100% Living & Dying With John-Roger | with Michael Feder
Michael Feder began working with John-Roger in 1982. He has 2 children, designs and builds homes, surfs, referees soccer, travels avidly and is rarely without a camera…
NDH: So what’s it like working with J-R?
Michael: Fun as hell. Everything I saw J-R do had tons of brilliance in it, and everything that goes along with doing great works. And there was always laughter—a mischievous approach to all of it—because it never hurt anybody and it was way more fun to do it that way. If we were going to do some work, for example if we were going to cross the desert or build a fort, then it would go faster and be more fun if we were screwing around with each other and making jokes and making fun of each other while we were doing it. That’s how I felt about it the whole time. But a lot of what took place was really brutal for a lot of people. A lot of it was hard on me. But J-R never lost a sense of having a good time with all of it.
NDH: Brutal in the sense of a lot of work, or difficult work?
Michael: No. I always called the job a labor of love. But it’s brutal when what you’re about is so sacred and people try to put that asunder. That’s brutal. And when there are people that you love as dearly as your own children—and in some ways maybe in an even bigger way—and you want them to be loved and protected and safe and to get what they want, and then they don’t, it’s hard to be passive about that. It hurts. And for me, being a person with this mentality of wanting everybody I care about to get exactly what they want and wanting to take care of them, it makes it doubly hard because I rush in to fix things. That’s kind of my M.O. Handyman. Whatever needs taking care of, I’ll take care of it. And some things I couldn’t.
NDH: So that’s the difficult part. The part with J-R sounds like it was fun and easy.
Michael: The hardest part of being with J-R occurred probably the first day I met him. But other than that, every day with J-R was pretty wondrous. There were always two things going on. There was our work, and there was also J-R trying to un-mess me up too, which was his work. Why he wanted to take that on I have no clue.
I never lost sight of the fact that J-R was incredibly patient with me. But beyond anything else that J-R did with me, including how he loved me and how he cared, literally from the first day I started working with him, there was this additional piece: J-R gave me implicit trust. He really trusted me. It didn’t matter whether I was up to the task or not. I would never look at J-R and not have J-R look back at me like, “You’ve got it.” And that was the first time in my life that I ever had someone look at me like that and make me feel that, “OK, I’ve got this, I can do this,” without any equivocation. It was all about just letting spirit flow through you. Every moment becomes so beautiful. And hanging in and being present with that takes learning.
And at other times when people were literally trying to kill us, or kill J-R, I never really flinched. Not at the most incredibly beautiful, joyful part, and not at the most dirty, awful parts. There were several years where J-R was getting death threats, the organizations were under attack, and it wasn’t pretty. But now being on the other side of it, I’m pretty comfortable that I did a really good job in my part of standing by the teachings and the Traveler. And I’m stronger, I’m better, and I’ll never do better work than that. And I still think that’s true.
NDH: What were some of the challenges?
Michael: From the very beginning, J-R brought me in and said, “You’re in the middle of this thing now.” And I didn’t know what the thing was. Some of the other staff guys didn’t take it really well. There was a lot of “Who is this guy, and why is he here, and he hasn’t earned the right, and he hasn’t put in the time.” So the challenge in the very beginning was simply trying to get along. Everybody dealt with me in their own way, some from a more secure perspective and some from a more insecure one. My perspective was that J-R loves me and he’s keeping me here, and if J-R wants me here I’m staying. So I went from a bit defensive to a bit egotistical to a bit pushy to a bit grasshopper-like because I didn’t know what my place was. I just knew that it was with J-R. And then eventually my place became every place. I was involved in just about everything there was. We had phenomenal people around us.
I came out of my first Insight training and I was on staff within a couple of weeks. I felt like we had the secret of life, the magical formula to having an amazing existence, and nobody knew about it. It was this little mom-and-pop organization, doing this little thing, and it was the best thing on earth. I wanted everybody to know about this. I went and told my parents, my sister and my brother and my friends. All I thought was, “How big can we make this? Let’s get this so everybody gets to play, because this is the best, there’s nothing greater than this, and everybody should know about this.” And that was my M.O. for a couple of years. It’s very naive in a way but I haven’t changed my thinking about it much.
NDH: That’s interesting because I have. The first few years I had more excitement, and then after I had more experience with how it works I could see it wasn’t in that person’s karma, or it wasn’t their time, and I toned it down when I presented it to people. But you didn’t?
