Publishers send many authors to me to pitch their books. I turn down most of those requests. I rarely read fiction books. I just don't have the time. But this author and this book intrigued me, and I'm glad I decided to read it.
Travelers is a fictional account of a mental health therapist whose world opens up after the death of his daughter. Forced to confront a new paradigm and challenges, he goes on a journey of soul growth.
Donald Altman, M.A., LPC, is a psychotherapist, former Buddhist monk, international mindfulness expert, and award-winning author of over 20 books translated worldwide. Featured as an expert in The Mindfulness Movie and profiled in the Living Spiritual Teachers Project, he currently writes Psychology Today’s Practical Mindfulness Blog. His best-selling The Mindfulness Toolbox won two national publishing Ben Franklin IPBA awards as the best book in both the Psychology and Mind-Body-Spirit categories. Two other books, Clearing Emotional Clutter and The Mindfulness Code were both chosen as “One of the Best Spiritual Books of the Year” by Spirituality & Practice.
Donald served as Past Vice-President of The Center for Mindful Eating and taught mindfulness to over 15,000 healthcare and business professionals.
His newest book is Travelers, a novel about a grieving psychiatrist who finds hope, healing, and renewal when a mysterious traveling pet therapist, a sentient canine, and a suicidal young patient come to the psych ward.
Donald’s Facebook Reflect Group is at: https://www.facebook.com/mndfulpractices
You can find Donald at https://www.mindfulpractices.com
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Brian Smith 0:00
Close your eyes and imagine what are the things in life that causes the greatest pain, the things that bring us grief, or challenges, challenges designed to help us grow to ultimately become what we were always meant to be. We feel like we've been buried. But what if, like a seed we've been planted, and having been planted would grow to become a mighty tree. Now, open your eyes, open your eyes to this way of viewing life. Come with me as we explore your true, infinite, eternal nature. This is grief to growth. And I am your host, Brian Smith. Everybody this is Brian back with another episode of grief to growth. And today I've got with me Donald Altman. And Donald is a psychotherapist, a former monk is a two time Emmy Award winner, and award winning author of Only over 20 books and CDs on mindfulness and spirituality. He has an engaging an excellent engaging speaker, we just would talk a little bit here so I'm really looking forward this interview, I talked about a wide range of topics I'm gonna read a little bit more to you about him. He is a, as I said, former mock award winning author of over 20 books and CDs in life and spirituality, international mindfulness expert speaker and trainer. He's taught over 15,000 mental health clinicians, physicians, nurses and others have used mindfulness interventions for depression, anxiety, trauma, pain and stress related conditions which I know I can relate to, and a lot of my audience can. I served as vice president of the International Organization for the Center for mindful eating. For many years, he was an adjunct professor at Portland State University's Interpersonal Neurobiology program, and taught graduate level programs for Lewis and Clark Graduate School of Education to counseling. He was a senior mental health therapist at both a general psychiatric clinic and eating disorder clinic for four years before opening his own clinic outside of Portland, Oregon. He writes the practical mindfulness blog for Psychology Today.
Its articles have received over 600,000 views in the past year. One of his books, the mindfulness toolbox was a two time Gold Award winner of the Ben Franklin publishing award from the psychology and spine, body mind spirit categories. So he's got a whole lot of qualifications. We're here today to talk about his latest book, in addition to those other topics. His latest book is called travelers, which is a fictional work, and I'm not sure if it's his first fictional work or not. And I have to ask him that I actually just finished the book this morning. It is excellent. I don't really typically read fiction, I don't typically read fiction at all. And I really enjoyed it a lot. So with all that, I want to welcome Donald Altman to Greek to growth. Oh, well, thank you, Brian. It's a pleasure to be here with you today. And and,
Donald Altman 2:50
you know, to talk about some topics at length instead of just to kind of gloss over things.
Brian Smith 2:55
Yes, you know, it's interesting, you say that, because my my podcasts, I always have this this tension between Should I try to keep it short? Because people have short attention spans? Or do we want to dive deep, and I've landed on diving deep. So hopefully, the people that listen to me were are willing to go there with us. And we've got so much to talk about today. Because you are such an expert in mindfulness and consciousness and all that kind of stuff that I love to talk about. But you've also just completed this, this fantastic book travelers, which covers some of these themes and a fictional approach. So tell me, what, what inspired you to write travelers? And is this your first book of fiction, nonfiction?
Donald Altman 3:35
Well, you know, I've written fiction before, and actually had a short film made, almost got to meet as a feature film back go. I lived in Los Angeles, some years back. I'm in Portland now. But I lived in LA, I got kind of bit by the Hollywood bug.
And, and I, like I say, I had a short film there. And I wrote for a children's TV show in Chicago, which is where I'm from. And we want a couple of Emmy Awards for that children's show. While I was on staff there for four years, that was back in the 80s. So I've been writing for a long time.
And I've written as you said, a lot of nonfiction books, I went, I went into the monastery, and I ordained as a Buddhist monk for a period of time that really shifted my life. And that was because of some loss and, and patterns that were repeating in my life that were very painful. And I had met this well known teaching monk, his name was Ruth Isla Nanda was from Burma. And when I met him, he had such this wonderful sense of compassion and availability. And when I had experienced this loss, I thought, Wow, this might be a nice time to go into the monastery and learn from him because I was really touched by his presence. And, you know, I wanted to see how why is it that these negative things that repeat in my life and and going in to that monastery, it was really like an initiation, like a kind of a rite of passage for me. And it was an important growth for me. When I left the monastery I didn't, even when I went in, you don't have to make a lifetime vow. And that tradition is the Tera Vaada, the old school of Buddhism is kind of like to make a commitment to stay there today, and the next day. And so when I was ready to go, I knew I've always felt that most of my work was going to be out here in the so called regular world. And I went back to school and became a psychotherapist. Because United started doing workshops on mindful eating, I've always been an emotional eater, myself. And I started doing workshops on spiritual eating, but people would come to me and they say, you know, after the workshop, I've got this anorexia problem, or I have this bulimia issue I'm dealing with, and I didn't know how to work with them. So I went back to school. And, and I think it's, it was 50 years old. And I did that. And I had some real doubts and real fear, if I'd be how I would be able to compete or complete school, but I got through it, and I was able to then work in an eating disorder clinic and bring, you know, psychological approaches to therapy and working with people. So it was really the loss in my life, that's, that planted the seed for me to grow through, go to the monastery. And then I started doing nonfiction books based on mindfulness, which I think has helped a lot of people. Then I had this i dia for travelers, and it really brought together a lot of what I really feel about, you know, how we deal with grief, how we deal with loss, and how we can heal you, I've worked in a lot of psychiatric clinics. And one of the things that always kind of bothered me in a sense was you have to give somebody a diagnosis. Right. And they'd always, to me felt a little pathologic or non pathologizing. Someone I'm giving this way, though, that you this is wrong with you. But it's very much how we approach things in our in this culture, which is kind of a, you know, a mechanical materialistic way of looking at things that if you're broken, we've got to fix it. Right? And but it doesn't really look at the wholeness of us. I mean, it's great if you have a car and the battery is gone, and you just replace a battery. But how do you replace an emotion, you know, how to replace complex feelings that we have, as human beings, we're not a, you know, I mean, some things you can replace, like a hip replacement, or whatnot. But when it comes to the emotional landscape of us as humans, it's not a fix. It's kind of an approach. It's, it's, it's more like, I think of it as commitment and acceptance, we can commit to moving forward. And we can also accept things that have happened in our life, there are certain conditions we can't necessarily change, right? If you have a health condition or whatever, but you can learn to accept and also move forward at the same time.
