What happens when you cross a spiritual visionary with a social revolutionary? You get a mind of enlightenment and a heart of compassion named Michael Bernard Beckwith, founder and spiritual director of the Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles.
Dr. Beckwith is the author of the award-winning book Spiritual Liberation – Fulfilling Your Soul’s Potential, which has been translated into 10 languages to date. His PBS Special, “The Answer Is You,” is currently being broadcast in locations throughout the U.S.
A sought-after spiritual teacher and conference participant with international leaders of the world’s spiritual traditions, Dr. Beckwith will join Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Caroline Myss, Gary Zukav, Neale Donald Walsch, Gregg Braden, Arielle Ford and more than a dozen other spiritual leaders and healers June 4-7 in Chicago for Celebrate Your Life, a transformational conference attended by thousands of individuals.
In an interview with The Edge magazine, Michael offered a preview of what he will be teaching during the Celebrate Your Life conference, as well as a personal glimpse into his spiritual path and practices.
You teach that our true nature is divine. Did this realization come about through your life lessons, your inner awakening process, or teachers on your personal path?
MBB: I have a saying that has emerged from my spiritual walk: Pain pushes us until a vision pulls us.
Even though I was curious about the mystery of existence since childhood, my intentional search began as a freshman at Morehouse College when I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by the great mystic Dr. Howard Thurman. His wisdom was profound, and even though his demeanor was humble and gentle, there was no mistaking his sense of inner empowerment. I wanted to emulate his example of true self-awareness and connection to what he considered Source.
By the time I transferred to USC in the early ’70s, social unrest, the continued movement for civil rights and student rebellion were powerfully active in our society. I “tuned in, turned on, and dropped out” to serve these causes. My eventual arrest for selling marijuana placed me in a court of law, but I was released on technicality. Even though I didn’t have to serve a jail sentence, the suffering caused by such a possibility was enough to push me into catching a higher vision of my life’s purpose.
So upon leaving the courtroom and arriving home, I challenged the Universe with a commitment that if it met my challenge, I’d totally devote my life to seeking truth. [Details are provided in Beckwith’s book, Spiritual Liberation – Fulfilling Your Soul’s Potential.] I began going to Ojai and learning from Krishnamurti; I read Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, Osho’s books, Thich Nhat Hanh, Hazrat Inayat Khan, and studied Western teachers including Dr. Ernest Holmes, Emanuel Swedenborg, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Walter Russell, Joel Goldsmith, to name a few. Eventually I entered the Ernest Holmes College and became licensed minister in the New Thought tradition of spirituality. In 1986, I founded the Agape International Spiritual Center, a trans-denominational spiritual community. So all these combined steps in my journey revealed that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, that our true nature is the stuff of divinity.
For those of us who don’t have a spontaneous spiritual awakening that changes our perspective, what do you recommend we practice?
MBB: Good question. There are individuals who have one spontaneous realization of their oneness with the Whole and think they’ve arrived at the spiritual summit, that there’s no more work to do. But consciousness is limitless. Remaining in a constant state of say, moksha (spiritual liberation), or complete freedom from the wheel of birth and death, is the result of tremendous inner work. Consciousness is limitless, so as long as we’re in the physical form gracing this three-dimensional planet, there’s still work to be done as far as our evolutionary spiritual progress is concerned.
The greatest thing that I could recommend is cultivating a sincere desire to spiritually develop, grow and unfold. Suffering is a great awakener, but why not instead apply and learn through our inherent wisdom? It’s possible when we give up lethargy and laziness about why we’re on the planet, which is to wake up.
What is at the root of discovering authentic happiness?
MBB: Exactly what we’ve been talking about. The only form of authentic happiness comes from realization of our true nature. All other definitions are subject to the vicissitudes of life, the constant ups and downs. Happiness is beyond ego satisfaction; it is soul satisfaction that comes from self-realization. That brand new car you’re excited about will some day be an old car. Your beautiful body will still age. Your baby will grow up and leave home. Eventually we will all die. Everything breaks up into change except own true nature. “Be anchored in That which is changeless,” Krishna told his disciple Arjuna. Now material things are to be enjoyed and appreciated, but they can never equal the measure of our spiritual stature.
