Whooz Yer Guru? Getting Over “Guru” Baggage

The word “guru” gets a really bad rap these days, and for good reason. There are those who make claim to “my guru” like having one is some kind of spiritual goalpost. They quote their guru, usually in an attempt to convince themselves of the teaching, pretending as if they already embody it. It’s a real turn-off.

Plus there are a growing number of news stories about unethical gurus taking advantage of their followers, the recent Wild Wild Country series on Netflix being one such example of the possible and/or perceived danger of gurus. And there is a danger…the danger of putting your responsibility for your life in the hands of another or actually thinking that gurus aren’t people too, with the same weaknesses of character we all face.

There also seem to be a lot more self-proclaimed gurus out there these days. So many think they are enlightened and that what they have to say is worth the hundreds or even thousands of dollars they charge to share it. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.

But what is a guru anyway? Guru simply means teacher or guide. It means “dispeller of darkness”, more specifically. The word is quite simple, though its connotation has been made so complex.

It unfortunate that people will discount a message because it comes from someone considered a guru, as if that word alone would render the message meaningless. Life-altering messages are often discounted because the person offering it is of a certain age, race, or religion…or because they dress funny or wear too many rings. It’s sad that valuable messages can be so obscured by our own judgments.

It is also unfortunate that there are those who will bow down to another, as if everything they are searching for is to be found outside their own knowing. It is a sad, hellish trap when we can blame others for our inadequacies or misunderstandings. It is a denial that ensures a lifetime of suffering.

Neither approach really works. We’re either defending ourselves against new perspectives or we’re relinquishing our inner power to some image. The thing that matters is the message, not the person sharing it. How long will it take us to break out of our “shoot (or bow to) the messenger” mentality?

It’s time to get over our “guru” baggage. We are all just human beings. Some of are better at accessing humanity-wide relevant wisdom than others. Some have gone so deeply inward that they now see so much more clearly than the rest. But none of us are capable of knowing what is true for another. It could also be said that every single one of us is a teacher to someone. Why do so many feel the need to judge another’s teacher if they feel they are getting from that teacher something that gives them insight or peace?

I’d been warned in the past by well-meaning friends not to put my faith in some guru. I wonder why they felt the need to tell me that? I’ve never put a teacher on that much of a pedestal. Respect, yes. Trust, yes. Devotion, maybe. But I have never been at risk of losing myself in that. I know who I am, and I know that the teachers who come and go from my life are only representatives of something far more mysterious and far greater than the human form they may take.

Don’t let the word “guru” stop you from discovering what is inside of you. I am my own guru. And so are you. We are each the dispeller of darkness in our own lives. We are each the experts on our own experiences. No one can ever play that role for another, not entirely. We can learn much from each other, no question. We can inspire each other with our wise words and perspectives. We will be attracted to those whose message resonates and not to others. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make one message superior to another just because at this point in time it resonates with you. That spiritual materialism needs to go too.

I gotta laugh when people make fun with comments like, “Everyone thinks he’s a guru” because the truth is, we all are…just not to anyone but ourselves.

In the Presence of Presence: Satsang with Mooji

Do you know what it is to sit in the presence of unconditional love?

Last summer, I spent a weekend in satsang with a spiritual master. I don’t know what you might think of that phrase, dear reader. I don’t mean he’s a master of anyone but himself…a master of his own spirit. I don’t want to call him teacher because he really doesn’t have anything to teach, as he himself admits time and again. Teachers deal with knowledge, and I have no interest in acquiring more of that. Guru is often translated as “teacher”, so I prefer not to use that word either, although its true meaning, “disspeller of darkness” is certainly more to the point.

It has not escaped me how awkward I have felt telling people that I was going to sit with a “teacher”. I did this because they have some point of reference for teacher. If I said “spiritual master”, plenty of people would have looked at me funny, and too many people would think I had somehow given away my power to someone else, ready and willing to drink the cool-aid. In Customs at the UK airport, I had been honest about seeing a spiritual teacher. The response I received reminded me of when I was five years old and would speak of my imaginary friend. It felt just like that.

I arrived early on the first day of satsang. I was surprised to be one of only about 10 people already in line. My heart felt open, and I greeted everyone. Realizing I had time, I decided to get some breakfast. By the time I returned, the line had grown to about 25. As I waited in line, I looked around and felt so blessed. Here I was with open-hearted beings who understood. They’d experienced something too, and would not project their fears and judgments upon me…or if they did, they would not necessarily believe themselves. They wouldn’t look at me like I was crazy if I cried, nor assume I was suffering if I was. I felt safe, happy and grateful.

