Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Notes on _Holy Madness_: More on Relating to a Spiritual Teacher

"Teachers unquestionably have an important role to play, especially in the more advanced stages of inner growth. They can catalyze much, but in order to relate to them rightly, we must already be familiar with our idealizations and other projections. In other words, to benefit from our teachers, we have to be able to see beyond them to the teaching itself. The spiritual process is inherently radical—that is, it goes to the root of the problem of our spiritual ignorance: the ego—and hence it is vastly challenging. A good teacher is one who holds us to this process; to put it colloquially: he or she will be in our face. Naturally, this will trigger all kinds of emotions in us that we would do well to fully understand lest they should get out of control. All too often, students become caught in a love-hate relationship with their teacher, or they abruptly convert fervent devotion and adoration into everlasting anger and disappointment."

My comments:

One thing to remember about a teacher is that they are human. One should not expect a teacher to be perfect. It is difficult to look beyond flaws or mistakes, but given that the teacher is a real true teacher, that is exactly what must be done. It is the teaching, after all, that is important.

The process of the breaking-down of the ego is, I imagine, an extremely painful experience, and, although we should not bite the hand that feeds us, it's probably the teacher that is going to be blamed for any screwy emotions that show up during this process. This is something I have to pay attention to because I know I can sometimes froth at the mouth. Mostly I react negatively when my sensitive pride has been hurt. This may be one thing keeping me from accepting a teacher, even though I badly want one, because I know that sooner or later they'll see the real me, and quite frankly, that's not very flattering. What's the saying? "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." ~William Congreve I want to work on this, though. I want to be more humble and respond to others with humility. I wasn't very nice to cashiers that made me angry in stores around Christmas time. Getting over the need for respect and the pride issue is going to be difficult, as well as making sure no one insults my intelligence. That's something else I'm sensitive about.
"Experienced teachers will definitely be aware of the games their students play out relative to them. They are not perturbed by this, but many Eastern teachers also do not seem to be particularly interested in, or skillful at, assisting their Western disciples to navigate the treacherous waters of interacting with a traditional teacher. Many gurus or lamas underestimate their Western students’ psychological complexity and unspoken expectations of a teacher; they definitely fail to appreciate the intricacies of transference and the inner conflict most Westerners experience vis-à-vis authority. Were it not for the fact that some Western students have actually attained to higher spiritual realizations, not a few Oriental teachers might by now have given up teaching us."

My comments:

A serious student would not, in my opinion, play games consciously, but because it would be easy to project onto a teacher or experience transference, stranger things have happened.
"Childish or adolescent responses to a guru, which make us vacillate between emotions of dependence and independence, will never lead us to enlightenment. Rather we must come to recognize the outer guru as a liberating function within our own mind. But to discover the guru function experientially, we require the psychoenergetic trigger and spiritual guidance of a benign and hopefully realized “outer” guru. The New Age insistence that we can and perhaps even should do without a teacher, in my view, is mere wishful thinking."

My comments:

I especially agree with his last statement. If I've grown at all since 2004, I've done so slowly. Had I a real teacher I might have been further along the path by now.

Thesee quotes come from an excerpt to a book called _HOLY MADNESS:Spirituality, Crazy-Wise Teachers, and Enlightenment_, by Georg Feuerstein.

P.S. I apologize that I've had so much to say the past week or so. I've had this strong urge to get a lot of things out of my system. My shrink almost wants to change my diagnosis from depression to Bipolar II because every now and then (but rarely) I experience these days where I have lots of thoughts. Just so you know, Bipolar II is NOT Bipolar I, so I don't ever get manic, OK?


Siegfried said...

I hate prophets.
I hate messiahs and false teachers.

Sophia said...


You going through the hate phase right now?

Siegfried said...

I'm MAD!

Siegfried said...

Ten most wanted:

Siegfried said...

Like tree like fruit!

Sophia said...


If you want to know my personal opinion, the link you referred to is flawed. While I agree that some of the teachers it lists are false, I don't particularly like this: "All female teachers are false teachers for the Scriptures makes it explicitly clear they are not to teach men (I Cor. 14.34,35; I Tim. 2.9-15)." That particular statement, to me, ruins the page's credibility. This page is written by a fanatical Christian group, whose ideals I'm not particularly aware of, and quite frankly don't want to be. Looking at their main page, I'd say the author is a lunatic. :)

Anonymous said...

