Richard Bach Quotes

An Interview with Richard Bach by Michael Peter Langevin


Your book ILLUSIONS is your top-selling book on amazon.com, with overall sales of something like 60-80,000 a year. It's outsold even JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL.
What do you think your books touch in people that brings this kind of response?

I don't think any of my books tell the reader anything new. But they do remind, in a time that is strident and screeching about the limitations of this world and all the trouble we can get ourselves into.

Yes, we sure can.

The books remind us that way down deep in our hearts, part of us knows that we are creatures of light and we cannot be touched or destroyed by anything made out of atoms or destroyed at all-that light is indestructible. And we may reflect that and express that in multiple trillions of discrete ways, but nevertheless, that indestructible sense of joyful capacity to express life and express love is always there. And boy, that's easy to forget sometimes. There's lots of other books that do the same thing, but that's, I think, what some of my books have in common with them. I know I love to pick up a book and finish it with a sense of lifted spirit: "Oh yes, that's what it's about."

One of the other things is that you seem to be able to talk to an amazing range of people in a way they can hear and understand.

I'm not sure about that. I don't really know. All I know is that individuals somehow are led to find these books at times that are important to them. The mail that I get very, very often will say, "I was at a difficult time in my life, and someone gave me a copy." One of the extreme examples was someone who said, "I was an alcoholic, and it was a cold night in New York City, and I was sleeping on the sidewalk in an alley, and there was a wrecked copy of a book that had the cover turned up. I opened it and my eye fell on something." And it was exactly what he needed to know at that time, and now he was writing years after that to say that his life just suddenly came back together, and he always remembered that difficult time.

If you did nothing else in your life, sir, that one testimonial would make it worthwhile! In your book ILLUSIONS, your messiah, Donald Shimoda, is just a common man. Why did you put him in that role?

Because we're all in his state. The difference between Donald Shimoda and the rest of the people around him is that he remembered. He knew who he was, and he knew that he was here, like we all are, to express love and to do it in a playful, joyful manner. All of us are called by something in this world that attracts us. And it doesn't matter what it is-you can be an engine mechanic or an aviator, as in his case, or you can be someone who loves their flower garden or the world of commerce or sailboats or. Whatever it is that calls us, that's our path. And as we walk that path, we have a chance to shine forth who we are. It affects other people around us.

I've been in the presence, and you have, too, of someone who really loved what they were doing and knew it very well. I remember an old engine mechanic years ago who was more than that-he could build. He'd been in aviation for many, many years. We were overhauling my engine, and we needed a valve guide. And I said, "Oh my goodness, where do we get a valve guide for a 1929 engine?" and he said, "Oh, come on, don't worry about that." He went into his shop and he took a billet of brass and he put it in this huge engineer's lathe, and in the course of the next 40 minutes, I watched magic happen as he became one with that huge machine. These incandescent glowing brass things were flying off this billet as it slowly turned into a valve guide. And as he did it, he was talking with me. He didn't say, "Now, let me see now, where's that advance wheel here where we need to drive the cutting tool?" He just reached and it was there. He brought it down, and his calipers came out, and at the end of it, here was this gleaming, beautiful thing. He didn't think he had done anything special. But to me, it was absolute magic watching him, and I could feel it physically, kind of in the backs of my knees. And I thought, "This is a holy time, to see this person doing what he does so well." And I've seen it since in many, many other people. There is something that is transcendental about when we are immersed in that which we most love.

Would you call it a passion for it, or does it go beyond that?

A passion may suggest something that's more visible on the surface. I would stress the depth of it, the intimacy that one has with what they love. And I would just suggest that you might have the same feeling when you watch yourself put together a good magazine. I remember when I was on the staff of Flying magazine in New York, and every once in a while we would put together an issue caused us to stop and say, "Hey, that is really lovely." No one else may ever see it or they may never get it or whatever--

--but you know all the pieces came together just as they were supposed to.

Right.

You speak of spirituality in a very hands-on fashion, and yet you don't seem to offend devout religious people

That's a strange thing, and I don't understand why.

Any ideas?