You talk about abundance in your book, The Answer Is You. What advice would you offer those who are experiencing financial hardship right now?
MBB: There’s no doubt that many individuals are facing drastic situations as a result of our challenging economic times, whether individually, or by the collective effect it’s having upon our world. First, I’d like to say that no matter what’s happening to us personally, there’s something we all can still do: have compassion. Find a place to be of service, because no matter what’s been lost, we have ourselves, and we can support those who are suffering more than we are.
What you read in The Answer Is You is pretty much what I share when individuals seek counseling about financial challenges. See the challenge realistically, but don’t be convinced by thoughts of lack, limitation, doubt, fear, worry or its opposite – the temptation of magical thinking. Deconstruct both by claiming the truth that you are divinely supported by the Universe. Claim your identity as a being who lives in a field of infinite possibilities, including abundance, and that all things are working together for your good. Activate your intuitive qualities by tapping into divine guidance about the next step to take in the direction of your Good.
Some people believe the whole answer is in the law of attraction, as in “ask, believe, and you will receive whatever you want and when you want it. If you don’t receive it, it’s because you don’t believe it sufficiently.” Can you please elaborate on this?
MBB: Well, not everyone will like my answer. When people are referring to the law of attraction, prosperity, abundance â€“ words like that â€“ they’re usually using polite terms in reference to money and material possessions. In the pop teachings about prosperity, there is a shadow side, an immature notion that persons lacking the signs of outer abundance are undeveloped in prosperity consciousness, whereas those who have symbols of abundance possess higher metaphysical knowledge that they apply to acquire the things they desire.
This is an oversimplification. Life is not so black and white. There are subtleties; there are other laws that work in concert with the law of attraction. It behooves us to bend our knee in humility before life’s mysteries, including the unforeseen, unexpected turns we find ourselves taking on life’s road. A tidy saying or concept is not a one-dose pill to mentally swallow and magically change our life into what our ego wants it to be. There are deeper things afoot on our behalf, greater riches to be had than fulfilling all of our material desires.
You make frequent references to the practice of compassion. Yours and Agape’s compassionate work in the world is inspiring, especially all the global projects in which you participate. What do you do to encourage individuals to not only have an inner spiritual practice but also to actively give compassionate service?
MBB: Like so many other spiritual teachers, I emphasize that what we do as a result of our inner practices is the real deal. Meditation, affirmative prayer, contemplation â€“ these stir our hearts of compassion because they awaken our sense of oneness with all beings. As this realization deepens, we can’t help but want to serve because we grasp that we’re in service to the One who walks in all feet and beats in all hearts.
So, what we choose to do when we arise from our meditation cushion, our church pew, our prayer rug, our personal home altar, or when we remove our prayer shawl â€“ that’s where the depth of our practice shows up. Selfless service is a vital part of our spiritual practice.
How does your teaching integrate the darkness, as well as the light, into our experience of life?
MBB: I don’t see it so much as an integral aspect of my teaching because life reveals this integration without our assistance! It’s not so much about life being a duality as it is a polarity of experience: light and shadow, happiness and sadness, Spirit and Nature, feminine and masculine â€“ the seeming pairs of opposites dance together to complement, to express and celebrate the wholeness of Existence.
What will you be presenting at the Celebrate Your Life event in Chicago in June? What can participants expect to take home with them?
MBB: My topic is, “How to Be a Star in Your Own Life.” I’ll be teaching a spiritual technology I originated called the Life Visioning Process that leads the practitioner through the steps that will reveal their life purpose and how to live it. Participants will learn how to empower themselves to leap into the next expression of their evolutionary growth. They’ll learn how to get in touch with their inner set designer and respond to the cues for playing their part with gusto, creativity, passion and authenticity.
Any final thoughts or inspiration you want to leave our readers with?
MBB: Self-acceptance is the greatest discipline we will ever know. Our societal conditioning has convinced us we must excel, improve, upgrade, makeover ourselves and never simply rest in our essential ground of being. Accepting our perfectly imperfect self is an inside job that is best accomplished by direct contact with the Self through meditation and affirmative prayer, which relaxes the ego’s grip on our packaging and gives us a sense of humor with which to navigate our life.