A Spiritual Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe: An Interview with Paul Rademacher
By John W. Whitehead
November 17, 2009
To put words to that dimension would never do it justice. There was a stillness that was charged with potential. Questions were irrelevant, for everything was self-evident. The air seemed to vibrate with life and consciousness. Never had I experienced anything remotely like it. This life that I had called my own was clearly linked to all of existence. Barriers disintegrated, as the web of creation became intertwined with my body.
A being of light stood in front of me, radiating streaks of white and gold in all directions. I couldn't make out the face, because it was similar to viewing a faint silhouette made by light shining from behind. This person was strangely familiar to me. At the time, I equated him with Jesus, but, in retrospect, I'm not so sure. I don't recall him ever using that name; it was simply my own association.
There was no sense of time. Gone was the unyielding regularity of seconds and minutes. In some ways, it felt as if we had been standing in front of one another for all eternity. We communicated efficiently, yet without words. To stand in that presence was to be fully known and completely loved. It became abundantly clear that this accident of falling off the roof was no accident at all. In fact, there were no such things as accidents. Every moment, every experience, was filled with purpose and intention. In that state, I knew that I knew that I knew. — Paul Rademacher, A Spiritual Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe
While researching his non-fiction, bestselling book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, author Jon Ronson visited The Monroe Institute, located in Faber, Virginia. The book, now a movie starring George Clooney and Jeff Bridges, chronicles the activities of the First Earth Battalion, a secret U.S. Army program formed in 1979 that attempted to use various methods of "psychic warfare" to combat America's enemies.
Although the film is positioned as a satirical comedy, the work being done at The Monroe Institute (TMI) in the exploration of human consciousness is no laughing matter. Indeed, F. Holmes (Skip) Atwater, president of TMI, was a former participant in the Army's attempts to use remote viewing to aid United States intelligence-gathering operations and counterintelligence efforts around the globe for nearly thirty years.
Paul Rademacher, the Executive Director at TMI , is also no stranger to the study of expanded consciousness. In fact, during his 15 years of service as a Presbyterian pastor, he studied extensively in the fields of consciousness and spirituality, seeking to bring together traditional meditation techniques with contemporary expressions of spiritual exploration. Rademacher first became interested in consciousness exploration after a mystical encounter that resulted from a construction accident in 1981. That experience set the course for the rest of his life.
Rademacher had been working in the construction industry since 1972, first as a laborer, then as a journeyman carpenter, and eventually as the head of his own construction company. In 1976, he graduated from Goddard College with a B.A. in Social Ecology, majoring in alternative energy production and energy conservation. However, sensing a call into the Christian ministry, Rademacher entered Princeton Theological Seminary in 1982. He graduated three years later with a Master of Divinity degree, having majored in psychology and Old Testament studies. His first church was in Muncie, Indiana, where he continued his exploration of spirituality and meditation. He also enrolled in doctoral studies at the Ecumenical Theological Center in Detroit, Michigan, where practice in prayer and meditation were emphasized as the foundation for ministry.
In 1987, Rademacher found himself drawn to the writings of Robert Monroe, the founder of TMI, whose books chronicled his own "out of body" experiences and mystical encounters. Ten years later, while serving as the senior pastor at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, Rademacher attended his first program at TMI, which renewed his interest in the mystical world he had encountered in 1981. Rademacher eventually became an Outreach Facilitator for TMI, bringing together the worlds of spirituality and consciousness by introducing the Monroe methodology to small groups within his congregation. Through courses he designed and taught, the participants were not only able to move personally into profound altered states of consciousness, but were also able to see the connection between these states and what Jesus termed "the kingdom of heaven." Those early seminars form the basis for Rademacher's new book, A Spiritual Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe: Travel Tips for the Spiritually Perplexed (Hampton Roads, 2009).
