Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done about 620 of them now. If this is new to you and you’d like to listen to previous ones, please go to bathgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P, and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website. And there’s also a page about other ways to donate if you don’t want to use PayPal. Not that there’s anything wrong with PayPal. My guest today is the Reverend Professor Stephen G. Wright, FRCN, MBE. And I read all those things because I thought we would start by unpacking what they mean. So welcome, Stephen. [CHUCKLES]
Stephen: Thank you.
Rick: And thank you for your patience. Stephen’s been waiting patiently while we worked out technical problems. So you’re a reverend. In what respect? What denomination? How did you become a reverend?
Stephen: I joined the Interfaith Seminary in London about 12, 13 years ago. It’s a two-year program, very experiential, very challenging, that introduces you to the depth of different faiths and trains you by the end of two years to be more proficient in the art of spiritual direction and in offering services like funerals, marriages, et cetera, to people who don’t necessarily belong to a religious tradition, particularly. So it doesn’t put you into a religious box, but it encourages you to find your own path.
Rick: Does it cater mostly to people with a Christian heritage? Or is it like when you’d studied for three years, were you also studying Islam and Hinduism and Judaism and all the different faiths?
Stephen: Inevitably, most of the people that participate in it are influenced at least by the Christian tradition because they’re in this country. But having said that, I would say the majority of the people who participated in that program are very alienated from Christianity for all kinds of reasons because they’ve been wounded by it or whatever and were seeking a path of their own, but also to path of service. We wanted to find a way of being of service to support their spiritual development and/or simply providing a service, like being a celebrant for a wedding, for people who didn’t want something necessarily attached to a particular religious tradition.
Rick: And then the professor part, Reverend Professor, in what capacity have you been a professor? That’s my professorship here at the University of Cumbria. I’ve had a couple of the past and different universities, but that’s where I’m based right now. It’s a visiting professorship, so I don’t have to do much work. It’s more nowadays, as I’m largely retired, and on a retitle. But it did involve at one time doing a lot of teaching of students, particularly in the health care field, such as nursing.
Rick: That’s right. You were a nurse for 45 years. We’ll get to that, or 35 years maybe. And then FRCN, what does that stand for?
Stephen: Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing. It’s the highest accolade you can be given in this country in your profession of nursing. I think the numbers have grown a bit. There’s more than a million and a half nurses in this country. There’s about 150 maybe fellows of the Royal College of Nursing now, and quite a lot of head. So it’s the kind of thing that when you get awarded, you begin to wonder, is that it now? Am I past it? Do they know something I don’t? But it’s a high honor for the profession in this country.
Rick: Very good. And then MBE is Member of the British Empire or something? What is that?
Stephen: What a wonderful title that is, Member of the British– it means that you get to go to Buckingham Palace, and you meet the Queen. And she pins a little medal on your lapel and tells you how wonderful you are. This whole glorious thing of being Buckingham Palace with the band playing, and hundreds of people there, and the gold paintwork, and the red carpets. And the whole thing is a marvelous experience if you’re into that kind of thing.
Rick: And that’s different than, for instance, the Beatles got– weren’t they knighted or something like that?
Stephen: Paul McCartney is now Sir Paul McCartney. But in the ’60s, the Beatles all got their MBEs.
Rick: OK, so same thing.
Rick: I heard they all went and got stoned someplace before they went in for the ceremony. Or at least a couple of them did. And speaking of them, we got to just mention that you were actually in Abbey Road Recording Studios when the Beatles were recording “Come Together.” And Yoko Ono served you some tea. So that’s pretty cool.
Stephen: That was my claim to fame was a friend of mine was working in the studios. And God is a pass. We were sitting in the background. We didn’t actually meet them. We were separated by a glass screen. But when tea break came down for all the workers, Yoko Ono made some for everybody else that was there and came through. And this hand has touched a cup that Yoko Ono touched.
Rick: Don’t ever wash it. OK. So you work as a spiritual director and trustee for the Sacred Space Foundation, which is, you’ve been telling me, is in the north of England, just south of the Scottish border. So what is the Sacred Space Foundation?
Stephen: It’s a charity. We have two retreat houses here in the Lake District in the north of England. It was set up by a group of health care professionals probably 35 years ago now with the intention of providing teaching in the healing arts. The perception was that healing was dropping off the menu in our very technical health care system. And once the courses started, specifically the teachings of in therapeutic touch, that was brought to this country by someone trained by Donos Krieger. Jean Sayre-Adams came here from the USA in the middle ’80s, started teaching. And the charity was largely set up to promote those teachings. And I joined in there, joined in some of the teachings, eventually invited to be a trustee when the charity was set up. And as the years went by, what we found was people were coming along, mainly health care professionals, to learn about healing, which was more than what they were introduced to, say, in school. And they were presenting themselves with a need for healing. Large numbers were in burnout. And so we began to develop opportunities for people to have residential retreats and to work with someone, initially what might loosely be called counseling, and provide people with a space to feel safe, drop out of the system for a while, and find out what’s really going on with them. And so a lot of the work now is responding to people along a continuum from people who just need a space to rest and recuperate through to people who are beginning to be spiritually inquiries, but they don’t feel at home or feel they’re not getting what they need in a particular religious tradition, through to people who are in really serious spiritual crisis. They’ve hit the wall. They’re in the extremes of burnout. They’ve been told they’re dying. They’ve been told their partner is leaving them or they’re facing prison, something like that that’s brought people to a serious crisis in life.
Rick: Now, it’s interesting that you refer to that as a spiritual crisis. You know, you hear all the time about policemen and school teachers and various other people burning out, but it’s not usually presented in the news, at least, as a spiritual crisis, and yet that’s how you referred to it.
Stephen: In mainstream, ordinary reality, burnout is usually presented as simply an extreme of stress. And that’s not to deny that extreme of stress is part of burnout. So there are some people who are in burnout, used in the vernacular sense, and they’re simply extremely stressed. And we know that it is an extreme of stress because if you take them out of the situation or you remove the bullying boss or you improve the staffing levels, the stress goes away and the burnout goes away. Burnout, as we would understand it, is a spiritual crisis. And there’s been an excellent book written about this as a burnout. I can’t remember the name of the author just now, but the spiritual crisis is something when someone hits that point and you realize it’s more than stress, it’s more than a work problem. There is something going on in me that what the burnout has produced is a crisis of meaning and purpose in life. An example would be someone of a healthcare practitioner a few weeks back who got into her car to go to work as usual, started the car engine, and was still sat there two hours later. She couldn’t move. And the problem was not work, although that’s become the focus. The work, if you like, the stress at work is the agent provocateur, but what’s really gone on is that deep… Her own words were, “I can’t, I can’t.” She didn’t say, “I can’t do this anymore.” She said, “I can’t be this anymore.” There’s a quality of not living authentically, not doing something any longer that has heart and meaning for you. Your heart literally isn’t in it.
Rick: Yeah, I heard on the news just this morning that something like 4 million Americans quit their job just during August. And throughout the pandemic, apparently, a lot of people have just been reassessing the way their lives have been going and wondering why they’ve been doing what they’ve been doing, the long commutes and the 10-hour days or whatever. A lot of people are pressing the reset button. In one of your books I was reading in the forward, you said, “I have a sense that an awful lot of people “have realized that normal life was actually quite abnormal.” So perhaps we’re undergoing some kind of societal reset that will end up making us all more spiritual or introspective or demanding higher quality of life. There’s a lot of strikes in the US now too because people feel like, “I shouldn’t have to work this hard for so little money.”
Stephen: That would be the same in this country. I think it’s a universal. The evidence suggests, excuse me, from various studies that about during lockdown periods, about two thirds of people have kind of stood back and said, “Hang on a minute, what’s really going on? “What I thought was normal, maybe wasn’t. “It was actually awful.” In this country, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the guy who holds the purse strings in the country, is talking a lot about recovery, trying to get recovery again. I think what’s happened during the pandemic, for some people, I suspect a significant majority, have discovered, they’ve taken the cover off what they thought life was all about and who they thought they were. That’s essentially a spiritual shift taking place when you find new meaning and purpose in life or you’re discovering what your real meaning and purpose is. And it might be something as simple as actually, “This relationship that I’m in is fake. “This job I’m in is fake. “Who I’m trying to be in the world is fake. “I want something with more meaning to it.” So although the Chancellor is talking about recovery, an awful lot of people, I think, don’t want to recover. They don’t want to put it back on the way things were. They are ready and ripe for a significant shift in the way they see the world and the way they live in it.
Rick: Yeah, kind of a similar thing happened after 9/11. It’s like there was this big societal reset. And I remember George Bush coming on the news a few days after 9/11 and urging everybody to go shopping. (laughs) Get back to normal life, go shopping. And that raised a lot of eyebrows ’cause there had just been this huge trauma. And in a way he was saying, “Numb it down. “Forget about it. “Get back to normalcy.” And of course, in a way people wanted to do that, but things were never the same. And I have a feeling that that may be the case with the pandemic too. It’s not just a blip and we’re gonna get back to normal, but it’s a kind of a gear shifting that’s taken place in society. I don’t know how things are gonna be going forward, but hopefully there’ll be a kind of a silver lining to this cloud that we’ve been under and it’ll be a shift into something much more evolutionary, much more profound.
