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Interview with John Selby

Author of "Expand This Moment"

by New World Library

John, you’ve written over two dozen books in the last two decades, most of them on the psychology of meditation, and new mind-management techniques. How does this new book, Expand This Moment, differ from the others?

Expand This Moment brings together under one cover all 12 of my primary Focus Phrases, devoting a full chapter to each Focus Phrase. It also teaches a very-compressed meditation program that everyone can integrate into their daily life. This book is basically my bible – it’s the core program. And the title, Expand This Moment, says it all – because all we have is the present moment. Nothing else exists in our experience, and our present moment is either contracted, or expanded. This book teaches the most potent way we’ve discovered so far, for actively expanding our life experience. And really, there’s nothing more important than that.

In reading through this book, I noticed that you share a number of life stories about the most important personal teachers in your life, including Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Bhagwan Rajneesh, Humphrey Osmond and others. Do you feel that people in general need personal teachers or gurus in order to advance spiritually?

Definitely not. Teachers can point our attention in valuable directions – but ultimately we must look inward on our own. I was lucky in that I came of age during the 60s and 70s when a number of powerful spiritual teachers were present to learn from firsthand. But in my experience, each and every person we encounter can be our teacher at that moment – if we are open to receive. To be honest, I spent as much time working to transcend the influence of my teachers, as I did exploring what they had to teach. Each of us, within our own hearts, can gain direct communion with the divine; learning to listen to that inner voice is so important in spiritual growth.

Your primary message psychologically seems to be that each of us must take full responsibility for where we aim our personal focus of attention, each moment of the day. Can you expand on that teaching?

Our primary tool in influencing what happens in our lives is definitely our power to aim our mind's attention wherever we choose to. What we focus on is what manifests in our lives; that's just how things work. If we focus on the negative, our lives will be filled with negative experience. I do feel it's important to embrace all of the various emotions, but I also feel it's essential to regularly choose to enjoy this eternal present moment. And that's the theme of the first Focus Phrase that I teach in Expand This Moment: “I choose to enjoy this moment.”

Your new book is based almost entirely on the set of 12 short Focus Phrases that came to you during a radical spiritual experience 10 years ago. Can you tell us a little more about what a Focus Phrase actually is?

Sure. First of all, I'm a psychologist, and I very deeply respect the science of cognitive psychology; I did early mind research at NIH exploring how the thoughts that our ego mind thinks immediately determine the focus of our mind’s attention. Ever since that early research, which I did with Humphrey Osmond, I've worked to develop what are called ‘cognitive shifting’ techniques that first quiet the usual chatter of the mind, then introduce specially-designed statements of intent that instantly shift our attention exactly toward inner experiences that in turn stimulate spiritual growth. The motto is simple: “Say it ~ Do it.”

Are your Focus Phrases the same as positive affirmations, or are they somehow different?

Actually, Focus Phrases are quite different creatures from positive affirmations. Positive affirmations tend to be fanciful imaginations of ideal situations and accomplishments that our ego desires – more money, more love, more this and that. “Every day my bank account is getting bigger and bigger” and other such positive affirmations that aren’t necessarily based on reality don't make much sense to me. My Focus Phrases are very carefully created to aim a person's attention in realistic directions, that elicit a realistic and predictable response. For instance, the second Focus Phrase that I teach in Expand This Moment is: “I feel the air flowing in and out of my nose.” By saying this Focus Phrase to yourself, your thinking mind immediately aims your perceptual attention toward the crucial beginning point in any meditation – your ongoing breath experience.

It sounds like you're using the thinking ego mind as an active ingredient in meditation, which is somewhat different from traditional meditation, yes?

Definitely – I regularly use scientific insights from cognitive psychology to advance and amplify and simplify traditional meditation techniques. Rather than spending years trying to kill off the ego function of the mind, my new process fully honors the role the ego plays in directing one's attention during meditation. And by giving the thinking mind something to do during meditation, this effectively and effortlessly quiets all mundane thoughts - which is a primary goal of meditation.

