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An (In-Depth) Enlightenment Interview with
Professor Charles T. Tart

Picture of Charles T. Tart

[NOTE: Select Video Clips From This Interview Are Also Available.]

This interview with Professor Charles T. Tart was conducted Jordan Gruber on Thursday afternoon, April 15, 1999, in Professor Tart's home office near Berkeley, California. Professor Tart, as many of you know, is one of the most versatile and prolific consciousness scholars of the past half century. Perhaps best known for his work on (1) altered states of consciousness and (2) parapsychology, Professor Tart has consistently applied his radio engineering and systems science background to provide all of us with clearer ways of thinking about some very challenging subjects.

A Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Davis, Professor Tart currently teaches at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto. Professor Tart has his own web page (of course!), but please stick around and read this interview before you vector off into his complex, psycho-dimensional world ...

Picture of Jordan Gruber in Professor Tart's Office

Finally, after having spent a little bit of time with Professor Tart, I can tell you that perhaps the two most impressive things about this man are his humbleness and his heart. He is someone who does his very best to live what he teaches, and I feel honored and lucky to have spent an afternoon with him.

-- Jordan Gruber

Charles T. Tart Virtual Library Insignia

Many of Professor Tart's books are, unfortunately, out of print and can not be purchased through ordinary online sources. Luckily, however, you can purchase most of the books -- many of them signed! -- from Professor Tart's website. You'll have to print out an old-fashioned order form and send it in, but it will be well worth it. And please mention that you heard about the books here at Enlightenment.Com.


Interview Contents

A T.A.S.T.E. of Two Worlds

The Illogic of Scientism

State Specific Tool Use

The Strange Situation of Many Choices

Vacationing from Enlightening Pursuits

Talking Is Not Reality

Digital Darshan

Gurdjieff, Group Work, and Projection

Saying No To The Need To Know

A Little Calmer and Saner

The Horror of Ordinary Life

The Space Between Thoughts

A T.A.S.T.E. of Two Worlds

Enlightenment.Com: Good afternoon, Professor Tart. Thank you for having me in your home and allowing me to interview you. You've long been one of my intellectual and scientific heroes.

You've had an extremely productive career. Your basic approach has always been as a scientist, but at the same time you've managed to "let the light in," as you put it in one of your texts. You've managed to keep the psycho-spiritual as your main focus, and you've managed to stay in both worlds at the same time. Has that been difficult for you?

CTT: You perhaps give me too much credit, Jordan. I try to keep a foot in both the spiritual world and the scientific world. I do a better job of keeping a foot in the scientific work because that's where my training is and I have some expertise. The spiritual world ... I try. I don't think I'm all that knowledgeable about it. But, to answer your question, oh yes, it can produce difficulties.

Most scientists have been educated in a way that automatically ridicules the spiritual. They simply dismiss it as something that you don't look at scientifically, you just say "it's primitive nonsense. The less we have to do with it, the better."

That's why the main project I'm going to be devoting the next few years to is what I call my T.A.S.T.E. project, The Aarchives of Scientists Transcendent Experiences, where I'm going to provide a safe space for scientists to describe their own transcendent, spiritual, psychic kinds of experiences.

One Taste Icon

Over the years, I don't know how many scientists have come up to me once they kind of know who I am and realize it's safe to talk to me, to tell me about a spiritual experience they've had that they could never talk about among their scientific colleagues. They'd be laughed at, they'd be ridiculed, and they might hurt their careers significantly, so they've been keeping these things secret. And that's not particularly healthy, to have to sit on your own transcendent experiences.

Picture of Book Opoen Mind, Discriminating Matter, by Tart

The Illogic of Scientism

Enlightenment.Com: And yet you also probably face the opposite problem .... I'm going to jump to where I wasn't going to jump, and bring up parapsychology right now.

CTT: You might as well: part of my time is devoted to parapsychology.

Enlightenment.Com: I knew you were going to say that.

CTT: It is funny. Often I don't like to be described as a parapsychologist per se, because while I've worked hard at scientific parapsychology as part of my career work, there are a lot of people who call themselves parapsychologists who are not trained in scientific method, who are not very careful about what they do, and having those kinds of results associated with the scientific ones just takes away credibility from the scientific stuff.

Not that anybody can't be interested, but, you know, we don't let someone call themselves a physician unless they've gone to medical school, pass state boards, and all that kind of thing. But there's no such restriction on parapsychology.

Enlightenment.Com: Enlightenment.Com did a review of Dean Radin's book, The Conscious Universe ...

CTT: Oh yes.

Enlightenment.Com: ... and interviewed Dean Radin. The review said it was a marvelous, wonderful book, and that any open-minded scientist, at this point, who read the book, would have to admit that the evidence for PSI is undeniable, and that there is really something there. We don't understand it, but there is something there.

Then, at my day job, at NASA, I ran into a statistician, who has posted what he feels about Dean Radin's book on the web. Now what he says is that these guys, that is, Dean Radin and those who are backing him up, such as the statistician Jessica Utts at U.C. Davis, well, they simply don't understand the file drawer effect. This critic has said that basically, if you had roughly the same number of experiments that did not show results, that would even it all out, while Dean Radin et al. are saying you'd have to have dozens, or hundreds, of no-results experiments to wash away the effect.

My sense is that this critic, who is brilliant in his own right in his field, is not seeing that these are very smart people who have thought very hard about these issues. I was hoping he would be the open-minded scientist, but I'm afraid he might not be.

CTT: I went through exactly that same argument years ago with criticisms on some of my own parapsychological research. I was very aware of the file drawer problem. Back then I said, "Well, if it's true that the positive stuff I've published is just the chance side of all the experiments I've failed, then the funny thing is that I seem to have carried out another six million experiments or so that I can't remember. Gee, I must be getting absent-minded."

You run into so much illogic here. Back in the 1960's there was an article in Science, which is probably the most prestigious general science magazine in this country, on parapsychology, and the author, right up front, said something like "no intelligent man can read the evidence for ESP and doubt that it exists, but, since we know it's impossible, we must conclude that all of that evidence is due to error and fraud." Well [laughing] he made me furious, but on the other hand, his position was very clear: he knows the "Truth," with a capital "T," and he needn't be bothered with looking at evidence.

Now, that is not science, it is scientism. I've been thinking about this a lot, about how science emerged as a rebellion against the overbearing authority of the Church, which said "if you want to know something, read the approved Church authorities." If you want to know how bodies fall, read Aristotle. Science was a rebellion which said, "We want to look for ourselves." We want to actually go out and drop some things and see if heavier bodies fall faster than lighter ones.

We needed that scientific rebellion to free up our culture, and we had wonderful things come of it. But when you get to areas like parapsychology, people who are professional scientists are now acting like Church authorities: they know the "Truth" with a capital "T," and they are defending it against heresy, and they don't want people to go out and look. That's the saddest part. Some of these pseudo-skeptics often actually try to keep grant money from being given to parapsychologists to do research.

As a psychologist, I can understand how people try to defend their worldviews and their prejudices, but it saddens me. That's not what real science is about.

