I spent the past few days teaching in at Unity of Tustin, a delightful church in Santa Ana, CA. As the retreat came to a close one passionate man sitting close to me in the front row was clearly unhappy with my level of teaching. He kept asking questions that he said were designed to bring out the “Master Teacher” in me.
Seeing that he was failing to find more to me than there is, he asked if I deliberately keep my public teaching so simple. I tried to explain that all my teaching is simple because I just don’t have the patience or personality for complication.
Honestly, there is nothing that deep about spirituality and enlightenment. Of course there are complicated systems of spiritual talk and practice for those who wish to spend decades learning about enlightenment rather than just waking up to it, but in the end even these, if they are at all legitimate, end up saying the same thing: namely (to quote Jesus quoting Deuteronomy and Leviticus) “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and love your neighbor as your self.” That’s it.
Of course we have to define “love,” “God,” and “neighbor,” and different teachers will do so in different ways, and some of them won’t use this vocabulary at all, but the point being made will be the same.
For me love is engaging life in a manner that allows living things to flourish to the best of their ability; God is Reality, all that was, is, and will be; and neighbor is all beings and things that Reality manifests. Loving God and loving your neighbor means loving reality, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Loving our neighbors requires upaya, the skillful means by which we can love effectively in the context an ever-changing reality. To do this it is often helpful to consult sacred texts, wise teachings, and authentic sages.
I am not one of these sages. I am a writer, a teacher, and an entertainer. I share what I know is true, what I think is true, and some of the texts, teachings and teachers from which I have learned what I know. I teach only those spiritual practices that I personally practice, and only to the level that I practice. And I try to do all this in a way that is fun, engaging, informative, and, when lucky, illuminating.
And then I go home. I don’t want followers. I don’t want disciples. I don’t want to take responsibility for someone else’s spiritual life. I have enough of a challenge taking responsibility for my own.
So I hope you will continue to buy and read my books, to invite me to visit your communities to teach, and to attend my workshops and retreats, but please do so for the fun of it. If you are looking for enlightenment, you are already lost.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
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Your questioner must have either been, at best, herso worship, or at worst, spiritual pride-in-self. It is disconcerting when someone can't hear you as they are far too busy focusing on their own 'questions'.
I don't comment often, but I have been enjoying the thoughts you share with us for some time. Thank you for Be-ing.
You wrote "I don’t want followers. I don’t want disciples. I don’t want to take responsibility for someone else’s spiritual life. I have enough of a challenge taking responsibility for my own."
I'm not sure you have a choice in whether you have followers, disciples, etc. You might not want them, but my guess is you most likely do.
It can't be helped. Your engaging style, your thoughts, ideas, opinions on God, religion, spiritual practice, etc. have drawn me in -- and surely others as well. You have an ability to put meaningful words to things that I have known to be true for myself for many years, and you're able to carry on a thoughtful conversation with those who not only have similar thoughts, but those whose thinking is not so similar. These are definitely abilities and skills I wish I had.
I'm a relative "newbie" to your writings, teachings, etc. It wasn't until I sold my business earlier this year and had more time to REALLY focus on things I enjoy that I discovered how much I loved the way you think. And so I've become an avid reader of your blogs, magazine columns, and books. I haven't had a chance to attend any of your lectures, workshops, etc. But I'm fine with that. My point is, however, that your thinking, your writings, etc. have given me the ability to reach inside of myself more deeply, to engage myself more with people and the world, to feel more alive. And I think that is part of, if not most of, the role a spiritual advisor plays.
You may not live locally; I might not have a chance to attend a lecture or workshop by you; we may never meet face to face and have a conversation. But you play a very important role right now in my spiritual life. And I thank you for that - whether you like it or not!
Thank you both for your comments. I would say that we are "fellow travelers," rather than teacher and student. My thoughts are always in flux. I have no fixed message to impart. And I am always grateful when someone finds what I say helpful.
Nice exchange, folks.
I've read some Ken Wilbur exchanges with "difficult" workshop participants. I, also, have felt disappointment with the median aim of some workshops and classes. As a teacher I know that "aiming" is difficult for a mix of students. And of course as mentioned any teaching cannot reach a participant unless they, too, are seeking out the truth.
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