there is a reluctance to do that, because it’s like these tight little knots of self-protection, which we feel are protecting us, don’t want to relax, because there is a sense that it will make us vulnerable. But ironically, in retrospect, having relaxed, you realize, “Oh, now I’m not vulnerable, because I’m not balled up again, the way I used to be.”
Robert: Absolutely. And I think that we all carry those, and I think we all carry more of them than we want to acknowledge.
Rick: Yeah. Level upon level upon level of them.
Robert: And I’ve never found the end, and I doubt I ever will. And I don’t know anybody that has, and I know a lot of guru types, and I know a lot of wonderful spiritual leaders and teachers, and I think all of us carry this sense of still being wounded birds. And all I can say to our listeners is, “If you ever meet a spiritual teacher who says he has no more ego, run.”
Rick: Yeah. Well, you know, that brings us around to another important theme, which ties back to a number of things we’ve discussed, which is that it’s very difficult to find examples of spiritual teachers who haven’t screwed up in some way or another.
Rick: And maybe it’s not publicly known, but when you learn the inside scoop, you realize, “Oh, they screwed up too.” And there’s a desire, I guess, among some spiritual teachers to project an image of infallibility, but there’s always the sort of feet of clay, so to speak. And it’s probably precisely because of what we’re talking about, which is that as cosmic as we may be on the awareness level, on the consciousness level, as physical entities, we’re flawed. And we’re conditioned, we’re hung up in various ways, and all that conditioning and all those flaws don’t just go “poof” when the cosmic awareness dawns.
Robert: Right, which was part of why I struggled, because I was having to come to terms with the fact that I was very much not poofed.
Robert: And I was very much still caught in my own stuff. But now that I’ve been living with this stuff for a while, I’ve come to recognize that to learn to be integrated, to learn to live in such a way that my fears and my depressions and my anxieties are my friends, as opposed to something I was running from, has become part of my life’s work, that I now very much appreciate it — appreciate. I would say, in fact, that my depression is at this point one of the things I’m most pleased about having had in my life. My anxieties are one of the things I’m most pleased about having because they set me on the path, and they taught me about the sadness of the human situation as well as the joy of the human situation. And I like that stuff. I think that the kind of people I like to hang out with recognize the value of both melancholy and joy, and do it at the same time, so that the kind of joyous melancholy that some of us know, it means that you can go from laughter to tears and back again without much of a line between them. And that’s what it is to be alive, to be that open to your own emotional system, and that open to the conundrum of what it is to be a human being and all the confusion that means.
Rick: Yeah, I’ve seen Amma do that many times, where she’ll just be laughing uproariously with one person, and the next person will come up and they’ll have some really serious problem, and tears will start going down her cheeks. It’s just real flexibility.
Robert: Yeah, I saw that in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I was with him, I was asking him something rather privately, and somebody came in and brought some piece of information he didn’t like, and the man was like, “I’ve never seen a guy so scary.” He was so furious at this poor guy that was trying to do something for him, and then he turned to me and he said, “Yeah.” Yeah, he was like, “Oh my God, how did you do that?”
Rick: Yeah, he was always easy on me with that. There was one time when there was something that I was responsible for that I really screwed up, and he was just ripping everybody apart, and yelling and screaming, and then finally said, “Who did this?” And then someone said, “Well, it was Rick.” And then he said, “Oh, okay.” And then he went on. It’s like, maybe I couldn’t take it. There’s something nice on page 86 that we maybe could talk about a bit. You were talking about how silence is the motivator, and there’s a verse in the Vedas someplace that says, “Brahman is the charioteer.” And it’s interesting to think about how… Here you go, “If silence is part of our everyday lives, we have to somehow learn to work from within it.” But you kind of talk about how the silence is not just a sort of detach.
Robert: Let me read that, because I think it catches what you’re pointing to here. “Our work is too important, and our workday is too many to do anything else. There is a calling for each of us, I think, to speak what is deepest in our way. It nudges and pushes and calls until we answer, and then nudges some more.” And that’s been how my experience has gone. It’s like, “Oh yeah, this is what I’m being called to,” and then you keep hearing it, and you keep hearing it. And at some point you go, “Oh, it’s not quite that, it’s this.” And there’s a kind of a deepening process. And so I was sort of hoping or expecting for something like, “Boom! This is your dharma! Go do that!” And I don’t think it comes that way.
