In 1969, John-Roger started giving seminars in the bonus room of the Lund family home in Cerritos. 50 Years later, Jodi shares about meeting J-R when she was eleven, three generations of MSIA, her teaching career, and the spiritual clarity that has blessed her life.
[David and Jodi call in the Light and chant the Ani-Hu together]
Jodi Improta: Ok, ready when you are.
David Whitaker [NDH]: I was just thinking about how many years you’ve chanted the Hu. How old were you when you first chanted the Hu?
Jodi: It was actually not the Ani-Hu, it was just Hu and I was 11.
NDH: Yeah. And where was that?
Jodi: At my family’s house. We actually chanted the H-U, so we said, “Hhhhh-Uuuu,” like that. It was in Cerritos. My parents, Dean and Pat Lund, bought a house in Cerritos in 1969. John-Roger came over, I guess my parents had been to seminars for a couple of months at someone else’s house and as soon as they bought the house, they invited him over with his staff to the house to invite him to have seminars here. That’s when they started.
NDH: What was it like growing up in the Movement?
Jodi: You know, it was absolutely amazing, though you have no idea when it’s happening how amazing it is. I know the first time I met John-Roger, it was at our house. I remember the exact moment. I remember the chair he was sitting in, the room he was in. And I walked up and I felt what you feel when you’re around J-R, it was like, this buzz. I was 11, I didn’t understand anything about spiritual anything. We’d gone to a Methodist Church a few times and it never really connected. I knew my parents had other spiritual beliefs, but I wasn’t really involved. Then the minute I got near [J-R] I went, “Oh! Whatever this is, I want to be near it.”
So my first seminar was at our house. I think in January, cause he came [the first time] in December, so probably January ’70. There were about 40 or 50 chairs set upstairs in a bonus room. John-Roger sat down and I was on this little stool; an organ stool; a little, wooden uncomfortable stool in the very back of the room because I wanted to be sure everybody else was comfortable.
As soon as J-R started the seminar, I started to pass out. The Light hit me hard. And my dad had to take me downstairs because I couldn’t stay conscious. I remember him taking me to the stairs and John-Roger saying, as I was getting there, “If that ever happens to you again, just come sit on my lap.”
Jodi: I went down to my bed and went to sleep. So I don’t remember the first seminar at all. That was my first encounter with J-R.
NDH: That was the first seminar.
Jodi: Yeah. After that, we had seminars every week for a couple of years and we had a couple of bean bag chairs upstairs so everybody else would sit in chairs and I would sit in the bean bag chair with one of my brothers. I had three brothers. And I’d just sit at J-R’s feet and look at his purple socks. And it was just kind of amazing.
NDH: [Laughs]. That is amazing!
Jodi: Yeah. You know, I was a kid and I don’t know what it was but if we had [a seminar] at the house, I never missed. My connection was right there. I have three brothers and they have different connections. Like my two younger brothers both go to traditional Christian churches with their wives, my older brother is very much into MSIA in his heart, but he doesn’t attend stuff.
I’ve really felt like I was connected the whole time. And it was really awesome growing up through teen years and high school knowing right from wrong. I’ve never smoked a cigarette, never smoked pot, never got drunk. I just went, “Okay, this isn’t right for me.” So it was kind of nice to have that background. Where other people were saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t do this because it’s illegal or you shouldn’t do this because it can be dangerous.” And I was like, “No, this isn’t good for my aura, this isn’t good for my spiritual progression.”
NDH: What was it like to have that level of clarity growing up?
Jodi: Good. Mostly good. But I also sometimes felt a little alone because I went to a normal high school where people are either Catholic or some form of Christian or not religious at all. My beliefs were different, and this is something that I didn’t talk about with a lot of people because I didn’t want to push it on them or didn’t want them to judge me for it. So I kept kind of quiet about it.
NDH: Did you talk about it with your parents?