In 2001, Rademacher was invited to become a Residential Facilitator at The Monroe Institute. He became its Executive Director in October 2007. TMI conducts intensive six-day and weekend programs that help participants to experience profound states of relaxation and expanded awareness. Rademacher is an experienced public speaker, seminar leader, artist, closet musician, husband and father of three. He continues his personal explorations in spirituality and consciousness using Monroe Institute techniques and meditation.
Rademacher took some time to speak with OldSpeak about the intersections between consciousness, spirituality and the Christian tradition as laid out in his new book, A Spiritual Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe.
John W. Whitehead: In your book, A Spiritual Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, you write that you grew up as an evangelical Christian. Eventually, you became a pastor.
Paul Rademacher: Right. When I was a kid, I grew up in a Presbyterian church which was a very mainline church, but when I got into my young adulthood, I became associated with an evangelical Christian church that was pretty influential.
JWW: What denomination was that?
PR: Presbyterian USA. Because of that church, I started having a sense of calling into the ministry. It was that calling that sets up the story for the experience that changed my life.
JWW: As you write in A Spiritual Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, you were basically looking for direction at that time.
PR: Absolutely. At that time in my life, I was a building contractor. I was up on the roof of a house that we were building one day when, suddenly, a board I was pulling on gave way, and I found myself careening off into space. I fell off the building and didn't have a chance to adjust for the fall.
JWW: How far was the fall?
PR: It was only about nine feet or so. But I was falling so awkwardly and in such a direction that I landed very painfully on my left hip. I ended up fracturing my left hip, although I didn't know it at the time.
JWW: Did you pass out?
PR: I didn't pass out, but I came very close to it. Every time that the medical people moved me, I would come to the edge of being unconscious. At the hospital, they took some x-rays of the hip and didn't find anything wrong. They put me in physical therapy, which was excruciating because the hip was, in fact, fractured. They eventually did find the fracture, and I was taken out of physical therapy and put into traction. When the doctor told me I was going to be off work for many weeks, I went into a spiral of pain and anxiety.
JWW: And depression?
PR: Yes, to some extent, but it was more anxiety because that was the busiest time of our year. There was no way I could possibly be off work. So as I was going downward in this spiral of pain and anxiety, I suddenly and unexpectedly--and with no explanation--broke into another dimension. That is the only way I can explain it.
JWW: What do you mean you broke into another dimension?
PR: I was in a hospital bed at the time. But it felt as if my awareness moved from this world into another world. And in that other world, all of the pain completely disappeared. The anxiety evaporated, and I found myself surrounded by complete and total peace. It was unlike any other kind of peace I have ever experienced in my life. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that in that other realm, there was no such thing as an accident. Everything has meaning and purpose.
JWW: This wasn't a dream?
PR: No, it was not a dream. I was as awake and aware as I am talking to you right now. It was very, very real.
JWW: What would you call this experience?
PR: I would probably call it a mystical or metaphysical experience. It probably bore more resemblance to what people call a near death experience. When I was in this other dimension, I also at one point found myself standing in front of this beam of light.
JWW: In your book, you write that you interpreted the light form as Jesus. So you were a Christian at the time?
PR: Yes. At that time, I interpreted it as Jesus.
JWW: Why did you interpret it as Jesus?
PR: The being of light never identified him or herself, but that was the framework of my thinking at that time. As I said, I was an evangelical Christian, so those were the categories that I used. But as I grew over time, my categories began to expand and so the possibilities for what that being was also began to expand.
JWW: When you moved into this "dimension," what happened beside seeing light and a light being? Did you get a clear message? Was it a spoken message? Was it an intuition?
PR: There was a definite communication between myself and the light being, and the topic of conversation was my life. But I don't recall anything of exactly what was said. It was more subliminal, more accessible at that time, in the state I was in. But as I came back to this particular reality, so much of it seemed to wither away or dissipate, almost like a mist, as far as the actual communication. But the experience itself was still very strong.
JWW: How did this affect you at that time?
