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Awaken Interviews Jonathan Robinson Pt 1 – The Enlightenment Project

Donna Quesada: It’s a pleasure to see you again, personally, and also because I know our readers just really love your work.


David, our founder, and I, are both huge fans of your articles and your new book, which is called The Enlightenment Project. And I’ll just shamelessly hold it up and…

Jonathan RobinsonWe have it in the background here…

Donna: That’s right. I do see it now. It is really a joy to read.  I just bet it was a joy to write, but of course, like all book endeavors, probably it had its struggles as well. But I just want you to know how much I’m loving every minute of it.

Jonathan: Thank you. I tried to create a different kind of spiritual book, you know? I don’t read many spiritual books because it can be kind of boring. And you know, just similar stuff that we already know… as I tried to include a lot of the experiences I had with people from the Dalai Lama to Sai Baba to Ram Dass and those stories mixed in with their best methods… I think that’s what kind of makes it unique.

Donna: What made it fabulous for me… I mean, we have some of the same heroes! I love Ram Dass. I can’t wait to talk about Ram Dass. And some of your greatest influences… your teacher of 26 years, Justin, who I want to talk about a little bit. And Dr., the two Martins… there was one thing in particular that I just found so fascinating about “the blind spots.” So there’s just so much I can’t wait to… you know, sink my teeth into… to help clarify some things.

But first, and I know we’ve interviewed you before, and I’ve asked you this before, but maybe your response has changed through the writing of this book. And as a caveat, I know this is long winded, but I know there are different kinds of enlightenment, as you explain in this book. But with that said, if you were pushed against the wall in the alley, and someone said “you’ve got to explain or define enlightenment in a sentence now, or your life,” what would you say? What is enlightenment?

Jonathan: Well, when I was interviewing Adyashanti, on my podcast, Awareness Explorers, I asked him that question, and he’s very enlightened. So I wanted to know what he had to say. And he said, very simply, enlightenment is perceiving the world without the interference of the lens of the ego. I like that because it’s really simple. You know, normally, we perceive so much of our life through the character that we think we are, and it influences us in various ways, you know, mood-wise, or what we like or we don’t like. And we’ve all had moments where we step out of that and we’re just present. We’re present as awareness at that moment without past or future, and that’s a very peaceful and sometimes blissful experience. And the question is, how do you get there more often? Enlightened people often have no experience of that separate self or ego. They’re always just present like they just got here. And that’s a wonderful experience, of course.

Donna: So it’s not looking through the lens of the ego. And the question is, how do we stay there more often? I suppose it’s like anything. It’s a kind of muscle memory thing. The more you practice, the more your body, mind and psyche gets used to that as its normal, default place, and it becomes less of a struggle to get there?

Jonathan: That’s a good way of putting it and also, as you start to have that muscle memory of what it’s like to just sink into that place… certain obstacles show up again and again. And you then learn to decondition those obstacles so that you’re not so taken away by your desire for power or your desire to look good or all the things that we get caught up in.

Donna: And the ego has such a negative idea around it, that “we must kill the ego.” But isn’t there a rightful place for it? If it’s in its, you know, proper place in the back seat… Thank you for sharing kind of thing, or do we need to banish it completely? 

Jonathan: Ram Dass said the ego is a great servant and a terrible master. Yeah, I like that. And, you know, he also said that every neurosis he ever had, he still has. He just changed his relationship with it, where it’s no longer him. It’s more like a pet. You know, “oh, there’s that cute little guy who needs to impress everybody,” or “there’s that one who needs to get a lot done” or whatever it is. There’s an inner critic, and you just kind of take it as like static in the radio, you know, it’s not that important. Meanwhile, the experience of presence or peace becomes almost louder. It’s like silence becomes louder and you become very attuned to just being here. Or being present, being loving, being open-hearted, and life is very simple and magical that way.

Donna: Yes, and along those lines… I put my glasses on because there’s something I want to read from your book that struck me. In our culture, we tend to think that spiritual teachers must be fully enlightened beings. You say, yet my first teachers were not famous gurus, but simply my uncle. And my own teacher, who was not necessarily a perfect being… I love that. And it’s so true. We think that gurus are like these, you know, untouchable, perfect beings that sit glowing and they don’t have any quirks, you know, or any challenges of their own. And you quickly dismiss us of this notion.

