James Redfield , Michael Murphy & Sylvia Timbers discussing their book God and the Evolving Universe: The Next Step in Personal Evolution

Michael Murphy
God and the Evolving Universe: The Next Step in Personal Evolution

Global visionaries James Redfield and Michael Murphy came to the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in January 2002 to talk about their book, God and the Evolving Universe. When James Redfield self-published the Celestine Prophecy in 1993, it enjoyed a ground swell of enthusiasm that made it one of the best-selling spiritual novels of all time. Its theme of synchronicity inspired many to a new, experiential spirituality, and it fostered a special relationship between its countless readers. Michael Murphy began his quest into the nature of human potential as a psychology major at Stanford University. In 1961, he co-founded the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, which has become the leading personal growth center in the world. He is the author of Golf in the Kingdom and its sequel, The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, The Future of the Body, and The Life We Are Given (with George Leonard). Sylvia Timbers is a documentary filmmaker with a background in consciousness studies and psychological and spiritual development. James Redfield, Michael Murphy and Sylvia Timbers found friendship and shared interest in spirituality and human development. The seminal book God and the Evolving Universe became its expression.

Part One of God And The Evolving Universe gives an overview of evolution and shows why the evolutionary process cannot be ignored if the human species is to survive and move forward. Part Two discusses the emergence of extraordinary human capacities. Part Three offers a vision of how our extraordinary humanness can be used to renew man's institutions and cultures. The authors also discuss the transformation of our physical bodies. Part Four suggests specific exercises that facilitate the personal and social transformations discussed in the book. The book ends with a fantastic "Guide to the Literature of Transformation," which includes important classic and popular books that address a new vision of human possibility.

"We believe that humankind's exploration of the inner life, in its infancy now, can reveal new frontiers of creativity, antidotes for hatred and alienation, and possibilities for cultural transformation beyond those we presently imagine. As we present this picture of further evolutionary advance, we contend that history is not merely cyclical, but that it is going somewhere and, indeed, that it has been struggling all along toward higher ends." -- James Redfield, Michael Murphy, Sylvia Timbers

What follows is and edited version of their Bodhi Tree Bookstore presentation.

JAMES REDFIELD: We were just talking about how many years the energy has been coming through the Bodhi Tree Bookstore. It is always a grounding experience. The idea for our book God and the Evolving Universe came from our third author, Sylvia Timbers, who thought Michael's vision and my own were similar and very compatible. If you've read my books, you know that I talk about mystical and peak experiences that lift us into a higher identity and expand and heighten our perception. There's a sense of electricity and a kind of knowing. And very often it includes the idea of something that we must do - our mission, or what and why we are here. Also, of course, there is synchronicity: which means that if we follow our intuitions and stay elevated in our perception, opportunities happen. There is a force that will open doors for us and take us on a journey, but we have to step into it.

This book is about how to practice these elevated experiences and bring them into everyday life and our chosen work. It represents the first synthesis of a whole new view about spiritual experiences, not tied to any dogma, but reflecting an ongoing exploration of our own lives and the discovery of flow within them. It really is a stepping up, I believe, into a higher consciousness in which we're more in touch with the mystery. But that old secular materialism -- which is still the prevailing view in the culture - tell us that there's nothing special or mystical in the world; all we have to do is figure out a way to distract ourselves until the end. We're here with our egos alone, trying to use our heads to figure out how to have fun and, hopefully, make a contribution. But, in reality, the new paradigm is getting out of that secular materialism and into the mystery. We're not simply talking about ourselves, and our experience, it has to do with the universe. This means we look at our experience and our growth in the context of the cosmic evolution that began with the big bang, the creative beginning that is still operating in the world. This evolution brought us all the way through the development of the physical universe, life, and humanity, and it goes forward now in individual cultural expression. We can think of ourselves as pioneers at the edge of evolution as we try to advance our own experience and growth. And the key I always come back to is that it is supposed to be mysterious and kind of magical - we have to constantly work at that.

