Have you ever wondered why all of a sudden, more and more people are calling themselves coaches these days? Where were all of the Life Coaches, Spiritual Coaches, Career Coaches, Leadership Coaches, and Health & Wellness Coaches even 20 years ago, back in the 1900’s?
While there are plenty of socio-economic reasons that address why we’re big into coaching these days (which I won’t get into in this blog post), would it surprise you to learn that coaching has actually been around for 2500 years?
Although the modern coaching profession is booming these days with many people throwing their hat into the ring, the roots of coaching, as practiced today, can be traced, in my opinion, all the way back to Socrates and his Socratic Method.
I said, “the roots of coaching” and not “actual coaching” as we know it today, because there is ONE BIG DIFFERENCE that I’ll get to in a minute. So stay with me.
This Socratic insight dawned on me while I was watching the BBC TV series, “Genius of the Ancient World,” a show where historian Bettany Hughes investigates three giants of ancient philosophy – Buddha, Confucious, and Socrates.
“By daring to think the unthinkable, [Socrates, Buddha, and Confucious] laid the foundations of our modern world. I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that these men, who lived many thousands of miles apart, seemed spontaneously and within 100 years of one another, to come up with such radical ideas. So, what was going on? I want to investigate their revolutionary ideas – to understand what set them in motion. This time, Socrates,” ~ Bettany Hughes.
I had my own aha moment while watching the episode where Bettany travels to Greece to learn about wise Socrates, a man who lived 2500 years ago in Athens, during a time of tremendous upheaval and transformation.
I realized that during my coaching training at the Rayner Institute in 2015, I was actually learning a version of the Socratic Method! So, in my mind, Socrates was the first Spiritual and Life Coach! To me, Socrates is the father of modern coaching!
A little bit about Socrates
The son of a midwife and stonemason, Socrates was born in 469 BC and grew up in the suburbs of Athens, Greece, during a time of great social unrest.
Socrates believed that living a virtuous, happy, and flourishing life was within reach. He emphasized the importance of caring about wisdom and truth and improvement of the soul, rather than seeking status and stuff.
He favoured oral communication over writing.
He was all about asking good questions.
He also “played the fool” in the sense that he didn’t pretend to know more than the person he was talking with, which allowed them to have their own insights.
Socrates also said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Here’s a look at the Socratic Method in play
Fortunately, in case you missed the airing of “Genius of the Ancient World” on TV, you can still watch the whole video on YouTube.
The whole hour is very interesting but if you don’t have time to watch from beginning to end, I recommend starting at minute 24:42 when Brittany (BH) has a conversation with writer, Apostolos Doxiadis, (AD), who in effect plays the role of Socrates.
Here’s the 5-6 minute transcript:
Bettany Hughes narrating: “His Socratic method worked something like this – Socrates would engage someone in the street… He’d ask them an ethical question… The person would attempt to define the concept, but Socrates would find inconsistencies in their answers… They would be forced to withdraw their definition and to reformulate and refine their ideas… This process would spiral into a dizzying round of question and answer. Socrates likens his role to that of a midwife, who helps to nurture and deliver the thoughts of others. But it was never an easy birth.”
Minute 24:42. AD: “So, Bettany, I understand you’re here to do a documentary about Socrates.”
AD: Why are you making this documentary?
BH: “I can learn something more about Socrates and I can share that knowledge with the people who are watching it.”
AD: “These are big words – ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth.’ Shall we take one of them? What would it mean…? So what is this thing – knowledge – that you want to impart?”
BH: “In my book, knowledge is love of what it is to be human.”
AD: “So, knowledge is love?”
A.D: “OK. So, if you wanted to have an operation for an appendicitis, would you go to a woman who was full of love, but knew nothing about surgery?”
AD: “OK, So I would say that the definition of “knowledge as love” is not good enough. So, let’s try it again. Is there one kind of knowledge, or many kinds of knowledge?”
BH: “Knowledge is one thing…”
AD: “Take your time. I don’t know the answers to this.”
BH: “Maybe knowledge is one thing, but knowing is many things.
AD: “To know how the stars move and to know how the liver operates is the same thing?”
BH. “No, they’re not the same thing.”
