Logo white

An Enlightenment Interview with
Professor Jim Fadiman

(Part I)

To Part II of the Jim Fadiman Interview

[Jordan S. Gruber conducted this interview with Professor Jim Fadiman on May 5, 1998. The interview took place at Professor Fadiman's home, located in the San Francico Bay area.

As you will see, Jim Fadiman has led a fascinating and charmed life, with the quality and quantity of his consciousness experiences matched only by the elegance of his wisdom and insight.

As a search on Amazon.com shows, Jim Fadiman has written about 10 books, covering a wide range of psychological and spiritual subjects. His textbook, Personality and Personal Growth, written with Robert D. Frager, is a standard in its field; his self-help book, Unlimit Your Life: Setting & Getting Goals, is very clear and useful; and his new book, Essential Sufism, co-edited with Robrt D. Frager, is simply a delight.

Please take your time with this long interview -- conveniently divided into two parts -- savoring the nuances and subtle implications of this man of great learning, living, and giving.]

 

Contents (Parts I & II)

A Pioneer in the Consciousness Movement

The American Way of Enlightenment

A Universe Soft as Pudding

Questioning Meditation & Psychotherapy

Spiritual Medication

Replanting the Seeds of Social Discontent

Recirculated Electrons

Ken Wilber: Da Vinchi For Our Day

Mental Health: Being in the
Right Mind at the Right Time

Monotheism, Monagomy, & Monotony

Fun with Fiction


A Pioneer in the
Consciousness Movement

e.com: Jim, you are not as well-known as a lot of the people who know you very well. I know, for example, that you've been familiar with everyone from Abraham Maslow to Ram Das to Tim Leary and you could pick up the phone and call Jean Houston or Michael Murphy and many other luminaries of the consciousness movement, people generally held in very high esteem.

Now, these luminaries know who you are, and yet, a lot of people don't know who you are.

Fadiman: That's certainly the case. I have managed to maintain a low profile, probably because I haven't stayed in any one area of consciousness for any great amount of time.

e.com: Could you give a brief recap of the areas that you have gone through?

Fadiman: Think of the people that you just mentioned ... if we look at Abraham Maslow, I've been deeply involved in both humanistic and transpersonal psychology and actually taught in Maslow's stead when he was a full professor at Brandeis.

Ram Das was my undergraduate psychology instructor and I first used psychedelics with Ram Das when he was still Richard Alpert. I did research with him at Stanford, and I was actually the agent for his first book.

e.com: His first book being ...

Fadiman: The Only Dance There Is. Ram Das actually supported the transpersonal psychology movement for several years. At that point in his life he was not acquiring anything. He had just given some speeches and we had done all the work needed to make it a book, he said "Why don't you, a nonprofit, keep the royalties?" 10 or 12 years later he wrote us and said if we really didn't mind, could half of the royalties go to another group that he now was involved with.

So, I've been on the edges, or friends with, or involved with in various ways, all of these people you mentioned. Jean Houston I knew more through her psychedelic research. There's a social set of speakers at large conferences. In a sense these are like a jet-set, except other people pay for them to jet back and forth. But if you meet the same people at conferences in which you are all speakers, say four or five times a year, for several years, you actually have spent a great deal of social time with them. So you do develop friendships.

e.com: In fact, I once heard you refer to yourself as the "Forrest Gump of the consciousness movement." Do you think that's a fair description?

Fadiman: It's a parody of myself because I have been doing things in all of these areas. Maslow basically stayed within formal psychology, and I didn't, Ram Das stayed in psychedelics and spiritual practices, I've been involved in both of those -- but that's not been my "career" -- I've been involved in holistic health, but I'm not a holistic health practitioner. So in some sense I have been part of a great many aspects of the consciousness movement. Therefore I'm known to the people I've worked with in all those areas, but I'm not particularly known in any one of them, and they all have slightly different publics.

e.com: Another few of the things that you've done include co-founding the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP), and you were a director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and you also helped Ken Wilber get his first book into the world.

Fadiman: I helped Ken.

e.com: You helped?

Fadiman: Yes, I wish I had succeeded, but I helped.

e.com: What about those other two experiences, ITP and Noetic Sciences? You were there for a while with each?

Fadiman: The Institute for Transpersonal Psychology really came out of Robert Frager and I working on a book together in the 1970's. When you work on writing, there is an enormous tendency to want to do anything else. Since Bob and I are inveterate fantasizers and talkers, we imagined what a good education might have been like.

