An Interview/Conversation with Pamela Boyce Simms
Pamela Boyce Simms wants deep social change, and she has developed a community of practice that asserts deep personal change is essential for achieving that: Inner Landscapes - Activists Community of Practice. She posts frequently on GEO about her work as well as on her Buddhist-Quaker website.
I am developing a new project that also sees personal and collective change as inseparable—Growing Democracy: a cultural strategy for taking our love and democracy to new levels—and writing a book about it. I have worked with Pamela as a colleague and in her Landscape community of practice, and wanted to include her particular approach in the book and on the GD Project’s website (in process) as an example of this approach. She agreed. Using the Zoom technology we explored her perspective that is as spiritual as it is political and as science-based as it is spiritual.
GEO’s Rob Brown and Cadwell Turnbull did the transcript (part one is below, the other parts are forthcoming) and Josh Davis has prepared and posted the video and audio versions of the interview.
Both the video and audio are in three parts. Part I is a short introduction where you meet Pamela describing her project. Part II explores her integration of Buddhist, Quaker, neural-linguistic, and quantum physics traditions into a transformative practice for activism and personal change. Part III picks up on questions related to love, identity, and the nature of self that emerged in Part II.
Michael: Hello. Welcome to our interview conversation with Pamela Boyce Simms. This is being produced by Grassroots Economic Organizing and by another little project that I’ve doing doing which is called The Growing Democracy Project. That one’s not really up on its feet yet but it will be soon. So we will be doing this in three parts. The first part is just talking with Pamela about who she is and what her project is about. It’s kind of an overview of it. Part two will be going into a more detailed discussion of the project. And in part three, we’ll be exploring some of the questions that her work stimulates. So, Pamela, hello.
Pamela: Hi, Michael. Good to be with you!
Michael: It’s good to be talking to you again. We’ve had many conversations over the last few years since we first met. And there’s been a question that I’ve always wanted to ask you and it seems like a good occasion to do that. you have, it seems you have brought many things into your life and combined them. You’re black, female, a Buddhist, a Quaker, done a lot of facilitating and training work, and you’re steeped in neurology and quantum mechanics and digital physics. How did all of this come together in your life, your being, your person? I think that would be a fascinating thing to hear.
Pamela: Well it is the drive or the impulse to understand that I’m none of those things that brought all of that together. All of those things all, all of those aspects that you mentioned are egoic constructs. They are personas. They are sheaths that allow me to relate to the world and the world of form, but none of them have anything to do with who I am. they are just vehicles through which i connect to the world, or at least to the world of form. They come about very organically, very naturally and there’s a lot of overlap. i try to do things that maximize the use of my time, so all of the things that you mentioned are very harmonious ways of relating to the world, but none of them are me.
Michael: They do come together harmoniously. For example, how do Quakerism and quantum mechanics come together?
Pamela: That gets to the pith of the entire conversation we’re having here. Early Quakers, and a certain swath of Quakers to date, use as their practice connection with the undifferentiated field, also known as the quantum field. Quakers call it light. Christians call it God. It is also universal intelligence. So every time a Quaker enters a meeting house or just as they walk around in their lives, the intent is to live into, to be, to be in contact with that more vast dimension of themselves. And that is what informs Quaker meetings, Quaker communities, Quaker activism, Quaker life: the ongoing connection with the quantum field. So that’s a very direct connection between the Quakers and quantum physics.
Michael: Ok, and that seems to have the connection to Buddhism, also.
Pamela: It is precisely the same connection. The reason why the two of those traditions are in my life are because the Buddhists have more recently done social activism in the way Quakers do it. So the combination of the two brings together activism that is potentized by ongoing connection with the quantum field, both in Buddhism and Quakerism as practiced by early Quakers and a certain percentage of Quakers at the moment.
Michael: Ok, so is it like you're doing a kind of a reinterpretation of Quakerism or a refreshing of it or something?
