Episode 10: "Holy Smoke!" Holy Fire with Thomas Yeomans

Show Notes

Thomas Yeomans, Ph.D. is the founder and director of the Concord Institute. His background includes education at Harvard, Oxford, and the University of California and professional work in the fields of literature, education, and psychology. Tom has been involved with psychosynthesis and spiritual psychology for over forty years. He studied with Roberto Assagioli, M.D. in the early 1970's, and has trained professionals in psychosynthesis and spiritual psychology since then, both in individual and group work, throughout North America and in Europe and Russia.

Tom has published writing on psychosynthesis and spiritual psychology as well as three volumes of poetry and a childrens' book. He is founder/director of The Concord Institute and co-founder of the International School in St. Petersburg, Russia. He is also a painter and musician. Tom maintains a private practice in psycho-spiritual consulting and mentoring in Shelburne Falls, MA. His latest book is Holy Fire: The Process of Soul Awakening.

Tom Discusses

-  What is contemplative?
-  What is psychosynthesis (PS) as a framework for human development? Freud, Jung and Assagioli – the full spectrum of human consciousness and experience
-  House as metaphor of human consciousness and Assagioli’s addition of a “terrace”
-  The inherent, natural evolutionary tendency of human development toward integration, synthesis and spiritual maturity
-  Abraham Maslow and self-actualization
-  Tom searching in his 20s, PhD program and discovery of Assagioli’s “egg diagram” as personal epiphany
-  The centrality of the present moment as a touchstone in PS underlying aliveness and vitality
-  Doctrine and dogma – “you can’t dogmatize the present moment”
-  Tom’s latest book, Holy Fire: The Process of Soul Awakening - the purpose of using  “holy” and “soul” as terms
-  The book is primarily written for “serious seekers” not necessarily for professionals
- In PS the emergence of needs arising from existential reality is key and techniques and methods are selected appropriate to serving those needs specific to each individual
-  The story of Craig the dumpmeister
-  Four types of awakening and their "wildness"
-  Importance of cultivating an appreciation of the unknown
-  Pythagoras, his lyre and awakening to the cosmos
-  Paradox of opening to the Big Picture and self as unique
-  No split between macro and micro as with Aristotle – the non-dual
-  The lived experience of poetry and painting as spiritual practices
-  Tom closes by reading his poem “Now”

References Mentioned

The Concord Institute

Holy Fire: The Process of Soul Awakening

Assagioli's "egg diagram" of the human psyche

Trappist Monk William Meninger Dies

Fr. William Meninger, a Roman Catholic priest and Trappist monk died at the age of 88 on Sunday 14 February 2021 at St. Joseph's Abby in Spencer, MA. He played a major role in assisting with the revival of the Christian contemplative tradition through his teaching, speaking and writing. In particular, he did so in collaboration with two other Trappist monks, Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington, deceased earlier. 

This threesome rediscovered a contemplative practice based on the 14th century text, "The Cloud of Unknowing" and tailored it for modern times. They eventually named it centering prayer, a type of non-conceptual, non-discursive, non-thinking based meditation practice. The practice has became widely adopted throughout the world. 

Fr. William's passing is a significant closure and perhaps celebration of a chapter in the revival of contemplative spirituality and practice in the Christian world - as all three monks have now passed-on yet left behind a host of treasures. May all three rest in peace.

Episode 9: The Nature of Pilgrimage: Inner and Outer Landscapes - with Regina Roman

Show Notes

Regina Roman has been leading pilgrimages and designing travel/study programs since she was 18. She is a spiritual director at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, author of published articles on pilgrimage and spirituality, and is an icon writer. She also studies with various shamans and native American medicine women on the ancient healing traditions. Her gift is in creating the space and the study program for a meaningful experience within the journey. Her wish for us is to sense the experience, feel the wonder and awe, and ponder upon all the threads that bind us through time, place and people. (from the Sapira website – see below)

Update: In our discussion of the Aramaic meaning of Sapira, I should have said if you pray in secret "your being will blossom and flourish" (Matthew 6:6). As always, comments and questions are welcomed - click on title above. - Ron Barnett

