Occasionally I am asked what my credentials are. Sometimes this is asked by a parent who is considering hiring me to work with their son or daughter, often times though it is asked by someone who “wants to be able to do” what I do. In either case, the answer is both relevant and irrelevant. If the credentials mattered that much, then just anyone with a degree or certification in ____ would be enough. Anyone who’s lived a little, knows that no matter what the matter at hand, it takes so much more.
I went to Graduate School and got my Masters Degree in Educational Counseling. I did this because I wanted to work as a counselor in the public schools. By that point I already had my BA in English (from the University of San Francisco where I was the Valedictorian of the 1991 class). I had racked up a number of certificates for having completed various trainings, ranging from crisis management to assault intervention, conflict mediation to pupil personnel services credentialing (enabling me to work as a credentialed guidance counselor in the public schools in California).
In Graduate School I was introduced to the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming, where I went on independently to become certified as Master Practitioner, with a focus in NLP as an intervention for trauma.
The intellectual pursuit of NLP, led me to use NLP as a personal pursuit for growth and development of myself. I had already experienced 4 years of psychotherapy, working with a therapist who specialized in Self-Psychology, the work of Heinz Kohut. I’d been to numerous workshops and retreats, from The Human Awareness Institute Intimacy workshops, to Progoff Journal Writing, to Buddhist Mindfulness retreats, to The Mankind Project male-initiation to many others that were readily available in the 1990s in San Francisco, Berkeley and the Bay Area.
The NLP pathway led me to meet Colleen Newlin, who led me to meet a rather larger than life character named Joseph Riggio.
When The Student Is Ready
Joseph was offering a program in something he called The Mythogenic Self Process (later changed to the MythoSelf Process). Skeptical yet desperate for help getting my life working on full throttle, I went.
What I realized the moment he started speaking was that he was “doing something” that was beyond the level of just what he was saying.
I’d been around others who knew how to “do something” beyond the level of what they were saying, and most of them wound up manipulating me into feeling excited to give them a lot of my money. By the time I met Joseph, I had already given away about $75,000 to get-rich-quick gurus and, though I didn’t know it at the time, I was 9 months away from filing bankruptcy.
But unlike all those who manipulate and take, Joseph was doing something of a different order and intention. He was holding himself in the space and with the intention of the Wise Elder, the one whose role it was to provoke and inspire in the students an awakening and stepping into the life’s adventure. Rather than take from me, he was giving me something.
It’s not that all those other seminar leaders had an intention to take from me the way the get-rich-quick guys did, its that most of them – like most personal development professionals – were emotional vultures who fed their sense of aliveness and “purpose” by convincing themselves that their ability to get others to cry or open up, was a gift to them. In reality what they were doing was feeding their own need to be needed, and often doing damage to otherwise healthy people. I rarely speak of this so bluntly because it is so offensive to those who spent years in therapy working on their issues, and yet for those few who break free from this and awaken to what is going on, they will see that for the ways in which they have made progress, at a deep level they have only further entrenched themselves in their misery and disconnect from life.
Joseph understood this. He abhorred it. He offered no pity, and was profoundly effective on a level and scope that no one else I’d ever met came remotely close to.
At the end of those 4 days with him I knew I wanted to learn everything he could teach me, and I was willing to pay the price for it, even when I didn’t have the money. At that point credit cards and scrambling for cash was my only option, so that is what I did.
We had regular contact for most of the next 5 years – regular as in there was rarely a day I didn’t at least email him, though there were far more he didn’t email me. We met up countless times in various places, some when he would randomly show up in California and call me from his rental car on his way from the airport, informing me were going out to dinner… some when he would instruct me to buy a plane ticket and meet him in New York or St Louis or London, and a couple times in China and Southeast Asia.
Half the time he was doing corporate consulting and I sat in the back holding a video camera. Half the time he was doing personal development, either facilitating people through the MythoSelf Process or eventually training those of us who were committed to learn to facilitate others with it.