PR: At that time, I had been wrestling with the question of whether or not I should go to seminary. My wife and I were looking for the definitive sign from God at that point. It was my belief that the voice of God had spoken to me. It was the sign for my wife, as well. Thus, we took our two children at that time and went off to seminary at Princeton Theological Seminary. I went through my studies there and came out of the seminary with a Master of Divinity degree.
JWW: Did Princeton have an impact on you as well?
PR: Yes. I found out that I knew very little and that the breadth of the Christian tradition is far greater than I had ever thought before. I found myself running into all kinds of people who had different perspectives from my own. I didn't realize it at the time but it was one of the most wonderful things that could happen to me.
JWW: Some Christians suggest that Princeton is a place where evangelicals become liberals. Is that what happened to you?
PR: My perspective would be that it opened me up to new possibilities that I had never considered before. I found out that there was a great variety of people who come from a Christian tradition who are just as sincere about what they believe, but they have different viewpoints.
JWW: After you graduated from Princeton, what happened next?
PR: I graduated from Princeton in 1985, and then I went into the ministry for 15 years. One of the things that really began to work on me was that my perspective on that experience of falling off the roof changed over time. At first, I thought it was simply to answer the question of whether I should go to seminary. Over time, I began to realize that the real purpose of it was to create a hunger in me to want to get back to experience that other world. That other reality was so profound and so provocative for me. I wanted so much to learn what that was all about. I began to realize that this was a very important thing that had happened. It has great implications not just for me but for all of humanity. We begin to learn that we have these capacities for perception that go far beyond what we think we ordinarily have as human beings.
JWW: What do you mean by your use of the word "perception"?
PR: Generally, our perception is confined to the physical world or to our five physical senses. That perspective is enhanced because of our scientific world view.
JWW: It is a materialistic world view.
PR: Yes. It views the material world as the only legitimate means of inquiry. However, if you look back through all the traditions, there is a mystical aspect to life that is part of our very sense of being. We have lost that to a large extent in Western culture. As we begin to regain contact with that non-material or metaphysical world, it opens up a whole new possibility for us as human beings.
JWW: Does the non-material world interface with the material world? Is there any evidence of that?
PR: It certainly interfaces in a variety of ways. My experience of falling off the roof is a precise example of that for me personally. But I also see that happening in so many other people's lives. It is not just a personal thing for me. There is some kind of objective component to this as well.
JWW: Many people claim to have had a near-death experience where they talk about watching their own funerals or watching themselves on operating tables. There are thousands of reports like this. Of course, some scientists say that seeing a light being is merely your optical nerve dissipating as you die during a near-death experience. But you would argue that there is plenty of evidence on the other side of this issue?
PR: Yes. I do believe there is evidence. This is from my own experience and from the experience of so many people who come through The Monroe Institute. The historical record says this is something that is not at all unusual. It is a part of who we are as human beings.
JWW: A lot of mystical, spiritual things happen in the New Testament. Paul, for example, talks about the seventh heaven. But many evangelical Christians are going to look on what you are talking about as demonic--that is, that these are spirits deluding people into thinking they are light beings. Can they possibly be right on this? Is this something that we should fear?
PR: It has not been my experience that this is something to be afraid of. In fact, it has been terribly enriching for me. This is what I detail in my book. When I entered into that experience (and subsequently, as well), there was a sense of great wholeness and completeness. When you look at the word salvation, for instance, it is really about wholeness. In so many regards, we have lost track and lost sight of that. Jesus said something that was very interesting to His disciples. He said, these things I do, you will do and more. And so He wasn't setting Himself up as someone who is inaccessible and apart from our own experience. He was saying to his everyday, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, blue collar disciples that the things I am doing are possible for you. We have lost sight of that in so much of the Christian tradition. The reason why we have lost sight of it is because we have misunderstood the message that Jesus was trying to convey. For instance, when He is talking about the kingdom of heaven, it is so engrained in us to think of that as being an after-death reality that is only accessible to those people who have been good or said the right words or done the right things. But Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is here and now. It is among you. It is with you. As He said, some of you will not taste death before you see the kingdom coming in his glory. So it is this present component--this other dimension that intermingles with this physical world right now--that Jesus was talking about.
JWW: Are you referring to the spirit world?
PR: We have the capacity to perceive the spirit world. If we don't have the capacity to see it, then why are all those examples in the Bible, from Moses to Ezekiel?
JWW: Paul saw the spirit world on the road to Damascus. What you might call a perception.
PR: It is my perspective that these perceptions are available to us and that they are not just ancillary to our path. They are central to who we are, and this accessibility to the spirit world is absolutely essential to us.
JWW: Are you saying that this is a positive experience that everyone can access?
PR: I believe that we have a built-in capacity to that.
JWW: Do you believe there is a God?
PR: Absolutely. Don't ask me how to define it.
JWW: God is not definable.
PR: Those categories are not easy for me to grapple with. I just have a sense of that presence with me all the time. And I know that there is no place that I can go where I am away or apart from that.
JWW: So you had the experience and it was very positive. You then went to seminary and back into the ministry. What happened next?
PR: This hunger kept nagging at me--a hunger to get back to that other world, that other reality.
JWW: Would you call it a hunger for true spirituality?
PR: For me, it's real spirituality. I am not here to try to convince anyone. In 1987, a couple of years into the ministry, my wife and I walked into a bookstore up in Toronto, Canada. I was in there for just a couple of minutes and one book jumped off the shelf at me. It was Robert Monroe's second book, Far Journeys. When I read that book, I was absolutely awestruck because here, for the first time, was someone who was talking about something similar to my experience.
JWW: He is considered the classic out-of-body experience (OBE) person.
PR: That is what he is known for. I wasn't so much concerned about out-of-body as I was the parallels to what had happened to me. It was startling to me because Monroe was talking about this not from a theological perspective or a philosophical perspective. He was talking about this from his own direct experience, and I connected with this immediately. I got to the end of the book and found out that there was a place called The Monroe Institute where you could go and actually experience this kind of thing. I thought it would be amazing to go to a place like that. Also, wouldn't it be amazing to work at a place like that? I didn't believe either would ever happen, but about 10 years later, somebody paid my way to go to The Monroe Institute. It was 1997 when I went through my first experience there. It was the world that I had experienced when I fell off the roof opened up all over again for me. I was so awed by what I found at The Monroe Institute that I came home and tried to tell my wife about it, but all I could do was weep tears of joy.
JWW: A single week at The Monroe Institute changed your life?
PR: Yes. I found some fellow travelers, people who were working at the very thing that was at the core of my being. They understood me and they provided a context for me to further understand what I wanted to experience. Eventually, I went back for a few more programs and became an Outreach Facilitator for the Institute.
JWW: What is an Outreach Facilitator?
PR: They conduct two-day seminars so that people can get a taste of the experiences that we offer. Then I became a Residential Facilitator, which means that I was able to help people work through the six-day program to experience other dimensions.
JWW: You're talking about going beyond the material world?
PR: Yes, beyond the material world so that people can gain the actual personal experience of what we are talking about. That is really crucial because when you experience something personally, it is a different category of knowing from reading about or hearing second-hand another person's experience or inheriting some kind of culture or dogma. It is much more compelling when you can experience it for yourself. That is why I don't feel any real need to argue with people about what we do. Bob Monroe took this perspective as well. He would say, "Just go and experience it for yourself, and you come back and you tell me what the meaning is for you."
JWW: There is no attempt to force a viewpoint on anyone?
PR: No. We make a very strong attempt not to be dogmatic. We don't have any gurus or shamans or priests that tell you what you should or should not believe. We just create the context for your own experience and exploration.
JWW: Do you believe Jesus was a historical person?
