Being stuck in the absolute is not very helpful

If our awakening path is conceptually driven – or conceptually hijacked – it’s possible to get “stuck in the absolute”. To focus on what we are at the expense of who we are, and see the two as opposed to each other. Of course, if we are sincere and put our direct noticing first, we’ll see that both are part of what we are and the richness of what we are. It’s not one or the other.

I have seen this in people who go into a non-dual or awakening teacher role as well. The student comes with a very real human challenge or problem, and the teacher seems stuck in answering from a more absolute view. It’s partially true and valid of course, but it’s not very helpful to leave out the human dimension.

So what do we do if a mouse is stuck in a maze and asks for help?

We can focus on getting the mouse out, which is often what the mouse wants and needs there and then. (“If the maze doesn’t have circles, then take only right turns and you’ll get out.”)

We can focus exclusively on the “inner teachings” or the absolute view, which is partial and not very helpful for a desperate mouse. (“The maze is inside you”, “This whole experience is happening within and as what we are”.)

Or we can include both, which is helpful at two different levels. (“Take only right turns and you’ll get out. Also notice what this brings up in you and examine the stressful stories. And notice it’s all – the maze, you, anything coming up in you – is happening within and as what you are.”)

I have certainly experienced people in an awakening-teacher role who seemed stuck in the absolute. For instance, I have come to spiritual teachers – and often junior teachers – with legitimate concerns about the organization, and they dismiss it and say something along the lines of “notice it’s all happening within you”. Again, it’s partially valid and yet not very appropriate when people come to you with understandable and valid concerns. To me, it seems they are deflecting, coming from a one-sided view, and dismissing the human side of who and what we are.

Do you experience paradoxes? An encounter with a spiritual teacher

Several years ago, I went to a spiritual teacher. (The main one at the Center for Sacred Sciences in Oregon where I lived at the time.)

I told him about the awakening shift that initially happened in my mid-teens and never went away.

He asked me: Do you experience paradoxes?

I said honestly: “No”

And he responded: “Then it’s not an awakening”.

And that was it.

I was a bit baffled and later realized that he probably asked for one of the initial and common side-effects of awakening shifts.


What is a paradox?

For me, it’s when we have difficulty reconciling apparently contradictory things.

In an awakening, we may notice we are – in a sense – this human self and more fundamentally what the world happens within and as.

This is not a paradox. Both are valid. And they are two different things. In a conventional sense, I am a human being in the world. And to myself, in my first-person experience, I am capacity for the world and what the world happens within and as.

And if we hold thoughts as either true or not, and as having some kind of exclusive truth, then this can appear as a paradox. We may struggle with understanding how both can be true.

The experience of paradox is a reflection of a certain way of holding thoughts that’s out of alignment with reality.


Following an initial awakening shift, our mind – still operating to some extent from separation consciousness – may have difficulty reconciling apparent opposites. For instance, that we are human and divine, or that we are something within the world and we are what the world happens within, and so on. After a while, we get familiar with this new terrain and the experience of paradox fades away. These are no longer paradoxes for us.

We can also say this another way: If we hold thoughts as holding some form of exclusive truth, then it’s natural to experience paradoxes following an awakening shift. But if we are more clear, we see that any thought holds validity (some kind of validity) and thoughts cannot hold any full, final, or absolute truth. And that removes the ground for experiencing paradoxes. We get used to the divine as everything and we recognize thoughts as guesses and hold them more lightly.

When I look back to the initial awakening shift, I remember experiencing paradoxes as an early reaction to the shift. My mind was baffled that everything is nothing and something, that what I am is this human self and the divine, and so on. At the same time, it was very clear that the divine embraces and takes the form of any and all polarities. And with time, I no longer experienced it as a paradox. My mind got used to it.


There are also a few other things that may have happened here.

For me, this encounter was as much a test of the teacher as anything else.

It seems that he cannot see energies, otherwise he would have relied on that to evaluate how much awakening there is in someone’s system. (As I do.) It’s much more direct and reliable than words.

And it seems that he doesn’t understand that the experience of paradoxes is an initial reaction that tends to fade with time and as we get more familiar with the terrain. He asked a question that makes sense for a relatively fresh awakening shift, not one that happened 25 years ago.

