This episode departs from the typical Mormon Matters pattern in that it features a conversation with just one guest rather than a panel. But what a guest! Philip McLemore is a former CES instructor who then served for twenty-one years as an LDS chaplain in the Air Force and then another eight years as a hospice chaplain. During these times he underwent a dramatic spiritual transformation that was instigated and nurtured by a his beginning a serious meditation practice. Ultimately he was ordained within the Kriya Yoga tradition, which was brought to the U.S. and the west by Paramhansa Yogananda, and Phil now teaches meditation (in person as well as online) that is quite typically eastern in the form of his practices, but with the teachings centered primarily on the mystical and yogic path and the resources for it that abound within Christianity and Mormonism.
In today’s conversations, Phil and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon explore in depth insights from two sources that Dan refers to quite often in Mormon Matters episodes as matches between these and that week’s topic come up. Dan’s interest in both things come from Phil—one is his reading of the Prodigal Son parable, which is better named the Parable of the Two Lost Sons—and the other is a five-stage model of spiritual growth and changing/deepening one’s relationship with God that Phil developed and that draws upon scriptural labels and metaphors for each stage.
Part 1 (Episode 327) overviews Phil’s journey from Mormon convert at age 19 to where his present interests, spirituality, and practices are today, and then does a deep dive on the Parable of the Two Lost Sons.
Part 2 (Episode 328) begins with an exploration of patterns and models found in great religions (including Mormonism) that ultimate culminate in ceremonies and then (hopefully/ideally) transformed lives that find a perfect balance of femaleness and maleness and the energies associated with them. This is preparatory work for the introduction of Phil’s five stage model, which culminates in what he names the “Beloved” stage, a mystical union with God. As Phil states in the podcast, friends share, but lovers unite.
These are powerful conversations with insights that might very well be pointers to “the” ultimate task of life, the kinds of transformations through which we find the divine nature unfolding within us. Let us know what you think! Please share your thoughts and questions and insights through the World Table commenting system below.
Philip G. McLemore, “Mormon Mantras: A Journey of Spiritual Transformation,” Sunstone, April 2006
Philip G. McLemore, “The Yoga of Christ,” Sunstone, June 2007
Philip G. McLemore, “Hindering the Saints: Taking Away the Key of Knowledge,” Sunstone, September 2012
“Meditate with Phil” website (to explore a five-part seminar on meditation and various philosophies and approaches; also to sign up for a monthly subscription with several important benefits)
“The Hymn of the Pearl,” from The Acts of Thomas. (Gnostic Society Library version).
Excerpts from “The Hymn of the Pearl” plus Carol Lynn Pearson’s poem “Within,” a handout prepared by Dan Wotherspoon for sharing in LDS circles.
Ok wow. Fascinating!. This was perfect for me to hear tonight I have a question, though. What are Dan and Phil’s thoughts about mental illness and the huge barriers that are experienced in feeling and knowing God. What hope does the emotionally and spiritually impaired person have to ever being capable of moving into these stages?
Mental illness can be a barrier to “inner” work. The ministry of a caring person can make a huge difference in these cases. I’m not sure what is on your mind with respect to emotional and spiritual impairment but I’ve seen meditation and supporting practices result in substantial emotional and spiritual healing with many people.
Absolutely loved these two episodes! One thing it’s gotten me thinking about is the importance, or perhaps lack thereof, of individual identity, and I’m curious if theoretically an individual identity is or ought to endure when experiencing the “non-dual/beloved” stage in this progression. I’ve always been very attracted to the idea of connection between all things, as when Dan spoke of nothing being separate from himself, and I think this idea of oneness with one another, with God, with the earth, etc. seems foundational, if sometimes hidden, in our theology. But I’ve wondered sometimes if there is any place in this conception for a sense of self and, if not, if the connection/oneness would still be as meaningful. For example, I think individuals in a community can be thought of very much like cells in a living organism. Each cell may be operating for it’s own best interest, but they’re all essential to the well-being of the other cells and the organism as a whole. Likewise, when the cell dies, we can think of it as continuing to live on as its fundamental materials will go on to be utilized elsewhere in the organism (or by some other organism). This is perhaps a material analog to the Hindu conception of the soul (Atman and Brahman).