Brian Smith 8:40
Yeah, I just was telling you, and I think I mentioned earlier, I don't typically read fiction, I spend a lot of time reading more books, like your other books. But I got the opportunity to interview and it's kind of funny, because these things are coming up in my life. Right now. I just finished reading Christian Sunberg, a walk in the physical, which is by a guy who has pre birth memories and is presenting a whole different view of the world in the universe of everything. And that spun me into reading Tom Campbell's my big toe. And I'm like, halfway through that and your book comes across my desk. I'm like, well, I need to get this read because I'm interviewing this guy on Saturday. So I did last week 23 for your book, and I want to read a short kind of a trailer for the book, I guess or a short description that I got to help people understand we're talking about. The book focuses around grieving psychiatrists, Ben banks, and he can't find a way to heal from a loss. But when a mystifying, miraculous and mind bending tree arrive at the psych ward, the doctor is forced to confront his deepest fears and beliefs about the nature of consciousness and reality, even death. With his marriage, career and life hanging by a thread, he faces demons, both real and imagined, all the while while being transformed forever, and it's inspiring story of hope, healing and renewal and I have to tell you when I started reading the book, you know, the themes in here of child loss and what happens with and how that affects relationships. But but for him and his wife and his friends, and I don't want to give too much away with the book, but you know, as someone who's gone through this, I'm like, Okay, I was like, I first thought was what happened to Donald, that gave him this perspective. So I'm curious about how you are able to bring that through. So realistically?
Donald Altman 10:32
Yeah. Well, you know, it's funny, I've had people who have read the book who said to me, that's you in the book, isn't it? I said, Well, no, it's fiction. That's a psychiatrist. I'm a psychotherapist, I am not a psychiatrist. I said, No, that's fiction. But, of course, how, you know, we draw on our a lot of our own life story in our life history as well. And I, you know, I experienced loss of my family, I had some trauma growing up with a father, who was God bless his soul no longer with us, but he had endured a lot of pain in his life. And so there was a lot of abuse in the family. And, and that was a loss. Right? I mean, I think so you've experienced that you experience a I remember, feeling a loss of my childhood, actually, when I was three and four years old, during a particular kind of a violent event that happened in my household. And so I lost the sense of the innocence, I lost this sense of even having a father, who was there for me, and even talking about it, now I can feel the emotion from that experience. And so I think, you know, we all, Nobody escapes this planet, without having without having a loss of some kind or another. At the same time, we're gifted with this incredible, of this gift of consciousness and of connection, right of having attachments, you know, with others, which which brings so much, I have so much gratitude every day for all the different people and my two new kitties that I have that enrich my life. And, you know, it's interesting in the Buddhist perspective, and I don't consider myself Buddhist, even though it was a Buddhist monk. I don't even think the Buddha was a Buddhist, you would, the Buddha was just, the board just means awakened or awakening, right? It's the ISM that that I don't want to really, that that sometimes is, becomes locked into a dogma. And so if you take away the ISM, you just have this awakening. And so I think the awakening is very important. So there's a story in Buddhism about the about loss, it's called the mustard parable. Have you ever heard of that? I don't know, the mustard parable. No. Yeah. And it's kind of a very, a lot of people in that tradition will talk about this as a as a way of teaching that we shouldn't attach to things. And so the story is about a woman, way, way back in Buddha's time, who had lost her child, her newborn, and, and she wouldn't let go the baby she just held on to it. And, and people were saying, you know, you gotta let go the baby. And she's like, No, no, no, maybe something, maybe there's a miracle, maybe something will happen. And she found out that the Buddha was coming to her village. And she, you know, people had said that he could do miracles, and he could do all these incredible things. And she thought he could bring my baby back to life. And so the Buddha came, and he gave one of his talks. And she waited. And afterwards, she came up to the Buddha, and she was holding on to her baby. And she said, I said, I, I want you to do a miracle for me. And I know you can do it. I've heard you do all these amazing things. I want you to bring my baby back to life. And the Buddha looked at her and said, You know what, I, I will do that for you. But first, you must do one thing. And if you can fulfill this question, I'm going to ask you, then I will do that. Instead, I want you to go around the village. And I want you to find one person in the village who has not lost any someone dear to them. And if you can find me that one person, you come back with your baby, and I'll perform a miracle for you. And so she went to every house in that village, and of course, nobody that she couldn't find anybody who had not experienced that deep loss. And so she went back To the Buddha, and she she got it. She was like, I guess I have to lick all my baby now. Now in Buddhism, this idea that, you know, attachment is what causes us suffer? And you would say well, oh, you know, let go and move on. But it's not so easy. I don't think in fact, I don't think that that's really the answer. I think it's it's, it's not staying attached and moving forward are not mutually exclusive of one another. You can do both. Yeah. Right.