Stephen: That may be. First of all, I think we have to remember that what we’re talking about is the kind of thing that has happened in relatively prosperous country. For most people, there’s no shifting gear in a large part of the world because of the conditions in which they live. And life wasn’t that much worse under the pandemic than without it, except for lockdown. Those of us in the more prosperous countries, like us, it’s debatable whether or not that shift that has occurred during lockdown will be sustained afterwards, if and when the pandemic passes. Now, it may well be for some people that is true. I think we have to recognize, however, that the pressures of this particular plane of ordinary reality, of material reality are immense and very large numbers of people will feel that they wanna get back to shopping and going to the pub and restaurants and carrying on life almost as if it was for them. That’s what life was. I think spiritual life draws most of us to, is actually, maybe that’s not what life is all about, that there are different planes of consciousness, different planes of reality, and that the spiritual life suggests that life as lived actually is not life, and you’re invited to a new life, that old expression in the Christian tradition of being born again. But it’s about seeing life anew, literally coming into life. That’s what being saved is all about. I think the Greek word sozo means save, which means about really coming into life, which it really is, not as we think it is.
Rick: Yeah. Do you think that, I know in my own case, in a way, I’m kind of an inward guy. I mean, I’m very active and busy and all, but I meditate a lot, I’ve been doing that for a long time. And so when the pandemic hit, it was like a very minor thing in a way. It’s fine, I don’t go into stores. I wasn’t going to pubs anyway, and I wasn’t going to concerts, and I was playing pickleball, which is a sport, but now I walk in the woods, and no big deal, I can get a lot done walking in the woods, listening to interesting stuff. So, but you see the people on the news, and they’re just going bananas because they are used to a much more outward life, you know, all kinds of entertainments, and they were deprived of that, and it was driving people nuts, and suicides were up, and domestic violence was up, and all kinds of problems. So it was, in a way, it was a kind of a forced spiritual retreat, it seems, that many people didn’t adapt to very well.
Stephen: I think it’s very difficult to have a spiritual retreat, let alone a forced one, if you don’t have the tools, the wherewithal to embrace it. Otherwise, the retreat just becomes a place where you’re deprived of television, telephone, friends, pubs, restaurants, clothes, shopping, et cetera. And so it becomes not a gift, but a curse. But I think if you’ve had some spiritual work, I think some people would have embraced the opportunity to give more time to deeper inner reflection, to meditation, to so forth. But it’s pretty hard to do if you’ve not had that wherewithal, you just go stir crazy. I also think that the symptoms, the things you’re describing are symptoms of what happens, what happens in this particular plane of reality, this culture that we have. The poet W.B. Yeats wrote a famous poem, which keeps getting revived in times of crisis, called “The Second Coming.” And the first lines are, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, “the falcon cannot hear the falconer. “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.” He uses the images of falcon and the falconer there. The falcon, when it can’t hear the falconer anymore, flies off into doing anything it wants to do. And there is that sense in spiritual inquiry that if you place your centre in something like my meaning in life, my centre is in shopping, the right clothes, the right partner, the right body, the right job, and all those kinds of things. I don’t know what TV’s like in America, but in this country, we are awash with reality. And they’re actually anything but real. Every minute of the day, you can find a new bed, a new house, a new wife, a new partner, new body, anything you want. But they’re all placing the centre in ego-driven objectives, in ego-driven drives. And that means that very large numbers of people feel no sense of centre in other than those things, what the ego determines is. And of course, the ego is determined to survive and continue at all costs. I think what happens when people awaken spiritually is you begin to recognize the falsity of those centers, however powerful they are, but they are false. And that then can, in some people, stimulate a search for what is my real centre? Where is my real self? Is the I who I think I am, who I really am? And it’s my experience working with people both individually and groups, that is often the breakthrough point when they’re able, either guided, or it’s happened because they’ve been traumatized, they come to the point where they’re questioning, who am I really? That’s one of the four great spiritual questions, who am I, why am I here, where am I going, and how do I get there? But if the who am I really is, now for most people, if they’re taken into a place of enquiring, who am I? And if I’m not a nurse, a doctor, a friend, a street cleaner, a politician, a brother, a sister, whatever, if those are all not who I really am, if they are roles and identities that I have, if it’s not who I really am, then who am I really? And if some people don’t find an answer to that, it’s a tricky question, you face the abyss of nothingness. The spiritual life, properly supported, guides you through that, through that abyss, and you come out the other side, and you recognize that you might experience the terror of being nothing, but then you realize the joy of being no thing. You are, I simply am, full stop, nothing else needs to be added, and that brings a completely different quality of awareness to who we are in life and how we function in it.
Rick: Next week, I’m gonna interview a woman who’s written a book about the spiritual significance of aging, and I’ve just started listening to some of her recordings and all, but she’s talking about how, we’re kind of eventually forced to let go of things that we might have found security or fulfillment in, because we’re just no longer capable of those things or whatever, and what I think we’ll be talking about a lot is the importance of starting at a young age to discover the inner dimension, because then you can go through life’s phases very naturally and enjoy the things that are appropriate for each phase without kind of clinging to them out of desperation and feeling remorse when you begin to lose them, and eventually, of course, we’ll lose the body itself, but even that need not be a frightening experience if we’ve undergone the proper preparation all of our lives.
Stephen: I think there’s something to be said in preparing for aging while you’re young, preparing for dying while you’re alive. If the ego sees death as the end, sees nothing else beyond it, and will fight tooth and nail to retain identities and roles, and so consequently, when those things are taken from us by disease or aging, whatever, it affects. Maya Angelou said, “If you can’t change a thing, “change the way you think about it.” And my teacher Ram Dass telling me many, many years ago about not long after he’d had his stroke about how some people would see having a stroke and being paralyzed as a curse, he eventually came to see it was, after all those years of spiritual work, I’ve nothing now to stop me making that inner journey. I don’t have to travel around. I can’t move around anymore, but there’s nothing to stop me moving around inside. If we’ve embraced the possibility that there’s more to us than who we think we are, that we don’t end at our skin, then it provides us with the opportunity, even in the face of disability or lessening ability in older age. It isn’t necessarily loss. It’s actually also the possibility of gain is there, of opening up to new possibilities.
Rick: Yeah, he wrote that book, or was it a movie, documentary called “Fierce Grace”? Maybe it was a documentary, I think. And the title implies that having a stroke like that, a serious stroke, is kind of fierce, but there’s a grace to it. There’s a blessing to it. He didn’t sort of say, “Oh, poor me. “I don’t believe in God anymore,” or something. It was more like, “All right, “what’s the opportunity in this situation?”
Stephen: I’ve lost count. I just want to dwell on “Fierce Grace” in a moment. And there’s a quality there in that of forgiveness, not in the sense of saying everything’s okay, but finding the jewel in the mud, finding the light in the darkness. And I’ve lost count having sat with thousands, thousands of people in their suffering, both in my time as a nurse and latterly in the past few decades as a spiritual director. I almost know what’s coming when somebody, for example, might come here on retreat, and there’s a kind of conspiratorial tone. And they say, “There’s something I need to say to you, “Stephen, before we go any further. “And I know I can tell you this ’cause you’ll understand. “I can’t tell my family, “but I’m almost glad I’ve had cancer, “or was attacked, or have lost my job, or, or, or, “because without that, they’re not this.” And I find that that’s where people find the grace in the fierceness, that with suffering, that people are able to handle the suffering because something in it has been found that is transformative, enriching, or awakening.
Rick: I wonder what percentage of people interpret it that way, ’cause a lot of people in the world are suffering, but it seems like perhaps it’s just a fortunate few who realize the wisdom in it or the blessing in it.
Stephen: I think it’s, you’re right, it’s probably not an awful lot of people. Most people whose noses are to the wheel and elbow to the grindstone day in and day out, that’s not a good position to look up and see how things might be. Also shows the need for, and it’s no coincidence, in this age of Aquarius now, we are beset by armies of therapists, healers, counselors, spiritual directors, you know, the days of the great one-off guru who has all the answers are gone, I’m passing, and it’s, you know, the Aquarian age is one of a collective enterprise, a deeper understanding, less hierarchical. So I think it’s a good position for people to make that discovery. And if we look what’s happening to our planet globally, the possibility of a monstrous global catastrophe setting in in the next decade or so because of what we’ve done to our planet, and the deep-seated fears in people, not to say grief of what’s going on, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, Is to bring forward a need for huge numbers of people to support huge numbers of people through the crisis that’s facing us. Otherwise, the risk is that people will act out those unconscious fears by lurching towards more authoritarian governments, or they’ll become violent or depressed or suicidal, whatever it might be. There’s going to be a huge groundswell of need in people for support and for healing in the decades ahead, assuming that we as a species live that long. Meanwhile, within the pandemic itself, I’ve often felt, not least because of my healthcare background, an understanding of the way that fear impacts on the immune system. Not only have people been dealing with the possibility of a disease rooted in a virus, but people have then been scared spitless by the disease and all that’s going on with it, and then also not attended to a lot of healthcare issues. So if you have fear, it compromises the immune system. And I suspect, let alone diseases that weren’t dealt with during the pandemic, ’cause people weren’t getting to hospital and so forth, weren’t getting their treatment, I think there’s an awful lot of latent illness now is going to be present in the population that will have tremendous healthcare needs in the next decade as people emerge with immune-related diseases like diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and so forth, because people’s immune systems were suppressed during the time when we really needed it during the pandemic ’cause we were so scared, and many people still are.
Rick: So you’re saying that the fear evoked by the pandemic actually compromised people’s immune systems and made them more susceptible to all kinds of health issues.
Stephen: Your immune system is already compromised, and huge numbers of people in the world are, we’re breathing shit air, we’re eating shit food, we’re living in shit homes, having shit educations, doing shit jobs, drinking shit water, excuse my expletive, but a huge numbers of people are experiencing that, the immune system is going to be compromised at some level or another. If you add into that fear, we know that fear suppresses even short-term fear, you get a flight and fight response, it helps you. Long-term fear, long-term anxiety has the trick of suppressing your immune system. Now, that meant at a time when you needed your immune system more and more, that was already compromised ’cause of environmental and dietary issues and so forth. You add fear into the mix, sustained fear for large numbers of people, then the chances are we have created a longer-term health problem that may be almost as fierce, if not more fierce than the virus itself.
