Gratitude to Old Teachers

November 11, 2014
 When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?

This poem by Robert Bly resulted in reminiscence about some of the important teachers in my life. I realize that much of the foundation of my belief systems has resulted from the teachers who crossed my path at precisely the right time.

The first was a Minister of the local Baptist Church, the Reverend Gordon Glover. I was fifteen years old and my inability to accept the basic tenets of the church was causing great conflict with my father and mother. Somehow my mother persuaded me reluctantly to visit the Minister of the church I had been dragged to for many years. After he welcomed me in I explained the foundations of my disbelief – the loving God crucifying his son to save me, the absurdity of being born again, the inconsistencies in the whole story. He looked at me with care and concern then leaned over and said, “you are absolutely fine, don’t worry about it. You will find what you need in your own time.” Needless to say this earned him the enmity of my father for the rest of time but to me it was an amazing moment.

They say that when the student is ready the teacher appears. Well in my case I was a long time getting ready. It was not for forty years that the next major influence on my spiritual life showed up. It was the amazing late Reverend Marvin Anderson of the Unity Church in Vancouver that guided my path for a number of years. He reintroduced me to a form of Christianity that gave me the freedom to have my own beliefs. No longer was everything in the Bible literally true. God was no longer an elderly, patriarchal male who believed in retribution. He helped me to see that my previously proclaimed atheism was actually a lack of belief in the God espoused my father. He had a brilliant mind, was widely read and helped to broaden my spiritual search.

I began to study at Unity Village in Missouri for two years and deepened my quest in many ways. He introduced a concept that was profound and as far as I can tell original. “The simplicity that precedes complexity is useless, the simplicity that follows complexity is the pearl of great price.” It helped me through the years when I had to let go of simplistic beliefs and attitudes in order to grow. Finally he preached a sermon that freed me from a trap of my own making. I was sitting in the balcony of a packed church in the company of hundreds of kindred souls. It was as though he was speaking straight to my heart. “Some of you need to move on, your time here is done.”

Leaving Unity opened the door to my next teacher. Following a series of signs and synchronicities I enrolled in a two-year program called the Art of Spiritual Guidance. It was crazy thing to do; I did not know the teacher; it was a significant commitment of money and time; yet I felt called. Atum O’Kane was a profound influence in my life. He opened the door to the psychological aspects of my spiritual journey. He introduced me to Carl Jung, the unconscious and the shadow, dream work, body sculpture and drawing to connect with deeper wisdom, and a deeper understanding of Soul. He introduced me to Sufism, mystic Judaism as well teachings from the Christian and Buddhist tradition. He provided the groundwork that gave me the confidence to practice as a Spiritual Coach teaching how to hold sacred space, how to listen from the heart and trust my intuitive wisdom.

Atum is still a big part of my life, shows up in my dreams but the primary teaching role has passed to a man that I deem to be the wisest I have ever met. James Hollis is Jungian Analyst, writer and teacher. His framework for the spiritual life feels right. His belief that meaning is a much higher aspiration then happiness has profoundly influenced my work. His understanding of the powerful forces of the unconscious is second to none, yet he is the first person to say, “I know nothing about the unconscious, that’s why it is called the unconscious.” However he helps us understand that we can derive from dreams and the patterns of our lives the forces that unconsciously control our responses. His explanation of complexes, how they originate and how they affect us is a keystone to my understanding of self, limited as it may be.

His audio book, Through The Dark Wood is the best recipe for a meaningful exploration of our lives I have ever encountered. Up to this time I have listened to it ten times and each time I get something new.

I am the product of my great teachers, I feel amazingly blessed to have met each one of them on this earth walk. To quote the beautiful song written in 1982 by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley – “They are the wind beneath my wings.”

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To Put Away Childish Things part 2

March 19, 2014

As I reflected on the loss I experienced when the runes that had served me so well seemed to lose their power, (http://wp.me/phAyS-tf) I began to consider the relationship of loss, change and surrender to shifts in God concept.

The idea of having a God concept as opposed to a belief in God is one that does not sit easily with everyone. Sometimes it is difficult to entertain that something we felt so convinced about could possibly shift; there is security in the known as opposed to the unknown and the idea of change is frightening yet I have realized over my life, change has been essential for my growth. Substituting “Mystery” for God accepts the possibility of change. As the great Indian poet Tukaram expressed, “Nothing in your life will not change especially all your ideas about God.”

My first God concept was an inherited (one could suggest ‘brainwashed’) Christianity and I was a “born again” Baptist. The God I had been exposed to was a stern, unequivocal patriarch whose righteous anger had been mitigated by sending his son to die to redeem our sins. All I had to do was accept Jesus into my heart and I was saved.

Unfortunately for some unknown reason this also meant no dancing, no movies, no rock and roll, church three times on Sundays and that everyone else outside our small sect was going to hell.

At the age of thirteen I had my coming of age and I rejected what I considered an illogical, small minded, simplistic dogma and thus became my father’s worst nightmare (with all the unforeseen ramifications that are not part of this story). I recall even at that time a sense of loss; I loved prayer, it removed some of the ambiguity from life, and now I had no one to pray to. In hindsight it feels very similar to how I felt when the runes lost their power. It forced me to grow up.

