By Bud Wilson and Jennifer Lennon
John P. Milton is a pioneering ecologist, spiritual teacher, meditation master, vision quest leader and shaman.
John's vision quest and shamanic work began in the mid-1940's, after experiencing his first vision quest at the age of seven. Since the 1950's, John has guided thousands of people into the wilderness, always sharing with them a profound connection with Nature, and a deep commitment to the realization of Source Awareness. Over the years, many have sought his profound teachings on the Clear Light of Source and on spiritual cultivation and meditation in Nature. His has also been widely sought for his powerful yet gentle Qigong teachings, T'ai Chi Ch'uan training, and Sacred Passage programs. He has pioneered for western civilization a unique, vital way of spiritual cultivation in Nature that ripens in a deep ecological experience of Communion with all species and with Mother Earth herself.
John's teaching's draw upon many decades of practice in various styles of meditation, T'ai Chi, Qiqong, and extensive personal vision questing. His training is also informed by direct teachings from many of the world's outstanding spiritual teachers and lineages. From this comprehensive background, John has created and essentialized a path of key principles and disciplines that flow from Universal Source. He calls this path "The Way of Nature." The lead process of this Way John has named, "Sacred Passage."
The core of The Way of Nature Fellowship and Sacred Passage are Twelve Principles, distilled from his many years of solo time in the wilderness, and combined with deep training in some of the world's most profoundly enlightening, earth-connected lineages. Buddhist, Taoist, Dzogchen, Tantric, Vedantic and Shamanic traditions are mystically encapsulated in these Twelve Principles, the Heart of his Awareness Training. In John's teachings, the Awareness Training combines these Twelve Principles with powerful practices for realizing Source. The Training also concentrates on uniting inner and outer Nature. Supported by hundreds of specific cultivation techniques, these deep principles for spiritual growth bloom in the Hearts and minds of all those that go through his regular and advanced Awareness Trainings and Sacred Passages. For John, and all who associate with his teachings and principles, Nature - not human constructs - is the Church, the Temple, and the Altar.
John received his M.S. in Ecology and Environmental Conservation from the University of Michigan in 1962 and 1963; he was also a student at Mexico City College, and the OAS Inter-American Graduate School of Tropical Science in Costa Rica. A leader in his field, John focused attention on the environmental impacts of bilateral and multilateral organizations involved globally in economic development projects. During these years, he played an instrumental role in the birth of the environmental movement from the early 1960's, as well as the Tropical Forest and Alaska wilderness protection movements of the 1970's and 1980's. Following a landmark study conference that John designed by the same name, his 1966 book, "Future Environments of North America," was a first in opening the use of the word, "Environment" to describe our culture's paradigm shift into a responsibly ecological view of our oneness with Earth. With David Brower, John also was a founder of Friends of the Earth, both the United States-based organization, as well as many of the Friends of the Earth Organizations in other countries.
Between 1963 and 1972 he directed the International Programs Division of the Conservation Foundation, now a part of the World Wildlife Fund - WWF), in both New York and Washington, D.C. Between 1966 and 1973, he lead two major programs to transform cultural awareness of the ecological impacts of development. His first program was a project to commission fifty scientists to prepare several hundred comprehensive case studies on the then relatively little-recognized ecological impacts of economic development projects world-wide. This culminated in a major conference and his 1070 page book "The Careless Technology: Ecology and International Development." His other program was to distill the central ecological principles from all the case studies. This work was published in his 1973 book, "Ecological Principles for Economic Development." Taken together, these two programs and books played a major international role in shifting global awareness towards ecological and environmental sustainability. In the early 1970's, John was the first ecologist on staff at the White House, working with the President's Council of Economic Advisors. He went on to be awarded a position as a Woodrow Wilson Resident Scholar for a year at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars located in the original "Castle Building of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Between 1979 and 1981 he was visiting professor of Environmental Studies at Sangamon State University in Springfield, Illinois, and Director of its Center for Urban and Regional Studies. During this period, he developed a number of design projects to model how ecological sustainability can work at household, neighborhood, small town, city, farm, and entire watershed levels. His work on distilling core ecological principles for application to economic and community development were the unique element in this work to create models of sustainability for human cultures. He has also served on a variety of committees at the National Academy of Sciences.
