Before I began studying the Golden Dawn system I spent many years studying the mystical practices of the world's religious traditions. Oftentimes, when I was particularly interested in a path I would join a corresponding group. From the time I was ten years old I knew my purpose was to become "enlightened" and so with each group and each tradition I strove very hard to immerse myself in it, to learn the techniques, be a good student, and to get to know the core people and teachers of the group. But for many years I kept running into the same disappointment over and over again. First, I would find the group and the teachings very enjoyable and inspirational. I would study night and day and begin to become closer and closer to the core people of each group. But to my dismay, as I drew closer to the group instead of finding people who were centered and enlightened as I had expected, I would find bickering, drama, rumors, and politics. After awhile with each group or organization I would become so disenchanted I would find myself leaving heart-broken and disgusted.
Most of this scenario did not change when I finally found the Golden Dawn, and for those of you who are familiar with it the politics and bickering within the community at large it can be quite a burden at times. However, as I began to feel the same sense of disenchantment wash over me as I witnessed the constant attacks on the Internet or watched the poor behavior of its "leaders" I finally realized something that caused me to break free from my break-ups.
It is not the path that is the problem. These spiritual paths are gold and have everything one needs to enjoy spiritual freedom. But, whenever we become disgusted with the way another person is behaving we are allowing them to become a blockade to our internal treasure. How many times have I heard or said "If this is how someone whose a Christian, Buddhist, Golden Dawner, _____ (fill in the blank with your preferred spiritual path) behaves then it obviously must not work. Ah, but it does...look at the many Masters that have gone before us who have completed the Path and finished The Work. How many people and problems did they have to overcome in order to make that happen? In order to master a path one has to complete the journey, and in order to do that we must free ourselves from the judgment of others and attachment to their behaviors. We can't change them, but we can keep ourselves from allowing them to ruin what we are working so hard for. This, I believe is one of the hardest tests I have seen any initiate overcome.
In a similar vein but on a different subject... something else I understand now that I did not when I was younger is that just because someone wears a sash, has earned a title, is an Adept, or is considered a great teacher does not mean that they as of yet have become perfected. In fact, especially in a mystical school, that individual may be going through harder internal trials then they had previously in their path as they seek to purify themselves on deeper and deeper levels. For those of you who are interested in Alchemy think of the difference between the calcination that one undergoes when creating a tincture vs The Torment of Metals that one endures when creating the Philosophers Stone...the latter being far more intense. The result is that this may cause people to behave in ways that seem unbecoming of their position as they are forced to deal with deeper issues. If this behavior is displayed in front of a younger brother or sister it may cause them to doubt the spiritual work that they have grown to love.
I believe that part of this problem lies in the willingness these days for teachers to be on more familiar terms with their students. It used to be common to keep a professional distance between teachers and students, or as we say in our Order to keep a "strict veil" between the Inner and Outer Order. This I believe to the detriment of spiritual traditions is not so common anymore. My first experience with this was when I was training at a kung-fu school. I remember really looking up to my Sifu (master) as an accomplished person, someone who had overcome great difficulty in order to master himself and his tradition. I studied at the school for about a year, and one night after class I was asked if I would like to go out and have dinner with a few of the members, which included the Sifu and two teachers. When we got to the restaurant they ordered a pitcher of beer. I was shocked, and then I thought, "Well there's nothing wrong with having a few beers". However, the more beers I saw my teachers drink the more uncomfortable I became, and I didn't quite understand why. I realized now that with every beer I watched them drink, my super-heroes...the ones I looked towards for absolute inspiration were becoming more and more human. After that dinner I began to hear about all the underlying drama of the school and it began to cloud everything for me as if I was living in a real-time soap opera. Eventually, I left because I had a hard time learning when I went there. The drills and forms lost meaning to me, and it was no longer a place where I could be inspired. Instead of seeing my Sifu or Older Kung-fu brother, I saw their problems, their drama.
Now, I do firmly believe that at some point all teachers must have that "fall from grace", but I have come to believe that this occurrence should happen later when a student has reached a level of spiritual development when they need to see that their Great Work rests on them alone. However in the beginning stages while groping in the darkness searching for the Light...they need a beacon. They need someone to guide them and show them the goodness of the Work, the fruits of it. By keeping a bit of a distance we allow them to have that "ornament" of the Order placed before them to guide and inspire. Now, some people disagree with me on this belief...they say "Screw it! Let them find out sooner rather than later...let the one's who are aren't strong enough weed themselves out". But, the formula is Isis-Apophis-Osiris. Everyone needs their Isis phase...its essential to their spiritual growth. Even St. John of the Cross discusses how at first a student must be enticed with the goodness of the Spirit, and then later taught how to stand on their own two spiritual feet, learning to do the Work of the Lord without attachment to feeling good or bad. Then, he is really doing the Work for he is not doing it for the feelings it brings but out of the pure love of his heart.
So for the students out there I suggest finding those people in your group who inspire you, and continue to let them inspire you. It may seem like a great idea to hang with the "in" crowd, but it may be to your own disillusionment for while there may be many who are at a point of peace there may be just as many who are undergoing difficult changes and may not be the role-model you deserve. Just because someone is a teacher does not mean their Great Work is finished.
On that note, as a student, should you come across a mentor or teacher at some point who has not behaved according to what you would have expected...try to be understanding. When one enters a position of mentorship many burdens are placed upon them, not only must they teach you, help run the school, do their own work, take care of their mundane responsibilities...but they must also deal with a higher level of internal development, a stronger fire, to push them past their imperfections. Please remember this never gives anyone an excuse to treat you poorly, or abuse you mentally, physically, spiritually, or emotionally as we sometimes hear in the "guru horror-stories". What I am saying is...use your common sense. Is this person behaving poorly because they are under a great amount of pressure, and their human frailties are coming through...or are they behaving totally inappropriately. If it is the latter...please speak to someone in your school so that it may be taken care of. But, don't let their behavior cause you to leave your Work...your path is between you and God. How terrible is it to fall off the path for another's transgressions?
For the teachers out there, consider your position and consider your role as a teacher...allow yourself the opportunity to be one who inspires others just as those who went before you inspired you to greater heights. Its fun to be friends with new students, but as we let down our guard remember they are still looking at us and placing under a microscope every decision we make, everything we say, and every attitude we have.