A Work of Joy.2 – What is Joy in Work, Where has it Gone? How can We Bring it Back?

What is Joy in Work, Where has it gone, How can We bring it Back?

This is the second in a series of blog posts examining Joy in Work. It is part of an ongoing discussion between Dave Kopacz and Sandy Carter on this topic and will include each of our thoughts individually as well as our dialogue on Joy in Work. This second blog outlines Sandy’s initial thoughts on Joy in Work.

Sandy Carter, Ph.D. works as a physician coach and consultant. Sandy is a professional certified coach, holds a PhD in organizational management with a specialization in leadership, and Masters in Business Administration and Social Work. Her research is in the area of transformational leadership with physicians, and wellness and resiliency.


What is Joy? How is it different from happiness?

Sandy Carter:

Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a combination of emotions and contains elements of contentment, confidence, and hope. Joy has more depth, meaning and purpose than happiness. Being joyful means feeling connected to yourself and/or others in life, nature, and appreciating beauty. It requires an acceptance for how life is (not how you’d like it to be), by living in the present. Joy comes from within! It is a sustainable emotional experience that alters our physiology and biochemistry promoting a sense of wellbeing that promotes resilience and supports immune health. In the Biblical sense, Joy is not an emotion, and it is not linked to environmental conditions, but is an attitude of the heart and spirit. It is where internal peace and contentment reside, in spite of, what’s happening ones’   life.


Happiness is subjective – it can mean different things to different people and is more of a momentary state of being. Happiness is an emotional state of wellbeing defined by positive feelings that can range from contentment to intense Joy!

Savor the Moment

Why is Joy/happiness important?

 Joy and happiness are connected to wellbeing and are valued as essential for individuals to thrive in their work and personal lives.  On March 20, 2013, the first ever International Day of Happiness was celebrated around the world. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution to promote happiness as a universal goal and aspiration for people everywhere. The UN is urging governments to start measuring wellbeing as a guide to creating public policy. This has roots in the field of sustainable development. The UN recognizes by measuring gross domestic product (GPD) we are placing overemphasize on materialism and incomes (that beyond a certain point) does not enhance life satisfaction.

International Happiness Day

Additionally, by enhancing our overall wellbeing we can directly impact the high costs of healthcare and help create healthier work cultures that can improve hospital safety concerns (medical errors and complications). While working in cultures where there is blame/shame people tend to be hyper-vigilant and low trust. This level of stress impacts energy levels, judgment and health. Often leading to lost revenue from absenteeism, turnover, disability, insurance costs, workplace accidents, violence, workers’ compensation, and lawsuits, etc.

The United States is the most overworked developed nation in the world. Working is not necessarily the problem. If you love what you do, are doing it for the right reasons and can rest and restore – work can be a wonderful thing. However, far too many Americans are driven to work more and more (based on scarcity values of feeling like they don’t have enough) which leads to stress and lower quality of life. Leaving many people without time to unwind, take care of themselves or their homes. Vital connections are lost to friends and family. These kinds of circumstances lead to isolation, loneliness, and burnout. When all of this becomes overwhelming and can lead to coping strategies, further stress and deteriorate health.  Stress is the #1 cause of both mental and physical health problems. Many workers today are burned out and pressured causing heightened anxiety, depression and disease.

Overburdened Doctor

Biology of Joy:

People who experience upper reaches of happiness on psychological tests develop about 50% more antibodies than average. It’s also been discovered that mental states such as hopefulness appear to reduce the risk or limit the risk of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc. Joy, happiness, and positive emotions make your immune system function better, help you fight disease, and even live longer.

Herbert Benson has done research on the Relaxation Response. By initiating the Relaxation Response, we can experience a physical state of deep rest that counteracts the harmful effects of the fight-or-flight response. If we can let go of bad stress, our brains can rearrange themselves neurologically so that the two hemispheres communicate better, and problem solving becomes easier.

Relaxation Response

Stress, Eustress & Joy

The problem is we don’t take care of ourselves very well. For example, the United States is the only industrialized nation without a mandatory option for new parents to take parental leave. Furthermore, 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of a workweek and the U.S. does not. A large percentage (85.8% male and 66.5% females) work more than a 40-hour workweek. We also are the only nation in the industrialized world that has no legally mandated annual leave and very short vacation times compared to Europe.

Unmanaged stress can be destructive, and… stress also has a positive benefit. Eustress or good stress provides us with energy and motivates us to produce. When we are utilizing eustress, we find clarity, focus, and creative insight.

Joyful Doctor

Joy at work is essential. It is a vital energy in sustaining high levels of passion, performance, and productivity. Meaningful work is about uncovering and utilizing our true gifts.

In these times of unprecedented change, it is vital that we are connected to a deeper, natural energy source from within.

Stress is an essential response in highly competitive environments – it focuses you, but past a certain point it compromises your performance, efficiency and eventually your health. We are at that point today as physicians experience burnout at epidemic levels and commit suicide at a rate higher than the general public.

Poetry describing what it means to live joyfully




Every day

I see or I hear


that more or less


kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle


in the haystack

of light,

it is what I was born for—

to look, to listen,


to lose myself

inside this soft world—

to instruct myself

over and over


in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,


the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant—

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,


the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help


but grow wise

with such teachings

as these–

the untrimmable light


of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?


Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early, 2004

Mary Oliver

David Whyte on JOY

is the meeting place of deep intentionality and self forgetting, the bodily alchemy of what lies inside us in communion with what formally seemed outside, but is now neither, but become a living frontier, a voice speaking between us and the world: dance, laughter, affection, skin touching skin, singing in the car, music in the kitchen, the quiet irreplaceable and companionable presence of a daughter: the sheer intoxicating beauty of the world inhabited as an edge between what we previously thought was us and what we thought was other than us.

Joy can be made by practiced, hard-won achievement as much as by an unlooked for, passing act of grace arriving out of nowhere; joy is a measure of our relationship to death and our living with death, joy is the act of giving ourselves away before we need to or are asked to, joy is practiced generosity. If joy is a deep form of love, it is also the raw engagement with the passing seasonality of existence, the fleeting presence of those we love understood as gift, going in and out of our lives, faces, voices, memory, aromas of the first spring day or a wood-fire in winter, the last breath of a dying parent as they create a rare, raw, beautiful frontier between loving presence and a new and blossoming absence.

To feel a full and untrammeled joy is to have become fully generous; to allow our selves to be joyful is to have walked through the doorway of fear, the dropping away of the anxious worried self felt like a thankful death itself, a disappearance, a giving away, overheard in the laughter of friendship, the vulnerability of happiness felt suddenly as a strength, a solace and a source, the claiming of our place in the living conversation, the sheer privilege of being in the presence of a mountain, a sky or a well loved familiar face – I was here and you were here and together we made a world.

‘JOY’ David Whyte

From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words


David Whyte.3


Meaningful work is by far the primary motivator for engagement, and experiencing excitement and joy in one’s work. Today, in healthcare organizations the environments are toxic, as the conditions for creating opportunities for meaningful work are not met.

Conditions of meaningful work include: worker autonomy, having sufficient resources and an opportunity to learn from problems. Currently, many physicians have lost their autonomy, are told to do more with less and work in toxic cultures. These are environments where it’s not safe to expose vulnerability for growth and development, and we know working in environments where there is mutual respect is critical to finding meaning and joy. A precondition for a culture of safety in the workplace is the protection of the physical and psychological safety of the workforce. Joy in the workplace comes from an appreciation of the human spirit and organizational support for developing capabilities.

Conditions for meaningful work also comes from having leaders who are a resource for enabling physicians/others by removing obstacles, providing support and acknowledging/validating strong effort and successful outcomes. When people engage in work at this level – community spirit, innovation and creativity flourishes. Most adults in the U.S. spend more hours at work than anywhere else… work should “ennoble, not kill, the human spirit.”

A Work of Joy.1 < What is Joy in Work, Where has it Gone, How can We bring it Back?

This is the first of a series of blog posts examining Joy in Work – maybe we’ll call it: A Work of Joy! It is part of an ongoing discussion between Dave Kopacz and Sandy Carter on this topic and will include each of our thoughts individually as well as our dialogue on Joy in Work. This first blog will provide a broad outline for subsequent work. We will each start with a monologue and move from there into dialogue.

Dave Kopacz, M.D. works as a psychiatrist at the VA in Primary Care Mental Health Integration. Prior to this he was Clinical Director at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre in Auckland, New Zealand. He is Board certified in Psychiatry and Integrative & Holistic Medicine. He is the author of Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine.


