Episode 15: Gangaji - "The Diamond in Your Pocket": Part 1 - Spirituality and Political Activism

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"I’m Gangaji, and I’ve just spent a wonderful hour speaking with Duncan Campbell on his beautiful show Living Dialogues - keeping the flame of truth alive. And I’m really honored to be a part of it and I’m grateful that this is alive and functioning so beautifully. What a great mind you have, how much you can hold in your mind. That’s great! Such a great connection!" This is a highly illuminating dialogue on the ever-present paradox of "how to be in the world and not of it", drawing on the personal biographies and experiential insights of Gangaji and Duncan through the critical civil rights and anti-war movements of the 60s through the many conflicts world-wide in our time. More details on this episode go to http://personallifemedia.com/podcasts/living-dialogues/episode015-gangaji-diamond-in-your-pocket-part1.html

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Gangaji – "The Diamond in Your Pocket": Part 1 - Spirituality and Political Activism

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Gangaji: I’m Gangaji and I have just spent a wonderful hour speaking with Duncan Campbell and his beautiful show on keeping the flame of truth alive, and I’m really honored to be a part of it. I am grateful that this is alive and functioning so beautifully. What a great mind you have, how much you can hold in your mind, that’s great. Such a great connection.


Duncan Campbell: From time immemorial, beginning with indigenous councils and ancient wisdom traditions, through the work of western visionaries such as Plato, Galileo and Quantum Physicist David Bohm. Mutually participatory dialogues has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness, evoking a flow of meaning, a dia-flow of logos, meaning, beyond what any one individual can bring through alone. So, join us now, as together with you, the active deep listener, we evoke and engage in ‘Living Dialogues.’

Welcome to ‘Living Dialogues’, I am your host Duncan Campbell, and with me for this particular dialogue, I’m truly delighted to have as my guest, Gangaji. Author of ‘The Diamond in your Pocket – Discovering your True Radiance,’ with a foreword by Eckhart Tolle. Gangaji was born Toni Roberson, grew up in Mississippi, and like many of her contemporaries, searched for fulfillment through relationships, career, motherhood, political activism and spiritual practice. Her search ended in 1990, when she met Shri Poonja Ji, a student of Shri Ramana Maharshi on the banks of the Ganges River in India, and the floodgates of self recognition opened.

Today, Gangaji is a teacher and author who travels the world offering her teacher’s invitation to fully recognize the absolute freedom and unchanging peace that is the truth of one’s being. Gangaji, I must say, over the time we have done dialogues together and I attended one of your Satsangs, I have come to really, really deeply appreciate you and I feel a great personal bond and friendship has developed.

Gangaji: Oh thank you, I feel the same. It’s a mystery, isn’t it?

Duncan Campbell: It is a mystery, yeah; it’s so quickly in that sense. One of the things I think is so interesting about it particularly in my own case is that, we are contemporaries and we went through many of the same things, looking for enlightenment and so on, including political activism and various other things that we mentioned in a prior dialogue. So, I thought perhaps in this dialogue, we might kind of revisit in a little more detail, what it is about the transformation that we both feel has happened in us and in our lives, when we look back let’s say on our careers, the moments when we were political activists. When we felt this really deep sincere need to participate in the political and civic process in order to “Change the World.”

At least speaking for myself, and I felt intuitively for you. There was a sense of real obligation, that if we didn’t do it, like who would? Put tremendous amounts of energy and expectation into that, and then in certain particular ways we are beaten back by the reality of the political process in a way that showed us that, that was not really the deepest way we could approach our lives or our contribution to the planet or to society.

Gangaji: Yes, because I grew up in the South, and my family is from the South forever, so I was conditioned actually to see black people as sub-human. I grew up in the 50s, the 40s and 50s, and so I had an awakening, a political awakening in college with a particular professor, who had actually come to the south from Harvard to teach, and it just blew up in my mind to see how corrupt my conditioning had been, and in that, there was an absolute obligation to stand up. This was 1960, 1962 and 1963.