I became what I described at the time as an atheist. In reflection I had actually abandoned belief in the God of my father but with no curiosity to explore outside of that tradition, I assumed I was an atheist. In fact for a time I became a rabid anti Christian attempting to persuade others from the validity of their faith. Proselytizing was obviously part of the family tradition that I had trouble abandoning.

It was not until more than twenty years later that my mind began to open to other possibilities. I began to explore the nature of my relationship with the energy of the universe. The catalyst was my second wife who had a strong sense there was more to life than my limited perspective; I began to open my eyes to new possibilities. Something that had never been discussed in my previous circle became amazingly common place, even my sister espoused beliefs that I had never imagined. In response to my question, “why had she never told me?” she responded, “You wouldn’t have been interested.” Something I had to admit sadly was true.

My experimentation with the idea of setting intention and trusting the universe to support that intention became the key to what appeared to be amazing manifestation. The universe became my giant candy store. I could have anything I wanted. This perspective has been the subject of many successful marketing programs. “The Secret” was probably the most renowned.

Yet this too had to pass. and eventually it lost its energy for me. I realized that the universe desired more from me; there was some form of reciprocal expectation. Through an astonishing series of events (see http://wp.me/phAyS-bO) I awoke to a new belief. I was not a human being having a spiritual experience rather I was a spiritual being having a human one.

Once again I had to give something up. This time it was the irresponsible manifestation of what I wanted. It was replaced by a search for meaning and purpose.

A pattern began to develop. Each shift in God concept was accompanied by a loss of something and a search for the new. Renowned Jungian analyst and author James Hollis refers to it like this, “When for whatever reason this energy no longer enlivens that image for us then that structure or concept or experience dies for us as a source of the divine, what remains is a dead myth or ritual that no longer touches or moves us. The energy has departed leaving a dry husk.” The dry husk that Hollis refers to was always replaced by a bud of possibility.

The next God concept that emerged was truly surprising to me. It took a broken ankle to drag me kicking and screaming back to Christianity in the form of the Unity Church. The key came from a passage in the book the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: by Sogyal Rinpoche. He suggested that too many new age Christians were spiritual flirts, “pick a path any path.” His encouragement was to go deeper; I overcame my resistance and returned to my roots.

This new thought Christianity attracted and engaged me and for three years I studied, reflected and went to the Unity School of Religious Studies. I was convinced I had found my spiritual home yet this too ran its course. The Unity God became too much like the God of my childhood. A nicer, modernized, more feminine version but still too simplistic and black and white. Basically God did not judge but your own consciousness did. Positive relationship, finances and health accrued to a formula of having the appropriate consciousness in place. Once more the energy was lost and the symbol became a husk and it was time to move on.

Once again there was a real sense of loss. I had loved this much healthier concept of God; in fact I appreciated the idea that my consciousness was the arbiter of my heath, prosperity and relationships but once the energy had gone, I had to move on.

I moved on to a broader concept of Christianity attending theological college and intellectualizing the different concepts of God within Christianity but it led to a dead end. The loss was immediate and traumatic. The realization there was no quick fix. Prayer and spiritual practice went so far and no further. It was time to forsake the Pollyanna perspective of so many religious and spiritual traditions and grow up.

I entered an expanded world. I enrolled in a program called The Art of Spiritual Guidance. It expanded my awareness to Sufism, Jewish mysticism and Buddhism. The heart became a priority. I learned Arabic practices plus most importantly I learned about Carl Jung. The world of depth psychology opened to me and everything took an amazing shift. I realized that for me spirituality without psychology was nonsense.

My new God concept became much more connected to the divine within. I began to focus on the nature of inner wisdom. Exploring my intuition through dreams, signs, synchronicities and oracles such as runes became a focus. I also studied the nature of my personality. For a time I lost any sense of the Divine as transcendent. I realize in retrospect that I developed a dependence. I was trying to remove ambiguity and uncertainty from my life and the runes became a tool to achieve this. Unwittingly I had assumed a contract with God, “I draw a rune and it will tell me the right course of action.”

The shift began last August. I recall reading Brian Swimme’s description of the divine. “The powers that built the universe are ultimately mysterious, issuing forth from and operating out of the mystery. These are the most awesome and numinous in the universe. Humans are these dynamics brought into self awareness.” Brian is a mathematical cosmologist who teaches evolutionary cosmology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in California. His interpretation resonated with me.

At the same time I was introduced to the ancient story of Job through both James Hollis and author and poet Steven Mitchell. It helped me see the futility of assuming a contract with God. This was supported in Terence Malick’s amazing movie Tree of Life. He begins the movie with a beautiful passage from Job, “where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth… while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” For a moment when watching his astonishing visual cinematic art of evolution I experienced something numinous, ineffable yet totally real and it changed me.

A new God concept emerged. It had three pillars: to unravel my own psychology, to explore my relationship with the Mystery and to serve where I am called. At the time I did not realize there was something I had to give up. Now I realize I had to surrender this implied contract with God. In hindsight I realize I had a great deal of resistance and the energy had departed from the runes long before I appreciated the change.

I realize the universe is a complex and mystical place. It seems for every step forward there is a loss yet I also see how elements of old God concepts are maintained in the new. At each shift I grow up and perhaps let go of childish things. I sense it will lead me to deeper levels of responsible discernment. The adventure carries on.