 Regina Discusses

 - What makes something contemplative?
- Socrates on truth as a wandering that is divine
- Two aspects of the contemplative stance: receiving, expression
- What is pilgrimage? Why go one one? What makes one meaningful?
- Two elements: outer desire to see or experience something; inner wish for transformation
- The story of Gary’s experience of silence, stillness, and absence of boundaries
- Importance of preparation and clarity of purpose
- Holy curiosity and inquiry – the mind and heart as sources
- An Executive Coach encounters the King’s inner chamber at the Pyramids
- Sapira – Journey with a Purpose pilgrimages to Egypt
- The Aramaic Sapira means first glimmer of light/continued illumination
- Amanda Gorman Presidential inaugural poet “There is always light….if only we’re brave enough to be it”
- Group silence on pilgrimages – "What tugs at your heart?"
- Religious affiliations of Sapira pilgrims
- Pilgrimage - any journey with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply
- Stories of intimacy: Regina’s birth and the nuns, Ron and the psychiatrist
- The I Ching: “there are forces in the world bringing people together who need to be together”
- Grace and gratitude
- Sting and relief; Kabir – “the breath inside the breath”

References Mentioned

Sapira - Journey with Purpose website
The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, Phil Cousineau
Matsuo Basho, Japanese poet
The I Ching or Book of Changes  
Kabir Das, mystical poet

Episode 8: Abundant Living Here-Now with Joan Tollifson

Show Notes - to leave comments/questions click on title above.

Joan Tollifson writes and talks about being awake to the aliveness and inconceivability of Here-Now—being just this moment, exactly as it is. Rather than relying on outside authorities, traditional ideas, acquired knowledge or beliefs, this is about direct, immediate seeing and being. Joan has spent time with many teachers, exploring Buddhism, Advaita and radical nonduality, but she does not identify with or represent any particular tradition. She is the author of Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life (1996), Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of What Is (2003), Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality (2010), Nothing to Grasp(2012), and Death: The End of Self-Improvement (2019). (Adapted from Joan’s website.)

Joan Discusses
-  When is it contemplative
-  Is there spirituality and does it develop
- The pathless path leading to the gateless gate
-  Maps and conceptual constructions – help, hinderance or both 
-  Religious doctrine, dogma and beliefs vs. teachings
-  How science and religion approach beliefs and direct experience
-  The value of not knowing and groundlessness
-  Suffering vs. pain and stories and identification with thinking as sources of suffering
-  There’s no there there: self as fiction arising from thoughts and the paradox
-  Here-Now defined and impermanence and presence as aspects
-  Thinking as “mental chewing gum”
-  "Dissolution" of my inner/outer boundary
-  Freedom – what’s thought and thinking got to do with it
-  What’s problematic – having thoughts or believing in them
-  Non-Duality, unicity, making something an other (dualism)
-  Taoism, Yin/Yang and being at peace with everything - more paradox
-  Aging: natural loss and more wisdom, love, joy, peace, and beauty found in simple being

Episode 7: Retreat Practice at 8,000 Feet with Pat Johnson

Show Notes - to leave comments/questions click on title above. 

In 1982 Pat Johnson and family moved to the Lama Foundation in New Mexico and there two months later she met Fr. Thomas Keating. She served as the Lama liaison for two 16-day centering prayer (CP) retreats that he led at Lama in 1983 and again in 1984. These were the first intensive contemplative practice retreats using CP in the Christian tradition and inspired by Zen shessins he'd experienced.

In 1984 she served an experimental 9-week retreat Fr. Keating led at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, CO where he was a monk. This began the Snowmass CP retreats at the monastery. From 1984 until 2018, Pat served and oversaw these retreats. She has also served as a Board member of Contemplative Outreach Ltd. and was its overall interim administrator for several years. 

Retreat Center, St. Benedict's Monastery, Snowmass CO
Pat Discussed

Contemplation as stillness – “the still point”

Impetus for starting retreats – Lama Foundation history

Two principles: need determines function, we are not separate

Importance of deep listening 

First 10 years at St. Benedict’s Snowmass – the “earthy” years, farmhouse living

Construction of a modern center with hermitages 

Ongoing monthly 10-day silent intensive retreats (with and without teaching)

Role of silence on retreat

Minimizing ideation and conceptual activity on retreat, e.g. reading books, the story of Bob

Value of doing nothing - “amazing magic happens”

Developing intimacy with others and lifetime bonds

Who was Thomas Keating? Pat’s personal testimony

Generosity, vulnerability, self-protection, and The Good

Message for difficult times “we are not separate”

Hermitage, Meditation/Prayer Hall, Mt. Sopris, Snowmass CO

References Mentioned

 Contemplative Outreach of Colorado

 Open Mind, Open Heart, Thomas Keating, the practice of centering prayer

Contemplative Outreach Ltd.

St. Benedict’s Monastery Retreat House  

     Photo Slideshow

Lama Foundation

Pilgrims and Pilgrimages

"Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim” - John Wayne

Maybe its COVID but I’ve been thinking a lot about traveling, and about pilgrimages in particular. 

