by Arielle Ford: At the heart of the desire for money, fame and power is a deep longing for happiness. Reverend Michael Beckwith Author and New Thought Minister, Michael Beckwith founded the Agape International Spiritual Center in 1986 in Culver City, California. The center is a transdenominational community, members of which study and practice New Thought Ancient Wisdom. While boasts more than 200,000 titles on the subject of happiness, it appears that Americans are still searching for it.

Filmmakers Michael Lasky and Larry Kurnarsky project their version of the answers in the film “Living Luminaries (On the Serious Business of Happiness).” The film follows a young seeker as he explores how happiness can be found by living in the now and consciously practicing gratitude, forgiveness and kindness. He interviews an A-list of swamis, shamans, rabbis, ministers, Tibetan monks and best-selling authors including Marianne Williamson, Don Miguel Ruiz, Eckhart Tolle and Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith.

We caught up with Michael Beckwith, founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles and featured expert in the DVD “The Secret” and on shows including “Oprah” and “Larry King Live,” and asked him about the pursuit of happiness.

Q. What is your definition of happiness?

A. Happiness and joy are qualities that are intrinsic to us as unique expressions of the Universe and of God. Happiness is not based upon conditions. Conditions are based upon the feeling of happiness that we generate from within. It’s a transcendent spiritual quality that becomes imminent as we progress.

What is the message you hope “Living Luminaries” will cover to those who see it?

That we are here as powerful beings to bring joy and happiness and creativity and beauty to the world, but that we are not here to extract that from the world. That would be the tail wagging the dog, which is how a lot of people live their life, hoping that the world or something outside of themselves will make them happy.

Happiness is something we bring to the world as we become conscious of ourselves. That point was brought home tremendously in “Living Luminaries” with the Geronimo Pratt interview. During the time he was in jail, he was able to develop the capacity for awakening and harmony.

If we as individuals are focused on our own happiness, does that become incongruent with wanting to live our lives like Jesus, Gandhi or Mother Teresa?

Once we understand that happiness is an inside job, that it is a spiritual quality, then focusing on [personal] happiness is not selfish, it’s not self aggrandizement. It is waking up to what’s in you, and once you wake up to what’s in you, now you can be of service.

You cannot give from an empty cup. If you are bitter, unhappy or depressed, then you have nothing to give to the world. But if you have tapped into the source of that inner enthusiasm, that inner generosity, that inner light, that inner happiness … now you have something to give so that you can live the life that Jesus emulated.

You are actively participating in creating more peace in the world via anti-war demonstrations. How do you balance that with wanting to remain happy and peaceful within yourself?

First of all, I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations, but I do participate in pro-peace and pro-love and pro-harmony programs, conferences, etc., because I don’t believe in being anti anything. If you are anti something, you actually give more energy to that which you are against. So I teach people to take a stand for something.

When I think about the stands that I take, whether it’s for peace or for every boy and girl on the planet to have enough to eat, or for everyone to have proper medical care or shelter or access to education, I am actually describing a vision of a world that works for everyone. The world changes as individuals are able to describe a vision and walk in that direction.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would give an aspiring spiritual seeker?

Spiritual practice leads to insight and revelation. So many spiritual seekers are constipated because they have so much information now — there are so many books out there.

With a film such as “Living Luminaries,” my advice is to take something from the movie that you can actually practice. When you watch the film, bring a notepad, and when one of the teachers says something that resonates with you or something or anything hits you, write it down and then ask this question: “How can I practice this in my life?”

Universal law states “ask and you shall receive.” As you ask that question, the universe will begin to tell you how you can practice. You will have a revelation inside. You will have new ideas flowing to you — inspiration, enthusiasm and high thoughts … and your life will change. So we don’t want to espouse that people look at this kind of inspirational movie and just passively absorb that information and do nothing with it. We want people to look at the movie, be inspired and then take some kind of action corresponding to the new information.

What is one of your personal daily practices you’d be willing to share?

Each day I write in my “Impossibility Journal.” In Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” there is a line where the Queen says, “You have to believe at least six impossible things before breakfast.” So I will write down six impossible things before I leave the house. I may write something such as ‘In our lifetime we will see the end of AIDS.’ Or it might be ‘In our lifetime there will be peace on the planet and every boy and girl will have enough to eat.’ I’ll do large ideas like these and sometimes I repeat them or write things for my own life.

What happens is that the mind begins to be trained to think outside of what the world calls normal and what the world calls possible. As you get used to thinking like that, now insights can come into you that will help you in your life and even help you to become an instrument in creating some impossible things for someone else. Most people only go for what they think they can achieve, which is not at all creative.

One reason “The Secret” has become such a phenomenon is because of the intention of the people who produced the film and the intention of the people who are in it. They all really wanted to get out the word about the spiritual principles. Another is that, post-9/11, people are ready to hear a message that their destiny is in their own hands. They have been flooded with terror alerts and safety issues, and I think “The Secret” offers a message of empowerment.

Do you think that “Living Luminaries” will be a natural progression for those who have seen “The Secret”?

Yes. For those who are ready to make the leap, it’s a natural segue into the idea that joy and happiness is not condition based but is internally based. If you watch “The Secret” and then you watch “Living Luminaries” and some of the other films that will emerge, they all give you a bit of the missing piece. I know that everyone who watches “Living Luminaries” will find that their lives are going to be changed, touched and inspired.

Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith