Soulful: An Interview with John Morton Spiritual Director of the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness

West Adams Blvd. between Arlington and Crenshaw has been called Church Row, famous for its many places of worship. A recent edition to the fold is the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness.


When I called MSIA to request an interview with its Spiritual Director, John Morton, I was told he was in the middle of a heavy lecture schedule but to our luck he would be in town just before we went to press. They asked if I would mind interviewing him as part of their ongoing series of audio/visual feeds to listeners all over the world.   We met at the beautiful Gausti Villa, their headquarters and the first of two historic homes on Adams they have purchased and lovingly restored. They are friendly and generous neighbors, who open their grounds daily for visitors to come and simply visit, stroll down to the incredible gardens, walk the labyrinth, or attend their many free lectures. The atmosphere is always cheerful, welcoming and friendly.

TNN: John, thank you so much for spending time with us today.  Can you tell us how this movement came about?

: Such a simple question! (Laughter) Most directly it came about because of John-Roger, our founder. His work started formalizing as an organization legally in 1971. He was doing a lot of informal events, talking to people in their homes, etc., and it became what we call a movement. We finally organized as a church but we consider ourselves nondenominational. We are actually celebrating 50 years of John-Roger doing this work this summer at our annual conference.

TNN: What got him started? Did he just start having dreams and wanted to talk about them?
John: Yes, and what I would call mystical experiences, things that are very challenging to explain let alone bring to the world in a way that is understandable. He has done a magnificent job in that way and has created a work that is worldwide. We have lots of people involved in our seminary, Peace Theological Seminary and College of Philosophy, which is also headquartered here (on Adams) and we have another building just down the street. The movement is very much alive.

TNN: How does MSIA differ from other spiritual organizations?

John: It embraces teachings that are true for the spiritual consciousness, the soul. We do our way of spiritual awareness, soul awareness. That obviously is something that other organizations or other teachers have previously brought out.

TNN: One thing I’ve noticed is that there is a real emphasis on a discussion of the soul as opposed to just alluding to the soul.

John: Everyone is invited to have their direct experience and we consider that a responsibility, not just an opportunity. Our teachings are very much about going within and finding your experience because it is available, so don’t believe what we are saying. There is a trust in something that goes beyond understanding. Everyone needs to find it in their own personal way.

TNN: Your group often refers to the “traveler.” Can you explain this?

John: John-Roger identifies it as the “Mystical Traveler Consciousness.” That is the name he chose to refer to a consciousness that has tremendous ability, that is of a divine nature. How do we make personal contact with our god, our divine nature? It has an ability to assist us on all levels, not just in this world but in the worlds to come wherever that may be, and assist us in awakening spiritually.

TNN: How do your members practice your spiritual path?

John: It is much more a process of experience than a do this, eat this, point in this direction and you will find the magical keys opening up, technique. We have what we call spiritual exercise. That’s our core practice. We make sure people understand it is not passive; it’s active and dynamic. It’s something we need to do with full consciousness, full awareness; be alert, be awake, and be ready. We do a lot to encourage people to be open, to be on your way with your own personal levels of experience. Trust yourself. Find your own strength and wisdom. It’s very practical.

TNN: What are the consequences, the results of having this greater connection to the Traveler, or this interior Divine intelligence…other than just becoming a really nice person? (Laughter)

John: Well, that’s quite an accomplishment! (Laughter) But beyond that, it is practical. It is much more about finding who you are in the truest sense of what that is, so that you are self-identified. You are self-awake. You are self-reliant. There are many things that I would call blessings. Probably the simplest way I would say it is people develop more health, wealth, and happiness, although its not about getting those things. It is a path that moves our consciousness so that we can create those kinds of results.

TNN: The ‘60s was love’s generation……

John: I was like that. I’m part of love’s generation. (Laughter)

TNN: Then you know what I’m talking about! There was the notion that all you needed was love and what the world needed now was love, sweet love. There were love-ins and a spirit burst into our consciousness and became part of a revolution of increased consciousness and a desire for truth. This also brought out greater awareness of the dark elements in our world. Can you talk about some of the ways you may perceive how this spirit of love has grown and changed our world since the ‘60s, if you think it has?

John: I definitely think it has. When we open up spiritually, we find our strengths but we also find what would challenge our strengths. There is a force of opposition that is going to test us in our resolve to be true to ourselves and live according to our spiritual nature rather than things that would invite us to be harsh, angry, disturbed, shut down, live in fear, or live in doubt. These are like two forces – in a simple way, a positive and negative – that we are all called upon to work out. We are encouraging people to find the most positive, the most uplifting of our spiritual nature. I’m probably not quoting Charles Dickens, but it is something like “They were the best of times and they were the worst of times.” This is what I see. It is intensifying; our world has more intense issues. There is more pollution and yet there is more effort to clean up the world to come back into harmony and balance. Clearly there is a need to restore balance, restore qualities in the earth that allow us to live together. Not just cohabitate or survive, but live together in peace and upliftment. We have that potential. That’s part of what we are encouraging people to find and then to make a contribution. We encourage community service, service of all kinds. That’s part of waking up spiritually. It is an opportunity. It doesn’t always make the news. The news often wants to focus on the most sensational or the most disturbing because often that is interesting. That’s understandable, but there is great, great good going on in my lifetime, in your lifetime, our lifetimes.

