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Interview with Paul Martin, author of Original Faith, on the Spiritual Journey

November 10, 2009

Thanks for all your comments on my Women’s Energy Body post, they were very helpful to me. Sorry I have been MIA on the blogosphere the last couple of weeks, some visitors have kept me occupied – first family (fun) then flu (not so fun, but not so bad either, compared to some.) And truthfully, between the holidays and some contemplation and reading I would like to get done, I will probably be a bit erratic online for the rest of this year.

But first, I want to bring you this interview with a favorite fellow blogger of mine, Paul Martin of Original Faith. Paul guest-posted earlier this year, and I finally was able to read his book, also entitled Original Faith, this summer (and reviewed it on Amazon recently.) After doing so, I wanted to speak with Paul in person, and did so by phone for this interview a couple of weeks ago. I was glad we got to speak, because his grace-filled presence came through so strongly. He has truly walked the walk, spiritually speaking, and I felt such a centering power and peace emanating from him as we talked.

This is moving in anyone, but considering that Paul has suffered from a debilitating, progressive, and undiagnosed disease for the last sixteen years, and at this point has extremely limited mobility, I found it even more profound. In a spiritual culture that I sometimes feel accentuates positivity and ‘getting the life we want’ over insight and love, it was wonderful to sense such a true awakening in someone for whom physical life has certainly not gone as planned.

After chatting a bit about the nature of the publishing business (which Paul also spoke about in a recent interview for Writers Inspired), we dove into the book’s content. Because I am so interested in personal experience, I focused a lot in this interview on this aspect of Paul’s book  – you can get a fuller sense of the book’s content and his background from his blog and the Amazon reviews.

Paul, your own conscious spiritual quest was triggered by a profound and spontaneous mystic (my word!) experience that you had in your twenties. Prior to it, you had entered into a pretty deep depression – can you talk a bit about that?

Yes, I had gotten myself into a deep hole. I think there are several different types of depression, and in my own case it was really driven by the relentless scientific reading and studying I was doing  – that the earth would inevitably explode into hydrogen and the like – and my perception of their being so much evil in the world. I was just deeply struck by the meaninglessness of life in that context. I think if my personal life had been happier perhaps it would not have hit me so strongly, but the combination over time really took me to the point where I think I would have committed suicide by age 30. I had lost touch with any kind of hope or faith. I think you can get to this place beyond any kind of meaning, and that’s where I had gotten myself.

As I say in my book, I don’t think anyone needs to go through an experience of despair like this. I hope this is clear, because I don’t want to romanticize it. In my case, despair was both psychological and existential, brought on by my unhappiness in my life and my questioning and line of thinking. And really, my mystic experience, as you called it, really saved me.

Did the despair never return? Was it instantly gone from that moment forward? Did it not return, even in the midst of what you have gone through with your illness?

The despair, the sense of meaninglessness, did go away. My world shifted completely that day. I don’t know why or how and I still look back in awe of it. In a way I have never experienced anything like it again. But I also haven’t needed to.

When my disease first surfaced, I did go through a natural progression of emotions about it, and there was grief and frustration. I was misdiagnosed at first, and to make a long story short was told I needed to exercise more, and pursued that vigorously, only to find it didn’t help. Then on my own I had to gradually figure out that I didn’t have what I had been told, and go through many more series of tests, all to no avail. All the while the disease was, and is, relentlessly progressive. At this point I literally appear to have something no one else on the planet has ever had!

But no, that kind of despair never came back. There was always this ground, this faith, that never left me from that day.

When you look back at the experience now, why do you think it occurred? Do you think in terms of grace?

I honestly don’t know. As I said, the spiritual process doesn’t unfold this way for everyone. But it does seem that for some, a bottoming-out type experience is the turning point. I once read an explanation in William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience that does seem relevant. Basically, he said that in some of us the conscious and unconscious are so separate that things ‘builds up’ in the unconscious to a tremendous degree, and then explode to the surface in an experience such as this. The barrier is bigger, so to speak, so the breakthrough feels bigger too.

In your book, you call it a ‘conversion’ experience, so I want to know, a conversion to what? What do you consider yourself – do you consider yourself Christian?

