Skid Row

Someone tagged me in a video yesterday of a prominent non-duality teacher in a well known conference taking questions from audience members.

One audience member spoke breathily into the microphone: slowly, deliberately and emphatically: “You seem so happy….I want to know what that feels like…..what does it feel like to be you?”

The room was dead silent as everyone waited for him to begin speaking. He sat there gazing at the crowd like an enlightened zombie for a while. Then his voice came out in a low illegible garble.

(Clear your fuckin’ throat man, I thought to myself)

“Depends on what “me” is,” he said mysteriously. “If me is the body then the body feels up sometimes and down sometimes. If me is not the body, then I feel good!” He grins moronically.

“Wow…” the questioner sighs and sits down.

He goes back to robotically gazing at the crowd waiting to bestow another answer on some clueless questioner.

That’s about as much of the video as I could make it through before I closed it.

I can watch near death encounter videos, videos of people eating nasty bugs, I’ve even watched a couple of ISIS beheading videos. I have a strong stomach and capacity to watch dark or disturbing content without chucking up my lunch. But watching non-dual teachers speak is where I absolutely draw the line. That’s a kind of carnage and disease that even my steel-rimmed stomach can’t handle.

Now, I know some of you are going, “oh, that Shiv is such an exaggerator!” You’re thinking I’m doing this for comedic effect. But I’m actually not.

For me watching the soul sickness so evident in both these teachers and their hapless students is something akin to walking through a burn ward. It is devastatingly tragic to me. It reeks of hypocrisy, low-self esteem, narcissism, co-dependency, paranoid delusion and just plain lies.

To what extent is a teacher willing to misrepresent themselves in order to feel a sense of self-worth? To what degree are they willing to exploit others in order to feel like they’ve received enough: money, attention, admiration, whatever?

To what extent is a student willing to sell themselves short in order to seek validation and favour? To what degree are they willing to allow themselves to be misused and manipulated in order to feel like they are worthy of something better?

It is a never ending vicious cycle. A veritable prostitution ring of the psyche.

But this wasn’t always how I reacted to these sorts of videos. There once was a time I lived and breathed them.

Every time I felt lost, confused, alienated, anxious, depressed, doubtful or just like a plain loser, I’d pop one of those videos on and literally feel transformed. Watching the guru <insert any name> seated up on stage: calm, poised perfection, I’d feel a similar calm wash over me. My attention would be completely arrested by their countenance. I’d be watching their body language: how perfectly they sat, how deeply they gazed, how deliberately they spoke, how lovingly they smiled, how gently they blinked…

In short, I was obsessed with the ideal of the “enlightened person”. Because it presented me with the exact antithesis of how I experienced myself. Everything I lacked is exactly what these gurus seemed to possess. So, naturally I became convinced that in order to feel like them, I had to BE like them.

“What does it feel like to be you?”

Was the same question I would silently ask over and over again watching those videos. And just like the questioner in the video I mentioned about in the beginning of the article, I would feel my breath being snatched away from me whenever any of these guys talked about how perfect, how liberated, how awakened they were.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that although watching those videos felt like a soothing balm on my aggravated soul, in the aftermath they only served to aggravate it even further. I always ended each video feeling more deflated, more confused, more longing, more lost, more like a loser than I had been when I started it.

And so, to counter this despairing feeling I’d move on to the next video.

This is how substance abuse and addiction works. Your baseline is so unbearable that you need an “upper” to boost you to a feeling of normalcy. But when that upper wears off, you come crashing down hard and usually sink lower than before. So, the next time you’ll need an even bigger dose to elevate you.

That’s how the vicious cycle of hope and despair also works. This is why relationships of gurus and their students are co-dependent by nature and that co-dependency only evolves to greater extremes over time.

Addiction is a psychologically destructive phenomenon. And the culture surrounding spirituality is specifically designed to perpetuate that addiction.

The guru can no more liberate a student than a drug dealer can liberate his customers. The guru can give you a temporary “sense” of liberation, a fleeting sense of bliss. But so does the drug dealer provide a sense of liberation in a vial of Heroin, a sense of euphoria in a pill of Ecstasy. Yet, the price you pay for those short term hits is a lifetime of remaining a junkie.

The satsang circuit is, for me, like taking a stroll down skid row. You have a few pimped-out looking characters dealing out a whole apothecary of ideological poisons. And then you have the spiritually impoverished reaching out, arms outstretched, for handouts. Anything that will make the next moment just a little more tolerable.

Except, unlike skid row, on the satsang circuit the torment is masked by knowing smiles. The misery is masked by loving gazes. The inner screams are masked by an outward show of silence. The suffering is masked by verbose and impractical rhetoric about matters that absolutely no one really understands.

In a way those junkies on skid row have a slight advantage. At least the tragedy of their circumstances is evident to everyone. At least, it evokes empathy. At least they are free to wear their suffering on their sleeves.

Junkies on the satsang circuit on the other hand, in their unwillingness to fess up to the reality of their circumstances are a particularly tragic bunch. Because their tragedy is masked by a show of serenity. They are shackled by their hypocritical need to appear “other” than they are.

Rather than empathy, all this hypocrisy evokes, is pity.

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