Rick: I think about this stuff a lot myself, and I don’t wanna be a doomsday, profit type of person and all, but I’m certainly not the only one and certainly not the most qualified to predict these things and it’s quite clear that we’re, as a society, as a global society, we’re heading into very difficult times. And yeah, I think it’s a lot of time difficult for people living in a certain period to foresee what things might be like 10, 20, a hundred years down the line. They kind of think that things will just sort of continue the way they are, we’ll be driving horses and buggies and maybe the trains, and now we have supersonic jets and no one foresaw that. So I think that there’s, I don’t wanna talk too long, but there are huge changes coming down the pike and that it will be essential for people to find that inner center that you were talking about earlier. Otherwise, they’re really not going to weather the storm very successfully. And even now you can see crazy stuff happening in the world, not only the pandemic, but tens of thousands of people are coming up from Central and South America to the US border, trying to get into the country. That’s just a trickle compared to the mass migrations that’ll take place if say sea levels rise 10 feet, and all the coastal cities are inundated and we’re in the middle of droughts and severe weather patterns while all that’s happening. So we really, you know, gotta turn things around. And I think there are solutions, but to implement them takes a certain mindset. So again, it comes back to changing minds, changing hearts on a mass scale so that things can be changed in the technical and political fields.
Stephen: I think that you could look at the catastrophe that the world might be arguably is going to face in the very near term future. As human beings, we tend to have four responses when we’re faced with such a crisis. Death, we kill ourselves, we turn it on, kill other people. We turn destructive, we get depressed, or we just disconnect from it and just carry on as if nothing’s happening. Now, none of those are helpful responses. And you have here in this country, you know, the English Channel is now witnessing boat people coming across from mainland Europe who have migrated way across from Afghanistan, North Africa, and so on and so forth. And, you know, we tend to view them very negatively and respond to them negatively. Yeah, I’m full of admiration for some, you know, some woman with her kid and a man who can trek all the way across from Afghanistan and put their lives on the line and get in some crappy little boat to sail across the English Channel in the hope of a better life. You know, I would say, you know, come on in. You know, these are the kind of entrepreneurial, skillful people we need. But leaving that to one side, you know, I think obviously beneath all of this is there’s a spiritual crisis, which is the root of it. This whole notion of no longer having a center that has driven our use of the planet and our treatment of each other to the edge of destruction. And it may not be too late for us to, as I think is happening intuitively with many people, that deep spiritual search, how can we turn this around? But it has to be, it has to be. It’s not just a question of having a deeper spiritual inquiry and having a feel-good factor from it. You know, I teach in a program here called the Kentigern School, which is explicitly directed towards those exploring the contemplative way. And it’s very inclusive. And that contemplative way means you have to do some serious questioning of who am I? What is it all about? What are the different planes of reality? Is there an eternity and a realm of time and space and so on? And through that deep inquiry is all very challenging and all very rewarding. I know it is. You know, the contemplative way, I think, may well be the hope of the world. Contemplative tend not to go around murdering people. We tend not to tell other people what to do. We don’t abuse children. We don’t start wars. So if the contemplative way can be restored in many different traditions, and it isn’t necessarily always there within the religious traditions, but they’re there. If it can be restored, it is one way that we can bring some healing to the world. The other thing I would say is, and this is emphasized in our school here, is that the spiritual life is not about making me feel better. There’s an awful lot of spirituality, which is about that. And in part, it’s understandable in a frightening world. You want to find something that helps get you through the day, make you feel more relaxed, more rewarded, connected to God, whatever. To me, that’s utterly pointless unless you do something with it. You go out there in the world. So for example, we emphasize, okay, you’ve had these wonderful spiritual experiences. You’ve done lots of inquiry. Now what? Where’s the beef? Where do you work in the world? Then you hit a difficult point because looking at what’s going on in the world, the enormity of it can be overwhelming. And it’s well understandable that some people would shut off and just try and meditate the way through it and become quietus and disconnect from the suffering of the world. That’s one understandable reaction. The other is it can be so overwhelming that you feel powerless. There’s nothing you can do. So one thing that I often guide people into doing is say, okay, find your pressure point. Okay, it’s enormous what’s going on. No one of us can solve it. But is there one point with you, with your particular skills, your particular talents, your qualities, your God-given gifts, however you perceive it, where’s the bit where you can apply yourself? Is it simply being a kinder neighbor? Is it being more gentler and kinder in your family? Is it helping out down at the food bank while also challenging food injustice? Is it participating in wider community action? Is it marching on the streets, working with political organizations, getting in there in your church, whatever it might be? So I think that enables us to stay focused and to survive and to be more fulfilled in a very challenging world if we don’t try and overwhelm ourselves, trying to fix it all because we can’t do it. That way lies burnout or depression or exhaustion. We find our pressure point, the bit we can do. One thing that we found that works here, the pattern that works is having four things in place that support you. You need your soul works, the things that you do, your spiritual practices, meditation, prayer, going on retreat. You need your soul foods. It could literally be food, but also things like having time in nature, listening to inspiring music, scripture, things that, putting yourself in beauty, things that nurture your soul, your soul communities, hanging out with groups of people who support you and encourage you, your church group, your meditation group, your yoga group, your AA group, whatever it might be. And lastly, your soul friends, your spiritual director. We all need, I learned that certainly in my early days in my chaotic, wanting to do it all my own way, was the power of having one or two persons, Ram Dass in particular, and Jean Sayre-Adams here, who’d walked the path before me and could guide me along safely. So having a spiritual, so that pattern of those four soul things helps to nurture and sustain us while we awaken more deeply to our spirit and find our path of service in the world.
Rick: That’s good. Yeah, we’ll talk more about Ram Dass as we go along. I wanna hear some Ram Dass stories and about your life with him and everything. But I just wanna pick up on what you were just saying, which is, I mean, you said, you know, spirituality is not about making you feel better, but I just wanna emphasize that it does actually make you feel better. But I think that’s obviously not the end of it. In fact, from my own experience and many people I know, once you have that feeling better that spirituality gives you, you’re more energetic, you’re more happy, your mind is clearer and sharper and so on, then you inevitably are able to do more for others and it’s, you know, that phrase, my cup runneth over. It’s sort of like, you’re full, okay, now you run over and start to apply all this inner potentiality that you’ve tapped into in some constructive way. And like you say, you know, you can’t do everything, but we each have our role to play and it might be just, you know, being a parent or, you know, doing organic gardening or some little thing, or maybe it’s something that, you know, makes the news, but we all have our dharma, our role to play. And I think one value of spiritual development is it helps you find that role. It becomes clearer and clearer to you over time. You know, you begin to pick up on the impulses and the signals and the subtle hints of where the stream is flowing in your particular life and, you know, you’re able to maximize your impact.
Stephen: I think that the spiritual life, the spiritual practices, the work we do, and it is work, there’s no bypassing it, there’s no emotional shortcuts ’cause that way just corrupts the spiritual depths that we do acquire, opens the heart. It’s essentially an opening of the heart. Whether that is an opening of the heart of your own individual heart through which you recognize everybody else has got a heart too, and we’re all in this together, and that strengthens you. So your service in the world is not one where I am using my own compassion batteries to word myself out. The opening of the heart, authentic spirituality, awakens you to the suffering of the world and enables you, strengthens you not to back away from it, but to hold it and embrace it and to continue working with it. Now, for most people, their spiritual awakening is a recognition of the something other, what I would call the beloved. We avoid gender-driven words for God in our school here, but the recognition that there is something other, what even in Underhill called the real. And whether you, and I think in the contemplative way, you have it both ways. The relationship is both personal and it’s transpersonal. It’s imminent and transcendent. The whole lot is there for us. But what it brings to you is a recognition that this is no longer about me using my own individual solo powers to heal or fix the world or whatever. Rather, I am part of something else that flows through me. While we’re using our own batteries, no matter how compassionate we are, at some point they’ll run out and we’ll exhaust ourselves, maybe even make ourselves sick. Whereas when you tap into that infinite resource, the boundless love that’s there, and it’s always described as a love. There’s no way around, and it sounds banal to say it, but it’s true. When you tap into that, the intuitive, natural, heartfelt responses is one of compassion for the world, compassion for others, even for people whom you find deeply unpleasant. And that enables you to, as Gandhi said, to be the change you want to see in the world. It’s a totally different way of approaching where you no longer have to do compassion, you be it. It flows through you from that infinite source. And you know you’ve, you’re in the right relationship with it. When, for example, at the end of the day, and you’ve been, whatever way your compassion has been expressed some realm, great or small, at the end of the day, you are tired but fulfilled as opposed to drained and exhausted when you’ve been doing it off your own bat entirely from your ego agenda.
Rick: Very good. And just to sort of emphasize the point even more, I put it in slightly different terms. I feel, as I’m sure you do, that at our very core is a sort of an ocean of potentiality, unlimited potentiality. And so we have this great untapped resource deep within us. So, and everybody has access to it. I mean, there’s certain things in this world that some people are the haves and some people are the have-nots, but everybody has, potentially, has access to this inner reservoir of creativity, intelligence, energy, happiness, and so on. And all the traditions talk about it. So it’s just a matter of finding an effective means of tapping into it. And imagine what the world would be like if everyone had tapped into it, you know? I mean, it’s not like we have an energy shortage or a money shortage or a food shortage. We have a inner potential shortage, and that resource is there. And if we were all to tap into it, I think that all the manifest problems of the world would evaporate pretty quickly.
