Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Welcome John C. Robinson, Author of BREAKTHROUGH, a Challenge to Today's Aging!

Good Morning, today John C. Robinson, clinical psychologist, minister and author who writes and speaks about the psychology and spirituality of aging, is here at Book Readers Heaven via an email interview and discussion. Insofar as possible, I try to provide the author with questions or comments regarding his/her book and then also give another chance to review any further responses I have. Time is necessarily a factor, but I try to provide my review first, followed by the discussion, which appears as questions...

So you might want to check out my review which was published yesterday before you begin reading our discussion.

While this is a novel, it is fiction based upon non-fiction. So, as usual, I looked at the credentials of the writer as I began to read... 

First, here is a link to his website--http://www.johnrobinson.org/ He has a list of his publications and tells quite a bit of what he's been involved with for many years. Because his work directly relates to his novel, I am including his bio in its entirety since it will help readers getting into the discussion... And please feel free to add questions or comments below. I will forward to the author and seek his feedback to be added later.


Tree of Life Quilt Design

I am a clinical psychologist with a second doctorate in ministry, ordained interfaith minister, author, husband and father. I started writing books about psychology and spirituality at midlife and I couldn’t stop. Looking back now, I am beginning to see the larger design of my work, like one of my wife’s quilts when it’s hung, all the pieces finally in place, the design evident. Quite without planning, I have been following a single vision of life that I am certain is true, though I can take no credit for it. As music comes through a

composer, this vision came through me.

I wrote Death of a Hero, Birth of the Soul -- a description of the male midlife passage -- while dealing with my own midlife and specializing with men’s issues in my psychology practice. The book argued that the central developmental task men faced in their forties was to replace the traditional model of manhood -- driven, competitive, soul-numbing and exhausting, with a deeper and truer model, one that unleashes the true self and its gifts. This first book also hinted at the possibility of one day living in the divine world, an experience forgotten since theologians convinced the Western World that we had been expelled from the Garden for some mythical figure’s "Original Sin."

I then moved more deeply into the spiritual realm. Intuiting that psychotherapy was only half the solution to psychological problems, I wrote But Where Is God? Psychotherapy and the Religious Search. It was meant for psychotherapists of all stripes who either left spirituality out of their work (often dismissing its insights as irrelevant or even pathological) or inadvertently (and unethically) imposed their own spiritual beliefs on their clients. I wanted to heal the split between the defiantly empirical medical model and the sometimes rigid theologies of religion. I knew that psychology more fully appreciated the dark side of religion (the reality of sexual scandals, religiously-rationalized child abuse, spiritual addictions) and that religion better appreciated the forgotten spiritual side of healing (the value of prayer, the healing of Presence, and the importance of ultimate questions).

After envisioning a spiritually-oriented psychotherapy, I wrote Ordinary Enlightenment: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life, for I longed to understand the nature of Presence and how to experience it. By the time the book was completed, I knew firsthand what God’s Presence felt like and how it changes us. I had entered the realm of mysticism -- the direct experience of divinity -- and began to see how this experience can transfigure the world in the most extraordinary ways.

The mystics from across time and religion often talk about seeing Heaven on Earth. They say that Heaven is already here when we are awake enough to see it, and that this awakening occurs in the experience of the Presence. As I found more and more evidence of this universal realization, I was thrilled and amazed -- Heaven on Earth seems to the best-kept secret of the spiritual life! I wondered, "Why doesn’t everyone and every religion talk about this?" I explored this amazing theme in Finding Heaven Here.

Then, as I started to age, I sensed that growing older continues this same unfolding transformation of consciousness that had begun with midlife. More than that, I realized that aging itself offers the highest levels of spiritual realization if we understand and surrender to its powerful energies. The Three Secrets of Aging describes these energies as initiation, transformation and revelation and argues that they are intrinsic to natural aging. Moreover, as advances in medicine, nutrition and public health increased the average life span by nearly thirty years, we are now witnessing the unfolding of an entirely new stage of life.

Hoping to make this vision of aging more accessible (and more fun), I wrote Bedtime Stories for Elders: What Fairy Tales Can Teach Us About the New Aging. Drawing on ten old and new fairy tales from around the world, I invite older folks (just like me) to discover the three secrets of aging in symbolic parables.

It should be evident by now that the vision I have been following represents the call of a profound developmental process driving the second half of life. Aging is changing me, revealing an essence I had long sensed but couldn’t get at until time, loss, and love broke loose the façade I had created so many years ago. In aging, I return to a sacred consciousness that now welcomes me home to myself.


