Many gurus claim they are straight shooters: they say what they think without inhibition or filters. But if they dish it out, they should be able to take it. They should embody tolerance.
But most of the time, critical gurus don’t tolerate criticism very well. One way to check is to watch how the guru handles bad publicity. Check the Internet to see whether he or she has ever been met with scandal, and if so, how did he or she react?
How a person handles praise and criticism, gain and loss, fame and insignificance, happiness and suffering is all very telling.Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, The Guru Drinks Bourbon?
I am against organ donations because organ transplants take resources away from other health services.Paraphrased from Ric W. on FB
Ric is the main teacher of one of the modalities I find most helpful, and when he talks about healing or awakening, it usually makes complete sense to me. But when he posts about social issues, I often find I disagree. Sometimes, I even think his views seem a bit naive.
In this case, he posted this to an international Facebook group which makes it seem as if he is making a broad statement that applies to all countries and situations. In Norway, people get the health care they need even if some with organ transplants need a small portion of the health care resources available. Even in the US where he lives, it’s hard to see that it’s true. Insurance companies pay for the health services people need and have paid for through their insurance, whether it’s organ transplants or something else.
Also, he is using the “divide and conquer” argument where he sets two vital issues up against each other while we, as a society, can afford both. We spend a huge amount of money and resources on far less important things. (In the US, on a ridiculously large and bloated military budget.) It’s the argument politicians use when they want to set groups up against each other, for instance by saying “society spends resources on immigrants that retired people should have had”.
Of course, it is true that organ transplants increase the overall cost of healthcare in
It is also true that, as he said, that in the big picture, life and death is not so important. But it is important to us as humans. And I want to live in a society that’s kind and honors life.
So what do we do when spiritual teachers or guides say stupid things?
First, is there something in it? Does he see something I don’t? In this case, I haven’t found it yet but I am open to it.
Then, I can be relieved. He is just a human being. He may have knee-jerk ideas about things. He may not think everything through. His social views may, at times, seem unnecessarily harsh. He is a human as we all are. He is not perfect. He has his own issues and limitations. It’s a gift that he shows me this.
Finally, it helps me see my own issues. Something in me got triggered when I saw what he wrote. I reacted to what he said, considered it for a while, and then – as part of the reactivity – decided that what he said seemed stupid, harsh, and uninformed. It was my way of dealing with the discomfort it brought up in me.
I can do inquiry (The Work) on the stressful thoughts it brought up in me. (He is stupid. He should be more responsible in what he says. He may influence others to not support organ transplants. His view is harsh, heartless, and uninformed. I don’t know if I can trust his views on anything now.)
I can do inquiry (Living Inquiries) to see how my mind creates the reactivity, and also see how it creates what it reacts against and when it was initially formed in my life. And, in the process, invite sensations and thoughts to separate so the charge may go out of these issues (beliefs, identifications, traumas) in me.
I can do Vortex Healing for what it brought up in me, even if I don’t know exactly what it was.
And much more.
So when spiritual teachers say stupid things, it can come with many benefits. I may find the grain of truth in it, or it may help me see something from a different perspective or a different context. It brings him down from the pedestal and among us humans, as I see him. And it helps me find my own emotional issues, triggered by what he said, so I get to explore and perhaps find
I want to add a few words about the “life and death is not important” view. In the big picture, it is true. It’s all the play of the divine. The different masks of the divine. And yet, one of the pitfalls of spirituality is to dismiss the human. We go into Big Mind, and find ourselves as Big Mind, and dismiss or value less the human views and perspectives. (If this happens, it’s often a way to try to protect ourselves of the pain inherent in our human existence. It doesn’t work, but it can give a sense of temporary relief.)
As I see it, a more mature view is to include both and embrace the human, including our valuing of life. To me, that’s one of the most beautiful things about humans. We value life. And few things are as beautiful as a society that values life. In this case, that values life enough to give people organ transplants when they need it and follow up so they can stay healthy as long as possible.
Finally, I should add that I know that Ric may say these things precisely to initiate a process in people just like it did me. It may be, unconsciously or consciously, a teaching tool. Outside of when he talks about healing and awakening, where he seems amazingly precise and insightful, he may allow himself to say controversial things in order to stir things up a little. I imagine I would be tempted to do the same if I was in his position.Read More
I see that Tim Freke has a series of videos called The man behind the image. These are videos of a more personal and intimate nature and shows him more
I really like that. He knows that as a public figure, author, and spiritual guide, he is prone to be seen as a two-dimensional figure, perhaps even as a guru or somehow perfect. So to counter that, he has a video series where chooses to be more raw, personal, and vulnerable.
It doesn’t prevent projections, of course. People will still project and invest some energy into their projections. That’s both natural and serves several functions. But it does take
I imagine it helps him in at least two ways. It makes him more human to others, so they’ll treat him more as just a fellow human being. And it helps him deflate any tendency in himself to want to be seen as special or a guru.