When I first was introduced to the subject of learning, it was as part of my public high school education. The entry level facts included that there are only two kinds of learning, that from direct life experience, and that from indirect experience. The latter is simply drawing on the life experience of someone else as it is given over to you either by book (pre-internet) or recitation and granting it the same value as direct experience.

It is nearly impossible to reject the first sort of experience. In the second sort an additional judgment must be made as to the value and validity inherent in the reiteratation of the experience (which itself might be first or second hand.)

The balance of this discussion verges on the obvious.

I'll answer a question from another point in this blog here.

An open circuit is like a battery, a switch, and a light bulb connected in series, with the switch in the open position. To convert that to a closed circuit the switch is closed. At that time, current flows and the bulb lights.

Casuality reigns in the closed circuit. OTOH which casuality is that? To the observer who has no knowledge of the inner workings flipping the switch made the light light. To someone who understands the circuit, causality is rooted in the chemical reactions inside the battery, that causality subsequently transmitted through the wires, with the realization that the chemical reaction continued whether the light bulb was lit or not.

So we have two equally valid rather divergent viewpoints for a single set of facts.

Such is reality.


jim said...

See the tree, the one not having any fruit, nor any nuts, cut it down and use it up. See the battery with no function, throw it away and see the EPA come after you.

See the prophets and messiahs, so what?

Lunatic, I haven't heard that word in a while. Moonbaby?

Relax Sophia, you sound great to me, and, I love you as always, just a reminder.

Vincent said...

In my opinion, the spiritual teacher you keep referring to is a myth. They all have their own agendas rather than your spiritual benefit. The idea of breaking down ego is for no other purpose than to tie you to the teaching and deprive you of an exit.

It's just like going to see a psychoanalyst. You like them, you are infatuated with them, you hate them, you find them irritating: all that is to be considered your fault: transference or counter-transference. they will always be wise, you will always be ignorant.

It's a trap, Sophia. Don't even waste your time with it. If that is what you want though, no one can stop you.

I used to correspond with a prisoner on Death Row in Florida. I am convinced he had himself put there because unconsciously he needed to be held in a clamp. I think it has given him what he needed and helped him spiritually too - via Bo Lozoff's Human Kindness Foundation / Prison Ashram Project. But what a price he had to pay!

So if this is in your heart to do, do it. When the disciple is ready, the master appears. He will certainly be human and full of flaws. "Real, true teacher"? No such thing exists. How do you know that it is the teaching that's important? Is it the religious belief that's important, when you are a member of a congregation? No, it cannot be.

Sophia said...


I learn more from the Internet in my post-college days than I do from books, since I don't read a lot of them.

The second type - what sort of judgement are you speaking of? Do you mean an internal sense of whether or not the teaching has any value? What if, through an indirect experience, we are led to have our own direct experience? What if we couldn't have had that first-hand experience without learning of the indirect experience? We can't ignore that.

When I was a child in elementary school, one of our science projects was to make two different boxes - the first, a series connection with a lightbulb, wood base, wire, switch and battery, the second box - a parallel connection. Thanks for bringing that memory back to me. I really enjoyed that experiment.

Help me understand this battery thing a bit more. The chemical reactions in the battery would not have been possible unless the switch was closed. And the light bulb would not have turned on if not for the chemical reactions in the battery. So it still appears to me that the source cause of the light turning on is the switch being closed. Unless I don't understand much about batteries. From what I imagine, batteries are idle until something draws on their energy, and that drawing causes it to go through chemical reactions. While the switch is open, there are no reactions going on inside the battery. Are you sure causality is not rooted in the switch? Maybe I'm dense. Oh well. I'd rather learn through mistake than not learn at all.

Sophia said...


And lunatic is a word I haven't used probably more than three times in my entire life.

Hey, what's a moonbaby?

You make me feel loved. Thanks. :)

Sophia said...