Enlightenment.Com: There's a parallel here to entheogens and that sort of research.

CTT: Oh yes. So many areas where it's "just believe in established authority and don't get any new data for yourself." That's what's called "scientism," incidentally, and this is a really important distinction. Sociologists came up with that term back in the '40s when they began to realize that a lot of scientists, instead of taking their theories as simply the best intellectual framework we can put on things for now, but they are always subject to new data, started getting arrogant, like "we have the truth now, and we don't have to look at anything." Scientism is like any fundamentalist religion. It's intolerant, it's arrogant, and it certainly doesn't want any new facts coming in.

Again, I understand it as a psychologist. We get attached to our belief systems. But it's a lousy way to make progress.

Enlightenment.Com: How do you like Mario Varvoglis's Psi Explorer CD-ROM?

Picture of PSI Explorer CD-ROM

CTT: Oh, I think it's neat and I want to find more time to play with it.

Enlightenment.Com: Have you played with the Gate?

CTT: Just a little bit.

Enlightenment.Com: With the Buddha's that become larger, and the sounds becoming more intense, and the Tibetan chanting picks up?

CTT: I haven't had anywhere near as much time to play with it as I want to but I think he's done a marvelous job at introducing something that would tell everybody about PSI and give you a chance to test your ability and play with it.

Enlightenment.Com: Yes, it really is a state-of-the-art piece of work that he did. A last question about parapsychology: what is it about Palo Alto and parapsychology? You're there at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Dean Radin lives there, Russell Targ lives there ... do you think it is just coincidence?

CTT: [Laughter.] You're asking me what the bigger patterns of the cosmos are?

Enlightenment.Com: Yes I am.

CTT: I don't know, but it's kind of interesting. I came out to Palo Alto the first time in 1963 on a postdoctoral fellowship, which was quite funny in and of itself. I had already done a little bit work in parapsychology research in the psychology of sleep, and dreams, and hypnosis. I was going to do a postdoctoral fellowship at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka Kansas with Gardner Murphy and my advisors back in graduate school were horrified: Gardner Murphy .... he had actually written a book on Asian psychologies, and thought we could learn something from people in other cultures!

Well, they didn't want an impressionable young man like me exposed to a wildman like Gardner Murphy, so they got me a postdoctoral fellowship in California at the peak of the psychedelic revolution and saved me from all those wild influences in Kansas.

Enlightenment.Com: Yes, right in the middle of Santa Cruz, Haight-Ashbury, and Berkeley, they put you in Palo Alto. And the Merry Pranksters, and SRI, and a whole bunch of other things.

CTT: [Laughter.] It's just such a live area in terms of ideas, and not just abstract ideas but people living out different visions. It's a wonderful climate.

Picture of Book Altered States of Consciousness by Tart

State Specific Tool Use

Enlightenment.Com: Let's turn to enlightenment, a subject near and dear to both of us.

CTT: Well, you know, I don't know what "enlightenment" is. My specialty is endarkenment."

Enlightenment.Com: Shadow work?

CTT: No, no, both professionally and personally I've been practicing and studying endarkenment for close to 60 years now and I feel quite expert in how to become more deluded and more confused. I figure if I do less of that stuff, I'm probably moving in the direction of enlightenment, whatever it is. [Laughter.]

Enlightenment.Com: Well, your definition in your book Waking Up, although you never give a specific definition ....

CTT: .... Thank goodness. I thought you caught me in having the chutzpah to try to define enlightenment.

Enlightenment.Com: Well, you talk about being able to access many states, and being able to competently and intelligently move about within the states. Your whole idea of state specific studies came up as well. This is a very different kind of definition than a lot of people have. I'm thinking, for instance, of Ken Wilber, who will come up several times during our conversation, because of his affect on my framework. He has a hierarchical system where there are definite different stages, culminating in non-dual awareness at the very highest.

But the way you frame it, which is more practical and pragmatic, American, almost a utilitarian approach ...

CTT: I'll accept those adjectives as a compliment. I'm very grounded in the practical.

Enlightenment.Com: Right. To be able to move about, and respond to your world depending upon what's coming up, that's not an easy thing to do.

CTT: Yes. I mean, do you want to experience non-dual consciousness when you are crossing the street and that truck swings around the corner and is bearing down on you?

Enlightenment.Com: Absolutely not.

CTT: I think that's a wonderful time to feel separate and biological and vulnerable and get out of the street fast. Yes, I'm very concerned with not getting into generalities like "higher and lower states of consciousness." Higher for what? Lower for what?

Enlightenment.Com: People seem to get very hung up on whether or not it's the highest or the lowest ...

CTT: ... Exactly ...

Enlightenment.Com: ... and anybody, for example, who has had a really good "nature mysticism" experience, to use Wilber's term, well, they are never the same person, and who's to say that, for example, the things that Castaneda talked about aren't really real or not. Maybe we're all going down the wrong dark alleys.

CTT: I was giving a lecture once on states of consciousness, and I happened to have a screwdriver and a pair of pliers in my pocket -- I don't have the same ones with me, but [reaching into his belt] here's a Leatherman tool that turns into a pair of pliers, and here's my Swiss Army knife, that would certainly have a screwdriver.

Enlightenment.Com: You've got the little one, I see [pointing to perhaps the largest Swiss Army knife made].

CTT: [Laughter] Yeah. And I held this up and said "How many people think *this* is the better tool?" And about half the hands in the audience went up. And then I said, "Now how many people think *this* is the better tool?" And the other half of the hands went up. And then they started faltering as people realized, "Better for what?"

A screwdriver is a superior tool for certain applications and the worst tool you could have for others. The same for anything. I take that same approach to states of consciousness. Any state of consciousness is probably a very good tool for dealing with certain aspects of reality and a very poor tool for others. So the point is to know what tool is good for the situation you're in and get in to a state of consciousness that's useful for that.

Now maybe there is some enlightened state that is uniformly better for everything ... I don't know. That's way beyond my immediate experience. Meanwhile, back in practical reality, if we can know what state we're in, how well it's suited to what we have to do, and have the option to change to a better state, I think we've got a big advantage.

Enlightenment.Com: That would almost be something like a meta-communicator that would be able to talk and discuss things between your different sub-personalities.

CTT: Yes. I think there is some part of us that can recognize what state we're in and sort of cross the boundaries of other states and have some inkling of what we should do at that point.

Picture of Book Living the Mindful Life by Tart

The Strange Situation Of Many Choices

Enlightenment.Com: Now, you yourself have tried many paths: Rolfing, Gurdjieff, encounter groups, entheogens, A Course in Miracles, hypnosis, all sorts of different things.

CTT: You make me sound like a Californian.

Enlightenment.Com: You are, sir.

CTT: [Laughter] Even though I was born in New Jersey, I certainly think of myself as a Californian.

Enlightenment.Com: Even with having tried all of those things, there are dozens, hundreds, of things that you haven't tried and that I haven't tried. When a person is either setting out, or well along their own path of development, what kind of advice can you give them for figuring out what they should do next?

