When the Teacher Falls

In recent months, we have seen two popular spiritual teachers fall from their respective pedestals. The mixture of public glee and dismay is both predictable and difficult. This must-needs-be very nuanced conversation, and it is rife with contradictions.

I have not met one of these teachers. I did meet the other, and found him to be full of humor and authentic Presence. I know none of their students. The students are, after all’s said-and-done, the “product,” if you will, of the teacher’s “art.” If even one of them has awakened, the teachers have done their jobs, regardless of their personal failings. If three have awakened, that teacher is a phenomenon.

AND, even if they’ve done their jobs, it does not excuse those failings one iota.

No teacher is perfect, and there are no perfect human beings, because our human incarnation is not meant to be perfect. If the teacher were perfect, s/he would not be living a human life, and so could not teach.

We are living-into a new model of both spirituality and spiritual teaching, one in which the janky and even the ignoble are embraced as portals to greater wholeness — and even to those precious and rare transits into the perfection of the Uncreated — instead of being judged into a compartment somewhere or left at the door with our shoes lest our humanity defile the sacred atmosphere of the temple. This is a model in which the teacher comes down off the mountain and makes no bones about his/her own challenges, and uses the context of the study circle to expose and work on his/her own ego instead of living an unchallenged but necessarily false image of being an embodiment of that perfection.

And we are living into a model of spirituality where we tell it like it is: The spiritual path hard, it’s frustrating, it’s more-than-a-bit dangerous, and there are no guarantees. It is uncompromising; the greater one’s realization, the more uncompromising it becomes. Punctilious attention to details are necessary at every stage of the journey — and the teacher is still on the journey regardless of his/her titles and attainments. Better that the teacher stay off the pedestal than damage people in falling off it.

The rarefied realms of the Formless are our real being, and they are the most intoxicating and seductive experience a human being can partake. The temptation to just park ourselves there can be overwhelming, because our limited human existence truly looks false and insubstantial from there. From the perspective of awakening, everyone’s ego looks like a bad comb-over… but that view is in fact just another limitation to be overcome on the path.

(Having said that, DO make sure you HAVE it before you think about renouncing it. The most-reliable way to get it is from someone who does have it, and that is one of the authentic and usually-necessary functions of the teacher. “Life as your teacher” can teach you about life, but not what is beyond life, and the Formless is wholly beyond life, being the source of life and all existence, and the direct experience of That uproots all the unnecessary questions of life.)

There is no excuse for a teacher’s misbehavior, but we can’t let our teachers’ humanity become an excuse for our own egos’ rejection of our need of teachers. And we do need them, and in fact they need us, as mirrors for their own process. We are all the growing-edge of the Universe. When I was initiated/consecrated/ordained as a sufi shaikh, my teacher said to me, “I wouldn’t be giving this if you didn’t have the necessary minimum capacity. You need certain things called-forth from you now, and this is the quickest way to do it. Nevertheless, it’s a title — only God can give you realization — and I’m giving it because you need it, not because you ‘deserve’ it; never forget that.”

I don’t know anything about these teachers personally. Perhaps they are just mediocre teachers having some magnetism and a way with words. Or maybe they truly have something and these clusterf*cks are what they need to truly get real, do their shadow work, and truly fulfill their potential. I do not know, and no one died and left me in charge. In the final analysis, our assessments and judgments are just our egos and the book of this is not yet closed.

Terrible Things

There are terrible things happening in the world. Don’t take them on. Observe & make choices.

Choose NOT to get egoically-engaged in these things.

That means don’t spike your anxiety or your rage if there is nothing immediate & direct that you can do about it. Doing so just engages your fight/flight “reptilian brain,” which is made for dealing with immediate, concrete threats, not things happening on TV.

When we do spike our anxiety or rage, we energize our bodies to meet the threat — but if the “threat” is on TV, there is no “resolution.” We can neither fight nor flee, so there is no nervous-system discharge and the stress on our bodymind just accumulates. AND, the media (and perhaps our social circle) keeps us activated.

When this happens, the story on TV gets enmeshed with our personal, stored “stories” and trauma and we can become increasingly entrapped in powerlessness.

The other thing is that the dross from this process goes into the “collective” mind-world and becomes a signal boost to everyone else’s distress & trauma — which then also amplifies our own, according to our susceptibility. Some of us have constellated a chunk of personal identity around “how terrible things are,” and it erodes our effectiveness as change agents and it makes us age prematurely.

Pop-spirituality “detachment” is really just numbing-out. Authentic detachment is not numbing or escaping, it’s entering a zone of clarity and inner silence — and feeling the right time and the right action, so that your action is precise and effective, and then you walk away from your action knowing that you have done what’s appropriate, needed, and your best-for-now.

