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NL: Hi everyone. My name is Natalie Ledwell and this is the Inspiration Show. Today on the show I have a special guest who is the author of this new book. It’s called “John E. Fetzer and The Quest for the New Age”. Now, I’m Australian so I wasn’t familiar with John Fetzer but some of you may know him as being like a radio pioneer, he was a media mogul, he was the owner of the Detroit Tigers. So, and he was very interestingly marrying science and spirituality together. So I can’t wait to get in to this conversation today. But before I introduce my special guest, I just want to remind you that after the show is over, if you like to click the link below the video, you can download the free ebook version of my bestselling book “Never In Your Wildest Dreams.” So now let me introduce my guest, Brian C. Wilson. Hi Brian, how are you? Great to have you here.
BW: Great to be here.
NL: So from what I understand, you were a friend or you were associated with John Fetzer. Is that right?
BW: Well, actually no, he passed away before I actually came to Kalamazoo. He died in 1991 and I came in 1996. But the interesting thing about John Fetzer was that he created a foundation in the 1950s and then near the end of his life, in the 70s and 80s, he began liquidating all his business and basically using that money to endow the foundation which today is called the Fetzer Institute. And so, it’s true, the Fetzer Institute and specifically an arm of the Fetzer Institute called Memorial Trust which deals with the legacy of John Fetzer that they asked me to write this book.
NL: Right. So they asked you? Like how did you get to writing this book?
BW: Well, I’m a professor of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University and I specialize in American Religious History. But I’m specifically very interested in New Religious Movements and Metaphysical movements. And I’m really interested in those kinds of movements here in the Midwest because the Midwest always kind of get short trip over places like California. And I’m originally from California so I understand why that happens. But in the Midwest it turns out that it was a hotbed of all sorts of interesting alternative and metaphysical movements of which John Fetzer was a very good example. So they knew me for my writings and they asked me to do a couple of small projects for them. And then they basically offered me the possibility of writing a full scale, spiritual biography of John Fetzer.
NL: Wow. So he sounds like a very interesting person. He sounds like he had this traditional life but then he had this interest in the metaphysical and spirituality. So tell us a little bit about what you were able to uncover about him.
BW: Well, it’s interesting because he was very careful as a businessman to keep this kind of spiritual search very quiet. I mean even his closest colleagues didn’t know everything he was reading and he was in to. His closest friends and relatives of course did. He was baptized a Methodist and he joined the Seventh Adventist church for a time in his 20s but then he became dissatisfied and he left and one of the first places he went, he was still on a spiritual search, and so one of the first places he went was Camp Chesterfield which is a spiritualist camp in Indiana which survives to this day, it’s a thriving institution. And there he was introduced to all sorts of interesting metaphysical movements. So introduced to spiritualism, new thought, kind of mind over matter thinking. Theosophy was really big. He became a Free Mason. He got very interested in Rosicrucianism and Hermeticism. And then, later in the 1950s, he became absolutely fascinated by parapsychology and UFOs. And the reason for this is because he was always thinking he’s an engineer and he was very influenced by Nikola Tesla and the idea that somehow the electromagnetic spectrum expanded out and perhaps joined up with the subtle energies of the universe. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could come up with a spiritualized science that could actually prove and use this kind of expanded notion of what energy is in the universe. So I think that’s why UFOs and Parapsychology appeal to him.
NL: Right. So how did this show up in his life? Did it show up in his business practices. Like the people that worked for him, were they also involved with this? And how did he influence other people? Like how was his life like.
BW: Well, he was very good at compartmentalizing. So most of his closest colleagues and his business and the baseball team, didn’t know about this but it slipped through occasionally because John Fetzer himself really believes his business success was due to his intuition which he thought of as a kind of ESP, and he relied on it a great deal. He also used a variety of different divination techniques in making business decisions. So for example, he would consult astrologers and tarot card readers occasionally. He really enjoyed using the Ouija board. But for his day-to-day activities, he carried around a pendulum, just a little plumb-bob on a string. And when he had decisions to make that he wasn’t quite sure of how to make them, he would basically ask the plumb-bob yes or no questions and depending on how it deflected it would kind of give him more confidence in his decisions. And a couple of instances with the baseball team, he used some of these techniques. He had a very famous pitcher named Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. And Fidrych was famous for his antics on the mount. He would talk to the baseball and he had a very interesting wind-up. He was very successful but he eventually became very self-conscious about the way he basically pitched and so Fetzer took him in to his office and pulled out the plumb bob and together they practiced on making the thing deflect at will. And so the moral here for Fetzer, for Fidrych, was that what you’re doing on the mount is the form of mind over matter and so don’t be self-conscious, don’t worry about it because what you’re doing, communicating with the baseball is actually having physical effect. So that’s one way Fetzer used his metaphysical voice to influence his baseball team.
NL: Yeah, because what I understand from here, he kind of kept it fairly private until later in life and then he was a little bit more open about it.
BW: Yes. He was very careful because he was concerned that in religiously conservative Midwest, Southwest Michigan, he would lose audience members or potential advertisers if they knew he was in to these various kind of metaphysical movements.
NL: Right. So how did this manifest in his daily practices? Was there things that he was doing that was maybe unusual at the time for people living in that era?
