Another business opens on Franklin Street, two rooms in a second story walk-up called “The Center of Light.” “We’re all center of light,” reads the sign on the door. “Only recognition is needed.” Inside sits Matt Lippa, calm behind his makeshift desk, playing backgammon and laughing with students, drinking herb tea and listening to Tarheel basketball, guiding meditations, counseling visitors. His job? He’s a spiritual teacher, whose function, as he puts it, is to help people let go of the blocks that keep them from illumination and self-realization. The words may seem abstract but his manner is personal, warm, and usually gentle.
His style is eclectic: in one session, perhaps, he’ll speak from an American Indian viewpoint, the next as a Sufi, the next as a Zen Master. He prefers results to words. “The only use for my words,” he says, “is to get beyond them.”
As a child in Morehead, North Carolina, Lippa wanted to be a fireman. Since 1968 he’s been a teacher. He ran a live-in teaching center in California, and helped to form the Holy Order of Mans, now a world-wide spiritual order. After a falling out with his teacher, he withdrew from teaching and spent some time living alone.
Over the years, he’s worked at many other jobs. When I first met him he was coordinating a local arts festival. He’s also been a sailing instructor, camp director, story-teller, construction worker, insurance salesman, toy manufacturer, actor, chef, free-lance writer, rehabilitation counselor and cross-country bicyclist. He was divorced after a ten-year marriage and has two children, aged 9 and 12.
At The Center of Light, Matt works with individuals and group meditation classes. The Center, located at 405½ Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, is open most days and operates on contributions. There are plans to expand it to a farm-house community by the summer. Matt will be traveling until June 15, but the center will remain open. “Come by,” Matt says, “have some tea.”
— Howard Jay Rubin
SUN: What do you do at your center?
LIPPA: I teach meditation classes. I teach how to get to yourself.
SUN: How do you get to yourself?
LIPPA: You can meditate. That’s about the only thing you can do to get to yourself. You can follow a lot of different paths, but meditation is the action that allows you to get back to yourself.
SUN: How do you meditate?
LIPPA: You learn to control your mind. You learn to stop your thoughts. Your thoughts run around in your head and are tied to the reality that you create. They keep you from yourself. Your thoughts about yesterday or tomorrow put you in a different place than now. So, you calm your thoughts and come back to now.
SUN: You just have to quiet the mind?
LIPPA: You have to stop your mind or slow it down. So, you do concentration exercises to fix your mind on an object. The idea is to quiet your thoughts so that you can come to a focus on that one point. One idea, form, or object. You can use anything to center your thoughts upon. The first time that you do it, it will be a battle. Your mind is running around, allowing your thoughts to be random. When you can stop the thoughts and learn to be receptive, that’s when you can learn to meditate.
You can start with any concentration technique. I’ll give you one that is simple, but very strong. That is breathing love. You can close your eyes or keep them open. Follow your breath in and out. Let the breath deepen and become quieter and longer. Let it become that way easily. Let the thoughts just fall into the breath and out of you. Then, when you feel that the thoughts are quieter, breathe love. Get the feeling of love started within you and let it grow. Your breath starts to pick that up. You can use anything to get that started. It can be a person, a flower, or a being: God, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed, your friends, or yourself. It doesn’t matter. Use whatever feels loving to you and let the feeling of love grow through your breath. Now, that’s the easiest concentration, and it is also the hardest. You can do other things also. You can use any object such as a candle or an orange. Quiet your mind, breathe in and out, and just look at it. Whenever any thoughts come up, or your mind wanders, just gently come back to the orange or the candle and relax. You’ll find that calms your mind after a while. You learn to pay attention to when you are thinking and when you’re not.
You can get caught up in the candles, the robes, the nice music, the wonderful highs and chants. Those are all wonderful things to experience and they’re all traps. They are all forms. God doesn’t need any extra dressing up.
SUN: You’ve said there was a point when you had to deal with having too much ego and not enough love. What was that like?
LIPPA: A long hard struggle. I had a teaching center where I was working with 35 live-in students and brought some of them to illumination. I thought I was it: I was a big man. After being unceremoniously asked to follow exactly what my teacher, Earl Blighton, was doing or leave, I was crushed. It wasn’t until years later looking back on it that I said, “Well, the reason I was crushed was that I had such a damn big ego.” Another problem I had at that point was my head was way in the clouds, and my feet were up there too. I wasn’t rooted at all. I had gone too quickly through some so-called spiritual advances, and I didn’t have a solid base. So after I got back to my feet, then I started to search for some ground. Finally I found ground. And then I started to work on my personality and said, all right, this garbage is in the way, let’s get rid of it; I was able to open up, through self-examination and meditation work. You know, it doesn’t matter where you get, you’ve still got more stuff to clear out. Anyone on earth is the same way. Every single one of us is still beginning. The person who tells you that they’re through beginning has an ego there that’s sticking, they’ve killed themselves somewhere, they’ve shut themselves off from something. I don’t care who it is.
