Journal
Tami Simon on Integral Naked - How to Deal with Disappointment in Your Spiritual Teachers
June 09, 2008 03:10

Tami Simon shares her experiences of being painfully disappointed by various spiritual teachers, as well as her own personal methods of working with this disappointment. What do we do when our spiritual guides don't quite measure up to our own expectations of them? Can recognizing their limitations actually help free the wisdom the have to offer us? And most importantly, what does the actual feeling of disappointment have to offer our own spiritual awakening?

"Even though, Ken, I've been exposed to Integral theory for a few years, it hasn't prevented me from feeling disappointed, again and again, in teachers when a new aspect of their twisted humanness is uncovered in the course of working with them...."


Who: Tami Simon is the founder and president of Sounds True, a multimedia publisher dedicated to "the dissemination of spiritual wisdom" and North America's leading publisher of spoken-word spiritual teachings.

Summary:  By virtue of running a business like Sounds True, which has produced a litany of audio interviews with a staggering amount of the today's heaviest-hitting spiritual teachers, Tami has had plenty of opportunities to get to know many of the world's most extraordinary teachers in very deep and profound ways.  As she mentions in the interview, when there is a business contract sitting on the table between herself and some of these teachers, she is often exposed to a side of them that many of their own students aren't—a side that occasionally appears to be incongruous with the lofty perceptions that surround them.   Rather than being the perfect vehicles of liberation they are often made out to be, Tami has found many of these teachers to be anything but perfect.  She has been exposed to their full humanness, and finds that they possess many of the same relative foibles, flaws, and idiosyncrasies that so many of us are subject to.  Sometimes this experience can be endearing, but many times it is painfully disappointing—especially when the teachers seem to be so unaware of their limitations, parading their spiritual realization in such a way that tries to mask their own human twistedness. 

This sort of disappointment has been felt by a great number of people somewhere along their spiritual path, who have at some point become suddenly aware of their own teacher's imperfections, in ways that can violently undercut the reverence and spiritual connection they feel with them.  Sometimes students are disappointed when they hold on to the naive belief that spirituality is some sort of magical elixir, which, when done right, promises to make us happy all the time and cure all of our life's ailments.  And when flaws in our spiritual teachers are inevitably discovered, it must be because they are doing something wrong, and are therefore in no position to teach us anything.  Other times, this disillusionment is simply a result of the quixotic projections many students unfairly impose upon their teachers—expectations that, since spiritual teachers are here as representatives of absolute perfection, they must themselves be absolutely perfect.  And when it is discovered that these teachers still eat, use the bathroom, and have sex, they are immediately stripped of their demi-god status and cast out of our idealized heavens.

Much more difficult, however, is the disappointment that comes with recognizing very real pathologies within some of our most cherished spiritual teachers.  Often these manifest as insatiable drives toward money, sex, and power—drives which are typically expected to be transcended as a result of spiritual practice.  These pathologies can often be devastating to a student, who at best expects the teacher to simply "know better," or who has at worst fallen victim to a teacher's abusive dynamics, whether physically, sexually, or psychologically.  Perhaps the most tragic consequence of these incidents is when disappointment and disillusionment begin to slowly devour the student's faith in Absolute perfection itself, becoming lost in the wilderness of suffering and ignorance.

As we can see, there is a wide range of disappointment we can experience around any given spiritual teacher—from naive projection, to authentic pathology, to egregious abuse.  In all cases, the student must follow the same general process: identify the problem, understand the problem, and modify—or sever—the relationship accordingly. 

There are many times when, despite the disappointment we might feel toward a particular teacher, we continue to recognize in her or him something extraordinarily valuable to our own spiritual path, and wish to maintain the relationship.  Unfortunately there is no universal formula for these difficult cases, as the circumstances are often unique to each student/teacher relationship.  There are, however, at least three very broad concepts that can really assist our understanding of the dynamics at play, thus helping us to make a more informed decision on how to move forward with the teacher.

  • Multiple Intelligences

All human beings possess what are often called "multiple intelligences," all of which grow through different levels of development, often quite independent of each other.  Examples of these different sorts of intelligences are: cognitive, moral, spiritual, interpersonal, kinesthetic, musical, etc.  It is therefore quite possible to have people with very advanced spiritual lines, but less advanced moral or interpersonal lines, essentially making them "enlightened assholes."

  •  States and Stages

Much of the emphasis of the world's spiritual traditions has been placed upon cultivating and stabilizing states of consciousness, ranging from gross (waking) states, to subtle (dream) states, to causal (deep dreamless sleep) states, to ever-present Witness states, to radically unqualifiable Nondual states.  While most spiritual teachers are capable of embodying and transmitting these states at different degrees of competency, it is extremely important to take into consideration that all of these states are available at every stage of psychological and spiritual growth.  For example, using Jean Gebser's developmental scheme, people are able to evolve through magical, mythical, rational, pluralistic, and integral stages of development—and states of spiritual enlightenment can be experienced from any of these stages of development.  Enlightened Zen masters, therefore, can still remain strongly racist or fundamentalist in their beliefs, while having successfully stabilized some very advanced states of consciousness.

  •  The Two Truths Doctrine

As we continue to deepen our spiritual practices, we are able to notice both the Absolute perfection at the center of this and every moment, as well as the twisted, flawed, deeply imperfect manifestation of the entire relative world—an insight commonly referred to as the "Two Truths Doctrine."  Only through contemplative practice can we fully understand the difference between the relative and the Absolute, slowly dislodging us from our expectations that our spiritual teachers be perfect in every way.  After all—sometimes Absolute perfection can only be seen through a dirty bathroom mirror, through the grease and grime of human perception and ambition.

By taking these important concepts into careful consideration, we are able to more accurately triangulate the source of our disappointment, and decide whether we will maintain the relationship, or perhaps move on to another one.  Often the relationship can be salvaged, indeed improved upon, by this understanding—by acknowledging the limitations of the teacher, we can actually free the teaching, and more fully submit ourselves to the Absolute truth reflected therein.  In fact, the disappointment itself can have the remarkable power to transform, as it brings into powerful contrast all that we already know to be true—a stinging reminder of the inherent perfection that lies at the heart of every experience we have ever had.

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