The Enlightenment Project-awakenJonathan: Yeah, you know, one of the chapters in The Enlightenment Project is all about 25 myths about enlightenment, because I think a lot of wrong ideas about enlightenment, and how it happens, and who can be our teacher, get in the way. And really, the best teacher for you is just the teacher who will get you from where you are to the next step. And that might be your dog. It might be your mate, it might be a book.

You know, a funny story. Many years ago, I used to teach a… I used to have a movie group, in which we showed profound movies each week. Well, one of the weeks I wasn’t going to be there. So instead of showing a movie like Schindler’s List or something, I wanted to show the movie Gandhi, but I wasn’t gonna be there. So I gave what I thought was the movie, Gandhi, to a friend, to show to this group. And the group would watch these movies and write a report about what they learned from the movie and how it impacted them. Well ends up  that instead of the movie Gandhi in the sleeve, it was the movie Men in Black 2. Have you ever seen Men in Black 2?

Donna: No, I haven’t. But I actually really did read your book and love it… and so I remember the story, but please tell it for our listeners!

Jonathan: So, Men and black 1, and Men in Black 3 ,were pretty good movies. Men in Black 2 was so bad that Will Smith said you should definitely not see this movie. It’s one of the worst movies ever made.

Donna: Oh, I Didn’t know he said that.

Jonathan: Yeah. So they’re watching this movie, thinking it’s one of the most profound movies ever because that’s what this movie group was about. And the reports I got from people was that it just was mind-blowing… that he loved the movie. It was very profound. Some people said it was life-transforming. And that’s because their intention was to learn. So you know, if you have a strong enough intention, it almost doesn’t matter who your teacher is?

Because you are hungry. And I thought it was funny that people got such good things from this terrible movie. And that showed me that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Donna: Well, I was cheering Yes when you told that story because to make a story short…  because this is about you, not me… but I struggled a lot with that. You know, my origins were in the Zen school and Zen… It’s very, very austere. You know, I will always have… no pun intended with the book Zen Bones there will always be Zen in my bones. But there was a time when I really struggled with feeling more at home, you know, in Kundalini, with its chanting because I love to sing. And also, it was so empowering. At a time when I needed to be empowered. And I struggled with that. And now I look back and I think, What was the struggle about? There’s a different teacher, a different, you know, kind of a path for you at different times in your life. What’s the problem? We have a lot in common. I too, have Jewish ancestry, you know, and I love that too. I love it all. I love Mary for that matter. I love things in the Christian tradition. I love things in the Muslim tradition. I love things from all traditions. I have statues of Buddha all around. What is the problem? Why can’t we love and adore it all?

Jonathan: When one idea, or a mistaken idea, can interfere with your growth… And one of the reasons I wrote the book… And you know, I’ve interviewed now 100 spiritual teachers, everybody from the late Mother Teresa to the Dalai Lama… And what I see is that different people need different things at different times.

 Donna:  Yes.

Jonathan:  So The Enlightenment Project has kind of like the greatest hits and stories and methods and your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to find what you need right now to get to your next level. And what you need now might be very different than what you needed 10 years ago, or what you needed 20 years ago. And the methods that work for you might be very different now than what worked for you last year. So spiritual growth is largely a process of constant discovery. And if you kind of get into a routine and just do the same thing, because that’s what you did last week, that’s when growth tends to stop.

Donna: I love that. I was just cheering, you know, for that passage. Because I’ve been saying for so many years, all rivers lead to the sea. Why do we fight over it? Why can’t we see them all as beautiful and just kind of, you know… You’re on that boat over there and I’m on this boat over here hey, how are you doing? Do you know why? And also sometimes enlightenment can even get in the way, as you say in your book. Indeed. You know, we get so outraged when teachers have scandals, but that doesn’t necessarily nullify the teachings or the path, as bad. You know, teachers themselves fall and that doesn’t mean that we can’t get something out of it or that what they had to offer wasn’t valid. Can you comment on that?

Jonathan: You know, a lot of famous teachers have had scandals. But I’m not interested in learning about sex from most teachers. I’m interested in learning about consciousness. So I don’t want to learn about driving from Tiger Woods. I want to learn about golf from Tiger Woods. You know, just because he’s a lousy driver doesn’t mean that he’s not a great golf player. So a lot of people have mistaken that once you become more awake that that takes care of all the things in your life… that that takes care of how you deal with money issues and sex issues and relationship issues. It actually doesn’t. It does help you to experience deep peace. And that’s guaranteed if you’re very awake, but you then have to focus your awareness and learn from other teachers, like how to have good relationships, how to communicate well, how to deal with money well… because if you don’t, you’ll have some scandals as we’ve seen with a lot of these famous teachers, and they just never put that attention into those aspects of life.