Jodi: Oh yeah. But honestly, we had a really normal house. It’s funny because I know some people get into MSIA and they go through, what I call “this enlightenment thing” where everything they say is sort of airy and “oooo.” Honestly we say “sh**” and “Wow, this happened” and it’s like a normal family and everything, except that our hearts are in this church.
But there are certain things. I remember after I had my own kids and every time I would see an accident I’d say, “God bless, send the Light.” And so my kids at six or so would say, “Mom, you forgot to bless them and send the Light.” The things that they grew up with are what I grew up with also. And obviously there is no Sunday school for kids [in MSIA]. They would go to the ministers meetings and just go to the kid’s room. But they got it.
You know, they both believe really strongly in what the church teaches. My daughter is on Discourses and is ordained and an initiate. My son, not so, because he actually hates to read, so he won’t read the Discourses. I think he’s a little dyslexic. But he’s so smart and has a great memory. So he got through college, I don’t think ever reading a full textbook. When he saw that I listened to CD’s, he goes, “Yeah, yeah, I want to get Discourses.” And then when they came in books, he goes, “Oh, no.” He’s 30 now, so I should look into that and see if they actually have them transcribed onto CDs so that he could actually listen to them.
He travels. He’s a drummer. He travels the whole world. He was in Russia last week. I just remind him, “Take the Light with you, take the Light with you.” Because when you’re around it all the time, you take it for granted. But when you go other places, you might feel strange and think, “Why do I feel like this?” And you realize you have to bring [the Light] with you. You have to place it everywhere. But he wears his Hu symbol all the time when he’s traveling and keeps it in his heart.
NDH: That’s nice. Did you have any experiences like that growing up where you were outside of the MSIA energy field and you were like, “Oh, this is a little different”?
Jodi: Yeah, mostly with my high school boyfriend. I had a boyfriend in high school from like 15 to 18. He did a lot of drugs and he smoked pot every day. He took acid, he took uppers, downers, whatever. He was really smart, a gifted musician, so there were things about him that appealed to me at that age. I didn’t actually know anybody in high school that didn’t smoke pot. My exposure was, I didn’t know anyone who didn’t do these things. But I never did. And when he did, I stayed away from it. I’d go in the kitchen to make sandwiches for his friends or whatever.
I had a really strange break up with him. I had just turned 19 and this thing happened. We were in the car and he put his hand on mine and started of talking about these really strange things about the universe that didn’t make sense to me. And I’m going, “What’s going on here?” I didn’t know if he was high, I’m sure he probably was, but he acted so normal at this point that I didn’t know.
He put his hand on my hand, and I thought, “This is strange.” So I started sending him the Light, just in my mind. All of a sudden something tried to creep through his hand into me; some sort of entity or something. I remember screaming, “get out!” As loud as I could. All of a sudden I turned and looked at him and he wasn’t in the car anymore. He was in the middle of the street looking at me and slapping his leg and glaring at me.
It was really creepy. It was one of these “Woah! come to Jesus things.” So we broke up immediately. I went and talked to my parents, “Oh my God, this is what’s been happening.” We called J-R and said, “Please send the Light.” It was just one of these really strange [experiences]. I don’t know where it came from, but it was very far from my faith. I actually talked to him about a week later and he said something followed him home and stayed outside of his apartment the whole night. So it scared him too.
But yeah, that was definitely a time to move on. I went to a retreat shortly after that. And I remember talking to John-Roger and him saying something like “You know what? I’m gonna find someone for you.” I met my husband shortly after that.
NDH: That’s nice! Who is your husband?
Jodi: My husband is Richard Improta. He’s been to a few seminars. He’s had Discourses for several years. He just never really got into any of the participation stuff, but in his heart that’s what he believes. That’s one of the reasons [we connected] when I first met him and I first talked to him.
I’d known who he was in high school, but he’s four years older so we didn’t go [to school] at the same time. He rode his bike by my house one day and I said, “Oh, hi Richard.” And we sat and talked until probably four or five in the morning. It was the most uncanny thing. It was like I’d known him all my life. I never even got to fall in love, where you get that excited or whatever. It was so familiar.