Since we had degrees from Harvard and Stanford between us, and were also teaching at those institutions, we were pretty clear that the best American education was not very good. So we fantasized what a real education could be, spun it out into an imaginary school, and did a little two page publication in a very obscure place about it. The next thing we knew people were writing us and saying, "Where's the school, I'm ready to enroll?"

At that time Bob Frager was just being turned down for tenure at U.C. Santa Cruz -- he was in two departments, in religion and psychology, and was a little too creative probably for both of them, and had set up the aikido club at the University. He, primarily, with my help, set up a school on the model we invented, which featured, as its P.E. department, aikido, and basically blended religion, spiritual practices, spiritual traditions, and psychology.

Noetic Sciences was an equally "I didn't intend it" kind of event. Due to some family connections, I was asked to comment on the first version of the Institute of Noetic Sciences founded by Ed Mitchell, the astronaut. Ed Mitchell had wonderful characteristics, but running a non-profit institution was really not something he was very interested in doing, or doing for very long.

I consulted to try and unscramble some very conventional kinds of issues. Then I made a disastrous mistake. After the board asked for recommendations as to what they should do. I gave them several extremely sound and intelligent suggestions and one foolish one. The foolish one was that I could run it a couple of days a week. And that was, as I listed it, the worst of the solutions available, but still plausible.

What I didn't know at the time was that if you say to any Board of Directors "here are two really good solutions that will take a lot of Board work, and here is a not very good solution which will take no Board work," the Board will immediately leap to the not very good solution. So I ended up running the Institute of Noetic Sciences for a few years, running it out of financial difficulties and into neutral. Just as it was beginning to pick up steam, very fortunately I was able to attract Willis Harman to take it over, and its history in the consciousness world is certainly well-known from there.

e.com: The good news is that ITP is accredited and moving forward, and Noetic Sciences is doing well as well.

Fadiman: Doing very well.

e.com: That's right. One last question along these lines: Are you glad that you never made it to the James Redfield level of popularity, that you've stayed under the radar? You have a great lifestyle, a wonderful life here in the Bay Area ...

Fadiman: Well, through all of these times, I made my living through industrial consulting, teaching seminars for executives, and teaching things in which having a New Age consciousness reputation wouldn't have probably mattered to my clients. One of the things I did learn came when I said to Dorothy [Jim Fadiman's wife, Dorothy Fadiman, is an award-winning filmmaker], "I need to become more famous." She said, "Why?", and I said "Basically, so I can raise my rates." I did become somewhat more important, and did raise my rates, and that seemed to handle it.

At this point to become famous as a writer, which means that I don't have to go anywhere and do it, seems a very desirable state, mainly because that would allow the various books I'm interested in to be more widely read. Have I missed personal fame? Not really. What I found is I have a need, like a small vitamin -- as you need microscopic amounts of B12 -- I need a certain amount of being in public, presenting material that people like, being appreciated, being listened to, being attended to, but once that nutrient need is filled, I don't need it for a while again.

I did an article once for the journal of Humanistic Psychology, a parody of 12-step work, only it was on people who had to lead workshops. I parodied my own needs to be liked, and be appreciated, and be wanted, and to be a workshop junky. How far would I travel to do a workshop, and what would I be willing to be paid -- or to pay -- one thinks these things say on a plane to Australia to go to an international conference at which you are going to speak for an hour and a half.

You think to yourself, "Is this the act of a sane human being?" Or is this simply a junky willing to go half way around the world in order to get an emotional fix?

While the article was a parody, there was something to it. As some famous workshop leader who would very much not like his name to be mentioned said to me, "I'm working on my own problems and I just get other people to pay for it."


The American Way
of Enlightenment

e.com: Let's turn towards content more directly. The one question we always ask in these interviews is that the premise of Enlightenment.com is that there are many many different paths to enlightenment and to higher states of consciousness and to better functioning and all of the psycho-spiritual goals that we are all aiming at, and yet there are so many of them that it is hard for people to pick and choose and find out what it is that would really benefit them the most.

 

So if someone who is a relative neophyte comes to you and says, "You know, I just realized that there's all this kind of self-development work I can do but I don't have a clue as to where to start," how would you recommend that they start?

Fadiman: This is the advantage of my position versus people that are more famous. I wouldn't say, "Well, you should start with whatever I'm doing." Really, it's a little bit like the question of someone who comes into a nutritionist. The answer is not the same for all people. A first question is, "What are you interested in? What part of your system is open?" Do you tend to be interested in physical activities -- have you been a jock? -- in that case you might be interested in moving towards yoga or bodywork or Feldenkreis ...

e.com: ... or Golf in the Kingdom ...