When I think of pilgrims I think of Plymouth Rock and Thanksgiving. When I think of pilgrimages I think of people who travel to religious sites such as Mecca, Jerusalem, Iona in Scotland or Shikoku in Japan. 

However, isn’t a human life itself also a pilgrimage of sorts? There’s a beginning and an end with passages throughout. There’s repeated transitions from what is known to what is unknown, a classic attribute of a pilgrimage. Consider for example going from high school to college, getting married, having children or retirement. More broadly, there is the lifelong discovery of values, meanings and purposes often revising and transforming themselves over time.

And what about viewing pilgrimages as metaphors, as Phil Cousineau describes in The Art of Pilgrimage? Viewed thus, a pilgrimage with the proper attitude and intention is any journey that has a purpose of "finding something that matters deeply". It could be traveling to a family homestead where one grew up, a visit to a special place in nature, or going to a museum to experience special artifacts that "matter deeply". 

A couple of years ago I attended the 90th birthday party for an aunt in another state where I had grown up - Kentucky. At some point it became clear to me that I wanted to visit a psychiatrist I’d seen in Kentucky almost 50 years previously when I was in college. He was not only a psychiatrist but also had a strong spiritual influence on me, introducing me to meditation and supporting me spiritually in many ways. He was now long retired and living alone on a small farm about an hour’s drive from where my aunt lived. I had not seen him in many years and he was now near 90 himself. 

John Parks, M.D.

Even with GPS it was a challenge to locate the farm and eventually I had to stop and ask for directions. We spent the afternoon sitting on his porch, drinking tea and taking-in the Eastern Kentucky foot hills in the distance. We talked about all matter of topics psychological, philosophical, and spiritual. As hunger stirred we picked fresh lettuce from his garden and made a salad. 

Beads given at meditation initiation 1970

John had been a robust athlete in college, ran track and had lived a healthy lifestyle; but it was clear that aging had taken its measure. In retrospect, I realized that in my traveling to see him I had paid my respects to him, honored him, and expressed my gratitude for all that he had done for me when I was a young man. I never saw or spoke to him again. A few months later he died.

The All Things Contemplative podcast will feature an episode on pilgrimage with Regina Goetz Roman in the early New Year - stay tuned.

Episode 6: Zen - The Religion of No-Religion with David Parks

Show Notes - to leave comments/questions click on title above. 

David Parks is the Director of Bluegrass Zen, one location of the Pacific Zen Institute in Waco, KY with groups in both Lexington and Berea, KY. He was a minister for many years in the United Church of Christ before devoting himself full time to teaching Zen. David has a deep trust in life’s generosity and views koans as vehicles for transformation, capable of opening the heart to the intimate experience of life lived freely and fully. David has a special interest in the parables, sayings, and doings of Jesus as Christian koans. 

David Discusses: his understanding of “contemplative” drawing on Thomas Merton’s epiphany at 4th and Walnut in Louisville KY, the Buddha and Jesus’s view of the oneness of existence, the Zen practices of meditation and koans, the importance of non-grasping for opening the Heart to the vastness of life, the difference between spirituality and morality, the relevance of Zen for healing a divided world, the Gospel of Thomas, Christian based koans, and the nature of beliefs. 

References From the Show

Bluegrass Zen

Jesus Points to the Moon Blog 

Pacific Zen Institute

Thomas Merton’s Epiphany at 4th & Walnut 

The Gospel of Thomas

Meditations on the Tarot

Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginners Mind) 

Centering Prayer

Frederic Spiegelberg, The Religion of No-Religion  

"It" Runs in the Family

This morning I had a delightful time interviewing David Parks, a Zen teacher. David and I both grew up in Kentucky where he has returned to live on a small farm after spending many years in California. His father, John Parks a psychiatrist and now deceased introduced me as a college student to meditation 50 years ago. 

While I knew of David as his son we never really had a chance to connect meaningfully until recently as we prepared to record an episode of All Things Contemplative. He spoke of growing up seeing his parents meditating on a regular basis and he would flip through books laying around the house by Akhilananda, their meditation teacher, Manley Palmer Hall and others. I said likewise with the books my mother left discreetly around by Gurdjeiff, Ouspensky and Yogananda hoping I’d show interest in them. It was she who introduced me to David’s father. 

This is all to say that it is as if I was only aware of threads and in a flash the whole cloth, invisibly woven together appeared as some type of interconnecting "it", sensed though incapable of precise definition. The episode with David will air in about two weeks.