Sandy Carter, Ph.D. works as a physician coach and consultant. Sandy is a professional certified coach, holds a PhD in organizational management with a specialization in leadership, and Masters in Business Administration and Social Work. Her research is in the area of transformational leadership with physicians, and wellness and resiliency.She heads The Center for Physician Leadership Coaching. 


What is joy in work?

Where has it gone?

How can we bring it back?

Dave: To speak of joy in work can seem like an oxymoron – work is work, after all, isn’t it? The Online Etymology Dictionary describes the roots of “work” as having elements of toil as well as creativity, it can mean a military fortification as well as an artistic labor, Mark Twain wisely points out that the difference between work and play is a matter of conditions or attitude.

Very busy business

Very busy business

Old English weorc…“something done…action (whether voluntary or required)… also “physical labor, toil; skilled trade, craft, or occupation…” “military fortification,” from Proto-Germanic werkan…from Proto-Indian-European werg-o-…“to do…”

Meaning “physical effort, exertion” is from c. 1200; meaning “scholarly labor” or its productions is from c. 1200; meaning “artistic labor” or its productions is from c. 1200…Meaning “embroidery, stitchery, needlepoint” is from late 14c. Work of art attested by 1774 as “artistic creation,” earlier (1728)…

“Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.” [Mark Twain]

“Work,” Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed 11/6/15 

We have a wide range of roots and definitions for the word “work,” at its most simple it is “to do,” and our judgements on that doing determine whether we view it as work or play, hard or easy, meaningless or meaningful. Doing for no reason feels meaningless and tedious, but Doing that is meaningful is rewarding, even if the work is difficult. Sandy notes that we can meet high demands if we have high resources – so in this way success in work depends not only on the external conditions and needs, but also our individual, relational and organizational resources.


In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we read early on in the Bible that human beings have been cast out of the Garden of Eden for their transgression of eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. God curses Adam and Eve and their descendants, saying that man must earn his living from the ground with toil and that woman must give birth in pain. We have this deeply ingrained belief that our relationship with work and with our bodies is one that is filled with pain – not joy – and that we have the guilt of “original sin” that taints our lives in this world. (Not all theologian ascribe to this idea, for instance Matthew Fox writes in Original Blessing that there are other spiritual perspectives we can take in the relationship between spirit and matter and that we can find joy in our work in the world).

Original Blessing.2

However, there is also a long tradition in all religions of a sense of joy and joyousness that come from the mystical connection with Spirit. Dorothee Soelle, in her work on mysticism in, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, lists five domains of mystical experience: Nature, Eroticism, Suffering, Community, and Joy. She describes joy as a state of being, rather than a sense of acquisition or momentary pleasure.

The Silent Cry

“In the mystical sense, joy is something not tied to objects or certain experiences of delight. Joy is a matter of ‘rejoicing in’ rather than of being ‘glad about,’” (The Silent Cry, 179).

Henry Van Dyke wrote “The Hymn of Joy,” written in English and set to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which, in turn was inspired by Schiller’s poem, “Ode to Joy.” Here are Van Dyke’s lyrics as an example of spiritual joy.

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,

God of glory, Lord of love;

hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,

Opening to the Sun above,

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;

drive the dark of doubt away;

Giver of immortal gladness,

fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee,

earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,

stars and angels sing around Thee,

center of unbroken praise:

Field and forest, vale and mountain,

Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,

chanting bird and flowing fountain,

call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving,

ever blessing, ever blest,

well-spring of the joy of living,

ocean-depth of happy rest!

Thou the Father, Christ our Brother,—

all who live in love are Thine:

Teach us how to love each other,

lift us to the Joy Divine.

Mortals join the mighty chorus,

which the morning stars began;

Father-love is reigning o’er us,

brother-love binds man to man.

Ever singing, march we onward,

victors in the midst of strife;

joyful music lifts us sunward

in the triumph song of life

(“The Hymn of Joy,” Wikipedia, accessed 11/6/15)

Ode to Joy combined 9x12 with tab

Work is our action in the world. Joy is the sense of connection to the greater meaning and purpose in our work.

Rael, Joseph 2

Native American visionary, Joseph Rael was taught by his grandmother that “work is worship,” (Ceremonies of the Living Spirit, 22). This brings a different perspective to work, as in the Native American tradition, every action is sacred and there is no separation between spirit and matter. Zen Buddhism takes a similar approach of spiritualizing mundane tasks, such as “polishing the mirror” or “chop wood, carry water.” In the tradition of Kashmiri Saivism, the ultimate Reality is considered to be “a compact mass of bliss (cidānandaghana),” (Dyczkowski, The Doctrine of Vibration, 44). The ultimate union of Being-Consciousness-Bliss is called “saccidānanada.”

Doctrine of Vibration

This is the “Sat, Chit, Ananda,” that Joseph Campbell speaks of when, after studying the wisdom of the Hindu tradition, he coined the phrase, “follow your bliss,” (Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, 149, 285).

Follow your bliss

In this work that we are undertaking, joy will refer to something deeper than a passing emotion such as happiness or the momentary satisfaction of a desire. We will be looking at joy as the underlying substrate of our Being. This comes from a sense of unity within ourselves and a sense of unity and connection with others. To put it very simply, suffering comes from separation and disconnection and joy emerges from a sense of deep connection and unity within one’s self, between self and other, and within community.

Jack Kornfeld, in his foreword to Awakening Joy, addresses this deeper level of joy. “Joy is our birthright…it is innate to consciousness. Joy is a reflection of our true nature,” (Baraz and Alexander, Awakening Joy, xiii-xiv). Kornfeld describes joy in such a way that we can imagine it to be the foundation of our life, the deep, internal ocean currents, strong and perpetual, beneath the passing, tossing waves of the ups and downs of our daily emotional life. The authors of this book (who have been teaching courses on awakening joy since 2003) describe that having a sense of joy is a choice. “Our joy and happiness is up to us. Our suffering and well-being is not solely determined by what’s happening in our present circumstances but to a large degree by our relationship to what is happening,” (Awakening Joy, xviii).

awakening to joy

Joy, in the way we will be discussing it, relates to connection, innate birthright, choice and a spiritual wisdom perspective on life.

The reason that we need to be talking about joy in the work of health care is because it has been lost in most health care work environments: physician burnout, patient dissatisfaction, long wait times, short appointment times, complicated insurance bureaucracies, costly co-payments and deductibles (for those lucky enough to have insurance) – in short, joyless experiences in giving, receiving, managing, and reimbursing health care. We take a holistic perspective that these variables cannot be dealt with in an isolated way: patient satisfaction cannot be considered without staff well-being and without considering the human needs of administrative and leadership staff. It is all of one piece. That is what we learn when we set off in search of joy – just like in the Wizard of Oz, we already have it within ourselves, but we must set off on a journey of self-exploration in which we support each other’s quest to realize and manifest what it is that we have lost or felt we never had in the first place.

In this joyful work we are undertaking, we will draw on diverse fields of human study, both ancient and modern, including: mysticism, spirituality, poetry, personal growth, well-being, positive psychology, business, economics, leadership, neuroscience, systems theory and relational science. We will look at how to manifest joy at the individual level, interpersonal level and communal level. Fundamental to manifesting joy at all these levels is the principle of connection – connection to dimensions of Self, connection between individuals, and connection in groups and communities. Joy is an emergent property that manifests from a sense of deep connection. We will then look at practical applications of joy at each of these levels and also in relation to leadership in health care and models of health care reform, such as the Triple Aim of the Institute for Health Care Improvement.

Next week we will publish Sandy’s monologue, then the dialogue will start…

A Work of Joy!

Guest Blog: A Counter-Curriculum of Self Care, at the Arnold P. Gold Foundation


Check out my guest blog on the idea of the counter-curriculum in self care at the Arnold P. Gold Foundation blog.

The Gold Foundation is a great organization whose motto is: “Working to keep the care in health care.”


Similar to the message in my book, Re-humanizing Medicine, the Gold Foundation states “Humanistic medical care is not simply compassion. It is the best of medicine.”

They are a good resource for research on humanism and compassion in medicine. They offer grants to practitioners and researchers (my mate, Hilton Koppe – @doc_hilton – from Lennox Head Australia recently received a Gold Foundation grant for his work on poetry and medicine).

I discuss the counter-curriculum in my book and in this blog I talk a little bit about the background of how I came to the necessity of that idea.

“Sometimes the things you most need to learn are not taught in school.”

Alliance of International Aromatherapists conference – Denver, September 2015

I just got some photos back from a conference I did in Denver back in September. My dear friend, Sara Holmes encouraged me to present at the conference. Here is a photo of the two of us together with Sara promoting my book!


