Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Getting Conned: Reflections on "Karmageddon"

When I posted a link to the trailer for Karmageddon on FB (see link below)- a film made by my friend Jeff Brown about his personal journey and struggle with becoming enamoured and then disillusioned with a guru- I received a number of messages from folks wondering how anyone could become a devotee of any guru. Many implicitly or explicitly asserted that they would never find themselves in that position (because they are smarter, more savvy, educated, connected to Spirit and self-aware than “those people” who do.)

There is no them and us. It’s all us. We are “those people.” Who amongst us has not bought something we did not need and/or could not afford because we were “sold” on it or fallen in love and imagined growing old with someone who turned out to be other than they seemed? Beguiling gurus and tempting teachers are, above all else, skilled and often naturally charismatic sales people who read others well.

Years ago I worked with a spiritual teacher who was a brilliant healer and shaman. He was also a human being- deeply flawed in ways that, as so often happens when imperfect humans have power over others, lead to actions that harmed some. He, like Bhagavan Das, the guru Jeff chronicles in Karmageddon, was open and honest about his proclivity for having sex with students. For both men, honestly was their alibi, a way to justify the narcissistic misuse of others.

There are three primary reasons why people- intelligent, savvy, heart­-full people like us- commit to a teacher or path that is not quite what it seems: 1) Early on in our encounter we have an experience that profoundly moves and opens us; 2) We have a genuine desire to make a deeper commitment to a life centred in spirituality and to loosen the grip of adhering to social and psychological “shoulds;" and 3) We are seeking healing for early wounds through the usually unconscious projection of mother or father onto the teacher/guru (as we can also do with projections onto lovers, therapists, husbands, wives, friends, celebrities etc.)  

In the film Jeff says about Bhagavan Das, “When I'm in that man's presence, I feel he is connected to the Mother like no human I have ever encountered!” That’s what happens: a direct experience of Spirit that cracks us open. Oh, it’s easy to point out that this experience is not something the teacher or guru gives us, but our own connection to Spirit- but the understandable impulse is to want to stay close to the setting, teacher or practices where we have been given a glimpse of the divine, been cracked open to our own deeper experience.

We want to commit. Completely. In some ways the more the teacher lives in a way that defies cultural norms the more he or she seems to offer an opportunity to live our desire to devote ourselves to what matters more than social convention and mundane daily concerns. What saved me was that I had children- and nothing trumped my love for them. When the teacher with whom I was studying began to ask for a commitment that compromised mothering my sons, I woke up and walked away.

In this film we journey with Jeff as he struggles with the guru's inconsistencies, as he travels to seek counsel from others, some of whom waffle all over the place, while others- Sean Corn, Wah! and Ram Dass- offer clear, heartfelt honesty about the damage that can and often is done by ordinary humans masquerading as enlightened beings. Jeff had already done a lot of psychological work and so is somewhat known to himself, aware of his own wounding. With this awareness, realizing the truth of his relationship to Bhagavan Das is as inevitable as it is painful. 

Jeff offers us a great gift in taking us with him on this very personal journey in Karmageddon. If we can watch the film and resist the urge to distance ourselves, to pretend we have never been or could never be fooled, Jeff’s story offers us insight and prompts reflection into the places where we have “bought” what was false out of a genuine hunger and sometimes momentary unconsciousness that makes us vulnerable to con artists within or around us. 

Oriah (c) 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A New Kind of Faith

I want to know about faith- the kind of faith that’s found after loss. 

When I was a young woman my health collapsed, and I lost the life and identity I had had. But I had faith that the chronic illness I had would be cured, and I would once again be able to do all the things “normal” people could. Oh, I wasn’t passive- I engaged in pretty much every physical, psychological and spiritual healing modality, I could find. I learned a lot and I had months, sometimes a year of remission, but the disease never totally disappeared. With the natural changes of aging it became more acute and. . . I lost faith that anything would ever make a difference. 

I prayed for healing, but what I wanted (understandably) was a cure.