This is in marked contrast to when I met with other spiritual teachers. For instance, in my teens and early twenties when I met teachers who sees energies and could see the awakening in my system before talking with me. And when I met with Adyashanti and there was a deep mutual sense of recognition.

My sense is that this particular teacher had a prejudice against new members. At the time, I had started the introductory course which contained pointers, books, and practices I was familiar with from twenty-five years of practice. He was reluctant to meet with me since I was a novice in his mind, and he seemed to meet me with that filter. He assumed that whatever I said came from a novice. (For the same reason, I was also not allowed to join their retreats, even if I had decades of serious meditation practice, and had done a large number of far longer and more intensive retreats as a resident of a Zen center.)

Another side of this is a wound I have. When people jump to conclusions about me, my pattern is to do nothing to clarify it even if their conclusion seems a bit odd – or doesn’t fit reality. I let them believe whatever they want to believe. This has, at times, created difficulties in my life and it’s something I am conscious of and work on changing. It’s also one of the more ingrained patterns in me.

This pattern is related to a wound of not being seen and understood. A part of me expects to not be seen and understood, so I don’t even try to clarify in anticipation of misunderstandings or clear up misconceptions that have already happened. My passivity then sets up a situation so just that – not being seen or understood – is more likely to happen. In this case, the teacher played into it. And I left feeling not seen and understood.

Finally, I may have understood the word paradox differently from the teacher. He may have just meant realizing the inherent richness of existence, and that the divine includes and takes the form of everything. And I understood it as having trouble reconciling apparently contradictory things.


If I were to ask one question to see if there is an awakening, what would it be?

Most likely, it would be: Is your human self happening on its own?

In your own direct and visceral experience, is your human self happening on its own? Is it living its own life?

And I would find a way to ask it that is a bit more open-ended.

In my experience, that’s one of the essential signs of awakening and it’s there whether the awakening shift is new or familiar.

Some other possible questions:

How do you experience your physical body? For me, where my mind has images of this body, I find space and consciousness with some sensations happening within and as space and consciousness.

How do you experience the world? To me, happening within and as what I am.

Of course, with all of these questions, there is a risk of getting an intellectual answer rather than how people viscerally and directly experience something. So finding questions that bypass this, and perhaps more finely grained questions, may be helpful.

And, in reality, I would just look at their energy system and see it there. That cannot be mistaken and it cannot be faked.

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Awakening and the experience of paradoxes

When I first came to the Center for Sacred Sciences in Oregon, I had a meeting with the main teacher and mentioned the awakening shift that happened in my teens.

He asked: Do you experience paradoxes?

I answered honestly: No.

His response: Then it isn’t an awakening.

I understand where he was coming from. In the first phase following an awakening shift, it’s common to experience paradoxes.

And yet, judging from my own process, this experience of paradoxes fades and goes away after a while. In my case, it dissolved sometime during the first five or ten years following the awakening shift.

If we are used to living primarily through the filter of thought, then awakening does lead to an experience of paradox. We directly perceive that reality is more than any story, different from any story, simpler than any story, and any story has some validity to it. From the experience of our old story-focused perception, we experience endless paradoxes when there is an initial awakening shift.

And when we get more familiar with it and used to it, it’s different. We rely more on our direct perception. We know that stories have a practical function only and cannot reflect or hold any final, full, or absolute truth. Reality is always more than, different from, and much more simple than any story. And so on. There are no paradoxes because paradoxes only happen when we hold stories more tightly, and we know that stories cannot hold any real truth.

What are some of the apparent paradoxes we may experience? It may be that we are both spirit and human. Everything is ephemeral and dreamlike and also, in a sense, real and substantial. Before awakening, awakening may seem abstract, distant and complex, and within awakening, it seems the most familiar and simple. There is some truth to any number of stories and views. And so on. And as we get more familiar with awakening and living from it, these appear less as a paradox until our tendency to experience paradoxes falls away.

So why did he ask that question? I am not sure, and I didn’t take the opportunity to ask. As I see it, that particular question makes sense if it’s a recent shift, and it makes less sense when it’s something we have lived with and within for a while.

There are some lessons here.

