Spirit of Learning

“The Teaching” is transmission.

Nestled in the teacher’s emission, light begins its work.

I have been asked many times who my teachers have been.

This is an account of some of them and the authenticity in them

that transformed me in spite of myself.

The word “teaching” evokes school days and rote learning, and with good reason.   Contemporary education notions inject novel forms of involvement and interactive participation but once we reach a certain level of stability and self-assurance, how much do we really listen to or teach one another? Most importantly, how much do we truly learn?

There are many communicators, few teachers. Some people are happy being comfortable and others get off on shocking and provoking. Communications are often monologues, even when they are conversations. They reinforce and contrast experiences, exchanging opinions but rarely altering anything. This is because not everyone is receptive to their own or another’s innermost reality. We seem to lose interest in hearing anything that might alter our fragile equilibrium. Real learning goes a little farther than comparing notes, poking others, repeating what is heard, or training in a skill. It goes beyond parroting and instructions.

To teach we need to be the teaching, and to learn we need to look at our disposition for change. Most teachers are trained along the discursive paternalistic model of imparting information because-this-is-the-way-it-is. Monologue-style. We don’t have to do anything. So, we don’t learn very much about what truly matters, the intricate ever-changing texture of life and of oneself.

Personally, I find theory useless unless I can put it to the test. Written instructions, phones, and voice messages deprive me of feeling context. I need to see and touch life, experience the oceanic waves of forces that pervade it. The written word must evoke sensory experience, because ultimately, it is life that teaches us from within. However, the curious thing is that there always has to be someone who can reflect, induce, or confirm the process. Akin to remembering, when this association occurs, then we know.

In the spiritual realm we see the same pattern as in school: we follow instructions. Some of these are enigmatic, others challenging and scary. We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to understand or striving to follow without understanding, doing what we are supposed to do to get to where we think we ought to arrive. Often, we are off on a cloud of our own imagination and ourselves. That is, unless we meet the right person who evokes real learning.

Learning involves sharing-being with another. It is another aspect of love. We learn from people who are themselves. These people “do” little; instead, they reach into that inner space that touches the soul of another. With or without method or words, we become transformed by that reverberating presence.

The only time I trusted words from a lectern was when a Brazilian priest, my dear friend Padre Eliseo, accompanied them with off-colour jokes from the pulpit, adding spice, relevance, and humanity to the sermon. Like many of you, I had to suffer and even emulate authoritarianism and pedantry in graduate school and developed tremendous resistance to it. In my presentations, I avoid references, long quotes and rarely read what others say. With him I learned that direct experience and truth does not need to be authorised by erudite references.

I have read much and met and listened to great teachers who have inspired and left their indelible mark on me. My deeply transformative experience of Primal Therapy with Dr Arthur Janov at close range turned me inside out, exposed subjective worlds beyond the psychological, and laid the important foundation for further awakening and remembering. But it was not his technique that did the trick; it was him. He transmitted caring, warmth and gentleness, rare qualities for professionals in his field. Although he spoke one language and I heard another, the field of influence he emanated helped me remember who I Am and What Is.

In his public speeches in the 60’s, JJ Krishnamurti was like a lightning bolt, inspiring me more through his outbursts of impatience than through the impeccability of his logic. Later, Yogi Bhajan’s personality seasoned the practice of Kundalini Yoga, teaching while chatting. I learned a lot more through the food binges that he imposed on those of us who sat with him informally, and by watching Bollywood movies together, than I did holding my arms in mid-air for hours in hopeful martyrdom.

Real teachers bring out what is already within us. Often, we cannot tell if we find them, or they find us. They appear at a time when we do not yet trust ourselves and lead us, Home.

My first larger-than-life teacher was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, today known as Osho. I met him in Mumbai (Bombay) in the early ‘70’s and stayed by his side for twelve turbulent and painfully revealing years. His hearth, the community around him, became my family and the embodiment of learning, through states of ecstasy and the highs that were characteristic of the movement. However, if it had not been for the decadence of the last period, I would not have learned about the behind-the-scenes dynamics of light and dark that work together in the process of our own unfolding. That was much more valuable than the ecstasy.

Years later and after much insecurity, doubt, timidity, and obstinacy, I found refuge and direction alone. Multidimensional states of Being revealed a panorama of forces that fostered understanding. Then, heartfelt gratitude arose also for having witnessed the dark side, and the sequence of pressure, release, hope, disappointment, defiance and ultimately, peace stood revealed as stations on the way to the core of myself.

The 80’s found me in the East Coast of the US. In a few brief years, I was voluntarily kidnapped, this time by the Brazilian spirit that housed my eventual school of Consciousness. Dancing the samba and naively defying the dark forces that almost overwhelmed me, I paid a very heavy price for the ingenuity of my pretensions. The lessons were many, intimately tied to the context of society and learning the ropes of leadership, distinguishing the inner teacher from the seductions of the surrounding world. Coincidentally in those twelve years, I shared cosmic spaces with an extraordinary friend in neighbouring Argentina. His soft embrace unveiled Truth within me effortlessly. His name was Yaco Albala. He taught us leisurely in those cafés reminiscent of the European influence that had so defined the spirit of the country. We drank him in over tea and coffee while he urged us to mention “temitas” (subjects) and delicately tangoed with our responses. I learned how within the juxtaposition of cultures, climates, and methods, the emerging and unifying force of Truth springs from complexity and differences.

It is the fire that attracts the moth, and the fire within the soul of my next teacher was sublime. What truly held me from within and allowed me to take the next significant step in the crucible that presented itself to me, was a Christian mystic and teacher in Cyprus, Styllianos Atteshlis, known as Daskalos. I returned three times to the island, before I again realised that it was time to leap into the unknown. I moved to Europe, called by the voice of ancestors, and knowing then that the previous cycle had closed.  

If Bhagwan was larger-than-life, Daskalos was deeper-than-the ocean, wider and vaster than a star-filled universe. He was height and depth, divine and very, very human. He encouraged us to apply “the Burning Why” to absolutely everything. Such questioning would lead to faith if accompanied by experience. If something is lost in translation, then it is not important. “Nothing matters very much, and most things don’t matter at all,” he used to say. He was kind and loving, and would shake me up, ignore me when I asked for attention, and always transmit immeasurably humane love and knowledge by simply being himself, picking fish bones with his fingers, and slapping us emphatically on the back in a spirit of familiarity and conspiracy. He reminded me fondly of Zorba the Greek.

When Daskalos spoke, his was the wisdom of the heart, the sensibility of pure intelligence. The concept was grasped before it was understood. His was the experience of utter not-knowingness that leads to revelation. His presence was the understanding that was also comprehension. When he was dying in his hospital bed, I sat by his side at night (very quietly so no one would notice) and witnessed the symphony of stars that he conducted and was humbled by the tremendous forces he managed.

Teaching and learning never end. Their essence is transmission, and this resembles what occurs with heat transference; the quality and colouring of the emitting frequency determines the end result. In the human being, the highest form of teaching resembles the way a mother guides her child by the degree and quality of her personal involvement and caring in everyday life. We learn through those who transmit who and what they are, those whose soul and personality are but two sides of one whole. Such people extend an invitation to all of life. If touched by the spirit of Truth within them, we gain the courage to teach by being ourselves in resonance with soul. And then we too extend the invitation to all those who surround us and care to listen. Because teaching as well as learning reflect the affection we feel for living.

Artistic depiction of two black holes merging, a process in which the laws of thermodynamics are upheld.