Spiritual Sports (4/27/2008)

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Spiritual Sports (4/27/2008)

Post by anna »

When we arrived in Honolulu, the place where I grew up, and where my side of the family still resided, we rented a small cottage on Sierra Drive, a winding road up the face of a mountain, which overlooked Kahala and the sea beyond. It was a relatively inexpensive rental -- while of course, to our consternation, we found that rentals in Honolulu were considerably more costly than those in Maine. Indeed, everything was more costly. Nevertheless, it was comfortable, fully furnished, and owned by a very aged old Chinese gentleman who lived in the house beside it, who had a mangy old dog that barked all night. We inquired why she barked, and Mr. Mau told us that she was afraid of rats, so she barked throughout the night trying to scare them away. Mr. Mau was almost totally deaf, so the barking didn’t bother him, but not so the rest of the neighbors, who complained, so we didn’t have to. Despite the complaints, the dog never fully ceased to bark all night.

While renting, we visited the Big Island of Hawaii, in hopes of finding a piece of land on which to build. The only land properties we could afford were recent lava flows, which, subsequently, were inundated 10 years later with additional flows, which, of course accounted for their initial low cost. Consequently, after searching for a week, we found that the cost of land of the kind on which we could depend to be livable in the future was beyond our meager means. Since our priority was to remain as debt free as we possibly could (remembering all the while that if we are debt free, we are not indebted to anyone or anything, another word for “free”), we returned to Honolulu with the intention of renting until we figured out what to do.

At the same time, S was writing a second book, and the first was completed, but not being well distributed, because the distribution depended upon us, and at which we were very inexperienced, and not particularly enthusiastic. The selling part was not our style. We became disheartened about the future prospects of writing, at least with any financial gain in sight. I also did a good deal of painting while there, occasionally showing some of my work at the weekend shows held on the fence which surrounded the Honolulu zoo in Waikiki. This is where the name of The Zoo Fence originated, not so much because of the artwork being sold, but because of the fence, which surrounded the animals, which onlookers gawked through, but which was returned with equally startled gawking by the inhabitants of the zoo.

Fortuitously, however, we encountered a good number of New Age thinkers in the islands, one of whom suggested S speak at her church, which he did, to great rounds of applause. This initial speaking was to start the process of S’s public speaking career, which was to last for about 7 years, curiously the same number of years devoted to living in the forests of Maine. He would eventually speak at many Unity Churches throughout the U.S., as well as conventions and workshops devoted to spiritual seeking, including Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship summer conferences, and various smaller groups, most of which were allied with New Thought, and a few with more conventional religious disciplines. He was extremely well received, and his speaking blossomed into a truly elegant style of speaking, even to the extent of accumulating “groupies” called Nadzoids, an appellation bestowed upon him by those who had seen it all before, and were not particularly impressed by the adulation, but knew the adoration when they saw it.

I too taught some workshops at these same conferences, but primarily accompanied S as his wife and partner. I could have probably spoken as well, were I so inclined, along with S at the podium. In part, I was actually afraid to, having never publicly spoken in my life, and in part, I still personally labored under the gender conditioning of the 60’s, where the wife did not wish to appear to compete with or draw the limelight from the career of her husband. I also was instilled with the “wife behind the man” syndrome, and from which it would take a good number of years for me to overcome. This position had served us well throughout our early life, in particular within the Foreign Service, where the wife is considered important to the career of a Foreign Service officer in his advancement, but works behind the scenes, not in front. I was still laboring under some pretty old-fashioned conditioning. While neither S nor I were consciously aware of this conditioning, it was assumed in those days. Only many years later were either of us to realize how that conditioning is pervasive, and difficult to recognize, much less to correct. All that aside, S was an exceptionally talented speaker, and I was nowhere near his equal in that area. He had a talent that was innate and incomparable to many other speakers, and it was therefore only natural to flow through the doors that that talent opened.

