The head of the largest Tibetan Buddhist community groomed students to have sex and knowingly spread AIDS to others. His master, the legendary teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, knew about this—and did nothing. Meanwhile, Soygal Rinpoche, who leads a network of 100 Buddhist retreat centers, punched a nun in the stomach for having his step up to his throne in the wrong place, has “ ‘left monks, nuns, and lay people… with bloody injuries and permanent scars”, and, where that not enough, has been accused of multiple acts of sexual assault.
Luminaries of the New Age scene like Marc Gafni and Andrew Cohen have been accused of all kinds of mental, physical, and financial abuse. Over 200 former students of Cohen’s signed an online petition to stop him teaching again even after he took many years off to reflect; and then apologized for his errors publicly. They didn’t believe that he really owned his own doo doo. Old-timer Osho, who was apparently addicted to valium, allowed heavily-armed acolytes to prowl his legendary retreat center, and may have sanctioned the poisoning of hundreds of people in a restaurant.
In the last 24 months, the gurufied head of the wildly successful New Tantra organization was outed as a serial abuser of pretty much every kind. A major guru in Thailand has been forced to close down his center after many claims of assault and rape. The leaders of a hip personal development organization in New York have been indicted for sex trafficking.
Tragically the list can go on and on and on.
As someone who spends a great deal of his time sharing profound wisdom about our true nature— as well as transformational tools to help people heal and live a life of service — with fragile and vulnerable people (because we all are fragile and vulnerable), such revelations hit me hard.
In fact, after watching the Netflix documentary about Osho, Wild Wild Country, it took me a week of heavy-duty inner work to process my feelings of sadness and, in truth, horror at my own career “choice”. I spent a few days going deep: Why do so many gurus find it hard to stay true to? Is it inevitable on this purpose pathway that shadow, the power that comes from being loved and, sometimes deified, pulls people down? Is there a way out of misusing spiritual power? Is there a way out of the guru model and the spiritual hierarchies that seem to allow abuse to occur?
Most spiritual teachers come to their work because of their own pain and suffering. It’s what happened to the historical Buddha and thousands upon thousands since then (and before, in every village with a shaman). Most of my fellow teachers will happily say this truth seeking for their own healing and wholeness, the cessation of their own suffering, was key to their journey to the work. Therefore most, if not all, teachers have wounds within. They all have hurt hearts that needed to be healed, to be whole, to be holy.
At some point, they have realized that what I call switching on – waking up to our true nature as one with all that is – changes everything. This power of enlightenment is intoxicating. Everything else in one’s life must be re-oriented to this foundational truth. When we grok that until others become switched on too they will always suffer, a lifelong commitment to spreading spiritual realization seems the only sensible response.
Many who experience the life- and world-changing power of awakening then sign up to become modern-day Bodhisattvas: committed to waking up all sentient beings to reduce their suffering and increase their thriving. I fully understand in my heart , head, and guts the intense, purposeful, all-encompassing enthusiasm for sharing spiritual enlightenment with the entire world that arises in our mind and body when we feel its power to bring us into satchitananda: a melange of truth, consciousness, and bliss.
However, as I detail in my writings, any purposeful mission can always be hijacked by what I call “the Protector” within us all: the drive to survive life through control, protection, and defence. The Protector is not wrong or bad; far from it. It has a sacred and evolutionarily elemental job to keep us alive. But to do this, it uses old patterns — feelings, beliefs, and habits that once worked to keep us safe but are now probably maladapted to the moment— to do its job. This is where all self-sabotage and almost all “evil” behavior stems: the repetition of defensive moves to control the crazy world and protect us from perceived threat when they are not a fit for the moment.
Anyone who has established protective patterns to get by life that include say: being rude or mean-spirited; being desirous of being sexually-desired; becoming over-confident when anxious to the point of arrogance; wanting to be safe in life with a pot of cash — and so that means pretty much everyone, including most all spiritual teachers, gurus or not — will always be at risk of being triggered into such patterns. This is biology. The patterns always lay existent, even if we have integrated our awakening to such a point that they are very, very rarely triggered. Which means most people who become wisdom teachers are at risk of being profoundly inappropriate, sexually tacky, power-crazed and financially duplicitous given the right threats or triggers. It goes with being human. And as far as I am aware, no teacher or guru, no matter how awesome, is divine.
Thus, teaching a pupil about the necessity of spiritual discipline, which is essential in this age of instant (download) entitlement, can be hijacked by the Protector and become a form of violence. Teaching about how important it is to find folk that support our growth, rather than hold us in our old patterns, can become cultic advice to split from our family and friends to join the commune. Open-hearted requests for donations to our purpose projects, and to pay the bills, can become requests to sign over life savings. Insights into how to be free of sexual hangups, to enjoy the natural and gorgeous embodied experience of intimate love, can easily become drug-fuelled sex orgies. Well, apparently.
This biological tendency for our best intentions to be distorted by our hurt, not healed, hearts can be amplified if a spiritual community is hierarchical: with rules that must be taken uncritically (rather than principles to be interpreted anew by each person as they live them); and if people in that community assume, or are assigned, roles with graded levels of power (those with the gurus deepest teachings / there at the start / signing the checks / have the trust of the guru). Such dominative hierarchies, as opposed to generative ones, create conditions that are fecund for abuse to thrive. Power to heal, help, and liberate can be as intoxicating as power to imprison, tax, or regulate. Power differentials in spiritual communities must be consciously addressed from the start.
Even more challenging still with the current guru model is the propensity people have to project their neurotic need for a saviour / divinity / master onto a teacher. I have found that many program participants, podcast interviewers, and book readers actively want me to become a guru. They project onto me their need for authoritative / awakened / powerful figures. In these settings it is easy to start believing that we are the one’s “doing” the healing or “transmitting” the awakening. This can be intoxicating. Any hurt heart patterning can rapidly hook into these projections and delusions – and the guru can suddenly becomes not just a wise and awakened human, just like every other human, but an avatar of some god; or a son of god herself.
As journalist and Buddhist Katy Butler puts it in Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America: This stuff happens in part because of “[a]n unhealthy marriage of Asian hierarchy and American license that distorts the teacher-disciple relationship.” Old-world, medieval, hierarchies are so embedded in both West and East and they lock us into permanent disempowerment and diminishment. Sense the shift in power dynamics that kick in with the word “Rabbi A”, Bishop B”, GuruJ”, ShaktiX or “Shri Shri Z”. Any shift you feel is the leverage of hierarchical power : over, or to, depends on the heart, hurt or healed, of those wielding the “brand”. This power, like all power, can be used for transformational good. But more often than not, it is used to separate: the very cause of most of our issues in the first place, which the mystical move seeks to release in (re)union.
Post-Freudian talking therapies have learnt a lot from a century of healing psyches. In many ways, one does have to step into a position of power (power to inspire, not power over) to have any impact at all. It can be useful, if not essential, to use what Freudians call “transference” to do, and amplify, the transformational work. We need to harness power that comes from being a role model (of some kind) to create the conditions for others to find their own way to enlightenment and peace. The therapist / teacher helps clients heal ruptures in what we call “relational fields” by playing the role, even if briefly and subtly, of someone the patient has “baggage” with.
However, this can be very confusing if the therapist/coach/healer/teacher is not aware of transference and ready for it. They must also be utterly rooted in their own humility. To avoid being hooked into repeating the parent/child dynamic rather than transforming it, professional therapists have “supervision” once a week, checking in with a senior therapist to stop the therapist acting out their own “counter-transference”: falling love with / fucking / abusing / neglecting their clients. Teachers involved in transformation have to be consciously ready for transference and counter-transference: and must have done sufficient work on their own patterns, after anchored in by trauma of neglect and abuse, to be truly empowering.
Unless we have love, lost, and loved again in the great school of life, we are unlikely to have done much of this proper trauma transformation and integration. If a teacher has not returned, chomping humble pie, to a lover to apologize after messing up with old patterns, can they teach us much about intimate relationships? If they have not had to pick themselves up after being sacked, or going bankrupt, and start over can they teach us much about humility? If they have not turned to their parents, time and time again, to rebuild connection after years of family pain, can they teach us much about transformation? If they have not lain awake all night attempting to process their frustration with their kids, can they teach us much about forgiveness? Perhaps it’s no accident that so many other-worldly monks and gurus have been caught doing such sordid this-worldly acts: their patterning has not been burnished in the fire of everyday despair and disappointments. It’s a recipe for disaster.
On reflection, in many ways I was lucky because my journey to the work of wisdom teaching came through crushing shyness and lack of confidence (and a hundred humiliations of intimacy, business, and health). My big wound was neurosis: not loving myself enough; and caring too much about other people liking/loving me. With neuroses, the Protector turns inwards with anger and self-blame. Bullied and excluded, it took me years to think I could teach anything, let alone life-changing wisdom and critical insights on transformation.
Plus, being a Brit, I was always profoundly cynical of most of the New Age scene and the guru model as a whole. Trained in science and philosophy at Cambridge Uni, I liked to call bullshit on anyone who said that they had “the answer” and/or spewed out mystical “truths”. In fact, as a consequence of my upbringing, nationality, education, and patterning, I have a found it really challenging to step into any form of teacher role. I’m allergic to any projection of hierarchical power onto me. Book publishers, TV execs, and podcast interviewers have expected me to be a guru – it’s what sells a lot of books and gets people to watch experts on TV – but I have constantly told them I won’t do it. This has without doubt lost me book deals, TV shows being green lit and much more: apparently there are less people out there who like to be told that their enlightenment and transformation will probably takes years not days; and that crystals and unicorns aren’t (necessarily) a one-stop-shop to awakening.
Clearly, my path to teaching wisdom required me to heal a great deal of wounding so I could share my heart out on stage and on books. A part of me still can’t believe the balls I have on me to go out there and do it. But my path also brought me an allergy to gurufication and the old models of hierarchies and lineages. I was, and still am, an expert transformational innovation as well a wisdom teacher (I see these aspects of my work being one thing, not two). I have come to realize that the issues of guru abuse are merely symptoms of underlying an “fail” in the the guru-disciple paradigm and the operating model that underpins it.
The guru model as a whole can, and must, be disrupted with a new paradigm that fits the 21st Century as opposed to the Axial Age. In a world that is both exponentially digital as well as utterly damaged (by climate change, mental anguish, and poverty to name but three), this is not just about what would be a “nice to have” transformation: this is about the future survival of our species on this planet. We need to engineer ways in which billions of people can switch on, have their hearts healed and awaken to their purpose if we are going to make it.
Here are 5 key disruptions I deem necessary to forge the future of spirituality as a space, as an industry, as a life’s work:
Disruption 1: From Spiritual Enlightenment to Trauma Transformation
I can definitely say that I found the truth and experience of enlightenment to be the only thing big enough to assuage the pain of my abused, bullied, and neurotic (former) self. The experience of limitless love that flows when we feel connected is what allows us to reliably dissolve the protective patterns that separate us and cause us to suffer. As we practice how to connect, how to be at one, we can heal our hurt hearts and allow them to become whole once more. Ideally, we learn how to master this process and then how to teach it to others.
True wisdom teachers know that spiritual work is not just about realizing the truth of non-dual oneness (whether with medicine plants or meditation); nor is it about just about experiencing the bliss of the “really real” (whether with ecstatic movement or tantric sex). Both of these are elemental but not enough and they are not the point. They are the start of the journey of wholeness, not the endpoint of a life of seeking. They are necessary for what wisdom is really about: integrating the luminescent experience of other-worldly unitive consciousness into the gnarly moments of this-worldly everyday life: where ruptures in our relational fields and sabotaging protective patterns play out.
Wisdom is about the enacting and embodying the rigorous transformation of our psychological trauma by harnessing the infinite healing power of awakening. Only then can we dissolve edgy protective patterns and “repattern” ourselves to become who we were always meant to be before our hearts were hurt: whether purpose-driven leaders, lovers, parents, entrepreneurs, or wisdom teacher. Purpose is, for me, love-in-action: so it can only shine through without being distorted by the Protector when we have cleared away, and “purified”, enough of the trauma within that anchors in our patterns of thought, emotion and habit: the kind that have us falling in love with / abusing / neglecting our students and supporters. They are sufficiently developed in affective-interoceptive-relational complexity to have integrity (whilst always being a work-in-progress who can never be perfect).
No matter how much “crazy wisdom” a teacher professes to have, teachers must have worked through enough of their patterns to have real ethics in this world: they pay money back if its owed; they get back to people on email if they said they would; they show up on time, respecting other’s time as much as their own; they don’t cheat on their partners, financial or sexual; they stay open to all, honoring everyone’s intelligence and wisdom; sexual or financial sharing is consciously chosen by all parties; they can be relied upon to change their kid’s diapers, be present for their child’s bath-time, and help with school homework on a daily basis; they are transparent about their business dealings and happy to explain all and any profits; and they are ready to own their contribution to anyone’s upset: in other words, the sort of people you trust enough to leave your children with and love enough to hang out with for a kombucha.
Wisdom teachers must eat their own caviar and only teach what they have mastered within this world. They must be congruent: their actions and emotions align with their wise words and wonderful philosophies. They walk the wisdom and don’t just talk it. They never get too high on our own supply: knowing we are always going to be vulnerable and deeply flawed beings who have a Protector ready to hijack anything we do, no matter how heartfelt, and turn into into something that hurts others. Hurt hearts, hurt hearts. When it’s a wisdom teacher, it is truly tainted love. So we must always be healing our hearts even as we are teaching and facilitating others to do so.
Disruption 2: From Perfect Being To Learning Leader
Rather than seeing a guru as a completely realized avatar/god/Buddha, we must always remember that every teacher is a work-in-progress. Shock horror, but they are still likely to have hurt elements of their heart waiting to be transformed. The true master is a perpetual pupil. No guru I have ever met is free from the learnings that the universe seems designed to bring us when we step out of alignment. As the universe evolves it provokes more growth in us, no matter who we are, to step up further to lead transformation.
There are c.8 billion people out there suffering within systems that promote more suffering for them and the planet. Until we have transformed all that pain – and the social and economic systems that lock us in protective patterns that destroy love, unity, community and live itself – the guru’s own evolutionary journey is not done. There is no longer the option to sit in the Ashram: we have to get out into the world and transform it with love.
What this means is that the guru is always on the developmental journey themselves, in both vertical development of enlightened thinking and horizontal development of enlightened feeling. The former, vertical development in cognitive complexity, is captured in Spiral Dynamics’ journey from red, blue, orange and green stages to yellow, turquoise and beyond; and in Ken Wilbur’s teal and Tier 2 stages. However, to be free from power plays and abusive relational fields, crucially the wisdom teacher must also be developing along stages in what I call (for now, it ain’t pretty) “affective-interoceptive-relational development”: the increased complexity of our felt senses, emotional states, and relational dynamics.
Affective-interoceptive-relational development (for short “embodied wisdom”) might include: Speed of owning patterns showing up in relationships, rapidity of both forgiving and apologising, humility in balance with hubris, sense of spaciousness in the body, bodymind integration, “progress’ in trauma healing, capacity for somatic and emotional regulation, participatory vs. subject-object perceptivity, interoceptive awareness within the viscera, relational integrity, the complexity and reciprocity within our social networks, our ability to “feel the room” and sense the “music in the system, our capacity to be present and truly listen to peers, students, spouses and kids, elegance of relational repair after rupture, open-heartedness, compassion and kindness, nobility of intensions, treating everyone as an equal, holding space / creating safe spaces, deep listening, mirroring, trust building, weak ties harnessing etc. etc. etc.
Whilst many gurus, spiritual luminaries and philosophers are very advanced in their vertical development towards holistic/systemic cognitive and mental complexity, many are far less advanced in the horizontal dimension. As we have seen in the last few years of revelations, there are magnificent minds teaching profound wisdom… who then fall into the endless traps of wonky relational fields and distorted imprints. This is a huge driver of the abuses we are hearing about in some many spiritual hierarchies. If students don’t challenge these patterns, then everyone’s growth in the horizontal dimension of affective-interoceptive-relational development will be stunted. If the guru isn’t learning, then they are not fulfilling their potential as leaders of the transformations that are needed in the architecture of the modern world.
Stunted growth is particularly the case in one tricky class of psychological patterns often called “personality disorders”. Whilst neuroses “create problems for no-one but their owners”, personality disorders (like narcissistic and borderline) create problems for everyone but their owners. Without being a medical doctor of any kind (although I did complete a good few years of med school), I have a conjecture: many fallen teachers, especially those that have allowed themselves to become gurus, might have personality disorders. They can be massively developed along the vertical dimension of mental complexity, reaching teal and turquoise states… but be terrorists in their intimate relationships as they have not developed to such degree in the horizontal domain of affective-interoceptive-relational awareness.
