Interview with Joseph Neumayer
- As the 60's and 70's progressed, many things became a question, and many alternative approaches to spirituality became more worldly and widely known-adopted and experimented with here in the United States. I found myself gravitating towards the authenticity of those practices, and the clear sense that they didn't try to sell anything. They didn't seem like used car salesmen-trying to get you to sign the bottom line. I was always had a sense with the Catholic Church, that either you sign on-in fact it was very clear-you either sign on for the program or you're cut outside the flock.
- Someone once said that; "The difference between spirituality and religion is-Religion is for those people who are afraid of going to hell, and Spirituality is for those people who have already been there."
- Happiness is Existence finding Itself.
- Anyone who has known me over the years will often time hear me talk about epiphany's, awakenings of things, significant insights. These recent experiences were moments of energy flowing in my body, and literally my consciousness changing, to the point where I was starting to space out. And I don't mean the common experience of being drunk or stoned-"spacing out.” I mean an energetic experience where I knew my consciousness was changing.
- Formal religions (especially Christian) seem to have this coercive aspect-join or die, follow and be saved, or burn in hell forever-whereas to Existence with the big E, looking for Itself-for those moments of joy, when unconditional love is-how could it not love Itself or force Itself to do something!? That again, to me is validation (in a scientific sense).
- I've always found it interesting that "religion" is generally referred to as a "practice" and "spirituality" as a "path.”
- "Absolute good and absolute evil absolutely exist in absolute Existence”, was a phrase from the end of a movie called the "Black Rose.” F. Murray Abraham's character is burning piles of books that supposedly reveal the "secret,” the essence of the whole conflict of the story. Christian Slater, playing a young priest asks him. "Why are you doing this?" The response; "If there was no Devil there would be no need for a God." My hearing of that was-"We would have nothing to sell to protect you from burning in hell forever."
How is it we instinctively know, can readily experience the distinction between oneness and twoness-threeness, fourness? How far is oneness from wholeness? What piece has to be removed to cause a separation-and where do you put that piece when you take it away? What letter of the alphabet is not valuable? What musical note spare? Which is more useful-one or zero? The most perplexing word and concept imaginable is present in the word "and." So, what does one then make of that other word, "or?”
Choice, choosing, separate, together, both and, either or. If the paradox don't get you the conundrum will. Yes? No? Who's terrible experience of being here is this anyway? If my God is true how can yours be also? If God is within, what can be without? John Lennon said-IMAGINE.
The "principle" of oneness seems clear enough-easy to get one's arms around. It has a graceful fuzziness about it. It's the "application" of oneness that is confounding. Separation is the command of ego-the dogma and canon of power, politics.
If my God is true how can yours be also? There's that paradox thing again. I want to live-you want to die.
Suppose separation begets reparation-leaving, returning home? Death-birth. Sin-salvation. Destruction-resurrection. I climbed a mountain and then I turned around.
And went where? Went home? Not for the faint hearted is it? How happy are we when we come home? How relieved? How agreeable? And when we go out again? Excited or apprehensive? Both? There's that "and" again.
Consider this. Is it fraud?
"Perfection is a limitation. Do not desire to be perfect or you shall desire infinite limitation. Perfection is finite. It is a stopping point, a final destination. GOD I AM is eternal change and transition. It is not perfection. IT IS." -- St. Germaine through Azena.
And this. Is it true?
"What, you ask, was the beginning of it all? Some people like to use the word meaning, that's OK too. What, you ask, was the beginning of it all? And it is this? Existence that multiplied Itself for the sheer delight of being and pictured into numberless trillions of forms. So that it might find Itself Innumerably." -- Sri Aurobindo, The Colour of Fractals.
Fraud and truth, trite and true. How far apart are they? If yesterday is history, and tomorrow is a mystery-today is a gift. That's why it's called, "the present."
Happiness is Existence finding Itself. Oneness is independent of agreement.
IMAGINE. Be still and know that I AM. IMAGINE that?
Ann: So the first question is in what spiritual tradition were you raised?
Joseph: Essentially or predominantly Roman Catholic. Until 5, 6, or 7, I was Lutheran, and then I converted to Catholicism.
Ann: Now what was the reason a child, that early, would convert to Catholicism?
Joseph: Well, when I was five-this was in 1953-we moved from the original home, an apartment in Astoria, to Woodside, Queens. My parents also bought the loft building next door-that became my father's Cabinetmaking shop. Down the end of the block, and across the street, was a Roman Catholic School and Church, which ultimately I wound up attending. I don't know for exactly how many years my brother and I were-as I like to say-the two token Lutherans. When we first moved into the neighborhood we were attending the Lutheran Church that was about a twenty minute walk away. Apparently, it was uncommon in those days, or somewhat uncommon in those days, for an all-Catholic school to accept or to have children attending who were not Catholic. I seem to remember that when first Communion occurred for my age group, I forget what time frame that would have been-maybe 12-all of our classmates were receiving first Communion and my brother and I were used as ushers or whatever because we hadn't, as yet, converted. In fact, I clearly remember during one of the practices for First Communion they sat me in the chair on the alter because they didn't know what to do with me. They stuck me in the chair where the Bishop would sit. Oops-I guess that was Confirmation?
Ann: Yes, that would be Confirmation.
Joseph: They would have the kids come up and practice being confirmed, "OK first you kneel and then do this-and they wound up sitting me in the Bishop's chair!"
Ann: That's good programming for a little boy.
