by Edie Weinstein Moser: Easily recognizable by his radiant smile, framed by shoulder length braided hair and a voice that could melt the most shielded heart and doubting mind, Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith is a man with a message. His teaching is one of love and of being a beneficial presence on the planet by taking those combined energies out into the world and engaging in selfless service.
Michael is the founder and spiritual director of the Agape International Spiritual Center located in Los Angeles (see www.agapelive.com). The word “Agape” is from the Greek and translates as “unconditional love.” To quote his own words: “My aspiration is that every individual who is touched by the vibration of Agape is inspired to cultivate a heart of love as wide as the world.” His wife, singer-songwriter, Rickie Byars Beckwith, is the director of the Agape International Choir whose Sound of Agape rouses people to their feet and lifts their voices to the heavens.
Dr. Beckwith is the author of Spiritual Liberation: Fulfilling Your Soul’s Potential, which has recently been honored with the Nautilus Gold Seal Award.
Wisdom: How would you define transformation and liberation?
MBB: Thanks Edie—I’m glad you began with an easy question! The definition of these two words has taken up voluminous tomes in the world’s wisdom traditions, and at the same time they can simply be described as the realization of our own true nature, even now, just as we are. It’s said that the journey is the path, and that when each of us arrives at that insight, we discover that we have been enlightened all along. Naturally, life’s deepest mysteries cannot be confined to mere words. The mind cannot wrap itself around terms such as transformation and liberation, but they are the best we can use in our endeavor to capture the awakened state. I put it this way: Transformation occurs when identification with the egoic self is dropped through a conscious realization of the Authentic Self, which is another way of saying that it is the process of breaking through the illusion of an existence separate from the Whole. It’s then that liberation takes place, because we have been freed from limitation in any form.
Wisdom: What are some practical applications of such lofty concepts?
MBB: You chose a good word in saying “practical,” because the awakened state is the most practical way to live! If our spiritual practices, whatever they may be, aren’t working for us at the kitchen sink, driving in the car, interacting with our loved ones, colleagues—you get the point, then we really aren’t going deeply enough into our transformative journey towards spiritual liberation. The point is that by whatever lofty convictions we have chosen to live our lives, it’s about what occurs when we leave the meditation cushion, the church pew, the mosque, temple, synagogue, the pow-wow with the Spirit. Practical application is actually quite simple and obvious: the more loving-kindness we express, the more we realize our interconnectedness to all beings and become a beneficial presence on the planet, then the more practical we are living.
Wisdom: Was there a pivotal moment, a wake up call, if you will, that led you to the life you are living now?
MBB: Absolutely, and we all have them if we’re receptive. Sometimes the Spirit hits us over the head, which is basically what happened to me. Even though it took place many years ago, it’s as real as though it were just five minutes ago. I go into this in detail in the first chapter of my book Spiritual Liberation, so I’ll just summarize it for you here, because it’s the result and not the cause that’s of significance.
I had been living a particular style of life…a carryover from my social activist days and social customs common to the 60s. I ended up getting arrested and going to court. At the same time, I was having experiences I would now call mystical, but attributed them to a recreational use of marijuana. That is, until the Universe pressed me against the ropes in the dream state. I’d been having a recurring dream of being chased by three men, but I’d always wake up just before they caught me. Then, one night, their mission succeeded and they stabbed me. Metaphysically, I died to my old self, but not before a court hearing that released me from going to prison on a technicality.
When I arrived home from the final hearing and was walking down my walkway, I noticed a weathervane in my neighbor’s yard. I mentally commanded, “If my inner experience is really about all that I believe it to be, then let the weathervane turn in my direction and….. Before I could even finish my sentence the arrow turned and pointed right at me. In that instant I surrendered my life to what I then called Love-Beauty, and now call the Love-Intelligence governing the universe.
Wisdom: So are there specific spiritual practices that you apply today?
MBB: I have a daily practice of meditation, affirmative prayer, spiritual study, visioning, and sacred service. And I complement these with care for the body temple through a healthy diet, a disciplined exercise regime and yoga. And always a sense of celebrating Life in all of its expressions.
Wisdom: Can you please differentiate between spirituality and religion?
MBB: Religion is bound by dogma. It’s claustrophobic to the spirit in that there are rules, regulations, and a priest, minister, rabbi , guru whose authority rules, who interprets God and what is expected by the godhead to the individual. Spirituality empowers the individual to establish his/her own unique romance with the Infinite. It guides the individual to those spiritual practices and principles that expand the heart, that awaken consciousness and give the individual back to him or herself in self-responsibility.
