Judith Miller s Spiritual Journey 10/26/12

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1 Judith Miller s Spiritual Journey 10/26/12 Transcript of an interview conducted in San Mateo, CA by award-winning producer Mel Van Dusen for PRESENT! (www.melpresents.com), his YouTube channel which explores creativity, spirituality, and personal growth through interviews with people pursuing their unique visions. Mel Van Dusen: Judith, you ve had some mystical experiences that influenced your present life. Can you tell us about them? JM: Yes, they actually stated as a young adult and they have provided my life work and my life path. MVD: Can you tell us about them? JM: It s interesting, as a young adult, I had grown up in a secular family, I was a newly minted psychologist, starting to work in the field and I began to have spontaneous, very strong experiences and there was nothing in my background or profession that prepared me to understand what was happening. MVD: And what did these do to your sense of identity? JM: Well, it kind of turned it upside down, 180 degrees, and it took many years and continuing to explore to understand and inform me about my life s work. MVD: You had a perception of different levels of reality; can you tell us about that? JM: Here we are in a physical body and when you have experiences that take you beyond the five senses, you find out that there is one sacred reality and that s the umbrella for everything else.

2 MVD: And you are presently professor of Human Development at Columbia University; can you tell us about that? JM: Yes, I m a clinical psychologist, but I was very happy to find an academic home because human development leaves room for potential and for our spiritual nature and typically in mainstream psychology there s not much space for that part. MVD: Can you tell us about the courses you teach? JM: I teach Child Development, Personality Development Across the Life Span and I bring into these courses the spiritual component. I ve also developed a course that focuses just on spiritual development. MVD: Have you had any resistance from Columbia about this? JM: Well, it took a while for them to accept the course, but the students have always loved it, so that s why I keep teaching it. MVD: And you ve written a book called Direct Connection: Transformation of Consciousness. Can you tell us a bit about it? JM: There seemed to come a time in my life when it felt important to me to share my experiences as a psychologist who was having these mystical experiences, the challenges of being a professional in the field of psychology, having experiences very similar to those of my patients who had diagnoses of psychosis and schizophrenia. Because my experiences were very similar to what is typically called hallucinations and delusions in the field. MVD: So we re now at the ACISTE conference in San Mateo the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences. Could you give us some idea of what ACISTE does to help people who ve had spiritual experiences that in the past were considered psychotic?

3 JM: Yes, I m very excited that ACISTE has developed and basically they are helping professionals in the field to work with people who have had these kinds of experiences, whether they are near-death experiences, or what they call Spiritually Transformative Experiences. I think it s a whole new development that social workers and psychologists are getting CEUs so they ll be certified. So I think things are changing very significantly. MVD: And what is unique about ACISTE that can help people who have had these experiences. JM: First of all, it affirms that these experiences are real and not psychopathology, because in the psychiatric diagnostic manual, when people have experiences that are not based on the five senses, there are terms like religious ideation, ideas of reference, and so it s affirming that they are real and it s about supporting people who have these experiences. MVD: What is your definition of the word spiritual? JM: Many people have different definitions and different traditions describe it in different ways. For me, it s the idea that there is something much bigger than each of us as an individual. There s a higher power and in the West we call it God. I think ultimately we re connected to that and it s a part of us. And life isn t random, there s a purpose for each of our lives and we just have to connect and tune in to that energy and our relationship with it and trust it and surrender to it and realize that we re not driving the ship We re not in control, we re part of something for the good that s much bigger than each of us. MVD: When people use the word God nowadays, it has kind of an off-putting connotation. So what s your definition of God? JM: For me, it does not have an off definition, because, you know, I was born into the Judeo-Christian tradition, and in the West, we call it God and Islam calls it Allah and other people call it Higher Power. What I think is important is not to throw out the baby with the

