I hope this note finds all of you well and thriving in all of your worlds.
Today, I am writing a brief note of closure in regard to the blogosphere explosion of a few months back. The core of what I want to tell you is contained in the last couple of paragraphs. If you want to cut to the chase, you are welcome to scroll down to the paragraphs titled What is My Response and Responsibility.
But, first, with your permission, let me cover some general contextual points. These are important to provide an Integral all-quadrant context for the major point of this blog post below, without which the last section might be subject to inappropriate interpretation.
A special committee of the CWS board of directors has already posted a public statement about these events, and circulated a more detailed private statement for anyone who needed more information. I thank the board for their profound support. I want to thank not only the board, but also my entire circle of close friends and students who support me today. There are representatives in my inner circle of heart and work from literally every stage of my life. My own evolution has taken me from Jewish orthodoxy to more progressive ethnocentricity to World Spirituality. I am deeply honored and gratified to have close friends, students and supporters from every stage of the journey.
I will not be entering into a point-by-point discussion of the events behind the stories. What I will say here is that there were many untruthful statements and comments posted in some blogs. Active behind the scenes were some of the same folks who, over the years, have supported other untruthful statements regarding my actions. (See Mariana Caplan’s article on False Complaints, which gives some of the background.) Some used untruthful statements to accomplish their own “political” ends, always of course under the fig leaf of more virtuous motivations.
It is fair to say, as is often the case, the actions and motivations that truly moved the blogosphere explosion arose in all four quadrants and were virtually invisible to the public. To share it all in depth as a way of exposing the injustices that occurred is tempting, but it would not serve the greater good in the long term. Said simply, on many substantive levels, how this went down was outrageous and wrong. And it is no less true that making people “wrong” rarely opens a path to healing and transformation.
On a heart level, I want to share that there are people who were involved in this who I have loved in the past and love today. I miss them and hope that at the right time and place we will find the path to a higher rapprochement.
In terms of my core response today, I have opted to focus my energy and love on the movement for World Spirituality based on Integral principles. That said, a detailed four quadrants private report was given to the leadership of the special committee of the CWS board that reviewed the situation.
Most of us are aware by now of how Internet discourse operates. As Jurgen Habermaas, Lee Segal, and other discerning readers of culture have noted, the blogosphere is a place where anyone can say anything, with no professional or ethical accountability required. As a result, devastating accusations are routinely and carelessly thrown about. Often, as in this case, no attempt is made to hear all sides, or even to check facts. As Ken Wilber has pointed out, there is often gross confusion between facts and interpretation of facts. Too often, as a way of propagating slander without being held responsible, the identity of someone posting comments on a blog is hidden under a cloak of anonymity or a pseudonym. It is all too easy for one person to post under a number of pseudonyms to create the impression that his or her opinion is widely shared. This has been the case in many of the blogposts that appear on the web about my personal life. Even when blogging is not anonymous or pseudonymous, the writer’s personal agendas in all four quadrants remain effectively hidden. In short, the blogosphere makes unchallenged character assassination far too easy.
Some spiritual teachers and other public figures choose to ignore the websites or blogs that attack them. Others have engaged in extensive refutation. However we choose to respond, these issues affect anyone in the public sphere whose private life is easily made public. Human relationships are complex enough as they are. The blogosphere unfortunately becomes a context where information becomes distorted, magnified, exaggerated and lied about through the agendas of others–all without any genuine accountability.
That said, some substantive issues and opportunities for clarification have been raised by these events, especially about the issue of privacy vs transparency in personal relationships between spiritual teachers and members of their community. I have already written extensively about this in an earlier blog post on Privacy and Post Modernism and an article on Sex, Ethics and Injury.
