Sunday, 15 March 2015

Spiritual leaders and spiritual mentors

This year's Lent has passed its half-way stage; in three weeks time it will be Easter. Time then, to return to my lenten ponderings on matters spiritual.

Don't follow leaders; seek the fellow-minded, discuss your spiritual feelings with friends; try out your ideas, fine-tune them. Question everything that anyone tells you about God - including what I'm saying.

Human history is littered with tribes, nations and religions led to their doom by leaders driven by a false ideology.

To quote Brian from Monty Python's Life of Brian, "You don't need to follow me! You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals! You're all different! You've all got to work it out for yourselves!"

This, is I think the most profound point the film makes. It pokes fun at mankind's innate desire to seek salvation through following leaders, seeking heavenly signs, attributing divine intervention to coincidence*, and over-literal interpretation of The Word. And as well as religions, it mocks political ideologies too.

Instead of following leaders, we should work together towards consensus; picking up good ideas, discarding bad ones. A collegiate style of cooperation; arguing passionately for what we believe in, but being ready to give up cherished nostrums should a better way of seeing things emerge.

Better? How? Something that's truer, an idea that's more robust, less flaky, better able to withstand the rigours of empirical analysis. But at the same time, more human.

Leadership is a big word in business theory. The idea that a manager should do more than tell people what to do, but should inspire, encourage and lead by example. Leadership, therefore, is good; merely being the boss bad. Leadership is about one-to-many.

Mentoring is a big word in business theory. [Despite that, Google has helpfully put a squiggly red line under the word, suggesting instead 'tormenting'.] Mentoring is about one-to-one support of an employee (typically on the fast-track to senior management) by a more-experienced person.

How does this apply to developing spiritual insight?

The notion of 'leader' implies the notion of 'follower'. The notion of 'mentor', however, implies are more equitable relationship. The person being mentored ('mentee' - a clumsy word) is encouraged to ask questions, to challenge assumptions, to test hypotheses.

Which brings me on to the question of 'authority'. A leader relies on having the respect of the followers. Authority has to be earned, it is not to be expected as a right. Too many leaders across history have not taken that to heart; the notion of 'divine right' proved to the be the downfall of rulers who led by decree and ignored the plight of their subjects - Charles I, Louis XVI, Nicholas II.

Wise leaders, whose authority is respected, have immense strength and influence. Part of the problem tearing at the heart of Islam is the lack of a single figurehead - such as the Pope - who could act as a moderating, stabilising influence. And indeed, Pope John Paul II exerted an enormous authority on the people of Poland; while he was alive, Poland had at least one unquestionable leader it could look to and unite around.

Leadership can be broadcast, published or delivered to large crowds, but in more intimate surroundings, there is space for dialogue and questions which becomes more the preserve of the mentor than the leader.

But mentorship can only occur when the number of mentors is at least equal to the people who feel the need to be mentored, rather than led. And at difficult times, its easier to let others do the thinking for us, and to be led, rather than to engage into a dialogue that will lead (hopefully) to a synthesis and a new, higher, level of understanding.

Religions tend to work on the basis of one to many. Top down leadership from sources of authority. Rather than mentoring - one to one.

The difference is like that between a Polish university, where a professor lectures a crowded hall, and a seminar in a British university, where three or four students have a long discussion with their professor, who openly encourages them to question his or her assumptions. Hypothesis - thesis - antithesis - synthesis. Not just learning by rote what is being passed down to you, but by examining and discussing.

The quest for higher levels of human consciousness can be sought through spiritual experiences such as gazing in wonderment at the heavens, but this should be leavened with intellectual examination of who we are in our universe, with the aim of improving our understanding of the purpose of life.

Many a tough question will face us along the way; the point is to learn, to advance, to evolve.

* Example: On Friday, Eddie asked me to buy him a train ticket to Łódź for the following morning. I did so, brought it home; when he saw it, he gasped in amazement. "It's for seat 12, carriage 12! The very same seat in the very same carriage I had for my last journey to Łódź - and for the journey before that! What does it mean?"  Let's look at the odds: this particular train, the 06:05 Śnieżka TLK service from W-wa Wschodnia to Łódź Widzew and then down to Szklarska Poręba via Wrocław has six second-class carriages, each of 116 seats, a total of 696 seats in total. The odds of getting that same seat number, three journeys in a row is 696 x 696 x 696 is 337,153,536 to one. (Well actually, it's far less - the number of the first ticket is irrelevant, the second one is merely a one-in-696 probability of having the same number as the first, the third would then be a one-in-484,416 probability of having the same number as the second. And besides, the ticket numbers are probably batched so that a given pool of tickets is available at certain stations along the line, and there are over 30 between W-wa Wschodnia and Szklarska Poręba. Even so, the coincidence is striking. But what does it mean? Look at the numerology! Look at the number 12 - the sum of one and two is three - and Eddie is born on the 3rd day of the 12th month! What does it mean...? Not much. It does means, Eddie - watch out, don't be complacent, be more aware.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
In memory of me

This time three years ago:
Cleaning sensors on my Nikons

This time four years ago:
Changing seasons and one's samopoczucie

This time five years ago:
Stunning late-winter beauty
[these are among my most gorgeous winter photos ever]

This time six years ago:
Lenten fare - Jeziorki gumbo

This time seven years ago:
Digging up Dawidowska

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