July 7, 2019
Teacher, Mentor, Leader
John Gray: We've all had many teachers in our lives. There were the professional teachers in our formal school years, and many, many more people who may not have been teachers per se, but from whom we've learned many things. And of course, we are taught a great deal through our own observations and experiences in life and from books and other media.
Some teachers have lasting influence. To this day I remember Mrs. Connelly, my kindergarten teacher, my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Dahill, and a certain chemistry lab instructor when I was a college freshman. In my memory a common denominator among them was their enthusiasm for what they did and their genuine care for their students. My wife, Pamela, retired last month from her career as a teacher in our local public elementary school system. I'm sure Mrs. Gray endeared herself to many little ones whose hearts and minds she touched over the years. To teach is to impart knowledge, but the teachers we remember most fondly are the ones who not only taught us but touched us.
Most new learning experiences require new language. Even in elementary school arithmetic, terms like "hundreds' column," "tens' column," and "ones' column" are concepts described in words that are new to children. Remember your introduction to electrical theory in school? Terms like ohm, ampere and volt come from the names of the physicists who observed and defined certain electrical properties and behaviors. There were no other words in English or any other language then by which to call those discoveries. They were new. The words have become common vocabulary in modern times, of course. Probably few if any of us think of Italian physicist Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) when we buy a 9-volt battery at the store.
In general, the purpose of language is to communicate. Language provides symbolic means of self-expression, of sharing ideas, of giving the implicit and invisible more explicative and visible form. When existing words are insufficient to convey new concepts, we invent specialized terminology. In recent years we've all added to our everyday vocabularies lots of words, like digital, RAM, pixel, gigabyte, 5G, algorithm, cyber-attack, AI, and hundreds more, and more all the time.
Over centuries of human history there have been great teachers who have touched the hearts of billions of human beings. Four who are prominent among these are the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Lao Tzu, and Gautama Buddha. They spoke the languages of their times and people, and today we have some of their teachings translated into English. Mostly, as far as we can tell, they used commonly known words, but they formulated them in new ways to convey profound meaning.
"You do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness."
"From morning until night and from night until morning, keep your heart free from malice toward anyone."
"You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another."
Those quotations are attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. They may remind Westerners of teachings of Jesus that have come down to us in the Bible:
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
"This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you."
Of the numerous wise sayings of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, here are two:
"Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love."
"A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, 'We did it ourselves.'"
And Gautama Buddha is said to have said:
"Silence the angry man with love. Silence the ill-natured man with kindness. Silence the miser with generosity. Silence the liar with truth."
"If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?" "However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act upon them?"
These and similar teachings have been around for generations. A couple more contemporary examples are American poet and author Maya Angelou's, "Courage is the most important of all virtues because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently." The root of the word courage relates to heart. And DeWitt Jones, former National Geographic photographer and a down-to-earth wise man in my view, whose central tenet is, "Celebrate what's right with the world."
People may say they believe or don't believe such teachings. As Buddha said, what good does it do us if we do not act on them? The human condition continues to be rife with hatred, violence, depravity, bigotry, iniquity, resentment—we could make a long list. Empirically it's easy to argue that just having lofty and noble teachings available is not enough.
I've been thinking about the distinction between a teacher and a mentor. A mentor, a wise advisor, is more than an imparter of knowledge. I looked it up. The word comes from Mentor, the friend of Odysseus and advisor to Odysseus' son, Telemachus, in Homer's The Odyssey. The word mentor appears to be an agent noun of the Greek word mentos: intent, purpose, spirit, passion. In the term's ordinary usage, a mentor is usually someone you know in person, someone with whom you have personal connection. Having a personal relationship facilitates gaining an understanding of intent, purpose, spirit and passion—an introduction to the subtler essences of a thing, behind or above and beyond what's immediately visible. That's how we "get it."
Surrounding everything, including the word used to represent the thing, is its aura of meaning. Through the aura we touch the spirit, or, to put it another way, spirit is known at the level of human consciousness when there is sufficient medium of connection between the two.
Countless human beings earnestly endeavor to know God, whatever and whoever God is, but unless there is the connecting medium, all that's possible are beliefs about something separate, distant, and imaginary. Some people don't want to believe in that sort of god, and I don't blame them!
