John Bottone interviewed Tom Goddard to get a glimpse into his emerging leadership for the upcoming Path Of The Mystic retreat in July with Nance McGee. Tom provided a fascinating history of the significant steps of his personal mystical journey and his perspective of the mystical path at Shalom Mountain.
John: What are you willing to share in terms of your own mystical journey?
Tom: I think the path of the mystic began for me with the recognition that dogma and various belief structures have their limitations, and once you let them fall away, one can actually encounter the sacred directly. This goes back to when I was eleven, and I was living in Turkey, which is almost entirely Muslim; and a Baptist Sunday School teacher taught that if you are not saved by Jesus Christ, you will go to hell and burn for eternity. Here I am, surrounded by wonderful people for whom that made no sense. I went home and asked my mother, “Can this be true?”, and God bless her, she said “No, that’s not true”. Once I did that, then, all of a sudden, Christianity stopped being a dogma, because I couldn’t interact with it at that level. I had to interact with it at the level of the Cosmic Christ instead of at the dogmatic Christ. Since then, it’s been a 4 ½ decade adventure in piercing the veil of dogmatic belief and seeking out the direct experience of what Jewish mystics call “being inside the face of God”.
John: Say more about some of your major turning points, steps or openings.
Tom: I would say a big turning point for me, John, was when I encountered, in my senior year of college, Buddhism for the first time, and particularly, Zen Buddhism, which is that subset of Buddhist thought which rejects dogma. By the time Zen was created, Buddhism was a thousand years old, and saddled by dogma and meaningless ritual, as any religion can be after a thousand years. The Zen Buddhists came along and said, what we are really interested in is a direct, embodied encounter with Reality.
John: Is this direct encounter with Reality what is commonly called “Awakening” or “Enlightenment” and what is your perspective on the nature of these very commonly used terms?
Tom: I would say “Enlightenment” is a level of realization of the identity with God, and what I’ve come to realize in my more adult years, quite recently in fact, is that “Enlightenment” has at least a couple of meanings that relate to this relationship with God. The eastern “enlightenment” is about the realization that there is no separation between me and all else; there is no distinction that has any particular meaning between me and God, or between me and you; that it is all seamless. The more recent realization, facilitated certainly by the Unique Self Enlightenment teachings of the Jewish mystics, including Marc Gafni, is that in addition to that, not only is there no separation, but there still can be uniqueness. I may not be separate from you, but my vantage in the Universe is unique, and is different than yours even though you and I are not separate. So, for me, “Enlightenment” or “Awakening” is simply awakening to what IS so, and has always BEEN so, that there is no separation, and that I occupy a unique perspective in the Cosmos through which God experiences all else.
John: In my own excitement, I think I jumped ahead of what where we were going, and I’d like to get back to the progression of personal stages you experienced in your mystical path.
Tom: Sure, sure. Well, I studied and started practicing from a Zen perspective from my 20’s into my early 30’s, but, truth be told, I was really far more focused on the making of a living, finding a bride, making children, the kind of activities that young people get involved with. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I really re-engaged with the “Great Question” as my Zen teacher often called it. And it happened that I joined the church of long-time Shalom attendee Robert Close, who had a Presbyterian church in Northern Virginia. Robert’s Sunday School classes were not at all about teaching dogma, they were about engaging directly in our own embodied experience with the relationship with God. What I didn’t realize at that time, because I had never been to Shalom Mountain, was how much his work in that Sunday School class was informed by the work we do here (at Shalom). It was where I first encountered the poetry of David Whyte, Mary Oliver, and Rumi. It was where I first encountered embodied practice other than sitting on a cushion in a spiritual context. It involved breath, it involved guided meditation, it involved music, and it was like no other Sunday School class I had ever encountered. It was also a community experience. It was a tiny church with only 200 people or families, and 40 people every Sunday would be in Robert’s Sunday School class. We would start with Biblical texts and then move quite easily and immediately to questions that were life transforming like “What is the nature of Love?”, “Who am I in all of this?” and “What is my relationship to God, personally?”. That was the big turning point. I recognized in Robert’s class that I was fundamentally a material man with a spiritual life, and that my deepest yearning was to fundamentally be oriented around being a spiritual man who also operates in the material world. By declaring that to the community, I started a process two decades ago that is still ongoing.
About 8 years ago, there was a lot of turmoil in my personal life that Shalom Mountain seemed perfectly suited to continue my spiritual education, so I shifted my energies to Shalom Mountain. I continued the bulk of my spiritual practice at Shalom, but not all of it. I continued with Vyana and Rudy’s Tantric classes, and started diving more deeply into the work of Ken Wilber, which I encountered in my late thirties and early forties. Getting involved with Wilber and the Integral Community was a big deal because it allowed me to weave together the Eastern and Western traditions that were by now, deeply in my body and in my practice. The Integral model helped me to see they were not at war with each other.
John: At what point did you get involved with Genpo Roshi and the Big Mind work?
Tom: That was part of my immersion in the Integral world. I was involved in the founding of the Integral Institute 10 years ago, with Ken Wilber and a bunch of other folks, and shortly after that, Genpo Roshi unveiled his advances on voice dialog into the Integral world. Basically what he did was take Hal and Sidra Stone’s voice dialog work and turn it into a vehicle for transcendence of egoic structures into the unitive, non-dual experience. What I did was, I found him online, in a series of Integral Institute sponsored videos doing the process, so I sat down, and wrote down every word he said in leading the Big Mind process, and then I started leading the process myself. I did it with friends, I did it with a group of Shalom people in the Washington area who started the Community for Spiritual Living (CSL), at a Men’s Gathering with 65 men at Shalom Mountain, and since then I’m done it a whole bunch of times. And now, I consider it an important part of my practice, an important part when I do counseling, it’s an important tool and I continue to lead what I now call “Boundless Heart” – which is my own now, because I do it my way and not his way. And it is a non-dual experience; it provides an opportunity for a direct experience of unity with the Divine.