And now, strangely, I have found a renewed faith in healing. Not in a cure, but in healing. Interestingly, it has taken me almost three decades to really get the difference. This new sense of what is possible and good comes only after a dark period in recent years of finding myself bereft, separated from the old faith, abandoned by the deal-making deity in whom I professed no belief even as I semi-consciously tried to negotiate a back-room deal to earn a cure with personal work, sacrifice, and faux-surrender. (It's not real surrender if you keep peeking to see if the hoped for outcome is arriving.)

I am not saying that cures are not desirable or possible, and I leave the door to that possiblity wide open. But healing, for me, has become more important. And no, I am not making virtue out of necessity, because I only have to look around at the world to know that even if all conditions, including my health, were exactly as I thought I wanted them to be, true joy and peace could remain elusive.

Healing is about how I live this day fully, content with what I can do. If that's lying with my head packed in ice to dull the pain, listening to quiet cello music, I have discovered that I can cultivate real contentment with that, can be at peace with not being able to do what I'd planned.  

And a new faith- a faith in what is- takes root.

When I allow this faith to take me consciously into my experience- no matter what thoughts, emotions or sensations are arising- I drop down into an awareness of the divine spark, the kiss of the Beloved that perpetually renews. Hard to describe that experience of the infinite movement and deep stillness that is the ground of our being, but the consistent quality is one of an all-inclusive spaciousness, room for everything- all aspects of self and the world- nothing left behind, all that is accepted and held tenderly.

And my faith deepens, and I am held in and filled with an abiding contentment.This contentment does not preclude acting to co-create change where it is needed and possible.This contentment is active, involved, willing to do what needs to be and can be done without rejecting what is or desperately grasping for things to be different than they are. 

This new faith is flowering in me. It heals my relationship to the moment and all it holds, whether that is joy or sorrow, physical ease or pain. And I am deeply grateful.

Oriah (c) 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Falling In Love

I have fallen in love with my life again.

I cannot write these words without feeling my throat tighten with tears. Makes me realize how much I had secretly feared this might never happen- that I might never wake up with my heart spontaneously full of gratitude for another day no matter what it brought, content to lay in bed steeped in my night dreams, slowly letting the beauty of being colour the day before me.

Oh, it’s not that there haven’t been good days, good weeks, and even a few better than average months. But the last two years have been a bit of a whirlwind of turmoil: betrayal, separation, lawyers, loss (of home, belongings, savings, dreams,) divorce, and then crises around two parents with Alzheimer’s needing care and my on-going health challenges (perhaps not surprisingly) becoming worse.

But that’s not quite the full picture. Because, although the last two years were particularly challenging, it had been much longer since I’d awoken in the morning with spontaneous joy. I’d been in the wrong bed, the wrong place, the wrong life for me.

The problem is it’s hard to recognize how far off the path of our own soul's life we've drifted when we have unconsciously dissociated in an effort to fit the life that we thought we should want or at least should commit to no matter what. Our psyche dissociates to tolerate the intolerable, to disconnect from and numb to what is insulting to the soul, and it’s pretty much impossible to disconnect and simultaneously be aware of the disconnection.

Over the course of my marriage I became increasingly ill. For the last couple of years I was largely confined to our beautiful but isolated home, often bedbound five days out of seven. When, in desperation, I suggested to my then-husband that maybe we needed to talk about moving closer to the city where he worked so I could access the health care I needed, he replied emphatically: “I don’t care how sick you get, I will never discuss leaving this house!”

My inner response- indicative of just how disconnected from myself I had become- was to think that perhaps I had not broached the subject skilfully. But somewhere in the distance I caught the faint echo of an inner alarm that had probably been sounding for years. And I started to move, knowing I was fast approaching a time when my declining physical health could make any movement impossible.

I can honestly say I am grateful to my ex for being so clear, for consistently letting me know that life in this marriage was not tenable for me. Otherwise, I might never have woken up.

