Spiritual Teachers, Spiritual Parents

The human observer has a specific neural architecture (brain) which is instantiated in a specific perceptual system (body). Allowing for neural a-typicality, which happens, all human observers are having an approximately similar experience – language-based, tribal, biased, et cetera.

we are rebuilding an old flower garden, long-abandoned . . . here is a step on a stone path we are slowly restoring for wandering feet.

Thus, the world that you see and think about is not vastly different than the world that I see and think about – nor is it different from the world that Jesus saw and thought about, or Nisargadatta, or Helen Schucman or Eckhart Tolle.

Please note that I did not say those worlds are precisely identical. Obviously there are differences. Rather, my point is that those differences are closer to trivial than not, at least in the sense that allowing for cultural differences, you could readily be in dialogue with Jesus, Nisargadatta, Tolle, Helen Schucman or me.

This because it goes to the essence of our longing for masters, gurus, teachers, et cetera. We are parented beings. We are followers, going where the tribe does, and doing what helps the tribe get along. We are built that way. So when we ask “what do I do with this interior emptiness/loneliness/confusion/pain” we naturally look for parent figures – priests, ministers, gurus, therapists, teachers – to help us figure it out.

And, just as naturally, because there is so much seeking for these types of figures, there are folks who step into those roles, with varying degrees of efficiency and effectiveness.

Who is your teacher? Who are you following?

Personally, I am moving away from overt spiritual language – satsang, miracle, enlightenment, soul. I am also moving away from folks who purport to have what others do not (I’ve personally had experience X and will now sell or otherwise convey it to you).

The language piece arises from a desire to maximize communication, to enlarge the dialogic circle. The steering clear of the professionally enlightened piece arises out of a recognition of our utter mutual dependence on one another. Our equality has clarified to a point where it is no longer feasible to elevate individuals to exalted status, even temporarily. We all belong; we all bring something important to the table. Without the other, we are not. Period.

So what is the alternative to specialized spiritual practice overseen by some master figure?

last year I cleared an area given mostly to deadfall, the abandoned corner of our little orchard . . . this year wild violets are growing, their lucid purple like touching the hem of God’s Mother’s gown. . .

One possibility – one being slowly brought forth in my own living – is dialogue premised on equality, where “dialogue” is understood in a Bohmian way – i.e., without agenda or other constraints, and with an intentional focus on honesty and open-mindedness. I also understand “dialogue” to be less formal than Bohm typically imagined it. That is, the dialogue is not only when we purposefully sit down in a circle to share, but also when we are just chatting en route to the grocery store, cooking dinner, scrubbing windows, waving hello in passing, et cetera.

In a slightly dramatic sense, I am suggesting that our lives be given wholly over to simple attentiveness and openness. What happens, happens, and we will notice it, and respond to it, and share about it honestly and directly, and then other stuff will happen, and the cycle of our living will go on like this until our bodies encounter some block or hurdle which cannot be overcome and so they lay down a final time.

This practice moves me in the direction of love, and moving in the direction of love begets a natural inclination to serve others, which happily enough speeds one’s passage to love.

What does this look like in practice?

For me, it means being careful with language. When I find myself leaning on complicated spiritual ideas or windy poetic abstractions, I ask if there is a way to explain this that a child would understand. Since there always is – else why else share at all – the question arises: what am I really doing by using language in ways that minimize or otherwise impair communication?

It is a good question for one inclined to hide behind wordiness.

Another thing is being sensitive to the fact that I don’t know everything. A lot of what I do know surprised me when I learned it. Why should tomorrow be any different? So I have to go slowly and humbly, trying always to keep in mind that more will be revealed. Who I condemn today I may need to turn to for guidance tomorrow. The shelter I destroy today I may discover a need for next week or the week after.

For me, there is also an increasing emphasis on finding what works and working it. Three simple examples: exercise (in addition to chores) is very helpful to me; certain dietary restrictions are too. Drinking way less coffee is also helpful. Those things are challenging in their way but their positive impact in terms of physical energy and mental clarity and optimism are undeniable. So work them.

the flower garden from a distance, with driftwood culled from Bronson Brook set just so . . .

Similarly, in the classroom where I spend a great deal of my professional life, it helps me help others if I am more forgiving and flexible and less stern. There is in me a tendency to run a tight ship on a tight schedule to a non-negotiated end chosen by me. But my students learn better and write better when I am less dictatorial and more in the nature of a cheerful coach.

So those are some personal examples. That is what it looks like for me; of course it will look different for other folks. What makes sense to me as a practice – attentiveness, emptying out of attachment and investment, dialogic relationship – may not make sense to others, not even a little. We are where we are.

I speak from a sense of quiet joy. Having discovered something that works there is a desire to share it, hopefully with minimal drama and egoism. The little light I have is yours; all I want is to share it with you.

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