I became aware some years ago that people who do both a lot of travelling and a lot of speaking don’t revise their material very often. Comedians work on their set and take it out on tour for a year – for that matter, so do musical artists. Motivational speakers develop a certain presentation and take it on the circuit for an extended period. I have listened to a number of podcasts from Buddhist teachers and have noticed that the teachers who travel also take a more of less canned message on the road with them that changes from year to year rather than week to week. I’m guilty of more or less the same thing in my wedding ministry – though I fine tune my message from wedding to wedding, the general tone and direction of the message evolves from year to year rather than from day-to-day. After all, it’s not as if most of the people attending the wedding heard me speak at a wedding the week before. It’s a different kind of experience for anyone who has done preaching in the local church and had to deliver a fresh message each week because their audience is essentially the same.
It was a bit of a shock for me when I learned that preachers who still do local church preaching also have a more or less set presentation they take on the road with them when they travel. Over time I have come to see that it makes sense (though it’s not my practice) to avoid reinventing the wheel every time you go out of town. What has given me pause lately is the realization that there are some spiritual teachers out there who have achieved a fair amount of notoriety on a rather sparse collection of material. Rather than revise their road show once a year, I have noticed some of these people recycling the same material year after year. Mind you, I’m not talking about repeating good stories that illustrate a point – there is a limited supply of such stories – but rather I am talking about the essence of their presentation. I sometimes ask myself aloud, “Really? No new ideas in the last three years?” I can’t help but wonder how these speakers avoid boring themselves to death!
As I contemplated this, I began to ask myself how many people – no matter their vocation – find themselves just going through the motions, doing the least they can to get by and never thinking creatively either about why they do the work they do or how they do the work they do. Could it be that the high rate of burnout in some fields might be reduced if the people who did the work found ways to breathe some life into it? I have found that when some part of what I do involved monotonous tasks, even switching the order in which I do the tasks can breathe some life into the process and increase my concentration.
As a consumer of spiritual teachings, I would encourage you to pay attention to the teachings you are receiving. Of course, some topics are important and will come up again and again – that’s natural – but there is a huge difference between covering the same topic and delivering the same presentation over and over again. If, however, your need for diverse teachings isn’t being met then I would strongly advise you speak with your teacher. A quality spiritual teacher will be interested in your needs and how their teachings are being received and not be offended by an appropriate discussion. A spiritual teacher who reacts poorly to such an inquiry may be best avoided.
Many spiritual traditions have existed for thousands of years with a written or unwritten rule that teachers cannot be questioned. We have seen the results of that “rule” – traditions in decline, empty buildings, and programs that don’t appeal to anyone but the ghosts of members past. What’s needed to breathe life back into our great historic traditions is grassroots change driven by consumers. There’s no time to lose!