There are two special people, Ralph Metzner and Charles Tart, who remain part of the origin story of the work that I have been doing for the past 48 years. It was 1973 when radio station KPFA held a fundraising event at Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley on Sunday, March 4. The speakers were Henry Puharich, M.D., Ralph Metzner, Ph.D., Ken Johnson, Charles Tart, Ph.D., Ramamurti S. Mishra, M.D., and Shafica Karagulla, M.D. The event was entitled Parapsychology, Frontiers of Consciousness.
At the time the San Francisco Bay area was a consciousness candy store filled with the sweetness of the wisdom of so many spiritual leaders flooding in from all over the world. Scores of new organizations were thriving, such as the est trainings founded by Werner Erhard, the establishment of the California Institute of Asian Studies, founded by Haridas Chaudhuri, Ph.D., later known as the California Institute for Integral Studies, SRI, Stanford Research Institute, where Willis Harman, Ph.D. was Senior Social Scientist. Ram Dass was giving talks to eager practitioners. Tibetan lamas were teaching meditation. Swamis were arriving from India, Swami Satchidananda, Sri Muktananda, and many others.
To say I was a newbie in this burgeoning field in 1973 would be an enormous understatement. In the previous year I was knocking on doors and passing out literature created by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
All my life I’ve had an innate spiritual enthusiasm and was quite happy to feel I had finally arrived at the way, the truth, and the light. However, my life took a decisive turn in March of 1972 when I met and fell in love with Michael Toms. What I didn’t anticipate was my spiritual path would be split wide open by Michael Toms. We were married in December 1972. Before moving in with him I knew I had to reconcile my current spiritual affiliation with the Jehovah Witnesses and I grappled with him over Biblical scripture. I recall that every time I read certain verses and explained my interpretation of them, Michael didn’t negate my view but gave me a wider and deeper one by saying, “Yes, and you might look at it like this.” It took me years to understand that my spiritual pursuit was not about embracing the dogma. Rather it was about going for the biggest and most trustworthy truth I could stand on.
I tagged along with Michael, who signed us up to participate in weekend retreats with Tibetan Lama Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche. For me it was like being thrown into deep waters not knowing how to swim. My biggest obstacle was not to fall asleep during the meditation exercises. It was a complete puzzle to me to hear participants describe their astral travels as they followed the blue light in meditation.
I must admit those retreats were, for me, an intellectual pursuit. I recall sitting on the front steps of the old fraternity house in Berkeley where the retreats were being held and complaining to Michael about how little progress I was making. With gentle compassion he gave me advice regarding comparing my path with others, “Don’t worry about those high-Western achievers. Stick to your own pace. Whatever you give your fullness to will take you where you need to go.”
It wasn’t until Sunday, March 4th, 1973 at Zellerbach Auditorium that my spiritual path truly moved from my head to my heart and it was Ralph Metzner who imprinted my soul when he lead us in his Light Fire Practice. The impact of that visualization was amplified by the 2000 souls having the same experience in the same moment. I was totally changed. It worked like magic in a most visceral way. Ralph’s ability to take us to a new level of consciousness allowed me to transcend my own materialistic understanding of the world. It was a cleansing of the lens of my perception and my view was widened. I was launched into a new landscape from which I would never again retreat. In this life-changing moment, Ralph not only embodied the light, he was able to radiate it throughout the room. It can be likened to a door being opened and even though there are occasions in my life when I want to close that door and turn away from the responsibilities of this new seeing, that door will never again be closed completely. The light continues to seep in through the cracks even 48 years later. I’m grateful always that it does.
The very next day Michael and I conceived New Dimensions Foundation as a nonprofit organization. By Tuesday, with a lawyer, the Articles of Incorporation were written and within five months it became a radio program series on KQED. New Dimensions has been broadcasting ever since on many public radio stations around the U.S., inspired by Ralph and Charles Tart that Sunday in 1973. The theme remains as New Dimensions’ mission statement: “It is only through a change in human consciousness that the world will be transformed. The personal and the planetary are connected. As we expand our awareness of mind, body, psyche, and spirit and bring that awareness actively into the world, so also will the world be changed. This is our quest as we explore New Dimensions.”
– Justine Willis Toms
NOTE: This piece will appear in the upcoming book, Festschrift: A Tribute to the Life and Work of Ralph Metzner, which is a collection of essays and tributes about Ralph being gathered by his wife, Cathy Coleman, and published by the Green Earth Foundation.