Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Change In Perspective

Two Articles by Roberta Anderson

  • Real Teachers Are As Scarce As Hens' Teeth
  • Through a Mirror Darkly—continuing to try to see clearly!

  • Real Teachers Are As Scarce As Hens' Teeth

    A Letter Of Appreciation For Andrew Cohen
    By Roberta Anderson

    Dear Friends,

    I’ve been following this blog with a lot of interest—often fascinated, often confused, often feeling a little sick, and often alternating between wanting to defend Andrew, damn him, and then again defend him.

    I stayed in the community for nearly twelve years and participated in everything that’s been written about. Even though much of it was intense beyond belief and often even “brutal”, I stayed because early on in this life I knew that I wanted to find something that few on this planet, apparently, have discovered. I had a strong sense that my particular destiny was to give my damndest to attempt to awaken in this very life. I familiarized myself with all the masses of available literature from all the traditions, and I knew that of all the endeavors one can aspire to, this particular matter was apparently difficult beyond anything I could begin to imagine, and that slaying the ego was definitely not for wimps or naïve new-agers. Reading everything from all the warnings in the Tibetan literature about why it’s so very difficult to even get past the “lions at the gate” to Irina Tweedie’s “Chasm of Fire” gave me at least an intellectual understanding that the ego will never simply roll over and die of its own accord, and that it will very probably have to endure massive, intense, and ongoing humiliation to finally be willing to even begin to loose its hold.

    I came to Andrew after already having done a fair amount of “spiritual work” because I somehow knew immediately when I met him that he was one of the few true teachers who was actually willing to do battle with the ego down in the muck of the trenches, and that he was indeed the man for the job. He did not disappoint me in his willingness to keep his part of the bargain. Little did I know what I was actually in for, how immensely stubborn and recalcitrant the human ego actually is, the massive and ongoing onslaught against it that is actually required to begin to even make a dent in this fortress, and the intensity of the suffering one must be actively willing to bear in order for real transformation to occur.

    Andrew’s students quickly get to know a lot about what Gurdjieff called “conscious suffering”. When one is deep into this process the meaning of Jesus’ words about how “many are called but few are chosen”, “straight is the way and narrow is the gate” etc. becomes quite clear indeed. The first of the countless undesirable aspects of my ego that was exposed in spades was the indomitable strength of my own “spiritual ego”, and my lifelong strategy to do everything imaginable to try to make myself superior to all other human beings so that I would be able to always feel separate, safe, and protected from “them” at all times, places, and spaces. All of my attempts to perpetuate this familiar strategy were dashed and hatcheted, time and time again. Never once did I get to “look good”. From a traditional psychological perspective this sounds pretty horrible, since the whole idea of this approach is to learn more about “honoring and loving yourself” etc. But this is a different game, and always will be.

    I think that I have hesitated to throw my voice into this mix until now because I somehow felt that I should be expected to be some kind of grand “enlightened one” to even try to explain my own experience, and to try to shed some light on why I think Andrew is the kind of teacher he is. Instead I’m just a really ordinary human being. But coming from where I started with all of my grandiose notions about myself this is actually rather radical! I do know that with no doubt I am profoundly different from that person that came to Andrew in 1989. I had my butt kicked to kingdom come, was “drawn and quartered”, often felt like I was being boiled in oil, and weirdly enough (and I know that nearly everyone will find this to be pretty crazy), when it comes down to the most fundamental truth of it all, I feel basically nothing but deep gratitude to Andrew for having the guts and integrity and passion for awakening to be willing to do battle with me for so many years.

    This is messy, nasty work, and very few understandably will even have any interest in it—both teachers and students. I knew I needed a very tough teacher and I got one. Andrew showed me how to plunge into life and to live it fully with zest, passion, and deep love—the real kind of love that comes from knowing with no doubt that you are not even an iota separate from any other soul on the planet, and because of this we all have a deep imperative to really love each other like crazy, no matter what. He showed me the importance of how precious this human life actually is, and how all of us despite whatever our many perceived weaknesses may be, have a sacred responsibility to be agents for evolution wherever we are and whoever we are with no matter what we feel like doing. He also taught me that I don’t actually have a clue what’s really going on and that I don’t have to be afraid or insecure because of this—that this is in fact what makes life such an ongoingly rich, mysterious, and thrilling adventure.