Well, I can amplify a little bit. Ritual has never appealed to me. It does not to this day. For me, not for anyone else, but for me, I feel strongly that ritual is not the way to go. There is a sense of oneness that from time to time I'm aware of in my life. Certainly not all the time, and there are times when I get frightened and when I get upset. But at the best of times, it's a personal oneness with that beautiful It, that divinely indifferent Is that really doesn't care if you'd chosen to be an upright biped on the surface of a small planet of a minor sun on the edge of a minor galaxy of one of the multiple trillions of universes. That's OK. It doesn't matter what form you take. The Is knows us only as a perfect reflection of Itself, period. And we are free to have our fears and beliefs of separation from it, but the Is doesn't care any more than a parent cares when their child goes out and plays and one day is the bad guy at cops and robbers and the next day is the good guy. The parent says, "Those are games. I know who you are, and I love you for who you are. And that's all that matters." That's a very rough analogy.

Great parable. Yes. It's an underlying force in most religions. And yet it shocks me that you don't get more resistance.

Some religions believe that there's a hierarchy, that you don't have a connection, but you must go through the shaman or the priest or whoever the religious leader is. And that's what surprises me, that some people who find a huge value in these kinds of systems also seem to enjoy ILLUSIONS. I can't figure it out. I would say that if the depth of your belief is that there's a hierarchy, why are you remotely interested in something that says there isn't a hierarchy, that there's a direct connection?

It must be that direct connection and that coming from the heart place that transcends all that. Do you see your books as written from some source on high? Do the words flow through you? ILLUSIONS seemed like it was written by enlightened masters.

[laughter] Well, thank you for that comment! The only enlightened masters I know are the people that I see every day and the people that I've seen through my life who have had the understanding, at some level, that we're here to express love. How that is for me is exactly what I've said. What I love doing is basically two things: I love flying airplanes and I love communication. And when I'm in the center of those, when I'm writing-and I don't think this is unusual for writers and I'm sure you know the feeling very well-it's as if I'm the observer. It's as if that computer screen there-it used to be the typewriter-just kind of dissolves and there's this whirling tunnel of mist and there's a kind of proscenium arch, and then there are my characters, and they say what they say, and I laugh sometimes in surprise at what they say.

I remember one moment in writing ILLUSIONS in, oh, what was it? 1976: I was sitting at my desk at a house in Florida, and I was so fascinated with this character, and I was deep into the writing of it, and I said, "OK, I'm going to ask him a question about which I just don't have a clue." And so somewhere in the story, Richard asks Shimodo "How do you get to be a messiah? What is it that chooses one person and not somebody else?" And I asked that question while I was typing it. Then there was this silence. I had a smug little smile, and I got up and I left the desk and went into the kitchen and had a potato chip or something, and I said, "I really got him." Then I walked back into my office and went around the corner of the desk, and there was the answer: "They give you a book to read."

I said, "They give you a book to read?!" and just burst out laughing-I had no idea that it would come way out of left field that way. And out of that incident came this little book that's now published. "They give you a Messiah's Handbook? What? You don't spend time at the pyramids? You aren't taken to different dimensions?" "No, no, no, here's the book. That's all you need."

What do you hope THE MESSIAH'S HANDBOOK will accomplish?

Exactly what that subtitle [Reminders for the Advanced Soul] says. I want to be able to put it in my coat pocket - it doesn't quite fit in the shirt pocket - and from time to time, for the absolute fun of it (and I've done it with the galleys, and it works very well), ask any question that matters, in fun or a very, very deep crisis-type question, and just allow that book to open anywhere - it has no page numbers, no references - let it fall open anywhere, close my eyes and put my finger down on the left page or right and see what the book has to say. And all the time during the publishing of this book, there have been times when each of us has gone to the manuscript of the book and done exactly that. In fact, in the introduction I did it.

That's a first - a book being used to inspire itself.

That's exactly right. And it is just so much fun, if you do this in a lighthearted way. And yet sometimes you get something that is profoundly touching, and it really helps one in whatever the decision or choice one needs to make. And I would hope that a reader would have that kind of playful association with the book and, just for the fun of it, open it from time to time and smile. And as soon as that smile happens, my job is done. That's all I do.