Rick: It’s subtle.
Robert: I think it comes subtly, and I think it comes continually. So that you get pushed this way, and pushed this way, and pushed this way, and then ultimately you say, “Ah, this is pretty close.” And then you get pushed a little more. Writing this book actually was… It felt very deeply dharmic, actually, being able to say what I think this stuff is actually about. And I find myself writing another one that’s getting to it even a little closer. Yeah.
Rick: What I find cool about that thing though is that sometimes you can think of silence as sort of impersonal, flat, plain vanilla, uncaring background. But this kind of brings into play the notion that there’s an intelligence to it, there’s an evolutionary direction to it, almost a compassionate quality to it, which tends to guide our life in a very, very, very subtle way. Whooping us upside the head if we’re going the wrong way.
Robert: Yeah, I’m resisting your word “compassion,” and the reason is… I don’t quite know how to put this… I’m not sure that I like it always. I’m not sure it pushes me in a way that feels terribly compassionate. Sometimes it’s pushing me in ways that are uncomfortable, it’s pushing me in ways that I’m not sure I’m particularly good at, or I’m not sure I’m particularly enjoying, but yet I know this is what I should be doing. For example…
Rick: Well, our dogs hate having baths. We stick them in the tub, and even though they love jumping in dirty water and ponds, they hate the baths. We’re scrubbing them, and it’s like they’re crying, and all this.
Robert: I’ll accept the metaphor, yeah. If you want to call that compassion, that’s fine.
Rick: Or a mother cleaning dirt out of her child’s ear, and the kids scream and squirm. There’s compassion behind it. Maybe the word “compassion” is too anthropomorphic. Maybe it’s more like there’s an evolutionary impulse. It’s not that this silence is directionless. There’s an evolutionary momentum, a flow to the river, so to speak.
Rick: And it’s getting us more and more in that flow as time goes along.
Robert: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And if you think about, for me for example, this discovery that truth-telling is really where it’s at, in the way I live my life, in the way I conduct my relationships, in the way I do my work, that has — it’s been a response to silence. Because it’s like what I’ve been carrying is this sense of, “Oh, it’s possible to be totally effortless. Well, what’s taking the work over here? Well, let’s see, I’m telling a lie. Okay, if I don’t tell that lie, what happens?” And so I find myself, the silence serves as a kind of magnet for my life. And in that sense, I think that’s what you’re pointing to. There’s a kind of compassion in the middle of the whole thing that’s pointing you in a certain way. What does it take to make this particular life, in this particular context, truly effortless? And I think that that true effortlessness is an answer, in my world, is an answer to the invitation I feel from this quiet, quiet call.
Rick: So in our remaining time, which I hope will still be a good half hour or so, I don’t know if you can hang in there?
Robert: I don’t know if I need to tell people this, but it’s Easter and I have a house full of people here. What is it, 12:30? Let’s keep going for a bit.
Rick: Do you need to go? Okay, let me know when you’ve had enough.
Robert: I will not have enough, but my family might be able to.
Rick: Yeah, mine too. There’s a couple of themes I’d like to pursue as we conclude. One is the continuing evolution of your experience, because it’s actually gone far beyond what we’ve covered so far. And then there’s some chapters towards the end of the book about ethics, relationships, things like that, which, “It in the World,” the section of the book, which we might want to touch on some gems from that. So take it from there, whichever way you’d like to.