If you find yourself in the role of an awakening teacher, don’t depend on just one question for your evaluation. Be a bit more curious. Get to know where the student is coming from.

And if you are in the role of a student, speak up and clarify. (I didn’t which is a pattern for me and comes from an old hangup and what’s still unresolved about this issue.)

Note: This happened fifteen or more years ago, and I was moderately involved for a few years until I left Oregon.

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Why don’t awakening teachers more often differentiate between small and big interpretations of awakening?

Why don’t more awakening teachers differentiate between small and big interpretations of awakening?


First, what is awakening?

It’s when we go from taking ourselves as most fundamentally something within the content of our experience, typically our human self, to finding ourselves as that which allows all content of experience, and that which forms itself into any and all content of experience. This is something we are already very familiar with, although we may not have noticed it’s our more fundamental nature.

Here, we find that our nature – and all of existence to us – is oneness, love, and so on. And this allows our human self and psyche to transform within this new conscious context. (Which has always been here, just not consciously noticed.)


What are the small and big interpretations of awakening?

The small interpretation of awakening is what I used to describe awakening above. Here, we keep to what’s immediately noticed, and we avoid jumping to conclusions beyond what we can easily check for ourselves. It can also be called a psychological interpretation of awakening since it stays within the realm of psychology.

The big interpretation of awakening takes it a step further. Here, we assume that the nature of all of existence is the same as our own nature. We assume that all of existence is what a thought may label consciousness, or even the divine or God.


To me, this is a helpful distinction for a couple of reasons.

It’s intellectually honest. Since we experience all of existence through and as what we are, it will appear to us as if the nature of all of existence is the same as our own. And, if we are honest, we cannot know for certain.

And it’s pragmatic. A small interpretation of awakening, or being more fluid between the small and big, is more appealing to certain groups of people. The small interpretation of awakening is compatible with just about any worldview, including atheism, materialism, and so on. It doesn’t require any particular worldview or cosmology.


So why do not more awakening teachers point out this distinction?

I am not sure.

They may not see it as important, for whatever reason.

They may be familiar with one and not have much interest in the other.

They may point out the distinction in private to students who may benefit from it.

They may be unaware of the distinction.


Awakening is the shift from taking ourselves most fundamentally as this human self, to finding ourselves as what all our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else, happen within and as.

We can understand or talk about this from a small view on awakening. Here, we just point out what anyone can check and find for themselves, without making assumptions about the nature of all of existence.

We can also talk about this from a big view on awakening and use terms like God, the divine, and so on.

Differentiating between the two is, to me, intellectually honest. And the small and big views appeal to different groups of people, which is why this differentiation is useful.

If awakening teachers don’t point out this differentiation, it may be for a range of reasons. They may not see it as important. They may have their target group already and have terminology that works for them. They may point it out in private. And some may even be unaware of the distinction.

Note: If I am honest, I am not aware of any awakening teacher that does differentiate between the two. I assume there must be many out there, I just haven’t found them or heard them yet.

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Going to spiritual teachers for medical advice

What role do spiritual teachers play in our life?

In my case, they function for a limited time as coaches and guides in specific areas and that’s it.

I don’t go to spiritual teachers for medical advice or for repairing my car. I have other people for that, and people who are far more qualified in those areas.

This seems pretty obvious.

And yet, some seem to go to spiritual teachers for general life advice and even medical advice. For instance, some who follow certain non-dual teachers who happen to have an anti-vaccine view seem to trust their medical advice and adopt the same view.

Of course, people are free to share their views and others are free to trust or not what they say.

And, to me, it doesn’t seem very wise to trust the medical opinion of people who have absolutely no credentials in the field. For me, it makes far more sense to trust the opinion of experts in the field as I do in other areas of life.

When I find myself in the role of a therapist or spiritual guide, I keep my personal medical opinions to myself and strongly encourage the client or student to go to a qualified professional. Anything else would be profoundly unethical.

The aura reflects how awake someone is

I usually don’t go around looking at people’s auras, mainly because it doesn’t serve any obvious purpose. If I need to sense something health-related, a more direct energetic sensing (not using the eyes) is often more effective, precise, and can be done at any distance.