BW: Well, as it started, his search was very intellectual and so he read a lot. And he just couldn’t get his hands on enough different writings from various different movements with Theosophy, from Hermeticism, etcetera, etcetera. But then in the 1960s, he began promoting meditation. And in fact in the 1970s, he took up transcendental meditation and became very good friends with the Maharishi Yogi. And this is another case where he blended his business with his practice because at one of the spring trainings of the Detroit Tigers, he suggested maybe that they might want to take out transcendental meditation and some of them did and got a lot of benefit out of it. So meditation became extremely important for him. In later life, he became a member of the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness which is a form of Radha Soami, a meditation tradition that actually goes back to 19th century India and of course had it’s roots in the ancient past. So he practiced that for a time and then in his very last years, he had a caretaker who was a devotee of Surya Shabd yoga, which is another form of Radha Soami. And so together they had a daily meditation practice that they used and chanting the mantras and in fact, some of John Fetzer’s last words on his death bed were some of the mantras from Surya Shabd yoga.
NL: Wow. So he really lived his message or lived his beliefs which is awesome and clearly it did well. Like he has this foundation and business did well for him. So tell me about the foundation. Like what are some of the things that the foundation is helping to support now?
BW: Well, today, it’s still… John Fetzer was very interested in energy medicine and holistic health. And so after his death, this was the theme that was carried on by the foundation which changed it’s name to the Fetzer Institute shortly before he died. So they continued doing that kind of work and a lot of it was funding research for example with the National Institute for Health in to alternative medicine and holistic health. He funded local programs. Our holistic health program here at Western Michigan had some of its seed money from the Fetzer Institute. So that was a really big focus and then after 9/11, the Fetzer Institute really wanted to see how it could extend spirituality in to, essentially the life cycle, from childhood to old age. What were some of the things that they could do to create a more spiritual environment because they really felt that love and forgiveness were tremendously important for healing the world and bringing about the kind of global transformation that John Fetzer always wanted to. A really recent program that they’re involved in is called Healing the Heart of Democracy. And this is an attempt to bring groups together, basically on a spiritual basis, but to begin discussing social and political differences in a way that creates dialog instead of confrontation and argument. And I think that’s a tremendously important program that they’re doing nationally.
NL: And very timely.
BW: Yes, yes.
NL: I’ve never seen so much division in the country as I’m witnessing right now. It’s crazy so I’m very happy to hear that. So he passed away in 1991, so what was his, seeing that he has such a spiritual outlook, what was his outlook on death? Or what did he think about that?
BW: Well, he had a very positive outlook. I read a very pointed letter, he had a niece who was suffering from multiple sclerosis and it was getting worse and worse. And so he basically sent out some of his beliefs. And he believed that when a person dies, they simply shed their human body and turn to, what you called the higher octave of existence. So he believed that human life continued, he believed very deeply in reincarnation although he hoped that this was his last go round and that he would continue learning and growing spiritually overtime. So his whole attitude towards death was very positive and in fact in his last days he seemed to be very calm and very accepting of what he saw is just simply a transition.
NL: Yes, I like that. I mean, I believe that too. So did that change the way he lived his life? The way that he was had no fear wrapped around transitioning or death?
BW: I think so, I think so. And it had something to do as well with the fact that he became much more open in his last decade about his spiritual beliefs because he really believes he had a mission and this mission extended over multiple life times. And so here, he finally had the wealth and power to institutionalize his vision. And that really made him proud and very optimistic about the future.
NL: Awesome. Well, I can’t wait, I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet but I can’t wait to get in to it. I’m so glad I’ve got a copy. But what would you like readers to get out of the book? Like, what’s the experience you would like them to have?
BW: Well, I think a couple of things. Here is a man who was very very successful but he never made money making the final goal. He always thought in terms of a mission. It’s not the money, it’s the mission. And I think that’s tremendously important. It’s very hard in our economy and in our political environment to think in those kinds of more transcendental terms but I think it’s very important so we’re not dominated by our things. He lived a very modest life. He was a multi-millionaire, he was on the Forbes 400 most wealthy people list. But most of his money was basically ploughed back either in to his businesses and then later in life in to his spiritual vision of the institute. And I think that’s a wonderful model. The other thing that Fetzer really believed in was he called it Freedom of the Spirit. And he believed that all spiritual would converge and so it didn’t matter whether you’re a Christian, a Jew, Hindu or a Muslim, or a theosophist, or practiced Course in Miracles. If you did it with heart, essentially these paths would converge and the spiritual experience ultimately would result in a global spiritual transformation.
NL: Yeah. No, I agree. I mean that’s the beauty of religion and spirituality in its essence.and whether we call it different things or different labels, doesn’t really matter. All roads lead to the same place. Well Brian, it has been fascinating talking to you today and I really appreciate your time. So if people want to maybe connect with you or get their hands on the book, where can we send them to do that?
BW: Well, the book is being published by Wayne State University Press and available for order on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. But we also have a website, infinitepotential.com, which is all one word. And that will take you to a page that describes some of the programs that the Memorial Trust of the Fetzer Institute is doing. And there is also a link where you can download a PDF of the first chapter of the book. So if you’re interested, definitely check that out.
NL: Wonderful. Well thanks again Brian. I really appreciate your time.
BW: Thank you.
NL: Pleasure to meet you darling. Alright, so guys I encourage you to please share this video. Let’s get the word out there. And it’s an amazing book and the foundation sounds incredible and I love the work that they’re doing. So click the Facebook and the Twitter share buttons on this page to do that. And don’t forget, if you can either click the link below this video or the banner to the side so you can go directly through to Brian’s website so you can get your hands on the book and connect with them. And after all that is over, if you click the link below that, you can download the free ebook version of my bestselling book “Never In Your Wildest Dreams”. So until next time, remember to live large, choose courageously, and love without limits. Thanks everyone, we’ll see you soon.