Dr. Robert Forman - 'Enlightenment Ain't What It's Cracked Up to Be'
An interview with Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome again to Conscious TV, I am Iain McNay and today my guest is Dr. Robert Forman. Hi Robert.
Robert: Hi, nice to meet you, Iain.
Iain: And Robert has written a book that I loved. It’s called: “Enlightenment Ain’t What it’s Cracked Up to Be: A Journey of Discovery, Snow and Jazz in the Soul”. I read this book on holiday last year and I immediately e-mailed Robert because there’s something here, there’s an honesty here that’s quite for me unique in spiritual books and fortunately he is now tied in a visit to London and we are in this studio together and we are going to have a good adventure together in the next hour or so just touching about your life and just seeing where it’s led you. Now one of the things I loved was that in your introduction you talk about embracing the human messiness in life which is sometimes quite rare in spiritual books. And then there was one sentence I’m going to read out which hooked me in a way: “This is the tale of a man who got the pot of gold for which he has longed and discovered that it wasn’t what he’d been cracked up to be but then realized that he had indeed been given the pot of gold, only it was of a kind and nature wholly different than anything he could have known to wish for”.#00:01:43.46#
Robert: There is lots of talk about that there. So let’s start with that. First of all in your introduction you began by saying that the book’s honesty struck you and I am struck by that. And the reason is that I think that there is too little honesty in the spiritual world. There is a lot of descriptions that are very high ??? and fancy and they make this spiritual life sound very different and surprisingly unattainable. And I think part of the lesson of my life is that I have had to let go of those phantasies and come down to what the spiritual life and what the human life is really about. And I think that being able to say that honestly is one of the lessons, I think, of the spiritual life. Because I think it’s that honesty that helps people really become more of themselves. So that’s the first thing and then the second thing I want to comment on is this business about that the spiritual life and what happened to me and what has happened to me over the years is not something I could have known to hope for. Because you can only know to hope for what you sort of know already. I can know to hope for the lagoon in some place like Tahiti because I have been to places like that but the kind of shift we are gonna be talking about over the next hour is not the kind of thing that you know to phantasize about. It’s just too much its own thing and not the kind of thing you want to wish for. So thanks for that nice introduction.#00:03:22.37#
Iain: Ok. So when we look at your early life you had quite a lot of anxiety and fear and like so many of us when we are young we want to find something that makes us feel good and happy, we want ??? the problems or the neuroses and I know fairly early on you found TM, Transcendental Meditation, and what the Maharishi said was very appealing that you would get out of this thought process and you’d be a peaceful, happy person.
Robert: It wasn’t only Maharishi - but it was definitely him. But it wasn’t only him. The longer I have stayed in this world the more I have come to realize that that promise of a perfect life or wonderful life, a life with no anxiety and where everything is easy, that kind of promise has come not only from Eastern traditions but from many Western traditions as well. And so the kind of fantasizing that we all do is not entirely from their side. To some extent that fantasizing, that sort of illusionising of the spiritual path, if you will, is kind of built into the way it’s talked about. So, yes, it was the Maharishi that told me that life would be perfect, but it wasn’t only him, this was sort of in the air back when we were twenty.#00:04:38.55#
Iain: So when you first started to do TM, how was it for you?
Robert: Well, first of all I was really in trouble when I started this thing and I was struggling a lot and I had a lot of anxiety, I had something called like globalizing anxiety, this sort of, I know in retrospect. Which means that I was anxious all of the time. I mean, twenty-four hours a day I was terrified. And I was depressed a lot and so the very first meditation - I tried many things - the very first meditation hit me like a hammer, it was just very noticeable, it was like: Wohwoh, what was that? And it hasn’t always been like that. But that first meditation said there is really something here that’s possible for you, for me.
Iain: So you basically got your mantra and you were doing twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening and you are saying straight away there was impact.#00:05:34.11#
Robert: Oh, the very first meditation, when I first went to meditate, there was an impact to it. And that’s not the case for everybody, it just happened to work for me very, very well. And as I said I tried other paths, but this one seemed to work for me.
Iain: But what happened, so what was the difference?#00:05:45.53#
Robert: Well, as opposed to talk about the difference between the first meditation, let me talk about the difference between while I was experiencing it as a whole. The meditation itself was and remains very easy to do, so I could do it on a regular basis. I talked to a lot of people, even today, that say: “Oh, I can’t meditate, it’s just too hard”. And for me to do TM has always been very effortless and always rather pleasant. So that’s been a good piece of it, but more important than that there is a kind of becoming simpler in the process of doing meditation. It’s as if you can let all the sort of chatter go and - become more quiet. You can almost feel yourself dropping into a space that’s sort of like that (makes a flattening gesture with his hands) where you kind of open up. And I find that very satisfying. I don’t want to say that happens every time and it certainly does not happen for most folks but when it worked particularly well it’s particularly delicious in that sense. But I think more important than the meditation itself for me has always been what happens afterwards. So that I began to feel like I’d be driving sometimes and all of a sudden my world would sort of calm down. Or it’s as if - I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the time - as if Cambridge became quieter for all or it’s as if my life itself started to kind of….It was as if I was able to get my life together a little more effortlessly and so I was starting to know the results from the thing. So the promise that my life would be perfect did not come to some way that wasn’t hearing and seeing. Life actually started to get better a little bit. And I imagined that it would just get better and better and things would just be uuuuuuh, you know, like that. So the effect of meditation for me has always been good.#00:07:45.09# .