I have been presenting variations on the topic of “Becoming a Whole Person to Treat a Whole Person.”

title slide

The idea is that we lose important aspects of ourselves as we learn to be good technicians. Therefore we must work to balance out our technical learning with human learning. This is what I call the “counter-curriculum,” the way that we re-humanize ourselves as we go through technical training and work in institutions that value economic and productivity issues in which we can lose sight of our humanity as well as the humanity of the client we are there to serve.

Be a Whole Person slide

In order to be a whole person, we must have some understanding of what it means to be a whole person. This is the framework that I use in my book:

Whole Person

I did a book signing as well as the presentation at the conference. The book signing was fun and I was able to have some great in-depth conversations with some people doing really great work. Here I am talking with Debrah Zepf (center) and Julia Graves, author of a very interesting book, The Language of Plants (right).

David Kopacz, Debrah Zepf, Julia Graves

David Kopacz, Debrah Zepf, Julia Graves



Here are a few photos from the presentation that the conference photographer took:




I was originally going to do a workshop, but ended up doing an hour presentation at the conference. I ran out of time to do this visualization, or perhaps I should call it a scentualization exercise. Here was the idea I had for this particular aromatherapy conference:

Integrating the Scents of Self

I also spoke some about my work with veterans and developing the hero’s journey class based on Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey. This class uses narrative, story telling, writing, mindfulness, and understanding PTSD as a form of cultural adaptation as well as a conditioned response of the nervous system. Here is a painting that I did as part of the class where we do a “hero’s project.”

Hero's Journey

It was a great conference and I really enjoyed meeting these wonderful healers there. Sara had me stand in front of this painting for a photo and I thought the lighting was interesting, so let’s end this post with that. I forget what Sara was saying to try to make me laugh, but I know it was great seeing her and her husband, Chuck – great friends from our time in Central Illinois:


Australasian Doctors Health Conference, Melbourne, Australia

I just got back from a presentation at the Australasian Doctors Health conference in Melbourne Australia. Ironically,  I got sick at the doctors health conference! It was worth it, though, such a great conference, great people, great topic! Now I am back in Seattle, recovering and unpacking.

The flight out of Seattle, heading to LA for my connection, had some great sunset views.



I presented on “Becoming a Whole Person to Treat a Whole Person.”

becoming a whole person

I first stopped in New Zealand for a quick visit with friends. Of course, I stopped at my favourite morning coffee place, the Kohi Cafe and looked out at the ocean (I didn’t have my good camera, so these are just a few snaps with my phone camera).


I spent a very beautiful and peaceful day out at the gannet colony in Muriwai. It was a cool, blustery day. One of my favourite places on Earth.












I then headed down to Melbourne, Australia. I met up with my friend, Gary Orr and we brainstormed some about doing a presentation at Esalen sometime in the future. We also talked about dusting off our blog: Creating Human Work Environments, which we need to update our details on and do some more posts.

Then the Australasian Doctors Health conference. This was the third time I attended and presented. It was great to catch up with some friends and hear about what Marsha Snyder is up to and about her book, Positive Health: Flourishing Lives, Well-being in Doctors.

Marsha's book

Add I spent some time catching up with my mate, Hilton Koppe, a GP from Lennox Head, Australia, who has been doing some great stuff on re-humanizing medicine using poetry and writing. Here is a snap of him doing his presentation:


My presentation was on “Becoming a Whole Person to Treat a Whole Person.” This is a theme from my book, Re-humanizing Medicine, because you can’t give to others what you haven’t first developed in yourself. One thing I have been working on is trying to come up with a conceptualization of how doctors can be both competent technicians as well as compassionate healers.

developing a technician healer identity

technician.healer characteristics

And I have been working with Laura Merritt on adapting my book into a staff self-care workbook called, Caring for Self. This uses the multi-dimensional whole person model from Re-humanizing Medicine in a workbook format. One thing that is new is that we have been working on developing a set of three attributes for each dimension to give a gestalt of what that dimension represents.

Caring for Self

Here is the outline of the nine dimensions with the three attributes of each dimension listed. From my work with Joseph Rael, I challenged myself to develop these attributes as verbs rather than nouns, to show that we are in a never-ending process of becoming, rather than thinking of ourselves as static objects we are flickering lights of being & vibration!

BODY: embodying, moving, savouring

EMOTIONS: feeling, connecting, flowing

MIND: thinking, minding, evolving

HEART: creating compassion, loving, expanding boundaries

CREATIVE SELF-EXPRESSION: wording, drawing, expressing Self

INTUITION: dreaming, visioning, receiving

SPIRIT: unifying, integrating, transforming

CONTEXT: harmonizing, sustaining, communing

TIME: growing, transitioning, becoming who you are

I met some great, very inspirational people at the conference. I didn’t have much time in Melbourne, but I walked around the market a bit and stopped in at the State Library of Victoria which had a good coffee shop and book store.

One thing I love about Australia is all the parrots everywhere. Here is photo of a few of them:


The next Australasian Doctors Health Conference is to be held in Sydney, Australia in two years…I’ll be there…

“The Blessing of Stillness and Silence.”

An Interview with George Kirazian about his literary friendship with Juan Mascaró.

“The memories…are golden memories and I am reliving them,” (George Kirazian).

George Kirazian

George Kirazian

Juan Mascaro

Juan Mascaró

Author, composer and poet, George Kirazian and his family visited translator Juan Mascaró in Comberton, Cambridge in the UK in 1972. Perhaps at some future point George and I will speak again about his own creative work (he is currently working on a ballet and his rendition of the “Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church” is available on-line, however in our discussion on 8/28/15, we primarily focused on the Kirazian family visit to Comberton, Cambridge. I decided to publish this all as one piece, even though it is a bit lengthy for a blog post, but I’d like to present the full experience of George’s memories as a whole.

Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church

Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church

Juan Mascaró (December 8, 1897 – March 19, 1987) was born in Majorca, Spain, lived in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) for a time, and spent most of his adult life as a professor at Cambridge. His first name was originally spelled “Joan,” in Catalan, but he changed the spelling to “Juan” to avoid confusion with the female name “Joan.” He retained the Catalonian pronunciation, however, which is more like “jew-an,” rather than the Spanish pronunciation “wan.”

George tells that Juan only ever taught two classes at Cambridge during his entire time there. One class was on the Romantic Poets and the other was “Literary and Spiritual Values in the Authorized Version of the Bible” (which means the King James Version in the UK). There is very little written about Juan Mascaró on the internet, which is perhaps fitting for a man who dedicated his life to translating ancient words spiritual texts – his English translations of The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, and The Dhammapada are still available in the Penguin Classics series. He also self-published a small anthology of his favourite Keats poems (of which George has a copy), Lamps of Light (a compilation of spiritual wisdom from world religions), and the posthumous The Creation of Faith (a collection of his own thoughts and aphorisms). Mascaró had correspondence with another George, George Harrison and this resulted in the Beatles song, “The Inner Light.” 

inner light sheet music

Mascaró wrote in The Creation of Faith, “I have two lives: my inner life with God, and my outer life with nature and men. How mysterious these two worlds are,” (169). He left footprints and notes, detailed in his writings about his inner life with God, however, we know remarkably little about the man in his outer life, and our conversation with George will serve to flesh out the words a bit.

DK: Why don’t you start with how you came to have inscribed copy of Juan Mascaró’s book, Lamps of Fire, as well as his other books?


GK: I had been studying the Penguin Bhagavad Gita in the late 60s, ‘68-69, and was deeply impressed. I then purchased the Upanishads, Juan’s translation, and I was so moved when I completed the introduction, that I just simply–it was at midnight–picked up the phone and trusting to luck and good fortune, called Cambridge, yes, at midnight, San Diego time. I guess it was what, 8 or 9 am there, and she was kind enough, the operator, to trace Juan’s number for me. I called him and he was having breakfast. We chatted for a while and I said “Professor Mascaró, I am so deeply moved by the introduction to the Upanishads that it was like an Upanishad for me,” and he said “Oh, George, where are you calling from?”

You know, he had such a sharp mind that could leap into transitions effortlessly. I said, “I am calling you from San Diego,” and in a moment he simply said “Father Junípero Serra was born a mile away from my father’s farm.”

So you see how he leaped from San Diego, and if you know the whole history of the California missions, established by Father Junípero Serra [recently canonized by Pope Francis], no other comment, he just moved right into the reference, and we chatted. He was very gracious and he said, “Look, I know this is a costly call, can you give me your address.” So I took down his number and I gave him my address and we continued chatting for a while, I don’t know, by this time it was  1 am or so, and a week later I received a Penguin Bhagavad Gita inscribed to me with a very lovely note. And then there began, in Winter, 1971 a lengthy correspondence that carried over into the spring of ’72.