I think of our new book as the evidence for The Celestine Prophecy. Where we now stand in our cultural awakening is the result of the awakenings - both large and small -- into higher consciousness, that have occurred throughout history. If you want to know how it all fits together, Michael -- whom we call "Mr. Encyclopedia" -- can tell you. In our book, he writes about the peak turning points in spiritual consciousness that provided the foundation for what we're currently beginning to comprehend.

MICHAEL MURPHY:Our book is an attempt to give some context, as James said, to a wealth of material related to psychological or spiritual awakening. And I came to it out of my lifelong interest in these topics, particularly as they came into focus in my book called The Future of the Body. That book was based on a project at Esalen where we collected stories about extraordinary human functioning, which goes way beyond what we are used to. In one case, for example, a man on a golf course told me he saw a ball marker the size of a dime on the green four hundred yards away - and there it was. The study covered a lot of ground -- from golf, to surgery, to cooking, to lovemaking, to childbirth, to religious practice.

As James said, Sylvia Timbers had the idea that the two of us should get together, since we share some interesting similarities of vision. At the heart of it was the notion that humanity's highest inspirations and our super-normal capacities are somehow linked to the story of the universe itself, to the evolution of this world since the big bang. Now, we don't have a lot of common ground with our creationist friends who want to say that evolution didn't happen or doesn't count. And we're not exactly in bed, either, with our Vedantist friends and others of traditional mystical persuasion who think of the world in old-fashioned Hindu terms as a cyclical phenomenon, a play of shadows that doesn't matter. Instead, we say that this evolving universe is an expression of the divine imminence. The stupendous adventure of divinity is the evolving universe that's unfolding, and making what is implicit, explicit. That's the fundamental metaphysic at the heart of this book. James and I share a belief that embodiment is central in this adventure: We are here to be bodies. And if we open the doors to life on the other side, which we do in this book, that too is an adventure of embodiment. A body expresses that aspect of our being which is particular and unique. Soul is always merging with soul in you and me. We are one and we are many. We are identical and we are other. And, of course, the mystics have always confronted this paradox. But when you come down to this planet, is there a future for embodiment? There is ample evidence now from the religious traditions, modern experience, and even from scientific studies that - at least for moments, and sometimes for days - the human body mutates into an extraordinary state. These moments are pointing, we believe, to an evolutionary possibility for the human race, for a co-evolution of body, mind and soul. We try to say it gently, but it's a pretty far-out thought and blasphemous to some.

In this book, we also provide a bibliography with about four hundred annotated citations. I don't know how you feel, but at times when I walk into a bookstore, I'm bewildered. How do you begin? You have to just settle down and decide to explore. We hope our book takes on some life as a readers' guide to both modern and traditional literature of transformation. So, if anybody wants a guide to the literature of the Bodhi Tree, you can start with our book.


"We end up just distracting or pacifying ourselves, unless we're growing towards a relationship with the overall creation." -- James Redfield

 


AUDIENCE QUESTION:In your book you talk about the mystical paradox. That relates to a question that is giving me a real inner battle - and I think it probably perplexes everyone. Suppose we say that the God-Self is the totality of everything and that it is infinite and loving. Then how can you explain suffering in any form or for any reason? What about a cheetah jumping on a gazelle and ripping out its throat? Or Bin Laden? Or the mass murderer? If we consider the existence of the God-Self, how can we justify the existence of this second realm, which would include the process of evolution? Evolution implies a need to move towards perfection, but if something is already perfect and all encompassing, why would it need to evolve? Or, if it is all just a dream, wasn't the dream created by infinity itself? I know this is a very wide-angled question, but for me it's really serious. In fact it's driving me nuts.

