Nuggets From Jonathan Gustin's Call

Posted by Rahul Brown on Jul 13, 2021
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Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Jonathan Gustin.

Jonathan Gustin combines three disciplines – meditation, psychotherapy, and purpose guiding – to support individuals navigating the journey toward wholeness through what he calls the “three worlds” of the human experience – the “upper world” of spirit seeking transcendence and enlightenment through practices such as meditation (“waking up”); the “middle world” of personality and ego seeking emotional healing through practices such as psychotherapy (“growing up”), and the “lower world” of soul seeking embodiment and offering gifts to others through soul work practices (“showing up”). He has been called a “rare example of a seasoned meditation teacher who understands the spiritual necessity of the descent to soul and sacred darkness — as well as the ascent to the light and the One. He guides his students in both directions, down as well as up.”

Below are just the top three nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
  • Common current map of purpose is this world & this one life. From Zen and Advaita, there is a 'two world map': this world, and the beyond (moksha or nirvana). He believes we need a 'three world map'. "It's not just about our middle world lives or our upper world -- if you will -- transcendence. But what happens when we take a spiritual journey that is a burrowing down into our depths and we discover what we are to become?" Short way of summarizing triple purpose: wake up, show up, grow up: "wake up to enlightenment, the undivided spirit Godhead; grow up into an emotional adult; and show up wildly with passion with your soul's deep purpose as a gift to life." How do you answer the question 'what am I at my core?' 'What do I do with my one wild precious life' is often left unanswered in that two-world space. The purpose work is about finding the place where your own deepest gladness meets the world’s great need.
  • Wholeness is the main driving value of this work. What we really are is love. Love is the cessation of separateness. Love leaves nothing out. Another value is service, as service is love without boundaries that serve the whole.
  • One helpful practice in discovering purpose is to go on a 'soul walk'. Begin with a soul level question (an important, "really juicy question"), then drop the question. "Then listen first through your skin, listen through it, and as it. Listen through your emotional center. Soul sometimes will speak in feelings, you'll just have that feeling. Listen through, in, and as your gut and your belly; trust it. It's got something to say. It won't necessarily speak in English or some other human language, but it will speak. Just like babies, they don't speak in words, but you hear them. And then this one's important. Hopefully you can find a bit of wild nature. Allow wild nature to really be experienced as coextensive with your very own being. Because it is. The edges of you don't really end at the skin. You know that just through respiration, there's a constant intermingling, but ultimately it's not even an intermingling; you and wild nature are a part of one soul. And if you ask a question, you may find that the answer is mirrored back to you through the wind, through the wingeds, through the earth, through a butterfly, whatever it may be. And then the fifth organ of perception is wild imagination itself. You don't think, you don't actively imagine; you quiet, and on the screen of the mind you see what appears. It can be an image or a symbol. Don't interpret it. Let it do its work on you. Don't open a book. If you see an owl, don't open up a book, what does an owl mean in this tribe or something? I would say don't do that. Be in dialogue with the image. If it's an owl, then you're like, 'Owl, what do you want me to know?' And it may not speak, in words, but you can feel something. ... So that would be one practice: take a soul walk and open up the skin, the heart, the belly, the wilderness and wild imagination itself."

Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!


Other Nuggets from the Transcript

"The call to the question, to the inquiry, [about my purpose] came when I was twelve. I didn't discover my purpose until I was twenty. It took at least eight years, and then it took decades to embody it. So in the first place, the reason why I didn't consider it just a synaptic brain fart, another random thought, is that it just kept coming back."

How did you know you had discovered your purpose? Were there somatic markers of deeper knowing?  "So, this points to teaching I would call, 'alternate modes of perception or alternate organs of perception.' I learned this from the Sufi masters, and the five that I always ask people to attend to is their skin, the largest organ in the human body -- your tingles; listening through and as your heart, your emotional center when you ask a powerful question; listening to your gut; listening through and as wild nature itself, such that wild nature reflects back to you the answer to your question; and then this wild imagination itself. ... And so listening through these organs of perception enables one to have what you could call a soul encounter. And it could come as an image. It could come as a symbol. It could come as an energetic shift. It could come as a poetry fragment, on and on."

Difference between soul-level purpose and career (delivery vehicle): "Soul encounters: they don't say, 'Become a psychotherapist, become a meditation teacher, become a purpose guide.' Those are delivery vehicles for my soul level purpose of being a whole person midwife. This is such an important thing to disambiguate, to separate out, which is that sometimes people think that their job or their career is their purpose. My understanding is that is not the case. I trained as a psychotherapist. I trained as a meditation teacher and purpose guide. On my business card it says those things. But in reality, I show up to everything in life as whole person midwife. That name is more true, more real, more indigenous to me than the name Jonathan Gustin."

On moving beyond any one picture of "enlightenment" and being oneself fully in this life: "I continue to receive and hear his [Ramana Maharishi's] teachings. But in terms of engagement with the world, he was an ascetic. He never married, no partners, no kids, no interest. So, one thing I came to understand is that it was confusing to hold him up. I met him when I was sixteen, through a book, and I thought that's what enlightenment looks like. But no, that's one expression for a particular person in a particular culture at a particular time. ...

