These letters are in response to “Talk Isn’t Cheap” in Issue 112.
I know what you mean about workshops. I’ve been to a few and mostly they were disappointments. One of the problems is you go to hear someone speak, someone whose book you’ve read, and you find he has no more to say than he said already in his book. Worse, he can’t speak as well as he writes. That’s the way it was when I saw Fritjof Capra in D.C. And David Spangler — whose inspiring words I read first in THE SUN — was so boring I had to leave the room. This is a problem. I’ve come to the conclusion that a literate human with something novel to say can best get through to me by way of a book, not a lecture. A book, ironically, is so much more personal.
Buckminster Fuller was a grand exception. Though he left a wake of more than twenty-five books (a book, he said, is how a dead man can speak from beyond the grave, something he hoped to do a lot of), somehow his personality was too explosive for mere binding. There’s a movie he did, must be a whole stack of reels, called, “If you’ve got forty-eight hours I can tell you everything I know.” Can you imagine? And he could do it again too, reportedly had. He’d sit for two days and talk non-stop, tell you everything he knew, which was a lot. And no matter if you’d read all his books, still it came out sounding new, as if he had come upon a universe no one else had seen, and unsheathed virgin vocabulary expressly for the purpose of describing it to you, at least that’s how it sounded to me when I “experienced” Bucky in D.C. two Summers ago. It was the only workshop I’ve attended which didn’t leave me feeling as if I’d been ripped off, and I’ve been to some biggies too — Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, Himayat Inayati, Swami Kriyananda. Bucky was different from all the rest. Cost me fifty bucks, but somehow it seemed free. Free! Free as if reality were twisting and folding through his mind and out his mouth, into our starved little brains. Where did the money go? It didn’t matter. It felt more like a tithe than a fee.
One thing did piss me off that evening. Two things. One, the guy who introduced Bucky — luminary Himayat Inayati — had never read him, indeed wasn’t quite sure even who he was. And there I sat with a poem burning in my hands, a poem I’d written for Bucky, a dedication, a panegyric, a god-damned love poem that would have been ideal as introduction. Still I wonder if I should have jumped up there and pushed Inayati aside and read my poem. When I heard three weeks later that Bucky had died I knew I should have, consequences or not. But what really pissed me off was that some radio clown on the sidelines saw my tape recorder and told me I couldn’t use it. “You can buy a copy after the lecture,” he said. (Fifteen bucks, right?)
“Obviously you’ve never read Fuller,” I said, “for if you had you would know about Bucky’s eternal commitment to Nature’s Law of Precession — and therefore his implicit permission for me to record his voice waves if I so choose.” This guy was flabbergasted, but before turning away he managed once again to tell me it was “illegal” for me to record, but I told him to shove it, that I was going to do what I knew was right and okay by Mr. Fuller, and if he wanted to try and stop me . . . etcetera. (Precession is empirical karma, so to speak — but do read all about it in Critical Path. It’s the most religious book I’ve read). Anyway, I got my recording, and it cost me a buck fifty.
I like your gentle and not-so-gentle questioning of the fees charged by latter-day teachers of more or less spiritual workshops. It got my juices going.
In my experience, the feeling behind the relationship of teaching and money seems to be this: if the teaching works, no price is too high; money and teaching do not stand in easy ratio. If the teaching doesn’t work, then, of course, a penny is too much. But the question then becomes, how is the student to know ahead of time that it will work? Answer: it’s impossible to know. This puts the responsibility back where it was anyway, with the student: caveat emptor. Further, it falls to the buyer to be as clear as possible about what he or she wants. If understanding or enlightenment is the goal, no teacher can ever hurt you, financially or otherwise. But if the aim is feel-good or power or stardom or escape or love or any of the other all-too-human desires, then there will be bumps and pain. There are always bumps and pain.
A friend of mine once said: “Really, we cannot ask our leaders and teachers to be good. All we can pray is that they’re not too bad, that they’ll cause a minimum amount of damage and pain.” This strikes me as a reasonable petition — reasonable and realistic. The comment does not, however, respond to the forceful desire to have ethical, binding yardsticks against which to measure “teachers,” especially, for reasons hard to divine, teachers in the realm of the “spiritual.”