Michael: No, I’m still doing it. And since I’ve been participating again with Insight in the last year, I’ve been sitting in the back of the room going, how great is this, look at that person, look at that person, everybody’s popping like popcorn, and there’s this attitude in the room like we’re all in this together and we’re going to the top of the mountain. I get really excited about it. And I never was un-excited about it. For a while I moved into what you described, where it’s like if it’s somebody’s time it’s their time, and karma’s karma, and I’ve got to raise my kids and pay the rent. But that other piece where I turn back to it and I’m aware of it again, boy it’s just jammin’, it’s just alive and vibrant and wants to get out and play.
The challenges were wanting to do it really well, and making plenty of mistakes, and stepping on lots of people’s toes, and also watching how when MSIA went through its tribulations with the world, people really had to make a decision of whether “you’re for or against,” you know that whole biblical mindset, which I thought was really appropriate. I was like, if you’re not for us then get the hell out. I don’t want to hurt you but you need to get out of the way. And certainly don’t turn around and pick up arms against us, because I don’t think we ever earned that. I don’t think we ever earned becoming the kind of target that we did. And we weren’t alone. There were lots of other organizations outside of MSIA that were under siege too.
NDH: What kinds of other things did you learn from J-R by watching him work?
Michael: Well, first of all, being around J-R so much, 24/7 over so many years, I got a really good sense, not of how J-R did what he did, but that he was relentless about doing it. There was this relentlessness about loving, and really wanting the best for everyone. I don’t think most people have any idea of how much effort that took. I never saw that waver, not one time, in the 37 years that I knew him. I never saw him waver about being actively involved in whoever was in front of him in that moment. It was like, I want the best for you right now and if I can be part of contributing to that, I’m going to do that. J-R was rarely about himself. That’s a lot to give up. And it’s a high level to hold. I’ve seen no one else do that.
From the time I was young, I had an awareness that there was this thing called Spirit, and I always felt that things you can’t see were way more important than anything you could touch or see. I didn’t know what that meant, but J-R demonstrated it to me.
In the first few months I was working with J-R and we were in an Insight II. There was a guy who had a serious disease like MS or something like that. J-R is working with each person, and we get around to this guy. I’m excited. I want to see what J-R is going to do next, and J-R stops, looks at me, and goes, “It’s your turn.” I’m like, “What?!?” I had no facilitation skills other than being with J-R in rooms watching him or other people work. I didn’t know anything. I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You can do this.” I said, “I don’t know what to do.” He said, “Just do it.” I look at the guy and I ask a few questions trying to buy time. I get up, walk over to him, touch him a bit, I turn him around, and the guy kind of straightens out. I’m so shocked. I look at J-R and he just nods his head and goes like, “Don’t you get this? It doesn’t matter who it is.” It was such a huge teaching moment that I realized that if I could get out of the way of my own stuff and be present, the Traveler and Spirit are willing to do the work.
Staying out of the way and being present are a real art. It takes time to learn. But I was so unaware and so ignorant that J-R took advantage of that and said, “You can do this,” so it would happen.
It’s very addicting, too. I love people. I want people to be happy and healthy. The first time we went to see Mother Theresa for the Integrity Awards that we gave out in the 1980’s, we were in Calcutta, this difficult place. I’d never been exposed to the third world like that. I grew up in Beverly Hills. But I sat down, and she took my hand and moved my five fingers one by one, saying, “This…I…do…for…Him.” And her conversation after that was simply along the lines of, “I’m not so special. Yeah, he picks me, but this I’m doing for Christ because that is working through me. I have the great honor to do that, and all I have to do is stay out of the way and keep working. And there’s plenty of work. Do you want to help, Michael? Come on.” That was her attitude. It was like, “I don’t want to waste time with this, there are too many people that need help.”
And I think J-R’s thing with me was like, if you want to be useful, if you want to be of service, let it work, because in and of yourself you can’t be of service. It was a really powerful lesson. I was a lousy first-time driver. I was all over the road. But I’m better now than I was then.
NDH: What else did you learn from J-R?
Michael: Humility. [Laughs.] A lot of humility. I think J-R started working on that on day one when he threw me out of the Insight training room in front of 300 people. Edgar Veytia and I were standing at the back of the room and he said something and I answered him. The next thing I hear is J-R from the front of the room shouting, “What’s so important?” He asks Edgar, “Do you want the lesson or the information?” Edgar goes, “Information.” J-R looks at me and asks the same question, and I’m a contrarian by nature anyway, so I say, “The lesson.” J-R says, “Get out of the room.” My heart starts going and I’m freaking out and I say, “What?” “Get out of the room!” I ask Edgar, “Is he kidding?” and he says, “No, you’d better go.”
