Interviewsand Articles


A Conversation with Jack Cain: A Life of Adventure for the Mind

by Richard Whittaker / Jack Cain, Jun 19, 2020



I’d heard of Jack Cain before I met him. I’d heard he was involved in publishing somehow. I picked up a sense of respect in those first occasions when his name was mentioned. Toronto? He lived somewhere in Canada, I understood. A few years later, I met him when he was visiting the San Francisco Bay Area. We had coffee together in Berkeley (at the original Peet’s, which still holds a mystique for those of us old enough to have been there.) I found Jack on the quiet side, and a careful listener. We had a long exchange. Then later, he was visiting again and I was invited to join a small group for a day of informal study he was pursuing. The question was is it possible to make some contact with the subconscious?
      There must have been eight or nine of us sitting around a long table. I’ve forgotten how exactly it went. It was straightforward, no mumbo jumbo. A suggestion was made ‑ something like: “Okay. We’ll take a few minutes. Just think back to some earlier time in your life.” We were all quiet. Then he said, “Pick something that came to you, or comes to you now, and write about it. It could be prose, a poem - anything.” After maybe twenty minutes, we each shared what we’d written. I remember that a memory came to me, a small thing, but strikingly vivid. 
     Later yet, a mutual friend, Mary Stein (who appears in our index here a number of times) was hosting the same little group. I didn’t attend, but by then I’d had more conversations with Jack, all centered around his experiences with his new direction. Five or six years had passed since our first conversation, and I was curious. By that point, several more years had passed in Cain’s new practice. I asked Jack if he’d be open to an interview. We met at Mary Stein’s home in San Francisco around mid

Richard Whittaker:  To start with, I wanted to get a little bit of background. For instance, how would you describe your family of origin without going into much detail?

Jack Cain:  I would say it was a typical family in the region where I grew up, a little north of Toronto—in the country, really. On my mother’s side my heritage was English and on my father’s side, Irish.

RW:  Your parents were together as you grew up?

Jack:  Oh yes. From that point of view it was a perfectly normal childhood. It was kind of strange that my parents waited seven years for me to be born. Then they waited seven years for my sister to be born and another seven years for my younger sister to be born.

RW:  Did that seven mean something special to them, do you think?

Jack:  I don’t know. I never discussed that with my father. I had a lot of difficulty having a conversation with him. He was a garage mechanic and I was reading Einstein’s theory of relativity when I was 16, so I just didn’t have much to exchange with him. He had this strange middle name of Trylus, which is actually an alternate spelling in Shakespeare’s first folio of the play “Troilus and Cressida.” Subsequently, to honor him, I have used this name as my business name. I thought it was strange that he had this name and I asked him, “Why didn’t you ask your father why he gave you this name?”
     He replied, “I never spoke to my father unless he spoke to me.”
     So then I understood a little more about why I had difficulty communicating with him. But it was a very peaceful household. My mother didn’t go out of the house to work. Her mother, my grandmother, lived with us as well. It was kind of a quiet, peaceful home. Some people have difficulty believing me when I say I never heard a voice raised in anger in all my childhood. That in itself is a blessing. At the time I didn’t really appreciate it but much later I did.  
It was a normal upbringing in a part of the country where everyone was of English, Irish or Scottish descent. So I never heard a foreign language being spoken for example. It was a huge event when an Italian family moved into the neighborhood.

RW:  It’s interesting that you were reading Einstein’s theory of relativity at the age of 16. It’s very unusual. Would you say something about that?

Jack:  I guess early on I was interested in what makes the world tick and this theory of relativity was a whole new take on physics, so I was interested to know how and where that came from.

RW:  Did your mother have an interest in such things? Or your father? How did it arise in you?

Jack:  I don’t know. I think the interest was just always there. The closest thing my mother ever did to that was she would collect nice sayings, little quotations, and put them in a book. That was her way of connecting to that kind of thing. My father was involved with the Masons, but I never spoke to him about that.

RW:  I don’t know much about the Masons, but I assume they have ideas and interests in a higher realm.

Jack:  Maybe it was Christian-based. There was certainly something about the relationship with a higher realm. In the last few years I’ve been translating books from French to English and one of the first ones I translated was on Mozart and his connection to Freemasonry. So I learned a few things about Freemasonry doing that, but I haven’t really done research about it. The fact that my father was involved was something I was curious about, but, as I said, we never really talked.

RW:  Right. And your mother collected sayings. Did she share them?

Jack:  Yes, she would. She would say, “Here’s a wonderful thing I just found. I’ve added it to my book.” I don’t think there was ever any collection that survived.

RW:  Well, you would absorb those influences. Do you give credence to the idea that children absorb what’s going on at a very deep level whether or not things are spoken about—that children “get it” whatever the parents are.

Jack:  Yes. Certainly there’s some absorption from the environment—from the physical environment, from nature. We lived in the country with lots of trees and a stream running through the property. It was very beautiful.
     My father didn’t earn much money. But he’d managed to get enough money to buy this little property—two and a half acres, five acres, actually—and then he sold half of it. So that helped, I suppose. He had a house built, but it was never finished inside. Pink insulation was stuffed around the windows. The doorways were rough two by fours. The basement was a dirt floor. But everything worked. The furnace was perfectly adequate. We were never hungry. We had enough food.