Murphy: That was a brilliant question, and very well put, so I really want to respond. The problem of evil is the toughest problem in philosophy. I would say most of us know that it's possible to directly experience a perfection of being, an ecstasy, a joy. Certainly, this is what God must be -- all loving and all kind. How do you reconcile that with this world in which wherever you look, you find absolute horror? I don't think anyone said it much better than Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov, when Ivan Karamazov, the intellectual, tells Alyosha, the saintly, mystic brother, the story of a poor, lower class child who had somehow angered a Russian nobleman. The nobleman turned his dogs loose and let them rip the child to shreds. And Ivan says, "Any God that permits this, I will not give a quarter to be with that God."

But in a dream, Ivan, the intellectual, struggles with the issue but finally turns back to God. You cannot resolve this paradox through reason. It is, at the end of the day, a mystery. And the only possible response is a pragmatic one.

We have to choose in the face of this stupendous mystery of the Divine; either we know it or we intuit it or we hope for it. We've glimpsed it and then we've lost it. In a world that is this awful, we have to respond with both faith and right action. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. When you begin to march, you begin to bring the world closer to the Divine. In a sense, our book can be read as a justification of the ways of God to man.

REDFIELD:Living with a mystery is, I think, the heart of dealing with this paradoxical question. But I also think that we only come to the experience of God through free will. Once you see that we come to God through our intention, you will realize that when the connection is missing we are alienated and deluded. We end up just distracting or pacifying ourselves, unless we're growing towards a relationship with the overall creation. So, if we have free will to come to God, then we also have free will to turn the dogs loose on an innocent child. Was it the child's fault, or was it God's fault? I would say that it's free will's fault. Do we understand why we are put in such a situation that requires our intention to return to God? No, we don't. The heart of your question was, who would design such a universe and for what purpose? That's the mystery.

MURPHY:As cruel as the world can be, it is also grace laden. There are graces everywhere and grace responds to us the minute we turn and have a better attitude. It is tough at times to read the newspaper but it helps to see things through the eyes of love.

AUDIENCE QUESTION:To me, to have a world that is grace-laden and horror-laden is a contradiction in Divine terms. You can't have a God that sets up conditions: "I'll give you grace if you tune into me." That's not unconditional love; that's conditional love.


"All of our parts are trying to awaken, and we get glimpses of that all the time; we just don't know yet how to proceed." -- Michael Murphy

 


REDFIELD:This is the existentialist's argument. You can come up with all kinds of reasons that the plan is flawed or that God ought to be different, but in the final analysis, it's the experience that counts.

What disturbs you is that there is no mandate saying that everyone must turn towards grace. But we all have equal access. Is a kid in Afghanistan who wants to kill the "infidels" involved in a delusion rather than a path? Yes. Does that make me superior to him because I know that? No. He could turn around in a minute and get a hell of a lot further than any of us in the room. Do we all have special problems? Sure. We are individuals. We each have our challenges in dealing with grace. And nobody understands why that is, but the grace is still there.

MURPHY: Every religious tradition has a doctrine of works and a doctrine of grace. In some Buddhist schools, the idea of non-attainment is not that different from various Christian doctrines of grace. However, every tradition has a different emphasis on how much you have to practice and how much comes through grace. But they all have the idea that, as Ramakrishna, the great Indian saint, said, "The winds of grace are always blowing, but we have to raise the sails." This is an overwhelming pragmatic truth that has been discovered again and again by the mystics of the world, even though it defies rationality.

On the topic of practice, as part of our study at Esalen, we collected information about what happens to meditators. The results were remarkable. You sit down, quiet your mind, and the distinctive brain wave patterns begin to change - and not only when you're meditating. If you do it day after day, you are able to access the alpha wave frequency more easily, and the brain becomes a little better at balancing itself, and et cetera. Almost within weeks even your saliva begins to change -- it loses impurities and people have fewer cavities. Now, why should meditation make these wonderful things happen? This odd fact has become even stranger for me since I wrote Golf in the Kingdom. I now take confession from golfers who want to tell me about their mystical experiences on golf courses. Why should golf do this? It's not acknowledged to be a religious exercise (except by husbands trying to justify their Sunday golf games to their wives!), but it brings a quietude and invites grace.