So I walked out of the room. I started crying thinking oh my God what did I do? I blew my opportunity to be a volunteer. Then a half hour later there’s a break and all these people are filing out of the room, and I’m still sitting there dejected and depressed, and seventy or eighty people must have come up to me saying, “Thank God you did that because I could never have survived it. What a great lesson, thank you for doing it.”
Then J-R comes out and says, “We need to talk. Come to my office.” There’s a little office in the area where the offices of Ron and Mary Hulnick (of the University of Santa Monica) are now. It’s literally a closet, probably eight by nine feet, no windows, with one little desk. Energy saving was already starting so it had a timer on the wall for the lights. You’d crank it up for 15 minutes and we’d be talking as the dial ratcheted down, and then the lights would go out—and it would go completely dark, where you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. And so I would jump up and turn the thing back on, but after the third or fourth time doing that, J-R said, “Just leave it off. It’s not going to make any difference. I can see everything anyway.”
And in that hour or whatever it was, J-R said, “Look. You are here and you have a choice to make. Sorry I threw you out of the room but it was for your benefit and it was really for a lot of other people’s benefit, and if you get that that’s OK, that’s what we’re going to do together.” He had a lot to say about my past lives, and my life now, and karma, and position. Nobody had ever said things like that, or had seen or spoken to a part so deep inside of me. And I really listened. At the end of it I was getting all puffed up again and in my ego, and I thought this is great, I’m going to volunteer and I’m going to be J-R’s buddy, etc. J-R just said to call his assistant the next day.
I called her and she said to come on over. And for the next month or so I was cleaning out closets and sweeping floors. Now I can see that I was doing dharma, but at the time all I thought was that I blew it again and now I’m here doing nothing. But I was listening to J-R tapes and Michael and Edgar’s music all day long while I was working. Then one day J-R came and said, “If you want to travel with us, get a passport, we’re leaving in two days for Central America. I think you can help if you want to.” My mentality was yeah, if I can help I want to. I’m in. Let’s go.
NDH: So you weren’t living at J-R’s house yet?
Michael: Right, I was living on my own. But from that day on, I didn’t live on my own for the next decade. I think the biggest lesson I learned was: If you listen, I will use you. I still think that’s the best, most powerful lesson. If you just let Spirit work with you, it will use you to do the work. And it’s a path fraught with ego and doubt and fear. All that stuff is along that path, but it’s all on the edges. Straight down the middle, it’s nothing but beauty, ease and love. And doing good work. When I’ve come to the place where I’m so glad to let myself be used to do this, nothing has ever felt better. Not today or forty years ago.
NDH: Then why did you leave?
Michael: In my ministerial ordination blessing, there’s a passage in there about being careful of the glamour of this world. It’s something like “don’t let the glamour of this world distract you.” I think I left for a couple of reasons. I was distracted at times. I was also tired. I felt like I’d been fighting off the whole world for several years while J-R and MSIA were under attack. I didn’t sleep or eat, I didn’t do anything but defend the castle. That’s what my job was. I’ve talked to other people, like news photographers, who’ve spent their lives under the threat of imminent death. One of the guys who works for me now is a third generation marine. He’s a great guy and full of joy, but he spent ten years in Iraq and Iran, and came near death on a weekly basis. We’ve talked about what it’s like when you come through something like that. When there’s no gunfire everything seems really boring. It’s like, “Well what am I going to do now?” It had been ten years, I was forty instead of thirty, and I thought maybe I’d like to have a family.
I remember that at the time I wrote J-R a long letter and I said I’ve had a couple of dreams and I’m thinking about this, and here’s what I think is going to happen. I basically said, “People don’t want to be by themselves, they like making love, relationships are cool, why can’t we do the work and have relationships?” We started talking about it and he was like, “being celibate and doing the work has always been the way it’s worked and I don’t think I want to change that.” He had his perspective and I had my perspective and it started me thinking that maybe I want to do something else. I started asking myself, “What do I want more?” And I don’t know that I was really thinking clearly, but I know that was my thinking process. And eventually I just said, “You know, J-R, I’ve gotta go out and take a look around.”
It was a really difficult conversation but a really loving conversation between both of us. He said, “Take the car, whatever you need. If you want some help let me know.” It was that old burgundy Oldsmobile convertible that had been around forever. I took that car when I left, with one bag of my clothes. And then after a couple of years, everything I had been asking about and wanted was exactly what happened. And I noticed that other staff people started being married and having relationships. People at Prana started living in pairs rather than as individuals.
The funny thing was that I left staff but I didn’t really leave. That next ten years I was around MSIA and J-R more than I was around anywhere else. The first thing I did with my first girlfriend and her daughter was to get on a plane to go on PAT IV [the journey to Egypt and Israel] with J-R and everybody. My heart was still there, and still is, but I wanted to explore and see if there was another way of going at it. It’s certainly not the same, and it took me a long time to figure out how to do both together.
