Awakin Calls » Roger Walsh » Transcript


Roger Walsh: From Altered States to Altered Traits

Aryae: Really excited today to be able to introduce and start the conversation with Dr Roger Walsh. He is a professor of psychiatry, philosophy and anthropology as well as a professor of the Religious Studies Program at the University of California in Irvine. He's a celebrated writer and one of the world's leading researchers of meditation, altered states of consciousness and the field of transpersonal psychology. Roger graduated from Australia's Queensland University with degrees in psychology, physiology, neuroscience and medicine. How's that for a list of degrees and then he came to the US as a full bright scholar and trained at Stanford where he passed licensing exams here in medicine, psychology and psychiatry. For over thirty years Roger has been researching how to one hand's well being- physical, psychological, social and spiritual. This search has been powered by questions such as, what does it mean to live wisely and well and what does it take? How can we cultivate quality such as love and wisdom, kindness and compassion? What is meant by terms such as enlightenment and liberation, salvation? Rogers says I've explored these questions professionally in my role as a professor, physician and therapist and personally as a spouse, spiritual practitioner and inquisitive human being. Obviously, I have no final answers he says. Rogers research and writings spanned several areas including the nature of psychological health and well-being, meditation and contemplated practices, religion and spirituality, wisdom and other virtues in integral studies and the psychological roots of our current global crisis. He's deeply immersed personally in contemplative practices as a student, researcher and teacher.

He has numerous books and publications some of them include Paths Beyond Ego, Meditation: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives, Essential Spirituality with a forward by the Dalai Lama and The World of Shamanism. He's currently editing The World's Great Wisdom: What Sages Say About Living Wisely and Well and his also currently working on a new P.B.S. documentary called Eight Ways to Wellbeing which offers scientifically backed tools for leading healthier and more joyful lives and in his other lives, Roger was formerly a circus acrobat as raw as a record holder in high diving and trampolining and recently he graduated from the San Francisco Comedy College and tried his hand. He says rather unsuccessfully at stand up comedy. He's married to psychologist Frances Vaughan and together they have co-authored several books. Roger thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Roger: Thank you very much and for this opportunity for being with service space. I admire the work of Pavi and the community for a long time, so it's a delight to be with you.

Aryae: You know we were speaking earlier this week and you spoke about offering a dedication for this call so I would like to ask you if you would, for all of us, offer that dedication.

Roger: I'd be delighted. I think one of the key things that became so apparent from looking at both psychology and contemplative practice is that intention is so key and I like to take as a practice before beginning any undertaking, working at asking a question, what is this for? And the more you deeply reflect on that particularly, people such as part of this community, very service oriented, then at the bottom turns out to be, what will serve the welfare and awakening of all, so I would love for all of us to take a moment and allow us to feel into our deepest need or our deepest want and to recognize that one aspect of that is the desire that what we're doing now will serve the welfare and awakening of all and to set that as our intention and aspiration for our time together.

Aryae: That is beautiful. I feel myself calming down. Thank you so much. So with that intention and for all of us I want to ask you a couple questions. I want to start off with the title of this call; From altered states to alter traits and on this page we have a quote from you which says, "Contemplative practices are not merely to induce altered states but to induce altered traits" or as Houston Smith so eloquently put it, "To transform flashes of illumination into abiding light". Can you unpack that for us and say a little bit more about what you mean?

Roger: Sure, well as you practically all the people in this community have some sort of spiritual orientation and some sort of work practice and one of the delights and pleasures of any contemplative practice is that if we do it long enough, we get the various kind of peak experiences where there are waves perhaps or openings to beautiful and benevolent emotions such as love and compassion or simply joy even becoming ecstasy. We also tap into deeper motives and aspirations, the motive to actualize our capacities to become and realize more of what we can be. The motive towards self-transcendence to grow towards that larger self that we most truly are. And the call towards service and that kind of recognition that service is not as our culture assumes, self-sacrifice, but rather enlightened self-interest. So as we do contemplative practices we have these peak experiences, these flashes, these moments, these some of which can last for hours or so forth and these are variously known as peak experiences or altered states and they're wonderful and a blessing and they are not the final goal.

The hope is that if we have immersed ourselves in these kinds of experiences, recognition, pulls that they will become part of our personality, that epiphany will transform into personality. The altered states will become altered traits. That peak experiences will become more enduring plateau experiences and as you quoted the wonderful religious scholar Houston Smith that we will be able to transform flashes of illumination into abiding light which we can then share with others. So the goal is to have this wonderful recognition's become part of our basic personality.

Aryae: So how does that actually work? lf I engage in a meditation or some type of practice and I get into that altered state and I feel a shift in my consciousness, then what is it that takes me from the altered state to the altered trait? How does that work actually.?

Roger: Well, there are many different processes involved. We can go into a psychological process maybe if we keep it on a very practical level, when we are graced with a peak experience, an intense wave of joy or compassion and caring or love, how can we facilitate that becoming a more enduring way of being for us? There are several things. One is to stop and appreciate it. Two to immerse ourselves in the experience to really give ourselves time to rest in that feeling of joy, feeling of love or the pull of compassion and generosity in service. So one is to simply to take time with it, to honor the experience, not to rush on to the next one or rushing to just simply spinning out on it.

Another thing is to explore what does it really feel like to be and to have this, to have a wave of compassion arise, to have real caring and concern for others filling our being and to the extent we explore how it feels in our body, what thoughts and images arise, what aspirations, what hopes? To that extent we kind of fill out the experience and transform it from simply an emotional state to an insight. A deeper understanding of both the experience and its implications and then we can subsequently do things such as journal about it, talk with some wise friends as waves of further understanding and embodying as part of our being.

