Radio host tunes in to mystical experience

01/05/2012

The music sounds like the introduction to a meditation soundtrack, or maybe the soothing composition that greets callers on a busy company line. After soft piano and chime notes play for several seconds, a human voice takes over.  

“I’m Anthony Wright, and I’m your host today on Attunement.” The cadence is slow and deliberate, the delivery smooth and crisp. 

Wright, a Midwest native, has been the host of “Attunement: A Guide to Mystical Experience” since 2006, and another show, “Spirit and Mind,” since 2004, both on KWMR. He’s also been a piano technician for four decades and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Chinese Philosophy at the California Institute of Integral
Studies.

On this particular show, Wright briefly introduces his guest as Dr. Allan Hamilton, a Harvard neurosurgeon. Then his polished voice disappears as the broadcast segues to a recorded excerpt from Hamilton.

“In the final analysis, superstitions, omens and intuitions are the reflections of a conscious effort on the part of an individual to detect the subtle signals sent to us from the natural world.”

“If we are convinced that the life and the matter around us are mute, then we are confined to the silence of the scientifically correct. If we are open to subtlety, then the world resonates with significance.”

The second half is played again, apparently for emphasis.

As a program host Wright is simultaneously engaged and inconspicuous, a gentle guiding hand that intervenes when necessary but otherwise remains unnoticed, allowing the guest’s story to flow freely and organically. At the beginning of the program Wright piques listeners’ interest by asking Hamilton, “What is a surgeon doing writing a book about the soul?” Later in the conversation he’s more specific, prodding the neurosurgeon to “tell us about your experiences in Africa.”

When he himself is being interviewed, Wright is just as engaged and articulate, but much more tangential. He moves laterally from topic to topic, frequently dipping into the esoteric—the Eastern philosophy of Alan Watts (a favorite), Benoit Mandelbrot’s investigations of fractal geometry, the relevance of the elusive Higgs boson particle—and speaks with a depth and focus that can be exhilarating.

It can also be intimidating. “I’m sure you’ve heard of chaos theory?” Wright says at one point, surprised at the hesitant response that follows.

When he’s deep in discussion, Wright, who is a healthy-looking 61, has the habit of occasionally pausing mid-sentence to concentrate. He slowly brings his hands to his face, as if in pain, and glances downwards and to the right. He stays like this for several seconds before continuing, resuming instantly the state of unshakable absorption that characterizes his speech. 

When Wright is at his best—explaining, for example, the Eastern orientation toward a holistic Cosmos or the intangible nature of mystical experience—it can be difficult to separate the concepts he’s speaking about from his own identity. To determine, in other words, where the philosophy ends and the philosopher begins.

But that’s precisely the point. Those who know Wright well, like Wendy McLaughlin, host of “The Feminine Mystic,” consistently describe him as being wholly committed to leading a spiritual life—to the extent that attempting to tease an individual identity from the spiritual wouldn’t really make sense. “The personal and spiritual are really the same for people like him and me,” she says.

In Wright’s own description, when someone is totally immersed in what he or she loves, any notion of the individual self disappears, obviated by a complete and harmonious unification with the Cosmos, a word he uses often. Instead of separate entities, we become “something the Cosmos is doing.”

“And that’s really sort of what’s disorienting, because more and more Anthony is gone,” Wright says. “It happens when I’m tuning a piano, or when I’m doing a great interview.”

If he were to declare a kind of spiritual objective, Wright says it would “more or less be to embrace what has already been happening for a long time. Which is that Anthony is going to go away as a separate person.”

The house near Inverness Park where Wright has lived alone for two years is small and inviting, full but not cluttered. The wall adjacent to the front door is hidden beneath shelves filled with books; a thin stream of black smoke rises from the chimney on the roof. In the kitchen, under a line of Tibetan prayer flags, he proudly shows off a framed drawing of a bright red heart surrounded by vivid patterns of blue and violet. His daughter, who has Down syndrome, made it years ago. 

Wright opens the door separating—connecting, he would say—the kitchen and the outdoor space behind the house. He walks out to an expansive garden area of leafy green plants, winding dirt paths, head-high bushes and widely spaced trees. On the short grass near the house there’s a small marble table with two chairs. “Here is where I do a lot of writing,” he says.