RW:  So, jumping forward—I’d like to get some idea of your interests and how things went for you as you went from high school on into college, and so forth.

Jack:  In high school I got really high marks in the sciences and I came to the conclusion that I wanted to specialize in pure mathematics. I thought that pure mathematics would tell me the secrets of the universe, and maybe it still can. But what happened when I got to university and took my first course in pure mathematics, the professor said here are three, or maybe it was five, principles we accept on faith, and the rest of the structure of mathematics is based on them. I was insulted and very disappointed. I thought, that’s ridiculous; that’s not going to tell me anything about the basic structure of the universe.  
     Also, I had come from this country environment, from a one-room school—you know, there were all eight grades in the same room. I did Grade 7 and 8 in one year. So I entered university when I was only 17 and was in residence in the city, not in the country anymore. I drank a lot and managed to fail my second year completely, partly also because of the disillusionment about mathematics. So I regrouped and switched to general arts with a major in English. I got a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) in English but I had done as much French as English by taking a lot of extra courses. I learned French quite well in university but it was European French not Canadian French, which is considerably different.

RW:  So that was something that really interested you as well.

Jack:  Languages interested me. I didn’t know what I was going to do after university so I just floated around. I worked for a French translator for a while. And then I sort of “accidentally” took a job in the university library in a clerical position. I found working there very interesting and  satisfying. So I went off to get a library degree, which was difficult because I had such a poor record in college. Some of the schools wouldn’t even look at my application. But the University of British Columbia made an exception.
     I’d also written the U.S. GRE exams (Graduate Record Exams) because sometimes they’re helpful in getting into a school. I got very high marks and as well I got a glowing recommendations from the Chief Librarian at the University of Toronto Library. So UBC (the University of British Columbia) said, “Well, we always take a bit of a chance on one or two people.” And that’s what they did with me. I’m very grateful about that.

RW:  So by the time you got to the University of British Columbia you’d gotten a degree? By that time you were twenty-two or three?

Jack:  Yes, something like 22 or 23.

RW:  And then from the UCB program you got a degree in library science. So what happened with that earlier interest in philosophical questions?

Jack:  Well, that was still very alive.

RW:  I see. So what happened with it?

Jack: I kept reading. I gradually shifted into Eastern literature and particularly things like Zen Buddhism.

RW:  So during your college years this was extra curricular reading.

Jack:  Well, yes, during college and also more after I’d left college. I’d worked at odd jobs for a year or two and then I got the library degree. So through those four or five years one of the things I also did was read.
     I also thought I would go and live in France for a while because I was so interested in French. So after college ended and before I really started working in the university library, I went to France intending to stay for a year. I ended up staying only three months because I got really sick.
     But during those years, I started reading Eastern literature and got very interested in haiku. Haiku in English has now become an extremely common thing in the West, but in the 1960s it was not common at all. There was a man in Toronto, Dr. Eric Amann, who published, from 1967 to 1970, a little magazine of haiku poetry, called simply Haiku Magazine. This publication ended up becoming one of the most influential haiku magazines in the U.S. and Canada. Besides haiku, I also wrote a travel diary. The form is called “haibun” – a combination of the word “haiku” and “bun” meaning prose.” Basho is the most famous author of that form. He wrote a travel diary about his trek through the northern provinces of Japan. I wrote a haibun about my trip to Paris that is now credited, I believe, as being the first one of that form to be written in English. So I have that distinction. And I did that for a number of years. Occasionally I still write haiku.

RW:  Hearing this, what comes to mind for me is something of that era—Zen, Alan Watts and a Japanese aesthetic along with the poetry. I mean, I peeked into that myself. So your description evokes that whole era for me.

Jack:  That’s right. It was at the very beginning of the influence of Buddhism coming to the West.

RW:  Did you meet any of the people known to the world of Zen like Paul Reps or anyone like that.

Jack:  No, no. I never met anyone who was terribly important. I just wrote my poetry. The haibun was published in 1964 in a University of Waterloo biannual poetry publication called “Volume 63.”  And afterwards, in the late 60s, some of my haiku were published in Eric Amann’s Haiku Magazine. Some haiku anthologies still include one or two of my poems.

RW:  How was that for you to have your work published like that?

Jack:  Well, it was fun, but I didn’t think much about it because it was such a tiny magazine and it didn’t have a big circulation. But I still have a complete collection of those issues. They are now yellowed with age.

RW:  What parts of your early interest in science, and your abilities with that—has that stayed with you?

Jack:  I’m still interested in how the world works. But we’ll probably talk about other things I’ve recently gotten into that, to use a 1960s term, are very far out. I had a friend say to me once, “You know, I’m interested in discussing these far out things with you, Jack, because you’re not crazy.” So I can discuss these things in sort of scientific terms. It has to make sense. There has to be some kind of logic to what’s going on.

RW:  Well that’s what I want to establish because I feel it’s there. There’s a background.

Jack:  Right. I still rely on it.