Aryae: So what you're saying is really to sort of take the time and pay attention in various ways and sort of give that experience a larger presence in our lives.

Roger: Yes, and in some ways, this is an antidote to our contemporary lifestyles which is so busy, frenetic, and those of us who are graced with fortunate lives may have a number of very positive experiences and it's very easy to just want to go get use to going from one to another and another and just saying oh it was a nice experience and on to the next ,but there are certain experiences that really deserves to be honored and mined for their depth, for their wisdom, for their insights, for their potential for us and for our lives.

Aryae: I've heard some people say that these experiences come as a result of practice and that as I practice I can get better at bringing forth these altered states, and I've heard other people say that they come as a gift of grace.

Roger: And I don't see a conflict between those. Every gift is a grace in a way and we can step in their favor and our favor. There is a saying in both Hinduism and Islam that, "The winds of grace are always blowing but you have to raise your sail" and humorously there is a saying which says, "That enlightenment is an accident but meditation makes you accident prone?" So it's a very skillful attitude to practice the recognition that all the gifts in our lives are in some way grace. They don't come to us purely by our own creation. There is a much larger field of creation and possibilities that are operating which our egos can never control and we can also take the scales.

Aryae: When you and I spoke earlier this week you were speaking about how spiritual practice relates to the social and planetary crisis of our time and to my mind this relates to our saying in service space when we say change yourself change the world. So the relationship on the one hand, we’re living at a time where social and planetary crisis and on the other hand we're talking about these spiritual practices. Can you say more about this relationship from your own perspective?

Roger: Sure, there are a lot of ways in here. Let's start at looking at the sources that these enormous social and global crises that we are facing at this time and then perhaps look at some of the attitudes towards practice and service. First off, if we step back and look at our contemporary world we see that the first time in human history each and every one of the major threats that we are facing is human-caused. So whether you look at overpopulation, pollution, ecological degradation, weapons of mass destruction etc they're all human-caused.

So we're in a new phase in human history and what that suggests is that in addition to the military and political and economic forces that are creating these enormous problems that at some level they are an expression of our individual and collective minds and what we call outrglobal problems are actually global symptoms. They are symptoms of an individual and collective psychopathologies and spiritual pathologies. They reflect the tensions within us, the conflicts within us and the conflicts between us and what that suggests is that if we're going to truly and truly heal these great issues it's going to require both outer and inner work. It's going to require yes feeding a hungry and yes working to reduce weapons of mass destruction and protect the environment and it's going to require economic and political interventions. But at a deeper level it's also going to require that we investigate, recognize and heal the psychological and spiritual dis-ease within us and between us which created these problems in the first place. So clearly we need even more so than we have in the past a combination of both skillful outer work in whatever field is our particular field of expertise or interest, plus inner work to ensure that we can use each action, each enterprise, each project in a way which not only addresses the outer issues but also allows us to see more deeply into them, to be with other people in a more skillful and compassionate ways and to alleviate to at least to some extent the psychological and spiritual roots that underlie these. And so that gets us into the question of course of well what kind of practice does that? What kind of work combines intervention in the outer world and trying to do it skillfully and effectively as we possibly can and transformation of our inner world and of course there is a well years-old traditional path, its best known as karma yoga from the yoga core Hindu tradition. Karma yoga is the yoga of work and action in the world where one uses activity, one's service, one's work as the focus and environment for ones spiritual practice.

We can go into more details in a moment, but when one takes that attitude, that ones spiritual practice is one’s work in the world and that they complement and reinforce each other; then we go into ourselves in order to go more effectively out into the world. And we go out into the world, in order to go more deeply into ourselves.

And we keep that cycle of inner and outer work continuing as long as we think that the inner and outer are different. And interesting enough this is , Arnold Toynbee, the greatest historian who surveyed world history, found that the common characteristic of people who he saw that who had most beneficial impact on human history, was what he called the "cycle of withdrawal and return". So many of these people had some at stage in their life withdrawn from the social "rat race show" he called it. To go inwards , to plumb the depths of their own being. To come to some sort of realization and insight. And then return to the world to offer their insights and healing capacities, in whatever way was they thought was appropriate. So that is a kind of big picture overview response to the question.

Aryae: And you said that there was a more details you can get into. What did you mean by that? Are you talking about specific examples of people? If you want to take it a little further, where you go next?

Roger: Well, one can go in a number of directions. One can continue looking at the big picture, or we could get into the kind of nitty gritty of how one does this practice and i suspect that might be a good avenue for this community, which is so dedicated to service.

Aryae: Yes , I like the idea of nitty gritty if you would like to say a few thing about that, about the karma yoga practice that you are talking about.

