|Brenner, Paary and the Baha'i Faith|
Through my Lifespring friends, I was touched by Paul Brenner and Danaan Paary, both marvelous, egoless teachers, whose presence radiates love. They are sensitive to each moment and are "appropriate" or "dharmic." In their presence, I did not have to prove myself, and I felt whole, relaxed, and loved.
Paul is a tall, lean Jewish medical doctor about ten years older than I. He specialized in radical surgery for women suffering from pelvic or cervical cancer. The lifesaving surgery removed the vagina and bowels.
Five years after her surgery, one of Paul's patients arranged to meet him beside his pool. Enough time had passed for the cancer to be considered cured. She explained that she was going to commit suicide for love of her husband and not want to continue to burden him. She also did not want to live with her physical limitations and pain. The favor she asked was for Paul to agree to sign her death certificate. Paul listened sympathetically and decided that her request was genuine and that he would accept it. When she committed suicide, he fulfilled his promise by signing the death certificate.
The experience gave Paul a new understanding about the meaning of "healing" and he soon left his affluent life. He divorced his wife and left his family and became a non conventional healer. He chose more austere surroundings, living in an efficiency apartment in solitude and silence for a year.
Danaan Paary is a muscular, rounded, Irish man who had a conventional career as a physicist for the Atomic Energy Commission. He felt a
call to work with Mother Theresa in Bombay, India. After two weeks with
Mother Theresa, he felt an enormous amount of love in working with her,
and he asked to stay. But Mother Theresa told him that he had already
spent enough time with her and that he had other things to do in the
world. Danaan returned to the United States, earned a degree in clinical
psychology, and began a life as a teacher of seminars.
Paul Brenner's workshop was called Bridge of Silence. I took it in a private home in a thickly-carpeted room that Paul had selected and prepared, We removed our shoes and, after Paul introduced himself and related the experiences that led him to his present work, we did a "loud- music meditation." Learning to do this kind of meditation was a great gift to me. At first, this was the only kind of meditation I appreciated. I would lie on the floor in the early morning hours, meditating at first for only fifteen minutes a morning. This method gave me an entry into a practice that paid rich rewards.
Loud Music Meditation. In loud music meditation, I lay flat on my back in "corpse position." My arms rest on either side of my body, palms up, or I put my hands over my heart. My feet are slightly apart with the toes falling out. I relax completely.
When I have practiced loud music meditation, I have been afraid of falling asleep, but the loud music prevents that. When the music plays, I feel the base notes vibrate in my chest. As I focus my mind on the music, without analyzing it, I feel each note as a fresh experience. The music fills my mind, disturbing my usual patterns of thought. This has helped to create many experiences, including delicious vibrations of my entire body; inner visions of beautiful, unnatural colors; mundane thoughts about the upcoming day; worries; inspirations; meditation visions or dreams; and a quiet sense of peace. I found that this form of meditation, practiced over many months, helped to simplify my life and to identify with my spirit-self or the Holy Spirit. It also prepared me for other meditation experiences.
The Bridge of Silence. The featured experience in the Bridge of Silence was a form of deep empathy that many psychotherapists know instinctively from their therapy practices. Paul taught that by listening intensely, we sense another person's fundamental emotional state, even when they are not verbally describing it. Their emotional state is reflected in our own mind and body and we can learn to become aware of these inner signals. To do this, we must learn to notice how our own body is responding.
Paul taught that our fundamental state "radiates," much like radio waves. We learned that we are sensitive to these vibrations if we learn to listen closely enough. However, I had some resistance to "learning" this skill. Both my legal training and my skepticism led me to dismiss this as "woo-woo." But I accepted Paul's instructions and had experiences that resolved my doubts.