Brian Smith 15:37
I think there's a big misunderstanding about that idea and Buddha's and I'm glad you brought that up the non attachment because I think people think, well, that means I need to be like, Mr. Spock in Star Trek, I don't, I don't, I don't love. I don't care. I don't, I don't appreciate things, because those are all attachments. And that's not what I don't think that's what the Buddha was saying. It's, it's that clinging to things that are, it's the fight against reality. And I love like you said, in your book, the way that you portray Ben and his wife, and the different ways they deal with their with our laws, I think that's also very realistic, that we, we handle it differently, you know, some of us are much more rational, right, the person's gone, let's just move on. Some of us are still like, let's keep the room exactly the same. And you have these. And this is very real. I mean, I deal with child loss all the time. Because, you know, my daughter's passing, and because of the organization I'm involved with, and everybody handles it differently, and neither way is right or wrong.
Donald Altman 16:39
Right? Yeah. And in the beginning of the story, Ben, the psychiatrists, he just he feels that his daughter Alyssa Mel's for nickname, that leaving her room just as it is kind of he calls it the shrine of Mel. Yeah. And, and to Him, it's blocking his moving on, in a sense, right? And repairing his relationship with his wife. Right? Because that relationship has deteriorated ever since that loss. And they, because they don't view it the same. And the wife wants to keep the room just as it is, and hold on to that memory hold on to that connection with her daughter. And, but through the story. The psychiatrists, Ben actually opens up his awareness. And he's willing to, to get past his his all or none kind of thinking, and, and get into a new space where he actually feels a connection with his daughter beyond time and space.
Brian Smith 17:47
I love what you did that because that's the dilemma that we face when we lose someone and I think because for me, it was a daughter, I was a particularly a child. And I know every loss is every loss is the worst loss depending on who you are. I've heard people have lost spouses and parents and everything else dogs. But that, that balance between keeping the attachment and being able to move forward not being stuck in the past. And I love the way you handle it, I don't want to give away too much of the book, but I love the way the characters develop. And the way that their eyes are awakened to the wait, you know, each other sees it. And i Another thing I love about the book is just the whole opening of what is consciousness? What is the universe what is real, you know, are, you know, are angels real is by location real or out of body versus astral planes. You know, all that stuff that you bring in, which is for me, the only true way that we can handle this existence is by expanding out into that greater consciousness.
Donald Altman 18:51
I really agree. Yeah, I think so. And I think that you said it very well actually. How can we expand our awareness expand our consciousness at one point in the book, he, the I don't think this is giving away too much. But one point in the book, The psychiatrist meets this very trusted supervisor who had spent some time in India, and she shares with him the words of, of an old Indian sage from the 19th century Vivekananda, who was one of the first actually to bring Eastern ideas to the west. And he said to her, the infinite universe of the library is in your own mind. And to tap that infinite universe can bring us to places we never imagined. But to do that, you've got to stop all the clutter. In the story, Ben meets a traveler and she's trying to get him to get to a place of silence but you know, he's filling his mind up all the time reading all of these journals and think about our lives today. How filled up they are every moment Right, we don't have time to just sit back and reflect. And when you get that silence, I think that provides an opening into that other realm into those what I call them the book, The Quantum collective. Yeah, right. Yeah. That everything we know that. Well think about this. If we have intelligence, how could we not be the fruit of intelligent world? How could we not be part of an intelligent, intelligent cosmos? That in some sense, even the atoms in our body must have an intelligence to them? Right? And how can we create enough silence in space where we can experience beyond this human awareness? You know, I think we're in that very much in the grip of a materialistic Stranglehold right now. And in our worldview, and this materialistic grip that also science has, honestly, I mean, science can only look at what it shows us lay down. And it really doesn't, it doesn't even know how to explain what consciousness is.
Brian Smith 21:22
right all the time. Yeah. 100%. Yeah. I love Yeah. And I, I think people and I know I can relate to Ben. And it's interesting, because my daughter is a mental health counselor, she just got her Master's like, last year. She was working relation havior Yeah, she's working as a behaviorist now. But she's a deeply, she's not a religious person at all. But she's a deeply spiritual person. And I've on the on the show recently, I've had a couple of transpersonal, Psych psychologists and she doesn't listen to it, typically. But I send those to her. And she's struggling with what you just talked about this, the finalization or, you know, making everything pathological, you know, especially if she's working as a behaviors. But when she was working as a mental health counselor, the first thing you have to do is diagnose people, you know, and if you meet them, I guess it's two times three times whatever it is, what's the diagnosis? And you can see Ben, when he meets when he meets the guy in the book, and he's like, I don't want to do that, you know, I don't want to put this label on him, I want to I want to have a relationship with them. And he struggles with how personal do I get with them? You know, and I love you talk about this idea of like, I guess in the Freudian tradition, they sit behind the patient. And, and my daughter is struggling with that, too. You know, like, she's like, she's sitting there, these people are struggling, she wants to share, you know, herself with them. But her training tells her she can't.
Donald Altman 22:42
Right, right. Yeah, there's this whole thing about non disclosure, not disclosing anything about yourself to the patient. And I had some interesting moments when I, you know, went through a divorce at one time. And I remember one time that I was out, it was in the rain here in Portland, and I was walking around the block before my session started just trying to get myself centered, and I was crying. And I was really torn up, I came back in the office pulled myself together. And a couple my first people see that morning was a couple of them that came in and the woman said, I'll never forget, she said, you know, you're always so calm, I'll bet you you're just really have no problems in your relationship. And there were times when I did disclose that. I say, Well, the truth is, and I feel it's important that we were that, you know, the client is first, it's not my not my role to say, Oh, I've got this problem that, you know, but sometimes when I have shared and said, Well, you know, you're being real with somebody, you're being authentic. Right. And so there's an important place for that, too. And Ben struggles with that in the story.
Brian Smith 24:06
Yeah, it's funny, as we're having this conversation, I'm thinking because the last few weeks has been a whole thing about AI. And AI is blowing up and AI is taking our jobs and AI is writing everything and just yeah, that the thought that came to me was, you know, the way that traditional psycho psychology is done in the US. AI could do it, you could just have a robot sitting there doing it. And I think people want to relate to another human being, they want to know that they're there, their counselor is human. Otherwise, you can't really understand what they're telling you. And so that's, that's my opinion. I'm not a trained mental health professional. And like I said, my daughter is like walking that line. I'm like, well, so you know, once you've been out of school for a while you'll develop your own style. You'll figure out when it's okay to disclose because it's not about you. That's absolutely true. But I think it can be very helpful to the patient to know you normalize their feelings, right? You're you're absolutely it's normalizing. We're all All human beings. I'm not a robot, I don't have a perfect life.