AD: “Does the person who possesses knowledge in the big way know everything? Between those two, who is probably the best stone maker?”
BH. “Er… The one who…I don’t know! I give up, I give up!” I have to say that the one thing you’ve proved to me is that I know nothing.”
AD: “Ah, no, no. That’s me! [LAUGHTER]. I am the expert at making other people know things, but I’m no good – I know nothing and that is the only knowledge I claim for myself.”
Coaching and the Socratic Method
As you can see, a question leads to an answer, which leads to another question, which leads to an answer, and so on, and so on.
There are many similarities between the Socratic Method and Coaching but again, there’s a big difference, which I’m getting to…
Here’s a continuation of the conversation between Bettany and Apostolos, essentially describing the Socratic Method, with some hints pointing to the coaching process as well.
BH: “That Socratic method is fascinating and stimulating, but it is also infuriating.”
AD: “Yes, because it’s in an oral context, the way we do it, and Socrates famously believed in the supremacy of the oral over the written and that also stirs up the emotions. First of all, in his pretence of being the fool, the ignorant man, of knowing nothing. Yes, and because that is his tool, that he turns, in fact, against his friends – or opponents, as you may take it – and makes them admit to things that they don’t want to admit to, by playing essentially the fool, saying, ‘I know nothing, I know nothing. I can only ask you to tell me, because I know nothing.’ So, he laid an emphasis on the definitions, then on what he called “diaeresis” – division – of breaking down a problem into little parts, analyzing parts, analyzing it. And then, attacking each one separately and then trying, inductively, to group them back together into a more general concept.”
Did you catch the big difference between the Socratic Method and Coaching?
While both methods start off with a blank slate, and use verbal communication to exchange ideas, and are about asking good questions and listening to answers, and breaking down the topic into smaller parts, observing them, and putting them back together again in a new way, the spirit of the conversations are much different.
With the Socratic Method, it’s more of an interrogation rather than a conversation. It’s more of an argument where eventually someone will paint themselves into a corner. It’s a handy technique that lawyers, and detectives, and journalists use all of the time.
On the other hand, with coaching, the spirit is much more convivial. From a coaching session, you’re meant to feel safe to express yourself, to take something away from the conversation, to have more clarity, and to feel stronger, rather than feeling more lost, confused, and frustrated than you were when you started.
So even though Socrates wasn’t intending to create the profession of coaching, he did get the ball rolling, and over generations, just as children build on the ideas of their parents, coaching has grown from it’s humble beginnings, and has taken the art of deep conversations and introspection, to a whole new level.
But still, where would we be today without Socrates and his Socratic Method?
BH: “So, Socrates uses that to make people become aware that things they consider simple, and elementary, and basic, and that they know – they in fact don’t know. And what about the modern world? Do you think we could have the modern world without Socratic debate, without questioning what it is to be human and what it is to be human in the world around us?
AD: “Well, I think that the best way to accept, to find Socrates’ place in it, is to see that the opposite of the Socratic method, essentially, is fanaticism and dogmatism. And in that sense, the modern world very much needs an antidote to those things, at every level.”
Bettany Hughes narrating: “The Socratic method was cathartic. It got difficult issues out into the open and defined concepts with much greater precision. Socrates’ tough questioning, with his trademark irony, was conducted in public, causing a stir wherever he went. He was inviting everyone to seek knowledge of the human good, to identify fundamental truths. But people could only do this for themselves by constantly interrogating their actions and most deeply held beliefs. “The unexamined life,” Socrates said, “is not worth living.” Minute: 29:37.
Enter, today’s Life Coach, Spiritual Coach, Wellness Coach…
“Socrates might have been infuriating, but his tenacious questioning of what it means to be human still has absolute resonance. By stating that the ultimate evil is ignorance and that a good life is within our reach, he challenges us all never to be thoughtless,” ~ Bettany Hughes.
So that’s why I think Socrates is the father of modern coaching. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
Like Socrates in ancient Greece, we’re also living in highly charged times and we’re still wrestling with the same questions about the nature of life and death.
If you’ve reached a point where you’re interested in examining your own life and exploring life’s big questions, consider working with me, Maria, a Wellness Coach. Feel free to email today! Let’s talk!