RW:  Going back to your haiku, did getting published and having that relationship with the publisher have any foundational place in you? Because I think later on you became involved in some publishing.

Jack:  Oh, yes. I became involved in a number of other publishing projects but not involving my own writing. In recent years though I’ve been getting involved again because I’ve been leading writing workshops that are about writing but also about understanding the relationship between writing and the subconscious or unconscious mind. Last year a volume of my poetry entitled In the Region of the Heart was published by Codhill Press.
     I’m reminded of something that happened in one of the first haiku poems I wrote. In rereading the poem, I saw that there were structures and meaning that I had not put into it deliberately, consciously. I suppose it was at that point that I first realized something that much later was to become almost an obsession—that is, the relationship to the subconscious or the unconscious—that in fact there are a whole bunch of things going on beneath the surface that one is not aware of. So my interest in writing, and in poetry in particular, is that sometimes it’s possible to express the inexpressible by writing—and that’s a very different kind of writing. As an example, there’s a tiny collection of English translations of the poems of Princess Shikishi who lived around the year 1000 in Japan. They appear at first to be just pretty little descriptions from nature, but in fact they are marvelous examples of conveying deep and subtle feeling without referring to the feeling directly.
    So that has been my obsession—how can you write something that conveys either this delicacy or something that can’t be spoken. If you were to try describing it, it would sound ridiculous or flat. I think that’s really the function of poetry.

RW:  I think it’s so mysterious.

Jack:  Yes, very mysterious.

RW:  I think it’s like some of the impressions I’ve gotten just from a glance at somebody. There’s a realm that’s way beyond my usual consciousness. Just from the quickest glance, even when it seems one can’t even see that much, something can be conveyed.

Jack:  Yes, it’s like becoming aware of what is at work in you. You can tell there’s something at work; but you may not be able to tell what it is exactly. And you may not even know what part of you is perceiving it.

RW:  It’s very mysterious. I think a lot of people experience such things. In my younger years I used to have this arrogance and thought people were idiots. I don’t think that anymore because I’ve had direct experiences of how sensitive people are—even without knowing it, but acting on it. I won’t go into that. But there’s a whole different world in play.

Jack:  Yes it’s very embarrassing when you look back on what you were like as a teenager. Seeing that can be very difficult.

RW:   So moving forward, did you have a career in library science?

Jack:  Yes. It was a very interesting career. What happened was I ended up working in the catalog department at the University of Toronto Library. I was head of that department for a while. I’ve always been interested in cataloging and that says something about my character, as well, I suppose. Things have to be categorized, put in their proper places.
     But a strange thing developed. In the 1960s the University of Toronto happened to be at the forefront of the automation of libraries. In 1962, they began converting their card catalog to machine-readable form using keypunch machines. At that time no one was doing such things. And those records from 1962 still exist today in their online database, of course.
     There was a consortium of universities in the US, like Harvard and the Library of Congress—seven or eight institutions, including the University of Toronto—that set initial standards and developed all kinds of protocols to facilitate automation. The University of Toronto actually had a computer division inside the library, which was unheard of in the 1960s. They eventually developed an online database of catalog records. The equivalent in the United States is called OCLC (online as Worldcat), which still exists. The one in Canada, which was called “Utlas” (University of Toronto Library Automation Systems), doesn’t exist anymore, but it was an early version of having a digital database of catalog records. Before that, every library that bought a book had to catalog it the old way. It was it was very labor intensive.
     So the University of Toronto started offering a cataloging service to libraries in Canada and it just took off. Within a few years it became a multi-million dollar business. It was separated out as a kind of internal corporation inside the university and eventually was sold off to private enterprise. It didn’t really belong in the university. And it just kind of died after that. So that was a sad story for me.
     But in the meantime, in its heyday, we had a vice president, a Japanese a woman, Natsuko Furuya, in that library automation division. She went off and sold the system in Japan. It was even more difficult for a Japanese library to catalog foreign books than it would be for an American Library. And later she ended up selling it in Taiwan and Korea.
     What had happened to me was that in 1977 I switched from being head of the catalog department to joining this much more interesting enterprise. I was giving up security for interest. When I joined, the first thing I did was to act as a salesman for French Canada, setting up accounts where you could do your cataloging on the system. And then I got very frustrated because there was no documentation at that time in the early days of computing. The computer programmers never documented what they were doing. So I started writing documentation because I was frustrated.

RW:  You mean writing documentation for what the software did?