During the first night of the course, Paul "calibrated" us. He asked a volunteer to concentrate on an experience that was labeled "harmony," "disharmony," or "unconditional love." We were asked to see if we could detect this state as a reflection within us. After a while, I began to feel harmony by closing my eyes and, with my eyes closed, I noticed a cloud of white light moving upwards in my "field of vision" when harmony was present. Disharmony also was clear for me. I felt it as a tightening of my gut. Although others could distinguish "unconditional love," I never could.
Most of the workshop participants developed the sensitivity that Paul taught. This meant that more than one of us often simultaneously stated out loud the fundamental state that we had felt being radiated. Each of us felt the "vibrations" in a different way. Some of us felt sensations in our hands or other parts of the body and others had visions, like my rising cloud of white light.
In this process, one person was always on the "hot seat," being sensed by the group. Paul would conduct a discussion with the person on the hot seat. Often he would pose questions that the person said they did not have answers to. Then Paul would ask them to free-associate, just letting random thoughts flow through their minds. If any of us were sure we sensed a fundamental emotional state, we could interrupt and state what we felt. Paul asked that the person reveal whatever thought they had just had before being interrupted. Paul explained that there is a short lag in time between thinking a thought and radiating a state. The process let us alert the person on the hot seat to how different thoughts produced feelings that could be felt by others. Often, this gave them fresh insight into how they were affected by important issues in their lives. The group helped them to understand mind/body connections that they had not noticed.
For example, during a loud-music meditation, I saw a large flock of sheep peacefully grazing, then moving faster and faster until there was a stampede. As I watched the stampede, from a vantage point about five feet above the backs of the sheep, the scene shifted, until I floated about 25 feet above the surface of a beautiful blue ocean, filled with waves breaking into white foam, with a sail boat with a white and yellow sale, cutting through the waves and leaning hard into the wind.
I do not remember what Paul first said to me when I took the hot seat to discuss this vision.(1) I remember that the vision had a pervasive feeling of peacefulness that continued even during the brief interlude of the stampede. Paul's questions somehow led me to a memory of my Bar Mitzvah. He asked me to remember that day and tell my experience as if it were actually happening. I told my story sitting cross-legged on the floor, and as I spoke my left arm involuntarily vibrated with emotion.
I remembered that my Bar Mitzvah was special. I saw the two other boys who were bar mitzvah with me, and I could see and feel the synagogue full of adults. I remembered standing before the scroll of the Torah, using a silver pointing-device and chanting aloud the Hebrew passage I had learned. I remembered the pride of delivering a sermon to the full congregation.
But the key memory of my Bar Mitzvah was of standing in a receiving line and having people tell me how "good" I had been. I liked praise, so I expected to be pleased with these complements, but I remember my confusion because I did not feel pleasure but noticed a turning sensation in my stomach. The confusion did not, however, disturb my sense of peacefulness. I spent a large part of the afternoon reception feeling relaxed and happy and using my new motion picture camera to take pictures of the clouds.
Paul helped me to understand that on that day I had experienced God. What turned my stomach is that none of the adults understood how I felt or understood that Bar Mitzvah is a time to welcome a young man into God's community. I now understand why I felt that something was "off." How could they welcome me into an experience they had not enjoyed themselves?
This insight helped me to understand how I broke with Judaism. If my Bar Mitzvah had been different, I would not have needed to leave Judaism for spiritual comfort.
The Feeling of Bridge of Silence. By the end of each Bridge of Silence weekend (I took four), there was a deep feeling of love and connection. Silence became a welcomed guest. Outgoing individuals sought less "air time." There was a "lighter," more humorous feeling among us. Jokes drew easy laughter.
I have felt similarly in other groups. It seems to come from deep
caring, arrived at by honestly sharing our secret truths. We also were
influenced by Paul's loving presence.