Did you know Eckhart Tolle mentions crystals in his best-selling book, “A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose,” (2005)?
If you had asked me before I started re-reading this ground-breaking gem, I would have answered, “no, I didn’t know” but I was delighted to read about his appreciation for the mineral kingdom in the opening pages.
There’s more to crystals and flowers and people than meets the eye and I’m inviting you to dig a little deeper and tune into the essence of all beings. By becoming present to the here and now, a whole new world will unfold and new possibilities will emerge — which is super amazing! — and crystals, among all natural treasures, can help open those doors!
The old me would have skimmed over these particular paragraphs but the new me, the more present and conscious me, gets the beautiful connection.
In Chapter 1, “The Flowering of Human Consciousness,” Eckhart introduces us to the heart of his book as he describes a moment of transcendent transformation, the day flowers first blossomed on Earth,
“One day, however, a critical threshold was reached, and suddenly there would have been an explosion of color and scent all over the planet.” ~ A New Earth, page 1
That “critical threshold” is related to the “evolutionary leap” that people experience when they finally let go of their ego and pain body and live from their essence, their true and authentic self.
Remember the expression, “Stop and smell the roses?”
Flowers have always been inviting us to relax, be present, and appreciate the beauty of life, and when we actually take a moment to pause, be still, and focus on the wonder of the present moment, peace emerges.
“Once there is a certain degree of Presence, of still and alert attention in human beings’ perceptions, they can sense the divine life essence, the one indwelling consciousness or spirit in every creature, every life-form, recognize it as one with their own essence and so love it as themselves.” ~ A New Earth, page 4
Loving the essence. That was the clincher for me. That’s why I recently started re-reading a New Earth. I heard Eckhart explain this concept of divine life essence to Oprah on a recent SuperSoul Sunday. When Jesus said “Love your neighbour as yourself,” He wasn’t talking about loving people’s egos. Jesus was talking about seeing past the ego (which is just a costume), and loving someone’s essence, and loving your own essence, and recognizing how the essence of our beings are all connected as One in this great, big, living sea.
Oh, to live from my essence!
When I think of essence, I like to picture a pilot light, if that helps. From what I understand, when someone says, “Namaste” they are saying, “The divine in me bows to the divine in you.” In other words, the essence in me recognizes the essence in you. Essence is what you see when you look deep into someone’s eyes.
Isn’t that much better than dealing with someone’s ego? 🙂 Just remember that the next time someone annoys you.
The ethereal nature of flowers remind us about our true essence.
“…flowers would become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred, and ultimately formless within ourselves. Flowers, more fleeting, more ethereal, and more delicate than the plants out of which they emerged, would become like messengers from another realm, like a bridge between the world of physical forms and the formless…” ~ A New Earth, pages 2-3
By the way, this way of being, is available to us humans and we can be like messengers as well.
Eckhart continues to say, the flowers
“not only had a scent that was delicate and pleasing to humans, but also brought a fragrance from the realm of spirit. Using the word “enlightenment” in a wider sense than the conventionally accepted one, we could look upon flowers as the enlightenment of plants.” ~ A New Earth, page 3
And flowers are just the beginning! Crystals are here, too!
“Since time immemorial, flowers, crystals, precious stones, and birds have held special significance for the human spirit.” ~ A New Earth, pages 3-4
We as humans have been fascinated with crystals since pre-historic times. When the Greeks travelled and found dazzling quartz crystals in the Alps, they believed these beauties were actually a form of frozen water that would never thaw. They named them, “krystallos,” which means “ice.”
“The haunting beauty of the mineral kingdom is irresistible, so it’s no wonder that the human race has a long history of wearing and working with crystals. Historians and archaeologists have traced the use of crystals in healing and beauty rituals back to the earliest civilizations. And no wonder: They magnify personal and planetary vibrational energy. Our ancestors used crystals as mystical tools, energy generators, communication enhancers, and medical instruments. Archaeological digs show their use as talismans of good fortune and protection; as well as amulets, jewelry, and magnificent home showpieces.” ~ Excerpt from Crystal Therapy, by Doreen Virtue, Ph.D., & Judith Lukomski.
