Psychology of Spiritual Groups and the IDR Cycle: Avi Magidoff’s Perspective
This post contains profound thoughts on Elizabeth’s post on the Psychology of Spiritual Groups and the IDR Cycle from Avi Magidoff, an internationally known acupuncturist and teacher of spirituality and Buddhism. For more on Avi Magidoff, please go here.
THE IDEALIZATION PHASE: LIKE PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME
When we are in the “falling in love” phase with a teacher or a path, (“the idealization phase” in terms of the IDR cycle), it often feels like our suffering has been entrusted. Falling in love makes the darkest of winters feels like Paris in springtime.
In fact, for me the definition of a teacher is the one who “takes on your suffering” until you are able to handle it yourself. There are very few people who do that. Most prefer to “teach” in a manner that is really more “preach,” especially in today’s world with such big audiences.
THE TEST AND PERILS: REALISTIC RESOLUTION
But the real test is what happens later. If the teacher/group was just some sort of coat check, when we check our baggage back, we get back the same suffering.
But if I now take my suffering back and it feels different, it is a “different coat,” so to speak. It has not been just a coat check. Then the experience can be said to have produced a true spiritual transformation.
THE ROLE OF COMPASSION
Some spiritual teachers, for example Gurdjieff, are big on “the stick” and less so on “the carrot.” My personal experience has been that encouragement is the “mother of all teachers.”
If that basic quality is not there — the desire to alleviate the suffering of the student, to encourage them towards something rather than discourage them away from something — in the realistic resolution phase, the student ends up carrying seeds of bitterness.
Some might claim these seeds of bitterness are food for practice. To some extent this may be so, but in my opinion, they are largely obstacles.
At the end of the day it is the compassion and commitment of the teacher (or the Sangha around the teacher) to the student’s suffering (and well-being) that is perhaps the best test of our path. Admittedly, when we are “in love” we are not likely to apply this test well. Also, there is always the issue of how much we tend to mix the teacher and the group around him/her.
This is such a volatile subject. Anything that starts to “peel” it is a good thing.
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April 1, 2018 @ 12:52 am
Beautifully expressed. Thank you, l appreciate your discerning clarity. Many would benefit understanding the nature of such virtue.
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November 12, 2017 @ 10:46 am
COMMENT FROM ELIZABETH
I thank Avi for allowing me to share his reflections on my post on the Psychology of Spiritual Groups. I also wish to offer my own reactions to his profound post.
1. I appreciate the way Avi uses emotional language to speak about the IDR cycle. Yes, in the spiritual context, “falling in love” with a spiritual teacher can be how it feels for a seeker.
In this sense, the IDR cycle is different than the cycle we see in mediation. In mediation, we see activation and arousal in the service of aggression. On the spiritual path, we see activation and arousal in the service of a cherished goal of evolution. But both go through a process that is essentially dialectical.
In the language of the Theory of Holes, in the case of the seeker on the spiritual path, “essence” or “being” may have been touched. Or more accurately, the seeker probably experiences a fusion of essence and ego-striving — often mistaking one for the other.
The ego-striving we see in mediation and litigation is more a function of self-defense and personality. At least at the outset, ego-striving will predominate. But in both cases, there is probably a mixture of the two.
I have written about the Neurobiology of Mediation, as many people know. I hope someday we will understand how the neurobiology in both cases is different. I see the issue as this: how the “can do” of Strength creates different physiological responses in both case.
2. Avi’s reference to compassion in the IDR cycle rings particularly true. In my articles, in my description of the way the mediator responds to impasse, I did not name “compassion” specifically. When I read Avi’s reference to compassion, I understood he was speaking of my reaction (and those of other mediators) particularly during the phase in mediation when one is sitting with someone who is going through the experience we all must endure, the experience of finally seeing that one’s expectations and reality will not match.
3. Compassion as a theme does seem particularly important to me in the context of leaving a spiritual group or becoming realistic about a spiritual teacher. In my own experience in leaving spiritual groups, it seems to me that self-compassion is what I lacked most that made the process difficult.
In short, when there is a dispute, within a spiritual group or elsewhere, it is precisely compassion for ourselves that is often most necessary and most difficult to find.
4. I found very profound Avi’s point that in some sense the student’s suffering passes to the teacher, who takes it on when the relationship is established. Again, this resonates with my own experience, and profoundly so. From that place, I believe, much of our optimism springs.