Your book has so touched people and so changed their lives. Other people that I've had the honor of interviewing for MAGICAL BLEND who have had books that do that often forget that they are the messenger and get confused and think they are the Messiah themselves. You seem to be extremely humble and approachable. How do you do that?

I'm approachable from certain directions. I'm not approachable by someone who says, "Hey, how 'bout let's try some drugs," or something like that. I'm absolutely close-minded about that kind of thing. But I'm wide open to anyone who says, "You know, I've been wondering why we're here and where we're going, and I've got a few answers, but I wondered if anything ever happened to you that suggests...." Then they have me, and I become, as you see right now, a chatterbox and can just talk away literally for days.

Once in a long, long while, I'll give a talk, and it will start at seven in the evening and it will go until nine o'clock, and I'll say, "OK, whoever wants to leave, that's fine, but whoever wants to stay, just stay, and we'll have breaks." And I have wound up at two o'clock in the morning out on the sidewalk, having been ejected by the stage union, who says, "We have to close this place at midnight." And I've just sat out there and talked and talked and talked.

That sense of family is enormously important to me. In the larger sense, we're all of us family; we're all of us soulmates. But in the easiest sense to see, there is a kind of silver spiderweb that's spun around the world, and the strands of that web are certain loves and certain understandings. And if we follow those, and if we walk those strands, we're going to meet others at the intersections who have been walking the same way across this web. And when we meet, there's a kind of "I know who you are." I think we've all had that feeling. You ask me what you believe about anything, and I can tell you just by referencing myself. That is great fun for me. I deeply enjoy that. And in that highest sense, we are all creatures of light. And I have a very difficult time talking with people who are cynical about the world. "The world is no damn good, and we're all animals," and that kind of thing. Well, I'm an animal.

Many people who have had bestsellers or huge successes like you did with JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL have lost it. If they haven't fallen into the traps of ego, they've fallen into substance abuse or lost the belief that they could do it again or live a normal life. Yet you've come out with how many books?

This is going to be number 16 or 17, I think.

And they've all sold well. And you have people all over the world who worship you. Have you fallen into these kinds of setbacks?

Well, maybe I was saved because they haven't all sold well. The series of books called THE FERRET CHRONICLES, I dearly loved. I loved those little characters, and I loved what they had to say, but somehow, at least in the United States, nobody got them at all. The books are going to be remaindered pretty soon; I want to have the rights back and try them again at some other time - I don't know. But in Italy, they're a bestseller. In Korea, they're a bestseller. Do my words have to be translated into Italian or into Korean before they do well? I don't get it.

Well, sometimes a message is ready for some people, and the other people aren't ready for it.

I have no understanding of it. But I guess my second love saves me a lot, and that's flying. When you're flying, an airplane doesn't care who you are; it doesn't care how much money you make or don't make. All it cares about is: How well do you fly? How well do you know the airplane? How well do you know the sky? When you're in the instrument flying system in this country, the controller doesn't ask who are you. All it wants to know is an airplane number, and they will give you a heading and an altitude. They say, "Turn left at 2933, maintain 3500 feet, and call this the reporting point." That's a wonderful reminder that who we are within - that is something special. But who we are on the outside isn't.

It's a façade.

You've recently gone through a divorce with your wife, who appeared in many of your books.

That was a difficult time for both of us.

You've stated publicly that your views on marriage are that it is based on a pre-birth agreement.

Yes, I think that's true. I think all the major events of our lives are events that we call to ourselves. We forget. There's this wonderful and very important event when we're born, and we forget everything that's gone before, or else we'd be such a mass of rememberings that we couldn't operate successfully on this planet. One thing I really want to do this time-and I have an indefinite number of choices and lifetimes that don't have to be in sequence at all, because they're all going on simultaneously, I believe-is I want to experience this kind of relationship. I want a chance to attack this kind of challenge. I do that not knowing if I'm going to do it right or if I'm going to screw it up. And sometimes when you screw it up, you do it right. Sometimes when you say goodbye, that's the right thing to do in a relationship.