Perhaps you also have a fascination for rocks and minerals:
* Do you collect rocks and seashells whenever you go to the beach?
* Do you have fond memories of rocks and stones from your childhood?
* Do you have a piece of jewelry that has a special meaning for you?
* Do you by chance have a Himalayan Salt Lamp?
The Art of Contemplation
The next time you come across a crystal, sit with it and contemplate. Appreciate the stone without trying to own it. See past its outer form and tune into its inner essence. Let the crystal help you expand your awareness. Like a flower, it just might be a bridge on your journey of spiritual awakening and enlightenment.
“So when you are alert and contemplate a flower, crystal, or bird without naming it mentally, it becomes a window for you into the formless. There is an inner opening, however slight, into the realm of spirit.” ~ A New Earth, page 5
Tuning into a crystal is not a crystal reading in the sense of fortune-telling. Once your ego is out of the way, it’s more about how the crystals reveal wisdom and a sense of calmness, through timeless intuition.
“In the case of a flower, a crystal, precious stone, or bird, however, even someone with little or no Presence can occasionally sense that there is more there than the mere physical existence of that form, without knowing that this is the reason why he or she is drawn toward it, feels an affinity with it.” ~ A New Earth, page 4
Is Enlightenment Possible?
“Any life-form in any realm – mineral, vegetable, animal, or human – can be said to undergo “enlightenment.”” ~ A New Earth, page 3
But Eckhart asks,
“What could be heavier and more impenetrable than a rock, the densest of all forms?” ~ A New Earth, page 3
Yet, even rocks can lighten up and transcend their nature!
“And yet some rocks undergo a change in their molecular structure, turn into crystals, and so become transparent to the light. Some carbons, under inconceivable heat and pressure, turn into diamonds, and some heavy minerals into other precious stones.” ~ A New Earth, page 3
In each case, enlightenment requires,
“a discontinuity in its development, a leap to an entirely different level of being and, most important, a lessening of materiality.” ~ A New Earth, page 3
Enlightenment is just a matter of shedding the dark and heavy density (the materiality, including the ego) and moving towards lightness.
Ultimately, that’s how the Universe works!
We live in a dynamic universe and everything is always moving from formless to form to formless and from slow to fast, density to space, heavy to light, and from dark to light, through the ever expanding cycle of:
1) Rebirth * New Beginning (on a whole new level) * A New Earth! -> …
And on and on it goes from one age to the next. You can see this spiraling cycle of life as it’s constantly moving toward enlightenment, playing out everywhere! There are no beginnings and no endings and because everything is always moving and changing, there’s no sense in identifying with or being attached to any of it. The ego has nothing to cling to and so it dissolves, creating space for the present moment to arise. This is true, happy-go-lucky freedom.
So, yes, enlightenment is within reach and as we’ve seen with flowers and rocks, it’s part of the natural progression of the Universe!
Are you ready?
“Can human beings lose the density of their conditioned mind structures and become like crystals or precious stones, so to speak, transparent to the light of consciousness?” ~ A New Earth, page 5
We seem to have reached a time where more and more people are starting to awaken.
“What can you do, if anything, to bring about or accelerate this inner shift?” ~ A New Earth, page 6
Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, at the beginning, somewhere in the middle, or at your tipping point, and if you’re reading, have read, or would like to read, A New Earth, and want to talk about your insights and ideas with someone who is open and present and a good listener, please feel free to contact me, Maria. I’d love to connect with your essence.
And if there’s enough interest, maybe we can start a book club!
A couple of months ago in April, as I was walking through my neighbourhood on what I call a wellness walk, I was thinking about the next steps of my career. I thought perhaps I’d like to take my wellness coaching to a new level and become a spiritual teacher as well. I got the idea from my 6th grade teacher, Sister Catherine, who appeared to me in a dream.
Funny how things like that happen. I was intrigued by the title, so I got a copy of the book, read it from cover to cover, and then arranged an interview with Scott, the author. We had a fascinating conversation and we covered a lot of ground.