Such power play patterns are hard to spot at first. Most people don’t really know what personality disorders are and how prevalent, and so under-diagnosed, they are. People with personality disorders can seem the real deal: they can be massively charismatic, intoxicatingly intense, and eloquent with their spiritual insights. So it’s easy to get hooked into their work. However, people with personality disorders are also usually unable to own their own patterning and/or hear the feedback of others as anything other than unenlightened gumpf.
Otherwise smart and sensible people can easily get caught in their tractor-beams of charismatic power, becoming acolytes who enact their own often neurotic protective patterning to “enable” the gurus. The patterns that have been labelled as “personality disorders” can easily hook in neurotics and exploit them, like malware in a silicon circuit: because the neurotic always things “its me, not them”. So the guru can claim that any push back is because the person pushing back is spiritually less mature than they are; doesn’t get the “whole truth” of non-duality; or still conditioned by societal morality. As psychologist Dr John Reid says: “they provide justification for refusing to accept blame or responsibility for their actions, and will almost certainly refuse help.” They do not believe they have any shadow any longer (or sometimes that they ever did). Their Protectors are wisdom talking—but cannot listen to anyone’s feedback on their blindspots around wisdom walking.
Wonderfully, a group of teachers and masters in the Association for Spiritual Integrity, have begun the challenging process of developing a code of ethics for wisdom walking and talking. This is not an easy thing to do as non-dual insights often fly in the face of the social conditioning that generates ethics and morals in the first place. Whilst I don’t agree with everything in this code, and hope it will evolve to fit the rather unique times, I urge students and teachers alike to read it and question any assumptions – sacred cows if you like – that exist in their communities. HT Rick Archer for this.
If any teachers, and their communities get caught, in dramas – say a nasty fight with a local council or an expose by students – rather than fight them or deny them, the Switch On Way of Transformation is always to ask: what is the invitation for growth in our model or modes? What patterns are out of date? Why is this happening now? Experience has taught me that the universe will generate invitations for more truth to be revealed when truth is being distorted in some way. This usually manifests as drama.
Disruption 3: From Unique Guru to Powerful Peer
Given the trappings of power, and the evolutionary design of the Protector to grab onto power to feel safe, I believe that it is essential that every wisdom teacher surrounds themselves with friends, lovers — and above all conscious, wise and courageous peers — who do not drink the guru’s Kool Aid (or at least are not addicted to it); are delighted to burst the guru’s bubbles (lovingly, in service); and can elegantly coach the guru on their blindspots.
If a wisdom teacher, of all people, can’t then laugh at how their Protector has taken control, and let the protective patterns go quickly as they transform them in real-time with love-fuelled presence, then they are clearly hooked on their own supply. Time to stop teaching and start learning again for their Protector is in command. If a person is going to ride the plains of the unregulated wild (wild) West of wisdom teaching, coaching, and transformation it is essential that they surround themselves not with people stuck in a “fawning” protective pattern (wanting to be loved or find a rescuer) but those who love us enough to act as peer-supervisors: they see us as awesome yet deeply flawed human beings.
If a teacher is craving book sales, people to use their brand over their birth name, or quoting Watkin’s annual list of the “100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People” then the Protector is on the prowl and needs a spot of coaching (and hugging). For me, a combination of a loving and independently-minded wife, two smart and on their game kids, and a global network of fellow teachers and purpose-driven entrepreneurs keeps my hubris well in check… whilst also supporting that chutzpah to keep going out into a system that resists transformation to do my purpose-work in the first place.
If those peers limit the teacher’s transformational power — for example, by relating to the teacher as their past patterning or by cynically bringing them down as a their own power play — then that can be an invitation for their transformation. New peers can be sought that see the teacher as their transformational teaching wholeness (as well as their fragile, vulnerable humanity). The same is true of any disruptive entrepreneur too. Every disruptor needs a little bit of a “reality distortion bubble” to pull people into a new transformative vision. But if they don’t have trusted compadres who can burst the bubble when hubris takes over, fiascos like Fyre Festival are the result.
