Lee Clausen at Prana (c. 1974)
Lee Clausen met John-Roger in 1965. Their friendship continued for 50 years. In this candid interview, Lee shares some of the ordinary, life-changing moments that he had with J-R.
David Whitaker [NDH]: Thank you, Lee. I just want to start by saying thank you. I know that you and I have gotten to serve together to some extent and that’s just been a real blessing for me.
Lee Clausen: Well, it’s the same for me, David. I just love you man.
NDH: Yeah, the feeling is mutual. I was thinking to start by asking you what your upbringing was like. Where did you start off? Where’d you grow up? What were your parents like? What was your family like?
Lee: I grew up in the Bay Area. I was born in Minnesota, but I grew up in the Bay Area in Palo Alto. My brother Darrell and my sister Faith are also initiates and ministers in the Movement but growing up was pretty ordinary. It was just suburbia. I would say normal, whatever that is. And then my life changed when I met J-R at 16.
NDH: Was there any religious or spiritual kind of focus?
Lee: No. That was the last thing on my mind. It really was. Here’s a little background. My parents. We grew up Protestant, in the Methodist church but then when I was in eighth or ninth grade, my parents moved away from the church and started following a spiritual medium. Her name was, Neva Dell Hunter and she would channel spirits and give talks in front of people and she would go into this trance. I was really skeptical about it and I didn’t feel any connection with that at all. My parents really did. And that’s how I met J-R. In 1964, we traveled to Phoenix where they had a week long conference, this Neva Dell Hunter Group, and it was a family vacation.
While I was there, I met a daughter of another family who was really cute and I kind of got along with her. That was my motivation to go the next year. So I wrote to this girl throughout the year, hoping something would blossom, which it never did, but I still wanted to see her the next year. I looked forward to it. And my parents were in the middle of a divorce at that time. This was 1965 now. I was determined to go. And, [my parents] arranged with a family friend who lived in the area who was traveling down there for me to go with them. They were gracious enough to take me down there to Albuquerque.
So I went with this other family and that’s where I met J-R. In the middle of the week, I was walking through the lobby and this other young man that I knew called me over. He was talking to J-R. He called me over and introduced me.
Then, I would run into [J-R] from time to time during the week, sitting next to him at breakfast or something. The last evening of the conference, it was a formal dinner and the family that I came with had to go back. They left. But they paid for an extra room, for me to stay that evening, which was really sweet. But I had to have a tie for this formal dinner and I didn’t have a tie. And so I thought to myself, “I bet you Roger has a tie.”
That’s how I knew him, as Roger. So I knocked on his door and he says, “yeah, come on.” He had 50 ties. He was traveling, you know. I just picked one and that evening at dinner, it was a family-style dinner with long tables and right across from me, J-R was sitting and we were chatting, throughout the dinner and he said, “So Lee, how are you getting home tomorrow?” I was 16. Right? I hadn’t even thought about how. It had not occurred to me until he mentioned that. So I thought, “Woah, I guess I’ll take a bus.” And J-R goes, “Well, I live in in the LA area and you live in the Bay Area, right?” I said, “Yeah.” And he goes, “Well, if you want, you can travel with me back to LA. And then in a few days, I need to go up to San Francisco for some business. I could take you home that way.” “Yeah!” Cause I really liked it. You know, obviously. That was a great thing.
The next morning we met out in the parking lot and he has a brand new 1965 Mustang, an electric Blue Mustang. It was just a gorgeous car. And he says, “You want to drive?”
NDH: No way Really?!
Lee: That’s what I said!
NDH: That’s unreal.
Lee: Yeah. He says, “I don’t like to drive.”
So that’s how I met [J-R] and then my life changed after that. But still, I have to say, I knew there was something very spiritual going on with J-R.
NDH: How did you know?
Lee: I don’t know how I knew. He would talk about things when we were in the car: Revelations he had had, things like that and I thought, “Wow.” I remember one time we were telling dirty jokes to each other in the car. And then he says, well, do you have any jokes? And, the only joke I could think of was this really dirty joke that I would be embarrassed to tell even now.