I think my problem is that I have so many expectations of a spiritual teacher, that I have, in my mind, created this perfect teacher. There isn't a perfect teacher. So through my own fault I am making him impossible to find. It's quite possible that I have created a fantasy figure. In the meantime, I'm trying to remind myself that teachers are human. If I lessen my expectations, I may find that there are teachers all over the place. I just have to quit looking for one that meets all the qualities I'm looking for. In fact, it would just be better if I let the teacher look for me. Maybe some teachers have looked at me and determined that I don't meet their expectations, so they've looked me over.

I am not as independent as you. There are other reasons I'd like to find a spiritual teacher who fits my expectations. This spiritual teacher would be counselor, teacher, confessor, personal trainer, motivator, confidante, friend, father, mother, and would not only give me spiritual teachings but would give me advice on day-to-day things. They'd motivate me to get my ass on the treadmill and to eat better by giving me a regimen to follow. I can't motivate myself, so maybe someone else can. I think if I am to answer to someone else, I'd be more responsible. When I answer to myself, I become lazy and procrastinate. "I'll do it tomorrow." "There's always time to start eating healthier, so, I can go ahead and eat these deep fried mushrooms," "I'll walk on the treadmill tomorrow," "I'll work on improving myself later; there's plenty of time to get started," "I'll meditate tomorrow," "I'll quit drinking sodas tomorrow," "I'll go on a diet tomorrow," "I'll quit worrying about things next week", "My depression will go away soon if I get healthier". Maybe I just need a live-in personal trainer and dietician, but I want spiritual teachings as well. As far as I know, there are no teachers in my area so I'd have to be an e-student, do you know what I mean?

I know you are probably just trying to look out for me, but not to worry; I will not let anyone enslave me.

If I knew I could keep up with it, I would probably like to correspond with a prisoner on death row. I'm just afraid I'd let them down because, as I'm sure you know, I sometimes don't respond in a timely manner. It is a commitment one would have to make to not only oneself, but to another human being. That's a big responsibility.

I know my ideal teacher doesn't exist. It would just be nice to see some growth. I'm not teaching myself anything. I would use my dreams as lessons but I can't even remember my dreams anymore.

I am not, yet, what Jed McKenna would call a "spiritual adult".

Vincent said...

The person you are defining is an "imaginary friend", who will be your perfect teacher, because he can always read your mind and is always there.

Neale Donald Walsch is a publishing phenomenon with his many books of "Conversations with God". His God is an imaginary friend and the drawback in my opinion is that he creates a dependence on his books rather than encouraging people to have their own conversations with God. If he can do it why can't you and I? Did his god say "Neale, let's keep the copyright on this just between us! I promise I won't have conversations with anyone else."

You can already imagine the scope of the help you want from your teacher. A little more imagination and you will be able to imagine the help itself, and you'll be there, you'll have your teacher forever more.

Sophia said...

Interesting. I asked my mother last year if she remembered whether or not I had an imaginary friend as a child. She said as far as she knew, I did not.

A few times recently, I've thought to myself that it's a pity there's not another me running around, because I would make a good best friend to myself, since we'd have everything in common.

night sky said...


Thanks for commenting on our now-defunct blog, and here I am popping by to see how you're doing.

And it appears you're doing well enough to connect, at least. You have my very best wishes for your depression, or slight bipolarness. As I told you, I went through a major depression too, in the 1980's. Several things helped, but the main one was exercise, or exercising in sunlight, not sure which it was. Nothing fancy, just regular walks. But I remember so well that black lead blanket weighing over my stopped thoughts, the inability to make a decision, to initiate things. So, easier said than done, about the exercise. I wish you so much better than you have had, lately.

I never had a teacher, it was always just me and the universe. And access to the insights of all traditions or teachers when I felt the need. I have no regrets, only gratitude for this kind of journey, and I know several people like this. Vincent appears to be another one. :-)

But everyone's different. Perhaps you'll be teaching us a different view of teachers than we now hold, if you go the teacher route!

Siegfried said...

Don't take anything seriously.

Siegfried said...

I'm curious tho if there is such a thing as eternal life. Or eternal damnation. I haven't found the right teacher yet.
However, I'll settle for reincarnation.

Sophia said...

Hi Night Sky,

Thank you for your visit. You have reminded me to go back over to your blog to pick-up on the conversation that I fell out of accidentally.