The exception for me is spiritual teachers. When I am in the same physical space as a spiritual teacher, I often check their aura to see how awake their system is.


During the initial awakening phase in my mid-teens, I discovered I could see auras.

One summer day, I sat under a beautiful birch tree reading a book. I looked up, and noticed a light around the leaves. I assumed it was an optical illusion.

In the following days, weeks, and months, I noticed this light around more and more beings and things. It was more simple and closer to inanimate objects. A little more alive and extending a little further out around plants. A bit more around non-human species. And it was a bit different again around humans, and somewhat different for each person.

A few years later, I got to check my seeing with someone else (BH) who could see auras. We sat in the main train station in Oslo, picked out people, looked at their auras, and compared what we saw. In each case, what we saw was the same. (With the exception that she also saw colors and I tend to see awakeness/light.)


How is awakening reflected in the aura?

It’s always difficult to describe something visual with words.

If there isn’t much awakening in the system, the aura is mostly visible relatively closer to the body and around the head, and it’s alive and complex but not so bright or conscious of itself.

If there is some awakening, the aura is a bit lighter and more conscious of itself further away from the body.

If there is a “normal” level of awakening, it’s bright, relatively high frequency, conscious of itself throughout, and appears to extend out indefinitely into all of existence.

The few times I have seen spiritual teachers beyond an “average” level of awakening, the aura is high frequency and very subtle, goes indefinitely out into existence, the aura is awake to itself throughout, and it looks more or less the same close to the body as it does far away from the body.

I should mention that brightness is not the same as awakening. We can do certain practices and have a bright aura or portions of the aura, and it doesn’t mean there is much awakening there. For instance, people who do a lot of tai chi or chigong or similar practices, tend to have a very bright aura close to the body.

The awakening is mostly reflected in the aura being conscious of itself, and it’s difficult to describe in words how that looks. It’s reflected in a certain kind of awakeness in the aura, as opposed to dullness or a kind of sleep.


The seed of this article is remembering an instance from some years ago.

I was a member of the Center for Sacred Sciences in Oregon, and one of the veteran students was pronounced “awake” and made a teacher.

I could see that there was awakeness in his system. It was relatively bright and conscious, and the conscious part did go out quite far from his body. I could also see that a lot was semi-conscious or semi-asleep. Over the following weeks, I also noticed that the brightness and conscious clarity dimmed in his aura.

Some time later, he announced that the awakening wasn’t as stable as he had thought and he would step down as a teacher. This shows honesty and integrity, and perhaps even courage.

And, of course, being in integrity in this way is ultimately easier and more comfortable than pretense.


A note about making people into a teacher just because there is some kind of awakening:

In the traditions I am familiar with, and especially Zen, this would not happen. An awakening shift is a beginning, not a reason to make someone a teacher. Awakening is a process and not (just) binary. It’s something that stabilizes and matures over time.

The noticing stabilizes, deepens, clarifies, and matures. The transformation of our human self within this noticing deepens over time. And living from it also stabilizes, deepens, and matures over time.

Being a teacher requires a lot in addition to awakeness. It requires experience, a certain personality, wisdom, kindness, the ability to guide others, a lot of specific skills. It also requires knowledge about the many ways an awakening process can unfold, and how to support people when they experience some of the many things that can happen in an awakening process. Awakening itself is not sufficient.

The reverse can also be the case. Sometimes – in the case of people with a lot of experience, maturity, kindness, integrity, and good intuition – it’s not even required. They can be good guides for many people even if there isn’t a very high level of awakeness in their system.

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Some reflections on a recent Vortex Healing class

In a recent Vortex Healing course, a few things came up for me. I thought I would write down some of these and see how it is to use them as a mirror for myself.


Some students seem to take the teacher’s words as the gospel truth. He says something, and they repeat it as fact even if it’s something they cannot check for themselves.

I prefer to put it on the “he said” and “maybe” shelves. If I cannot check it for myself, and it doesn’t have any practical importance, I don’t pay much attention to it.

One example is when the teacher says that Vortex Healing students at a certain level likely won’t have more incarnations. I have no possibility of checking that at this point, it sounds a lot like the unverifiable claims almost all traditions make about their own process, and it makes no practical difference, so I leave it.