Since the 1950's, John has conducted numerous expeditions and field projects in wilderness areas of the United States, Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, Central and South America, Asia and Africa. These have included rhino and tiger conservation in Nepal, protection of mountain ecosystems in both Nepal and Bhutan, preservation of Alaska's wilderness, and rainforest protection in Brazil, Cambodia, Central America, East Africa, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Laos, Mexico, Peru, Thailand, and Venezuela.
John has also authored numerous books, articles and audiotapes, as well as produced video/CD/DVD media on ecology, environmental conservation, meditation, cultivating life energy, inner development, discovering and protecting sacred places, preserving wilderness and the shamanic way. Some of his publications include: The Future Environments of North America, 1966, Doubleday and Co.; Nameless Valleys, Shining Mountains, 1970, Walker & Co.; The Careless Technology: Ecology and International Development, 1972, Doubleday & Co.; Earth and the Great Weather: The Brooks Range, 1973, Friends of the Earth; Ecological Principles for Economic Development, 1973, John Wiley & Sons; The Last Great Wilderness, Wilderness USA, 1973, National Geographic Society; Sky Above, Earth Below: A Complete Course on Spiritual Practice in Nature, 1999, Sounds True (six audio tape set). In 2001 and 2002, working with Sarah Sher and The Way of Nature Productions, he released a CD and DVD entitled The Sacred Land Trust, and a preliminary VHS tape on The 12 Principles. His work scheduled for release includes: a multi-angled DVD on T'ai Chi Ch'uan; five 90 minute DVDs and a book on John's Qi Gong system; and a DVD and audiotape series on his Twelve Principles.
With his background as a professional ecologist, John embodies a unique blending of scientific grounding in ecology with spiritual awareness. For much of his life since the mid-1950's, John has labored to open what he calls" Sacred Ecology" as a new cultural foundation for The West. In the early 1970's he established Threshold, a foundation devoted to innovative environmental work coupled with opening the way to spiritual liberation in Great Nature. Later came Sacred Passage and The Way of Nature Fellowship, as well as The Golden Flower School, where he has instructed T'ai Chi for over 25 years. Threshold, Sacred Passage, and The Way of Nature programs all inspire Earth Stewardship by cultivating natural wisdom and an open, loving heart in the wild.
Under Threshold, John and several associates have also established the Sacred Land Trust, dedicated to preserving and lovingly communing with natural areas holding special sacred qualities. These areas are integral to deepening each individual's harmony with Nature, and enhancing their capability for spiritual liberation. All this work demonstrates John's life long devotion to the mystery of Gaia, and to the process of human liberation, allowing deep ecological and spiritual values to guide his own path.
John continues to live, explore and lead wilderness trainings in many of the Earth's wild and sacred places. Through the Way of Nature Fellowship, he offers Sacred Passages, Regular and Advanced Awareness Trainings, classical vision quests, weekend to week long Trainings on a variety of means to cultivate the Sacred View, and wilderness solo experiences for individuals and groups.
About the Founder of Sacred Passage and the Way of Nature: Carla Brennan Interviewing John P. Milton
Q: John, when did you first start going on wilderness solos?
John P. Milton: With the encouragement of my grandfather and parents, I began doing wilderness solos and vision quests at the age of 7 in 1945. I told them I wanted to go out alone into the mountains "to be in the real Church." For the next five years, I did at least several vision quests a year in northern New Hampshire, Maine, or in the swamps and Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. When I was 15, I did my first month-long wilderness solo in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State.
Q: What inspired you to begin these vision quests and wilderness solos?