So, I became involved not majorly, but in some way, as much as I could do at the time with the civil rights movement, and speaking out, speaking to my family and marching finally in Memphis with the sanitation strike right before Martin Luther King was killed there. It was an obligation and it was something I felt was really essential for my family karma, and I don’t regret any of that. It contributed majorly to me, to my growth and to be willing to stand up, and say, “This is wrong, this has to stop now.”

Then I found, as I continued it. With the anti-war movement then, and Vietnam war was on, and my first husband and I were protesting against that. I found that there was something happening where I was actually seeking for something in my political action that it couldn’t give me, and there was a kind of circular motion in the political activism, where I was seeking for fulfillment and finding what was wrong with other. While that is powerful, and I couldn’t say it didn’t always “…” I mean it felt good at times to see how wrong other is.

It was ultimately unsatisfying and even worse than that, I could feel it as a weight, and it was much later, 10-15 years later that I recognized that from me, and I am only speaking for myself, that political activism was not the way to go. One thing, I don’t think I have the nervous system for it; you have to really be a fighter for that. I wanted to discover somehow, how we all come together, not how we find out who’s wrong and then punish them, and then we are right, and can feel a bit good about that, and that’s what I found in my political activist experience finally. Not always but finally, and that’s what lead me to my spiritual search.

Duncan Campbell: In my own case, looking back on it, I feel that there was a felt need to tell the truth, that people needed to know the truth of the manipulations and the machinations that were happening behind the public presentation, and I began to get a self education in how the media and the newspapers actually are very much influenced by the same economic forces that are not wanting certain kinds of behind the scenes manipulations to be exposed, and so they don’t expose them, the media does not expose them.

So, you then discover something that happened in Russia. It was very interesting to me that Yevgeny Yevtushenko, one of the great Russian poets came to Colorado, and he was on the campus of the University of Colorado that time when I met him here, and I had been on the barricades in Russia as it turned out when Yeltsin was holed up in Parliament building, the Russian white house. I had witnessed first hand the stand-off there and I was there with the people who were protecting the white house, and then that night of August 20th, it broke and the people that had kidnapped Gorbachev, and tried to pull off the “…” fled to the airport when they found that they couldn’t persuade the head of the secret police to actually attack these 2000 young men who were surrounding the white house and were not going to go anywhere, even in the face of tanks and so on.

The experience of that was exhilarating. To see that there could be such a shift when truth telling actually entered the system in Russia, that was back in 1991. So, I came back with this feeling that we could have real truth telling and integrity and democracy in our own politics, and in doing that, I found out that there were many people that were not interested in having that happen at the public level, but worse that the people themselves, most people are really not interested in knowing the truth, because it complicates their lives, we would all like to feel that we are good citizens, and that we are standing up for truth and so on.

Yet, when confronted with it, often times, people will turn away and actually prefer the fiction, let’s say, that’s told in the media or the fact that the media doesn’t tell the often inconvenient truth, it’s the title of the award winning film by Al Gore. I thought it was very interesting, and “Inconvenient Truth,” because it’s really at that level that people don’t want to confront the reality, it’s just too inconvenient. It means, I might have to do something and my life is already full of enough anxiety and concerns and responsibilities, that to take that on is just more than I can bear.

So, we go back now to Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who explained that in Russia, when Gorbachev was introducing his glasnost or the beginning of free speech, and his perestroika, the beginning of some economic restructuring away from state controlled communism. He decided to take certain figures, one of whom was Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and there were other intellectuals in Russia that he appointed to the Duma, which is their congress, as non party members to begin to have the yeast of the dough; that could eventually grow into real democracy rather than party controlled politics.

The deal was that, as Yevtushenko explained it, I would be there for two years and then at the end of that time, if I wanted to continue, I would have to present myself to the public, and either be elected or not elected. When I came to that point, I realized that as an artist, I was committed to the truth, but then as a politician, I needed to be committed to the lie, because the people actually didn’t want to know the complexities and the difficulties and the sacrifices they might have to make in order for the body politic to move into a new form.

So, I realized that if I became a politician, I would be committed to the lie, because if you told the truth as a politician, you would be punished, you would not be elected. I immediately thought, “How interesting.” Because when Walter Mondale, when he was the democratic nominee for President said, “Well, if we want to achieve this things we say we want to achieve, we will have to raise taxes.” Well, that was the end of his campaign, right there. So, what I’m really getting at here is that the search for truth in the public realm seems in our day and time to have encountered real obstacles to the point where if someone is really yearning to create genuine open hearted community, and a sense of their own deep hearted reality, to engage in the political process will rarely be satisfying.