Stephen: Yep, and the spiritual life encourages more people to recognize that ground of being that stuff, which, you know, from my tradition, it’s not neutral. There is something there that you recognize. It is with you. It is, love by its nature is not neutral. And so whether you call it God or your ground of being or diamond, I don’t know. I’m not too fussed about that. But what I do know is universal is that once you tap into that, you recognize the profound interconnectedness of everything, the profound reason for being here, that we each have a part to play in it. And also the recognition that there are many planes of reality, many planes of consciousness. Oh, you could argue, you know, this world, this particular layer is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. You don’t have to get too het up about it. You simply find your part to play in it and so forth, because there are other planes of reality, other frames of consciousness of which we are a part.
Rick: Yeah, on that note, I would say that this plane is having a hard time because it is not adequately integrated with these other more subtle planes that you’re alluding to. And, you know, Jesus spoke of, you know, on earth as it is in heaven. I think earth could actually be heavenly if we were more attuned to these more heavenly planes of existence that exist. And, you know, it’s up to enough individuals to make that connection in order for it to become sort of manifest universally for all. Would you agree with that or say it differently or what?
Stephen: Well, it’s interesting because it means what we’re doing. We’re making some kind of judgment about this particular plane of reality and all its suffering. And it’s one of the paradoxes of the contemplative way do we say, well, actually the world’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing, which means I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. But in the awakening process, you look at the world and you see all the suffering in it. And the natural response of tapping into that ground of being is where’s the suffering? Where is my point of action? Where do I participate in this? It’s not for me to make the vast judgment about whether this particular reality is right or wrong. It may well be doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. And you draw on that quality that’s expressed in the Tao of, you know, I do nothing and nothing is left undone. I participate, I’m here doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And I trust somehow at deep level it’s part of all that is. And I cannot see the whole picture now. At the moment I just see through a glass darkly.
Rick: Kind of reminds me of what some Zen teacher said to his students. He said, “You’re all perfect just as you are. “And you could all use a lot of improvement.” (laughing) Yeah. So, yeah, obviously we don’t say, well, children are starving in Africa, but that’s exactly what’s supposed to be happening. We think, okay, well, how can I help them if that’s our role to help? Maybe another way of looking at it is, you know, there’s a level we could say that’s so fundamental that really nothing is happening there. It’s just unmanifest, abstract, absolute. And then there’s a more manifest level in which it’s divine and everything is just well and wisely put and, you know, everything is perfect just as it is. And then there’s the most manifest level that we all interact in where, yeah, you can say in a way it’s happening just as it’s supposed to be, but obviously there are plenty of problems and we can do something about them. And what I was saying earlier is that I think if we could connect these, if we want to break it down into three levels, if we could sort of connect and integrate them so that they all sort of interact and support one another, then we’d have a much more healthy reality in which to function.
Stephen: And I don’t think we need to get too theoretical about it. Yeah, you can say that everything’s happening as it’s supposed to be happening. Yes, that’s pretty cool and I’ll find my place. You know, when that touches you, for example, like myself, you know, when you have cancer, when I’ve had cancer, you’re sure as hell, pun intended, you know, want to begin to make some questions about how I participate in reality and what the nature of healing is. So what suffering will do to the awakened person is elicit a response that’s compassionate. And we follow that, we follow it through. There’s no need to get too caught up in, you know, what grand purpose of the universe is or is not being served here. Hell, somebody is suffering. Can I play some part in it? ‘Cause it’s a natural intuitive response of the soul to participate in that way. And that’s where we find our spot. – Doesn’t the word empathy somehow mean that if you actually go to the root to the word, that you actually feel what the other person is feeling? Is that the etymology of it, as I recall? – When you see someone suffering, I’ll paraphrase, but to use three words, one response can be sympathy. You feel sorry for the person, but you don’t feel what they feel. You’re kind of keeping them at a distance. It’s a nice safe way. You feel sympathy for somebody, but it’s not really your suffering. If you then feel empathy, you’d begin to feel what they feel. You empath, you, yeah. You know, so for example, if someone tells me what sorrow is, I know what sorrow is. If one tells me what fear is, I know what fear is. I can empathize with that. Compassion is the next stage on. And empathy may open the heart. Sympathy may not do, but empathy is an opening of the heart to what the other person is experiencing. Compassion is a fire word. Compassion says I’m with you in the feeling, and I do something, a passion. I do something about it. I act, I participate. I give you a hug. I give money to charity. I seek to be a better, you know. So that I like the idea of the word of compassion as being something that is active. You engage with the world. It’s not just feeling something, but one acts, one does something with it.
Rick: Yeah. I’m glad that I asked you that question, ’cause that was a great little breakdown. And you know, you look at the lives of the people that we regard as being ultra compassionate, you know, Mother Teresa or Jesus or, you know, Amma or if you know who she is, or, you know, these various great people who’ve just done so much for so many. And it’s kind of like they’re, they don’t have a choice. They are just driven, you know. They’re just sort of instruments of the divine on full tilt boogie, pouring out some healing balm for those that they influence.
Stephen: Yeah, that’s true. But I think there’s two things I would say about that. One is all those teachers always said, “It’s you too.” You know, “The kingdom of God is within you.” You know, “You are God,” Jesus said. So all those, all great teachers say, “Actually, it’s not just me. “That’s not just me being special. “It’s you too. “All you have to do is to wake up to it.” The second point I’d make is that, that teaching, that expression, occurs in many different contexts. So that you could argue, well, it’s relatively easy for Jesus and the Mother Teresa and Amma and others to go around being compassionate, because they didn’t have a mortgage. They didn’t have a family. They didn’t have to hold down jobs. They didn’t have to care for an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s disease. So, you know, part of the work of spiritual awakening is to recognize it has to be engaged with people in our lives as they are live now. It doesn’t have to be something that only special people can go around giving to others, you know. So part of the work, for example, of the contemplative way is encouraging people to discover the Christ consciousness within themselves. And through that, how do I work with that in the world? How does my open heart work in the world and serve in the world? And it doesn’t have to be in grand ways. It can, as I say, the expression of the fullness of your spiritual life is just being a more decent neighbor.
Rick: Well, and those people we’ve just mentioned weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths. I mean, Jesus was born in a manger to poor parents and Amma got a fourth grade education in a little fishing village in South India. And I don’t know about Mother Teresa’s background, but she wasn’t wealthy or anything. She just worked like the Dickens, you know. She saw Jesus in everyone. She said, you know, I’m serving God in this person, in this person, in this person. And, you know, I interviewed a woman, Lynn Twist, a few weeks ago that worked with her and it was remarkable, some of the stories. But in any case, these people all arose out of very humble circumstances, but it was their sort of inner awakening that propelled them to prominence. And, you know, it’s because of that that we know about them. And anyway, I’m rambling, but you get the point.
Stephen: Yeah, absolutely. And that you don’t necessarily have to come from a well-educated or well-off background. Certainly one or two great spiritual teachers were, but often have to give it all up in order to come, because of all the risks that it brings, of the attachments it brings with you. And, you know, letting go of our attachments, I would argue that our attachments aren’t the only problem, be it to things or to persons or to wealth or whatever. Going back to that point I said about from, you know, rediscovering our center, recovering, not recovering, but discovering our center, is that sense of, arguably a lot of the problems of the world are not because we’re attached to wealth or to image or to power, but we’ve become detached from our source, the center, very essence of our being, which is not interested in those things. We become detached from the soul, detached from the divine, whatever we want to call it. So a lot of the work we do in the Contemplative School is exploring that subtle difference between non-attachment and detachment and so forth.
Rick: I want to shift gears a little abruptly here. We’ll be talking about other things, but in your notes, in your bio, you mentioned that your personal and professional life took an about turn over 35 years ago through a series of life-changing spiritual experiences. And then consequently, you developed an interest in spiritual matters and the connection with well-being and so on. So what were those life-changing spiritual experiences that you had?
Stephen: One was, I’d always had them as a child, had them, which would be moments of, this isn’t what life is all about. There’s more here, a profound connection with something other than myself, which my atheist psychologist psychotherapy friends say, which is probably, you know, that’s what happens to your mind when you come from a dysfunctional family. And mine would be classed as dysfunctional. But I always had a sense of the something other. In fact, when neighbors would come and visit when I was a kid, they might say, “Oh, where’s our Stephen?” And my mom would say, “Oh, he’s gone. He’s gone again.” And I hadn’t gone out. I would just be sitting, and they would class it as daydreaming. But I was in this profound sense of feeling a presence of something. And then of course, you’re into the conventional educational socializing system and you literally have it knocked out of you. And it was only in my late thirties that a number of, one was experiencing burnout myself, and I absolutely crashed. And one of the outcomes, what is this all about? What’s going on? Where has this come from? Suddenly things that were important to me ceased to be important. And there was this sense of no longer standing on firm ground. That was a life-changing experience. It was meeting Gerard and Sayre-Adams and working on the nature of healing, particularly the practice of therapeutic touch and realizing, wow, bodies aren’t just what I always thought they were. They’re not just physiological things you pump stuff into and take. There’s far more going on here about the nature of what it is to be human. And then there were certain really profound mystical experiences that just opened me up. So, well, one was just in a friend’s back garden in Walnut Creek, south [east] of San Francisco on a perfectly ordinary California housing estate day, sat in my friend’s garden one morning, and I watched, there was, the guys were out beyond the wall. I could hear them emptying the trash cans. And I’m just sitting there listening to this, a town, sleepy town, waking up. And I watched a leaf just in front of me. I opened my eyes to my morning meditation, and there was a dew drop in the end of it. And suddenly, just watching suddenly, I saw everything, heard everything. Nothing was separate. And even reporting it back to you, it sounds banal now to express it in words, but it was a profound sense of the deep connection of everything and that it was all okay, and that there was a part in it, and I was all, and so many experiences like that. I’m even wary now, I’m feeling a hesitation about talking about them, because you kind of set yourself up for admission to a psychiatric unit, or other people look at them and think, oh, wow, I should have things like that, or I shouldn’t have things. Everyone has their own unique experience. Countless times later, feeling that profound personal presence of being held, taken care of. At one point when I thought I was gonna die, being in a very dark place, and yeah, a heart condition, when I was on the lecture tour in Australia, and my heart wasn’t working, and they were gonna have to do something to try and get it working again, and it was life-threatening. And I remember being in a very frightened, grief-stricken place, and just going, I had the present benefit of a wonderful nurse with great spiritual intelligence who saw all that was going on all around me and just said, you need to be alone, don’t you, Stephen? Well, let me do what I can. I’ll close off the screens. I can’t hide the monitors and things, but you need a quiet minute. And I did, and I just dropped down inside then, and I just asked, where are you now when I need you, when I’m frightened, and I’m lonely, and I’m afraid of? And I just heard, I’m here. And I can’t really embellish it more than that, but that was the essence of it, just feeling that profound feeling and hearing profound presence. But then I was able to say, okay, to the doctor, okay, go ahead and do what you need to do. And I could relate thousands of things like that, and they’re kind of interesting stories, but they’re my story about my personal relationship with that which is beyond me, and I’m really wary of even telling you about them now.