You know, that is my background as a child, and I don’t mind if people think of me as Christian. Some of the language of the book is Christian, and I do use some Biblical quotes. But the quotes aren’t meant to be interpreted in just a Christian context. I don’t think I really think of myself as anything. I think of spirituality as outside religion. And I am glad more people are starting to see it that way too. I see spirituality as being a human thing. And at the level of doctrine there really is no way for the different religions to be resolved. So I am glad more people are focusing on the experiential aspect. To me, spirituality is experiential, not doctrinal.

Although this is not really a traditional self-help or how-to book, you do talk about spiritual practice, and some techniques that you at one point found helpful. Do you still engage in formal practice of any kind?

Well, physically I can no longer do many of the practices I describe in the book. I cannot formally sit for meditation, and even breathing exercises can be difficult. But it is interesting, gradually as the disease has progressed – and really I noticed it before this too – I have felt less of a need for it. I have not felt disconnected, so I have not felt the need to practice to feel connected. It is like a part of me is always there in meditation, and I move away from that less and less. It’s not that I’m ‘there’ all the time, but I do know it is always there for me to connect to.

The need for a certain kind of practice fell away. Integration of your experience occurred in the 15 years while you were writing the book, after your initial experience.

Yes, and this was where I was going in the end of the book, in the ‘Owning the Greater Claim’ chapter, which was actually very hard for me to communicate – the movement I felt from practicing to living in a world-centered, rather than self-minded, way.

I’m glad you went there, because a lot of spiritual material doesn’t these days. As we’ve sometimes discussed on your blog, it seems too often to stop at personal happiness. For me, you went beyond where a lot of books stop.

Yes, I know what you mean. I can’t read a lot of books anymore, but based on the blogs and things that I have read, there is a strong focus on happiness, and ridding yourself of negativity. And I do think that is useful. Happiness is great, of course! But I think there is a bit of hype, of overstatement, going on sometimes. Just look at the world. Bad things happen. There is nothing that will guarantee you nothing bad will ever happen to you. This is the first noble truth in Buddhism, right? ‘There is suffering’. And it’s not meant to be a depressing observation. It’s meant to convey that there is something beyond just getting rid of negativity, of relentlessly pursuing happiness.

In this way, my disease has really underscored this for me. Many of the things that brought me happiness I can no longer do. I actually haven’t been on the phone, before talking to you, in 2 weeks. I can’t go out in nature or exercise or any of that any longer, and I really don’t know how much longer I can blog. But underlying everything is this…greater peace, or peacefulness. This can be found regardless of circumstance. Happiness is great, but there is more. And you have to look beyond happiness for that.

Thank you so much Paul. I was wondering if you have any final thoughts you would want to leave the readers with? Really, what do you think the essential thing is that you would like everyone to know/contemplate in terms of their own journey here?

That a sense of trust in life or existence is part of being human, regardless of whether you connect it to religious or spiritual beliefs. Faith is unconditional, and becoming aware of this helps you to act on your love with greater purpose, passion, and dedication.


Paul and I will both be checking for comments when we can, so please do share your own thoughts or questions.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2009 1:11 am

    Hi Lisa and Paul

    Interesting how break throughs can happen and I love Paul’s reassurance that we do not all have to go through deep troughs in life to experience them.
    We so often still look for thruths outside ourselves but for me it started there. I needed some other explanations rather than the one my Catholic upbringing has given me.
    From there on I could experience doing things differently, coming from knowing how things could be different. I also learned to choose the explanations that spoke to all of me, rather than choosing the ones that suited my mind.
    Then I picked out what was useful and used them as a guide for living.
    I love what Paul says here;
    “To me, spirituality is experiential, not doctrinal.”

    We need to own it and live it, spirituality for me is getting grounded in this life, with whom is in front of me doing what needs to be done, coming from love in action and adding value.

    Paul, thank you for validating certain things, that is always valuable and although you seem to have the strength to cope with your physcial condition, my heart reaches out to you.