About sixty-five years ago Richard Thompson, a student and friend of Uranda, initiator of the spiritual movement Emissaries of Divine Light, suggested a new word, pneumaplasm, as a name for the "something" that connects spirit and form. It's composed of the Greek roots pneuma, meaning air or spirit, and plasm, meaning substance. In the Bible and other sacred texts, the words translated into English as "firmament" and "heaven" had this meaning originally, but those words were usurped for other purposes: firmament to refer poetically to the expanse of space beyond Planet Earth, and heaven to a place to which good religious people go after they die.
Throughout human history every real spiritual teacher or mentor has been at pains to find words and ways to communicate the truth they themselves experienced. Uranda and others developed a nonverbal means of spiritual communication called attunement. To experience attunement, at least at first, requires an adept practitioner/mentor, however, and how many of those are around?
Words, whether in visual or audible form, can accommodate more scalable spiritual communication at the usual levels of human consciousness. Unfortunately, so many words tend to be stuck in people's minds with rather ossified interpretations, and it's challenging to squeeze new life through them. People who long to know the truth must of necessity be flexible and open-minded about word meanings. Maybe now and then an altogether new word is needed, like pneumaplasm, but it's much more about tuning in to the aura of words as expressed by one who knows. Maybe at first mentors speak to us in words we think we already know, but to deeply understand we must come to know for ourselves what moves the mentor's tongue.
The human world can seem a pretty crazy place, and people everywhere tend to focus on and be moved by what's deemed wrong. What's wrong gets people's attention; what's wrong with me, what's wrong with him, and her, and especially them. What's wrong often— I'd say almost always—gets people riled up. "Just look at what those politicians are doing!" I have friends who are all the time upset by what they're told is going on. Do you and I get riled up by what we see on TV or the Internet? We are wise to consider the sources and purposes of many of the so-called news reports we see and hear. You know, they might all be fake news! I don't say this cynically but to take a different look at things.
There is vastly more going on that we don't hear about than we do. Uranda, twentieth century mentor to many and teacher to many more, made this pithy proclamation: "That which is right in you is the starting point. That which is wrong in you is beside the point."
Some may think, "Hey, wait a minute. You're saying what's wrong doesn't matter? That's Pollyannaish. How naïve! That's not the real world."
Okay, let's wait that minute, and "un-rile." It's not that we shouldn't care, but that we should care so much that we live and act in ways that allow something altogether different to appear. To do that we must start with what's right. In what isn't right there's no foundation to build on.
This perspective has been around a long time. In the book of Philippians in the biblical New Testament is this admonishment: "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things."
We generate pneumaplasm by revering and expressing spirits of divine origin. This connecting heavenly substance is the necessary medium through which spirit acts to make all things new. And that creative process always and ever begins with what's right in our minds and hearts. So, we see all these wise teachings aren't about being good. They're about being who we really are: spiritual beings having a human experience on Earth.
Of the spiritual mentors I've been blessed to know, to me the greatest was Martin Cecil. Decades ago, he penned a poem of simple words and eternal verity:
Any moment of lying,
Any moment of hating,
Any moment of resentment
Is a moment of dying.
Any moment of loving,
Any moment of giving,
Any moment of thankfulness,
Is a moment of living.
All our moments add together
Like the digits in the sum,
And the answer tells us plainly
Whether life or death shall come.
In every moment that we love and give and are thankful, we generate heavenly substance, pneumaplasm, and live. In every moment we don't, we experience symptoms of diminishing life until eventually there's no more.
Malachy McCourt, Irish-American actor, writer, politician and younger brother of author Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes) spoke a vital truth when he said, "Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die."
How deeply do I care about what's of paramount importance? We'll only be consistently loving and giving and thankful when the expression of those spirits, and others resonant with them, matters more to us than anything else, and certainly far more than the things that people get upset about, all the wrong in a world. Let's not let our hearts be troubled. We understand why that matters! Even when the earth beneath our feet trembles, we're unmoved.
Let's be immensely thankful for whoever is or was the greatest spiritual teacher and mentor, the most inspirational spiritual leader, whom we've each ever known. Now, in these times more than ever, we must more than admire and love and emulate them. In our own ways and in our own places, it is each of ours to BE that leader in any and every moment.
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