It’s perhaps telling that Tim Freke, who is so personable and genuine in general, does this. And spiritual guides who like to see themselves as teachers and gurus and allow or even encourage their students to play that game, don’t. I personally prefer the first approach a lot more. It feels more appropriate to our culture and time. And yet, I know both approaches have benefits. Including that the
This is a follow-up to the mountains are mountains article.
In an early awakening phase, whether it’s more stable or through glimpses, we can be infatuated with freedom. We have been released from an exclusive identification as a separate being. We have discovered all is consciousness, or love, or the divine. We have realized it’s all the divine appearing as all this, including for a little while taking itself to be a separate individual. We see that all conventions and ideas are mind and human-made and have no inherent truth or finality to them.
So it’s natural to be somewhat infatuated with the freedom that seems to be here. We feel free from our old self-imposed and imagined constraints.
We felt oppressed by the constraints, so now relish the freedom.
Some current non-dual teachers tend to emphasize what we are and the freedom inherent in it. And that may be the right medicine for people still very much identifying as a separate individual.
And it’s not the whole picture. It may look a bit different when we mature into it. It also looks a bit different if we have a different orientation going into it. If we have more of an orientation towards wholeness, inclusivity, and realness.
I tend to prefer guides and coaches who acknowledge both what we are (what everything happens within and as) and who we are (as human beings), and the infinite complexity of the interactions between the two (which are really one). And who do so with honesty and realness, and prioritize the very human messiness of the process over how it “should” look.
Some of the ones I have found and resonate with are the ones I write about or quote from in these articles
I know this post is a little black-and-white and can seem a little harsh. I notice an impatience in me sometimes when spiritual teachers emphasize the what-we-are side over the human or the interactions between the two. It can seem too idealized, or a bit immature, or even a bit misguided or misguiding.
Of course, it can be a nice carrot to get people hooked. And there is nothing inherently wrong in it. And at some point, we need to get more real.
As different forms of meditation practice become more popular in the west, there is also a growing awareness of the possible pitfalls of meditation.
Here are a few:
We may be guided – either by ourselves or through a teacher – by misguided ideas. This may lead us to inadvertently practice or reinforce something unhelpful.
We may open up to various transcendent states and experiences and not know how to navigate them.
We may open up a Pandora’s Box of unprocessed psychological material.
In general, we may enter certain areas of the path or landscape without good guidance. Areas that are not fruitful. Or areas that are confusing, disorienting, and sometimes scary or overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to have access to a guide who understands and knows the terrain well from their own experience. Unfortunately, that’s often not
Unfortunately, many teachers – including many who have a formal training within a certain tradition – have a very limited skillset and experience. If anything slightly out of the ordinary happens, they may not know how to guide the student through it.
And fortunately, there are people out there who have this experience and the necessary skillset. What I have seen is that these are often people who are not bound by any one tradition. They may have training and experience from one or more tradition. But they also know and understand that the terrain we are exploring is far wider than any tradition typically covers, and that the pointers and skills needed to navigate is found in many different traditions and also outside of any tradition.
Of course, I am biased. The previous paragraph describes my own path and background, and the background of those who have guided me, so that’s naturally what I am more familiar with and inclined to see as helpful.
We learn as much from what doesn’t work as we do from what works.
When I saw the independent spiritual teacher in Oslo (Vigdis G.) a few years ago, there was a mismatch in several areas. One was that she seemed to lecture and tell me to change certain things, without any pointers for how to actually do so. And these were big issues I have been aware of since my teens and have worked on for years. She basically used the “stop it!” approach.
If I am going to be a bit brutal, that seems to be the approach of those who don’t have access to more skillful means.
It felt very unhelpful. I already knew about the issues. (I was the one telling her about them.) I already work on them. And I already am motivated to work on them. None of what she said seemed to help me other than as a reminder of how not to do it if someone comes for support or guidance.
What I find far more helpful is…. Holding space. Being there with the other. Presence. Listen. Asking simple questions that help the other find their own answers (and what they already know). And perhaps, if they ask, offer suggestions for concrete, doable, and practical things they can do to shift or work on something. (After getting a sense of where they are at and what they may be inclined to do.)
Chogyam Trungpa and many other spiritual teachers have shocked, puzzled, and baffled their followers with their apparently unenlightened behavior. It may be drinking, drug use, frequent affairs, bullying behavior, abuse of their followers, and more.
In our culture, we tend to have an image of awakened people as perfect. And yet, they so often are not. Why is that?
To me, it doesn’t seem so puzzling. In a way, it’s to be expected.
There can be a relatively clear awakening, and yet a lot left to heal at the human level.
If the person is receptive and open about it, then it can become a very helpful part of their teaching. It also helps their students know what they are getting into, and it helps the teacher to work on it if they are ready to do so.
And sometimes, there can be some degree of defensiveness around it, both on the part of the teacher and his or her followers.
The teacher may try to live up to an image or expectations from others. Admitting ordinary human flaws and hangups may not fit this image.
They may feel they are above criticism. (And perhaps lash out if they perceive criticism.)
They may justify their behavior, for instance as crazy wisdom or that they are above conventional expectations.
And really, they are just scared to admit it and look at it, as we all sometimes are. And they use all sorts of tactics to avoid facing it for themselves.
