FAQ: Jack Armstrong Answers Frequently Asked Questions
Tell me about the book.
This might very well strike you as odd, but it’s got to be at the center of any discussion about the book. For almost 35 years now (and that’s more than half my lifetime), I’ve been receiving and writing down information that is presented in the form of lessons about life and spirituality, and it clearly comes from somewhere other than my conscious mind. The book is a compilation of some of those writings.
I’m going to need more of an explanation than that.
Well first let me tell you how it happens. I’ll feel an urge to sit down with a pen and paper and will do so, and then I’ll begin to write things out longhand. It’s kind of like taking dictation, except I don’t hear anyone speaking. I guess I’m actually writing down thoughts, but they certainly aren’t thoughts that my mind would ever come up with.
For a long time, I had no frame of reference for what was happening, and it was only recently that I was introduced to a book that describes the process very precisely and calls it “Inner Dictation.” It felt very validating for me to find out that people have been experiencing this kind of communication for centuries, and that a number of important books have resulted from it.
What do you mean when you say that these aren’t your thoughts, or that the material comes from somewhere other than your conscious mind?
There are several ways to explain that. First of all, the material is written in the first-person singular and is directed to me (or in the book, of course, to the reader), and the writing style is quite different from my own. Yet it’s a very personal style, and it explains some pretty profound concepts about spirituality and our life on earth in ways that have been easy for me to understand ― or at least to begin to understand. None of this is simple stuff.
When this is happening, the thoughts sometimes come so fast that it’s hard for me to keep up, and I usually can’t remember much of what’s already been written. And yet when it’s done and I read back over it, I’m always amazed at how coherent it is and how beautifully the information is expressed.
I think it’s also important for you to know about my own passion for writing. When I’m writing for myself or for someone else, I’m a maniac about perfection ― in grammar and punctuation and how the material flows from one thought to the next ― and it’s not unusual for me to go through as many as ten or twelve different drafts before I’m completely happy with something I’ve written.
But the writing I’ve been describing here almost never needs any editing other than some minor tweaks. I’m in awe of the whole process.
So what are these lessons all about?
I think they offer a perspective on life that many people will find helpful. We all spend time trying to figure out what life is all about ― why we’re here, what God is, why life can be so hard sometimes. Some people are able to find a set of beliefs, whether it’s a religion or philosophy or whatever, that answers their questions and gives them comfort and meaning.
Some of us keep searching and studying all of our lives, and our belief systems keep evolving as we are exposed to new teachings. And then there are others who either have given up the search or decided that life has no real meaning. It seems to me that, because the teachings in the book are in language that’s pretty easy to follow and are non-dogmatic and non-judgmental, they could offer food for thought for folks in any of those categories.
I personally believe that there is only one Truth, and that we all are knocking on different doors to try to find it. I think of it as a diamond with an infinite number of facets. Different people or religions view it through facets that feel right for them, but every facet has its own unique perspective on the same Truth.
During my own spiritual quest, I’ve found teachings that are easy for me to understand and seem to make perfect sense; but there are others that I can’t make head nor tail of and that make me feel like I’m listening to a foreign language. And that’s perfectly OK. The stuff that I’m not able to understand might be perfect for someone else, and vice versa.
The lessons in this book present yet another facet for our consideration. They have been extremely helpful to me, and I’m sure they will be to some other people, as well. But there also will be folks for whom this isn’t their cup of tea at all. And that’s exactly as it should be.
Who is “the Source?”
Good question. In other books that have been received in a similar way, the voice speaking is clearly identified. The title of Conversations with God leaves no room for doubt. The source of A Course in Miracles is said to have been Jesus. While there is a very clear impression in many of the writings in this book that the voice speaking is God, or Spirit, or the Universe, or whatever other term you might want to use, there was never a point at which that voice said “This is who I am.”
So I prefer to leave that open to interpretation by the readers. To me, what the lessons have to say is more important than knowing exactly where they came from. I can tell you that the feeling I get in reading them is that this is a gentle guide ― almost like a mentor ― who not only is wise and patient and understanding, but also has a sense of humor.
Why are you calling it a guidebook?
I’ve always thought about life as a mysterious journey. It starts at a specific time and place, but we never know exactly where we’re going, what will happen to us along the way, or when and how the journey will end. A friend of mine once said he wanted to write a book called The Book of Life: There Ain’t No Answers in the Back, and I thought that expressed it well.
As I was identifying the themes and topics that are covered in the writings, it occurred to me that there was an interesting parallel there to a travel guidebook. When I’m going on a trip, I’ll often buy a travel guide to get an overall orientation and some general background information about what to expect, as well as ideas or suggestions about what I might do to make the trip more enjoyable. And that’s the kind of stuff these lessons talk about, so I organized them in the same way.
The first section of the book addresses the basic issues we all want to understand about life ― who we are, why we’re here, why we have so many problems, how we might deal with them etc.; and the second section talks about qualities and practices that can help us deal with the inevitable challenges we all face ― things like faith, gratitude, joy, peace, love, enthusiasm.
And then there’s a third section with some lessons that frankly didn’t seem to fit anywhere else, and they made me think of some of the esoteric items in travel books that don’t appeal to everyone, but clearly can be important for some readers.
Why do you think this information came to you, rather than someone else?
I honestly don’t know. I certainly am not any sort of spiritual guru or teacher or anything like that. I see myself as a student on the spiritual path, trying to make sense of life and to find a set of beliefs that will work for me. I think I’m probably beyond the beginner’s level, but I still have a lot more questions than answers.
What’s interesting ― and embarrassing, frankly ― is that, for most of the thirty years that this material has been coming to me, I totally ignored it. I would go back and read what I had just written and would be amazed at how complex, yet at the same time simple, it was and how beautifully it had been expressed, and then I would put it away in my nightstand and forget about it completely.
That’s the God’s honest truth, and it’s also pathetic. I had been going through some very tough times and was struggling to define my own spirituality, and here was all of this incredible material right under my nose, and I never looked at it again.
And since we’re into full disclosure here, I also need to tell you that I never showed any of it to anyone else ― not even my family. They knew I was doing this kind of writing, but for some reason I didn’t offer them a chance to read it. And of course nobody else I knew had a clue that any of this was happening ― and I certainly wasn’t about to tell them. For most of my life I spent a great deal of time worrying about what other people thought of me, and I was absolutely certain that they would think I had lost it completely if they ever were to find out.
If that’s the case, why did you decide to put it into a book?
Almost from the beginning, the voice in the material I’ve been writing has encouraged me to make the lessons available to other people who might find them helpful. But of course until recently I wasn’t willing to even consider it.
One of the blessings of the aging process has been that what other people think about me has become increasingly less important, and I no longer feel a need to impress anyone or prove myself. And besides, I’m in my late-sixties, and if I’m going to share this stuff with others, I ought to do it while I still can.
During the last few years I’ve been able to take a good bit of time to be alone and focus on my own spiritual beliefs ― and to re-read all the lessons that had been written over three decades. And they gradually began to sink in.
As that happened, I slowly found myself letting go of most of the doubts and fears and worries and stresses that had dominated my thinking for so long, and that has been a very liberating experience. Also during that same time, the inner urgings to share the lessons with others kept becoming stronger and more frequent.
So it probably was the combination of all those factors that finally helped me arrive at a point of being not only willing ― but eager ― to take the lessons out of the nightstand and begin to make them available to other people who might be able to benefit from them.
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