Every day we get sent emails proclaiming the latest discovery, teacher or workshop that we must do if we are to have lasting happiness and self-mastery.
Each proclaims that if we follow their instructions, then we will be free, transformed, changed forever, joyful as never before, fulfilled and fully enlightened. We even received notice of a Guru Training program where we can become a guru in two weekends after which, the brochure assured us, we are guaranteed to receive endless adoration, wealth and fame, or our money back.
We were recently sent an invitation to a conference on Altered States of Consciousness: Enlightenment, Entheogens, Shamanism and Peak Experiences.
There were 46 headlined speakers, all of whom had endless credentials, books, teaching centers and followers. Subjects ranged from The Humpty Dumpty Trajectory: Cracking Open Consciousness, to How to Tell Your Friends From the Apes, Gender-Specific Altered States of Consciousness and, thankfully, The Miracle of Ordinary Awareness.
When we taught at the MindBodySpirit Festival in London, England, speakers were offering topics as diverse as Attract Your Past-Life Soulmate Now!, The Secret Tibetan Red Egg Cure, Discover Your Secret Chakras, and Learn What Planet You Are From.
Later on you could Teach Your DNA to Listen to Your Higher Mind or, if that didn’t work, at least you could Learn How to Bend Spoons.
It’s clear that we will try anything when we’re in need of emotional or spiritual support and guidance, making us susceptible and easily vulnerable to outside influences; that we’ll easily believe strongly persuasive people who say they can help save us.
There seem to be four main reasons for this:
1. Life does not easily satisfy our needs.
We get something but always want more. From constantly wanting more materially and emotionally, we then apply the same need to spirituality: more teachers and techniques must be better than just one, surely this one will finally solve all those nagging difficulties in my life? Or maybe it’s this one?
2. To a large extent religion has failed many of us.
We crave more esoteric excitement that sitting in church allows us, more out-of-this-world explanations for why we’re dissatisfied or unhappy, more instant and lasting ways to find happiness than atoning for our sins. There must be more meaning to life than we have found, surely?
3. Like the musk deer in India that has a beautiful smell in its belly but searches throughout the forest for that smell, so we look for happiness outside ourselves.
But we’ll always come up short as whatever we find always changes. This is the truth of impermanence: nothing lasts forever. Yet we continually search for that elusive promise of foreverness wherever we can.
4. We externalize our needs, projecting “the saviour” on whoever is the current teacher-of-the-month, believing others sooner than we believe ourselves due to not trusting our own judgement and wisdom.
Even though, logically, we are the only ones who can save ourselves, we’d much rather someone else do it for us.
How do we find our way through such a maze?
Many teachers may have something wonderful to offer us, but what can we really learn in an hour or two or even a weekend? When we dig for oil we have to dig deep to reach it; if we dig too many different holes we will never get to the source of the oil. In the same way, if we guru hop and workshop too much we will never get to the essence of the teachings.
This blog is a chance for us to do a reality check.
Are we listening to our own wisdom or is someone else telling us the way it is? Can we stop and simply be still? Do we go guru-shopping or can we look within our own minds and hearts for what we know to be true?
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: elephant journal archives