Donald Altman 25:04
Yeah. And it's important to let clients know that, you know, it's funny, you mentioned that about AI, because I've been kind of noticing that too in the news and wondering, how's it going to change things? I mean, when I get on a, when I'm on a computer screen, and I'm trying to get help, and I, you know, the little box comes up and says, Do you want to have a chat? They always ask, Are you a human?
Brian Smith 25:29
Yeah, yeah. Because if you're a robot, I don't want to talk to you.
Donald Altman 25:32
Yeah, I don't want to talk to the robot. I'm sorry. Because I feel that a human would have more understanding.
Brian Smith 25:39
Right? They did. Yeah, AI is not it's not there. It never will be because AI will never be human. And there's one guy I really admire. This guy's Bernardo kastrup. He's brilliant. He's a computer scientist, PhD in Psych, and psychology. What's the word? I'm looking for philosophy. So PhD in Philosophy answer and computer science. And he debates these people about whether AI will ever be conscious. And it's a ridiculous question, if you understand what consciousness is, and it just shows you how our western science doesn't understand consciousness. And the way that you in this book have really introduced people to these concepts for some people is gonna be an introduction, and at least open up that possibility in their mind, that maybe there's more to to this world than I can see. And you bring in concepts of Buddhism, you bring in again, national traveled to some shamanism, you know, and they're I love the way you blend it all together without being preachy, or people feel like they're being, you know, taught something necessarily overtly. But you're expanding minds.
Donald Altman 26:48
Well, I think that it's interesting that the, the therapist, the psychiatrists, Ben, is very science oriented with things. And he's become more so after the loss of his daughter because he, he crumbles retreated into this cave of rationality and wondering how could he help her I mean, he was a doctor, and he didn't catch the symptoms of the disease that she'd had. He blames himself, if he could have just added on a little more time onto her life, or helped her live a little bit longer. And so he's become like, almost Ultra rational. So he's confronted by things that he doesn't understand. I think if we really look around, you'll ask yourself Are, are are there miracles today? I think there are many miracles. I think life is a miracle when you think about it. Yeah. To think that the universe started from the size of a pinhead. Yeah. That just blows my mind. So everything that is here happened, somehow had a potential for intelligence. I think the the intelligence was built into that big bang, that whatever happened there had intelligence and that we're tapping the source somehow, with our own. Every time you have a creative idea, I think humans are, are very unique, and that we're, we're creative. And we're able to do imagine things. Imagination is really, like tapping into genius every time you touch your imagination. And so I think that sometimes we underplay our abilities. Yeah, yeah. And yeah. And
Brian Smith 28:47
I 100% agree, you know, and I forgot who said, because you said that was thinking about someone said, either everything is a miracle, or nothing is a miracle, man. And I'm coming to the conclusion where I think everything is a miracle. It's and the universe is based on Consciousness, and the material is derivative of that. And even in the field of psychology, psychiatry, and I don't know that much about it, but I'm learning more about young. And I guess the young school of thought is being downplayed now, and modern teaching, and more I learned about you and I'm like, This guy knew what was going on. I think Freud was like, I don't know what where Freud was coming from. But you know, an interesting young had an indie, I guess. So you was coming from an expanded consciousness point of view. And he's in synchronicity and all that kind of stuff. We would call that our western mindset. We will call that miraculous.
Donald Altman 29:41
Right? Yeah. Jung was amazing. And I think that his work, it doesn't easily fit into a diagnostic way of looking at things and that's why it's been kind of squelched, or ignored nowadays in inquiry. Graduate School trainings. Now when I went to school we, we had a chapter on your own. But nowadays, counseling theories often avoid him. I mean, it's shocking to me that it's a real loss. Yeah, that's a that's a big loss. I think that we need to get back to that childhood state of wonder, again. And that can be very powerful. I remember one time I was teaching a mindfulness class at Lewis and Clark College and graduate school. And so I had everybody go outside is there what I want you to spend 20 minutes reading looking at nature again, as if you have never seen it before. Right. And so there was a nice grassy field behind the graduate school and, and I noticed I went out there and watch the students and I noticed one woman was on her hands and knees just very, almost very slowly, kind of creeping along. And I was wondering, what is she doing? Yeah. So anyway, everybody came back in 20 minutes, I chimed ring, a little bell. Everybody came back in and I asked for some of the experiences and her hands shot up. And I said, So tell us I noticed you were on all fours kind of looking at the grass, what were you doing, she said, I, I experienced the most incredible thing. I was watching a worm. And I didn't know if it was going to wriggle to the right or real to the left. And I just she said I think I became one with the worm. And she just had regained in that moment that, you know, that separation that we often have between what we see the observer and the observed are separate. But she lost that separateness in that moment. And she was just immersed in nature, and just being present. And that's what the beauty of and I think that can bring us into a miraculous state of the miracle, the mystery of the miraculous of awe, when we are able to get that thinking discursive mind out of the way, even for a little bit. You know, I think everybody in our audience is, you know, think about the times that you did see something like a sunset, or the sun or the sun rising in the morning over the water. Or maybe I remember when I went to see the Grand Canyon, I walked up to the edge, and I looked down and I I went into a state of all I was like, unbelievable. Right? Or just looking up at the sky? And then how could we feel that st feel that same state of all when we're when we're with somebody?
