In conversation with peacemaking mystic, Orland Bishop.

Conscious from a young age of the different layers of awareness and the construction of the ego, Orland's life quickly steered towards spiritual inquiry and practice.

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Berry Liberman
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Arriving in New York at the age of 15 from Guyana, Orland Bishop studied medicine as a young man, enamoured of science and its mysteries.

Conscious from a young age of the different layers of awareness and the construction of the ego, his life quickly steered towards spiritual inquiry and practice. Today, Orland is many things: as founder of Shade Tree Multicultural Foundation, he engages in peace work with Los Angeles gangs and he also works with social healing, youth initiation projects and research into esoteric and indigenous cosmologies.

Orland cautions that the modern world is one of winners and losers. This is problematic, he says, because “Even if you win, you feel alone in the victory.” Instead, Orland suggests that our will must be mediated by our community, the self understood in its context as belonging to our collective humanity, not in competition with. These are big, painful propositions for a society increasingly unable to make sense of things together.

I have found, time and again, that the people doing the deepest, most profound work on repairing our world, understanding our moral universe and shaping our pro-social future have a spiritual or higher-consciousness seeking practice and longing. It would seem that, religion aside, we do better when we stay curious and in awe, with less focus on command and control of our world. Orland speaks to me about the will, how it is something to relinquish, to surrender. He suggests we should learn how we can be of service and let that guide our decisions.

I struggle with all of this as I feel the stress and sadness of our crumbling context and wish to shape a viable path forward for future generations – even just for myself! Speaking with wisdom keepers like Orland reminds me that there are depths to our capacity we rarely, if ever, explore in our modern world ruled by iPhones and rampant, relentless schedules. Being in his presence opens up deep time.

This is a conversation with a practicing mystic, who functions on a plane that few people do today. Orland Bishop invites reflection on the power of our will – for wanting more over being of service. It is an ancient intelligence that has been called forward by all religions at all times of human consciousness. It’s good to hear this attitude again, and again, and again.

BERRY LIBERMAN: It’s so wonderful to see you! How are you?

ORLAND BISHOP: Overall well. I’ve had my mountains to climb. There were so many things. The pandemic created more work for communities that are so challenged.

I’m so interested to hear you say that. Because I know when you talk about mountains to climb, do you ever answer that question for yourself? Or do you mean for the community?

Both. I had probably the biggest challenge in 20, 25 years. To return my psyche to another octave of self-development, I had to let go of so much to integrate something else. I knew it was coming but in the midst of all the other externalities it was heavy. I’m regaining my momentum from what felt like an exile.

How would you describe that exile?

From the world paradigm. The current civilisation’s paradigm. I had to dissolve almost every framework to regain a fresh insight to things. A cycle had finished, 28 years had finished in relationship to the body of work that I took on in 1995. It’s been liberated, given back to the world and now I am entering a new beginning.  

I’m fascinated by the notion of a spiritual life and a spiritual plane of consciousness and how it interacts with the world of the body and the everyday things that happen. In humanity right now with all the metacrises at play, we’re trying to get our mammalian brains around what is required to heal ourselves, heal the world, show up for this moment. If there is a higher consciousness, does that higher consciousness want anything for humanity? Or are we just here to play out whatever the drama is on the stage and exit stage left? I’m still rooting for humanity’s survival and thriving, and for humanity to lift in consciousness and that we would all mature into using more of the richness of what it is to be human. I keep thinking if there’s higher consciousness, and I know human beings have asked this for eons, wouldn’t the higher consciousness want us to survive this? Or not necessarily?

I appreciate the question so deeply because it points to the reality of the gifts that we have received and evolution of consciousness. Our civilisation has entered into the collective unconscious. Now this might seem terrible from the signs that we see in the external realities as we’re making decisions from such uninformed aspects of knowing. What lies at the deepest level of material consciousness of the body? Our feeling life not only holds us in terms of our self-interest, in terms of what attracts us into activity or what we attract into our lives in relationship to people. But it also holds the ancestral world.

I’m loathe to go backwards and tell everybody your story. But maybe this is a good moment to just talk about the arc of your life and why these questions are being asked of you.

Well it’s been now 40 years in the United States. My family immigrated to United States. My parents in the late 1970s and siblings in the early 1980s. I came in 1982 to Brooklyn, in the middle of my teen years, went to high school there. I came from Guyana, the tropics, being 70 per cent Amazon rainforest. I felt like I had nature in its abundance in my 15 years of life there. In school, I took interest in science but then my exposure to philosophy, my exposure to history, at least the deeper history of African history in relationship to coming into contact with the West, brought my awareness into a much larger reality.

Were you a spiritual child? Were there any signs of what would come?

