The Brightening of Terry Patten

Author and spiritual teacher Terry Patten died early Saturday morning, Oct 30th. His passing is mourned by many who benefited from his comprehensive, integral vision of life and by those who were touched by the heart with which he gave himself to help humanity become more aware of the reality of our situation and the choices we can make to create a hopeful future. I became aware of him over a decade ago, when I signed up for one of my first online classes. It was a course he taught on Integral Spiritual Practice, in which he invited many perspectives on spirituality and offered practices to integrate body, mind, emotions, energy, and spirit. At that time the online part of the course was a website on which to share written reflections. We were emailed links to some videos in which he demonstrated his morning spiritual practice. The rest of the course was held via telephone conference calls, which were recorded. I found the integral framework he offered helpful. Since then I have read his blog posts and listened to recordings of some of his interviews with leaders in various fields and spiritual teachers from numerous traditions. I particularly valued his 2014 conversation with Cynthia Bourgeault. I appreciated his bright intelligence and his capacity to understand a wide range of theology and spiritual practice and ask insightful questions.

In the intervening years, Terry has put out many short videos, some to accompany other online offerings. I was touched by what, to me, was his evident effort to put his heart into whatever he shared, and not just his intellect. He seemed to be a person earnestly working to overcome the conditioning that prioritized intellect over other, more “feminine” or intuitive ways of knowing and relating. I recognized that struggle and earnest effort in myself.

Seven months ago Terry received a diagnosis of a rare, inoperable cancer. In those seven months he has shared openly with family, friends, students, and community members about his process of facing his dying and death. As a distant witness, I have been deeply moved by the process of inward transformation I have seen in him and the increase of a loving radiance and spiritual surrender.

From his various websites, as well as from talks he has given, I have gleaned the following information about his biography. Terry Patten grew up in an intentional community founded by members of The Church of the Brethren, a community that invited people “of all races and religions to live together with us as a witness for peace and brotherhood.” After college, he became a student of a radical and controversial American spiritual teacher, Adi Da, living in community with this teacher and other devotees, and playing a significant role in their publishing ventures. After fifteen years, he left that community, and in 1988 founded Tools for Exploration, a company which gathered cutting-edge technologies for expanding awareness. He helped create and produce biofeedback tools, “subtle energy” tools, and wrote books and articles on stress reduction, peak performance, and neurodevelopment. He helped to develop a heart-rate variability monitor for HeartMath Institute. He sold his company for a large profit in 1998. Then, drawing on his activist upbringing, he co-directed two grassroots environmental organizations. One of them, Old Growth Again, worked with investors to purchase degraded Redwood forests, restore them, and develop sustainable harvesting methods.

In 2004 he became a teacher and senior associate of Integral Institute, working with Ken Wilber and others to distill ancient and modern body, spirit, and mind practices into a contemporary transformational lifestyle called Integral Life Practice. He later co-wrote a book on the subject and served as a senior ILP trainer and coach. He earned a Masters degree in Consciousness Studies from John F. Kennedy University. In his thesis, he analyzed how higher levels of awareness can be fostered by Integral coaching.

In 2007 he took his integral framework into international diplomacy, traveling to Iran as part of a U.S.-based civilian diplomacy delegation. He wrote about the experience, hoping to catalyze a more Integral dialogue oriented toward mutual understanding.

That same year, Terry began interviewing many of the world’s leading thinkers and teachers, to engage “our critical evolutionary moment, exploring the perspectives and practices that can cultivate a life of greater awareness, growth, freedom, vitality, service, and ultimately, love.” He made available his recordings of these conversations and wrote about the insights he gained. From 2009-2011, he was part of the faculty of the Integral Executive Leadership program at Notre Dame, and also taught at Columbia University, San Francisco State, and John F. Kennedy University. He traveled widely, speaking at conferences and connecting leaders and institutions. He defined his work as, “helping conscious individuals and organizations navigate the transitions, transformations, and revolutions of this accelerating time on Planet Earth.”

