ADVENTURES OF THE SPIRIT
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Today we are going to explore the "Adventures of the Spirit." With me is noted author Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Bridge Across Forever, One, Illusions, and most recently, Running from Safety. Welcome, Richard.
RICHARD BACH: Thank you, Jeffrey. A delight to be here.
MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to be with you. It truly is.
BACH: Thank you.
MISHLOVE: We were talking just a few moments ago about the distinction between fiction and nonfiction, and particularly in your writings it's interesting.
BACH: Isn't it terrible that books have to be split? Someone please define what is fiction and what is nonfiction. In the world of imagination there are so many gifts that come to us, and if we were to turn to them and say, "You are fiction. You do not apply in my life," we would be turning our back on showers of gold and diamonds. No; no fun.
MISHLOVE: You have discovered a gold mine in your writing. You move through time; you move through multiple dimensions. It gives me a sense that your novels are sort of a walking metaphysics text.
BACH: That's fascinating. To me, there is so much. If I look back now, on the last 20 years of my life, and say, "Richard, what have you been doing?" What I've been discovering is the power of the imagination, and how it translates -- how ideas translate into what we call the real world around us. And it translates in so many ways that are so fascinating -- that we gauge the quality of the friends we have by their ideas; we are attracted to certain ideas and repelled by others. Are those things fiction or are they nonfiction? I no longer care. Tell me what's going on in your mind; tell me what's going on in your heart, and I will feel the magnetism that will make me cherish you for a friend or make me say, "Well, I want to keep my distance from him." There is something within me that says, "You have something to learn from what Jeffrey has to say. Listen carefully." I like that feeling. I have spent my life gradually closing my mind, and I've chosen to do that. I'm closing my mind to all kinds of ideas that are not interesting to me. I'm not interested in experimenting with drugs; I'm not interested in driving high speed along very narrow roads, along the edge of steep cliffs. The things that I'm interested in, it's what does someone else know about the power of their own imagination? How has it changed their life? How can I steal ideas from them to use in mine?
MISHLOVE: One of my big interests is psychic research, and I know you've had an interest in this field and have been involved even in laboratory experiments going back 20 years.
BACH: Yes. For years and years. I believe that we are creatures not of bodies. I think we are expressions of life, we are expressions of spirit, and that we are not chained by gravities, by walls, by limits. And so I fascinate in any avenue that suggests, "It's true, Richard." So when Russell Targ has his tests in remote viewing, I am there: "Please, can I help you find this? Give me some tests to do that I can practice."
MISHLOVE: Can you talk about that a little?
BACH: He had some fascinating tests years ago, in remote viewing.
MISHLOVE: This was at SRI International -- a big military-industrial think tank in Menlo Park, California.
BACH: That's right. He said, "Richard, next time you're on the West Coast, stop by, please." I did, and I walked into this room, and they shut the door behind me and they closed the blinds. I said, "What's going on here?" "A fellow experimenter, Hal Puthoff, is somewhere in the Bay Area. You have no idea where. Now just relax, Richard, and tell us where he is. Describe, what is he looking at this minute?" "Wha... what do I do? Do I open my eyes? Do I close my eyes? What am I supposed to do?" "If you want to leave your eyes open, that's fine." So I closed my eyes, I opened them again, I said, "Russell, I'm making it up." He said, "That's right. You're making it up. Tell us what you make up." And I saw, as I closed and said, "He wants me to do this. I will do it. It will be fun. And I can't be hurt. This is not an electrical chair." So when I closed my eyes I saw Hal Puthoff walking into a tiny little building, and as he walked into the building, it was a travel agency. There was a counter; there was a map behind the counter, and there was some large company logo on the wall. And I was saying this into Russell's tape recorder: "It's a city map, Russell." Russell said, "Don't call it a map. If it is a complex, if it's a maze of lines, call it a maze of lines. It may be a maze of lines but not a map." "All right, so it's --"
MISHLOVE: Watch out for the intellectual overlay.
