This Month's Contents: Why do Seekers of Truth Fail? by Art Ticknor | My Experience with Group Work by Corina Bardasuc | Interdependence by David Scoma | Group Work Nuggets by Various | You Can't Hide from Yourself in Others by Wyatt Wright | Starting a Self-Inquiry Group by Vince Lepidi | Working with Others and Alone on the Path by Ricky Cobb | Humor
This month's issue is overflowing with reader contributions on our theme of group work. First, thanks to all of those who submitted writings. Participating in the TAT Forum is itself a way of helping and being helped on one's path. Though you are not racking up points on a cosmic scoreboard, you are making a statement about what you think is important and how you want to spend your time. If no one else, at least your self is listening.
Next month, we will have few more essays on group work, and look for the conclusion of Mike Conner's talk "Becoming Will-less Zombies."
I recently read a Forbes magazine interview of Kristen Ulmer – someone I'd never heard of before. Ranked the top women's extreme free-skier for a dozen years, Kristen made movies jumping off 70-foot cliffs and was caught by avalanches in several of the films. She was the first woman to ski down Wyoming's Grand Teton mountain and was voted one of the ten skiers in the world "most likely to die" while skiing. Now 41, she runs a program at Utah ski resorts that uses Zen to teach students how to master fear and boost performance:
"The first clinic was more psychological than spiritual, and I thought, 'This isn't it.' then I met Zen master Genpo Roshi. The first hour of the first clinic we did together taught me more about myself, and how skiing affected my life, than my entire 14-year career."
Participants in those clinics aren't likely to get much out of them if they don't apply what they experience there. They need to take the insights and feelings of inspiration they leave with and apply them to the ongoing "work" on what's most important to them. The same is true for those whose goal is self-realization or truth-realization.
Why do seekers of Self, Truth, Unconditional Love, or any absolute condition, fail to find what they're looking for? Here are three possible reasons:
1. Failure to feel their deepest desire consciously. (We all feel it, but we're afraid of the implications, so we distract ourselves from it.)
2. Failure to find and work with a teacher. (It isn't absolutely necessary to find a self-realized teacher, but it's immensely helpful. The Guru is always with us, but many of us fail to recognize him when he appears. Ramana Maharshi related a humorous story about this condition from the Ribhu Gita about the sage Ribhu and his disciple Nidagha that you can find on the Internet and is well worth reading.)
3. Failure to find and work with fellow seekers.
What's so important about finding and working with other seekers, you may ask. (I'll pretend you just did.) What prevents realization of an absolute state of being is, ironically, what is looking for it. What we believe ourselves to be is actually "the penny that blots out the sun" in Alfred Pulyan's great phrasing (see his article by that title in the October 2004 TAT Forum). Something has to help us transcend the searching self. We need help – and helping others inspires help.
The TAT Foundation has several members who have "crossed to the other shore" and now function as teachers. (I think this is a highly unusual, perhaps unique, situation. All the self-realized people throughout history that I'm aware of apparently were sole practitioners.) And one of the shared observations is that at each of the four annual TAT gatherings it's like starting all over again with most of the participants. Several of the people are likely to get hotly inspired and motivated, but within a few days of returning home the inspiration generally wears off. It doesn't get transmuted into sustained action.
One of the definitions of the Sanskrit word dharma is the principle that orders the universe. It's popular among modern materialists to believe that there is no such ordering principle, that the universe exhibits the principle of chaos and that each man is a god who superimposes order on that chaos in proportion, I guess, to his mental power. These unfortunate folks are blinded by pride, unable to see the miracle of creation unfolding in their mind's eye at every instant – the miracle of creation and destruction that some intelligence far superior to man's puny intellect has imagined and launched, complete with its evolving and devolving patterns, its expansion and contraction, birthings and deaths – all this movement, all the comings and goings, held in an impossibly intricate balance of equilibrium.