His interest in multiple fields—from the economy and business to sustainability and the climate crisis, from spirituality and interpersonal relationships to national politics and international relations—and his deeply penetrating conversations with experts in all of these fields led him to a growing awareness of the multiple and interconnected dilemmas of our times and the catastrophic consequences to which they can lead. This led him into some “dark nights” of despair and deep self-examination. Out of this came his 2018 book A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries—A Guide to Inner Work for Holistic Change. His book was an attempt, first of all, to wake readers up—and society at large—from the “consensus trance” of our culture and from our denial of the fact that we are facing an immense existential threat to all life on earth. Outlining our dilemma was only the opening of the book. Then he wrote of how the pressures of our time are creating an evolutionary opportunity—and necessity—for humanity and of the need for “whole systems change.” This requires both inner and outer transformation, which are interdependent and equally essential to address the causes, complexity, and consequences of the problems we face.

After publishing the book, he created an online community also called A New Republic of the Heart. Creating a community was a response to his understanding that individual spiritual practices are not sufficient to help us face the demands of our times; communal practices are essential. It began as a year-long teaching experiment. Partnering with Integral coach Siobhan McClory in creating the program and community, Terry Patten served as the core teacher, encouraging and drawing out the co-leadership of participants. In a recent description of Terry, Siobhan said that he modeled “Turning to face what’s hardest to face in this world.” On his website for the course/community was their invitation:

“It’s Game Time on planet Earth. Our evolutionary crisis is forging a new kind of 21st-century hero—one who looks just like you. Who will you be in this time of great transition? Let’s answer evolution’s call. … We invite you to join us in building a global movement for whole-systems change through a revolution of love.”

Over many years, I have felt an affinity with Terry Patten’s work, in part because it reflected my own leadings to understand our global predicament while going deeply into exploring and teaching individual and communal spiritual practices, drawing upon and integrating the wisdom from many spiritual traditions. I was also drawn by the fact that he seemed to be speaking frankly and with nuanced understanding about our global predicament in a way that few public figures, including few spiritual teachers, have been doing. He was asking the questions that have been on my heart for decades, except he was engaging a wide scope and consulting with many thinkers, teachers, authors, and leaders to connect diverse perspectives and insights. He was comfortable both with integral spiritual practice and with prayer. He spoke not only of non-dual awareness, but also of God and the soul.

In January 2020, just a few months before the shutdown caused by the pandemic, I joined the online New Republic of the Heart community. I engaged in the practices and conversations, including weekly Zoom meetings with a partner and, for a couple months, bi-weekly practices with a small group (pod). When the pandemic was declared and countries around the world entered lock down and social isolation, I was glad to be part of a global online community in which we could engage in deep conversation about what was happening around the world and how it related to the other growing crises of our time. Later that year, horrific wildfires burned in the Pacific Northwest, including Northern California, where Terry lived. He was honest with the New Republic of the Heart community about how shaken he was by these wildfires, a clear sign of the progressing catastrophe of climate change. For days—or was it weeks?–he, like others in the Pacific Northwest—had to stay indoors because the smoke from the wildfires made the air outside dangerous to breathe. In a 2020 podcast conversation with Cynthia Bourgeault, they spoke with each other about facing their mortality. (His State of Emergence podcast recordings, in-depth conversations with leading thinkers, can be found at https://newrepublicoftheheart.org/podcast/)

At the end of 2020, I left the community with appreciation for the practices in which I had engaged and for the integration of heart and mind, passion and intellect that I saw Terry bringing to his teaching and public presence. The dyad (pair) practices in which I had engaged were so fruitful that my partner and I have continued to work with each other weekly—on Zoom, from opposite sides of the continent–for a year and a half now.