Roger: Sure. Let me give a little context first , then let me go into actual details of practice. Yogic traditions of India have 4 main kinds of Yoga. There is yoga of Bhakti, which is Love. Primarily focus is on cultivating love and kindness towards others. Second practice is Jnana Yoga, which is path of insight and wisdom. Then there is Yoga of Meditation and Contemplation and finally there is Karma Yoga, which is for those , probably all of us listening, who are householders, who are working in the world. Who aren't going to be spending our lives in retreat or able to devote large amounts of time to these practices. And Karma Yoga is the yoga in which one uses ones work and action in the world as the focus and context of one’s spiritual practice.
So one takes whatever one's doing and transforms it into practice. And let me give just the core essentials of the practice. And then we can fill it out. One finds elements this in all this in all the world’s great religious traditions. But it is most systematically laid out in the Karma Yoga tradition of Hinduism.
So in the classic text on this is called the "Bhagwad Gita" which is sometimes not so well called. But it is called the Hindu Bible. It is a beautiful quite small text. And the essence of the practice is three fold. One that, in undertaking any major work or activity in the world, one first offers it traditionally to God, one can also offer it to any transpersonal goal or aspiration. As long as it is something bigger than your little ego.
Second part is one does one’s work in the world as fully and impeccably and whole heartedly as he can. And the third, and here is the knife edge that makes it such a superb spiritual practice, is while working towards an aspirational goal of service or contribution of, doing one’s work and while doing it as impeccably as one can, one simultaneously releases attachment to how it turns out. That is the knife’s edge. Which makes it such a powerful practice. Because usually when we are doing something, we really involved in it, particularly when it for an idealistic goal such as service and contribution or something like world peace or feeding the hungry. We are definitely attached to things working out the way we think it should. And of course that is totally understandable. But attachment is very different from aspiration. We can aspire to doing good in the world. But as soon as we get attached to the outcome then there is going to be suffering. And then we are going to contract. We are going to get fearful, if we think our work won’t work. We get angry at people getting in our way. We are going to get depressed if things turn sour etc. So those are the three core elements of the practice. And maybe in a moment we can expand those out. But perhaps, Araye, you have something you like to add.

Aryae: I don't know if i have something I would like to add, but you know I am curious Roger, if you could say at this point - if we can talk about your own spiritual journey. From what you were doing in Australia - you were an acrobat, you were a diver. How did you first discover and set forth on your own spiritual journey? Can you tell us a little bit about that? About your story.

Roger: Sure. I have the very good fortune of , as you mentioned, coming over here from Australia on a Fulbright scholarship. And I arrived at Stanford to do my psychiatry training having finished medical school in Australia. And I immediately went into culture shock. Going from Australia which was, somewhat conservative anti-intellectual sexist community to California in the 70's , was quite a transition. And I was doing my psychiatry training and doing psychotherapy on people. And not sure quite of what I was doing. And i figured I had a moral obligation to try some myself. So I figured i would go into therapy for a few weeks. And had the experience of good fortune of going into therapy with a wonderfully wise man by the name of , Jim Butinthal, who wrote a number of books on therapy. I thought I was going into an interesting few weeks.
And two years later I staggered out with my entire life turned around and upside down. And having been opened to the inner world . Which I did not know exists. And finding that there was a inner universe as vast as mysterious as the outer. Which I had been totally unaware of. And I thought that I had really lived my entire life on the top six inches of the wave, on top of an ocean that I hadn't even known was there. And find that there was an inner universe. And find that there were depths of insight and feeling and information and wisdom within us all. That I and 99% of the culture had been unaware of. Was just mind boggling to me. So from there I began exploring the many "isms" that California had. California was a great place to continue this exploration. And I dove into all sorts of things. And to my great surprise I found myself doing things like chantings and meditation. I couldn't figure out why the hell I was doing these things. Because at that time I thought religion was the opium of the masses. And I really puzzled over it. As these practices seemed to help. And there was literally one moment as I was walking across the living room floor. When I realized that the contemplative heart…the great religions have a set of practices for cultivating the qualities of heart and minds. Of the insights, the virtues and the capacities which their great founders had realized.

That hidden line conventional institutional structures which are narrowly around ritual and service, valuable as those are. But there were deeper depths to these religious traditions. There were contemplative depths, which were essentially roadmaps for transforming and maturing ourselves, so as to develop the very capacities that the great sages and saints of history had realized. And that was, that just blew me out of the water. We just -it's better known now- but at that time very few people had come to that realization. For me, it was a complete gamechanger.

Aryae: So what you're saying is that you began to be aware that the various traditions and religions underneath the cultural differences of the surfaces had some underlying essence that they were the same. Is that what you're saying?

Roger: Yes, yes that the world's great traditions, each of them had, behind the conventional, institutional structures a deeper dimension which was not well known in the Western culture. Yes, you're right, these traditions share a variety of practices and a variety of aspirations and goals -that's not to say they are the same by any means- but there is great overlap in the contemplative practices and depths and aspirations of the great traditions. And these practices are now available to us all. You know, fifty years ago meditation was some esoteric thing that weirdos did and yoga was virtually unknown. But now, not only do we have an influx of powerful practices from the east we also have the reliable practices from our own contemplative practices from the west. Where the roots of Jewish, ugh, Kabbalah or the Hasidic practices, or Christian contemplations, or Islamic, these practices are now resurfacing and their power and legitimacy is being recognized. So for the first time in history we have a variety of practices for cultivating the very qualities, beautiful qualities, such as love, emotions such as love, compassion, aspirations of service and altruism, etc. that are most satisfying and rewarding to us as individuals and that are most needed for our social and planetary survival.

Aryae: It was, was it this discovery that turned into your book, 'Essential Spirituality'?

Roger: Ug, yes. In large part, the book, 'Essential Spirituality' is subtitled “The 7 Spiritual Practices To Awaken Heart and Mind' was my attempt to unearth the shared practices across the world’s traditions. The question that I kept puzzling over during the twenty years of practice before I wrote that book, was "ok, we have these contemplative practices from all over the world, what do they share in common? And, how do the wisest people who have ever lived, how do they recommend what we do with our lives? What capacities of heart and mind do they recommend that we cultivate? And how do they suggest we do it?"
So, I was just interested in what, you know, the best and brightest of human beings, the wisest sages, the greatest saints really said were most important for living a full and satisfying and contributory and linked life and how do they suggest we do that. What became apparent over the three years that it took me to research, to write the book, and years of research before that, was it seemed like there was seven qualities, core qualities of heart and mind that these people recommended.