Like the kind of joke that teenagers tell each other, that boys tell each other, and they don’t share them. I said, “Well, I have this joke, but to tell you the truth, I’m embarrassed to share it with you.” And he goes, “There’s nothing you can tell me that I haven’t already heard many times.” When he said that, something inside of me clicked and there was this immense trust and it’s like he became my best friend right at that moment.
NDH: So then was it just you and him and the electric blue Mustang?
Lee: Yeah. So we drove to Phoenix first where we stayed with a family of friends of J-R’s growing up. Then we moved on the next day.
In terms of my spiritual connection, consciously, I wasn’t looking, not at all. But there was so much loving and trust, like I said, going on with the two of us that I felt myself kind of moving, wanting to know more, piquing my interest more in a spiritual way. I have a lot of stories that I could tell you about that. But my conscious connection to the Spirit and the inner master occurred later, several years later actually.
But okay, while I’m on this theme, I remember one time, in Palo Alto, I was walking home from school, my high school, and this was like the next Fall or so, and I come around the corner to the house and I see the J-R’s Mustang. I thought, “J-R!” and he’s standing on the porch.
My mom was working, my two brothers were out of the house, and my sisters were still in school, so it was just us. He came inside and we were in the kitchen talking. He said he was on his way to San Francisco and he stopped by because it was on the way.
So we’re chatting and on the counter, in the kitchen, there was a book that was upside down and J-R goes, “Oh, I see you got that book,” and he named the title of the book. And I looked at him and I looked at the book and I walked over, and flipped the book over and read the title, and it was what he said. I said, “How did you do that?”
These are his exact words. He says, “Come on Lee, don’t you know by now?” “No!” I didn’t know.
NDH: [Laughter] “No.”
Lee: He goes, “Open the book and don’t let me see.” I open the book and on the inside of the cover, there were these images of African animals, maybe a dozen different ones. He says, “OK, don’t let me look at it.” He was seven or eight feet away. He goes, “Just look at one of them. Just look at one of those images.” So I did. And he named it. Okay. “Look at another one.” Okay. And he named it. He was letting me test him and I guess maybe I was a little slow to come around to what was really going on. I still don’t know what’s really going on.
NDH: What was he showing you in doing that?
Lee: I’m not sure, except to just kind of bring me up to speed a little more. There was a time during when [my parents] were getting divorced when I was pretty angry and depressed. I thought, “I’m gonna call J-R and talk to him.” So I called him up and after about 10 to 15 minutes talking to him on the phone I said, “Woah, I feel so much better now.” He says, “Yeah, I have that effect on people.” So that was another little hint, you know? He would talk to me about stuff as if I knew what he was talking about and I had no reference points. He’d talk about spirits. You know, “like this guy (and he’d name, who the spirit was) has that point of view, and this other spirit has this point of view.” Really? Okay.
So like I said, consciously, I was slow to come up to speed, but, I think maybe on other levels, I knew.
Well, I gotta tell ya, I asked him a question one time and I didn’t ask him very many questions. People say, “Oh, you know, didn’t you get to ask all your questions?” I said, “No,” because when I was with him, he was so present and the energy was so present. I didn’t want to break that by asking a stupid question and go into the mental aspect of it. All I could do was just be there. That was sufficient. That was enough. So I didn’t ask a lot of questions and then I would pick up things as he would talk about them.
But one time I asked him. This was later, like 1969. I went over to his house, he had the house in Baldwin Park. And for some reason, it was just the two of us and we were watching TV and I just turned to him and I said, “Why me?”
“What do you mean? Why me?”
“I don’t feel like I’m anything, anybody different or special. And yet I have had this access to you.” And he says, “Oh, I see what you’re asking.” He thought about it and he goes, you know how he does when he looks up over your head? Then he says, “You’ll find out.”