In spring of 2021, the usually athletic Terry Patten noticed struggles with his breathing when he went on a hike. In March, on his 70th birthday, he received the diagnosis of lung cancer. It was a rare form, about which little was known, but he was told it was inoperable and incurable. Although it probably started somewhere else in his body, its origin was untraceable. Deeply shaken, he hoped that he would have several more years to do the work he felt was still his to do. Yet he also chose not to deny his predicament, but to meet each moment as fully as he could, with as much grace as possible. He drew on more than fifty years of spiritual practice to be as awake as possible to all the dimensions of his situation and to the feelings, challenges, pain, and fear that he experienced. Facing his personal terminal diagnosis seemed to have parallels to the ways that he had been seeking to fully face the immense and catastrophic changes in motion on earth now. As he reminded us, we all must face our personal mortality, at the same time that we must also face the possible extinction of our species.

You wouldn’t think that doing so could ever be joyful, but Terry found that surrendering to the possibility of his life ending soon freed him to be more fully present and more loving. At the same time, he also pursued all the options that medical science offered him. When the first options failed, he tried experimental medical therapies, and when all of those failed, he found alternative treatments that were, at least, healing on a soul level.

Via a blog and recorded interviews, with the help of his ex-wife, Deborah Boyer, who was his companion in his medical journey, he shared his experience as fully as possible, not only with his loved ones and many friends, but with the larger community with which he was engaged. He even created a four-session online course, entitled “Brightening Every Darkness,” in which three fellow spiritual teachers, from different traditions, interviewed him to draw out the learning from his unfolding experience. At the end of the third session, Craig Hamilton led the gathered group into prayer for Terry. The fourth part, on October 23, was a Q&A session. The night before, an infection had sent Terry to the hospital, and so, with an oxygen tube helping him to breathe, he spoke from his hospital bed. Lucidly and lovingly, he responded for more than an hour to the questions posed by participants.

Terry was soon released from the hospital. However, his health condition took a sudden turn for the worse, and it became clear that he was in the final days of his life. Deborah wrote in a blog post that on Wednesday, with help, Terry got out of his bed and led his companions in a brief and joyful dance. He died on Saturday at 1:30 am, less than a week after the concluding Q&A session from his final online course.

He gave an inspiring example of the grace that can pour forth when we confront the reality of our situation and put ourselves entirely in the hands of God. In sharing his experience so fully, he helped others face the larger challenge of our time and encouraged us to surrender to the grace that can come through if we whole-heartedly face this together. He demonstrated a path of surrender to both reality and grace that can help all of us become more loving and luminous.

© 2021 Marcelle Martin

Books by Marcelle Martin:

A Guide to Faithfulness Groups explains what faithfulness is and how it can be cultivated by small groups that practice ways to listen inwardly together for divine guidance, a practice that holds great potential for supporting individuals of any faith in allowing the work of the Spirit to become manifest through them and their communities.

Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey describes the transformational spiritual journey of the first Quakers, who were inwardly guided by God to work and witness for radical changes in their society. Focusing on ten elements of the spiritual journey, this book is a guide to a Spirit-filled life, designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences. It describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all. Our Life is Love has been reviewed by Marty Grundy in Friends Journal, by Carole Spencer in Quaker Religious Thought, and by Stuart Masters on A Quaker Stew.

Both books are available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. (An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website for Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey.)

To order multiple copies of either book, postage free, contact us.




About friendmarcelle

A Quaker writer, teacher, workshop leader, and spiritual director, I've traveled widely to facilitate workshops and retreats about the spiritual journey. I'm the author of Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey, and A Guide to Faithfulness Groups.
This entry was posted in All of Life is Sacred, Facing Life with Faith, Living in a Time of Pandemic, spiritual practices, Stories that Heal and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Brightening of Terry Patten

  1. susanstoo says:

    Sadness for your and our loss, Marcelle. Thank you for telling his story. I will pick up his latest book to meet this traveler whose practice and words reflected each other: “Creating a community was a response to his understanding that individual spiritual practices are not sufficient to help us face the demands of our times; communal practices are essential.”

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