PR: I actually do. Yes.
JWW: In your book, you discuss the concept of duality. What do you mean by this?
PR: The context in my book is the story in Genesis. In Genesis, at the beginning of the creation of the world, there is actually a series of separations. Light from dark, heavens above from heavens below, and so on and so forth. But at each of those separations, there is the pronouncement by God that it was good. When it came to the end of this creation and the creation of the human beings, God looked at the totality of creation, and God said it was very good. Thus, in Genesis, we have this totality with all of these separations, but there was no attempt to name one part of it as good and the other as bad. It was all good. Then we come to the story of the Garden of Eden, and there is one tree that Adam and Eve are told not to eat of, and that is the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Different theologies named that tree in different ways, but I think the tree is exactly what it said. It is the knowledge of good and evil. It is the human propensity to look upon the variety of all the separations in the world and to name one part of that as good and the other as evil. And the minute we do that, we have split the world at a very fundamental level, and we are no longer in the Garden of Eden. Thus, the Garden of Eden is actually a state of awareness in which there is a sense of wholeness and a sense of connection.
JWW: But isn't there a sense that the human race has always been trying to get back to the Garden of Eden?
PR: Exactly. As long as we hang onto the propensity to judge the world in terms of good and evil, we have lost that state of wholeness of consciousness that was our birthright.
JWW: In the Garden, there is a serpent who supposedly deceives Eve. Christians interpret that serpent as Satan. Is that part of the duality?
PR: I think it is because, again, as soon as you have Satan, then you have this world that is split between God and the Devil. The Old Testament conception of God from a Jewish perspective was this idea of monotheism. There is no other God outside of God. When you examine the Old Testament record outside the Book of Job, there are only about three or four mentions of the word Satan.
JWW: The name Satan means "adversary."
PR: Yes. So there was no sense in which the world was split between these warring deities. It was still God's world.
JWW: In the New Testament, Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights being tempted by the Devil. There is a Devil in the New Testament. And Peter says the Devil walks around as a roaring lion, ready to devour us.
PR: There is no question that we get tested in many different ways in this world just as Jesus was tested.
JWW: But do you believe there is a particular being called the Devil or Satan that exists to tempt us?
PR: If you want to believe there is one, there is one for you. From my perspective, I have never met him.
JWW: As you detail in your book, you experienced the other dimensions many times. Have you ever met an evil being that could be classified as an adversary, a Satan?
PR: There is a difference between someone who is an adversary and someone who is evil.
JWW: An adversary can turn into Satan in terms of an evil force. Is there an evil force over there in that other dimension that we should be afraid of?
PR: I have never experienced it. Usually, what happens in this kind of work is that if someone does encounter something that they are frightened of, more often than not it is because either they don't understand it or it is dredging up something from their past.
JWW: Their perception of it?
PR: Yes, their perception of it. What we found in this work so often is that if a person turns toward the thing that frightens them rather than running from that perception of evil, then the thing that frightens them can often have a great, great gift.
JWW: There are hints in Kabbalah (or Jewish mysticism) that this negative force could be a creation of our perception. There is a possibility that there is some kind of negative force that we are as human beings not totally aware of. You state that you have been through various dimensions. Have you ever seen anything like that?
PR: I have not personally.
JWW: Maybe it is your perception.
PR: Yes, my perception, but it is not just my perception. I have worked with hundreds of people who have gone through this process, and I have never run into anyone who encountered something that was threatening to the point of injuring their welfare in any way.
JWW: But you do call yourself a Christian?
PR: Yes, but not in the traditional sense.
JWW: Yes, but you call yourself a Christian. I am one as well. Now, people come to me and ask, "As a Christian, how do I explain suffering in the world? How do I explain Darfur? How do I explain Iraq where hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed by American violence?" How do we explain all that? Is it just people doing it? Is there a spiritual force involved?