Jack:  Exactly. Because no one else was doing it. There were no manuals on what the bloody software was supposed to be doing. And of course we had to print catalog cards because no one would give up their catalog cards. It was like a horseless carriage syndrome. Anyway, writing all the documentation got me closer to the programmers. I had to interview them and ask, “What does this routine actually do?” Or, “What were you trying to accomplish by doing this?” Or, “Do you realize that your program is not working the way our clients want it to work?” That was kind of fun. And that got me closer to the computing division.
     After a few years, I ended up being put in charge of the programming department. By then, we had clients in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. So, I was asked, “Would you please organize things to get the system working in Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages – both the interface and the data.” At the time, this was unheard of. Nobody was doing this. We were working on a big mainframe computer (Tandem) that was usually used by stock exchanges because there were so many transactions and you needed variable-length text strings. At first, the computer was not very good at dealing with this very complex application. Anyway, I had a programmer from Taiwan who had studied Japanese and who was absolutely brilliant. We had terminals shipped to us from our representative companies in Japan, Korea and Taiwan and we worked out a composite system that would allow the computer and its terminals to interact with all three languages at once. Later this developed into something called Unicode, which is now very widespread. But at that time no one was doing this.
     We developed our own version of Unicode with a fifty thousand Chinese character thesaurus all cross-referenced to the national standards for Japan, Taiwan and Korea. It was an amazing piece of software development. We invited the Unicode Consortium people to come and look at it and they were blown away. I think some of the decisions we made were better than the decisions that Consortium made in the end, but what we did all became history because the whole thing disappeared. However it really was a lot of fun.

RW:  Did the records get saved somehow or did they disappear?

Jack:  The records were saved, but the software wasn’t. Except I think that one of the computer companies in Taiwan actually stole the thesaurus that we created—the fifty thousand Chinese character cross- reference database. It was an incredibly useful tool.

RW:  This is heavy duty. You have a background of being really embedded in this digital, software world.

Jack:  Right. I was a specialist in something called “character set” which is actually how data is stored in the computer. You know, it’s stored as on-off switches called bits and bytes. How that relates to language is not understood by most people.

RW:  Do you understand it?

Jack:  I do. I understand how computers are handling all these languages, but most people don’t.
     Eventually I got out of the business and just acted as a consultant.
     In 1999, Canada did something quite unusual. They took part of the Northwest Territories in the Arctic and divided it into two parts. One of the parts they renamed “Nunavut” which was the part 80% populated by Inuit people and the other part remained with its original name “Northwest Territories.” That part of Canada, Nunavut, uses a writing system that was invented by a missionary in the 1850s, James Evans. It looks a little bit like shorthand. It was a reasonable system for the language and the Inuit in Nunavut are still using this writing system today.

RW:  So this is something that a missionary introduced to the Inuit people.

Jack:  Yes. There was no writing system for any aboriginal language in North America before people came from Europe. There are other aboriginal languages with an invented writing system such as Cherokee.

RW:  Did the Cherokee invent their own system or was it introduced from outside?

Jack:  The case of Cherokee is a funny example because Chief Sequoyah saw English being written and realized the connection between written symbols and sounds. So he took the alphabet being used for English and used it for Cherokee. But he assigned his own sounds to the letters, which I thought was just a wonderful joke in a way: “Sure you can read our language, but you have to follow my system.”
     Like Cherokee, the Canadian Inuit writing system uses syllabic characters. That is, each character is a consonant vowel combo such as: ki,  ku, ka, ni, nu, na, etc. There are not too many examples in the world of syllabic writing systems. Katakana and Hiragana in Japanese are syllabic. What the Japanese did was to take Chinese characters for their writing system and then modified some of them in order to develop katakana and hiragana. So they’re a Japanese invention because they’re better suited to the structure of the Japanese language. The Japanese language is totally unrelated to Chinese structure, phonetics and grammar. It’s a completely different language. For one thing, it’s a highly inflected language. So there are case endings. Chinese is not an inflected language and doesn’t have endings. The verb “to be” is the same in every context.
     Anyway they made this new territory for the Inuit, and this man who had worked with me in the library automation business phoned me up one day. He said, “I bet they don’t have a clue how to computerize that.”
    I said, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
    “So we started going to the Arctic and working with the Inuit to automate their language. The main problem was a character set problem. They didn’t realize that they were using fonts that were an overlay of English.

RW:  So you went to the Arctic to work on these projects. That must have been really something—way interesting. Would you say a little bit about that?

Jack:  I met a woman there from Winnipeg and she made this very interesting statement. She said, “Since I’m from Winnipeg I was prepared for the cold. But I wasn’t prepared for the beauty.”

RW:  Wow. Now say again what part of the Canadian territory you’re talking about.

Jack:  This is, you know, the top half of Canada. So it’s all those Arctic islands and the top part of the mainland.

RW:  And this is where she wasn’t prepared for the beauty?

Jack:  Right. From Montreal to the capital of this new territory, Iqaluit, is a three-hour flight by jet. It’s almost the same distance as going from Montreal to Miami. After 15 minutes going north on a jet you no longer see any signs of habitation, no roads, no buildings. There’s nothing, because Canada is this little strip along the American border. There’s a community further north from Iqaluit called Igloolik that has been continuously inhabited for 4000 years. So people have been living in the Arctic for a long, long time.

RW:  Oh, my gosh. Did you make acquaintances with some of the people who live there?

Jack:  A few but not as many as I would have liked to. It’s a totally different world. But it’s been decimated with drugs and alcohol. It’s a pretty sad story. You know, you have third and fourth generation fetal alcohol syndrome cases. On the other hand, I did meet a few people where you could feel that there really was a major difference. If you want to see something really spectacular watch the movie Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner. It was shot in this town of Igloolik and won the prize at Cannes one year for the best film from a new director. The acting is incredible and it includes a whole bunch of stuff about shamanism. So shamanism is making a kind of a comeback, in a way. The human resources, the shamans, have been almost totally wiped out, but new shamans are learning from the land and from living Nature. It’s the same problem as here in the U.S. with the Native American children being taken away from their parents and sent to residential schools. One of the prime ministers of Canada said, “The purpose of the residential school is to kill the Indian in the child.”