They recommend and seem to agree that ethics was really important, that if we want to live, if we want to awaken, if we want to be able to serve and contribute, we need to live ethical lives in which we seek to grow and welfare all people. They advocated emotional transformation: the reduction of destructive emotions like anger and fear, and the cultivation of positive emotions such as love and compassion and joy. They all recommended that we cultivate attention, because as we all know the mind wanders all over the place. Our minds have a mind of their own. And particularly in a frenetic, data-driven culture, our minds are even more frenetic and scattered than usual. And yet the power of the mind is a function of how effectively we can bring attention to whatever is most important, cultivating attention and concentration.

Refining perception, being able to see deeply into ourselves and into others, notice the nuances of life and emotion, which enables us to be, to know what's going on more effectively. And then there's the practice of wisdom, of insight and understanding. And finally there's the practice of, in fact all these practices lead to and culminate in service, in contributing to others. And that serves both as a goal of a spiritual practice and as a means of spiritual practice. Again, a kind of karma-yoga, the idea that service to others is both a gift to others, but also a gift to ourselves, can be intensely transformative of ourselves, can cultivate qualities such as generosity and care and compassion, and can inhibit problematic emotions and motors like greed and fear and jealousy.

So it seems that there is remarkable agreement across traditions, across sages, that says these qualities of heart and mind are really important. And there's one other thing that really stood out, and that is that surprised me most, in the three year of writing on spirituality on the seven essential practices was that every one of the qualities of heart and mind that the sages recommended cultivating, they all said if you want to develop this quality, whether it's ethical living, or generosity and service, or love and compassion, or concentration and calm, whatever one of these qualities you want to cultivate, hang out with people who have it. That is, seek out and spend time with people who embody these qualities. Because consciousness is catchy. We become like those we are around. Parents know that. They try to be very careful of who their kids hang out with. It works on us as adults too. And that was the thing that surprise me most, just how much they all emphasized the importance of like-minded community. A community aspiring to these kinds of ideals of service and love and compassion and ethics, etc. That was the big surprise.

Aryae: Wow. So the importance of community, the importance of the sangha, the importance of developing these qualities in community.

Roger: Yes. And of course, and that being in community may be a fluid thing. We talked before of Arnold Toynbee’s discovery of the cycle of withdrawal and return. So perhaps the ideal will be for us to find communities of like-minded and like-hearted and like-souled people and to when we are in the world definitely spend time with them. But to also take time for withdrawing to have periods of quiet and calm and reflection and solitude. Perhaps it will be part of each day. Perhaps it will be part of one day each week. Perhaps it will be a week each year. You know as much time as we can afford. It is very important, that culmination of alone time to go deeply within and community time to share and connect. Both are truly very important.

Aryae: Yeah I'm saying amen. I hear you. When you came to California in the 70's and started discovering some of the stuff, at that time there were there was a lot going on around individual practices, weekend workshops and classes and all kinds of things about developing spirituality and meditation and yoga and so on. There was a phrase that I think started in the 70's - spiritual materialism, and it became kind of a consumer thing that if I could spend money I could go to a weekend at Esalen and have a wonderful experience and then come home and practice it. Then more recently there are people who go into corporations and train people in mindfulness practices in the corporate world. I'm wondering from your viewpoint how much of that has value, at what point is it spiritual materialism or at what point is it valuable, and how do you tell where that boundary is?

Roger: That one of the questions of our time, isn't it. Well let's acknowledge the one of the core elements to look at is motivation. You know what's our motivation for doing something? So that's the first consideration - why am I doing this? And that's a great motto. Start with why. Before undertaking any projects, start to look at why am I doing this, what's the motivation, what's it really for? What can it best serve. So that's one starting point. The other thing we need to recognize is that motivation is usually always mixed. So maybe I undertake a project. Maybe I'm writing my next book and I certainly hope it will contribute and get some valuable ideas out in the world, but being who I am and being only half cooked there's probably going to be lots of motivation like gee I hope it really gets out there and I get some recognition and all that stuff. In very practical terms, we look at motivation we recognize our humanity. And we try to do what we do from the most Service Space oriented way possible, recognizing that we're human, there will be other contaminating motives in there but we can try not to feed into that and try to make sure what we do is not primarily about our egocentric motivation not about, using the term you came up with Aryae, not spiritual materialismthat is not using our spiritual work in the service of our ego rather using our spiritual work to transcend our egocentric motivation. That's one thing.

You know a bigger general question is - we look out of the cultural scene and see different practices permeating in the mainstream and being co-opted by it. And the question you're asking - is this good, how do we know if it is good? First off, we need to acknowledge we don't really have any data on this yet. So I have no doubt that being mindful might allow you to be a better salesman or more effective soldier to shoot straighter etc.
The question is, what else will it do. The reality is these things are going to be used for that. The interesting question is - will they shift the motives of people who undertake the practice which to the point they begin to look more deeply at what they're doing and why they're doing it and whether it's really worth...if they want their lives to be about that. My hope is that it will have those effects as well. I think probably the reality is, it will help people be more effective at what they're doing and for at least some people, it will call them to question what they're doing. How much, I don't know. I don't think any of us know at this stage. But I think it's one of the things to look at and hopefully they'll be people researching.

