Open Space at The Zoo Fence

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from “Sense & Spirituality”
commentary and opinion on the modern spiritual search
D. Patrick Miller

D. Patrick Miller is a widely published writer in the journalism of consciousness and the author of several books in the field of contemporary spirituality. He is the webmaster of the Fearless Reader at, the home base of “Sense & Spirituality”.

On a sunny Saturday in Santa Cruz, California twenty years ago I experienced one of the most instructive disappointments of my life. It began with signing up for a workshop with a mystical teacher whom I knew only through his books and the glowing reports of a friend who had spent a few months in the teacher’s esoteric school.

At the time I was hardly living a spiritual life. Having ended my fledgling career as an investigative reporter a few years earlier, I was running my own graphics business and dreaming of the day I would have enough money saved to write full-time. Unfortunately I was a break-even  businessman at best, and I didn’t know what I would write about anyway. So it seemed I was working hard to go nowhere, and my life sometimes seemed pointless.

While I kept telling myself and my friends that I was going to the spiritual workshop on a lark, I was privately imagining a much more dramatic scenario. Somehow I expected this teacher to notice and confront me – to deliver some kind of spiritual shock that would finally get my life going in the right direction. In short, I anticipated that I would get all shook up. And something deep within me said that it was about time.

But nothing turned out the way I expected. From the very beginning of the day, I felt like I’d dropped in on a New Age revival meeting peopled mostly by the teacher’s veteran students. As a newcomer I received lots of attention, but I sensed an agenda of attracting new students for the teacher’s school. The teacher didn’t show up for the first couple hours so I had to listen to a series of syrupy testimonials about how wonderful he was. And when he did show up he looked and sounded drunk – slurring his words and rambling incoherently about spiritual ideas he had expressed more clearly in his books. The day turned into one long, expensive exercise in absurdity. Driving home that evening I was furious, alternately cursing and laughing about what a waste of time the workshop had been.

Strangely enough, I stayed angry about this experience for months. My life hadn’t been changed by the workshop, and I just couldn’t let go of my disappointment. Then one day it hit me: I was all shook up! The workshop had delivered a tremendous spiritual shock after all by demonstrating an unexpected lesson: Do not expect others to do your spiritual work for you. When I attended another of the teacher’s workshops about a year later – this time with much lower expectations – it turned out to be one of the most insightful experiences of my life. The teacher seemed steady, sensible, even brilliant. To this day I wonder who had changed more since I first saw him – the teacher or myself?

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