Spiritual Teaching

The purpose of a spiritual teaching is not to give you more bullshit for your head.

If you just take on a teaching as another belief, it has failed and you have failed to benefit from it — regardless of how inspired you are by the lofty ideals and by the person who spoke them.

What happens to many people is attachment to a belief, which then becomes a pivot for more beliefs until they are living inside an elaborate, internally-consistent simulation of spiritual knowledge but which leaves their ego structure and felt-identity basically untouched — regardless of their access to and facility with “altered states.”

The purpose of a teaching and an authentic spiritual practice is to change how your perception itself functions at a fundamental level … for a totally new mode-of-knowing to open in you… and you can’t get it from a book or a lecture, or a music or dance event.

Psychedelics will give you look through the window, but won’t take you through the door.

It’s like the first time you find balance on a bicycle: you are forever changed and you can’t-not know what that is, even though you may still wobble and occasionally even fall.

If your spiritual practice isn’t regularly forcing you to change your life through what you can’t now un-see… go deeper.

“The mouse is a nibbler.
God gave him brain in accordance with his needs.
God gives nothing without need.
So if you would Attain,
increase your need, O Human.”


Identifications, Life & Death

Life lives on life. That’s one of the basic laws of 3-D embodiment.
AND: If you *really understand*, you know, sensately, that there is just One life moving from box to box like water cycling between rain, plants & animals, water vapor, and clouds. At the most profound level, there is only life and there is no death.

A major component of all the authentic spiritual traditions is the human confrontation with mortality, removing the fear of death, and training in dying well.

Yes, there is suffering involved in animals being raised and slaughtered for human food. It is a breach of moral law and I am not defending agribiz.

But at the same time, what I see in many vegans is that their moral outrage is really a “cover” for their own deep identification with physicality — a very contracted, dense egoic state actually — and their own personal fear of death.

Relieving that fear changes *everything*; otherwise, deep assimilation of authentic teachings is impossible and we remain living on the surface of our experience and whipsawed by phenomena.

Ego Training

There’s this thing in embodied spiritual practice that the sufis call “ego training.” It has parallels in other traditions and there’s probably a term for it in each one. The Sufis see it as seven stages, but it doesn’t matter whether you see seven or three. Stages there are, and they are linked with the permanent expansions of awareness that arise as one traverses a path of spiritual development.

Here’s the essence:
It’s like our being is a three-legged stool. One leg is our spiritual realization, the breadth/depth of our direct awareness of how Reality works on all the planes. Another leg is how that realization is used to reshape our janky personality to align with the soul’s purpose in existence, and the third leg is how we express all that in our human life of vocation, relationship, and the ‘external” stuff.

The legs on the stool are ideally about the same length, so that it doesn’t wobble. The ego is not destroyed or even transcended. It’s trained the way one trains a horse or a dog, according to its potentials and according to its limitations. Then it becomes a vehicle in the world for your spiritual realization, instead of being a source of unnecessary pain to yourself and others.

A lot of us entered the spiritual path because we’re trying to get off the planet before we’re fully incarnate ON it. So we try to skip the ego training and many of us just end up limiting our realization because there isn’t the proper support from the other two legs, and we wobble.

Ego training is difficult. It’s slow. It’s painful. Nobody really wants to do it. It rubs our noses in the same contractions, limitations, incongruities and ignobilities that we’re trying to escape through practice.

But it’s also where the rubber meets the road, where we make our realization real. It’s the real test but it’s also the tempering of our steel.

And it’s the difficult stuff you are faced with in your life that is a precious — and no doubt cosmically-choreographed — opportunity to become more authentic and to go deeper.

Psychotherapy, especially body-centric approaches, and disciplines like Non-Violent Communication (or even Landmark Education, though I have a low opinion of it), are invaluable supports in ego training. If your therapist has some understanding of how the soul’s deep impulses surface in distorted form as neurosis, so much the better, but we can make those connections ourselves if we truly engage the Path in the way it asks of us.