We need to find that equilibrium in order to find what we're looking for, and it doesn't come by trying to stop the pendulum's swing half way between life and death. It comes by transcending the pendulum swing, returning to the still point from which the pendulum arises. To do that we need to transcend the split between self and other. It requires work, and even if we're fortunate enough to be working with a self-realized teacher, the teacher can't do the work for us. We are what observes, and that observing has to become detached from what's observed. Our seeing needs to become its own authority.
We begin our lives as takers, wholly dependent on others for our survival. As the sense of self develops, so too does the orientation toward taking. We become one-sided, unbalanced, nearsighted. Finding and working with other seekers provides helpful irritation to prod us out of the comfortable ruts we fall into, helping to counter the procrastination, rationalization and forgetfulness that besets us in our search for completeness. It will be a frequent challenge to pretense and self-deception, and it may start opening us to the joy of helping others, which in turn may challenge the barrier between self and others. As our nearsightedness is corrected by learning what it feels like to walk in another person's shoes, that adjustment simultaneously broadens our internal view.
You can probably sense the direction I'm heading, which is that seekers of an absolute state of being will increase their chances of success by finding a few like-minded people to work with on a frequent basis. And since the distribution of such work-groups – people who are consciously seeking truth, admit their current ignorance, want to work with others and live in close enough proximity to meet on a regular basis – is somewhat like the distribution of planets in the solar system, in most cases the seeker will need to build a work-group.
Establishing a local self-inquiry group:
I came across such a group at Ohio State University in the 1970s and since that time have tried to find or establish similar groups in the various places I've lived. I started working to establish the current group I'm active in ten years ago, and I'd like to tell you about it in order to give you some details about how it developed.
First of all, I looked for a likely place to find people who might be interested. The nearest population center to where I live is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is about seventy-five miles away. I found that there were two universities adjacent to each other in the Oakland section of the city – the U. of Pittsburgh with a student population of about 30,000 and Carnegie Mellon U. with about 10,000 students. And I found a coffee house that was conveniently located between the two campuses.
Next I visited the two schools and asked where I could put up posters. Then I began posting flyers to announce each weekly meeting of the Philosophical Self-Inquiry Discussion Group at the coffee shop. The flyers had what I hoped was a provocative phrase or question as a headline followed by some combination of a short quote that was relevant to the topic, one or more additional thought-provoking questions, and an attention-getting graphic (thanks to the Internet). I would compose them on my home computer then print them at a local copy shop in black ink on colored paper. I took a collection at the end of the meetings, when I remembered to do so, asking for pocket change to cover the cost of the posters, believing that participants should share the cost of the meetings.
During the first several months of the meetings there were typically half a dozen or more participants – many of them new people, some returnees – and I would divide the available time (which I set at 2 hours) among the participants so that each person would have a chance to give his views. My idea was to encourage people to express their thoughts and feelings on the topic and to hear others do the same. I didn't try to impose my views or sway people to my way of seeing things.
After a few months I had the feeling that the group wasn't going anywhere, and I decided to change the format. The change was that after individual participants expressed their beliefs, the rest of us would ask them questions about why they believed what they did. The goal of that kind of questioning is to assist the participants in their efforts at self-inquiry by helping them discover the prides and fears underlying their beliefs. When the prides and fears that we identify with – false selves or egos – come into our view, it provides some detachment so that we can see that they're not really us. By paring away the layers of what we formerly believed ourselves to be, we eventually get to the core of what we really are.
Don't get discouraged if you try to establish a self-inquiry group and it's not immediately successful. I have friends who have given up after a few months when they weren't getting a good turnout. There's a story about Bodhidharma, a 6th century Indian guru who was told by his teacher that he should go to China, where he would find students and a successor. According to the story, Bodhidharma sat staring at a wall for nine years before any students showed up. I suspect many of the guru stories of employing hyperbole (and I doubt the specified duration of his wait), but I think there's often a kernel of truth in them. He eventually had four main students, one of whom became enlightened – starting the chain of the Patriarchs of Ch'an, the Chinese forerunner of Zen.