BACH: Exactly right. "And don't call it travel agency." "All right, all right. Well, this is what I see." And then I reached a point where it just stopped. I said, "Well, no, wait, there's one other thing. There's a strange colored light at the roof of this place, and I have no idea what it is. It is blues and greens, and what's it doing at the --? It's not electric lights. And this is very important. It's not electric lights." And he said, "Very well. Anything else?" I said, "Nothing else." He said, "OK." Then we began chatting, because he had looked at his watch and he knew that Hal was on his way back. So I was now getting nervouser and nervouser, wondering where -- I mean, was this true or not? It didn't feel like anything strange or weird. Presently Hal Puthoff knocked on the door, walked in, and Russell, instead of saying, "Where were you?" played the tape. Hal listened to it, and every once in a while he'd say, "Hm!" And here I'm just a bundle of knots, saying, "Tell me, tell me, what was it?" He hadn't been in a travel office at all. He had gone to a church. He had gone to a hyper-modern church, and he had walked to the altar. That wasn't a counter; that was an altar. Behind the altar was a filigreed wooden inlay work, very complex. It was not a map of the city, but it was a complex line. The company logo was not a company logo, it was a cross, a giant cross. Up at the ceiling, stained glass -- blue and green, not electric. And I could just feel, whether it was the blood draining from my face, or electrical shiverings going through me -- as you said, had I tried to intellectualize, to label what these things were, I couldn't have done it. And the company logo; I had to laugh! What kind of playful part of me has these wonderful capacities? Is it attached to us like a balloon by a string to a child? Does it come with us wherever we go? Does it have this power, and we don't feel it because we never ask? That was really the first time that I recognized that, for me, I said "Yes!" -- exclamation point -- "I want to get to know that part of me that's not trapped in my body."
MISHLOVE: You know, one of the themes that has come out of the decade or two of research at SRI is that psychic functioning works best when you separate out the intellectual overlay, because we often get confused by that. I notice the same theme in your writings, especially your most recent one. You've got the child who keeps criticizing you for being too intellectual.
BACH: Just this minute you're putting that together. I never made that connection between what Russell was saying, and what experience has taught me about writing, which is: Stand aside. Let the story sing through you. Let the ideas just use your fingers, but don't stop and think and say, "What will people think? Maybe I'll be seen as a fool. Maybe this is ridiculous." It no longer matters. So I have on my computer monitor, where I write, it says, "Have fun." It says, "Don't think." It says, "Don't care." So even when I'm writing, I don't care. If my little character wants to remind me of things that I have forgotten, and if he wants to integrate events that I could not sit down and integrate rationally in any way, if he wants to bring them all together and then teach me something that I had no idea that he was going to teach me, let him run, Richard. This is your job, to get out of the way.
MISHLOVE: I think it's so both appropriate and ironic that here on a program called Thinking Allowed we are in effect advising our audience not to think at certain times.
BACH: That is so much a part of this highway that can be opened to information between our imagining selves and our formal, this-world self. If we allow that to take down the barriers and the tollgates and all the business that must be gone through to open this highway, these strange things, the longer they say, "Is it OK for me to be weird? It's a nutty idea, but there's truth behind it, and maybe you could learn from this truth." We say, "OK, however you come, however you come." "I will come to you as a teaching angel who knew you when you were nine years old, and you made a pact that you would come back 50 years later and tell you everything you knew. Is that all right?" "That's all right. Anything you -- whatever you say. Show me; appear before me." And so in this swirling tunnel of mist that the computer monitor becomes for me when I'm writing, this character appears, and he says, "Here I am." I'm little Dickie, 50 years ago. Do you remember? Do you remember that pact you made?" Of course I don't remember. Life has gone by. There are other things. "Well, he cares about you." "That's all right; he's going to be fine, he's going to be fine. Give him my good regards, and I'm going to go paragliding; I'm going to jump off this mountainside." "Don't you care about the little child that you were?" "He'll be OK." The angel looks at me and tries to melt me with the inherent sorrow of what he's offering to me, and then later on I do start thinking about Dickie, and I do realize that I've shut him away. I don't know why I shut him away, but I've been running my life on intellect for a long time. Why is that? Wouldn't he like to be right here in the air, flying with me -- in this paraglider, drifting like thistledown, 2000 feet in the air, above the forests of Washington. Wouldn't he like that? And I thought about that, and I'd close my eyes, flying there in this high swing under this lovely rainbow wing, and he says, "Dickie, this is gonna be fun. Come to me, little child, and look out through my eyes, and you will see flight!" And instead, he says, "I hate you and everything you stand for! Get out of here!"