Iain: Because at one point you were doing seven to eight hours a day meditation.
Robert: Yeah, under guidance.
Iain: Which is a big commitment.
Robert: It was. And I was off for a nine months' meditation retreat. Yeah, it’s a big commitment. And perhaps the most pleasant (chuckling) year of my life, I must say, Iain, it was just - I look back at that time and I think: God, what a lucky guy I was to be able to do that. To be able to create that time and have enough money to pay for the hotel…it was wonderful, it was an absolute wonderful experience and I met some wonderful folks there, too.
Iain: And when you do that length of meditation your mind calms down, but your mind still obviously has thoughts and those thoughts impact you, so why see changes?
Robert: I think what you are pointing to is: What changed for me?
Iain: Yes, exactly.
Robert: Let me talk about that. I don’t need to go to too much detail but imagine that, as you are talking to me - this may be true actually - you’re talking to me but then behind you is a thought about the tech guy that’s out there and behind that there is a thought about: Oh don’t forget to pick up the milk and behind that there’s some ??? from the Beatles too and behind that is: Oh, I have to get the oil changed, you know. So imagine that it’s like your life is full of, it’s like you are watching a movie but behind the movie you can see another scrim and another scrim and another scrim. Well, imagine that all of those other scrims one day or over time just kind of the light shifts and all those scrims just fade away. And so then what you are doing is that you are still in your life, you are still thinking your thoughts, you are still doing whatever you do, you still might be anxious or depressed and yet behind it is just quiet. So it’s as if you’re sort of surrounding your own life with a sense of, well, technically, with a sense of the infinite or a sense of a kind of expanded silence. And so that the shift for me was not in the content of my life but rather the replacement of all the background chatter with just the sense of quiet, the sense of who I am or who I was or however you say that. So that that’s the real change that happens. The change in who you are, not so much in the content of your life but rather a change in who’s holding or engaging or seeing the content of your life. Is this clear?#00:10:24.87#
Iain: Yeah. So, it’s as if some of the background layers disappear.
Iain: But are you still watching the thoughts or are the thoughts just happening and you go along with the thoughts?
Robert: What happened to me was that the thinking process did not seem to change much. I changed. So what was holding or seeing the thinking process is what shifts. The experience I used to have when all this started was that there’d be a kind of jumble together of, you know, I looked at a glass for example and I’d see the glass. I know that I am here some place but there is a kind of - it’s all integrated - there’s a kind of me and the glass, and there was a sense of who I was was a kind of vague and vaguely localized…Ok, so that was the way it was. And then once silence takes on, the sense of who you are becomes quite clear. And the sense of who you are now is: Silence. I am, as it says in the Upanishads: I am That. (Lifting both hands up) Or the way I like to talk about is: I am That. (Lifting his right hand backwards). But the content of my thoughts or the content of your thoughts doesn’t necessarily change, certainly not right away. Over time they did.
Iain: Yes, so you became aware that you were the silence more than the thoughts. Is that right?
Robert: Absolutely and I wouldn’t even use the word: more. Ahm, yes, I became aware that I am silence. The thoughts were still around. They are still part of the experiences as a whole of what it is to me after this. But it became quite clear that what I am is this (putting his hands away to the right and left from his face) or that (flattening his hands downward), however we say this. So it became quite clear to me that what I am is this open, rather delicious sense of presence.#00:12:27.66#
Iain: But the intriguing thing for me is that in the book you talk about, even though you became more and more aware you were the silence, you still had a personality ego level, you still had the anxiety and the fear going on and it was like
Robert: It didn’t change at all.(chuckles).
Iain: There were these two worlds.
Robert: Yes. And that was very disconcerting to me. But let’s talk about the two worlds now, not about the things I was disconcerted by. So when all this started I was really struggling with a lot of anxiety which I don’t struggle with so much any more. Some, but not so much. Ahm. And yet at the same time there was this sense of quiescence. Or, as it says in the Upanishads: It’s like you are living your life like a bird. A bird is eating and drinking and what not. But there is also a second bird which is doing the watching of the first bird. And it’s almost like they are two entirely separate birds and they are both part of me so that this anxious, happy, goofy, whatever I am, part of me is still operative, still doing this thing but now there is this new sense of: “Oh, that’s what I am. I get it”. So that there is that kind of shift what I think the traditions are talking about.