We can rely on synchronicity, or who you happen to know, or what the Sufi's call "right time right place" .... but a lot of that seems haphazard.

CTT: That's right, it is. Remember our background here for most of human history. The spiritual path that was best for you was the only one available to you; you didn't have much choice. We are in the strange situation of having a lot of choices.

I wish I knew how to advise people, and by and large I don't. I can say general things like, "examine your motives as to why this path is attractive." Do you get to wear a special robe and feel superior? Maybe that's not the best possible motivation. Does it make you feel like you'll get psychic powers and you'll take care of your enemies? Maybe that's not the best motivation.

I wish I could give people better advice. I can't. Most spiritual teachers, basically, teach the way they were taught ... which works out fine for some people, which may be a waste of time for others, and which might be the wrong direction for still some others. I wish I could advise more specifically.

One of my dreams -- that I don't know if I'll ever see this in my lifetime -- is that we just take the next 100,000 people who go into various spiritual paths, test the hell out of them -- every psychological test that we've got -- we've got to use them all because we don't really know which ones are really most relevant, and we'll check on them every five years. Then maybe some day you would come to me with a question like that and I could say, "take these tests," and after I've scored them I could say, "look, from purely empirical knowledge, whatever you do don't do Zen. Your type has a 30% chance of psychosis with Zen. But Sufi dancing, 0% chance of psychosis, although a strong chance of not much satisfaction."

I'd love to be able to give that differential kind of advice, and I hope some day we do the research that will do it. But we're a long way from that now, unfortunately, so you find a path that has heart, check your own motivation, and try to learn from it.

Enlightenment.Com: Let's say that this idea of testing people can't be done now because no one is going to fork over that sort of money. But the idea behind the Enlightenment.Com website, ultimately, is that if we were to provide individuals with interactive, multi-media "tastes" of the whole spectrum of psycho-spiritual technologies -- a cross between, let's say, Consumer Reports and National Geographic ...

CTT: [Laughter] ...wonderful analogy ...

Enlightenment.Com: Thank you. ... then they would, on their own, be able to begin to divine what sort of things feel good to them, or feel right, or perhaps you could even have people in different types or states of bliss or ecstasy -- for example, someone who was successful at long-distance running or meditation or working with different types of groups -- and there might be ways of allowing the free marketplace of ideas to help people sift between these choices, to rationalize the delivery system (in the best sense of the term "rational") to some extent.

CTT: I think that's a great idea to give people "tastes" of a variety of different paths. But again, I would say you should add a little warning that after you find a few that you really like, step back and examine your motivations. Because what you like ... you may be liking it from various levels of yourself.

Again, if you're neurotic and can't make friends, the path that seems to have lots of activities with all of these people may be really appealing, perhaps even what you need at that psychological level, but it may not be what you need at a spiritual level.

As you can tell from remarks I've said already, I think the unexamined life is not worth living. I think increasing your self-knowledge, learning to observe yourself ... to put it in scientific terms, make a lifelong scientific project out of understanding your own mind, and your own feelings and perceptions, is a really important part of all this.

I don't think it works very well to assume that the right guru will come along and give you the teachings and you just follow them and everything is hunky dory after that. That backfires a lot of the time. We have to be responsible for ourselves, and we can't be very responsible for ourselves until we have a good knowledge of ourselves.

Vacationing from Enlightening Pursuits

CTT: I also advise in my Waking Up book that if you've been following a spiritual path, once in a while you take a sabbatical from it, to get away from all those influences. Try to recover your more general or older self and say "where have I actually gone?" You can't do it when you're in the middle of it.

Enlightenment.Com: Excellent point.

CTT: If you're in a group that wants you to conform, and reinforces your participation ... you've got to take a vacation.

Enlightenment.Com: I've just left six years of men's work. It's great stuff; I love it, I participated, I've grown, I've given ... and then I just decided: it was time to take a break. Because ... I needed to see.

CTT: Good. That was a smart thing to do.

Enlightenment.Com: There's a lot of resistance from all the men that I normally hang out with once a week.

CTT: That's right, because you're questioning what they are doing if you think you need a break now. It's really hard to separate out our social needs which we might fulfill by being part of any particular spiritual path and our actual spiritual needs.

One safety factor is to have a socially satisfying life that has nothing to do with your spiritual needs. If you have a hard time making friends, the spiritual path is dangerous in a sense because you are going to use it as a way to find friends. That's liable to pervert the process in funny kinds of ways.

Enlightenment.Com: I can't tell you how often in my mid-twenties I used New Age seminars to meet a lot of women ....

CTT: I can imagine.

Enlightenment.Com: It was very effective. Boundaries were down ...

CTT: We're human beings. We have our social needs, we have our security needs, and all that kind of thing, but again, if we can get more self-knowledgeable and not confuse the one with the other we're less likely to make a mistake.

Picture of book Body Mind Spirit edited by Tart

Talking Is Not Reality

Enlightenment.Com: What about technology in general? Can technology help wake us up and stay more conscious? Think of a small, watch-size type of device that you could wear, that you could program, that somehow you would interact with when you were going into your standard patterns ... for example, eating foods you really don't want to it. No one has really ever come up with a really good "thing" that you could wear, interact with, or dialog with. Do you think something like that would be useful?

CTT: It can help up to a certain point. In fact, I use to use a device like that. It's called a "Motivator." I don't know if it's still available on the market or not. It runs on a little vibrator in your pocket on semi-random intervals. I used it when I was doing Gurdjieff work as an external reminder to come to my senses. To pay attention to what I was actually doing.

Now, all gadgets like that will work up to a certain point if your goal is greater self awareness. The tricky point is that after a while when the device beeps or whatever, you develop a habit of thinking "now I'm more present," "now I'm more awake," but you are not actually coming to the present and becoming more awake.

Enlightenment.Com: This is like that anecdote you spoke about in terms of self-remembering when you realized you had been reading about it for three months without actually doing the practice.

CTT: That's right. Reading about it and explaining it to other people! [Laughter] But not actually doing it. We can so easily substitute words and imagination for doing any actual attention training. Again, this is one of the areas of endarkenment where I feel quite expert, unfortunately.

Enlightenment.Com: Gurdjieff had a name for that sort of false personality. You talked about that too, someone who keeps thinking about all the great things he'll do but never actually gets to it.

CTT: Ah yes, the "weak yogi." A person whose intellect was tremendously developed, but whose emotional brain was not developed, whose body and instinctive brain was not developed. I've explored that path very thoroughly. Most of us college professors do very well in the weak yogi part of life. Great words. And then you look at the actual quality of our lives and there is a great deal lacking.

Enlightenment.Com: Aw come on. You've got a black belt in Aikido ...

CTT: Well, that was one of the results of realizing I needed to develop more than my intellectual intelligence. I saw a demonstration of Aikido that Bob Frager put on, twenty or thirty years ago. I liked it. Here was a martial art that was based on love? And yet was effective self-defense and good exercise? I wanted that. I arranged for a black belt to come up to Davis a couple of times a week and teach a class in Aikido which I took faithfully.