Oh yes. I came to observe the consciousness in one of my teachers in school. She was observing me not paying attention to her, but she could not see what I was being attentive to. I observed her thoughts being whether she should punish me for not paying attention, but I saw the dilemma of her heart saying, “There’s nothing to judge,” and her mind saying, “I am the authority.” And I questioned, Why would she do something her heart is telling her not to do? I remember making a decision that I would never betray my heart. That I had something to do with what I call integrity of will, that is not governed by who someone else wants me to be. So I woke up the next day couple of hours earlier to connect with this internal code. I took control of my will from about five years old: I would not do something that was against an inner awareness guided by other intelligences. And I prepared a couple of hours before school every day to communicate with that and then allow teachers in the invisible realm to guide me through the rest of the day.

That is such a beautiful formation story. And it’s fascinating to me that you were also drawn to science. A lot of people think science is a black-and-white discipline. But it’s a juicy, beautiful space of human curiosity and experimentation, which I love. I feel like we’re in an age that wants to have both, that it’s a coming together. How do we develop that capacity in ourselves, to trust and belong to that deep spiritual, intuitive voice?

From the realm of possibility, the archetypal world gives us ideals first. So the ideal is, Can I organise my will to be in service of something that will transform me? Then the symbolic: I begin to see signs in the world of something that could bring my will into the world creation process. Then the third level is the reality that brings me something directly from my own conscious experience.

I get stuck in the second, symbolic realm. I love that, the realm of archetypes which is ideal and it’s where the possibilities live. Between realm one and realm two, I’m happy as a clam, it’s all coming in and I feel like it’s mine to do. And that’s a big mistake of course – maybe my own immaturity. But if I hear what you’re saying, the third bit, which is the realm of reality, that soul recognition: is that where you should be identifying what is yours to do?

Well yes. And it’ll come from community. Because the second phase is to create the community that supports your gift coming into the world. It is a realm of so much abundance and it feels beautiful to live within all of that giving of inspiration. Aspiration also has to be encoded with a certain degree of reverence for what a spiritual world reveals in the realm of abundance. Part of the caution is that if you have a community around you, they recognise what you’re really good at. The world reveals it to you.

I would have loved that little reminder sooner.

Modernity doesn’t allow us. The schooling that I went through tells us I should not tell the community what I’m thinking. That I should use it and achieve first place in the exercise of a competitive process. That I can’t rely on someone else’s reflection if I’m trying to win. A world of winners and losers: this is a problem. Even if you win, you feel alone in the victory. Psychologically it creates a heavier weight to have achieved something that you can’t share. Where do we start? When you sit in silence, when you sit in a degree of aspiration and wait for the guidance. The mind is not what I learned, it is what I develop. What you learn can be lost, it can be forgotten. But development is a certain kind of encoding of elevating the soul into the world. And you’re seen more clearly by others by living into that.

Survival of the fittest, not collective thriving. These are profound ideas that really are very painful. And this is where we are.

I have to include others in my worldview in a precise way. They’re not adversaries, they’re the context that helps me to keep refining my will. And to keep asking, What do I have that belongs to you and what do you have that belongs to me? This is the economy. It has to be understood at its spiritual and not material.

Enough mystics in the world have touched realms of consciousness that everyday people like myself don’t have contact with in conscious ways. Maybe unconsciously, when we have a moment to touch base with the breath and stare up at the sky and see the birds and know that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. I still wonder why that hasn’t saved us. How we got to here, where we’re so very much on the precipice of civilisational collapse and ecological collapse. Does that worry you? Do you see it all as necessary? How could we understand, those of us who aren’t as far on the spiritual path? How could we understand conscious leadership and how to be in this moment in a hopeful frame?

The conscious search for the meaning that will get us out of this has already come into the world and left. Most of them have died in the last 400 years. Human beings never felt this kind of dilemma before. If we think we have more time, we will keep procrastinating the obvious willingness to allow our will to be given to another realm of being. We’re looking for a radical change, but the subtle change is there already. The hopefulness is already in a process in our blood. We can’t measure it with the same scientific measurement that measures the body because it’s a subtle energy.

I want to come back to your story. When you came to Brooklyn, New York, at the age of fifteen, what were your impressions? How did that experience shape you in early adulthood?

I was already aware of what I was going to learn, of how my mode of thinking could be enhanced by the new environment and I had a chance to observe what was going on in my school. The Haitians were separated from the English-speaking groups and treated very differently. They spoke another language, French, but also that they were of darker complexion in relationship to the others. I’d never seen that kind of prejudice in an outright structure and the school went along with carrying that process. I was the only English speaker who joined the Haitian club and engaged without having language as the bridge. I bridge it with my own feelings. So it began a process for me to learn how language is structured from a feeling in relationship to another human being and the truth we could share. That, for a couple of years, allowed me to have friendships outside of the cultural gap that was created.

You wanted to be a doctor at one time.