    Thank you and love to you both, Wilma

  2. November 11, 2009 2:30 am

    Thanks, Paul and Lisa, for sharing this gentle discussion of unconditional faith. I’m struck by the potency of this sentence: “At this point I literally appear to have something no one else on the planet has ever had!” Isn’t that newsworthy? Wouldn’t Dr. Sanjay Gupta or someone like him be interested in trying to shed some light on this mystery illness?

    Neither of you used the term “healing” here and I’m curious about that. I know this post is about the book and not the disease. Still, I’d like to know your thoughts about the potential for a medical intervention. Is healing addressed in the book?

  3. November 11, 2009 2:52 am

    There were tears in my eyes as I read this post. Indeed, I have come to conclude that while having material possessions can help create the life I want, nothing is more important than the value of insight. While coming to my conclusion, I had to make some very hard decisions in the last month or so in realigning my work priorities.

    I have been watching some of the suffering that I put myself through. Thanks for sharing what Paul said:”It’s meant to convey that there is something beyond just getting rid of negativity, of relentlessly pursuing happiness.” I will need to ponder more over this!

    Thanks, Paul, for making it to the phone and sharing with us all about having faith, courage, and going beyond happiness alone.

    With love,

  4. themelindachannel permalink
    November 11, 2009 3:56 am

    It was nice to hear about Paul Martin’s journey. I enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing!


  5. mommymystic permalink*
    November 11, 2009 4:33 am

    Hi all, Paul will respond when he can, as I mentioned he has limited online time these days. But I did get an email from him and he had this to say about my transcription abilities:

    “…I deny ever stating that I believe that the earth will explode into hydrogen – that must be your theory, lol!

    But then again I was lying down so who knows what I said, it’s not the brain’s best functional position for talking about cosmology, especially if you only majored in English…”

    Anyway, my apologies to Paul, it really did sound like ‘explode into hydrogen’ on the recording!! It was some kind of earth-explosion-fear type thing…

  6. mommymystic permalink*
    November 11, 2009 4:42 am

    Wilma, I like what you said about spirituality being about doing what needs to be done, right in front of you, with love…

    Brenda – I’ll let Paul handle this one, but I do know that over the last 16 years, he has certainly pursued many different healing angles. We like to think everything is within our control at some level, but perhaps they simply are not.

    Evelyn – interesting to me to hear you talk about how this hit you, because to me you do seem to understand both – the value of manifesting and creating our life, and the insight that ultimately that is not in itself happiness and wisdom. I think there is a place for both teachings, personally, as long as we understand the value and place of each.

    Melinda- glad you liked.

  7. November 11, 2009 5:45 am

    Ah, Lisa, you questioning was incisive and thank you Paul for insightful answers. You’ve told your story well; clearly your illness was central to your awakening and yet I love the way you reassure that that is not necessary for other to awaken.

    I’ll echo Wilma and say I found this “To me, spirituality is experiential, not doctrinal.” to be very meaningful. And yet, the temptation in all of us to run to beliefs and dogma and doctrine is strong.

    Thanks you both for the insights!


  8. November 11, 2009 8:49 am

    Thank you, Lisa and Paul, for putting this together. This has been a totally inspiring post and Paul continues to amaze me with his positivity in the face of adverse sufferings. I wish him better days ahead.

  9. November 11, 2009 1:18 pm

    I love Paul’s quiet spirituality, and easy confidence in what he believes. He’s truly an inspiration to all of us – not for anything physical that he goes through – but simply for being who he is. Thanks fir sharing this, Lisa. I think we all could use more “Original Faith” in our lives!

  10. November 11, 2009 2:24 pm

    Thanks for doing this interview with Paul. I follow Original Faith/have the book and appreciate the additional insights.

  11. November 11, 2009 5:24 pm

    It’s fascinating, the idea of living practice. Twelve step programs say in the 12th step: “..practice these principles in all our affairs.” Natural, unselfconscious living contains in it all the elements of practice: stripping away the defenses, going with the flow, trusting what comes up. So simple; so difficult, for some, to do.

