Isa talks about her childhood, influences, Depth Hypnosis, and the development of the body of work that she teaches through the Foundation of the Sacred Stream
On the path
I've always had an unquenchable desire to understand the mystery of what the self really is and what suffering is and how it can be transformed. That's the Holy Grail I've pursued throughout my life. It has led me into an intensive study of different cultures and religions, with each one offering a different prism through which to view reality and the self.
On a personal level, I was struggling with my own pain coming out of a tremendously dysfunctional childhood and finding that traditional psychotherapy wasn't working for me at all. In fact, staying in the realm of the conscious mind seemed almost completely useless, because so much of my experience lay beyond what my conscious mind could understand or even conceptualize.
As part of my search for methods to relieve my own suffering, I discovered hypnotherapy and found it helpful, because of how it used the mechanism of an altered state to tap into information held in deeper parts of the self. It was a mode of therapy that went beyond the purely cognitive. Yet it also struck me as limited, because it was using the principles and understandings of the cognitive mind in order to modify the other levels of being; essentially, it seemed to me like behavior modification for the subconscious mind. I found myself rebelling against the controlling aspect of hypnotic suggestions and Ericksonian techniques. I knew I wanted a therapy that would bring me back into contact with my authentic self, rather than merely masking or manipulating my symptoms.
In my academic studies in anthropology and comparative religion, I was seeking to understand the human condition, and in particular, the way in which acculturation patterns take people away from knowing who they are at a deeper level. Through working in those fields I developed a lot of tools for distinguishing between cultural overlay and authentic individual experience. Studying so many religious and spiritual traditions deepened my understanding of what I call the "sacred stream," that mystical current underlying all religions. It's amazing how much commonality you find across diverse spiritual traditions, when you dig deeply enough. Yet, I also found that most religious frameworks had such a strong cultural overlay that their ability to help lead people back to themselves was severely limited.
Out of everything I studied, Buddhism and shamanism seemed to me to offer the clearest paths to the self. So, as I developed Depth Hypnosis, I made use of key components from each of these helpful systems. I drew energy management techniques from shamanism, an understanding of the nature of suffering from Buddhism, and techniques for altering the state of consciousness from hypnotherapy. Along the way I went back to school and earned a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology; then I used that field as a bed in which to seat the therapeutic technique.
On childhood influences
There were two very strong early influences in my childhood. One was the dysfunction of my birth family. This taught me a tremendous amount about how far people can twist away from their true selves. And this twisting away from the self creates misery in the person and often causes damage to others close to them as a result.
The other influence I experienced growing up was that I moved around constantly. By the time I was 18 I had lived in Hawaii, Mexico, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, as well as various parts of the continental United States. As I moved from country to country and culture to culture, I couldn't help noticing the arbitrary nature of rules, regulations, traditions and expectations around social conduct. That observation helped me hone my understanding of the aspects of experience and of the self that I found to be authentic and consistent across different cultural, linguistic and conceptual boundaries. Although different people and cultures have different ways of perceiving and describing it, that authentic experience is what I refer to as the sacred stream.
As a young child, I understood myself to be connected to this stream and I found it enormously rich and sustaining. It was a great mystery to me, both what the stream was, and why other people didn't seem to feel it. This curiosity led me to want to explore different internal realities, just as I was exploring various external realities by living in so many parts of the world. Studying religious and meditative traditions became a way of traversing a wide variety of internal realities. I could look through each one like a different prism on reality and then feel inside myself to see what they were speaking to and where they were meeting my inner experience.
Also as a child, I felt an unshakeable resonance with nature and a deep longing to go more deeply into that resonance. I spent a lot of time alone outdoors and most of my interactions were with plants, trees and the earth. I became aware of what other people call the spirit world, though I didn't have that word for it at the time. I actually felt more at home with this world and in nature, than I did in the company of humans. Nature provided me with a solace to the emptiness, unhappiness and suffering that was all around me.
On Depth Hypnosis
One of the most important features of Depth Hypnosis is that it does not require people to accept a particular belief system or dogma. It is purely experiential. The Depth Hypnosis Practitioner does not impose a framework on the client. Instead, we are always following the client's own process; working to help the client's own experience open up, deepen and expand. Of primary importance is the understanding that the client is powerful and has the capacity to heal himself. The work then is to help the client engage their personal power and understand and clear any obstacles they might have to it. This is the beginning of healing. In one of the first sessions we do what I call the First Trance, where the Practitioner leads the client through a guided meditation and the client makes contact with their inner guidance. People have a tremendous variety of responses to this process. One person's guide might come in human form; another person might experience the guide as an angel, a dragon, a wolf, a frog, a ray of sunlight filtering through trees, or the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz. The form a person perceives is a product of his own cultural and personality filters. But whatever the form guidance takes, it is an important step in the client moving more fully into his power.