Brian Smith 32:56
Right, right? Yeah, it's interesting, because we do, we can all relate to those moments that you said, the Grand Canyon, I remember the first the only time I've seen the Grand Canyon, but driving up and if you've never seen it in person, you, you have no idea what it's like, you really can't conceive of it. And I saw that, and then I'm an engineer, and I'm thinking, Oh, how long did this take to carve? This is, uh, this is this is amazing, when you look at the all those layers and think this and you go to Sedona, and you see the red rocks. And then for most people, it's like, oh, the red rocks are really pretty. Yeah, my engineer mind is like, this was all underwater at one point, this was this was under the ocean this is. So it's just our world is amazing. And if we can, we can actually bring that into our everyday lives. And that's, that's a practice that we can, we can do. And like that woman did, because you gave her that exercise, we can all go outside right now. And I can look outside and look at the tree that's growing in front of my house. And I remember when the tree was planted, you know, and just think about what it takes to grow through the seasons. So that's, that's a mindset that we can, we can all have. And it's, again, getting back to the book, I love the way you have been rediscovering a way of looking at the world. And then the conflicts it presents in in his western world, right? Because like Ben, you got to get back on the path. You've got to do things by the book, this is this is the way we do things. So I like it. So relate to his character and if you know, his his unfolding his opening to a different way of looking at the world. Yeah, I mean,
Donald Altman 34:37
he's very, very resistant to exploring different ideas of consciousness at one point, his young patient, the suicidal patient who comes in to see him starts having almost visions or hallucinations than what we might call that But to the young man, it's not that at all. Yeah, right. Yeah. And I think that it's a lot of them spoke to about spiritual initiation, how do we go through an initiation you can do a shamanic journey. Sometimes I think grief is definitely an initiation, or any kind of struggle we go through is an opportunity for an initiation. I had major depression in my early 20s. And I think from my family history, and and I started to experience out of body awareness and different things. And I remember the first time it happened, was lying in bed, and I was in this depression has been treated those lying in bed, and I felt this rumble in my head. And it was almost like a freight train. I mean, it was it was so thunderous, and loud and the vibration. And in that moment, I made a conscious decision to be curious about it, not to be afraid of it, whatever this was, I remember thinking, You know what, this must be a normal process, I'm going to just observe it. And that vibration, which I later in my way of thinking was my life, we have a life energy. And I could actually sense that vibration as a life energy and move it through my body. And then actually, from there, I would sometimes experience what I think we're maybe different lifetimes, or are just leaving the body and viewing things remotely. And I realized, you know, it didn't take away my depression. Because I'd wake up the next morning or whatever. And I feel this tremendous heaviness. But it helped me recognize that, you know, this is not the whole picture. There's something more. And so it was almost like a release valve for me. And to let me know that there was something beyond this that mired in this depression as I was something else I could look forward to.
Brian Smith 37:29
Yeah, I want to make a comment that I'm gonna, I'm gonna come back Yeah, oppression. But again, this is just synchronicities in my life, because I was reading Tom Campbell's book, right before I put it down to pick up your book. And in his book, one of the sections of his book is his basically his biography. And he talks about these when he was young, these travelers who didn't use or travelers but these beings will come to him and take him out of his body, and take them out his body and they go and they play and they train he but they were training and all this stuff. And but when they would take him out, he would like lose consciousness right at the moment of separation. And he said, I want to do this on my own. I want to be able to have this experience without you knocking me out. They said you're not going to like it. It's not pleasant. When they did that he described it almost exactly the way that you just did. So I don't know if you've read his book yet or not. But it talks about this rumbling this rumbling that this vibrational felt. And I know people that travel out of body and they describe that as well. They're like, right at the point you're separating, you'll feel this rumbling a lot of people get scared and they they pop back into their body. Yeah. So I wanted to talk about that. But you mentioned depression. And I'm curious, like what your thoughts are on like treating depression, because you said I had depression in my in my early 20s. But you also mentioned the cause. And Psychology Today seems more like, we don't care about the cause. We don't there, they don't think they even think there is a cause other than your brain chemistry. So if you're depressed, we're gonna give you this pill and this is gonna fix it. So what are your thoughts on that?
Donald Altman 38:59
Well, I have some pretty strong thoughts about that. i A lot of times our depression is because of our conditions in our life, right? And we can learn to cope with those. The best way to share this is a story with a client that I worked with, and she came to see me and she had had a family history of depression. That's what she said. She says, I have depression, I'm depressed. It's in my family. There's nothing I can do about it. Her grandmother had been institutionalized for one of her parents, I think committed suicide for depression. And she had been on antidepressants since she was like eight years old, something like that. Right? Yeah. And and I didn't try to change your story. I said, Okay. You know, let's work on some skills that you can use to manage things that happen in your life and over time, and it took them You know, this doesn't happen overnight was over a long period of time. And she started to feel that she had some new skills to manage her depression. Right? Right. And, and she's, and she's, she's the one that said to me, you know, I want to titrate off, I want to get off those meds. And I said, Well, you know, I'm not a prescriber. But if that's what you want to do talk to your prescriber, and we want to do it the right way. Make sure you go off slowly, because you can't just instantly stop. And it didn't work for her the first time. But we kept working on more tools. And eventually, she did actually titrate off those medications. And her story changed, her story changed into, I have a depressive episode that I can have that I've learned to manage with, with a set of skills now.
Brian Smith 40:54
Yeah, I love that. I love that story. So much for so many reasons. One is you gave her some agency, you you tickle, because you're giving up control. It's like my parent, because it runs in my family to you know, depression, anxiety. And so, you know, dialogue times doctors will say, Oh, well, your mother was depressed, your grandmother is depressed, you're going to be depressed. Here's this pill. And if you've ever there's a book by a guy named Johann Hari lost connections, I love it. I've read it several times. He's not a psychologist, but he's done a lot of studies on this. And think it's typically when someone is depressed. What I mean. So it's amazing that we're not all depressed because we live in a crazy world. There's a lot of stuff going on, there's a lot of loneliness. That's why he talks about lost connections, we, even though we live in a world full of 8 billion people, most of us feel alone. And we can learn some of these skills. And I think there's a place for medication, I think, I look at it now Ju just like putting a cast on a broken leg, sometimes you're so bad off, need to be on it for a while, and I was on antidepressants for a while. But when I went on them, I talked to my psychologist, and I said, I'm going to go on these medications, but I want to have a plan to get off of them. And so I said, when you say it's okay, then I'll go back to my doctor, and we'll we'll titrate off with them. And that's exactly what I did. I think it was on him for six months, maybe a year. But I didn't want to be on him for the rest of my life. And I don't think they're effective long term.