So then I happened to be rereading my ministerial blessing. I haven’t memorized it like some people do, but maybe about a year ago or two I was reading it and right in the ministerial blessing, it says something like, “you have been” (talking about me) “you have been called forth from the other side to be a witness and a Light-bearer to this generation.” And the word ‘witness’ makes total sense now. All this time I was wondering what that meant. And now it’s clear to me that I was a witness to what was going on before MSIA started with J-R. Not that I spent all that much time with him, but from time to time I witnessed certain things with him. And so that’s what made sense to me. I don’t know if that makes sense to you.
NDH: It reminds me of that story with the book and the animals of how he showed you what was going on.
Lee: Yeah, well there was another incident. There are lots of incidents like this. One time I spent the summer with him, he had an apartment and that’s a whole other story how that happened. But during that time I remember we were in the living room and he was talking about the other realms and how wonderful they were and, I said, “Can I go with you? I’d like to see those realms.” And he goes, “No.” He says, “If you brought back memory of those realms, you’d slit your throat and kill yourself because they are so beautiful that you couldn’t stand to live here.” And I thought about that, “You know, I think I could take it.” “No…”
And I thought, “I think I could take it. I’d like to try it!” He was sitting in this chair and I was on the sofa and he goes, “Come here.” So I’m standing in front of him now. And he says, “Give me your hands.” I put my hands in his, and he looked me in the eyes. I was looking into his eyes and this energy that felt like electricity started flowing through my hands and I was just looking in his eyes and all this love was coming out of his eyes and the electricity was coming up my arms and it was just getting more powerful and more powerful. And pretty soon it was like all up in here [gestures to his chest and throat] and it wasn’t stopping. It was getting more and more and more. It’s like those arcade games where you try to hold on to something with electricity. And finally, I just jerked my hands away because I couldn’t take it. And he goes, “That’s what I’m talking about. You can’t take it.”
Lee: Yeah. I guess that came to an end. Okay. I don’t have anything more to say about that right now.
NDH: What about now? What is your relationship with J-R now?
Lee: Because I knew him so personally as a young man, as MSIA became larger and his energy became more, I had less and less access to him, because of his staff and so forth. And I actually wanted to be on the staff but he said that it wouldn’t work. I could see that at the time and I can see it now too. It was just the energy again, it’s just a different energy. You have to really, I don’t know what, but he was right.
It was painful for me to come to the realization that even though we were very close – like I would run into him at Prana and stuff like that and we would joke and talk and I’ve got stories about that too – I couldn’t just go over to his house and hang out like I could before.
Lee: That was just impossible. And so as I began to realize more and more that that’s just not gonna happen much, it was painful to separate the physical part. But then it kind of forced me to go back inside where the real relationship exists. As you know, [inside] is where the real relationship exists. So that pain of separation caused that to happen. And that was a good thing.
I got to say goodbye to J-R. It happened at Asilomar. He died in ’14 so this was December of ’13. I was in the lobby and talking to some people and heard this car honking. I looked out the window and it’s Jsu driving the car and J-R is in the passenger seat. So I got up immediately and walked out the door and [Jsu] eased the car forward so that people wouldn’t see and gather. I came up and J-R was right there in the passenger seat and I walked up and the window was down and we had this really neat little talk. He was so into Spirit at that time. Physically it wasn’t the same of course, but still, I got to talk to him and express my love for him and that was my goodbye to him and I really thank Jsu for allowing me to do that. That was the last time I got to talk to him.
NDH: Out in the physical.
Lee: In the physical, yeah. I do remember, and a lot of people had the same experience when he passed over, I felt his presence so powerfully. And that went on for months. He was just right there inside and I can tune to that anytime, and bring it forth again ’cause he’s always there. As you know.
NDH: Do you think that the process of separation earlier on, when he started to have staff and was less available, was part of that for you? Like when you talked about the pain of that and moving to the inner relationship.
Lee: I think undoubtedly there was something that was intentional on his part that it be done that way. So that I would be more motivated to go inside. Yeah. Undoubtedly. And I thank him for that.
NDH: [pause] I’m feeling that presence that I associate with J-R now.
Lee: Me too, Yeah.