Other times they're very puzzling: How can you have something where you learn so much from each other-and marriage partners, of course, are the first, best teachers of each other-but you reach a point where there's no learning going on? I was startled to reach a point with Leslie where we had nothing to teach each other. The very best each of us had to give was not what the other wanted or needed at that time. And so I realized, it's like when you're in the fifth grade or the eighth grade and you have a teacher that you really love, the time nevertheless comes to move on. You'll never stop holding that person in great regard. And you'll always look back fondly on that. But you've learned what she had to teach you, and now there are other things. To cling to staying in the fifth grade or the eighth grade year after year when there's no learning going on is, to me, not the highest choice.

That's beautifully said. In your most recent book, you speak of going into a different dimension to get the answer. Do you believe that there exists a whole series of alternative earths that exist where we've made different decisions?

Oh sure, an indefinite number of them. And not just earths, there can be other levels completely. There's this wonderful book called THE MANY WORLDS INTERPRETATION OF QUANTUM MECHANICS that posits that with every decision that anyone makes, the world changes. The decision that we give our consent to is the one that remains in our consciousness, but the one that we didn't make-that alternate world goes on in its own direction. So there's uncountable numbers of alternate "us-es."

That's scary.

Well, in a way it is and in a way it isn't. To me, one of the most profound questions we can ask is: "So what?" And so what if there's an indefinite number of worlds with alternate "us-es" in them? The "so what," to me, comes alive when I ask myself: "What if I could find a way to get in touch with those alternate mes who made those choices?" That is, persons who, if I saw them now, I wouldn't even recognize because their choices, once small, have multiplied to make them such different people. Perhaps they have something to tell me.

So if I'm in a situation where I need to know what would have happened to me had I not had that experience in my teen years when someone told me I had to drink beer, for instance. That magical word, you HAVE to do it, Dick, just shut me down, and I didn't like the taste of it and we're at my friend's house and his parents are gone, so I was nervous, not being old enough to drink, and he said "You have to drink it." And wow, for the first time in my life I met that inner person in me that is ferocious about protecting who I am. And I slammed that thing down--foam flying everywhere--I said, " I do not have to." And then I stormed out and slammed the door. Now I look back on it...

Have you never used alcohol?

Never.

You are a unique being, sir.

I was in a fighter squadron in the Air Force; I was flying F-84s and F-86s. And during our Friday night parties, everyone would just go absolutely blind drunk; it was apparently the thing to do. I was in the midst of my ginger ale, I absolutely had to be there, and they would rag me and I would rag them: "You guys, tomorrow morning is Saturday morning, we're going to have some flights coming up. You aren't even going to be able to fall out of bed, guys, and I'm going to be flying the airplane."

There was a very dear experience, regarding that. I was joining the 141st tactical fighter squadron in New Jersey; it was the New Jersey guard, and they were flying F-84s. So I was going through and checking out in the airplane, and doing reasonably well because I've always loved flying and could do well in that. Then there was going to be a squadron party, and I said, "I don't go to parties." But they said, "No, this is mandatory. It's the commander's ball and you've gotta be there." So I showed up at the party, and they had this - and I dearly hope that it has changed in the Air Force - they had this drinking song. You'd be sitting there drinking and whatever you were drinking they're take your glass out of your hand and they'd hand you a glass full of gin. They'd sing this song ("humba, zumba, zumba"), and at this certain point, you were supposed to drink this entire glass down without taking a breath. And I was very cautious about this. I was sitting to the side and talking to another guy, had my food and ginger ale or whatever, and in the blink of an eye, I, the new kid in the squadron, was surrounded by the rest of the pilots.

That's a little pressure.

Yeah, that's a little pressure. They took my ginger ale away, and they gave me this glass of clear stuff with an olive at the bottom, and they starter singing this song. As happens, in critical times in our life, time slows down. And I thought, what is it that they really want to know? I thought, what they really want to know is, Where are my loyalties? Are my loyalties to them, to the squadron, to the men I'm going to be flying a few feet away from, who are going to be leaning their lives on me? Or is it my silly teetotalism. And I decided then, as the song went on, that I would demonstrate that my loyalties were to them, and I was going to drink this thing. And sure enough, it reached that point where the chant went on, and I drank this thing. I was about halfway through it when I realized that they had given me a glass of water. I couldn't believe these guys, most of whom were drunk themselves, had the presence of mind to say, we can find out what we want to know without having to give the kid alcohol.