Within three weeks I could describe Aikido much better than my teacher could. And I could relate it to different philosophies, and psychological developments, and world religions. But I noticed I couldn't actually do anything. He could throw me across the room practically with a wave of his little finger, and all I could do was talk. Well, I got my black belt in talking about the time I was ten, I think. But talking is not reality when it comes to a body intelligence art like Aikido.

It took me years to learn to listen and watch from a different part of mind and gradually learn Aikido on an entirely different kind of level. Not talking. Talking about it is not the reality. That's a hard lesson to learn. Sometimes I feel I'm almost up to normal in terms of body intelligence up to this point. But I don't think my body intelligence will ever catch up with my talking intelligence, because that's the way I was overbalanced to begin with.

Enlightenment.Com: How do you feel about the web overall? Has it changed the nature of consensus trance?

CTT: I would have to know more about people's psychological reactions to it than I do. I know it can certainly deepen consensus trance. I used to be part of a Buddhist students listserve where people talked very frankly about their experiences in trying various types of meditative practices and the like. We once had a long discussion of how tranced out we tend to get when we are in front of that screen. We all admitted to it. Those words are very hypnotic the way they were coming out on the screen. What could we do to do something about it? We all found that there were things we could do, like look away from the screen eventually and realize where you are and that you have a body and so forth. But it's so easy to forget to do that.

You can get information that can help you wake up, can help you see your spiritual potential over the web. But in most cases you have to be careful not to mistake having information for actually knowing something at a deeper level. And avoid simply getting hypnotized by it.

Just having the words about spirituality and having the knowledge is not the same thing. The words can be helpful. The words can point. I eventually learned that some words in Aikido can get you to do the right thing. If it's words like "your left foot should be forward rather than your right," the words are helpful up to that point. But the more subtle and more important aspects of it are beyond words. Believe me, I know about the hypnosis of words. I sometimes introduce myself in AA style: "Hi, my name is Charley. Words are my drug of choice. Concepts! Oh, give me a good concept and I get so high. Whoa!"

Enlightenment.Com: Is it just understanding them or also communicating them to people?

CTT: Oh communicating them to. I can not only be drunk on the words myself in an almost literal sense, I can get other people drunk on them.

It's really hard to not do that kind of thing. At ITP I teach a course each year on mindfulness. There I am, the professor, the authority, up in the front of class, and it's a real discipline for me to try to stay at least somewhat anchored in the here and now when I talk about these things and not get hypnotized by my words about being present while not being at all present myself.

Enlightenment.Com: Which no one else will know because your words are so effective.

CTT: Well, I hope by the end of the course they've tasted enough of what it's like to be able to spot me when I'm getting funny. [Laughter] I don't think that they could spot the difference right at first, unfortunately.

Enlightenment.Com: Also, as for computers and the web, there may actually be a physiological component of the magnetic and electronic radiation coming out of the computer and screen. Whether or not they cause cancer is one question. But there might be some way that they sink into your nervous system or your broader energy body and actually reinforce that kind of trance.

CTT: I have no idea. But the informational junk we put in is far and away the biggest pollution in life. These other environmental things are important, but when I think about the crap we put into our minds, with no discrimination, with no awareness, that's the major source of pollution.

Enlightenment.Com: I think it was John Lilly who talked about that our natural state is one of happiness and bliss, and anything that is taking us out of there is unnatural.

Digital Darshan

Enlightenment.Com: "Digital Darshan" relates to whether it will be possible to effectively communicate different spiritual experiences and states of consciousness. Some say no, because the web and electronics just don't get across whatever it is that one experiences when one is in the physical presence of a master. Whether it's pheromones, or energy bodies, or some kind of other felt physical presence, do you think there is some way to overcome this with the web and electronics ... a 3-D approach, or virtual environments, perhaps ... or is there always going to be a significant amount of teaching that can only be done in the presence of other people who are more awake?

CTT: I don't know. But I do know this: if we decide ahead of time that you can't have Digital Darshan, it will work out that way. I always liked Henry Ford's quote: those who think they can, and those who think they can't, are both right. If you set up a limitation and you are thinking about something ahead of time, your mind will tend to make that come true.

I think we should try transmitting spiritual stuff over the web, and find out how it works. Which aspects of it does it convey effectively and which ones don't? I want actual data on that. Again, it's my pragmatic scientific side. I don't want to theorize about what can and can't be done.

When you are in the presence of somebody who is more spiritual -- what a terrible word, quote "more spiritual" unquote -- a lot of things are happening. Maybe there are pheromones wafting in the air. I have no idea at this point. Maybe there is some kind of psychic energy that's restricted at a distance. Clearly, there's also your visual perceptions. So, for instance, we all run around through most of life like chickens with our heads cut off and if somebody just moves a little bit more slowly and mindfully, you can pick that up on some level. They realize there is something special.

In fact, a friend of mine who was traveling in the Middle East once and was complaining to his host about trouble getting through the crowds said, "Oh, walk like a wise man, walk slightly more slowly." He tried that, and crowds just automatically parted before him. I don't know that people particularly consciously noticed, but some part of them noticed that somebody was not running around crazy here, so pay more attention to him.

Something like that could certainly be conveyed, a certain quality of movement, motion, and so forth. Let's find out what we can do.

Enlightenment.Com: And voice. I remember listening to Patricia Sun speak on tape, and whenever I come away from listening to her speak I always feel high. She talks like ... Angeles Arien does the same thing. I've certainly been ... I don't know if hypnotized is the right word ... but induced into different states.

CTT: Yes. In the Gurdjieff work I've done over the years I've learned to pay a lot of attention to tone of voice. That's a tricky area for me because I used to do hypnosis research. So when I'm trying to teach people something about awakening, I've really got to monitor myself: am I being sexy and hypnotic, or am I just being more present which makes somewhat similar tones but which might have a different effect?

It's a real hard discrimination: am I being present in a way that will remind somebody else to be more present to their own reality, or am I being seductive and hypnotic and laying a trip on someone, even if I think it's for their own good, which is not at all the same thing as trying to give somebody a feeling of becoming more awake.

Enlightenment.Com: It might not be a black and white distinction.

CTT: No, it's not always a black and white distinction. You may put somebody more deeply into a trance, sometimes in ordinary consciousness, but it's a healthier trance than the craziness they're already going through. Like, for instance, the use of psychotropic drugs, like Paxil, or any of a number of other popular tranquilizers.

On one level you think, well, we should be able to do everything from our spiritual willpower and not have to rely on any kind of artificial aid. But on another level if somebody is freaking out because their bodily reactions are out of control, they don't have much choice. Some Prozac or something like that may give them the stability to then begin to do the inner work that's necessary.

An analogy I think of sometimes: did you ever drive a car that the shocks were shot on? You know, you hit a bump and it swerves and whatnot. You can control a car like that, but it's a white-knuckle don't-let-your-attention-lapse-for-a-fraction-of-a-second experience because you are driving a dangerous vehicle. Get the shocks fixed, you can drive the car more easily; if you can drive the body more easily, you then have some attention left over to work on other things.