The value of “detachment” is NOT so that you don’t feel. Feel it all, act decisively where possible, but don’t stew in it. The value of detachment is that you don’t add to the existing trauma/distress in yourself and the other sensitive people in your orbit — and your orbit is much larger than you may realize.

Following a Spiritual Guide

The moment you follow someone, you cease to follow Truth.
— Krishnamurti

Quite right — but with reservations.

Krishnamurti’s is a (privileged) statement made by someone already free.

If you follow only yourself — who is NOT yet free — you will probably remain in bondage because — being unfree — you will take things as “freedom” which are not and fail to see the portals to real freedom when they open.

Get real: If you can’t trust your intuition to steer you away from an unsuitable teacher, you surely cannot trust your intuition to guide yourself on the spiritual path — which has many pitfalls and dead ends which will cost you valuable time.

You will find the teacher you merit, in accordance with the degree of your sincerity. “Sincerity” on the spiritual path is not the strength of your opinions, it is a condition of the heart and discrimination.

If you want a lightshow or are secretly looking for personal validation, you’ll find someone who offers those things and they will become the places you get stuck. The question is not whether so-and-so is a “false teacher” — are you an authentic student?? If you travel the path for the pure love of Truth, you’ll find the teacher who mirrors the nascent truth of your own being back to you in a way you can recognize and which draws you evermore-deeply into it and gets you through the brutally-hard parts of the stages of purification which must come before the stages of flowering.

The authentic teacher wants nothing from you except your freedom, and by apprenticing yourself to such a teacher, his/her freedom CAN rub off on you. (See What the Teacher Does.)

The ‘path’ of freedom leads only to captivity. It is the path of discipline that leads to liberty. —Hazrat Inayat Khan


Every path and every master works backward to what seems to be the salient thing about their own Awakening, because a teacher can only teach what s/he knows. Byron Katie is about dropping the Story. Eckhart Tolle is about being Present. Gautama Buddha is about being Present and inwardly silent. The Sufis are about losing oneself in the inner Divine Beloved … and they have developed methods of inducing those experiences in others in hopes that seekers will make that leap from spiritual experience to spiritual knowledge.

All these methods and the experiences they induce are based in Truth but aren’t Truth; all work for some people and none work for everyone.  Many become very adept at certain states and can be very fine teachers of attunement but don’t actually Awaken. The Masters understand a certain futility in it all, because Awakening is un-caused and only comes through Grace, but they are moved by a deep love & compassion to teach these methods anyway.

What is “spiritual?”

Many years ago, I had an experience of the fundamental quantum of Consciousness as the matrix and basis of everything. Boundless, formless, outside of time & space altogether, precipitating all mind and matter from itself in spirallic gradients of increasing density, mixing itself up and evolving itself in the worlds of form, AND continually, unreservedly cherishing the whole mess back into Itself….

I recognize That is both my source & goal, not just as past & future history but really at every breath, every instant as the fundamental identity behind who-I-appear-as at the surface of my experience.

From inside that perspective, there is no meaningful distinction between “spirit” and “matter” or “self” and “other.” I don’t see saints or sinners, but just the One Being in different conditions of wakefulness or sleep.

At one end of the continuum is pure Perfection, with no distinction whatever… not even a unity-of-pieces but a total unity of undifferentiated Essence. At the other end, a roiling stew of Life scorched to the bottom of itself or merging and separating in astounding magical deliciousness.

What I’ve come to over the years of repeatedly losing-and-regaining that awareness is that “the spiritual path” isn’t some “self-improvement” add-on to life but it’s as necessary as breathing. It’s food for the soul. “Spirit/Consciousness” is the living source of our very existence, and if we’re not consciously connected in felt-identity with it, we don’t *have* a real self or a real life from which to make the most of these few breaths we are granted in human embodiment.


So there’s this FB meme that purports to quote Someone Famous: “Before diagnosing yourself with depression, make sure that you’re not just surrounded by assholes.”

I’ll say it a little differently: Before diagnosing yourself with “depression,” find out what your emotional state is telling you at a deeper level.

Rumi says,

“From the moment of your birth a ladder
Was placed before you to help you escape.”

Escape what? “Life?” No. From identification with limitation. In the larger context of Rumi’s teachings, he’s constantly reminding us of our fundamental Oneness and wholeness, and our purpose in human incarnation being to reach beyond limitation to claim our Divine Inheritance.