In the Pittsburgh group I was fortunate in having a Pitt undergraduate who was actively involved from the beginning, although he gradually faded out before his graduation. Then in the fall of the second year, a newly married woman from India attended a meeting on Life Goals. I went around the table asking people what their life-goal was, and she surprised me by saying that hers was to become enlightened in this lifetime. (That's not typical of the Indian psychology, which tends to be more fatalistic. In fact her husband, who had come to CMU for a Ph.D. program, said he was shocked to find that Americans approached enlightenment like a management-by-objectives project.) That young couple became the core of the group and sustained it for nearly three years until the next serious people began showing up. We also became deep friends, like the best possible combination of family and friends.
I hear many rationalizations from friends who ask for advice about their search for self-knowing when I suggest they start a group. Much of the rationalization for not giving it a try has to do, I believe, with fear of rejection. I sidestepped the initial problem of fearing rejection by not pretending to be a teacher. I think the only honest way for a seeker to approach setting up a group is by admitting his ignorance and inviting other ignorant people to form a cooperative effort. I didn't escape the fear of rejection, though, and learned something about my psychology. When I was a kid I liked people and was a friend to everyone. But eventually I recoiled from shocks to the ego and retreated to the defensive position of waiting for the other person to extend the first sign of friendship. Here I was reaching out again – and suffering the inevitable real or imaginary rebuffs. But I came to a conscious conclusion that the pain of possible rejection was worth the potential of making genuine friendships.
A core group of serious seekers will attract others. In the fourth year of the Pittsburgh group two CMU undergraduates showed up during the fall semester and became solid participants. Several more CMU undergrads became active over the next two years, and in the following year two of the students shared an apartment that they treated as an ashram. The focal point of the group shifted from the Indian couple's apartment – they had moved to Texas when he completed his Ph.D. program – to the student ashram.
The following year those two students, one of whom had graduated but stayed in the area to work, were joined by two other CMU undergraduates and one of the original active undergrads, who had moved after graduation and worked in other states for three years. They leased a house for the 2005-06 academic year, which they treated as an ashram.
During that winter Shawn Nevins interviewed those five participants along with two others who were active in the self-inquiry group for a documentary film he was making. You can see clips of it at Poetry in Motion Films. As Shawn described it so well on the web site, "One remarkable afternoon in 2006, seven friends gathered on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, to discuss their longing for a deeper meaning in life, the doubts and distractions that keep them from searching intensely, the friendships they have developed along the way, and the hope that keeps them looking. Their heartbreaking honesty resonates with all of us who were ever struck by the immensity of life and wondered what it was all about...."
Technology is probably close to the point where virtual face-to-face group interaction is feasible and practical … but there is a great value to time spent "hanging out" with friends in the work-group. Ashram experiments like the ones conducted by CMU students and recent grads provide a wonderful opportunity to combine relaxation with intensity of effort in a setting of mutual support.
In the Pittsburgh group we also find that combination in smaller doses in our weeknight meetings – which we moved to a public library between the two campuses after the first year or two – by hanging out at the coffee shop after the meetings, often staying until it closes. And we alternate the public meetings with invitation-only weekend meetings for people who want to work at a somewhat more intensive level, which we cap off by having dinner together.
There's an archive of meeting topics and more details on what the Pittsburgh group is doing in the Self-Inquiry Group section of the Self-Discovery Portal website.
When I first started attending the Pittsburgh self inquiry group meetings, my ego received a big blow. I was not used to talking about my spiritual work in front of anyone else, and having to answer questions that were confrontational from others was difficult for a while. I mean, not only did I not know who I was and what I was trying to do with my life, but on top of it I had to sit down and discuss my ignorance with others, sometimes in depth. It was not a comfortable situation at all.
So I sat down one day and thought about what made that situation so uncomfortable, because after all it was just talking, answering and asking questions. I think the part that was uncomfortable was that I had to speak the truth, or at least what I considered to be the truth about myself and the life I lead. And having to say that to someone else, in words, makes it more real. It's almost like the words materialize and you realize your situation better when you explain it to someone else. In fact, one time I was talking about communication in groups to a friend of mine who was a teacher in an elementary school, and I think she said it best: "You don't even know what you know until you try to explain it to somebody else."