Enlightenment.Com: Again, it's hard to tell, because some people might need to do the work that tranquilizers and Prozac will prevent them from getting to.

Getting back to Digital Darshan for a second, I was thinking about the idea of state specific video recordings and state specific learning modules, analogous to some of your work. There might be a way that both sides can get prepared and effectively help the transmission of whatever it is that can be transmitted.

CTT: That's right. I've certainly been in the presence of teachers who were in a very good state for transmitting something, but I knew I was in a rotten state and it was all wasted on me at that time. If there was some way I could go out and get in the right state and come back into a state where I could pick up more of what they were doing.

It doesn't often work that you can do that sort of thing, but, yes, I think there should be videos that are labeled "Do not look at unless you are in a certain kind of proper state, otherwise the experience will be diminished."

Enlightenment.Com: That's similar to the old Kabbalistic injunction of "Do not study this until you are 40 years old, a householder, married, etc."

Picture of Book Transpersonal Psychologies by Tart

Gurdjieff, Group Work, and Projection

Enlightenment.Com: Let's talk a little bit about Gurdjieff. Do you think he is still essentially correct? You've done a bunch of ... my sense in reading through your website and what you've published is that you've been turned on to A Course in Miracles, Buddhism, and some other things since you were very much into the Gurdjieff work. Have you found that they all complement each other, or is there a little bit of contradiction?

CTT: Well, when you say, "Was Gurdjieff right?", Gurdjieff wrote about an awful lot of things. For instance, there a whole cosmology that he wrote about that I don't have the slightest idea of whether it's brilliant and true and totally beyond me ...

Enlightenment.Com: ... food for the moon ...

CTT: ... or whether its pure nonsense designed to deflect the intellectually compulsive from getting in the way. I don't have any idea. But his psychological stuff, most of it, I've been able to check in my own life, and I've found that this guy is right on about an awful lot of things. It makes a great deal of sense to me. It certainly influenced my professional work and it's still part of my own practice. I've been into a lot of things, but if I had to describe the two major foci in my practice it would be Buddhism and Gurdjieff.

Now, I find that Buddhism, in the meditative sense, gives me deeper glimpses of what my mind is about. And it has a potential for very great profundity. I also notice that just about all the branches of Buddhism that I've been exposed to also say "Don't be mindful just on your cushion, take it out into everyday life," but what they actually teach you is all about what you do sitting on your special meditation cushion. In doesn't generalize into everyday life well.

Whereas Gurdjieff's work starts in everyday life and focuses there. I find the two of them compliment each other beautifully. And so if I were wise enough to start a new religion, I would combine Buddhism and Gurdjieff work because we need both. It's not enough to feel mindful and clear on your cushion, you've got to get some of that mindfulness out into everyday life. That's where we make our screw-ups.

When you're sitting and meditating and have a stupid thought, nobody's there, you're not saying anything, it won't cost you. But when you're not very clear in everyday life and you say something stupid as a result of that stupid thought, you can have consequences that will last for years. So we need it in both areas.

Enlightenment.Com: Is it possible to do the Gurdjieff work without a group?

CTT: It's possible to some extent, but I think a group helps immensely. But that gets into a tricky area, because I don't know if I recommend any Gurdjieff groups at this time.

Gurdjieff was a funny teacher. He was one of these crazy wisdom teachers who would not hold any truck with nonsense, who would not hesitate to abuse people, if he thought it would help them awake. His attitude was that people were in an absolutely terrible state, and if a little abuse improves them, well they are abusing themselves all the time anyway.

In the hands of somebody who is really moral and really wise and awake, that can be a very useful technique. It's also a technique that really appeals to charlatans who are deluded about their high spiritual state and get a kick out of abusing people. So there have been teachers who claimed to be in the Gurdjieff tradition and have been very abusive to other people and who I think have done a lot of damage.

So, it's a tricky path to go down, because anything in a group gets amplified. People go along with what the teacher does, and that's a mixed bag. I've watched this happen in all sorts of spiritual groups, not just Gurdjieff groups.

One of Freud's great insights was the phenomenon of transference. When we were children, we lived with a God and a Goddess. Our parents. And we took in everything they did as incredible. They knew so much, they were so powerful. There's still that child in us somewhere that can project this attitude onto other people: the magic mommy, or the magic daddy.

Now, if that gets projected onto a spiritual teacher ... well, one side of it is that it makes things work so much better. You hurt yourself? Well, mommy will kiss it and make it well. The things your teacher say are so wonderful, they touch you so deeply, you feel so good about it. Well, that's based on un-reality. This is not your mommy or daddy. You're an adult, and they're not your mommy.

So, there's a fragile side to it. If something happens to break a positive transference and it switches to a negative transference, suddenly "that charlatan has been exploiting me through my entire time here! I've learned nothing! I've been ruined." And so forth. A lot of false pseudo-positive progress suddenly turns has gone into this negative resentment. It's not a realistic relationship. I don't think most spiritual teachers understand the problem of transference.

Enlightenment.Com: Which is why so many of them seem to fall, especially with sexual scandals.

CTT: Yes, and there's a counter-transference also. I found this when I taught my own group in the Gurdjieff tradition -- it wasn't authorized by traditional Gurdjieff people, but I did an experimental group along that line -- and I eventually gave it up, and one of the reasons was that my students were getting a transference onto me no matter what I did.

Somebody would ask me a question and I'd say, "I don't know," and I'd see this look in their eyes or hear a tone in their voice where they thought my answer was profound. [Laughter] It wasn't profound. I just didn't know. I did not want that sort of thing developing. But when you are in the teacher role, and people start giving you this extra attention and this transference adulation, it's really dangerous to you. It gets you high, it makes you unaware of your own limitations and your own flaws.

I think every spiritual group should have some sort of independent consulting psychologist who monitors that sort of thing, and groups and teachers who are willing to look at it and work through it. It would be much less dangerous and much more real work would get done that way. It may be an ideal that is just totally out of touch with what could be done in reality, of course, but I think it would really help.

Enlightenment.Com: I know some people who are followers of Guru Mai or other teachers, and they actually believe their guru is God -- period -- can't make mistakes -- period -- and they seem to get a lot of value out of it and everybody seems very happy.

CTT: And I bet you know some people who have broken away from those things and thought it was a terrible thing and that they were terribly exploited.

Enlightenment.Com: Especially with some of the Newer Age things that pop up -- I don't want to mention any more names than I already have -- for instance, there are some groups I know of in Southern California. I had a close friend who was in one group for a while and she got really into it, and I said to her, "Do you completely trust the guru?" and she got pissed off at me that I could even question it. Six months later she got herself out because she realized that they started wanting more and more of her money, and her time ...

CTT: If somebody gets angry when you ask a question like that, I can't be sure, but to me that would be a sign that this is based on transference. If you have really solidly based, positive, caring, loving feelings towards somebody, if someone else questions those, you shouldn't feel threatened. If you feel threatened, that's a bad sign. And I'm not saying there aren't good reasons to give a lot of trust and love towards a teacher, or towards a group.