MISHLOVE: With a flame thrower.
BACH: With a flame thrower. The kid even had a flame thrower. So this ball of flame comes roaring toward me, and I slam the door shut. What kind of way to treat your future self is that? He really hates me because I did shut him away. I'm his jailer. I'm the guy who locked him and said, "No, it's no time for fun. It's time for discovery! We're going to lock ourselves out of learning who are we, why are we here, and where are we going, and not much time for anything else, not fun and games."
MISHLOVE: Let me ask you -- at this point, the book seems rather autobiographical. You're dealing with a trauma that occurred in your own childhood.
BACH: That I had forgotten. And Dickie, I discovered, is the keeper of my memories, and I'd always thought, "Well, I had a very happy childhood, but I have a terrible memory." I would just remember a few things from my memory, and I didn't know why I remembered them. And then -- and this now has to be nonfiction, because now I'm going to talk about a dream. I had a dream shortly before I decided to write this book, in which I saw this child on a wide, cobblestone courtyard, standing alone -- not a tree, not a flower, not a blade of grass. I knew that was me when I was a kid, and I said, "Dickie, what are you doing here?" And he said, "This is my country." I said, "This is your country? It's sere and barren. There's no life here!" And he kind of smiled as if he knew something that I didn't, and he reached down to one of those cobblestones that I thought was just rock, and he picked it up, and when he picked it up, the cobblestone part was just the top of it. It was like withdrawing an amber crystal, honeycomb crystal, and he tossed it to me. It shattered at my feet, and I remembered, and when I remembered, I woke up. And I woke up saying, "My God, I never have dreams that make sense. They're always a suitcase full of waffles followed by a bag of springs, and nothing makes any --" but here that was the little kid that I was, and I reached for my little pad that I always have by the bed, and wrote in the dark: "I had this dream with Dickie. What did that mean? That's so wildly creative! Those are my memories. He has my memories!
MISHLOVE: They seemed barren to you, but every one was like a beautiful crystal.
BACH: Yes, yes! He had it all! Then immediately he has something I want, right? How do I find this guy? The only way I can find him is to have this inner journey, to seek him out. And even though he hates the sight of me, to somehow, somehow make it all right so we can begin to talk. Because I've got things to give him, too. I know how it works out -- or at least how one of his futures works out. And so gradually, we have this tentative, tentative friendship, and he begins sharing memories. I didn't realize, when my brother died when I was nine, it was not a big event, as I recall it. He was my brother; we were very good friends. He was extremely smart. Bobby was always the smartest kid in the class, and there were people studying him. He was a brilliant, brilliant kid. I was his little brother, so all I had to do was follow him. We were friends. Bobby told me one day -- and I had forgotten for the longest time, for like half a century -- Bobby said, "I'll lead the way for you, Dickie. I'm older than you are. I'll go ahead of you, and I'll warn you about really bad things. If I find anything that's really tough out there, I'll tell you, 'Look out,' and if I find something that's really interesting, I'll say, 'Come on, we'll go this way.'" And I had settled back, dangling my fingers in the water, while Bobby rode the boat of both of our lives. And then he died.
