Rendered Fat Content


Adi Shankara with Disciples, by Raja Ravi Varma (1904)

"I make my own noise without hoping to change anyone's world but mine."

Looking at me now, you might never imagine that I was once considered to be a guru of sorts, for I was a designated thought leader and workshop teacher, and the guru designation just seems to come with that territory. As a veteran of the sixties coffeehouse music culture, I was certainly no stranger to the stage. I would balance on the three-legged high stool on the platform overlooking the place and perform my latest song to the largely distracted assembly, hoping to catch an eye, praying to be recognized, just as has every other budding singer/songwriter in the history of the world so far. That stage was never subsequently swarmed by entranced females, but I'd usually gain a heart-felt appreciation or two. Once I started consulting and teaching for real, the relationships became increasingly curious. Because I had been present, holding forth, personal insights participants experienced might end up somehow attributed to me, as if I had induced them, and maybe I had. Heartfelt appreciations sometimes became indistinguishable from veiled seductions. I was largely unaware, though home life could get complicated by a curious voicemail left for me but picked up by my spouse. Then some explaining would commence.

The cult of celebrity, even of local notoriety, did not reassure me.
It rather put me off, for I did not aspire to be adored for my contributions, but some of my students couldn't seem to help themselves. I'd leave a presentation or performance feeling as though my shoes carried the muddy residue of adoration, and I'd maintain some email connections after these sessions as individuals worked their way through integrating their learning, me typically more clueless than they were about how to actually apply what they'd absorbed into their ongoing lives. The whole process combined elevating and degrading, with me only appearing masterful, hardly ever feeling as though I was. I displayed my gifts and sometimes not even I could find the separation between me and them. I am not who I appear to be when performing, whether on the page or on a stage, though even I proved susceptible to mistaking my performances for me.

I ultimately decided to get out of the guru business, for it seemed to have led me into shadowy territory. I caught the terrible cost of presuming myself to be anyone else's teacher as opposed to simply being a fellow learner. My accumulated knowledge worth little in practical application to another's context. I had not achieved any worthwhile enlightenment for my efforts, though I seemed too easily mistaken for having achieved something akin to that. When I advertised my services, the seduction to promote as if I knew always threw me, since I became increasingly certain that I could not possibly know for anybody, and only intermittently for myself, however much I might need to appear masterful to secure consulting or teaching assignments. I taught well. I consulted well, too, but I ultimately chose to become the sort of someone who refused to promote the necessary presumptions. I would pronounce that I'd come under false pretenses, but only because I usually had. I'd known I was being mistaken for a guru before I signed the contract. My candor hardly endeared me to my clients or to myself.

Writing and teaching turns out to be seriously touchy businesses. Both must be capable of touching, and deeply, an interested audience or they can't really satisfy expectations. The resulting connections might not begin as congruent ones, with equals engaging, but with one presumed up and one presumed down, the two perhaps passing through a fog. Feet on the ground might never come into play. Head in the clouds might more often accompany. I've never performed before a stadium filled with frenzied fans, but a small room dimly lit by flickering candles can serve as a context sufficient to induce a guru trance. I might too easily mistake myself for the master I only aspire to become and I might be far too easily mistaken by another for the master I never once yet was. The resulting relationships seem unnecessarily complicated.

I went out of the guru business and took to dwelling in a relative cave. It took considerable time and effort to leach out my by then seemingly innate need to perform, the desire to take center stage, for I'd properly earned my place there by then. I'd once ached to belong there, yet once belonging, I could only retreat; not in fear, but in something more akin to an endearing recognition. I didn't desire the notoriety that came unbidden. I found the nested presumptions personally unsettling. Or, maybe I was just crap at the whole profession and chose to do something less inherently threatening. I write in my cave now. I let my light escape circumspectly, to a selected audience who knows me as nobody's guru, not even my own. I make my own noise without hoping to change anyone's world but mine.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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