There are people around who know more than us, who have something very valuable to give, but personally, I could never give total trust to anyone like that. I'm probably just talking about my own shortcoming, but partly its based on this understanding of the problem of transference and projection which adds the unreality, and partly it's based on just a pragmatic thing.

You know, I like my plumber. He's a really neat guy. But I would not ask for his advice on my spiritual life or how to invest my retirement money. Can we have the maturity to say that somebody may be extremely good in some area of life, for example in an area that we label "spiritual," but not necessarily know everything about all aspects of life? Somebody who has been a monk all her life, a celibate monk, may have wonderful advice to give you about meditation, but do you want to take your marital problems to them when they have no practical experience?

There's no absolute guidelines you can apply here, but I think this is a case where we have to continue using our own intelligence and monitoring our own reactions and feelings and needs and hopes and fears. It's not easy, and there have been too many cases of people crashing when they have this devotion which is just based on unrealistic transference.

Enlightenment.Com: When you were just talking about generalizing form one area of expertise to another, I remember hearing somebody criticize the quoting of Einstein as to world peace and other subjects that he wasn't expert in. What did he know? He was a physicist....

Saying "No" To The Need To Know

Enlightenment.Com: You write at one point about how if your eyes focus on anything for a long time they become tired, and you'll see all sorts of visual distortions. I've also had the experience, though, of seeing strange visual distortions..... It seemed to me that I was beginning to see almost dark and light bands of lines, faces becoming large and luminous, animal faces, all these sorts of things. Maybe I can attribute it to my having been in my mid-twenties, maybe it was attributable to my overall mystical frame of mind back then, but sometimes it would happen in the midst of quite mundane happenings. I would see these things, and it seemed to me that I was actually beginning to experience completely other realities, that it wasn't just a question of my eyes being tired.

CTT: I have a quote I'm going to pull off my door here which I just typed up today because it's highly apropos.

Enlightenment.Com: Quote of the day.

CTT: Quote of the day. Kurt Vonnegut, in Cat's Cradle, said "Tiger got to hunt. Bird got to fly. Man got to sit and wonder: why, why, why? Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land, man got to tell himself he understand.."

We have experiences, and then we have our interpretations of experiences. We're simply not content to just sit with our experiences; we want to know: what do they mean? Part of spiritual growth, I think, is learning to just accept experiences sometimes and realizing that you don't have a good interpretation ....just let it be. Just be puzzled by it. It's a big universe. I don't understand it all.

Enlightenment.Com: There's a lot of mystery.

CTT: Yes. In fact, the compulsive need to fit everything into your frame of understanding is a kind of psychopathology of ordinary consciousness. Because that means a lot of times we truly don't understand something but we think we do, so now we have a distorted and mistaken understanding, which makes things worse.

The example I gave in one of my books is that if you look steadily at something you'll get all sorts of changes. That's good experience. It's the interpretation of it that I want people to be careful of.

If you were to look at a shiny spot on the wall, just steadily, after a while colors will appear around it, it will seem to move, it might get bigger and smaller. We now know that is based on ocular fatigue. The eye is not designed to have really steady input. And that's fine if you explain to a person that it's ocular fatigue.

But suppose you say, I want you to look at my sacred object here, and look at it very steadily, while I'm giving you a transmission of special spiritual powers. And you'll know my spiritual powers are working because you'll begin to see the aura around there. Well, that's manipulating somebody's mind for the sake of your own prestige. That's using interpretation in a way that is very unhealthy. So I want people to be real careful how they do things like this.

There's a comparable thing I've been reading about in an entheogen discussion group that I'm part of on the web. Someone was talking about one of the churches, Santa Dime, that uses psychedelics, ayahuasca. They give people this ayahuasca, often with very little preparation, and then when they are high on this stuff they do a lot of proselytizing for the church, and asking for money, and controlling people's behavior. I'm wondering, when is this introducing people to possible spiritual experience, and when is it brainwashing? I took that discussion quite seriously. Someone is in a very vulnerable state if they've taken an entheogen, they're very suggestible. You can open their mind to see things they haven't seen before, or you can screw up their mind and force experiences on them by way of manipulation. There are real ethical problems here.

People are so suggestible. I'm horrified by it. When somebody is in a very suggestible state, whether it is a drug-induced state or a ritual-induced state, or something like that, the line between manipulating them for your account and your beliefs, versus somebody actually helping to learn things relevant to their own personal spiritual growth, is a very fine line.

Enlightenment.Com: You need a lot of trust. A lot of ethical integrity.

CTT: That's right. And the person doing the guiding -- the psychotherapist or whatever -- has to have very high ethical integrity, and very good knowledge of what their own agenda is and how not to get involved in it.

Enlightenment.Com: Which is why it would be good if therapists and religious practitioners could use these substances after they've done some more research on them.

CTT: Yes. In a careful, legal, well controlled way, it could be very valuable.

Enlightenment.Com: Hopefully some people are working on that very intelligently.

CTT: I hope so. Whether it comes to pass, I don't know. Let's get on to a more optimistic topic.

Picture of Book Waking Up by Tart

A Little Calmer & Saner

Enlightenment.Com: When you see people on the streets, in the supermarket, wherever, do you see them as being very suggestible, and not that awake in the Gurdjieffian sense? How do you perceive ordinary people?

CTT: No, when I see people in the supermarket or in the parking lot, I'm generally asleep myself, carried away in my own internal thoughts, thinking about papers I want to write and whatnot. Just because I've tried to do Gurdjieff work doesn't mean I'm very good at it. [Laughter] I get to a point where sometimes I'm not so deeply asleep as I usually am, and sometimes I have moments of clarity where I think I see people a little more clearly. But I don't claim any great powers or any fantastic biding perceptions. I'm not as crazy as I used to be, and I'm a little calmer and saner, and I value that.

Enlightenment.Com: And you have more body intelligence.

CTT: I have more body intelligence, and my emotional intelligence is almost up to a normal level now instead of being the dumb, uneducated, neurotic I used to be. But I've got a long way to go.

Enlightenment.Com: What do you think about Ken Wilber's writings? And in particular, why do you think so many people are bugged by what Ken writes?

CTT: I don't know why they're bugged. I like his writings, they make sense to me, and at the same time they are also very theoretical in a way. They don't have much impingement on my every day reality. I do know about the mistakes we're making here, and I try to find some ways to do something about them.

Why people are bugged? I don't know. If they're bugged then they should write something even clearer and truer and better.

Enlightenment.Com: Yes, I guess most of us don't really have to worry whether this is unitary consciousness or nature mysticism or non-dual consciousness. This is a problem that we should have some day.

CTT: It's clear to me that Gurdjieff was right: most of us are walking around in very deep trance states, very deep dreamlike states; we're making a lot of mistakes that way, we're creating a lot of unnecessary suffering for ourselves and other people. Let's get back to the present and form that firm foundation of being able to live in the here and now and be clear in your perceptions and actions. With that foundation, a lot of the higher stuff will start taking care of itself. You try to skip that foundation, and the higher stuff can be used in the service of our lower needs.