I felt her simple words contained a deep message. We often are not as good at translating our inner impulses and desires as we think we are, and that comes out in plain light when we talk to others about what we believe. That is important in group work (especially of the confrontational discussion style) because you have many people asking you "who are you?" and "why did you say that?". And you have to put some genuine effort into figuring out an honest answer and tell it to them. A lot of times people will give me a hard time when I think too much in order to come up with an answer, because I'm editing in my head what I want to say. And in a confrontation group someone will try to steer you away from that, to get the most direct and honest answer possible. It's not even that the questions are that difficult, in fact, I often think it's the simpler and more direct questions that are the most difficult. Not "how do you think you would react in such and such a situation?" but "what do you feel like right now?". Direct questions are difficult because they push you to find an answer that is equally simple and direct in your being. And I often struggle when asked a simple question like 'who are you?' (the staple question at our Monday PSI meetings), because I know I have an answer in me, an answer that is just as simple, and direct, as the question. But when I open my mouth most of what comes out is a bunch of explanations. About what I think I am. And, mostly, about what I am not. And I think that's the greatest merit of group work, when I look at my personal experience of it, that it pushes an individual to be honest, not just with the group, but with themselves. To come up with a simple, direct answer, from underneath the many layers of the ego they built up for themselves over the years. It is no easy feat.
As for shortcomings to group work, I have not experienced too many personally since joining the group in Pittsburgh, but I can see that there are many ways in which a seeker could be tempted to place more importance in group work than it is due. For example, as it often happens when people get together in a similar agreement or frame of mind, there is a temptation to think of that group as the main authority in one's spiritual life, which detracts the seeker from finding the truth for oneself. If you happen to think that your fellow seekers will do your work for you, because they happen to be helpful, and invested in your best interest, you are wrong. Other people cannot take you past the words, to find a simple, direct answer, in your being. They can only point the way. Your fellow seekers are an important tool on your journey of self discovery, and although they are there to help you and be helped by you, they cannot do the thing that is hardest. They cannot do your work. They cannot show you who you are. There is only one authority who knows that and who can help you do that, and that is not to be found in other people, but in oneself. But I think group work has helped me tremendously, and I think it was just what I needed to give my search another dimension, to help put my thoughts out there and materialize them to others in the shape of words. That process of materializing ideas, of seeing some of them hold true and some of them dissipate, of seeing what I thought and what I actually knew, has been most valuable to me. I've come a long way to trusting this process, this exchange of ideas and impressions between myself and others in our group, and I think it's been an integral part of my search.
A decade back, I found myself in the middle of the painful and gut-wrenching deconstruction of patterns and delusion that serious seeking can slam one into quite mercilessly. To that point, the majority of time in my life on the path had been spent in solitary practice, various forms of contemplation, and overall spiritual examination. In all of the years that I had been on the path to that juncture, individual work had been the principal dynamic as only one other good friend shared my interests in spirituality. Yet our differences in background (he was Tibetan Buddhist, I practiced Roman Catholicism) made it tough to bridge a lot of gaps. However, we did have a common element that trumped any divergence in approaches; we were both seeking, and we both saw quite clearly, and in tandem, just how marginalizing and even downright lonely such a pursuit could be within our modern Western culture. That one point of commonality alone made a significant difference. My girlfriend at the time did not understand any of this. But she often remarked just how much it seemed to help bolster my situation whenever I would discuss what was being encountered in my life with the few individuals who had some slight inkling of what was going on with me. Soon after, my buddy Matt would become a more ongoing example of this dynamic in terms of one-on-one discussion as he was someone who, at a parallel time in his life, began talking to me about these matters and how they were also arising during his own period of being taken apart.