“In theory, an Upanishad could even be composed in the present day: a spiritual Upanishad that would draw its life from the One source of religions and humanism and apply to the modern world,” (Juan Mascaró, Introduction to the Penguin Classics, The Upanishads, 8).

[George then recounted how the friendship developed, with letters back and forth. Juan then invited George and his family to stay at a cottage he owned near his own home, “The Retreat,” and George recounts the discussion with Juan about the cottage.]

GK: Juan said, “I have a lovely cottage,” within walking distance of The Retreat” [his home], and I said, “That’s fine.”  “You’ll like it George.” He said, “I’ve just renovated the bathroom and in addition to that, I have just had the roof re-thatched!”

So, Dave, my wife and I, let me jump ahead a month or so, when we approached the cottage I expected either Ronald Colman or Greer Garson to walk out and greet us, like in “Random Harvest.” I don’t know if you are at all an old movie fan. It was incredible, lovely, with an entrance archway of many miniature roses.

I said “That would be fine.” He asked, “How long are you planning to stay?”  “Oh, about  5-6 weeks.” … Hmmm, it’s amazing how one can recall these conversations almost per syllable, after more than 40 years….. He said, “Well George, would $250 for the month be acceptable?” My wife and I nearly fell off our chairs. I said, “It is so generous, Juan!” Of course, I immediately sent payment to him.

I once made the mistake of calling him Juan [the Spanish pronunciation, like “wan”]. “No,” he said, “I am Catalonian, it is Juan,” [the Catalonian pronunciation sounds more like “jew-an”]. “Well, I am comfortable with Juan” [“wan”], I said. And he answered firmly, “No, George, it is Juan [“Jew-an”]. I only needed that one lesson, I didn’t need it to be repeated.

When we entered his home, Juan amazed us: he came in from a dining room and he just stared at us. It was as if time stopped, he just stared at me, my wife and our children, in a very warm way, you know, this wasn’t anything done icily. And after that he just stayed and looked, as if taking a kind of physical/cerebral inventory of us, if that is possible, and he welcomed us and we sat. It was just a wonderful welcome. And we sat there and then later in the evening, he and Kathleen [Juan’s wife] walked us to our home. And he was right, it was a newly refurbished bathroom, small but very convenient, and the roof was indeed recently thatched. My memory just leaped backwards in time. I imagined that Keats on a walking trip from Cambridge to Comberton, or William Blake, perhaps, and stopping at this cottage for a refreshing drink. I think the building date was 1732. I just said to my wife, “Who knows if Byron or Keats walked by here, and perhaps stopped to rest” – Keats was a walker, certainly, Wordsworth and Coleridge were also…so I just kind of pondered that.

There began our 5 or 6 week sharing time…

We discussed The Dhammapada [Mascaró was just finishing this translation from Pali of the Buddha’s teachings]…and there began a number of delightful, I mean, Dave, golden memories, sitting in his backyard and Kathleen fixing tea and our chatting. And my wife Dee and our girls there, sharing with Juan and Kathleen, and I underneath an absolutely massive walnut tree. Juan said I was sitting in C.S. Lewis’ favorite chair and I was gratified to hear that. He told me that another chair was a favorite of W. H. D. Rouse, who had translated the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, prose translations, in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They were very popular in America, published by Signet American Library, I used them myself in a number of my classes. He said that Rouse’s chair had been carved out of a nearby walnut tree and it was a beautiful comfortable, gnarly chair, but I preferred CS Lewis’ chair.


I asked him about Lamps of Fire, oh and a beautiful – he had done a marvelous anthology of Keats’ poetry. Published in Majorca, in a very nice, very artistic, rough-cut, parchment cover, an edition by a friend of his, published on the Island.

And we were talking about Keats, and I don’t know if you want to get into any literary or musical things, but that is what we focused on in those early weeks. He told me, he said that Keats for him was the perfect emblem of the Hellenic experience, while Wordsworth, to his great satisfaction, was the perfect embodiment of the Hindu. And if you read his notes, he took a month or 5 weeks, he told me, to do [translate] the Isa Upanishad at Tintern Abbey, one of Wordsworth’s most renowned poems and he just stayed there…he said it was a labor of love and he didn’t leave. I guess the Wordsworthian spirit and consciousness were present.  He said it was a beautiful time for him.


          And I have felt

          A presence that disturbs me with the joy

          Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

          Of something far more deeply interfused,

          Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

          And the round ocean and the living air,

          And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;

          A motion and a spirit, that impels                           

          All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

          And rolls through all things…

(Wordsworth, “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a  Tour, July 13, 1798”)


From Wikipedia, “Tintern Abbey,” released to public domain by Martin Biely at English Wikipedia

One of the most beautiful gifts he gave me was the gift of Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore and – there have been one or two other translations, but he, as I did, following his lead, felt that Tagore’s rendering of his own poems was perhaps definitive.


“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure,” (Tagore, Gitanjali, opening line).

He gave me a number of books during our stay and then we started on our walks.

[George tells of their walks down country lanes, speaking of Lope De Vega, Ezra Pound, Bernard Shaw, “Citizen Kane,” Fortunio Bonanova (Catalonian singer and actor who moved to Hollywood, whom Juan grew up with), Tomas Vittoria’s masses. At one point, Juan and George were walking on a meadow lane near a group of cows. Juan asks George about the college the locations he taught at, in California].

GK: I told him, the city is called “El Cajon.”

“El Cajon!” He burst out laughing and the cow got so scared it just turned and ran into the meadow. He said “You have a city called ‘the box!?!’” And apparently that’s what it means. “I can’t believe that a city would be called ‘the box.’ He howled and just kept walking and slapping his knee. He couldn’t believe that a city would be given such a name.

We talked about Tagore, a dear, dear favorite. And we talked about Vivekananda and Ramakrishna and also about Paramahansa Yogananda, who came to the center in LA. He didn’t follow them too, too often, but he had heard that Yogananda had a broad following in the United States and California especially.

Then he went on to talk a little bit about Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and this was before he returned to Cambridge. He told me, “George, you know I have taught only two courses, I taught the Romantic Poets and ‘Literary and Spiritual Values in the Authorized Version of the Bible,’ that is to say the King James. “That is all I taught, my entire career.” Apparently he got his degree and then went back to Barcelona where he lost a number of his friends, I think Unamuno and others who had been shot. I guess this was Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” time, Francisco Franco ‘39, ‘40, ‘41 and he apparently had lost some dear friends, so he didn’t stay there. He went back to the school that had granted him his degrees, to teach, but he repeated, “I only taught two classes….”

And it was that day, when we returned from the walk, that he gave me the private, 200 copies only, privately printed anthology of selected poems by John Keats. Very artistic looking, a rough-cut, parchment cover edition, it showed Keats’ poems that matter most deeply to him.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness;

Nor do we merely feel these essences

For one short hour; no, even as the trees

That whisper round a temple become soon

Dear as the temple’s self, so does the moon,

The passion poesy, glories infinite,

Haunt us till they become a cheering light

Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast,

That, whether there be shine, or gloom o’ercast;

They always must be with us, or we die.

(From Endymion, John Keats)

And when we talked about Ceylon, Sri Lanka, where he was, he used the term “Governor” of the school, I guess the magistrate of the school. He said that he would walk to the school every morning and I said “That must have been pleasant.” “Yes, it was pleasant but it was rather unique. My rooms were not that far…” And I said “What was unique about it?”  “Well, every morning when the sun rose I would walk to work, I purposefully took a cane and as I walked I would take the cane and knock the cobras out of my path.” He would just strike the snakes out and knock them onto the dirt or the meadows that flanked the walk way. I said, “Did you ever get hurt?” He said, “No, no.” Apparently every morning they were awakening from their torpor, and as the heat warmed them they were stretching and arching, and he just knocked them out, or knocked them out of his path.

[George and his wife, Dee, recount memorable evenings with Juan and his wife, where Juan would pour them all sherry and listen to Catalonian folk songs, and a different facet of his personality would emerge].

GK: He enjoyed and poured us sherry and played Catalonian folk songs on 78 rpms.  And you saw a side of him that I never saw in our walks or in our conversations in his library. What a splendid library, Dave, oh Good Lord, I think he had begun building it the day he returned to England after the Spanish madness. It was just beautiful.

[I had read his] Upanishads and I was deeply moved. The introduction to it was a revelation to me, it still is.

“Our spiritual life must be a work of creation. Whether we are within a religion, or outside a religion, or against religion, we can only live by faith, a burning faith in the deep spiritual values of man. This faith can only come from life, from the deep fountain of life within us, the Atman of the Upanishads, Nirvana, the Kingdom of Heaven,” (Mascaró, Introduction to The Upanishads, 23).