A Men’s Movement

It’s a measure of men’s oppression that, 50 years on from the flower of the women’s movement, we still don’t have a proper men’s movement in this country.

And it’s an uphill battle, a much-harder one than women have, because privilege is both invisible-to and stoutly-defended-by the holders thereof.

It’s an uphill battle because women actually TALK to one another, and men have been deeply conditioned to be isolated lest they really feel the desolation of their position and remove their neckties, those symbols of bondage to the established order.

It’s an uphill battle because women already FEEL their disempowerment, but facing disempowerment is the last thing a conventionally-socialized male wants to do. He has neither tools nor support for it.

But it IS happening, in fits and starts, as the women’s movement itself matures. My generation is for the most part hopeless, but the emerging generation is doing it and doing it authentically. I am hopeful.

Motivational Programs

The big problem with Tony Robbins’ programs, the “Landmark Forum,” and most of the motivational programs out there is that they’re based in false (egoic) will.

You get the pep talk about “possibility” (often from a presenter with an exaggerated aura of self-confidence), some inspirational platitudes, and some exercises to expose your mind’s issues around self-worth, success, and the like. But there’s a LOT of reinforcement from the group — like, where everyone applauds and there’s this jacked-up enthusiasm in the room as the “induction” takes hold (and yes, having studied hypnotherapy, I will say that the Landmark Forum set-and-setting does fit the criteria for an hypnotic induction) — and all of it plays to your self-representation, i.e., your ego.

False will is unsustainable and ultimately exhausting. Based in what’s unreal in you, it has no actual substance, but is supported by things outside yourself, e.g., group membership (“follow ups”) that have no real intimacy or community. The contrived euphoria fades, and requires a transfusion.

What’s missing is a sincere and authentic inquiry into your unique purpose in human incarnation and how to align with it in 3-D (concrete reality) and 4-D (mind).

That is properly a task of the spiritual path. You can’t subscribe to someone else’s, and you can’t get it from psychics or spirit guides. It is a direct revelation of your own deep substance, and you only hear its voice in the interior silence of your ego’s cessation.
This is the only place from which an authentic vocation can be “sourced” and which truly supports your soul-unfoldment instead of what is “reasonable” or what others think.

What often happens, though, is that when the egoic pattern of false will collapses through its own inertia and unsustainability (sometimes surfacing as a crisis of some kind) a person goes back to the motivational program for a recharge instead of staying-with the ambiguity of not-knowing “what to do” and what to tell friends & partner. This is actually an investment in NOT growing, and one often won’t get the right support from a program or trainer that has not done that work themselves.

Toward a Mature Masculinity

The Proposition

Over recent months I’ve encountered some eloquent and inspiring writing on what a healthy, mature masculinity might look like.





The Conundrum

But how do we actually embody and live these ideals?

How do we “dismantle the patriarchy” and its relentless fold/spindle/mutilate of the human spirit — and especially, our own spirit?

How do we men become more emotionally available to and nurturing allies of our partners, children, co-workers, friends and community?

How do we raise emotionally and spiritually healthy kids — without simultaneously crippling them for life in the world that they are likely to inherit?

How do we find it in ourselves to act with compassion and integrity in situations that temp us to act otherwise? What does that look like?

HOW do we step up to the plate of a Mature Masculinity that increasing numbers of our partners and friends are — rightly — demanding of us? Knowing what is not enough; simple behavior prescriptions clearly do not work well, if we take the history of conventional religion as an index.

Forget that… How do we men come to feel like men instead of little boys faking-it in men’s bodies? How do we find an authentic abiding inner peace and happiness instead of nearly killing ourselves for a few moments of stress-respite against an innerscape of desolate emptiness or suppressed rage?

It’s a daunting, and for many men, a crushing proposition. We measure ourselves against unattainable, conflicting, and paradoxical expectations of manhood; if our perceived failures to live up to our culture’s prescription for manliness aren’t painful enough, many of us are also feeling wounded and shamed by the male-bashing of some threads of feminism — accusations that there is something irreparably damaged and damaging (“testosterone poisoning”) in being male.