When Wright needs a break from that writing, he moves to the space in front of the house. There, near a thick stump, lie numerous piles, several feet high and wide, of chopped Douglas fir—the result of two years of dissertation work. As a demonstration Wright picks up the 12-pound axe leaning against the house, slowly raising it high around his shoulders before coming down square on a standing piece of wood, cleanly splitting the log in two. 

Wright was brought up in the Universalist tradition and exposed at a young age to a number of world religions, and as a teenager he began studying astrology and hypnosis and played in a professional rock and roll band. In his 20s he discovered Taoism, which turned into a lifelong fascination, and lived for a period on a spiritual commune, where he met his former wife and the mother of his two children.

An ardent fan of Carl Jung, Wright has remained a devoted student of the mind throughout his life, receiving a master’s in East-West Psychology following decades of independent study. It was after an epiphanic meeting in which he realized the extent of the significance of the I Ching—the Chinese philosophical text in which he had long immersed himself—that Wright was inspired to pursue a doctorate in Chinese philosophy.

As disparate as his various pursuits initially appear, it is their underlying commonality that is most useful in illuminating what Wright does and who he is. All of the realms in which he navigates—sound, psychology, complexity science and Chinese philosophy—“they’re all going towards noticing a pattern.”

“Because what I do is I’m a theoretician,” he says. “And as a theoretician I bring patterns out of the infinite.”

In this way Wright considers himself a kind of theoretical astronaut, someone who seeks to explore the universe’s previously unknown philosophical dimensions the same way someone else might explore the outer reaches of its physical dimensions.

“I’ve been out in the world of the uncharted in metaphysics and how the world is made, or how we make reality,” he explains. “And I’m going to come back and talk about it.” 

It’s the second part of that description—“coming back” to share what he has learned in order to help people enrich their own spiritual lives—that offers the best insight into why Wright has assumed his various public roles. 

He has been a certified hypnotherapist since 1989 and continues to serve as a spiritual counselor, a position for which he holds practice insurance for up to 20 hours a week. He’s also a former instructor at JFK University and an ordained minister—Wright officiated a wedding in Point Reyes just last week—and eventually hopes to take on another university or community-level teaching role, as well as to syndicate “Attunement” nationally or internationally. 

Not that Wright’s wisdom has been limited to public application. His son Henry, now 30, remembers twice being hypnotized by his father: when he was 12 or 13, the younger Wright says, “he hypnotized me because I had lost some of my cards. He tried to help me remember where they were.”

That attempt wasn’t fruitful, but when Henry, an avid rock climber, was 16 his father hypnotized him in order to help him cope with a physiological issue that was impeding his climbing. “After we did the hypnosis session it was a lot easier for me to control the sweat coming from my hands,” he said.

Jodi Weitz, a longtime friend who has been working with Wright in spiritual counseling sessions regularly for four years, believes Wright’s effectiveness as a spiritual teacher and mystic comes in part from a prescient ability to interpret and comprehend reality.

“I think he’s very intuitive about what’s really going on. He’s not just following some rulebook or guidebook,” Weitz says. “He’s a good listener, and he’s got a great voice. He’s got a really soothing, easy voice.” 

It is the voice, Wright says, that brings him a small degree of public recognition—“Occasionally people stop me on the street and say, ‘Oh you’re the guy. I know your voice,” he says—but that overall his work hasn’t earned him much celebrity, and certainly not much wealth.

Not that Wright is overly concerned.

“I feel so fortunate in my life,” he says. “I’ve not sold out. I’m not making nasty chemicals. I’m literally bringing harmony into the Cosmos, helping people to discover harmony in their own lives.”

Then the philosopher pauses and laughs, amused at his own words. “Yeah. That’s good.”

 

“Attunement: A Guide to Mystical Experience” airs on KWMR every other Thursday at noon; “Spirit and Mind” airs on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Wright will present “Fractal Geometry and Confucius’ Great Learning at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 12 at the Blackbird, in Inverness.