I was burning in the line. I knew exactly what I was going to say to Mooji given the chance. I was, in fact, determined to be the first person to speak to him:

“I was determined to speak with you, Mooji. I want to get as much as I can out of this opportunity. I came here to be seen by someone who could see me. I wanted to stand naked here and let everything show so that I knew from you, at least, I could not hide again. I don’t want to keep reinventing better versions of myself. I want to be done with myself. I want to burn, Mooji. I want there to only be ashes and not some damn phoenix that rises again. Help me burn, Mooji. I don’t trust my mind anymore. Help me relinquish this.”

Of course, none of that happened. And throughout the weekend, I’d have a pressing question or statement, raise my hand, not be called on, and so not even try the next time. Eventually, the questions and statements died away or morphed into something different, and I would again raise my hand. But I wasn’t one of the ones who ever got to speak.

Because I was early, I was in one of the first 6 rows very close to Mooji. I wanted this because, just as in the theatre, being this close allows you to be part of some special energy. Yes, it is everywhere, and yes, the entire audience can see the show, but only those up close can see the detailed expressions and sweat of the actors. It is easier to forget oneself and become part of the play. When Mooji entered the room, I spontaneously gasped. I couldn’t even see him over the heads of everyone in front of me, but I could feel him.

I loved hearing him speak. I loved the sensations that would flood me when his words felt as though they were meant only for me, answering some deep and unrecognized question within myself.

Waiting in line.

That afternoon, I lost my seat. Before lunch, they made an announcement to take all our belongings during lunch. Despite this announcement, many people left things on their seats thus saving their seats for the afternoon session. I was a little miffed at that and wished I too had ignored the rules! Fortunately, I was able to get a seat just behind the row I had been in because someone got up and left for some reason just before things got rolling again.

But my mood had changed. My mind became polluted. My attitude turned whiny. I kept thinking, “Why am I here?” I felt a little bored by the questions being asked…or sometimes jealous. I struggled to listen. Despite the effort, the truest words still landed softly and deeply.

I had to sneak out before everything finished because I had to meet my AirB&B host across town. I hated leaving and put it off to the last possible moment. I was a mess trying to find my bus…feeling rushed. As I left, the last thing I heard Mooji say was, “The whole world is late.” Somehow, I made it in time to my accommodation, and it was a sweet relief to have a base again after my first night in a hostel and having all my luggage with me all day.

That night, my muscles were a mess. I actually had charlie horses going off all over my body. It was somewhat disconcerting. I’d had plenty of water to drink. Something else was going on. My sleep was disturbed, too, but I somehow managed a little sleep.

The next morning, when I arrived for satang, the line was twice as long as the day before. While waiting in line, I began to journal some of my thoughts. Again, I was determined to speak to Mooji. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass again as I had yesterday. I wanted to get everything I could out of this experience. I had paid dearly and I felt like it was a matter of life or death. I wanted so desperately to say:

“I’m out of time! I came here as a matter of life and death and the weekend is half over. I feel two opposing forces in me. I feel I am in a vise. There is no room for truth in the ego and there is no room for ego in Truth. When all feels connected, supported, I forget everything else as having been my experience. When I fall from grace, it is as if grace never existed. The two worlds don’t seem to know each other. I came here to wake up, but I could just have easily gone to the beach or something. I could have given this body some pleasure and comfort, but instead, I came here. I’ve spent so much money to come here, but I feel disappointed. Why did I come here?

I don’t want to follow you, Mooji, like others here. I don’t want to need you forever. I want to accept the gift you are offering and go on with my life, whatever it looks like. I don’t want to need you. I want to walk alongside as an equal. If it is as easy as you say, then why are you the only one sitting up there? If it is truly as quick and easy as you say it can be, then why are so many of us choosing to remain in suffering and limitation? And if it takes a stroke of grace, then why the hell aren’t I at the beach enjoying myself instead of trying so damned hard?”

I was so desperate to speak with him that my mind convinced me that I could cut the line because somehow, my desire to be free was more important than a queue. It completely justified itself. It tempted me, “How much do you really want your freedom? If you are serious, then you need to show it!”

So when the queue started to move, I bee-lined for the door ignoring the 50 or so people ahead of me. I still can’t believe I did that! I wasn’t the only one who had tried this maneuver, though. In fact, it happened on day 1 as well, and I thought, “Those people have some nerve!” The venue was more on top of things on day 2 though and had made it impossible for us to push ahead, so I ended up roughly where I would have been anyway. My full lesson on this whole queue-cutting issue came later.