Good Morning Dr. Robinson, I'm so happy you agreed to discuss your new novel, Breakthrough, with me and readers of Book Readers Heaven. I admit I enjoy reading fiction versus nonfiction, although I did ask for a sample of your Bedtime Stories book which sounded fun. I understand you switched to fiction, hoping to get your ideas more into the mainstream through a good story. I can agree it's a good story, but have you found that you are indeed getting a bigger response to the novel as opposed to your nonfiction books?  Personally, I'd love to recommend it to church-related or other book groups--those who are willing and interested in exploring the inner life at the same time they are reading about characters who may have (or have) actually been involved in what is happening in the book. So you know the obvious next question...How much of this is autobiographical? 

Glenda, I only write about what I know personally: I lived most of the experiences in this book!

One of the first thoughts that came to mind when I started to read was whether this book was related to "New Age". One of the issues for readers is that, oftentimes, writers begin to use a different lexicon for what may be a regurgitation of older principles... When a close relative told me that Yanni was a New Age musician and I shouldn't listen to him--well, let's just say I kept the words in my mouth to prevent a family quarrel. But, I do know semantics is often the basis for problems in communications, So could you explain the basic philosophy of your book versus "New Age?"

As I understand it, New Age refers to... a wide ranging explosion of Eastern, Western, esoteric and alternative medicine ideas that began in the early 1970's. It seemed to reflect a popular need to break free of traditional theological models that felt too confining, prescriptive and intellectual to many who longed instead for a personal experience of spirituality. Like the Burning Man  festival, it was a creative movement by sincere and very independent seekers that supported nearly any path and never really attempted to became an organized religion, which would violate its free-for-all ethos. 


Burning Man is an annual gathering that takes place at Black Rock City—a temporary community erected in the Black Rock Desertin Nevada. The event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by 10 main principles, including "radical" inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, gifting and decommodification, and leaving no trace. First held in 1986 on Baker Beach in San Francisco as a small function organized by Larry Harvey and a group of
friends, it has since been held annually, spanning from the last Sunday in August to the first Monday in September (Labor Day). At Burning Man the community explores various forms of artistic self-expression, created in celebration for the pleasure of all participants. Participation is a key precept for the community - selfless giving of one's unique talents for the enjoyment of all is encouraged and actively reinforced. Some of these generous out-pourings of creativity can include experimental and interactive sculpture, building, performance, and art cars among other mediums, often inspired by the yearly theme, chosen by organizers. The event takes its name from its culmination, the symbolic, ritual burning of a large wooden effigy ("the Man") that traditionally occurs on the Saturday evening of the event.

Certainly, We are living decades longer than ever before, but what is this new developmental stage for? Tom realizes that aging is enlightenment in slow motion, a death-and-rebirth journey that may even awaken planetary consciousness. The implications are awesome: A new kind of aging and perhaps even a new kind of human. In sum, aging can be the crowning achievement of human life.

A word that you used throughout the book is beliefs. I remained unsure of exactly what was meant since it was used so often. Specifically, you talk about giving up beliefs and allowing thinking to disappear (written as I understood it). Originally I thought you were talking about the rules and regulations--beliefs--of any particular religion. But then, in the dreams of two different characters, they were confronted by Jesus, which implied it was related to Christian beliefs, which I really didn't think you meant. So, could you share more about your intent in using the word beliefs?

By belief, I am referring to any ideational structure that comes between subject and object. When we look at a tree, we immediately upload our consensual ideas about trees. We name it, explain it, and move on. Looking at a tree in mystical consciousness is very different. We stop thinking, heighten and focus awareness directly on the tree, and examine its nature directly with a still and silent awareness. Then it's not just a concept, it becomes an experience - unique, astonishing, beautiful and personally impactful. This is not to say beliefs are bad, only that they create lenses that can take over our experience of reality.

Before I put you totally on the spot, I want to mention to you, and remind readers, that I consider your book as being the next step I've experienced through two previous books and interviews with authors... I've always been interested in religion, spirituality and interpersonal relationships, so I've always been reading, rejecting, accepting of issues that became important to me...

Then I read The River of Life by Lee Harmon with a full discussion on his book...

And a Personal Memoir, Prisoner of Belief,  by Dr. John Van Dixhorn, also with a discussion...(If you want to refer to either of these, the review is published first and the Discussion on the next day...)

Now Breakthrough has provided, perhaps, the last answers in my constant questioning of Why? What? How? Why? So, Dr. Robinson, I hope you'll bear with me as I dig deeper into what is provided in your book! 