I am sure many other students also hold what he says lightly, for similar or other reasons. And I know that, to some, it may be important for them to believe it for a while. It may give them some comfort, even if they somewhere know they cannot know and are in practice deceiving themselves.


Similarly, I notice that some students seem to take temporary experiences as signs of something more. They may feel lighter, elated, or something apparently unusual, and see it as a sign of deep and lasting shifts.

Again, I prefer to hold it all lightly. The content of my experience always changes and sometimes changes a lot, and I have no idea if it represents anything else. During class, I experience all sorts of things, and I cannot know if it reflects any deeper shifts or not. For me, it’s more peaceful to notice and leave it at that.

I am sure many other students hold this too lightly. And I understand that some may feel a need to make assumptions about temporary shifts in order to feel a bit better, even if they cannot know and it may not be accurate.


For whatever reason, the teacher singled out Buddhism for repeated stabs.

Here is a small selection of what he said: “Buddhism is veeeery slow”, “there is no energy transmissions or energetic support in Buddhism”, “there is no differentiation between consciousness and awareness in Buddhism”.

Most of the time, he referred to a very simplistic caricature of Buddhism. It may be accurate in some outlying cases, but Buddhism itself is immensely diverse and what he said is in no way true for Buddhism in general.

Buddhist practice can be fast, especially in terms of allowing us to notice what we are. It can also support living from this noticing in a deep and thorough way.

There is definitely energy transmissions and energetic support (for awakening and embodiment) in Buddhism, and especially in the more shamanic and tantric influenced branches.

And there is obviously a differentiation between what the VH teacher calls consciousness and awareness. Buddhism has very detailed maps of the mind, how it works in unawake and awake states, and the process from one to the other.

Why did he feel a need to take these stabs at Buddhism? Why did he feel a need to present a simplistic caricature of Buddhism? (Straw man arguments.) Is it because he feels insecure? Does he feel that Buddhism is a threat to Vortex Healing? Does he worry that Buddhism is inherently more mature, differentiated, and in many ways more effective than Vortex Healing? (Which it is, in my experience.)

This did trigger something in me. Not so much because it was about Buddhism, but because it seemed unfair and many VH students take his words as gospel truth and may get a distorted impression of another tradition.

Note: I find it interesting that this teacher seems to love Adyashanti. Adyashanti is pure Buddhism. (I trained in the same lineage as him for a while and we had the same teacher’s teacher.) And the teacher seems to feel a need to put down Buddhism. It doesn’t seem very consistent.


I have also seen this teacher refer to information from mainstream medicine, and he clearly doesn’t have a very good grasp of it. For instance, in a VH course that relates to genetics, the way he presents mainstream genetics is almost painfully inaccurate. (Medical doctors in VH also point this out.)

He has no background in medicine, so why does he refer to information from medicine? Why does he use this information when he clearly doesn’t have a very good grasp of it?

It may be because he wants to give legitimacy to VH and because he mostly can get away with it since more VH students understand even less about these topics than he does.

It doesn’t matter so much since VH is very different from mainstream medicine. But this, and how he talks about Buddhism, does tend to undermine his authority on any topic.


All of this is a mirror for me.

I get to see my own reaction, which comes from my own unexamined assumptions and unhealed parts of me.

And I get to see myself in them.

I sometimes take what someone says as the gospel truth. This especially happens with what I tell myself. I tell myself something, take it as gospel truth, and perceive, feel, and act as if it’s true. I tell myself the teacher shouldn’t misrepresent another tradition and take that thought as true.

I sometimes tell myself stories about my own fleeting experiences and take them as true and meaning something far more than what may actually go on. I have a CFS crash, and my life seems darker and more hopeless. In the past, I have noticed a shift after a session (inquiry, energy healing), and told myself it meant there was a real and perhaps lasting shift.

I sometimes misrepresent someone else or even myself. My thoughts sometimes exaggerate to fit a wound I have. I get triggered by someone, and have a one-sided view of them and what they did. I tell myself the VH teacher tries to elevate VH by putting down Buddhism and does so due to his own insecurity. (While, in reality, I cannot know.) In my own life, I sometimes tell myself everything good falls away in my life. When I am on the threshold of something that feels deeply right, something happens so it all collapses. And so on.