Okay. I gotta tell you a funny story. Back in the late seventies, early eighties there was what was called, the Dome Project. Have you heard anything about that? They were making these rigid urethane foam domes.
NDH: I had heard about that. And then they’d kind of put them together and people live in them or something?
Lee: Well, it never really worked out, that was the thing, but it was a project that went on for a couple of years and I worked for that project. I worked at the warehouse down in South Central [LA]. And one of the things they needed in order to sell these things, was they wanted to have little models set up. So they had this little model dome but they needed little miniature furniture. And so I volunteered, to make miniature furniture.
I don’t remember the process now but I carved out little furniture pieces and made molds of them and then cast, in the mold, brightly colored acrylic. I still have a set of these by the way. It’s a whole set. There was a living room set, a dining room set, kitchen, bathroom, and each room was a different color. Anyway, they turned out fantastic.
I have to say they turned out fantastic and everybody else thought so. And I never heard anything from J-R. And this was like six weeks after I produced all these. I was in the lower part of Prana and I just came out of the newspaper room and J-R was walking out of the office and it was just the two of us, there’s nobody around. So we’re chatting and I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, here’s his chance to tell me how he thought about those nice furniture pieces.” And he never said anything. Then we’re talking and it occurred to me, “He’s not going to say anything.” That was one thing about J-R, at least for me, he was so stingy with his compliments because I’d get a swelled head over it. I’m sure it was for my own good.
So we’re talking and there was a little pause and I said, “So what do you think of the furniture I made for the Dome Project?” And he goes, “Oh! You did a fantastic job!” And then he caught himself. And then he said, “You know. I wasn’t going to say anything if you hadn’t asked.” And I said, “I know! That’s why I went fishing for the compliment!” And then we realized he’d been had, you know, ’cause it caught him off balance and we just cracked up. It was so sweet.
NDH: [Laughter] You got the compliment.
Lee: I had to ask for it, but I got it.
NDH: And you got the validation of your thinking of how [the compliment] was in the process of being withheld…
Lee: Yeah. Well, you know I’ve always been really cautious of how I express myself so as not to come out of ego, although that still happens and that’s fine when it does. J-R had cautioned me about this, on several occasions and he brought forth examples of what happens to other people when they do this. And so that was one of the reasons why I think he didn’t give me many compliments because he didn’t want to feed that. I have a big ego but I hide it a little bit, except when I’m loving, when I let the loving express through the ego, then it’s a good thing.
NDH: And [J-R] was part of training you with that.
Lee: Yeah, sure. Yeah. More inwardly than outwardly.
I got another story. I was telling Kay about this. This was a story that I hadn’t thought about for a while, but it occurred to me this week. I was thinking it would be appropriate for the interview somehow. I was working up at Mandeville with a work party of guys, maybe half a dozen of us. It was on a weekend and one of the guys was brand new. I’d never seen the guy before. And we were working together and you could tell that his energy was a little bit different than the rest of us. I just attributed it to [him] being new to the Movement.
Somebody came out and said, “Hey, we got lunch for you guys if you want to come in.” Someone had made sandwiches and we were sitting in the kitchen, eating and talking, and J-R walked in and he sits down at the table with us and we’re all like, “Wow, this is pretty cool!” And we’re eating and J-R’s talking and he’s just, one of the guys.
And the new guy, I don’t remember his name. He turns to J-R and he goes, “Are you a master?” But the way he said it, he had a lot more energy on it. Sort of like, “Are you a MASTER?” We all kind of like looked at him and didn’t say anything. We looked at J-R to see what he would do and he just looked at the guy and he says, “I’m just a babe in the woods.”
That said so much. If you think about it, I was telling Kate, that’s all you really need to know right there. Right there, that’s the seminar. “I’m a babe in the woods.”
I wanted to tell you that.
NDH: Yeah. What was the experience of that for you?
Lee: Well, right now, the way I look at that is when I say, that’s all you really need to know. What is a babe? A babe is innocent, vulnerable.