Rick: Yeah, no, I mean, I think people understand that everybody has their own unique experiences, but you’d be surprised when you mention certain things how many people can relate to them themselves, or have something similar. I mean, we’re all kind of wired in some ways similarly, and I can relate to the stories you’re telling, and I bet you other people can too. So, I mean, it’s inspiring in a way. One of the reasons I started this interview program was that I live in a town where a lot of people meditate, and certain people were having, they’ve been meditating for decades, and they were having pretty profound awakenings, and really significant, and abiding states of realization. And occasionally they would tell a friend, and the friend would think, “Eh, nonsense, “you’re just the same old guy I’ve known for years, “and nothing special about you.” And so they would kind of not wanna talk about those things anymore, ’cause people weren’t receptive to it. And I thought, well, it’s important for people to know that this is happening to ordinary people like them, because that would inspire them to feel that it could happen to them as well, and they’ll take the necessary steps to facilitate it. And so I decided to start interviewing these people, and just kind of create a show where ordinary people can talk about their spiritual awakenings, and in the hope that it will become more ordinary for everyone to share in this kind of thing.
Stephen: I think it’s extremely ordinary. If we look at the evidence from many studies, to not have a transcendent experience, even a momentary one, is abnormal. Most people have them, and the character you described, the way one person dismisses it, if you look at the dismissing of it, very often what lies behind it is fear. You’ve upset the apple cart, you’ve rattled somebody’s cage about what they think their normality is that they’re holding onto in order to continue to survive and carry on functioning in the world. You could argue that maybe the world would be at a pace if we just slipped some MDMA in the water nationally and gave everybody a taste, and would nobody quite the same again, because that’d be a very quick route to a mystical experience. I’m being slightly–
Rick: Mass psychosis, maybe.
Stephen: I don’t think there’s any way, but the evidence suggests that there’s no way of bypassing the authentic spiritual awakening which takes long, slow, patient work. So what I’m experiencing now with the folks I work with who are part of the Kentigern School, who are intentionally studying the contemplative way, seeking to help it contribute to their awakening, it does require hard patient work. There’s no bypassing it. I’ve done drugs, well, MDMA anyway, myself many, many years ago, and it was profoundly illuminating and awakening, but there’s always that echoing at the back of the mind that maybe it wasn’t real because it was drug influenced, or you get into, well, I’d like to have another one, and of course you can never repeat things. So I wouldn’t rule the drugs out, and there’s certainly lots of people now are using drugs like that, and LSD and other drugs, to help people shift through mental blockages, depression, schizophrenia, and so forth, with some remarkable results that were at last returning to the, getting rid of the panic that was setting the drugs in the ’70s, getting away from that and recognizing that these substances are gifts that they can help people shift, if used therapeutically, which of course is just what I experienced when I did take an MDA long ago. I was prepared properly beforehand. There was somebody there to guide me through it. I was properly taken care of. And likewise, so many substances we now have that we generally are available, tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, whatever, were once extremely rare, used infrequently under specific circumstances, and you would have a wholly different experience, wholly being a pun intended, than if you were properly prepared and guided through it and it was used sparingly, rather than just something that is now used routinely.
Rick: Yeah, I’ve interviewed Michael Pol, and people might be interested in that interview. He wrote a book called “How to Change Your Mind,” in which he, kind of in a very journalistic, careful way, went through the whole gamut of possible psychedelic substances and tried them himself, and wrote about, he’s a really good writer. Anyway, as you say, there’s been a lot of research recently showing the value of these things for alcoholics, people addicted to various other substances, people, you know, end-of-life situations where they’re dying of cancer and they’re terribly afraid, and it gives them a glimpse that there’s, you know, a lot of these people are atheists when they have this experience, and they end up speaking like religious mystics, you know, saying this is the most profound thing I’ve ever experienced, and I saw God or felt the divine, and so on. So, you know, I haven’t done those things myself since the ’60s, because after I learned to meditate, I really didn’t feel the need for them anymore. They showed me what they could show me, as Alan Watts put it, “Once you get the message, hang up the phone.” (both laughing) But they’re definitely an eye-opener for people at certain stages.
Stephen: I wouldn’t screw that at all, and I think they mimic, or really create the mystical experience, and what people can then go on to do, although some people don’t need to do it, for example, those who study in deep prayer the contemplative way, you put yourself in a condition for the mystical experience to arise, the connection, the sense of unity with all that is. And so, you know, if the drugs are a shortcut to that for a while to open the door for you, and you get to chance to have a look through, then it’s up to you then to do the patient work, where you learn to open the door yourself in the future, and eventually maybe get to a situation where as we cultivate the mystical contemplative way, it becomes a lived experience. There isn’t a quality of, now I’m going to the supermarket to do my shopping, now I’m meditating, then I’m going to sit and contemplate. No, it’s more, now I’m meditating while shopping. You retain, you’re more likely to retain that quality of consciousness because you’ve done the work, and it becomes a lived experience, it becomes ordinary.
Rick: Yeah, I mean, that’s the whole idea really, is that, you know, these spiritual experiences shouldn’t just be intermittent. A higher state of consciousness can become one’s natural mode of functioning. And it doesn’t make a person weird or withdrawn, or, you wouldn’t necessarily notice them walking down the street, but from their perspective, it’s a whole different world. And their whole way of interacting with it has been utterly transformed.
Stephen: What matters is, with all of these approaches to the spiritual life, is intentionality. It’s the consciousness with which you do it. If you want to get into meditation, for example, in order to feel better, you’ll have a very different experience than if you want to learn contemplative flair in order to connect with the absolute. A lot depends on the intention, and there ain’t no guarantees that you’ll stick with it. In my experience, there is no bypassing the long, slow discipleship, the disciplinary work to do it. I remember going on, I used to go and retreat regularly to Germany and sit at the feet of Mother Mira. Some people believe she’s an avatar. Leaving all that to one side, this wonderful presence that you have to go there, you set your intention, you’ve got to get through the German air traffic control system and all that kind of stuff. Anyone tells you the Germans are well-organized, try going through Frankfurt Airport. That’s a stereotype, but I remember, I’d been going there quite a while and I would come away from those wonderful evenings sitting in the forest, meditating, then being with Mother Mira, and I would come back home to Manchester and I’d get on the plane, I’d feeling serene, and I saw everybody and I loved them all. And I came through the airport at Manchester, went to get in my car and drove up the motorway to come home, and somebody would cut me off and I’d want to kill them. The compassion, I would crash and I would be, oh, I’ve still got a lot to learn. It was nice while it lasted. And so, the authentic spiritual path takes us away from that it’s nice while it lasted, or it’s okay to be spiritual while you’re here, but then I get back to ordinary life there. The work takes us to a place where there is a continuity and interconnectedness between these different aspects of the way we are in the world, but you become more attuned to that sense of the deep presence within you and around you all the time, and it affects every aspect of your way of being.
Rick: Yeah, and I would say that even though you kind of wanted to kill the guy on the motorway after spending the time with Mother Mira, there was probably some kind of permanent shift, or it’s like you had added some money to your spiritual bank account, so to speak, and you were a little bit richer, and still there’s challenges. There’s an old Indian analogy of, if you want to dye a white cloth a particular color, you dip it in the dye, but then you take it out and bleach it in the sun, and it loses its color, most of it, but then you dip it again, and then you bleach it again, and you dip it again, and you bleach it again, and you go back and forth, and at a certain point, you can leave it in the sun all day, and it’s gonna be just as brightly colored as it is in the dye, so it’s kind of like that with spiritual practice, don’t you think?
Stephen: Mm-hmm, yes. I like the idea of dipping and the dyeing, dipping and dyeing, dipping and dyeing. And then eventually you stop dipping, just, there’s a different quality, and something I want to bring out there about the spiritual life. If you look at the words of the authentic spiritual life, you can see why people are drawn to lots and lots of new-agey and old-agey stuff that gives you interesting experiences. The authentic spiritual life is full of words like annihilation, surrender, giving up, letting go. And in my experience of the spiritual life, initially, was very much, I wanted to acquire things. I was spiritually materialistic. I wanted things, I wanted to be good at this or that. I wanted to have this shamanic journey, or blah, blah, blah, go and learn this meditation technique, so hang out and do Five Nations, whatever it might be. And I was spiritual because I was so hungry. But after a while, I recognized a deeper simplicity setting in that you don’t know. Yes, it’s authentic to go through all those things. That’s part of the journey. But in my experience, what it brings us to is a profound simplicity. You know, just sit still, shut up, and listen. I’m probably, that’s probably not necessarily a helpful paraphrase, but you get the picture. It brings us to a profound simplicity, but we have to go through maybe the complexity of the material in order to come to that place of simplicity.