    By no means do I feel that Andrew is “perfect”. As has been more than adequately pointed out on this blog, he has and will no doubt continue to make numerous mistakes. Like all of us, he is a mere human being despite his quite deep realization. There are parts of him like those parts in all us that clearly need ripening. The zen teachers often carry on about how this process actually never ends. There are numerous areas that I question or disagree with him. The work that he has committed his life to is the most vicious insult to the ego that one can ever begin to conceive of, and it is most understandable that such a huge number of ex-students are affronted, “wounded”, pissed off, vengeful, etc. etc. I have also felt all of this quite a lot and pretty consistently myself over the years. But ultimately (and apparently I am in the extreme minority in this respect!) I can only say that I got what I asked for, and way, way, way more than I could ever imagine. And I am frankly amazed that such a teacher as Andrew actually exists on this planet. The real deal is rare and the real teachers are scarce as hens’ teeth. They will probably always be vilified because of the extreme and excruciatingly painful nature of the real spiritual process.

    Sending much love to any and all of my old friends who may read this—

    Roberta Anderson

    Originally published April 13, 2005
    Original article on WHAT Enlightenment??!, with comments: Real Teachers Are As Scarce As Hens' Teeth

    Part 2

    Through a Mirror Darkly—continuing to try to see clearly!

    Further Reflections from Roberta Anderson

    Dear Friends,

    Trying to get clear about my time as a member of Andrew’s community has been and continues to be a challenging and extremely emotional process. In talking with an old friend from the community recently it occurred to me that it’s actually quite a bit like the grief process I went through when my mother died a number of years ago. I kept thinking it was “over” and that I had reached some kind of “resolution”, and then, lo and behold, yet another “wave” would hit me often when I least expected it. I want to say that I really appreciate this blog a lot, as it has provided a great forum for me and many of us to sift and resift through these incredibly intense years many of us shared together. Finally getting the courage to participage and throw in my two cents has been far more helpful than I’d expected. In beginning to shake up and examine and re-examine so much that I hadn’t seen clearly and probably still am not. I actually think that this, like the grief process, may well go on for a long time! Many experiences and incidents from this time with Andrew are continuing to burble up to the surface which I’d forgotten about or filed away “safely” because I really didn’t know what to make of them at the time.

    For me the really hard part about all of this is to hold and acknowledge it ALL, in all of its craziness, ecstatic revelations, agonizing humiliation, intense joy, incredible fear, unbelievable ongoing pressure, etc. The mind continually insists on something very white or very black, and to try somehow to stay in that really uncomfortable middle place of discomfort and confusion where nothing is denied or left out and the whole actually wildly confusing thing is attempted to be seen all at once—well, I continue to find that this is really difficult!

    I think that as Brook pointed out in her post, part of why it’s so challenging to see this all clearly is that undeniably so many of us had enormously powerful and ecstatic realizations of Self when we met Andrew that literally blew our minds. His charisma, confidence, brilliant grasp of the dharma, and willingness to be “on the edge” enchanted us all. Also, the fact that he was an “independent teacher” actually living and teaching from nothing but his OWN understanding instead of some “stodgy tradition” –the incredible aliveness and freshness of all of this really appealed to so many of us “dharma renegades”. Our teacher was a handsome New York Jew who wore Italian clothes and knew everything about jazz. He was hip! He had a great sense of humor, was an incredible mimic, had great timing, and everything he did and said seemed to delight us. He seemed to have an amazing gift for cutting through obscuration and making the dharma simple and accessible and clear. Everyone and everything seemed to “glow” when we were with him. The fact that everything really did seem terrifically new and “unknown” was incredibly exciting. We were explorers out there on the edge, investigating new and uncharted lands with our brave and beautiful teacher at the helm. We were definitely a special and chosen lot!