SUN: When you first met your teacher you had a feeling of awe, projecting qualities onto him. How do you deal with your students projecting qualities onto you ?
LIPPA: I try to be more human, I try not to lose a sense of that. As I sit across from you or a student I’m working with, I know the equality, so I don’t really have to do anything. It’s not something I have to keep in mind, in other words I don’t have to work at it, it’s something I feel. I know we’re equal because I’m seeing myself, feeling myself. Well, that takes care of it for me.
Something always triggers love. When you really love the other person you’re not better than they are, you’re the same as them, so love. When you ask how I deal with it, I is the student also. If it’s the student’s problem, it is my problem also, so I have to deal with it on that level, too. If I can just live like a person then the student realizes, “Hey, this dude isn’t any better than me, I shouldn’t be in awe.” Then we become teachers and students of each other.
SUN: We use the word love to mean so many different things. What do you mean by love?
LIPPA: The only way for me to convey to you what I mean by love is for you to have the experience of love. And the only way I can do that is by assisting you in letting go of those things that keep you from yourself, and then you begin to open. There is so much written about what love is. If I have to use words to talk around it, I’ll say it’s opening and giving. No thought of self, just giving, and through the giving comes this feeling, and that’s love.
SUN: You talk about receiving instructions and communicating with beings on other levels. Can you speak about what those relationships are like?
LIPPA: What we see and feel and touch in this so-called physical world isn’t everything. We’ve had enough experiences to realize that. When a person isn’t in a body anymore they’re still living somewhere, on a level that is not seen by the physical eyes. We have other receptors in the electrical body, subtle body, vital body, psychic body, whatever you want to call it. You know, there are so many different words it causes confusion. But in a body that’s not a physical one you can travel and hear and talk and interact in just the same way you can on this level. You can talk on another level, too. And when you’re on the same vibrational level as another being then they’re relatively as solid and as real. So if we were to put our hands together right now, they’re solid and they would push against each other. If we make one much finer then they pass through each other, but if they are both fine, and both conscious of it, then they are solid to each other. So the relationship is one of realness, and I’m used to operating on that level. It’s a very real place for me to live.
None of this stuff is anything special. All of this dealing with other planes, doing work with energy, and realizing God and illumination, all of this is nothing special at all. It’s a natural state. We’ve gotten so far away from it that it seems special. It should be considered our starting point.
SUN: Does your ego still get in your way?
LIPPA: Yes, (laughs), but not in the way of my work as a teacher.
SUN: How do you deal with it when it does?
LIPPA: Immediately there is a loss of awareness. The energies in my body and through my body start to shift from the outflowing of the heart to incoming and tightening in the solar plexus area. Immediately I feel the change. At that point I must react to catch myself and find out where I’ve put my wall. I would then use the method of transmutation.
It’s exactly the same process a person uses to start out. They allow the negative energy to flow in to the positive by accepting the change. The only thing that I accept now is love. It’s not an idea or construct or a concept, nothing of that nature. It’s a reality. When I do find myself in that situation, I breathe with it consciously. l breathe love. From what I am seeing it is the very simplest and the only thing that will take a person right through from the beginning level, wherever they’re starting, to the highest levels of realization and illumination. That is the one exercise that the person has got to do because it takes them to the ultimate, which is a beginning in itself. So I breathe love, and it becomes natural, it becomes second nature, it becomes first nature. You go through the day and eventually it stops being something you do, but when you breathe you actually feel yourself being breathed in and out of your body and you feel love breathing through your body.
If that awareness starts to go I feel a change in awareness, a tightening perhaps in the stomach area. Then what I immediately do is catch myself and breathe love. Then I pay attention to what it was that affected me in that manner, where the ego popped up. Then it’s a matter of letting go of it.
SUN: You also speak of transmutation in a technique of retrospection. Could you explain that?