However, I can’t help but wonder if something good is not inevitably lost if we, like the cell, were to ever entirely lose our sense of self (either by losing our self-consciousness, which the cell of course never had, in a spiritual process of divine union or alternatively in death). Of course without self-consciousness we could not bemoan our lack of individual identity, but neither could we appreciate being part of a whole. On the other hand, the a self-conscious whole could appreciate its parts, but again, it would not experience connection with another because there is no other beside it. And if neither the parts nor the whole were self-conscious, then nobody’s appreciating anything!
Anyway, before I start talking in circles or reaching for infinity, let me pose the question that I’ve been begging this whole time. Can we still find as much meaning in… anything, really, in a worldview where self-conscious individuals are always and only temporary? Additionally, while no one needs to speculate more or share more than they’d like, has anyone’s “explorations in depth” suggested to them what the reality of existence is, as it relates to these ideas? I’d love you’re thoughts Phil and Dan, as well as anyone else who’d like to comment.
Michael, this has perplexed me for some years now but I have never been able to articulate this question in the concise and eloquent manner you have.I too would like some expansion and clarity on this if anyone is out there.
Great question. I’ve gained so much from my studies in the Yoga and Vedanta traditions as well as significant Buddhist teachings. When the early Seers and Sages discovered how to access and abide in the domain of spiritual awareness and experienced the pure love, peace, and joy that is present, many came to the conclusion that the material world had little eternal worth and was only a source of delusion and suffering. The result was that much of this “inner” spiritual practice focused on transcending and hanging out there as much as possible. Sadly this is only half of the practice. In Jesus we get the fulfillment and completion of the spiritual path. Not only are we to experience the transcendent Oneness of Christ in God, we then have to learn how to embody that transcendence in the material world–“on earth as it is in heaven.” When my friend Andrew Harvey asked the Dali Lama what was the purpose of life, he said, “To embody the transcendent”. The other “half” teaching we get in most of the Eastern Traditions is the notion that individual or personal identity is lost with full Realization or Enlightenment. Having experienced expansive Oneness in God I have to say that losing the “little Phil” identity did not seem like much of a loss. However, the mystery or paradox of NonDual reality is that both the personal/individual and the impersonal or unbounded nature of the soul become One without the loss of either. It is our unique and individual path to Oneness with and in God that preserves our individual identity. Yogananda was one of the few Indian Yogis who taught this. I think I quoted him in the podcast, “…the illumined yogi does not lose the individuality of his soul; instead he finds his being extended into the Being of the Spirit.” The Friend stage still maintains a discernible duality whereas the Beloved stage has no Subject/Object orientation and it is at this stage that the ultimate mysteriey of individuality & unity is Known.
Now the individual identity I’m talking about is not the current Egoic sense of self that tends to be very narrow and limited and characterized by personality preferences–you really want to be free of that anyway.
My son will be one of the first LDS missionaries to serve in the new Vietnam, Hanoi mission, so I have been studying the oriental religions. This interview came along at an excellent time for me!
It’s a good day when we get to listen to Phil teach! 🙂 He always gives such profound insight that tweaks my perspective on seemingly ordinary things. I’ve been interested in learning more about his stage theory as well so thank you for going more in depth about it. This is one that I’ll need to listen to a few times to get everything out of it! Thanks to both of you for putting the time into doing it.
Loved the topic. Loved the content. Loved the two-person format for this topic.
Observation: For some people, deep into inner work can become quite self-referential–it seems to become primarily about ME. Is that a valid observation? Is it a valid concern?
Astute observation. Some end up crafting a new Ego identity around their new spiritual practices and although they might have some wonderful new spiritual experiences they miss the core focus of transcending and purifying the Ego so their identity can be established in their True Nature. Many meditators simply find a happy place to hang out or play with altered states of consciousness instead of being focused on spiritual rebirth and the embodiment of a Christlike nature. Much like Mary in the Martha and Mary story, inner practices can appear to be selfish but the objective is a movement beyond self so one can experience and then reflect the love of God and thus bless others.
When Jesus came back to Mary and Martha’s house to raise Lazarus from the dead, worshipful Mary was beside herself with grief, and in some ways lost trust in Jesus. She stayed in the house when she was aware Jesus was there. Martha, on the other hand, went out to meet him, engaged him on the meaning of the resurrection, and was the first of all people to proclaim in clear, unambiguous terms, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”
Mary worshiped, but didn’t work. Martha both worked and worshiped. Martha gets a bum rap.