Like the Buddha, a specialist, a beautiful, brilliant, I would say a genius, but you know, my joke about him is he's one of the world's most highly regarded, famous deadbeat dads. This is coming from someone who is lay ordained in the Zen tradition. So, I say this as an insider, not someone casting stones from the outside. The story goes: he abandons his family, his wife, and his kids and when he comes back, he doesn't really come back to parent or be there or fix anything. It's like, if you want to be in my lineage, you can come to my school. And I'm thinking, if I left my family and came back, maybe the first thing I would do would be heal and repair before saying to my son and my wife, “Dude do you want to be my students?” But what we see as a demonstration there, is actually absolute one-pointedness. He was here apparently to teach the path of enlightenment. And we are glad that he did. Were his kids and wife glad? Probably not. So, to me, these Maha teachers, these great souls, they are like deep sea divers or astronauts. They go further than almost anybody.

I am just a regular person, so I don't have a resume that's going to be eating one lima bean a day on the side of Arunachala in India. That's just not me. ... So, what is it, what would it be to acknowledge and then allow oneself to deepen and ripen in these three worlds? To be a grownup, to be classically enlightened and to take that journey to soul and know, 'What am I to do?'

Because it's not just the question, “Who am I?” That's the classical, upper world, or our classical enlightenment question. The answer: it's not in words, it's the experience. The answer is the experience of total non-separation, non-duality. But then there's this other question, 'How does non-duality want to dance in this life?' ... And let's do it fully. Everyone else is taken. So, let's be ourselves. Might as well."

Moving beyond "default", socially conditioned purpose to authentic soul purpose: "one of the first things I do at the start of one of the programs I teach is I do a deep investigation with people about their inherited or "default purposes." Like, what was the way we were programmed to believe our purpose was? So I coined this term "default purpose" to point to that. And the default purpose can be wholesome to a degree for a time, but eventually we need to figure out for ourselves what is truly authentic for us. ...

And so our default purposes can take us all the way to our deathbeds easily, and we can feel a sense of purpose and, as long as it's semi-wholesome or at least not totally pathological, it may do us, it may be just enough. But for some of us, we sense that we weren't born to just inherit the purpose of our parents, our culture, our religion, or whatever it may be. And in that case, then the question is, how do I discover it? How do I know what that purpose is? And if it's already in me, then how do I allow it to blossom? So I like to say that there's default purpose, created purpose, and soul level purpose. ...

A default purpose is given by family and society. It's a socially authored purpose, it's inherited. The next level up is when, with our minds, we see all these different people and cultures, and we choose with the wisdom of the mind; we create, hopefully through a healthy ego. And so instead of being socially authored as the default purpose, we actually write it. It's constructed, as opposed to being inherited. But then there's one more level, which feels dangerous to the ego because it doesn't get to decide, and that is, it’s soul authored. I didn't choose to be a whole person midwife, I didn't choose to be heterosexual, I discovered that it was the case. You just find out the way you were wired. And this is a revelation and so you can have purpose 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0. ...

When you're living somebody else's purpose or when you're fabricating a purpose just using your mind, you're going to feel a little bit off-center. The equilibrium is going to be thrown off; you’ll never walk with your own gait. ... I think if you're being you, you're going to be in a better mood, you're going to be in a better place, you're going to be more equanimous, more grounded and there'll be less reason to start wars, to commit acts of violence. When you're in yourself and inhabiting yourself, there is less impetus to look outside, victimize or otherwise treat people in a degrading way. It just doesn't happen as much. ...

But that said, I also believe that it is their right to be at the level of evolution that they're at. I have the right not to be a Buddha; I don't have a case of abiding enlightenment. I don't have it. and no one can tell me otherwise."

How to connect with soul-level purpose -- soul technologies and overcoming resistance: There are "two min baskets. On the one hand, there are soul encountered technologies, the methods, the practices the techniques that enable a person to dialogue with soul. And if people don't like the word soul, they can say, your gut, your innermost. ...

But the other part is really important too. It is how to work with resistance because, as a psychotherapist, actually all my things, why aren't there more people coming out of the Zen monasteries totally enlightened? Resistance! Why aren't more people who come out of psychotherapy, why isn't it closer to a hundred percent cure rate and everyone is really happy? Resistance. Why aren't more people succeeding brilliantly in Purpose Guiding? Resistance! Homeostasis is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, right? It keeps the planets in orbit. It keeps our body temperature regulated. ...

So resistance means to me that, yes, it sounds great for a caterpillar to become a butterfly, but there's at least two problems: one is you have to say goodbye to your caterpillar life. The butterfly doesn't come back and sit down and have dinner with the caterpillars. It has new sangha, new friends, new ways of being, drinking nectar of flowers, as opposed to munching leaves. The second big problem is that it can be terrifying, there can be moments of terror. ... And so can we, would we, be willing to potentially sacrifice who we are for what soul wants us to become?"

The world is often swimming in very shallow hungers, hedonic hungers, sometimes even toxic hungers. How do you deal with this idea of, perhaps someone's gladness is in feeding these shallow, hedonic, or even toxic hungers? Or is there a distinction that it's actually some version of the default purpose and it's not yet reached the soul purpose? 
"I think people can discover that they have a soul core power. Famous people like [Sheryl] Sandberg or Warren Buffet have a genius. They have a knack for something. ... So it's marrying the knowledge of our innate, and everyone has these, talents and genius and finding how and where does the world want it to flourish. So earlier I said one of my definitions of soul is knowing your place. The eco psychologist, Bill Plotkin, calls it your eco-niche -- where do you belong in the ecology of life? And then you do what you do, and it is something that truly serves cultural renaissance, truly serves the evolution of the species."

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Comments (1)

  • Karan Pande wrote ...

    Thanks for briefly describing the 'Soul Walk'.