I take to heart the Jewish mystical saying: humility is not taking up too much space but not taking up too little either. Suffering is everywhere. People are yearning for support, for inspiration, and for guidance. If we have tools and techniques to alleviate the suffering, after years and years of our own humbling stumbling, then our dharma is to offer it to others as a wisdom teacher. Nothing else can suffice. It has to be done now. It is an urgent call from a damaged and despairing world.
But a 21st Century wisdom teacher knows deep down that whilst they are unique they are utterly ordinary too. Whilst they package up and share their teachings, they don’t “own” them. They never have a a complete system that has no fragilities. So they always welcome students to enter other paths and work with our teachers. In fact they insist on it. Peers are always invited in to contribute and challenge without cognitive arrogance or dismissiveness.
Sure we teach. Sure we write. Sure we send out Youtube videos and podcast interviews. But we never take ourselves too seriously even as we know what we do is the most important thing on the planet. We walk the Middle Way between nihilism and absolutism, between hubris and humility, between chutzpah and chockmah: modern-day bodhisattvas vowed to spread the love… without the need for big paybacks in Rolls Royces, Youtube likes, or adulating crowds.
Disruption 4: From Powerful Truth Transmitter To Empowering Space Holder
Rather than the guru, or their pupils/acolytes, thinking that the enlightened people are somehow special, we shift to a core realization that everyone has a guru within. Teachers will usually be more developed, and we hope integrated, but they are not unique, special, or divine. In our philosophy/methodology the Switch On Way, we call this shaman/guru/teacher/healer/god within us all the Connector. We all have it, by dint of us being human and having human biology. It is the drive to thrive in life: to learn, grow, love, connect, and expand.
A wisdom teacher is tapping into their Connector to call the client’s/pupil’s Connector into heightened awareness and transformative action. We wield power with the Connector not the Protector. The Protector will quickly take the transference of transformational relationships and turn it into opportunities for adulation and abuse. The Connector, on the other hand, knows that the individual human – guru or teacher – is not the one “doing” the healing. They are simply holding space for the Connector in others to awaken and do their own healing. It is impossible for anyone to heal or awaken anyone else. They can “merely” activate another’s innate capacity to heal or awaken themselves.
The Connector knows, deep in its DNA and bones, that once a teacher has done all they can to support, coach, inspire, and help integrate awakening/transformation, they should ask the “student” or “client” to move on. The Connector never gets caught in the projections of the pupil. The Connector knows never to form an (abusive or neglectful) parent and (traumatized) child dynamic with the pupil for such relationship will disable, disempower, and diminish everyone in the system. The Connector within has the teacher refuse sycophancy of all kinds: actively and compassionately. Not just because it is untrue; but because it traps everyone in the system in limited growth.
Once someone has learnt what they can from a teacher, the teacher or community should send them along to their next teacher or system: or simply go practice what they have learnt for a few years in everyday life where it actually counts. They Connector does not want acolytes. Helpers and students are welcome: but the Connector actively discourages worship of all kinds as it disempowering to all. This means gurus should have no acolytes ever, least of all those who cover up their messes, attack critics, and act as apologists for abuse.
The Connector know that we are one peer among equals: further down a particular developmental journey so we can send insights and information back to others, but not any better or more than anyone else. The teacher is, to quote Sufi mystic Al-Ghazali, one drop that lives and dies in the river of oneness. This is what enables empathy and compassion to run in rivulets through our bodies so we can teach. We don’t separate ourselves out too much for we know everyone has a Buddha within. Our job is to help people activate theirs, as others help us activate our own.
Disruption 5: From Spiritual Hierarchies To Conscious Networks
I will be bold and state that I believe that no genuine teacher of wisdom, who has embodied that wisdom as love glowing in their hearts, can believe in a dominative hierarchy. I believe hierarchy is useful, and perhaps, essential for getting stuff done efficiently and effectively. But we must create generative hierarchies that use power for the liberation of all, emanating from hearts that are purified in compassion, gratitude, and humility. The guru serves the students who serve the world, in an inverted pyramid, not the other way around.
Whilst we invert the pyramid we can also embrace networks or circles as the “antidote to, or the completion of, hierarchy” (to quote my peer coach/teacher Scott Vineberg). The circle of network model flattens out the power that forms in small groups in hierarchies. In doing so, well held networks guard against the Protector’s command and control urges, sending power to the edges where it empowers everyone to switch on and step up with their own transformations. In other words: the next Buddha must be the sangha, or community. Not an individual but a network. Not a guru but a group. Not another Christ but a circle.