The biggest gift in the last few years, that J-R gave back to me well before he passed away, was that I can have everything we had, and also the things that are outside, and it all can work and complement itself. So what I found was that his molding me into somebody who was good at being of service has become the majority of what I do in both parts of my life now. So it’s all together. It’s all the same, whether I’m refereeing kids at soccer games, or working with guys on the street who are homeless, or I’m at an Insight training. There’s absolutely no difference in what I feel and what comes through me. Being in an Insight room is a hell of a lot more fun in some ways, because I’ve got people there who are of like mind, while out in the world I’m on my own on the physical level—but I’m certainly not on my own in terms of the Spirit. But the working and being used part is exactly the same, and I love that that’s what’s happened.
NDH: When you left, did you find an energetic shift inside you? Was it difficult, was it easy?
Michael: Walking out the door was really hard. Even if it was just the symbolism of it, it was really hard, because I lived like I was always going to be by J-R’s side, to the death. And that mentality never changed even though my body went away. And thank God he and I always had that knowing of each other. We always had each other’s back. From day one that never changed. Being on staff at that time you didn’t have to worry about things you have to worry about out in the world. I didn’t have to worry about making a living, paying the rent or getting the oil changed. From that standpoint, being on staff is pretty freeing. But on the other hand I gave up a pretty serious relationship coming on staff. I was deeply in love and leaving wasn’t easy.
I had a great relationship with my mom and dad and my brother and sister. Thankfully my mom and dad pretty much adopted J-R and the rest of staff at that time. They are the first ones that brought J-R over to do Passover, and then that became an MSIA event later on.
I think the balance between the sacrifice of what you give up and what gets taken away in terms of worldly concerns that you don’t have to worry about—that’s about a wash. On staff you have the opportunity to work with Light and the Traveler, and J-R’s unending sense of humor. That’s easy. I could take that any day. When I left I was approached a bunch of times by the LA Times, because they had been doing articles about MSIA. They wanted to pay me and get my story, and I didn’t think any of that really mattered. So I gave them one quote and it’s the same quote I would give today: The work I do with J-R and MSIA is the best work I’ve ever done, and it will probably be the best work I ever do, and that’s all I have to say.
NDH: How did you change over those ten years with J-R?
Michael: I sure became a better me. There is no part of me that wasn’t under some kind of fire, or in the fire. I haven’t thought of this in three decades, but J-R said something about a trial by fire. But it wasn’t like “Michael, I’m going to put you through a test now and if you don’t pass the test you’re not on staff.” It was really that you’re going to be in the fire of purification about what this work is and what this energy is, and you’re either going to deal with it or not, and you’re going to allow it to clean you up or you’re not. I certainly didn’t come in as some knowledgeable, understanding, empathetic guy who was gifted at working with people. That wasn’t my skill set at all. I think that’s what got burned away along with a lot of ego and crap. A lot of the glamour and distraction went away.
Some of it stayed. I used to think of ego as all bad, but it’s not. Ego can be incredibly valuable when you’re trying to accomplish things. If it’s tempered with kindness and care for everybody, then it works really well and it can do amazing things. From the start, J-R started worked with me in terms of the way I communicate. I had always been a voracious reader but J-R was able to get me to work with people in a way where I was talking beyond the words. I learned a lot about responsibility because I became responsible for another human being. And in my heart, within year one I became responsible for all the organizations as well—not from the standpoint of running them but from the standpoint of being a guardian, without even a second thought, so that I was willing to lay down my life so the teachings would go on no matter what. And that never changed. That’s the same today.
That didn’t happen because I knew it. That happened because J-R showed me the way toward it, or how I could get there if I was willing to keep taking the steps. I had never known that kind of devotion, and I had never experienced that kind of fearlessness. I had been searching since the time I was eight years old, and I had put myself in some horrific situations, but none of it prepared me for what this was like. It’s a whole different mindset. And to do it with loving…it’s not like you’re programming a bunch of 18-year-olds to go to war. You’re training someone to open their heart, be honest with themselves, which is not even something you think about in your “normal” world, and you come out the other side and ask if there’s anything left that you can give. Who can I be? Can I be of value? What can I add?
J-R was brilliant at getting people’s crap out of the way so they could do their best. And a lot of people want to pull their crap back in front of them. I was good at doing that for a while, and I’m still good at it, but I’m getting better at not doing it. And if you look at the people who worked around J-R over the years, and look at where they started, and where they ended up, and the kind of work they went on to do, it’s a hell of a track record. That’s mastery.