Matt himself was working with the Twelve Steps back then. As a result, he had learned in that system both the values and the pitfalls which can be present "whenever two or three are gathered" even under the banner of a Higher Power. Yet he also found it quite natural to combine the skills discovered through that dynamic within the framework - and through the topics - we were investigating through our own discussions in the realm of delusion dismantling and the pursuit of Truth. In return, our talks would then quite naturally color his future verbal contributions "in the rooms". And after many of the Twelve Step meetings Matt attended during that period, people on the outskirts would often approaching him on his way out to the car – simply wanting to hear more. Matt would oblige, and over time those discussions would be brought into small group settings at bookstores and coffeehouses with all of us together. In such small group settings – even informal ones - one reaps a couple of prime benefits. For starters, you are obviously dealing with numerous personality types, often quite different from your own. Such discussions – especially in the realm of transformation and spirituality – lend themselves perfectly to differing views and even engaged and highly charged debates. All of this is excellent fodder for seeing your own stuff, your own patterns, your own programming – coming at you in a new and different light. What better manner is there to gauge where you are caught, where you are identified, where you are being pulled soundly sleeping back into the dream – than by "automatically" responding after having your buttons pushed in ways and at times that you are not expecting? The group work provided these opportunities in bounds. But even when no specific agenda was involved other than the hashing out of topics, it also provided an opportunity to try and put this most undiscussable of topics into words not only for those seated around the table, but also for ourselves. And in doing so – by attempting to communicate that which cannot be communicated with a small group of individuals who similarly had ears to hear – it effectively managed to pull more of the wool from our eyes as time moved on. It also worked to strengthen camaraderie as much as it promised to challenge our cherished beliefs and core, base-level habits. And it accomplished ALL of this in a way that seems virtually impossible to achieve when approaching Spiritual Enlightenment strictly on one's own.
It seems as if in the story, this sort of mixture of dynamics can combine to potentially increase the speed of transition exponentially if you are able to share with, or help out, "others" in similar circumstances through this kind of interaction and discussion when combined along side of delving into these matters alone. That was the case in my life, and it was certainly the case in Matthew's. Just discovering that you aren't "the only one" facing these issues through such forms of interaction is reason enough to combine solo inquiry or practice with the dynamic provided by the small group. It is important – extremely important – to find a collective of people, (or even just one person at the start) with whom one is able to bounce things off of. Not as a crutch to be used overtly or exclusively as a place to look for sympathy or a forum solely for venting - though at times and in good measure that can certainly a key benefit once one starts plowing into Reality. But primarily, it has been found on this end that the addition of focused, diligent, and motive-dissecting interactions within group settings into one's spiritual landscape works to provide an invaluable and grounded source of real guidance and genuine, ongoing support along often rocky pathless path toward Truth Realization.
If you do not fear falling alone, do you presume that you will rise up alone?
Consider how much more can be accomplished by two together than by one alone.
You have to get into the place where the material is, with people who know
something. You have to join some sort of human relationship, to work with some
group if possible, so that you will be reminded to go back when you slip and
forget. Reminded to keep digging, keep meditating, or keep some sort of action
going that will keep your head on the problem.
This road demands courage and stamina,
When you work with others you are working with yourself. And I don't mean that in any overt transcendental or metaphysical sense, but in a very practical way from the perspective of an individual seeker. In my experience with self-inquiry group work, not only have I seen usually subtle or completely hidden personality patterns exposed, but have been opened to new perspectives and greater compassion.
Upon meeting new people, I've seen automatic judgements form consistently whether good or bad that keep myself in comparison or opposition to the others. I've then seen how quickly new judgements form when the originals are knocked down to keep the gaps filled. I've also seen defensiveness clearly kick in when personal positions feel threatened or vulnerabilities exposed. I've seen how both these mechanisms are automatic.
In addition to seeing patterns that keep me separate, I've been exposed during group work to factors in the grand equation that show me and these others aren't so different. One way this becomes apparent is when I've seen the validity in new or different perspectives. Normally, its my right perspective against their wrong perspective. However, this difference starts to melt away as both perspectives are scrutinized in the receptive atmosphere group self-inquiry tends to create. Even more strikingly, especially on an emotional level, I've seen clearly that we all share the same personality traits, issues, etc. as everyone else to a greater or lesser degree while working with others. It's almost like different people are just emphasizing different notes in the same universal tune. It's hard to keep harsh judgments going when you know it's all there in you as well.