In a conscious circle or network, the teacher, facilitator, and space-holder creates the conditions by which others within the network can heal ruptures in their own relational fields with their peers. This is what we do in both our leadership and personal transformation workshops: we share wisdom and big ideas and we teach people transformational tools and practices. But then they work with their peers to do the transformational inner work together. We, at the front then create the conditions for people integrate their realizations and revelations into their body and embed them into life: often using meditation, music, and movement to do so. But we always push back to the crowd that they are the one’s doing the healing/awakening/transforming.
As disruptors in the transformational space, we’ve gone one further to develop an entirely plug-and-play toolkit for peer-powered transformation in leadership (for companies) and life (for individuals). Its been fascinating to see how embedded people are into the old model of teacher/student that HR Directors and program particpants are often confused at first: “where is the coach?” or “who is the teacher?” they ask! But when the use them, they often declare to use that they were actually more impactful than the fancy workshops we run and lead from the front. These toolkits, and soon(ish) AI-powered software, were specifically and carefully designed to balance the power of the teacher, who is a bit more advanced down the path so has good insights and tools; with the student within us all. Users leverage their inherent Connector’s power to coach and guide each other to freedom, peace, purpose, and leadership — but never get high on their own supply.
Wisely-designed peer-to-peer system allow everyone to free themselves from old patterns and embed new repatterns into their leadership styles and love lives at the scale needed to enact The Great Transformation so many are yearning for. The catch is that in peer-powered networks, those in vertical positions of power atop pyramids, whether Clever CEOs or Great Gurus, have to give up (some of) their power to the people (whilst still being confident and visionary leaders). This mass empowerment is why I got interested in peer-to-peer models and why I set up my first business in the heady dot com days of the late 90s. The internet rewires the world in its own image of a network. The network’s process, practices, and places become the routes to transformation rather than reliance on charismatic individuals – whilst still welcoming inspiring leaders to lead from the stage/front as they do best.
In a transformational network / group / circle / community, many people have some elements of the truth. They can, and must, share it with others. This is their purpose calling them to act; their dharma. In a world of 9 billion, we need many wise peers to become active in their communities to hold space for others to switch on; and to coach, guide, and sometimes cajole them when they get stuck. To be of service, these peer-powered teachers teach about love about love, compassion, and humility. They have integrated advanced states and stages of affective-interoceptive-relational complexity as well as cognitive-mental complexity.
They can even be paid for it. In a networked world, wisdom teachers cannot – and should not – rely on old hierarchies and the sources of capital they protect for succour, whether monasteries or religious institutions, as this so often perverts the message. And those diapers don’t pay for themselves. So wisdom teachers must be paid: not for the love they share for it is free and owned by all; but for the time it takes for them to develop and deliver the work, which they could not spend doing this otherwise.
Wisdom teachers amplify the potentiality for the wholeness of those they serve. But they don’t ever seek to rise up to the top of the out-dated pyramid of hierarchy (literally, “rule by the priests”) or seek to sit upon the apex pontificating to subordinates and preaching to acolytes. They serve from below, from the bottom of the inverted pyramid. We peer-inspired wisdom teachers in the networked world do sit atop a footstool from time to time: just above others in the meditation space or conference venue to be fully seen and heard. Otherwise people won’t get much value from us. But we never sit atop a pedestal (nor a throne), no matter how tempting it may be to the Protector within us all. For the Connector within, the One that actually does the real teaching, is always a learner: ready to jettison the footstool in a heartbeat, handing it off to a peer as we melt back into the community from whence we came.
The Atman/Brahman within, the Connector as guru and wisdom teacher we all have inside, is a node in the network of our common humanity and the Great Chain of Being. Anyone can call anybody out on anything (patterns, amorality, lack of integrity) at anytime (with respect and responsibility). There are no disciples to abuse. There are no acolytes to enable us. There are no gurus to go wrong. There is just the river with drops emerging to inspire other drops to flow fully.
I write and work at Switch On, a transformation company. We publish books and a free high-quality newsletter to help you thrive in life, love, and leadership. All my books and essays are rigorously researched and easy to read. You can find free ebooks, meditations and tools at https://switchonnow.com/inspiration/