I honestly had no idea that looking for a spiritual teacher was a thing, but it is, and it makes sense because more and more people are waking up and are searching for the answers to life’s big questions. On top of that, there’s so much out there to choose from than ever before in history.
How do we know what spiritual path is best for us personally to follow and
who do we want to walk with on our journey?
I’m grateful that Scott is leading the conversation on this important topic about finding a spiritual teacher because the road is not always straightforward. In fact, there are people out there who would gladly take advantage of unsuspecting seekers and lead them astray, causing great damage.
Scott, the author, genuinely wants to help people with the process of finding a suitable spiritual teacher. As a longtime practitioner of both Judaism and Buddhism, he has been on his own spiritual journey and has studied happily and productively with spiritual teachers for the past four decades. He is a committed proponent of serious spirituality in all forms and traditions and has also served as editor and literary agent for several spiritual teachers.
In his book, Scott gives guidelines on how to navigate these waters and how to work with the legitimate spiritual teachers of the world. Here is an abridged transcript of the first 30 minutes of our interview that took place in June of 2017 over Skype.
MK: I read your book and I really enjoyed it. I found it to be a very easy read – very quick and clean and just really easy to understand – and I appreciated that. What prompted you to write this book?
SE: Several things. The first is, there’s a lot folks out there who call themselves spiritual teachers and some come from within a religious tradition, some stand outside religious traditions. Some are called spiritual coaches, spiritual counsellors, spiritual directors, but whatever they call themselves, they can create a great deal of spiritual intimacy with the people with whom they work and they typically work one to one with folks, very much like a coach of any kind would.
SE: The difference though with a spiritual teacher, or coach, or so on, is, they get to see our vulnerabilities, they get to see our most urgent needs, desires, and wants, and concerns. And so if the [spiritual teacher] you’re working with isn’t very good, they can do a lot of harm. And if they are a predator, or a narcissist, or a sociopath, they can do terrible harm.
SE: The other thing is, it’s not always easy to tell a good spiritual teacher from a not-so-good one. If you were looking for a good car mechanic, all you have to do is see whether they’re good at repairing your car.
SE: But someone can be very charismatic, can speak very well, can have a lot of poise, [but] may in fact be a charlatan or a predator, [and] may pass themselves off as a spiritual teacher, so I wanted to help people protect themselves and wanted to help them build their own discernment. I wanted to help them learn to trust themselves and make good choices.
The Possible Ugly Side of Spiritual Teachers
MK: Have you experienced or witnessed anyone being influenced by someone who is a charlatan or a fraud, or anything worse than that? Have you seen that?
SE: Sure. In fact, that’s one of the sad things about the helping professions in general is that they have an unusually high rate of people who are charlatans, frauds, abusers, and so on. And that doesn’t mean that these professions are somehow inherently flawed, it’s because they attract those type of folks.
SE: Now the great majority of people in any helping profession — whether it’s coaches, therapists, counsellors, ministers, or spiritual teachers – the great majority, of course, are on the up and up.
SE: They will range from the wonderful to the terrible, but the fact is, the people who want to be exploitive are naturally going to gravitate to these positions because it provides them with people to exploit. And I’ve seen it over and over.
SE: Sometimes it runs the whole range. Sometimes it’s people who are just making mistakes or people who have (in terms of the spiritual teachers) a higher opinion of themselves than is reasonable, because it does attract egotists, but yes, there’s plenty of abusers out there.
SE: I did a previous book, a kind of prequel to this one. It was called, “Sex and the Spiritual Teacher” about spiritual teachers who go astray and have sex with their students or followers, and so it’s a common problem.
SE: It’s not common as in you should expect it all of the time. It’s common as in you might be left-handed or you might be colour-blind. The issue is that if we are not careful, if we don’t give the same kind of consideration to a potential spiritual teacher as we would with a new doctor, or new therapist, or new coach, or a new dentist, then we set ourselves up.
SE: And so we need to learn to build our own discernment. That’s what both of these books are about. And sure, I know cases where people did it, they lost their way, and I know other people who very deliberately went out of their way and have been, in some cases, exploiting people and lying to people for decades.
Spotting the Red Flags
SE: You’re a coach, you must know some coaches who are not very good and you probably know a couple of coaches who are charlatans.