Yet, at the same time, we discover if we step back, and we continue with the so called spiritual search, there is a way to come back to activism, cleansed of certain kinds of unconscious expectations and self-righteousness and all of that. So, let’s talk about that from the subsequent spiritual search that you engaged, and you withdrew from political activism. Let’s take it from there and then maybe come back to how now, were the situation to present itself as appropriate for your life. You would be able to enter into political activism without these kinds of conflicts, and what has become known as burnout.

Gangaji: What a great mind you have. So rich in everything you say. Well, it seems to me what you are pointing to is that people don’t want to experience pain, they want to experience comfort and they want leaders that will give them comfort, and not pain, and that’s absolutely unrealistic of course. Life is filled with pain, and until a leader has been willing to meet his or her own pain all the way, then there will be a buying into that either unconsciously or overtly. I’ll make you comfortable in some way or backing off from a stance of we have to do this. Well, maybe we don’t have to do this.

That’s what I found in terms of my spiritual search, that’s been the whole essence of it, and I think that, that coincides with the deepest psychological work as well. It’s that finally you have to stop and face your own demons, your own resistance to pain, which is perhaps natural to the organism. Be willing to meet it, even your own death, because that’s also natural to the organism. To die and to avoid death is natural, and so the willingness just to meet that is the willingness to grow up.

In our country in particular, it seems to me, my analysis are, is that we are stuck in an adolescent phase, and of course there is enormous power in adolescent phase, but it’s also finally and ultimately unsatisfactory, because it’s not real, it’s stopped, stymied. So, relating it to myself, I was yearning to grow up, I wouldn’t have called it that, I called it enlightenment I guess, I was yearning to get happy, but I was also resisting my own personal pain, and I was searching for somebody to give me happiness. A spiritual leader, a spiritual teacher, a spiritual group, and I did this for a number of years or psychological understanding, where I have studied different kinds of psychological work.

I worked on myself looking at my demons, but that’s a little different approach to actually see and analyze why you are terrorized by yourself, and actually meeting that terror full-frontally, until I met my teacher, who just said, “Stop all of it, just don’t move,” and what’s here. Instantly, peace was here, and then in the next instance, my condition demons arose to claim that peace, and that’s when the work began of actually been willing to experience pain, my own personal pain. Not fixing anybody, so that I didn’t feel pain, but just the pain with no reason for it being there and not founding blame or cause or analysis, or even insight, even though all of that may appear just to meet it.

From that, I discovered that I could actually speak to people about their pain, and actually be with them in their pain without absorbing it, and direct them to meet their pain, and then we could both grow up. I feel that’s what’s needed in the political process, is a leader, who has met his own pain, her own pain, their death. And is willing to stand up and say, this is what must happen. If we look in the past, that’s what our leaders have done, and that’s why we have been just galvanized by them.

That’s what Kennedy said for all of his faults. He did say, “Ask not what your country can give to you, but what you can give to your country,” and that means you have to give up some kind of hoping that you will get from other, that other will be fixed and then you will be happy. So, I hope that made sense, I seemed a little convoluted, but it’s all together somehow.

Duncan Campbell: Well, I think what you are really illuminating here is, for one thing, the attraction sometimes of political activism to escape from ones own pain. It’s a way of feeling righteous; a way of feeling one has a purpose of identifying with a larger cause, particularly if it was a situation as literally black and white, as the civil rights movement, where really the moral issues were very clear. In our day of course, the issues that are in play are not nearly as clear, and are as almost infinitely subject to spin and kibitzing and we are needing to have certain kind of information that we can rely on to make an informed decision on certain policies that only define that wherever we turn in the media, we cannot find reliable information that’s even going to give us the data we need to make an appropriate decision.

