Shared Heart Column: Heartfulness
with Joyce and Barry Vissell
“Our minds map out a neat, perfect little road for life and we hate to have it changed in any way. Yet that perfect little road may completely by-pass our goal of God-realization.”
–Barry and Joyce Vissell, The Shared Heart
Joyce and I have written before about the importance of taking risks to follow inner guidance, to listen to those sometimes subtle promptings that can change our lives. If it were up to our minds, we might never take these risks. If we want to follow the higher path of life, we need to not only listen but also act on these inner promptings. They may make no sense to our minds, but they will make sense to our hearts, our divine minds. There is a story I’ve never written, a risk I took many years ago that completely changed the course of both of our lives.
In 1974, we were finishing a pilgrimage that had lasted two years. Together, we traveled the world, always searching for spiritual teachers. One highlight of this time period was a whole summer studying Sufism with Pir Vilayat Khan at a camp high up in the French Alps.
In the autumn, we were staying in Santa Cruz, CA, but made the decision to move back up to Oregon. Shortly before leaving, someone told us that Pir Vilayat was leading a weekend retreat in San Francisco, an hour and a half north, and therefore on our way to Oregon.
We left in our VW bus to attend the retreat, always happy to spend time with this Sufi master. At the end of the retreat, Pir Vilayat shared his vision of The Cosmic Mass, a celebration of the unity of the world’s major religions. His creation would involve a theater in the round, with five stages simultaneously portraying some of the major events in five of the world’s major religions. In the center would be a seven-level stage, corresponding to the seven levels of heaven. The famous Sufi Choir and Orchestra would perform all the music. It was to be a spectacular pageant, at a major theater in the Bay Area – in three months!
Joyce and I looked at one another sadly. We were leaving to head north the following morning.
Then Pir Vilayat asked for all the men in the audience who wanted a role in the Cosmic Mass to come up onto the stage. Without thinking, I stood up and started walking toward the stage. I vaguely remember Joyce calling out, “Barry, what are you doing? We’re leaving tomorrow morning!
Still, I couldn’t explain the pull to walk up on that stage. However, when I got there, I started to feel foolish. My mind kicked in, and I thought, “This is ridiculous!”
There were probably a hundred men crowded on the stage, with Pir Vilayat sitting on his stool on the edge of the stage, eyes closed and face tilted upward, perhaps meditating on the different roles he envisioned. I quickly hid behind all the men, embarrassed, hoping he wouldn’t see me.
A long time passed by, an agonizingly long time. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I peeked out from behind some heads until I could see Pir Vilayat. And wouldn’t you know it, at that very instant he opened his eyes and looked directly at me. Then his hand came up with his finger pointing at me, and he announced, “Jesus!”
I had just been cast in one of the major roles of the Cosmic Mass. Talk about a change of plans!
After Pir Vilayat finished casting the men, I went back to my seat next to Joyce. She had every right to be annoyed at me. After all, I didn’t consult with her first before casting our plans to the wind and going up to the stage. She didn’t know what happened on the stage. She had a curious, but bewildered expression.
Then I told her Pir Vilayat chose me to be Jesus!
She smiled at me warmly, but didn’t have time to say anything. The next moment, Pir Vilayat called up all the women who wanted parts, and Joyce stood up. She hesitated for a moment, and I gave her a gentle push. That was enough to send her down the aisle toward the stage.
Pir Vilayat chose Joyce to be the Mother of the World, to sit on the highest level of the stage and, veiled together with the Father of the World, meditate, sending out waves of peace from the highest heaven.
We returned to Santa Cruz and rented a house. We didn’t want to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area. Instead, we commuted. So the Cosmic Mass is the reason we live near Santa Cruz to this day. Life-changing? Yes, but that’s not the main thing.
It was the rehearsing that really changed both of our lives. There was the outer rehearsing, practicing for the actual performance. But then there was the inner rehearsing. Pir Vilayat was very clear with Joyce and me. “Your full-time job,” he said to me, “is to fully immerse yourself in the life and being of Jesus. You are to become Jesus, feel what he feels, do what he does.” And to Joyce, “You are to become the Mother of the World, the female aspect of God. Let every meditation be an act of compassion for the world.”
A tall order. Yes, indeed. Those three months launched Joyce and me into a profound spiritual practice. Being raised Jewish, there was much I needed to learn about Jesus. I read everything I could find, from the Bible to The Aquarian Gospel. Even with my day job as a doctor, learning about and being Jesus did become my other full-time job for three months. It’s not that I became a Christian. My current spirituality embraces practices from many different traditions. But, for three months, I became Jesus, which has truly changed my life.
Then came the evening of the performances, three of them in one evening, with massive crowds, including the governor of California at the time, Jerry Brown, Sr. As long as I live, I will never forget that evening. The first and second performance, although beautiful, I was still aware of playing the part of Jesus. Then came the third performance. I was no longer aware of playing a part. The energy of Jesus came through me. It was truly sublime! In the final scene, my ascension, I climbed up the seven-level stage in the center and approached Joyce. But it wasn’t Joyce. Instead, through the thin veil, I beheld Divine Mother, the highest aspect of the feminine. And in one glorious moment, I was united with Joyce, not as man and woman, but as divine beings, the highest moment of our lives thus far.
We risked listening to an inner prompting, and it changed the course of the rest of our lives!
Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell:
Jul 17-22 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR
Oct 14-20 — Assisi Retreat, Italy
Feb 5-12, 2017 — Hawaii Couples Retreat
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.