I think that binding ethical yardsticks are more easily available and applicable in the realm of ritualistic spiritual life, life in which a student may attend his place of worship once or twice a week, stick to the rules laid down for him, and understand the rules laid down for the hierarchy. But in the realm of so-called self-discovery (what used to be called the mystical), a great deal more effort is called for on the part of the student. He or she is up to his or her eyeballs in the big muddy. The precepts teachers follow in this realm may be broken or ignored by the best and the worst — and the student none the wiser either way. It takes someone of similar or greater capacity to call the shots. (Here again, if the student seeks enlightenment he is safe.) A difficult, dangerous passage.
I have a sense that at a very subtle level asking for money is not the right direction. But it seems equally clear that if a person is in a greedy place it will be all but impossible to talk him or her out of it. The best that can happen is that he or she will shift the greed to another ground — from monetary to spiritual greed, for example. So again, let the buyer beware.
You ask why “we” allow greed to masquerade as “altruism.” I have a feeling that “we” are unlikely to agree on any number of ritualistic standards, including perhaps, the definition of “altruism.” What works for you may not work for me. And, as one who paid money and then flunked out of a monastery, I must say that in the realm of the spirit, what doesn’t work is often working very well indeed — enriching and informing and expanding that which clearly does work.
I am not trying to suggest with any of this that there are not precepts and standards to which teachers may be held. I am trying to suggest that people who enter this realm of practice must of necessity take on a responsibility that was never missing. The final irony of the whole thing is, of course, that there is no way for the buyer to be aware. If he were aware, he wouldn’t be buying in the first place.
So maybe a workshop — a very expensive workshop — is just the thing for this one or that. Also, maybe not. Maybe it’ll be painful, maybe joyous, maybe very false indeed, but maybe true. “People believe what they want to believe,” Charles Williams wrote. Hell, I know people who are actually willing to spend money for anchovies! I’d rather go to a workshop than eat an anchovy (but not by much)!
I’ve followed the progress of you, your friends, and your magazine for about four years, and I finally have something to say. First off, I am aware that you may be tempted to call this “a yak with a yuppie.” At this point I’m not sure which animal I’d rather be.
How about a hangnail sketch of me? At “functions” I’m a Neiman-Marcus-clad self-possessed hyphenated wife of an industrial executive. Around town I’m president of the Mental Health Association and an amusing luncheon speaker. At home and at ease I’m a thirty-six-year-old mother of a sticky toddler, both of us in jeans and unpolished. I drive a Mercedes, live in a country club, and vacation at Hilton Head. Made up your mind yet?
I have a guru, I teach yoga, and I lost publishing opportunities at the university when I refused to shock rats to test their fear responses. Finally, I’m slowly getting over an ulcer with the help of a good therapist. And I still subscribe to your magazine.
My point is that the suburbs can shelter more than taxes — seekers can exist in styles other than those typically outlined in your magazine. Having lived it both ways (poverty and back-to-the-land in the Sixties), I’ve concluded that it is definitely the inner landscape that determines growth and happiness, not the exterior trappings.
Sharing THE SUN with my friends is problematical. Most of them avoided the Sixties (how?) and don’t relate to the pick-ups and the second-time-around clothes, but they have the desire to find that elusive missing link between who they think they are and who they are meant to be. I can share selected articles but not the whole issue (or gift subscriptions) because there’s no yuppie corner for them. I’m not suggesting that a “Better Homes and Gardens Presents The Sun” is in order, but I did want to let you know that there are potential customers, financial and spiritual, out here.
Next I’d like to address the problem of Howard Jay Rubin. I think you should give the poor guy’s jaded spirit a rest. Send him here to do a piece on comparative church preschools or the evolutionary potential of the Junior Women’s Club. Then when he’s revived, you can send him off to do a decent search of spiritual communities that would be exempt from your blanket criticism of “Have Aura — Will Travel” teachers.
I read with great interest your “Talk Isn’t Cheap” editorial and felt that I had to respond. Although you attempted to cover yourself by balancing negatives with positives or “searching questions,” what came across was a primarily negative tone: if you charge money, you aren’t teaching the real thing. Obviously I wouldn’t rise to that bait unless I felt threatened, which I do. My spiritual teacher uses his earnings to support an ashram in Massachusetts where seekers can learn a new way to live.
Those teachers who are living examples of what they know deserve better than what they got in a backhanded way from your article. I think they endure enough burning in spreading their light without you giving them short shrift. I’ve received enough from my teacher to last me through thirteen years so far. When I begin to get cynical or falter along the way, I go to another of those infamous weekend workshops with him and get rejuvenated for another six months or a year. I didn’t miss the point of your piece, but I question your snapping at the true hand that feeds you.