There are situations in which holding privacy is legitimate and even necessary. (In fact, even those who have spoken out for transparency in this situation are themselves engaging in decisions of privacy in regard to aspects of their own personal relationships, motivations, self-protective or ambitious agendas, or other key contextual facts, persons, and drives which motivated their actions or statements in this situation.) In many arenas of life–therapeutic, financial, and legal, for example–privacy is an essential part of an agreement made between parties; breaking confidentiality is a violation of the intended good, and is regarded as unethical. When two people are dating, especially in the early stages of a relationship, holding privacy is simply a way of ensuring that the relationship is allowed to mature before being made public even to one’s own circle. There is nothing ethically transgressive or ‘secret’ about this kind of privacy. People have a right to make mutual decisions about when to share a personal relationship, as well as with whom and at what stage to share it.
That said, these events demonstrated to me that it is usually not a good idea for a public figure to hold his or her personal dating relationships privately. First, because, by definition, it necessitates a certain amount of dissembling. Second, because, as I have come to realize more deeply, sometimes even when the privacy is mutually and lovingly agreed upon, some people may still come to find it psychologically painful to hold. Third, holding privacy about a romantic relationship may create alienation in other relationships in both people’s circle of intimates.
If I am ever at a crossroads again where I need to consider privacy vs. transparency I will factor all these issues into the equation in a new and deeper way. And then I will — in a loving and mutual way — make a joint decision about how to proceed. My inclination on the one hand is to be fully transparent at this point however that I am making no grand or sweeping declarations for transparency over privacy. They are both important values in many spheres of life and it would be bad heart and bad mind to dogmatically and simplistically value one above the other in any absolute sense. The one thing that I will promise is that, to the best of my ability, my public teaching and private action will be consistent with each other.
I have a second inclination, different then the first, which is to adopt -going forward -a radical transparency. That would mean absolutely nothing held privately in my life in the realm of sexuality, which is where karma is always created. If I adopt that position, I would be fully faithful and in integrity with the privacy of any of my previous relationships in life. But I would shift my position away from my natural desire to hold personal privacy. The reason I would do this: Because it may be that in the case of my particular life and karma this is what my teaching requires. Specifically, because this has been an issue in my life and has created vulnerability for myself and the dharma, I may be obligated to give up my personal preference for privacy on the altar of leadership and the kind of trust that only radical transparency engenders at this particular moment in culture’s trajectory.
I am deeply considering these paths, and listening to the feedback of close spiritual teacher friends and colleagues and praying to God for guidance in choosing the path of deepest integrity.
It is also worth noting that my own belief is as follows: neither monogamy nor polyamory nor celibacy are in and of themselves ‘the’ ethical or appropriate path for a spiritual teacher. Any of these paths can be engaged ethically, lovingly, and with commitment and integrity. On the other hand, any of them can be engaged in a way that is destructive and disrespectful. There are many married teachers whose marriages are a sham and whose current relationship dynamics are neither good nor true nor beautiful. And there are non-monogamous teachers, whose personal and often privately held love relationships are good, true and beautiful.
I believe that some form of conventional monogamous marriage is preferable for many, —though not all—people at many, —though not all—stages of life. Clearly the gay community has something to say about all of this. And shifting traditional structures of society have something to say about this. And love is evolving in many surprising ways. At the core of things, it is not the external form that is essential in love, but the interior face of that form. Having said that, the external form is highly relevant. We just cannot be dogmatic and try and make — in a fundamentalist way- one core external form, fit all people.
Let me state formally that if in the future I enter into a monogamous commitment, then I will honor it and live in it to the fullest. If that is the right path for me then I will enter into it with full delight and even ecstasy. If I do not enter into that path, and choose to love from a different place, then I will enter into that path with full delight and even ecstasy. If that is the case, then it is not impossible that I may date women who are in my circle. If that feels uncomfortable to someone in principle, than it might not be wise to join my circle of teaching.