Richard Rose, the founder of TAT, believed that starting your own esoteric study group was a valuable way of doing "ladder work" and a means to help one's own spiritual path as well as others. He did not think that such groups had to be a big affair; just start a group in any town, then find a couple of sincere individuals wanting to know answers related to self-definition and willing to put up with some friendly confrontation. "That's all, and get together and irritate each other a bit with the questions," he once said.
As a college student at the University of Pittsburgh during the early to mid-1970's, I attended the Pyramid Zen meetings held at the student union. Since that time, several TAT members have maintained esoteric groups near Pittsburgh's two main university campuses, Pitt and Carnegie-Mellon. Currently, the Philosophical Self-Inquiry (PSI) group meetings are held there bi-weekly.
During the years after my college days, I drove, on an infrequent basis, the 30 miles from my hometown in the Pittsburgh suburbs to attend the esoteric meetings. I was never a monitor for these groups, just a participant. As I got older, the relatively short drive became more difficult and seemed like a long haul. Being transferred to the night shift at work made it impossible to attend any evening meetings. I felt I had reached an impasse. If I wasn't able to attend meetings and be in physical contact with my fellow seekers, what was I going to do in order to keep my head on the spiritual path? Throughout my years as a seeker, I have read and studied extensively all of the world's esoteric philosophies, religions, and spiritualities. Add to that my attendance at many study groups, meetings, chautauquas, gatherings, and retreats. I was highly fortunate in having an enlightened man as my teacher. I've been a friend of another for many years. More recently, I was encouraged after several of my fellow seekers who were Rose students and TAT members had realizations, giving them the answer to their years of searching. As a longtime Rose student, I practiced the system outlined in The Albigen Papers. Admittedly I've lacked dynamism and have engaged in all the forms of procrastination mentioned in the book. But a spark of commitment always remained, and so I realized I needed to take the initiative when I wasn't able to drive to Pittsburgh. Even though I have often doubted the sincerity of my commitment to find the Truth, I had much to pass on to others, however inadequate a vehicle I saw myself to be. So finally, after 30 years on the esoteric path, I finally decided to start my own group in my hometown.
The opportunity for a venue came several years ago, when a married couple, both artists, opened a combined coffee shop and art gallery. On the first day I went there for a cup of coffee, the lady co-owner told me she wanted their establishment to be used as a meeting place for groups engaged in various creative endeavors. I told her of my interest in starting a metaphysical discussion group at her place, and she was favorable to the idea. This was about six years ago, but it was not until two years ago that I finally started the "Self-Inquiry Group" at the coffee shop. The catalyst occurred when a man I met at a centering prayer meeting in town bought a copy of the Psychology of the Observer. I had interested him in purchasing the book, and now he suggested I get the group started in order to discuss its contents. There were some people he knew at a local wellness center who studied various eastern philosophies and who wanted to go beyond the physical Hatha Yoga practices and into Raja Yoga. The wellness center people came over for my first meeting in March 2006. These meetings have continued weekly on Saturday mornings ever since. A combination of putting posters at the coffee shop, hanging out at the place (I enjoy coffee and art), talking to interested people who come in for stimulating intellectual conversation along with their coffee, and word of mouth through folks who attended the meetings have brought anywhere from just one person to as many as six people every week. I'm pleased with the level of attendance. After all, it is a small town. As Jesus said, where two or more are gathered, He's there, so I figure I'm doing OK. There's been attrition, but in my many years of attending esoteric group meetings, I know that's to be expected. On the bright side, I have a couple of regulars who have attended for many months.
Running a self-inquiry group has been a learning experience for me. It's one thing to be a passive participant as I was for many years, and another to be the monitor whose job is to not just to ask, but facilitate the flow of questions. I have been able to come up with a topic every week, mostly based on personal issues I'm dealing with, though a few of my topics, in the spirit of ladder work, were borrowed from other groups run by TAT members and posted on the internet. Not many, though; mostly my own topics. I'll put in a quote or two from a spiritual teacher and a topic question. I've learned you should put forth just one question, instead of several as I initially did, and keep the quote brief or in some cases not have a quote at all. This is because a long quote may contain statements the participants disagree upon. They'll want to argue over the statements, rather than "go within" by examining the assumptions behind their own beliefs, thereby defeating the purpose of the group. Keeping the topic and quotations brief will prevent participants from avoiding confrontation. You must make sure the participants realize that the purpose of the group is to go within and find the real Self. It is not a debate club, and not a place to share anecdotes, but just as Rose said, "irritate each other a bit with the questions" for the purpose of self-definition. Richard Rose's confrontation method is in the true spirit of Socratic philosophic inquiry, where the purpose is to "know thyself." As someone who has been shy most of his life and reluctant to force himself upon people, I've had difficulty in keeping participants on the topic and looking into themselves for answers. Often someone, usually a gregarious person who likes to talk a lot, will want to drift into opinion and political rant. When that happens, you've got to get the person back with the program.
I would not have started the group if I didn't think it would help me go within better. Something new, I felt, was needed to spur me on in this direction. As I mentioned earlier, I've lacked dynamism and have procrastinated a lot. Perhaps if I learned to confront others as the monitor in a self-inquiry group, I could learn to confront myself better as I observed my own thought-processes. The important thing for me was that I needed to look into my mind as a seeker. I was less interested in developing my skills as a monitor than I was in using the group as a mirror for my own path. There is the danger that running a group and becoming good at confronting others could actually divert you from looking within. You might become full of yourself. In such a case, the ability to teach would be a substitute for real inner effort.
How then, has starting the Self-Inquiry Group helped me along my own spiritual path? What has it done for me so far? After two years, I have noticed some benefits that I hope would indicate personal spiritual progress and proved to me that my decision to start a self-inquiry group was worth it. One important benefit was that I realized I could not teach or promote something for which I did not "live the life" and "walk the walk," rather than just talk about it. An example of this was when I would ask the participants certain questions suggesting they might need to change their lifestyle habits along the lines of Rose's "reversing the vector." The difficulty I had when asking these questions was that I was suggesting they needed to change something in themselves that I had not changed in myself. I was telling the participants they should conserve energy by eliminating dissipating habits. But since I had some problems conserving energy myself, how could I be effective in persuading them to do so? There was no integrity behind my words. I felt like a phony. My words were hollow, devoid of conviction and the personal experience that would make them believable. As I felt my phoniness, I realized that as hard as I tried, I could not get into the minds of the participants. The lack of insight into my own mind made it impossible to see where the participants were coming from. As a result, I could not ask the kinds of follow-up questions that could reveal something to them. The problem was that I lacked intuition. And I lacked intuition because I didn't practice what I preached. With good intuition, I could have asked better questions. Instead, the participants did not seem to want to give due consideration to the implication behind my questions. You could say the tables were turned on me. My confrontation questions to them ended up being confrontation upon myself. But it had its positive benefit. I can honestly say that as a result of the confrontation bouncing on me, I've ceased some of the dissipating habits, which made me feel like a phony when I asked the participants my questions. With the stopping of those habits, I have become more dynamic and intuitive.
As I get older, I have a stronger sense that "time is of the essence." How many more years do I have to live? Is there hope for a realization while I'm alive? I believe that as a result of starting the group, I'm more focused and attentive in my spiritual search. Just going through the process of preparing a new topic every week has helped me "turn my head" and build the vector I lacked previously. I'm compelled to be more honest with myself, and feel less the gravity of procrastination. The group keeps me on my toes in this regard, because I cannot convey to them what I have found unless I have become a dynamic vector. There's no doubt in my mind that forming a group was just the thing I needed to do in my middle age.