Pamela: The work that I do in the Quaker world is just to bring people's attention back to the heart, the fire, and the pith of what Quakerism always has been about. But just like anything, over time, the original content is eroded and societies in which traditions that take us to the vastness of who we are, the societal environment erodes that. And so my work in the Quaker world revolves a lot around reminding people of what Quakerism sprung from, was initially, and everyone can be now if the swath of Quakers that still consider themselves mystical, if that number grew, if that percentage grew.
Michael: And you’ve pulled all of this together into your project, which is Inner Landscapes Activists’ Community-of-practice. And it’s like you’ve seemed to integrate Buddhism, Quakerism, and neurolinguistic programming, at least, into a very specific approach that is focused on activists. So if you can talk about how you integrated that and give us kind of an outline picture of it, it would be great.
Pamela: Sure. There are some baselines that bring these things together. The first baseline is that practitioners come into this with some kind of understanding of the fact that we are nonmaterial beings, that what seems to be material is an infinitesimally small part of who we are. So people who come into the community of practice from whatever tradition they’ve been in, or whatever intuitive knowing, or wherever they have been exposed to the fact that with the physical universe, there is so much more than that. So nonmateriality is the first point of focus.
The second pillar is neuroplasticity. And that’s understanding that the brain, the circuitry of the human brain, is plastic. It is malleable. It’s like play-doh. It’s like silly putty. And we have the capacity to do whatever we choose with that to have it serve us. If we live unexamined lives, life -- the good stuff, the bad stuff, all of the healthy things, the unhealthy things -- it all imprints willy nilly on that silly putty, on that modeling clay that is the circuitry of the brain, if we’re not looking at it, if we’re not resolving that, all of the unhealthy material that does not serve us is imprinting there. We can shift that. We can change that. and that is a function of the brain’s plasticity.
We also really take advantage of the fact that the part of the brain we are working with is not the prefrontal lobe, not the neocortex, not the part of brain that is all about complex, linear, analytical thinking. That is the part of the brain that we pretty much ask to stand down, to silence, to anesthetize so it’s tranquil. We’re working with the limbic system, the midbrain, the chemical brain, the emotional brain. And that particular part of the brain sees time, or experiences time, in a very different way than the linear, sequential, chronological time of the prefrontal lobe. And because of that, combined with neuroplasticity, we can work with the circuitry in such a way that we can do work in the present moment, in real time, and the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain which also controls the autonomic nervous system, et cetera, it doesn’t know whether you're doing the work, the work to enhance the circuitry, the neuronal pathways that are healthy and serve us, and invite to atrophy those pathways that do not serve us, because the limbic system sees in a time that is different and doesn’t know that we’re doing this at 5 years old, or living this experience at 10 years old, or 20, or 30, or 40, or in real-time, or at 80 years old, or at 90 years old, we can rework the emotional content of some of the unhealthy material that’s lodged and encoded in the circuitry. So we take maximum advantage of neuroplasticity.
We work specifically with the limbic system, actively. We still, quell, tranquilize the complex brain that’s 40% of our brain. It’s some of what meditative practice does; it makes this discursive thought, the chattering mind, linear-sequential-separation consciousness which is all part of the prefrontal lobe and complex thinking, we tame that. We master that. So we tap into a much deeper part of ourselves. And the limbic system is the doorway to that through the electromagnetic field of the heart, because it’s the emotional brain. It’s connected to emotion. So pillar number one, again, is an understanding that we are not material beings primarily. We are primarily nonmaterial beings; we are primarily consciousness using the material world as a vehicle.
The body, which I often called the avatar, is a vehicle for the more vast consciousness that we are. That’s understanding ‘one’. Understanding ‘two’ is we can work neuroplasticity of the circuitry of the human brain, the vehicle’s brain, in many skillful ways to have it serve us. The third piece is deep contemplative practice, and/or some kind of self-observing practice. And what that does is allow us to slow our thoughts, slow our emotions so that we can see emotions wash over us. As they begin to do that, we can observe our thoughts, to be able to use our tools to cut off at the pass what doesn’t serve us, enhance what does serve us before we’re pulled down a subjective wormhole, a vortex, and we at the mercy of thinking that we are our thoughts, being subject to our thoughts, or being subject to emotions that run roughshod over us. Contemplative practice allows us to gain mastery over self. And the 4th piece is cognitive restructuring itself, which is simulations that come from an enhanced version of neural linguistics.
