Questions about Group Meeting

Response to a letter from Mitch Bobrow. From the Spring 2002 Newsletter.

Dear Toni,

I would like to share how the retreat affected me with the group in that last meeting but such personal sharing didn’t seem appropriate in that setting. Everything seemed so ridiculously theoretical and full of everyone’s opinions. The psychotherapist and group facilitator in me was frankly appalled by those meetings. There’s a lot about you and Springwater that I just didn’t get and I would like to mention some of these questions in hopes of creating a greater dialogue with you. I completely don’t get the stuff about you not considering yourself the teacher. No one else gave talks, stood next to people in the meditation hall (zapping them with your presence) or offered interviews. You are the teacher. That center does not exist without you. I don’t get what the reluctance of calling yourself a teacher is and how that is supposed to be beneficial. It seems to me like an avoidance of truth. (Perhaps you might address this question in a newsletter some time.)

In my experience the teacher/student relationship (which has a similar dynamic to a parent/child or therapist/client relationship) creates a context where the conditioning of habits can be most clearly seen. My relationship to Jack Kornfield and several other teachers before him has provided me with a plethora of insights that have greatly aided my spiritual evolution. You spoke so eloquently about the importance of “seeing” and yet so much “seeing” shows up in the dance we inevitably conduct with our teacher. Pardon the presumption but I wonder if you aren’t doing your fellow retreatants a disservice by not being straighter about that, and working with them, as needed, on whatever arises in their relationship to you. That’s where more personal sharing would seem more honest and useful. That’s also why the group meetings seemed so unfocused and unrealized. I don’t think Bill (the airline pilot — I think that was his name) was asking the group about his problem, he was asking you. The rest of the group doesn’t live in the awareness of the “cushion of energy.” You’ve got that and that’s what everyone wants. That’s why I asked if you had taken a vow of non-violence. You hadn’t and it hasn’t stopped the “cushion of energy.” Seems to me that’s all he needed to know. Anyway, the group meetings seem like their potential can only be realized if you accept the role of teacher.

I could go on with other questions but won’t because I don’t want the tone of this letter to be anything but representative of this profoundly deep appreciation I feel for the wonderful gifts you shared during the retreat. I am very grateful and very happy. Thank you.

Warmly and sincerely,

Mitch Bobrow

Dear Mitch,

Your letter feels so compelling that I’m neglecting everything else to respond to what you have written!

I don’t remember much about past group meetings, but seem to recall that the last one was not one of our most profound ones. It doesn’t really matter. But since you mention that, “… the psychotherapist and group facilitator in me was frankly appalled by those meetings,” let me relate this to the other problem you brought up. Can we question together, presently?

Would it be possible, at least theoretically, to sit in a group meeting (or read this letter) and attend in all innocence — not as a psychotherapist or a facilitator with lots of experience and skillful means. Can you listen for a moment without having any image about yourself — without the interference of your particular past? It is a truly amazing moment, this listening without any image about myself or the others! It has to be lived to be fully understood. Images may arise but when they are clearly seen they can dissolve.

This is precisely what I refer to when I say that I do not see myself as a teacher — an unpreoccupied listening to what someone else is saying without the interference of judgments or pre-judgments. You will be amazed how different that is from our “normal” listening through the cataracts of the past. I’m not saying that this listening through the past isn’t useful, even necessary in our daily lives — in your life as a psychotherapist — but in retreat, living out of the cushion of awareness energy, it is not necessary. In that immense cushion of stillness and presence you cannot be appalled by anything you hear or see — there is just quiet listening and understanding deeply — not approving or disapproving of what somebody is saying, but hearing it without interpretation. Then you can see where someone else is coming from. I don’t wish to be presumptuous in saying that if you come to Springwater more often you may naturally fall into this new listening cushion and then you would “get more about Springwater and Toni,” simply as they are this moment.

You write that you do not “get the stuff about [Toni] not considering [herself] the teacher.” In years gone by I have talked a lot about this topic, but recently it has all but disappeared from the menu of people’s concerns because they better understand what I’m talking about. Of course I do not deny that I give talks, stand next to people and offer interviews. (You may not know that in the three retreats in which I am a participant, the time in the morning is open for people to sign up for a talk if they wish. Also the meeting room is free for talking with each other.)

So my function in this work may be that of a teacher, but I am not carrying around any image about myself as a “teacher.” I don’t — believe it or not! During talks or meetings or responding in groups, there is enormous energy and passion which overrides any image that may want to intrude. As it is seen it is effortlessly “zapped” and therefore does not contract the openness of this moment. (Images that are not seen, facilitate slipping back into the realm of “me-ness.”) Please understand that I do not mind at all if you or anyone else thinks of or talks about me as a teacher. This is up to you and everyone else. When a doctor asks me what I do, I say that I am a meditation teacher. No need to explain to them what I am doing right now in this letter. If you see me as your teacher, that’s fine with me — it need not interfere with my meeting you without images. Do you see what I mean?

There are people who have been coming to retreats for more than twenty years because they love being here and like looking at things together or remaining in solitary silence. This is up to each one. Whether they think of me as a friend, a teacher, their teacher, guide, or co-inquirer — it doesn’t matter to me and therefore does not affect our meeting together wholly. Do you see this as “avoidance of truth” or are we of one mind at this moment?

Of course relationship is a marvelous mirror in which to discover habits, have insights and so forth. But do we need labels for each other in order to discover what we truly are? I find that the fewer the images and labels, the clearer the seeing. This is not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing, but seeing directly for oneself.

I just looked back at your letter. In Springwater we don’t have group meetings only — we meet individually too. Some things are easier to look into one-on-one. In earlier years when I was younger I met people more often privately than I do now, but the present way works well too. Actually — and this is not said defensively — the group meetings are very popular, and people are participating on different levels. If we listen openly, we can respond to them all. But if we listen with our discriminating intellect, we will hear others as being “too intellectual,” “too this,” or “too that.” It is an amazing miracle, this dropping of all ideas and being here innocently.

Warmly,

Toni