Long time, OS peeps! This one's a little longer than my usual, but you won't mind, will yas?
Not too long ago, I was walking along Central Park South and saw a diminutive, dark skinned, silver-haired man loping unevenly toward me. He looked uncomfortably somber as he stared at the ground ahead of him, his dark undereye circles showing through his black large-framed glasses. Even if his shirt or baggy shorts had a rip or tear, it would still be obvious by fabric and cut that he was wealthy. He was familiar. I did the New York look-without-appearing-to-stare thing as I attempted to verify my suspicions and thought, “OMG- it's Big Famous Spiritual Guru!" It was confusing - the image I saw did not jibe with his gospel. Why did he look so unhealthy? So sadly downtrodden? Why had I never noticed/known he dyes his hair (apparently this is a hot-button issue with his online naysayers)?
I was.....crestfallen. For a moment.
My spiritual leanings are toward the East- buddhism, taoism, that kind of thing- mixed with New Thought Movement ideas. I don't adhere to one specific set of tenets, as none of them work for me soup-to-nuts and I think a lot of it is baloney. I found myself on the fence about BFSG when I went to his website to see what was up at his center in California, thinking I might visit for a little spiritual tune-up. I'm not poor by any stretch of the imagination but his "luxury spirituality" was wayyyy beyond my means. BFSG began smelling like old baloney to me and seeing him on the street brought it home. I declared myself done with him (though not necessarily what he teaches), shrugged it off and moved on, as it paled compared to what I saw 10 years ago with another spiritual teacher.
20 years or so ago, I became a fan of Wacky British Metaphysician. He was different from most guru-types, as he was very irreverent and had quite a sense of humor about what he taught. He periodically held a week long seminar in New Mexico that some of my friends attended and they discovered he had an affection for puttin' away a cocktail (or five?) with a pretty woman at his side, and was open to, well, just run with that thought, eh? You could say he saw no conflict between spirituality, pursuing women and partying. That endeared him to me. You could keep your somber Shirley MacLaine/Ramtha-types, I'll take the guzzlin' guru!
I never went to those seminars, since they were far out of my budget limits. What is it with these freakin' “spiritual” people charging an arm and a leg to get closer to god or spirit or your dead relatives, anyway? (another discussion entirely) About 10 years ago, I saw he was doing a full-day seminar through the Learning Annex. Now that I could afford!
I signed up and went to the pre-seminar reception. It was ever-so-chi-chi, in the cafeteria of the high school whose auditorium he was using for his talk. Curled carrot and celery sticks, dry radishes with ranch dip and stale crackers with dark-edged cheese cubes. Tres gourmet! I edged closer to the inner circle when I heard his Manager Guy ask where he could get a large bottle of water and offered to make the run. When I got a look at WBM, I was struck by how utterly ground down he looked. I thought these people had ways of accessing caches of energy on demand, secrets for lifting their spirits that the rest of us weren't privy to. Oh well.
When the seminar began, WBM walked onto the stage to great applause and began to speak. All of us were beaming, as he was everything we'd always read- bawdy, charming, funny, intelligent, over-the-top and down-to-earth. The day was presented in 2 sections, so after he spoke for about an hour and a half, he suggested we take a break for a "pee and a drink". He'd be back in 15 minutes. 15 turned to 20...25...30...45....until finally there was hustle-bustle at the back of the auditorium as he came in, moseying down the side aisle with a 20-ish boy-man who'd earlier been sitting in the front row.
Boy-man helped WBM up to the stage, whereupon WBM wobbled to the center seeming....disoriented. He began slurring about castles in Ireland and faeries and trolls he'd seen there (I figured those were some gooooood mushrooms he'd taken) and he became more incoherent with each sentence. He sat down on the edge of the stage, burbling about gnomes. The audience rustled with confused murmurs. He leaned over and stretched out on his side, his head propped on his hand. Finally, a woman stood up and demanded, "Are you drunk or are you always this way?" I figured it was probably a little of both. He roused a bit from his rambling reverie, "Hm? Wha?" The audience was making more noise now. I was more amazed at the public display than anything else, since I wasn't surprised that he was a tad trashed.
The Learning Annex people came onto the stage to gently remove him. He insisted he was fine, fine as they guided him off the stage and informed the audience that they'd be receiving refunds. People wandered out of the auditorium, expressing their indignance in hushed voices. I watched people who certainly would have professed to have drunk the New Age kool-aid of non-judgment pick him apart. "Outrageous!" "How dare he!" mixed with "The pressure must have gotten to him..." "what could he have done in a past life that he would choose this?" "New York does that to psychically sensitive people." I don't know if I was the only one amused by it all, but I didn't see anyone else smiling.
I had the feeling that WBM and his entourage would be at a pub or bar somewhere in the vicinity and went out in search of them. I found them encamped on the patio of a nearby Italian restaurant. Manager Guy spotted me and nodded and I joined them. WBM was slumped on a low wall, head drooped, shoulders slack, puffy-eyed and grey-skinned. I felt like I was seeing something I shouldn't. He looked at me as I approached to say hello, following with something inane like, all of us have things that are hard to deal with and that it would be alright. Thinking about it now, I acted like a condescending twat. It gives me the blechs.
Feeling like I was in someone else's freaky dream, MG asked me to join them for dinner. I followed them in and headed to the ladies' room. When I emerged and saw the tight little crew at the table, earnestly kowtowing to WBM and MG, I knew I didn't need to see any more and slipped out the door.
Later, I thought about how I honestly did enjoy the day, though not in a conventional way. I saw something I never expected to see and learned things about myself, about how I reacted and how I wished I'd reacted. I fought my judgment of this man whose writing I'd gotten so much metaphysical pleasure from.
The message boards on his website drowned in an onslaught of negative comments. There hadn't been more than 150 people there and yet there were pages of nastiness. People railed against him as if he'd scammed them on purpose, rather than simply fallen victim to himself. I became more determined to find a neutral stance. It was a challenge to install nonjudgment within myself. This was a true test of my ability to practice what I professed to believe.
All these years later, I occasionally find myself pondering that afternoon. I think situations like this serve an invaluable purpose for folks who tend to seek within for meaning and answers. How can we know what we really think or feel if we're not presented with a shattered image or an opposing point of view? How can we gauge our levels of tolerance or judgment unless we encounter something that makes us squirm? It brings to mind the concept of radical forgiveness, which suggests we see every difficulty as happening FOR us and not TO us. Now there’s a mouthful.
What I wouldn’t mind knowing is if you’ve had a fallen idol of your own and how it affected you. Or if you’ve had a moment that brought you up short and forced you to face the real truth of who you are and what you believe, and how you came out of it. Did you find yourself redefined as a person? Was it positive or did you come up lacking or hopeful?
Inquiring minds want to know....