Donna: Exactly. I’m so glad that you made that a topic for discussion because I think that’s where a lot of us get discouraged and walk away from, you know, an otherwise good teaching that you even got something from and was valuable to you. But we sometimes become righteous and throw the baby out with the bathwater, to use a cliché.

Jonathan: Yeah, an extreme example is the teacher, Sai Baba, who could actually read minds and manifest things out of thin air. One time I was around him… and I’m an amateur magician, I might even do a magic trick. So, he was known for manifesting ash out of thin air. So, one day he gets up really close to me… the first day I’m there, he manifested lots of ash from his hand. I’m looking to see if he’s doing it the way a magician would. And he wasn’t. And he was manifesting a lot of ash, like a major cup full of ash. And I’m like looking at his hand really closely. And then he looks at me and he says, “satisfied Magic Man?” I said “yeah, that’s pretty good. I’m pretty satisfied.”

It was real… But he had a lot of sexual scandals.  So you know… I wanted to learn about open-hearted… and opening consciousness from this person, but I also recognize that he had human faults, as well. And if you are smart, the first thing to do, as far as I’m concerned, on your path to enlightenment, is ask, “Well, what am I trying to learn from this person? What do I really want?”

And to find an appropriate teacher, which might be a book and might be a person. I know a lot of people who are very cerebral and they choose cerebral teachers. And I say, “well, that’s not a good choice. If you really want to open your heart, that cerebral teacher is not the one for you.” So, little distinctions like that can really help accelerate a person’s growth on the path.

Donna: And sometimes they come when we’re not even looking. Your story of your first teacher, Mr. Downing in the classroom, just about made me cry.

Jonathan: Yeah. 

Donna: It was so unbelievably beautiful for many reasons. And a lot of people fall upon the spiritual path because they’ve hit a really dark, down place in their life. And you were there, you were very young and didn’t have the wherewithal to even pick yourself up. You were too young. But this unbelievably insightful, compassionate classroom teacher somehow picked up on something…

Jonathan:  Yeah, you know, he had me stay after class. I think it was two days before… I was deciding to kill myself. I’d set a date… I was 12 or 13 at the time, and he saw that something was going on and he talked to me and said some beautiful things about me. And I feel teary eyed just remembering it and I decided I wouldn’t kill myself.

And then 30 years later, after I’d been on Oprah and had some best-selling books, I ended up having lunch with him and thanking him and telling him what he did and we both cried. It was really beautiful and you never know when an act of kindness is going to change somebody’s life.

One of the things I saw in interviewing all these different teachers, some had scandals, some didn’t, but they are all very kind… And I think we definitely need to tap into the power of real kindness, not confetti kindness, but real, deep care for each other. And even though people like Ram Dass, or Wayne Dyer, or the Dalai Lama are very busy, when they were with me, I felt like I was the only person in the world and I managed to create a friendship with Ram Dass before he died. And some other teachers I have had some really beautiful interactions with… Oprah. And I think there’s an energy as people become more awake, where their kindness in the heart shines, shines greater.

Donna: What is our task as seekers? Some of us just simply feel that there’s something more or there’s something beyond this ordinary mundane existence… I think those of us tend to be natural seekers and for others, it comes from the, you know, the dark night of the soul that pushes us there. What is our task? Is it to realize that we’re all connected? Or is it to find God? Or is it to become kinder? Is there some sort of common denominator there?

Jonathan:  Yeah, and for 14.95 I’ll let people know what that is. No, I’m kidding. You know, I interviewed all these people… I would ask that question, like… What are we here to do? And no matter whether I was interviewing Mother Teresa or Deepak Chopra, the answers are always exactly the same. And I thought, that’s really interesting because you can’t get 40 scientists to agree that the sky is blue But you can get 100 spiritual leaders to agree as to what our task is. So for those interested in knowing what the meaning and purpose of life is, I will give it right now, alright?

Donna: But wait, there’s more!