Fadiman: ... or spiritual golf a la Michael Murphy. If your interest is cerebral, you may really be interested more in Jungian work, which tends to be much more literate and mythic. If you feel you had a terrible childhood and that still interests you, then there are a lot of psychodynamic possibilities.

Probably, the other thing I would look at is what's their personality structure. One tool I've used over the years that helps is the enneagram. Other people use astrology, or various ways of trying to get a person's orientation so you can see what would be the next thing to do.

I'd start with: "tell me about yourself for a while." It's a little bit like when someone says, "You've read a lot of fiction. I'd really like a good book to take on the plane to New York. What do you recommend?" You either recommend the thing that you've just read, which means you've paid no attention to them at all, or you try to get some idea of what they like. "Tell me ten of your favorite books" and I'll give you an 11th."

I have a theory that there is an American way of enlightenment. The American way of enlightenment is that one does a practice or follows a teacher or worships a position for a while, and then one changes to another one for a while, and then changes to another for a while. It is the American way because it has never been available in the history of mankind.

Maybe in ancient Rome there was the same diversity, but you sure couldn't get the books and the audio tapes were just unavailable. So, I'm really not as concerned with someone's specific path as long as they want to get on the general path called "trying to find out more about who they really are, what consciousness is, what the universe is made of."

e.com: Does it make you angry when you see teachers out there who tell people "my way is the only way and you have to stay with my way for the rest of my life and pay me large sums of money in the process?"

Fadiman: No, I appreciate those people. They are part of the learning experience, and fortunately, even if they take all your money, they only take all the money you've earned until then, they don't take all your future money after you get disillusioned.

Unless you have the belief -- true or false -- that the way you're on is the best way, you won't work so hard. In some sense, the teacher, by telling you "this is the only way," at a low level is simply mistaken, but at a very high level may be employing a useful deception, which is, the harder you work and the more you put into my system, the more you will get out of it. When you begin to see through the notion that it's the only way, then perhaps you've gotten what you can from this system.

e.com: So you would recommend that people try to narrow down and focus on one system at a time?

Fadiman: One at a time, or maybe two. (Laughing)


A Universe Soft as Pudding

e.com: On Enlightenment.com we talk about the reality creation hypothesis, and you once told me that you felt that thoughts are hard as diamonds, and the universe is soft as Jell-O, and the soft universe has to mold around your thoughts if you consistently put them out there.

Fadiman: It's actually as soft as pudding ...

e.com: It's Pudding!

Fadiman: ... because Jell-O cracks, it doesn't really ... it's not really very pliable ... like tapioca maybe.

e.com: What's the best way for people to experientially get that this is real and to put it into practice?

Fadiman: Well, I taught for many years what now is simply called affirmations, which is having the same thought as a goal, as a directive towards the future, a couple of times a day for months at a time. The reason that I taught that is it worked. It worked because a strong intention seems to allow the universe to pay attention to what you are thinking of, as long as the strong intention is reasonable to you.

So that if someone says "I want to double my income," that usually is very reasonable and usually not very difficult. That was one of the reasons why I was moderately successful teaching executives, because a lot of them wanted that; it wasn't a terribly difficult challenge.

e.com: As opposed to doubling your height.

Fadiman: Exactly, right. Or as opposed to winning the marathon.

e.com: Not finishing, but winning.

Fadiman: As I pointed out to them, the problem with winning is that someone else may have already taken this same course that I'm teaching, and if the both of you have the affirmation of winning, then there's a problem. But if you have the affirmation of doing the best you've ever done in the same marathon, that's a very reasonable and easy affirmation.

What I found is that when people are willing to let the future be the future they choose, then their future is much more like that. I don't recommend that people try putting their fists through walls or jumping off tall buildings, because most people deep deep down, know they can't do it. That deep deep down know they can't do it gets in the way of this affirmation philosophy. This way of saying that thoughts are harder than diamonds, is that people's lives tend to be what they have thought they would be.

