An Interview with Luke Anderson
Born in Southeast Asia and raised in England, Luke Anderson has worked with environmental and social-justice groups in Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and North America. He now lives in Chico, where he and his wife, Jacia Kornwise, run the Satori Healing Center.
Lotus Guide: Luke, you have traveled around the world working with groups on the front lines of various social and environmental movements. You’ve also spent 15 years training with spiritual teachers and doing healing work. Do you feel encouraged by the growing popularity of personal growth issues in the United States?
Luke Anderson: To the extent that this popularity points to a desire to look more deeply, a willingness to take personal responsibility for answers about our lives and our world, then yes. To the extent that it represents yet one more product to be consumed by a hungry ghost that will never be satisfied, then no.
LG: Could you say more about what you mean by this?
LA: “Hungry ghost” is a metaphor for the craving that is felt when we believe that we are incomplete, separate from what we need to be fulfilled and at peace. And the more we feed this belief by looking to add something to ourselves in a search for completion, the hungrier we become. This is an apt metaphor for egos anywhere, but perhaps especially here in the United States. On average, North Americans consume 5 times more than people in Latin America, 9 times more than people in Africa, and 12 times more than people in India. But all of this consumption doesn’t seem to be making people happier. Nearly a million people in the U.S. attempt suicide every year and it’s the third leading cause of death for young people aged 15–24. This is very sad. While some of us believe that material consumption will lead to happiness, others search for the magical other who will complete them. And some turn to self-improvement: “If only I could change this or that about myself . . . if only I could be less negative . . . if only I could get rid of my ego and become enlightened. . . .” Unfortunately, as long we’re focused outside ourselves for completion (whether that be a big pile of cash, the next relationship, or a new and improved spiritual “me”), we miss that what we need—the one we are searching for— has already been given.
LG: The present moment.
LA: Yes. I almost didn’t even want to say the words, because it’s easy to imagine “Oh, yeah, the present moment. I know. Be here now and all that.” But it is easy to overlook the significance of what the present moment really means. Even when it is deeply seen, it can take a long time to integrate and acknowledge the truth of it.
LG: How do you approach counseling work with people who don’t see themselves as truth seekers, but who come to counseling for intimacy issues, depression, or other personal difficulties?
LA: Whether or not people see themselves as spiritual makes no real difference to me in terms of how it affects my role in the counseling. I don’t need the person to believe anything in particular because I’m facilitating an inquiry for that person’s own process of understanding. People inevitably come to their edge, whether that’s seen as spiritual, psychological, or some other. My job is to be a midwife to the new growth at whatever edge is being presented. And from a place of presence, my end of the conversation happens by itself. Just like a painter or musician who trusts the creative process without having a mental picture of the end result, I don’t need to have someone “figured out.” I don’t have a mental map that I’m trying to squeeze someone into. I know that the healing directs the journey through an organic process that unfolds in its own way for each person.
LG: Could you speak about your counseling work with people who are in a personal crisis, the breakup of a relationship, or some other challenge?
LA: I find that these kinds of situations can be the most fertile. It often takes a major life crisis for people to have the juice needed to make a real shift. People can spend a lifetime trying to perfect defenses against the deep fear that underlies their sense of self. Many are so defended that they don’t even admit to being afraid. But in times of personal crisis life breaches these defenses, and we have the opportunity to become more curious about what’s really going on. And there’s a humility and openness that comes along with recognizing that our strategies have failed to deliver on their promises. It’s not necessarily such a bad thing when we lose hope in something we think we have all figured out. Whenever we lose faith in whatever it is our egos have pinned our hopes on, a space opens for authentic insights and awareness to enter. There are a few lines from one of Rumi’s poems that speak to this: When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools, dig a way out through the bottom to the ocean. There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they can’t hope. The hopers would feel slighted if they knew. There is a precious gift in our hardest feelings. They call us to more depth. The stagnant suffering of some kinds of depression can be a signal that we are being resistant to that call—unable to rise above the pain but unwilling to drop down into it. But when we do drop down, we find that there is a path leading directly through our fear and pain to the fearless presence of peace that radiates at the heart of each one of us. Once we are fully present with a feeling, we can trace it down toward its genesis. It may be, for example, that close to the root of a habitual contraction is a heavily defended or numb territory of being that fragmented in response to some kind of overwhelming or traumatic experience as a child. When a child is faced with an experience that he or she does not have the capacity to integrate, this kind of shutting down can be a useful and indeed necessary strategy. But it has consequences. It may be that as an adult, for example, that person may avoid certain levels of intimacy because of the pain felt when this wound is triggered. People can even become violent in a desperate attempt to protect themselves from feeling the vulnerability that they believe would destroy them. But an experience that could indeed have overwhelmed a child is very unlikely to have the same impact when revisited by an adult. As long as this revisiting is done with enough presence and the right kind of support so that the self doesn’t collapse into these states, one can bring the light of conscious awareness right into the center of them. This is ineffective if it is a purely mental process. It is a meeting that takes place in the guts of our being and it includes a felt, often quite physical, reintegration of the energy that has been fragmented. There is a true alchemy that takes place when so-called negative states or shadow aspects are released from their contracted forms. After all, even the most negative state is still at its heart made up of vital energy, pure gold, the creative essence of life itself.
LG: Could you say more about the process of self-change and how it relates to change in the world?
LA: The world, by which I’m assuming we’re referring to the societal world of human construction, is a reflection of all that we believe about ourselves. Authentic self-change never involves changing who we actually are but rather a stripping away of all that is false so that our true being—that which connects us all—is freed to create a world aligned with the sanity of the heart rather than the insanity of a fragmented mind. As the pressure of our times increases, outdated forms—inside and out—are becoming more and more unstable. Maybe it’s worth taking a good look at our foundations to see where our feet are planted: Do we know who we really are, the ground of our being, even in the midst of personal and planetary chaos?
LG: Thank you very much.
LA: Thank you. For more information about counseling work for individuals, couples, or groups, Luke Anderson can be contacted at the Satori Healing Center, 530-891-6524.