I sometimes pretend to know more about something than I do. Every single article I have written here is an example of that. I pretend something is a certain way while, in reality, I cannot know. I am just guessing. (As I assume we all do, which is also a guess.)

This is a very rudimentary start. To go deeper requires working directly with the contractions coming up in me in these situations, identifying and examining the stories, looking at how it plays itself out in the sense fields, using tonglen, and so on.

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The upside of being disappointed in spiritual teachers

Confession: I am often a tiny bit disappointed when I hear – or sometimes speak with – spiritual teachers.

There are a few I haven’t been disappointed in, including Adyashanti, Byron Katie, Douglas Harding, and Jes Bertelsen. I should also include Stephan Bodian, Jeff Foster, and Matt Licata here, and probably a few more.

And there are innumerable situations where I secretly have been disappointed in spiritual teachers.

Sometimes, they have clarity but seem a bit one-sided in how they talk about it. (Neo-advaita.)

Sometimes, they may have clarity but it gets obscured by tradition or the culture and time they are from.

Sometimes, they don’t seem to come from a clear noticing of their true nature.

Sometimes, what they say seems to reflect unquestioned and unexamined assumptions.

Sometimes, what they say gets colored by what may be their personal hangups.


There may be several reasons why I feel some disappointment.

The most obvious is in me….

I had hopes and stories that reality punctured. More accurately, my stories about reality punctured my own initial hopes and stories.

I have my own hangups, emotional issues, and traumas, and this filter my perception and how I respond. I see that my own disappointment is often connected with a central emotional wound in me. In my case, it’s feeling not seen or understood, and for others, it may be whatever their central issue is.

And then there is the bigger picture…

In the bigger picture, this is not about me. The world is not here to follow my personal preferences. If anything, it’s here to mirror me.

They may speak to someone else. Other people have different preferences, orientations, next steps in their process, and so on.

They may be loyal to their tradition and clothe their language in the tradition more than finding their own more immediate and fresh ways of expressing it.

Also, they may be less clear. They may not have examined something very thoroughly. They may not be so skilled in expressing it. They are messy human beings with their own hangups, emotional issues, and perhaps even traumas.


There are several upsides in this.

It creates a contrast with the spiritual teachers I resonate with and it shows me that they are not many so any guidance from them is precious.

It invites me to examine more closely what’s going on, which will be slightly different in each case. The essence is that I set myself up for disappointment, and the specifics will be specific to each situation.

It reminds me that, in the bigger picture, this is not about me and my preferences. Different things resonate with each of us. Clarity sometimes gets mixed up with our messy humanness. And there is an infinite amount of what’s going on in the bigger picture I don’t know about and likely never will.

It brings me back to myself….

Each of these teachers is a mirror for me. I can find in myself what I see over there, whether it’s clarity or confusion. Whatever story I have about them, I can turn it to myself and find concrete examples of how it’s true.

It helps me recognize that I am my own final authority, even if I try to give it away. I can learn from a variety of people, whether they take on a “spiritual teacher” role or not, and I cannot avoid that I am my own final authority.


I’ll include a few examples here to ground it.

First a couple of general ones….

It’s common for people to get disappointed by the personal life of some spiritual teachers. If we set the teacher up as an infallible guru, whether it’s in their insights and life, we set ourselves up for disappointment. When that happens, it’s a reminder that they are human beings too with their own hangups and messiness. It’s a reminder to not put people, or anything really, up on a pedestal, at least not for long. It’s a reminder to find in ourselves what we see in them, even if it looks a little different.

A spiritual teacher may also, for whatever reason, not give us what we want or think we need. They may not tell us we are amazing and their best student ever. They may treat us in a very neutral way and set us to clean the floor. This is the old-fashioned way to help students wear off their neediness, and some still do it although it’s less common these days. Today, it’s more common to see a meeting of two human beings with a shared interest, where one is a bit further along in exploring it and is coaching the other.

And then some from my own life….

Some neo-Advaita teachers talk mostly from the “absolute”. This is probably to compensate for the more typical view which is more from the “relative”, but it does give a one-sided impression of what it’s about. For me, this is an invitation to notice what they speak about, and also add the other side so it becomes more whole.