RW:  How many years of your life were involved in this? 

Jack: I was doing that for about ten years.

RW:  And how much of that time were you up in the territory?

Jack:  Not that much. But I would have made 10 or 15 trips for at least for a couple of weeks at a time. We never stayed too long.

RW:  That’s pretty significant, though. I mean that’s enough to have a real experience.

Jack:  Oh yeah. It was a great experience. You just have to be dressed for it. You know, it’s minus 35 and windy a lot of the time in winter. There’s a fjord on Baffin Island south of Iqaluit where there are thirty-foot tides. The surface freezes in winter and the frozen surface moves 20 feet up and down with the force of the tides. And as the tide is coming in, the water can be forced through the frozen surface. The water is at minus 3° (Centigrade) and the air is minus 35°. The water forced through the ice in this way turns to steam and, on a day with no wind, you see plumes of steam rising from this frozen surface in several places. It’s like a scene from another planet. It’s totally magical.
     Also, the sun never rises far above the horizon. And it’s very difficult to photograph the scenery because the quality of light is so subtle. I have a couple of etchings where a famous artist, Allen Smutylo, was able to actually capture the magic, but it was through his art not through a photograph.

RW:  I can totally understand why you can’t photograph it.

Jack:  Really? I find it hard to understand. When you look at the snow, under certain circumstances, there’s a very, very delicate blue.

RW:  Was there any kind of olfactory signature that you were aware of? I ask because, as a child, and on a few rare occasions as an adult, I’ve been out in some forest with a fresh snowfall and there seems to be a very subtle, pure odor. I wish I could find the words for it.

Jack:  No. But your question reminds me of a story a person I met there told me. He’d come to a meeting somewhere in the southern part of Canada along with some Inuit people and he was sharing a room with one of the Inuit. And somehow the Inuit man couldn’t sleep. So my friend asked him, “Why can’t you fall asleep?”
He said, “Tree smell.” The air was not the same as in the Arctic where there are no trees. He was from Baffin Island, which is way past the tree line.

RW:  That brings up that whole thing where indigenous people, who are living away from the noise and all the gadgets we have, must have a sensitivity that we really can’t even understand.

Jack:  There is a very special feeling being there. You are not surrounded by a lot of man-made vibrations. In 15 minutes you can walk out of town in any direction. But you have to be very careful not to lose your sense of direction. You could easily become lost and die. Also people are eaten by polar bears by being stupid about walking out and not paying attention to what they’re doing.
     But it’s just clean. It reminds me of when Lawrence of Arabia was interviewed by a reporter and asked why he liked the desert. He said, “Because it’s clean.” And the Arctic is a type of desert.

RW:  All this is so interesting Jack and I’m just feeling how our time is limited, so maybe we should jump forward. In recent years, as you’ve shared with me, you’ve listened to some voice in yourself that called you to explore another area. And I’m reminded what you said earlier how you gave up a secure position in order to explore something that was uncertain, but much more interesting.

Jack: That’s right.

RW:  So could you talk a little about where you were and where this shift has taken you?

Jack:  Well, that’s an interesting story too, because I was kind of pushed into it. It really wasn’t my choice in a certain way. In the year 2007, I decided I was getting out of date with computers. I was at the age, exactly, when most people are retiring. So in 2007 I took a job with a little computer company run mainly by Russians, dealing with semantics on the Web. That’s now become the heart of how the web works, of course.

RW:  How is that so?

Jack:  Well, when you do a search on Google there are millions of dollars of research that have gone into how you process that request.

RW:  When you say “semantics” what do you mean?

Jack:  It’s about words, about the structure of words, how words relate to each other and it’s about the grammar of how they relate. So what happened was that I took this job and it was very interesting. But the director fired me after eight weeks. He said, “You’re not learning fast enough.” And I’d never had anything like that happen to me in my life. I was devastated. However, I gradually recovered and turned to my long-term interest in hypnosis…

RW:  Would you say a little about where that interest goes back to?

Jack:  Well, it goes back to Gurdjieff. I’ve been involved with the Gurdjieff teaching since 1970. It goes back to his statement that the subconscious is our real consciousness. That statement had always intrigued me. So in the summer of 2007, after being fired, I snagged a good consultancy job. and I had a bit of extra money. I saw a course advertised on basic training and certification in hypnosis. So I thought well what the hell. It was only three three-day weekends—nine days altogether. And as soon as I started I was fascinated—totally fascinated. I ended up going on from there to start a practice of hypnosis, and in 2008 I moved from Toronto to Montreal, following a friend’s advice where I set up an office. Being in Montreal meant I also had to be able to do sessions in both French and English. That was a bit of a challenge as the French in Canada is quite different from the European French I had learned. But I adapted. So that was how it all began, but it was also very related to things I’d been interested in for a long time.

