Lee McCormick is the co-author of Dreaming Heaven: The Beginning is Near (Hay House), the powerful Journey Book, DVD and meditation that enables you to walk in the footsteps of Lee and his fellow guides as they take you on a journey to your authentic self by following the pathways of the great mystery school at Teotihuacan, Mexico, first created by the Toltec masters thousands of year ago. Lee is the founder of The Integrative Life Center in Nashville, The Ranch Recovery Center in Tennessee, and The Canyon Treatment Center in Malibu, California, and has been a creative force in the Mental Health and Recovery scene for more than 15 years.
He is also the executive producer and has a leading role in the documentary Dreaming Heaven. Lee has led many journeys to Teotihuacan, that astonishing place of power, and he has developed a far-reaching relationship with the mystery of the shamanic world that is present there.
Wisdom: Lee, please tell us a bit about your background so that we can get a sense of the man behind the movie.
Lee: My introduction to what Dreaming Heaven is about really began in a large part when I was 40 years old and checked myself into a treatment center. That was the beginning of my realization that who we are as human beings and the larger reality of what’s going on in our cultures, communities and families is so much more than what we typically give any attention to. In that early recovery process, I began to question everything. The ‘official story’ is not really true. It may be what the people are wanting to believe, but what we believe and the truth don’t necessarily have anything in common with each other. This was 17 years ago and I just consumed all kinds of self-help or spiritual books.
Two years after I got out of treatment I had the inspiration to start a recovery program that was a broader perspective on healing and recovering our authenticity as opposed to the disease of addiction based philosophy. What we suffer from as unique individual people is a lack of authenticity in our lives and a lack of faith in ourselves. ‘Give it to a religion, give it to a faith, give it to a practice, give it to a program’, but it’s all externalized and so it causes an underlying anxiety. We’re always searching for more and are trying to get the next or the best or the better. The unsaid aspect of our culture is that we’re not good enough just as we are.
On my personal journey, during my early recovery, I read The Four Agreements and Miguel Ruiz’s book lit up and I thought “His point of view reflects what I feel inside,” and so I made some connections with friends and found out that they led journeys to Teotihuacan.
I booked a trip and went on a journey to Teo, not unlike what is reflected in Dreaming Heaven, with a couple of teachers named Ted and Peggy Raess. The first time I went to Teo, I literally got out of a van in a parking lot of a little hotel and turned around and looked down this long avenue at the pyramids and the whole place just lit up. I knew what it was and that I had been there before. I started laughing and crying, thinking “I know this place.” I felt like I was home. I had that profound sense of “I belong here.”
Wisdom: I have long considered addictions as a way of filling a proverbial hole in the soul. What’s your take on that? – Lee:: Addiction to me is just an energetic. I am not a big proponent of the disease model. I understand the origins of it and the orientation of addiction. I believe it evolved as a way to protect people from judgment. If what I have is a disease, then maybe it’s not a weakness of character or a personal failing. We have created a pattern of behavior that we have reinforced over and over; whatever the behavior or drug of choice is. It could be behavior, it could be food, it could be sex, drugs or alcohol.
From a shamanic point of view, the energy that addiction holds is our energy. My addiction was as strong as it was because I fed it. I was giving it my attention. It was the most important relationship in my life. If I’m going to reclaim my energy from it, then I am going to stop feeding it, to break the pattern. I have to learn to shift my attention away from engaging in it in an endless loop. I have to shift my attention from thinking about getting high, thinking about indulging in whatever my behavior is and open my attention to what else is present now.
As you begin to shift all of that and open all of that up, you can truly start reclaiming energy. You feel more present, you are more aware because all of a sudden you are seeing all of the other stuff going on in the world. You’re not shrouded in the attachment and the distortions that exist when you live out of balance when in an addictive pattern. I do not believe that in any way, shape or form that our diagnosis defines who we are….period. I was never ok with “My name’s Lee and I’m an addict.” That never felt right to me and I challenged it from the beginning. I got all kinds of grief from all kinds of people who’ve been sober for 20 years.
I said, “Look, dude, I did not get into recovery to have a co-dependent relationship with all the people who have been in the rooms longer than me. I got into recovery to be free from living that way…period.” My response to a lot of people is that this is about me, because it is about my life. It’s not about me needing to fit into what someone else may have come to believe about addiction based on their experience. It’s about what I choose to believe and how I’m going to live based on my own experience.
There’s a fundamental piece to this. We have to be willing to own our reality 100%. It’s not my father’s fault, it’s not my abuser’s fault. It’s not even a fault at all. It’s literally that I am where I am based on the choices I have made and the way the cards have been dealt; it’s just a matter of fact. Until I own it 100%, I can’t possibly unravel it and release it and move beyond it 100%.
Wisdom: How did the film come to be?
Lee: It was one of those funny events. Gini Gentry who is one the teachers in the film, had a friend named Dana Waldman. Gini called me and said “This friend of mine, Dana is a musician and music producer. You guys would get along great. You ought to meet him.” I called him and he came up to our house and we had this 2 ½ hour great conversation about stuff we had been doing. We were getting ready to create a journey to Teo and Dana said, “It would be fun to film one of these journeys and see what it looks like and see what happens.”