Danaan Paary is a warrior of the heart. He steps into the middle of conflict in order to change it by his presence. This extraordinary commitment has unfolded in many trouble spots around the world, including Belfast, Israel, and Miami. In Belfast, Danaan led a group of Catholic and Protestant youth in building a youth hostel on the Catholic-Protestant border. In Israel, Danaan's workshop for Palestinians and Jews was attended by a Palestinian "terrorist" and an Israeli army officer. They toasted each other from a silver chalice at the end of the workshop. In Russia, in the height of the cold war, Danaan brought "citizen diplomats" from the United States for the express purpose of meeting Russians, and they danced in city squares as a way of encouraging the Russians to mix with them. He successfully organized a cooperative program to educate Russian youth in computer science subjects.
Danaan's special contribution to my life was his combination of spiritual teaching with a call to social action. He always asked people to join Earthstewards, an organization that works for peace and the environment. In this way, people also continue to stay involved with Danaan and to support his workshops.
There were two levels of Warrior of the Heart, basic and advanced. In both, Danaan used an Aikido model that stresses the importance of having access to Yin and Yang energy. He demonstrated Yin, or feminine energy, by standing straight with feet parallel to one another, at about the same distance apart as the shoulders. He then took a deep inhalation, touching the backs of his hands together near the breastbone, and extending his arms up before exhaling and sweeping his hands out and down in a large arc.
Yin energy was contrasted with Yang, or male energy. Yang also requires a balanced stance, this time with the left (or non dominant) foot one foot forward of the right and about shoulder's length apart. In the beginning position, the arms are at the side. As breath is inhaled, the left hand is raised slightly to cover the lower abdomen and the right hand is raised to the shoulder. On exhalation, the right hand is brought forward in a swift downward chop, ending at waist level, and air is expelled, making the loud, aggressive sound of "H-u-u-u-h!"
As we did these exercises, some people were comfortable with Yin energy and some with Yang. Danaan taught that a warrior is effective when able to draw on either, making him less predictable and harder to fight. Yin is effective in turning aside and deflecting attacks, making the attacker continue the direction of attack and using his own aggressive energy against him. Yang is assertive -- not truly an attack. It claims space for the body, not reaching into someone else's space and attacking them.
Danaan's basic course began Friday evening and continued all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The advanced course was longer. It was held at a lodge and was an experience of group living, from Wednesday noon through Sunday afternoon.
There were many helpful experiences in both courses, including sharing before the group, some simple Sufi dance exercises, and lectures about looking in the eyes of a stranger and seeing that "you are just like me."(2) There were a great variety of exercises, many of which I no longer remember.
In the advanced course, there was an exercise exploring bitterness. Each person collected rocks or stones and to represent their store of bitterness. In turn, each came to the front and sat before a large metal pot. Each declared their bitterness and threw stones into the pot. As people threw their stones into the pot, they spoke of their bitterness. As I write about this, I still recollect the sounds of some of their voices. Their bitterness ranged from traumatic life experiences and abuse to deep anger at injustice. There was great power in hearing their shouts of anguish, and there was joy afterwards in carrying the pot of our bitterness to a stream and dumping its contents into the water.
On Saturday we all played a simulated game. There were several large "tribes," each given a history of experiences with the other teams. Each tribe had a bargaining objective. There was great intensity about winning, as the future of our tribes was at stake. Many teams made selfish moves, and we were unable to settle our feuds in time. This let us reflect on the meaning of war in our lives and in the world. What would it take for us to find a path to world peace?
At the end of Danaan's weekends, the participants were closer. They shared significant experiences and become honest and open. They were connected in love.
Danaan asked us to be Warriors of the Heart in our lives. A Warrior
is attentive, even in humdrum moments. He is ready to take just the right
action (or say the right word) to shift from ordinary, worldly experience
to the context of love. The Warrior recognizes bitterness and callusness.
He is ready to shift the "reel of life," adding warmth and love to enrich each
moment and lead toward peace.(3)
My involvement in the Ba'hai Faith began because I was a "peace activist" and was invited to a Ba'hai peace breakfast. Since I was anxious to have other people support my peace activities, I attended the breakfast. I was curious to meet the Ba'hais, whom I had read about.