Enlightenment.Com: This is almost a Maslow-type of analysis as well as actually a Marxian one, where Marx said get peoples' physical needs met and then we can talk about spirituality later on.

CTT: If I'm hungry, for food, for sex, for friendship or something like that, I may be in something called a spiritual path but I'm going to twist things around to fill those needs. This is not to say that everybody has got to be a rich fat cat before they can possibly think of something spiritual. It's not quite that clear a distinction, and some people who have great needs on another level nevertheless have very profound spiritual experiences and accomplishments.

But in general, let's try to take reasonable care of our ordinary needs and that will free up energy and clarity for the spiritual path. And that's reasonable care. If you're not going hungry, then you don't have to worry about whether or not you're getting the absolutely perfect diet. Or whether or not you can eat your way to enlightenment.

Enlightenment.Com: I tried that for years.

CTT: I think as Americans we do have the delusion that we can eat our way to enlightenment. Just a pure enough diet. Or as I said earlier, the mental junk food we pour into ourselves I think produces a lot more problems than the physical junk food.

Enlightenment.Com: This would be negative thoughts, beating ourselves up ...

CTT: Watching the news every night on TV. I don't watch the news for several reasons. One, it will depress me. It is mainly about tragedy that I personally can't do anything about. So why should I take in stuff that will make myself feel bad. I need some orientation to what's going on in the world, and occasionally when there is something I can do, I want to do that, but I don't want to overwhelm myself with negative stuff that I can't do anything about. What is that going to accomplish?

I'd rather focus my energy on the few areas where I can cast a little bit of light. So, if you're addicted to the news think about that as a junk food addiction, and why are you pouring all that stuff in? What practical result in making the world a better place does it have for you to know about every atrocity in every city in the world?

Enlightenment.Com: Virtually none.

CTT: Virtually none

Switching to a Gurdjieffian perspective on this, it's an interesting thing that maybe it makes you feel more alive to stimulate yourself with tragedy. Gurdjieff had this idea of the "food of impressions," something that psychology has not even begun to catch up with yet. That we need quality sensory input, just like we need vitamins. If we don't get enough vitamin C we get scurvy.

We also need high-quality sensory input. A lot of people think, that means "oh, I need to be surrounded by expensive beautiful paintings." No, it means you need to bring your mind to the present, and then ordinary impressions become high quality impressions. But if you're not getting that, somehow your mind knows you're starving and it goes for the sensational, the terrible news, "I suffer, therefore I am" kind of thing. At least I have a feeling I am alive if I feel bad about these things. It's meeting a need at some level but it's not the highest way we can function.

Enlightenment.Com: In one of her novels, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Starhawk talked about a particularly Jewish pathological way of taking a negative idea and thought and running it through your mind and thinking "it might happen" as a superstitious way of avoiding it actually happen. So, you agree to suffer now in real-time as a sacrifice to God so that the really bad thing won't happen to you.

CTT: Do we have any empirical data on whether that really works or not? I know people who have a life philosophy like that. They're lifelong pessimists and that way reality is never as bad as they expect it to be, which is sort of nice, but [loud laughter] I think that's a rough way to go.

Enlightenment.Com: At the same time, people really do tend to not look at all the good things they have in their lives. You can compare any of our lives to people 100 years ago, and by and large in terms of material wealth, and lifespan, and quality and variety of food, and all of that, we live in such great abundance, and we just don't get it.

CTT: I live an ordinary life by American standards, you know, I'm not rich or anything like that, and yet compared to people 100 years ago, I live better than a lot of Kings and Queens did. And when I remember that, I'm very grateful: this is an incredible life we lead.

Enlightenment.Com: It's so hard to not get focused on the little problems, and drive oneself crazy with them.

CTT: Yes.

Enlightenment.Com: And, so what's your advice to not do that?

CTT: [Laughter] Wake up. Learn to know yourself. I don't want to particularly plug books ... I think that's a terrible thing to do ...

Enlightenment.Com: Oh, what the heck.

CTT: I do have two books. One of them is Waking Up, and the other is Living the Mindful Life, and they're both, in different styles, about the subject about learning to become more clearly perceptive of what you're actually doing right now, what's actually happening right now. About becoming more intelligent in a sense because you, to put it in scientific terms, you're taking in actual data about reality and you stop being lost in your theories and beliefs and so forth and doing stupid things because you are out of touch. It's made a difference in my life.

I'm no great shucks as a meditator, you know, I don't have these profound meditative states that a lot of people have, but I learned enough about this mindfulness in everyday life that I don't do half the stupid things I used to do. Some people tell me I'm actually perceptive at times, which is sort of scary.

The Horror of Ordinary Life

Enlightenment.Com: The problem, though, as pointed out by our mutual friend Jim Fadiman, who wrote a book called Unlimit Your Life ... as he handed me a copy once he said, "you won't do any of the exercises, no one ever does."

I just reread parts of your book, Waking Up, and the very first exercise is: "Look at your watch for five minutes." Well, I determined that this time I would do it. And if my thoughts wandered a few times, fine. I got to two minutes, I had one random thought in two minutes ...

CTT: That's very good.

Enlightenment.Com: And at two minutes I just completely stopped and walked off, not at all realizing that I was doing just what I said I would not do. I don't know why I stopped; I just stopped.

CTT: This is the horror of ordinary life. We think we're in control, and you try some simple exercise like that, "I'm going to watch this watch for five minutes," and you can't do it. Now, if under easy conditions like that -- a watch is not a threatening sort of thing -- if you can't do it under easy conditions, what happens in life when we're under pressure?

If you do these other kinds of exercises, these self-remembering and self-observation kinds of things, you can develop a certain kind of presence. You do develop a certain kind of willpower. I don't normally use that word -- "willpower" -- you think of straining and being constipated and forcing and whatnot, but you do develop more ability to pay sustained attention to what's going on, and that pays off. That leads to real intelligence and compassion.

Enlightenment.Com: So instead of just cycling from e-mail to the telephone to starting a project but not really getting going on it ... I'll do that sometimes ...

CTT: To obsessing with a favorite word.

Enlightenment.Com: Then when I finally get to doing the thing I actually want to do I'm so relieved that I'm finally doing it, and then I say to myself, "Why didn't I just start doing that? Why didn't I write that essay? Why didn't I do this or that?" And I never know the answer

CTT: Well, when I remember to be more present, to come to my senses, to come to the present, there's something very quietly satisfying about that, and I think "Why do I spend my life lost in fantasies about unimportant things?" And then I forget to continue doing it, and then a day later it's "Oh, I forgot to do that."

Not that there's anything wrong with thought, OK. I think the ability to sustain long trains of thought, to think creatively and so forth, that's one of our greatest gifts. But the sadness of the ordinary human condition is that we're trapped by our thoughts. We're not using our thoughts; our thoughts are carrying us away. That's what Gurdjieff meant by "we live in a dream." We're not awake. It's a sad but important thing about the world. And it has enormous consequences.