Aryae: Interesting. As you're speaking Roger I'm thinking of a subversive purpose - there might be the overt purpose of helping people be better workers in helping the company do a better job whatever, but then there might be a subversive affect where people start questioning who am I, what am I doing, why am I doing it, and how do I lead a better life.

Roger: I think that's very well summarized, Aryae. You've exactly got it. Personally, I think that some of these practices - mindfulness, yoga etc which is being done for stress management or blood pressure. Clearly we know case histories, if we don't yet know from the large scale studies, we know from the individual case histories that certain people get a lot more than they bargained for. So, yes, I think you summarized it well.

Aryae: Roger you've been involved in many different kinds of research projects in this area about consciousness and spirituality and so on. I'm curious about today of all the various fields and projects that you've been involved with, what has the most energy and the most excitement for you right now.

Roger: At the moment I'm feeling very pulled towards the exploring, researching, and particularly writing about, the cultivation of what have traditionally been called "virtues" - qualities such as love, compassion, altruism, wisdom. I'm interested for a number of reasons - one is just a personal pull but more from a larger perspective... in the West we've thought of virtues or qualities such as love, as something that just happens to you. We have a Hollywood version of love - love is something that just happens to you. If the right person says the right thing to you and looks the right way, then you feel love and the kind of descends on you like in the tip attack of epilepsy, but that is very immature or partial perspective on love that's a kind of romantic love, and not to say anything against romantic love, but there's no appreciation in that culture that love is one of the great arts of human existence and there are practices we can adopt which will strengthen and deepen and expand and make stronger and more resilient a kind of love - the agape of Christianity, the metta of Buddhism, the ren of Confucianism, Bhakti etc, which are all encompassing, which embraced everyone, even all life in an unconditional care that just wishes the welfare of all beings and that is truly ecstatic. To give a very quick personal example - when I began doing the practices for cultivating love, kindness and compassion etc, that's a part of Buddhist Hindu practices, it was the most ecstatic month of my life. I was living in a little cell so small I could reach out and touch the walls and I literally was just developing feelings of love for everyone. I was in ecstasy for a month! Our culture totally underestimated the potentials and power and joy of developing and practicing virtues such as this.

So, I'm particularly drawn to exploring researching and writing about these and bringing our culture to helping or at least contributing to our culture to having a deeper appreciation of our possibilities as human beings, our possibilities for developing these qualities and pointing to some of the practices of great wisdom and religious traditions have made available to us throughout the centuries for doing justice.

Aryae: Love is a virtue. Wow. To me, that sounds like a great example of some altered state. I think most of us tend to think of love as an altered state. You are really talking about love as an altered trait.

Roger: Yes, and there are practices for that kind of transformation of love in state to trait. My wife and I did a book, "Accept This Gift: From a Course in Miracles,” just drawing out some of the quotes on love, kindness, and joy from the Course of Miracles, which has been weirdly titled, but profound Christian contemporary text, and so we just pull those out and just read those evokes the kind of recognitions and qualities. So, one can begin by simply turning to some of these ideas and texts and practices, and allow one to soak in them and they have their impact. If anyone is interested in Essential Spirituality, there's a whole section on emotional transformation on cultivation of love, which I pulled together different practices around the world just for that. So, these things are becoming available, but there's a lot more work to do to have our culture to realize what we are capable of and what we can practice and develop.

Aryae: I want to point out to everyone that just looking at the time we are getting close to the top of the hour and Pavi will take it from there with any questions that you may have if you are listening. If you are on the phone you can dial *6. If you are online, you can you can send us an email at So, the idea of virtue is very interesting. This is a very old idea, going back to the Greeks, Christianity and all the spiritual traditions. How did you come to the idea of virtue? Maybe another virtue or two? You talked about love. What are one of two other virtues that have shown up for you that have been particularly important right now.

Roger: Well, there is a long list of virtues.

Aryae: Yes, yes.

Roger: As I pointed earlier, back to the Greek ancient world of spiritual traditions, one finds list of key to the truths. Each tradition they focus on one: Christian on love and forgiveness, Confucianism on embracing compassion, etc. Let see, just to mention a couple of others, Joy is one of the truths to the extent that when we are joyous, we are more likes to be kind, ethical, and altruistic and more likely to evoke joy in others. Compassion is, of course, a key one. We tend to mistake for a kind of pity, but pure compassion is just this loving and care. And of course, wisdom is the great intellectual virtue or insight virtue that's one I've been writing on in the book modestly titled “Great World of Wisdoms". Looking at what each of the great traditions says about what wisdom is and how to cultivate it. That's something I'd like to go into further. We also find it back to thousands of years ago you find in ancient tradition, most of all ancient traditions, Shamanism, you find the capacities and virtues of service to the community as you suggested is very widespread. There is a wide range in them. Any motive or motion, which is benevolent, is probably a virtue of some kind.

Aryae: I'm just thinking that, in my public education, most people I know...we don't talk about these. We didn't talk about these. I'm just trying to imagine if the cultivation of these virtues is part of the education in every child. What difference that might make?

Roger: I think you just touched on something enormously important, Aryae. Most of our western education systems is about making a living and not about making it alive. And that needs to change.

Aryae: Thank you. Pavi, are you ready to take it from here.

Pavi: Yes, I am. This has been a very fascinating conversation. We do have a caller in the queue...