By the time we got inside, I was sitting once more in about the same spot as the day before, but I felt as though I had stolen it. I wanted the chance to speak and publicly declare my selfishness and arrogance and then offer my seat to another who felt the same burning I had felt, but who was not as fortunate to be so close. But I didn’t get the chance at redemption. I had to sit in my “stolen” seat and burn.

Me burning!

I had so many questions arise and fall that I felt as though I had lived a dozen different incarnations during the weekend. Something…or someone…would arise out of nothing, want to be seen and heard, but just as suddenly would cease to exist.

When we broke for lunch, after being reminded to take our things, I left a few things on my seat, unlike the day before, ignoring the announcement to “take everything with you”. Doing so allowed me the freedom to eat in peace without rushing back for a good seat. Actually, I wondered whether they would move everything this time, but with what played out in my head at lunchtime, it started not to matter to me if I had the same seat or not.

After lunch, I found I had again crashed. But this time, it presented as deep shame over what I’d done. I was seriously ashamed at myself for having cut in front of so many people as if I was the only one with a desire to be free, the only one who mattered. I was disgusted with my mind’s ability to rationalize the action to break the queue.

Sure enough, once they reopened the hall, I found they had moved the belongings of the people who had tried to save seats to a table in the back. Tricky devils. So I now found myself about 20 rows back. A giant wave of emotion overtook me as I waited for the satsang to begin, and I ran to the bathroom to stem the violent tears that came out of nowhere.

Once satsang started, something miraculous happened. Through Mooji’s pointing, I was able to let it all go…all my questions, all my stories, all my sins… My heart opened, and I was filled with the most magnificent gratitude I’d ever felt. All I wanted in that moment was to say “Thank you, Mooji! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

I never wanted the afternoon to end, but of course, it got late. Many people were leaving, probably to catch planes and such. I was grateful that on this night, I had no where to rush off to. I was determined to stay as long as possible and milk every drop from this final day. That’s when a gift came…

With only a few minutes left to Satsang, someone 2nd row center departed. Though it seemed foolish to move for only five or so minutes, I did. Wow! It was even more powerful. Now I understood why people fought for those seats.

Mooji greeted people afterward but I couldn’t get close enough to meet him myself. I could have hung around and perhaps done so after an hour, but I was tired. And I knew he wouldn’t hang around all night to see each and every person waiting. I found myself walking back to my bus stop. My mind was going back and forth…am I missing my chance to meet him? But I trusted where my body was carrying me and let it go. I was at peace with it. I had received so much already, and I knew this was a gift that would keep on giving.

That night, I had the most beautiful dream full of love.

At the airport on the way home, I had arrived to the gate and boarding had already started. I went right through and onto the airplane. I was shocked to find the airplane mostly empty. Only then did I realize that I had boarded “priority” for no reason at all. I wondered why all those people were looking at me funny, but it simply didn’t sink in. Now I understood my lesson.

The difference is that many of the people that cut the Mooji queue may have done so without realizing what they were doing. I on the other hand did it with complete self-serving intention. I may have convinced myself that it was my desperation and will to awaken, that I was fishing for grace to grant me some boon. At the airport, however, I got to board my plane early as a direct act of grace. It was an accidental action from which I benefited. Cutting the queue was a stinky, egoic act whereas I was carried by a river to board the plane early. It is this river that I want to trust with my life…that I wish I had trusted in satsang.

There was more space in my experience in the days following the weekend. I listened repeatedly to music and it  seeped deep into my cells. I found myself humming for days and days afterwards, the mantras like an alarm clock that chimed me into being. The words I still hear when I awaken are “Leave each day behind like flowing water. Free your sadness. Yesterday is gone. Its tale is told. Today new seeds are growing…”

Two days after the weekend, back at home, I had an ecstatic feeling sweep over me…something I’ve had before but not felt for a very, very long time. It’s sweetness and vibration was indescribable. I knew it would pass, so I gave into it and got as much as I could out of it while it stuck around. Despite the passing of such fleeting sensations, this journey marks a pivot point in my life, a deepening into spiritual maturity and a more peaceful daily life as well as a quickened path to acceptance of what is.

My two biggest lessons of the weekend: I am there before every thought, every sensation, every action and life is kinder and wiser than the mind imagines.

Thank you, Mooji Baba.