Oh, how wonderful!

And I had gone through this saying, "I don't care what the substance is. I can drink it in perfect safety to myself. Because here's the motive for it."

That's a great story.

And from then on, we had this thing where they would kid me about my ginger ale, and I'd kid them about their liquor. And we just got along well. Later we were called, and we went to France and had quite some adventures together.

How do you maintain your creativity?

I don't think it's mine to maintain. It automatically comes, I think, when we declare that "I am an expression of life, and life will express itself through me in the most playful and wonderful of ways, if I let it. "So the big thing about writing is, as I have on my computer, three commands: Have fun. Don't think. Don't care. What is fun for you? What kind of adventure can you imagine? The great thing about writing is, as you know, if you don't like the world, we'll create a different one.

Exactly.

That's what I very much enjoy doing. What if everyone lived to their highest sense of right? Where would all that energy go that we now put into destruction? I think that that "creative well," if you will, is there for all of us in whatever we choose to do. In our daily lives, what it leads to, mostly, is a lack of fear.

Which is humankind's biggest enemy.

Sure, fear is all the fear of some loss: "I'm going to lose something." If we declare, and if we know in our hearts, "I already have everything that I need: I have life, I have creativity, I have joy, I have nourishment. I have everything I need," and if we just say, "It doesn't depend on my having a physical body to do it," then everything opens up. A writer, or a beginning writer, as you know, is faced by these huge walls of self-consciousness. Most people think, "What if I say the wrong thing? What if I don't sound erudite and sophisticated? I'll be considered a fool." In time, with a lot of practice, you realize that's your gift-your foolishness is your gift.

I had experiences along the way that helped me to realize that letting go was the way that worked for me to find something that I, personally, as a reader, love to read. I liked that you can open up any one of my books anywhere and immediately be lost. I just love them so much.

What a great position to be in. And you're not the only one that does, so it's doubly good on that level. Richard, if there was one insight that you would want to give our readers, what would it be?

Wow, what a good question! I think the source of our sorrow and the source of our joy are intimately entwined. Our sorrow is that we have forgotten who we are, we have forgotten we are one with that source of all life--absolutely indestructible, perfect, joyful. The source of our joy is when we remember that. So if I could say one word, in the deepest sense, without any explanation, to myself, I would say "remember."

Beautiful. You're a pleasure to speak with.

Thank you. Well, there's just so much to say. I think we are all guided. And I know there were times in my life when I said, "Oh God, I'm making a terrible, terrible mistake here." And on another level it looked as if that's exactly what I had done. And then later on--all of us can look back across our lives and see what we thought was a disaster was actually a blessing--from a long-term perspective, it was a blessing. With practice, we can shorten the length of time between "what a dumb mistake I've made" and "what a brilliant choice that was. "Up until right in the midst of what seems to be a disaster, we can say, "I know this is going to work out beautifully."

You see sometimes on television a tornado that has swept through some town or a flood that has carried off somebody's house, and immediately after the event the cameras are right there, "How do you feel? Your house and all your belongings of 40 years have been swept away." And people say, "Oh, it's the worst of the worst." Then five years later, they go back and revisit, and very often people say: "It's the best thing that ever happened. I was clinging to that house. That house was an anchor for me. You know what's happened since then. Well, Margy and I decided that we'd get an RV and travel to every state in the union. Well, we have, and we just got back, and we learned so much, let me tell you."

I think that part of our practice, here, as human beings is to regain that kind of perspective and know that whatever happens on the surface, it's leading us in a direction. That beautiful core within us that is our character will make choices that will inevitably leads us to a higher understanding of who we are and why we're here. And it's best to do that, I think, to be aware of that while it's happening. "What is my highest sense of right?" we can ask at any decision point in our lives and not worry about if this is going to lose us a lot of money or is this going to make us a lot of money or whatever. "What would I most, truly, honestly want to do?" When we make those choices, over and over and over, we get, at one point, to kind of stand on the stern of our little ship and look back at the wake that we've made across this lifetime. We say, "You know, I've gone through the storms, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. This has been a great lifetime." There are a lot of people in this world who can say that, and I'm glad to be one of them.


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