This is pretty universal. We all avoid facing certain things in ourselves because it seems too scary, and we use different tactics to avoid it. And this continues to some extent whether there is an awakening or not, and whether we happen to be in a teacher position or not.
The teacher can light a fire, but the teacher is not going to complete the process for you. Transmission is most powerful for people who feel a sense of resonance with what is being offered. If the resonance is there, a potential is ignited. Once the potential is woken up, then you need to take responsibility for what’s happening.
Don’t just sit around waiting for the teacher or the teacher’s transmission to do it for you, because then you come into a dependent relationship. And as soon as you come into a dependent relationship psychologically or emotionally, the effect of the transmission is dampened down tremendously. It just kills it right on the spot.
It’s like putting water on a fire. We need to become responsible for our own transformation because no teacher can in any way do everything for us. We’ve got to do it for ourselves. We’ve got to look for ourselves. Being in the presence of somebody might light a fire spontaneously, but you yourself have to tend that fire.
Whether I work with clients or teach a group, or am a client or student, there is often a sense that we are all in the same boat.
The roles, there and then, are different. One is a facilitator, the other a client. One is an instructor, the others students. After the session or the class, the roles change. They even change during the session or class, sometimes.
Behind the shifting roles, we are all human beings. We are all exploring universal dynamics. What I see in you is what I know from myself.
When I work with someone, as a facilitator or client, it’s often with a sense of a shared exploration of universal dynamics.
Of course, it may be that the person in the facilitator or instructor role has more experience or skill in a certain area. But even that may not be the case.
This makes it much easier. We are in the same boat. I don’t need to pretend.
A Note from the Kiloby Center on Bypassing. www.kilobycenter.com
Here are a few tips on spotting bypassing in a teacher or teaching, in which case you might pick up those habits if you aren’t aware of how and when they appear:
1. Avoiding the negative and only desiring the positive. Although this sounds like a positive thing, addiction -as one example – is the ongoing, repetitive experience of reaching for something positive as a way to cover up or avoid the negative. It is easy for this kind of addictive thinking to find itself in spiritual teachings. Promises of this or that in the future are very appealing to a mind that is already locked into that kind of seeking and to a mind that thinks the “self” is deficient and lacking and needs something else to happen later to experience true fulfillment. Once you start to peel back some of the positive affirmations people are clinging to, they begin to face the real pain they have been avoiding for years. Do you really want a teaching that helps you avoid?
2. Self-issues that are being overlooked in the teacher. For example, if a teacher is getting triggered by students a lot or in other relationships, but does not look at those triggers when they arise….how can the teacher help you look at them?
3. Overblown self-images. If you find a teacher who says, either explicitly or implicitly, that he or she is fully awakened or more advanced than other teachers, question that teacher on which thoughts are being believed and not being examined. Just as a great pianist can stay in his or her head about who or what she is (which gets in the way of the freeflowing of the playing itself), a teacher can do the same thing. Be interested in teachers who are exactly the same – whether they are on stage teaching or sitting and eating a sandwich.
4. Watch out for grand concepts that are very alluring. If a teacher says “you can experience your true divine nature by following me,” he or she has chosen words that appeal to a part of your brain that is tantalized by language. This is the same mechanism of the brain that is seduced by just the right language in a commercial. But what is actually being delivered? Did you actually find “happiness” when you bought your last car, after watching a car commercial that promised that? When the words are peeled off or seen to be just words, what exactly is being offered? If there is some realization that can happen, surely it is not those words themselves. Because language has such a seduction to it, always examine language being used very carefully. Ask a teacher why he or she insists that you use the same language as he or she does. Ask him or her to question his or her own spiritual ideas as much as he or she is asking you to question what you believe.
5. Watch out for teachings that don’t speak to the body. The body/mind connection is an important one. What about all that stored pain that many of us carry in the body? Will seeing that I am not my conscious thoughts actually release that pain, which is usually highly unconscious? We are thinking, feeling, sensing beings. And the feeling and sensing shows up primarily in the body. When something was too painful to feel earlier in our lives, we may have suppressed or repressed it (e.g. trauma). Yet it is still there running the show. Avoiding the topic of the body entirely and focusing only on the mind is very partial in our view.
6. Watch out for language that speaks to pure non-conceptuality. Notice how many books the teacher has written that contain tons of concepts. Concepts are a part of life. States of pure nonconceptuality can happen. But when concepts arise, the question is whether they are believed, followed, treated like religions, etc. Daily triggers don’t happen in those moments of nonconceptuality. They happen the moment a concept is believed or identified with.
7. Watch out for any teaching that claims to take care of all suffering by itself. What we are learning more and more at the center is that integrating is most helpful and that most approaches, even the best approaches, are partial. Methods or teachings rarely speak to the entire mental, physical, emotional, relational aspects of our lives. They promise this, while ignoring that. Adjunct therapies or methods that fill in the hole left by the nondual teaching you follow primarily can be helpful. For example, no matter how present you are or how well you are manifesting great things in your life, there may be physical issues, past trauma, shadows that aren’t being addressed. Sometimes a simple change in diet makes all the difference.