Dean Lund and Jodi Improta
That was such an easy thing. Everything in my life has been kind of like that. Things just come along, it’s like, “Oh, it’s time for this now.” So it’s been incredibly blessed. I had a reading from J-R when I was 14, and he said (and I’ve heard him say this at other times), “From those who have been given much, much is expected, and you have been given much.”
So sometimes I feel like I’m on this mission to do as much as I can for as many people as I can, 24-7, to earn what I have. I get exhausted sometimes but it makes me high to do it. He also said something about my path. He said, “most people come in with one or two things to do.” He said I have six. And those people [with that much to do] are usually locked up in institutions.” But I guess because of the support from my family and everything, I’ve been able to do a lot of different things and stay sane. So that’s kind of cool.
NDH: Do you know what your six things are?
Jodi: I can’t even tell you now, I haven’t listened to the tape in a long time.
NDH: Oh, he listed them out for you?! That’s amazing that it was able to get that specific. I’m struck by the clarity throughout your experience, the spiritual clarity.
Jodi: Yeah, it was cool. At the time, J-R was saying, “Well what do you want to do with your life?” And at that time I said, “I want to be an actress!” Now I’m a teacher and have always been meant to be a teacher. I teach theater. It’s interesting that J-R kind of looked at that and started talking about other things that didn’t really seem to be about acting. So I’m sure he knew, but he didn’t want to crush my hopes and dreams. He talked a lot about how I was going to lead life. He said I have a tendency to sometimes try to do so much that I go back and forth and I can’t move forward because I’m going back and forth so much. I still find those habits reappearing sometimes.
NDH: I can relate. It’s like I could do anything. Which thing am I going to choose?
Jodi: Yeah. And then I’ll find myself with three things to do on the same day and go, “How did I do this to myself?”
NDH: Yeah, I was having that experience this morning. Like, “Oh, I can’t be in two places at once. Okay. I’ll just pick one and be as present with that as I can.”
Jodi: So, David how old are you?
NDH: I just turned 33.
Jodi: Oh, you’re a baby in the Movement. We’re all old people now. I mean when I was 11 everybody looked old to me and all those people are still around. I’m 61 so they’re in their seventies. It’s strange because I remember them, what they looked like and how they were when they were young. When they [read the list] at Conference, of people who have passed, including both my parents, I thought, “Wow. That was 20, 25 names.” It was kind of strange.
NDH: It was a long list. And you mentioned that it included both your parents.
Jodi: Yeah. That teared me up a little. I was doing fine on that because they were both ready to go and lived up as much as they could. But you know, you hear both your parents’ names on a these-people-died list. It just hits you here and there.
So how did you get into the movement?
NDH: I grew up with it. My parents are John and Linda Whitaker.
Jodi: OK, I wasn’t sure if the name was the same.
NDH: When I was born they were studying with J-R and we did [taped] home seminars in our house growing up. We weren’t as close into LA, we lived in Palmdale, so it wasn’t a whole lot of J-R time but we definitely lived and live by the teachings.
Jodi: Awesome. I think when we were having our seminars Cerritos J-R was living in Baldwin Park, so he was only about eight miles up the freeway. So that area was kind of the hub. Although it moved more to Santa Monica later.
NDH: So we would watch the taped seminars. I always felt the energy of it. Like you said, even before I really knew what it was.
Jodi: Being around J-R, you just don’t even think of the attention and the personal conversations as unique and special. They feel wonderful when you’re talking to him, but you don’t really think about this as a very tiny space and time. Later on when J-R was always on the other side and people would want to go near him, I would never go close because I thought other people need him more. That’s how I felt
NDH: I had the experience, in the few conversations I had with John-Roger, that they would reverberate through my life. The conversation would happen and then something that he said would continue to kind of work with me and through me. I don’t know if you had any experiences like that.