Yes, I am very active on my blog when I'm not too deeply involved in depression, and the past week or so I've been very social online. The episode of depression that I just had is now over and I sit and wait for it to return. The first time it ended I thought it was gone for good, but now that it's happened so many times, I know it's just a cycle that will repeat itself. So anyway, yes, thanks, today I'm feeling content. :) I think exercise might cure me if I can work up enough motivation to stay with it. It would be nice if I could turn it into a habit. I know that excersize releases endorphins into the system that can ease one's gloomy moods. It's odd to me that depression can probably easily be cured by exercise, yet depression takes away the motivation necessary to get it done.

I'm heading over to your blog now. I'm thankful that you at least have comment turned on!

Sophia said...


I don't even know where my own beliefs lie regarding these issues. I don't really have a feeling that there is eternal damnation, but maybe it's only wishful thinking. :)

Sophia said...

Oh my goodness. I just noticed that I committed one of my own pet-peeves!! In one of my comments above in which I was responding to Happily_anonymous, I spelled judgment as j-u-d-g-e-m-e-n-t. I've always complained about an irritation at seeing it spelled incorrectly and there I went and did it myself.

What should I do now?


Anonymous said...

If chemical reactions didn't happen in the battery without a load, the shelf life of a battery would be forever. The fact is that chemical reactions happen inside the battery regardless, they merely speed up when there is a circuit load. Finally, without those chemical reactions happening all the time, there would not be a voltage differential at the battery terminals.

As far as causality is concerned, if you have only a switch and a light bulb, turning the switch to the on position would have no effect other than to change the position of the switch.

Causality invokes and involves the entire chain of events, not only the most obvious one(s). Turning the switch provides a path for electrons to flow. Without the circuitry and the battery (which relies on chemical reactions) electrons could not flow. If the electrons do not flow, there is no source of energy which causes the filament in the light bulb to heat up to the glowing point. I'm sure I've skipped a few steps in this retelling of the tale.

And then if someone wants to use a different physics theory mode, say field theory, the descriptions are rather different.

On the business of direct and indirect learning, I think the best benefit to be derived is what I am going to do in this instance. That is to take you as far as I have and allow the introduction to these ideas do their work on you. Perhaps at some point you'll have thought about the points I've made and come to more refined conclusions than you have delved into so far. In short, I'm creating a situation where you're exposed to second hand experience which will lead you to some first hand experiences. There's no better "teaching" than this though when I started in this blog it was because I had some information to share about depression and comorbid conditions.
Now I find that in instances where I have good experience on some subject matter or other I find myself sharing that information. The one thing I've learned in life is to share, not lecture. I don't intend to be a teacher. I am merely a mortal sharing thoughts and experiences. If that social interaction makes me a teacher of any sort it is because you've taken away something from our conversations, not because I chose to be a teacher. That's always solely the reader's choice.

I'm not seriously invested in what Christ said, but from what I can recall reading and hearing, he never once told people what they must do, only what he thought the best approach is. And AFAIC you can throw the entire new and old testaments away with the exception of the short part about the Golden Rule which in many different forms is repeated elsewhere.

So here's a guy who lived some 2000 years ago that people are still arguing about all this time later. IMO he must be one of the greatest teachers ever, and you can boil down the essence of his "teachings" into a couple of sentences. Why the heck am I doing all this typing? :-) Probably because we're conflating practical matters with philosophical ones?

Which brings me to my final point in this episode of my discussions with the people gathered here.

You've said your mental health consultant is thinking about changing your diagnosis. The difficulty I see with that is that one medication you mentioned that you are taking, Welburtin, is a central nervous system stimulant, and that could easily be whatever is leading to the (new?) symptoms your consultant had focused on at this point in time. It is not for me to advise you in these matters but......

I've experienced Welbutrin. It served me well for a while. When I took it later, after the magic bullet phase of using the stuff had passed, it made me angry and I took out my frustrations on anyone within hearing range, and I felt completely justified in doing so.

So my non-advice :-) to you is to have a discussion with your consultant with a view towards reducing the dosage (called titration) to see if what is emerging isn't perhaps an indication that the medicine is now having an undesired effect.