NDH: You talked about learning about communication with J-R. What kinds of things did you learn?
Michael: J-R said thousands of times that listening is the highest form of loving on earth. And I asked him a lot about it because I was always interested in it. It didn’t immediately make sense to me, but I get it now. USM [the University of Santa Monica] is an example. They do a lot with active listening. And what comes out of the people that get listened to is pretty incredible. That was an important piece that J-R showed me up front—lovingly listening, or listening in a way that people feel they’d been loved, maybe for the first time in their life. That’s a huge thing.
So I had to shut my mouth and listen. And open my heart and listen. And then I had to realize that the other piece was also asking, “Is there a loop here?” Is there something that I need to give back, is there information that needs to come out, whether it’s my own information, or information that will flow through me from the higher source. How do I work that piece? That’s the piece that J-R really hammered into me in the first few years. He and I ended up playing with the idea of doing a couple of different communication workshops, but we were always fiddling with the idea of communication in any of the workshops we did.
J-R had an amazing vocabulary, and he had a way of listening that was very physical. He had a way of being with people, with a wink or a smile, or sitting side by side talking with someone, where they felt that there was nothing else that existed in the universe except J-R’s heart and his ears and what they had to share. I’d see him do that so many times, with so many different people all over the world, always with the same reaction. The person had a sense that I’m in this sacred, amazing, beautiful space, that I’m just the right person, perfectly safe, perfectly cared for, and how lucky am I? And by the way tell me that joke again so I can remember how you told that. Or let me hold your hand—because J-R was great to hold hands with.
[Long pause, some tears.] Yeah, well, he’s here. [Long pause.]
I miss how fun it was to talk with J-R about how crazy this world is. It was always fun, and not one malicious word ever came out of his mouth, towards anyone, ever. In his teachings, in his work, and in his life there was never anything about separation or polarization. It was always collaboration and oneness and family. I know I never laughed as much in the ten years prior or the ten years after as I did in those ten years when I was hanging with J-R every day. We never stopped laughing.
NDH: How did you get any work done?
Michael: There’s a story about how they built the pyramids. The Pharaoh said, “You guys are going to go out there and work, and your children are going to work, and their children are going to work, and one day after three generations it will be done, and if you don’t like it you’re going to get whipped to death.” But they probably could have built them in one generation if they had a bunch of people out there telling jokes and slapping each other on the back. Stuff gets done faster.
I’ve been designing and building houses now for 25 years. I love it. And most of my clients are really a joy to work for. But the thing that’s really a joy about it is that my crews are like my family. We have a blast. They say anything they want to me, I come to the job and they give me a hard time about what I’m wearing. They know that they’re safe, and if they screw up I’m going to tell them. If they cheat, they’re gone. But for the most part they self-regulate. I love going to my job sites because the guys there are having a good time. And because they’re having a good time the work is really good. My clients all say, “Wow, your guys are so cool. I like having them around and I don’t worry that they’re going to steal something or break something. They’re just great guys, how did you get them?” And I go, “They get each other.” I haven’t gone out and hired anyone in nearly twenty years.
J-R was always having a good time. I’m not saying that his work was easy or fun, because what he did—and what I saw him put up with and go through day in and day out—was painful and hard and took every bit of what he was able to bring. But he never did it saying, “Oh God I’m having a bad day.” There was always a piece in there that was like, “and that’s OK.” He had a lot of bad days, but there was never that piece that says, [gritting teeth] “and it’s not OK, damn it.”
NDH: Did you ever find it hard to stay in your body when you were around him? That’s what I found.
Michael: I think I was too dense for a while. I was so excited about everything and so curious about it all. There was just so much going on, that wasn’t an issue. We were doing so much travel and so many seminars in so many different cities day after day. I was getting J-R’s suit ready, and getting him here and there on time, and on the plane and off the plane, in the car and out of the car. And by the time we got to the seminar it was like a relief. And half the time I’d be thinking about all the other things we had to deal with.
When I would end up out of my body was later in the day. Before I went to sleep I’d turn on a seminar or listen to the music of Michael Sun and Edgar Veytia. That’s when I’d go out flying. More recently it happens to me when I’m surfing, out on the water. One time, about a year after I left staff, J-R was visiting me at a house I had on the beach in northern Baja. I knew J-R liked to surf when he was younger, but he stopped as soon as he started doing his spiritual work. I asked him if he wanted to come out surfing with me. He said, “No, but you know what? Just take me out there with you.” And I was like, “Oh we can do that?” And he said yeah. I remember so clearly paddling out, calling in the Light, and asking for J-R to join me. And I’ve been doing that for 25 years.