And The Dhammapada, he was working on it [when we visited]. I sat once, and I was honored, he was walking around the room – I sat at the desk and he read several chapters. We looked over the introduction, and briefly discussed Lamps of Fire. He is very careful, as in San Juan Del La Cruz, St. John of the Cross, he will say “translated by E. Alison Peers or “Sister Teresa” and he’ll say “translated by so and so.” Or he’ll say “translated by Juan Mascaró,” but unless I’m mistaken, for all of the Tao Te Ching, he uses the verb “rendered by Juan Mascaró,” he doesn’t say translated. He said he would study the translations he respected the most, absorb them, as many translators do today. We see a number of Americans rendering the Tao or Dhammapada; they are hardly versed in the original language, so what they do is surround themselves in a half-moon of other paperback translations, absorb them, and then render their own translation.

So we talked about Tagore, Yeats – my favorite poet of the 20th century who had written a lovely, lovely introduction to the Gitanjali – it still reads beautifully, do you have that introduction, Dave?”

DK: I don’t think I do, I just have a collected works of Tagore.

GK: If you can get a single volume, with Yeats’ Intro, 1912 or 1907, I may be mistaken, or 1912, it is just a lovely introduction to Tagore’s poems. There are some paragraphs there, you know “I have kept these poems in my hands on trolleys and omnibuses and so forth…” just a beautiful, beautiful tribute….

“I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on top of omnibuses and in restaurants…

Lovers, while they await one another shall find, in murmuring them, this love of a God a magic gulf wherein their own more bitter passion may bathe and renew its youth. At every moment the heart of this poet flows outward…for it has known…images of the heart’s turning to God,” (W. B. Yeats, “Introduction” to the Gitanjali, 1912).

Then he had shown me a letter that Tagore had written to him and said that Juan  had “captured the spirit of the Upanishads,” a very complimentary letter that Tagore had written, and then when we left, he gave me a number of books and inscribed them all, including Lamps of Fire and also Final Poems of Tagore. I think the title is “Whispers of Eternity,” unless I am mistaken, and he said these were very lovely, and indeed, I think the final poem in that volume was written on the morning or night before Tagore’s passing.

“22 December, 1938.

Dear Professor,

I have too often seen the Upanishads rendered into English by scholars who are philologists and who miss the delight of the immediate realisation of truth expressed in the original texts.

And these are the reasons why I feel grateful to you for your translation which fortunately is not strictly literal and therefore nearer to the truth, and which is done in a right spirit and in a sensitive language that has caught from those great words the inner voice that goes beyond the boundaries of words.

Yours sincerely,

Rabindranath Tagore”

(Letter reproduced in The Creation of Faith, Juan Mascaró, 20).

It was a lovely summer, “How was the weather, Dee?”

[Dee, in background, answered] “Not very good. I think we saw the sun twice in one month, grey and overcast…”

[Dee, incidently, is the author of an Armenian Vegan cookbook]


I just love my memories, in the carven walnut tree chair behind the cottage….

Oh, and his eating habits – he said, “I eat one meal a day,” echoing the Buddha. He said “I have a chop, a bit of potato and some greens.” I myself couldn’t exist on so Spartan a diet, so I made it a point to eat rather well before I went for my midday visit there. But he would sit in a kind of mini greenhouse, and he was right: I saw a very thin lamb chop, a modest sized potato, and some green peas, and he ate very slowly, very delicately….

A beautiful summer it was, my family loved it, especially the girls – it looked like Snow White’s cottage or Ronald Colman’s cottage.

GK: Catalonian Dance night, the girls would read the classics…and we would have great times, and I asked, “What about W.H.D. Rouse?” He said, “Rouse was remarkable!” I said, “In what way?” (It was quite an accomplishment to translate the Iliad and the Odyssey, although they are rather prosy). He said, “Well, he impressed me deeply one day when he came here and sat in that chair George, and said, ‘I have begun the study of Chinese’ – and he was 89! ‘I am launching a study of Chinese,’” I think he died several years after.

DK: George, you had mentioned Catalonian music nights, where Juan showed a different side of his story, could you say more about that?

GK: The side was not a very Cambridge manner (laughs), I mean he was relaxed and very cordial, he sipped the sherry and he would fill it again and then translate the songs and he even would sit and get up and then change the record and then stand up and offer us a snack, and smile and laugh. He was like a young boy again, nibbling straw on his father’s farm, long before the whole Cambridge/Barcelona experience began. And we saw that – and I am not saying he was a frowning Cambridge Don, even on his non-Catalonian nights, he was very gracious, very friendly, he would laugh. He would always say, “George the power and beauty of” – and almost every meeting, and I learned from him (I get excited now because the memories as I mentioned are golden memories and I am reliving them, but I was that way myself) and he would always say, “The beauty and the blessing of stillness and silence.” And as Dee just mentioned, he spoke very softly, but you never had to lean toward him to hear what he said, everything was clearly stated and that evening was a merry, merry evening and he would sit and you would know he was in a kind of Proustian remembrance of things past…. He must have been an adolescent again, maybe stealing apples with Fortunato on his father’s farm. Dee says from background, “They were happy songs.” Yes, they were lovely songs, very lilting and happy songs. He loved his Catalonian culture. I mentioned Franco once, but he didn’t even bother to respond. He just didn’t want to discuss that time, that topic… He just wasn’t concerned with it. He was totally Catalonian….
“George, the power and the beauty…the beauty and the blessing of stillness and silence,” (Juan Mascaró, to George Kirazian, 1972).

He could crack a walnut and take a sip of sherry with the best of them, don’t get the impression that he had high, stiff starched collars – that was not the case. Very humble, in that respect he was still a simple son of a Majorcan farmer, I don’t mean that in a bad way, he was very earthy, down to earth.

We never saw him again…

DK: It is so great to hear about [your visit with him]. You know, I had read the Upanishads and the Gita when I was in college and then a few years ago I had gone back and I think I had lost the books, so I had bought them again and had, kind of similar to you, just this real appreciation for the introductions, I read the introduction and then read the book and then went back and read the introduction again, which is kind of a rare thing for me to do. I’ll often when I appreciate somebody, I will start to find everything that they had written and that is when I found The Creation of Faith [a posthumous collection of aphorisms that Mascaró had been working on at his death] and I think that is kind of how you – how did you stumble across that the blog that I did on that book?

Creation of Faith cover

GK: I don’t think it was a blog, was it an Amazon?

DK: Oh, it might have been an Amazon review because I would do both, an Amazon review and then expand that into a blog.

GK: And I responded to that, I don’t know what the review was, but I was struck by that and that initiated my email to you and so forth. You are right, what I did for one semester and a half was, I went through The Upanishads [Juan’s introduction] with a pen and underlined every reference to writers, such as Ramon Lull, a great poet/mystic of the 14th century.  And San Juan De La Cruz, who’s Spanish even I can understand, even though it is around the time of Elizabeth, Shakespeare. But you are right, those have to be revisited often as a holy tribute.

DK: I feel like the tremendous amount of work that he did and how passionate he was, and how much he seemed to love the work that he was doing and the writing that he was translating or rendering. If you look on-line there is very, very little about him, the translations of the books and the introductions come up, but I just pulled up the Wikipedia page [on Juan Mascaró] there are only 303 words in the description of his life.

Juan Mascaró

Juan Mascaró

GK: Oh, my Lord!

DK: Just even what I am hoping with you is to put a little bit more about this man’s own life – maybe he is the type of person who would not want a lot of his own details out there, but for somebody who did so much important work and introduced so many generations of people to Eastern wisdom it seems…

GK: Oh, you are absolutely right, it was Juan’s, it was his translations of Penguin which for years were adopted by the UC system here. I mean from Northern California right down to my own city, San Diego, if you took a course and you walked into the bookstore, those were the translations that were on the shelf, his….

DK: And I think they are still very well respected and available.

GK: Yes, they are, and you know, a few of the comments…


GK: Let me close with this, because not too many people have touched on it in the appreciations on Amazon and elsewhere. What was a revelation to me with the Gita and then later the Upanishads the subsequent, following year, was his ability to (and a number of people now I think are referencing it), his ability when he happens on a kind of eternal spiritual truth he, instead of rendering it the way the original would have him do, he will go into the Old Testament or the New, based on his authorized version…and he will take that phrase from the Bible instead of strictly translating the original because he feels, that quote captured perfectly the Spirit, and would be luminous to kindred readers–and yet he would not dilute, he did not feel that he would dilute the effect and the power of the original by using that Biblical phrase. He worked very carefully… I was amazed at that and I told him that first night. I have never, of all the translations, I have never encountered anything like that. It showed such a total mastery of the two traditions and when I learned later that he taught only two courses,” when he said the Authorized Version, I said to myself “Well, George, there it is!” Just beautiful, just lovely…

And there began, that Summer, the literary romance of my life.