I pursued it all the way to medical school and realised that it was still not what I wanted to do. But I needed the experience, and this is the thing about the discipline of studying. I was able to ask the questions that I wanted to ask, even though the books weren’t written for the questions I was asking. I had to do some independent research most of the time for the questions that I carried, which had to do with the ego: that it lived in the body in a certain way and that the choices we make, as energetic processes, affect health and affect our environment. In college, I had to write a paper in philosophy class about what we as human beings share that is mostly on an energetic level? And it was a philosophical thesis, but it had all the scientific criteria for me in the research I later engaged with.

Where were you led to?

During my medical studies, in 1992, a friend was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He passed in 1995. I was supporting his care and I developed an awareness of his psychic space. As he came closer to the decline of his physical health, the spiritual health increased. In December 1994, spending time with him while he was in hospice care, we would engage with these levels of investigation of the soul. One day I went into the room and he was asleep. I was about to leave, I didn’t want to wake him. He said, “You’d better do what you’re here to do.” And I looked around and he was asleep. And this is really the first clue that the superconscious can exercise its will outside of the physical form that we are. I asked him with confidence, “What did you say?” he spoke from this sleep. “You heard me, you’d better do what you’re here to do and if you don’t do it, you will regret it.” When he woke up he said, “They don’t know the kind of doctor you’re supposed to be.” He died a month later and I kept journeying with the vibration of this intelligence that he introduced. I changed my orientation. I added a lot of disciplines to what I had learned in the allopathic field and kept going. I didn’t feel I needed the degree to do that. I just needed to advance my thinking. And I supported the emergence of a number of different practices that had to do with the healing of physical, emotional, mental and ancestral challenges in people’s lives: which one causes illness and which one causes transformation. It’s been 28 years of doing that work and it’s still changing me.

You have said, “Society used to be an initiated thing. Not a group of people trying to do their own thing, but a group trying to realise the collective intention.” How do we return to a positive path for the collective? To that idea of what are the opportunities for society to repair itself, to be on a path of collective intention?

I would say observation. We have returned to it, we just don’t observe how subtle it is. We’re still in a certain kind of denial that it has to look a certain way and it has to look as if it is an exercise of the will into the exterior world. Our will is going more into the interior aspects of consciousness.

Modernity is not a conscious will experience, it’s an unconscious will experience. We’ve inherited enemies in our feeling, that someone else is putting my life at risk. This is not true. Our shadow is putting our life at risk. Our personal unconscious is putting our life at risk. And this is where the reconciliation must first happen. We must accept that this very thing that is a shadow is in devotion to a higher light. We must turn that will internally towards surface of something that is in the other person. If my will turns into service of you, I’m doing my will a favour. This is the dilemma of our time.

So what type of leaders do we need to serve this moment?

We’re still feeling the scarcity because we’re not in community. We’re not really in love with our will in the world. Acceptance that I am here puts me in touch with a higher purpose. Regardless of position and power and politics, those things do not bring us here to the essential self. I must create the integrity for something that will come alive in me because it’s living at the most inner part of consciousness.

I really feel that this world we’re living in resists that proposition so very much.

I get it and I understand. In creating a patriarchal world, we had to create it around knowledge. So the tree of life is in the maternal structure, which is in the womb, right? The earliest symbolic systems that understood the archetypal world first created it as an egg or a womb. Not branches into specifications of knowledge and power and privileges. Most ancient initiations had to do with putting the human being back in the womb of life in some form.

So why have women been so powerfully excluded from those initiatory rites, those worlds of both intellectual and spiritual traditions? Why were we shut out of the gates?

Because the power dynamics were quite obvious. That the woman had, even in childbirth, the most mystical revelations because the child was a spiritual being entering into their physical body. The child was understood to be a seer in the mother’s womb. And people who could understand that would even kill the mother and the child to create a protection of their power structures. The violation had to do with the knowledge that this was a special kind of relationship, mother and child. The mother was the priest. The child was the priest. This remained intact for a long time until the male initiation, which was then how do you construct the world that was gifted by the spiritual seer? And they created a world in their own interests. Over time – it wasn’t immediate. The child was always the risk factor of every civilization because they brought in the new. And if they remained in the mystical reality over a certain age, they were persecuted. I see the tears and I’m feeling your sensitivity to this higher virtue. How do I support people who I know are moved this way? Because the feeling that allows this empathy is really what allows the higher world creation to happen. I’m feeling what you’re feeling. So much loss. And it’s time it stopped.

Healing is becoming more radical because it will transform what we have inherited. This age of humanity will take in the aspirations of all our ancestors that are reaching us. This is not an everyday discourse, even though I would love it to be. When I work with people who are mentally ill, or kids on drugs, they get what I do in consciousness far more quickly than people who have to ask me what I am doing.

Beginning never left the world. But we now have to refine our senses in order to observe it. I’m just pointing to the refining of our senses, not to the things that are obvious. But the very thing that allows us to see can be seen. Like my eyes can be seen from another level. I’m trying to invite us to liberate ourselves from how we feel about ourselves.

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