All of us have an innate longing for completion, wholeness, belonging, and purpose. It’s the fundamental driver for both the great nobility and also the great destructiveness in human nature.That’s the ladder Rumi speaks of, and in some of us — in proportion to our spiritual potential — the longing can be intense and sometimes unremitting.

One of the great difficulties of our time is that, in the face of society’s obsessive materialism — the consideration that only materiality is real and only material things are worth pursuing — is that our longing is misdiagnosed. We are judged, often most harshly by ourselves, as deficient, broken, lacking in gumption, and indulgent. And “depressed” — when what we really need is simply not to be found in what’s transitory in life.

Making matters worse is that what is often offered as “spirituality” or “spiritual study” is just s slicker form of materialism: the “Abundance” tropes, “spiritual experiences” (e.g., Ayahuasca Tourism), or certifications in “spiritual healing” given and received by those who are really just as enmeshed in illusion as the muggles lampooned in “Humans of Walmart.”

So you might actually not be “depressed” so much as just not acting effectively to support your inner being and purpose.

Inside your longing is a pure love of Truth, the truth of your deepest self, that in/of you which has never been corrupted by your life’s experiences, wounds, and defeats. It’s the voice of God/your soul and it constantly calls to you from and AS that of you which is most real and authentic.

When you “see through” the surface appearance of things and its “story” — when you truly *see yourself* from inside yourself, the story collapses and you stand at the portal of true freedom and a fulfillment that truly belongs to you, inherent in you and which nothing can take from you.

The task then, is to set the story aside, honoring the poignancy in it and that it’s brought you this far but can take you no further, and trust in the process as you put your feet on each next rung of the ladder. But you have to start, and once starting, continue.

Our Challenge…

The temptation, when feeling powerless, is to move to anger and to join others in their anger… Makes us feel ten feet tall & covered with hair, right? But it’s a brittle, false strength that clouds our vision and erodes our capacity to act effectively — and damn, we need EVERYONE fully on-line right now to get us through this period of the latent American fascism now surfacing.
And it’s not just the hatefulness of those in power we need to deal with; it’s also our brothers & sisters who are acting-out their own Shadow stuff in the political sphere.

So get the therapy, and do the spiritual practices, that will expose and dismantle your feelings of helplessness and sand-pounding rage. You’ll know that it’s working when you can read of some new outrage (and there will be plenty of opportunities) feeling centered, calm, and trusting in the larger process — not as a pollyanna but as an authentic light-worker who really carries more light than darkness.

We re being tested severely in the authentic depth of our inner work… but it’s also an opportunity to further de-squam ourselves of the inessential egoic contrivances and empty ourselves of our “stories” and history and be really, really *present* with what’s possible.

And the spiritual powers we need to further-develop are not mushy, accepting pseudo-Love — that’s just a dodge to avoid facing our own Shadow, and believe-you-me, Trump and his minions is all of our Shadow, incarnate.

What’s needed is the kind of spiritual sovereignty that confers inner mastery over our own process. This isn’t the kind of “man-up,” macho-it-through” control that is really an ego that is out-of-control. It’s standing in the clear light of what is most authentic and real about ourselves, irrespective of what’s happening outside our skins. This mastery is just like being on skis or sailing a watercraft; the “givens” are the wind and waves of the world and of our own emotions, but we have a firm and practiced hand on the tiller and can use the wind & currents to go where we will.

This is what real spiritual practice is about, not “manifesting” things or manipulating phenomena or adding to arcane intellectual knowledge of historical metaphysical descriptions.

Living in Fear

The vast bulk, if you will, of whatever freedom that we have comes from within. It comes from our inner sense, our felt-experience, of our divine sovereignty and personal integrity and wholeness.

If we react to this election, or any unwelcome event, as though the SWAT team is already at the door, then we are already in prison.

This situation is surreal, to be sure, and it may become truly bizarre and even tragic, but let it not propel us into decorticate panic, or we have already surrendered our capacity to be truly effective in creating the world we went to live in.
Living without fear has to start NOW instead of waiting for life to be peaceful.

What the Teacher Does

Much is made, in our hyper-individuated Western culture, of “being one’s own teacher,” incognizant of the fact that we fundamentally can’t know what we don’t know; we don’t know where the path is really taking us at the level of direct experience, and we can’t perceive the deeper blocks in our own being.

Seekers are afraid of becoming limited by a “system,” or of falling under the influence of a false teacher — incognizant of the fact that if your intuition and good sense can’t steer you away from a false teacher, you absolutely cannot rely upon your intuition to guide you into the unknown territory of your own unconsciousness.