George Kirazian

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/george.kirazian

Twitter: @georgekirazian

July trip up to San Juan Islands

It has been a busy summer with trips and visits and taking every opportunity to present on my book. I’ll work on an update on my current writing projects, but for now I’ll just share some of the photographs I’ve taken lately.


We had family visit in July and we went up to San Juan island and spent some time at Lime Kiln State Park, which is supposedly one of the best land-based sites to whale watch. Sure enough, we saw (what some of the more seasoned whale watchers – the ones with big cameras identified as) a Minke Whale. It cruised back and forth a few times and I was able to get a photo of its dorsal fin.

DSCN1371 (2)

There was also a seal or sea lion cruising around for a while.


And here is a nice crow who was hanging around when we first arrived.

DSCN1345 - Copy

As I was walking around, I saw this great face in an old tree, I took it to be the spirit of this place and was grateful to have seen it.


Lastly, we also made a trip out to Sun Lakes in Central Washington, which is quite near some of the wild fires that are currently burning out there. This is a photo of Dry Falls, which was once a huge waterfall, but now is quite barren.


The fires in Washington are very serious the past couple weeks. Three fire fighters died this past week. Two hundred soldiers have been called up from Joint Base Lewis-McCord. Calls have gone out to Canada, Australia and New Zealand for assistance in fighting the fires. The state even made an unusual request for volunteers. From Seattle we can’t see the Cascades today as the visibility is hazy. No rain in the forecast for this week so far…

It has definitely been a very dry and hot summer here.

We just made a trip down to LA and New Mexico and saw a wild fire start in LA while we were visiting friends. It was small and helicopters responded quickly, dropping water on the fire. After that trip down to the Southwest, you really get an appreciation for the ongoing drought and water issues in large parts of the country.

Visit to Mt. Rainier


I recently visited Mt. Rainier for the first time. It was both exciting, but also a little bit disappointing.

I had heard that the poet, Denise Levertov had compared the mountain to God, a vast and massive presence that is often obscured from view from Seattle due to clouds and fog. She apparently wrote a number of poems about the mountain, but chose to never visit it, as she said she had come here “to live, not to visit,” in the poem “Settling,” the ending of which is below:

…having come here to live, not to visit.

Grey is the price

of neighboring with eagles, of knowing

a mountain’s vast presence, seen or unseen.

She felt that there was something to keeping the mountain at a distance, and I appreciated that as, as beautiful as it was being at the park, I couldn’t get the whole view of the mountain once I had gotten so close to it. Like the quantum physics concept of knowing something only as a particle or wave, but not both, I could approach the mountain and see its details, but I could no longer see its imposing presence.


Here is the whole of her poem, “Open Secret.”

Perhaps one day I shall let myself

approach the mountain—

hear the streams which must flow down it,

lie in a flowering meadow, even

touch my hand to the snow.

Perhaps not. I have no longing to do so.

I have visited other mountain heights.

This one is not, I think, to be known

by close scrutiny, by touch of foot or hand

or entire outstretched body; not by any

familiarity of behavior, any acquaintance

with its geology or the scarring roads

humans have carved in its flanks.

This mountain’s power

lies in the open secret of its remote

apparition, silvery low-relief

coming and going moonlike at the horizon,

always loftier, lonelier, than I ever remember.


Levertov calls this power viewed at a distance of Rainier, its “open secret.” I don’t actually have a photo to show what I was missing of this open secret, which I guess is fitting, as I went to the mountain, I forfeited that view of it. Still I am glad I went, to get up to the snow line and to take a hike in the woods, and to get some beautiful views of Narada Falls emitting rainbows…

20150502_165802 20150502_165819  20150502_165851

I hiked along the river as it made its way down the mountain. I climbed out and did some rock hopping and saw a number of smaller falls.


While I did forfeit the vast open secret of the mountain’s power, I did get to see the wonderful play of light with the clouds of mist rising from its waters in this amazing photo I took from a little bridge.


Review of The Aum of All Things, by Ruzbeh N. Bharucha


Ruzbeh N. Bharucha is the author of a number of books, foremost among them the Fakir series, in which Rudra, a drifter/seeker in despair of life meets the Fakir: Shirdi Sai Baba. Shirdi Sai Baba was a Muslim holy man and ascetic who combined the wisdom of Hinduism, Islam and Sufism and was revered by both Hindus and Muslims alike. In the Fakir books, Rudra goes through an experience of despair of life to become a disciple of Shirdi Sai Baba and it demonstrates the principles of bhakti (devotion to God) and the Guru (surrender to a Master and spiritual teacher). The books are narrative stories filled with wisdom sayings and Rudra’s irreverent humour. These books have been very popular and have been translated into many languages.

The Aum of All Things was published in 2013. Instead of Rudra (who one guesses bears some similarity to Ruzbeh, at least as an alter-ego), Ruzbeh, himself, is the protagonist. So, presumably this is a work of non-fiction, whereas the Fakir series was a spiritual and inspirational fiction which is also true (much like Richard Bach’s Illusion series, in which Richard meets the reluctant messiah, Donald Shimoda). The majority of the book is taken up by Ruzbeh’s interviews with Bapuji, along with input by Mataji and a few others at Bapuji’s ashram.


I started out loving Mataji, who first welcomes Ruzbeh to the ashram and first tells of her spiritual search for God:

“When the heart aches, that is when the search begins. If the heart is pleased and satisfied, why will one venture out or set out on a search? When the heart is sad that’s when it seeks,” (Aum, 18).

Mataji starts her quest as a householder and mother, searches out various teachers and philosophies, eventually she meets Bapuji and settles in as his disciple, leaves her family and renounces the world. She describes coming to a state of “Vairāgya, which means disenchantment from worldly matters,” and she quotes a saying, “destroyed all attachments to discover spiritual progress; divine knowledge thy sole quest,” (Aum, 20).

However, Mataji isn’t developed much after the initial pages. Bapuji gives many detailed teachings, but we don’t get much of a sense of him as a person and the teachings are very technical. Ruzbeh gives some good lightening of the mood during all the heavy enlightenment, constantly thinking to himself, in the midst of these profound teachings, how much he needs a cigarette. However, unfortunately, there is not as much of a narrative story in Aum, even though there are brief asides in which Ruzbeh gets peppered by questions (including spiritual ones) and also fields requests for toys, by his daughter, Meher. These are brief vignettes and while they humanize Ruzbeh, they don’t really advance a plot or illustrate the teachings of the book.

What is helpful are Ruzbeh’s asides in which he disagrees with or clarifies aspects of Bapuji’s teachings. Thus there are two teachings going on simultaneously, those of Bapuji and those of Ruzbeh, who is quite spiritually developed, although his comments and jokes about women seem sexist and don’t seem to humanize him as much as his need for nicotine or his tendency to refer to God as “the Great Rock Star.”

Now, to the teachings of Bapuji Dashrathbhai Patel.

They are very technical. Ruzbeh says that this is a book about jñān, spiritual knowledge or wisdom. He says that this takes him out of his comfort zone which lies in “love, faith and surrender to your Master,” (7). Bapuji’s detailed teachings at times seem like some kind of spiritual accounting exercise. Consider the following:


“Now the 8th Celestial Degree was almost 38,400 Arab light years from the earth, with 80 to 99 per cent of Paam Taŧvas and one to 20 percent of Gross or General Taŧvas or elements. The per cent of the gross Taŧva means composition of three elements, Ether, Air and Fire. In this also, as we gradually fall due to the increasing Sañkalps, the percentage of the other wo elements, which gradually increase in percentage thus bringing about heaviness, and leaving us getting more and more occupied in thoughts and creation,” (173), (there is, thankfully, a glossary at the end of the book).

There are a number of Bapuji’s teachings on YouTube, but not all have English translations. This one does have translations and also shows the cosmic diagram of creation, which is essentially what the teachings expound upon.

Here is a kind of guided imagery of a teaching without all the percentages and terminologies:

“Now listen carefully: whenever you close your eyes, imagine your inner body and external body to be made of light, and believe yourself to be made of light and one day you will actually see yourself filled with light, that’s when you will have a body of light. Keep increasing the light; keep imagining yourself glowing more and more with this light. This is the way you go about becoming light. Everything is in the Sañkalp or thought, intention. The world was made out of thoughts. It’s all about the power of thought. Believe something and you will slowly become that thing,” (39).

