Confessions of a Failed Spiritual Teacher

“Through authority you will never find anything.
You must be free of authority to find reality.”
– J. Krishnamruti


I am not the most articulate human being in the world. Far from it. Nor the most charismatic. I don’t have a “winning personality”. I don’t know any good jokes, and I would have a hard time entertaining an audience. Many people find my style boring and my message irrelevant or even depressing. Who wants to hear about disillusionment? Who wants to hear about the grace inherent in even the most intense pain? Who wants to hear about the impossibility of escape? Who wants to hear about the loss of dreams pointing to the preciousness of this exquisitely fragile moment? I don’t have much to sell. I’m not very ‘spiritual’, whatever that means. I don’t fit into many people’s idea of what a ‘teacher’ should look or sound like. I don’t have a fancy lineage. I don’t carry photos of a guru. I don’t really have a fixed ‘teaching’. No curriculum. No PowerPoint slides. No 7 Steps to Enlightenment. I have never been particularly drawn to public speaking and don’t exactly relish the attention. I love being alone. I adore my own company. I don’t prepare my talks. I’m not that interested in my image. I’m terrible at self-promotion. I wear clothes that have holes in them. I don’t shave very often. I don’t have any special powers. I can’t shoot fire out of my eyeballs, and I haven’t worked out how to levitate. As spiritual teachers go, I’m pretty crap. A holy mess.

I used to wonder if there was actually any point in talking or writing anymore, or even trying to share this teaching, since words are so easily misunderstood and misinterpreted, and words can’t begin capture it anyway. Doesn’t talking about this just feed the mind? Isn’t it a paradox to talk about freedom from authority, whilst appearing to keep people bound to your own authority? Wouldn’t it be better to stay silent? Perhaps I should get a ‘normal’ job? Try to ‘fit in’ again, the way I had done my whole life? Become a musician or artist instead?

But the image of the teacher burns away in the fire of the teaching itself, doesn’t it. The proof is in the pudding. I witness the effects of this teaching (not “my” teaching, but this teaching) all the time. This teaching is not just in ‘words’. It’s in what is behind the words. I have seen people’s suffering and seeking fall away all over the world, sometimes quietly, sometimes gently, sometimes with a big bang, sometimes with a quiet whimper, sometimes with drama and fireworks, sometimes with no discernible outer effects whatsoever. Sometimes the realisation comes with a silent inner implosion, sometimes it comes as a giant YES to all life. I’ve seem grown men and women softening, becoming tender, like little children, filled with wonder and delight at the present moment, their faces translucent once again, as they were so long ago. I’ve seen people weeping their pain away, melting into the bitter-sweet mystery of themselves. I’ve seen people screaming out their fear, softening until there’s nothing left to soften. I’ve seen anger, confusion, doubt, self-hatred, dissolve into nothing, revealing their inherent emptiness and secret grace. I’ve seen people doubled over in seemingly never-ending cosmic laughter. I’ve seen people exploding, their whole world falling apart, their imaginations of themselves as “people” turning to ashes in an instant. I’ve seen people shaking with fear, knowing that their lives as they know them are about to melt. I’ve met rage, people struggling for their old lives and identities back, yet knowing they have to open up to new possibilities. I’ve met heartbreak, cracked open hearts, tender hearts broken open, guts spilling out all over the place, and I’ve seen people discover a compassion beyond words right at the heart of that fire. I’ve seen depression turn to deep rest in the blink of an eye. I’ve seen things unfold before my eyes that I had only ever read about.

And I’ve seen many people very quietly realising, remembering, returning, with no huge drama at all, no hysterics, no outer signs. I’ve seen very gentle deaths that nobody else might be aware of. I’ve seen quiet wonder, quiet grace, silent knowing. I’ve seen people who taste the wonder but don’t need to shout about it. I’ve seen people remembering something they’ve always known, yet came to doubt through years of conditioning and being told they weren’t good enough yet. I’ve seen the most serious and seemingly bogged-down of characters, seemingly trapped in their identities, shift into wonder, sometimes over the course of a week, sometimes over the course of several years. I’ve seen flowering in places I never expected to see flowers grow. I’ve seen sudden shifts, like thunderbolts out of the blue, and I’ve seen slow, gentle shifts, like the erosion of stone over time. I’ve seen strangers embracing, turning into old friends overnight. I’ve seen deep healing in relationships, addictions falling away, deep acceptance popping up in places nobody would have ever expected it to. I’ve seen people take one listen to this teaching and walk away, never to return. I’ve seen people returning, unexpectedly. I’ve been criticised, laughed at, attacked in all kinds of ways, just for suggesting that this moment is a miracle, just for speaking out against the violence. This teaching is wild and unpredictable in its effects.