I was intrigued because the energy of what goes on there is so profound. In the mythology it says that energy and consciousness exists originally in this world because of light. Could the light that you capture when you’re filming convey the energy of the place? Dana and I put a little crew together, including all the people you see in the movie. We just wanted to film the journey and make a high-tech home movie. We filmed it, we really had fun and it was great. We came back and had about 100 hours of footage. Dana and a couple people watched it and it sat for a couple of years.
Life goes on and I by chance met a man named Straw Weisman who was the post-production supervisor for What the Bleep Do We Know? He said “Let me see this footage you guys shot.” He watched it and said “This is really good and you really have a movie here. This is like what Bleep brought up about the nature of reality. Basically Dreaming Heaven is “what the bleep do we do with it?” So I turned it over to Straw and he started editing and started making a film out of it. Dana got involved and over five years we ended up with what you see now.
After we finished the film, we screened it in several places and the response was so consistently “Wow, I feel like I was on this journey with you. I would like to have a way to interact with this; you guys ought to write a book to go with it,” and so we did. Meanwhile Dana and I wrote music and the soundtrack was created and I said, “Let’s do a series of meditations to tie the whole deal together.” I’ve never seen a package like this where you buy a journey book that has a film in the back, that has downloaded meditations and an original sound track created around it.
Wisdom: How can we create heaven on earth?
Lee: If you read the Gnostic Gospels, if you read the Christian mystical books, it you read what the Buddha talked about, if you read the Sufi wisdom, if you read the Bhagavad Gita, if you can sit with all the mystical traditions and what they are offering and have the ability to get beyond literal translation. None of the above were written from a literal point of view. The Bible has been translated and re-translated and what we are reading today is not reflective of what was written in Aramaic 2000 years ago, because the nature of language was completely different. The concept of heaven is in truth, what we are.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is within you and all around you. Men have lost the eyes to see it.” It’s not unlike an addiction. When we stop doing the things that are creating our suffering, all of a sudden, from within us, we begin to have a whole new experience of life and of ourselves. The idea of heaven as a presence of life on Earth becomes an experience when we stop engaging in a way of life that’s based on fear and suffering. It’s something that comes about as a result of our letting go of the way that we have been taught life must be lived and we allow the integrity of what we really are to come through us.
Wisdom: How can we face death cleanly and clearly and be prepared for it on any given day?
Lee: I’ve had my own experience with death. It’s deeply personal. On the level of Dreaming Heaven, the concept of death is fairly simple. The truth is we don’t own anything in this world. We don’t own our house. We don’t own our body. We don’t own our labels, degrees and profession. We have the opportunity to have a relationship with all that stuff. We have the experience of being in a physical body, of being a therapist or writer or cowboy or teacher.
The Angel of Death owns this world. The limited awareness of what we are born into is all based in the physicality and desperation to find security by owning the world around us so that we can feel safe on a mind level. We continue to feel rattled because the presence of death is always there. In the Toltec process, death is coming to the realization that in order to be free, I have to be willing to release myself from the dark side attachments like addictions and attachments to ego and glory and fame. If I am going to be free to be what I really am underneath all my identities, I have to be willing to die to all those identities.
The dying process in that context is not unlike the dying process that a client who is going through an addiction issue is going to go through in order to truly release all of the attachments that fed into “My name’s Lee and I’m an addict.” You’re releasing the energetic of all the stories, including the story of being a recovering person. As long as I’m clinging to how many days I’ve been clean, I’m still clinging to how many days I used. You can’t have one without the other.
The Angel of Death comes along and says “When you’re tired of carrying all this stuff around, you can give it to me because I’m going to take it anyway. If you are willing to consciously and intentionally hand it over to me, you’re going to free yourself from carrying the energetic weight and the baggage and you will be able to live the experience of what you really are underneath all of that.
Wisdom: How can we bring what we perceive as ‘other worldly’ into our daily lives…making the metaphysical more mainstream?
Lee: It kind of already is. Life is mysterious and it is magical. Do we have the eyes to see it? Are we open to the nuance of everything going on around us in the moment? Most of the time, until we have entered into this unraveling process, this dying process, we’re so wrapped up in being who we think we are, and worrying about the traffic or getting there on time or our next appointment.
The whole time, all around us is all this magic and creativity and mystery and beauty. When you walk down the street, do not look at the sidewalk. Look up and all around you. I led a three day workshop in Manhattan. I had all these New Yorkers walking down the street, looking out at everything and seeing how much they could take in. It literally freaked them out. We need to be willing to drop all our filters and take off our shade. Put your sunglasses back in the case and let all the light in.
There’s a great saying in Way of The Peaceful Warrior. Nick Nolte puts his hand on the kid that’s playing Dan. He jabs him energetically and the kid starts seeing everything that’s going on around him and Nolte says, “There’s never nothing going on here.”
That’s the truth. There’s just one of me and one great life that I’m living here and it’s all interconnected. You come back into balance. We have to bring all of us into the room at the same time. Let the walls come down and let the separation come down. The integrity of spirituality is in the little things we do day to day. The real grace is in our day to day life. That’s where the real difference will be made.
Edie Weinstein (Bliss Mistress) is an opti-mystic who sees life through the eyes of possibility, a multifaceted multitasker, colorfully creative journalist, dynamic motivational speaker, interfaith minister, social worker, therapist, BLISS coach and PR Goddess She is the author of The Bliss Mistress Guide To Transforming the Ordinary Into the Extraordinary. www.liveinjoy.org