Caller 1: Pavi challenged to us in a very large picture is how we project our own shadow onto whole groups of people out there, like Boko Haram or Islamic State. It's so hard for us as individuals in this collective to see people as humans and realize that everybody has a story and a reason and there is a human being out there. How do we help one another where we live, to get in the condition where we are willing to explore our own shadow and seeing the other and entertain the other as human and not go out and obliterate them?

Roger: Oh my, that is a very beautiful question, one of the great questions of our time. Particularly in the midst of our current devices, social, and political scene. As you implied, in the individual level and the social level. Individually, we can talk in general and specifics terms, what I mean by that is if we try to cultivate the capacity such as heal ourselves or to develop a virtue, there are general and specific approaches. What I mean by that is, there is a general principle that if we want to heal or grow some part of ourselves, we can focus on that particular quality, which is a specific approach and we can do general psychological and spiritual practice which will hopefully tend the materials generously and in the process heal the specific issue. So, you are talking about the tendency to dehumanize others and to project our own shadow onto them. Speaking most generally and for each of us right now, any work we do on ourselves psychologically, spiritually, will tend to heal the shadow to some. Let's not underestimate the difficulty at healing of our shadow because that shadow aspect of ourselves which don’t want to recognize which we have pushed out to the wings, and so just to recognize it is a big step. So, working specifically with shadow general first step if there's anything in other people we have strong reaction to is a good cue.

So, if we are really angry or hateful or jealous of some group, that's a good signal to look at ourselves and say what aspect of myself does this person represent that I'm unwilling to see in myself? That's an initial step. Secondly, I think you mentioned some very important pieces of the puzzle. You gave voice to that we tend to dehumanize others to dehumanize them. This is a defensive way of being. I think one key thing is to get it out into the world to delegitimize the dehumanization of other people. At the moment, it's becoming socially and politically accepted to dehumanize other groups. So, anything we can do to speak about others and to relate to others in a more human ways makes a contribution. These are big and tough issue, very difficult. Thanks for bringing it up.

Caller 1: Thank you for telling your story.

Roger: Yes, yes, thank you. And you implied something very important. To whatever extent, we listen to other people. That in itself can be very healing of the relationship and for ourselves and for them.

Caller: 1: Thank you.

Roger: Thank YOU!

Pavi: Wonderful, Roger. I have a question that I wanted to ask and let's remind a little bit. Just looking back at some of your early influences. Can you talk about the teachers and role models that you have held in your own lives at different stages?

Roger: Role models and examples. There is one that I have had the good fortune to be with and work with. And there are people out there that I may not have known so well. Well a lifelong inspiration for me is Mother Teresa. Her selfless devotion to serve and in contribution and at one stage in the 80's, I actually went to Calcutta to work with her, in her center that's there. And was both touched and horrified. I was horrified by the amount of suffering in Calcutta at that time. It just blew me out of the know living in the hotel and outside in the street in front of me were people living on the street-beggars, destitute, homeless, lepers, etc. And to be face to face with that extent of suffering just kind of... I found very difficult and hard to work with because I wasn't, not yet developed the kind of, combination of compassion and equanimity that is really essential for that kind of deep work. To be with other Teresa herself was very inspiring of course. To see her and her nuns each day getting up and going and doing their prayers, and then heading out to their various centers and working long hours. And then going with glory and doing their prayers and contemplation. As Mother Teresa said, we're not just social workers. So they are not just spending the whole day in the center caring for the sick and dying. They'd spend part of the day and then they'd spend part of the day doing their other work, their prayers, their practices, their studies. That combination was very powerful, very inspiring, and simply to be exposed to how so many people in the world live in destitution and poverty. Which in my nice California was very insulated from was very impactful, very powerful. So, that was a real gift. So she was a lifelong inspiration. Been a role model, teacher, inspirations, for work more on the inner realms on my own therapist, Jim Butinthal, opened an universe through me as I have described. There have been a variety of meditation and contemporary practices teachers, the first one was Ram Dass: the former Harvard psychologists, who along with Tim Leary, got kicked out of Harvard. Ram Das became a very effective teacher of contemplative practices.

There are a variety of other teachers from other traditions. Jack Kornfield from Buddhism. I could run through a list of other: Thomas Keating in Christianity; the Course in Miracles material that I mentioned earlier, Christian contemplative practices that my wife and I did together. That is actually worth mentioning. It is the only one that my wife and I found anywhere, which uses peer relationships as the primary context and focus of one's spiritual practice. Other traditions use teachers and gurus as part of the spiritual practice. But of A Course in Miracles is very explicit on focusing attention of peer community and peer relationships and using that as one's practice. So, that's been very important and it was wonderful for me and my wife to do it together because it's a beautiful practice in relationship. We were actually moved enough to use some of the quotes from the course out in the number of books: Accept This Gift from a course of miracles. It was just very very important to us, so was that kind of what you were thinking of?

Pavi: That absolutely is. And actually Gifts from of A Course in Miracles was what I had picked up after picking up A Course in Miracles, oddly titled as it was I think it had come up in enough conversations and I wanted to see what it was about and then it kind of drew me in and finding your Francis book after was a true gift. It just felt so potent. And I wonder what was it that I just wanted to know what's the story behind those books that you wrote down with your wife?