8. Awareness can be used to bypass. For example, there is often a strong inclination to identify with certain core stories, such as victim or “I’m not good enough.” Simply being aware of those stories may be a way of not actually looking in a more penetrating way at the thoughts, emotions and sensations that make up those stories. There are ways to undo the velcro of those thoughts from the emotions or sensations that arise with them, so that the stories are truly seen to be empty. The mind has a way of rationalizing bypassing by saying, “I’m aware of it” or “It’s all happening in awareness.” But if you keep seeing these same stories arise, it could be that awareness is being used as a “safe space” from which you don’t have to actually inquire into what is being believed. There are many reasons not to look – wanting to be right, wanting to maintain the self-identity, wanting to claim being awakened prematurely, not want to actually feel pain, etc.
Take what you will from this. It’s just that we feel at the Kiloby Center that we have a good view of what often gets missed in nondual teachings, as a lot of our clients are seekers who have been on the path for years. The Center is a laboratory where we examine these issues on a daily basis, all day. That level of support is rare in the spiritual circles. We just want to report back what we are seeing.
– Scott Kiloby, The Kiloby Center
Spiritual teachings, and also psychology and self-help information, may create a false impression.
It’s relatively easy to talk or write about these things, and make it all look clean and straight forward. After all, we want to present it in a clean and straight forward way. And that tends to give the impression that what’s referred to is that way too.
And yet, it’s so often not. Reality tends to be messy and bumpy. People in teaching roles are people too, just like you and me. (They are you and me.) or our lives is sometimes messy. We don’t always apply what we talk about. It’s like that for just about anyone. I know it certainly is for me.
Why not bring all this out in the open? It can be very liberating. It shows we are all in the same boat. It’s more honest. When it’s out in the open, it’s easier to do something about it, and receive support to do so. There is less stress from feeling we need to hide so much from ourselves or others. There is less stress from fearing being “found out”.
For instance, I have – at different times – lied, cheated, stolen, hurt people, mislead myself and others, and more. I have done so out of fear, confusion, wounds, and trauma. And I have often not admitted it to myself or others. I have tried to deny it, justify it, make it seem smaller. And that too is from fear, confusion, wounds, and trauma. I am no saint, no more than anyone else.
I know this may seem an insignificant topic, but it may also be important for a couple of reasons.
Some western spiritual teachers use a “spiritual” tone of voice (Gangaji comes to mind). (Or they dress in a “spiritual” way, or take on a “spiritual” name.)
I realize that this may make the teacher a better – or at least different – projection object, which may be a part of the path for some. At the same time, it can be a bit misleading. It may seem that “spirituality” is something special, or hushed, or that it’s all about (superficial) peace & love, or that it’s different from ordinary everyday life.
Some tend to polarize their discussion about certain topics. They make it seem more black-and-white than it perhaps really is.
Again, this may be helpful for some. Some say it may “shock” the student out of their habitual views. (I see that it may happen, but am not sure if it’s the most effective strategy.) This approach can also be misleading, and even confusing. Our experience is rarely either/or, or black and white. Things blend into each other. And they do so because it’s all here right now as part of a seamless whole. Only thought separate out aspects and states. We are rarely completely on auto-pilot, or all wounded, or all healed, or always aware of being awareness, or completely unconscious, or whatever it is.
I am happy to see that many contemporary teachers take another approach. They appear completely ordinary, because they are, and because spirituality is – for a large part – about the completely ordinary. They nuance their language, because things rarely are black and white.
There are a couple of reasons why this apparently insignificant topic can have some significance. One is from a practical teaching-strategy view, as mentioned above. The other is that if I am bothered by this, as I sometimes am, I can take a look at it. I can identify and question beliefs. I can explore the velcro around it.
I find I especially like uncharismatic teachers….. because then it’s all about the content, the pointers and tools. That’s one of the reasons I liked Scott Kiloby when I first saw a video with him.
Of course, charismatic teachers can be helpful too. They too can offer helpful pointers and tools.
And, especially early on in the exploration, they can be inspiring, and even good projection objects. We project our own wisdom and clarity onto them, get to know it “out there”, and then are invited to find it in ourselves. Sometimes with the help of disillusionment and disappointment…..!
Some seem surprised that spiritual teachers get sick.
Why would they get sick?
They are human, and humans get sick.
Their bodies may get worn out through high levels of energies running through (aka kundalini).
They may have asked to be shown what’s left, and to find peace/ease with what’s here (whatever it is), and life gives them an opportunity to find just that.
We can get sick even if we do everything “right”, and teachers – as anyone else – don’t even do everything “right” (in terms of health). It’s a matter of genetics, environment, lifestyle and more.
All of these fit my own experience. My system certainly got burnt through high levels of energies running through it for several years (with a following “collapse”). I did ask for “full awakening” no matter the cost (a year or two before the dark night) and to be shown what’s left (a couple of weeks before the darkest period of the dark night). And there are weaknesses in my genetics (although pretty good overall), toxins in my environment, lack of nutrients in much of my food (due to modern agricultural (mis)practices), and sometimes poor food and health choices on my part.