Jodi: Well, I feel like I remember pretty much everything. I didn’t have a lot of individual conversations with him but I remember them well. You know, in his laughing, joking way, he says something and it just stays with you because you feel like this is some profound information for your life.
NDH: That’s really good. Are there any examples that come to mind of something like that for you?
Jodi: I remember, he would meet with people after the seminars [at our house] and he still did medical things back then. If you had a bad back problem he would crack your back like a chiropractor because he had been a chiropractor before. And he would talk to you after. I remember he talked to me and he had really fresh breath. Like he had just brushed his teeth. That was when, at the age of 11, I decided I needed to brush my teeth every day. I just didn’t have good habits like that yet. It wasn’t my parents nagging me. It was J-R.
NDH: [Laughs]. That’s wonderful.
Jodi: [Laughs] It’s kind of bizarre.
NDH: Those little demonstrations make a big difference.
Jodi: Do you want to talk to me about my parents?
NDH: Yeah, these interviews have been about connecting and sharing some J-R stories, some MSIA stories…
Jodi: My parents have had an interesting spiritual path. They met in Yellowstone, 60 some years ago. My mom was really shy and she was working as a maid. My Dad was a porter at the Old Faithful Inn. And my mom saw my dad over a balcony and went “Oh, there he is.”
Dean Lund, 1976
She walked down and introduced herself to him, which she never ever did to any man. She was extremely shy. They met and started dating and dancing. My Dad was an Arthur Murray dance instructor so one of my favorite memories of my parents is ballroom dancing. We took them on a cruise to Alaska on their 40th anniversary and they started dancing to the orchestra and people cleared the floor and just watched them.
They had four kids.
My mom used to help [MSIA] back in Baldwin Park. She would go in and staple Discourses together and put them in envelopes. That was back when Pauli Sanderson was kind of running everything. And [my mom] would just go volunteer there.
I was just going through my dad’s stuff and I found this plaque that he got for volunteer of the year [for MSIA] in 1983. He went to work at Prana every Wednesday for 35 years. After 10 years, they gave him a pin and said, “You know, we have to recognize you again because you’re still showing up, even though you were recognized so many years ago.” That’s kind of how my dad was, he was a quiet man of service. He didn’t talk a lot about church. He didn’t talk a lot in general. My mom was the talker
NDH: It sounds like they were a wonderful pair.
Jodi: Yeah. I think they were probably destined to do this as well. We just jump into our spots and proceed with life, apparently. I had a really nice connection with my mom. She passed on February 12th,  and then my dad went to the hospital. He died on April 21st but he went to the hospital, I believe, on the 11th. I took him there, he’d had a seizure, and I was driving home. I was feeling really sad ’cause I had lost my mom and my dad was really sick. So I thought, “You know what, I’m just gonna put in a random J-R CD.” It would have been one I’d already listened to because I didn’t have any new ones in the car. So I dug through a pile and pulled one and stuck it in. It was a question and answer session and the person asking the question was my mom.
Jodi: It was surreal. It was at least 30 years old. So there I was listening to my mom’s voice sounding so young, asking a question that was so typical of my mother. And I’d never heard it before because I often listened to my CDs in the car and sometimes you get distracted when you’re driving. So even though I had listened to the tape before, I hadn’t heard that question. I hadn’t heard my mom. It was like, “Wow!” I must have listened to it three or four times. Like, “That’s mom! That’s mom!” It was reassuring, you know?
She has been connecting with me a lot of ways. She loved to do crossword puzzles.
Jodi: Richard and I went on a cruise a couple weeks after she died. I play Words with Friends, a sort of scrabble game. Just as we were going to bed for the night I thought, “Oh, maybe I’ll just play a game.” So I opened the app and the seven letters came out and the first four said “Lund.” I thought, “Oh, that’s weird. That’s my mom’s last name, our last name.” So I played the game and went to sleep. The next morning, the next two games that I played, two different games, had the letters L U N D in order. I’m going, “Okay, hi mom. What’s up?” It was so surreal. Lund. Lund. Lund. Three games in a row. I’ve never seen that before or since
I went to lunch with a friend of mine a week after that and we went to this little gift store next door and there were these words spelled out of scrabble letters. One of them said, “baby boy,” one said, “baby girl” one said, “I love my family,” and the fourth one said, “Patricia.” Why there are scrabble letters spelling out Patricia randomly? No other names in the store? I have no idea.