I think it's important to emphasize that the concept of a guide is really just a reference to an aspect of the self that is larger than, and generally escapes the purview of, the conscious mind. It is the vehicle through which the client comes into contact with higher consciousness. It doesn't matter how the client conceives of their inner guidance, or what beliefs they do or do not hold, because the Depth Hypnosis Practitioner always views the client through the lens of wholeness. The practitioner understands that no matter how broken someone appears, no matter how hidden their source of life energy is, that source is still alive at their core. What we are working to do is locate that source within the person and draw it forward so that the client has a personal, visceral experience of it. We help create an energetic bridge between the intact place in someone and the broken places. The client may not know that this place of wholeness exists inside them, but because of the training the practitioner has undergone, and the personal work they have done, their faith in it is unshakeable. And we see it proven time and time again. I've never worked with anyone who could not ultimately access this aspect of the self, no matter how much it had been hidden, buried or layered-over with negativity.
In Depth Hypnosis, the use of a hypnotic induction to induce a light trance – basically a state of alert yet focused relaxation – is key to the therapeutic process. This kind of altered state is nothing like most peoples' stereotypes about hypnosis where someone appears to be asleep, or gives their control over to the hypnotist. In Depth Hypnosis, people are still fully conscious; they're just in a state where many of their defenses relax, enabling them to move into areas of the psyche that would otherwise be inaccessible.
For example, a person might seek out hypnotherapy in order to stop smoking. In Depth Hypnosis, it's understood that the smoking is usually the tip of the iceberg and part of a larger imbalance held more deeply within the self. The Depth Hypnosis Practitioner uses insight inquiry to learn more about what function the smoking plays in the client's life and to follow the client inward to the place of energetic imbalance within the psyche. Then, using hypnotherapeutic and shamanic tools like age regression, soul retrieval, power retrieval, past life regression, prenatal regression, and dream work, the practitioner helps the client effect a change in their internal environment, which will inevitably lead to a change in the external behavior as well.
Traditional psychotherapy posits the relationship between the therapist and client as the source of healing. In Depth Hypnosis, the significant relationship is between the client and her deeper self. It's understood that in some part of her being, the client knows everything and it's the practitioner's job to discover and help reveal what's there. In this way, the Depth Hypnosis Practitioner is a conduit for transformational or healing energy, rather than the generator of it. This gives the Depth Hypnosis practitioner a different kind of responsibility. The preparation and training process is much more focused on removing personal obstacles within the practitioner. This enables the practitioner to become as clear a channel as possible for information coming through them, rather than being the holder of rational empirical models, labels and diagnoses. The dynamics of projection and transference that you find in traditional psychotherapeutic settings are diminished in this model. It's also understood that the client is responsible for her own healing - the practitioner is there to help, but never to take responsibility for anyone else's process.
On Buddhist influences in Depth Hypnosis
Buddhism understands that all suffering arises from attachment, ignorance or aversion. In Depth Hypnosis, the practitioner is always tuning in to see where clients have attachment, what they are unaware of, and what they are avoiding. The Buddhist concept of fierce compassion is also very important to this work. Depth Hypnosis provides a compassionate holding of all phenomena, and an understanding that each person is completely responsible for the reality they're living. The "mind only" school of Buddhism holds that our personal realities are literally generated by our minds. We create and experience exactly what we believe and imagine. So you have to understand your own mind in order to understand how you generate reality. If you want your external reality to shift, you have to start by shifting your internal experience. From this perspective, if you have the power to generate a negative reality, you also have the power to generate a positive reality.
There are various ways to think about this idea that we generate our own realities. From the perspective of spiritual growth, I would point to the difference between the needs of the personality and the needs of the soul. On a personality level, things happen to each one of us that absolutely should not have happened. On that level, there is no justification for abuse, neglect and cruelty. But on a soul level, there are always lessons to be learned. People who hold the paradigm of multiple lifetimes might argue that each time around, our soul chooses or creates a given set of circumstances in order to keep working on those lessons. But even without adopting that kind of expanded framework, it's important to look at the realities that people are creating for themselves now. Most of my clients are still generating realities based on their earliest painful experiences within their families. So, it often seems to them as if that reality is the only possible experience they can have, but that is not true. When a person is able to unblock the energies that have coagulated into those old patterns, their inner and outer lives can change dramatically.
The Buddhist concept of reincarnation has relevance in Depth Hypnosis, but it’s important to understand that this concept simply points to a larger breadth of experience than what is commonly held by the conscious mind. In Depth Hypnosis a "past life" can be viewed as a metaphor that holds certain emotions and energies that the person is not in contact with, or doesn't identify as belonging to them. It is not necessary to believe in reincarnation to benefit from experiences that emerge as part of a past life regression. These past life scenarios provide a way for clients to enter into aspects of themselves that they had denied or forgotten. Working in this way helps clients touch into emotions and mental concepts that they've ignored or overlooked, but which may actually be running their daily experience.
On the Development of the work of the Foundation of the Sacred Stream
The truth is there is one large body of work that has basically revealed itself to me over a period of many years. At the beginning, I did not see the connection between all the different facets of the work mainly because I was just trying to keep up with all the information that would start to flow through me in meditation or during Depth Hypnosis client sessions.