Donald Altman 42:19
Well, I kind of feel the same way. I remember during my depression, I had some medications that helped me just relieve the pain for a brief period of time. And just to feel what it was like not to be in that state of heaviness and depression. And that was helpful to me, when I put my goal was not to stay on that. Right but to not have to use that it was like a crutch and it worked. But you say if you're broken you live you need crutches for
Brian Smith 42:54
a while. And crutch sometimes is a has a negative connotation in our society. But you need crutches sometimes says there's nothing there's nothing wrong with that, you know, there's there's nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with that. But again, that the dependence we have on drugs in our society is what I push back against. And in your book, you know, there's there's people here that are psych, psychotic, you know, they're in the middle of this mental institution. And I've wondered sometimes that people that say they hear voices are some of them hearing, you know, angels or other beings and guides and stuff. We assume everybody hears voices is crazy. So what are your thoughts on on treating, you know, schizophrenia, for example?
Donald Altman 43:36
Yeah, well, I have to say that I did talk to it's a good thing. I didn't report to my psychiatrist, I was seeing at the time about my experiences about a body and, and the vibration in my head. I did talk to one neurologist who have said, well, I didn't say it was me, but talk about just generally and they said, well, this person is having epileptic seizures, and they need to be treated for that.
Brian Smith 44:06
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So,
Donald Altman 44:09
but in the case of schizophrenia, I, I know somebody who was diagnosed with schizophrenia who was actually was having an awakening experience. And he went to a monastery and he had been institutionalized. It broke his relationship with his parents. They thought he was schizophrenic and, and he later went to a monastery and over some monk there who told him, he said, No, you're having an awakening experience. And he's since had a very interesting career and he hasn't had any real emotional problems since then. But for some people, and I think schizophrenia is about one and a half percent of the population for people who are having Sometimes hearing voices, they're not maybe not sleeping, and they have delusions. For a percentage of those, I think medication really helps. It helps with the hallucinations. If somebody's having a delusion on medication can't really help with that. And I've worked with people that had delusions. And I'm sure your daughter will experience this as she works in the field. Yeah, that you cannot break a delusion using cognitive therapy, or any kind of it just, you can't do it. Yeah, somebody believes it so strongly. And it's sometimes I think a lot of us have our own delusions, even though we're considered normal. Yeah.
Brian Smith 45:51
I want to You said that I was thinking about in the book, because you actually, you actually bring some of these delusions that people have had delusions, but tendencies people have, and like, the young, suicidal patient, as represented by a couple of dragons that are in Him, and there's a you know, so people, these these beings, these entities that are attaching to them, are represented physically, not physically in our world that we can perceive, but in a different realm that are attached to them. And it reminded me of in the Bible, you know, when they talked about, you know, people being possessed by demons, and again, a modern Western psychology, we say, there's no, there are no spiritual influences. It's all your mind. So if you're having these episodes of these things, it's all you. And again, you're introducing this idea, which is a more ancient idea that there are entities that influence us.
Donald Altman 46:46
Yes, I think there are, it's not always so simple to say that it's just your mind is is broken somehow, or that you have the wrong connections or the the transmitters aren't working in the brain, right? I mean, sometimes we just don't know, maybe, we do know that some anti psychotics can help people with schizophrenia and not have as many delusions they tend to happen. In adolescence, schizophrenia does adolescence into early adulthood is tends to be a time when it happens. And sometimes you'll see it in families. Also, that it seems to be hereditary to some extent. But the idea that you could maybe be cured or healed in some spiritual fashion, I think, is important to consider. Also, right. Right, again, and not not a not one idea isn't exclusive to the other, you might need medication, and you could do the other kind of healing as well.
Brian Smith 47:52
Right? Right. Yeah. Yeah. It doesn't have to be either or it can be both. I think there are people who are schizophrenic people are mentally ill. But and it's it's interesting with the young character in the book, because what the delusions he's having the hallucinations he's having are not harmful. In fact, they're helping him. So if someone is having something that's that's helping them, you know, perhaps it is something I was interested in just a couple of days ago, someone commented on my, one of my YouTube videos, and they said, I had an ND E. But it wasn't a medical condition. They said there was they lost a child. And they said they were meditating. They said I had an in the ear. I said, I don't think what you had was in the heat, because the way she described it sounded more like an OBE she went out of her body. Now, it's the same effects, but different costs. And the E is caused when you're when your body shuts down, your brain stops, your heart stops, right? I known people who have had spontaneous out of body experiences, were just like, boom, they were just out of their body. And one guy was, he wasn't a believer in his stuff at all. He didn't believe in souls. He didn't believe in the afterlife. He didn't believe in anything. And one day, he was sitting in his his room and he just went out of his body. He's like, I don't believe it's like, I know, because I've left my body. So, you know, these things happen. And again, in the book, how you you talk about these, you know, you know, poor Ben, it's like, his mind is blown. You know, he's such traveling.
Donald Altman 49:25
Oh, he thinks he's having his own psychotic break at one point, in touch with reality, of course. And
Brian Smith 49:34
there's one point because you mentioned awakening, you know, because at one point in the book, I'm like, I think Ben's having a Kundalini kundalini awakening, because what you described the way it was happening. So explain how people might think they're going crazy when it starts to happen to them.
Donald Altman 49:51
Oh, yeah, I mean, when you start to experience another transcendent reality it's it is totally divorced from our typical day to day experience. So it can be very frightening for someone to suddenly be out of their body or to hear that vibration in them or to release this Kundalini energy. And it's fascinating. I was in my 20s, I was reading a book called The cult by Colin Wilson. wonderful book. And as I was reading that book, I remember one morning I woke up, and he talks about all different I think he has some Kundalini experiences different things in there. I woke up one morning, and I felt something different. I felt like I was charged up with energy. I'm normally I wake up in the morning, and I'm kind of groggy. I hope I'm not groggy this morning, as we're talking, but I would wake up kind of groggy, and I need a little sleep like, you know, nine hours of sleep, or, you know, and but that morning, I remember I woke up like seven o'clock, totally awake. And I had already, you know, had my coffee and, and I noticed my mind was quicker. And I noticed that I didn't have doubts, mentioned living or suddenly with no doubts. And I was like, I felt this incredible change in my mind, in my body. And I wondered if this was Kundalini? Well, the next day I woke up, and I felt the same way. And I remember having conversations with friends and even telling them about this, something should happen to me. And I don't. And it was uncomfortable. I wasn't. I wasn't familiar with this feeling. But what struck me the most was not having any doubts. In my mind, I thought about doing things. And I was like, this is the right thing to do. And I just made the decision. Right? It wasn't. And, and so there was a sense of clarity, and a sense of energy. And it went on for two weeks. And I thought, well, this is just going to be my life's going to be different now. Because I'm just like, you know, it's like if somebody plugged in a battery pack on me, and I was right. And then I think it was after on the 15th day, I woke up and I was groggy, like I used to be. And I realized, whoa, that energy, whatever it was, and I went back to the old thinking patterns that I had, but I had a glimpse of something different. And I think that's important that when we have these, and I think that's why we need these experiences, we need these transcendental experiences, we need to kind of get out of our habitual ways of thinking and being to see that there's something else, right?
