The beginning of my spiritual journey readily can be traced to family influences during childhood. My father, John Nichols, was an independent psychic who later became an early student of the Great School. Dad was the youngest of three sons born to a Methodist circuit rider, and was home-schooled, with the Bible and McGuffey’s Readers as the principal texts.
Before the age of five he had read the Bible aloud, cover to cover, while standing at his mother’s knee. By the age of seven he decided he did not believe it, but would lie about it to avoid disrupting his father’s ministerial work. By this time he also had learned not to discuss his personal spiritual experiences with his family or other true believers in the Bible Belt.
Dad first read the Harmonic Series in 1910, immediately was attracted to the philosophy, and traveled by train over 400 miles from Nashville to Chicago for a personal interview with John Richardson to satisfy himself that the author was authentic in his professed knowledge of Natural Law and spiritual functioning. After a one hour meeting with Mr. Richardson on Saturday and an all day interview (shared with a Boston publisher) on Sunday, Dad made his decision to begin the studies and participate in the work of the School.
Dad raised three sons late in life, and I was the youngest. Recalling his own difficulties digesting the more obvious myths of the Bible, he suggested that his sons also consider reading philosophy, since two of us were reading well in advance of our age groups. He was careful not to insist that we accept the teachings as truth, but recommended that we make our own decisions after reading the texts, keeping in mind the distinctions between truth and belief. In referring to the philosophy of Natural Science his words were, “I know some of it is true, and believe the rest ought to be true.”
After reading the texts, my one-sentence summary of the spirit of the teaching was, “Doing the very best you know, as often as you can.” At age ten I had no interest in becoming a student, and was still engaged in the demands of the public school system.
By this time Dad had spoken to me at length about his own personal spiritual experiences, which included the independent ability to see and communicate with individuals on the spiritual plane. He asked whether I had undergone any such experiences, and I could think of nothing comparable with what he described.
Oddly, that same year, while on my way to school I had my first personal dawning of spiritual awareness which took the form of a beautiful vision, leaving me in awe and speechless. Before reaching class I had promptly and effectively repressed the entire event, at some level understanding I was incapable of expressing it to anyone else. Not long afterward, while reading On The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James, I recalled my earlier vision and emotional state, but could find no accounts comparable to my own.
Shortly after my graduation from high school, Dad took me for a first visit to the GSNS property in the Santa Cruz mountains where I was introduced to Noneta Richardson, the widow of John Richardson. I saw her as quiet, refined, pensive, and reserved, yet genuinely warm and interested in the thoughts and concerns of others. After an hour or so of touring the grounds and discussing everything else besides philosophy, I finally mustered up courage to ask her a ‘bottom line’ question: “What is it you really do up here?” She quietly held my gaze for a moment, and then replied, “We deal with spiritual matters.”
Instead of opening the philosophical phase of our discussion, I reacted like a guilty schoolboy and clammed up, realizing there were a multitude of serious deficiencies in my knowledge and understanding about esoteric affairs.
In later years, after the passing of my father, I maintained contact with Noneta by correspondence and occasional visits to the School headquarters, and came to know her on a personal basis. It became evident that her understanding of the spiritual side was based on individual experience, not on theory.
Our discussions helped me reach a decision to enter the study courses and join in the efforts to keep the Work alive. I was a Board member by the time the School reached a decision to leave the Los Gatos property and establish our presence on the Internet, to better keep in touch with mainstream thought in the modern world. One concern was that we would be overwhelmed with a flood of student applications from those seriously interested in spiritual enlightenment. For reasons still under study, this did not come to pass, and the following words of wisdom from John Richardson, written nearly a century ago, suggest an answer:
“The great world of humanity has not been seeking for knowledge of Moral Laws and Moral Principles. It has been seeking for the knowledge of the phenomena of nature. Men who have constituted the great world have demanded the kind of knowledge that would enable them to gratify their vanities, their ambitions, their greed for material things, their sensuality, and their love of leadership and power. But these elements of Human Character do not lie within the realm of Morality. Knowledge of Moral Principles, therefore, is not what the world has demanded. Men have neither desired nor intended to use their knowledge for moral purposes. They have sought it for selfish ends. For these reasons they have not been satisfied with the kind of knowledge the Masters have sought to give them. They have refused to begin at the foundation and build in the evolutionary order which nature has provided…
…The Masters have offered their knowledge of the world in a certain natural and sequential order. The world has insisted on receiving it in a wholly different order. The Great School has offered its knowledge to the world from the foundation upward. The world has insisted on receiving it from the top downward. The School has offered to teach the world how to ‘Live the Life’ in such manner that it may ‘Prove the Law.’ The world has demanded that it be shown how to ‘Prove the Law’ in such manner that it shall not be necessary to ‘Live the Life.’”
In my own experience, studying and applying the principles of this philosophy have led to a spiritually rewarding life.