This has been my core position to date, a position of which I am considering a revision. I am in deep heart inquiry around this. The reason is as follows. My calling and commitment on this planet, held with utter delight and passion, is to help birth a World Spirituality based on Integral Principles with Unique Self Enlightenment and Evolutionary Love as its core first principles. To do that I want to help build a tent with many rooms for as many people as possible. Perhaps that means that I need to sacrifice something in terms of my own lifestyle and teaching on this issue. Perhaps leadership in this case means that – at least for me in my personal practice — I make an absolute commitment not to date anyone in my circle -simply because the confusion and controversy surrounding this issue gets in the way of the larger vision of World Spirituality and Unique Self Enlightenment. There are a group of people that I want to feel at home in our tent for whom this would be helpful. That is one path. There is another group of people that feel that I should explicitly and overtly embrace a post conventional stance in regard to sexuality and love and live it fully and transparently, and that this is what the dharma and karma demand of me.
The inner truth is that both these voices live within me.
I am profoundly traditional in many ways. Classical and conventional monogamy and relationship have great value and speak deeply to me both in terms of my values, teachings and personal preference. I am also profoundly post conventional in the way I love. I love many people deeply and can with delight engage more then one person in deep love, mutuality and eros.
The reason I have always held my relationships privately is that this is not the issue that I ever wanted to stake my teaching or my life upon. I live in both voices and both positions. The way I have historically resolved the inner dialectic between these voices is to focus my public teaching on Unique Self Enlightenment, World Spirituality, Stations of Love and even Eros. And to hold my personal life in its post conventional dimensions, privately.
To put it mildly — this strategy has not worked. Almost all of my public projects as a Rabbi and later as a Spiritual Teacher of World Spirituality have been met with profound success. At the same time the holding of privacy in my personal relationships has clearly not worked for the reasons I described.
Whatever choices I make in how I conduct my personal relationships, I am committed to doing it with the highest degree of transparency possible, and also to being transparent about my degree of transparency.
After considering the various sides of this issue I have come to some conclusions in terms of my personal course of action in the context of Center for World Spirituality.
First, I remain convinced that a fully ethical and beautiful amorous relationship can develop between a teacher and student. This is particularly the case when the teacher is not in a guru role but instead has intentionally set up a kind of appropriate dual relationship of mutuality and empowerment with the student. Many leaders in the Integral scene as well as other spiritual teachers and writers share this position. Many of course do not.
I have larger concerns than simply teaching my circle of students. I seek to foster and articulate a World Spirituality, and I have concluded -after much deep internal reflection and conversation with colleagues and partners, that I must sacrifice my own sense of privacy and personal relationships with students in favor of a more statesman like position. As we attempt to create a World Spirituality tent in which many people from different perspectives and levels of consciousness feel comfortable, it feels important that as a leader in this movement, I shift my position for the sake of the larger whole. The articulation of a World Spirituality based on Integral principles is far too important a goal to stake it on this issue. For this reason I have decided that going forward I will proscribe from myself dating someone is who is in a formal teacher-student relationship. This will be the formal policy of the Center for World Spirituality.
In such a context I will consider the possibility of ending the teacher or work relationship if such a dynamic emerges in which dating seems appropriate. I will also not proscribe the possibility of doing authentic tantric work within the context of that relationship if the person is a powerful and grounded adult person. While I may never enact this exception, in principle I am not willing to rule out this possibility in an absolute manner.
I will do so, however, only with a number of provisos designed in order to insure that we do not experience the kind of negativity around these issues that has arisen in the past. These are as follows. I will hold no relationship purely privately. Any relationship I have will be with the knowledge and blessings of my own circle of intimacy including my partner and close personal intimates. Second the nature of the relationship will be written up in a sacred covenant between myself and the person. Third, a designated board member and highly respected therapist have agreed to hold the container with me in discerning whether such a relationship is wise. This is in order to create a second set of perspectives to insure the full integrity and dignity of all involved. The person engaged in such a sacred relationship will have full access to these persons so that they have a place to discuss the relationship and do not feel like they are carrying a burden of privacy which is difficult to bear. If a person engaged in such a sacred relationship asks me to hold it privately, then outside of this close inner circle I will honor that request fully.
