Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Ken Wilber Rant Fallout: My Projections and Shadows About Spiritual Leaders

I'm ending my self-imposed moratorium on the ongoing fallout from the Wilber rant and its subsequent cleanup and pontificating. I don't excuse or condone the Wyatt Earp posts, nor do I agree with his reasons for taking that route, but then he likely doesn't give a damn what I think.

But this post isn't specifically about Wilber, although it is inspired by and a response to his series of posts.

Wilber asked us to look at our shadow stuff that might have come up as a result of his Wyatt Earp post, and also to look at our projections of that shadow stuff. For the most part he dismisses any objections to his posts as shadow material that we are projecting onto him. I think this is true, but not necessarily in the way he thinks it is.

After sitting with this for a couple of weeks, what is clear to me is that my reaction to his posts (mostly disappointment and befuddlement, with a good dose of betrayal) were a result of my projections onto him of what I want in a spiritual teacher (he calls himself a pandit, so he assumed the role of teacher). His posts shattered that projection.

Not too much has changed for me in what I want or expect from a teacher, but I am clear now that simply because I do not own that part of myself (yet) does not mean that Wilber or any other teacher has to measure up to my internal definitions.

Wilber's posts on the shadow and how to reclaim our projections focus mostly on those negative aspects of ourselves that we project (to him, we got angry because he acted out the stuff we can't own in ourselves) onto others. However, we also hold positive aspects of ourselves in shadow and project them onto the world as well.

In the West, we are conditioned to believe that we must trust and obey teachers if we want to learn anything -- whether it's how to read as a child or how to meditate or how to know what is true. We are not encouraged to develop and access that higher self (the witness or observer) who remains aloof from emotional baggage and has insights that defy reason -- the inner teacher in all of us. So we hold that part of ourselves in shadow and we project it onto people like Wilber, or Surya Das, or Andrew Cohen, or whoever is the guru of the day.

So some of us were disappointed in Wilber's posts because we had projected our inner teacher onto him -- and his actions shattered our ideas of what we expect a teacher to do or how a teacher should act. Maybe this was just me, but I suspect others experienced this as well. Wilber cultivates this type of projection to a certain extent, but it is my fault for not owning this necessary part of myself to begin with.

I think it's easier to see and reclaim the negative traits. When we are projecting negative stuff, we get reactive and it is apparent. But when we project positive qualities, such as the inner teacher, the reactivity is subtle and appears more like hero worship, or guru relationships, or simply idolization. We often can't these things because they don't cause us any suffering -- usually.

Even though I sometimes find myself in disagreement with Wilber and find myself questioning his theories, I looked to him to be a teacher, a pandit. I wanted him to lead by example, but to do so within the framework of how I believe a teacher should act: graciously accepting or refuting criticism or ignoring it when it amounts to little more than a personal attack, being able to express anger and frustration in ways that are mature and not needlessly hurtful, and having the big compassionate balls with himself -- the ability to admit when he is wrong or has made a mistake.

I want this of all teachers because this is what I want of myself, of my inner teacher. But now that I have been forced to reclaim my projection from Wilber, I will be diligent in attempting not to project that teacher outside of myself. Rather, I want to seek a connection to that part of myself, to that higher wisdom within me.

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It strikes me as funny that I wrote about this very thing in my post on the Hermit card in the Tarot. I am amazed that I was able to write that post and not see my own projections in this area. Sometimes we teach what we have to learn.

Many years ago, I kept a Hanged Man tarot card with me as a reminder about surrender. I think it is time to keep the Hermit, or Wise Old Man (can also be a woman) near at hand as a reminder that I need not always look outside of myself for wisdom and teaching.

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