I've had a number of influences on my journey. Some particular wisdom traditions have stood out for me, being paths that I was drawn to at various points in my intensive seeking years (mostly during the 1970s-80s, although I have revisited many of these pathways since then, and continue to do so). What follows is not presented in the chronological order in which I was exposed to these influences (something almost impossible to do, owing to the ways in which they overlapped over the years).
1. Martial Arts. Sorting out the influences below chronologically may be difficult, but I can say with confidence that the earliest influence in my life, in terms of what would eventually lead to the paths of 'inner work' I followed, was martial arts. I was a generally aggressive child, given to fighting, but I was also somewhat small in size (a combination that can be rather risky for physical well-being). In 1972 my father told me about a TV pilot movie he'd just seen, called Kung Fu, starring David Carradine (not to be confused with the weaker sequel show of the '80s-90s). I still recall him describing the big fight in the climax of the film, in which a fugitive monk with superb fighting skills overcame another monk who had been hunting him to collect a bounty. Intrigued, I watched subsequent episodes of the TV show when it began playing. At that young age (13) I was not interested in the mystical aspects, but as I began to follow the show the Shaolin monastery scenes in particular fascinated me, especially the interplay between Caine (young 'Grasshopper') and his wise old kung fu masters. Something about the candles, the incense, the gongs, the shaven-headed monks wrapped in their ochre and black robes, and the pithy wisdom spouted between the slow-motion sparring and fights, was all very magnetic. What especially appealed was the older Caine wandering the Wild West of America, sustained by not just his combat skills but in particular by his inner disciplines that resulted in a centered, peaceful, and wise man who seemed strangely free. It all motivated me to train in Martial Arts myself, which I did (shito-ryu karate and wing-chun kung fu, and in later years, tai chi and qi gong). I never 'mastered' any of these arts (although I did achieve a fairly advanced belt in karate), but it all began to cultivate in me an interest in the matters of wisdom and transcendence in general. In my mid-teens I read a book called Zen Combat that included discussions of a different kind of master, a 'Zen master', all of which began the slow process of opening new, and deeper, doors.
2. Buddhism. I've been strongly pulled toward Buddhism since I first read Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha back around 1975, and over the years it has probably remained my single most persistent influence. I've been variously involved in all three of the major Buddhist schools (Tibetan, Zen, and Theravadin, with Tibetan and Zen Buddhism being my prime influences). I've done retreats and received guidance from Tibetan Buddhist teachers such as Lama Zasep Rinpoche, Lama Tobgyal Sonam Rinpoche, Pema Chodron, and Lama Ponlop Rinpoche; from the Theravadin teacher Ajahn Sona; and from the Zen teacher Eshin Godfrey. Currently I participate when time permits with Maitrivana, a Tibetan Buddhist centre in the lineage of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and the Vancouver Zen centre, in the lineage of Joshu Sasaki Roshi.
3. The Gurdjieff Work. I first discovered Gurdjieff, via Colin Wilson's classic primer The Occult that I read in high school in the 1970s, and later more fully via Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous that I first read around 1981. In 1982 I spent close to a year in a Gurdjieff Work group, that was in the lineage of John G. Bennett, one of Gurdjieff's most prominent and creative pupils, and a strong master in his own right. I left 'the Work' in order to undergo some of the therapies that evolved out of the human potential movement of the 1960s (such as Janov's Primal Therapy), but over the ensuing decades I've continued to study most of the available writings by and about Gurdjieff, the Work, and some of his more prominent pupils, such as Bennett, Ouspensky, Jeanne de Salzmann, Orage, Lord John Pentland, and William Patrick Patterson. I still periodically utilize Gurdjieffian methods both upon myself and in my own trainings.
4. Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh). I discovered Osho shortly after I'd discovered Gurdjieff (about 1981). I read several of his books back then, and then decided to write to him, feeling strongly drawn to his substance and style. A response from his secretary arrived a few weeks later, where I was directed to a local Osho center in my city at the time. I took formal initiation in early 1983 shortly after leaving the Gurdjieff Work. Not long after I traveled to the ill-fated ashram in Oregon that he'd founded in 1981. I was there at separate times in '84 and '85, undergoing some of the group therapies and meditations his community offered. Between 1984-86 I lived in several Osho communal houses in Vancouver. In 1986, shortly after the collapse of the Oregon ashram, I wandered off to India, eventually making my way up to Nepal where (unexpectedly) I was able to spend about one month in Osho's company, along with another hundred or so followers, as he gave daily talks from a Kathmandu hotel. In 1991, a year after Osho died, I returned to India, spending several months in his Poona ashram, undergoing a number of groups. After that, my path seemed to diverge away from his work for good. That said, he remains for me in many ways my most significant guru, and his work and ideas had a profound influence on my own subsequent work.
5. A Course In Miracles. I discovered the potent teachings of this strange book while taking something of a break from my time in Osho's community in 1986. At first I was put off by the quasi-Christian language of the book, but soon recognized it to be a unique teaching of extraordinary depth that actually has much more in common with Eastern pathways and Gnosticism than it does with traditional Christian doctrine. I spent two years in a training school from 1986-88 that based much of its work on ACIM along with other disciplines and modalities of therapy and growth (including conventional counseling and group-leader training). It was here that I was trained and certified as a personal growth facilitator and transpersonal counselor.
6. Advaita Vedanta. I'd studied the Upanishads and related Hindu teachings on and off since the early 1980s, but it wasn't until the late 1990s that I looked more deeply into the tradition of Advaita, and began to participate in the whole satsang phenomenon that became widespread around that time, mostly via the work of a number of Western teachers who had been endorsed to teach by the Advaitin guru, H.W.L. Poonja. After a series of events, I began giving formal satsang meetings myself and did so from 2002-04, here in Vancouver and Washington state. In '04 I underwent a health issue; after emerging from it, I felt drawn to stop offering satsang meetings and to re-engage some of the previous forms of work I'd taught in the 90s, such as ACIM, the Gurdjieff Work, the Enneagram, and other disciplines. My first book, A Natural Awakening (2005) was mostly based on Advaita (and psychology). I continue to study and practice the great principles of Advaita, and still regard it, along with Zen, as an 'ultimate pathway'. The prime inspiration for me in the Advaita lines has always been, and continues to be, Ramana Maharshi.
7. Altered States of Consciousness. I considered grouping these matters with the next section (Western Esoteric Tradition), but it is really its own category. I began experimenting with recreational drugs at a very early age (12-13), a time immediately following the Woodstock era (1969), and the height of the recreational drug revolution in North America. However as fate would have it, I was not cut out for the recreational drug world. At age 13 I had a very 'bad trip', which resulted in unpleasant flash backs, nightmares, and anxiety attacks that lasted for five years. Apart from smoking pot a few times in my 20s, I have not used recreational drugs at all since then. Instead, I discovered more 'natural' means of experiencing altered states, in particular, the worlds of lucid dreaming and 'out of body' travel. By my late teens I was a fairly accomplished lucid dreamer, and by 21 I was inducing regular 'out of body' (so-called astral traveling) states of consciousness. Two major influences in this area were Castaneda (see below) via his lucid dream methods, and even more so, Robert Monroe, via his 'out of body' techniques. In this connection I should also mention the 'soul-travel' practices of the Eckankar tradition, an initiate of which bore a strong influence on me when I met him, and received some instruction from him, in my early 20s. By my 30s these experiences diminished greatly both in frequency and in overall importance (being, as they are, transient as anything else is) but I still occasionally have a 'far out' lucid dream or otherwise 'paranormal' experience, now regarded with the same fascination I might have for a fine meal or a beautiful cloud formation.
