The Reverend Dr. Terry Cole-Whittaker is enthusiastic, generous, funny and at times, raucous. She was, it seems, born for the stage, which is precisely what made her Emmy-wining television ministry a huge success.
It is easy to get swept up by her high-voltage energy as it courses through the telephone from her California base. One understands how she, as minister at the United Church of Religious Science in San Diego beginning in 1977, making the leap to the small screen in 1979, became godmother to a whole new generation of spiritual offspring including Marianne Williamson, Neale Donald Walsch and Michael Beckwith.
If I were casting a movie of her life, Bette Midler would be the obvious choice to play the lead role, because just like the sassy comedienne/singer/actress who has evolved into the godmother transforming New York’s parks, Cole-Whittaker has changed in the more than three decades she has been a visible figure at the forefront this country’s spiritual movement.
With such a long history, I was curious what this spiritual teacher had changed her mind about along the way. “I had left my ministry in 1985 because I knew something was missing because I was still not happy and still stressed and fearful, having attained everything that was an American Dream even being on the front of The Star and The (National) Enquirer. I said ‘What’s wrong? Something’s wrong here 'cause I was taught when you have this, this, this and this, you’ll be happy.”
So she was in the tabloids? Yes, she explains, because another of her famous students at the time was (Gavin MacLeod) the Captain of the Love Boat and the press just ate that up.
“It immediately got on the front of the magazines and all that kind of stuff and I didn’t like it. I always thought being famous would be wonderful – but after that started happening, I didn’t like it,” she says and we both laugh at her emphatic recollection.
“So what happened was, I began to know that God is a person, not an impersonal floating consciousness. It’s hard to explain. It was a huge transformation that took place in me. And I had to go to the Dark Night of the Soul for a few years.”
Four-times married and extremely candid with nary a visible boundary, Cole-Whittaker has been there and done that. Most recently she has been to India where she did eight years of spiritual study.
Her latest book, Live Your Bliss, is the brainchild of that sojourn. Cole-Whittaker is a best-selling author of several works including What You Think of Me Is None of My Business and How to Have More in a Have-Not World.
As spiritual beings, the author explained bliss is our true nature. “We’re made of eternity, consciousness and bliss.” Like Sat Chit Ananda, she offers, a Sanskrit term for the state of triple consciousness.
But trying to get a handle on exactly what Cole-Whittaker is saying is like trying to hold air in the palm of one’s hand. It is, at times, like the high-wire act of being a spiritual being taking an earth walk. Negotiating the seen and unseen worlds. It requires a leap of faith.
In the book's Acknowledgement, the author thanks her publisher and editors for “making my teaching understandable to the reader, as I am right-brained person for whom organization of ideas in a logical order is challenging.” That’s the charm of Cole-Whittaker; what you see or hear, is what you get.
One can imagine a spiritual novice being overwhelmed by the expansive content in this book, which often lacks explanation and depth. Mixing quotations by historical figures with Bible citations throughout with a hearty dose of personal experiences thrown in to make her points, Cole-Whittaker swipes across the page with mighty broad strokes.
She serves up her spiritual teaching in a language that readers will recognize from other offerings popular in the genre, but her philosophy is peppered with Sanskrit phrases from Eastern wisdom that could throw many Westerners for a loop and could topple devotees in the East right off their meditation cushions.
Luckily, the book includes some very accessible, practical information. Following each of the seven chapters are Happiness and Prosperity Practices, which ask the reader to observe their emotions in certain scenarios, to contemplate thoughts of what is possible in relation to love, prosperity and bliss, and suggested actions on how to incorporate the teachings into daily life.
Prospering mantras are also found at the chapter ends, along with instructions on how often to say them and how they take effect and help to elevate consciousness.
As I stated earlier, Cole-Whittaker is generous and her stories do provide the reader with a context for understanding. During our interview as we spoke about the ego she recalled a car accident she had.
“I was driving out of a supermarket parking lot and there was a lady going to cross the sidewalk in front of the driveway so I backed up but I didn’t look at where I was backing up. So I bumped into this lady’s car behind me. So she gets out I got out and I said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry.’ She says, ‘Why did you do this? How could you do this?’ “She’s going on and on and on. I was trying to understand and pretty soon she said, “My car – I have such pride in my car I never had a scratch on it.”
“Well maybe you’re too attached to your car," I said. "It’s just a thing,” the spiritual teacher recalled. “And she stared at me but she got what I was saying.”
And what Cole-Whittaker is saying in this book is, “What I want people to do is figure out who they really are and start creating from that.”
© 2010 Teresa Piccari