RW:  OK. I’d love to hear about this journey. It goes back to 2007, then. That’s twelve years. And a lot has happened in twelve years, right?

Jack:  That’s an understatement, yes. My worldview has changed completely. Many things I took to be fantasy I now take to be reality. It’s because of what has happened right in front of me—my own experience in doing this work. It isn’t because someone convinced me of something, particularly.…
     I set up an office in Montreal and that continued for eight years. I don’t have an office anywhere right now, because most of my sessions are voice-only sessions using a Skype or telephone connection. I’m still actively doing sessions even though I do virtually no promotion. New contacts come to me mostly through word of mouth.
     The most wonderful aspect of it all is the outpouring of gratitude and the expression of fulfillment from many of my clients. It feels so great to see someone relieved of problems that they might have been struggling with for years.  The reason they made no progress of course is because the controls are in the subconscious mind to which, in a normal state, we have no access. Instead of speaking about “hypnosis” I find it more accurate to speak about “altered states of consciousness.”
     My specialty you could say is what might be called “spiritual hypnosis”—the work of dealing with obstacles in the path of one’s spiritual progress.

RW:  So I’ll share experience I had yesterday. I think it has some relevance. I was walking my dogs through a place close to where we live. We walked up this hill and it was suddenly like being away from everything—just trees. And for some reason, I was interested in my state. I’d had some coffee and was feeling the presence of nature, let me put it that way. And I had some connection with my body, too. I became aware of this automatic talking going on in my head and was interested in just trying to see it without changing anything, which is very difficult. But I had this brief moment where I could see this functioning and I don’t know why, but I was thinking about a childhood friend. Then this moment happened and something just opened up in me—vivid memories of my relationship with this one friend, in particular, and another two friends—one in sixth grade and one in seventh grade—and how meaningful they had been. It was a shift back 60 years just like that. I thought it was amazing, and I bring it up because I suspect you would understand something about it.

Jack:  Well, yes. All of that material is available. Memory is amazing and the subconscious records all incoming stimuli, not just the ones you’re conscious of recording. Your description is interesting because of course you had already made a connection with feeling first and you had made a connection with your powers of observation as well as making a connection to your body. So you were observing what was taking place and the feeling led you to that memory of something. Some part of you needed to feel once again the importance of those three people. The memory came to reinforce something in you that felt, right? And it’s your subconscious that made that choice. You didn’t deliberately calculate that you should remember those particular people. I would imagine this just appeared.

RW:  Oh yes. Very direct.

Jack:  There’s no possible confabulation. It’s not just a memory either. I would say it came back so forcefully that you relived not just remembered something about what took place.

RW:  I did. It was real. It was present in me.

Jack:  Present in you. But this is state-dependent. So it won’t happen if you’re trying to do your taxes at the same time. Something has to open to allow this to happen.
     There’s a very common mythology about hypnosis being something that’s laid on you by someone else. Well, in my own use of hypnosis one of my guidelines is never to impose anything on the person I’m working with. Milton Erickson famously said, “All the resources for healing are there in the person. Your work is to facilitate access to those resources.” I go out of my way to be very careful not to suggest anything to the person I’m working with.

RW:  Well, there is this other thing. I mean, one reads about hypnotic suggestion.

Jack:  Hypnotic suggestion certainly does exist, in fact it’s widespread. I’m just saying that’s not what I’m doing. And it’s not what you were doing either in the experience you described. A ragtag bag of things gets thrown into the term “hypnosis.”
In the case of Gurdjieff, in his chapter on hypnosis, he makes a very clear distinction between three things. One is hypnosis where you’re in a dream and that certainly includes somebody laying a trip on you. Secondly, he refers to animal magnetism, which was something that Franz Anton Mesmer discovered, and which today we would probably call energy work. And then thirdly, he speaks about people discovering they could bring each other into an altered state where they were closer to something sacred. Hypnosis? Energy? Sacred? How can we understand these distinctions? There is such massive misunderstanding around this, whereas the experience you’re describing is something that is clear and precious, absolutely precious.
RW:  And this is within reach of anyone with just a little training it seems. So that’s one area—going back to something like what I went back to.

Jack:  A large part of my work is to go back to something that needs to be repaired or, something that the person is suffering from. Attenuating the effects of abuse represents a fair amount of my work. And this question of repair is also relevant to the spiritual search because if the repair is badly needed it will interfere with the person’s ability to move ahead on a spiritual search. But it’s very hard to describe this to anyone. It needs to be experienced. You need to have an experience such as the one you had. The experience you describe is an experience of what I do. I help people come to that kind of experience. I always try to start the session with going to some kind of safe place. So you start with something positive and then maybe go on to deal with something that’s a little more difficult.

RW:  I think I’m beginning to get the gist.