And now we just had this month of death-defying size waves. I was in Mexico and I remember for about a week I was really scared, and doing the same process I’d been doing for 25 years—”come on, J-R, come on John, we’re in”—and it was so scary that as I was paddling into the wave I was hoping I wouldn’t catch it, and I was going, “Light, light, light.” And it just picked me up. Once I did that I was spending a whole day doing that. And it just felt like everything connected again.
J-R shows up in other ways too. I referee about 350 soccer games a year, and it’s anywhere from kids eight or ten years old to adults. I’ve been using all the people skills and communication skills I’ve learned, and refereeing has been one of my biggest ministries. I get asked to referee all over Southern California, often in situations that other people don’t want to do. It may be that they’re territories or regions that don’t like each other, or teams that are arch-enemies.
I had an amazing experience last year. I got invited to referee a 16-year-old boys’ game, with the warning that this is the game you don’t want to do. It was some big deal and I didn’t know why. I started asking questions and it turned out that the two coaches on the two teams had grown up together as best friends, and they used to be coaching their kids together on the same team. But then one of them moved to their arch-enemy’s region, so these guys who were close friends were now against each other. At first they were friendly with each other, but then it went downhill to the point where they were in a fist fight, there were mutual restraining orders, they had both been jailed, and they hated each other’s guts. And that had gone on for five years. They never talked or shook hands.
So I went to the 16-year-old captains of both teams, brought them together secretly, and I asked if it was true. It was like, “Oh yeah, they hate each other.” I said, “Look I’m going to try to do something and I need you guys to help me.” And so when the game was about to start, I invited all the parents and all the players onto the middle of the field and said, “We’re going to do a special ceremony. This is a big game and we’re all going to shake hands and wish each other a great game.” And we set up a line, with everybody shaking hands, and when those two coaches got together they reached out and shook hands, and went to their opposite sides all gruff and surly.
At halftime I asked the kids what they thought, and they said, “Well, they don’t look too angry.” They knew what I was trying to do. At the end it was tied and went into overtime, and the only way they settle that is what they call “kicks from the mark” where they both take penalty kicks until someone’s a winner. It went on forever, everybody went crazy, and one team finally won, and I called the coaches over and I said, “Guys this is one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had, it was such a classy game…and by the way, have you guys ever met?” They started laughing, and they hugged, and I knew this had nothing to do with the game, and nothing to do with me. It had to do with “this is why I get to do this.” This is what I brought that other guys who didn’t get to be on staff or take Insight didn’t get taught. And that’s all that matters. All the other stuff doesn’t matter. And when I think of all the junk we went through to get to that, I go wow, how cool.
NDH: What’s your favorite J-R joke?
Michael: A million things come to mind. J-R was a great jokester and he was always telling jokes, and he loved hearing jokes. He told me this one that’s the most memorable for me. Last year one of the ex staff guys wanted to have this dinner with everybody who had been on J-R’s personal staff. It was me, John Morton, Jsu Garcia, Mark Harradine, Erik Raleigh. We had a great time. We each brought our favorite J-R food. It was a really sweet evening. I told this story, and none of them had ever heard it. What shocked me was that none of us had ever heard the jokes and stories that the others told. So I don’t know how many freakin’ stories J-R had, but however many he had it was enough that guys that were with him for decades didn’t even know the same stories that somebody else knew.
Anyway, when J-R was really little, in Utah coal mining country where there was coal dust everywhere, J-R’s dad Parley had this car that always had to be washed. One of Roger’s earliest chores was to clean the family car. His dad was really meticulous about how he wanted it done. One of the things he did was to get white gas and put a little in the hubcap, and use that to detail the car. They had this little dog that was always chasing Roger and nipping at him while he was trying to work. So one day they’re out there, and Parley’s watching while Roger’s working and the dog is running around yapping. All of a sudden the dog starts drinking the gas out of the hubcap. And he starts running around really fast and just keels over and lays there.
NDH: Did the dog die?
Michael: No, he just ran out of gas.
I’ve heard J-R tell that story at events with very important people. Sometimes people in the Movement would invite J-R to these places, and these people would look at J-R as an oddity. It was like if Kubla Khan was in town and it would be really cool because they could tell their friends about it the next day. I didn’t really like J-R being seen as an oddity like that. But within five minutes it was like, “How do you know that about me? What was that you said? Let me tell you about my brother because you maybe you could help me with that.” It didn’t matter who it was or how famous they were. They started with one mindset and within a few minutes that was gone, and they were enamored and were under that spell of fun and mischief, and his incredible ability to work with people.