Robert: Well, let me talk about the ongoing development of the thing, because I think that that’s been not what I expected. For example, I heard about, well, I’ll just talk about unity consciousness, which Maharishi talks about. Then you read Christianity, there’s something called the Prayer of Union. You read Hinduism and they talk about unity. In Buddhism, it gets talked about a fair amount. And what happened to me about twenty-five years after all this started, was that the first time I was in Colorado and I noticed something that felt like there was a kind of a cloud over everything. It was not a cloud, but it was as if there was a kind of spacious something, and I could see it everywhere in the world. And that was rather flashy. It was like, “Wow, look at this.” And that faded away after about twenty-four hours or so. But that was, I think, my first experience that was close to unity. And I think to some extent it was a good pointer. But the way the experience has come out, and about two or three years after that, I noticed one day after a meditation retreat, and I take a retreat every year, I noticed driving home after that retreat, that as I looked at the world — like I’m looking at a beech tree outside my window here — and as I look at the world, it was as if I used to feel slightly defended against everything I saw. It was as if there was a kind of hand held up against the world, and it wasn’t like the world was scary. And I noticed this particularly when there was a bird flying across. And this was — I’m into birding a little bit. This was the yellow-shaped flicker. So, you know, they’re pretty harmless little critters. And yet I recognized that I was afraid. At some quiet level, I was afraid. But that day, I was not afraid. And that sense of resisting the world, of being slightly pulled back against the world, disappeared that day and never came back. And at the time, I just thought, “This is cool.” And I’ve come to think that that’s really what unity is about. There’s a sense here of being in a world where there’s no boundaries in it. Where I am, and what’s out there, there’s no kind of resistance. Or another way to think about it is, as I look at the beech tree out my window, and I would say it’s about 75 feet from where I am, inside there’s no sense of distance. Outside there’s, obviously there’s 75 feet, but inside there’s a sense of the beech tree is here. Or another way to put that is, I was watching a ballet, and this is something I think I mentioned in the book. I was watching a ballet, and the figures were moving back and forth, and I could feel them as if they were part of my chest. It was almost as if, though, that my chest was out there on the stage. It was almost as if I was that big, so that I could feel the ballerina, or the ballet guy, whatever you call those guys, moving back and forth. And they would do this little duet thing, and I could feel them kind of jump in my chest. And there’s a sense of being a little more connected, a little less resistant to the world, that I now have come to think that’s really what this thing is pointing to. And that’s gotten a little more strong over the years. That sense of non-resistance has gotten even less resisting, I think.
Rick: Would you say that this fulfills what Maharishi used to talk about in terms of unity, seeing things in terms of the Self? I mean, obviously that’s one of those things that we conceptualized ahead of time, and perhaps the reality of it has no bearing on what our concept was. But looking back, does this fulfill that description, or is this something else altogether?
Robert: I understand what he’s pointing to, let me put it that way. There is a sense of the tree out there is what I am. There’s a sense of co-terminus, there’s a sense of connection. But that phrase never has worked for me. And the reason is it makes the Self feel a little too primary to me. So it’s more that I experience everything in terms of non-resistance. That’s closer for me. Now, that’s a Taoist way to talk. But I’m not resisting the bird. There’s no resistance between bird-ness and what I am. Or I look at the tree, there’s no distance. So there’s a quality of seeing everything in terms of the connection, and the Self is playing not such a big role. But what he’s pointing to is that you know at some level this is your own consciousness. It’s sort of spread out now. And so you know there’s something out there between the tree and me, and it’s none other than what I am. But the word “seeing in terms of the Self” makes it all sound rather arrogant, and it’s just never worked for me.
Rick: Especially if you have any sort of sense of small self in that.
Rick: There’s an interesting point in your book at which you were quoting some guy who said that he had met a lot of saints and all in India and in the East. And they did just fine in the lifestyle in which they were living. But boy, if they had to be transplanted into our society, in which you have wife and kids and taxes and job and this and that, he didn’t think any of them would do too well.
Robert: That’s right, and they wouldn’t do any better than the rest of us. Which I found very reassuring. It’s like, “Oh, that’s why I’m screwing up so bad.”
Rick: And in a way we’ve seen that happen, because a lot of them have come from the East, and then when they’re in the midst of the hubbub of the Western culture with all of its temptations falling flat on their faces.
Robert: Yes, I think so. And I think this is probably a downside of the celibate, hermit… “Hermit-oriented?” “Hermeneutic?” Hermit-oriented life.
Rick: Monastic, yeah.
Robert: Yeah, yeah, yeah, right. So I think it’s a… I think people like Ramana Maharshi, for example, who dies in 1952, that live their lives very much in the retreatant framework. In many ways it’s an advantage, in some ways it’s a real disadvantage, and I feel both sides of that. And sometimes I wish, “Oh my God, what I would give to just go off and just meditate my brains out.” And then other times I think, “What a great loss it would be to not know intimate love, to not know sexuality, to not know what it is to watch your grandchild wake up.” And yeah, I think it’s very much a two-sided coin there.
