The Light, Love and Soul Journey of Joseph Dispenza (1942-2015)

hazel parcells joseph dispenza mike herbert santa fe university of art and design Jul 18, 2015

My mentor and friend Joseph Dispenza died last Monday, at the age of 72. He was a Renaissance man, former monk, inspiring writer, gifted teacher and life-long learner whose greatest legacy will most likely be the founding of the film program and creation of the Greer Garson Communications Center at the College of Santa Fe.   My son is now a student in the film program at the college, which is now known as the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

As Brent Kliewer, curator for The Screen, a movie theater on the SFUAD campus, said to the Santa Fe New Mexican, “Joseph is single-mindedly responsible for the film program at the college. He was a very good film writer.  He knew his stuff.  He was passionately in love with movies.”

And passionately in love with life itself. Over the years, Joseph’s openness, curiosity and passion for learning led to 16 books and scores of articles on topics as diverse as art, history, spirituality, healing and using a “real foods” diet as an adjunct to chemotherapy treatment.

My connection with Joseph began in the late 1990s after he spent more than a year studying with the pioneering healer and nutritionist Dr. Hazel Parcells (1887-1996). That experience led to the book Live Better Longer, which reveals Dr. Parcells as a total original with an astonishing ability to cut through nutritional dogma. She had little patience with most health experts, saying that they were unteachable because their cups were already full. She broke all the rules of establishment nutrition by recommending red meat, raw milk, butter, no soy and no margarine. And she understood body/mind/spirit medicine long before it became popular.

Joseph brought Dr. Parcells to life as a living, breathing success story — a woman who had been terminally ill at 39, who healed herself against all odds, and who then went on to 65 vigorous years of pioneering discoveries in nutrition before her death at 106 years young. His beautifully written book pays tribute to the life, love, laughter and wise teachings of this extraordinary woman, and I recommend it highly to all of us who want to remain joyous, vital and productive into great old age. Joseph’s last book (coauthored with Mike Herbert) was The Chemotherapy Diet: 5 Steps to Staying Healthy During Cancer Treatment.

Dr. Parcells liked to say that “If you want to be healthy, you need to trade your wishbone for a backbone and get to work.” With Joseph’s encouragement, I took her advice and became healthy.  I noted that she earned several advanced degrees after the age of 50 and went for my own PhD. I was so intrigued by her findings about the health problems caused by soy protein and soy margarine that I researched and wrote The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food, a book that confirms what she — in her brilliance — knew back in the 1950s.   Joseph graciously downplayed his role in all of this, took genuine pleasure in my successes, and asked only that I pay it forward. I am honored that he asked me to write the foreword to Healer: The Pioneer Nutritionist and Prophet Dr. Hazel Parcells in Her Own Words at Age 106.   

Over the years  I read and reread all of Joseph’s books.  Although they covered a wide variety of topics, I was intrigued by how he consistently updated the “wanderer tradition” in literature to lend insight and guidance to today’s spiritual seekers. Whether exploring motion pictures, healing energies, the way of the traveler, the place of silence or the finding of a spiritual path outside religion, Joseph shared what he was learning himself — that both the inner and outer journeys are sacred, that all of us are “prodigal sons,” that there are many, seemingly different paths, but all will carry us “home.”

I found Joseph’s words wise, inspiring and often empowering, but the more I read, the more I became curious about Joseph himself. I knew him as a loving, caring and deeply spiritual person, but I found myself wondering about his private life.  He was my friend yet I knew very little.  Had he truly mastered self sufficiency?   Had he ever known great love and passion?  With his 2011 book Older Man/Younger Man: A Love Story — about his life, love and marriage to Mike Herbert — Joseph finally dared to reveal  all.  Once again, he had updated the wanderer tradition in literature, but this time around, delivered a heart-opening, heartbreakingly honest archetypal love story in which the hero’s task is to slay the dragons of fear, guilt and shame in the quest for authenticity, intimacy and love.  Though our individual life paths will vary greatly, we all share that task.  I learned much about how to live with passion and courage in this compelling and deeply moving book.

I feel blessed to have known this remarkable man and role model, and am profoundly sad that I will not be able to visit Joseph when I visit San Miguel de Allende this fall.   I send love, support and healing energy to his husband, Mike Herbert, and to his many, many friends and colleagues.

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