MK: Reading your book really let me see that because my coaching teacher operated with integrity and I didn’t really realize that until I read your book. I looked at the signs and yes, he did. And then after that, I was introduced to another person who didn’t [establish good boundaries] and who pushed my buttons and asked for – you mentioned this in your book – asked me to follow their authority. [They basically said,] “Don’t think for yourself; I’ll think for you,” – that kind of thing, and they at one point did say that to me, “Obviously, how you’re thinking isn’t working, so you’re going to have to turn that over to me,” and I was dumbfounded by that…
“That is the surest sign of all that something is wrong. When somebody does not want you to be more of who you are but wants you to be less of who you are,” ~Scott Edelstein
SE: That is the surest sign of all that something is wrong. When somebody does not want you to be more of who you are but wants you to be less of who you are.
SE: Or, when they want something from you, whether that’s obedience, or sex, or flattery, or money. I mean obviously, if they’re performing a particular service, like a coach would have a rate for charging for what they do, and that’s perfectly reasonable… but otherwise, they’re trying to get something from you, and they’re looking out for themselves more than they’re looking out for you, [then] something is wrong.
MK: Sometimes it’s not so obvious and you’re caught up in it and those types of statements just wash past you, and you may see it in hindsight, or not. How does someone, if they’re speaking with a spiritual teacher, and they’re being vulnerable, and are expressing ideas and feelings that they haven’t told anyone else, are being authentic, etc.. How do you do that and learn and grow and still keep your wits about you, so you don’t get caught up in someone else’s trap or whatever. How do you do that?
SE: It’s a wonderful question. I’ll answer it in two ways, one of course is to read the book and I don’t say that in a silly way, that’s why I wrote a book. We write books, of course, because there are sometimes longer answers that can be most helpful. That’s why I wrote both “The User’s Guide to Spiritual Teachers” and the book, “Sex & the Spiritual Teacher.”
SE: But as a kind of general guide, I would say, apply the same principles that you would if you were beginning to date a potential partner. In other words, obviously, you would not throw yourself at someone’s feet, on a first date, or a second date, or a third date.
SE: In fact, if during that first date, [you thought] “Oh my God, this person is the one and everything feels perfect, I can’t believe how wonderful it is,” – if you were to ask a friend, “Oh this person just seems fantastic… this person seems perfect… should I throw myself at their feet?” your wise friend would say, “No, be very careful, have a second date.”
SE: So, it’s perfectly fine if you see these yellow flags or even red flags, you either – if it’s a red flag, if something feels wrong, looks wrong, sounds wrong – get away, back away, just as you would if you were on a date with somebody and you went, “I have a really bad feeling about this.” Trust your own body, mind, and gut, and heart. That’s one.
Building Trust with your Spiritual Teacher
Let’s imagine they’re all saying, “yes, yes, yes, yes.” Of course you wouldn’t then just run away. But you also wouldn’t necessarily run forward. The wise thing to do would be “OK, this feels really good, this feels really right,” so that bears having a second date. Having that good sense about a spiritual teacher, proceed very slowly, look at the other people who are around them, their students, or followers, congregants, or whoever it might be.
If things feel right, and the person is looking out for your best interest, things will continue to feel right, and then slowly the trust will build. There’s really no hurry about it, after all.
So, just as you would say, go out on a second date, go out on a third date, and slowly you’ll come to understand who this person really is and how you’re able to work with them.
But When Things Go South…
SE: But if something starts out feeling bad at first, that’s easy, you get away. If it feels good at first and the person is a predator or a narcissist, sociopath, or what not, by the time you’re on your third or fourth encounter, it will no longer feel so great. You’ll notice that something is wrong. It’s just a matter of exercising a reasonable amount of caution, not just with the other person, but with yourself.
MK: Interesting. Yes, and so, would that apply to a one-on-one relationship, like with a coach, and being in a group, like going to a Buddhist center? Would you say it’s pretty fair that they’re both an equal approach?
SE: I’d say, all of the above. And I would say that, too, for anyone who is in any kind of coaching role or any kind of spiritual role, including a Minister, or Priest, or Imam, or Rabbi, down the street. It’s just that when you’re simply sitting in a congregation, there’s not going to be as much intimacy, and there’s less vulnerability, less opportunity for exploitation, and so on.
