Finding the Mind’s Nine Bodies

Former head of Esquire discusses his latest book about his explorations into the nature of consciousness.

  • Balyogi would sometimes have him sit and meditate under a Bodhi tree or lie under several sala trees by his ashram, which overlooked the Himalayan Mountains and Ganges River.
    Photo courtesy of Phillip Moffitt
  • Balyogi used illustrations to show the nine levels of consciousness as he described and mapped experiences that arise at each level.
    Image courtesy of Phillip Moffitt

Phillip Moffitt first became nationally visible as owner and editor of Esquire magazine, rescuing it from debt in the 1980s. But that feat, he believes, resulted from his real calling, which emerged at nap time when he was 3. “Rather than sleep, I played a game where I tried to think of nothing. I’d lie there and think I succeeded but wasn’t sure,” he recalled of his early life in the Appalachian Mountains of east Tennessee. “I never told adults what I was doing.”

Twenty years later, he visited an ashram in the Bahamas, where Swami Vishnudevananda was giving people mantras. Moffitt wanted one too and thought he was ready. He had been there several times before. “But Vishnudevananda said, ‘No mantra for you. You just empty your mind and think of nothing.’ I thought he meant my mind was too scattered,” Moffitt recalled. But later he realized the guidance was apt. Meditating that night, he found himself quite able to empty his mind and “think of nothing.” He had, after all, begun practicing when he was 3.

That inner vigilance also uncovered his and other men’s deeper concerns, he says, shaping the editorial direction at Esquire that reinvigorated the magazine. Being able to distinguish nine meditative states and describe how to attain them, as he does in his new book, Nine Bodies, also can be traced to the inner adventures he has now pursued for six decades. The book’s focus on altered states diverges from his previous books, Emotional Chaos and Dancing With Life, which examined how Buddhist teachings can be applied to daily angst. 

However, Moffitt left the angst of running a magazine decades ago. In 1986, he sold Esquire to explore consciousness full time. These days he lives in northern California and leads Buddhist Insight Meditation retreats at Spirit Rock and other meditation centers around the U.S. He also does what he describes as “change and transition counseling for leaders” at his Life Balance Institute. “Developing intuition is a big concern for executives,” Moffitt observes. “They always want to know how to access intuition, what you can’t get from data.”

Identifying authentic intuitions has been pivotal for Moffitt. Coming from humble beginnings, he and a business partner acquired Esquire in the course of risky venture capitalism before it was common. Determining the moment to exit his New York life among the literati required another crucial intuition. “It was a great life, being editor and CEO of Esquire,” working with such writers as Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Truman Capote, and influencing discourse on big issues, he said. He chose to be CEO as well as editor-in-chief at Esquire so he would have no boss. “But I’d get defined by pressure, sucked into gain, loss, and people counting on me,” he said, “not the open feeling defined by meditation.”

For four years, as he approached 40, he told friends he would be leaving Esquire to pursue the meditative life that intrigued him. He had been studying yoga and Buddhism for years before it became popular and often visited India, where he spent time with yogis and Buddhist masters. Finally, near his 40th birthday, with Esquire prospering, he was sitting in an Association of Magazine Editors meeting when he realized he could continue that life for another decade, but would regret it. “Windows of opportunity to act sometimes open again, sometimes not,” he said.

6/26/2018 6:41:48 PM

Moffitt sold Esquire to Hearst for $400 million — hardly a "big financial sacrifice".

6/26/2018 12:25:49 AM

Moffitt sold Esquire to Hearst for $400 million — hardly a "big financial sacrifice".

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