Michael: Ok, so what seems very interesting about all of this is that there seems like a rather seamless integration of nonmaterial and material of the human being, the individual. You start with the premise that we are nonmaterial beings, and yet there’s this going directly into the physical brain and working with the wiring of that brain. So it’s like you’ve integrated both realms. Or is that of strange way of talking about it?
Pamela: Well, I haven’t done anything. What I’m delving into is 5,000 years old at least in my knowledge. You have Vedas, the Upanishads, the Sutras, the Buddhist Sutras have said this for as long as those traditions have been operative. The only thing that shifts now is that neuroscience has finally arrived where esoteric Hinduism, and Buddhism and Daoism have been 5,000 and 2,500 years, respectively.
Forever, the challenge has been that those traditions speak poetically. They speak lyrically. The texts are interpreted by teachers who speak many different languages, and for the West there are interpreters that help people understand what's written in those documents, but it is all very poetic literature. What neural science has done is cut to the chase. It’s basically that neuroscience, quantum science, epigenetics, neurobiology, psychoneural immunology have all basically gotten to where Siddhartha Gautama was 2,500 years ago, and the Vedas before him 5,000 years ago. So I’m not really doing anything. I’m just using the tools that have been around for a very long time and using some of the language that is very current to say the same things that ancient teachers have been saying for a very long time.
And, more directly to your point, we are all -- everything is energy. Everything is frequency. Frequency carries information. So the being that I am as I talk to you, the physical human being that’s having a conversation, Pamela and Michael, is the same being that is an individuated unit of consciousness, which is the vast consciousness that stands at a different frequency of Michael and Pamela. And then we are also part of the quantum field. There is a Michael in the quantum field. There is Michael as individuated unit of consciousness which is similar…
An analogy would be the individuated unit of consciousness is Michael’s vastness but not in fully physical form in the same way that a wave or a drop relates to the ocean, the ocean being the quantum field, the unified field, universal intelligence, god, light, spirit, whatever you want to call it. That’s the ocean and the wave or the droplet is still the ocean. It’s just it’s an individuated unit that has a different frequency than the ocean. But it is still the ocean. And then, moving out from that, is Michael’s avatar, Michael’s physical being, and that's just a frequency that is at the dense vibration of the planet Earth, subject to the laws of physics, et cetera, et cetera. So it’s all still Michael. So it is all always integrating, all ways at all times.
The challenge is that when we are only focused on the physical human form, it is so seductive. And so, intensely, everything in our society focuses our attention on only that physical form and nothing but that, that we lose sight of the fact that we’re only in this physical form so the larger consciousness -- the individuated unit of consciousness, your attainment from embodiment after embodiment after embodiment, the vastness of who you are, Michael, is consciousness -- can actually evolve exponentially faster in a dense, physical, problem-wracked environment. It’s just like a diamond is created by incredible pressure. The vast consciousness that is Michael, subject to the vehicle that is Michael's body in this physical realm, is learning exponentially evolving exponentially faster because you’re subject to all of the gobbledy-gook, the challenges and the hellishness of this environment. You can evolve faster there.
But we forget that the vehicle that is Michael, the body that is Michael, is only here as a way for Michael to get around, the more vast consciousness of Michael to get around, and that more vast consciousness, the individuated unit is a transparent conduit for the quantum field. So all of those three -- and there are many more, but just to choose those metaphors -- those three frequencies at which Michael exists are all integrated. It’s just Michael in the physical, because this realm is so seductive, we just forget, we are not in contact with the more vast piece. So the community-of-practice is a series of tools that keeps us perpetually in contact with that more vast part of ourselves.
Michael: Ok. I didn’t realize that I was so much!
Pamela: You are vast, my friend!
Michael: So let’s end part one here. I think people have gotten a sense of you and what you're doing, and that can be really appealing to them or not. In part two, we’ll go into more detail about this work and some of the questions that kind of generated in me during this discussion. So we’ll close out for right now. I'll be back with you in a few minutes.
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