We may actually want to accommodate our partners’ requests, because we do see their pain (or simply fear being abandoned if we don’t make the effort).

Moreover, increasing numbers of us are experiencing a longing that can no longer be ignored for a deeper personal authenticity, irrespective of others’ expectations.

The whole enterprise is fraught.

Into the morass, I will offer some thoughts, and some things which have worked for me. (My apologies in advance for the heteronormative orientation here — I really have no experience or competence in other modes, but I’d love to hear feedback).

There are ways to address these challenges.

  • Psychotherapy

Can’t recommend this enough (in spite of caveat below). Everyone on a path of self-inquiry (and I’m assuming that’s you, because you read this far) should spend enough time with a therapist to develop a nuanced understanding of their own psychodynamics and how their historical wounds “run” them in the present, and the attitudes and life-strategies that defend those wounds. So-much-the-better if your therapist runs groups in which you can experiment with new behaviors. Even better if s/he employs a body-centric approach that gets you out of your head and its stories and into the wisdom-of-your-body and its inherent marriage with your intuition.

Some therapists are mostly about “adjustment” and not “wholeness.” Find one who sees life as an adventure of discovery, not a problem to be solved.

  • Men’s Groups

I abandoned men’s groups in the 90s because they mostly turned into belch-and-fart clubs. Past a superficial self-disclosure and occasional venting of sand-pounding rage, no one was willing to drill into the really tough armoring in which we were all trapped. But more recently, I believe as younger males are undertaking the work of becoming men, that’s changing and it’s possible to find groups of sincere men and skilled facilitators who hold “safe space” and are willing to be undefended and ask the right questions.

  • Spiritual Practice.

Complements the other ways — and offers things they can not.

Hence this article: I’m going to offer a view… I don’t think it will appeal to everyone. But it works, and it has a very long and honorable track record of freeing our human spirit from the shackles of culture and conditioning and of nurturing what’s most noble and magnificent about us.

I submit that “toxic masculinity” and its corollaries is fundamentally a spiritual problem, to be addressed through spiritual practice, and that there are aspects of toxic masculinity that can not be effectively addressed as primarily psychodynamic or a psychosocial problems.

So why do I think this?

A Bit of History

I grew up in a family of engineers, and the texture of my life was, by turns, social isolation and social humiliation. In a classic spiritual bait-and-switch, I followed a young lady to what was at the time termed an “encounter group,” and there found some tools and keys through which I began addressing my wounding and developing the emotional and relational intelligence that was missing in my upbringing.

By my late twenties, I’d been meditating and doing yoga postures for a handful of years as an adjunct to the focus on Gestalt Therapy and bodywork that had provided escape velocity from my neurotic misery and had become my “path.”

I had investigated a handful of yoga, Buddhist, and occult groups and found a home of sorts in “universal Sufism,” and had received an initiation and instruction in the basic practices. I was sitting in my meditation space one morning with my prayer beads in one hand and cup of Morning Thunder in the other, ticking-off the repetitions of a mantra given me by my sufi mentor…

The best way I can describe what happened is that I became the mantra — not the sounds, or some concept or image attached to it, but its essential abiding beingness, in a boundless realm wholly outside space and time.  “My consciousness” — my mind and my very identity — just stopped, and was completely absorbed into this timeless/spaceless abiding. My body was “there” but irrelevant; had it fallen-over dead in that moment, “I” would have continued to exist throughout all eternity as the infinite beingness to which the practice was a portal. My personal identity, my “stories” and history about it, and all my wounding and striving simply did not exist.

When my accustomed sense of “myself” — whatever that was — returned a few moments later, I retained the clear knowledge that our habitual reality of things, lives, and events is a concretization of, and is continually, profoundly acted-upon and created by a realm of energy, consciousness, and Being that is far more ontologically fundamental than our thoughts and emotions and even our molecules and atoms. (And, I might add, the temporary loss of “myself” into something that could not be “steered” or even understood was afterward as profoundly frightening as it was, in the moment inside of it, profoundly exalting.)