NDH: Did your mom play Scrabble?
Jodi: No. She liked to do crossword puzzles. She could finish the LA Times crossword puzzle in ten minutes with a pen. She was a wiz. That’s how my family remembers her, so if there was a connection it would definitely be through a word. I don’t feel any need to have that, but she’s doing it anyway. That’s fine.
NDH: That’s very nice. You know, my dad passed in the beginning of 2016 and sometimes I’ll be watching those old [seminar] tapes and they cut to the audience shot and I’ll see him sitting in the audience with his big glasses. I love those moments.
Jodi: Yeah, I remember at one Christmas Eve seminar, I was in a little choir that [MSIA] had for a short time and my mom was too. And at a Christmas Eve seminar, we sang some songs and at another taping, I saw them cut to a bit of that and I’m like, “Oh! I remember that and see my mom.” Kinda cool.
NDH: Yeah, those little moments aren’t really necessary, but they are sweet. I experience that with J-R. He shows up in a certain way – It’s a kind of feeling, a sense of his presence.
Jodi: I know exactly what you mean. And sometimes I feel almost better now that he’s gone because I used to worry about him, you know, his health and his just tenuous presence here. I know my daughter spent a semester in Paris and it happened to be at the time that they were previewing one of the movies that Jsu did. So Ariel stopped in. She met Jsu, and he said, “Well do you want to go over and say hi to J-R?” And J-R was sitting in a chair somewhere, completely checked out, and she said, “that’s okay.” It probably would’ve been fine, but she just didn’t want to approach him or bother him.
NDH: He may have been involved in some other things.
Jodi: Yeah, he was out there somewhere. Who knows? He did bless both my kids, which was kind of nice. Especially Ariel because she came in and she almost died the second day of her life. We were at home and she stopped breathing. We had to call the paramedics and have her hooked up to machines. J-R gave her blessing a few weeks after that and insight on the things that he could. He said, “She was very tenuous, wasn’t sure she wanted to stay.” [He told] us how to anchor her here so she’d stick around.
I had to go through infertility stuff to get my kids. We tried for a few years before I got pregnant. I remember when we had my son’s blessing, I think Aric was 10 months old. [J-R] looked at me and said, “Are you pregnant?” “No.” And he said, “Oh, well there’s another one coming and she’ll be along soon. They’re calling to each other like whales.”
I thought, “Oh my goodness.” Because I knew I was going to have a daughter. I knew her name would be Ariel. So I was surprised when Aric showed up first. When I was pregnant with Ariel, I’d always refer to her as a “she.” And people said, “Well, don’t be disappointed if it’s a boy.” I just knew, before the doctor could tell me. So it was kind of nice to hear those words from him.
Jodi and Ariel Improta
NDH: That’s really wonderful, the clarity of that perspective to take this near-death moment and to say, “Oh, she was just deciding if she was going to stick around or not.” That level of perspective and lightness.
Jodi: Yeah, he’s going, “Yeah, she’ll look at things, and she could just die into them.” And I’m going, “Oh, I don’t want to hear that.” [laughs]. “Stay Here. Stay here.”
NDH: Well Jodi, one of the things that strikes me in your story with your parents and your kids is the clarity of Spirit and the gift of that and the grace of that. And part of the interviews, has been this question of what is the Movement now and how is it moving forward?
Jodi: You know, it’s interesting because I was listening to those names of people passing [at Conference] and realized that the Movement is probably getting smaller. But it’s never been about recruiting. It’s been about “Who is this for?” and reaching the people that it’s for and it could just be a handful of people at a time. The ones that are supposed to find out about it found out about it.