The question “why do spiritual teachers get sick” may also come from a confusion between two different things. One is a a health and fitness focus as who we are, at the the human and energetic levels. This can include a focus on diet, exercise, breath, chi, “inner work”, and so on. The other is finding ease with – or as – what is, as it is. A shift in what we take ourselves to be. This one is independent of the health focus. It may include it or not, but doesn’t depend on it. And spirituality, at least as I use the term, is about the second one. The emphasis is on finding ease with what is, through inquiry and seeing what’s really here, and less – or secondarily if at all – on health. (Of course, a wise approach is to include both, with an emphasis on consciously recognizing the “true nature” of ourselves and what’s here.)
There is another aspect to this. When spiritual teachers get sick, it’s an opportunity for them to explore how to relate to it which in turn may benefit others. It may help them mature and deepen as human beings, and clarify what’s really there – in contrast to what at first appears to be there (which may include recognizing it as love, and finding genuine love for it). That’s not “why” they get sick, but it’s a possible outcome.
Spiritual emergencies can take several forms, including kundalini awakening, a spiritual opening turning one’s world upside-down and inside-out, a dark night, wounds and trauma surfacing to be healed, a “dry period” of lack of interest in the world, or more.
These spiritual emergencies may happen “out of the blue” without any prior spiritual practice (as it did for me), or they may happen as an apparent consequence of a spiritual practice – whether this practice is a form of meditation, yoga, chi gong, shamanic practices, or prayer of the “true” or “dangerous” kind (for awakening, be shown what’s left, etc.).
So just as a medical doctor will inform a client about possible side effects of a medicine, especially if these side effects are common and can be severe, it’s good practice for a teacher of any spiritual practice to inform the students of possible side effects of their practice.
To me, it seems reasonable to – at the very least – offer….
A map of the terrain, including (i) the typical phases and facets of the process, and (ii) common and less common forms of spiritual emergencies and their symptoms.
And guidelines for how to navigate this terrain in general, and spiritual emergencies in particular, in the most skillful way possible.
Knowing the map will help students recognize the symptoms when they occur, and see that they are common and even to be expected. It helps prevent or reduce an additional layer of distress, bewilderment, and either inflation (f.ex. kundalini awakening) or thoughts that something “went wrong” (f.ex. in a dark night).
Practical pointers can also be invaluable. For instance, how do I prepare to reduce the chances or intensity of a future spiritual emergency? And if one happens, how do I relate to it in the best possible way? How I ground myself during a kundalini awakening? How do I help see through the distress of a dark night?
In addition, being open and frank about this up front has several benefits. It may help some students decide that a particular practice is not for them, at least not at this point in their life, and they may chose something else that’s gentler and more grounding. It gives the students an idea of how well the teacher knows about and understands spiritual emergencies, so they can chose to go to them – or someone else who is more experienced – before a spiritual emergency takes place, or if or when it takes place. And having more information about these matters out in public makes it easier for people who have a spiritual emergency “out of the blue”, without any prior practice or interest in spiritual matters, to find information, support and guidance.
In terms of education, it seems reasonable to include information about the spiritual terrain and spiritual emergencies in the school system, and in the training of medical doctors, psychologists, priests, and – obviously – teachers of meditation, yoga, chi gong and similar practices. It is already happening, to some extent and in some places, and it may be more widespread in the future, especially as there is more research in and public knowledge of this topic.
I recently had a conversation with someone who seemed very interested in gurus and how moral or not their lives are. I realize that for someone with a more devotional inclination, it may be important to find a living guru who can be a good devotional object, a good projection object. And I also see it seems different for me.
Here are some things that come up for me:
If I go to a teacher, it’s for practical reasons: to get pointers for own exploration. It doesn’t really matter who it’s from or how they live their lives. (How they live may or may not be an indication of the effects the practices they engage in. There are so many other factors at play.)
We are all flawed if we compare ourselves to an abstract idea of moral perfection. And the job of a teacher or guru is, in a sense, to disappoint, to invite me to find in myself what I see in him or her, whether it’s what I think of as desirable or undesirable qualities and characteristics. It’s all part of what makes me a whole human being, and it’s all right here in me.
And if I wish for a devotional object, why not chose an easier projection object than a human being that will inevitably disappoint (as long as I believe my thoughts)? Why not chose Christ? Life itself? Love? Grace?
This was never about enlightened masters, that’s not what my spark said [or was about] at the very beginning.
It wasn’t about trying to attain what all the teachings said I was supposed to attain.
No, the teachings and the teachers, we are there to serve that spark. If we don’t, move on. If the teaching doesn’t, move on.
– Adyashanti, Kanuga Retreat, session 10
Whatever stories are here – about experiences, insights, pointers etc. – are really questions.
And when I share – or have an impulse to share – these, I sometimes notice hesitation.
Here are some of the fears and beliefs behind this hesitation:
I am not qualified to share this. Others can do it better. What I say/write may put someone on a wrong track. It’s not an absolute truth, so there is no point sharing it. It’s better to be quiet. I am responsible for how it’s received. (What if what I write here is wrong, puts someone on the wrong track? I know everything here is provisional, stepping stones, so why write about it at all?)