Christian mystics sometimes cover up their clarity in tradition, and the timeless and universal gets obscured by their time and place. This is an invitation to find the glimmers of the universal. I have also seen this in some mystics from other traditions, and some traditional Buddhist teachers. They come from a different time and tradition, and they spoke to people from the same time and tradition. Most of them probably couldn’t even have imagined that people decades or centuries later would read what they said or wrote.

I met with a spiritual teacher in Oslo (Vigdis G.) once, and instead of engaging in a real dialogue (as I had expected), she lectured, jumped to conclusions, and said obvious things as if it was special. Here, I clearly had different expectations and reality disappointed. I had hoped to find a like-minded person in Norway and have a real conversation between two human beings. What happened helped me see this wish in me and that I had invested some energy into it. It also reminded me of my time in Oslo many years earlier when the initial awakening happened in my mid-teens. I couldn’t find anyone who understood and felt alone at a human level for that reason. After the conversation, I saw that if I had more presence of mind, I could have pointed this out in the conversation and it may have gone a bit differently (or not).

I was involved with a local spiritual group in Oregon. When I initially met with the main teacher, I mentioned the initial awakening (that had happened many years earlier), he asked if I currently experienced some of the typical side-effects of awakening, and I said no. He took this to mean there was no awakening. Again, if I had more presence of mind, I would have shared with him that they happened years ago but not anymore. My typical pattern is to not volunteer much information about this, perhaps because for so many years I was used to nobody in my life understanding, so I set myself up for it. The outcome was that I felt disappointed in the conversation.

When I look at specific cases, I see that I set myself up for the disappointment. In what way depends on the situation. And it’s often very sobering to see.

In my case, the disappointment often revolves around a very human wound of not feeling seen and understood since that’s a central issue in my life. For others, their disappointment may be connected with whatever central emotional issues they have.

I should also mention that when I lived at the Zen center in Salt Lake City, the main teacher didn’t disappoint me so much. I got to see him as a human being with his own insecurities and hangups, so the human and relatively universal human flaws I saw in him were not really disappointing. It was more a reminder that we are all in this together. (I did get upset about what I perceived as injustice and nepotism, but it wasn’t so much from disappointment in him.)

And, of course, I have had interactions with spiritual teachers that were deeply rewarding and helpful in a more immediate and conventional sense. Perhaps especially with Adyashanti.

Note: If I wrote this again, I would probably focus more on the types of disappointments most people experience. I realize mine are a bit niche. But I wanted to make this article a bit more personal, and it’s difficult to write it again with my current brain fog, so I’ll leave it as is. My periods with stronger brain fog help me come to terms with imperfection and find where it’s “good enough”.

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Why do spiritual teachers not acknowledge the projection aspect of awakening?

To ourselves, and independent of world views, we are consciousness and all our experience happens within and as that consciousness.

This consciousness may temporarily get fascinated by thoughts and stories, hold them as true, and take itself as a particular content of consciousness – an I, a me, an observer, doer, human being, and so on.

And it can notice itself as consciousness and all experiences as happening within and as consciousness. It can learn to notice this more steadily and through different situations. And our human self may reorganize and align within this noticing.

We can honestly say that to us, all is consciousness.

But to say that all of existence in itself is consciousness is a leap.

That’s a projection.

For me, the only thing that’s honest is to say that to me all is consciousness. My world happens within and as consciousness. And although there are signs and hints (synchronicities, ESP etc.) that all of existence is consciousness, I cannot honestly say that that’s how it actually is.

So why do many spiritual teachers and traditions say that all is consciousness? Whether directly or indirectly by calling it Spirit, the Divine, Allah, Brahma, God?

It may be just because it’s tradition and a habit?

It may be to make it simpler for most people?

It may be because they notice but don’t want to speak up because it goes against official and unofficial tradition?

It may be that they don’t have noticed?

And is it important?

Yes and no.

It’s perhaps not so important in a practical sense. But it is important in terms of noticing and honesty.

For me, it would not be intellectually honest to jump to the assumption that all of existence is consciousness – at least not without acknowledging that it’s a leap, an assumption, a projection.