Iain: Yeah. So part of you must have wanted this silence to be all pervade, to be the central part of your life.#00:13:49.89#
Robert: Absolutely, and it was kind of natural that I would want that because here I’d been spending all this time when I thought: Oh my goodness, my life was gonna to become great and it’s part of the whole gestalt of the era, it’s like: Oh meditation is gonna do it all and we all thought it was gonna be wonderful. So then when the silence comes on and my life doesn’t dramatically change, yeah, I had no idea what was going on. And in fact when this first ??? happened to me I thought: Oh, there’s something wrong here, my meditation must be broken or I can’t be doing this stuff right, this is not working because it was not life transforming. I’d go down for example, I was in this kind of hotel and I go down the steps and I knew I was gonna see so and so, a girl generally and, you know, I’d be anxious. Like oh my God, what will I say, you know, so it was not transforming me the fact that I was keeping the silence was not doing what I thought it was gonna do. And so for many, many years I didn’t tell anybody about this stuff, because I thought this can’t be this, it can’t be what it is supposed to be about.#00:14:55.75#
Iain: I know from reading the book you would feel what you called stillness in your body, it would start in a certain part of your body and then it would start to expand. So you had like a physical experience of that.
Robert: Yes, this was very physiological for me or somatised. Yeah, it started at the back of my neck and silence was sort of back here (touching the back of his head with the right hand) and then after, I don’t know, four or five or six years I began to realize I had silence that was up like this (touches his head higher up) and another five, six years it was like my whole head. It was very physical. And I hear people talk about chakras, for me the chakras were a sort of vague part of this but this was not centered on that, this sort of started in my head and kind of worked its way out. So I think my experience in that way is unusual by the way.
Iain: I hadn’t read of that before.
Robert: Yeah, I talked to a lot of people about this and I’ve never heard anybody just quite like this.
Iain: Yeah, and at one point you were hearing whispering noises, it must have been quite disconcerting.
Robert: Oh, that was before I started meditation. I told that story in the book and it was psychologically probably the worst moment in my life. Yeah, I think I was having a - what I hear in retrospect it was probably a psychotic episode. So, yeah, it was very scary.
Robert: But that was before I started meditation.#00:16:14.09#
Iain: Ok, you went through difficult times, didn’t you? Because you also say in the book at one point, again before meditation, you considered suicide, too.
Robert: Yeah, I feel very lucky. I had one friend who did kill himself back then. I was in college and had one friend that did kill himself back then and I could have, sure, I could have. I don’t know why I didn’t. But, so, when I started meditation, that was a big deal. I was desperate. And so the fact that this stuff was able to help at all was just a gift for me. I am very grateful.
Iain: Yeah. And I am also remembering that there was a point which you have very fond memories of when you had an MGB sports car.
Robert: Did I tell that story in the book? (laughing)#00:16:56.89#
Iain: And then you were driving at 70 miles an hour and you realized that for a few seconds you had no anxiety.
Robert: It was just as, I put ??? it later. It was just me, the steering wheel, the hood and the road. I am still a bit of a speed demon, I must say, and I still like driving fast. But that was my first - what I now regard as, that was my first spiritual experience. I had no word like that at the time, I just thought wooow, that’s cool. But I had no idea what it was. But that sense of being fully in what you are doing, of all your anxieties fading away, of all the concerns in the world fading away and being fully in what you are doing, that’s what I was also trying to describe when I described the scrims fading away. It’s like that’s the kind of shift that I think these traditions are talking about and I think that people are, whether we know it or not, are kind of after. Having a world, having a life in which you are really fully in it, where you are not quite so distracted by eighteen things and you are fully engaged in a conversation or when you watch the stop light at the intersection then you just watch and then when it turns green you’ve seen it. I mean it’s the ability you be in your life and not some place else. When you are here. I think, that’s certainly what Eckhart Tolle is talking about when he is talking about being present. It’s certainly what I’d been after and I think, that’s the kind of thing that happens when this other stuff that concerns your real life kind of fade away.#00:18:32.48#
Iain: Yeah, it’s interesting because if I go to my life there is this thing, and you read it all over the place, being in the moment.
Iain: And it’s this practice in Buddhism, it’s mindfulness, about being here and being present, being aware of what you are doing. But of course in doing that it’s a good practice but it’s well within duality because there is an awareness of being here.
Iain: Of course, that’s two. And yet, I suspect what happened to you in the sports car, I know this in my own life, is, there is times where it’s so present and aware, there is no when it’s about the time, but afterwards there is a realization that actually, that what’s actually being truly there.#00:19:17.24#
Robert: Truly present, yeah. And I think that the idea that that can be with us more and more on a permanent basis, I think, is very, very unusual. But I think that that is what we are after in the spiritual life. I think that that sense of being present all the time without any extra effort, is what we are about.