Paul came into Tom's life as a client. Your choice to create Paul as a nonprofessional, somewhat dominated husband of a very religious woman, I found to be very interesting. I could guess, but, please, why did you choose a man such as Paul to deliver the issue into Tom's head? Again, though coincidentally in the book, you next had Tom go on a Vision Quest, which is most times associated with Native American  culture. In fact, each of your characters appear to be uniquely created to pinpoint some issue that you wanted your readers to see. If I'm right, would you mind clarifying and explaining your thoughts, please.

Great questions. I wanted a character that would reflect the mystical experience in a pure way, without a lot of intellectual baggage. Tom was full of intellectual baggage. He had lots of training, diagnostic categories for every condition, opinions on everything, but his model of the world was completely derailed by Paul's mystical consciousness. It didn't fit anywhere. Tom and his colleagues kept trying to reduce it to a psychiatric condition, which is what psychiatry actually did historically. Happily, Paul's experience began instead to undermine Tom's secure grasp of reality, a necessary step in the evolution of personal spirituality and consciousness. If we are stuck with a rigid model, we wont' learn anything new. I loved Tom's decision to go on the vision quest. He naively thought it was just a retreat of some sort that would give him space to think more; instead his thinking was further unglued. And yes, each character was created to carry a point of view about the spiritual journey. I loved the freedom of getting to speak from many different voices.

Your professional experience appears to have been planned very carefully. For our readers, how do you see each area of specialty as it relates to your life and your books? Specifically, what is the relationship between each?

I grew up in a family dominated by science, psychoanalysis and intellect, and critical of religion, yet I was always drawn to ultimate questions: why are we here, what is life, what is suffering? I pursued psychology because I sensed it held some of the answers but really I was biding my time until I was old enough and the culture free enough to explore more metaphysical ones. Gradually I shifted my work from traditional practice to more experiential possibilities including the mythopoetic men's movement and the integration of psychotherapy and spirituality. I returned to school for a Doctor of Ministry degree and interfaith ordination in order to balance my training and enhance my credibility. 

And yes, the distinctions between psychology, religion, spirituality and mysticism are important. Psychology studies human thought, emotion and behavior, and clinical psychological seeks to understand and treat psychological suffering. 

Mystical experiences like Paul's are the source of all authentic religion. Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad and countless others all had profound mystical experiences; their revelations turned into world religions. Less enlightened followers conceptualized their experiences, hoping to understand, teach, and repeat them. In the process, they created theologies that were often more about the personalities and beliefs of the theologians than about God, leading to considerable misunderstanding. 

This is an important recognition to me...It fits! It explains many of my "why" questions...

Fortunately, mystical consciousness allows us to re-experience a religion's original truths and distinguish them from Ego-derived proclamations and dogma. Spirituality refers to our personal understanding of ultimate questions. A congregation of 300 people may have one religion but 300 different spiritual interpretations.

That last sentence is also an important statement. How many times do individuals speak to others with what can be considered judgmental statements..."You must do this or that before...or in order to..." when we really have no way to claim that we know that individual's relationship with God. I've always tried to live so that I didn't try to judge another person's beliefs...We can share them, of course, as you are doing, but unless we become intimately involved in discussion, I will not argue the legitimacy of another's beliefs... Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts!

What is your religion

I really belong to the mystical branch of every religion. The mystics are my brothers and sisters.

Well said.

One of the things that has evolved for me, based upon history as well as ongoing daily living, is the realization that few people other than atheists, do not question that God exists. It seemed to me that it was when each religion was "created" and the founder, scripture, etc., that you mentioned above becomes the foundation of that religion, that is when people started disagreements, churches split off, and wars began--most noticeably for the attempt to stuff that new religion down the throats of everybody else.   Your book discusses this, I think, very important issue in detail, but could you highlight your thoughts based upon your studies, please.

You are right. In America, there are over 500 different sects of Christianity: one religion, multiplying interpretations. Which is why I love the realm of mystical consciousness. We can each subjectively explore a religions teaching in our own first hand experience of the divine. Arguing about theological differences is usually futile. No one changes their opinion. And anyway, what is God's religion? Religion is a human invention - it can be very meaningful or very confusing and controlling. We each have to find answers for ourself and I suggest the best answers come from direct experience.

I, too, have come to that conclusion, although I'm still "allowing" myself to explore the ultimate of what it is that you describe.

One of my early personal ideas was that, for me, I thought we should have heaven on earth (seemingly more important than looking toward a far future, LOL). Your book, however, includes both! Yes!!! A much more palatable concept for me--but quite different from that which has been normally taught. I would admit, even more...that it feels "right" to my inner spirit...