TNN: I would like you to think of some of the people you know who you consider to have a lot of soul. What is it about them … what qualities do they share in common?

John: Well, my view is that everyone has not just a lot of soul but complete soul. There are a lot of great examples of people who are expressing opening in their true nature which embraces our individuality, our culture, all of that; our ancestry. When we really come forward and express a soulful nature, then it is a very readable expression. I find it expresses through caring and loving, through respect and honoring. Also, tremendous freedom is a part of the soul awakening. It comes out as a freedom of expression and freedom of consciousness. It is liberating and also necessary for our well-being, for our happiness. John-Roger basically is the person in my life who has demonstrated that the most. I am very close to his work. There are so many people I could look to as demonstrating that.

TNN: Most people don’t want to change. When we walk on a true spiritual path we are inspired to change, sometimes consciously, and sometimes unconsciously. What are some of the big changes that you personally have experienced… like when you look back and go, “I’m really different now” …in what ways?

John:  Most important is the willingness to change in a direction that is contributing to the positive strengthening in values that bring nurturing, bring contribution to the world around us. That can be in very simple of ways of just helping somebody or helping something. It’s these ways that come forward. This gives real satisfaction that brings fulfillment.

   One of the great turning points for me was when I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. When I graduated from college, I looked around; I didn’t know of a single person who I thought well, there’s a person who understands themselves and knows what they are going to do with their life and has a plan. I just felt as though nobody was fully aware of themselves. I felt I was at a loss. I started on a search and I realized in that process I was looking for someone who knew this world and what was going on, a real teacher.

   That’s how I found John-Roger. It has been a path that requires tremendous letting go, releasing our past identification and being open to brand new ways of expression. For me, this path of spiritual awakening requires our strength of endurance, requires great courage because at times it appears that Old Man River is full of peace and grace, and then around the bend might be the rapids and here we go again, where we have a sense of I don’t know who I am. I don’t know where I am. We are looking all over again for those values that give us clear direction, a sense of “I’m on the right path.”

   One of the keys to that process is the willingness to go within, the willingness to be true. John-Roger did a campaign for five years which was focused on integrity. We gave integrity awards to a variety of people – Mother Theresa, Lech Walesa, and Stevie Wonder. There was just a range of people who were identified as expressing their integrity. He defined integrity as having the courage to go with the truth as you know it, a heartfelt response with care and consideration for others.

   To me, that’s a recipe for a great life, each of us to have that willingness. He felt he needed to say the part “with care and consideration” because sometimes people interpret the truth that hey, my truth is that I’m going to knock you over so I can do what I want. If it hurts people, there is something out of alignment.

TNN: Can you always avoid hurting people when you are standing in your truth?

John: I have found that hurt is something that we can eliminate, even at an emotional level, or you could say conceptually. Sometimes a thought hurts and it is very disturbing to think a particular way, or to lose something or consider we are losing something. I even found that minimizing it and doing things that restore, nurtures, forgives so that we have a consciousness that is willing to make amends, to let go of a conflict. These are very important qualities.

TNN: You know, there is the idea that humans are relatively new on the planet, right? Last 30 seconds, if you look at the whole of the planet as an hour. There is the idea that we are actually still evolving, that we are relatively new and in beginning stages, and that our evolution is not over. Do you want to talk a little bit about your thoughts of the evolution of humans? (Laughter)

John: I would love to. (Laughter) One of the aspects of spirituality I find, and I’m sure John-Roger has revealed that in his experience, there is a mysterious quality to our life that in some ways remains mysterious. It’s always a challenge to comprehend. One of the mysteries to me is that it appears that our life has a destiny. You could say it is predestined; it’s already worked out. It also has this quality of evolution, that we are growing. It seems that these two things are integrated so sometimes it is as though it won’t matter what I do because my destiny will make sure I will do what I need to do. Then it is as though every little choice, every single choice, every thought also impacts. Our way of looking at it is there is growth; there is spiritual growth; there is personal growth.

   In my view, the opportunities for growth are better than ever in whatever you would call this, this epoch, this 30 seconds of our existence. I do consider that we are in a place where we need to change; we need to evolve where we get along in very simple terms. Now it is vitally important that we find ways to mutually harmonize and mutually get along in ways that contribute instead of take away. I think we are being compelled and if we don’t there will be natural conclusions. The laws of nature are supreme in terms of our options. We can’t break these laws. We have to cooperate with them.

TNN: We do. I have been having this vision lately about humans being a big web but it is almost as if there is something that wants us to stay disconnected from each other. Our nature is to be connected, but there are forces that want to keep us disconnected. What would happen if that ended somehow and suddenly we were just embracing the connection? What would that be like? Is that our true state?