As I was to find out, this kind of experience is “what happens” when we really connect with a spiritual practice. Over the next few years I had more transits like this one, gradually “installing” a clear and navigable felt-sense of how the apparent structure of our individuated, time-and-space-limited being is continually in-formed and existentiated by the movement of That which is behind the “scrim” of visible, sense-and-mind/emotions-reality.

I also understood why the first experience had frightened me so: that it had revealed just how little actual “control” the ego possesses and, by extension, why an approach based only in psychodynamics or politics does not produce the kind of transformation we hope for.

So What?

“Sounds very abstract,” you might say. “I meditate and I don’t get any of that shit.” Stay with me…

What is that we are not just minds and static bodily structures, peaking in our twenties and fighting a losing battle against entropy until we finally receive the “cosmic eviction notice.” We are not our histories, our wounds, or the attitudes and politics that defend those wounds.

We and all of life are continually unfolded into life by the movements of a subtle geometry that is the matrix of all mind and concrete existence, and while this movement can’t be “understood,” we can live in fluid sync with it at a profoundly deep level of our being.

It means that, when we find the right entry-point, we CAN re-create and co-create ourselves in alignment with something fundamentally real, fundamentally whole, fundamentally powerful, and fundamentally joyous and loving that is the “ground” and fabric of our individual and collective existence, something that is not a construct, not an opinion or a premise. Once experienced, it cannot be taken from us by anything because it is the direct knowing of who we really are, of and by the deepest core of our existence, the deepest level of knowing, itself.

It means that when we get still enough and quiet enough inside, we can do something real and substantive in healing ourselves and becoming a healing presence for others. We can authentically live those ideals of a mature masculinity and mature humanity, in alignment with the deepest truth, integrity, and authenticity of ourselves and everyone. The right spiritual practice opens an aperture of awareness that heals the inner disconnects from our inherent joy and empathy — of which toxic masculinity is one expression.

Here’s the Thing

Each of our inner wounds is essentially a place where we are disconnected from the inherent wholeness that is the transparent movement of the inner Boundless into us, through us, and as us. Each of those places is also, potentially, a portal to re-awakening the felt-connection to that wholeness, which is also contiguous with the wholeness of everyone else and of “right action” in life.

Our lives almost completely revolve around those disconnects; we are continually looking outside ourselves — at our jobs, our bodies, our relationships, our belongings, our politics — to provide the sense of meaning, support, and wholeness that can only come from the inner connection/re-connection with our deep substance, and we are simultaneously fleeing from the pain of our disconnects and the havoc they create in life.

More to the point of this piece: If a man doesn’t find himself before he finds his goddess, he’s likely to wound or damage the women he tries to make into her.  All the most fucked-up AND all the most amazing things humans do emerge out of that inner relationship to our inherent wholeness or our disconnects from it.

The world’s wisdom-traditions and wisdom-teachers have known and articulated this for thousands of years, and developed methods and techniques that work to reconnect our felt-identity with our inherent wholeness.

Each breakthrough marks the death of a bit of our self-absorption and its corollary, the potential to violate our own and others’ integrity to get our “needs” met.

Each breakthrough logarithmically accumulates capacity to make the next, and because all consciousness and life-force are unitary, each individual breakthrough supports and is supported-by all humans who are seriously working on themselves.

At each inner re-connection, we experience greater felt-wholeness, inner peace, uncaused joy, deeper intimacy, greater power and integrity. We relax about getting our personal needs met from the outside, about being protected from the outside, and being seen in any particular way by others.  One lives in a felt-sense that the Universe is an essentially “friendly” place that is navigable and trustworthy. There is a living fabric of felt-connection with others and the “life field” that just precludes acting out-of-integrity.  This has a profound effect on our personality and ego-structure. These things are not “attained,” they are just what’s-there when our bullshit goes.

And our bullshit won’t go until there’s something better to replace it, because the things in life that are problems now were once the solutions to other problems.