JPM: A deep inner love of Nature and Spirit, and a desire to deepen that natural union. Later, I discovered the writings of John Muir, Henry David Thoreau and John Burroughs; these writings became a deep confirmation of my path. Starting at 15, I began conceiving and carrying out numerous expeditions in wild, remote areas little or never explored by Western culture. The insights given to me by Great Nature and Spirit during these expeditions have been profound teachings for me. As a result of this deep immersion in wilderness and wild nature from an early age, Nature has always been my primary Teacher: dissolving into the vast openness of sky; learning the way wind speaks as the voice of Spirit, seeing how gracefully clouds swirl through their changes - never clinging; absorbing the yielding power of water; experiencing the profound cutting-through energy of lightning bolts...all these, and mountain, animal, bird, stone, river, forest - all have been great mentors.
Q: Who have been your primary spiritual teachers?
JPM: As I mentioned, my main teachers have always been wild Nature and Great Spirit. But I have also been extremely fortunate in having had many wonderful human teachers. Since the late 1950's, I've been honored to work with fine teachers in Taoism and T'ai Chi, Buddhism, Dzogchen, Vedanta and both Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. I've also learned a lot from living with traditional peoples and Shamans in remote parts of Mother Earth.
Q: Tell me more about your Taoist background.
JPM: In 1958 I had my first teacher of meditative Qi Gong for spiritual cultivation; that opened an ever-deepening form of Taoist practice that I've continued with ever since. Then, in the late 1960's I was first exposed to T'ai Chi Ch'uan and immediately fell in love with that system of spiritual and energetic cultivation. From 1973 through 1980 I studied Cheng's Yang family style T'ai Chi - predominantly with Robert Smith and Ben Pang Jeng Lo - but also with Maggie Newman, Tam Gibbs and others. I also studied Qi Gong and Taoist yoga with Sifu Fong Ha, Mantak Chia and other Taoist teachers. I have taught these systems since 1979.
Q: You integrate a number of other meditation practices in your trainings. Where did you learn them?
JPM: My formal training in Far Eastern meditation began in 1958 at the University of Michigan, practicing Zen meditation with Ed Maupin as my teacher. I was fortunate enough to meet Ed shortly after his return from extensive Zen training in Japan. Zazen, combined with my regular vision quests, became the core of my spiritual practice. For many years, I practiced classical soto style zazen meditation between four and eight hours a day. Zazen continues until today as a core practice for me. Then, later on in the 1960's, I also became a serious student of the teachings of Taoism, Tibetan Buddhism and both Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. In the 1970's, I was also deeply influenced by the blessings of shaktipat and Siddha Yoga with Swami Muktananda. As a result of all this spiritual cultivation, my first major experience of the arising of Kundalini Shakti and the opening of central channel came in the mid 1970's. This was such a powerful experience for me that for six months all I could do was rest in profound waves of bliss and unmitigated presence. My usual reasoning mind and subject/object distinctions had dissolved, leaving open, spacious Being - filled with the bliss of powerful energy radiating through that spaciousness. Slowly, over three or four more months, normal rational consciousness began to naturally arise once more out of that pure State - but underneath ordinary discriminating mind, the bliss and spaciousness of pure Being still remains.
Also starting in the late 1960's and through the 1970's until now, I have been fortunate and very blessed to have many fine teachers from several Tibetan lineages, particularly Sogyal Rinpoche, His Holiness Dilgo Khentze Rinpoche, H.H. the Karmapa, H.H. the Dalai Lama, Lama Tharchin, Lopon Tenzin Namdak, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and many other wonderful Lamas. In particular, the blessings of opening and deepening Dzogchen contemplation have been at the heart of my personal cultivation. From the late 1960's on until now, I have been very active in helping protect Himalayan forests and in setting up wildlife reserves and national parks in Nepal and Bhutan. I often hired large numbers of Tibetan refugees to help me in survey and parks work in the Himalaya Mountains along the Tibetan frontier. All this has given me some extraordinary opportunities to study and practice with Himalayan masters on their home ground and often in a very traditional way, with few or no other westerners around.
I was also fortunate to study Vipassana meditation with S.N. Goenka and his wife in Nepal. Another major teacher for me has been the great tantrika, and devotee of the Divine Feminine, Vasudev of India and Nepal. Over a number of years I was blessed with being able to study with him in mountain caves, at Nepal's great temple to Shiva as the God of All Nature, Pashupatinath, and in the cremation grounds of Nepal and Varanasi (Benares). His teachings, transmissions and direct initiation into the Sacred View have been an incredible blessing to my life and my ability to serve my students.