When these beliefs come up, I can take each one to inquiry and see what I find. And I also sometimes remind myself of how I benefit from what others say or write.
Here are some of the ways I benefit from what others share:
(a) I sometimes feel connected, it’s a relief to see that others are on a similar path.
(b) I may get pointers that are valuable to me.
(c) I sometimes explore the topic by fleshing it out for myself, use different perspectives, take it a step further, etc.
(d) I sometimes go to the TAs of what’s been said and find examples of how these are as or more true.
(e) I sometimes imagine beliefs behind what’s said or written, find a situation where I had those thoughts, and do inquiry.
These and some related inquiries brings me back to myself and reminds me that what I share is for my own benefit. And since I do it for myself, I wish it to be as clear and sincere as possible.
I sometimes imagine that a spiritual teacher is trying to live up to an image of what he or she thinks is expected of a teacher. And I had the same thought about the psychotherapist I went to in Oslo last summer as part of the TRE certification. Of course, the thought equally well applies to me, and it’s all happening within my own world of images.
What thoughts do I have about V.G., a spiritual teacher in Oslo?
She is trying to live up to an image she has about the teacher role.
She is misguided. She hasn’t questioned her thoughts about this.
She is doing her students a disservice. She is not very skillful.
She tries to follow tradition, while something else is more appropriate today.
She tries to create an artificial separation between her as a teacher and others as students. She is patronizing.
Her approach is not helpful to me. Others do it better. (Byron Katie, Adyashanti, Bonnie G., Barry.)
She is preachy and moralizing. It would be better if she invites to inquiry. She is using a sledge hammer instead of surgery.
And about B.A., the psychotherapist who is also a TRE trainer?
She thinks it’s helpful to reify (solidify, take as true) my stories.
She thinks she is a good therapist by reifying my stories. She thinks she takes me seriously by reifying my stories.
She is mistakes reifying my stories with taking my experience seriously. (She thinks she has to reify to take my experience seriously.)
She is misguided. She is provincial.
There seems to be little correlation between how clear or mature and teacher appears to be, and the size of their audience.
Some may be quite clear and/or mature and have a relatively large audience, such as the historical Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and even Byron Katie. These people live their insights, and they present it in a way that’s inviting and helpful for a large group of people. They are interested in and able to express it in a way that meets a wide range of people where they are. They may also be somewhat charismatic, or be good business people. All of this helps them reach a wider and larger audience.
Some may be less clear and/or mature, and still have a larger audience (some popular new age authors come to mind). They meet people where they are, and do so in an engaging way.
This is also very good. It’s a stepping stone, as any teaching or insight is. There is always further to go. It can always be more clear. It can always sink in a bit further. As it’s lived, there is always more to discover.
Some may be quite clear and/or mature and have a smaller audience, even a very small one – just their family and friends. I assume most lives where reality awakes to itself in a relatively clear way fits this category. They may be content with a simple life. They may not have the human packaging to be a teacher or reach a wide audience. They may not be drawn to it. They may be clear it’s not needed. And that’s very good too. Reality awake to itself is lived in any number of ways, including as just an ordinary person living an ordinary life.
When I wrote clear and/or mature, it’s because I suspect that levels of clarity and maturity may be only moderately correlated. Some seem clear and less mature (Ken W. comes to mind), others seem quite mature and somewhat less clear (the head Breema teacher), while some appear clear and mature (Byron Katie, Adyashanti, Bonnie G., Barry). Of course, if there is clarity and it’s allowed to sink in, that does provide fertile ground for maturity at a human level.
Something simple about teachings:
I tend to not seek out teachings these days, apart from some doses of Adyashanti and Byron Katie which are explicitly an invitation for own inquiry.
In general, I find it helpful to take any statement – whether it’s a teaching, a model or anything else – as a question and invitation for own exploration. What do I find for myself, in my own experience, when I look into it? If it’s something very practical, I can test it out for myself. And if not, I may find I don’t know, cannot know, and don’t need to know (at least not right now).
Also, teachers and teachings may trigger beliefs in me, and I can take these to inquiry. Quite often, what I find through these inquiries are as or more interesting and helpful for me than the teachings themselves.
I also sometimes look at the turnarounds of teachings and find how these are as or more true for me than the initial statement. Again, this may be as interesting and helpful as the teaching itself.
Some teachers seem to come from a sense of curiosity, receptivity and shared exploration.
They know you know, even if you don’t always yet know it yourself. You just need a reminder, a pointer to rediscover it for yourself.
Adyashanti and Byron Katie are good examples of this, as are Douglas Harding/Richard Lang and more locally for me, Todd and Barry. The Big Mind process, along with The Work and the headless experiments, are also seem to reflect this approach.
Some spiritual teachers seem to babysit their students. They give partial information. Hold back. Gloss over. Present an overly simplified, and sometimes polished, image of the path and the process.
It is understandable. They want to not scare new students off, or protect their students against mistakes, so they filter information and advice carefully.
