Michael Bernard Beckwith on Discernment and Creativity
Michael Bernard Beckwith, founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center, teaches meditation and scientific prayer, as well as the Life Visioning Process, which he created. He is a regular guest of Oprah and CNN, and speaks at seminars and conferences around the world.
C2: How do you define spirituality?
MBB: When defining spirituality we have to begin with the word spiritual itself. Common etymology tells us spiritual means “of or concerning the spirit or soul.” The Latin root, “spiritus” means to breathe. When we add to that that meditation practice is about observing the breath, it becomes complete. So spiritual is synonymous with our soul-qualities including love, intuition, peace, intelligence, compassion, and other qualities that are non-dual in nature. To practice spirituality is about becoming more and more conscious of the Reality of being, of our true nature. A spiritual person is one who is waking up to that which is limitless and timeless about his/her true nature.
C2: Do we need spirituality?
MBB: Whether we think we need it or not, it’s already a part of us–the most vital aspect of our being that animates our very life. We are spiritual beings having a human incarnation.
C2: Your teachings have been described as New Thought-Ageless Wisdom. Can you explain how this differs from traditional organized religion?
MBB: The New Thought-Ageless Wisdom tradition of spirituality has as its foundation the awareness that this “Great Something”–by whatever name we choose call it: God, the Ineffable, Existence, Cosmic Intelligence, Unconditional Love, or no name at all–is within us. Next, we teach that we are here to consciously participate in our own inner evolutionary growth, which is an inward practice that culminates in fulfilling our candidacy for enlightenment, right here, right now, on the ground where we now stand.
Mainline religions direct people more outwardly–that if they surrender their life to an outer figure who will save them, if they live by a certain set of beliefs, they’re guaranteed heaven in the afterlife.
C2: How did you begin your spiritual path?
MBB: When I was in college I had a series of lucid dreaming that I couldn’t explain to people–primarily because I couldn’t explain it to myself! In the last dream in the series, as I was being held down by two men, a third accomplice stabbed me in the heart. The pain was excruciating and ended in my death. When I woke up from the dream my whole definition of life had shifted. I saw that we are surrounded by a universal Presence, which I named Love-Beauty, because the love was utterly intoxicating and intense, and the beauty was beyond physical description. I sensed this Presence was omniscient, omnipresent, and omni-active. So my life became a hunt for an understanding what exactly had happened to me. It was then that I discovered Eastern and Western mysticism, and that consciousness is a process of limitless unfoldment.
C2: Once you had this experience, how did your everyday life start to change?
MBB: Well, I lost a lot of my friends. The person who went to bed that one night was not the same person [my friends] met the next day. My priorities shifted. I wanted to commune with this Presence, to be in service to this divine impulse that had captured my life. Everything else paled in comparison. I became a bore to my friends because all that we shared in common had dissolved into nonexistence.
C2: How do you describe discernment and how did finding your spirituality affect your discernment?
MBB: Discernment is a spiritual faculty that allows us to tell the difference between that which is real and that which is illusory. It is an inward knowing of what to accept and what to renounce, be it a habit, a job, people in our life, perceptions, beliefs, even doubts and questions which are all part of the inner mental landscape. As we continue to grow and unfold spiritually through meditation, affirmative prayer, visioning, and other spiritual technologies, our ability to discern with intuitive insight increases. We’re better able to sense of what’s real from that which has been implanted by outer conditioning from society, parents, education, religion, media, government–things like that.
C2: How do we discern if our motivations and goals are ego driven, or if they are driven by a higher power?
MBB: When we practice introspection we increase our ability to be more honest with ourselves, to catch our more subtle motivations. We bust ourselves more willingly, and with a sense of humor. We become the witness of our mind and its thoughts, and also realize that we are more than the mind. Once we’re able to be nonattached to what we observe within ourselves, we can discern what’s dominating our perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, which drive our actions. We then have the opportunity to consciously operate our free will. We are out of enslavement to a limited was of relating to ourselves and others.
If we’re really doing our inner work, we’ll develop our capacity to make choices from the higher self, which is the reflection of a Higher Power within us.
The challenge is that we live in a very consumer-driven, materialistic society. So from the time an individual is very young they’re inundated with so many messages, like “whoever dies with the most toys wins.” Adults are inundated by the media to shop, acquire, consume. Like the ad says, “….for everything else there’s Master Card.” But as one begins to wake up, they’re able to tell the difference between satisfying the ego and satisfying the soul. The results are in the actions we choose to take.
C2: Is there a particular practice you take part in to help discern between those two?
MBB: I meditate every day. That’s my core practice. And I define meditation as paying undistracted attention to Reality. I also practice affirmative prayer affirmative prayer, the Life Visioning Process, yoga and my own version of Qigong. These spiritual technologies sensitize consciousness and make it much more difficult to fool ourselves, to settle for justifications and rationalizations about spiritual laziness, about postponing our inner growth.
C2: Can you describe affirmative prayer and how it differs from other forms of prayer?
MBB: Affirmative prayer is based upon the awareness that the universe is friendly, that we are one with this beloved Presence, not separate from it. Its nature cannot contradict itself–its givingness is consistent, so we never have to beg it to do anything for us; we have only to authentically acknowledge that it our inheritance has already been given: love, beauty, peace, abundance, compassion, generosity–the soul qualities we mentioned earlier in the interview.