LIPPA: Retrospection is the process of going back over the day and examining what events, actions or thoughts took place you want to keep or discard or change. It is like viewing a film, with the events running in front of your eyes, starting at the last events and going back to the first. Events can be on all sorts of different levels. There’s no difference between a physical event and a thought, desire, or feeling except in the degree of condensation. So, you go over that and anything that you desire to keep as a positive quality, you accept as growing. You feel it. You don’t deny anything that you want to change, any negative quality. Denial has been a big trap for people for a lot of years. They say, “No, it doesn’t exist.” Well, it exists if it’s there. Until you get rid of it or change it, it’s still there. So you don’t deny the world. It’s real on one level, and if you deny it then you deny God at the same time. What you do is accept the negative quality, then you accept its replacement. Then you accept that it is the replacement that will grow. Then you feel a link between the negative and the positive and you feel the energy from the negative going into the positive, the replacement. You feel the old shriveling up. What that does is start that pattern working on a mental level. The outer daily life actually starts to change and you start developing the qualities that you are changing the mental model for. Whatever is bound on earth is bound in heaven. It’s the old Hermetic axiom, “As above, so below.” That’s what transmutation is. Now again, the key is this: a person can take the individual qualities, like greed if they’ve said or felt or sensed something that was greedy, and replace it with generosity. What they end up with then is a whole system of constructs like greed and generosity. They have to look through each of those to find the reality behind it. If instead they replace all the negative stuff with love then everything goes into that and they’ve only got one thing left to deal with, letting go of the concept of love, because it’s a concept and not the real thing. So it’s a lot easier and cleaner, a lot smoother and quicker to let it all go into love. Everything that’s done should be done through love and it will propel the person through their own development to themself.
There are some very subtle forms of ego. These are things to watch out for more than a person being outwardly egotistical. When one feels itself identifying with the body, when one loses itself and senses any separation, when one is doing anything, when one thinks of “I” or feels from any “I” standpoint, then one knows that one has moved away from one. That makes two. At that point you’ve got a very subtle form of ego. That’s a wonderful trap. The person who is experiencing that reality is again dealing with words. The important thing is to live it. As soon as one feels a separateness, a person’s got to go back into it. That’s the main aspect of so-called self-effacement of the ego.
I use the term “Into the One” as a meditation. Into the one is a loss of the person; the separation is lost. Each breath and each action is into the one. Whenever there is thought, there is separation. The forming of thought is one of separation. So if there must be thoughts, let them be thoughts of glorification of God. Let the actions be of glorification also. That’s the great thing about karma yoga. Initially you start with giving all of the deeds and actions to God, working out your earthly karma; eventually all action becomes a glorification. Any other action is a loss. The only gain is each breath and action that are of God, the only loss ones that aren’t. When I feel that happening I use the breath of God or breathing God to get back to myself.
SUN: How can you combine that with the thoughts you use to read the newspaper or talk about Tarheel basketball?
LIPPA: Why not? You feel God through everything, and you see it through everything. What’s the difference between reading the paper and anything else? You keep that awareness. The trick is to keep that awareness and that consciousness through whatever you’re doing so that you don’t lose it in the so-called mundane, day-to-day things that are in themselves the highest form of God also. That’s the trick. That’s becoming it in your day-to-day life. That’s why it’s so important to get off your ass and live. Illumination is not gotten through just sitting and meditating. It’s through action, through merging in the so-called physical realm. Until you’ve got that breath and awareness and consciousness constantly, you don’t get it. That’s where the action is, right here.
SUN: Can you speak more about how you believe that mind manifests in matter?
LIPPA: Basically, anything that happens in this physical world is something that the person has accepted on one level or another. All mental activity creates a pattern. Each thought, each feeling, each idea, each sense, each desire creates a pattern. Usually, thought is random, desires are random, fears, worries are unchecked. They’re working counter to each other; there’s a lot of confusion. So what manifests in the person’s life is chaos. Well, you can control your mind and determine what will manifest in your life. You do this initially by exercises in mind control, concentration exercises, and then as you clear and purify your desires, as you are having less wants, as your fears drop away, then your result is a lot clearer, because you’ve got less conflicting action. But the clearest and the easiest way is to let go of all the desires, the fears, the wants, the thoughts. That’s the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Thy will be done.” That’s when you start to work in accord with what’s going on. You accept, “I’m going to be an instrument. I’m tuning in to be an instrument, I’m letting go of me, of all my wants and desires and ideas about things, how things should be, what things should be, all my fears and worries, all my strivings and everything else. I’m just going to live and be part of it.” Then you become a channel and your activity becomes in harmony. Then you don’t have to worry about what’s manifesting because everything is there and just comes through. You’re part of it. So after you get to the point of learning how to deliberately manifest all this stuff, then you go to another step of letting go of it. Then you use the will to direct energies. It becomes will as direction of energies, in accord with what needs to be done.