Are they a Spiritual Teacher or a Spiritual Leader?
The answer is they could be both, could be more one than the other. The important thing has to do with finding your discernment, recognizing that vulnerability, and learning to trust yourself (just as you did) as opposed to letting someone else take over.
Practicing Discernment & the Vagus Nerve
MK: You’ve used this word “discernment” a few times and this word is new to me within the last year. I didn’t really know this word but I’ve heard it many times lately and it’s on my radar now. So what do you mean by discernment?
SE: That’s a wonderful question. First, let me answer it in terms of the body because the body knows. It doesn’t know everything but it knows a lot. If we pay attention to our body, it will tell us, not necessarily every time, but most of the time, if something is amiss. It will be tight or it will give us some kind of warning sign.
SE: Now, I’ve only recently learned there is an actual physical structure in the body doing that called the “Vagus Nerve.” That’s when our stomach tightens, we feel our heart in our throat, where we feel love, hate, dread. A lot of these emotions are actually a physical structure that we call, “Vagus Nerve.” So, it’s paying attention to that.
SE: And it’s not letting yourself be thrown to the winds, either by an idea or by the thinking brain. I’m not saying, “don’t think” by any means. I’m saying, “do think.” Discernment is also learning when to override the body with the brain. Just as you wouldn’t go out on a date and the person is really, clearly being obnoxious and nasty and your body might be going, “yeah, but they are so good-looking” and the brain is going to say, “doesn’t matter, get out.” The person is sort of striking their hand with their fist, saying, “I’m going to beat up anyone who gets in my way,” well, it’s time to get out no matter how good looking the person is.
SE: The other thing is developing your own ability to sniff out bullshit, whether it’s from a spiritual teacher or anyone else. To a certain degree, as we get older, that just gets better and better. I mean, there are things that might have fooled you at age 20, would never fool you at the age you’re at now. Some of that comes naturally, but a lot of it, especially for people who have never worked with a spiritual teacher before, they don’t have the experience to be able to make that kind of judgement. Especially if they’re new to the tradition, if the person is from another country, sort of thing.
SE: And so rather than trying to come up with a simple process, it’s a matter of just keeping yourself safe while you learn, while your own experiences teach you.
Are We in a Spiritual Age?
MK: Are you finding that more and more people are seeking out spiritual teachers and are entering this world of awareness and awakening?
SE: Good question. These things are cyclical. They go back to ancient Greece, there were spiritual teachers on the street corners, essentially selling themselves, [saying] “Here’s what I think, here’s what I believe, here’s what I can teach you.” Some of them were teachers in general who had spiritual components, some of them focused on what could be called spirituality today, and so there was a big market place of ideas at the time.
SE: [It’s called] an “Axial Age,” when [that type of thing is] happening. I pick out Ancient Greece, but arguably, it was happening in India, at roughly the same time, as well, and I don’t know if it’s a higher percentage of people than in the past that are actually building these relationships, that are looking for spiritual teachers, but I would say that, for instance, I’m in my sixties now and when I was young, the whole relationship that people had to the clergy and groups was much more limited in general – you joined a group, some kind of a congregation, went to services, you might have, (if you were very devout, or concerned, or what not), you might have received some counselling from the minister.
SE: And so, that was how the relationship tended to be defined. Whereas now we have a big marketplace of ideas, and opinions, and relationships because the Internet has made it possible for anyone really with a phone or computer to be able to access writings, videos, and sometimes face-to-face conversations.
SE: So, I don’t know if human beings have changed, but the ability to access these kinds of people and these kinds of relationships has changed.
Enter the Age of Spiritual Mashups
MK: And there’s so much more to choose from, like when you go to the grocery store, you have foods from all over the world that you could pick, whereas before, it was like, this is it. You can pick and choose and you don’t have to stay where you started. You have access to all kinds of things – there seems to be some overlap. People will start with one tradition and then kind of pick and choose from others and then create their own.