There's an old joke about what's the best form of government for an insane asylum? Democracy, a monarchy, socialism, communism, a limited representative system? Of course, the answer is, it doesn't matter what form of government. If everybody is crazy, whatever form you have will get screwed up and all sorts of terrible things will happen. The point is to get people sane. If you get a whole bunch of really sane people, a monarchy might work great, communism might work great. It's our being out of it, our not being in touch, our being carried away by our neuroses that creates the problems.

Sometimes I look at the world and I despair. Other times I'm very optimistic. We've had the power to blow all life off the planet for over forty years and we haven't done it; that's pretty amazing. Other times I'm very pessimistic. How do you solve these political problems? I don't know how, but I've learned a little bit in my years of research and personal work on how to get people a little more saner, a little more in touch, and that spreads. If you have some saner people doing things, then a lot of things can change as a result of that. That's one little place where I can cast a little light.

Enlightenment.Com: So your focus isn't on how do we get everybody to have "cosmic consciousness" the way Maurice Bucke portrayed it; it's much more, "how do we get more people to be a little bit more sane?"

CTT: Yes. How do I get Jordan to pay a little more attention to what he's actually doing instead of being lost in his thoughts.

Enlightenment.Com: Wish I knew that ...

CTT: I can recommend a couple of books. [Laughter]

Enlightenment.Com: Is it Groundhog Day?

CTT: It worked reasonably well for me and I am not mystically or spiritually talented. Believe me. If something can do some good for me it can work for a lot of people.

I'm just finishing another book now. I'm not quite sure what the title will be yet. I might call it Mindfulness and Meditation for the Millennium, which is a little corny, but it's appropriate. It's based on a workshop I did at a scientific conference on meditation and mindfulness. I figured if I could teach scientifically educated people who are really in their head to learn to come to the moment occasionally, I'm pulling off a small miracle ... and it worked very well. I have high hopes for this one.

Enlightenment.Com: Perhaps we can videotape the way that people who are lost in their thoughts can learn to do this. One of the good things for me about working at NASA [in the legal office] is that I'm surrounded by people who are even more in their head than I am. That's sort of a wake-up jolt.

CTT: That's right.

Enlightenment.Com: What do you think of the New Age notion of "you create your own reality"? Is there a sophisticated or subtle way to understand that that's true?

CTT: I would come up with a Buddhist injunction here: don't get attached to the concept. It's one of those things that's at least partly true, and it's useful to know that. We certainly do create a lot of our own reality. On the other hand, we're not the only person around. [Chuckle] There is a physical world filled with all sorts of other people and who knows what other kinds of beings out there that have an effect on what happens to us.

That goes to ridiculous extremes, like, if you've get cancer, well, it means you're bad, and you deserve it. That's a way of being cruel to people.

Enlightenment.Com: Ken Wilber wrote about that terrifically in Grace and Grit.

CTT: It's an idea to test out to see where it's true in your life and where it isn't true. I don't think I made the sun come up this morning. I don't have such delusions of grandiosity. But, you know, when I pulled my back the other day I wasn't being very conscious and maybe there was something in the way I used my body that does indeed make it the effect of my cause. I'd certainly like to get more aware of things like that and stop doing some stupid things like that.

The Space Between Thoughts

Enlightenment.Com: People, that is, I, am uncomfortable in leaving my thoughts. I want to go there, because I'm good at it, and I don't know what will happen a lot of the time if I come present.

CTT: Why don't you try coming present and see what happens? "Because I have an interview to do, I've got to think of the next question, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah..."

Enlightenment.Com: No, I have no more questions.

CTT: Good. I understand where you are coming from. I said earlier that sometimes I facetiously introduce myself as a thought-aholic. But it's a very serious introduction, too.

When we're kids, the world is tough. We're surrounded by Gods and Goddesses who are not always nice. The world is heavy, it impinges very hard on us, we get hurt. We get overwhelmed. So we try to cope with that, we try to defend ourselves.

Most people come up with a few coping strategies to hold off the world to bring it at bay. I discovered thought as my primary defensive strategy. If I thought an interesting clever thought, it made me feel good. If I thought another one, I continued to feel good. If I thought continuously interesting thoughts all the time it produced a sort of mild high all the time. I learned to stay drunk all the time.

Now that didn't make the rest of the world go away but it softened the blows from things I couldn't control, it distracted me from things I couldn't really cope with. That's when my addiction to thoughts developed. Thirty, forty years later when I discovered how totally addicted I was, and how thoughts for all their usefulness were not everything, I had to begin very serious work to try to slow it down and find some other ways.

I can remember taking meditation classes with Tarthang Tulku, for instance. I took his beginning meditation class three times because I knew I wasn't learning very fast. I tried to take it a fourth time but he made me take the advanced class. I think he saw through something in me.

But I can remember that he would talk about the space between thoughts, and I found that a fascinating intellectual concept: the space between thoughts. But it had absolutely no reality for me: there was absolutely no space between my thoughts. BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. One right after the other.

Years later, primarily with help from Shinzen Young, who was really one of the best meditation teachers around, I learned enough about meditation that I discovered there is such a thing as the space between thoughts. It may be a short space, but it literally creates a certain spaciousness. I don't have to be REACTION-REACTION-REACTION-REACTION-REACTION-REACTION, being driven by the events of life, by my own thoughts, by my own hopes and fears. There can be moments when I sit back, have some spaciousness, take in what's actually there instead of just my own internal pressures and particular pressures. That's a really valuable part of my life.

Now, I don't know that I would want to learn to have some sort of blissed out state where I sat for hours without a single thought just experiencing bliss. Of course, I've never experienced it -- maybe I'd get addicted to it. At the moment, while I value having space. It's mildly happy, not some big WOW-WOW kind of thing, but it's kind of spacious, and it's nice. It makes me more compassionate, because I can tune in to other people better than I could before, and it makes me more intelligent because I'm not rushed. I'm glad to have those spaces, and I'd like to have more of them in my life.

Enlightenment.Com: You don't feel compelled to go from one thought to the next.

CTT: That's right. When I do get a good thought train going, I still enjoy it. I'm a good writer, the old thought machine has been tuned up to work very well and so forth, but I'm not as totally enslaved by thoughts as I used to be. I really like that.

I know that I'm not the only one who tends to get enslaved and carried away by thoughts, and it would be a good thing if other people could do that. And if you cut out some of those thoughts, then maybe you can hear your feelings more clearly, and have time to empathize with other people, to feel more compassionate about them, to touch some of the deeper stuff within. I'm recommending it.

Enlightenment.Com: I hear you.

CTT: And we're slowing down out of a heavy thought space, and I think that's a fine way to end our interview. Of course, we're going against the conditioning all of us Americans have that if you're watching video there has to be continuous action. And broadcasters are afraid of "dead air," something where nothing is happening.

Enlightenment.Com: If you watch very old movies, the number of transitions and cuts are very minimal, and now you look at just unbelievable amounts of "events."

CTT: So, I think maybe we can end this by just inviting people that when this fades into nothingness, to just stay there, being aware of their bodies, their breathing, their perceptions of the world around them without feeling a need to hurry to get somewhere else. Even if only for a few seconds. See what that's like. See what the taste is like....

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