Just Like You
Interviewed by Harriet Watson
Mark Northcross is a mainstay of the Gangaji Foundation. He’s been on the board of directors since 2003 and has been a pillar of strength for Gangaji and her staff over the years. He’s also fun to have around, as any of you who have been with him on retreat or happened to see him on the dance floor will know!
Always generous, this year Mark chose to join Hillary Larson and Michele Sondheimer in supporting a matching monthly donor campaign. I spoke with him about how he met Gangaji, what inspires him, and why he felt moved to support us at this time in particular.
When we connected via Zoom, Mark was sitting in a sunny spot at home. Molly, a rambunctious kitten, was adorably clambering around. As we started our conversation, Molly settled down with her favorite toy, lulled by Mark’s devoted caresses. He clearly has a way with animals. Here he is wrapped in the embrace of Nagesh, his recently departed, 7-foot long red-tailed boa, a treasured friend of 22 years.
Harriet: I wanted to ask you about how you met Gangaji. Many people reading may not know about that.
Mark: (laughing) It’s a good story actually. I believe it was in 1993 or 94. My ex-wife, Marilyn and I were feeling that it was time for another spiritual teacher. It had been 20 years since I’d had one. I came across an article in Yoga Journal about an Anglo woman who had gone to India and had woken up. Her name was Gangaji. I was curious. In a matter of weeks, I saw that none other than Gangaji was coming to the Unitarian Church in San Rafael. So off Marylin and I went to see her.
I wanted to get there early so we could sit near the front. The meeting started as it always does in silence. When Gangaji ended the silence she looked straight at Marylin and me and she said, “Well, this won’t last.” Whoa! We were actually going through a divorce at the time. Marilyn was getting ready to leave. So I thought, “Okay, I guess this lady from Mississippi is the real thing!” I’ve told Gangaji that story and she has no memory of it, by the way.
It wasn’t really until after the divorce that I jumped in with both feet. That was in late 1996. I went to my first retreat at this little place in the Napa Valley during the near-record rainy season of January 1997. That was my first silent retreat, and it was just remarkable. After that, I was showing up to every meeting I could and volunteering. That was it. I’ve never left.
Harriet: And how did you come to be a part of the board?
Mark: In 2003 I was in a really bad auto accident. I had written a song that was inspired by Gangaji and I was driving from a business meeting at Lake Tahoe down Highway 50 back to San Francisco to go and record the song. I was hit head-on by somebody who was driving under the influence. I won’t go into detail, but needless to say, I didn’t make it to the recording session. I was unconscious. Somehow my business partners actually made sure the tune got recorded. So the first thing I heard coming out of a medically induced coma was my song playing. It’s what actually brought me round.
Fast forward a couple of months and I am in a rehab hospital. I had actually managed to get into a wheelchair, and I looked down the hallway and saw these three women walking toward me. It was Antoinette, my fiancé, Manju, and Gangaji. Wow! Wow! So lucky!
The sangha was immense support during that time. It was after I got out of the hospital and was kind of reorienting that I got a call from Manju (the then Executive Director) asking me if I wanted to be on the board. I’m going well, gee whiz. Sure. Why not?
Harriet: What keeps you coming back? What has always kept you coming back?
Mark: What keeps me coming is that I can’t think of anything more important for the survival of our species than to wake up, and that is becoming more acute all the time. You can’t be picky when you’re on retreat with Gangaji. You open yourself up. You go into the silence. God only knows what’s going to arise. Sometimes it can be really hellish. But it’s the best place to be in hell because there’s all this spaciousness and support. Those times are utterly priceless, and to be able to support other human beings in having an opportunity like that… that’s what I want to do.
Harriet: Can you say more about what you meant when you said: “It’s the most important thing that we can do for the survival of our species?” How do you see that?
Mark: I’m involved professionally in what we call climate change adaptation. I could talk more about that. In my view, the climate change crisis isn’t really about saving the planet. It about us, as a species, discovering and expressing the unity of our being, and really becoming team players. When you look at it from a rational, intellectual perspective it is damn near impossible to see how we can fix this situation. That actually kind of makes it more fun. It means that we need to focus on unity. Working together is the only way out of this. And wow, what a great place to be, you know? I can’t think of a better place to be today than right here. The paradox is that everything is going to hell and I feel really lucky.
Harriet: I know at one of the recent board meetings, you spoke about investing in the transmission. What do you mean by that?
Mark: What I am saying is that now is the time to go for broke. I’ve been in finance for some 38 years. It has mostly been in the public sector, financing public projects and infrastructure. In general, we have the notion that money is a measurement device for whatever we call value. Conventional investment wisdom is that you use money to create value. But I am not so sure about that. We also have this term in finance called cash flow. Cash flow is really about seeing where the money is flowing. When I and hundreds of others donate to the Gangaji Foundation every month or at the end of the year, that allows the Foundation to create and run programs that touch people. When you really dive into it, cash flow takes you out of the realm of value and into the human heart, human desire, human action, working together, working against each other. It’s real life.
Of course, as a member of the board, we want to take care of everyone’s long term future. But right now, I feel very deeply in my heart that what we need to invest in is more human activity, more community and more connection to what Gangaji and the Gangaji Foundation are sharing. We need to get the word out and manifest as much heartfelt human activity around this transmission as we can. That’s what I mean by “It’s time to go for broke.”
In doing this interview together, you and I are not creating any value, right? But we are creating a lot of human activity that will flow on to others who read this. By the way, this is fun.
Harriet: Yes, it’s a lot of fun. Can I ask you specifically why you chose to support this matching campaign for the end of the year?
Mark: I love it when people get inspired, and Hillary got inspired by Pachamama. It’s a beautiful organization. I could tell when Hillary called me a few weeks ago that she was totally inspired. She had been down to Ecuador and had this formative experience. I could tell she was utterly heartfelt, totally-blown-away inspired, and not for the first time. So I just went with it and trusted that.
Harriet: Is there anything in particular that you have a passion for? What do you want to see invested in that supports the Foundation?
Mark: My role as chairperson of the board is really to facilitate consensus in the direction we are going. So I am not going to say do this or do that. But my own feeling, intuitively, is that we’re at a time when opportunities are likely to manifest that are beyond our imagination. So I just want to be open.
Harriet: Is there anything else that you want to share or feel is important? Anything that I’ve left out?
Mark: We need our species to come together right now. Now is the time because people are afraid and that is an opportunity. People are listening. They are hopeful and they’re open. What we’re doing is standing in the flow. We are not trying to create value. We are trying to enhance the flow of beingness and realization in the people around us. And yeah, we use money, in part, to support that.
I would invite anyone who is reading this interview to join us in this flow. We guarantee that everything you give us will be spent in support of this transmission, to inspire people, to give people an opportunity to realize the truth of their own being. There just isn’t a better time to be doing this in my lifetime. Let’s get together and have some fun. God only knows what will happen to our planet but let’s do the right thing.
Harriet: Thank you, Mark!
Here’s how you can join Mark by making a new or increased monthly pledge before December 31. Your pledge will be matched for one full year.
Read more from our community blog. Interviews, essays, letters, and more from people just like you.