Jack Kornfield










No discussion of the perils and promises of spiritual life can ignore the problems with teachers and cults. The misuse of religious roles and institutions by TV evangelists, ministers, healers, and spiritual teachers, both foreign-born and Western, is a common story. As a leader of a spiritual community, I have encountered many students who were painfully affected by the misdeeds of their teachers. I have heard such stories about Zen masters, swamis, lamas, meditation teachers, Christian priests, nuns, and everybody in between.





No problem can really be solved merely by assuming that it can be solved and that its solution lies in hard work — any more than that its solution lies in inaction. Yet so much the reverse do the facts appear, that rabble-rousers and pretended mystics use the problem-solving argument to keep people busy.

Solutions come through knowledge: so much so that where there is real knowledge, there is no real problem.


 Idries Shah, Reflections





‘Face the simple fact before it becomes involved.

Solve the small problem before it becomes big.’

The most involved fact in the world

Could have been faced when it was simple,

The biggest problem in the world

Could have been solved when it was small. ~ Lao-Tzu





Whenever the rabbi of Sassov saw anyone’s suffering, either of spirit or of body, he shared it so earnestly that the other’s suffering became his own. Once someone expressed his astonishment at this capacity to share in another’s troubles.

“What do you mean ‘share’?” said the rabbi. “It is my own sorrow; how can I help but suffer it?” 


Martin Buber, inTales of the Hasidim 





Khawaja Muinuddin Gharib Nawaz Chisti actually equates prayer with right thought and right action on the ordinary human level: ‘Prayer consists,’ he said, ‘in hearing the complaints of the aggrieved and to assist them; to help the needy and the oppressed; to free the people and to free the captives from captivity.’ 

All these things, Gharib-Nawaz emphasized, are of great importance.


Idries Shah, in Learning How to Learn





There is no greater sorrow — no prison narrower where the perfume is lacking — than to have to keep company with unkindred spirits. 


 Abu-Ali Rudbari, in Four Sufi Classics





I have never yet met an abused child (at whatever age) who was not crying to be heard…believed…validated.


Emotional abuse is as painful as physical assault, with a pain that can last a lifetime. It leaves no visible marks, but it scars the heart and damages the soul.

When your self-concept has been shredded – when you have been deeply injured and made to feel that the injury was all your fault – when you look for approval from those who cannot or will not provide it – you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.

It’s time to stop playing that role.


For victims with an idealized notion of ‘family,’ the task of refusing to accept the blame for their own victimization is even more difficult. For such searchers, the key to freedom is always truth – the real truth – not the distorted, self-serving version served up by the abuser.


Andrew Vachss, from “Emotional Abuse: A Plea for The Wounded” in Parade Magazine, August 28, 1994





Healing requires words. There is no way around a tragedy or trauma. The only way over is through, and the way you get through is by talking. Shakespeare understood this in Macbeth when he wrote:


Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak

Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.


I would not have gone down like a kamikaze pilot in my own life if I had started talking years before. Friends help, but therapists are essential for anyone who has been profoundly traumatized. I could not have survived without the professionals at Johns Hopkins. My past was a minefield. Without them to guide me through it, I would have exploded.


The sad thing is that no one could have convinced me to start talking. I had no idea — and could not have been persuaded — that something from so long ago suddenly could take over my life. I want others to know what I learned — if you have been traumatized by abuse, you must find a way to understand and resolve it. Even if your life seems fine at the moment, unresolved trauma neither goes away nor diminishes over time. It can erupt at any time.


Even if the trauma never recurs, its initial impact can have long-term effects. Depression, alcoholism and other addictions, rage, insomnia, nightmares, and low self-esteem are some of the common shoals for people who carry too much emotional cargo. They should lighten the load by finding a supportive therapeutic environment and safe place to feel terrible.


Richard Berendzen, from Come Here: A Man Overcomes the Tragic Aftermath of Childhood Sexual Abuse



Trauma and Recovery



Loving parents in particular should want to find out what they are unconsciously doing to their children. If they simply point to their parental love, then they are not really concerned about their children’s well-being, but rather are painstakingly trying to keep a clear conscience. This effort, which they have been making ever since they were little, prevents them from letting their love for their children flow freely and from learning something from this love.