Rick: Oh, yeah, I think if you talk to anybody who’s been on a spiritual path for decades, they’ll tell you they’ve been through all kinds of phases. And you can look back to the way you were God, I was kind of crazy, wasn’t I? But you know, one thing leads to the next.
Stephen: I’ve learned I still am crazy, and I’m very comfortable. – Yeah, you know, the Paul Simon songs, it’s still crazy after all these years. Okay, we were speaking about psychedelics a few minutes ago, and I think that’s a good segue into learning a little bit more about your life with Ram Dass. And he was a good example of somebody who did a lot of psychedelics, but then moved on from them and found a guru and got into a more do-it-yourself form of spirituality, I guess you could say, not relying on external substances. So how’d you meet him?
Stephen: It was Jeannie, my great coworker, soul midwife and friend here, a woman who’s been easily the most important female spiritual guide in my life, if Ram Dass was the most important male at that time. I was having all these spiritual awakenings, one after another, and was struggling to continue functioning ’cause I got, you know, I was online for having all these prestigious titles after my name as my highest levels of my profession, and I was really, and I was headed for more, believe me, boy, wow, was I on such a track. I would be dead, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation now if I had.
Rick: No, we wouldn’t be, ’cause I’d be dead too. We could have it on some other realm.
Stephen: We’re in fact, we’re having it now. We probably had it before. But Jeannie said, “Oh, come on.” She’d gone back out to San Francisco and I agreed to join her. And she knew Ram Dass, she’d worked with him in the ’60s, and particularly working with Care of the Dying, she was working in San Francisco at a groundbreaking AIDS unit.
Rick: Yeah, you know, I’ve interviewed a guy, what’s his name, who worked with Ram Dass in this thing for the dying, I don’t know, , but name’s not coming to me.
Stephen: Anyway, Jeannie was working there and she knew Ram Dass, and I went out to San Francisco to join her and said, “You know, you have to meet Ram Dass. “Only he would understand you. “You know, it’s gotta be Ram Dass. “You’ve gotta meet. “So much of your experience is what he would understand, “and you’re not listening to me, “but you might listen to him.” So she phoned up, said, “Bring him along.” And I went along to see him, and he listened very patiently to my long stories, and then zapped me and put me in my place. And I was really, I’ve told him years later, I was really angry with you at that time. And he said, “Me, you’re angry with me?” I’d expected him to say, “Well, you’re doing great. “You’re having profound spiritual experiences. “Wow, what a guy you are. “Carry on.” And he said, “No.” He said, “No, you’re in danger here. “You don’t do this, you don’t do that, “and you don’t do that.” And he gave me three very clear sets of instructions, while at the same time just being with him, you know, just this sense of presence of being shaken and stirred profoundly, which I don’t really go into the detail about, but certainly was, you know, let’s say getting zapped, you know? And I would then go and see him. I’d fly back to the States every year and see him when I could visit the States, which of course wasn’t very often. And then saw him a couple of times after he’d had his stroke and just hung out with him. And one of those was a profound time was because he could barely speak. And we just sat there and looked into each other’s eyes. And I think maybe three quarters of an hour had gone by of silence and doing nothing but looking. And I said, “What on earth was that all about, Ram Dass?” And he said, “This is what happens “when soul talks to soul.” There were no words. And then last time I saw him live was, we went and stayed with him on Maui for a week in his home. And it was totally different. We were just hanging out together. It wasn’t me up there, you down there. I certainly had put him on a pedestal in many ways ’cause I just needed somebody who was wiser than me and better than me and more experienced than me who could guide me safely through what I’d been going through. And he was an absolute servant to that. He loved me and I loved him and we told each other so. So that when he died, the feeling of profound sorrow, that an important personal contact, but he’s still with me. He’s not gone. I still talk to him. He takes [inaudible] me. But every time I went to see him, I can tell you I was scared spitless, every time. Because I knew when I would go and see him, whatever ego bubbles I’d got, he’d prick them. There’d be no escape. I’d go in with what I thought I was going with him for and he would, out would come the spiritual scalpel and oops, hadn’t seen that one coming. But always the blessing. It was fierce, often very fierce, but very lovingly done, very lovingly done.
Rick: Well, he was a wonderful character and he really helped a lot of people. I mean, it was a book that he and Timothy Leary had written that first made me aware that there was such a thing as enlightenment and higher consciousness and all that stuff. And I was never able to forget it after I realized it. So I’m grateful to him, even though I never met him.
Stephen: I’m trying to think of people who’ve been really important spiritual teachers who are not alive. You know, the people who wrote books, whose works I’ve read everything from, I don’t know. Even in Underhill in this country is probably most important deceased spiritual teacher I have on the contemplative way. But going way back to earliest generations of awakening, it’s all there, all the books are there. They left us great gifts to those teachers, but also I’m mindful of people who will never be known, unsung people who have encountered in my life, good people, holy people, who never had a name, never wrote a book, never had a leadership position, never taught a course, but they were like angels you encountered along the way and all played their part in nudging you onwards towards whatever this thing called enlightenment is.
Rick: A question came in that’s not related to what we’re talking about exactly right now, but I should ask it. It’s from Stephanie Gray and she’s in Devon in the UK. And her question is, you were living, Stephen, in an area where the Quakers emerged and close to Swarthmore Hall. I went to a brilliant Quaker school and was lucky enough to be taught silence in everyday life. Quakers are rarely mentioned in Batgap interviews, but there is nothing spiritual people say contrary to Quaker beliefs held since the 1600s. In fact, they were simply awake. So that’s more of a statement than a question, but do you have any comments on that?
Stephen: I think that what George Fox, arguably the founder of the Quaker tradition, would have to say was, look what happens when you wake up, he got it. He got the notion that you don’t need an intermediary between yourself and the divine, and that indeed the divine is within you. So that Quaker truth can be found in different words, different structures, in almost all traditions it’s there. But also look what happened to the Quakers when they popped up with this, that quite a few of them got killed off and were persecuted and went to prison. And that is always the case that, you know.
Rick: Because they were saying you don’t really need an intermediary, is that why they were being persecuted?
Stephen: You’re challenging the structure, you’re challenging authority, and the Quakers don’t go on authorities. The idea of, you know, arguably, one of the things that’s profoundly missing from our educational system is introducing children to the profound possibilities of silence. What they get at school is profound impossibility of relentless noise and teaching. They’re not often taught to, although I know a couple of children’s schools where children do learn to meditate, maybe that is changing. But the Quaker tradition has a tremendous amount to offer, and it’s often a place where people, I certainly was a Quaker attender for about 10 years, and it provided me with a kind of soft landing as to a religious tradition that I could participate in, that I did not feel judged, where what I felt I was experiencing would not be excluded, but would be embraced and listened to.
Rick: Yeah, I have a couple of friends who teach different forms of meditation in schools, or at least try to, and they very often get flak from fundamentalist Christians, you know, who say that they shouldn’t be teaching such things in the public schools, and it’s a religion, and so on, so it’s tricky, because when they do introduce such programs, there’s usually profound benefits in terms of kids not dropping out and not fighting with each other and getting better grades and all that stuff, but then it meets opposition because people think it’s a religion. So it’s one of those things that need to evolve in our society, I guess.
Stephen: It’s one of the challenges we encounter if you look at most, I’ll say all, I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ll say it, if you look at all the religions, they began with a mystical experience, the Buddha’s awakening, the Jesus, whatever it might be, whatever, you know, the prophet, peace be upon him, his time in the desert, in the caves, his awakening, his insight, it’s all there, and the moment you move that into a generation, you try to capture what the initiator tried to teach and creates a structure, then you get a structure and it allies it once, especially when it allies itself with political authority, such as Christianity did with the Roman Empire, then you start to lose something because then the political authority gets aligned with your spiritual authority and the wires get crossed. And so, for example, if we stick with that example of the Quakers, but also in modern times, we get people attending the contemplative school who come from traditional Christian churches who are warned off attending because you shouldn’t be going there, sitting in silence, listening to this stuff because it’s not biblical and you’ll be possessed by Satan. Who goes out into central Manchester on a Friday night when the pubs are closing will tell you Satan’s happy, thank you very much, and wandering around the streets or any other city for that matter, If you look at the reasons why people adhere to very hard-boiled faith, is that if you pick away at it, you find it’s often quite brittle and because it’s rooted in fear, fear that unless I have this absolute and I have these structures, unless I’m certain, and I used to argue years ago with fundamentalists, I don’t bother. I just, if someone comes on at me with that approach, either through the media, as I often do, or at some meeting, I just graciously listen and then find an excuse to walk away or let it go. There’s no point in getting it ’cause it’s not fixable. The reason is that kind of religious faith is so certain, the mystical, contemplative way is completely opposite. It lives in constant uncertainty. The only thing I’m certain of is being uncertain. The possibility of you never know. Ram Dass always said to me, “You never know, you never know. “Don’t get too certain.” Is that that certainty is rooted in deep-seated sense of fear. There’s no point in arguing with it because unconsciously or consciously, the person knows if I give away one little bit, the whole damn thing might come crashing down. So, let them get on with it. If they’re doing what they’re doing, there’s not much you can do about it. My way is to say, “Well, okay, “I can’t do anything about that, “but I can play my part in offering this particular way “through my role as a spiritual director, “through the foundation, through the school “and other media that I work in.” That gives people, you know, here’s one way. If you wanna have a look at it, come and have a look, try it out. It may work for you. No guarantees, but there’s no authority, no structure, which is why the mystical way is throughout history can at best be frowned upon, sometimes accepted, and is sometimes treated with great hostility. ‘Cause if you start saying to people, “Hey, you can get to the divine directly “with support in this way. “You don’t need a structure. “You don’t need a hierarchy. “You don’t need a priesthood, da, da, da.” That’s pretty problematic. That’s very threatening to those in power who’ve invested their power in the structure.