Rick: Yeah. Also, in that context, you were mentioning that such people don’t have any real peers, no buddies, and they don’t necessarily have very healthy feedback mechanisms, you know, critical feedback. And I’ve seen that happen in many cases, including Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s, where he just became so isolated from the so-called real world, that even though a person might be in a very high state of consciousness, they can get, it seems, can really get off into eccentricity and idiosyncrasy and so on. There’s just not a grounding influence, even for the enlightened man, that he could have benefited from.
Robert: Absolutely. And I think that that danger is kind of built into the system. In other words, if you think about enlightenment as producing every good thing that there is, and it’s all going to be wonderful, then to be a retreatant, to be a recluse, is really fine. Everything will develop on its own. But if you start to recognize that enlightenment is a piece of a life, and an important piece of a life, and in fact might be the fort on the top of the hill, but there’s lots of other places on the hill that you need to be developing, to recognize the complexity of the human situation, to recognize that not everything comes instantly and not everything comes easily, and things might still be screwed up. To recognize that, you start to come to terms with the fact that enlightenment is of value, but, to coin a phrase, “ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.” Your life doesn’t get perfect, and it doesn’t get to be just an amazing thing. And I think that’s something we in the West can contribute back to the people in the East that really brought this to us. I think we’re learning something very important in all this, and I think that message will ultimately be heard around the world. I don’t know how long it’ll take, I don’t know if everybody’s going to recognize it, but I think that the idea that enlightenment is a huge gift, but it’s not the only piece, it’s not the only gift, I think that’s a huge, huge learning that we’ve had to do.
Rick: Well, you know, I think if we have any hope of having an enlightened world, then it’s going to have to be something that everyone comes to terms with, because enlightenment, as it’s written up in the books, some lofty Himalayan pie-in-the-sky kind of thing, isn’t really going to cut it, as we’ve been saying, in the nitty-gritty of the world.
Rick: And it’s interesting that some of the guys who brought this to the world in a big way, were raised in that monastic culture, that Himalayan culture,
Rick: didn’t really have the tool set to… They did their best, but they didn’t really have the tool set to suss out all the implications and all the needs that would have to be met for this to be lived fully in a worldly life. But as you just said, we’re learning that now, and that’s great, because it offers hope for this becoming much more prevalent.
Robert: Yeah, and I think to some extent it was that they didn’t have the tool set, to some extent it was a cultural difference.
Rick: Yeah, yeah, very much.
Robert: Our culture is very busy, we’re very active, we live very complicated lives, and I think of the Hindu monk types that I’ve met, and of the Western monks, the nuns and monks that I’ve met, there’s a kind of ease and simplicity in the life that’s that well organized for you from somebody else. And I think that the challenges that we’ve had to face, we people that are both serious about their spiritual lives, and serious about their everyday lives, I think those challenges that we’ve had to face are huge challenges and huge gifts. And I know quite a number of people that have come to think roughly the way I do, which is, “Great, this meditation, prayer, the spiritual life is a wonderful gift, and we also have to learn how to live this stuff.” And I think that’s the real challenge for us all. It’s what you’re saying in Buddha by the Gas Pump.
Rick: Yeah, essentially.
Robert: It’s like, “How do you live this stuff in the everyday life? How do we, that are dressed like Westerners, drive Priuses and pickup trucks, how do we do this?” And that’s been the challenge for us all, and that’s what we’re all struggling with right here. And I think we’re making some progress. I think you’re making progress. The kind of work you’re doing, talking to people such as myself, and the other people that you’ve talked to, I think that that’s really valuable work. I think there’s a kind of naivete in the spiritual path, that it’s time that we were able to name and move beyond. And I compliment you for what you’re doing, Rick. I sincerely mean that.
Rick: Thanks, and as a general encouragement to people, I would say, “Hang in there.” “Seek and ye shall find,” no matter what your circumstances. If you stick to your guns and stay on whatever path you’re attracted to, it will bear fruit. You know, it really will.
Robert: It might not bear fruit in the length of time that you want it to. That’s the one trick here. I would say, at this point, I have found exactly what I was told I would find. I expected that I would find it within a couple of days, after enlightenment dawns, or at least a couple of years. And this is 40 years later, and I would say, “Yeah, I would say pretty much all that stuff is what I’m seeing, but I never expected it to be quite as long-term, arduous, and real as it’s turned out to be.”