There is an interesting by-product to this. It sounds as though you give up everything for yourself, and you do. What you do is you find yourself, your Self. So you give up all the small stuff and find your Self and you’re real happy. All this, if it doesn’t lead to happiness, can’t be good. What do we want? We don’t want good jobs and lots of money and titles, we just want to be happy, love, be, know ourselves, give, share, do, live; simple stuff like that, and the nicest thing is, as you follow this path you become happy. You no longer have pain and anger and nothing bothers you. You love and life is wonderful, every breath is wonderful and every breath grows. There aren’t any cares; you give yourself into yourself. And into the greater one, the one that created and that is. You become part of that.
The important thing to stress is that these experiences can be had in modern twentieth century American society without going into monasteries, without following a lot of the practices that were common, without changing the outer lifestyle too much. And when a person goes through the initial parts of the experiences they know they don’t have to rely on anyone for what’s going on. They are functionally able to get answers for themselves, they don’t have to rely on what a teacher said or books say. I make it clear that the only use for my words is to get beyond them.
SUN: How responsible do you think we are for what happens in our life?
LIPPA: Ultimately responsible for every single act, thought, and deed and everything else. Every single thing. We can’t get away from it. We have the free will to do anything we wish. Of course the responsibility is ours.
SUN: So would you say that we create the reality in which we live?
LIPPA: Yes, most definitely. And it isn’t until we get rid of all our creations, our realities — and they are all real — that we get to one existent reality that everyone can share in. I know people who want to go to heaven with gold streets, and guess what? They’re going to go to heaven with gold streets.
SUN: You don’t ask any money for your work. If money is a means to doing work in this world, why not accept more in your life?
LIPPA: I’ve got a box sitting over there on that book that says if you want to donate money or energy or time or goods you can put it in that box. And it also says if you need money, take it from the box. Yesterday it was empty, (brings over the box) today there is $42 in it. I get what I need. When you have big needs, God provides. Little needs, God provides also. Needs are always provided for, whatever level.
SUN: Why do you think people hold so tightly to things they would be better rid of?
LIPPA: Fear of going on to the next step. You’re not sure there is a net under you and you’re being asked to let go of something that is your only sense of security. There’s a net there, a path that will give you greater security, but you’ve got to let go of the first one to get to it and you can’t see the other one until you let go of the first. It’s scarey. So the first steps are done on faith and then as the person experiences that it works it develops into a belief and then becomes more and more real and then it becomes their everyday living.
SUN: So the way to deal with this fear is faith?
LIPPA: First step. You’ve got to start somewhere. It’s like the initiations in the Egyptian pyramids. On the solstice they would take some of the initiates to the central chamber and they were told to stand along one side of the wall individually. Across the room on the other side was a light that would shine and it looked to the initiate as though there was a great pit, a chasm, dark. And they were told by the priest to step out into that and go across and get the light. They had to go on faith. When they stepped out they found that the room was constructed in a way that gave them a flooring, they could walk across but they didn’t know that. The step into the self and the inner being is the same way. Even Jesus, when he got to the point of giving up on another level, said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” What allowed him to take the next step? All levels are always beginning. We’re always letting go.
SUN: You say that the spiritual path isn’t really a glamorous one.
LIPPA: You can get caught up in the candles, the robes, the nice music, the wonderful highs and the chants. Those are all wonderful things to experience and they’re all traps. They are all forms. God doesn’t need any extra dressing up. It’s all okay at it is. (laughs) Simple love is a good remedy for that. One of the best remedies is doing the dishes, waxing the car, and saying hey to God while you’re doing it. Love God. You’ll find that what you’re doing doesn’t matter. It’s all right here.
But these are all just words. It’s not really important which words we say, what’s important is that some of the words may strike people in a way that promotes individual awareness. It doesn’t matter what I say. What is important is that every individual find whatever his or her path is and get to that point of knowing who “I” is, and then acting on that. Not stopping until they know. That’s the primary job, number one: getting to God.
Love, and love, and never stop. Then you know the answers, and you know the words, and you realize that there are no words. You haven’t gained anything by reading the words or knowing the words, if they’re still just words. Everything leads to the experience, and nobody can do it for you.