My connection is all purely inner. Other than going to ministers meetings, I don’t participate in a lot of activities because I’m an activities director at my school and I’m also a theater teacher. I direct six plays a year, so I’m constantly going. Laren Bright did [my ordination], and it said that my ministry is teaching. I thought “Thank God, cause I don’t have time to do anything else.”
NDH: Whew! How do the Teachings come into your teaching?
Jodi: I teach at Whitney high school. It’s an academic magnet school. It’s a public school but the kids have to pass a test to get in. 100% of them go to four-year universities. These are really smart, disciplined kids. So I don’t feel like my connection with them is academics at all. I teach them about caring about each other and about service because as an activities director, I’m in charge of student council. They hold activities for the school and I’m constantly reminding them that this is to be of service, this is to bring joy and fun to kids with theater and art.
In student council, we have a quote of the week; “Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom.” I try to bring in things and talk about things like “How to deal with people?” and “How to care for yourself?” So it’s kind of cool that my job is set up for me to have that option.
I can’t say, “Hey, you’re all the same person.” I can’t go that far. But you know, you can teach basic things. And I always try to let them know that people are more important than the rules that guide them. And I talk about morally right and legally right because there are certain things that you have to check your own compass instead of saying, “well this is right and wrong based on what’s legal or what the rules are.” [You have to say], “What do you know is the right thing to do?”
NDH: There’s the “check it out for yourself.”
Jodi: That’s it. That’s J-R, check it out and see if it works for you.
When I renew my a ministerial [credential], I always send in letters from my students because that’s kind of my connection with “Am I doing what I need to do?” So I always get a couple that’ll write letters of appreciation for how I’ve affected them. So it reminds me, “Yep, this is what I do for my ministry.”
NDH: That’s wonderful. How long have you been teaching there now?
Jodi: 35 years.
NDH: I’ve found out too that the ways that we live are like J-R’s fresh breath. That’s a great metaphor of how people could experience those of us who are ministers – that wherever we are, we are ministering, and we’re demonstrating what we know inside of us. In that way, we’re doing great, and yeah, we have opportunities for improvement and we’re working on those.
Jodi: Sometimes I’ll have a challenge like looking for my keys for 40 minutes and I’m like, “Really? You know I’ve got a lot of important things to do that are going to help people, Do I have to spend 40 minutes looking for my keys right now?” And then they’ll show up.
NDH: Exactly. We are all still growing toenails. We still need the keys when we get in the car. [Laughs]. I find moments of humor in all of it where a larger perspective opens up all of a sudden and I’m looking and I’m like, “Oh, this thing that seems right now, to be a huge deal, is just funny.” That was (and is) a huge part of my experience of J-R when I listen to him – the lightness and the humor that he brings to what he shares. And the ability to bring humor to anything, even something that seems tragic.
NDH: Well, on that note, anything else that’s present that you’d like to share to bring this conversation to completion?
Jodi: I just feel like knowing what I know about MSIA has made it much easier to see my parents go. It feels like it’s just the right thing and connected and honestly I realize that dying is kind of like being born. It’s just a transition to something new. It’s not like a tragedy or something awful. So it’s been easier. And it’s reassuring to me, cause I’m on deck now that they’re gone. Whatever happens, I’m okay. I’m not looking forward to having to do what they did, like long years of pain and debilitation and that kind of stuff. I’d kind of prefer to be the going-in-my-sleep kind of gal. But you know, you’ve got to work off whatever you got left. And that’s sometimes how it happens.
NDH: Yeah, that’s true. I totally agree with you that being in the Movement and dealing with death in my family and friends is, well, I don’t know how else I could have done it. For me, [death] transformed from tragedy to celebration and I was able to find the loving and the continuation of the loving in those experiences. My dad is not gone. Your parents aren’t gone. J-R is not gone. And these people that we love, the love never goes anywhere.
Jodi: They’re probably hanging out together, which is awesome.
NDH: Exactly. And where they’re hanging out, we can hang out too. We can join them any old time.