  12. November 11, 2009 5:37 pm

    Thanks for all these engaging comments! If people don’t mind, I’m going to just pick out the questions or issues that jump out at me most so I can catch up on what you’ve all said…

    HYDROGEN EARTH: Re. EHEH or the “exploding hydrogen-earth hypothesis,” sometimes referred to with a chuckle as “eh-eh…” I think I must have been trying to allude to the steady state theory of how the universe ends. The basic idea, if I’ve got it right, is that depending on how much dark matter there is, the Big Bang either re-collapses into a Big Crunch from the pull of gravity, OR – if there’s not enough dark matter – it just keeps expanding until all possible interactions have occurred and you’re left with a universe of evenly dispersed hydrogen atoms where literally nothing can happen anymore called the “Big Bore.”

    MEDICAL FRONT: On the medical front, I’m in my 16th year of this. Tremendous and extended efforts were made on both the medical and alternative medicine fronts. I had my sister in my corner, whose smarter than I am in most ways – she did a ton of research to the point where doctors and nurses often assumed she had a medical background from the words that were coming out of her mouth. Long story short: even NIH couldn’t figure it out. (A couple years ago they actually started a research program there for folks with conditions that fail to be diagnosed but you have to be able to travel.)

    (And Brenda, yes, after I became housebound, our efforts included reaching out to the media. Judging by our results, there’s absolutely no media interest in an unknown middle aged man’s disease that isn’t a threat to anyone else…)

    ILLNESS AND AWAKENING Kaushik, actually, my illness was not central to my spiritual development. A spontaneous “non-dualistic” or mystical experience was. That happened in June of 1980.

    My manuscript was nearly finished in 1994 when my health problem started. Between full-time work, extensive medical research and travel, and continual insurance struggles, I had to set it aside for about ten years. I only had time to return to it once I was too disabled to continue working outside the house.

    My sense is that whether your way is one of great joy, which I had prior to 94, or one of great adversity, which I’ve had ever since, both paths lead into the same spiritual territory. Great adversity is obviously harder to take and it can limit your potential in many respects, but you can learn to live beyond it. You live beyond it at the same level of self that, in better times, experiences true joy – joy that takes you out of and beyond yourself.

  13. November 11, 2009 5:59 pm

    I am so happy to read this next interview with Paul. Congrats to you both. What strikes me is Paul’s awareness that at some point we begin to feel that we do not need to DO spiritual practices. With time and faithfulness, steadiness and belief, we actually become the practice. And I am celebrating that Paul finds himself in this place. I am moving in this direction myself. I find that meditation (instead of formal sitting) has become a state of mind and heart all throughout the day. Paying attention to what arises, embracing it, letting it fall away. Noticing how I get lured in to certain messages/emotions. Breathing. Letting go. Focusing on a “higher vibration” quality. Our lives are certainly a work in progress, no matter where we find ourselves.

    May we all continue to live with greater ease and grace, as Paul does.

    Paul, I don’t know if I ever told you, but you are “on my Mary altar” — permanently. Candle lit daily. Peace and Love to you….

  14. mommymystic permalink*
    November 11, 2009 6:18 pm

    Paul, thanks for taking the time to respond! And I have to admit I am glad to hear there might actually have been some mention of hydrogen in what you said, so I was not completely delusional…two BAs probably should not have been discussing steady state theories or anything of that nature…I have learned my lesson…but I swear you brought it up:-)

    Thanks for your comments. I just wanted to say that I actually didn’t mean for this interview or post to be so centered on Paul’s illness, it just happened that way. And he has gotten me contemplating many things, because I generally read two different types of ‘spiritual blogs’ – those that do put forth LOA/positivity type teachings, and are often very alternative/energy healing based, and those that are more Buddhist/Vedanta/Eckhart Tolle oriented, focused on acceptance, release, and finding peace or life beyond ego.

    And these ideas don’t always play well together, as much as everyone would like them too. I think there is a lot more to explore here. I think they both have their place, but they also can both be kind of ‘exclusionary’ and judgmental of each other, and that makes me uncomfortable.