Joseph: Exactly! Yes-especially for a German. Let's make him Bishop! So to answer your question, I'm not clear at what age, I was still Lutheran and had not converted to Catholicism. Except for those mixed early memories, I always think of my predominant formal religious training-"indoctrination" is the exact word I would use-as Roman Catholic.
Ann: And how long did you stay with that tradition, or do you still consider yourself a Catholic?
Joseph: I consider myself completely non-denominational, and my best remembrance is that I stopped being a formal practicing Catholic sometime in my mid-to late 20's.
Ann: What happened there, that you decided to shift?
Joseph: Well, actually the shift-drift, started much earlier than that. I do know why I got hooked on Catholicism.
Joseph: The Theater.
Ann: The drama, and the theater.
Joseph: That's interesting. I never use the word "drama.” I always use the term "theater." Early on there was something that always didn't sit quite right. It always felt like I was seeing the guy behind the curtain-like in the "Wizard of Oz.” It had to do with-and this was actually very early on-when they spoke about "The Age of Reason and Original Sin." Time wise, this is a little vague because I don't remember if my brother and I were exempt from religion (Catechism) classes or we sat in them, but did not have to participate, because again-they didn't know what to do with us. When they spoke of reaching "The Age of Reason"-this is my best memory of it & the term, you were sort of innocent up to a point, around the age of seven-and then you were liable. I never quite understood that aspect of it. There was just something that felt manipulative about it. Something inside of me that said "That's some type of formulated, contrived thing." Being a kid you feel the truth "in" things more than you hear the truth "of" things. Not that somebody tried to explain it-because they don't explain it to you at that age-they just say this is the way it is. Or they'll wind up giving you some pabulum type answer that is very, very complicated and you can tell-feel- that they are bullshitting you. They were feeding you something-the way you hear some politicians answer a question-except when you really listen, they're not answering the question. It had that smell about it. And that didn't sit quite right. Especially as a young kid-being like a cat, you go "Ahh, I'm not sure here,” and for a number of reasons, you flow along with it. I knew I was attracted by the theater of it and at that point in time, the parish's old wooden steepled church, which was around from early 1900, was still being used. They had yet to build the new one, down at the end of the block. It had the smell and feel of "antiquity" about it-and sweltering heat during the summer. It had an entire "atmosphere" and persona of durability about it.
Ann: You got hooked.
Joseph: Yes, as a matter of fact.
Ann: You have no sense as a child what's going on.
Joseph: No, and I wound up singing in the choir! I clearly remember the whole outfit with the bow and everything-being up in the old wooden relatively small choir loft, singing for midnight mass one Christmas Eve. I'm vague as to whose country I had a passport from at that point in time, whether it was Lutheran or Catholic.
Ann: Did you actually lose faith with the tradition? What happened? What was the transition?
Joseph: The "Transition.” As the 60's and 70's progressed, many things became a question, and many alternative approaches to spirituality became more worldly and widely known-adopted and experimented with here in the United States. I found myself gravitating towards the authenticity of those practices, and the clear sense that they didn't try to sell anything. They didn't seem like used car salesmen-trying to get you to sign the bottom line. I was always had a sense with the Catholic Church, that either you sign on-in fact it was very clear-you either sign on for the program or you're cut outside the flock. (In hind sight, I realize you then serve an equally important function as a bonafide target for salvation work. You can't raise money, or enlist a Crusade without a "Cause.”) At that point in time, in the late 50's and early 60's the Church was very dogmatic-you were either in the fold or you were worse than an immigrant-you were an illegal alien. It had that sense about it. It was kind of astounding, given my gut reactions, to have been introduced into that environment and then to somehow have snuck in.
My father was not practicing any formal religion, even through the Lutheran period. My mother was always down on her knees-emotionally. Her involvement-my sense of it-was her down on her knees trying to be saved. It was getting out into the world in the Navy ('67-71) that broadened, deepened and developed my relationship with Spirit. Very extended exposure to the 1964-65 World's Fair also deeply, deeply set the foundation as well.
My words are going to be very specific. I need to mention, as I say to people sometimes-there's a reason why religion and spirituality are two different words, because they're not-in my experience-the same thing. One is a formalized practice, the other-just is. I recently heard the quote; "God does not need a tax base to teach." There is this sense of "RELIGION.” I've come to accept that most formalized religions are both good and bad. Obviously I've only experienced, or have had formal contact with two religions-both Christian- so it's not fair to whitewash all religions. From a distance there seems to be, with few exceptions, the sense of get on board with us or you're damned in hell or alternately the "infidel.” Someone once said that; "The difference between spirituality and religion is-Religion is for those people who are afraid of going to hell, and Spirituality is for those people who have already been there." I actually take offense when spirituality and religion get thrown together, because to me, they're very distinct kinds of music. I always get the sense that formal religious practice is trying to coop spirituality, and spirituality is loving enough to allow it. Fortunately, in reading of a number of the overviews for the Harmony Project-most interestingly the eastern Orthodox tradition-I have come to have a better understanding of the principles that drive and motivate various religions and now have a much better appreciation and understanding of other formalized practices. It has helped soften my critical view regarding "formalized religions.”
Ann: I often feel if I just go to a church, or a synagogue or a temple, I'm not part of it, I'm separate. I feel it's going to take me a long time to get in with this community, even though people are polite and kind. When I was doing these different descriptions I felt in tune with every one of them. The essence appears to be, the desires and essence are the same and they're just a "formality" as to how you get there. Those formalities from those different systems are very, very different.