PR: I don't have the definitive answer. My opinion is that it is because we have embraced the state of awareness, the state of consciousness, that is false.
JWW: What does that mean?
PR: When we embrace this duality where we so freely classify this as evil and that as good, we always do it on the basis of our own self-interest. We lose sight of the basic oneness that we have with one another. If I truly understand that you and I are one, I cannot injure you because if I do so, I am injuring myself. And that is where Jesus said if you do it to one of the least of these, then you have done it unto Me. He understood that perfectly. I don't think those were accidental words by Jesus. He was talking about His perception of this oneness that is underneath all of reality. When we lose sight of that awareness, then we lose sight of our connection and then it is very easy to start inflicting pain on one another. That is why I think that retrieving this awareness, this consciousness, is the key to world peace.
JWW: You have been hitchhiking, as you put it, on this amazing spiritual journey, and you finally found where you want to be and that is at The Monroe Institute?
PR: For now. Who knows where my journey is going to take me.
JWW: What is it about The Monroe Institute that is so fulfilling to you?
PR: Because I get to see lives that are transformed in a very short period of time.
PR: You can look at the website (www.monroeinstitute.org) to see that. Robert Monroe developed a series of sound patterns that help people to move into meditative states in very short periods of time. These are states that might take years to achieve. People can often achieve them within a matter of days.
JWW: You have programs where people actually come and live in for a while.
PR: Yes. They stay at our facilities, they sleep there and we feed them. We have a series of exercises that they go through and listen to on headphones. Then they come and talk about them within a group if they want to. Step by step, we lead people deeper and deeper into these states of awareness that I think are our birthright.
JWW: Are these states of awareness you are referring to the spiritual dimension?
PR: I try not to put any descriptive words on that. We just provide the context and allow people to put their own labels on what it amounts to. Some people would call it the spiritual dimension. Some people might call it the astral projection dimension. There are many different words. Take your pick.
JWW: How do you define the word "spiritual"?
PR: I want to make a very clear distinction between what I believe and what The Monroe Institute does. I am drawing that caveat out, and it is very important because I am not a guru. It is very important that people understand that when I am offering my opinion, it is my opinion. From my perspective, the word "spirit" encompasses that world that is anything that moves beyond the physical--that is, beyond the five senses of perceptions that you might encounter in the Bible or the perceptions that people who have had near death experiences might encounter.
JWW: The Jewish tradition is very spiritually oriented.
PR: At the basis of every religious tradition are one or more persons who have had this experience of encountering something that was unusual. Jesus, Paul, Moses and Ezekiel were all Jews. Ezekiel's vision was quite weird. He saw a wheel within a wheel. What is that all about?
JWW: At The Monroe Institute, you are helping people to see beyond the material world.
PR: Absolutely. That has been our experience. We have been doing it for over 30 years now, and we have seen thousands of people come through. More often than not, people look at their time at The Monroe Institute and they say, "It has been the best week of my life" or "This has absolutely changed my life in a profound way." They believe that something really important happened to them.
JWW: As you look at the world today, are you optimistic, pessimistic or realistic? What do you see happening? A lot of people today are talking about the apocalypse. Evil is supposedly descending upon us. Studies show that young people in today's society don't see any meaning in life. They don't see any future. What does the future hold?
PR: I am much more interested in God than I am in evil. I tend to think that God seems to know what is happening. I trust that, but I am really optimistic because I see also alongside everything that you have mentioned this development of human consciousness in pretty extraordinary ways. It is that aspect that I see growing. We are entering a time now where the possibilities for the communication of that new awareness or that different consciousness are really strong. That is why I love this work, and that is why I am optimistic about the future. I know that when people encounter this other world--this lost portion of who we are, this birthright of who we are--they come out changed people, and then they make a difference in the world.
DISCLAIMER: THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN OLDSPEAK ARE NOT NECESSARILY THOSE OF THE RUTHERFORD INSTITUTE.