To summarize: Starting a self-inquiry group has 1) made me more dynamic in that I'm taking more initiatives and generating my own enthusiasm, as opposed to my former passivity; 2) helped me to confront to myself better as I learn to confront others as a monitor; 3) made me realize there had to be integrity behind my words as I needed to live the life, and walk the walk, rather than just talk about it; 4) made me confront my lack of intuition; 5) made me deal with the fact I was dissipating energy, resulting in my being an ineffectual monitor; 6) moved me towards breaking out of the quandary of procrastination; 7) given me more focus on the path by causing me to place more attention to the spiritual search; 8) helped me "turn my head" and reverse my vector as I prepare discussion topics every week.
So far, the participants in my group have been mostly middle-aged like myself. I've tried to interest them in reading The Albigen Papers. Often, I'll mention the book at the meetings, sometimes using quotations from it in relation to certain discussion topics. Their interests are varied, covering the spectrum of past and new metaphysical groups and esoteric philosophies, to eastern and western spiritualities and practices. I believe the guidelines for the spiritual search contained in The Albigen Papers would help their own path. While the newer metaphysical groups and systems were not known to Richard Rose when he wrote his book more than 35 years ago, his critique of the older metaphysical and occult systems still apply to those now appearing on the contemporary scene. To my pleasant surprise, I've discovered there are sincere spiritual seekers in my small hometown who study what I have studied, and, in some instances, participate in other esoteric and metaphysical groups promoting a spiritual path. As a result of forming an esoteric study group at a coffee shop in a small town, I have new spiritual friends. It is my hope that the self-inquiry group I started, combined with the fruits of my own years of seeking, can be of benefit to their own, as well as my own spiritual path. So, if you are inspired by this essay, you might want to take Rose's advice to start a group in "any town" and irritate each other a bit with questions.
I think the best thing someone can do for you is to remind you of your own purpose. Why are you reading this anyway? What's your motivation? See, we usually don't question our own motivations, we usually just roll with the punches and take things in stride…up until some tragedy happens, some blow to our ego which knocks us down to honesty again.
Richard Rose said we help each other by "punching each other in the nose." Not physical violence but honest critical feedback given in the spirit of friendship. If we're getting off track a word or two may be all that is needed to help 'right' a 'wrong' or keep the focus where it needs to be, back to the heart of the matter.
The times I've spent in groups with others were very valuable. I might not have meditated every Sunday or Monday evening on my own, but I could easily go and meditate with a group every week. It would have actually been easier to stay home and meditate but there are too many distractions at home and getting out with a group of likeminded individuals may be a good strategy if you know what your behavior patterns are. So many people working together helps get the job done faster (think Amish barn-raising but for spiritual purposes).
The teachers who have claimed to realize something profound may offer hope and inspiration or even some practice to do when not in a group of seekers. One very important thing I get from these people is they stand for something – something that articulation in words seems to fail but the point still gets across somehow. Justice, Love, Peace, Truth, Stillness, etc. kind of convey the message but talking to a teacher is a whole different experience.
Even fellow seekers (especially fellow seekers) can provide encouragement and doubt about our progress on the path. I remember having a growth chart when I was young, a ruler on the wall with markings for 8 years old, 9 years old etc. We don't see ourselves grow but require a mirror or some form of measurement to see the change. This is what a friend along the way can provide – another perspective we might miss. It goes both ways too; you help someone as they help you.
Some 'help' can be a distraction however. When we try to 'help' to put on some image or detract from someone else's image it may only do harm or, at best, no good. Group work may involve tradition of some kind in the practices and such tradition may be meaningless unless the meaning behind it is understood intuitively.
We may try to do everything ourselves as well, and often end up standing still rarely making any progress. On the other hand, if we've been doing group work non-stop for quite some time then it may be beneficial to do an isolation retreat, or take as much time as we need to ourselves to 'recover'. There seems to be a mechanism at work which prevents us from stepping too far outside our comfort zones with regards to working with others.
Despite the highs and lows of group work, I would say net-net, bottom line is very positive. And do you really think you can do it all alone?