But it may not always be the best strategy.
There are many reasons why I wouldn’t be a good teacher, at least not of the traditional type. Apart from not being qualified in any way, not being trained, and not enjoying projections coming my way, I often feel that traditional spiritual teachers play a cruel game with their students.
There is a reason for that cruel game, of course, and it is a quite innocent one. When there is an awakening, it is natural for many to want to share it. And when there is an absence of awakening here, combined with neediness at a human level, it is natural to seek something that will fill that hole, and spirituality can be one of those things.
I enjoy noticing the different flavor of auras, especially since they tend to mirror experience.
For instance, when what we are is awake to itself, the aura is uniform throughout (no center-periphery difference), the aura is infinite (as it is for all of us), and all areas of the field are awake to itself. And this mirrors the experience of center dropping out, infinity, and awakeness awakening to itself throughout the field.
When what we are is not awake to itself, there is a clear center-periphery difference in the field, and many areas – including and especially those more in the periphery – are as asleep, dormant, not awake to itself.
We live our history, before and even within awakening. We can’t help it since that is all our human self has to go by.
And when others live from a conditioning that is quite different from my own, it is easy to notice that we all live from our own history.
Here is a good example for me:
Two spiritual teachers appear to sometimes live from the story they should have told me. In one case, they should have told me about no-self. (That it can be recognized.) In the other case, they should have told me about the dark night. (How stark it can be.)
As of August 2009: See this page for updates.
A few resources I have found helpful…
- Meditation for Dummies by Stephan Bodian. A great introduction, and many good pointers for folks anywhere on the path.
- Wake Up Now by Stephan Bodian
- The End of Your World by Adyashanti. Straight talk on how to live what we are.
- Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie. Simple and powerful inquiry into our beliefs, helping us find what is more true for us than a belief.
- I Need Your Love – Is It True? by Byron Katie
- Seeing Who You Are: A Modern Guide To Your True Identity by Richard Lang. Headless experiments.
- Big Mind, Big Heart: Finding Your Way by Genpo Roshi. The Big Mind process, self-inquiry cubed.
- Also, any of the books by A. H. Almaas
- (And many books by teachers from any of the great traditions, too many to mention.)
Teachings, as any story, are questions. They are pointers and guides for own exploration. They are medicines aimed at specific knots.
And they are also supplements. They are supplements to each other.
I may have a main teacher, and follow one particular teaching as a main guideline for practice. And anything else that comes my way can be helpful pointers as well. I can explore when and how they each are useful.
Some may invite what I am to notice itself. Others may invite the soul level – in some of its many aspects – into the foreground. Some may invite in healing and maturing at a human level.
Some may be quite useful as they are. Others may need some tweaking here and there, especially if they are not quite aligned with the larger picture of what we are.
But all in all, they are all supplements to each other. Each can function as a helpful guide in certain situations, and in exploring certain facets of who and what I am. The only question is how and when. And whatever temporary answers I find are questions, as any other story. A temporary guideline in itself.
So here too, even as I may be familiar with any number of maps and theories, and trust and follow the teachings of my main teacher, it all still comes back to don’t know. The open spaciousness of don’t know.
The main question in all of this is the usual one.
Teachings can be seen as medicine. As any medicine, it is applied to a particular condition. And as any medicine, it doesn’t have much meaning or value outside of that context.
As any story, it is a temporary guide for how we live our lives. It has practical value in some situations, less value in other situations, and no inherent or absolute value.
As any story, it is a lie that can have practical value in some situations.
So when we evaluate teachings – and teachers – we can do it according to some fixed and abstract criteria. Is there a Ground awakening there? Does he/she address who + what we are? Is there soul level awakening there? And so on. This can be helpful at times.
But it is often more interesting to look at when any particular teaching appears to be the right medicine and to what extent a teacher is able to meet his/her students where they are. Of course, we cannot really know in advance when a medicine is appropriate, and we cannot always know afterwards either.
Still, some teachers appear more skilled than others here. Some have a narrow repertoire and are very clear about it. (Skilled in its own way.) Others may have a relatively narrow repertoire, but they are skilled at adapting it to the conditions of their students. And others have an obviously wide repertoire. (Tibetan teachers especially.)
This came up for me around an interview with Adyashanti for globaloneness.org. His teachings there are more general and inspirational, very much appropriate to the audience. In other situations, for instance when speaking directly to an experienced student, his pointers are quite different. Much more specific and aimed at helping the student notice where they are still stuck, still identified with a story.
We all do this, of course. We all adapt what we say and how we are saying it to the audience. Teachers are no different.
When we notice – quite clearly – what we are, there is a waking up out of stories.
There is a waking up out of the story of I. A doer. Observer. Thinker. An I with an other. A center with periphery. An inside and an outside.
And with it is a waking up of any other story as well, including the stories of maps, models, religions, spirituality and practices.
We see that what we – already and always – are, cannot be touch by any of those stories. They can be very helpful in a purely practical sense, for this human self to function in the world and explore who it is and what it really is.