The way I bring this home is I ask people to tell me about one of their faults, and then I let them describe how they have built their life around making sure that that fault would be maintained. When someone says, "I am in one bad relationship after another," I point out to them that they have already learned my little system, which is that they put out this thought on a daily or very often basis, and when they enter a new situation, say a relationship, they set it up so that they are defining how it will work out, which in this case is "badly." Then they do what they can, both consciously and unconsciously, to make it work out badly. Then at the end they say, "Aha, I have gotten what I achieved, or what I -- not what I said I wanted -- but what I said would happen," which is "I never have a good relationship."

So, when I run it backwards against people's negativity, people can understand that their thoughts indeed have created the futures that they have been walking around in.

e.com: Their payoff is that they get to be right.

Fadiman: Their payoff is that they're getting exactly what they said was so. If that's true, that you get what you've said is so, it's far wiser to be more conscious and say what you would rather it be. If you're going to have a future -- which is very hard to avoid -- you might as well have one you choose, rather than you have one you've unconsciously chosen or that you've neurotically chosen.

e.com: It doesn't bother you that this notion goes against ordinary science?

Fadiman: I've never found it to go against ordinary science.

e.com: That somehow your thoughts and mind are interacting with the future?

Fadiman: Ordinary science has very little to say about it other than a few theoretical speculations. Ordinary science is almost all about past events. What they're saying is if they can see a pattern in past events, they'll say the same thing will occur in the future. Now what I'm saying is the same thing, which is, look at your past pattern of thoughts, and notice that if you think those in the future, your future will resemble the past. It's absolutely in line with deductive science.

e.com: Some people will pay teachers vast amount of money to take seminars where they will learn, in 5 or 7 days, to get an intense experiential feeling of this sort of way of looking at the future as a reality. Then they will be done with the seminar, and two months later they are pretty well back to where they were. How can, without spending all that money ... I guess you said that affirmations is one way, just committing to spending five minutes a couple of times a day?

Fadiman: Yup. Now, unfortunately, while I said this wouldn't be the case, at this point I'd say that by buying my book for $12.95 you will save yourself from going to any more of these seminars.

e.com: And your book is called?

Fadiman: Unlimit Your Life. It has little teeny exercises, not as long as five minutes, because book readers won't do five minute exercises, but they will do ten second exercises It says "learn how you were put together, that your childhood of course influenced you a lot." However, at some point, you have to acknowledge that your childhood is over, whether you liked it or not, and that there are some very kind of ordinary practices and ordinary understandings which will make your life work better.

It's a book about functioning at the normal level of behavior, it's really not a book about spiritual growth. My theory is that if you're life is working -- if you're physically healthy, if you're emotionally happy, if your work is interesting, and that you feel good about yourself, meaning you'll allow good things to happen -- then spiritual practices and spiritual growth come a lot easier. That's in contradistinction to the "suffering is terrific" school. Suffering gives you chances to learn, but happiness gives you just as many opportunities to learn. You just may have to pay a little bit more attention. But I find the tradeoff well worthwhile.

e.com: It's almost a Maslow hierarchy of needs kind of thing. If you get a lot of ordinary stuff handled then you'll have enough spare attention.

Fadiman: Right. And if you turn the Maslow hierarchy on its head so that the little tip of the pyramid is on the bottom, it now says "spiritual clarity first and then all the other variables will be easier to get." It's a lot easier to earn a living if you have some idea that the universe is basically beneficent. So, getting that the universe is basically beneficent is a good foundation. You can run the Maslow hierarchy either way.


Questioning Meditation & Psychotherapy

e.com: That's nice. Now I've heard you be dismissive, maybe even a bit irreverent, towards two different concepts that a lot of people hold pretty well sacred. One is psychotherapy and the value of therapists in general, and the other is sitting meditation and the value of that.

You and I have one friend who is a practicing Tibetan Buddhist who really wants to take you to task over meditation and have a long talk with you about this at some point. Do you say these things just to get people to think differently, or do you really think that a lot of people are spending more time on these things than is really most beneficial for them.

Fadiman: Let's look at spiritual practices first because the issues are very different. Some of the work I've done over the years has been within Sufism and particularly with the works of Idries Shah. One of the things that is discussed there at some length is the problem that any spiritual practice, if you do it often enough, becomes a habit pattern, a kind of mindless, repetitive, almost trance-like or hypnotic event

e.com: Food for the ego?

Fadiman: No, just a form of obsession, ruminating. In psychopathology, if someone keeps thinking the same thought over and over we call it an obsession, or fanaticism if they see everything in terms of the same issue. But when we call it a spiritual practice, it gets elevated. One of my little dictums is "anything done long enough and often enough will cease to work."

