Many years ago I had a spiritual teacher who was brilliant, tall and charismatic. What he lacked was wise judgment, self-honesty and compassion for others – in other words, the teachings themselves. Carried by his charisma, he played the guru role to the hilt, allowing his female students to adore him, and his male students to copy him. The teachings themselves mostly rang true, however – perhaps despite himself – although I sensed him prowling behind his title like a trapped wolf wanting out.
I kept my own counsel, watching from the sidelines and wondering how he would work out his dilemma, which was familiar to me because I was a lone wolf myself. I figured I could learn from him either positively or negatively, moved by what he did right, and correcting in my own mind what I considered a ‘wrong’ move.
“Take a breath before you respond to someone near tears,” I would tell myself silently, mentally considering what a compassionate answer to her question might be.
This was a backwards way to have a teacher, but it was either that or leaving, and I was too fascinated to leave because, identifying with his weakness, I actually loved him.
Later, I could try and understand the dynamic.
His lectures, though, were masterful in content and delivery, and held me in thrall. Gosh, he was good! With eloquence he said all the right things – even if he didn’t live up to the way he told us to live. I wondered if he was aware of that?
For me, meditating with the others in a hushed hall and feeling part of an ancient ritual in community was thrilling enough. For about a year I was an ardent student of the practice, but once I had to sadly acknowledge that the teacher’s actions could be seriously dangerous, I drew back, continuing to remain a student out of curiosity and, I must admit, a feeling that I might be able to help him.
I considered trying to force his hand by telling him bluntly what I saw. None of the others were making a move, so why not me? I wondered if maybe this was a Crazy Wisdom teaching, to see who was paying attention; maybe this was a subtle test…
Maybe I was being hopelessly naïve…
But I still didn’t understand why so many of his students were willing to do his bidding so blindly? They were mostly educated people, but yet they allowed him to define their lives. And what about the more vulnerable amongst us, who depended upon the community for their lives? But this was an old story of subjects being dazzled by pomp and power, following the ‘king’ down the garden path at his bidding even if it led to their destruction – and his.
I decided to stick around and find out, from a safe distance, where this was leading.
I figured the larger society needed to understand how charismatic leaders played on our weaknesses to their own ends, and that this small group was a microcosm of what happened on the grand scale. If I could understand how this worked close up, where I actually knew the people, I hoped I might understand how it worked on the larger stage where demagogues, in generation after generation, take us over by posing and proclaiming nonsense to the applause of willing followers.
I guess I should be thankful I got to see how it worked early on, and was able to simply take my leave when it was time, which I did. Though I let him know that leaving was not my first choice. He asked me to stay, to trust him, but I refused, and finally told him why.
His karma eventually did catch up with him, and the golden goose got cooked in a BIG way, but I was well out of reach by then.
By the time I did leave, I felt I had run a race and come in last. But gradually I realized that it was a relay race and that the next runners were right behind me, hands reaching out to grab my baton, legs running strong, young faces alight with enthusiasm. I can still feel the wind of their zipping by as I released the baton to their care and stood there in tears, blessing them on their way.
We’re in good hands, I believe. The newbies are here in force, those extraordinary children, the passionate wise ones in young bodies coming more and more into the world in the nick of time to take over the race!
Such as Lily and Lauren in the San Francisco area, who are 10 and 11 years old, respectively, and have started the Bay Area Youth Butterfly Effect Project to raise awareness of the plight of migrant children in detention centers at the border between Mexico and the United States. This project, in which people create sculptures made from hundreds of paper butterflies, is now world-wide. The sculptures symbolize support and friendship for all migrating children affected by US immigration policies, and this simple art form has gone viral, helping to raise awareness of these children’s plight.
In Croatia, Luca and Stejpan, now in their 20s, met as 14 year-olds in a camp for young musicians and competed for prizes on their cellos before deciding they would much rather be playing together. Their duo concerts now are gathering crowds of thousands in arenas all over the world as they play music to touch heart and soul for young and old, rich and poor. “Sharing fine music,” they claim, “will bring peace, we promise you!”
Julia Butterfly Hill, in her early 20s sat up in a redwood tree for over a year to try and save an old-growth forest, and a seventeen year-old girl is currently being considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.
These, and millions like them – my own children as well – are the new grown-ups. Their imagination and courage is contagious; it is just a matter of time before these New Spirits take over the world in new ways. It is already happening.
It is a process of clearing out old worn-out thinking to make way for the new, as many of the old ways are no longer relevant to the changing world. It is indeed evident that we are gradually evolving from linear, competitive thinking as a species, towards thinking in whole systems linked together by love. We must make space for this new blood, imagination and heart and welcome them gladly!
These days, I am clearing out my home of over 50 years, where Herb and I have lived and raised our 3 children, cooked thousands of meals, welcomed family and friends, dreamed of new futures. Bit by bit, I lighten my life in preparation for radical change.
The energies of fifty years of vibrant living have penetrated these walls I will be leaving, and soon I will move into the Wild and Radish Community, to live with my radical young friends as ‘elder.’ (Rad-ish…?)
We are all in this inevitable transition together, and we can count on ourselves to grow individually and as a species – especially with the help of our young ones. Now is the time!
All is not lost, I wager.
I have heard that my old teacher still is alive, having learned some valuable lessons after he, quite inevitably, fell from his perch. I hope so, for he had greatness, despite everything. If, as I have heard, he has learned his lessons well, I suppose we can all do the same, for he was a tough nut to crack.
My hope is that after he got cracked open, survived deep hardship and opened to deep humility, he came through intact. He was worth it, despite everything. As we all are, no matter what.
Now we must look to the children, for they are showing us the way, despite the lures of technology and fears of all the shadows rising to the surface. I presume they came in knowingly to take on the challenges of this time.
Our job is to love and nurture them, listen to them and protect them however we are able.
And learn from them, even though we may think that we are the grown-ups!
But I believe we know better…