 As I have repeatedly stressed, it is not the trauma itself that is the source of illness but the unconscious, repressed, hopeless despair over not being allowed to give expression to what one has suffered, and the fact that one is not allowed to show and is unable to experience feelings of outrage, humiliation, despair, helplessness and sadness. This causes many people to commit suicide because life no longer seems worth living if they are totally unable to acknowledge all these strong feelings that are part of their true self. 


Pain over the frustration one has suffered is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it harmful. It is a natural human reaction. However, if it is verbally or nonverbally forbidden or even stamped out by force and by beatings, as it is in “poisonous pedagogy,” then natural development is impeded, and the conditions for pathological development are created. 


Alice Miller, from FOR YOUR OWN GOOD: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence





A poet went to see a doctor. He said to him: ‘I have all kinds of terrible symptoms. I am unhappy and uncomfortable, my hair and my arms and legs are as if tortured.’


The doctor answered: ‘Is it not true that you have not yet given out your latest poetic composition?’


‘That is true,’ said the poet.


‘Very well,’ said the physician, ‘be good enough to recite.’


He did so, and, at the doctor’s orders, said his lines again and again.


Then the doctor said: ‘Stand up, for you are now cured. What you had inside had affected your outside. Now that it is released, you are well again. 


 Jami, inThe Way of The Sufi





As kids we played the same games children always play,
My brothers and sisters and me;
Runnin’, skatin’, hide-and-seekin’ all the live-long day,
For all the world, one happy family.
We didn’t understand the shadows or the whispers down the hall,
We were kids and they were grown-ups, that was all.
Now I’m tryin’ to fit the pieces to the puzzle of that lie,
While I try my best to show the world a smile,
But sometimes when I’m alone, and please don’t ask me why,
The sadness overtakes me, and I cry.


The sun comes up each morning, that’s the way that most dreams end.
And children grow up learnin’ to survive.
But dreams turn into nightmares for those who must defend
Themselves from the grown-ups in their lives.
And I can’t recall the details now or all the words he said,
But my childhood ended in my father’s bed.
Well, the pain and shame and anger became something I had to hide,
And I tried my best to keep the world away.
So sometimes when a friend of mine would look me in the eye,
The fear would overtake me, and I’d fly.


A twig is bent, the tree grows on; scars are hidden deep,
And sunshine warms the places it can find.
But the visions and the voices that find you as you sleep,
Disturb the haunted seeds they’ve left behind.
And the hollow, bitter fruit they bear is nothing like the taste
Of the sweet and simple dreams they have replaced.
And I’ve spoke the words “I love you” but I could not tell you why.
Guess it’s something that I wanted to be true.
So sometimes when she’d look at me with a question in her eyes,
The shame would overtake me and I’d lie.


As evening slowly falls upon our days and years and lives,
We seek and take some refuge on our own.
Protected from the world at large by the weapons we contrive,
We keep ourselves alert, aloof, alone.
And the safety of our solitude is the price we have to pay
To survive the night and face another day.
Well I’d like to make it different, every now and then I try,
But it seems the same no matter what I do.
And some day, no doubt still alone, when life has passed me by,
My years will overtake me and I’ll die.


Although the shadows of the past can hide the sun today
And cloud our view of what is yet to be,
I feel a spark deep in my soul that will not fade away,
A fiery voice, dying to be free,
To speak the truth of who I am, out loud and without fear,
To sing my song for all the world to hear.
So raise your voices with me now, we will not be denied.
The treasure’s not impossible to find.
Summon up your courage, your passion and your pride,
Feel the power and the strength: “We have survived!”
Wield your power and your strength will thrive.
Find your power and the joy to be alive.    J. M.





Secrets are systemic. They are kept by nations, by families, and by individuals. We keep secret the things we are ashamed of, and the things we fear we cannot face. We also keep secrets when we are intimidated into silence. Within the family, secrets define who is in and who is out, drawing some members into hidden alliances and leaving others out in the cold. When secret-keeping becomes a way of life, secrets and betrayals ricochet like pinballs from one family member to the next, triangulating each in turn.


