Compartmentalized Enlightenment


I’ll tell you a story:

Once upon a time I attended a workshop to learn calligraphy. Part of the experience included sitting alone at a desk with paper placed and brush dipped in ink, poised to begin.

I waited silently for the instructor to enter and stand behind me, unseen.

He gently reached over my shoulder and took the back of my hand with a feathers’ touch.

He guided my hand and arm to make the calligraphic symbol.

As this seemingly simple teaching unfolded, a flood of energy washed through me unlike any I had ever experienced. It felt utterly perfect and full and inclusive and translucent and I was left moved far away from any worry or complaint about anything.

It lasted perhaps 1 minute.

I was changed after this experience.

And I wanted more of it.

In spiritual terms it is called transmission when something of the teaching is transmitted to the student through the teacher.

I thought that it had everything to do with my teacher and so I set out to see if I could stay in contact with him after he left New Mexico and perhaps learn how to have more of ‘that thing’ I had bumped up against.

We exchanged emails over a period of 6 months or so.

He invited me to his home in California.

Here was a scholarly, traditional and revered teacher inviting me- the lowly student- to his HOME!

I was so honored and thought I would be foolish to decline.

And so I went.

He was there to pick me up at the airport in his long beard and traditional Japanese robes.

We drove to his home where I was to stay for a week assisting him in the studio and taking in what I could through osmosis.

I had visions of Koi ponds and tatami mats and spare living spaces punctuated with ikebana floral arrangements.

What I got was a lumpy futon with dirty and torn sheets tossed unfolded on the bed, a wife with her claws at half mast and a moldy and damp, half-lit basement studio.

I had brought my most beautiful ceramic piece as a gift and I think of it now standing tall in the dining room of a household rife with dishonesty and tension and a drama in which I ended up making myself sick in order to take my leave.

What did I get out of this insane experience?

Am I sorry it happened? Certainly not.

Today, it always gets a good laugh the few times I’ve had enough courage to tell it.

What it taught me is this:

We all have places in us which are seemingly tied up with pretty bows; places which seem to inspire others, lift people up from one level to the next and leave them better and more, places where we think WE KNOW.

Those we label teacher and guru and president and priest

Seem to have more of something we feel we lack and so we hold them in high regard, revere them and want what they have.

The danger is in moving in too close; close enough to have left our powers of discrimination with our shoes at the door.

My nervous system stood up and cheered at the whiff of ‘special student’ cologne this guy sprayed my way.

There ARE parts of him I’d call enlightened,

Just not all of him.

I got this lesson loud and clear and lived to tell the tale.

It has helped me be gentler with my own and others deep humanity.

Mostly, it has helped me know that I know nothing at all and if I think I’m RIGHT about much of anything I’d better eat my humble pie and be glad for the meal.

It is a precious journey, this human one.

My guiding mantra today is “PULL BACK A BIT AND BE CURIOUS”


One Response to “Compartmentalized Enlightenment”

  1. dion flannery on June 27th, 2013

    Our 40th Kingswood reunion just passed. I did not attend but in celebration of the time I have been thing of classmates and wanted to tell you that I remember you as fun and kind and always laughing. I sent an email but I dont think that it made it to you. I watched your video and you look great ,better than anyone at the reunion but equal to Dey Young who is a movie star. I found everything about your talk inspirational. Thank you. You are in my thoughts and I admire and join you in your perspective. Keep on. Love Dion Flannery

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