There are many points of your editorial, “Talk Isn’t Cheap,” I’d like to discuss at length, but I’m going to address the complaint I seem to hear running throughout it, i.e., “Won’t somebody please tell us what money is for?”
I think the hardest part of human maturity is the fact that we really do have to reinvent the wheel on an individual basis when it comes to the big topics: Religion, Sex, Money, What Am I Gonna Eat Today, etc. Accepting anyone else’s answers (even Ram Dass’) will eventually make “their experience legitimate and mine counterfeit,” as you suggested. In the last few years I’ve completely reinvented my wheel of money, and the belief that I roll around these days — a belief which has greatly decreased my resentment about a number of things, including capitalism — is this: Money is Communication. Or, held in the light of your editorial, it could be expressed as Money Is Talk.
I stress that this is a highly idealistic, individual perspective which I am not ready to discuss in comparison to the concepts of Adam Smith or Karl Marx. But I do find it a useful starting point when trying to decide what I charge for professional services, or whether I am going to pay x amount of dollars for someone else’s product or service. If, for instance, some kind of human potential workshop is offered for $80 for a day, the question is simple: does there seem a reasonable chance that I will get $80 worth of communication (or increased potential for communication) out of it? To answer that, I have to figure out how much communication my $80 represents: how much sweat it represents, whether it is really needed elsewhere, and most importantly, whether I can pay the asking price respectfully. If the price makes me wince, I have to examine that reaction before I can come to a decision: do I suspect a rip-off here, or am I just unwilling to part with that much of my energy — for energy is what it is, even if it’s translated into paper.
In short, money demands maturity. It demands that we constantly face the question you put — “What’s need and what’s greed?” — and come up with a fresh and vital answer every time. It demands that we examine the world of buying and selling with a skeptical compassion, remembering not only to “let the buyer beware,” but also to “let the buyer care.” If you pine for a world where “people would gather in auditoriums or church basements or someone’s living room to hear how to improve themselves” for free, then you could do something about it: you could hold free workshops every week in THE SUN office on how to start and run small, philosophical magazines. Chances are you would soon find that you did more talking than you got back, that there was an uneven exchange of knowledge (not to mention a rapid disappearance of exacto-knives). Then it would be entirely reasonable to request a certain amount of communication — x number of dollars — up front. That would merely be a confident, mature way of saying to people you don’t know that you have something to communicate, a specialized energy, a gift, and that it is a gift freed by their trust. The fee is the simplest possible definition of the trust you request. It is a form of trust we can all understand, because it is one of the most common social contracts.
Again, I’m not arguing that money is commonly viewed this way, or used this way. But the fact that this particular form of communication is widely abused and used as a weapon against individuals and social classes should not poison our individual views of its potential. Because when it does, we are left with an ill-defined resentment of whatever economic system rules our society — be it American capitalism, or Soviet or Mozambican or Nicaraguan socialism. It’s the kind of resentment behind Ram Dass’ statement that “I want some things that are covertly reinforcing Secretary Haig’s position” and yours that “we live in a culture that encourages us at every turn to satisfy ourselves.” I think it’s closer to the truth to say that we’re a species of creature always tempted by gratification, and all of us — including Haig — pretty much want the same things. Whether we do damage or create grace in negotiating those wants depends on the quality of our communication. Our personal attitude toward what money means is as good a starting point as any for bettering that communication. If the stiff price of a workshop or teacher makes you think twice, then that may be a service, a valuable communication, in itself. You always have the option of communicating to the teacher that you suspect a rip-off — and I’m sure that would be the start of a most interesting dialogue.
In sum, I think your editorial articulates a particular resentment very well. But it left me hanging, because you implied at the end that you know something I’m sure I don’t. “The price of freedom is something else entirely,” you said.
So what is it? Believe you me, I’ll pay to know.
