In 2009 I discovered a website called “The Guru’s Handbook”. For a good four years this site provided a nourishing influence for my teaching life, and I would drop in on the site from time to time to take in some of the insights on the deeper interpersonal (and perhaps transpersonal) dimensions of teaching practices.
After taking a sabbatical in 2012 to pursue creative writing and music projects, I fell out of touch with the website. When I returned to teaching full-time in 2015, I noticed with great disappointment that the original site was gone.
Though I searched for the author, Asher Bey, I could not find anything beyond 2013, even on the site’s Facebook page. I even searched for the URLs on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine but only came up with the defunct URLs for the individual blog posts -which appeared to be no longer available as actual posts.
By chance, I decided to follow a hunch and to comment with a question on the Guru Handbook Facebook page, expecting no answer, as the page had been inactive for a long time.
And I received an answer -presumably from Asher Bey. It turns out that the site had moved to a WordPress.com format, and, after spending some time with it, I can see that all of the original writings from the other site are included.
Over the years, I’ve come to see that it doesn’t matter how many people are reached. It only matters who. With this in mind, I am delighted to share the site with whomever comes across this blog post.
If even one person absorbs even the vague after-scent of the wisdom offered in these writings, so much the better for the students who come into contact with them.
When I was 17, I got my first taste of the sectarian mindset when I read this book called “Why I am a Nazarene and Not a….”. The title of this book and its contents went on to bullet point why a Nazarene should not be a… Mormon, Roman Catholic, Jehova’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, Christian Scientist, and so on.
This was the beginning of a decades-long interest in studying different systems of belief and thought and a never-ending fascination with the question of how human beings could ever seriously consider that their own ideological framework -with its special language, concepts, practices, beliefs and unique package of enemies to fight against- could be the ONE true secular or spiritual path in history to offer liberation and harmony.
Curiously enough, many movements, including highly structured political movements and their powerful religious cousins, seem to always have a place for condemning heretics, dissidents or simply those who have found a different path or see a different perspective, which suggests a lack of real faith in the system that is being defended.
It is often said in wisdom traditions across the world that transformative change and its outward expression is intimately bound up with our own individual liberation from all forms -including the forms of personal narratives, political systems, socio-political identities, ideological beliefs and even justice work (whatever we take that to be) that we have attached ourselves to and have formed our identities around.
I make no claims here to be a liberated person (anyone who has experienced my hypomanic, passionate outbursts, knows I’m not). And I surely do get caught up in my own paradigms, beliefs, ideas, group loyalties, and unresolved personal narratives.
But, I can’t shake the idea that if we confine ourselves to working for the liberation (or simply for the interests) of only our own individual selves, our own tribes, or our own communities or even nations, we wind up trapping ourselves in a never-ending cycle of self-justification, hatred of an enemy, and the constant pressure of having to check back in with the values that have been handed to us, to make sure for ourselves and prove to others that we are on the right path.
I don’t think we can avoid living in the world without frameworks, communities, principles, beliefs, commitments and individual and collective actions against injustices.
But, I suspect that stepping out from these frameworks and looking at the raw data of our inner and outer experience might lead to a more invitational approach to the world, less hatred against one-dimensional enemies, and the discovery of a natural sense of kinship and harmony.
I was just browsing in a second hand store looking through antique photos and feeling a little contemplative about the passing of time, people, and all phenomena.
A breeze of a thought came to me as this lovely older gender non-conforming brilliantly loop-earringed white-haired man was carefully wrapping up the picture frames I bought. Here is that breeze of a thought….
“Hello, dear friend who recently exited my life, our lives, and this world. I think I have to admit that my life has become anemic and sometimes spirit-less without your nuanced intelligence and appreciation for precious objects and the care-taking of uniqueness …. You, the archiver of all things, the curator of a great collection of beautiful minds, and a fearless investigator into all realms of knowledge and experience. It was an honor to know you.”
And here I am, practicing patience, setting aside my time to make room for this lovely gender-non conforming, brilliantly white haired, loop-earringed man to carefully wrap picture frames I would just as easily have thrown into a bag to be on my gloomy way. I desired for him to enjoy the pleasure of investing care into what he regarded as precious. I think my departed friend would have wanted that for him, too.