When we examine transformative experiences, we discover their commonalities. And at the heart of our book is the notion that every awakening is the evolutionary emergence of a universally shared human attribute, which we in turn inherited from our animal ancestors. You can describe this as the gradual awakening of all of our parts, or the enlightenment of our whole being: Our perceptions, our communication abilities, our cognitive abilities, all of the affairs of the heart, all of our feelings of love and empathy, all of our bodily functions -- everything that you and I share and that we share with every other living being on the planet. Since we are embedded in this evolutionary adventure, we will evolve, for better or for worse. Evolution does not move in a straight line, but sometimes meanders. However, these awakenings hold the promise of evolutionary progress and can be built on if we have the right orienting philosophy, the right practice, and good fellow practitioners. We are always secretly trying to evolve. All of our parts are trying to awaken, and we get glimpses of that all the time; we just don't know yet how to proceed.

REDFIELD:We believe that we now find ourselves in a unique historical situation. Never before has there been so much information about this transformation, or so many people having glimpses of it. Through our book, and others, we're going to find an understanding that enables us to sustain this level of experience.

The practices we put in here are experiential. There are some good meditations, and we also talk about intuition, higher perception, the sudden perception of beauty, and certainly, the flow -- the enhanced synchronicity that we discover in our lives. All these things contain, in our view, the seeds of a practice. There's a way to bring it on with intention. The key and common denominator is to slow down and become devoted to practice. Do it in the morning, or late at night -- it takes a commitment, but we believe it pays off. Another thing that's important is to do it with other people. There are all kinds of learning centers, teachers, and yoga classes that you can explore. Groups are magic, especially conscious groups. They help raise energy. It's the flow. It's the mystery.

God and the Evolving Universe: The Next Step in Personal Evolution By James Redfield, Michael Murphy & Sylvia Timbers  (322 pp.) ISBN 1585421375. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam

"We believe that humankind's exploration of the inner life, in its infancy now, can reveal new frontiers of creativity, antidotes for hatred and alienation, and possibilities for cultural transformation beyond those we presently imagine. As we present this picture of further evolutionary advance, we contend that history is not merely cyclical, but that it is going somewhere and, indeed, that it has been struggling all along toward higher ends." -- James Redfield, Michael Murphy, Sylvia Timbers

Evolutionary theorists Theodosius Dobzhansky and Francisco Ayala describe the moment when matter gave rise to life, and again when life produced Homo sapiens, as instances of "evolutionary transcendence." Here, in God And The Evolving Universe, James Redfield, Michael Murphy and Sylvia Timbers discuss the possibility of a third, epochal event. "This emerging domain, like the emergence of life from inorganic matter and humankind from animal species, "they write, "has been made possible by countless advances large and small, from the birth of spiritual awareness among our ancient ancestors to recent scientific discoveries about our still mostly untapped capacities for extraordinary life." However, they continue, "Ecological disaster, cataclysmic war, unforeseeable diseases, extraordinary social upheavals, or other catastrophes could so diminish life on Earth that few people or institutions would have the will or resources to cultivate the extraordinary capacities at the heart of the evolutionary advance we foresee." Much of the information presented in their book speaks to the powerful ability of man and nature to choose other options.

Part One of God And The Evolving Universe gives an overview of evolution and shows why the evolutionary process cannot be ignored if the human species is to survive and move forward. Part Two discusses the emergence of extraordinary human capacities. Part Three offers a vision of how our extraordinary humanness can be used to renew man's institutions and cultures. The authors also discuss the transformation of our physical bodies. Part Four suggests specific exercises that facilitate the personal and social transformations discussed in the book. The book ends with a fantastic "Guide to the Literature of Transformation," which includes important classic and popular books that address a new vision of human possibility.

God And The Evolving Universe is beautifully conceived, clear and fluid. It never becomes tedious or preachy. Redfield, Murphy and Timbers inspire us to wonder whether humankind is only just beginning to know itself and understand its place in the scheme of things. God And The Evolving Universe is a grand achievement.--ICS

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