Robert: And so, yes, stick to your guns. I would also say one more thing, Rick, and that is that one of the things that I think we all have to come to terms with, now, you probably feel this less than I do, because you live in Fairfield, Iowa… I am very much alone in my world. That is to say, I think that one of the things about being on a spiritual path is that you have your own experiences, you have your own transformations. Other people may or may not understand those. Most people don’t. And so that the stuff that makes my life real, to some extent, it’s why I wrote “Enlightenment Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be.” I was really trying to say, “Here I stand,” even though I recognized right from the start that most people, when they read that book, won’t get it. But that’s, to some extent, part of our challenge, being serious about our spiritual lives, is to learn to live this stuff in a way that is true to what it is, true to what we are, even though the world might not get it.
Robert: And that, I think, is something we all have to also come to terms with.
Rick: Well, I think most people who have been on a spiritual path, or are on one, will get it. And I really want to recommend this book. You don’t have to have a TM background to appreciate this book. I think the principles and the things it goes through are quite universal to anybody who has pursued spirituality.
Robert: Thank you for that. I think that I’m hearing from a lot of people on other paths that they’re also able to see themselves in my path. So yes, I agree, and that was one of the hopes of the book.
Rick: Yeah, I think you’ve accomplished that. So I’m definitely going to add this book. I always link to people’s books from batgap.com when I interview them, but I think I’m going to add this one to this little section I have on the right, which says “Recommended Reading,” because I think this is one that I would highly recommend to people,
Robert: Well, thank you.
Rick: just because of everything we’ve been talking about here, because everybody’s up against the same thing, you know? How do I integrate this with my marriage, or with my rebellious teenager situation, or with my foreclosure on my house? How can this be sort of…
Robert: Yeah, how do you live it?
Rick: Yeah, yeah.
Robert: And what I tried to do in the book, as you can probably tell from what I’ve said before, but what I tried to do in the book is to tell the real truth. Where things have been hard for me, I say they’ve been hard. Where things have gone surprisingly easy for me, I say that. And I think that’s long overdue in our society. There’s so much hype, so much self-presentation, so much nonsense that gets named under the spiritual life and under the everyday life. So I think it’s high time that we started telling one another the real truth, and that we struggle here and we don’t struggle there, and that we’re good at this and lousy at that. Yeah, that’s been part of the challenge, I think. Yeah.
Robert: And thank you for the compliment, by the way.
Rick: Oh, you’re welcome. So I’m going to let you go with that thought. I could always keep on going, but it is Easter, and we’ve got families that are demanding our attention. So let me just make a couple of concluding remarks, and then we’ll wrap it up. I’ve been talking with Robert Forman, who has written a number of books, but the one we’ve been particularly focusing on is “Enlightenment Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be.” You can look that up on Amazon, or I’ll have a link to it on batgap.com. And this interview is part of an ongoing series. I don’t know, this is like number 117 or something like that. I keep doing a new one each week. So if you’ve enjoyed this, you might want to check out some of the others. If you’re seeing this on YouTube, you can subscribe to the YouTube channel, and you’ll get notified whenever I put a new one up. If you go to batgap.com, you’ll see them all listed there. There’s a little chat group that springs up around each interview. People start talking about the points that were discussed, so you can join in on that if you want. This is also available as a podcast, so you can listen in audio while you’re commuting or whatever, and you’ll see a link to the podcast there on batgap.com. You can also sign up for an email newsletter there to be notified every time a new one gets posted. So, thanks for listening and watching. Thank you, Robert. It’s been great fun. I’ve been really looking forward to this, and maybe we’ll do another one in a year or so, especially if you’re writing a new book. I’ll read that book, and we’ll dig into it.
Robert: Well, I would love to talk to you again. A couple of things. For those of your viewers that are in Fairfield, I’ll be coming to Fairfield at the end of April, April 28th, at Revelations. I’ll be giving a talk, and I’ll be giving a talk the day before in Iowa City for those folks. But let me just say something to you personally, and that is, my hat is off to you for what you do here.
Robert: There is so much hype in the world. There’s so much long, crazy conversations in which people are giving sound bites. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to articulate a very difficult question, and you’re trying to do it with people that you consider possibly helpful. And I know how hard it is to keep one of these things going, and my hat is off to you for doing it. And you do a good job, and it’s really been an honor to be with you. I look forward to some more, and I hope to see you when I come to Fairfield.
Rick: Yeah, definitely. I’ll come to your talk, and we’ll do something fun.
Rick: All right, thanks, Robert.
Robert: Thank you, sir.