SE: That is part of the time we’re in and also, I would argue, that there’s something in particular, in North America, where we like to do these mashups. Partly, it’s because North America, for the past really 400 years, it’s full of immigrants, and we’ve always been taking in immigrants, and that’s what we do in North America, we mash things up.
SE: And so, we’re an ideal place for many different traditions to appear, to come together, to be re-made, and to intertwine. And that is what happens, of course, that’s naturally what happens, but we do it arguably more and faster, and with more wild abandon, 🙂 than most cultures throughout history!
MK: It’s accelerating!
“That’s what we do in North America, we mash things up. We’re an ideal place for many different traditions to appear, to come together, to be re-made, and to intertwine,” ~Scott Edelstein
SE: Yeah. Think of all of the places where you can get…what did I just see?… I saw Mexican Egg Rolls on a menu recently. I didn’t try them, but there you go. That’s a classic thing and we do it with spirituality, too.
SE: But that isn’t new. If you look at what we call “Tibetan Buddhism,” for example, we call it Buddhism, but it’s clearly a mashup. The historical roots are very clear. It’s a mashup of Buddhism that came North from India and what was the native religion of Tibet at the time – which was called, “Bon,” [spelled] B-O-N, and those two came together and created this new form of Buddhism, called “Tibetan Buddhism,” and that’s true with all religions.
SE: There are variances of Protestantism here in the United States where I live, where you would not find anywhere else in the entire world, and in Judaism, there’s an old rubric, an old metaphor, that says, “Judaism is like wine being poured into different coloured bottles. It’s the same wine, but it’s going to look different depending on the colour of the bottle that it’s in,” – and the colour, of course, is the culture.
MK: Oh, neat. Very interesting. I think there’s so much wisdom in the classics and if they didn’t have that inherent wisdom, they wouldn’t be here today. I wonder, do you think there’s a universal truth that all, or most religions keep up at the top of their list… is there one thing that makes them all kind of the same?
The Perennial Philosophy
SE: The answer I would have to give is “yes” and “no.” Let me give you both. There is something often called the “perennial philosophy.” Those words were, I think by Aldous Huxley who wrote “Brave New World” and a bunch of books back maybe about 80 years ago, 70 years ago. I hope I’ve got the reference right, I believe it was Huxley, and that does refer to that group of principles, ideas, relationships that permeate most world religions, and there are things that you would reasonably expect about love, concern, cooperation, the need for meaning, the need for belonging, those sorts of things.
SE: So yes, but… it’s a little bit like asking the question, can you trust a police officer? And the answer is, they are in a position of trust, and overall, we would do better to trust them than to distrust them all. But you still have to make your case by case judgement.
SE: Same as spiritual teachers and with religions is that for every religion that would say, “you can go to Christianity, you can go to Buddhism, you can go to Islam, you can go to anyone you want, Zoroastrianism,” and there will be lots and lots of people who say, “Oh yes, the perennial philosophy is, of course, the core of what we do,” and then you will find some other folks within that tradition who will say, “Absolutely not, the other religions are all wrong, the other versions of this religion are wrong.”
SE: That’s true with every religion. So yes, there is this perennial philosophy and then there are always these outliers who are denying the perennial philosophy in the name of that religion.
MK: I’m right and you’re wrong.
SE: Yes. Period.
MK: I’m wondering if that could be another way for someone who was looking for a spiritual teacher, to see how closely they embrace that perennial philosophy?
SE: That is a wonderful idea! If you don’t mind, I’d like to put, if there’s ever another edition of this book, I’d love to put that in. Yes. I think that’s great to add on top of the discernment. Yes, to be looking at how closely it comes to that. That’s wonderful.”
Well, readers, that was just the first half hour of my conversation with Scott Edelstein! As we explored this topic about spiritual teachers, I must admit, I felt a little like Oprah on SuperSoul Sunday.
In a nutshell, if you’re looking to find a decent spiritual teacher to work with, remember to:
1) Practice discernment, (listening to your body as you tune into your thoughts and feelings),
2) Notice how closely the people you are working with adhere to the Perennial Philosophy, and
3) Of course read Scott’s book, The User’s Guide to Spiritual Teachers: A Trusted Resource For Finding The Right Guide For Your Spiritual Journey, for yourself.