Ah, yes, the lovely details of the present moment. The honoring of people who cross out paths. And the welcoming of new, high caliber friends who help us to make the unbearable bearable.
This is not a Mournday. It is a Moonday. As the tide rises and falls with the Moon, so my heart closes and opens in proportion to my fortune of knowing and being in communication with great, great hearts.
Recently I’ve been reading spiritual posts and commentary in various online social media groups. In these kinds of threads, I am frequently reminded of the conflict between “man of the world” and “man of the spirit” and find myself puzzled about how to integrate the two. Many people who consider themselves to be on the spiritual path will suggest that we learn to allow space for violence, cruelty, social unrest, systems of inequality and preventable suffering. The idea goes that individuals must become enlightened to the true nature of Existence if they are to have any genuine impact.
Three years ago, I was in dialogue on a social media site about the issue of police brutality (which at the time was an issue I was strongly interested in). The commenter I was speaking with suggested that people stop reading the media stories about police brutality and learn to be peaceful within themselves, instead of getting too preoccupied with injustice. The commenter when on to state that withdrawal and meditation was the way towards peace and “raising the collective consciousness of humanity.”
The idea that personal peace and enlightenment must be reached before we seek any meaningful change in society is an old and stubborn one. Looking within and not getting involved in the outer world is said to be compassionate because it can be transformative for the individual. I can appreciate this view and to some degree I think it’s useful to become aware of our patterns and not to react automatically to outer circumstances or events. Even more, I appreciate the healing and insight that comes from meditation and learning to be open-heartedly present to our immediate experience.
But, I think the form of “transcendental stewardship” where we disengage from the world’s problems and go deeper into the impersonal, spiritual realms of consciousness is only one of the ways in which we can contribute to healing, wholeness and the relief of suffering.Without recognizing, addressing, and alleviating the traumatic conditions we have the power to influence, it seems to me that we abandon fellow sentient beings to conditions that are not favorable to the “awakening” of consciousness or spirit. Traumatizing events can hold people back from the luxury of even considering the possibility of a benevolent underlying spiritual force. This is especially true for people who experience the ongoing traumatization of being held in captivity in abusive situations such as tyrannical governments, relationships with violent intimate partners, and the slow inner death of working in a toxic workplace environment.
Trauma in all its forms keeps people far away from the spiritual aspect of things. Being peaceful, watching one’s thoughts, and merging with the lovely one-ness of it all is a far-away fantasy for victims of violence and cruelty, and it’s fair to keep that in perspective when we want to remind people of the ultimate and fundamental goodness of reality and the illusion of the life of ego.
I think if we are serious about the project of raising the “collective consciousness”, we would want to do our part to relieve the traumatizing circumstances experienced by other people, so that they might be able to sit down and be with themselves and allow their minds to let go into the present moment. We would want to participate in changing systems that systematically cause harm to people. We would want to at the very least acknowledge the circumstances people are in and hold back from criticizing people for not being spiritual enough.
A question arises. Should we expect ourselves to not have emotional reactions to external phenomena? Is that somehow an indicator of the level of a person’s enlightenment? If I can watch the graphic depiction of police brutality in the video below with non-reactive awareness, I can imagine that my actions in the real world will be more proportionate, efficient and unclouded by messy emotions. Perhaps, my actions might be objective and not volatile. Then again, there may be a place in within transcendental awareness for experiencing -and not rejecting or judging- outrage, anger, anguish, grief, and interpersonal empathy when darkness and violence arises in our experience.
Not to participate in necessary change may be the right choice for spiritually enlightened individuals who have come to transcend human worldly concerns, having come to identify completely with Spirit, or Consciousness, etc. But, for those of us still hanging on at the sides of the mountain, the choice to participate in alleviating the dark circumstances of other sentient beings is a choice that is as right as rain.
Warning: The video below depicts NYPD officers throwing a pregnant woman onto her belly and shoving another woman hard enough to hurl her across the concrete, breaking her arm. As an exercise, I watched the video, breathed calmly and took note of emotional reactions as they arise in different parts of my body.