A few notes:

It can take some examination to notice that we are consciousness and all our experience happens within and as this consciousness. As I often write about, there are structured forms of inquiry that can help us discover this more easily – Headless experiments, Big Mind process, Living Inquiries, and so on. And it can take continued examination to notice this through different situations. And the same for allowing our human self to reorganize within this noticing.

Also, the label “consciousness” happens within and as what we are. It’s a thought, an idea, a label. It points to it but isn’t it.

What about oneness and no-self as some talk about? When consciousness notices all its experience as happening within and as itself, it’s all one. And it also notices any ideas of an I, me, observer, doer, human self and so on as happening within and as itself, so there is no final identity in any of it.

On a personal note, I can say that this differentiation is something I noticed in the initial awakening in my – this human’s – teens. I did bring it up to some spiritual teachers but it was dismissed so I learned to not mention it very much. But I am doing it here since it seems important enough.

As mentioned above, the oneness – and recognition of all happening within and as consciousness – is the same whether we make the projection differentiation or not. It’s just a noticing, or an interpretation, or a way of talking about it. For all practical purposes, it’s the same, apart from one being a little more intellectually honest.

What are some of the hints and signs that tells us that perhaps all of existence in itself is consciousness? For me, there are a few things. Synchronicities – and especially the frequent and undeniable ones – suggests that all of existence is one and consciousness. As does ESP – sensing and picking up information at a distance or before something happens. And having prayers in different forms – including distance healing – answered in a relatively systematic way.

When the historical Buddha awoke, according to tradition he said “all of existence woke up with me”. (Paraphrased from bad memory.) That’s a projection. We can say that his world woke up to itself as consciousness, and he jumped to the conclusion that all of existence woke up. Or – equally accurate – it was a poetic expression of his direct experience there and then.

And yes, these questions are – not by accident – similar to what The Matrix is about. In the Matrix, all of people’s experiences happen within and as their own consciousness. The difference is that when they wake up from it, they awaken to a real (maybe!) physical world instead of as consciousness.

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Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse: Many gurus claim they are straight shooters

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?

When spiritual teachers say stupid things

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 a society. But it’s negligible. It’s a cost most of us agree is worth it. And a lot of other and less vital things bring up the cost as well. In the US, privatization increases the overall cost dramatically. In most countries, doctors perform or prescribe costly treatments they know won’t work or are ineffective.

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 resolution for these.

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.

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The man behind the image

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 as a real human being. As you and me.

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 air out of the projection game. He makes himself less of a good projection object, and especially for people wanting to see him as perfect or special.

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 guru game tends to lead to disappointment which helps the students to examine their projections and find what they saw and see in the guru in themselves.

Infatuated with freedom

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…. Byron Katie, Adyashanti, Douglas Harding, Bonnie Greenwell, Jeff Foster, Matt Licata, Hameed Ali, and many others. 

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. 

Pitfalls of meditation

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.

Lecturing vs. skillful means

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.)

Awakening and what’s left

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.

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Adyashanti: you need to take responsibility for what’s happening

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.

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In the same boat

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.

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Scott Kiloby: On spotting bypassing

A Note from the Kiloby Center on Bypassing.

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

Teachings creating a false impression

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.

Teachers who make it special, or polarized

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.

Uncharismatic teachers

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…..!

Why do spiritual teachers get sick?

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.

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Being up front about the possibility of spiritual emergencies

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.

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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?

Byron Katie: Anything you want to ask a teacher, ask you

You’re the only one to ask. I can tell you the truth, I can tell you a lie, what value is my answer? I give you an answer, and then someone aspires to that, it becomes a religion, and we’ve got the dogma. So anything you want to ask a teacher, ask you, and be still.

– Byron Katie

Adyashanti: Teachings and teachers are here to serve that spark

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

How I benefit from what others share

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.

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Trying to live up to an image of teacher or therapist

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.


Teachers and audience

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.

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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.

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Knowing you know

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.

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Babysitting, or two steps more

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.

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Cruel game

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.

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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.

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Living our history

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.)

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A few resources

As of August 2009: See this page for updates.

A few resources I have found helpful…


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Teachings as supplements

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.

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