Q-Tips, Enlightenment, etc.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Charles Tart on Digital Darshan
Digital Darshan

This is a fascinating, inspiring, and very important discussion!

Yet something worries me. I haven't got it quite fully articulated in my mind, but let me try.

The worry started when Jordan, in his second post, described my QuickTime video on his site and said " When you can look into Charley's eyes, and hear him say something wise, then a bit of spirit flies, and a bit of the old you dies." Fortunately Jordan added, "Not always, but sometimes," but I was still bothered. In that interview I was trying to be honest and accurate about what I know, but "wise?" "Spirit flies?" And the subtle poetic form of Jordan's phrasing (eyes, wise, flies, dies) adds extra "oomph" to the statement I'm not comfortable with.

Yesterday in my mindfulness class at ITP I led the students in a mindfulness "warm-up" exercise (like the morning exercise described in my "Waking Up" or "Living the Mindful Life" books), but added a thing of working in partners, with one partner gently touching the part of the arm or leg of their partner that I was asking people to sense. We had an odd number of students, so I partnered with one. Afterwards, when people were sharing their experiences, he reported that he felt a strong energy flowing from me when he touched me, which he attributed to my status as an "advanced Buddhist meditator."

Oy! I know I'm no advanced meditator in any tradition, just a beginner (who talks good, so people tend to assume I know more than I really do). Energy? Next they'll be projecting darshan on to me, digital or face-to-face.....

One of the few things I'm moderately good at on the spiritual path is honesty, so I try to perceive the world and myself as accurately as I can and watch out for projections, and encourage others to watch out for projections. I have seen too many people project (wonderful) things on to people designated as spiritual teachers -but it's old-fashioned Freudian transference, the teacher becomes the Magic Mommy and/or Magic Daddy, invested with the status of parent to infant, so much more knowing, wise, and powerful. But transference is pathological - it's a projection of things that do not exist in reality. When something happens that finally upsets the transference, it flips from positive to negative, and that wonderful, all-wise loving Master who understood me perfectly becomes a nasty charlatan who was dishonest all the time, and the student leaves having learned little or nothing.

And these transferences can be taken on unknowingly by a teacher, so a person who is an imperfect human like us, but nevertheless has something valuable to teach, gets their ego swelled and their faults amplified...... I once ran a Gurdjieff style group, but eventually dissolved it when I saw I couldn't stop projections on me. When I said I didn't know the answer to some question, I got tired of it being perceived as a profound answer and illustration of my great humility - I just didn't know!

My observation has been that many teachers don't understand transference and so it runs unchecked, creating mischief. In reality, it's possible to deeply appreciate a teacher and learn from them without unnecessarily and unrealistically projecting on them.

So there's an outline of why I'm uneasy.

The class worked out fine, incidentally, this opened up a great discussion on projection and transference.

Now applying this to digital darshan or cybersangha.

I can think of two extreme models here, that have been in our discussion.

The "it's-all-inside you" model is that you're just awakening to your own true nature, and if you awaken to it, who cares about the form of the stimuli that awaken you? As an extreme example, if some very nasty person is also a great actor and can really play the part of wise guru, then a video of them might enlighten someone.

An ordinary life example. I did hypnosis research for some years, so am fairly expert in that area. Stage hypnotists claim extraordinary powers. But if you know the area and observe, most stage hypnotists use only very crude techniques. Since about 20% of people are highly hypnotizable, about 5% hypnotic virtuosos, when you have 500 people in an audience, you have 25 virtuosos who pretty much hypnotize themselves from their expectations. They come up front and do wonderfully. The untalented ones who come up quickly get shunted to the back row where they aren't too visible.....

The "guru-has-special-powers" model, at the other extreme, may admit it's ultimately our own true self that awakens but the special (psychic? smell? touch? pheromones? ??) powers of the guru are absolutely necessary to stimulate that awakening. There may be several different special powers, some may not transmit over digital media, some may. We should try and find out what works and what doesn't work.

My own guess is that reality is some combination of the above models.

So do we need to worry about getting videos of genuinely awakened/enlightened people (hard to find in the Yellow Pages), or can we just get good actors and work out a good script for them?

And just to remind ourselves that reality can be more complex than our models....
when I teach mindfulness I do make a (moderately successful) effort to be mindful myself, with the belief that this makes some difference in the way I talk, move, etc., that may touch something in the student and encourage their mindfulness. So projections can hook on to a reality, but can blow them way up.....

And so......