Iain: Yeah and I am just reading in the notes which I made from your book, that there was a retreat in New York where you talk about “The sense of who or what I was instantly changed. I was now the new bottomlessness, the vast openness was now me”.
Robert: Yeah, let me see if I can help your ??? understand that. Silence itself - many people have had an experience like the one in the MG or something in prayer or something in meditation or something when they are listening to music. Many people have had this sense of being present. But if you are in that place of presence on a long term basis you start to be able to sort of sense what it is a little bit more clearly. And I think what’s happening when we are present is that we are becoming as if we’re recognizing that we are That (lowering his hands). That we are the sense of openness. And I think I know what happened to me back in that experience, in the shift that happened in Mallorca was that that became what I am. So there is a sense that you are struck to carry of I am this openness, this sense of vastness, this sense of no top, no bottom, there is just the sense of openness. And that’s different than it used to be for me, and I think, probably for yourself as well. I think that these experiences are strikingly yet quietly different than things were.#00:21:16.87#
Iain: Yeah, and there is this whole notion - I think again you’re probably hinting at it in the Enlightenment Ain’t What it’s Cracked Up to Be.There is actually - the individual gets enlightened and of course your experience and many other people’s experiences is it does not happen that way. It’s not the I feeling enlightenment, I get enlightenment. Something always happens that you realize that actually what you truly are is what you call a vastness or the bottomlessness that doesn’t stop. You realize: “Ahhh, that’s who I am. It’s not me trying to get enlightenment”. And that becomes totally irrelevant.
Robert: Yeah, it’s almost as if the silence is now beneath or I talked about the two birds: the silence is back here or the silence is beneath my individuality, beneath what I am. So that the sense of me is Robert, it’s not that change but it’s like, you know, what is doing the watching, what is the witness part here is beneath what I am doing in my life. So what I am doing in my life hasn’t shifted that much that’s what you’re describing is the individuality. But there is this sense here of: Ohhh, that’s what I’ve always been and didn’t quite know it. So that it’s kind of that discovery or that finding of this sense of presence or openness. And the word vastness is my favorite word for this because there is a sense that you’re just big. (Both laughing) A sense that you are just wide open. And that’s good#00:22:59.65#
Iain: And then what did you find over the years was helpful in terms on the human level, on the I-level of the anxiety being dissipated more, becoming less. Was there anything that you found you were doing on that level or was it more just the embodiment of the realization of who you truly are?
Robert: No, I think there’s something very, very much that we can do on that one. And I think this is of concern to folks and it’s certainly been of concern to me. When I am anxious there is something in there that I am anxious about. This is the kind of trick I didn’t know when I started. When I had that global anxiety thing, I don’t know what that was about, but over time it started to be more and more specific. And generally I am anxious about something that I don’t quite want to see in myself. For example I am afraid that you are not gonna like me. And so that when I walk into this interview there might be that bit of fear, that bit of anxiety about: Is he gonna respond well, are we gonna get along? And that I feel as anxiety. I think the trick for me and I think the trick for a lot of folks is to start to tell yourself what is really so, what is really true. For example for me to actually say to myself - as I did, before I walked in the studio: Oh, I am a little anxious about who this guy is going to be - that actually is, I think, the key trick that we can offer one another. I think the reason that we run, the reason that we get depressed, the reason that we get anxious about things is that there is a truth that we are not quite ready to or willing to say to ourselves about what’s really happening or what’s really going on. So that, if I can tell myself, or. even better if I can tell somebody else, the real truth of what’s going on for me there is a kind of freeing in that. And the interesting thing is, Iain, it’s the same sense of freedom that comes with the silence. When I’ve been keeping a secret for myself or if I’m keeping a secret from a friend and I don’t tell somebody that secret or I don’t tell myself the secret I am kind of running from it, I kind of duck it so to hide from it. But if I can tell myself what I am really afraid of or what’s really happening or what’s happening between two people I don’t have to run any more, I don’t have to have anything to be afraid of, I have said it. The thing I was hiding from I have said. So that for me the trick in letting go of anxiety has to do with telling the real truth. And that same skill is the way that I find that my conversations with people can become increasingly real. And increasingly honest and open. Being able to tell the real truth.#00:26:01.91#
Iain: Yeah, and also you talk quite movingly later on in the book about a process you went through with your wife.
Robert: Oh yeah.
Iain: Where you were having some difficulties and you sat down and you were honest and you just listened to each other and that, for what you were saying, opened up something in the relationship.
Robert: The key was listening but the key was also being able to speak what was true.#00:26:23.87#
Robert: And I had been running from that truth for a long time. And not willing to say it both to myself and to her. And it’s not so much saying it to her by the way, it’s not so much saying: “You’d been doing this to me”, but it’s rather for me to be able to say to her: “You know, I think I’d been doing this to you. I think I’d been using my phantasy life for example, I think I’d been using my phantasy life as a way to keep you in bay”. Once I was able to say that line the whole thing shifted because now the truth was now in the space. And it’s an amazing gift: truth telling. Don’t you think?