Ok, I do have to stop and raise a semantics question. From my background, I believe the Holy Spirit abides within us. In other words, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. For purposes of understanding your book, and with my own experience, would I be right to assume that the consciousness you discuss eliminated both the Son and the Holy Ghost and forges the connection with God himself? Or am I trying to fit my experience into your book's material. Help me, and others, understand, please.  

The mystic seeks direct experience of the divine. We can call the divine any name that feels comfortable, but if we get too complex and conceptual, we begin to worship our ideas more than divinity. I have always been interested in experiencing God directly. When I studied accounts of first hand mystical experience, I was amazed by the clarity and consistency of their reports. This was much more empirical, much less theological. The Ego likes complexity because it feels important, powerful, superior. They mystic likes direct experience and has little or no false self to prop up with beliefs.

Certainly an experience that calls to our inner being, doesn't it?!

I'm interested in the evolution of your studies...were you religious prior to becoming a student of mysticism? If not, have you also studied traditional religions, so that you could compare the lexicon of mysticism with religious groups? It seems to me that the terminology could become a stumbling block because of the confusion. 

For instance, the author of Prisoner of Belief had left his religious training and experience behind and is now a clinical psychologist. When I described a personal experience, he noted that it was more mysticism than, as I had referred to it, as gifts of the holy spirit. For myself, I tend to not worry about what something is called by one group versus another, but it seems to me that a lot of "reinventing the wheel" takes place when, in rejecting religious experiences as different from what is in essence, at least to me, the mystical side of all interaction with God, that we fail to take advantage of considering the experiences of many who have just not realized and been able to explain some experience they went through.

Paul, for instance, sought help, fearing his mental health. Tom, then, went into extensive research and interaction with various individuals that could have had some experiences that he had now begun to have. If we have to stop and think...consciousness equals God contact...what's this new thing that this new author is writing about and how does it differ from what I already have experienced in my life?

I have always wanted to simply religion and spirituality, to find the experiences that gave birth to knowing. Countless books have been written on theology from so many different religions, but who has been personally touched by all this thought. If unity is true, and all religions embrace the idea that we are one, then we have to be made of the same stuff as God. If we can feel the being of our being, and become conscious of our consciousness, we are directly in touch with this oneness, and this experience is transforming. We are not who we think we are, we are the embodiment of divinity. The

mystic Meister Eckhart said, "God is the being of my being. My truest "I" is God." This, too, is an archetypal idea, it just happens to threaten those committed to dualistic beliefs. This "new thing" is just the pure first hand experience of what is.

Eckhart von Hochheim O.P. (c. 1260 – c. 1328), commonly known as Meister Eckhart [ˈmaɪ̯stɐ ˈɛkʰaʀt], was a Germantheologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha, in the Landgraviate of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire.
Eckhart came into prominence during the Avignon Papacy, at a time of increased tensions between monastic orders, diocesan clergy, the Franciscan Order, and Eckhart's Dominican Order of Preachers. In later life, he was accused of heresy and brought up before the local Franciscan-led Inquisition, and tried as a heretic by Pope John XXII. He seems to have died before his verdict was received.[citation needed]
He was well known for his work with pious lay groups such as the Friends of God and was succeeded by his more circumspect disciples John Tauler and Henry Suso.  Since the 19th century, he has received renewed attention. He has acquired a status as a great mystic within contemporary popular spirituality, as well as considerable interest by scholars situating him within the medieval scholastic and philosophical tradition.


On the other hand, I must admit that I've been looking at things differently as a result of the aging process. Much you've written about in your book, including, for instance, studying your own hand, has become a part of my own experience. And I agree wholeheartedly with the recommendation to allow things to happen as they do... But then, why did you write your book, LOL? 

I write because it grows me to write. I write because I have to. It's the work of my soul. There is a compass in my psyche always pointing to the ultimate, so I keep following it. Aging is just the next expression of this process. It, too, is sacred, mystical, amazing, beautiful, and profound. I live more and more in a sacred reality and I believe this is our spiritual destiny.   

How does this book reflect what you call the New Aging in America--and exactly what do you mean by that?

I suppose this work is an extension of the same creativity that fueled the New Age movement, though I don't' need to label it with such categories. Categories are part of the belief process that divides and confuses us. I am just happy living it and inviting others to do likewise. 

Ahhh, a perfect way to finish our discussion... Or look forward to another one! Thank you so much for spending time with me and readers of Book Readers Heaven--here on earth, LOL! You've fueled me with so much. Indeed, to repeat your last statement:  I am just happy living it...

It's been a pleasure sharing my work with you. I hope my responses were sufficiently on target. Your questions are wonderful, your journey has obviously been rich, and I hope our paths cross again in the future. Thanks for your interest!

Best wishes, John

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