Thank you for “Talk Isn’t Cheap.” I’ve been irritated, bored, and confused by every seminar I’ve been to, because of the underlying reasons that you pointed out. At the last seminar, although I enjoyed meeting a wide cross section of people, I found the leaders self-servicing, and their attempts to capture matters of the spirit insufferable. I also found that in order to be part of the group, I lost much of my usual more original thinking in attempts to get into realities that cater, seemed packaged and fabricated. I much agree with your ending sentence, “The price of freedom is something else entirely.” To me that means that each of us must, if necessary, be willing to walk our own tightrope, and then, and only then, is the limitless nature of Life available to live us, and for us to breathe fully of its infinity. The spirit packagers seem unaware (or conveniently practical enough) not to ever mention that life in its master realms is mostly indefinable, except occasionally in music, poetry, and prose, and that it is robbed of its inherent essence or poetry when sought for materialization. Also, as you mentioned, those who commune in an intimate and creative way will add to each other’s individuality — rather than ignite dependency. These unions also have the gift of sharing the indefinable.
I also want to express to Chris Bursk how extremely fascinated and moved I am by the magic of your two poems: “The Wing’s Caress,” and “Making Love with a Man with Wings.” [Issue 112] I feel I know someone just like your portrayal, and if I didn’t, I would be able to, because of your ability to speak of that which is usually of an ineffable nature. They are powerful and exquisitely subtle. I also like your saying that the prison is more sane than most places. I would be interested to know more about the “gutsy magazine, ‘I Know.’ ”
“The Art of Gratitude” by Brother David Steindl-Rast [Issue 112] was just as refreshing a gift to read as the subject itself. Quite an accomplishment with so gentle a theme. Thank you!
I just read your editor’s note, “Talk Isn’t Cheap,” which laments the high prices of workshops and criticizes workshop instructors as well as workshop-goers with an eloquent but one-sided cynicism which obliges me to reply.
I spent two years recently negotiating fees with teachers of workshops as a program coordinator at Omega Institute. For several months I was responsible for facilitating payment of honorariums to more than one hundred teachers, and my education in the potency of money deepened tremendously as a result.
From my point of view, most of the teachers I dealt with deserved more money than they got but the sponsoring organization could not afford to pay them more. I was often in the position of representing both parties — Omega Institute and faculty members I had invited to teach. I came away from that experience respectful of requests made by teachers for sums of money that grew with their recognition that minimal payment, mere survival, is not enough. Thriving — expanding one’s work and capacity to teach — costs money, but the cost is well worth it.
The example you cited of one teacher receiving $17,000 for a weekend workshop is grossly misrepresentative of what workshop leaders make. As for “unknown and inexperienced workshop leaders asking for $1,000 or $2,000,” the example taken out of context is impossible to evaluate; $1,000 is not an unreasonable amount of money to be paid for a five-day workshop taught by a professional in a particular field.
I want your readers to know, from someone who has been there and witnessed in detail the financial transactions, that these people are not getting rich; many of them are often barely getting their expenses paid, in return for having given an enormous amount of energy to large numbers of people for reasons that have nothing to do with money. In my view, they are anchoring a vital and revolutionary new form of education that is not dependent upon traditional form or politically controlled universities. They are making accessible to thousands of people the results of personal research, in areas of study that have been unsupported or unknown in American society, with years of work and committed focus behind them.
When they choose to become “the teacher,” and to charge for their work, they are little different from you and THE SUN magazine, in the sense that you charge enough for the magazine to meet your needs, and to sustain an “alternative” publication, charging a higher price than most mass media publications. One difference between addressing the public as a magazine editor (in print) and addressing the public as a workshop leader is that in a workshop setting, the speaker’s beliefs and assumptions are actively challenged by participants who are anything but passive sheep looking for an outer authority figure. The best teachers stay wide open to those who challenge them, and integrate what they learn into their ongoing work.
I suggest that you consider teaching a workshop for a fee which you consider fair, on writing, or whatever realm of experience you are drawn to (perhaps, “How to write a critique of workshops without ever going to one?”), because you are not so different from the workshop leaders I came most to admire, who are making a living doing what they love to do, and stimulating other people to do the same without ever stating that intention. It is what I want to do, which is why I left Omega last year, with gratitude that such a place exists, despite its limitations. I daresay you would be an excellent teacher out-of-print, and would have experiences that could only enrich what you write.
I thoroughly enjoy reading THE SUN. I like your immanent philosophy and your integrity.
Maybe I’m just a somewhat reticent Sixties person approaching middle age in a world of utterly innocent, unconsciously degenerating civilization from the midst of which is emerging (evolving) a growing democratic self-consciousness. I’ve been rooting for the guys in white and somehow I find that I am becoming a bit gray.
We are learning. Enclosed is $45 for a two-year subscription. Please continue the tradition.