Jack:  I’d like to say a little more about how my worldview has changed because that’s really what’s quite interesting. For example, after a few years, what began happening in some of my sessions was that a favorite grandmother or grandfather would appear in the session with the person and give some advice.
     I mean, my client would be discussing some difficulty and would mention that so-and-so “is here in front of me now and is telling me…” (whatever).
     At first, I was a little taken aback by this. Of course, you could easily say it was just the person imagining that their grandmother was there and saying something to them. But I began to feel that their grandmother really was there telling them something, partly because of the content of what was said. There were things being said that the person would never say to themselves, and also the information made sense; it was coherent and reasonable. And so I began to believe that, “Okay, I guess that’s what’s happening.”
     One of the things I work on—and I’m not the only one doing this, although there are not too many doing it, is that sometimes it’s possible to work on the genealogical line. So by repairing something with the client I’m working with there’s an influence backwards and forwards on a timeline. Improvements in the current situation with the client can actually improve the past situation.

RW:  How did you come to this? On what basis?

Jack:  Well, it’s through feeling.

RW:  Let me get to the parameters here. Let’s say a person you’re working with, that her grandmother has appeared. So you’re saying that may change something in the past. Is that in the context of this individual that you’re talking about—in her past?
Jack:  Yes, in her past.

RW:  Okay. All right.

Jack:  I understand this is hard because it has to do with the nature of time. We’ve known for over 100 years, because of Einstein and Relativity Theory, that there isn’t a sequential time. I’ve seen this actually happen in some of my energy sessions. (I also do an energy work called Reconnective Healing ™.) Sometimes people will have an experience of improvement of some kind or a positive change before I do the energy session, not after. It’s called “entanglement” in time. This is a well-established fact of quantum physics. The scientist would say, well, but that only applies to particles, not to human beings. But human beings are made up of particles. So I think it does apply, actually. Dean Radin’s book Entangled Minds gives evidence of how quantum entanglement applies not just to particles but to human beings
     Here’s one example: this was with a woman client of mine whose heritage was Italian. After entering the altered state, she encountered a woman from her heritage one or two hundred years ago—it wasn’t clear what the relationship was, but it was a woman from her heritage. We actually began the session with an intention to do something to heal the genealogical line. A series of things happened in the session. There had been sexual abuse in the life of the woman from her heritage who lived in an era when such a term had not been either invented or imagined. Through a series of interactions between my client and this woman there was an opening for the woman from the past—but only a very small opening. Something changed a little. Some comfort was added to her isolation. And then several days later, something happened between my client and her mother, which was very loving. My client felt that a definite change had been made resulting from the work we had done. To me this work represents a repair of the past that affects the future.
     My client wanted to do more, but she was being advised in the session by the wise man who had guided her who said, “You can’t do more than that. We’ve already done a lot. You can only do a little in this kind of work. You can’t make a major change. You can’t interfere too much with the timeline.” All this has to do with the understanding of time. We’ve been told that everything happens at once, that there isn’t really a timeline. It’s a different sense of time, and Einstein understood something about that. We don’t know. Gurdjieff has spoken about this kind of thing as well—changing the relationship with one’s parents after they’ve passed for example.

RW:  I must say what you’re saying is hard to accept.

Jack:  It is hard to accept but I’m raising it in order to explain how my worldview has changed. In that regard, I would like to speak of another case in which I did a series of energy sessions for a woman who was dying of cancer. It was my first occurrence of a person appearing to me without being physically present. This woman had cancer everywhere—in her brain, in her bones, her lungs—she was dying of cancer. The woman’s sister called me and said, “Would you do some energy sessions for her?”  At that time, I was just beginning to do energy work at a distance. I was in Montreal and the sick woman was in Toronto. I agreed to try it because I thought it would be an interesting thing to do but I really doubted it would help.
     I always advise people to try it and, if it helps then, to do a bit more. If it doesn’t, then stop. So I started doing nightly sessions. What happened was that her mind cleared. She was kind of fuzzy when she was in the hospital, but once her sister brought her home and after I’d done some of these energy sessions her mind cleared. She also needed very little pain medication, so the energy was helping with that as well. And the two sisters had wonderful conversations every day. Then, after a couple of weeks the sister called me and said, “I’m worried because my sister can’t open her mouth and she can’t take her medication.” So that night, I was alone having dinner in my kitchen in Montreal wondering if I should really be doing this work, that maybe I was artificially keeping her alive and maybe it was all wrong. Anyway, the woman who had cancer appeared in my kitchen. I was having a dialogue telepathically with her. She was floating in the corner of the room. (I didn’t actually see her visually but her presence was super clear.) And she said, “I just came to thank you. My sister and I have been having wonderful conversations every day.” I said, “I’m so glad that it’s helping and I’m amazed because I’m just starting this work.”
     Of course the ill woman’s sister thought I was going to cure her sister, but that wasn’t going to happen. But it did this other marvelous thing instead. So we had this brief conversation and then I saw that she was disappearing. I don’t know how I saw that, either. But I said, “Wait, wait! What are we going to tell your sister?
     She said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. After I’m dead it will all sort itself out.”
     So I thought that meant she had died, but no. Later that night I get a call from her sister saying, “You know, my sister is sitting here and she’s wide awake and she’s expecting to have a session.” So I did a session, but then two days later all of the woman’s vital signs started plummeting. I tried to connect to do a session and there was nothing there. But the woman with cancer came once more, just briefly, and said to me, “Tell my sister I’ll always be there for her.” So I phoned the sister and told her the message I’d received.
If you believe there’s no possible contact with someone who has died, of course there won’t be any contact. But, for example, I have a better relationship now with my father than I ever had when he was alive. I feel in communication with him, and with my mother, and I feel that very strongly. I don’t have any doubts about all the work that’s been published about near-death experiences. It’s obvious. One of the ways I put it is that “consciousness is separate, and separable, from the human body.” It’s just that simple, but it is not accepted generally. So that’s another part of my belief system that has now completely changed. You know, I believe this through my own perceptions and through all these things that have unfolded in front of me.

