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Thank goodness for spiritual teachers. In this post, I discuss my personal struggle with my afflictions, and how, through fortunate karma, I can avoid certain pitfalls due to cultivating sincere heart relationship with spiritual mentors.
If it were not for a qualified spiritual path, which I have been blundering down or attempting to tread for several dedicated years now, I fear I might be a blubbering mass, curled up in the fetal position; or, more realistically, I might be going through life as I was a decade ago – knowing something better was “out there,” feeling that my lifestyle was off somehow but not knowing how to possibly go about resolving those looming inner dilemmas.
Thanks to my positive karma however, or as Julie Henderson would say, thanks to the momentum which is coming forward through the force of all my past lives and bodies and habits (I’m paraphrasing), I actually have a standard to measure myself against and a worthwhile goal to constantly hold and strive for – that is attaining clarity, compassion and altruistic wisdom awareness for the benefit of all sentient beings – known and unknown, seen and unseen.
I know, I can be hard on myself (primary pitfall at the moment). But that is not all that I find myself continuously falling back on to cause myself more routine misery. Yes, when I am stretched and stressed, I resort to glass-is-half-empty type thinking, for instance, what is the worst case scenario and how can I prepare for it (because it is obviously about to happen)? Ouch! In addition to this bad and erroneous habit (once you begin to realize, both on a mental attitudinal and psycho-somatic level, that there are many beings who sincerely care about you, then things become easier – less to defend against and less to icily hold on to), I have other afflicted reactions to life’s incessant obstacles: in the past, and somewhat in the now, I tend to obsess – my mind can out-worry anybody, I am certain. Oh – and I am very good at deluding myself, and then projecting that delusion outward and affecting others (ever get the feeling that delusion and confusion just follow you around no matter where you go? well then the cause might actually be YOU). Finally, for the sake of brevity, I am still working through expression of anger issues and coming out of my pleaser / placation / shape shifter roles.
So what happens when I speak with my spiritual teachers? Just thinking about hearing the sound of my root lama’s voice (Drupon Thinley Ningpo) or the loving, melodious (if occasionally direct and semi-wrathfully compassionate) sound of Julie Henderson’s voice, moves me toward a relaxed, don’t-worry-be-happy state. As I mentioned above, knowing that there are at least a dozen (whom I have met in this lifetime) men and women who care about me unconditionally makes a huge difference – and then when I am able to mention what I am going through, whether in my mental habits, or my meditation practice or really life in general – it feels very good to be contained and witnessed and held.
Often times, my teachers know what I am going through even as I work through the words to articulate the process. Khenchen Rinpoche, Konchog Gyaltsen, has startled me on several occasions now as he read my mind, yes I am sure of this – I had not mentioned that I was contemplating escaping to India (to pursue a young woman) but clear as daylight, without much provocation he just blurted out, “you should finish school. Usually girlfriends get in the way of finishing school.” My jaw would have dropped if I had realized how far ahead of me he was thinking in MY process. Whoa!!! There was also the time, when I first attended retreat with Khenchen, having asked him at multiple opportunities what I should do with my life, he finally replied with, “you should go back and finish school.” Okay – this is bordering on the extraordinary! First of all, this implies he knew I was taking a break and that I had previously completed some school. And now he sees that I should finish… Uhhhh… Yes, he is simply amazing. As are other teachers.
Drupon knew, without my telling him, that I was doing guru devotion wrong. He pointed out that I needed to see the guru (for me that would be him) as the great, primordial guru Vajradhara (Dharmakaya) rather than any ordinary human form. Although he did mention that it would be okay to visualize His Holiness on the crown of my head. I’m not sure if he was just being self-effacing or serious. Either way, I put his advice into practice directly – no need to over-analyze it. Just do it. (Drupon Thinley Ningpo is one of the spiritual directors of the Tibetan Meditation Center in Frederick, Maryland and he is one of the retreat masters for the North American Centers of the Drikung Kagyu.)
Julie Henderson, who I have the good fortune of checking in with several times a year, is an example of a Western teacher with similar extraordinary intuitive skills. I think she has gotten a whiff of my habitual harsh-toward-self tendencies, but that does not explain how she knew another piece of my process. There was a time when I was deliberating about telling a young woman how I felt about her (long story shorter, this young woman is from the U.S. but is presently spending most of her time in Southeast Asia, so I preferred to have this conversation with young woman in person, but I was still trying to back out of that, internally) and Julie somehow sensed this and came right out with, “Kirby, if you love someone, you have got to tell them! You must tell her how your heart expands with joy and warmth when you spend time with her.” She went on to communicate that if I was on the path of opening my heart, then that meant opening my heart to someone else. And that there was no time to waste. Basically she was articulating a primal essence which was hidden deep within my heart, hidden because I had never had the courage or the warm-loving-support required to unlock it. Wow! (Julie Henderson is the creator and primary teacher of Zapchen Somatics – Embodying Well-being, she holds advanced degrees in German, Theater, Psychotherapy and Somatic Therapies. She has been recognized as an authentic spiritual teacher – a Khandroma – by many Tibetan lamas in the Nyingma and Drukpa lineages, and one of her teachers is His Holiness the Drukpa Kyabgon.)
Just to reiterate, without loving gurus and heart teachers, I would probably be out hiking somewhere, seeking outer serenity (and isolated solitude) because I did not have the tools to properly pursue inner peace and happiness. Meditation without guidance, to me is like being lost, adrift on a vast ocean without directional tools. We might paddle for years, only to discover that we have been going in circles, circles of perpetual dissatisfaction…
Thankfully I have connected with authentic lineages of healing wisdom and hopefully in this lifetime I will make a little bit of forward progress. I have become more active in the world, mixing it up with many different types of people and developing inner resources to be comfortable where I am. And I would say this is due to the kindness of my teachers.
May all beings seek out qualified teachers who can show them a legitimate path to lasting happiness. And then may all beings repay that kindness by sincerely practicing those precious instructions.
In other words, if we feel ourselves swaying in the breeze as it were, waffling between various meditation traditions or spiritual paths, primarily staying on the fringe of the crowd or simply reading books on the subject, then we should start investigating spiritual teachers. Get up close sometimes (when appropriate). Try to find someone we resonate with, who has been recognized as an authentic teacher and who practices what they preach (and preferably whose students do the same). Then we have much more to discover. We can change our mind with proper guidance and dedication and kindness. Thanks for reading and have a great day!