Q: Why did you leave a successful career in ecology to teach and to offer the Way of Nature programs full time?
JPM: One reason was, simply, to be able to respond to many requests from students and others to teach and to offer an accelerated series of Sacred Passages and Awareness Trainings. Another reason was to serve the need for cultural transformation at the deepest level. In earlier years, my professional background focused on first helping to birth the environmental movement. Then I specialized on ecological studies, uncovering suppressed ecological and economic development issues, helping create national and international environmental policies, Alaskan wilderness protection, saving Earth's rapidly-dwindling tropical forests and on preserving the planet's rapidly vanishing wilderness. After immersing myself in creating these and other major environmental initiatives for many years, I became convinced that political, legal and economic approaches did not go deep enough. These outer initiatives could not alone bring about the penetrating changes in human culture that we need for people to live in true harmony and balance with the Earth. The next great opening of ecological view would have to be an internal one.
Reflecting on the profound internal changes that I, as well as others I had taken into the wilderness, had experienced from nature solos - I knew that this process could help provide human culture with the deep inner communion with both the Earth and Universal Source that would be necessary for living in true harmony and creative integrity with One's Essence and with Nature.
Q: How did Sacred Passage and the Way of Nature programs get started?
JPM: Starting in the late 1950's and continuing through the 1970's, I took friends on vision quests and wilderness solos once or twice a year. Most of my training to prepare them focused on ways to meditate and cultivate energy in Nature. I also developed a series of practices to refine and purify perception - to allow each sense to transform from an experience of subject/object separation into a direct perceptual realization of Union with that which is being perceived. In the 1980's, first the NatureQuest, and then the Sacred Passage and Way of Nature Programs became a way to make this experience more widely available. In many ways, I see the Passages as a form of Deep Ecology training and opening: a profound union of inner and outer Nature. Many who have done Sacred Passage have gone on to be of immense help in the healing and protection of the Earth.
Since the 1960's I've been working on creating an inner development process that defines the essential universal spiritual principles and provides carefully selected and refined practices that cultivate these principals. This process combines guided Awareness Training with alone time in wild Nature. I call this "Opening the Sacred View"...This View is now grounded in The Twelve Principles, The Sacred Passage program, the NatureQuest process, and the basic and Advanced Awareness Trainings now offered through the Way of Nature Ôs spiritual fellowship.
Q: What other experiences contributed the most to your life and your Teachings?
JPM: From a deeply personal view, I received a great gift in 1984, when I was struck by a Thunderbolt. What next unfolded was a classical death experience - somewhat similar to what others have reported, those who have died and been brought back - often through medical intervention. One instant I was preparing for bed around eleven O'clock, slipping under the covers - the next instant the Universe-shattering roar of a massive thunderbolt cut through my awareness, and my physical being - completely and perfectly shattering all conceptions of reality and my world. In a moment, I found myself hurtling headfirst up through a giant, dark-walled tunnel of immense proportions. Earth and bedroom were totally left behind. At the end of the vast tunnel I dissolved into the Boundless. Many have attempted to describe the Unborn: Pristine Awareness, The Clear Light, The Essence of God and Goddess, The Formless Presence that births all forms - but for me it was an Initiation impossible to describe in words. I simply call it Source.
I was brought back through the dark tunnel, feet first. As my awareness re-integrated in my human body, I discovered my body was no longer under the covers, but on top of the bed in a lotus meditation posture. I have no idea how it got there. Even as I sped back into form down the tunnel, my eyes never left the Clear Light. Coming back into my body, my eyes remain fixed on that Light that I had been perfectly unified with. However, now I found myself looking through the window, gazing deeply into the light of rising Venus, the Morning Star. About six hours of our normal time had passed. It was dawn.The Gift of that transmission has been the Origin of most of my teachings on formless Source itself.
Carla Brennan did this interview with John P. Milton in May 1996, after completing her first (of two) 49-day Awareness Training (and 28-day solo) with John in Crestone, Colorado during July-September 1995.