4 bathwater. In the West, many people have been disappointed with their birth religion and they kind of forget that in every tradition and that includes Christianity and Judaism there is a strong mystical foundation. That s part of our identity. And so in the West it s called God and I call it God. People can call it whatever they want, it s what we are, who we are, and what we re part of. MVD: I find it interesting that you come from a secular Jewish background and yet you work in Germany and you give psychospiritual retreats for descendants of Nazis. I mean, that is really interesting. Tell us about this. JM: Well, I guess I should begin by just saying that you asked me what spirituality is and I mentioned God, and all the spiritual traditions including the West, real spiritual development is to reach a place of feeling and being One with all there is. That is: the higher power, with one another, to realize that we are all connected and part of the same thing. And unfortunately there are so many splits in the world today. There is the split between Judaism and Christianity, even though Jesus was a Jew. There s real divisiveness and separation between Germans and Jews. In many ways, between males and females. And since spiritual development is all about Oneness, and coming together and being connected, it seems that my work has led me to really get involved with these splits. To try to encourage people in the West to come together in their spiritual roots. For Germans and Jews the Holocaust was 70 years ago and yet there s still this Victim/Perpetrator mentality that I think is also playing out now in the Middle East with Israel. So it perpetuates and it s like a collective shadow. And I think that at an individual personal level as well as at a collective level, if we could heal these splits, then we would all be coming closer to this place of Oneness. MVD: And how do you heal the split in your psychospiritual retreats? JM: It s interesting because all these years there s been a lot of work done between Germans and Jews. There s been a lot of writing, dialogues, but the one thing that has not really been done is spiritual work together. Because when you do the spiritual work, which

5 we do through meditation, Breathwork, and altered states and then psychospiritual processing, those divisions just start dissolving. And so, my colleague is a German man born during the war, when bombs were coming in his village, and I m a Jewish woman from America, and when we co-lead this, the fact that we ve gotten beyond the separation in our relationship seems to have an effect on the people that come, so then there s an energy of connection and Oneness, which encourages people to go in that deep healing for themselves as well. MVD: And how has this process changed you? JM: Oh, I feel that it s been an unbelievable gift. When I began working with my colleague Ingo in Germany, I was a normal American Jew with bad feelings about Germans and I was not involved in the Holocaust. But it s taken me to the deepest part of myself, to what it means to be Jewish, to what it means to be a victim transforming that, feeling a connection and realizing in the end that we are all children of the same God. MVD: Judith, you re about to complete a book: Awakening the Western Soul: A Spiritual Homecoming for Today s Seeker. Can you give us an idea about what this book is going to be about? JM: Well, I ve worked for over 20 years with spiritual seekers, everyday people who want to become more themselves, and this work has led all kinds of people to make that direct connection, to feel part of something bigger. So over the years it has become clear to me that there are certain stages, there is a path that people seem to go through in terms of spiritual development. When they are born into the Judeo-Christian tradition, that s their heritage. There are certain processes and dynamics and Western perspectives that seem to come up. So I ve learned that there are stages, there are challenges, there s ways of getting through it in terms of evolution that s been corroborated by the writings of the great Western mystics, my own process, other peoples processes. I ve seen it replicated over and over and I ve tried to share this with the reader who is on his or her own path and gets

6 confused, doesn t recognize what s happening. I m trying to make a roadmap for people traveling on a path that they really don t understand much about. MVD: And you stressed the importance of commitment to the path, of keeping to it. JM: Yes, I think it s a very serious business. And while I am really pleased that popular culture has incorporated the idea of being spiritual much more than when I began all this 20 some years ago, so it s in books and TV programs, and lots of people are talking about being spiritual, my concern is that it s not taken seriously or people don t realize what is involved as much as they should. So it is something very, very significant that I think we need to understand much more what typically happens on the journey. MVD: Can you give us some idea of one pitfall might be for a person who sets out on the spiritual path and then finds out that they are not as serious about it as they would like to be? JM: Well I think one problem that I see is that in many ways the New age movement, which has been around for 40 years, now is a smorgasbord of different traditions. Many people shop around, go to workshop, and have a high, a kundalini awakening, --that s very popular right now. And all this is fine, because in fact, all traditions lead to the same place, which is that connection and that Oneness. But we each have our own identity, and psychology and sociology put a lot of stock in strengthening that identity, whether gender identity, sexual identity, etc., there are all these messages that are about loving our selves and owning ourselves and being ourselves for our personal development. But when it comes to spiritual identity, or religious identity, there is the opposite reaction to that and many people reject it and go shopping for something else. And while the other traditions are great, very often they are not particularly applicable to the Western spiritual DNA. MVD: Judith, you ve come a long way, you re a professor at Columbia and you re giving these psychospiritual workshops in Germany, I m wondering what advice would you give to yourself as a person that has that first mystical experience.

7 JM: Probably the same advice that I give to myself now, 20 some years later. Life is about learning. It s a lifelong path to God, and as long as we re in a physical body I can learn not only about deeper levels of my personal foibles but also aspects of my [inner] light and so just keep paying attention and realizing that there s energy coming through us, that we re being guided, that we re not in control, so look for clues for the best way that we can live out our lives. I think that s what life is about. To get as close and connected to our soul, to the Higher Power, to what s there, and to do the necessary inner work to arrive at that Ultimate space. MVD: Judith, thank you so much.

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