Consequently, the years of public speaking were a very glamorous and exciting time for us, and S took to it like water, and spoke extemporaneously, eventually without notes, and was superb at it. His father had been an actor on stage and perhaps endowed S with the genes to excel at this particular art, but whatever the reason, he was an inspiring, moving, amusing, and delightful speaker. S attributes his ease with speaking to the fact that the subject at hand was God, and thus, he simply opened his mouth and out came the words. This is fitting with the belief that if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, it will be easeful, so undoubtedly there is a great deal of truth to that observation.
Who was it that said, “Do not fear for what you are to say, open your mouth and the words issue forth?”

Early on, at one of the conferences, we were introduced to David Spangler, one of the more famous personages in the 70’s, from Findhorn, Scotland, who, while strangely mesmerizing as a speaker, also left one falling asleep. While listening to him speak publicly, we found it difficult to keep our eyes open, and a good portion of the audience was literally dozing! At that time, we found that curious. Now knowing the Sufic tradition, not to mention its basic premise that all of us are literally “asleep” -- and about which he claimed to have some knowledge -- it is only fitting that he put his listeners to sleep! It was not insignificant that the subject of his talk was the glamour of spiritual seeking. It was a warning so very early on in our own process that we would be wise to heed.

We spent a good deal of our spare time between workshops and speeches at this conference mixing with him and his two closest friends. At that time, he mentioned to us that the conference circuit was one that he was quitting shortly, because he had found it stultifying and dead-ended. (If one has ears with which to hear, there is always someone speaking directly to you.) It was within a few years after meeting him that we concluded the same and left the circuit as well. This encounter with him, very early on in this portion of our life, along with two of his close friends, was a moment of spiritual initiation for the two of us, and we recognized it as such, at the time, which was a great leap for us. Generally, one does not know until way after the fact, when a transition occurs in one’s life that is based on transformation of consciousness. But this was one time that we did know, and it was both disturbing, and exhilarating. We found ourselves both afraid of him, and loving him at the same time. Indeed, both S and I dreamt of him at the same time one night, and both came away terrified by that dream. Of course, who was it that was terrified, and who is it that loves?

Even today, more than 28 years later, I remember our encounter with him and his two friends with great fondness. It was full of genuine laughter; the huge belly laughter until tears came to our eyes kind, and the constant hilarity we felt while in the presence of these three individuals was extra-ordinary and way out of proportion to the actual humor. The laughter I believe was a guttural release of energy that somehow sharing the space with these people had generated for each of us. Indeed, in retrospect, it was filled with light and a kind of intoxication that can only be attributed to a different state of consciousness. Curiously, the group that surrounded Spangler seems to have disappeared into obscurity --this is only fitting. The Sufi’s have always admonished that the truest masters are pretty obscure and unknown, and the more popular and well followed a living teacher is, the more wariness is advised. At that time, I thought that very esoteric. However, if you think about it, it is obvious. Popularity is always nearer the middle and thus mediocrity -- that is the definition of popular, after all, isn’t it?

Despite this encounter, and the obvious verbal warning we had received from our encounter with Spangler, we were to continue the speaking circuit with enthusiasm and success for a number of years after meeting him. We traveled a good deal, and met numerous fellow teachers while teaching at workshops and conferences. These teachers varied from profound to crassly exploitive. Some were so obviously in it for the money, that you had to be blind to miss it. Others were sincere teachers. These conferences were composed of both the deeply spiritual up to and including the inevitable glamorous psychic- phenomena crowd. There were teachers of deep esoteric substance, and teachers who claimed to have been born on Jupiter! Healers were abundant at these conferences. Some were true healers, but a good many of them were dabbling in it, with more promises than actual healings. Indeed, some directed public healings where participants healed one another. I found that absurd, and indeed, at one of the conferences, we refrained from walking up to the front to be healed and to heal. We were the only two individuals who remained in the audience, and stood out like sore thumbs. Most thought we were snobs, or idiots. Little did we know that in every action we take, we are teaching! Indeed, we both observed that the participants at the time followed one another like sheep to slaughter, it was almost macabre.