I found myself considering several other systems of cosmogony while I was reading this. The Śiva Sūtras and the Vijñānabhairava translated by Jaideva Singh provide similar lists of the states or levels of creation (yet here, Śakti, the feminine principle is Śiva’s power to manifest and create – which seems more neutral than Bapuji’s explanation about what happens after the split of masculine and feminine). Suhrawardi’s The Shape of Light also follows the various forms of light following the emanation of sacred Light from the spiritual to the material realms. There are many different cosmogonies that describe Creation – but the real question, the real bit of jñana or gnosis is not about the spiritual accounting of percentages and various states and levels, but why was creation created in the first place? The science cosmogony is that there was a state before time and space and matter, then there was a “big bang,” at first there existed only the light weight atoms of hydrogen and helium, and those stars lived out their lives. With progressive lives and deaths of stars, gradually the heavier elements were created in nuclear supernovas, until present day when we have a wide array of dense atoms that make up our physical world. This narrative is similar to that of Bapuji, that there is at first a formless “Almighty Authority” created a “Supreme Creation” (Paam Rachnā) which he named the “Supreme Father of the Infinite” (Paam Pitā) and then various levels of formless creation assuming greater form, then a split into masculine and feminine, and then ever greater more dense, less spiritual forms were created. Two questions arise at this point: what is the purpose of creation; and is matter inherently less spiritual?

I found myself hearing Joseph Campbell’s words regarding religious cosmogonies, or “myths” as he called them – he said that they are metaphors, not literal truth, but metaphorical truth. Campbell studied many, many religious systems and teachings and searched for the underlying truth of them all, but the way he did this was to move away from the religious to a more secular view – that these are stories that tell us important things about being human, being in the world, and being oriented to the spiritual – they tell us how to live in this world. Psychiatrist Carl Jung also studied numerous world religions and systems of transformation. He maintained a somewhat conservative stance saying that if someone could stay within the religious tradition in which they were brought up, their psychological and spiritual work would be much easier (which he, Jung, definitely did not do). In some ways, Campbell takes the standpoint of immanence – don’t worry about God “out there” worry about how you can bring the stories of God into your life in a meaningful way in the secular world. Jung was more of a mystic and had a strong transcendence perspective, in which the goal of the individual was to move toward the spiritual (although Jung also believed in the principle of wholeness, not rejecting human essences, but harmonizing them). We can look at these two viewpoints of immanence (God/Spirit descending into matter and humanity for a Divine purpose on earth – Jesus’ saying, “the Kingdom of God is all around [or ‘within you’]”) and transcendence (matter is either defiled, or de-spiritualized and the soul must forsake worldly pleasures/desires and move ever more toward God/Spirit). Materialism is pure immanence (there is no divine or spiritual). Bapuji’s (from my very limited understanding) teaching is very much a spiritualism (matter is “bad,” dense, limited in the pure light of God) and his teaching is that we need to move away from the physical desires/pleasures toward ever higher levels of Light. Christianity has both elements of this-worldliness and other-worldliness, the expansion of the West through colonialism and economics into the rest of the world has been very material, and yet Christian teachings often view matter and the body as inherently sinful and tainted.

While spiritual teachings often focus on how we can become more spiritual and more enlightened, the question of why we find ourselves in physical form is often not satisfactorily answered. The Christian answer is that God created Adam and Eve and then they sinned and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – this is called “the fall” where sinful humanity was banished and exiled from the Garden of Eden and from a closer relationship with God. There is a logical inconsistency in many of these “fall” stories (and Bapuji’s story is very much one of the evilness of matter falling away from the lighter, more spiritual Light – in fact, there is a logic that the reason that matter becomes more dense and less full of Light is that the percentage of Light gradually diminishes through more and more creation being done by the createds, thus it seems in this narrative that God’s Light is not strong enough to maintain Creation and it kind of starts to run down in the outer limits from the Source). How can an omniscient, all-powerful, infinite being have so much trouble with the createds? Matthew Fox takes the concept of “original sin” of humans and the concept of “the fall” to task in his book, Original Blessing. He argues for a Creator whose Creation is a Blessing and not a curse. Fox calls for a Creation Spirituality, one that is consistent with indigenous views, in which the role of the feminine is divine (as in the divine Sophia, or Gaia, Mother Earth, rather than sinful Eve or in Bapuji’s cosmology the idea that the creation of the feminine led to more competition amongst the masculine and led to a creation arms race of sorts that depleted the available Light in creation). The orientation of a people, culture and religion toward women is very much the same as the orientation toward the natural world and Matthew Fox follows this association in his book. Many of the more transcendent spiritual teachings are in the context of a masculine patriarchy in which women and matter are evil or tempting. In Hinduism, this reality, itself, is said to be Maya, and Maya is characterized as feminine, thus leading to the sense that the spiritual is Truth and is masculine. In contrast, more Creation-based spiritual teachings have a more feminine divine energy in which the feminine and the natural world are a source of divine expression rather than divine absence.


Thus we can ask, are we sacred and divine or are we defiled, bad, evil, sinful? Is the earth and physical form a blessing or a curse? In the religious cosmogonies, we ask: why did God Create and what are we to do with that Creation? To me, the saving grace of Bharucha’s book, The Aum of All Things, lies in his open-minded and open-hearted seeking of God. After pages and pages of stages, levels, percentages, and permutations of more and more creation leading to denser and denser (and thus less and less light) beings and essences, Ruzbeh says the following:

“According to me the more you get into the technicalities of spirituality the more you realize that heaven and hell are within each of us; the blossoming of one’s true self and the destruction of all that is true; all within oneself. The power to discriminate between right and wrong and the power to choose between the Light or the chaos within, all in our own within. For me liberation means being free from one’s own clutches of darkness and desires and shedding the false self and letting one’s true self shine through. And it is not easy…But you just keep at it. Fall. Rise. Fall. Rise…The Light within is elusive; it’s playful; it’s a lover who wants to be possessed but won’t ever surrender till you are worthy, so keep at it and someday, may be lifetimes later, you and I…will be worthy of Her and be filled with Her and radiate Her essence and then become One with Her…keep trying and trying. That is the only true purpose of life,” (212-213).

Ruzbeh seems far more accepting of our humanity and yet still asks us to strive toward something. He also uses the feminine pronoun and thus brings in a softness to the masculine striving of spirit to free itself from matter. A few pages later he continues:

“What is most important is that you believe that you are loved and your Master [in his case, his guru is Shirdi Sai Baba] is with you…Life is fair and God is within…If we are the Spirit in the body, then that Spirit has come through the Creator and the Spirit is the Creator. If nothing can be created or destroyed in the cosmos and it only changes form, so believe, you and I have just changed forms, but our essence truly comes from the Source and thus we too are the Source,” (220-221).

“Life is about exhaling,” Ruzbeh says, “Not about holding one’s breath,” (221). Maybe that is a simple way of making sense of creation, of being created, of having a Source (whether Creator or Big Bang) – all of this is one big exhalation (again from either Creator or Big Bang) and soon enough, the big inhalation will take place and we will all go back from where we came. From a religious or spiritual perspective, matter and humanity are created out of Love and Joy, true matter is far from the etheric Light of Pure Spirit, yet it is not evil, it is just dense and moves slowly – we can still feel the “Divine Creative Pulsation” (Spanda-Kārikās) within us as within all of Creation and even in the background of Creation. Suhrawardi explains the reason for Creation in this hadith of Allah:

“I was a hidden treasure;

I loved to be known,

so I created creation.”

(Suhrawardi, The Shape of Light, 57)


This little saying is more profound than an explication of layer upon layer of spiritual accounting – Creation is made out of Love, and out of a desire to be known. This leads us to aspire to Love, and to aspire to seek out what is our True Source, our own True Inner Light, to know our Creator. This can be taken in a religious sense as worship of God, or in a secular sense of self-discovery, or in a Jungian psychological sense of individuation (unfolding into Self), or a Campbellian sense of ananda, “follow your bliss” to find out who you are. Maybe creation is all just one big exhalation and inhalation, Ruzbeh would probably approve of this spiritual summation, particularly if he was having a cigarette at the time.

Re-humanizing Imagination and Humanity


Reflections and a Review of Tom Cheetham’s Imaginal Love: The Meaning of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman

In the year that I moved back to the United States from New Zealand, I turned to a study of Henry Corbin. I read through his available books in English translation and I found myself drawn to his work and concepts. I knew it was important in some way to my current passage and path in life, but whenever I would try and explain why I would end up spinning in circles around the Arabic word, ‘alam al-mithal, and would keep repeating, it is the place where “matter is spiritualized and spirit is materialized.” The earth-shaking importance of this did not seem to be as immediately obvious to others as it seemed to be for me.