Evan Imber-Black, from Ghosts in the Therapy Room: The Systemic Impact of Family Secrets – The Family Therapy Networker, May/June 1993 – “Cries and Whispers: The Haunting Legacy of Family Secrets”



    The question whether to leave evil secrets alone or try to defeat them by draining them of their destructive power recurs in many of the therapeutic and investigative practices that I shall discuss in this book. A separate question concerns secrets not in themselves linked with evil, but necessary, rather, to preserve something precious – love, friendship, even life itself – and sometimes endowed with the power to transform those who approach. Thus tales of initiation into mysteries recount how those who follow the prescribed steps of cleansing and devotion are granted access to illumination, whereas those who approach the mystery by wrongful means are changed, corrupted, even destroyed.

The Faust-legend warns of what can befall those who lose all caution in approaching forbidden secrets. Charlatan, magician, seeker after cures for every disease, Faust probed all the secrets of nature. He desired to know how to ride the clouds, change metals into gold, stave off death, and even create new life – a homunculus – and thus attain the innermost core of knowledge. In exchange for twenty-four years of access to such knowledge and power, he surrendered his soul to Lucifer. Marlowe portrays his ensuing corruption and ruin in Doctor Faustus; at the end, the chorus comments:


Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practice more than heavenly power permits.


    Awareness of the allure and the dangers of secrecy that these and so many other stories convey is central to human experience of what is hidden and set apart. Rooted in encounters with the powerful, the sacred, and the forbidden, this experience goes far deeper than the partaking of any one secret. Efforts to guard secrets, probe them, or share them often aim for this deeper and more pervasive experience. If we do not take this into account in considering particular forms of concealment, such as clandestine scientific research, underground political groups, or long-buried family mysteries, then we shall but skim the surface; and the secrets, once revealed, will seem paltry and out of proportion to all that went into guarding them. Similar care is needed in approaching and defining the concept of secrecy itself.


Sissela Bok, from SECRETS: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation





This world of illusions, fancies, desires and fears

Is a mighty obstacle in the Traveler’s path.

Thousands of ships, in all their majesty and pomp,

Have gone to pieces in the Sea of Illusion. ~ Rumi





Funny thing about truth and illusion…  If you hear a story enough times, you’ll start to believe it, whether it makes any sense or has any truth in it – or not. I have noticed that the human mind – given enough time without proper attention and correctives – tends to accept the absurd, without question, regardless of the consequences.


Rule No. 5 in The Private Investigator’s Handbook clearly states:




Magnum P.I.



    It is only to be expected, of course, that if we have been wrong for so very long, we shall be less inclined to admit the truth than if we did not already have a vested interest in error.  ~ Dr. Saleh Hamareh  




THE TRUTH                              


I remember arguing with them

how righteously I stood my ground


They laughed and shook their heads

their eyes hardened and wise

with third grade worldliness

and during class I could hear their whispers

behind me


I feared for them really

surely they would rise to taste the bitter

disappointment of coal, or rotten potatoes

in their stockings


After all, the evidence

was overwhelming

I had personally, on two occasions

almost spotted him flying in the distance

in the dim light of dusk over the valley


And my brother

sneaking out of bed early

had seen his boot go around the corner

in the twinkling lights

he had told me so


And when I arose

the cookies and milk were always gone

and even the celery I had left for the reindeer

had been nibbled on


And of course there were the presents

oh, the presents

spreading out, overlapping around the tree

the blinking lights dancing on the paper

the splayed bounty of my wildest dreams

there could be but one explanation

for such magic


So I held my ground

with the strength that comes from knowing


And one day

a family trip

together we went to the harbor

and somehow, who knows

it came up

and again I defended

this time to my older brother and sister

the truth I carried with me


My mother watching

she must have thought

he’s eight years old

it’s time

and maybe I’ve waited too long


She took me into the car

to be alone

just the two of us

as my brother and sister laughed

and the men working on their boats ignored us


And she spoke

gently, so as not to bruise

the sweet fruit of my childhood

the truth


I sat numbly

as her words took meaning

her eyes full of my pain

mine full of tortured images

my classmates

my siblings

mocking, laughing

my father’s wry smile

as I held up the empty cookie plate

to prove he had been here

while we slept


I looked at my mother

and my eyes filled with tears

of embarrassment

and betrayal

and disappointment

she held me

wishing it could be different


And I knew then

in her arms as I cried

that things would never be quite the same


I looked out the car window

at my dad

my brother and sister

the world

and I knew I would have to go out there

but I wasn’t ready

and I stayed in the car for a long time.



Poem by Jim BrummeNVee Newsletter,

Napa CA, December 1991