    As things slowly began to change and become not only not very ecstatic, but actually quite scary, many of us including myself felt that finally we were really entering the “true spiritual life”. Although it became often painful and really uncomfortable more and more of the time, everything we’d read and studied from the traditions told us that this was The Way. Slowly and progressively things got harder and weirder. NOW we were definitely “doing it”! Throughout this time lots of new innovations came into play, many of which were in fact skillful and very useful for all of us. We had freqent “discussion groups” where we would go into and explicate subtle points of the teachings with each other, and all of us learned a great deal about how to actually listen to others, articulate our thoughts and ideas much more clearly, and try follow each other’s train of thought with some intelligence. I’ve already written a lot (some would say ad nauseum!) about how all of these years with Andrew really did have a powerfully transformative effect on me and on many of my friends.

    But now slowly, because I continue to stare into all of this and reflect and re-reflect from as many angles as I can find, I have to say that I am starting to fall off my high horse and to see that there was indeed a great deal that was just plain old weird, cruel, and abusive, and way over the top. It’s helped me to think about what “went wrong” in terms of looking at the fact that Andrew didn’t really have a real model of “how to teach”. He hadn’t really worked closely with a deeply realized teacher who was steeped in a time-tested tradition where many of the kinks had a chance to get ironed out through centuries of learning from lots of mistakes. He was actually making it all up as he went along, and while we first thought that this was great because he was only teaching purely from his own understanding (which was undeniably profound)--and this was indeed probably why the teachings had a truly "alive" quality, his main and really only strategy became to simply continue to “up the ante”, no matter what. The force and domination and control indeed became quite nazi like. No situation was tailored for individual students at particular times (although I still believe that “intensity” at the proper time and with a great deal of sensitivity and finesse can actually be helpful on occasion). Every month and every year the intensity and “abuses” (already fully documented here on this blog) appeared to escalate to a degree that was beyond extreme. I never really participated myself in being aggressive with others (I was in fact considered rather weak and “wimpy” in that I was always pretty bad at giving “strong feedback” –this seemed to be a sign that I really didn’t care about the freedom of others!)

    Truly weird as it was, I think that Andrew thought and probably still thinks that this extreme force was necessary for the “liberation” of his students. I really don’t think he knows any other way to teach, and will probably justify his “methods” to the end. A big part of the underlying setup, as many have described, was that once you accepted Andrew as your teacher that was it. He knew best (as he often said, “why would you come to a teacher if you already know better?”) and because of his rather incredible confidence, managed to set himself up as the unquestioned Authority on Everything! Because of this I think there must be some kind of underlying fear that the whole thing would fall apart if Andrew ever admitted to having made a mistake. This in itself is symptomatic perhaps of how and why it all got so crazy.

    So I am finding it really helpful to just keep looking at all of this, trying to keep seeing the holes and blockages in my own understanding, my areas of denial, where I may be still protecting anything for whatever reasons, etc. As I’ve said before I am not bitter about all of the quite long time I spent in this situation, crazy as a lot of it was. For whatever reasons, mostly because I really wanted so much to believe in Andrew’s “vision”, I chose to stay and tough it out through a great deal of wild and crazy and quite painful stuff. I definitely learned a lot and changed deeply in ways I needed to. It was an unbelievably wild ride, and I must say that I both don’t regret it and I am also really glad I’m no longer in that situation! I know that there is still probably a great deal more for me to see about all of this, really appreciate the posts from everyone, and want to thank Hal for providing this much-needed forum.

    With love and thanks to all,

    P.S. Something I’m finding kind of interesting to think about is that early on with Andrew he had all us us ex-Da Free John students (there were six or seven of us) get together to get “de-programmed” and see and face clearly what a mad teacher he actually was. We all sat together for a number of hours going over and over our experiences. I remember actually feeling a bit “seasick” from just being forced to see and tell the truth. It’s just rather ironic and weird that now I am going through this again with Andrew! Wow.

    Originally published April 18, 2005
    Original article on WHAT Enlightenment??!, with comments: Through A Mirror Darkly