Try eating your favorite desert every night. You will pretty soon learn that it ain't your favorite dessert because you have satiated the pleasure right out of it. One of my concerns, is that most repetitive spiritual practices eventually put people into trance. That's repetitive practices.

I know as well the theory that if you do a repetitive practice long enough, then something else happens. I'm interested in the something else, and is there a better way than years and years of repetitive practice to get to the something else?

e.com: So rather than years and years of repetitive practice to numb out your mind so that something else can break through, why not find a better way to get to that something else?

Fadiman: Yes. It's like if I scratch at the door long enough, I'll scratch right through the door. But if I can find where the handle is, ... and my goal is not to become an expert scratcher ... I can probably go right through.

The Buddhists actually say it beautifully. You use the Buddhist doctrine and practices like a boat to cross the great water. But when you get to the other side you don't take the boat, and put it on your head, and walk around with a boat on your head. You put the practice aside because its taken you where it was supposed to take you.

That's the position I take on spiritual practices that don't seem to be developing a person. Now, it certainly keeps them out of trouble, keeps them off the streets, and keeps them from watching TV. There's lots of advantages to spiritual practices as a way to become more harmless, and I certainly applaud anything that improves harmlessness. But that's not the important goal.

The issue for psychotherapy is a different one. Most people, when they say "psychotherapy," are still thinking of vaguely what Freud did. Which is one person sits in the down position, and the other person sits slightly in the up position, and the down person does most of the talking.

e.com: The "talking cure" with a hierarchy.

Fadiman: Yes. And the reason that the up person says less is that the up person is doing almost all the listening, and saying when it seems to be an appropriate moment to interfere, or intervene, or make a suggestion, or clarify or comment. I think that's a wonderful way to do self-discovery.

The problem with psychotherapy is that it is incredibly inefficient. As a way of getting what you want, it is inefficient. As a way of exploring your past, or your attitudes, or your sexual behavior, or your spiritual concerns, as a way of self-exploration, it's a delight. I think it's a luxury, and I think it's one that would be wonderful if more people enjoyed.

When I was teaching my executives how to get all their goals in life, and they'd say "What are the advantages of psychotherapy?" I'd say that psychotherapy is like ice-fishing. With stream fishing, you walk around, go up and down the stream, you find where the fish are, you watch them, you maneuver yourself into the best possible position and you fly-cast over the fish. That's very efficient.

Ice fishing is you go out over the lake, and you can't see anything anywhere, and you find a place which at least won't break, and you drill a hole in it, and then you run something down this hole where you can't see anything anyway, and you hope that a fish will come, because the thing that you dropped down the hole is a little more attractive than the empty water. It's more of a crap shoot.

But it's too often like Marcel Proust, who basically reminisced brilliantly. He had no intention of "getting better." He was fine. But he did find the act of reminiscing was in itself an enormous pleasure and a kind of sensual delight and he turned it into a great work of literary genius. But suppose you said to Proust, "Have you ever noticed that you like to spend your life in a cork-lined room with almost no light most of the time and rarely see anyone?" He would say, "Are you suggesting I should go to psychotherapy and work this through?" And if you said, "Yes," then he'd say, "You don't really understand what we're up to."

I prefer what's called "counseling." There's a great cartoon I saw once that looks like a therapy office and the person is saying, "No, no, this is called counseling. I do the talking." There are two more experiences that prejudice me against long psychotherapy therapies. When I was at Stanford as a counselor, Stanford students were very clear that they really didn't have a lot of time for me or therapy.

They had terrible things going wrong in their lives -- some were psychotic, some were sexually dysfunctional, some were sure they were going to flunk out, some were hating their parents, lots of them weren't getting enough dates, a very conventional round of issues. But almost all of these students were bright, literate, verbal, moderately well to-do, moderately good looking. What they really wanted from counseling was to get over their obstacles and get on with their lives. So they did.

The other experiences I had came from my mid-60's research on psychedelics as psychotherapy. When you use psychedelics as a psychotherapy, especially LSD or mescaline, which is what I was working with a Federal new drug investigational license -- this was totally legitimate work -- we found that one large psychedelic session lasting approximately 10 to 12 hours, high dose, with a therapeutic orientation, basically gave people enough information so that in the next 6 to 12 months their lives began to turn around, with a tiny bit of follow-up. I basically got spoiled seeing that if you had the right tools, people could make swift, lasting psychotherapeutic changes.



To Part II of the Jim Fadiman Interview

| Home |