I’m sharing this one grim emblematic detail because I want you to understand why this new-found faith in life feels so miraculous. I'd started to wonder if I was just “done.” Oh, after the separation I began to find a rhythm, a way to enjoy moments or days. But I was not sure that this- this fullness of heart, this being in love with life as it appears, however it appears each day- would ever find me again.

Last week a friend asked me about my health. I answered truthfully, “Well, there are things- like travelling or going out in the evening- that I really can’t do right now, and I may never be able to do them again- I don’t know. But. . . . I’m okay with it. I’m content with what I can do, because being with what I can do opens the door to joy every day.”

As I said it, I realized it was true. I am no longer just coping, just keeping my head above water, waiting for moments of relief. I am at home in my body, my life, my newly resurrected daily awareness of the essence that runs through all that is.

I have fallen love with my life again- and I get why we use the term “falling,” because it is less an act of will than a sense of the inner gravity of life sweeping me off my feet. It is not a rising above or moving away from what is hard but a sweet spiralling deeper into whatever arises within or around me and always finding the heart of wholeness there.

I have fallen in love with my life again.

It is wonder-full.

Surely we are made for this sweet loving of life.

Oriah (c) 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Getting It

The topic of this blog- why some people in our lives do not “get” what we tell them about ourselves and our lives- has come up frequently in the last two weeks with both friends and clients. Several have been struggling with family members who do not seem to “get” that there are things they will not or cannot do. The latter comes up mostly with folks who are dealing with chronic illness, but struggling with others’ expectations is not confined to those with illnesses.

Our lives are interwoven in mutual endeavors, so sometimes having what we can't or won't do understood can be important. But, when we say we can’t or won’t do something, and then go ahead and do it anyway (even irritably, or at a cost to ourselves) people, understandably, are likely to believe our actions instead of our words. If this happens regularly, others will start ignoring what we say, and expect us to act as we have in the past.

Generally, what others don’t “get” about us, is what we do not fully grasp and/or accept about ourselves.

And therein lies our frustration: We want someone to “get” something about us that we are having trouble seeing and accepting (as legitimate or true) about ourselves. And when they don’t, we become angry. But the truth is, if we don’t get it, they’re not likely to. After all- we are the primary source of information about who and what we are. 

Often what we are hoping for is someone to champion aspects of self that we find unacceptable.

And it won’t work. If I don’t accept that I can’t go out in the evening (because of health challenges,) or cannot talk to a friend or family member for hours whenever they call (because of other commitments or needs and health challenges) or do not want to go to large gatherings that I find exhausting (even though I think an event may have merit but because I really don’t enjoy large gatherings) then how will my friends and family ever understand or accept these truths about me?

And it doesn’t stop there. If I express my desire to have meaningful substantive conversations and let others know I find endless small talk exhausting, but continue to engage in endless small talk (that others enjoy) I can hardly blame others for not offering me what I want and need.

But here’s the good news: watching where we become frustrated or resentful of others not getting us- we find a clue about what we are not seeing fully or accepting about ourselves. And that can be useful information, a pointer for inquiry, a way to see where we abandon ourselves, a motivation to begin to cultivate some tenderness for both the aspect that is being short-changed and our fear of a wider, deeper self-acceptance.

Because if we really got this thing we want the other to get– well, it wouldn’t matter so much if they did or not. Of course, there are times when I extend myself beyond preferences or limitations out of love, service and concern for others. But if this is the rule and not the exception, if it is not adequately counter-balanced by that which feeds my body-soul-mind-heart-self, it is simply not a sustainable way of living.

There are no guarantees: if we accept and live by some basic truths about who we are and our current limitations, others may be unhappy with us. But being true to what we know is good, enriching, and soul-serving for us ensures we are likely to be less resentful and angry and more accepting of what others need (particularly if we are not always the ones providing.)

If others don’t seem to “get” something about us, generally it’s because we are not fully seeing and accepting this truth about ourselves. They cannot do it for us or without us. We are the ones who need to “get” who and what we are.  

Oriah (c) 2012