Jonathan:  Well, there’s two things they said to do. Your first task, which is no easy task, is to get to a place where you can find the peace and love within you, at as many moments as possible. Now, in order to do that, you sometimes have to free yourself from dogma or belief systems, which are the obstacles that we have.

But you know, using what I call spiritual technology, some of the techniques in the book are ones that have only been invented in the last three or four years, and I think of them as like power tools. They’re really a lot better than the methods that most people know like, you know, meditation or yoga. Those are fine tools, but they’re 2000 years old. You know, nobody has a computer that’s even 20 years old. Why are we using spiritual tools that are 2000 years old? So some of the tools that are better for helping people find peace are much, much better than the old ones.

And that’s our first task… to find peace and then once you have some peace, then your next task is to serve people. And to not get narcissistic and greedy with your peace but to help people you know in service… Ram Dass would ask his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, How can I know God? And Neem Karoli Baba said “serve people.”

Donna: Mother Teresa would agree. 

Jonathan: There’s great agreement. So really, the first part of that two part formula is “how can you find peace effectively, quickly, efficiently, and as much as possible? And for better or worse, most people are not very good. As you know. I have a website,, and I give away what I’ve found to be… I’ve collected about 240 spiritual methods. I’m like a collector. Some people collect baseball cards; I collect spiritual methods. So, I found five method that can be done in under a minute, that lead to inner peace quickly for most people.

Donna: Can you give us… well first, would two of those be the Sedona Method and the Love Method? You see, I’ve done my homework!

Jonathan: Yeah, neither of them are those methods. Okay, because those methods take a few minutes each.

Donna: Okay, so these five that you think are kind of ready for everybody right now…They’re simple and that’s the point, you love them because they’re simple?

Jonathan: Yeah. And I give them away for free on my website. Yeah, yeah, the And they get an audio and a ebook of those five methods. So let me give a couple of them right now. One of them is to imagine that you’re just born and you don’t know what anything is or what anything means. You just got here. So a newborn doesn’t necessarily think oh, that’s a person or a face. They see colors, they see sensations. They feel things. They don’t really have a judgment. They just experience things totally directly, in this moment. I just got here. Getting all these sensations and sights… I don’t know what they mean, but they’re just now happening without a sense of any ego judgment interfering with that. That’s a very simple thing. 

Donna: It’s like “the beginner’s mind” in Zen.

Jonathan: Exactly, exactly. Another approach would be… let’s see. A lot of times people get stuck in a feeling and what we feel we tend to take as being real, and we get fixated on it. Oh, that person did me wrong or the stock market’s down, I feel bad. And this method which, you know, it can be a 30 second meditation, I call The Include Method. So you notice what you’re feeling. You know, you notice what story you got going in your head, usually a complaint story or something’s a problem, kind of.

So you just kind of put that story on the shelf for a bit. And then you say, “Well, what else is going on?” Well, I can feel my body against the chair…. include that. So there’s a story in my head, there’s sensations, there’s colors in front of me… there’s colors and sensations, and then there’s breathing happening. I feel my breath. I include that. And then there’s an awareness that’s aware of all these things happening at the same time. And you kind of tune into that awareness. Like, “What’s that feel like?” That feels kind of spacious while these other things are happening. And that’s an example of another very quick way to become present and not fixated on our problems, which is what often happens.

Donna: Very useful. There’s something I do that similar and maybe it’s also similar to the positive psychology approach, which we’ll talk about because you talk a lot about that. When I’m feeling anxious, you know, like, let’s say your flight is delayed by two hours or something… there’s something I do. I call it the “how much can I enjoy game.” Oh, this chair is comfortable Its fun to watch people going byOh, this drink is so tasty How much can I enjoy right now? It’s the “how much can I enjoy game” I call it. 

Jonathan: Yeah, that’s the exact same game, you know, with with a slightly positive spin on  it, which I like.

Donna: I know you were influenced by positive psychology… I actually was not familiar with Dr. Martin, Dr. Jeffrey Martin, who wrote the foreword to your book and he influenced you tremendously. How different is that approach, you know, positive psychology? And why did that have such a tremendous impact on you and your work?

Jonathan:  Yeah… Well, the father of positive psychology is a guy named Dr. Marty Seligman. And he developed all these methods for helping people increase their happiness. Then Dr. Martin actually interviewed 1200 enlightened people to find out what methods they used, and he saw that some of them were positive psychology and some of them were these new methods that I talked about. And what we found in the research is that if you’re happy already, it’s a little bit easier to become more awake. Because you’re kind of dealing with less weight on you.