I am sure it was the grace of God that led me to meet the Baha'is and to become one. The Baha'i Faith began in Persia in the 19th Century. Baha'is do not just talk brotherhood, they practice it. A Baha'i congregation is racially and culturally diverse and practices complete equality. There are no "black" Baha'i Congregations or "white" Baha'i Congregations.
The Baha'is I met make their Faith a central point of their life. They freely volunteer their services to prepare and serve the monthly Baha'i feasts. They are active in missions work, including service in distant countries; and they actively promote peace. The Washington, D.C., Baha'i community was a warm place to worship.
The Faith is grounded in the Messenger for our time, Baha'u'llah, who was heralded by his martyred servant, the Bab. Baha'u'llah suffered for mankind through 24 years of unjust imprisonment, but his enemies could not dominate him. He consistently taught that God redeems individuals, as Christ had taught. He also promised that God would redeem all humanity, forgiving it much as the prodigal son had been forgiven on the return to his earthly father.(4)
Baha'u'llah taught a theme to unify the world. He taught that
. . . Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that
all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic
principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are
one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth,
that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in non-essential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent
successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human history.(5)
Baha'u'llah's son, the master Abdu'l-Baha, explained that his father brought a new promise of world peace:
This is the Day whose real sovereign is His Highness the Almighty. This is the Day when the East and the West shall embrace each other like unto two lovers. This is the Day in which war and contention shall be forgotten. This is the Day in which nations and governments will enter into an eternal bond of amity and conciliation. This Century is the fulfillment of the promised century.(6)
Rest ye assured that this darkness shall be dispelled and these
impenetrable clouds which have darkened the horizon shall be
scattered, and the Sun of Reality shall appear, in its full splendor. Its
rays shall melt the icebergs of hatred and differences which have
transformed the moving sea of humanity into hard frozen immensity.
The vices of the world of nature shall be changed into praiseworthy
attributes, and the lights of the excellences of the Divine realm shall
Given this awe-inspiring prophecy, Baha'u'llah expected great things of Baha'is. As Abdu'l-Baha explained,
The cornerstone of the religion of God is the acquisition of
divine perfections and the sharing of his Manifold bestowals. The
essential purpose of faith and belief is to ennoble the inner being of
man with the outpourings of grace from on high. If this be not
attained, it is, indeed, deprivation. It is the realization of this
deprivation that is the true eternal fire.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon all Baha'is to ponder this
delicate and vital matter in their hearts, that, unlike other religions,
they may not content themselves with the noise, the clamor, the
hollowness of religious doctrine. Nay, rather, they should exemplify
in every aspect of their lives the attributes and virtues that are born
of God, and should arise to distinguish themselves by their godly
behavior. They should justify their claim to be Baha'is by deed, not
He is a true Baha'i who strives by day and by night to progress
and advance along the path of human endeavor, whose cherished
desire is so to live and act as to enrich and illumine the world; whose
source of inspiration is the Essence of Divine perfection; whose aim
in life is to conduct himself so as to be the cause of infinite progress.
Only when he attains unto such perfect gifts can it be said of him that
he is a Baha'i.(8)
After a year-and-a-half of active membership in the Baha'i Faith, I reached a turning point when Paul Brenner said to me that I was being mechanical about being a Baha'i and that he did not "feel" the faith from me. This set me to reflecting and doubting. It also caused me to notice one "failing" of the Faith that provided me with an excuse to become inactive. This failing is that Baha'is are instructed to be joyful people, spreading their radiance and cheering and refreshing the downcast.(9) Yet, among the D.C. community several Baha'is were downcast and, because of my own stored inner sadness, this became difficult for me. I felt that I needed more joy in my life.
In retrospect, I know I failed to fulfill my own responsibility to the Baha'i community, to which I could have contributed my joy. But I was not yet prepared to do that. I still feel close to them. They are wonderful people, deeply committed to God and his Kingdom.