Brian Smith 52:36
Yeah, yeah, it's, as you said that I was thinking about it when I interviewed myself, Mary Terhune, who had as a spontaneous, like enlightened experience, if you want to call them where she saw, like, the energy around everything around her the grass and the flowers. And, and but and I thought, well, wow, that's really cool. But she said, Well, I went to work and I couldn't work. She said, I just sat there smiling. And I realized that you can't live in that state on this planet, because we have things that we have to do and you so it's, it's your right, you get that glimpse, you get that charge, and you carry that for it with you as you go into our, our muntaner with our routine things that we have to do. There's one thing in the book that I want to selfishly ask you to expand on, if you could, because when when Ben has this experience, where he sees like a younger version of himself, he's an older version of him. And then like, you mentioned, Jesus, and like, everything, like changes, and I'm like, and then you kind of moved on. So what does Jesus mean to you? I'm just curious.
Donald Altman 53:43
Well, that's based on experience, it actually happened to me, okay. Where I was in that awareness state, where I was feeling that energy vibration going through me. And I had the thought, I wonder what would happen if I'd say a different word. And I thought, the name Jesus came into my head, and the vibration, just, it became massive, it increased like a hundredfold. And I was, I was shocked and a little afraid, a little frightened, like, wow, why is there so much energy in this word interesting. And I think there is a lot of energy behind Jesus and what he did, and what he represents and what he stands for, and that that energy must reach out in to that quantum consciousness. And I didn't experiment I tried the Buddha and I had a similar interesting kind of expansion of energy. So I think, you know, if interesting, if you read some of these Indian sages and what they say it's like everything we do is an imprint. You know, you walk on the sand and the beach you leave a an imprint of your foot on that sand. We're Right, and, and so in the same way every thought we have, every action we take has an imprint. And so then I think the energy of Jesus, his imprint is very powerful, very strong, and what it's created, and we can kind of tap into that, right and experience that and the positivity of that. Is there for everyone.
Brian Smith 55:27
Wow. Yeah. Thanks. I'm glad I asked that question. I literally appreciate the way you put that I was raised as a Christian. I don't call myself Christian anymore. But Jesus is still just fascinating to me. And I interviewed a young man is named Jacob Cooper, he had a near death experience when he was three years old. He was raised as an Orthodox Jew. And he says he experienced Jesus and His out of body experience. I'm like, why would a three year old Jew experienced Jesus? Yeah, a lot of people. Yeah, yeah. And a lot of people have indeed experienced Jesus. And people said, well, Jacob was influenced by his culture. He's still grew up in America. So you know, while he was three, I don't think he knew a lot about Jesus. And he certainly was expecting to see a lot of people have in the east, you know, experienced Jesus. And again, I was just reading time, Campbell's book right before I started with your your book, and there are these entities, there's lot more than human beings in the universe. There are all kinds of entities, and even thought forms can take on like a life. So we all concentrate on something. And we create a character there's a woman I know that that she channeled for she's like, Thor is not real. You know, Thor is a fictional character, but she's a medium and she channels and like, yeah, Thor is real, because he's been created by thought, like we all have. So it's a really interesting concept. So yeah, that was, I was just finishing up your book this morning. I listened to books because I usually don't when I'm walking, and I was walking, I heard that part. I'm like, I got to ask him about Jesus, because that was really interesting. But like I said, you kind of moved on really quick after you brought it up.
Donald Altman 56:59
Yeah, have you so in? How does that resonate with you? When you think about Jesus, I mean, you grew up in it had a certain a special meaning for you.
Brian Smith 57:11
Know, for me, it's interesting, because growing up as a Christian, I grew up with like, Okay, God was to me, the bad guy, because God was the guy who's gonna send me to hell, God's gonna punish me. And Jesus was the guy that saved me. So I love Jesus, I thought Jesus was really cool. I still love Jesus, and I still love Jesus teachings. And, and I look at Jesus as like, pure compassion, pure love, no judgment, you know, a brother, a big brother, guide, someone to follow. And, you know, some people would say, he's the ambassador to Earth, you know, maybe maybe there are other types, you know, and other places, but Jesus is like the ambassador of the the ultimate self, the ultimate consciousness to Earth. There's, I think there's something very special about Jesus. Now, whether that's because of the human being Jesus being so special, or because of all the energy that flows around that, that thought, you know, I don't know. Yeah. So I still I still call myself a follower of Jesus. I still am a big admirer of Jesus, I think. I think they're special. You know, Buddha is another special person. I tell people, I think Martin Luther King was a special person that gave his life for his people. There lots of people Gandhi. There, you know, but But Jesus is just became very popular. He did a good job.
