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Venn Diagram of Spot-on Guidance

Five advice-givers walk in to a bar – Brene Brown, Dr. Oz, The Long Island Medium, Wayne Dyer, and Deepak Chopra. Who do you buy a drink for?

Today, I am going to tackle how to discern real science, real tradition, and what that guy over there thinks works real good. So, I drew some circles. Let’s find out what goes in them.

Say you need guidance for your depression.

Disclaimer #12: Intentionally extreme stereotypes are employed here to make an extreme point. Don’t let it depress you.

A medical doctor tells you that acupuncture is bullshit and will never reduce your depression – only pharmaceuticals will. Hello, Modern Science!

A traditional yoga teacher says that doing a “kriya” that involves forcefully twisting left and right rapidly for four minutes – “absolutely no stopping!” – while huffing and puffing will get you outta that depression ditch. Hello, Wisdom Tradition!

A “Chakrafire” healer tells you to imagine a green jello-mold halo over your head for depression – it totes worked for her. Hello, Inspired Interpretation!

So, who the hell do you listen to? Let’s see.

I: Modern Science

Well, you can go the scientific route. Yeah, let’s do that. And let’s go all the way. Go to research published in peer-reviewed journals. This is science at its most objective – all articles are reviewed by impartial experts and all research involved follows the scientific method. If you’re gonna call it science, go objective or go home. We’ve got other words for the other stuff.

If you’re gonna call it science, go objective or go home. We’ve got other words for the other stuff.

So you could make science your one-and-only bitch. One dude infamous for this today is Steven Novella, MD, Co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society.  So, you can join him. Oh – there’s just this one thing: peer-reviewed journals have only been around for 200-some years. So, just scratch all of history before that. Yeah. Your peers who review your logic on that one won’t be at all skeptical, right?

Conclusion: Modern science is necessary. It makes things practical.

II: Wisdom Tradition

So then, let’s go all pre-historic science. What about the Indian yogis who have developed the ability to slow and even stop their hearts (oh, and restart them) – scientifically measured  – but didn’t get his technique from a peer-reviewed journal article? Where did these badass yogis learn this?

From a tradition, person-to-person. From something with longevity that developed generation-by-generation for thousands of years. Something proven through time, just not documented in the way this part of the world is doing it today. It’s not one person’s experience, or even a respectable sample of 50 people over 12 weeks. It’s the sum total of everyone who participated over thousands of years – monks, nuns, yogis, swamis.

Today, we have people like Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, head of the reputable Himalayan Institute in Pennsylvania,  and I gotta tell ya, unexplainable things can happen around this guy. (I was only around him a couple times, and, yeah.) Often with wisdom traditions, there is something real going on that modern science can’t explain. So should we write it off, or is there a way to give it some cred for what it is, even if we can’t explain it?

Conclusion: Wisdom Tradition is necessary. It makes things powerful.

III: Inspired Interpretation

This is putting your personal spin on something, from your own experience. This is jello-mold halo healer’s land. It is where New Age modalities lie – by definition they are new, not traditional. A good example of someone who lands here from the New Age realm is Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, the manifestation craze of the mid-2000’s. Is it all crap? No. Is it valuable? Sure. But it isn’t a Wisdom Tradition – it just has components from several. She’s spinning a bunch of plates in the air, her way.

New Age modalities are, by definition, new, not traditional. Is it all crap? No. It just isn’t a Wisdom Tradition.

From the medical realm, we can put Wheat Belly author William Davis, MD, into the Inspired Interpretation category. (If you don’t hate me yet, this’ll be the clincher. But your angry comments will move my blog up on SEO.) Dr. Davis uses anecdotal evidence – what he has personally interpreted from his work with his patients, never employing the scientific method. He concluded that “modern grain” wheat is the culprit in a host of medical problems. Unfortunately, no study has proven this, and many articles in peer-reviewed journals disprove it.  Is eating a shit-ton of wheat a good idea? No. But deducing why it’s not good without any controlled studies behind it is a personal interpretation.

A message to those giving guidance: All the shit you put together in your own experience lands in this category. It could be great shit. It could really come from God or Source or Something Big That We Call All Different Kinds of Names. (But it might not.) And whoever you are, you have a responsibility to really know your shit for others, whatever your shit is. So, share your personal experience, it is valuable, but don’t falsely misrepresent it as Modern Science or Wisdom Tradition. Tell it like it is. Own it as it is.

Conclusion: Inspired Interpretation is necessary. It makes things personal.

I, II, and III: The Sweet Spot

The intersection of these three areas results in powerful, practical, stuff that is personally relatable. It has checks and balances and is a damn responsible place to be. So, for great guidance, 90% of the time I recommend choosing a doctor, yoga teacher, or therapist who lands here.

But, hitting the spot has one limitation – it compromises a little of the original magnitude of practicality, power, and/or personal contribution. Here’s what happens when I take the Spot-on approach: I take the parts of a Wisdom Tradition that I interpret as effective components from my own experience, put them together into my cool shit, take some stuff out that Modern Science contradicts, and lose some of the power because the nature of a Wisdom Tradition is that where the power lies isn’t obvious. Or, it lies in the whole shebang.

In a study that compared mindfulness meditation – an Inspired Interpretation containing many components of Buddhist meditation – and traditional Transcendental Meditation, researchers concluded that “traditional practices seem more effective than modern attempts to mimic them.”

This is true – there is some massive power in Wisdom Traditions. That “kriya” stereotype I offended some of you with earlier – there is power in it. But yoga teachers, consider this: Modern Science’s take on cyclic lumbar twisting is that it causes injury. In cases like this, landing in the sweet spot will mean compromising some power, but adding practicality in the form of safety.

Everyone looking for guidance and everyone giving guidance can choose what’s important. And we can meet each other – guidance provider and guidance receiver – by being clear about what’s important to us, and where we land.

Guidance providers: Wherever you are – if you say it, they will come. The people who are looking for you.

Land where you want to land and proclaim it loudly for what it is. I land in the sweet spot with most of what I do because I am at a place in my life and in the world where the elements of practicality and personal expression have a lot of weight. Maybe you’re in a place where the unadulterated power of a Wisdom Tradition is necessary. I get that. As much as I love chanting the Gayatri mantra, I haven’t taught it since the advanced class I used to offer a year ago – to four people. My majority market is best served with a significant practical basis. But a few of my offerings have more Wisdom Tradition emphasis – they just won’t be what ya get when ya walk in the door looking for help for your aching back.

So let’s tell people this. Wherever you are – if you say it, they will come. The people who are looking for you.

Right, people looking? Wouldn’t you really want to know? Well, start reading bios. And people like me will start making our bios more clear on what our guidance is based in.

I am starting a movement. A call to action for all practitioners. Own your spot on this diagram. Make it easy for everyone to see what you’re standing on. Let’s be Real.

Hellsyeah this discussion will continue.



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