But they are also, quite literally, imaginary. They are creations of the mental field, overlaid on pure perception. And reality cannot be touched by any of them. Not in a conventional sense. And not in the context of all as God.
Each story has a temporary and practical value only.
I have read about half of Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict by Tsultrim Allione, and am as impressed by the book as I am by the practice. It is beautifully written, simple, insightful and always very practical and helpful.
I am impressed by spiritual teachers/coaches who can meet people where they are, especially when that “where” means a confusing web of stories.
It seems that the best teachers listen – with genuine interest and patience – for the spark within and behind those webs. What is the student really asking? What is alive for them behind the confusion?
I notice for myself that even when I get caught up in stories, there is a genuine question inside of it. And that is the question that skilled teachers are able to uncover and respond to.
Of course, some are smart and make it easy on themselves and their students, such as Adyashanti who asks his students to sit with their question for a while and allow it to distill and clarify over time, before it is asked. That way, some of the layers of additional stories fall away and a more essential and genuine question is left. And the student may find some insights for themselves too in the process.
…one of the functions of an inner or outer teacher (really just the same)…
In what ways is an inner and outer teacher the same?
In a conventional or psychological sense, whatever we see in the outer world mirrors something in here. Whatever I see and receive from a teacher resonates with and mirrors something right here. The teacher only points to it and helps me notice it. (And if I am not ready to notice it, it will just pass by for now.)
Within form, the inner and outer teacher is part of the same seamless process. The flows and dynamics of the universe itself which appears within this human self and in the wider world. One process which we filter into belonging to this human self, and the wider world – including teachers and anything else.
Those two belong to stories. These stories may be functional and helpful at times, but it is still only something that appears through the filter of stories.
Finally, there is no difference between the inner and outer teacher in that both happen within content of awareness, and as awareness itself. They are both just the play of awareness, appearing as something. Within the world of form, something happens and it can appear helpful or not. Yet no matter what happens within the world of form, or within content of awareness, it is still only the play of awareness itself. All happening within and as this timeless present.
This is something each of us can notice here and now through allowing experience, explore the sense fields, the Big Mind process, headless experiments, and many other pointers.
for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. – 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 (NIV)
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. – 2nd Peter 3:10 (NIV)
There are many ways to describe a teacher. As a spiritual friend. A guide. A coach. (I like that one.) And maybe my favorite, as a thief!
A teacher – whether inner or outer – is a thief that robs the student of identifications, or at least set them up so they are more likely to lose their identifications.
The awakening process as a whole is also as a thief in the night.
Whether it is the sudden awakening of what we are to itself, or the gradual process leading up to this shift, the awakening robs us of identifications. It robs us of taking any overlay of a sense of “I” as substantial or real.
And it happens as a thief hidden in the darkness of the night, behind the scenes and in surprising ways.
As with any robbery, there is often some resistance to losing what is taken away. The more resistance, the more drama and sense of struggle. And the more it is allowed to happen, the easier the process is.
(I wonder if not those who have a prayerful relationship to God have an advantage here: God, let your will happen, not mine.)
So the awakening process is like a thief in the night in at least three ways. It robs us of identifications. It happens behind the scenes in surprising ways, as a thief in the night. And there is often some temporary resistance to losing what is taken away.
Through a body oriented practice I am doing, I am required to listen to a particular teacher for about 40-50 hours once or twice a year. I find that he is pushing a good number of buttons for me (including about what is “good teaching”) which is uncomfortable for me but also invites me to notice and work with some deeply held beliefs.
Through this, I see more clearly that a teacher can either be a model or an annoyance, and that each has its value. In Zen, I am used to a teacher being precise in words, yet also challenge their students in different ways – often through their behavior.
But here, it goes even further since the words themselves push buttons. (Some of my stories about it: Imprecise, coming from a “should” about needing to shock his students, talking down to his students, pretending the teachings are more profound or unique than they are, being deceptive about the hierarchy of the organization and the history of the practice, and so on).
It is easy to relate to a teacher who is obviously a good model, such as Byron Katie, Adyashanti, Joel, and others. It is comfortable, and also very helpful.
And while it can be tremendously difficult to deal with teachers who show up more as an annoyance, it can also take me even further. I am directly faced with some deeply held beliefs that sometimes remain more hidden when I am with “good teachers”, the teachers who follow my expectations.
These beliefs will of course come up anyway, just through living my life, but in the presence of these types of teachers, they are dredged up more thoroughly and directly. I sit in the fire whether I want to or not, and have to face it. (Including the belief that since life will trigger these beliefs, a teacher don’t have to.)
This particular teacher comes from the Gurdijeff lineage, so I shouldn’t be surprised by this since it is an important element in that particular tradition.
I may not like it. I certainly wouldn’t have sought him out if it wasn’t a requirement for doing the body work (which I love). I may not chose to act in that way myself. But, although I don’t like to admit it, his teaching style is helpful to me. Through pushing so many buttons in me, I have to face them.
I have to reluctantly admit that it works, whether it is intentional from his side or not.
It is even possible that rather than being a “bad” teacher who unintentionally is a “good” teacher, this is all intentional… How would I receive it differently if I knew it was all intentional?