Iain: Yes,.It is and it needs the kind of - structure is the wrong word, but it needs to open this state ??? doesn’t it ? You can say something and you are revealing yourself but it also needs to be heard by the other. And without that dynamic it doesn’t heal there.
Robert: No, it doesn’t heal. In fact, you can’t really tell the truth if you know the other person is not really hearing. It’s almost a catch 22. You have to both be able to and willing to just, my phrase for it is: drop down. So you need to drop down into a sort of more open and more honest space and then listen and speak and the listener calls out the speaker and the speaker calls out the listener, and there is a kind of a mutual discovering that happens. And the interesting thing is that, I mentioned it before, but the interesting thing is that sense of openness that can happen between two people through truth telling is the same openness that I discovered many years before sitting in meditation. That sense of without any resistance, without any boundaries. And so that if I am not keeping something from you I don’t have any boundaries there, I don’t have any resistance. The word boundaries is confusing there but I don’t have anything that I am sort of keeping, holding you at bay with. Yeah?
Iain: It seems to me as we continue our discussion it’s like I am just free aware of this stillness, the vastness, grounded being or whatever we call it and on the human level, it’s as if the grounded being, whatever, can support what happens at the human level in terms of a healing and a completion of letting go. But there still needs to be work and a process that goes on there in terms of, a kind of almost like a clearing or a dissolving and it’s that, and the way truth is can be so healing if it’s heard. It helps let go the knots in the ego, the jamming-up in the ego, that happens, the contraction.#00:29:03.54#
Robert: Nicely put. I also am very curious about one thing. And I don’t know how we gonna know the answer. But as we are talking I am feeling a kind of openness in the space around us here. Yeah? You feel that also?
Iain: Yes, I think so.
Robert: Yeah. And it’s always interesting to me because when I feel it the other guy always feels it, the other woman also feels it. But in any case I feel a sense of sort of openness here and I wonder if our viewers can sense that. There is a quality of being willing to allow silence into the space, a quality - it’s almost as if my chest feels like it’s going like that (opens his arms). And I wonder if the viewers can sense that. I think this stuff is sort of communicated in ways we don’t know.
Iain: Yeah, there is a field here and I think from my experience of Conscious TV in the past there have been certain interviews with people have definitely connected with the field in the interview#00:30:01.56#
Robert: People that are watching on the internet or…
Iain: Yes. Even though they are miles away and whatever and doing something completely different. In the end of the day if they are able to tune in and it’s not even a sort of a conscious process, that tuning in happens to that field that is here, then yes, something can resonate.
Robert: Interesting. I am glad to hear that people can sense that through the TV. But then in case, you asked me a couple of minutes ago, you asked me about, or you were describing the way it is when two people start to work through things and that that requires a certain kind of listening and a certain kind of speaking. I think that you are right, that it requires us to be open as it were beneath our words or in the interspaces ??? between our words. But there is also real work to be done in terms of the way that we are with one another sharing honestly, making things safe to share, being willing to talk between folks in a way that’s increasingly honest and there’s a kind of spiraling in or down I sometimes experience where people are talking, and you discover and then the other person discovers and you discover. There’s a kind of mutual spiraling that happens like that. But I think that requires the willingness to speak sometimes the stuff that’s scary, it’s always a little, it’s always vibratory when you get to what is real, you know? So it’s both, this quality of the openness of consciousness, but it’s also the rather specific stuff that we able to do with our words and with our sense and our promises and our agreements#00:31:47.89#
Iain: And I know that one person that was helpful for you in life was Ram Dass. When you met him and you had told him of your experiences and he gave you a kind of clarification and confirmation. Do you want to talk about that?
Robert: Ok. The experience I was just describing to you that happened in Mallorca had now happened about twenty years prior to this.