So, I think at this point, if you look at your own motivation for why are you doing this, that becomes really a path in itself, and I think that’s what I’m hearing from you. It’s that the happiness that we are all seeking comes from a real profound self awareness which can only happen by meeting all of our experience, including that which is painful, confusing, distressing, and not trying to evade it or to tell a story about it that allows us to ignore it. That is actually the practice of what has come to be known as the spiritual path, and then what we found is that the spiritual path itself can be almost an ideal escape from the real profound self-encounters.

So, let’s talk about that at this point, all the traps that are there, we think we have left them behind when we leave the arena of disputation and argumentation, and spin and media control and self-interested politicians and people that are bought or paid for. We go into our private meditation cushion or we enter a Sanga or a group of committed spiritual practitioners and what do we find?

Gangaji: Well, the key word you said is ideal. There is an idealized version of reality where there will be peace, and it does feel like that at first, because the conversations are different. Perhaps there is necessary rest and refuge from the worldly events, but it’s the same dynamic invariably takes over as long as you’re looking to be saved or for a change to fix you, to give you your happiness. The true spiritual teachings of course point one back into the depths of oneself, and if there is extreme darkness there, be appointed back into that, but why it gets called spiritual teachings, which is more of a lifestyle. It’s just about bliss or feeling good and escape.

So, it all becomes another way of escape, and really what I’m so indebted to my teacher for is, he really told me to stop seeking. For me, my whole spiritual life was about seeking, and it was about seeking escape, and while I can see that as an important phase, when I was told to stop seeking, it threw me back into what I had been running from, which, at first seemed like very bad news, but ultimately was revealed to be very good news. That’s what I was running from in trying to fix other people.

In that, from my own experience, there is a recognition of wholeness and completion in myself, so that actually the world did not have to change for me to be happy. The one I wanted to be President didn’t have to be elected for me to be happy. I could actually be very upset with the way things were going and still be happy, and that was a revelation. I had no idea that the wholeness could actually hold it all.

So, I would say that there are stages that people go, myself included. I went to the spiritual scene to escape the worldly scene, but it’s all in our own minds, so of course we bring the same types of seeking and we are looking really for the same idealized versions of happiness, and it sees idealized versions that have to be exposed for what they are, and that’s really the infantile nature of our search rather than the adult possibility of realization.

Duncan Campbell: Let’s really go into that a little deeper here, I’m thinking now of two comments by Joseph Campbell. One easily misunderstood, which is, ‘Follow your Bliss.’ That can easily be misunderstood in the same way that you have just talked about. What he is saying is, oh, go after what feels good, and if it doesn’t feel good, well then just try to ignore that or don’t go there. As you put it in one of your talks, kind of excluding from your reality, things that are an integral part of it, but just don’t make you feel good, so you just sort of put them off to the side.

That’s one thing, and the other thing was that it is possible to feel a kind of happiness as you walkthrough the world and include the suffering of the world in your experience. So, again, the Dalai Lama, famous for his saying, “All beings just want to be happy.” Yet that happiness, the mystery of it is, it includes feeling your own suffering and feeling other people suffering, but not getting caught up in a storyline about it, and perhaps we ought to talk now about the storyline and why that is really the key, one of the key discoveries that one can make by this method of self observation and self inquiry, which then can be liberating, not only to the person in the ashram, but very much to the person who is going back into the marketplace as they say.

Going back into the world, where you are raising a family, you have a job, you are not isolating yourself and doing only contemplative practice, and that I think is really the key that we want to talk about here. As one of the great yogis in India said, “The validation or the proof of meditation is not in the cave, it’s in the bazaar or in the marketplace.” It’s, if you can keep your head, as they say, while others are losing theirs, then you can actually be a force not only for your own centered awareness, and in that sense, happiness, but for helping others in a genuine way, because you don’t get bought into the confusion around you. So, that you amplify it, which causes even further suffering.

Gangaji: That’s right, with best intentions.

Duncan Campbell: Can we talk to someone about why it’s meaningful and interesting to engage in an activity which may seem, from a certain perspective, to be self indulgent. There is no time for that, we got to get out there, we have got to be active, we got to spend all our energies trying to change the world, and yet the world itself in it’s own intractability, becomes a teacher, leading you back to yourself, because to do that, it always leads to burnout.

Gangaji: How many times have we changed the world to find out that changes were worse than what we started with?

For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell