Subject: Journal entry (long) re Angeles Arrien talk on Monday, April 22, 2002
This is a long post, basically my notes and reactions to a lecture attended this week. Angeles Arrien is a name I first heard from this list (yahoo group artistsjournals2) and our offshoot tarot-making project, so I was intrigued when I learned (a) that she's on faculty where Girlfriend is a librarian now, and (b) would be part of a lecture series...
There is enough inspiration towards journaling and soul-searching material here for years worth of exploration, which is only fair because it comes our of years of exploration. Enjoy!
Monday evening, April 22,2002, I attended a lecture given by Angeles Arrien, one in a series hostessed by Mariana Caplan at the California Institute for Integral Studies, on Spiritual Authority: Surrender, Submission or Conscious Discipleship? Angie spoke on the topic Promises and Pitfalls in the Student-Teacher Relationship: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Additional information is at
I arrived early to help the other volunteers set up chairs and collate flyers for each chair, that I then wrote on as the room filled with students, seekers, and artists in the community. These notes include my impressions of the atmosphere and attendees as well as my notes from the talk.
Apparently some old friends and colleagues of the speaker, from 15- 20 years prior relationship, are here. One of the other volunteers had on a cotton jumper dress printed all over with a dragonfly stamp in purple and green inks.
Angeles Arrien's lecture tonight is on Pitfalls in the student teacher relationship: a cross-cultural perspective -- but at half full this audience really looks mostly white, oh dear ... my experience of CIIS so far is that it's not predominantly white-middle-class, and that cross-culturalism is visibly not just words, so it's a surprise to me.
I love the low-key elegance of this place: the lovely coffee-table onstage is a cardboard box with a cloth drape, water, flowers... one who hadn't seen it set up would not know the humble underpinnings of the graceful element.
Mariana Caplan, who will be speaking in a couple of weeks, introduces Angie; mentioning that the last time lectures on this sort of topic were given at CIIS was in 1971; perhaps we're 30 years overdue for the next!
Angeles is a Cultural Anthropologist specializing in world religions - as an insider, not the outside observer academic form. She has short dark hair, bright green blazer, and she twinkles her eyes. At the start, says 'ah' and 'um' a lot - but works without notes. As she warmed up, the vocal hesitations fell away altogether.
She speaks of spiritual doorways; the archetype of teacher is global to all explorations.
Recommends the book Mentoring to all teachers, counselors, leaders.
Speaks of global cultural models; What is meant by global, when one speaks professionally or academically of a phenomenon? By her definition, over 85% of all cultures of the world must go that way for a cognate or trend or idea to be called "global." So - there are a few global themes found in all cultures: a governance model; a medical model, generally including 'traditional" and folkloric medicine ways; education is a global model. Creative, performing, & athletics communicate a Visionary model.
She is a cross-cultural student, describing herself as one who tracks: what are the common points? What are universals? These root questions, and her life-long exploration around them, allow her to look at diversity from within these Unities.
The Way of the Teacher is what we're looking at tonight.
Wordplay: Intimacy syllabification as "in to me see" - with an overlay of the question: How willing am I to be caught learning?
Whoever and however you learn with and from, make sure a wise person is there. (Advice from her grandmother at an early age (5).
Do I place myself well? Is this right timing?
Time place and person are important factors in choosing a teacher.
There are four fires:
vision, heart, creative, soul
Five conditions for learning:
respect, trust, honesty, openness (Curiosity), and vulnerability. the last includes: can I be just who I am, here, without having to project a persona, or act or perform?
A great learner/teacher has greater curiosity than judgment - leads to adventures and broader explorations.
Three great inhibitors to learning:
fear, pride, judgment
It's not enough to just naval-gaze, or just do stuff; we need both internal and external, both quietude/reflection and movement/activity. Especially true in this time of the world.
She pauses to catch her audience's eyes and judge the impact and sinking-in of her words, as she delivers bons mots and concepts clustered in numbered clusters, and repeats just enough for note-taking, without losing the flow or continuity of her ongoing talk. This is an enviable skill, I can tell she's practiced a LOT.
An important question:
Is my self worth as strong as my self critic?
Another way of saying this is:
Is what is good, true and beautiful in me as strong as the whispers of my monsters?
She continues, "I love cartoons - they tend to be 5 years ahead of the trend." A recent New Yorker cartoon describes fellow in a business suit & tie, with briefcase and a fellow in jeans and vest with ponytail and glasses, pass one another, thinking "Gee, I used to look like that!"
With this image, Angie introduces the idea of the Mandorla - two interlocked circles, with that lens; that stands for active inner and outer study / worlds - the seed of intersection is more powerful than either circle alone - and is the place where both teacher and student grow. A question to bring to learning and teaching is: how can I bring two parts of me together to create a greater whole?
The names she uses for that conjunction are an almond seed; the well - I am taken with the image of the conjunction as a lens, with all the refracting and focusing imagery that comes to my mind with that.
The four taboos that reveal four inherent values in world cultures, whatever one's spirituality is or isn't. She distinguishes a willingness to explore Mystery; distinguishes "innovation" in spirituality as all too often a copout into a conditional willingness; those who create multiple permutations on what has already been successful within their comfort zone ! (sound like all too many "eclectic" spiritual folks I know...) "Exploring" on the other hand, is leaving that comfort zone.
Track: Where am I pushing my edges?
The four taboos reflect their opposite: strong global cultural values.
Murder - reflecting the valuation of Life
Theft - reflecting the value of honoring and respecting what folks have gotten or made for themselves; stuff; possessions or livelihood.
Lying, most especially the lie that does irreparable harm to another's life. - reflecting a value in truth, authenticity, integrity, honesty.
Incest - respect for emotional kinship ties. As a survivor of this last taboo-trampling, I am always fascinated by and looking for the ways people describe the basis of what's going on when that taboo's being broken; and this sums it up succinctly and well. New words to gnaw on...
What to look for in a spiritual teacher is someone who has these positive values; someone who reflects and upholds those values and would not harm those positive connections.
What an amazing way to tell folks what to beware of as well as what goodness to look for!
Every decade in one's life, there is the entry of a new person; the Important Stranger to us - provides a gate/opening for us to grow. Track - who is that?
Who has that been?
Who have been my teachers of heart? Mind? Body? Spirit?
Heart - deep inside, love - what am I learning what do I know, what do I want to pass on to the children?
Human main raisons d'être: to learn about love and to create.
An exercise: (shuffling while folks find pens, paper.)
Write your name.
This is an example of mastery. It's easy, effortless, you never doubt you have mastery - that which we trust.
Opening to new inner work, we apply skills in a new way.
Sign your name with your off-hand. (skritch, skritch.)
Okay, it's doable. Note some things, which are there in everyone's
signatures: We all slow down. Nature moves middle-to-slow; this is why the speaker takes folks out to the Arizona desert every year. Nature moves slowly; we have to learn to come to our own natural rhythms. We can do a lot of things in the fast lane, but in order to integrate and deepen, we have to slow down. We change size - we get larger (expand) or go deeper but don't constrict ourselves. We noted that our signatures were kind of childlike. We need to bring a childlike innocence and curiosity and wonder to our learning. The inner world is vast and turbulent, majestic and awesome - and can also surface a primal terror - this is why it's important to be moving slower.
When I need an opening, feeling stuck, on the brink of something; going past the Well, there comes a breakthrough -
Sign your name a third time, with your eyes closed (dominant hand). (scrawl. huh, not so bad!)
We can do this; it's recognizable.
There comes in every relationship and especially the teacher/student relationship, the necessity of a place of individuation; how to make honorable closure. A lot of folks haven't learned how to do this, and we flail and do it badly; go away mad in order to make the break. How we leave our families at adulthood often makes a pattern we repeat.
Cross-culturally there are ways of graceful separation or individuation.
Giving gratitude, keeps the heart open
Check where I have been positively impacted and give gratitude for that.
Track - where was I stretched beyond knowable and familiar.
Check - is there any forgiveness work or rectification work or reparation I need to do here?
Applying these can make a breakthrough to ending and closing phases and stages clearly and cleanly.
A good teacher never creates dependency. They will have you learn as long as you are willing to engage deeply. At some point you need to individuate and take a step with no guide.
Fourth step: sign your name blind with the off-hand. (skreek, scratch, *laughter*)
Humor and joy are important - any teacher who does not carry these is suspect. Good relationship to surprise and the unexpected is important.
It is important to track where I lose my sense of humor - then I see where my attachments are.
Story on herself requested from members of the crowd, who love to hear it again - at the age of 32 was SERIOUS to a fault, had all her doo-dahs for her spirit practice, her prayer rug, her rosary, her incense and candles, and all; and two of her teachers sent her to another teacher, to whom she supplicated, Can you tell me the next step? -- and he just LAUGHED and laughed; and finally said, okay, you have your tape recorder, good, very good, set it up, and then he laughed a bunch more. Into the tape recorder.
Two Very Important words -
"Sensa" (oh, it must be something old in Sanskrit...)
"Houma" (breathy with tight nostrils...."nhyumaaaaaaah"
"You must practice at least 2 hours."
Well, she took it back to her hotel, with her rug and rosary and candles and incense and bells; and chanted her new mantra...it took her 6-1/2 hours of chanting & breathing before she rewound the tape to hear "sense of humor!" and Oh, she was so pissed off ! and Oh, it makes a such great story now!
Clarity, sense of organization
Track: what is clear for me? take action from the places that are clear.
What's become defined?
Ability to be a problem solver balances with resting with the question:
what's my capacity for holding creative tension before leaping in to fix it and resolve the chord?
Honor the creative tension; else it's too easy to fall into addictions,
Major four addictions are to, and come out of: intensity, perfection, a need to know, and what's not working. Don't fixate; some folks want to recreate peak experiences over and over again; of If I can only get back to - look at weaning such dependencies.
Love Wisdom, Integrity, Vision
Those domains are explored deeply on spirit realm. Keep a curious, humble beginner's mind; be willing and openness to practice discernment (the rim of the heart)
I am responsible to place myself well; to ask, am I in the natural cycle? right place, right time?
Quotes the poet Mary Oliver: "the heart of spiritual work is..." contained in the question "What is it you want to do with the wild precious thing that is your life?"
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and right doing
there's a field.
I'll meet you there."
Superb recap of all points...
"Bless those who challenge us
for they remind us of doors we have closed
and of doors we have yet to open
They are big medicine teachers."
- Navajo saying.
She herself is Basque; and they celebrate 12 birthdays a year; one a month; and do something new - 12 ways we have grown each year.
We are all original medicine (fingerprints, irises, retinas, DNA).
Questions from the audience:
What is that field of Rumi's?
A metaphor. It is the here and now where we meet - we create it together as we go.
On becoming a teacher; I can teach only what I have experience
She vowed not to teach just conceptually, but what I have embodied in the four intelligences.
At 33 i vowed I would never teach if it didn't have heart-meaning; heart fire. To know i was in a good heart place and inspired; always to put myself into the learning crucible and never stop learning."
Each year - who do I want to learn from this year? This year is Golda Mier. Past years have included Abraham Lincoln; Schweitzer, Eleanor Roosevelt, someone she lived with, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa. Lives fully lived root in spirit.
Whoever comes to my gate has been guided there - they are also a teacher to me. This thought keeps me humble and in heart grace.
Guarded questioner: Do you believe you are 100% responsible?
I believe in co-creation; that I have some responsibility -- but I believe in helpers, unseen forces, friends, influences and synchronicity. In a relationship with you, I would not take 100% responsibility; I would take half, and I would take full responsibility for my half.
A therapist (and old friend), Elliott, wonders: Are taboos arbitrary? and mentions working in therapy with addictive behavior - dealing with clients who use crack. They adopt a societal attitude of loathing the behavior (and therefore themselves), but are drawn to the forbidden behavior.
Breaking societal cultural and family taboo is the shadow side of individuation. On another side of the Rebel, a leadership gift waits to be discovered.
How to reach?
Go after the fire - if they could do anything, if money and time were not an issue; nurture that.
Jana asks - how does a student approach a potential teacher? Is there a protocol? Spoken from a place of wanting to have a (specific) teacher.
In some cultures and societies, the student is to wait; in others the teacher waits. Since you're being called and you have the desire, then approach. Go for it! Look for the fire.
Teaching questions; Learning questions to track:
What is strengthened in my nature?
What is softened in my nature?
What is deepened in my nature?
What is opened in my nature?
What is calling to be strengthened in my nature?
What is calling to be softened in my nature?
What is calling to be deepened in my nature?
What is calling to be opened in my nature?
Ellen who had a teacher's workshop with Angeles 15 or 20 years ago and gave a presentation that she remembers nothing of except that she ended it by playing the BeeGee's song, How deep is your love? (Angie remembered) - she says: You have been my example of outward, extroverted Beingness as How deep; now I am seeing that my introverted, quiet deep inner self is How Deep is my love. An aha of the evening's experience.
In thanking her, Angeles said: It is important to recognize where we drop the shroud of insufficiency and stand in our own sufficiency.
I want to sit with that phrase for a while; my whole being resounded when I heard it, and does again as I type this.
Arthur - regarding explorations across many beliefs?
It is a timeless question, but in high relief now. There are three doorways, each of us has a spiritual root, a cultural root and a family root; it is a sign of maturity to be able to go back and visit there and honor it; honor = willingness to confer respect, (not that one has to agree with it).
Whether on one deep path or exploring a few or several tools and paths, that a person comes back to honoring their roots is doing that deep Grail work.
ends, with mirth:
kisses, kisses, kisses!
-- blowing kisses to the audience, who blow them back unabashedly.
I like this form of open academic lecture...
blessings and scrivenings,
San Francisco, CA