Joseph: It certainly is a compliment to the diversity of Existence that so many different compositions, so many musical variations can occur.
Ann: When the cultures were more separate, when we didn't travel, you can see where a community, like Russian Catholics would create something quite different than a group of American Catholics, and yet they're striving for the same thing. Say a small country church in Iowa, in comparison to a city church in Greenwich Village, the desires are the same but "the form" to get there is radically different.
Joseph: In fairness witness to the stark comment that I made earlier-there is a beautiful expression underlying formalized religions, even in the Catholic Church. There are both good parts and good principles. I will certainly acknowledge that some of the disciplines and the practices lay a groundwork that is of value-lay a foundation that can be of value-for one to develop one's own personal relationship and experience. That personal relationship and experience, in my opinion, far exceeds what any formal religious practices can generate, and in fact, is-the open secret.
Ann: What does that mean the "open secret?”
Joseph: It is a phrase I came across recently that really solidified the spiritual relationship for me. The resolution started with a totally surprising and unexpected quote showing up at the end of a program called "The Color of Infinity-Fractals".” It was on PBS a number of years ago and appears as the last thing on screen-AFTER all the credits. It is the very last thing-just before the fade to black. The program was done many years after Fractals, which are geometric constructs, were getting so much attention. In lay terms-the best I understand it-the tinniest of things are revealed in the biggest of things. The more you keep going down in fractal geometry- what keeps getting revealed are more and more variations of the same thing. At the very end of the film was this quote, "What you ask was the beginning of it all, and it is this. Existence that multiplied Itself for the sheer delight of being and pictured in countless trillions of forms-so that it might find Itself innumerably." It's attributed to Sri Aurobindo. That led to my having an epiphany, five years ago, and coming to this realization. "Happiness is Existence finding Itself." (©jwn) That is how I would describe the "open secret" that is available in one's personal relationship with one self. From a scientific standpoint, if you argue the premise or the logic of what Sri Aurobindo suggests, the only place you can lead yourself back to is yourself. If you take his formula, his wish or his observation, as a religious or a mathematical construct, it all leads back to itself. That being the premise or approach, then Happiness is when It says "Oh, there I AM!" What a joy! If you add the aspect of the vulnerability of human existence and accept the ultimate fragility of human existence, personally there is an immense awakening. It's like understanding the formulas or the game at play and knowing that you are the source of it. You are an aspect, a human aspect of Existence, picturing Itself, and then finding Itself, and it is just the biggest giggle! Add all the wonderful, astounding, amazing perspectives and examples that cannot be denied-Jesus Christ being one of the greatest examples-and the personal, physical dying part is fine. At this point and time, at the age of 54 years old, there is this sense of "Ah ha!" and release. With that "Ah ha!" the intensity, the vulnerability, the cycle, the living and the dying nature of human existence, of physical existence, gains a perspective in the mirror.
Ann: So who have been your spiritual heroes? Who are the people who have been your teachers that have most opened you to?
Joseph: Early on-and this built much of my foundation-over in that corner stands, Martin Luther. Not because I had any affinity towards Lutherans, frankly we were not a terribly religious household as I recall. Just a working stock master craftsman, from Germany. Though there was a certain level of practice there.
In high school, we were assigned a book titled; "Here I Stand" by Roland H. Bainton. It's about Martin Luther. It was assigned either in the English class or perhaps even in the Religion class, at the Catholic High School I wound up
attending (Msgr McClancy Memorial H.S., Jackson Hts., Queens, NY). Part of the impact was his willingness-and I remember the particular phrase which is also the title of the book-when he was confronted and had to go stand in front of the Pope, or whatever the council that was charging him and demanding he recant and he said "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” That force of conviction in the face of the whole power structure and at that point, the "cut your hands and your head and your arms off" power structure-really struck me, and because it is a very small book. In the other corner is Sir Thomas Moore, and that comes from the very wonderful film, "A Man for All Seasons,” based on Robert Bolt's play. That was in the early 60's as I recall. He again, was a gentleman of learning, intelligence and character, and much humor, who stood up to the King of England-and died for it, was executed for it. The actor, Paul Scoffield, who played the lead, gave such a wonderful, elegant, unpompous, keen witted presentation of Sir Thomas Moore. Plus, at the very end when he is ready to be beheaded, and the priest turns to bless him and says something like "May God save your soul,” he responds, "God would not turn away someone who is so eager to go to him.” Even at that moment after he's been in prison for 2 years, has physically wasted away, his wife is angry as hell at him and has shouted; "Why don't you just give in like everybody else has? Sign the pledge!” he is true to himself. Then they show the ax held high and they chop his head off. So he's in the other corner.
Ann: What is it in our being, our personalities that leads us to such a choice?
Joseph: Go re-read Sir Aurobindo's words. Although it might not seem spiritual, another foundational element of my personality and being in the world is Leonardo Da Vinci-his breadth of inquiry & skill of expression, the quality of work, the soaring heights of imagination and-the things he then created in a very practical way. These were not flights of fancy, these things actually flew, as well as, his working at a level of art where he created the Mona Lisa and Lady with an Ermine. All of that, in light of pompousness from a formal practice, that essentially says "Join or Die,” or worse, "Your soul will burn in hell for all eternity?” Frankly, any formalized practice or politics of power can't hold a candle against these three gentlemen, and in fact, didn't for two of them. So I could not deny what I clearly perceived-then we throw in that fractal thing-where else can you go?