In my course of reading Corbin (who I had come to through reading Carl Jung and later James Hillman) I came across Tom Cheetham’s books: The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism; All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings; After Prophecy: Imagination, Incarnation, and the Unity of the Prophetic Tradition; and Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World. In his most recent book, Imaginal Love: The Meaning of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman, Cheetham says he has spent over 20 years working to understand Corbin and his book are a wonderful resource, not just on Corbin, Hillman and Jung, but also in documenting an individual’s quest and spiritual path.

In reading Cheetham’s Imaginal Love, I found myself being able to clarify why Corbin is so important to me, why I had to take a year-long study of his work, and how I will use his concepts going forward in my own life, work and writing. Below you will find the text of the Amazon review I wrote of his book, but I will add some additional, more personal reflections first.

Corbin, Cheetham, Hillman and Jung all have worked toward a reorientation of our consciousness. The problems and solutions that they grapple with are similar to the problems that I grapple with: dehumanization through objectification and excessive focus on materialism and re-humanization through the quest to get back in touch with the Source. Corbin’s intermediate realm of the ‘alam al-mithal, where matter is spiritualized and spirit materialized, provides a conceptual understanding of a state of being that is necessary to understand visions and dreams in spiritual and psychological context. When we open ourselves up to this imaginal realm, it transforms us. Not just peak experiences of visions, dreams and spiritual experiences, but our everyday lives and our very state of being can become instances of Creation and living as spirit infused matter and matter incased spirit.

On the surface, my reading of Corbin and Cheetham are about my working toward being able to write on a project comparing the visions of Carl G. Jung and Philip K. Dick, with a study toward their personal journals that were published posthumously (The Red Book and The Exegesis) and the necessity of understanding their personal visions (quasi-psychotic experiences depending on your frame of reference) in their lives and their later, mature works. Their visions laid the groundwork for their later lives, in essence they were a kind of gift or compulsive vocation that they then strove to fulfill, revolving around central themes that their visions illuminate. This is the practical need I have for better understanding visions.

Both CGJ and PKD had their visions around mid-life and they served an orienting function for their later work, as well as had a clarifying effect in understanding their earlier work. I am also in the mid-life passage and I find these two men’s visions and subsequent exegeses of these visions helpful in my own life. And I find Corbin and Cheetham’s work helpful as well. The mid-life passage moves between youth and old age and it, perhaps, is symbolic of the work of the mundus imaginalis or the ‘alam al-mithal in connecting matter and spirit. It fits Jung’s conception that the work of human beings is more externally and materially oriented in the first half of life and more internally and spiritually oriented in the second half of life. The work of the Corbin, Cheetham, Jung, Hillman, and PKD thus can help in understanding a third realm that connects the first half of life with the second half of life in a way that is similar to connecting matter and spirit.

Another reason that I find the work of Corbin and Cheetham invaluable at this time in my life is that I have undertaken a friendship and book project with the Native American visionary, Joseph Rael – Beautiful Painted Arrow. This work with Joseph (or Joseph-ing, as he says we should consider ourselves as verbs, not as object nouns) challenges me to move my writing and understanding in a more spiritual way. He is teaching me how to be in an interpretative and experiential state of being in which vision and visions are routine ways of being.

This year, 2015, I have been doing many speaking engagements on my first book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. This book spans 9 different dimensions of human experience: body, emotions, mind, heart, creativity, intuition, spirit, context and time. It seeks to provide a framework or pathway that clinicians can use to re-humanize, or stay human, in clinical work and in our lives. It does this by placing equal emphasis on each of these dimensions. It is a book of balance and practicality.

As I was finishing my book, I found myself wondering whether one dimension is more important or a source of the others or if each one is a source in its own right. My motivation in writing it was to try to counter-balance the current primacy of the body and materialism in health care. I had to struggle not to fall into a dualism of over-emphasizing another dimension in an effort to counter-balance medical materialism. Dimensions which are tempting to use to counter-balance medical materialism are the dimension of the heart (basing all health care on compassion and love) or the dimension of spirit (the typical dualism to matter). Obviously, health care today requires a great deal of technical knowledge, yet I also argue that we need to attend to these other dimensions, otherwise we end up with good technical health care that is also dehumanizing, which is a wound in and of itself. But can it be said that, along with the Beatles, that “all you need is love?” Contemporary health care seems to require good technical skills and love & compassion.

Reading Cheetham’s book, I appreciated how he worked with Corbin and Hillman’s root orientations. Corbin views spirit and Light as primary, this is the view of reality and being having its source in the transcendent. Hillman continually is uncomfortable with Jung and Corbin’s focus on wholeness and unity, and instead developed a form of psychospiritual polytheism, in which all the component parts are of equal importance and that we need to resist the temptation of valuing matter over spirit or spirit over matter, but he tends more toward the view of immanence, of spirit being enshrined in matter. Personally, I appreciate Hillman’s work at maintaining the equality of dimensions and experiences, yet I also see him as potentially throwing the baby out with the bath water as his polytheism sometimes seems to me like a post-modernist view in which all things are equal. It is beyond me to be able to say if one or the other of these views is “more correct.” I know that by temperament, I tend to have the unifying tendency of Jung and Corbin.

Is there one Reality or are there many realities? As human beings, should we be oriented toward matter, toward spirit, toward a middle realm, or toward all things equally? Is the imaginal, the ‘alam al-mithal important because it points beyond matter to the Divine, or is it important because it orients us toward the continually renewing Divine within the matter of ourselves? These are theological and metaphysical questions which could be endlessly debated. I think for the purpose of re-humanizing ourselves, it is enough to recognize that we must have some relationship with the realm of imagination, the imaginal place where spirit is materialized and matter is spiritualized, and that there is a value to opening our eyes to the visions that arise both without and within.


Review of Tom Cheetham’s Imaginal Love: The Meaning of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman (Kindle version)

This is an important little book. It is Cheetham’s 5th book on Henry Corbin, as well as on his influences on and similarities and differences from James Hillman and Carl Jung. This current book provides an easy entry into Corbin’s work and why he was so influential in the fields of spirituality, psychology and poetry. The book is informative, providing summaries of Corbin, Hillman and Jung’s work, while also being a work of beauty, poetry, and I dare say, even theophany and gnosis – as it helps us understand to see and understand the role of the imagination in Creation and how we are creators and participators as well as createds.

The book also achieves a good balance of a conversational tone in which Cheetham is present and works alongside Corbin and Hillman and shares of himself as well as engaging in scholarly work. Perhaps it is no coincidence as Cheetham is releasing his first book of poetry, Boundary Violations, this year.

The primary focus of Imaginal Love is on the central or at least integral role of imagination in spirituality, poetry, and humanity. Corbin wrote of a tripartite model of reality, with the typical dualism of matter and spirit being linked by a third realm, which he referred to with various concepts, such as the mundus imaginalis, the Imaginal, or the ‘alam al-mithal. Those familiar with Hillman and Jung’s work will see the influence of these concepts in the methods of Active Imagination and the emphasis on the imaginal and mythopoetic. Regardless of what he called this realm, its importance was that it was here that matter was spiritualized and spirit materialized. This third realm connects and orients matter toward spirit. Corbin traced the loss of this realm to the 12th century with the beginning of philosophical systems that separated spirit from matter.

Awareness of or connection to this intermediate realm creates a different state of being, it engenders a different mode of seeing, being and experiencing the world. This state, the Sufis called ta’wil, is a state of interpretation of texts, world and being with continuous reference to the Divine or the secular could say the numinous. This state of being is crucial to understand visions and dreams, whether they are from indigenous traditions (which did not develop the matter-spirit division) or of modern experiencers of visions, such as Carl Jung or Philip K. Dick. The Imaginal is thus not only crucial to understanding mysticism, poetry and visionary consciousness, but it is also a way of life or a path in which an individual can strive to be open to states of being that come from the imaginative connections between spirit and matter.

Orientation toward the Imaginal, Love of it, or connection to the Love that it is a source of, re-spiritualizes and re-humanizes. Corbin writes that one is human only in relation to God, or God’s intermediary, the angel of one’s being (the ‘alam al-mithal is also the angelic realm, the intermediaries between Spirit and matter). His work is thus a therapeutic endeavour in which an individual moves from a state of disconnected matter (an object) toward a state of spirit and matter in constant back and forth creation, in which the object can move toward becoming a subject, or a Person. Thus we are fully human only when we let go of our views of ourselves as egos and material, physical objects. We become human or re-humanized through letting go of our insistence on ourselves as separate matter and egos and open our hearts to Relationship.

This is a wonderful and beautiful book, important for establishing Cheetham as a Person as well as in illuminating the importance of the imaginal and the works of Corbin and Hillman.