You often speak of your Expand This Moment process as “short-form” meditation. What do you mean by this term?

Short-form meditation is just that – it takes only a few minutes to complete the process, if that’s all the time you have. I consider it much better to pause for 5 minutes 5 times a day for short-form meditation, than never to pause because you don’t have half an hour free. There is certainly great value in sitting still for half an hour in traditional meditation, and my 5-minute meditation can easily expand into a half-hour meditation. But it’s so important to begin to insert just one Focus Phrase, which takes less than a minute, into a busy workday – it can expand and transform that moment! Likewise Focus Phrases can transform the experience of making love, or expand one’s inner experience out on a walk, while cooking – or even right in the middle of a tense business conference. The whole point is to integrate a deeper meditative quality of consciousness into every moment of our day.

Is it realistic, though, to think that we can be in a meditative state of mind when we are all caught up in the turmoil of our work and social lives?

Not only is it realistic, but I consider it essential. Retreating just once a day for half an hour to meditate doesn't get the full job done. Where we especially need spiritual insight and guidance, plus a sudden boost in compassion and creativity, is when we are out in the world being challenged to make a difference. Each of the 12 Focus Phrases I'm teaching in Expand This Moment can be taken individually to work – imagine the positive impact on your day if you hold the Focus Phrase “I let go of all my stress and worry, and feel peaceful inside” in the back of your mind while you go about your workday. Say it – do it. This is extremely powerful stuff.

You talk about knowing Krishnamurti as a child when you were growing up in Ojai, and where he usually spent his winter months. You mention pretty strongly in several of your books Krishnamurti’s insistence that the world must open up and experience a psychological revolution. Do you feel part of that revolution?

Absolutely. Ever since the late 60s when the psychedelic revolution woke us up to the fact that we are capable of vastly deeper experience than our society supports, it's been clear that consciousness itself is the next frontier, and that a major revolution and transformation is urgently needed in our programmed attitudes and beliefs. All of my early teachers were expressing this message – and my life's work has been dedicated to furthering a planetary psychological revolution based on deep spiritual awakening. I mean, after all, that's what Lao Tzu and Buddha and Jesus were teaching – that we must learn to open up and receive spiritual guidance in our own hearts, if we are to effectively change the world.

The 9th and 10th Focus Phrases that you teach in Expand This Moment certainly strike ultimate spiritual notes: “I am open to receive” and “I feel connected with my source.”

Yes – we must regularly turn our attention toward receiving spiritual guidance directly from our inner source of being. Hold these 12 Focus Phrases in our minds often is one of the most direct and potent ways to regularly tap into higher guidance and to allow Spirit to act through us – which for me is the ultimate spiritual responsibility. So many people go through most of their days never opening up to receive, and never feeling consciously connected with their source of being. Focus Phrases serve the essential purpose of making sure that, at least once each new day, we consciously focus our attention toward regaining the present moment, quieting our chatterbox thoughts, receiving healing help in our hearts, and tuning into what Spirit is guiding us to do – right here, right now! And it’s not only our responsibility to pause and tune into spiritual guidance – it’s where the true joy and fulfillment in life are regularly found.

You've been very honest in this new book, describing not only your spiritual epiphanies, but also your breakdowns. Do you feel that people at some point must hit bottom emotionally and spiritually, in order to attain awakening?

Somehow, while I was writing Expand This Moment, I felt that as a teacher I needed to be entirely honest about the experiences that pushed me beyond my limits and woke up insights that I now base my teachings upon. It's true that I've had quite a radical life, and several times have gone through near-death experiences that I wouldn't wish upon others, but that provoked deep realization. I think that one of the reasons I've written this new book is to help people access the insights and meditative tools needed to advance spiritually, without having to go through overly-radical life experiences. What's important is developing a daily meditation practice using tools such as my Focus Phrases, so that spiritual evolution is continually being nurtured.