We talk about the classes with labels that make sense in modern language – Integrated Energy Medicine, Applied Shamanism, Applied Buddhist Psychology, and Depth Hypnosis – with names that refer to these types of esoteric education that are more or less familiar to people who are interested in these types of subjects.
But this appears to be an intact, ancient body of wisdom that is emerging through the teaching of these classes and through the individual Depth Hypnosis and shamanic healing sessions. I think about this work as received knowledge—a kind of gnosis, or inner transmissions as opposed to knowledge that is learned and transmitted strictly through external transmission methods such as books.
You can only learn about this body of wisdom in bits – even I have only learned it in this way – because the body of wisdom is so vast and so broad. When you put all the teachings from all the classes together, and when you try and hold all the teachings at once, you feel a great silence, a great depth, and a great humility dawn within you. Or at least this is my experience—and many of my senior students have reported this same experience.
I feel like have been held in the palm of a great mystery my whole life. And I think this is true for all of us. For me, the discovery of the nature of that mystery has, in small measure, been achieved through following and listening to this path the work has let me to and that has unfolded within me.
I think the only real value added I offer is that I can break down what I am receiving into bite sized chunks which are more or less cogent (hopefully!) so that I can pass the information to others. Once they eat all the bite sized chunks by taking the classes, they can digest and integrate the information in them into their own way of knowing so they can transform their own ways of knowing and being in the world. It would be impossible to transmit this information without this breaking down of the elements – which looks like the offering of individual classes – and I seem to be able to do this.
There are several entire classes that came out of the unwrapping of just one sentence received in a dream, or from the dismantling of the tremendous amount of information transmitted in a single journey. Some of the Advanced Buddhist Psychology classes, which are highly complex and challenging classes, emerge out of a single mandala.
When people ask me how I feel about trying to teach all of this material, I am reminded of Louis Armstrong at the age of 70 who – when asked what advice he had for young musicians – said, "If you can do anything else, do it!" I feel that way. If I could do anything else I would, but I am so compelled and inspired – and indeed I feel a very strong sense of duty to the work – that I really can’t do anything else, no matter how challenging it is.
If you had told me that I would have to hold this work in its entirety – much less that I would have to teach it – 20 years ago when the spigot really got stuck on "on," I would have lain down and cried. So yes, I do think it is challenging. I am amazed that I can learn what this body of wisdom wants to teach to the extent that I can, that I can teach this, that people do want to learn it, and that I have this incredible team of dedicated and intelligent people who work in the administration of the Foundation that support the work and make this all possible.
Some people have said that they feel very challenged and changed by the work, and that it is not always easy for them to stay with the insights about themselves that come through engaging with these classes and the personal work of DH. What do you have to say to that?
I totally understand. I myself am challenged every day to meet the demands of the work. I work hard every day to try and become the channel for this work that is worthy of it. To do that, I have to really work hard to know myself, which is actually a very difficult task for all of us. So I understand. Consciousness is relentless. There really is not another choice. We are lucky to live in a time and place where it is possible to teach and learn this work. Some of it is definitely challenging to the status quo of unconsciousness, and in other times and places, I am not sure this work could flourish more or less openly in the way that it does today.
How do you see the future for this work?
At this point, we have trained a good number of DHPs and an even larger number of Spiritual Counselors in DH. Some of them are working in straight ahead DH methodology. Some are integrating DH, IEM, ASP and/or ABP into other healing and teaching modalities. The work will surely live on into the far future through all the transformation that these people are participating in within themselves and with those they work with. This is very heartening to me. Because I see this work as a kind of gentle rolling thunder moving through the realms of unconsciousness and creating increasing and deepening inroads for the development of consciousness.
All types of spiritual work can do this, but the particular catalytic, transformative, and demanding quality of DH and all its sister modalities – IEM, ABP, and ASP – do this in a very intentional and direct way. So I see the future of the work as very bright. It is my intention to be able to train as many people as I can in these modalities so that people can continue to be served by it beyond my death—and I am in the process of developing teachers who can carry the work forward.
I feel very lucky to have been able to purchase the Sacred Stream Center in Berkeley, CA where most of the work is taught. The SSC was a Lutheran church for almost 100 years, and I feel the pursuit of consciousness that has taken place in the church as being very supportive to the continuation of the work. The land the center is on is on the banks of a very magical stream called Strawberry Creek that now runs underground near the church. The land around this stream seems very deep and very peaceful and I feel the stream and the land also support the SSC in a very real and powerful way. This gives me a lot of hope for the continuation of the work.
One of the reasons we call our organization FSS is because we understand that all true spiritual and artistic traditions emerge from a stream that runs beneath them all. The work of FSS is just one of those emergences. This is why we support teachers and artists from so many traditions—because we feel their work is also emerging from that same stream.
It is pretty clear that the body of work we teach at FSS had moved back into the underground stream for a period of time and is now emerging again through me. If this has happened in the past, it will happen in the future. I think the work will go on and on in different forms and different environments, emerging the way mushrooms do, from their slumber during dry times, when the conditions are right and when the rain falls.