Lee: That’s, an advertisement and you can set your watch by it. I should have unplugged it.
So the babe in the woods thing? Childlike. A child experiences things as new all the time. Present. A child is present. They don’t know future or past. So if you come into it as a babe, as a child in the woods, you’re perfectly protected through your own vulnerability. I could go on and on, but that’s it in a nutshell.
NDH: Trust strikes me as another quality.
Lee: Yeah. Exactly.
NDH: I was watching a seminar, listening to J-R the other day, and he’s going through the seminar and he’s like, “And to give you an example of that…” and he’s in the middle of a sentence and then he looks [up] and he’s like, “Well, I’m waiting for an example.” He was just on that edge of expressing and he got to the point where there was nothing, he didn’t have a script or anything out in front of him. “Well, I said I had an example, but I would have to wait for it to show up.” That whole thing kind of rippled for me, like, “Oh, that’s, that’s a way of living.” It’s not just that he’s doing that in a talk. He was on that next step and each step it was like the ground was rising to meet his feet.
Lee: Exactly. Yeah, good way to put it.
NDH: The trust of that is inspiring. And I get such a depth. It’s like you said in that moment, that was the whole seminar. And every moment was like that.
NDH: If you could really catch what was going on and extrapolate that out, all of the teachings were in that moment.
Lee: That’s kind of what I thought too.
NDH: Yeah. And then those [moments] kind of come into us some way and stay with us and teach us and work with us.
NDH: That’s a gift.
Lee: I have to say to you, David, I really admire you. I admire your approach to life from what I’ve seen of you. And something stuck with me. You talked one time about, when you were throwing pots, how you wanted to put all your love into those pots; all the love that you could possibly generate. I bought one of those pots and I have that. I have it in my collection of little pitchers and this little pot about this big [holds up hands], and I just want you to know I that I treasure that.
NDH: Thank you. I guess that’s kind of my own version of that. How do I, at least in this controlled environment [of my studio], get as much love as I can into this thing that I’m making?
NDH: I don’t know if you can see this case [of cups] on the wall behind me.
Lee: Oh yeah! I have one of those.
NDH: I was thinking about the cups earlier and just kind of seeing them. I’ve been working with them recently and I’d love to show you that world sometime.
Lee: I used to throw pots in college. I took some pottery classes. So I know how to do it.
NDH: They say that the clay has memory. And I think “What better to remember than loving?”
NDH: I think that really goes as a way of living. Whatever I’m doing, “How do I approach this in the most loving way that I could?” The people I’m with, the projects I’m working on, etc…
Lee: That’s the challenge.
NDH: It’s practice. It’s a whole life. And it’s so easy sometimes. And so baffling at other times. When it’s clear, it’s clear. I want to ask you something about… You shared about your relationship with J-R and his [physical] presence and the creation of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness and what that is. I think my question is something about the movement of spiritual inner awareness beyond just the organization, but how that movement is inside of us. How our own awareness of Spirit can persist through all of the changes of the world. I think a lot about people who are coming into MSIA now, as an organization, starting with the Discourses, and never knew J-R and know his name because it’s written there. Do you have anything to say about that?
Lee: I’m not sure what you’re asking.
NDH: I don’t know either. Let me see if I could say it differently. I think of the movement of spiritual inner awareness as this continuum that’s always existed. Part of that continuum has been what we know well as MSIA, the organization, which is through John-Roger up until now and John Morton and the spiritual teachings brought forward within that.
So I guess I’m just thinking of the universal perspective of a movement of spiritual inner awareness and the relationship with John-Roger that you talked about, both outer and inner. How does your movement of spiritual inner awareness fit in with that whole long line of learning, and of evolution and of awakening that’s part of what’s going on on the planet?
Lee: I don’t think about that. [Laughter] That’s in God’s hands. I’m just handling what’s right here, man. You know? I don’t know exactly how to answer that.
NDH: That’s perfect. [Laughs] That’s really perfect. And what is here for you? Today in your life?