Rick: It’s interesting, as you were saying that, I was thinking about what you were saying, and for some reason, the example of an infection in the body came up. Like if there’s some kind of chronic infection, the body has to expend so much energy to keep fighting against it, you know? And it compromises your ability to do anything else. And I was thinking that perhaps religious fundamentalists are, in a way, kind of expending a lot of energy to keep that shell up, you know, to keep that protection against doubt and uncertainty. And it must really drain them, I would think. And it also, of course, makes them very combative or, you know, antagonistic to anything that seems to threaten their shell. But I’ve talked to several people who, you know, used to be that way and somehow managed to shift out of it. And they describe it as such a relaxing, freeing kind of transformation where they just don’t have to fight anymore and put up all that resistance against, you know, that false protection.
Stephen: It’s letting go of fear. Sure, fear is an intensely draining form of emotional energy and if you’re not scared anymore because you’re just learning to trust the absolute, that doesn’t require structures or authorities or doctrines or dogmas in the same way. At the same time, I don’t knock it. I recognize that for some people, it gets them through the day. And it gives them faith and strength to be, you could argue, you know, you could argue without it. I’ve often met some people, what was it, Richard Dawkins says it’s, everybody can be nasty, but it takes a religious person to be really nasty. So, you know, when you recognize where that comes from, it’ll just allow you to open your heart and be receptive to people. I don’t have a problem with people having a particular religious structure if it helps them to cope in a very difficult world, helps them to find their relationship, the divine so be it. The only time when I begin to have a problem with it is when you start saying, no, don’t think your way the only way, but if you don’t follow my way, I’m gonna persecute you or maybe even kill you. And you find the same in atheist traditions as well. You know, you either stop believing and then I’ll kill you, or if you don’t believe I’ll kill you, but both of them are rooted in that deep, driven human conscious of trying to find a center in life that’s certain and both of them are corrupted. Both of them end up harming other people and become the opposites of the things they were set originally to support.
Rick: Accept my God or I’ll send you to him.
Stephen: Yes. (indistinct)
Stephen: The siege of the French city. When, I can’t remember the French sector, it’ll come to me in a moment, but in the middle ages, the city was besieged and it was full of these people who were regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as heretics. And the person leading the siege was approached by one of the captains and said, we’re pretty close now to getting breaking into the city. What do we do with them all? You know, how do we work out which ones are the heretics and which ones are the people? And his answer was, kill them all, God will sort it out. When you really connect with that source, you don’t do that, you don’t even think like that. I’ve never met a contemplative or a mystic who would see their faith in that way, is being acted out in that way to the point where it harmed other people in any way.
Rick: You couldn’t, you know, because I mean, the mystical experience is one in which you, you love your neighbor as yourself because you actually see your neighbor as yourself. You know, you see the oneness that you both fundamentally share.
Stephen: Oneness, again, it sounds banal to say it, but you recognize if you let go of the I who I think I am and you discover the I am, then everybody else is an I am. And therefore, if you’re an I am and I’m an I am, well, we’re all the same, aren’t we? And, you know, everything else is superficial difference. It’s all superficial.
Rick: We’re all the same ocean, but we each arise as a particular wave.
Stephen: And of course, in the Christian biblical tradition, when Moses goes up the mountain and says, you know, I’m losing them here. They all want to worship a fatted calf and they want to go back and I need your help. I need to go down the mountain and tell them who you are so that can give them a God that they can name and know and so on and so on. Help me out here. Moses says, well, who are you? What are you? Of course, the divine just says, (speaking in foreign language) I am who I am. I am that I am. And well, if the divine says I am, and when we touch into the essence in ourselves, it says I am, well.
Rick: I have a few pages of notes in front of me we’ve probably covered a bunch of it that I haven’t actually read off the paper because it just came up. But there’s a couple of questions I have here. Here’s one thing that you say, you involve, you have these retreats in which you help people to wake up. And I’m just wondering if you could just elaborate a bit more about what you mean by waking up. How do you define that and how do you help people wake up?
Stephen: The notion would be that when we are invested in our ego identity, this I who I think I am, with its limited perceptions and understanding of reality through the five senses, then you’re asleep. You think you’re awake, but you’re asleep to the potential of who you really are, of grander vistas of reality, of connection to something greater than yourself, this I who I think I am. Continuing to live in that way is a very limited way of living. In fact, there’s a lovely line in Gospel of Philip. It’s a non-canonical gospel. When the disciples say to Jesus what happens to atheists after they die, and Jesus says, “Well, they can’t die “’cause they’ve never lived.” And I would apply the same in the sense that when you’re locked in your ego identity, you’re not living fully. Although while you’re in it, getting drunk and having sex and having a job and buying a car, well, maybe you feel that’s what life is. Most people recognize at some point that is not what life is all about. But I’m stuck in it. So that sense of universally in pretty much all religious spiritual traditions, the language of awakening is used, of waking up to something, of seeing differently. Spirituality can simply be defined as a different way of seeing. You move from one way of seeing, the I who I think material reality is all there is, into another way of seeing that has a kind of wow, there’s far more to this than I originally thought there was. The reality of what Evelyn Hunderford called the real, the reality of the divine, of the truth of a beloved. And you move from that place, that ego-driven world, which is essentially fear-driven because deep in the unconscious is the fear of death, of annihilation. And when you wake up through that and awaken up to your true I am-ness, the fear is diminished, the compassion blossoms in yourself, you are rooted into something greater than yourself and yet which is also in you. You’re not separate from anything. So it brings a whole different way of seeing in the world, a less fear-driven response to what’s going on in the world, less fear of death, a sense of participation in something greater than yourself. All those things come along with this notion of awakening. In my case, it’s a sense of profound closeness. I’ll use the word God for what’s for better. But you know that the beloved is real to me, not as some separate entity. In me, I’m bigger, transcendent, and imminent. The whole lot is in there, but it’s real, it’s present. Often use the word the presence. So people come to it, or I’d say slightly tongue-in-cheek, people come when, I’d say it’s pretty useful, say, we’ll say something like, well, I came to you when I thought was this problem, Stephen, but I realized that’s not the real reason I’ve come here. I’ve actually come for something else. I thought I’d come because I’m stressed, and I’ve actually come to realize there’s something much more important going on with me than simply the problem of having to work with the boss, for some people. So for some people, the awakening can be sudden. They’ll hit the spot, oh, wow. They’ll call us, oh, well, there you were all the time. I didn’t realize, literally right under my nose. When I was a kid and I’d lost something, I could never find it, it was terrible for me. My mom would always say to me, it’ll be right under your nose. Whatever you’re looking for, it’ll be right under your nose. And my mom was a working-class, unschooled woman. And yet, now in my old age, her words still come back to me echoing with profound meaning as they have later on in life. You know, it’ll be right, and it is, it’s right under your nose. And there is a sense of wonderment with people when they begin to expand their consciousness and say, wow, there’s more to me, to reality, to the divine than I thought there was.
Rick: We were driving in the car the other day and I was looking for my sunglasses. And I said, Irene, they were right there in the little drink cup in the center here. And you must have picked them up and moved them. Where are they? Are they on the floor? I went on like that for about five minutes. And she said, I don’t know what you’re doing. You always lose your sunglasses. And then finally I realized they were hooked right here on my shirt. So they were literally underneath my nose. (laughing)
Rick: You know, I was thinking, I bet you that a lot, most of the people who come to your center are really on the verge of some kind of shift or breakthrough, which is why they come. But like you were saying, many of them wouldn’t realize it. They just think, well, my job is stressful or something. But I bet you the timing, I bet you it just kind of works out the way things flow that they feel the desire to come there when they’re at a stage where coming there is going to catalyze a shift that they’re actually beginning to undergo. You know what I mean? You know what I’m trying to say?
Stephen: Yes. How can I say this? It’s subtle that if I think there’s something more going on, the synchronicity of people getting in touch and following through, in this case, coming to quite a remote part of the world, they’ve got to make an effort to get here. They’ve got to speak to somebody on the phone. They’ve got to hang out with some strange Englishman or some strange American lady living up here in the middle of nowhere, where Jeannie and I both, you know, the others are helping, but we are seeing most of the people that come in retreat or come for sessions. So I think it is a truism that something is going on in someone that is more than is taking place at the conscious realm that you may think, I’m looking for this. I suppose it’s kind of cliched expressions I would use is that I think it may be even in one of the Psalms that the heart has its reasons, which reason does not know, that your heart and soul, if there’s something going on in your life where you need to shift, it will find a way of making you make the shift. It will put you into situations. And I think that sometimes, for example, the people who’ve turned up, having experienced some trauma in life, they’ve been, for example, been in an accident or been caught by the police doing something and it’s shaken them. You can argue that at some unconscious level, they put themselves in those positions so that they would get shaken up. The unconscious is awfully powerful and will make a shift into different situations and circumstances so that we can make the move that we need to do from the heartfulness point of view, which is how we talk about the contemplative way. We talk about heartfulness as opposed to mindfulness. There is something there, recognizing there is a power in a centre of ourselves, a soul, if you like, the heart, that will not be getting said. Sooner or later, it will nudge you into a position where you will be fulfilled in life if you choose to listen to it. And I think some people, not everybody does for all kinds of reasons, but then maybe you’ll find an opportunity in another person or another situation. It will keep finding ways to try and punch you through into a different understanding of reality. So I think there are some people who come here, don’t necessarily, aren’t necessarily, you know, they’re not coming, I’ve come and seen you, Stephen, ’cause I’m looking for God, though we get people doing that. But it’s more like I’m dealing with this life crisis and I’m trying to find my way through it. Or they’ll come and say, “If you mentioned God, I’m walking out of here, yet I don’t know why I’ve come here.” And so, and it’s absolutely not our job to say to people, “This is what God is. This is what the divine is. This is what you have to do.” We absolutely don’t do that. Our job is to be with people, listen to their stories, guide them through various spiritual practice that might help to see more clearly so that they see for themselves what it is that they’re looking for if they can’t see it already, which the reason for coming here would be that they’re not seeing clearly, they’re looking for something. Everybody’s looking for the same thing. They’re looking to find home, not somewhere else, not later on, but here now in this moment. So our job is to help people find their way home. And there’s myriad possibilities for that, myriad possibilities. We don’t say to people, “You’ve got to become a Christian or a Buddhist or whatever.” No, that’s not the case.