A Modern Version Of An Ancient Practice
Early on I realized what he was really doing was a combination of a modern version of the ancient Master -Student apprenticeship (he once asked me a question that took me 20 months to answer) and something more subtle, which the opportunity to be “in the incubator” as I later came to call it… to be in the presence of the work he was doing and the way of life he was modeling for me… In the same way our children learn from watching us and being with us, a student who is deeply yearning, will absorb simply by being the presence of the teacher.
The work Joseph was doing with me was quite literally transforming, my thoughts, my behaviors, my posture, my reactions, my pro-actions… I went from bankrupt and broke, to building a 6 figure business doing work I love in less than 18 months (I was barely 30 years old when I first broke that barrier and 2 years earlier I was living off credit cards). Sure the work I was doing then (mostly training and consulting for summer camps and schools) drew upon my skills and knowledge but the business model and savvy, and the driving force of the message being one that is excitatory and loaded with possibility grounded in reality (as opposed to feel good motivational hype) was 90% influenced by what Joseph was teaching me, this rather amorphous, yet profound thing he was doing called The Mythoself Process.
I always struggled to explain to others what this Mythoself thing was.
It finally occurred to me that the reason it was so hard to categorize was because though it was utilizing biology and science and tangible reality, it was based in something far greater and far rarer: Real Wisdom.
Joseph was teaching us how our whole mindset and attitude and way we filter life was impacted by the way we either tighten up and restrict energy flow in our nervous, muscular, respiratory, digestive and skeletal system in our bodies… he was helping us to unravel our defensive protective postures we’d adopted as a consequence of our upbringing and life circumstances… he was doing this through both literally teaching us how to restore balance and openness to our systems physiologically, but also through the narrative stories we told ourselves to make sense of life… H was stopping us from retelling the same stories that made us feel stuck (which is what 99% of conventional talk psychotherapy ends up doing to people), and helping us to open up the future again by removing all the mental projections we do by taking our past experiences and projecting them into the future.
He did this through many modalities, many that on the surface look like “Oh, so he’s doing Somatics” or “oh, so he’s kinda like a Jungian” or “oh, hey that’s a technique that the CBT people use” or “he sound like something i heard someone say at Landmark Forum” to “that’s very Eastern spiritual” to “the stuff he writes sound like he is cognitive neuro scientist” to “he’s doing Ericsonian Hypnosis” to “he’s like a Life Coach” to whatever category people find reflections of his work showing up in.
This isn’t because he was any of those things. It was because each of those things had elements (and often only trace elements) of pieces that fit in the rare category of exploration: What actually works to help people transform from scared and in self-protection mode, to liberated and open and on their path mode.
Ultimately the greatest credential I ever received, was to become a Master Trainer of the MythoSelf Process. It was the day that Joseph said “You have this in your cells so it shows up in how you live… and you have enough understanding and depth in the model and skills, that you can effectively utilize this not just to help others, but to teach others to do this as well.”
The MythoSelf Process informs so much of the way I think about how to help my clients that it is impossible to separate out what is this and what is that… Because it taught me to focus on What Works and gave me the mindset to be courageous enough to do what works, there are so many things I have figured out, realized and learned how to do because of the gift the MythoSelf Process gave me.
Perhaps the greatest honor for Joseph, is to know that the way of life he trained me and a handful of others who were as dedicated as I was, has led to the influence of his life impacting thousands of others. And the greatest challenge in a way also is to give him and his life work the credit it deserves, when the very model he teaches is one that by design, leads people to discover their own unique way in life.
Though our relationship has evolved over the years to become both colleagues and friends, I cannot in words say enough to express the privilege it is to call him my Mentor, my Teacher, just as I cannot endorse enough to adults who are reading this to prioritize finding an opportunity to work with him, to let him teach you his Wisdom and gain the benefit of the MythoSelf Process.
As I end the completion of my first book, I am already chapters into planning out my next one: The Disappearing Mentor: The Search For A Modern Day Obi-Wan It is both as an inspiration from what Joseph did for me and has helped me do for countless others, and as a tribute to him, that I am inspired to write this. I can’t wait, and as I learned long ago from Joseph, everything in it’s time…