MISHLOVE: How did he die, may I ask?
BACH: He died, I found out later, from leukemia. My parents didn't tell me. They didn't want me to suffer, I guess, and so I was the only one who didn't know that Bobby was dying. I knew that he was sick for awhile, and that he missed school, and that he looked very, very tired, and that he and my parents would have long, quiet talks to which I was not invited. What are they talking about? Are they going to get rid of me? What have I done that they're going to -- because the child always thinks it's me that's the cause. And then Bobby began feeling bad. He went to the hospital. A week later he was dead. Wow! Is that the way it happens? Is that what death is? And no one cried in our family. I saw the obituary in the newspaper; I said, "Golly, that's our names in print." And I put that up, and I came back and I found that it was taken down. I put it up again; it was taken down. And so I discovered my mom didn't want to be reminded about this. So finally she told me Bobby had leukemia.
MISHLOVE: This is the point where you left little Dickie.
BACH: That's where I left him. I said, "OK, no more fun and games. We really have to decide what this life -- if death can come so swiftly, I'd better be sharp finding out why I've lived at all. So I set about doing that, and there was this sense of vague distress about Bobby's death, but that was it. The rest of my world then became the search, became books and talks and yearnings and why? Why are we here? My father was a minister, and he had left the church when he couldn't answer his own questions about why we were here. So we would talk from time to time, but not a great sense of progress. And as I grew, that whole incident faded out, so I thought I never even had a brother, until a few years ago, and just for fun, with a friend who had a way of exploring the past. She said, "Name some event from your past." I said, "I don't remember anything." She says, "Come on, there's got to be something." "Oh, my brother died." "OK," she said, "talk to your brother, right now. What have you always wished you could tell your brother?" And I burst into tears: "Why did you leave me?" Just uncontrollably crying. It was a magnificant kind of shattering of walls, because suddenly there was my brother again, back in my life, reminding me of what he had said. He was going to lead the way. Maybe he had decided that he would lead it in a little different way, that he would be hovering right beyond space-time for me. And perhaps he has been leading the way all this time; I don't know -- Bobby. we're going to have to talk about that.
MISHLOVE: Flooding your imagination. You know, when I read these passages in Running from Safety, I thought about my own childhood, and realized I hadn't had any major traumas, but I realized, like practically every adult, I had left so many parts of me in the past, and so, so many memories I hadn't thought of for years and years. The book was such a stimulus to begin thinking about this and remembering that, and awakening second grade and third grade.
BACH: I had brushed those away: "Those are kid stuff. I'm not interested in kid stuff. I'm interested in my sense of mission. I've got to make this discovery somehow before I die." But in those kid memories, and those things that Dickie handed to me, were critically important elements to understanding of why I'm here. Why do I like to fly? I had a vague memory of a water tower on a ranch in Arizona where I lived for a while, where my family lived. There was this water tower, and my brothers would climb the water tower every day. It was 30 feet high, with a little windmill on the top, and it pumped water up into a tank. Every day we had to go up and check to see that the tank hadn't rusted through and we had enough water to last us, and so forth. So my two older brothers would climb that, but they'd say, "It's your turn, Dickie," and I couldn't do it. I was paralyzed with fright two rungs off the ground. I've since discovered that almost everyone who flies airplanes has a fear of heights. That was how I discovered it. And there was a time, completely forgotten until this incident, that I climbed that water tower, and there was no one there. I said, "If I die, all right, I die. But I must do that. I don't want to be a coward and live with that. I don't want to be a baby." A terrible thing for a six-year-old, to be a baby, or seven, or whatever I was. So I climbed that thing, and as I wrote, all those -- I mean, thought by thought, the feeling of the wood, the feeling of the height, knowing that I had to throw my arm over this rung, and wait here and just stop and try to get my breath back, because now I'm ten feet off the ground and it's a long fall down, and then suddenly realizing even though I had my arm locked over the rung, it could tear away from the ladder and I could fall off backwards. Oh God, this terrible fear! And don't look down, don't look down. Every step of that was vividly alive for me. Then something happened at the top of that ladder, when I said, "I know I'm going to die, but I am going to look down." And I turned, shivering, and looked down, and the top of our house -- way below now, way below -- it was the first time I'd ever seen a roof from the air, the first time I'd ever seen land from the air. There's our little burros; why, they look like little fluffy dolls! And the cactus aren't tall, menacing, thorny creatures. What a fluffy, dear little plant! And off to the mountains on the horizon: They're not so high above me, and they're calling me. And this, from the air, what I took so for granted and sometimes so forbidding, is beautiful! Life from the sky, Richard, is a totally different life! That memory I had utterly suppressed and forgotten, and always wondered, "Why is it that I'm drawn to the sky?" "I don't know; I guess I'm just nutty."