John: That is how I experienced being spiritually awake, that we are all connected. It’s a beautiful connection. It is not I’m connected to you and I want to run and get away. It’s a very beautiful nature when we take away the veil. I would agree that there are forces that contradict, that oppose, that seemingly find fault and find why I don’t want to be with you or I don’t want to try to get along. Everyone has … I just call it an opportunity to make choices to move it along. I find it is more critical in a way; it is more important than ever to make choices in cooperation, to make choices that I give to you. I have a willingness to contribute to you, that I’m not keeping score all the time. I did three and you need to do three, but I’m going to see if I can work it out so that you give me four. In order to do that, I had to be deceptive.

         That kind of consciousness is why we’re in so much disturbance. But there is also great beauty. I encourage people to find the positive focus and contribute to it. Be a leader even if you would say nine out of 10 people aren’t doing this. That means often people who want to lie to me or cheat, they get away with it because I give them credit. I give them the benefit. I encourage people to say well if they take something from you consider it will be replaced. We have a source, a divine source that is going to watch out for us and protect us and supply what we need. At times that often takes great trust and faith in an invisible Creator. That’s not a new consciousness. That’s something that has been taught in various religions. It’s something I call faith and trust in God.

TNN: I think the more that you commit to that vision and act out of that vision, it replicates itself in greater measure.

John: Right. John-Roger introduced the concept called “portable paradise.”

TNN:  Portable paradise! (Laughter)

John:  I love it. Your own heaven on earth created so that in your 10%, your immediate surroundings, it is beautiful. You’re welcomed. There is kindness. There is compassion. There is a willingness to give, a willingness to receive. We have a beautiful friendship, a beautiful neighborhood. In this neighborhood, in West Adams, next to South Central we have a beautiful place for people to come to. There is an Eden steps away.

TNN: What is the one question that is commonly asked of you when you travel and lecture? What is the question that keeps coming up?

John: Why did you do that? (Laughter) You know, the questions that are asked are some version of who are we, or who am I? What is this world? What am I doing here? I find that everyone has a need to answer that question. Even if we dismiss it and we avoid it because it is too seemingly overwhelming and there is no answer, often I think it part of the process in people’s attempt to survive. They pay attention to the hourly things, the bills have to be paid, or if there is some issue with another person or a situation. I find these things often can take our attention and dominate it. We are not really settled and we are not at peace inside. We are not fulfilled. We don’t have a sense of direction and purpose.

It is very important – and this may be another way of answering your question – we discover our purpose more directly. The beauty of that, I find, is that it takes in everyone’s individuality so that your purpose can be very different from mine; yet we can find a common purpose; that we love one another. That is not a new concept. Love yourself because if a person isn’t loving themselves then there is something shut down. The loving can’t fully get over to somebody else, or to anything for that matter. We encourage people to open the loving treasury and the source of loving. Then, open to having it come from others.

TNN: Receiving it.

John: Yes, so that the loving in me can connect to the loving in you even if you are not acting very well, which is where it really gets challenging. When others aren’t behaving in a loving, kind, understanding way.

TNN: Well, I would imagine tolerance is part of love.

John: (Laughter) You don’t have to imagine that from my experience. It’s a kind of tolerance we call acceptance. We consider acceptance a spiritual law. We need to accept in order to fully resonate with our being. If we are rejecting and we are not in an understanding of what something is or who someone is, there is work there. We often invite people to do that work, to make the adjustments so that there is more acceptance, more cooperation, more understanding.

TNN: I was reading the other day something that really resonated that talked about the more you get into this consciousness the more willing you are to actually look and see who somebody really is as opposed to who they think they are or what they are acting out. You gain an understanding of their behavior because you can see behind the behavior.

John: As it has been talked about, if you walk in someone’s moccasins, their steps, and actually experience their life then we would have much greater appreciation and understanding. Perhaps the things we would criticize or judge, we would take that back and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how challenging your life is and now that I see your life in the way it is for you, I have compassion. I have appreciation. I have thankfulness and a willingness to contribute and help.”

TNN: And cut you some slack. (Laughter)

John: You know, if we just talked and allowed people in a way to have a moment where they are not in their best consciousness and consider whether I have ever had a reactive moment. Of course I have. In my reactive moment, what did I need? Did I need somebody who was upset with me and calling me names, or did I need somebody who said, “Hey, that’s okay. It looks like you’re having a difficult moment. Is there something I could do to help? Maybe some other time we’ll have that talk.”

TNN: One last question. What was the most surprising thing to you on your path? What was the thing that you discovered that was like, “Whoa! Didn’t expect that!

John: That everyone has the soul nature, the spirit nature, in them so that everybody is a diamond. Maybe in the rough or very rough, but there is a diamond there with clarity and beauty, something tremendously precious in every single being. John-Roger termed it as God is in all the creation and out of God comes all things and what that is, is full of love. When we really see the essence of what it really is, it’s an energy field or a formation as you take it apart, or allow it to reveal itself, you see it is all love. When I behold it, it is in a way startling … awesome. It has this awesome quality that goes on and on. I feel like I’m going ah … ah…. ah… ah. It’s amazing to look at.

TNN: True dat. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.

John: My pleasure. I’m glad we could take a moment to share with our neighbor and what’s going on in our neighborhood and in whatever your neighborhood is.

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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