Robert: And I had been really wondering about what had happened to me and I went to Ram Dass who by the way turns out to be one of the funniest people I know, he is really just ??? and we are both Jewish and we were able to share that, we had a great time together. And I took him aside and I said: “Look, I did not talk to Maharishi, my guru, about all this and I’ve been wondering about is this I’ve come to understand what had happened to me twenty years, thirty years before, as what the Hindu tradition calls moksha, enlightenment, and I wonder…” And I described to him what had happened to me and had been the case for twenty years and he simply just looked me in the eye and he said: “Yes, this is that”. And I walked away just - I just tried to weep. I am not quite sure why I did. It was one of those moments where I was just like: Finally I can stop asking the question and there was also probably a little headiness as: Oh cool. But it was a great gift to me. I am to this day grateful to that man. Just for saying: “Yeah, you can stop worrying about it now. That’s what this is, don’t worry any further”. So, yeah, that confirmation was just a real gift to me. That’s funny you would bring that up.#00:33:31.89#
Iain: Yes. Sometimes we need this encouragement that way, this confirmation, even though there is this strong feeling and there is a knowing there is still the doubts that kill you…
Robert: Yeah! There is a lot of confusion about it, there is this sense of: Is this really…? Is it? I don’t know. Is this maybe something else. So since that time I’ve had the privilege of doing the same thing for three people that have come to me and asked me a similar question and it has always felt like: There’s not much you need to say: “Yeah, you can stop worrying about this”. That’s all you need to say (laughing) and you can help people understand what it’s not. So, yeah, I think it’s one of the kinder things we can do as human beings for one another is to help each other name what is difficult to name for us. That naming process. And what I hear in this whole conversation you and I have had so far is that there is a kind of distinction here between how we talk about something, the ego stuff, the anxiety stuff and this other sense of the openness. And what Ram Dass was able to do is to help me stop worrying about this in this sort of more verbal, linguistic side of our lives and just say: “Yeah, this is that. Not to worry about it so much”. And yet it didn’t change the experience, but it did change my kind of constant wondering. So it was helpful on the more everyday ego side of things. Yeah.#00:34:57.64#
Iain: One of the things I also enjoyed in the book was when you talked about your Forge Institute which you started. And there you get together people from different traditions for a weekend or maybe a little bit longer sometimes and it’s an open space and so far there is no leader, there is no-one that is higher as the other but you are sharing in terms of where you are and your process you’re understanding your realization. And here you talk us through how that was and how that is, because that’s quite, you know, with all the conflict in the world and all the people saying: “Well I know, my mind’s superiority yours is the real God” or whatever. It is such an important thing of bringing together us not only on the level of knowing who we are but also on the humanness again.#00:35:44.87#
Robert: Good for you. You described it very nicely. I started the Forge and, I want to see if I can get this right: I started the Forge but in the process of starting it I knew that I had no interest in being a guru, being the sort of putting myself above. I had no interest in being part of an organization and more choose everybody believing in the same thing. That’s just not interesting to me. So I started it and I started finding people that said: Yeah, let’s play it that way. And so that there is a quality that we look for and it centers on truth telling. And the quality is that we can actually share what’s going on and when things are hard we can say that. And we can say: Here’s my piece of that and the other guy or the other woman can say: Honestly, here is my piece of it. And something happens then when you can do that. And I’ve seen many, many organizations, many too many organizations that people get very much like this (pushing his fists against each other) but if the policy, if the corporate culture is such that people are really willing to say: “You know I didn’t do this one so good. I think I messed you up or I think I did something to you that I don’t feel good about”. And then the other person can say: “Yeah, I think, my piece of this was blablabla”. And then now you’ve got the real exploration of how this thing happened, or did not happen. And I think there is a real possibility for the world in that. It’s very rare but not entirely unheard of. Good, healthy teams do this. Now, one of the points I want to connect here is that the ability to do that, the ability to say: “Here is my truth and here is my truth, ok, let’s work this through and then we go”, is the same ability that I had with my wife when I said: “I am doing this to you really.” And she said back to me: “Yeah, and I am doing a piece of this here”. And it’s the same quality that I noticed with silence itself. There is a sense of non-resistance, there is a sense that you are not to fight anything, there is a sense of openness, so that what my life has been dedicated to is to figure out ways to make it possible that I and everyone that I am in contact with can speak the truth with increasing depth and increasing freedom. Because I think right there is real possibility for the world. I am to some extent still an idealist here (laughing) and I want to say: I think this can really help, I don’t know if it’s the only thing that can help but I do know it can help. And it can help my marriage, it can help marriages, it can help friendships, it can help in teamwork, it can help. And I sort of have this vague sense that if a large group of people can have that as a policy that things would be much more interesting and much more open. When things get stuck, everything is all frozen, but when you learn to be able to say: “Yeah, I am doing this and this is what I think. And when you are able to say that I think things can move much more easily its almost a difference between a frozen river and a free river. There is a sense of open flow that can happen between folks.#00:39:06.12#
Robert: Yeah. Thanks for bringing that up, that's a wonderful piece of it.
Iain: And I also know from the book that you go on these retreats on your own. You spend a week…
Robert: Yeah, once a year, every year.
Iain: Yes, just talk me through that how that is for you. You are going completely on your own? Or is there someone…?