"The patient is his/her own best advocate" is well known and well established in the better circles in the medical community. I've learned, through experience, to be an active partner in my health care. I had a dentist who one day announced to me that I was the only patient she ever had who actually designed my own course of treatment. Had my dentist had any points of contention I feel certain I'd have heard about them. Back in my youth I permitted a dentist to extract an impacted wisdom tooth rather than to treat a molar with a cavity in it. By the time I was healed well enough to have the molar treated, it had to be extracted, and I wasn't even 21 years old yet. Since then I demand and get full disclosure as well as all the options before treatment of teeth, or anything else, is undertaken.

I hope these ideas serve you well. Chose what you think is beneficial but please feel free to ignore the rest.


Vincent said...

I just saw what you said about Death Row penfriends. Here is a link to the organisation that I went through:

I continued the penpal relationship for a couple of years and got a couple of women to write to the same man too but they didn't continue. It was quite easy to discontinue as it happened, as my correspondent was sensitive and not dependent.

Sophia said...

Happily_anonymous, just to save face I must say that I of course knew a battery would eventually expire even when not in use. I don't know what gave me the liberty to make it a given that it would not in the comment I made earlier. Just plain unawareness, I assume.

To be honest, though, I admit I did not really know what the word "causality" meant before today. Obviously to me it had something to do with cause, but I had to look it up in Wikipedia to learn more.

Field theory? I haven't a clue what that is! Growing up and in college I had something like monomania where mathematics was concerned. Of course I did well in all my classes but mostly I focused on my math courses. I tutored people in math and in computers. (I majored in math and minored in computer science.) I thought I was so smart. And now look at me. Not only am I not well-rounded where knowledge is concerned, I've also forgotten a lot about math! Anyway, my point is, I only had an introductory level course in physics, so I am dumbfounded when I hear the words "field theory".

Today, I'm still in disbelief at just how perceptive you are. The Wellbutrin took away my depression for a while, a few months or so, and then the depression came back. But this time, I became angry at everyone. I yelled at a cashier in a store. I cannot believe I did that. I was getting so irritable that I was not myself. It's not a good excuse, but while in these irritable states I told my best friend to get lost. Now it's been two weeks and I feel horrible about the way I ended things. But I've got too much pride to apologize to him. There are other reasons I don't want to apologize. Long story.

But yes, the Wellbutrin, made me very anxious, irritable and gave me insomnia on weekdays. Now I'm dependent on sleeping pills. We have reduced the dosage from 300mg to 150mg. I don't know if they make anything less than 150mg. I do feel some relief from my irritability but every now and then it comes back. I hate saying this, but I think I literally experienced rage for the first time in my life while on Wellbutrin.

I should really quit complaining. I'm sorry.

It's almost time for me to go home, so this probably seems rushed. Your thoughtful comment deserves much better than what I've given in this comment.

I hope you stay for a while, because I like your input. Well, I like you, too!

Mark said...

This was very interesting. I look forward to checking out the link.

Sophia said...

Hi Vincent,

I read the website that you linked to. It sounds like something I would really like to do, and would give me a feeling that I was contributing back to the universe in some way. I'm thinking about it. I just don't know about my own dependability. As the website said, it's a commitment, because if I were to stop writing to a person on death row, it could affect the inmate in a devestating way. I'm too afraid I'd let someone down, I think.

But thank you for the link. It was a wonderful idea and I will continue to give it some thought. It would be nice to feel as though I were doing some good.

Sophia said...

Hi Mark,

The excerpt it comes from is small; it would be nice to see the entire book online, but what little info is there is helpful.

Rob said...

It may well be that we human beings are more confused than we realise.
The more we struggle to be free the more tied down we often feel.
Yet it is difficult for us to recognise that we need help. Proudly we go on making the same old mistake of trying to free ourselves.

Just my view anyway!

Mossy said...

What should I do now?

Feel your toes.

Sophia said...


Absolutely! Thank you for giving your view.

Since first asking for help, in 2004, I've felt a sense of relief.

There are trail guides to assist people on physical terrain, so why not guides of spiritual terrain?

Sophia said...


Funny, isn't it, that when one thinks about one's toes, a tingly sensation sweeps through them.