RW:  This is your real experience.

Jack:  Yes. It’s as simple as that. It’s my experience. I’m just reporting my experience. And I’m taking the risk of reporting what many would consider to be “wild” things, because I believe that the paradigm of what is real needs to change. The current paradigm is obsolete.

RW:  There’s a fundamental difference between what I would call “imagination” and what you’re saying. One sort of knows the difference.

Jack:  Yes, this question of imagination is a crucial point. If it were just imagination you could change it. If I want to imagine a purple elephant instead of a pink elephant, I can. I was startled when one of my clients said to me, “I thought it was imagination and then I realized I wasn’t able to change anything in what was unfolding in front of me. I couldn’t change it. I couldn’t. So it’s something else.”
     Because of my experience I have developed a strong interest in Henry Corbin’s concept of the imaginal world that he speaks about so eloquently. His understanding was based on a lifetime of studies of the Middle Eastern cosmologies of Islam, Zoroastrianism, Mandaeanism, etc. There is what he calls an “imaginal world” that is very real and has nothing to do with fantasy. The imaginal world mediates between the world of the senses and the world of the mind. And Jung faced the same problem, which led him to invent the term “active imagination.”

RW:  I don’t know if I shared this with you, but I’ve had an experience similar to what you described.

Jack:  Yes. I remember that. What needs to happen in our society is that we need to return to a model that is closer to reality, because these things are real.

RW:  I had something happen last night, an impression, which I think has a tangential, but maybe essential relationship with what you’re talking about. This has to do with the reality of the influences of others on me—on everybody. Our consciousness is always being influenced. And in an ordinary way, I could say, “Sure of course.” I could say, “So and so got mad at me and I got upset. I mean there’s no denying that kind of influence.” But there are more subtle levels of which I’m not aware. Last night I had a direct experience of this. I was in a group and trying to find some quiet in myself, and trying just to allow what was going on without reacting. Another person was speaking. I began to be able to hear the voice resonating in me with no interference, just purely receiving that reality. Ordinarily what happens is that, as a voice impinges on me, something rushes out to meet it, reacting, judging, and blocking its entry. But this brief experience showed that, as long as the ordinary mind is quiet, we’re actually connected.

Jack:  It’s part of the design or the metaphysics of it, and it almost proves Gurdjieff’s statement that the ordinary consciousness is fictitious. It’s not awareness. It’s not conscious. It’s something else.

RW:  Well, I don’t know if we need to go on. This is a lot. But I if there’s something coming up for you please go ahead.

Jack:  I’m not sure that there is, but I did want to share with you something of my concern, my deep concern, about these experiences that I’m having and witnessing.

RW:  You know, I interviewed this Tibetan, Lobsang Rapgay who is a professional psychologist. He runs a clinic at UCLA. And he teaches there, too. I heard him speak about 30 years ago at a symposium. About ten people from different traditions came and each one spoke briefly. We had Michael Murphy from Esalen, Alan Jones from Grace Cathedral, some people from Green Gulch Farm. One woman spoke about Vipassana. I don’t remember them all. But Lobsang Rapgay spoke about Tibetan Buddhism. He said some things I didn’t really understand, but they made a deep impression.
     Just last year, I contacted him to ask if I could talk with him. He invited me down and I ended up doing an interview. One of the things I wanted him to explain was what he meant by his phrase “aesthetic thought.” It wasn’t about art. It turned out to be about arriving at a state of what he called “spacious mind.” He said, “Healing begins by embracing the state of not knowing in the spaciousness of the mind so that in the darkness a flicker of light can be seen.” Arriving at the spaciousness of mind required aesthetic thought, which was not easy. He said, “In the West, we are too fatigued to engage in aesthetic thought.”
    Anyway, I had this wonderful conversation with him. And about three quarters through, he said, “You know, this is a lonely path.” I didn’t ask him about it, but it lodged in my memory pretty deeply.
Jack:  Well, I can appreciate what he said about a lonely path because that’s what I feel. Of course, I do talk to others about what I’m doing. Sometimes it helps. But it’s as if you never completely convey what it is you’re trying to say. Because what you have is your experience and the words are not your experience. I suppose the long and short of it is that I feel that I need to continue. This is a service, a type of service in healing.
     I will just add as a final note that I have now begun writing a book about all this. It is entitled: The Signet Conversations: Finding Myself in Non-Ordinary Reality and consists of conversations with various beings with whom I felt I needed to dialog.     

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.

Jack Cain is a practicing certified hypnotist and energy worker living in Ontario, Canada. He is author of the poetry collection In the Region of the Heart. He can most readily be contacted on his website or by email at   


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