Wisdom: Who inspires you?
MBB: There are many great souls whose wisdom and communion with the Spirit continue to inspire me. Spiritual giants like Sri Aurobindo, Paramahansa Yogananda, Guatama Buddha, Krishnamurti, the Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan and controversial teachers such as Jesus the Christ and Osho. My Western influences include Dr. Ernest Holmes, George Washington Carver, Dr. Thomas Hora, Emanuel Swedenborg, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Walter Russell, Joel Goldsmith, Dr. Howard Thurman and Thomas R. Kelly. Certainly others have influenced my path, but I’m humbly grateful to these earlier spiritual guides whose legacies are so rich and powerful.
Wisdom: Your partnership with Rickie seems to be part of the juice that makes Agape so magical. How do you nurture yourself and the relationship in the midst of the obviously hectic schedule you maintain?
MBB: That’s an easy one. Rickie and I are individually and collectively committed to our spiritual practices and that keeps our relationship constantly fresh. We’re always meeting a new person in each other. So even though you’re right in saying we each have hectic schedules, we balance them out by sharing time with our family, by writing music together—things like that.
Wisdom: You have asked the question: “What if the world depended on you waking up?” What do you imagine would be the result of an awakened population?
MBB: Well, if the entire population were enlightened at the same moment in time and space the purpose of life on this planet would have fulfilled itself! In one sense, that’s impossible to describe because anything I would suggest falls short of a collective realization of heaven on Earth! Trying to describe this defies words because it’s a state of consciousness more than a poetic description of blessed-out people going about their business on the planet. Instead, let’s just say that if every individual were to live from the highest soul-potential of their spirit, the entire cosmos would be dancing in joy, and all beings would dance right in step!
Wisdom: Please describe the Life Visioning Process.
MBB: The Life Visioning Process is a method I teach for catching the highest vision for one’s life. A simplified description of this practice would be to say that there is a series of questions, of self-inquiry, the answers to which intuitively reveal specific steps an individual can take that are unique to their own growth, development and unfoldment.
For example, let’s say that you want to achieve a particular goal such as discovering your creative expression in the world. After a period of sitting in the stillness that feels appropriate to you, a time of centering let’s call it, you ask yourself: What qualities do I need to cultivate in order to clearly catch the creative expression I’ve come to express on the planet? What habit patterns must I release to fulfill my creative expression?
Please realize that this is a great simplification, even though the technique is simple. The inner work itself, getting out of the way to hear the Still Small Voice, requires humility and discipline. Life Visioning can be applied to all aspects of living. I’m not marketing here, but there is a 6 CD set released by Sounds True where I describe the entire process, as well as a Life Visioning Kit they produced. So anyone interested can go to their Website and see it in their catalog, or can go to Agape’s Website and order it from our Quiet Mind Bookstore.
Wisdom: In moments of doubt, what moves you forward?
MBB: My absolute trust that we live in a friendly universe.
Wisdom: Agape is a blending of “new thought and ancient wisdom traditions.” How do you gracefully merge the two?
MBB: Basically we’re talking about a blend of the teachings of East and West, which when properly understood graciously complement each other. When a person deeply studies both traditions in their most profound expressions it becomes obvious they are not in contradiction; they are in harmony.
Wisdom: As people hold your book in their hands or their eyes take in the movie, what is your intention for its impact on their lives?
MBB: I would hope that Spiritual Liberation causes an inner conversation to take place, not as a “self-help” type of book, but as one that offers definite spiritual practices that quicken, that accelerate an individual’s desire to spiritually awaken and become a beneficial presence on the planet. In the Introduction I indicate that my book not only conveys a message to its readers, but that it also elicits from the reader insights into their own true nature and purpose, that they realize they are unique, precious beings who have come on the planet to deliver their gifts, talents and skills as only they can.
Wisdom: You will be in Philadelphia on September 18th as part of an evening of transformation along with Rickie and some amazing local musicians including The Common Ground Choir, Steven Wise-Katriel, Suzen Cho and friends. As people leave afterward, what is the message you would like for them to carry home with them?
MBB: My answer is always the same, and is much like the response to the question you just asked. An enlightened society can only be created by awakened beings. So may the event in Philadelphia inspire and encourage all those who participate to take the next step in their evolution and thereby contribute to an awakened world where the dignity of all beings is honored, knowing that even a small step in this direction has immeasurable impact upon our world.