Donald Altman 58:37
Yeah, I really like to think that. What separates us from these people that we admire, whether they're spiritual beings, or just somebody in our life, is our next action. Right? And we need to really think about and become more intentional. And that's really, of course, what mindfulness is, and how do we overcome our fear? To embrace this moment to love more? To love others? Right, I think that's the big challenge we're facing. You're talking about Jesus and His love and compassion. I think that's one of the great challenges we face is to get past the small self. Right, with all the all the biases and the, you know, all the shoulds that we have, you probably heard that don't shut all over yourself. Yeah, I should do this. I should do that. Or they should do this they should do to get beyond that. And to be more expansive and, and compassionate. When I used to do a lot of workshops, which I haven't since COVID. Brian, but when I do workshops, I would tell about tell the story of that Tolstoy wrote in the 1880s. It's called the three questions and This story is about, you know, what's the best thing to do at all times who are the most important people, and when is the most important thing to do anything, when it's more most important time. And in this short story that Tolstoy wrote in the 1880s, about a king that lives in a village, somewhere, and he's very philosophical, wants to know the answers to these questions. And so he puts out a reward in the kingdom, anybody who can answer these questions can get this very generous reward. And what happens is, you know, he gets inundated, everybody writes in, and he's got a big stack of answers. And he goes through these, and he realizes everybody has a bias, right, like, who are the most important people to work with? Well, the musician said, we're the most important because we make people dance and feel good. And the doctors that no doctors and the most important because we heal people. So we heard about a wise old hermit, and he trucks out there, finds this hermit, and the hermit doesn't want to give him the answers at first, apparently. But then finally, the king is going to give up and ready to go back down to the village, when this man comes through the bramble and the brush, and he's bleeding. And he falls down at the feet of the king of the King decides to stay there all night and try to nurses man back to health. Now he does, in the morning, the man's breathing becomes becomes more regular. And he looks up at the king and he says, You know, I came here. I know who you are, you're the king, I came here I followed you, I was going to assassinate you. And the king is shocked. He says what? And the man says, yeah, there was that war between your kingdom and mine, I lost my house, my brother was killed in that war. And so you became a sworn enemy of mine. And I vowed to take vengeance on you. And, and, and he said that your guard that turns out, the king had come to this place with a garden attendant who were down at the bottom of the hill, he left them down there, but that they had a tussle with this man. And that's how the man got wounded, to the king brings them back, says, look, take this man back with you. You know, to the village to our villages, get him a house and make sure he gets our best doctors. And the man is very grateful and says I, you know, I must have had you all wrong. I'll be your loyal servant. So that's Tina's left there with the hermit. And the king says, Well, I didn't get my answers from you. I guess. I guess you just didn't know the answers or what to you know, maybe you just don't know. And King turns to go. And the hermit says, Wait, says King, you just got the answers to your three questions. The most important person is the one who was with you right in front of you right now. Because if you hadn't helped that are the most important thing to do is to help whoever's with you. And if you hadn't helped that, man, you wouldn't have saved his life and he wouldn't have become a loyal person to you. And the most important time is now because we don't know what will happen in the future. What what will be there for us, but we do know what we have now. Yeah. And so it's a beautiful little story. And I was supposed to share that story. I remember I was teaching at Portland State, Brian and, and it was the morning of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings. And somebody came up to me. And they said, I told me about that, and I hadn't heard it. And I I had us do some silent prayer. silence for the, for the victims. And, and I almost didn't do this. Tell that story. Because after the store, I have people sit in silence for three minutes looking at one another we get a partner and just sit with them in silence. And I thought well, I better this might be too raw for people but I decided to go ahead and do it. And I think even though I was choked up, hearing that story made it very real for people that you know the one they were sitting right opposite. Would they be here tomorrow? I mean, in truth we we don't own or purchase the future. Right? We think I do. And so to sit with people for and i By the way, I'm not suggesting you get your partner and say hey, let's sit in silence and look at each other for three minutes. Because I primed them with that story of the three questions first and I got them ready for it and I explained and some guidelines for sitting in that silence. But I would have people who would sit and look at the other people and say, oh my god, I felt like I was looking at myself. Right? Suddenly, they were able to touch compassion. And look at another person. You know, the word compassion means to be with suffering, how can you be with the suffering of another? I mean, who hasn't suffered? Who has a lot? You know, we started the show talking about loss, and who hasn't lost somebody? So it's a very powerful experience it just to be with anybody.
Brian Smith 1:05:41
Yeah, you know, I, we're coming to the end of our time. And I, you're a mindfulness expert, and wanted to talk about mindfulness, but you just, I think, summed it up so well, that that the most important person as a person is right in front of you, their most important time is now, you know, and that, that understanding that, that that's been my impression, what mindfulness, it's being in the moment. And mindfulness means a lot of things, a lot of people, some people means meditation that I hear all times, I can't meditate, but you just did a great job of think of talking about what it means, you know, and, and, you know, as I know, my daughter, you know, she went to bed one day, she didn't wake up the next day. So I know very well, that, you know, tomorrow's not promised anyway, we all say it, we all pay lip service. We need these reminders, you know, like, like Sandy Hook, and the young man that just was killed by the police a couple days ago, the video just yesterday, you know, he was a few blocks from his house, if any of us at any time. So life is precious. I want to give you a chance to any last things you want to say before we wrap up. Anything. Any questions I didn't ask that you want to answer, or let people know. Let people know about the book also. But first, just tell me if there's anything you'd like to say before we went? Yeah, well,
Donald Altman 1:06:59
I think the idea that is it we're all traveling here, we're all travelers, right? And if we can, let's help the other travelers who are around us. When you're traveling, you don't you might not travel to another city, maybe you don't have a map, you depend on other people to help you in same way though, even though we're traveling through this life. We depend on one another. And I think it's important to be there for one another. And that's kind of the essence of the book travelers actually the realization that been the psychiatrists has,
Brian Smith 1:07:38
yeah, absolutely. So the book, again, is travelers by Donald Altman. We're recording this on January 28 2023. By the time you hear it, the book will be available. Actually, I
Donald Altman 1:07:50
think it's available now.
Brian Smith 1:07:51
I was, yeah, the publisher just said, Hey, it's available. And the notes I got was February 1, but that's couple of days anyway, it just won't be out for a few weeks ago. Okay. I have to say, I absolutely recommend it. It's a it's a great read. It's there. You know, hopefully, now that we've had this conversation you've heard and listeners, you'll understand more some of the themes in it. And hopefully it opens your mind up to a broader reality.
Donald Altman 1:08:19
I don't think we gave away any of the suspense in the book either.
Brian Smith 1:08:23
No, no, there's a lot more. There's, there's there's a whole lot more. But I did want to touch on those themes. And like I said, I can relate to the characters. And you did I think a fantastic job a lot of my listeners have, I've lost children. And someone just the other day asked me I have a thing where I people can ask me questions. And she said, I like your dress. What happens between a couple when they've lost a child? And I think you did a really good job in his book of explaining a situation. They're not all the same, but a situation that's actually pretty, it's very common, that they look at it differently. And because of that, looking at it differently, it creates a wedge because each one is judging the other person's way of going through their grief.
Donald Altman 1:09:07
Absolutely, yeah. So it's been a pleasure being here with you, by the way. I really enjoyed it.
Brian Smith 1:09:15
Yeah, me too. Well enjoy the rest of your day. Oh, thank you, Brian.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai