Speaker: Roger Walsh

From Altered States to Altered Traits

"Contemplative practices aim not merely to induce altered states but to induce altered traits -- or as Huston Smith so eloquently put it, 'to transform flashes of illumination into abiding light.'" - Roger Walsh

Dr. Roger Walsh is not your everyday MD. A former circus acrobat and high-diving and trampoline champion from Australia, he once plunged more than 100 feet off a bridge, setting what was then the world record for high diving. Today he is a celebrated writer and one of the world's leading researchers of meditation, altered states of consciousness and the field of transpersonal psychology.

After achieving academic and athletic success in Australia, Roger traveled to California where he trained at Stanford and passed licensing exams in medicine, psychology, and psychiatry. He then moved to the University of California at Irvine where he is currently professor of psychiatry, philosophy, anthropology, and religious studies.

It was during his stint at Stanford that he worked with the well-known psychotherapist James Bugenthal -- an experience that radically transformed his world-view from that of a neuroscientist who believed "subjective" modes of inquiry and experience held little value for the field to one who:

"came to realize that we have an enormous array of capacities psychological, spiritual, intuitive capacities that are virtually untapped. [...]There was one blinding moment of insight that changed my life when I realized that there is a profound contemplative core to all the world's great religions - which is vastly different and deeper than the conventional institutions and that this core provides road maps and technologies for the induction of transcendent states of consciousness. Once I saw this, I had a radically new way of viewing contemplation, meditation, yoga, and the great religious traditions which led me to plunge intensively into meditative and other contemplative practices."

Roger began practicing vipassana ("insight") meditation and attending retreats where spending 18 hours a day in silent sitting and walking meditation was the norm. 

Remarkable in his life is the balance he strikes between teaching, writing and experiential investigation. The rigor of Roger's research is matched by the depth of his commitment to spiritual practice. In 1977 he undertook his first three-month retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. Since that time he has explored multiple practices including karma and jnana yoga, Buddhist Dzogchen and Zen, Christian contemplation, Sufism, and with his beloved wife, the yoga of relationships. 

Today his work centers on topics such as psychological health and human potential, the practices that foster them, the virtues such as ethics and wisdom they are rooted in, and the attendant implications for our contemporary social issues. His more than 200 publications include books on neuroscience, psychological wellbeing, ecology, spiritual practice, meditation, and shamanism -- books such as Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives (“Outstanding Academic Book of the Year Award”), Paths Beyond Ego, The World of ShamanismEssential Spirituality: The Seven Central Practices (with a foreword by The Dalai Lama), Gifts from A Course in Miracles, and The World's Great Wisdom. His research and writings have received over two dozen national and international awards and honors as well as an honorary doctorate, while his teaching has received one national and six university awards. He was named the University of California-Irvine Outstanding Physician and also the University’s Distinguished Writer. Roger and his beloved wife of forty years, the late Frances Vaughan, were frequent collaborators. She was a well-known writer and pioneer of transpersonal psychology.

In 2011 Roger wrote a landmark article in the American Psychological Association’s reputed journal, American Psychologist. The article, Lifestyle and Mental Health, outlines eight major lifestyle factors that are routinely under-appreciated in the field of mental health, despite overwhelming evidence of their psychological (and physical and social) benefits. Building on that article, Roger is currently working on a new PBS documentary called “Eight Ways to Wellbeing,” which offers scientifically-backed tools for leading healthier, more joyful lives -- he calls these tools therapeutic lifestyle changes, or TLCs, and among them are time in nature, spirituality, giving back and relationships.

As a graduate of the San Francisco College of Comedy Roger has tried his hand unsuccessfully (in his view) at stand-up. In considering the breadth and depth of his life work, and his untiring gift for exploration that has enriched so many lives, Roger Walsh seems living proof of his own words:

“Our lives are rich with opportunities and our challenge is to live them to the full. All of us can be the creative artists of our lives.”

Join us in conversation with this extraordinary scholar-practitioner.

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