    LOA/positivity teachings can often make it sound like anyone who is ill must be blocking the light or love on some level, and I personally do not believe that to be true. Sometimes it is, and we have tremendous power at our disposal to see and change this. But I have met too many people like Paul, who transmit an incredible peace and love, and are ill anyway. Some of these people have died, and I don’t consider this a ‘failure’. A beautiful death is a gift of sorts, in my own experience, and perhaps the peace of their lives and deaths has been part of the ‘purpose’ of their lives, and their gift to us, I don’t know. The universe is a mysterious place, in my eyes.

    On the other hand, often Buddhist or Vedanta teachings are dismissive of positivity/energy teachings, seeing them simply as a way of feeding desires or pleasure-seeking, of repressing negativity rather than meeting it, or simply as an unnecessary distraction on the way to enlightenment.

    I think both views have value and truth in them, and it is a balancing act, navigating through them and seeing what is relevant at different points in our journey…

    Hmmm….this is turning into a post….I just wanted to bring this out, because I do think there is a lot more to discuss here.

  15. November 11, 2009 7:53 pm

    I really enjoyed this interview and felt a sense of Paul’s spiritual journey being a journey and not a “bam! I believe” moment.
    Very powerful, Lisa.

  16. November 11, 2009 8:17 pm

    Our spiritual development is a journey. We would like to arrive all at once and sometimes there is a life changing event that we enter and then nothing is ever the same. Some people spend years trying to return to the way things were. I enjoyed reading about this journey and the moving forward and finding what you believe.

  17. November 11, 2009 8:44 pm

    For me, it was a life changing event, the birth of my daughter and my mother coming to live with me that brought out a family hydra demon of fear, guilt, anger and sadness. Paul’s journey is so meaningful, especially since he took the time to understand it.

    May we all be brave enough to do so ourselves. When we cannot, may we have the support of family, friends, and a spiritual faith to carry us through.

  18. November 11, 2009 11:08 pm

    Lisa – To me the only problem – and it’s a big one – with what I’ve read on the blogs about LOA and similar perspectives is that often they take a truth and overstate it so much that it becomes a falsehood.

    True: Positive thinking helps. False: Positive thinking is a panacea.

    Gramma of 7 – Yes… it was more like “Bam! All this time I thought I’d lost trust in life – but here it is!”

    Erin – Both your points strike me as true – it always remains a process, but there’s also such a thing as moving forward.

    Mermaid – Yes… clearly some people don’t manage to go forward without help – sometimes they don’t even make it with help. People self destruct every day.

    At the same time, this illness taught me that I was stronger than I could have begun to imagine previously – and I bet that’s true for a lot of us.

  19. November 12, 2009 5:00 am

    I like Paul said about having a sense of trust in life – it speaks to having a sense of hope for what tomorrow will bring.

  20. November 12, 2009 5:39 pm

    Hi Lisa and Paul,

    What a beautiful interview! I truly loved reading it. For some reason, most people usually do have to hit rock bottom before they find a way out. I know that I did and it changed my life. The great thing about Paul is that he speaks his truth so openly, it is very admirable and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us!

  21. November 12, 2009 10:17 pm

    Stacey – I’d want to make this distinction —

    What I experience as faith – hope with regard to final or ultimate reality and a sense of trust in relation to my experience of life in the present moment – is unconditional and being-based. If I knew an asteroid were going to destroy life on earth tomorrow, that faith would be unaffected.

    Other sorts of hope that I experience are conditioned to some degree by information. For example, if my computer crashes, I’m much more hopeful that it will be up and running soon if my sister’s around than if she’s not!

    Nadia – That’s an interesting and strange difference to me – how bottoming out is fatal for some, a positive turning point for others, and unnecessary for another group of people who just don’t seem to go through a period of “angst…”

  22. November 13, 2009 6:05 pm

    Lisa and Paul, thank you so much for doing and posting this interview. I have ordered the book and am anxiously awaiting it. I’ve had a similar experience… sometimes everything has to seem so meaningless before you find meaning… it’s almost like a paradox. I know it doesn’t work that way for everyone but this has definitely happened to me. I’m looking forward to reading more, and for what else you have to say about this idea.

    Thank for sharing this interview here.
    Miche 🙂

  23. November 13, 2009 11:15 pm

    Miche, thanks for your interest in the book. I’m always interested in reader feedback.