You know, the vibration of happiness is closer to the vibration of bliss and peace. So both of those people have popularized a lot of methods for helping people feel better. And Dr. Martin has created courses where he gives these methods out. Some of those courses are a little bit expensive. So I decided to put most of the best methods in the book so people could get it for very cheap, versus taking an expensive course. But the courses are great. And I think people need to try a bunch of different stuff and find what works for them. Because some people, Dr. Martin found… we would use a technique for like two hours, and they’d become totally awake… with other people using methods for 40 years and not having many results.

Donna: Well, this is what’s fascinating. Again, we have this idea that you need to sit in the Himalayan Mountains for 30 years to become enlightened. And Dr. Martin said no… he actually saw very quick shifts in consciousness. You don’t have to spend 30 days in the hole, you know, to have some sort of shift in the way that you see your place in the universe.

Jonathan: Surprisingly quick shifts. Yeah.

Donna: This is amazing. And he also found that there are different types of enlightenment that I would like to explore this with you because I think this is so valuable and so different than the way we look at it.

Jonathan: Yeah, I’ve noticed because I’ve been around a lot of teachers and some of them have very different experiences of the world. Dr. Martin talks about four locations. One is what many people experience, at least for short periods of time, where you’re just kind of present, you know? You’re maybe in nature and you’re just very present with the trees or the sunset and you feel really good and you feel really connected, where negative emotions don’t stick.

Now location two is is an extension of that, where you start to feel, you know, a lot of people’s experiences on psychedelics where they start to feel merged with  nature… they’re very present, but they also feel like, connected to everything. And that’s location two.

Now, location three is more of an experience where you have one emotion that is so present that it like, takes over everything. And usually that emotion is a combination of love and bliss and compassion. If you’ve ever had that, even for five minutes, that’s fantastic. But there are people who live there, and that’s their normal experience of life.

And then there’s location four, and those people almost don’t have a sense of self. It’s always like they just got here like they’re a baby and…

Donna: Like we were talking about… that kind of blank slate place. 

Jonathan: Yeah, they feel incredibly peaceful. But sometimes it’s a little hard for them to do things in the world, because they don’t really care how things go in the world.

Donna: Well, this struck me… there was something you said that struck me about location four… you lose that obsession with planning things. In fact, you can’t plan what you’re going to say anymore. You just kind of wing it all the time. This is like the antidote to perfectionism. This is wonderful.

Jonathan: Well, you lose certain things and you gain certain things. So what Dr. Martin said is, it’s good to be fluid, so that you can be in location four when you don’t have much to do. You can be in location three, when you’re with people, you can be in location two for business. You know, there’s there are different states of consciousness that are more effective in different parts of our lives.

Donna: Again, just as there are different teachers for different phases of our lives.

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s not like there’s one location we have to strive for and then we’re going to stay there forever. It depends what’s going on and what’s going to help us at that moment.

And I’ve gotten better at using certain methods to get me into certain locations. And it makes life better. I mean, if you’re going to spend time with your family, it’s nice to be in location three. Where you love everybody, even though they’re annoying.

Donna: Good point. Good point. Good point.

Jonathan: I told you I would show you a magic trick. So I’m going to do now a magic trick. And I’ll teach people this magic trick. This $20 Bill and a $1 Bill. I’m going to put the $1 bill in the $20 bill and the $20 bill can represent kind of our being trapped by society. Meaning, all the beliefs and all the stress, and the one represents the individual trying to get their way out of this trap.

This is the prison that we create in our minds and in our culture. Well if you know the right technique, you can get through really easily. If you know the right technique, you can get right through and get out of the confines of our minds and our society. Now this looks a lot less impressive when you do it in slow motion. 1, 2, 3… that’s all that’s going on. But it is magic when you can step out of the thoughts, problems, plannings… all the things that we get caught up with in the world situation and just tap into this heaven within, that all the teachers talk about …it is there. We just need practice with these new turbo charge methods that can really get us there quickly. Because most of us don’t have a lot of time anymore. You know, I’m lazy. So if a method takes more than five minutes, I usually don’t do it.

Watch or read Part 2 Here: Awaken Interviews Jonathan Robinson Pt 2 – The Enlightenment Project


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