I’ve never seen anybody ever work with human beings the way J-R did every day. I think the PAT IV’s, (the trips to Egypt and Israel) and trips to South America and Nigeria were probably the most indelible experiences of J-R’s abilities that were so off-the-charts. People in alleys or huts, or wherever, were just drawn to J-R, no matter where we were. I was the one who was saying no. I was often saying come on, J-R, that’s enough. J-R never said that. I never heard J-R say, “I’m done, I don’t want to do this anymore.” He’d say he wanted to get off the planet, but even that was with a wink and a smile. I never saw J-R slow down until he was physically unable, and I don’t think it really stopped then. I think it just stopped being apparent.
Seminar days were always kind of the same, no matter where we were. We’d drive around, get something to eat. A lot of the time I’d be driving and J-R’s body would be there but he wasn’t there. It was this sort of peaceful, rambling, distracted walk towards the seminar. It was a day of doing things that were easy. We might get up late, have a late breakfast, get the car and look around, maybe look at some site in a particular town that was supposed to be interesting. Or he’d say, “There’s somewhere over there that I have to go. I don’t know what it is but I have to go look at it.” He’d play around with the waitress or the waiter. It didn’t matter who it was, he was always playing with everybody. And then a few hours before the seminar I’d be wondering what he’s going to wear—this jacket, that tie. And then J-R would lay down, he’d just split for twenty minutes or two hours. And I’d get him up, saying, “Come on, we have to leave, here are your clothes, I have to get you there on time.”
It was really interesting. Most of the time there was no overt preparation, but I’d watch him having this inner thing going on. But then sometimes he would study almost like for a test. He might get out the Bible and spend an afternoon writing notes and looking at passages or he might get somebody else’s book or his own seminar notes. It was like he’d been given a job and he had to figure it out, not knowing what was the best way to do it, so he was going to mess around until he got there.
We went out to breakfast once and the waitress says, “Don’t look under the table, it hasn’t been cleaned.” So of course J-R looks under the table. That night at the seminar the first thing he starts with is, “Wherever you’re told not to look, what do you do?” And that became the basis of the seminar. He did that time and time again. These random little things would happen, and what he would bring out of it and share was astounding.
One night he was out of his body for a long time and he said, “I’m going to take a shower and get ready.” He’s in the bathroom for a few minutes and I hear this huge crash. I run in there and J-R’s laying there and the shower doors are knocked off, there’s blood everywhere, and he’s got a compound fracture of his leg. There’s a bone sticking out of his shin. I pick him up like a baby and put him on the bed and say I’m going to call the hospital. He says, “No, don’t, you can’t do that.” I say, “What’s going on?” He says, “I got attacked, calm down, relax, breathe.” He’s calming me down.” I ask, “What can I do?”
He says, “Just hold, stay steady, it’s going to be OK.” I think we had two hours before we had to be at the seminar. I covered him up in bed and had my hand on his shoulder. I just sat by the bed with him and he went out again. About an hour later he comes back and he goes, “OK well we’d better get going.” I say, “Come on, you can’t go anywhere.” And I pulled the blanket off his leg and it was still a mess—there was blood and bruising—but the bones were back inside of his leg. He said, “I can’t really walk on it well, you’ve got to help me, but we’re going to go do the seminar and it will be all right, and that’s that.” It was just another one of those mini-miracles that J-R took in stride like it wasn’t a big deal, but it was a big deal. I grew up in a pretty sophisticated household with very intelligent parents where money wasn’t an issue, but I never realized how limited my thinking, my faith and beliefs were until I started working with J-R.
J-R just decided one day that we were going to go to the Philippines and check out the psychic surgeons. We were going to do a little documentary. We did a lot of research and found out that a lot of people believe they’re real, and a lot of people think they’re fakes doing sleight-of-hand.
We went way up in the mountains above Manila, and saw a woman who was highly recommended. Most of the people we saw wanted a donation, but she wouldn’t take any money. J-R says to me, “Your back’s been bothering you for your whole life, so you’re going to be the guinea pig this time.” She holds this white sheet up in front of me, and she says she’s x-raying me. J-R says yeah, she’s holding up the sheet so it filters out all the things she doesn’t want to see, so that she can see inside you.
I lie down on the table and she takes these little cotton balls, pours a little holy water on them, and she uses almost the same words that Mother Theresa used, something like “this I do in your name,” and she takes the cotton balls and puts them on my back, taps on them, and they disappear into my back. I hear everybody gasp and ask, “Where did they go?” She says, “That’s his medicine and it will take a few days but he’ll be fine.” And within about a week the pain went away and I haven’t had any serious back problems since then.