Ann: Can you cite any profound spiritual experiences that you had that are associated with either birth, or sickness or death, some sort of struggle where you felt spirit assisted or directed?
Joseph: Two things come to mind. One-I've always felt this as some very, very special moment because I see myself while out of my body. It was in the basement of the house in Queens when we were getting ready to move in. It was the last "walk through" or whatever, and my parents were getting ready to "Close." It was an old house that had been around when the area was farm country. The foundation of the house was boulders set into mortar, the two vertical posts in the basement-that held up the main beam running the length of the basement-were actually bare tree trunks. They were about 8 or 10 inches in diameter, and had a slight curve to them. The builders didn't cover them up, they were just there-bark and all. I clearly remember, I can see myself playing in this pile of cool, fine powder dust and the light of the basement window behind me. I'm outside of myself, looking a little left at myself doing that, and I can still feel the coolness of the pile of dust and the way it smelled. It was a middle gray color. I always have known that as some moment of beginning. For some reason, and I've looked around for quite a long time for any remembrance of my existence prior to that, I have no memories of my childhood prior to that whatsoever. That has always astounded me. I've wondered whether there was some sort of blockage or traumatic thing that happened and therefore, I've blocked out everything before that scene. Maybe there's the obvious metaphor of "Dust to Dust.” That moment has always felt like the beginning of me.
Ann: And what age was that?
Joseph: Five. I was five. And other spiritual experiences-what most people might commonly think of in terms of being saved, or lightning bolts saying do this or do that? I can't say I've had any of those. What has happened in the last four or five months, ever since, beginning work with Reverend Emerson and going through the re-birthing process is, I have had significant moments that can't even be described as "epiphany."
Anyone who has known me over the years will often time hear me talk about epiphany's, awakenings of things, significant insights. These recent experiences were moments of energy flowing in my body, and literally my consciousness changing, to the point where I was starting to space out. And I don't mean the common experience of being drunk or stoned-"spacing out.” I mean an energetic experience where I knew my consciousness was changing. Also, in that process and time period, I started reading a book by Tony Parsons called "As It Is.” It literally spun my head around, and the best way to describe it is, imagine looking at a mirror when you're looking in a mirror, looking in a mirror. (Hello, Mr. Escher.) That's the best description of it.
What I can tell you is that all this other work, the formal religion experiences, the new age, and the meditation work - all of those experiences and practices and other "mind altering" experiences laid a foundation and comfortability so that in going to this new territory I had enough experience to feel safe and to be strange in the new land-to know that it was the right place to be, to encourage it and nurture it. And it still has involved small, gentle, "easy-does-it-here-fellow" steps.
Ann: Are you having experiences in your life that have taken you to the edge of despair?
Joseph: Yes-one. Despair, deep despair, is not something that I knew to this level before this one experience and I need to give some context. I grew up in a very small family. German immigrant Father, and American born mother, who actually had to learn English before she could go to school because she only knew how to speak German.
The immediate family consisted of only six adults and two children. My parents were the only couple that had kids. The two aunts and uncles, also German immigrants, neither of them had children. There was one female cousin who was about 10 or 12 years older, and her mother. They lived on the upper East Side. The last seven or eight to ten years of my mother's life, she was an alcoholic. We went through a lot of traumatic situations with that. It was not a very communicative family for a whole bunch of reasons. I know difficulty, I know struggle, I know loss when handling it. I know when things hurt, and I'm incredibly sensitive. I don't know despair very well. I do know disappointment and shame. Actually, this despair episode was in the mid 70's, when I got out of the service.
I was in the Navy, '67 through '71. I did not drink before I went into the service and never smoked pot, until after I came out of the service. I did not smoke cigarettes. That was pretty amazing given what was going on in those times. In fact, I was in the service a year and a half before I started to drink. Subsequently, I think it was the late 70's, early 80's when cocaine came through. For about two and half years I did cocaine, and looking back on it, I should have died because of the volume that I did at times, especially once. That led to the experience of despair. One time, in a 24-48 hour period, I did 4 grams of coke, and clearly remember coming down on a Tuesday morning - or the Sunday morning, or - No! - the Monday morning coming down from that "high,” and then I knew emotionally and physically, what total despair felt like. I knew that I was so close to it, that this is where people commit suicide. I don't recommend that (coke or any other drug) to anyone as the way to know, understand or experience that emotion. I'm very thankful that it was only one experience. I'm thankful that I survived the experience physically, that I didn't overdose - and I clearly know what despair is. Rebounding from very, very high to bottomless loss. So, I'm thankful to know what that real edge is, because most of this other stuff people "whine" about doesn't really compare.
Ann: So it had nothing to do with spiritual practice that brought you out of this? You just naturally wanted to live?
Joseph: There were two subsequent experiences, I did some coke. During one, I sat in my living room, and said to myself-"If you keep doing this you're going to kill yourself." And one night, out at a club, I did too much, and had to go outside and get some air because I started to get woozy, and almost threw up. At that point in time everybody was getting a better understanding of this stuff, and the fact that - YES, you can push it too far. So I just literally stopped. Those three experiences. I said; "I got to stop this, because I'm going to kill myself.” (And it would have been my own fault.)
Ann: I noticed that you came to one of my meditations, and you appeared to have a great knowledge of it. When did you start to meditate or have any kind of religious practices? Were you doing that while you were a cocaine user?