    I’m surprised how many people on this thread relate to the spiritual bottoming-out phase that’s part of the process for some people – but for others, definitely not…

  24. November 14, 2009 1:21 am

    I relate to that spiritual bottoming out too – the dark night of the soul. It certainly is a difficult existential experience, but from it springs life and hope. But I agree that the emphasis on the positive at the expense of the negative seems to shove its importance aside. In the end, though, what I most loved about this interview is what you left us with: “That a sense of trust in life or existence is part of being human.” What a beautiful expression of the archetype of trust, hope, and faith, and the recognition that although life is difficult it is nevertheless sweet and worth living. Thanks.

  25. November 14, 2009 8:34 am

    Paul, I really appreciate your reflection on a spiritual practice, that “a part of you is always there in meditation.” In my struggle to find the rhythm of my own spiritual practice as well as trying to balance my needs with the needs of my family, I am more aware that it is an awareness I am after not so much of a practice. Perhaps the awareness is the practice. And if spirituality is more about experience, then perhaps you are on to something here about the spiritual life. Awareness, practice, experience–my three-legged stool. Grateful to you both for your post.

  26. November 14, 2009 2:58 pm

    Patty – Communicating that human “fact of faith,” as that chapter of the book is titled, was the original impulse behind writing the book – thanks for picking up on this.

    Nicki – That’s a good way to put it – finding the “rhythm of your own spiritual practice.” Once you find a few things that you can see are starting to work for you, it’s a matter of integrating them into your day to day life and letting the rest take care of itself.

    As you suggest, most of us are pressed for time in one way or another, so it can be challenging to make practice a part of your routine. But it’s usually doable– even when you need to modify/innovate/do less than you might have wanted. This is an area where something is way better than nothing!

  27. mommymystic permalink*
    November 14, 2009 4:50 pm

    So appreciating the comments here, and Paul’s insights, thanks to you all for taking the time..

  28. November 15, 2009 7:14 am

    Spirituality is closely connected with personal experience isn’t it. For someone my experience might seem non-consequential, but to me it can trigger a wide array of experiences. Thanks for the interview Lisa 🙂

  29. November 16, 2009 2:40 am

    What an interesting post, and comments! I think Paul exudes such quiet dignity and grace and this story touches us all because it is the story of persevering through a challenge so great most of us could not imagine working through it. For me personally it helps to face my “little fears” knowing there are others who have faced far greater than those in my small world, with the end result of such peace and joy in life. I have had lots in my life, and some steps forward are sometimes much more arduous than joyful, but each step forward is with the assurance that so many others have gone before me and help me to find the way.
    I agree with spirituality as living rather than a practice. I try to be mindful about making daily life a prayer–and I know if I ever doubt Spirit within me, it is probably not a good choice! Of course, there are many times I wish Spirit stepped in instead of me, but that is my lesson…..

  30. November 16, 2009 3:14 am

    Vishesh – To me someone else’s judgment that your experience was non-consequential… now that would be non-consequential!

    Joy – I do still think that practice in some form is helpful for spiritual growth. I know, for example, that if I could, I’d still be jogging, which I used to do very early in the morning – dawn or just afterward. Beautiful.

    But even when I was healthy, I could see there was a trend for some types of practice to fall away or taper off as they were no longer needed. And more and more I felt that my normal day to day self or personality was anchored or connected with a deeper identity.

    There’s a beautiful poem, easy to google because the author’s name is so unusual – “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke – that to me speaks with amazing eloquence about that sense of connection.

  31. November 17, 2009 7:23 pm

    Hi Lisa and Paul,
    It’s interesting how a deep depression and prolonged lack of meaning in life due to any number of reasons can pave the way for it all to be filled with a deep connection to life and spirituality.
    The art is to keep working through it all I suppose when one is in those times, rather than the adverse dire outcome that often people seem to choose.
    Thank you for sharing this (^_^)

  32. November 18, 2009 3:45 pm

    Ruth – I would think an important thing would be to know when you can’t do it alone – or for someone in your life to recognize it and encourage you to seek help. Some people seem to need to go through that dark night of the soul on their own, but others don’t make it…


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