Roger: Well, let's see. Well we were fortunate that we were both writers, psychologists and it felt natural for us to do some books together, so we edited a number of books on Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision, which is a collection of articles on the interface of psychology and spirituality and we also edited some books from the course because we just loved it so much. We were sharing it and both of us developed our favorite quotes and excerpts and thought wouldn't it be wonderful sharing these, so we just basically had a wonderful time collecting our most favorite lines and putting them together and making little books. Hopefully serve a couple of purposes. Like some people get into the course, dive deeply into it and it's nice to collect some quotations. And some people haven't got into the course, but the course of miracles is three fat books, so it can look a little intimidating. So, for other people those books accept this gift as kind of an entry point. A fairly easy way of getting a taste of and if it's something people would like to dive deeper into.

Pavi: And just for those listeners who may not be familiar with the terrain of the Course of Miracles, how would you describe it?

Roger: The course is a physically it is a collection of three books. Content-wise it is the perineal wisdom or the core of the great traditions expressed in the Christian language and metaphors. So it definitely has Christian overtones, though certainly not traditional ones. It is much more a practice for doing in the world with a Christian flavor. It is certainly not traditional; it is much more contemplative. The actual practice consists of a lesson for each day of the year. So there are 365 lessons. And it basically offers a particular thought to reflect on and work with and bring to your activities in life during the day.

So the first lesson is "nothing I see means anything." Which is kind of funny. But it is the introduction to the recognition that we are the authors of our experience. We are the people who are responsible for our lives, who have a major role in what we feel and how we feel that undermines the victim role, etc. And it gradually builds a thought system which is a much more loving, kindly, compassionate, and awakening thought system than our usual egoic one.

And so it basically offers a more healing, loving, awakening way of thinking and looking at the world than our usual little ego does. For example, my lesson today is "life in joy and peace abide in me." You say that enough times during the day and you start to feel very nice.

Pavi: You know, it reminds me of something you said in another interview. It was so powerful to come across this. Where you say, "in my understanding, systems of thought and belief are hierarchically ordered and it is possible to unearth deeper and deeper presuppositions in such systems. The presuppositions themselves can become objects of awareness rather than filters of awareness. Contemplative practices are ways of bringing these presuppositions into awareness and transforming them from things we look through to things we look at. And this makes it possible for us to modify them."

Roger: Yeah. That is so key because our thought systems are what we create our world with: our understanding of the world and the way we look at the world and make sense of it and shade it and cover it. And if we can bring awareness to it, then we can go from being victims of our unconscious thoughts and thought systems to being the creators of them. And that is certainly something that A Course in Miracles and, of course, other contemplative practices aim to do.

Pavi: It is so powerful when you get a glimpse or taste of that. I have other questions, but I want to go to another caller in the queue.

Wendy: Hi, I'm sitting next to Aryae here. What an incredibly rich conversation, thank you for that. When you were talking about the virtues of love, joy, compassion, wisdom, I'm ready to sign up right now. But I'm wondering, what practices do you recommend for balance, because my cup can completely run over, so I can get dried. How do you use these virtues in a way that is balanced?

Roger: Yeah, ok. Good question. Couple of things. First, let's just acknowledge the importance of the question in our contemporary Western overloaded, super busy, sound bit, byte driven lives. Balance is a core challenge for all of us. So let's just acknowledge how important this is. So how do we do that?

Well, first off, let's acknowledge the inner wisdom in all of us, and if we just take some time, some quiet time, each of us has the inner sensitivity, the wisdom, to feel when we are out of balance. And if we go into that feeling, we will become aware of the ways we are drawn off balance. Maybe it is the feeling of tension which if we go into, we realize we are just overloaded. Maybe it is the feeling of dryness of "Oh, I've been so much caught up in my head. I really need to spend sometime with loving people."

First off, let's just acknowledge the innate wisdom that is already within us which if we give it the space and time and quiet to inform us, will give us much of the information we need. Now we can add to that by taking some time for practices which refine and sensitize that inner awareness and inner wisdom. Good practices for that are some very simple meditations, mindfulness which is a great practice for refining our inner sensitivity. Any of the awareness practices can be good for that.

And of course, it can be valuable to talk with good, wise friends, and just reflect together on the question of balance and optimizing the various parts of our lives. And there are also tools like journaling. Just taking the time to put into words what we are feeling and wrestling with, the values which we are concerned maybe aren't being expressed.

So those are some of the things that can help.

Wendy: Thank you so much.

Pavi: Another question and I just can't help but ask this, because you are definitely the person I would imagine the last person on Awakin Calls who was ever a circus acrobat. [laughter] I was wondering what drew you into that realm. You were a circus acrobat. You also held a world record for high diving. It seemed that at a physical level you were operating at this level of excellence and with a level of grace that is rare. It seems at one level to connect with what you are doing now, but do you see any connections or what is the thread there for you?

Roger: That is an interesting connection. I haven't thought about what is the thread. The story is that as a kid I was physically totally inept. I was skinny. I was weak. I had no coordination. I was nicknamed Feb short for feeble. So I was hopeless at all sports and in Australia, sports were everything. And then in my early teens, I got on a trampoline and found that there was a sport that I could do and loved. I just loved acrobatics and trampoline, so in my typical...I really overcompensated.

And dove very heavily to that, and that lead to diving. So I found myself competing at fairly high levels in trampolining and diving. And at that adolescent age, suffering from testosterone toxicity, one risks their lives doing things. So I dove off a bridge. It was the highest dive done at that time. I survived which is important. It was a valuable thing for me to do. I'm not sure of the kind of over-achievement that had a lot of thread to my spiritual life. It was kind of a different incarnation at that time, but it was for me very rewarding, a lot of fun, and helpful, certainly in developing some skills that I would not have otherwise.