Joseph: I don't consider meditation a religious practice. It's a spiritual practice. Religion is that formalized stuff where you follow, you buy the manuals, and you follow the formal rituals. Spirituality is much more free-form although it may have some structures to it. In the mid to late 70's, as the 2 1/2 year cocaine period was winding down, I started getting involved, for lack of a better term in "New Age" practices. Look-when you do drugs, drink, excessive sex or "whatever"-and there are plenty of "whatevers" that they don't arrest you for-you want to go somewhere, some where better, higher-AND you want to stay there. The problem with "substitutes,” however, is you can never get enough of them AND you always have to come back to some point in the time line you departed. (unless you OD or checkout).
A creative formulization, approach called "DMA" emerged. This was after EST had past through, and gotten massive attention and created quite an uproar. DMA was a secondary alternative, more approachable perspective. That lead to a weekly meditation group I was part of for three or four years.
Two years ago, I finally read a book that had been on my shelf for about 10 years, called The Autobiography of a Yogi, which is the story of Paramhansa Yogananda. He was the founder of the practice of Kriya Yoga. His main time period was the 1920's through 1940's. I was powerfully affected by it. I started going back to meditative practices but didn't find it terribly satisfying or rewarding. It didn't seem like a fit. Although I had it expected it to at that time because of my strong, deep response. Subsequently the Tony Parsons book appeared and I realized that it's the "last book." For someone like myself, who has primarily been self-taught-an autodidact- this is quite a realization. There really are no formal practices right now, other than the present moment and appreciation, fully experiencing the vulnerability of human existence.
Ann: And now, that phrase "the present moment,” or "be here now,” or "be awake.” Can you say anything about that because I think if someone has not had that experience, it just sounds unreal or unattainable. What would you say to somebody who was questioning about the present one?
Joseph: The best I could do is speak around it, because I'm speaking about something personally experiential. Each person's is unique. Here are some perspectives that might be useful.
First, I'd go back to Sri Aurobindo's sharing-Existence, finding Itself-is an individual experience. So mine is not yours, yours is not mine, because, in fact, they're all supposed to be, or they-by their very nature-are individualistic. Yours isn't supposed to fit mine; mine isn't supposed to fit yours. It may have some similarities. (Kind of shoots the shit out of "If you follow this you're OK and will be saved" as well as "I'll kill you-and have the right to-because you don't follow the same practice I do"-doesn't it?)
Second, it's a difference of degree. If you're 15 years old or 17 years old your experience of life is not the same if you're 35. If you're 55 years old, you're not having the same experience that someone 17 is having, even though you're all existing in Life. Now that I am 54 and can look back on being 17, there's stuff I'm aware of and say "Yeah, I couldn't possibly have known that!" That doesn't mean it was good, bad or otherwise. That's the conundrum of how it is something can be both different and part of the same thing.
Lastly-and this was very interesting from the Tony Parson's book-there is this drive in us that seems to always have/want that "moment of Awakening.” It's towards that great moment of joy when you get the surprise-It's your birthday party. Surprise!!-or you have a great orgasm or you're deeply in love with somebody and that just preoccupies you, or a relief in confession (telling, admitting the truth) or receiving Holy Communion (accepting unconditional love) or any of those high moments of fulfillment or completion, satisfaction, happiness to which we are all drawn. If you go by the premise that "Happiness is Existence finding Itself" (© jwn) then part of that release comes from being lost. It seems to be part of the cosmic giggle. Tony Parsons speaks to this. When we get those spiritual highs, we want to stay there, just like when you get a shot from drugs, or when you get a shot from alcohol, or that moment of orgasm. It's s-o-o good, that in many ways you don't want to leave it, except that the leaving of it is what allows it to come back in again. The time line continuum moves on. There is the anticipation of going back to that charming restaurant, for example. There are other examples of it in the way time goes on, the sun goes down, the sun comes up. We have winter and we have Spring. On a watch the seconds tick away. So we've seen-are presented constantly with-clear and profound examples of comings and goings. In the "Ah Ha!" moment, as Tony Parsons says, you actually flip out of it, so that-you can come back into it.
(Does any of this mildly sound like sex-the act of insertion and removal?) If you just take that little formula, or that mathematical construct and start walking around your day to day existence, looking for examples of it, it seems obvious to me, that you'll go "Whoa!!" I think that's what mathematicians and scientists call validating a proof. Using examples to see if something is actual.
Those are just three different aspects of what the experience is like without you being able to experience it so you can have some sense of "How do I get there?" If you add birth and dying-the now I'm here, now I'm not-you go "Oh, boy those are pretty extreme and intense examples of it."
That's why, for myself in the last couple of weeks, all of this struggle of finances and all this other stuff is very much part of this real physical existence. Part of the game if you wish. Yes, it sucks and it hurts. The authenticity and profoundness of it is clearer, and therefore, the emotional edge has been taken off it. People ask me, "How are you handling this?!"
The emotional edge has also been taken off dying. There never really was for me a terribly emotional sense around dying. That isn't to say I haven't had moments where I'm fearful where physically, this is going on in my body, or that is going on in my body, or as I mentioned with the drugs, that dying couldn't occur, and that I wouldn't like it. But, from a more profound sense, it's clearly, "Oh, Ok, that's fine, that's cool.” It's just part of the way I set it up." I've made choices about "how" I want to die and may or may not fight like hell when the moment arrives. It will be a hell of a moment-we'll see.
Ann: Do you have any spiritual practices that really help you on your path? What do you specifically do to keep in tune with your higher-self?