Holy Smoke Mark, you are putting me to work!
1. My objective was to simply share these stages as I experienced them and not to judge individuals. In many cases it is easy to see an individual’s center of gravity with respect to the stages but I’m also aware of their potential to move through all of them. A Mystery is that which is beyond usual intellectual reasoning. It makes no sense to the mind that thinks and reasons from a Subject/Object orientation that Subject and Object can be One but it can be experienced in pure spiritual perception. The phrase in I Cor and the D&C that we are to know as we are known points to this.
2. Models of development are simply to help people gain insight to where they are where they can be. Being attached to a stage is certainly not helpful. Just because one experiences or becomes established in the Friend or Beloved stages does not mean he/she cannot function in service and stewardship as Jesus exemplified. I’m not advocating being tranced out in a cave as the ideal. I, in fact, pointed that out as a flaw in the Eastern systems. Whether one is a householder or a professional seeker, divine nature and potential is the same and the end state is the same as long as one surrenders the Ego and seeks rebirth. I’m not sure what you are tying to peg me into Indian cultural prejudices. Yogananda used to praise householders who took on family responsibilities as they also devoted their lives to seeking God and used to criticize many monks for hiding out in an introverted lifestyle while they were still lost in Ego and mind instead of finding God.
3. I’m not sure you listened to the whole interview. I stated that Jesus fulfilled the Eastern traditions because he embodied the transcendent and brought heaven to earth in his ministry and service to others. Again, the ideal is not to sit in a cave but to engage life in its fulness from the perspective of Oneness with God.
4. In the third book of the Yoga Sutras many of the powers or gifts are listed. Some seek these intentionally some are simply blessed with them. After detailing these “powers” the book warns the devotee to not get lost in these or the pride of having “powers’. It instead encourages liberation of consciousness and Oneness with God and one’s true Self.
5. As Yogananda used to say, “I am not the guru, God is the guru.” A true teacher/guru leads one to independence in God. The guru system in India and systems like Zen have often become distorted and abused. Krishnamurti was a rebel who tweaked both students and teachers. I don’t think a guru is absolutely necessary. The blessing to me of having a guru in my yoga tradition was a more rapid spiritual development due to example, teaching, blessing, and the challenging of my Natural Man/Egoic tendencies. Yogananda stated that Jesus had the power to be a “guru” to millions. Mariana Caplan has written two honest and challenging books on gurus called, “Do I Need a Guru?” and “The Guru Question: The Perils and Rewards of Choosing a Spiritual Teacher.”
6. I prefer the language of Oneness, since it is the language of Jesus and for me it has the same meaning as Non-Dual. Non-Dual, meaning the mystery of “not one and not two”, has been helpful for spiritual discussions.
Thanks Mark, honest challenging for understanding is a good thing.
The story of Mary and Martha in Luke stands on its own and it is Jesus who clearly states that one thing is needful and Mary had chosen it. Martha of course was a wonderful person and had tremendous faith. However in the Luke account she was used to contrast getting lost in “good” things as opposed to making sure you choose the one “needful” thing–communion with and in Christ. The story of M and M with Lazarus has nothing to do with Luke’s message and I see nothing in the account that indicates that she lost trust in Jesus. We have no idea why she stayed in the house. The text says many people had come to the house to be with M and M and then Martha found out Jesus had come and went out. Mary, in the crowd of people might not have known Jesus had come. When Martha returns to the house and tells Mary “secretly” Jesus had come and was asking for her she “quickly” went out. Why did Martha tell her “secretly”? Probably because the house was jammed with people and she didn’t want the whole throng following them. In truth, we each need both the qualities of Martha and Mary but the one quality most often neglected is Mary’s devotion to his Presence. I’m happy you are defending Martha.
Dan, is it possible to get a list of books that Phil recommends in regards to meditation. He often mentions some of them in the podcasts, but I can’t seem to track them down.