If you are a serious seeker of God, meet the Baha'is. They raise important questions about whether we would recongize Christ if he came again and about whether he may already have returned "Like a Thief in the Night,"(10) in the form of Ba'ha'ullah. They also care to usher in God's kingdom through their behavior. What do you suppose you personally can do to bring that glorious day about?
Along my spiritual path, many people helped me to appreciate God. Susan Harper and Emily Conrad Da'oud taught me Continuum, a movement meditation that made me more comfortable with my body and helped to heal the relationship between my mind and body.(11) Scott Peck and his Foundation for Community Encouragement provided an unstructured workshop experience. The lack of structure showed me that workshop content is not essential to effectiveness. Dennis Adams, a truly weird but loving man, demonstrated that a facilitator with strong intentions to serve others can accomplish transformation in a group even if he lectures constantly and leaves very little time for individual participation. Brugh Joy, who was a teacher of Paul Brenner, taught me the importance of a two-day silent fast. His Foundational, a week-long retreat in the California desert, exposed me to an intensive workshop that included
Jungian dream analysis,
physical healing exercises that demonstrated that "energy" can be
transmitted from person to person even without touching,
the use of Tarot Cards, partly as a projective technique, and
an introduction to the I Ching.
In his workshop, I found and meditated on a dead, maggot-corrupted lizard, which helped me to understand the mystery of death. He also helped to unmask weaknesses in my relationship with my wife, helping me to focus more clearly on her importance to me.
I know that God works in many mysterious ways. He loves tolerance
and understanding. What one person condemns may be another's
After I took Lifespring, I was very grateful. I also had a vision. Lifespring's costs seemed high, keeping attendance unnecessarily low. The Basic Course cost $400 and the Advanced, $900. I thought these fees meant Lifespring cared too much for profit.
The Lifespring Leadership Program also concerned me. It was a three-month intensive group experience (the Leadership Program) following the Advanced Course. There was intense emphasis on enrolling new people in Lifespring and we became high-pressure sales people. This often meant that people in the Leadership Program would apply high-pressure sales techniques and would not express the love Lifespring taught. We came to believe that everyone must take Lifespring to save their life. It was every bit as evangelistic as evangelistic Christianity.
In response, I began my own company, The Foundation. My co-partner in this non-profit venture was Lynn Woodland, then Director of the Baltimore Center for Attitudinal Healing. I met her in a lecture given by Paul Brenner and enrolled her in the Lifespring Basic Course. When she graduated, we decided to start our own company.
Our program was offered with no minimum fee. My wife and I advanced about $7,000 to the Foundation for a sound system, other supplies, advertising materials and mailings. We heavily promoted the first meeting, in January 1987, and 42 people attended. The course was like Lifespring, with a few important differences. We relied far less on lengthy lectures and more on individual experiences. Lynn was experienced in psychodrama, and we would generally have five to ten people share very intensely during each course.
The planned experience that was central to our course was a death experience, which occurred on Friday night, after two intense evenings on Wednesday and Thursday. The death experience included several exercises. Before the death exercises, we had a "rage line," encouraging people to express their buried rage and to let it go. Then we had an exercise in gratitude. We imagined that our partner was dying and reflected on the human capacities we often forget. We cherished their ability to see, smell, speak, touch, love, walk, and hold; and then we experienced putting our head on their laps and imagining our own death, including having them gently close our eyes as if we had died.
We then simulated the end of the world, grasping how we would feel if everyone in the room were to die. After that, we chose partners for our last 15 minute conversation on earth. At the end of that conversation, we lay down on our backs, dead, and composed an honest obituary. Loud, dissonant music played for 20 minutes, and we reflected on our death.