Lee: Well, you nailed it a few minutes earlier when you said, you know, this is bringing loving into wherever you are to whatever situation. Bringing the Light. Sending the Light to others. Holding the Light wherever you go. You walk into a Target store and you bring that Light with you, you bring that column of Light and you tell people “I love you” silently when you see them. And that to me is what we’re here for. I mean, the ones who choose to do that.
NDH: Amen. A babe in the woods. Thank you.
Lee: It’s funny because right now I just heard this in the back of my head. “Yeah. And tie your camel.” And then I was thinking what J-R said in a Seminar once. He said, “You know that old saying, ‘Praise God and tie your camel?'” and then, “Why not just praise God? He’ll take care of you.” But there’s always that part [of me] that goes, “Well yeah, but just in case, you better tie up your camel,” you know? [laughs]
Well, that’s the other part and J-R talked about this too. He’s not perfect. One time I was talking to him, it was at a Light Study we were having. He had good things to say and things that I needed to work on and I was having trouble because I was thinking that I needed to be perfect. And then I caught the inner teaching that says you don’t have to be perfect. And J-R says, “I’m not perfect. I’m far from perfect.”
The way I look at that is that it’s acceptance. Acceptance of who I am and knowing that I’m doing the best that I can, and I could probably always do better at the same time and that’s okay. And that’s part of my growth because the part that I could do better, I can just move to that as it appears. And the acceptance that my expression may not be loving all the time. It’s coming back to that [acceptance] – every time I get out of that I get to come back to it. And that’s a joy. That’s a blessing. So it’s forgiveness and acceptance and all that stuff that J-R talked about, and the bottom line is loving.
I’ll tell you another story on this same point. Last night I listened to a tape and the very first sentence out of [J-R’s] mouth was, “I’ve never found a good enough reason to withhold my loving.” That’s my paraphrase of what he said, that’s not the exact words. A good demonstration of that occurred years and years ago when I was with him. I think it was during the summer. He taught summer school and he was invited by one of his students to have dinner at their house. I was invited since I was with [J-R] and I knew the student, who I’d met a couple of times, nice guy, but I’d never met his family. So we drove to this house – suburbia. His parents were so wonderful. I felt like I was their son. They welcomed me and they made me feel so at home and the warmth that they gave was just amazing.
So I’m feeling comfortable. We’re having dinner. I was kind of shy back then, but they made me feel comfortable. During the course of the conversation, it became apparent that [this student’s] parents were racially prejudiced. And they would use certain words. Slander. And the first time I caught that [I thought], “This doesn’t make sense.” I’m trying to make sense of these perfectly loving, wonderful people who are talking really badly about other people. I glanced over at J-R just to see what was going on with him. And he didn’t miss a beat. It was like, there was nothing going on. He was just there with them. He wasn’t necessarily agreeing with them, but he was there with them. And so I thought, “Okay then, I’m not going to object. I’ll just follow his lead.”
Afterwards, we’re walking up to the car, we’re in the driveway, and the first thing he says to me, he turns to me and he goes, “You probably noticed that they’re prejudiced, right?” “Yeah.” I can’t remember exactly what he said, but the gist of it was, there’s never a good reason to withhold your love; even in that situation.
You know, if you think about it, everybody, and J-R said this before, “Everybody is doing the very best that they can, based upon what they know and what their past is.” This is part of their involvement. Whatever choices people make, they’re just trying to do the best they can and they have the perfect reasons for doing so. And there’s no excuse not to love them.
NDH: And here he is telling you in the face of this prejudice experience not to be prejudiced. There’s such a reverberation, there are so many layers of subtlety. Wow.
Lee: So getting back to the whole theme is just that. Well, I just already said it. There’s no reason to repeat it.
To me, loving is the only thing that’s real on this planet. That’s the only thing that’s real for me.
NDH: Thank you, Lee.
NDH: Well. I want to thank you for connecting today. For sharing some of your stories and definitely for sharing your loving and your relationship with J-R. It’s been a real treat for me to get to do that with you.
Lee: Well, it’s been my pleasure too.