I’ve yet to find one or two books that clearly explain the philosophy and practice of meditation for a general or Christian audience that I really like. I have 25 books on meditation and as a family I love them. There are Yogic approaches, Buddhist approaches, Contemplative and Centering Prayer approaches and others. Many are contradictory which frustrates people. Once I know a little about someone it is easier to recommend books that will fit the personality and body/mind type of the individual. I know this will sound self serving but my 5 part Meditation and Contemplative Prayer course at meditatewithphil.com is really well done. It costs $47, which is less than $10 per session, but it can be watched over and over and puts meditation in a Christian/LDS context, which is hard to find in any book out there. The only problem is having to look at my face for many hours.
If you want to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’ll ask you a few questions and then send some book recommendations. I also do seminars for groups of 10+ for a low cost. It’s hard to beat personal instruction. After seminars I follow up for no additional cost to help refine your practice.
As someone who has just recently started meditating in the contemplative prayer framework, I am so grateful to have glimpses of how this practice can develop and unfold. Right now, it feels like an exhausting struggle. (The current Apple commercial of Cookie Monster waiting for the cookies to be done baking perfectly captures my experience most days.) I can’t help but draw parallels between Phil McLemore’s five stages and Thomas Wirthlin McConkie’s stages of human development in the Mormon context from his recent book. Am I completely off-base? Or do we have “two or more witnesses” sharing what this spiritual/mortal progression can look like?
Yes! Excellent tie-in!
Jesus’ expressions “wait and watch” and “watch and pray” are code phrases for meditation, contemplative prayer, etc. The word for prayer in Aramaic, Sheya, means to create a sacred space so one can encounter God and implies one will be waiting and watching as if one had set a snare, which is the literal meaning of the word. The fog of the mind needs to settle so one can begin to “see”. I would say that Thomas’ model is primarily psychological with spiritual implications and mine is primarily spiritual with psychological implications.
Phillip and Dan,
A lovely podcast — very important material.
I have come to a place where “stages” no longer adequately capture my journey, nor do I find it in my to be able to characterize or categorize whether someone is at a given stage in their spiritual development. thoughts:
1. In the context of non-dualism, how can the object and subject be separated? Can I really look at another person as being the other — perhaps at some other “stage” of development? In your discussion, you several times tried to emphasize how you weren’t trying to ‘judge’, but ‘judgment’ is inescapable once we label another person. How do you reconcile non-dualism with a judgment of others’ stage of spiritual development?
2. In peering into the dark mirror, if I behold the self as in a stage, am I not focusing on the self. Have I not created an attachment to my “stage” in this: Am I a child? steward? disciple? friend? beloved? It seems to me that the moment I embrace the label, I am attached to it. Instead, my contemplative probing of “who am I” eventually leads to the non-dual self, which you very adequately describe as being the beloved “stage”. Hence, the focus on “stages” leads us very directly away from the non-dual and into the personal, evaluative state. I see myself at best in all five stages at once, sublimely child, steward, disciple, friend, and beloved — at worse, I become attached to a given stage. If I’m dwelling in my sense of spiritual ecstasy with god, I usually am ignoring the deeply needed stewardship of the householder. Is the householder truly a lesser state than the sannyasin?
3. You both mention how as mormons we don’t have a contemplative/monastic tradition. Perhaps there is wisdom in this: the contemplative goal of self-with-god only, to me, ignores the profound need that we have as humans to connect with each other. Jesus phrased it, “Whenever two or three are gathered in my Name, there I AM in their midst.” Likewise, he spoke of “perfection” only in the context of the completeness we feel when we love our enemies. Neurologically, we need others to mirror back our subconscious emotional states so that we can more effectively connect between our limbic and cortical systems. How do you reconcile our need to be actively engaged with the world and our human brothers and sisters within a construct that juxtaposes me with god alone?
4. Is there anyone who can sustain “siddhi”? You interpreted the term as “powers”, but it probably more accurately translates from Sanskrit as a kind of perfection or success. Yet such things are unsustainable, as you noted in the case of those who seem to have achieved some degree of “siddhi” in their spiritual practice. The Gita expresses it as “siddhyassidhyo samo bhutva, samatvam yoga ucyate” – “Success and failure become the same, and this sameness is called ‘yoga’ (unity, oneness, advaita, the state of being non-dual)”. This lack of sustainability manifests itself in many of the examples you gave: that of people who, having spiritual insight and powers eventually doing immoral things, or how the followers of Yogananda organized their own hierarchical, dogmatic power structure. I deeply appreciate the examples you gave of this.