When the dissonant music ended, we remained silent. The volunteer Staff brought candles into the room and placed them on the floor. Soft music played and we remained silent. For an hour, people moved about the room, reflected, and sat with each other in silence. Death was behind us, and life was fresh and new.
I am grateful to have held these courses. I served many people and learned about others and about myself. Each time a person shared, I was touched and affected. I loved the way the courses always brought a sense of the true reality -- of oneness among people.
It was in one of those courses that I met Allou Guthmiller, who assisted me. I was hurting because I was questioning my marriage. I felt in love with another woman. I wanted help because I did not like what I was doing to my wife and I was experiencing deep unhappiness myself.
Allou suggested that I go to Rudi Bauer for counselling.
From my first moment with Rudi Bauer, I sensed how special he was. He is a short, gentle man, with calm confidence and authority. When I sought therapy, he directed me upstairs to his office and asked me to sit on his couch, where I sat cross-legged. He asked me to meditate.
After two minutes of meditation, Rudi asked me what I was experiencing. That was all he said. I began crying uncontrollably. I felt so safe, My inner sadness completely burst its banks. Rudi helped me to feel the depth of my reservoir of sadness. He asked me to howl at the moon, to relieve my sadness as a lone wolf might do by howling at the moon. He gave me homework: to howl at the moon often during that week. To do so, I tuned to music on my car radio and turned the volume up very high, so I could howl as I drove. The tears flowed down my cheeks.
Each moment I spent with Rudi Bauer was golden. I discovered that my mother loved me deeply but that she expressed it through admiration, not love. To be loved, I had to learn constant achievement.
Rudi led me to see hidden aspects of my relationship with my wife, Mary Anna. I was overly patient, permitting her to "bitch." Gradually, I spoke up against this behavior, which helped to poison the air between us. This helped to improve the quality of our love.
Rudi was so effective with me that the entire course of therapy, which equipped me to continue on my own spiritual path without his further guidance, lasted only nine months.
What I remember most about Rudi, however, is that he introduced me to Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, who is my guru and the subject of the next chapter, "The Ashram." At first, my contact with Gurumayi was that I went to the weekly "Satsung" program at Rudi's house. I loved the chanting, which discharged emotion, much as howling at the moon had done. Indeed, my concept of chanting was similar to howling, and the people around me often did not appreciate my dissonance and lack of harmony.
I also loved meditation and experienced new depths of meditation through this weekly Satsung. It took many visits before I began having any relationship to Gurumayi, whom I at first took to be peripheral.
Rudi and Gurumayi changed my life. They helped to end my continuing loneliness. They awakened me to the meaning of being truly alive.
1. The sheep now seem to refer to the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." The stampede represents fear. That the peaceful scene of sheep could transform into a stampede, without disturbing my sense of peace, seems to recognize how different experiences represent changes in the flow of consciousness, without distancing us from God. This shifting of consciousness is a truth taught by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, whose name means "the play of consciousness." The changing of the stampede into waves represents fear changing into an experience of God's endless ocean of bliss.
2. This is the same experience as Christian love. You connect with the Holy Spirit in another and feel how much like you they are (Love your neighbor as yourself.), regardless of how their worldly life has been. The experience also teaches what Gurumayi Chidvilasananda means when she asks us to, "See God in one another."
3. The Warrior has the same duty as a Christian, who must carry his own cross and seek constantly to establish Christ's Kingdom. It also is the same duty as a Yogi, who becomes aware of the eternal Self within and gives freely of love and understanding.
4. The Glad Tidings of Baha'u'llah, George Townsend, George Ronald Publishers, Oxford, 1949 (Tidings).
5. Tidings at 7.
6. Tidings at 78.
7. Tidings at 79.
8. Tidings at 41-42.
9. Tidings at 74.
10. Luke 12: 39-40.
11. Some day I would love to find time to practice Continuum on a regular basis. It is healthy and relaxing, leading me into many unique stretches. Continued practice would bring me into closer contact with the dynamic flow of my body.