Robert: Well, I started out going as part of the TM Organization. At some point I thought, well, I just try it out once by myself and see if it was scary, if it was effective. And the first time I did it I was alone I was nervous about it. But remember, I have now spent months and months and months with my eyes closed so it’s like I kind of know how to do this, I know what the problems are. I would not recommend this, don’t do this from at home. I would not recommend this for someone that hasn’t had a lot of experience doing retreats. But yes, I go off, I meditate for roughly six hours a day when I go off on retreat. I do it every year, I go for ten days, you know, and I have my practice. So what I’ll do, this is my own particular way to do it, but it’s trained by the TM ways, I meditate for roughly an hour, I come out, I do fifteen minutes of yoga and then I do fifteen minutes of just go for a walk or, you know, bodily functions. And then I meditate for another hour. So I am spending a lot of time with my eyes closed. But that’s my particular way to do this. I would not encourage everybody to do something like that. It’s pretty intense. But I love it because it’s become the kind of backbone of my life. For me, and I don’t know how true this is - it’s probably true for you. But I don’t know if this is true for everybody, but for me: I am thrilled by the fact that my spiritual life has continued to develop in very real and almost measurable ways over the years and I am very pleased about it because it is interesting. And it’s also a measure of, not a measure of, but it’s also become…My life has become increasingly free in part as a result. So that I am quite committed to doing these things and I am quite committed to continuing to seeing my spiritual life grow and develop and that’s been a privilege of my life. And, you know, I have lots of friends that, you know, don’t have a kind of systematic way like I do and I think, that’s their path, and that’s just fine but this is my way and this is, you know, going off on a retreat every year I would not give up. I just love doing it. And for me every year I sort of discover these new things. It’s like: Oh, that’s what happens to a human being next. So it’s a kind of an interesting journey I have been on, you know. Just someone said the book I named Enlightenment Ain’t What it’s Cracked Up to Be is a story of a guy that has continued to do these retreats and is trying to make sense of a life that’s sort of centered on meditation and centered on the whole question of what enlightenment is about and trying to come to terms with what these shift actually do. And, yeah, so the retreats are very much a part of my life. Yours too, I presume. Yeah?#00:42:10.59#
Iain: Yes, no, I enjoy being on retreats. Yes. So do you envision a place where you can be so rooted in who you really are that the anxieties in minimal ??? does not exist or do you feel that’s something that you just live with this in this life?
Robert: Ah, interesting question. The question of anxiety for me has been very interesting, it’s part of the real challenge of the whole thing. So when I started meditation I was anxious all the time. Iain, I remember the one day, I was probably about thirty-one, and I started meditation, when I was twenty-two. So this is ten years after I started meditation. I was walking across 114th street in New York and I realized: “Oh my God, I am not anxious”. I honestly did not know you could have such an experience. I thought everybody had that experience, all the time. I thought everybody is anxious all the time. And then I realized I did not have that experience. And then, maybe three or four years later, I was like: “Oh, I have not been anxious much these days” and over three or four years later I hadn’t been anxious for the last hour and then another three or four years there was: “Oh, I didn’t get anxious that much any more”. And that went on for many years where I just didn’t feel like I got anxious very much. And then I had a moment, and this about ten, fifteen years later, where I actually felt above a line, positively good, not because, you know, I had just gotten a job or, you know, somebody smiled at me, but it just felt good. And again, I didn’t know that was possible. I still do with anxieties sometimes when things come up like walking into this studio. I didn’t know how this was gonna go, you and I had never met. And then I was a little like that: Arrrr, what is that gonna be like? But it feels real, it feels like I am anxious about something, I am anxious about you. And I was anxious about this interview. No, I don’t think that will ever go away, because it was a real concern. To some extent: I didn’t know how this was gonna go. So that the kind of slightly on the edginess that I felt, I think, was quite practical in a certain way. But that sense of indeterminate anxiety, the sense of being anxious for no obvious reason: I’d say: Yeah, I can very much envision a life and I think people can and should envision a life in which that’s not so much part of their everyday life. Yeah.#00:44:45.02#
Iain: And when you do retreat for a week, do you feel everything settles down much more calmly or is it - some people when they go on retreats they say actually: “God, it was really difficult, I had all these fears, I didn’t realize I had and I get in touch with it and it blasts the bubble up and I just had to sit with it”. Is that something that is your experience?
Robert: Well, again, I have been meditating for forty some years, so in the beginning that was very common. In my experience, in my meditations I go off on retreat I get: arrrrr and things get very difficult. But I have been doing this year after year after year and at some point that kind of just fades away. So my main experience now is that I go and tend to sleep a lot (laughing) of those two days, I am always under slept. So, you know, I find myself getting pretty sleepy for the first couple of days and then things just take off and that’s pretty common and then things start to kind of develop and whatever interesting things might be going on start to appear. It’s a pretty rare retreat where something interesting doesn’t happen to me. And I feel very lucky. But that’s my peculiar life. Thats where my physiology works. In that sense I feel kind of fortunate. Because it keeps me going. Yeah.#00:45:58.43#
Iain: What does keeping you going mean?