Joseph: Practices don't seem to stick. They seem to evolve. Paying attention seems the best. I mean "really" paying attention. I think Yogi (Berra) said: "You learn so much just from watching."
Ann: Make note here that your business alone, being a photojournalist, is a spiritual practice because it is about being in this moment and really seeing, and then, as you once said to me about even being surprised at what you had seen. Once the picture is developed, sometime there's something that's even bigger than what you remember.
Joseph: A very good point. Henri Cartier Bressón, in particular comes to mind. His work is very well known, as well as André Kértész. I'm personally very affected by their work.
Ann: These are photographers?
Joseph: These are both photographers. Henri Cartier Bressón is best known for "the decisive moment,” as he coined the phrase. I realized, having had some of those experiences. Yes, I'm clearly there-I knew I was there. I took the picture, except the pictures have so much more in them than I remember, and I may not even remember actually pressing the shutter release at that instant! So I see it, the image-"the decisive moment"-for the first time, even though I had been there. And that was always a telling clue about something but I couldn't quite nail it. One of the aspects which Tony Parsons mentions in this book, is as Presence, not personality, noticing who's watching, what's going on. As I've opened up to that-because it was/is scary-I said "Yes.” I suddenly realized that's what goes on when I create those pictures. Consciously or unconsciously, only Henri Cartier Bressón knows if that's the same thing for him or whether that would be his language to describe it. I would not be surprised if that's what was operating in the moment when he took his pictures s-o-o many pictures. "Moments of Recognition" (©jwn) is my personal phrase for it. It's not your personality, it's you as Existence.
It's you as Presence watching, choosing, acting, being. That's why the pictures (Bressón & Kértész's) are so illuminating, because otherwise, why isn't everyone else doing it, seeing it?
So there's even an example there, "Ah-here's the higher awareness.” It's almost like a trail of breadcrumbs. If you poke at it long enough you'll see, "What's going on down there?” Henri Cartier Bressón, has a "particular/peculiar" expression of Existence, offering an example of Existence finding Itself. It's the same when a lot of the other creative stuff goes on, whether its pieces of music or whatever, and it is NOT confined to the arts. (Both And not Either Or) We just happen to be talking about photography. Images ("Created in the image of.”) do have a particular access it seems, because it's a visual medium, and it happens in 125th of a second. (To Ann "You just got it-and that's why you just chuckled?)
Ann: But that could be in all of the arts? It is life but sometimes it's clarified for people who are watching, through art?
Joseph: Right. Absolutely correct! CLARIFIED. There is the significant aspect of this consciousness/awareness being non-coercive, which is interesting because formal religions (especially Christian) seem to have this coercive aspect-join or die, follow and be saved, or burn in hell forever-whereas to Existence with the big E, looking for Itself-for those moments of joy, when unconditional love is-how could it not love Itself or force Itself to do something!? That again, to me is validation (in a scientific sense), "fair witness" proof the truth of this consciousness. It's OK to say no to It. In essence it's OK to say no to yourself. (If that isn't "unconditional love,” I'm not sure what else is.)
Ann: You have to say a little bit more about that.
Joseph: Part of a little poem I wrote about is says; "The Dear-which is an old Scottish term for God-The Dear says YES to everything, so you can say no to anything." (©jwn) Admittedly that's a little hard to put up against all the pain, anguish and destruction we may see or experience physically and emotionally and it does (can) make you really examine the word "unconditional.” What exactly does the qualifier "unconditional" mean in the context of love? -Who is "responsible" for that? Hint: "both and" and "evolution" may give some workable context or grounding. I'm reminded of another illuminated quote: "If the conundrum don't get you-the paradox will." It's at the very end of a movie called "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”
Ann: So it's OK to go either way, at both ends. Sometimes the structures of religion do ask us to tuck in, and sometimes they ask us to expand. Sometimes the structure is excellent, and sometimes it really breaks us.
Joseph: I can't imagine any religion that wants to "keep it,” if that dynamic is really operating in your best interest. Test you-maybe, OK. I remember one therapist saying, "I do my work when people leave. My job is not to get people to stay. My job is to get people to move on.”
Ann: To heal, to expand, or whatever. Religion should do that also.
Joseph: I think the best "intentions" of religions have that available.
Ann: Not move on, out of the religion, but move on in your own individual spiritual path within that structure?
Joseph: No, whatever works for you as an individual. It's not about the middleman. Religion is the middleman. Christ promised "the Kingdom" and we wound up with religion. A recent e-mail mentioned; "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts." If they want to keep you it's because their getting a percentage. If they "need you,” then it's not about you and God, it's about them having "billing." Albert Einstein said, ""Small is the number of them that see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts."
Ann: It's true, and we can all feel that.
Joseph: Where would religions be-and I'm going to focus on the Catholic Religion-Where would the Catholic religion be, if people got it and didn't show up?
Ann: But can you get it on your own? That's an excellent point.
Joseph: That is the point. "Don't seek yourself outside yourself." (Blaise Pascal)
Ann: But you can't have a person just live a life, and just get it.
Joseph: ”Just live a life, and just get it." How sublime!! WHY NOT!? Tell me what is the "other" method?"
Ann: I know that from myself as a young person, I was very dynamic, and very much living in the moment, and life was very exciting, but I made some very tragic mistakes and (had) life learning experiences by not seeing the spiritual aspect of life. I always said that with my first husband. He was very smart, very strong, very male, very successful-worldly, and very sexual. I was only 18 when I fell in love, and he was 22, but I never asked him about spiritual morality. I never asked him about what did he know about God, what did he know about the order of family, and things like that.