Traditional prayer is more of a business contract: “Okay God, if I quit smoking will you please give me that new job I just applied for?” It’s about beseeching or pleading a reluctant, fickle deity outside of ourselves, a sort of cosmic Santa Claus who determines if we’ve been “naughty or nice,” thus giving rewards one day, withholding the next day. People beg God for something or try to change God’s mind about something.
Affirmative prayer is a statement of grateful acknowledgment of all the gifts that have already been given to us, a full acceptance of them because we know we are worthy to receive them.
C2: What about someone who is going through a big crisis and has a hard time seeing this love-beauty experience? How would you advise someone to get past the anger and pain they see in their life?
MBB: When I deal with people in crisis I remind them in what I hope is a compassionate way that crisis is an opportunity for transformation, that it is rich material to work with. Barriers are being broken down. Defense mechanisms are breaking down; armor is being stripped away; evolution is happening.
There’s always something trying to be birthed through and as us. A greater talent, a gift, an empowerment that’s trying to emerge. So crisis is an opportunity to keep our seat when we would prefer to run away. “Oh, I wish I wasn’t who I am, doing what I’m doing, living where I am and so on.” When a crisis arises and we can ask ourselves empowering questions such as: What lesson is in this situation that is endeavoring to reveal itself to me? What blessing is present that I am to receive? What quality is trying to be revealed? These are empowering questions that free a person from victimhood–the “Why me? Who can I blame? Why is this happening to me again?” syndrome. We live in a friendly universe which will reveal within us that which will segue our thinking out of a crisis into becoming more of our authentic self.
C2: You seem to talk a lot about creativity in your books. Can you explain why that’s such a reoccurring theme and how someone can access creative energy in a positive way?
MBB: I’m convinced that we’re here as individualized expressions of Spirit, and as such possess its creative nature. We’re here to tap into this creative urge that’s within all of us and allow it to self-express in, as and through us.
Often times people live in so much fear of God, themselves, their boss, society, their mate, their parents, their peers that they prefer to remain in the status quo rather than to be the uniquely creative, individualized beings that they are. We have a tendency to think of creative people as those who sing or paint or are somehow involved in the arts. But I believe that creativity expresses in every aspect of our life. We can wash the dishes as an art form, nurse a baby, play basketball, pick up a pen, mow the lawn, brush our teeth. It’s about mindfulness about the preciousness of life. And when we invite the muse of creativity to come into our hearts we allow something new, something inspirational to come through us in the simplest and deepest aspects of what it means to be human.
I’m convinced that its an act of wisdom for people would to activate their creative nature, because in every burst of creativity there’s tremendous joy and fulfillment. But it’s not going to come about without first acknowledging the existence of our inherent creative urge.
C2: And how do we invite that creative muse into our life?
MBB: Well, one of the ways is to gratefully acknowledge that it already exists within us. Then we consciously invite it to become activated, to express through us. We’re surrounded by an Infinite field of creativity. The currency of the Universe is ideas, inspiration, which proliferates the cosmic and individual atmospheres. When we open ourselves to a new idea in any area of our life, the universe will reciprocate; it will respond with new possibilities, inspirations cascading out of the seeming nothingness into the somethingness. What were first invisible Ideas begin to be clothed in outer form.
C2: What inspired you to found the Agape International Spiritual Center? Did you activate the creative energy and invite the creative muses?
MBB: Absolutely. I facilitated a small group of people in the practice of the Life Visioning Process (LVP) to found the Agape International Spiritual Center. We met on a weekly basis and after a period of meditation, we placed a series of questions into the creative field, primarily about what was needed in order to birth our vision of a trans-denominational community that was devoted to inner exploration, selfless service, and creativity. We asked what qualities we had to develop and what we needed to release in order for the vision to take form.
C2: Can you explain a little bit about the Life Visioning Process and its ultimate goal?
MBB: The Life Visioning Process (LVP) is a spiritual technology in which we fine-tune our ability to catch the highest possible vision about an endeavor–personal or collective. In the LVP we make ourselves available to catch an insight, a vision, an awareness of that which is seeking to emerge in our lives. This spiritual technology is now being used in spiritual centers around the world, and also in corporations and businesses where people are inviting themselves to catch a larger idea of their particular project, their particular life, or whatever endeavor they’re involved in.
C2: What is the mission and the vision of The Agape International Spiritual Center?
MBB: From the very beginning Agape has sought to provide teachings that would birth the next stage of human evolution, and to be a beneficial presence on the planet through our humanitarian projects. We do have formal purpose and mission statements, which primarily revolve around being agents of transformation in our society and transmitting the vibration of unconditional love. And so basically what we have is this diverse spiritual community where people come in and focus on their self-healing, self-realization, and selfless service. Over these 23 years Agape has grown into a very sweet, generous, and globally impactful community.
C2: You mentioned the next phase of human evolution. Can you explain how you see that?
MBB: As we approach the next phase of human evolution, we will begin to consciously live from a sense of our oneness with all life, which will greatly improve the quality of life for our global brothers and sisters, our precious Mother Earth, and all animals and mammals. The next stage of evolution will be about awakening to our true nature. The primary questions will be: How can I give? How can I share? How can I grow? I see the beginnings of that kind of culture emerging.
I’m more than optimistic. I feel moved, encouraged by what I see, and even though we’re inundated with the bad news of our global society, beautiful beings and advancements are emerging.