Pavi: I think it is just about the physicality and the awareness of the body that would need to be there in those kinds of feats, and how that translates into a more embodied spiritual practice as well.

As a segue into another important aspect of you work which is the eight pillars of well-being that you have been researching, writing, and filming about. If you could speak a little bit about that for our listeners, I think that would be wonderful too, because I know that movement piece of it is one of those pillars.

Roger: Yeah, thanks, Pavi. I think one of the central things of my life and work is around how can we live most fully. What is the best game to play in life or what is the highest game one can play in life and how can one do that. And part of that is certainly health and well-being. So I work as a psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California. And it has been deeply distressing to me to see how much, in large part because of the economic and insurance elements that dictate medicine these days. With insurance companies wanting to pay the least possible for treatment of mental illness and with the hospitals/universities being very strapped for money.

But the primary emphasis now is on drug treatment. And just an overlooking of the psychological and spiritual and lifestyle elements. And so I just felt moved to try and pull together all the research on lifestyle and mental health, well-being. It took me some years to do, but eventually, I was able to pull together this literature and demonstrate quite powerfully that lifestyle has an enormous impact on mental health and well-being. For example, and the 8 kinds of lifestyle have a lot of research demonstrating their benefits on our psychological health and well-being. A number of those we all know very well, like exercise and a vegetarian or pesco vegetarian, fish and vegetable diet, enormously helpful for mental health; relationships, good quality relationships and community; time in nature for example; service turns out to be enormously important for well-being. It is not just a nice idea, not just good for other people. It is enormously helpful to our psychological and even physical well-being. And spirituality and contemplative practices. And practices for cultivating relaxation and calm.

These are just turning out, all of them to be very powerful indeed.

Pavi: And there is a documentary that will be coming out shortly?

Roger: Hopefully so. We have a website: 8 Ways to Well-being dot com. We are trying to get money to complete a documentary looking at bringing these to a PBS audience.

Pavi: We have another caller in the queue.

Caller: Can you say a little bit more in closing about the workout, the challenge, and the benefits of applying everything you've talked about today in our closest relationships like our marriages with our partners and with small circles of people where we live?

Roger: Ok, so how to apply this in our most intimate relationships.

Caller: Yes, what do you experience is the value of doing that and applying it in your marriage, especially in your close relationships? Is that where you learn the most or as much from other sources of wisdom and insight?

Roger: Yeah! Great point. To the extent that one can bring these practices and intentions to one's intimate relationships, they transform the relationships and the relationships become vehicles for one's own and the other person's well-being and awakening. So it is really important.

Just a couple of points to...suggestions there. One is that it is really valuable if you can have an explicit agreement with your partner, for example, or your small community that our relationship is going to be not just about coming together and having a good time, although that is wonderful. It is also about our learning and growing and serving each other. If that is explicit then it just sets a whole different intention for the relationship and the community. And it give you permission to be more authentic, more open, more honest, and to get helpful feedback. So that is the first thing.

It can be very valuable to share a practice together, whatever it is, whether it is meditation or contribution. For me and my wife, it has been particularly A Course in Miracles. Whatever it is, but to share a practice can be particularly helpful.

It can be very valuable to take time together just to be quiet together. It can be very valuable to have an emergency technique agreed on. That is if you get into trouble if there is anger arising or fear, and whoever recognize what is going on has permission to say, "Let's have a time out. Let's stop. I'm feeling threatened or I'm feeling angry or I feel we are going off course. As per our agreement, let's take a moment to turn, to become quiet, and to see what we really want to happen in this moment." There are a lot of different practices and we could go further, but I think we are running out of time, with our most intimate relationships, but this is a wonderful arena to deepen our work and to make our relationships richer, deeper, and more valuable for everyone.

Pavi: Wonderful. I feel like we could go on talking for hours, but we are at the end of the call. We do have one last question to ask you, Roger. How can we as the Awakin and extended Service Space community help further your work and mission in the world?

Roger: Oh, thank you very much. That is a beautiful question. Well, first you can continue to do what you are doing, that is serving and contributing. And I would just ask that you deepen your own inner work and practice as much as you possible can, as well as your service, knowing that anything you do to deepen your own insight, understanding, wisdom will benefit us all.

If any of the books we've talked about feel helpful to you and you'd like to read those, that would be wonderful, but there is no obligation. What is most important is to do what you are drawn to, to both deepen yourself and extend your contribution. It would be wonderful for me to think of you all continuing to do that.

Pavi: Thank your for the privilege of having you on this call and for walking your path they way you have. It is rare to find someone with your depth of academic expertise, the research, the profound research that you have done, and also the continuous practice that you bring into your daily life. It is powerful to have that lived wisdom speaking through you today.

Roger: It has really been a privilege to be with you and your community.

Pavi: Just as you opened our call with a dedication, would you do us the honor of closing with a dedication.

Roger: Yes, I'd love to. What a gift we have had to be able to have had this time together. So, may all that we have learned and shared and explored and opened to together, may it serve the growth of all benevolent qualities within us. Bring us the love and joy and compassion and wisdom that we aspire to. And make us ever more effective instruments of service for the welfare and awakening of all.

About Awakin Calls

Awakin Call is a weekly global series of deep conversations with inspiring changemakers. It is an all-volunteer offering and is completely free, without any ads or solicitation. Read more ...


Subscribe To Newsletter

To stay updated about guest announcements, fresh content, and other inspiring tidbits, subscribe below and we'll send you a weekly email.


Archived Conversations

Or search by date or through tags like:

Contact Us

If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a note.


  • img
  • img