I’ve seen all of this for many years now at my meetings and retreats all over the world. It’s so obvious to me now, that this ‘shift’ in consciousness is experienced in so many different ways, in as many ways as there are people, and telling any kind of story about “how it should be” now seems just ridiculous and closed-minded. Being a ‘teacher’, meeting all kinds of people all over the world, has really opened my eyes to the infinite creativity of the pathless path manifesting as infinite pathways in a way that I never expected. I’ve seen such a vast range of human experience, from the deepest despair to the highest bliss, from the biggest realizations to the quietest and most private revelations, and I’ve seen the incredibly different ways in which people need to be met, helped, spoken to, guided, held. I’ve learned first-hand how I can never know which ‘way’ is best for anyone before I truly meet them, or how anyone will respond to this teaching, or how it will permeate into their lives. I can never pre-judge anyone’s experience or know what they need in the moment before the moment. The moment contains its own teaching. Some people need to be met deeply in a human way. They have never even been held before, and telling them ‘there is no you’ without holding them is the last thing they need. Some people just need a non-judgemental hand to hold for a while in the midst of a crisis. Some need to be met in their heartbreak, to be met in the fires of hell. Others respond to more abstract work. Others need silence. Others need to engage, debate, question, struggle, before deep relaxation comes. Others just love to listen. Others are not interested at first, and slowly crack open. Some have to pass through some kind of ‘dark night of the soul’ – wild anger or frustration or even grief – before they can really hear this. The teaching needs to be fresh, spontaneous, alive every time, in order to meet the wild mystery that we refer to as the human being, the being that in constant flux and cannot come to rest in the fixed story of itself. Being a teacher takes deep, deep listening and sensitivity to the one in front of you in the moment. What are they really asking? What do they truly long for? It takes the absence of the ‘teacher’, actually. The absence of the image. The absence of the urge to prove yourself in any way. Pre-packaged and pre-prepared answers just don’t cut it anymore. Regurgitation is useless here – we’ve already had a lifetime of regurgitation and second-hand opinion and posturing. Teaching emerges not from a separate ‘teacher’ but from that creative and alive place of deep listening, and it is new every time. No wonder I do not have a set ‘teaching’ – this teaching is alive, not dead. It cannot be pre-prepared. It cannot come from mind. Everybody is met where they are, in real-time. And nobody’s journey has to look like anyone else’s. It certainly doesn’t have to look like mine. I don’t hold out any kind of blueprint, any single “way” that this journey to where we already are has to be. I used to think there was only One Way, but I now see that that was my own prison, my own prejudice, my own sense of superiority, my own agenda, and it wasn’t a deep honouring of where folks actually are right now. Compassion was born through the dropping of my own story, even the story of my own fabulous awakening, and awakening to the one in front of me, beyond all stories, in deep awe and humility, and listening, always listening.

In the past, I have often doubted the ‘teacher’ role. Who am I to teach? What gives me the right to sit up there and talk and guide? What do I know? I am humble in the face of life itself. I cannot be an authority on the mystery. I cannot ever hold up any image of myself as some kind of expert. The mystery gives no certificates. I am only a servant of the vastness, not its master. As a servant, I have seen first hand how this mysterious teaching gets through to people, and the way it deeply penetrates their defences and opens them up in ways they never imagined, melting the very “person” who came for the teaching in the first place. It’s a teaching that shatters the mind and breaks open the heart. It crucifies and destroys and resurrects and transfigures and changes nothing at all. A teaching is totally dead if it just talks about fruit but never bears fruit itself. I have seen the fruits of this teaching, and that’s what encourages me to continue. It is endlessly fruitful. It is always harvest season here.

I don’t care if the song I sing is the ‘best’ song or not, and it surely isn’t a song that will resonate with everyone, but it is a song that fits who I am totally, and it feels like a deeply truthful song, forged in the fire of my own life experience and tested time and time again in a vast range of situations and circumstances, and so I can speak with total conviction about it – not a mental conviction that separates but a conviction of Being that includes – and I have seen what happens when others hear this truth deeply and resonate with its heart strings. I may not identify strongly as a teacher, and I may not be interested in gaining followers or fame or huge piles of money in the bank, but I do adore this teaching, and trust it absolutely, and know it to be true, and love to share it, and I know how it saved my life, and how it saves others, and not only saves them, but wakes them up, and not only wakes them up, but awakens the simple joy of existence, and a fearless yet loving attitude towards whatever comes their way, and provokes the belly laughter of the Buddha in the most unlikely of places. It turns dust into gold, for those who are ready for the deepest discovery of their lives.

It’s a real honour to share this teaching with you, you who are equal to me in every way, and I am fascinated to see how this whole ‘teacher’ thing evolves and devolves, for it is a living teaching after all, always at rest yet unable to rest until it penetrates and permeates every living being, and it shape-shifts in order to meet you exactly where you are in wisdom and in compassion, since in the end, it IS you, exactly as you are, and it is all the creative possibilities that come with that.

I look forward to meeting you, friends, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, reflections of myself, whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you look like, and wherever you are in your journey to where you already are.