8. Alternative Therapies. This is a broad area, referring mostly to particular psycho-spiritual therapies that grew out of the 1960s 'Esalen revolution', in which methods such as Gestalt therapy, Reichian therapy, bioenergetics, Primal Therapy, Rolfing, Rebirthing, Encounter, and so forth, became fairly widespread. I underwent a ten day Primal Therapy isolation retreat in 1982, followed by years of Rebirthing (a deep breathing method similar to some practices of Kundalini Yoga), different forms of bodywork (including ten Rolfing sessions), acupuncture, shiatsu, reiki, Reichian therapy, floatation tanks, and so on. In the mid-1980s I was trained and certified as a bodyworker and Rebirther myself.
9. The Western Esoteric Tradition. This tradition is vast in scope; suffice to say, in many respects it is my 'oldest' calling, having captured my interest as far back as the mid-1970s when I was a high school student. Key elements of the tradition that I've studied, practiced, and taught in my own courses over the years, have been Egyptian mysticism, Hermeticism, alchemy, Kabbalah, ritual and ceremonial magick, subtle body work, the tarot, astrology, and 'sacred' geometry. Of all the traditions, I consider the Western esoteric lines to be, in some ways, the most intriguing and the most 'fun', if only for the richness of the symbolism and the sheer creative avenues they embody and allow for. During a mild depression I passed through several years ago, it was work from this tradition that snapped me out of it, in a way that other forms of work were not able to do. My forthcoming book, The Inner Light (Axis Mundi Books, March 2014), represents over three decades of my study in this tradition.
10. Aleister Crowley. Yes, the Beast himself. Crowley was another of my 'early years' influences; in the late 1970s I was a fairly serious student of his superb Tarot deck, and over the years read much of the works by and about him. His reputation has never been particularly good, but for reasons I outline in the recent book I wrote about him (and Gurdjieff and Osho) much, if not most, of this is based on misinformation, disinformation, and general fear of what he provoked in people, mostly in regards to sexuality and religious programming. Of course, Crowley was no saint; however, he was a committed and brilliant mystic, a type of bridge between the archaic Renaissance magus and the 20th century tantric-mage. Most outstanding of all was his immense appetite for life. I've always related to his adventurous spirit, and wide embrace of so many parallel pathways, such as literature (he was a fine poet), chess (near-master strength), accomplished mountain climber, scholar, magician, mystic, hedonist, artist, prolific author, etc.
11. Carlos Castaneda and shamanism. Castaneda was a character not unlike Crowley or Gurdjieff; his books purporting to document his apprenticeship to a neolithic-type sage named 'don Juan Matus' were probably fictive, but as John Lash once wrote, that is 'deeply irrelevant'. Castaneda was hugely influential on so many young seekers in the 1970s, myself included. I began reading him in the summer of 1975 (a time that so much was opening up for me), and became completely hooked on his stuff. I must have read his Journey to Ixtlan--possibly the finest account ever of the dynamic interplay between a sorcerer and his apprentice, even if fiction--at least ten times. By his fifth or sixth book I began losing interest, but his work was really the launching pad for my lifelong journey of exploring the world of sages, mystics, and magicians. I subsequently developed interest in shamanism as a universal discipline, studied Harner and Eliade, and underwent many traditional West coast Native sweat lodge ceremonies with a good friend of mine who was a Cree pipe-holder. One of the strangest experiences I ever partook in was witnessing a Lakota shaman perform some utterly inexplicable feats of psychic showmanship in a Yuwipi ceremony.
12. The Enneagram. Back in 1991 I participated in a week-long Enneagram training program (in India). Enneagram work delves into nine personality types, and the way these function to obscure 'essence', or our deeper nature and real creative possibilities. To be clear, this 'Enneagram' is more the product of the work of the Bolivian mystic Oscar Ichazo and the Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, and not Gurdjieff; although the latter is usually credited with introducing the symbol to the West. After undergoing my own Enneagram work I subsequently taught several Enneagram training seminars over the years. Of all personality systems I consider it the finest, much more comprehensive than Jung's model.
13. The Western Philosophical tradition. It goes without saying that any wisdom-seeker/finder is going to encounter the deepest thinkers of world literature sooner or later. I began with Nietzsche in my late teens, although could not appreciate him until much later. Socrates, Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, and especially Plotinus, all had influence.