People misunderstand the real work of a spiritual teacher. It’s not to give you information about metaphysics or read your aura or help you fix your goofy relationships or realize “abundance.” All of that is superficial and basically irrelevant to your authentic awakening.

A teacher does three things:

  • S/he prescribes and customizes the right spiritual practice to support each next step you take in your spiritual unfoldment. This s/he does through training in that art, and the expertise gained from having traveled the path ahead of you. S/he supports your practices on the “inner planes” in a way that you cannot do for yourself.
  • Through the effect of the teacher’s elevated consciousness on your being, s/he directly catalyzes your spiritual unfoldment. This is real and it’s very powerful, and it’s beyond mind and language.
  • But the most important thing a teacher does is to perceive and mirror to you the magnificence and unique gifts of your real being and potential — and to hold that steadfast in spite of your best and most sincere attempts to prove to both of you that you are something else. Your teacher can do this in a way that can only be authentic to someone who wants nothing from you except your absolute freedom.

In this, s/he navigates between the edges of what you want to know, from inside the narrowness of who believe yourself to be, and what s/he knows that you need to know in order to break free from the prison of that belief.


Money and Spiritual Teaching…

The issue of a teacher asking remuneration for teaching is a hot-button issue in the spiritual community. There are many who feel that an authentic teaching is debased by any intersection with money, and there are teachers who charge many hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a teaching or a training program, effectively rendering it an elitist pursuit and shutting-out many who could benefit greatly from it.

Speaking as an authorized spiritual teacher in a very ancient lineage and tradition…

I broke my heart and busted my ass to get the chops necessary to do what I do. I gave my life for it, and continue to do so, and my life has been transformed beyond recognition by the process. The author­ization to teach as a representative of a consecrated Order and the fancy-ass title to go with it are a token of recognition by my own elders — to whom I remain accountable — that I have something real to offer.

Along the way, I paid tuitions — money that I had prioritized just for this purpose — to my elders for the privilege of being present when an authentic teaching was given. I also paid my own travel and room-and-board expenses to participate. This in no way debased the value of what was given; it was neither not-enough nor too-much. The money I put out was just what it cost, just as it cost me dearly in surrendering the contrivances and rigidities of my own ego to undertake the transformation that was asked of me. It’s part of the “return flow,” giving something-of-value/receiving something-of-value, that is part of the law-of-reciprocity that underlies the structure of 3-D/4-D reality.

For me to continue to live in this society, to pay travel expenses to other locales to teach, to rent teaching space, and to continue my own inner work, my “continuing education” in the form of retreats and further training, I must be remuneratively compensated somehow, and the easiest and most-appropriate way is through asking money in exchange for my time. My love and my skill are free, and sometimes the teachings themselves — but when giving a teaching in a public setting, I ask a reasonable tuition (and give generous scholarships to those who cannot pay, but they have to ask).

**Here’s The Thing**:
From a purely spiritual perspective, the *value* of the soul is absolute and it is intrinsic. We can not “deserve” it nor can this intrinsic, absolute Value be taken from us. There is no “original sin,” there only “original blessing.”

But we have deep, deep, often-agonizing wounds around this particular relationship to the Divine Ground of Being by how we socialize children in this society, and these wounds distort our relationship to Intrinsic Value in all kinds of ways. One of the ways this shows up is the insistence by some that a spiritual teaching is debased by asking an exchange of money.

But what I’ve found, over and over, is that the same people who complain the loudest that it should be free are the ones who, when given a free admission, arrive late, don’t pay attention, and make small disruptions in the atmosphere of the teaching. Trite but true: they basically don’t value what I offer because they have paid so much less for it than I did…. heedless of the fact that in the East, where so much of this teaching originated, one N E V E R goes before a teacher without an offering. But as a culture, we’re so new at this spiritual stuff and basically so spiritually-ignorant that we don’t know how to properly hold the process in its true alignment.

I do give certain teachings for free in accordance with my obligation to my Order. In my public seminars, I offer tuition breaks to those who need them, but everyone pays SOMETHING, and we negotiate that so that there’s contact and exchange from the start, because a teaching is first-of-all *relational*.

I don’t see that art is any different, really…. but we’ve become so materially-oriented — and “art” itself has become so egoic and lacking in essential substance — that we don’t appreciate how beauty supports the soul.

And just as the traditional teacher-student/guru-chela model is undergoing evolution, I think the traditional model of the teacher or adept as living a socially-detached life in material poverty is also undergoing an evolution. This is implicit in my views in The “Engaged Mystic”, because an Engaged Mystic must have resources to enter the social and political spheres.

And the bottom line is that my teachers have told me directly, in public, to charge for my time.

What do you think?