Seven years ago, when we first started producing What Is Enlightenment?,
if you had told any of us that before the turn of the century we'd be featuring back-to-back interviews with the "peak performance coach" to the President of the United States; boxing's Heavyweight Champion of the World; America's foremost television weight-loss guru; and Jack LaLanne, undisputed grand-father of the American physical fitness movement, we'd have recommended a good therapist. After all, we were setting out to create a spiritual
magazine—and a serious
spiritual magazine at that! And loyal readers who have followed the evolution of WIE
will attest that we have never deviated from our mission . . . that is, perhaps, until now.
What pushed us over the edge? Was it a dwindling supply of spiritual teachers to talk to? A misguided obsession with seizing a share of the booming health-and-fitness market and giving Sports Illustrated
a run for its money?
The truth is, it all started last year when a video called Body of Work
began making the rounds in our spiritual community. Bill Phillips, the producer of the video and the inspired founder of a sports nutrition company called EAS, Inc., had wanted to prove that anybody—not just professional bodybuilders—could undergo an astounding physical and mental transformation in as little as twelve weeks if they followed his exercise and supplementation program. Offering his $200,000 Lamborghini and a lucrative promotional contract as incentives, Phillips broadcast the message that anyone who took him seriously—regardless of their current physical condition—could have a shot at the prize.
The emotional impact of Phillips's video, which chronicles the metamorphoses of his contest's ten finalists, was simply staggering. Even on a purely physical level, the transformations they had undergone defied the imagination. But what was even more striking was hearing them speak about how deeply they had been affected by their experience. Each of the finalists described with captivating enthusiasm how, through commitment, self-discipline and a willingness to push beyond self-conceived limitations, they had discovered a dynamic freedom in which the world of obstacles that had held them in its grip only a few short months before had opened up into a field of seemingly unlimited possibilities. Their encounter with Bill Phillips had completely revolutionized their lives.
How, we asked ourselves, had a group of ordinary men and women managed to catapult themselves into what could only be called a kind of liberation
simply by "working out"? In our community, there are several people who regularly run marathons, others who engage in strenuous three-hour yoga routines that would send most of us to the hospital, and still others who can do 10,000 push-ups in under six hours, but none of them supposes for a moment that any amount of physical exercise is going to have a significant impact on their ultimate spiritual progress. Yet if what we were seeing and hearing was true, Phillips's contestants had, through the sheer force of their commitment to his bodybuilding program, actually shifted out of one paradigm and into another. What, then, was the relationship between the kind of transformation they had experienced and the liberating attainment we were committed to realizing in our own lives? What might contemporary spiritual seekers have to learn from people who seem to have mastered the palpably explosive effects of motivation, confidence, discipline and radical self-empowerment—people like Bill Phillips, or Anthony Robbins, or Jack LaLanne? And on the other hand, what was it about enlightenment, traditionally thought to be the pinnacle of human evolution, that would forever distinguish it from the accomplishments of these powerful individuals?
If anything pushed us over the edge into the investigation that ultimately became this issue, it was the force of our ever growing fascination with questions like these. Armed with little more than a cursory familiarity with the dynamic figures we came to call the "Self Masters," we slid headlong into an outrageous and challenging exploration of what may be a uniquely American approach to the dizzying business of personal transformation. Phrases like "Take massive action!" "Just do it!" and "God helps those who help themselves!" began to infiltrate the argot of our editorial team as we steeled ourselves for our encounters with these indomitable wellsprings of overwhelming confidence and unbridled positivity. As we worked our way through a mountain of motivational and inspirational books, tapes and videos with titles like Awaken the Giant Within, Unlimited Power, Revitalize Your Life After Fifty
and Stop the Insanity!,
it slowly began to dawn on us that the questions with which we would be approaching these icons of human potential would probably seem to them to come from somewhere decidedly east of left field. Had any of them ever even thought about such ideas as surrender to the source of all existence, union with the ground of being, or the ultimate transcendence of individuality itself?
Actually speaking with the Self Masters was an eye-opening experience. On the one hand, Bill Phillips's assertion that "in life, you're either a steamroller or you're pavement" began to take on a frighteningly real urgency as we began to discover for ourselves that when you get near a Self Master, you definitely have to be ready to stand your ground. These are people, after all, who have proven themselves in the arena of real life with a degree of competence, effectiveness and grace that most of us can only aspire to. So not surprisingly, anything they talk about is imbued with a confidence, boldness and authority that are extremely rare. Yet it was precisely these qualities that made our dialogues with them so exciting and powerful. For these are qualities that don't often find full expression in contemporary dialogue on spiritual subjects, and appear to be the hallmarks of a dynamic and liberating attainment which, whatever its relationship to enlightenment, cannot be easily dismissed.