Justine Willis Toms, cofounder of New Dimensions Radio, has been conversing about consciousness for more than four decades.
When Justine Willis Toms prayed as a child, she began with, “Now I lay me down to sleep …” Her prayer extended to include her parents, then her siblings, and then relatives, friends, and acquaintances.
She kept expanding her circle of prayer until she got to “… and God bless all the people on the planet.” She says it’s this essential prayer that has continued to evolve with her throughout the years, to be hopeful for all, even in times of uncertainty.
This is also the basic prayer that would become integral to the New Dimensions Foundation (and its most visible project, New Dimensions Radio), which Toms started in 1973 with her late husband Michael Toms.
The radio program’s basic mission is to deepen connections with self, family, community, planet, and the natural world. It’s been promoting deeper understanding and an expansion of consciousness every week for more than 45 years.
New Dimensions programming now reaches more than 300 communities through public radio stations as well as listeners worldwide through the New Dimensions website.
Toms credits the success of New Dimensions Radio to activating what she calls four keys of grace—circulate, curiosity, optimism, and circles of friends. These keys enliven not only her professional life, but also her personal practice. She says they can benefit all of us as spiritual beings if we learn to activate them in our lives too.
Key 1: Circulate
With so many conversations driven by social media and technology, it’s easy to focus on horizontal connection. However, Toms says we need vertical connection too: the nourishment we get from joining with others in a true community.
“Circulate, not isolate,” she says. That’s why she prioritizes face-to-face (and heart-to-heart) interviews, rather than relying on phone or video technology.
“We’re not separate creatures, separate from each other and from nature,” Toms explains. “We are part of an intricate whole.”
She likens Spirt to a flowing river. Religions, thoughts, and points of view are like containers or vessels for Spirit. When we put a lid on those containers, deciding that we’ve figured it all out and don’t need to keep engaging with Spirit, it turns rancid. Then we’re not part of the flow anymore.
Staying engaged in the conversation is essential to keeping ourselves open, and Toms says New Dimensions has been instrumental in helping to guard against the narrowness in listeners’ understanding.
New Dimensions was born in the San Francisco Bay area in the early 1970s, an environment Toms describes as a “candy store of consciousness.” She and Michael attended a 1972 conference in Berkeley where transpersonal psychology and parapsychology pioneer Charles Tart, Ph.D., spoke.
As they digested the event and discussed the shift they sensed happening, they wondered why no one was reporting on this revolution in consciousness. A friend suggested they be the ones to do something about that, and the next day Michael incorporated the New Dimensions Foundation as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Key 2: Curiosity
Toms calls curiosity the antidote to fear. When she first met Michael, she was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness. She felt a strong attraction to him but was steadfast in her beliefs. “My way was the truth and the light,” she remembers. When they talked about religion, the science of mind, or astrology, he was understanding of Toms’ views but wasn’t afraid to suggest a different context or offer the bigger picture.
She started to wonder if he was being more inclusive than she was in her beliefs, and the more they talked, the more excited she became. Less than a year later, they’d incorporated New Dimensions and turned their conversations into a local lecture series. When a stroke of fate brought Steven Hill, with his new tape deck in tow, to a session that their videographer missed, they began making audio recordings of the lectures and a radio program was born.
Michael was the primary host of the show in its beginnings, with Toms in the control room, frantically taking notes for every show. After Michael’s transition at age 72 in 2013, she took it all over: the researching, the interviewing, the digesting, and the distillation. That sense of curiosity and her willingness to keep digging deep fueled the conversation.
Key 3: Optimism
While curiosity can help us conquer fear, optimism is the antidote to worry. Toms explains that we don’t have the luxury of despair, that we must continue to hope in spite of the evidence—and to keep working to change the evidence. In time, New Dimensions has revealed layers of that hope, optimism, and excitement. For Toms, it’s just like that first discussion she had with Michael—only now there are microphones.
“My field of understanding just continues to expand,” she says. “It’s like rings on a tree, getting bigger and bigger and wider and wider. That keeps me excited about positive possibilities.”
She remembers being at a conference with His Holiness the Dalai Lama when someone asked him, “Why are you so happy all the time, even while there’s genocide going on?” His answer was simple: because it makes him feel better. He said he doesn’t know how it’s going to turn out, so each day he’s just going to do what is right and good to do.
Toms says this so resonated with her that she adopted it herself, believing we should all do what we can with what we have and who we’re with. After all, she adds, there’s no benefit in worrying about things we can’t do anything about.
This is especially true in threshold times, she adds. When the show began, she remembers, many people felt that the “hippie stuff” popular at the time was laughable and wouldn’t end up making any kind of difference.
She points to now-common practices like acupuncture, meditation, and even microlending (extending very small loans to people who typically don’t have any credit or collateral to encourage entrepreneurship)—not to mention the prevalence of alternative medicine through whole birthing centers, the hospice care movement, and even the ability to buy immune system support in common grocery stores. These were all fringe fads that are now mainstream practices, incorporated into the fabric of our culture. So, she asks, who’s laughing now?
Key 4: Circles of Friends
Toms has created many circles of friends through the radio program and beyond, noting they all come back to the importance of conversation. It keeps us falling in love with each other, creating relationships, and pursuing grace.
The ability to share our thoughts with others is critical to our own spiritual growth, Toms says, as is being willing to offer a larger context or a different point of view. The ritual of friends getting together, like the ritual of a regular spiritual practice, becomes a touchstone to count on when fear, stress, or anxiety inevitably crop up.
Coping with—and even getting excited about—an unknown universe can be scary. None of us has ever figured it all out. Through communities such as what Toms has created with New Dimensions, however, we can give each other the gift of spiritual enthusiasm, continuing to have conversations and expand our understanding of consciousness and this universe we all inhabit. Hers is a practice that helps us return to grace.
Mallory Herrmann is a Kansas City native, a University of Missouri alumna, and a graduate of the Denver Publishing Institute. Follow her on Twitter (@editor_mal) and on Facebook (@MalloryHerrmannEditorialServices) and read her blog about writing, editing, and life in general at malloryherrmann.com.