5. Who is “guru”? In my years wayfaring in India, I recognize how important “guru” is to the culture and religion. It is as well in Mormonism — we don’t call them “gurus”, we call them “Prophets, Seers, and Revelators” — people who are for all intents and purposes “parents” to our “child”. Jiddu Krishnamurti, being cultivated as the ultimate “guru”, walked away from the entire concept, and while I am not setting up Jiddu as a guru, I think he makes a very good point. Can someone help me point to the ultimate reality? Yes, absolutely. But that person may not even realize they are being guru in the moment to me. What are your views on the necessity of guru?
6. You mention how “one” implies “not one”. Doesn’t non-dualism as well imply a state of dualism? I know you must have a reason for eschewing the One concept, but it escaped me as being anything distinct from non-dualism.
Again, I appreciated this podcast, and that it raises questions is not meant to be critical, but rather, to simply seek understanding.
Just got around to listening to this and my what a journey. This was exactly the kind of perspective that I have been in need of. I’m sure these will be episodes that I come back to again and again. There are no words.
What a wonderful experience this was.
I heard Phil on Mormon Matters: “The Kingdom of God is Within You…” back in Dec 2012. I was living in Maine and had just started re-investigating the Church after being out of it for nearly 40 years. He was on several more programs later on, and on one of them, he spoke of Cynthia Bourgeault and Centering Prayer. This was the first I’d heard about nonduality from a Protestant point of view. I was thinking: What a surprise, and what an irony, that I was hearing about this from a Mormon! I knew Phil was hot, and I’ve wondered what he was up to. A few days ago as I was listening to Mormon Matters, I was happy to find out! I have something of a tale to tell as well: Shortly after leaving the Church, a friend introduced me to Alan Watts (a British philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an early interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience). I was hooked immediately. About six years later an eclectic path led to the experience that I took to be a nondual Spiritual Awakening. It came out of the blue! I can not tell how it happened or what contributed to it – except meditation – stilling the mind. Until a few years ago, I didn’t speak of this to anyone – what could I say – and to whom? There was some adjustment involved, but I’ve gotten quite used to it during these 30 years. It’s been a long journey, and there is no better way to live!
Well, anyway – I’m re-baptized in the Church, returned to Utah three years ago, and reunited with my Mormon family after a long separation. That is wonderful, of course! But, there is another side: I find so much suffering in Zion. People will be leaving the Church, as I did. Families will be broken up, as mine was. I have a deep concern for my own children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It might not have been necessary for me leave the Church and spend 40 years in the wilderness, if only there had been some of the resources that are shaping up within the fold today. It was such a wondrous surprise! I would not have imagined the conversation l was listening to on Mormon Matters to be possible.
I hope everyone takes Phil seriously. It is true like he says it is! I saw some concerns expressed in the Comments. I urge everyone to stay in the Church and Go For It! It all comes together into One. Thanks Phil. Thanks Dan. This is a mile-stone for anyone who’s here/now.
Frank, Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your story. An Alan Watts’ book I highly recommend for LDS is “Behold The Spirit: A Study of The Necessity of Mystical Religion”. Though written in the 1940’s to a primarily Episcopalian and Catholic audience this book is amazingly relevant for current LDS. Parts of it are crystal and delightfully clear, parts of are painful upon self reflection, and parts of it are super deep. I quoted it several times in my article Hindering the Saints. I think if one reads the few passages I quoted there would be an immediate interest in the book.
Great interview. Thanks so much for taking the time Phil. I’ve been in two of your meditation sessions, one where I had you come to FaithAgain.org. Love your insights. Thanks Dan for doing this. Keep up the good work!
Hi Jay, I remember the wonderful group and home in which we met. Thanks for the kind words.
I am very impressed with Phil’s contribution here. I had a hard time grasping what he was saying due to his language being deeply influenced by his experience with Eastern Meditative Practices. My brain did a bit of “does not compute” every once in a while. Highly recommend his Sunstone Essays.
Also, This Mormon Stories 4-part interview was deeply useful – http://mormonstories.org/spiritual-transformation-through-meditation-the-hindu-yogic-tradition/