John: So where are you now? What would you say is the nature of your journey present day?
Tom: The big and most recent turn happened 2 years ago. I first met Marc Gafni several years ago at a conference in Denver that Ken Wilber hosted, and we corresponded sporadically over the intervening years, but I attended his July/August of 2010 Shalom Mountain Wisdom School offering that weekend, and knew by Friday afternoon that the dharma that was unfolding in that weekend was utterly perfect for where I was in my path, and as profound as I’d ever encountered. By Saturday, I knew I was going to be asking him to take me on as a private student. By Sunday, which was my 55th birthday, I asked him, and he said, “Yes”, which was as good as a birthday present I could have asked for. So, I’ve been studying with Marc since September of 2010, and moving into what he is calling Unique Self Enlightenment. It moves beyond Eastern enlightenment, which realizes we are not separate, and into the deeper reality that says, “Yes, I am not separate, AND the perspective I have is unique”. The significance is, that as I walk around, I realize I am God having a Tom experience, as Marc might put it.
This is the nature of the unfolding, the nature of the awakening that is present for me in my life currently. My daily practice is rooted in that orientation of Unique Self Enlightenment, which has a deep Judeo-Christian lineage for me, and I am studying the Kabbalistic masters from hundreds of years ago. I am connecting more fully to my own Christian upbringing and integrating all the Eastern, Tantric and Buddhist learnings over the last 35 years. And Marc and I are co-authoring a book about practice from this perspective: Unique Self Enlightenment Practice. So we’re engaged in a deep dive into practices, because that has always been my focus, even back to high school: “What are the practices?” I am far less interested in the texts and the dogmas. I am far more interested in “What do I need to do?” This is the question I remember back in the 1970’s and it’s now becoming a book we are calling “The World Spirituality Practice Guide” that we hope to publish in 2013. So that is a lot of the focus of my practice, and a lot of my focus in the world these days.
John: Since you are leading the Path of the Mystic retreat in July with Nance, I have 2 questions for you:
1- What is the nature of the mystical journey work at Shalom?
2- What would a participant be entering into on this retreat? What would that be like?
Tom: The precious gift that Shalom Mountain offers which is perfectly suited to mystical exploration is that Shalom has a fundamental structure built around love, and a clear understanding of the Skills and Principles of Loving. It is my belief that the mystical journey is really the journey of the evolutionary lover: how can I learn how to love and to know my identity AS love more completely? The fundamental, even psychological underpinnings of Shalom as a structure for fostering the evolution of love is perfectly suited for mystical work.
Another fundamental orienting principle around Shalom that works beautifully in concert with mystical retreat is its emphasis on embodied process. We are a process oriented community, we don’t do lectures! What we create is opportunities for people to step into their bodies; step into the energy of their lives, and learn about themselves. That is ultimately, as Robert Close once said, it’s all a question of identity, and we’re not going to get our identity from someone telling us how things are. We’re going to discover our true identity, our true selves, by experiencing ourselves in our fullness, in our full glory. And, of course, that’s what this community has been doing for years in both mystical and non-mystical retreats.
The distinction between the mystical retreats and the more psychological retreats, which have profound importance – it’s very difficult to do the mystical work if you’re still crippled by psychological wounding that you haven’t dealt with. But the distinction (between the two) seems to me to be the focus. The mystical retreats really do start to focus on the question of “Who am I?” and “Who am I in relationship to God?”, or for those who are uncomfortable with the word “God”, “Who am I in relationship to this Cosmos, this Universe in which I live?”
In terms of my own leadership, what I have always strived to lead has always been entirely mystic retreats, whether it has been Integral Intensives, more recently with my work with Jerry Jud in the 2011 Science and Mysticism retreat, or at the Men’s Gathering.
John: What would you say to someone who might be reading this and is curious about the Path of the Mystic retreat, to entice them to come?
Tom: Like so much of the work at Shalom, it is open to everybody, and not for everybody. I’ll tell you who this is for. This is for those who feel a deep call to an intimate relationship with God which is still in the flavor of yearning … I want more of this … have tasted the sweetness of what it is to be alive, and want to go further into that sweetness, and are not quite sure how to do that. For people who experience the yearning to live their life with “juice”; with juice and ease; that being alive can be like tasting the most glorious meal, or hearing the most glorious music you can hear. This is a laboratory for exploring yourself in relationship to God.
John: Beautiful… wonderful. Thank you, so much Tom.
For more information or to register for the Path of the Mystic retreat, July 3-8, 2012, call or e-mail Shalom Mountain: 845-482-5421 or firstname.lastname@example.org You may also register at our online registration page.
Tom Goddard has been a member of the Shalom Community since 1997, and co-leads the Men’s Gathering, the Path of the Mystic, and retreats on consciousness at Shalom Mountain. He serves as Director of Land Use and Development of Shalom Mountain. Tom is the CEO of The Integral Company and Integral Healthcare Solutions. Tom is a Vice President of the Center for World Spirituality. He received his doctorate in psychology from George Mason University and his law degree from the University of Arizona.