What makes us unhappy is to want. Yet if we would learn to cut our wants to nothing, the smallest thing we’d get would be a true gift.
—don Juan

My interpretation is that we reduce our grasping for identity, fulfillment, and meaning in the external world — not that we dissociate from the basic longings that make us human.

The Caveat

Some psychotherapy does go deep enough for this to happen, but often does not. Psychological insight is not the same thing as spiritual awakening; a great deal depends on the awareness and spiritual capacity of the therapist, whether-or-not s/he conceives therapy as a “spiritual” search.

I will offer the following distinction: Psychotherapy is primarily for the repair of life situations; spiritual practice is for the repair of the fundamental split between our felt-identity and the boundless Being/Source by which we are both completely sustained and of which we are often unaware.

The method does not matter, as long as you are actually doing what you think you are doing. Every path and technique works for someone — and every path and technique, however-hallowed in tradition and performed with great dedication, does not work for someone.

Each of us needs to find the teacher and body of practice that’s in alignment with our unique being, which speaks to our soul — and then stick with it to get the breakthroughs. But do find the teacher; you can’t do this on your own, and the egoic obstinacy that keeps you from apprenticing yourself to a teacher is also going to block your inner guidance. If you have a teacher but aren’t getting these breakthroughs, it’s time to have a talk with your teacher about it.

The way is known, and while there are no perfect human beings, there are living and highly-developed men and women who can model for us and mentor us in how our inner vision of our own possibilities can be lived in a mature, joyous, and honorable human life. The way is known; become a Knower.


“Accept Everything”

“Accept everything” is another pop-spirituality trope. It has a grain of truth but it lacks discrimination/discernment and thus *wisdom*.

Discrimination/discernment is so important on the spiritual path that Vajrayana has a Bodhisattva/Deity who’s all about it: Manjushri. He’s the dude with the flaming sword who cuts through the crap and delusion.

Discrimination is not “judgment.” Discrimination is Absolute Knowledge of Divine Order. And if you don’t know what that is — you need a living teacher who can mentor you in refining & purifying your perception, because you just don’t have the capacity to do it on your own. If you think discrimination is judgment, you need to confront and name your shame & self-loathing first.

NOT everything that one encounters in 3-D/4-D supports human or planetary wholeness and evolution. Some things are just toxic, and there are are a LOT of distorted thoughtforms floating around the Collective and there are a lot of susceptible people on the planet to pick them up and boost their signal.

*Accept everything in your own interior process* — but use discrimination. There are things in you that properly do not belong to you and you need to identify and dump them, because they are running your life.

There ARE things in the external world that are just not acceptable, and engaging those things is where we both live our spirituality and expose the flaws in our own perception for our own further work.

Needing a Teacher

It’s a rather Western notion — stemming no doubt from our socially-conditioned and totally-unexamined hyper-individuation — that we can guide ourselves DIY on the spiritual path.

The reality is, that without a teacher, we will always approach the spiritual path through the same ego mechanisms that already imprison us — and dig ourselves in deeper as the Teachings get recruited into our existing ego structure.

Someone who would never dream of climbing untutored into a small aircraft and expect to survive their first flight will nevertheless pick a technique from a book and practice it — and then wonder why they become ill or their life falls apart in a not-useful way.

One often hears, “Life is my teacher.” Life can be your teacher if you have an awakened human teacher to reflect life to you in an awakened way.

So we need a living guide who has been the route ahead of us to provide direction that is not just the more-of-the-same, and to mentor us in the techniques & practices which, done *properly*, will catalyzed the necessary openings into new inner territory.

“We need our egos…”

There’s a trope current on the spiritual path: “We need our ego.”

This is a semi-factual statement… but very often it’s really a cover for the fact that someone’s practice is not actually freeing them from their movie of themselves.

You don’t actually need your ego. What you need is conscious, transparent access to The Boundless to let it act choicelessly through you. That’s what an authentic spiritual practice opens in us, it’s what the soul really longs for, and it’s the only thing that leads to a happiness that truly be­longs to you.