Thinking Allowed–but No Gurus

It’s long been recognized by spiritual leaders from Eastern cultures who have set up ashrams, temples and meditation centers in America, that the guru/student bond doesn’t hold very well in the New World.

And if we had any doubt that our culture has a problem with trust, the recent flood of revelations about powerful men who abuse their positions of authority seems likely to further solidify our skepticism.

But why are we so reluctant to allow another to guide our spiritual journey? Is our skepticism based on personal disappointments? Does the frontier spirit of independence treat reliance on anyone else as weakness? Are we embedded in a culture whose traditions for developing spiritual values are waning? Or does the West’s confidence in science and technology cause all other forms of understanding to seem second string?

The oral tradition–in which understanding and realization are imparted face-to-face from teacher to student–seems virtually non-existent in our culture. Even trade apprenticeships, based on the creation and maintenance of manufactured things, have mostly fled from our shores.

As long as power and authority exert a magnetic pull on the smartest, craftiest, and richest among us, the notion of being led by those who embody wisdom and compassion will scarcely be a force in our society.

Revelations of wrong-doing, often at great cost to the whistle blowers, seems an important step towards cleaning out temples and market places alike. But exposing abuse and the systematic dominance by those in power over those whom our culture disempowers—may not address the deepest issues.

What are those deeper issues?

This may be more a symptom than a cause, but wherever we look at hierarchies it seems that people who rise to the top are not very accountable to people who make up the organizations as a whole.

This seems guaranteed to continue as long as priests are alleged to be direct conduits to God, CEO’s answer to shareholders not to employees who know the most about the work and the people being served, and legislators have more financial incentive to serve lobbyists than voters. . .

Phrases like “top-down”, “chain-of-command”, and “need-to-know”–used in military and corporate America alike—devalue the spirit of collaboration.

Of course, large organizations cannot consult their rank and file every day. Prior agreements on running day-to-day operations are necessary—just as our bodies need to be directed by hearts and brains, not by every itch. But the idea that once you become a general, a CEO, a senator, a priest, a parent, or a lineage holder, you are no longer responsible for behaving in ways that benefit the people you represent, seriously distorts the essence of leadership.

We live in a society that regularly exposes its underbelly in unattractive ways, and we regularly see that the individuals who claim to be better than those they lead are often quite the opposite. But changing the guard won’t solve much when top-down remains the unquestioned code of conduct.

Our bodies have afferent and efferent neural pathways: the affecting pathways allow the body to report on it experiences (that was painful . . . mission accomplished); the effective pathways communicate commands to the body. In ALS, it’s the efferent, motor neurons that become in-effective (and muscles shrink for lack of a command to move). In our society, channels designed to affect the decisions of governing bodies often don’t get through, because special interests have purchased their bandwidths.

I’m not sure that there is a neurological condition in which only afferent nerves are blocked. With ALS it is the efferent motor neurons that stop working; MS can affect both incoming and outgoing pathways, both inside and outside the brain (because MS can attack the myelin sheath of any neuron). Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are conditions of the brain itself, not the pathways through which it communicates with the rest of the body.

A body that can’t communicate feeling and sensation to the mind is “numb” to the world: the affect of leaning against a hot wood stove or red hot electric element may only be recognized when the smell of burning flesh reaches the nose. This is a condition from which our world is suffering. Those dictating the deployment of “arms” remain secure in their offices and parade grounds; and they may never actually smell the results of their field commands.

No wonder we’re suspicious of spiritual hierarchies and are reluctant to allow anyone else to guide us along a path toward realization. Our society is locked into patterns of organization and control that allow anyone, quite independently of any qualification they may or may not have, to take charge and exert authority over affairs that often mean much more to those dealing with the consequences than to those who make the decisions.

In a world where so much that affects our environment and our social contracts is in free fall, what a blessing it is to find a perspective that is balanced, wise, kind, and understands the whole of our human lives.

I sometimes feel like one of our dogs who chase after a red light from a pencil flashlight as it races across the kitchen floor: seemingly making no connection between the dancing light and the dips and lifts of the flashlight: the whole cosmos condensed into an imaginary rabbit on the run.

Picking up the paper at the end of the driveway in the dawn light, I sometimes look at the Moon overhead and feel myself standing on the Earth as it slowly spins toward the Sun—which has not yet risen over the Sandia Mountains to the east. My perspective broadens to include the Moon being nudged, across millennia, by the gravitational feathers growing out into space from our spinning planet. And–sure enough—the Moon does indeed orbit Earth in that direction, moving across the sky, always heading east, as if pushed along by the orbiting of the Earth. Or perhaps it’s the Moon–like a determined tugboat pulling an ocean liner–that is inducing the daily rotation of the Earth as it makes its monthly journey around our world.

Certainly observation confirms that the path of the Moon and the orbiting of the Earth move in the same direction. There are theories about how Earth and Moon formed together, flung out from our orbiting Sun like marbles rolling across the Solar Plain; and it’s logical that all those fragments of an original glob would retain their originating momentum.

But a momentary appreciation of how all of this is given together—Sun, Earth, Moon, a man pausing at the end of his driveway with the morning’s newspaper in his hand, the creation of the universe and our solar system . . .

Ah, a cup of coffee would taste good right about now.

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