Here’s another installment in a series of emails that took place between Michael and one of his senior students beginning in August of 2009. May you find the exchange interesting and enriching.
July 16, 2010
Student: Ive got a bunch of questions that have been popping up so Im just going to spill them out and hope you can do something with them, okay?
Student: Do you really not care one way or another if anyone in the sangha, or anywhere else, finds their true nature or realizes enlightenment? Is not caring the same as not being attached to any outcome? What do you think would be different both in the sangha and with the teacher-student relationships if there was a caring? Do you think this is what that student was talking about when she asked after last nights Dharma talk, during the Q & A, where’s the heart in your teaching? Do you think that that which pulls for a teacher to care one way or another is the same thing that resists either standing on its own two feet or the feeling of being left completely alone on the path.
Michael: Wow. Theres a lot there but Ill try to piece something together here. First, if I said that “I don’t care” in relation to students finding their true natures, I misspoke. What I mean is that “I’m not attached to the outcome” of their work. Nor am I attached to mine. With that said, I care far more about their realization than I care for them as individuals. This often bums people out since they want a relationship thats different from the one Im interested in cultivating. Quite simply, Im interested in delivering this teaching as best as possible more than Im interested in developing new friendships. This doesnt mean that I dont care for people who come to hear me. On the contrary, I care very deeply. Deeply enough not to let them fall back on habitual egoic patterns. Egos hate this and often see it as heartless, and I know that my style is not for everyone. But, in my view, for a practitioner to let the teacher-student relationship to really take off, they must be willing to see and accept whats actually going on within themselves as it relates to the relationships that they have, both with me and everyone else in their lives including their inner-most being.
Student: And students are afraid of this work, right?
Michael: Yes. Its natural for this to be so. But it doesnt make sense for any teacher, in my view, to simply play the role of rescuer. This just keeps the student stuck which is anything but compassionate, nor is it wise, for that matter. Its most helpful when, as teachers, we allow for people to spin and spin and spin in the same eddy of lifes flow until they get sick enough of their patterns to garner the resolve theyll need to make a 90 degree turn, thus breaking the cycle and developing a different perspective in the process. Supporting this move is my raison d’etre. It’s the only reason I do this work and increasingly its becoming the main focus of my life.
Student: Sounds like spiritual tough love.
Michael: That works, as long as smiles are seen in that mix. And, it should also be noted, there is a whole-lotta’ heart in this process even though people might see my approach as not caring or loving enough. Im okay with this.
Student: So the best way to help a student realize the Truth, so to speak, is to let them fail?
Michael: The best way for a teacher to help a student that has fallen into a tar pit of ego is not to lift, clean, or pull the student out of the mess. Rather the teacher should ask the questions necessary for the student to uncover the core of the experiences they are having. This brings the light of consciousness into the darkness of their unconscious patterns. So back to our previous point: usually when people want more “heart” or they want to feel more love from their teacher, they really want to feel like someone’s got their back. Which is another way of saying that they want someone to keep them from falling into the tar pit. While I’m not interested in pushing people in to any tar pits, a person’s ability to navigate around it depends on the skill set their practice offers. This realization of skills is more important than whatever I might want to do in order to rescue them from their missteps.
Student: So in a way you want to see them fail?
Michael: I want to see them fearlessly meet their life in a fully exposed manner. I want them to be utterly open and vulnerable to this very moment and participate totally. When they are raw and consumed with feelings of being lost and at their wits end, I want them to become familiar with those feelings; so familiar with them that through their practice they no longer fear them.
Student: But do you ever feel like you have to push them there?
Michael: Ive never had to. People usually show up to deep spiritual practice in a state of confused vulnerability. Pushing someone into this space isnt appropriate in my view. In fact, its abusive. Having said this, the teaching ignites once both teacher and student can work together in a place of wonder rather than certitude. Once the wonder takes over, something is recognized showing us that there is a way out of the limited and a way into the limitless. From here its my job to just keep pointing the way, hoping that they’ll take the steps necessary to find strength enough in their own legs to step past me and carry the torch.