Rick: When people come there for a retreat, is it a group affair where you have 10 or 20 people or is it individual? Or how big is the place? Is it a great big building or what?
Stephen: That’s how we’re pretty weird really, ’cause I don’t think anybody in this country follows the model that we use, although we’ve had lots of people come to visit saying that they would like to develop it. We’ve got two houses in the English Lake District with separate annexes, self-catering where one person can come so that when we have one person in retreat, they have our exclusive attention. We’ll usually see them twice a day. It’s self-catering, so it’s kind of a room, it’s a cell, it’s a hermitage, a sanctuary where you can be cut off from ordinary life for a while in a safe place with a resident spiritual director who will support you, spend time with you each day and guide you through various spiritual practices, anything from, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just walking in these beautiful hills here, sitting amongst the trees. And I think for many people who come here, inevitably are townies and they’re coming into the country and for them alone, just to be amongst trees and what I see is very quiet, they often find it noisy ’cause believe me, the sheep can be pretty, now we’re surrounded by the damn things and the cows. Especially in spring, so it’s pretty noisy to me and to them as well. But they, you know, people will say, as soon as I turned off that road, I felt myself relaxing or feeling easy, even though they’ve come to a place that’s maybe strange to them. And there are some people who’ve been coming for many years, they see this as part of staying with their spiritual director and just continuing the work as a lifetime process. There are some people who come for a one-off session and stay a week. So no, sometimes there are small groups here that other people bring and they will work with them independently. There’s a particular group within the Divine Feminine who come and spend weekends here and so forth. But by and large, no, these are retreat houses where a person can come for intensive one-to-one attention over a period of time. – How do you handle the finances
Stephen: I don’t, I hate handling finances. My nursing background, a friend of mine who was a surgeon said, ’cause I’m terrible with money, I hate asking for money, I never, it’s deep spiritual practice I may have to reserve for next time, but I’m no good at it. A friend of mine who was a surgeon said, “The problem with you, Stephen, is you were trained as a nurse, you’re like Florence Nightingale, you think you should do it for the love of it.” Me, you know, I’m not taking your leg off unless you give me a shilling, you know, they come from that tradition. But so we have, we just say to people, it’s entirely voluntary, we ask for donations, we need funds, buildings have to be paid for. We don’t have any paid workers. We do pay someone to help with the garden and someone to help with the cleaning, but the spiritual directors, they’re all entirely voluntary, all the trustees work on a voluntary basis. We just say, please donate within your means. We give them a ballpark figure of what it costs if you were staying bed and breakfast here locally or something like that. Or you might say, you know, people say, “Well, if you were going to see a psychiatrist privately in this country, I don’t know, you’d pay 150 quid an hour or something like that, maybe more.” So people have to judge and by and large, you know, 99% of people are as generous as they can be within their means.
Stephen: Is it booked up in advance? I mean, if people listening to this wanted to come, would they have to make an appointment for next year or something? And are you even taking anybody right now because of COVID? What’s the deal with that?
Stephen: Yeah, we reopened in the spring with due precautions and so forth. It’s much easier now. Yes, it would be very difficult getting between now and Christmas because we’ve got so many people booked in. Plus I have a job, I do quite a bit of income generating. I have to go off and do things. I do teaching elsewhere and so forth. And then we’ve got the Kentigern School to run as well. So that takes time. So I mean, there may be, I don’t have access to the diaries, but there may be some spaces before Christmas. And we have lots of people booked through to next year as well. But it so happens that we can usually find a space for somebody, especially if they’re crisis-y.
Rick: Is there anything else, Stephen, that we haven’t covered that you wanna say to people while you have this opportunity?
Stephen: Gosh, I’ve covered the meaning of life.
Rick: Let’s do that. We’ve got five minutes.
Stephen: No, I think we’ve covered everything. I can’t think of a single thing that we haven’t covered that I might even thought of wanting to do, but.
Rick: Okay, well, I’m sure there’s a lot. I mean, you’ve written a number of books and I will link to them. Are they on Amazon or something, on a service like that where people can get them?
Stephen: The latest one is out, “Heartfulness” has come out, which is, we’re trying something new with it. The Heartfulness course, the contemplative course, what’s called the Kentigern School, on which that book is based, has been a taught course. People have to attend it. But what we’re looking at now is using the book in some way where people can do the exercises in the book and still connect with us in some other way, either virtually or, but there’s no substitute for meeting in person and dancing and so forth together. And “The Bird” came out early this year as well. So yeah, there’s plenty of books and all the funds from those go to support Sacred Space. So it’s, I’d like to keep all the money for myself to be one of those wealthy spiritual authors, but it’s not gonna come this way.
Rick: Yeah, and do you also offer some online things like some Zoom sessions or anything like that that people can participate in? – Yeah, we have been doing spiritual direction online with Zoom, with a limited amount. There’s no substitute for being together with somebody. It’s no substitute. We’ve really noticed that this past couple of years, the eye contact, the smell, the skin, everything. You know, you miss so much. (laughs) There’s no substitute for that personal contact. And as I said, we are looking at setting up some of the Kentigern School online. So that may happen as well.
Rick: Well, thanks so much for everything you’re doing. You know, it’s just, there’s all kinds of wonderful people around the world. You know, we were talking earlier about, you were saying how, you know, it might seem that the world’s problems are just too much and we can’t do anything ’cause we don’t even know where to start. But, you know, there’s so many people doing the kinds of things, not exactly like you’re doing, but doing all kinds of things that are appropriate for their experience and skillset. And altogether, it feels to me like there’s some kind of a pandemic of awakening or happening around the world that’s offsetting these severe problems that we face. There’s a great story from, I think it’s the Srimad Bhagavatam or something, which is a story of Krishna, you know? And Indra was jealous because the people of Vrindavan, Krishna’s town, were so enamored of Krishna and they weren’t paying any attention to Indra. So Indra made it rain and it was raining and raining and raining. And they were all in danger of being flooded out. And they, you know, they cried to Krishna to help them. And he picked up this mountain, I think it was called the Gandharvan Hill or something like that, and just with one hand held it above the town like an umbrella so the people were all protected. But after a while, people thought, “Well, you know, that’s a lot for him to hold. “Maybe I should pick up a stick and help him hold it.” So everybody picked up sticks and they were helping hold the mountain. And of course, you know, their sticks weren’t really accomplishing anything. It was God who was doing the thing. But that’s kind of like what we all are doing. You know, we’re all holding up our sticks and it’s really the divine working through us that is enabling us to do these things. But we have a sense of, you know, somebody’s got to do it. Somebody’s… (laughs) We have a sense of being, participating in this wonderful awakening that the world hopefully is undergoing.
Stephen: And there’s millions of people offering teachings and guidance in all different forms, in all kinds of therapies taking place. And the spiritual cat is out of the religious bag. You know, we live in a world now of a vast spiritual supermarket with, for good or ill, with huge opportunities. For most of us now, unless we live in certain countries, we’re no longer constrained in our spiritual exploration. And equally, we live in a world now we don’t depend any longer on some powerful guru to be there to guide us and to show us the way. You know, we have now, the world is full of really healthy teachers who are able to say, “Don’t follow mine, let me help you to find yours, which may well be the same as mine.” So there is a greater awareness. It’s much more about how can I, in all these many teachers, how can I help you to realize yourself rather than you realize me?
Rick: And even in other fields, other than spirituality, there are really cool things happening. Like there are people working on restoring the soil and getting back to more natural forms of agriculture. And there’s the Bioneers Conference where all these environmental people get together and there’s all kinds of amazing things that people are doing. So there’s, you know, a lot of that stuff doesn’t make the evening news, but there’s a lot of good things happening. And I think we’re still gonna go through some rough times as we were describing earlier, but I think there’s the possibility, even possibly the probability of coming out through the other side of this roughness into a much more beautiful world than we’ve ever known.
Stephen: I think the potential is there. I’m a member of a group called the Deep Adaptation Forum. And, you know, something like 17,000 scientists and academics across the world who are facing up to the possibilities of catastrophe that might be coming in the near future, but also seeking to act so that we can mitigate them. And also, you know, there are thousands and thousands, millions of people across the globe who are waking up and saying, “Actually, no, we’ve got to do something here and are doing something.” And I think that, I think it was the principle of St. Paul, which I think is useful to live by, you know, pray as if everything depended on God, but work as if everything depended on you. And the more of us that are participating, it’s not going to be a one-off person anymore. That day is gone. This is a collective enterprise, and that may well be the thing that saves us.
Rick: Well, that’s a good note to end on. So thank you so much for the inspiration. Thank you for spending this time with me, and thank you for everything you’re doing. And for those listening or watching, I’ll be putting up a page for this interview, as I always do, and I’ll link to everything that we’ve been talking about, Stephen’s website and his books and so on. So I’ll see you next time. And next week, as I mentioned, there will be a woman, Connie Zweig, old friend of mine, we’re going to be talking about spirituality in older age. And I think it’s going to be a fascinating conversation. So thanks for listening or watching. See you then.