Robert: Well, it keeps me going back to retreat, for example. I’ll tell you about the last one. About four, five years ago something weird was happening in the muscles inside of my ears. And I began to realize that if this muscle was sort of relaxed then - I don’t know how to describe this - it was a muscle inside my ears. And this muscle kind of relaxed and my breathing began to be much more open. And that was quite striking. And then the retreat that I had last September: It was as if that sense of open breathing, you know, I was starting to experience it on walks, talking to folks. That sense of openness now had gained a new level of as it were maturity or clarity. And so that’s the kind of thing that has tended to happen to me over the years. It’s very almost sort of tactile. But, again, this is my particular experience. I don’t think that that’s true for everybody. But it keeps me going in the sense of: I am quite hot to go see what the next retreat does, you know, I am interested in seeing the development of human life in that sense. And every time one of those changes happen I do find myself a little easier in my own life, a little more present, a little more ready to be with folks.
Iain: At the beginning of the book there was four lines that I wrote down which I enjoyed. And you say: “In the end what matters most is how well did you live, how deeply did you love, how much did you give and how well did you learn to let go”. In a way we touched on all of those things and especially the letting go seems that has been a key to you, although it didn’t necessarily take you to the vastness but the letting go has helped support that vastness in your life.#00:47:59.24#
Robert: Yeah. The letting go is almost as if you have letting go of the anxieties, letting go of the secrets, letting go of the stories I don’t want to tell myself. It allows me to be a little more open and then that sense of openness allows the sense of the Infinite to be a little more clearer, that’s in that openness of the Infinite it gives me just a little more strength to tell yet one more level of truth and that level of truth tells… So there is a kind of a back- and forthness. It is not simple and linear in a way that I had sort of expected. It’s very natural and the whole process has been very real. But not systematic in the way I was sort of thinking. I thought: Oh you find solace, everything gets easy, everything is wonderful. And it’s not been like that at all.
Robert: But rather this silence serves as a kind of spine for the development of my own maturation. And that maturation has itself helped silence become increasingly mature. And there is a sense of the openness itself becomes more and more obvious., more and more present. So that there is a sense of seeing it even, even there (touching some flower in the vase on the table in front of him,) you know, even if it’s not me. But there is also something in that quote I also want to respond to, this word “giving”. Because you mentioned part of the line that I quoted there or wrote there was: And also how much did you give? And I think that when I was, I am very preoccupied with myself, when I was very preoccupied with myself when I was in my twenties. But when I am very preoccupied with myself I don’t have much left over to give. I am kind of busy, trying to find what I need to find. But when I have become increasingly satisfied with what I am or increasingly un-conflicted or decreasingly conflicted with what I am, there is just more of me that I have to offer to the world, more of me to give from. And I think in a kind of natural way that that trajectory is the way I think that the spiritual life can work for folks. You know you sort of work on yourself, you work on yourself and finally you feel as, you know, I’ve kind of got this though (chuckles). And then you just, you know, the Forge, for example, is my way to help people to find one another, a way to help people sort of make contact with one another, the courses that we teach and how to do this. I think it’s all connected. So I think it becomes easier to give when you are stronger in what you are and more authentic.#00:50:58.99#
Iain: It takes grace, doesn’t it, for true transformation to happen?
Iain: Ultimately it’s the grace of God or whatever that is.
Robert: Yeah, I mean the line that I like about that is that we do the work and then grace does the important part.
Iain: Yeah, grace is grace, you don’t know if and when - somehow you trust and whatever happens happens basically.
Robert: Yeah, and I think being honest with ourselves and being honest with one another is a key in allowing that to take place.
Iain: Yeah. Ok, we need to finish now.
Robert: Oh, is the time up? Oh my goodness, it has gone quickly, yeah.
Iain: Well, I really enjoyed that conversation. I think we have covered a lot. In a way it’s only a snapshot into your book but what I liked most about your book was that it had depth, it had humanness and a degree of adventure and it was not a classic page turner but somehow I wanted to turn the page. So I would recommend this book to someone who is on the spiritual path. It maybe slightly disillusioned because Robert gives you, he gives people hope not for the sake of giving people hope but by your own process there’s something, because you do share some depths of dispair sometimes, and somehow you get yourself out of it or something moves and you are in a different place.#00:52:30.96#
Robert: And I think that’s what the spiritual life has to offer, that to say there really is hope in the spiritual life. And I think that the hope is not that kind of naive hope that we used to have when we were first starting. But there is a real baby in this bath water and it’s worth protecting and it’s worth finding. Yes. But thank you for all you have said about the book, that’s very sweet. And I like to offer back one thing about you. There is a lot of hype these days on TV, on radio. And it’s hard to find places that you can go for truly thoughtful conversations about what’s important. And you do that well. I know how hard it is to keep one of these things going and I know how challenging it can be. But you do it well, Iain. And I compliment you for the attempt and for the way that you go about doing this. It has been a real privilege to be part of your process and so thank you.#00:53:27.79#
Iain: Thank you. Ok, so thank you for watching Conscious TV. Here is the book again by Robert Forman and I hope to see you again soon. Good bye.
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