MISHLOVE: So when you looked back at your own childhood, you saw something pure and simple that profoundly affected your whole character.
BACH: Profoundly, to this day. And I remember other fragments going through as I was growing up -- this entrancement with the sky. I'd lie on the grass and look at the clouds and then imagine a little me on the cloud with a red flag, saying, "Hi, Dickie." And there'd be this yearning to get to that cloud. I didn't know why.
MISHLOVE: There's an interesting paradox in Running from Safety, in which you purport to be the mentor and the teacher of the nine-year-old, but in the end it seems as if he has as much to offer.
BACH: That just so totally startled me. Again, it's imagination playing with us -- that as I was writing that, I had this sense. What would I say to the kid that I was? What really matters? What had I learned? So I told him that, and all along something held from me who this person really was. I was so sure he was Dickie, my younger self. It turns out, in writing the book, that he's someone else entirely, and he's someone who is not waiting for my teaching for his own sake, but waiting for my teaching for my sake. So often we don't know what we think until we say it. Samuel Johnson said, "I don't know what I think until I write it down." It's so true. And so in writing, in talking to him, I was telling Dickie what I knew. It turns out that Dickie is not Dickie at all. Dickie is one of my imaginary playmates, several of my imaginary playmates, of this space-time, right here, who is saying, "What do you know? Remind yourself of what you know, Richard. Find some imaginative way to discover what matters more to you than anything else in the world, what ideas. If you had to go to a desert island, what ideas would you take with you? And you have a very small valise. What will it be?" So that kind of discovery, that I had been the -- I thought I was playing with my imagination. My imagination was playing with me, and I loved it.
MISHLOVE: And there we get once again to the paradox. Is it fiction or is it fact? Your imagination was playing with you.
BACH: That is fact. That is simple fact. And as it played, the keyboard was under my hands, and the words were coming out on the screen.
MISHLOVE: I get the sense that when you sit down in front of your typewriter, you enter another world, or another state of consciousness.
BACH: Very much. It is literally -- I stop seeing. The world goes blurry, and it turns into this monitor, and I have a sense of this amorphous -- before I start to write it is just swirls in there. And then something happens, and what I see there is what I type. And so creatures, people, emerge from this mist, and I am drawn into what they have to say and what they're doing. And I see very clearly, and the dialogue is heard dialogue. I don't make that up.
MISHLOVE: Oh, really?
BACH: And I know that as soon as I stop and think, it's bad, it's bad. I have to be on the run.
MISHLOVE: Then we come to the issue of letting go of thinking.
BACH: Yes, yes.
MISHLOVE: Well, in your letting go, Richard, I sense that you share so much of the fullness of who you are. It's such a pleasure to be with you now and feel the vibrancy of the adventure of your spirit.
BACH: It is so much -- when I was kid, I was saying, "If and when I grow up, will the fun go out of it?" If I could sing back across the years to him, it will never go out of it.
MISHLOVE: Richard Bach, thanks so much for being with me.
BACH: Thank you, Jeff.