All said, it was a heady time, and a dangerous time as well. The adulation and outright adoration of the speakers, was, in retrospect, an enormous time of temptation, in particular, for S, although I too was dazzled and tempted. The possibilities within the spiritual speaking arena are enormous for any good speaker, who can eloquently translate esoteric spiritual concepts. It would have been simple enough to encourage a following, set up an institution, and become famous, with all the glamour that comes with that, and generally, to fall into the trap of spiritual sports to entertain the followers. There were numerous individuals who were clamoring to join a group and who suggested we do such a thing. Indeed, there were times in our own process where we would have willingly joined a group of like-minded and true seekers. It is understandable that a seeker would seek out similar thinkers and wish to congregate together to support one another. However, something protected both of us from falling into this progressive and alluring prospect of organizing a group around our teaching. Each time an opportunity would open up, something held us back, made us wary, slowed our movements, kept our focus on the inner, not the outer accoutrements of success. The Sufi’s say, “if you don’t stop there”, you will go on, and on, endlessly to greater and greater treasure. The world is like this; full of opportunities, most of which lose their glitter quickly, and instead bring loss of freedom and many obligations.

Curiously, very early on in the speaking years S, as the appointed key speaker at a conference, stated unequivocally that each conference participant essentially did not “need us teachers”, that everything was accessible within, and the outer direction was mostly about entertainment. The response from the participants was explosive; the response from the other teachers and speakers something other. They were not pleased! (Although one did approach S stating that it was high time someone spoke the truth.) My point is that even at the beginning of this portion of teaching, S spoke rightly and honestly about the direction of the seeker, which was within, and at the risk of offending his benefactors. We somehow knew all the time what was what and what wasn’t what it appeared to be, even if often sub-consciously.

In retrospect, we can only conclude that we had a strong inner guide, which walked us through this period, without burning us up or catching us in its maze of glittering possibilities. This is not to suggest it was easy. We had many an argument between the two of us about what was wise to accept and what was not. The ego is devious, it will use whatever is available in order to maintain its authority, and we both had strong egos with which to contend. However, between the two of us, we managed to get through all of it intact. There were many high moments, but there were just as many low ones.

The darker side to public speaking was that there is often a kind of spiritual vampirism that goes on when one is teaching. Some students literally try to suck the knowledge from the teacher. It can be debilitating, and for some, even dangerous. In particular, I personally suffered from this kind of depletion many times, and grew lesser and lesser fond of the benefits and prizes offered by this particular undertaking. I developed more and more sensitivities to other’s thoughts, desires, and graspings that were all around us, despite the outer appearance of love and affection at the workshops and conferences. I found my dreams were frequently of the lives of those we were teaching, or of warnings to me of a kind of intolerance which permeated some of the groups we encountered. Indeed, there were times when I felt as though I were immersed in a kind of worldliness that far outweighed the apparent spiritual activities of those we were counseling and teaching. I became progressively nakedly aware of the cost we pay for fame and fortune. It was an archetypal time of teaching me in particular that lesson. In addition, from it I learned to discern and discriminate clearly between the deeper significance of the spiritual search and the outer glamour of its worldlier counterpart. This is something that each individual comes to in her own way and in her own time, but it is essential to reach that point of discernment between the lure of spiritual glamour, its promises, and the true hidden work that can be done only alone and in stillness.

In any case, the “spiritual sports” time, which we called all the goodies and experiences that conferences use to lure the participants, was a time of relative financial security for us. The books started selling, due to the speaking engagements, and the auspicious arrival in our life of the original publisher of A Course in Miracles. I cannot remember how or why he materialized, but he did, and he published our books at very little cost to us, as well as distributed them for us. I also wrote one separate book, which was autobiographical, and is no longer published, as well as excerpts from my diary in a joint book with S. S wrote several more books during this time, and it was at this time as well that S started to write the magazine, in hard copy at first, called The Zoo Fence. It was eventually to evolve into a web site over the years once the internet gained its foothold in the 80’s.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers........Wordsworth