For me, there’s really no future spiritual goal in life, and fixating on attaining enlightenment in the future is actually contrary to a true spiritual path in which living fully in the present moment is the intent. One of the somewhat radical things I teach in Expand This Moment is that we must accept and honor and love ourselves just as we are right now – and stop trying to improve ourselves for some future goal. This present moment is God’s perfect creation, and we’re part of that perfect unfolding. Our challenge is to spontaneously participate in this emerging moment, and love ourselves as perfect vehicles for God’s always-emerging creation. Hey – let’s enjoy this moment!

The final two Focus Phrases that you teach in your book seem quite unusual for a meditation program. Why do you end your Daily Process in this way?

Well, sometimes I don't even want to use the word “meditation” for the Daily Process that I'm teaching, because the term “meditation” carries so many out-dated and off-base religious connotations. Alan Watts taught that meditation is simply being aware – it’s something we do all the time when we fully embrace the present moment and let Spirit fill our hearts and minds with higher insight and intent. Meditation actually sets us free from all of our old knee-jerk mental programmings and fear- based cultural beliefs. Meditation in the pure meaning of the word simply means … gently and regularly expanding our awareness in the present moment. And my 12 Focus Phrases serve the simple ultimate purpose of aiming your attention in directions that wake up wholebody awareness, quiet fear-based thoughts, and help us connect with our core.

Then come the final two Focus Phrases. “I am here to serve, to love, to prosper, and to enjoy myself,” is a short benediction that clarifies the deeper spiritual intent we choose to bring to all of our activities. This is an intensely powerful Focus Phrase to hold in our minds throughout the day. Why are we really here? And the 12th Focus Phrase prepares us to go into action following our meditation: “I am ready to act with courage and integrity.” If you pause for just three minutes anytime during your day and move through the 12 Focus Phrases, these last two Focus Phrases will then move you beautifully into action for the rest of the day.

You have recently ended over a decade of spiritual retreat and writing in Hawaii, and returned to your homeland of California. Why have you chosen to let go of Paradise and move back into the fray of mainland life?

My wife Birgitta and I both feel strongly guided to actively plug back in and once again be out teaching, offering this new meditative process to whoever wants to learn. There's something so special that happens in a live meditation seminar; people can move very deeply very fast, and we love participating in that group process. Our two decades on Kauai have strongly nurtured the development of this new meditation process. Anyone who goes online and watches some of the meditation videos we’ve produced here will see that the island itself has been an essential ingredient in our work. But now it’s time to be active again teaching.

I do feel that there’s something special about the whole 2012 phenomenon, we’re right on the cusp of a momentous explosion of consciousness, a unique opportunity for us to wake up to who we really are – and transform the world by transforming our own experience. And the joke is, this transformation requires that we finally stop trying to change the outside world, and instead accept and love and fully realize who we really are. I don’t necessarily anticipate radical external events in the next few years. Instead, Birgitta and I are dedicated to encouraging this inner revolution and awakening that will fulfill what Buddha and Lao Tzu and Jesus and all the rest envisioned and continue to guide us toward manifesting – a psychological and spiritual revolution that creates a world where love finally triumphs over fear, and the present moment steadily expands in all or hearts into an infinite unfolding of love and joy … let’s do it!

You've recently launched a new online program at JohnSelby.com and TappingDaily.org where people can ask you questions about your meditation program, watch loads of unique meditation-training videos, read your wide-ranging blog, and a whole lot more. You seem to be giving a great deal away for free, and placing a major emphasis on the online dimension of your work. Do you feel that spiritual growth can be taught on the web?

I still feel that a printed book as one of the best vehicles for communicating deep spiritual thoughts and processes. That's why I continue to write books like Expand This Moment. And at the same time, I do deeply feel that the digital revolution is helping to accelerate spiritual growth upon this planet. So except for weekend live seminars, TappingDaily.org is where I live these days in terms of daily updates and insights that flow through me and outward to whoever wants to tap into that flow. I love the interactivity and sense of connection with my readers that I'm experiencing at TappingDaily.org, and JohnSelby.com, which both go to the same site now. In a very real hi-tech way, the revolution is live!

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