I think J-R put me there for a reason, so that everything that was a limit in my belief or faith or understanding was all blown away that day. After that, I didn’t have those limits. Now I always think, you know what, anything’s possible. But never before that. And J-R certainly was the agent for that. With that mindset, I should probably have higher aspirations, but I don’t. But I do believe it.
I don’t have many other J-R stories because my whole life is a J-R story. What I remember about J-R were the simple things. He liked to drive, and he was great at it. He taught me a lot about spatial relationships, and also things he had learned from his dad. Like how to look down to the right if someone’s coming at you with high beams on so you’re not blinded. Lots of little things that J-R would do, he would do them with such grace. Like the way that anybody who was in front of J-R was treated as a beautiful human being—even people that were so in his face and so filled with hate and anger and judgment.
As a kid, my mom was missing-in-action a lot of the time. And the person who raised me was an illiterate black woman from Tennessee who was one of the kindest, funniest, gentlest, most amazing people I’d ever met. She and J-R were a lot alike. Thank God she was still alive when I started working with J-R. She taught me a lot about humor, and that you don’t take people for their position, or what they look like or what they have. You take them for who they are in front of you, and how they behave. She met J-R a couple of times. They just hit it off and they were telling stories and laughing with each other. She got sick a few years later—cancer. She was harder to lose than my mother. When she got sick I came to J-R and said, “I really want to help her. But what can I do? She’s really scared.” I’d never seen her afraid. And J-R says, “Because all she’s done is take care of other people her whole life, she doesn’t know what it’s like to be taken care of. It’s totally foreign to her. So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to get a little stuffed lamb and take it to her. And tell her that it’s hers to take care of, and she can take it with her and I’ll meet her on the other side.”
So I went to a store and of course the lambs weren’t good enough. I wanted to find a really cool one, and eventually I did. I drove over to the hospital and gave her the lamb, and told her what J-R had said. And she just started laughing. She changed instantly from being desolated with fear to, “Ooooohhhh, give me that, let me hold that.” Her son came to me the next day and asked, “What happened?” I told him and he said, “Well, I don’t know who that guy is but tell him that I love him.” And J-R did that kind of thing 10,000 times. And I want to pass it on. If you look at the teachings at the core of all the organizations, in their distilled and pure sense, they’re exactly what J-R did. And that’s all that matters, that’s all that mattered to him, and that’s all that should matter to us.
NDH: I remember when I was shopping around for a spiritual teacher. The first time I saw J-R, I said that this is the only guy who’s talking from the experience. The others were talking about the experience. And J-R was so in the experience that I thought this guy could just lapse into gibberish at any time.
Michael: And he did sometimes.
NDH: And his eyes looked like the eyes of someone at the top of a long ski slope. They looked like they were saying, “OK, I don’t know where this is going to take me, but here we go….”
Michael: I have a friend who has a different guru and we were talking about darshan the other day. And I kept remembering all these experiences of J-R’s incredible smile and that glory that would come in just a split second, and such a connection. I was really fortunate that I had a camera in my hand for a lot of the first five or six years. J-R and I got along really well, we loved and liked each other a lot, and I think that shows up in my photographs. I think most people that loved J-R experienced that part of him, but they didn’t get to capture it so easily. I was really fortunate, and I’m glad I got to be on that end of it.
J-R loved any kind of joke that would mess with people and get them to drop all pretense. He was brilliant at that. He had a way with people that made them willingly want to drop all pretense and just be with that person, be with that Light, be with that joy.
NDH: What’s amazing to me is that through all these things that you’re talking about, I always have a sense that I could do that. I don’t have a sense of it being above me, which is quite unusual because you’re talking about extraordinary things. But I don’t feel like it’s out of my reach, because it has an ordinariness at the same time. Part of me goes, “I know what that is.”
Michael: That right there, what you’re saying, is probably J-R’s greatest feat. I think that’s how he was able to give so much and yet in the giving J-R was always overflowing. He was never out of gas. I’ve been with him in front of thousands of people—meetings, events, counselings, etc.—and never in one of those did J-R ever put himself above another person. If anything, J-R was self-deprecating and incredibly humble. But when he spoke, every syllable and every word had truth in it. Not truth against or above, just truth that’s as close as you can ever be to another person. There’s no better or worse, no separation. I’m still trying to get that one. I saw a quote the other day that said, “Once you have loved enough of yourself, you’ll only be able to see love in others.” After all those years with J-R I still don’t have that thing wired. I still get pissed off driving. I don’t like that part of myself. So maybe I just have to love myself more. Inside me, nothing is as important as that. That’s what J-R was all about, and that’s what his teachings are all about. I honor J-R and I want to keep doing the work.