Joseph: Obviously-you could not ask, AND "mistakes" are an essential part of learning, this reality, understanding and forgiveness. Here's a clear example of an "either/or consciousness" distinct from a "both/and" approach. Without parsing your language & emotions can you feel, consider the-"I should have's" with the resultant guilt being present and that being distinct from-"I was both such and such and I've discovered, learned, forgave, evolved because of.
Ann: I was taken along by these other very exciting things, and then had three children very quickly and was abandoned. There was nothing rooted about him. He was all the things I said, but there was somehow no depth. That's what I learned later in life about having some sort of religion or spiritual order, or spiritual community that could have been a guideline for me at that time. Although I must say I was totally overtaken by ego, desire, pleasure and delight, but still, I don't have a formal religion. I'm like you; I'm totally non-denominational. I must, do honor that religion and a spiritual path can really be a very exciting definition in your life. That's why I'm doing this web site, because I really want to help people to see that there are 10 thousand paths to God, and I do believe that they all have magnificent possibilities to help people on their journey. Also, if you don't stay very alert you can become crushed and become part of that middle management type thinking, which really stops you from being whole, alive and dynamic. It's such a complex thing.
Joseph: Delightfully so!
Ann: I myself, encourage people to look deeply into whatever spiritual path/s are illuminating. At times maybe just safe. There are times where we need safety. There are times when we need illumination. There are times where we just need the love of the community. Do you have any thoughts about what I'm saying?
Joseph: I agree with you that there are infinite-going back to the Fractals-there are infinite variations of the ways that the musical notes can be put together. When all is said and done, it still is and can only be your music. I've always found it interesting that "religion" is generally referred to as a "practice" and "spirituality" as a "path.” It's like Mac's and PC's (Macintosh and PC computers)-right brain, left brain-whole brain? 8% of the people passionately don't follow the crowd.
Ann: Yes, what else can we say? Is community important to you? We live in communities, we work in communities, but is there a spiritual community, something that is looking beyond just the ego in life, making money, relationships. Is the spiritual community some sort of a resource that will help you get to the focus of what your music is?
Joseph: "Happiness is Existence finding Itself." Why would I not be happy finding myself in a whole bunch of places? I think the question lingering behind that question is, "Can you manage alone? How much do you need community?” - It depends. I think "aloneness" is not for the fainted hearted-or big ego’d. Aren't we always both alone, and with everything at the same time? Part of the miracle of Existence is separating Itself from Itself at the same time that everything is present-all at the same time. Talk about omnipotence and playfulness! Very astounding!! It just keeps producing this incredible giggle. Perhaps this is better or more easily grasped, expressed, perceived by others as "heroic" or "glorious.”
Somebody will probably ask; "Well what about pain, what about suffering, what about all the horrible things?" This came up in a group discussion earlier in the week about "the enemy,” and evil, and corporations and "fighting against"-and I have to share my experience at this moment, probably not a very common assessment-that everything, including all the horrible stuff is all from the same thing, called Existence. Frankly, for me, titles like "God" and even the "Devil" are too simple-let's stay asleep and/or arrogantly awake and stupid. It puts the whole thing outside of ourselves and Existence will "unconditionally" allow Itself to operate/express that way.
Looking at it from a mathematical, logical, equation standpoint-including the equation-it seems to me that it cannot be otherwise. Existence can very specifically take away that personality ego aspect that almost inherently is always in the expression when this particular word is used, and that word is God. Existence is devoid of personality in its core. Personality, the capability of creating personality-as a distinction-is available, because everything is available.
One of the little telling phrases that started my mind sparking in reference to the Devil, evil and so forth that “absolute good and absolute evil absolutely exist in absolute Existence”, was a phrase from the end of a movie called the "Black Rose.” F. Murray Abraham's character is burning piles of books that supposedly reveal the "secret,” the essence of the whole conflict of the story. Christian Slater, playing a young priest asks him. "Why are you doing this?" The response; "If there was no Devil there would be no need for a God." My hearing of that was-"We would have nothing to sell to protect you from burning in hell forever." That little piece of information, that perception gets put over on the scales of assessment of what is formalized religion up to? To my perception it is not the obvious test religion asks of most people.
Ann: So this whole question of good and bad, light and dark, right and wrong, and why do good things happen to bad people, and why do bad things happen to good people. Is this just the life process?
Joseph: It's Existence. It's just Existence creating infinite possibilities so that it may find itself. In fairness, I have not experienced a lot of tragedy in this lifetime-and that is all relative. I'm sure someone reading this is saying "Bullshit! Yeah, right!! He's going to love it when he's lying in the middle of the road and his ribs are crushed cause he's been run over by a trailer truck." No, I won't. Or when my buddy is shot and bleeding on a battlefield, or as a photojournalist I observe other horrible & anguished things happening. They are in fact, both "horrible things,” and expressions of the infinite imagination of Existence.
Ann: Do you feel people could be good if there weren't religions?
Joseph: I think people are good. I hear that question as part of the "selling of religions." It's an insurance question and "we need the billing." You need this in your survival kit if you are going to get through existence, this life, this moment with safety and solace." If I haven't said it already-God does not need a tax base to teach. "Know that you live heaven and earth--are one and the same." (©jwn) - Pay attention, choose accordingly.
Ann: All your training as a young boy, first as a Lutheran and then as a Catholic, and then you're searching through meditation?
