03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

"Mental Muscle" Spiritual Boot Camp (2): About James Mellon

In part one of this series, I wrote about challenging experiences and my desire for more disciplined spiritual practice, which led me to The NoHoArts Center for New Thought.

The founder of "NoHo Arts", Reverend James Mellon, is also the creator of a 16-week online Spiritual Boot Camp called "Mental Muscle". The next round of "Mental Muscle" begins on January 18, 2010, with a free session for all those interested in checking it out.

Each week, as James would deliver his Sunday morning talks at NoHo Arts, I noted his consistent, almost startling, knack for tapping into what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it. People I have met at NoHo Arts tell me they find the benefits of James' Spiritual Boot Camp so great they've repeated the process as many as six times!

During my first few weeks at NoHo Arts, I was a bit skeptical about what I was getting into. Additionally, when I told folks I was going to start attending spiritual services, I was met with comments like, "just don't drink whatever they give you." There was fear I'd begin praying to an interplanetary god named Snarfalag and test my emotional brainwaves with an electronic device every hour.

Although I was impressed by James, I felt a need to know more about him, and the philosophy behind his teachings, before committing to Spiritual Boot Camp. So, I arranged a meeting with him.

I talked with James about skepticism, not just my own but of those around me. He was very clear in telling me the objective for both his ministry and Spiritual Boot Camp.

"I'm not here to tell people what to think, but how to think. It's all about choice," says James. "I'm not looking to teach religion, nor do I need to be seen as an expert. I just want to be part of the process."

James' spiritual interest began with a youthful desire to be a Catholic priest, a goal he quickly outgrew. He spent years studying various spiritual practices while also embarking on a very successful career as an actor in Broadway musicals.

No spiritual practice "stuck" until he discovered "New Thought" in 1988. In essence, "New Thought" is the concept that God is within each of us, not external. James says, "What excited me about "New Thought" is that it incorporated all the elements of great teachings that have love at the center of the philosophy. It brings everything to light in an accessible and contemporary way."

When his acting and directing career led him to Los Angeles, he began to study New Thought more intensely. While his artistic goals were still a focus, "ultimately," he says, "a Ministerial career started to have a bigger pull. Something about it felt more authentic than the Broadway shows, movies, or any of it."

In 2003, after a "trial-run" of four incredibly successful spiritual lectures, friends and strangers implored James to begin his own church. Almost serendipitously, James and his life partner, Kevin Bailey, were presented with the opportunity to purchase a building in North Hollywood, California.

The couple designed the new space as home to both a theater company and a ministry for James. The facility ("NoHo Arts") has enabled James to engage his artistic and spiritual passions on an equal level.

What makes James so relatable and accessible is that he makes no bones about being in the trenches of spiritual practice right alongside those he instructs. In my opinion, great teachers still consider themselves students. As James told me, "I don't want to just teach it, I want to do it!"

The opening of the "Mental Muscle" book used in tandem with Boot Camp sums it up best. James describes driving to the gym and saying to himself, "If I spent as much time on spiritual practice as I do my body, things would really change." At that exact moment he was driving past a park where a physical trainer was putting his clients through the ringer. An idea came instantly: why not create the same thing for the mind? A physical trainer pushes you to stay on track, do the right things for your body, and change habits in order to achieve lifelong success. What about a "virtual" mental trainer; someone who doesn't allow you to complain, procrastinate, judge others or create walls of indecision?

"Mental Muscle" Boot Camp was born.

James became "a virtual mental trainer." Boot Campers sign into a chat room twice a week for one hour sessions. The topic for that week is discussed, with James on camera, while participants communicate with him via typewritten text. Boot Campers are also given observational and journaling assignments in order to help them realize what works and what doesn't in their lives.

Before our conversation ended I said to James, "You and others I've met here emanate a certain glow and lightness of being. I've often wondered if I have that quality. If I don't, I want it."

James understood. "It's like that scene in When Harry Met Sally... when Meg Ryan finishes her, you know, 'big moment' and that lady says, "I'll have what she's having!"

That response made me more certain I'd landed in the right place.

It's not hard to see why people I've met at NoHo Arts love James so much. To be in his presence is to be with someone who is passionate about life and is genuinely happy.

I'll have what he's having.


My plan for this series is to tell of my experiences as I go through Spiritual Boot Camp. The first session of "Mental Muscle" on January 18th is free and you do not need to be involved in the "New Thought" movement in order to participate. Click here for more information.