Surrendering to the Truth of Our Being:
An Interview with Paul Ferrini
by Jack Blackburn
Paul Ferrini is the author of 17 books on love, healing and forgiveness, including the bestseller Love without Conditions. Jack Blackburn caught up with Paul at his home in Santa Fe.
Jack: When I read the introduction to Love without Conditions, I was moved to tears at the possibility of having a personal connection with the Christ Mind. Could you express what that connection has meant to you and how it came about?
Paul: At first, I wasn't comfortable with the idea of Jesus. When I first began teaching A Course in Miracles, I did so with the disclaimer that it didn't matter who wrote it. The material spoke for itself. The idea that Jesus was the author pushed everybody's buttons, including my own. It wasn't until I began hearing this voice that kept saying, "I want you to acknowledge me," and began having dreams in which Jesus would come to me and teach me, that I began to realize that I had some connection to this person who claimed to write A Course in Miracles, and to his radical teaching of love and forgiveness.
Jack: What do you consider radical about Jesus' teaching?
Paul: Well, how about "Love your enemy"? That is the most radical teaching ever given in the history of religion! "Turn the other cheek" is another one.
Jack: In Love Without Conditions, Jesus tells us that you don't turn your cheek so that the other person can slap you on it, but so that the person can see that you haven't been harmed.
Paul: Yes, the attack happens because the person forgot your true identity, as well as his own. If you show him the damaged cheek, you make the attack real. If you show him the undamaged cheek, you remind him that you are whole and so is he. When you remember the truth about yourself and about him, the attack is forgiven, undone, canceled out. You don't blame him, and he doesn't have to feel guilty.
Some people think turning the other cheek is a sign of weakness. It is anything but that. It is an act of standing up for yourself and the other person simultaneously. You are not allowing the other person to intimidate you, nor are you responding aggressively. You are standing your ground without attacking.
Jesus teaches absolute truth, not relative truth. He tells us there are no exceptions. We must learn to love everyone, even the person who is attacking us, even our enemy who is saying bad things about us.
Jack: Can you talk for a moment about the concept of surrender?
Paul: Surrender, in the spiritual sense, is an internal event, not an external one. It doesn't involve giving our power away to someone or something outside of ourselves. It involves allowing our ego consciousness to rest in something that is much larger and more compassionate, which we can call our essence, or the truth of our being.
When we align with our essence, we feel at peace. When we judge, blame, or try to figure things out, we leave our natural state of grace. That is when we experience alienation, separation, and conflict. We begin to resist life and push our experience away. We say, "Oh, that's too scary. I can't accept that." We struggle, we swim upstream, we move against the flow of life. That is the psychological world of suffering. It is self-created.
On the other hand, when we learn to surrender to the truth of our being, we stop resisting life. We begin to move with the current. We cooperate with life as it unfolds around us.
Jack: So it's really about alignment?
Paul: Yes, it's about an inner alignment with our essence, which is at peace, so that when fear comes up, fear rests in that peace. It is held compassionately. The Christ Mind teaching asks us to develop that compassion for the whole psycho-emotional web of our experience: to hold our fears, desires, judgments, doubts, and expectations in a gentle, loving way. That way we can experience them without letting them run us. They are the wave passing under us. We feel the effect of the wave as we ride it out, but we aren't engulfed by it.
There is a mantra that I give people that serves as a kind of life raft when we are floundering around on the sea of emotion. We simply ask ourselves, "Am I loving myself right now?" If we say "yes" then we have a confirmation that we are in touch with our essence. If we say "no," then we are reminded that we need to hold ourselves in a more compassionate, forgiving way. Then, we can re-establish our connection to our center, and we won't project our pain onto someone else.
This is what we do in what I call the Affinity Process, which helps us learn how to take responsibility for the content of our own consciousness rather than trying to make somebody else responsible for how we think, what we feel, or what we experience. I have a new book coming out in April called Living in the Heart: The Affinity Process and the Path of Unconditional Love and Acceptance. It will help people learn the process in depth and be able to facilitate groups.
Jack: Can you describe the Affinity Process and tell us your vision of how it can help people?