Ann: And drugs-OK, but the drugs took you to another place, because that's experimenting with life and death, and extremes. I'm talking about just the path of what was happening to you when you were little. Did being part of a religious system, in a Christian church as a Lutheran, and a Christian Church as a Catholic-that early formation, has that been an assistance for you? Are you glad you did those, or is it just a waste?
Joseph: Reading the dictionary is a good way to understand words. That's really the only response I can give. All those experiences-yes, are good-in reference to my particular human existence. This one peculiar specific human existence. The dictionary is very useful to read to understand the definitions of words so you can communicate.
Ann: Yes, but doesn't a religious community or a religious training somehow teach depth about the word, so you're not just taking a flat word. You can take the word, and read the definition, but can you experience the word in a dictionary within a community? And it doesn't even have to be a religious community. But doesn't that give us a greater depth of understanding because there are people who can say to us what the meaning of that word was for them, what their journey was, how they used that to develop themselves, rather than just a flat definition. I know that these spiritual teachers, and it can be someone who isn't even called a spiritual teacher, it might be someone who can open your mind or opens your heart in a special way. Those kinds of connections are very different than reading a dictionary. Well this word means thus and so…there's no meat to that to me, there's no juice.
Joseph: OK, my experience with dictionaries is different. They're alive. Dictionaries let you see the atoms & molecules moving around that give a word its energy. Steven Wright, the comedian said: "When I was a kid, I thought the dictionary was a poem about everything." Curious isn't then-that words also evolve? What I hear you speaking about is communication. Yes, communication is inevitable.
Ann: Because you are here. Besides being a photojournalist, you really understand how to use words, and I notice that you do a tremendous amount of study on how to use those words, so it's not just the dictionary, but using many forms to go deeper. Using the Thesaurus. You don't use the word flatly, because when I've used the words flatly with you, you say "wrong word,” and that's great for me.
Joseph: Communication is another way of Existence expressing Itself. It can't be anything but delightful, no matter what the context. If you look at that phrase "Happiness is Existence finding Itself,” -Well what happens when you are communicating with someone? Here's a Mark Twain perspective, “the difference between the right word, and the almost right word is the difference between a lightning bug and a lightning bolt."
Ann: So what are human beings in the world for? Do we have any kind of special place or are we just the animals like the birds in the trees? Are we connected to a God yet?
Joseph: What's wrong with the birds in the trees? Only an ego judgment makes them lowly.
Ann: There's nothing wrong with it, but is being human different? Is human existence? Is there something special about that?
Joseph: To make a comment on that would be to suggest that I know enough of all of forms of Existence that my comment would be an expert one. My conscious experience is not sufficient for that. There is something about humans. No-I'll have to say in fairness-all Existence is equal. I think that's all that really can be said. I almost said there is something extraordinary about human existence and frankly, that has to come from ego based on everything else I said, that Existence just IS-in all IT's forms. So how or why would it need anything bigger, smaller, and greater than what IT IS? It's all just variations of Itself including creating an ego so that one can assess what's bigger, greater, smaller and so forth. Some people, in hearing that, their ego of Existence would go "Oh, well, we're better than." In my view "we" are no greater or no lesser than any other expression of Existence, whether it's an atom, an apple or a stone-an atom bomb or Mr. Einstein. How could it, if the beginning of it all was Existence multiplying ITSELF so that IT could find ITSELF innumerably? IT would put things in different forms perhaps, in different degrees of expression, different variations, but how could IT look at something that was ITSELF, and go "You're lesser.” So when people talk about an abiding, abounding, endless, unconditional love-excuse me!-I think that's a pretty good definition of IT! When you start thinking in those terms of everything being the same, whether it's a letter printed on a page, or an atom someplace in the universe, I think you start having a much greater respect for everything. If you allow yourself to go there, you start to feel, what people sometimes describes as "unconditional love." IT just IS. Being responsible for enacting, experiencing "unconditional love" is the challenge.
Ann: Now, the closing question is, what happens to us when we die? What's your belief there?
Joseph: Within some time space continuum, of physical existence, we no longer exist in the normal "form" that we go around in for a period of the time. A cycle has ended. That's all I really need to know. That's just what it is. There is an aspect of me that knows this is a terminal existence in that physical sense. There is also a sense of endlessness. Again, if I'm being consistent with my current experiences there is just a sense of endlessness. Being an expression of Existence, where could I go? Where am I supposed to leave, and where am I supposed to go to-or come back from?
Ann: Is there anything you want to say, in closing about the search to someone who is on this web site, someone definitely looking and questioning. Any closing comment you would like to add?
Joseph: Two quotes. The first is from Shakespeare; "To thine own self be true, and so it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst then, be false to any other.” Most people quote only the short opening words of it, you usually don't hear the full perspective. Enjoy the vulnerability. - Imagine (Thank you, Mr. Lennon)-an infinite Existence desiring to experience being terminal.
The second quote comes from Jerzy Kosinski, a writer. One of his more famous books was made into a movie starring Peter Sellers, titled "Being There.” I was reminded of this awareness about vulnerability the other day. The simplicity & profundity of Peter Seller's stance stuck with me for a long time after I saw the movie. The opening quote on screen says: "Life is the terrible experience of being there.” I'm not so sure about the terrible part, at this point. (Then again I didn't live through Kosinski's perilous youth.) I would say enjoy the vulnerability of human existence. It is both precarious and glorious. - Enjoy the magic and adventure. Don't miss any part of yourself.