I also want to emphasize that this is not a World Spirituality position. World Spirituality is not a set of rules or dogmas. It has many participants which embrace a wide spectrum of positions. I am not willing to stake world spirituality on the principle of “dating students”. I am also not willing to endorse a position which creates a dogmatic rule that never allows such relationships. Life is far more complex and nuanced than that. I am not defending or opposing this possibility and World Spirituality has no position on the matter. I personally will live my life in a way that has full integrity, with my teaching, with my partner and intimates and with the degree of appropriate transparency necessary in my inner circle that will give everyone a sense of the responsible love and safety required to protect the integrity of all involved including the teachings themselves.
Life is about turning suffering into art, pain into new potential, disaster into dharma and fate into destiny.
In that vein I am also committed to writing at least two core books about Eros and Sexuality. In these books I will share what are -at least in my own understandings, beautiful and critically important breakthroughs in living and understanding and evolving the nature of eros, sexuality and love. That project is already under way.
All the above was written to provide an all-quadrant context for the main point of this blog post.
When there is a crisis or difficulty in anyone’s life, there are always factors involved in all four quadrants. However, after explicating these factors and recognizing the full extent to which distortions occurred, the questions that still remain for any individual must be, “Is there a way that I contributed to this?” “Is there a way that I was not sufficiently developed or aware?” “Is there something that is in my purview to evolve, something that may have contributed to the conditions that created the difficulty?”
No matter how others may have behaved–and even when one’s own actions have been distorted or even lied about–the fact remains that our power and capacity to transform any scenario for the good lies in the way we respond. I have often said to myself and students that even if one has only X% responsibility in a situation, (or contribution system, as I have called it), one must take 100% responsibility for that X%.
However, in answering these questions, we have to be extremely diligent and careful. In today’s climate of “new age” spiritual-growth thinking, there is a certain seductive hubris which urges us to take responsibility for factors and circumstances that are clearly beyond our control and purview. One must exercise discernment and care in taking on only appropriate responsibility—no more and no less than is accurate. It is an abuse of one’s own personhood to take on too much responsibility. For the false characterizations and egregious claims that have been reported, I take absolutely no responsibility. I had full right to date the people I dated and to hold the relationships privately, and I stand by this right and the essential ethics behind my actions, even though I would not do it this way again.
At the same time, I have felt an obligation to ask how my own internal “stuff” might have contributed to the outcome.
I am engaged in a process of on-going self-inquiry and inner work. I believe that this is the invitation and obligation in any pivotal moment of a person’s life. It is a special necessity for a spiritual teacher who invites people to their own highest evolution. To this end, a major part of my internal response to this blogosphere explosion has been to seek feedback from colleagues and spiritual friends who I invite to challenge me and engage me in the process of inner work.
I will continue to do this inner work, I would imagine, indefinitely. The unfolding of a World Spirituality based on Integral Principles is a serious responsibility. If there is anything in my consciousness which needs to evolve in order to better serve the evolution of this dharma as well as the people I care about in my personal life, then it is my privilege and obligation to engage my own evolution with every possible tool of human development. To challenge myself, to deconstruct old patterns, to go deeper than what seemed possible yesterday, and to hopefully model for my circle a path of growth and evolution along all lines of development—this is the core path of response I have chosen.
In my source lineage, Kabbalah and Hassidism, one of the great masters of Chabad Hassidism, known as the Rebbe Rashab, went at a particular point to work with Freud about issues in his own development. His disciples hid the record of this encounter thinking that somehow it tainted his spiritual attainment. Recently a gifted Habad adherent who is also a world renowned psychoanalyst, Joseph Berke, came across the records and published an important article about the encounter between spirituality and psychology at their best. In this tradition I have engaged a professional mentor.
After reviewing the reasons why I was correct in what went down, I then asked him the following question. What, if anything am I missing that perhaps you can see clearly with your tools that I cannot see with mine? To do so is my core obligation and honor. It is both my obligation and privilege to explore this path as part of my response. An obligation to myself, to my source lineage of kabbalah, to the future emergent lineage of an evolutionary world spirituality based on Integral principles and to all of my students and supporters of the vision.
To know more deeply every day the faces of interior and exterior reality and live more fully as love, that is evolving both outside and inside: this is my delight and my commitment.
Center for World Spirituality