Paul: The Affinity Process is the spiritual practice associated with Christ Mind work. A group of eight to ten people gets together on a weekly basis and practices a set of guidelines that help them take responsibility for their experience. Participants learn to withdraw their projections from others, and how to tell others what they are thinking and feeling in a non-blaming way. People learn to be honest with themselves and others on a much deeper level than they have been in the past. The skills participants learn from the process can be directly applied in their relationships at home and at work.
The Affinity Process is open to anyone who is willing to practice the guidelines. It requires an eight- to ten-week commitment. I suggest that people who resonate with the teachings in my books and workshops join an Affinity Group as a next step to anchor in these awarenesses.
We have groups all over the country. We are planning a yearly retreat that will bring participants together from all over the world. The Process is beginning to be extended to hospitals, prisons, schools, wherever people need a safe space to open their hearts and move through their fears.
We don't charge for Affinity Groups because we want everybody to have access to this practice, regardless of ability to pay, but we do ask people to give back to the Process by offering it to others on a voluntary basis. That way the process extends without the exchange of money.
Jack: I think that is important! By the way, I was talking the other day with a fellow who's involved in the Episcopal Church. He asked me, "What can we do to have a kind of spiritual revival in the church?"
Paul: He could bring the Affinity Process into the church. That would give people a chance to share intimately in small groups. They would experience what it means to give and receive unconditional love, and they would be empowered to lift their voices up and participate in the church instead of just waiting for the minister to lead the way.
Affinity Groups are the building blocks of egalitarian spiritual communities. They foster the full participation of their members. They are non-hierarchical, non-patriarchal, and non-authoritarian. Everyone is an equal. Everybody's experience is respected. No one tries to prescribe or preach to anyone else. That creates safety, mutual tolerance, and respect and, in turn, lays the foundations on which a loving, compassionate community can be built.
Jack: It's a collaborative experience, is it not?
Paul: Yes. When we see other people modeling for us what it's like to move from fear to love, we learn experientially. Our spirituality is not just words on a page. It's a living, moving, breathing reality.
New paradigm churches, synagogues, and temples empower people to share their experience, and the Affinity Group is a model for that kind of honest, respectful, non-blaming sharing.
In the new paradigm spiritual community, everybody's experience is honored and respected. People are not asked to conform to some authoritarian dogma. They are asked to be true to themselves. In return, they are asked to respect the experience of others, even when it is different from their own.
One of the revelations of the Affinity Process is that love is not based on agreement. When we insist that others agree with us to gain our approval, we are loving conditionally. In the Affinity Group, we learn to love and accept each other without conditions, even when we disagree or have very different experiences. The Process gives us the tools we need to experience peace not only within ourselves, but also in our world.
Spiritual communities that practice the Affinity Process or its equivalent will play an important role in helping our planet heal and achieve its full potential. These communities create a culture in which people can learn from their mistakes, forgive themselves, and grow psychologically. Our government institutions probably aren't going to create that culture for us. Our schools and prisons and hospitals aren't creating it. So who is going to create it?
I think our churches, synagogues, and temples have a real opportunity to take the lead here. So many people are alienated from organized religions because their dogmatic teachings are controlling and out of date. In attempting to revitalize and attract new members, these institutions can recreate themselves as havens of support and safety for people. They can establish an experiential culture of love and forgiveness that empowers people to achieve their full potential. They can be places where love dwells and fear is held with compassion.
Jack: In closing, what advice you would give to people who want to open up to the Christ consciousness inside themselves?
Paul: I would suggest that they ask themselves, "Who is the savior? Who is the one who holds the wounded child with love and compassion? It's not somebody outside of you. It is the essence of who you are. Just by recognizing that, you come into relationship with the Christ consciousness within you. You enter into a covenant with the spirit of God within yourself, and in so doing, you become the savior, the bringer of love in your sadness and your fear.
Paul Ferrini will give a Christ Mind talk at East West Books at 7:00 p.m. April 24, an experiential workshop on relationships at Seattle First Baptist Church from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. April 25, and another workshop called "The Ecstatic Moment" at Unity of Bellevue from 2:00-5:00 p.m. April 26.
To order Paul's books or get on his mailing list, call 1-888-HARTWAY or write P.O. Box 181, S. Deerfield, MA 01373. For information about local Affinity Groups or the above events, call (206) 527-0908.