LIFE ALTERING GIFTS OF MASTER TEACHERS AND MENTORS
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton
Last year I interviewed three master teachers who changed the course of my life, career trajectory and path. In India, I had the great privilege of meeting another master teacher and so decided to share my interviews in this article.
The teachers I was privileged to learn from are Masters of Finance, Acting, Psychology, the Arts, Martial Arts, Yoga and Meditation. They are Yogi Umesh, Yoga and Meditation teacher, Tom Radcliffe, London Group Theatre Director, Richard Mannion, former President of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIoT) and Dr Margaret Paul, international best-selling author & relationship expert.
In this article, learn how Master teachers themselves transformed when they met the right teacher, the importance of seeking and imparting, listening and encouragement, how to identify a mentor, knowing who you are as well as who you’re not and living in the moment authentically and with generosity.
They all overcame challenges during their illustrious careers yet remained humble and fun. They were uncompromising in their commitment to ensure that their students would manifested their gifts and talents. It’s fascinating to hear shared lessons from such different individuals, from different parts of the world, with vastly different backgrounds, careers and life-stages who fulfilled their dreams and sought to help others do so.
THERE MUST BE MORE TO LIFE THAN WHAT I AM EXPERIENCING?
“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”
Whilst I believe from experience, as do all our teachers interviewed, that all answers ultimately lie within ourself, having in our life a true mentor or teacher, is the single greatest differentiator between succeeding in your chosen path or not. Meeting a teacher/mentor who can mirror, support and challenge you to be the best you can be is like suddenly meeting the creator of your favourite piece of music, art or book who is available to answer all your questions and point you in the right direction to find the answers you seek just as and when you need it. Meeting such a teacher is a gift and a privilege.
“You have to believe it’s possible and believe in yourself. Because after you’ve decided what you want, you have to believe it’s possible, and possible for you, not just for other people. Then you need to seek out models, mentors, and coaches.”
“Luminous beings are we…not this crude matter.”
Master Yoda, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back
From his childhood, Yogi Umesh (Yoga and Meditation Programme Lead, Sri Sri School of Yoga, Rishikesh, India) had the innermost desire to understand what life was about. He used to feel like he was living a very robotic life: waking up, eating, going to work, sleeping and… dying one day! Surely there must be more to life than this, he told himself. He sought to find out.
“I had no idea what to do, where to find my answers. I studied, had my own business, did an Art of Living  course and then it all changed. I met my Master teacher, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Guruji).”
In 1995, Yogi Umesh lived in an ashram and worked closely with Guruji himself. He observed him and saw how Guruji lived his life and acted from the inside out. There, Yogi Umesh proceeded to experiment with ‘The Knowledge’ and what he was studying and being taught on himself. Like a scientist he wished to see if and how it worked, to modify elements of the teachings if some elements were not as effective on himself and others until he felt a difference in his yoga and meditation practice. He was interested in sharing what he was learning with the ‘lay person’ and seekers who were not necessarily “renunciates”.
“He (Guruji) was guiding us more than actually consciously teaching us as we were not realising we were being taught.”
Observing. Observing. Observing and really Listening with awareness was what made Yogi Umesh move forward in life, including in his spiritual life. This, in turn, had also impacted him as a teacher, which all the other master teachers in this interview also experienced.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING AND ENCOURAGEMENT
“All of us are mentors. You’re mentors right here and now. And one of the things I’ve always done throughout my life, I have always found that person, that group of people that I was going to reach my hand out and help bring them along with me.”
Tom Radcliffe(more about Tom later) trained me in a method of acting known as “Meisner” which is about “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances”. This was a method devised by the legendary acting teacher Sanford “Sandy” Meisner in New York City (Sandy taught a long list of acting legends, amongst others, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Grace Kelly, Diane Keaton). Tom trained with Sandy himself over many years and inherited as a gift from Sandy himself, Sandy’s walking stick when he passed.
Listening, “really listening” as Meisner often said, was crucial to him and to the craft, a skill which had to be honed over many years, before attempting to speak text. I write ‘had to be’ because it is very hard to do. We don’t really listen with full attention and presence. Much of our training therefore consisted in “learning to unlearn” and then to really listen: to ourselves, our feelings and instincts and to the other person and only then speak.
“Always with you what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?…You must unlearn what you have learned….Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
Master Yoda, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back
To unlearn bad habits, exercises consist of learning to repeat exactly what our partner said word for word, and not doing anything until the other person makes us do it. Acting becomes an organic, authentic, response in the moment to the other and a deeply personal expression of our innermost self. A two-way process with authentic communication – I listen, I repeat, then I respond, although of course it does not happen chronologically necessarily – you repeat and respond, but you listen first.
“ARE YOU REALLY LISTENING?”
“Is the dark side stronger?” Luke asks.
“No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”
Master Yoda, Star Wars
Richard Mannion, now retired, is a Tax expert, and was my manager when I worked in the City of London Financial district. He is a true gentleman and a King amongst men (he will laugh when he reads this). Richard was at the pinnacle of his career when we worked together. In his own words “enjoying being with the great and the good in the tax world and having robust discussions with senior members of the Board of Inland Revenue and Treasury ministers”. He was the man whose quotes appeared in the major newspapers and TV broadcasts on tax. He was and is a very humble man, fun, calm and always had time for others. I consider him a mentor and a friend.
Richard confided that learning to listen was one of the most memorable training course he ever took. In his own words he said “I remember being told that all the partners had to do a course on the ‘Art of Listening’ and thinking it was going to be a waste of time. It turned out to be one of the most influential courses I ever did.” Richard always made time and always listened. I think it is probably what sets him apart from others and what makes him so endearing and great to be and work with.
Looking back at his career, opportunities and experience Richard also singles out the importance of encouragement. He shares that “all of that experience taught me that if it was possible for me to achieve far more than I ever expected then it was possible for anyone to do likewise; all they needed was the right encouragement.”
When asked about who inspired him most, Richard shared “John Whiting”, who was his deputy when he was President of the CIOT. “John was for many years the man who appeared on the Budget programmes on TV to explain the Chancellor’s latest proposals. John had celebrity status in the world of tax, but he was the most humble person you could wish to meet and always gave me 100% support and encouragement.”
However Richard admits that his biggest inspiration is his wife.
“There is no doubt that the person who inspired me most was my wife who always reassured me that I could do it when I was doubting myself. She turned a key within me and my career took off from that point.”
MARCHING TO THE BEAT OF THEIR OWN DRUM
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
Henry David Thoreau
Dr Margaret Paulis the woman, with my mother, who encouraged me and changed my life the most. Even though Margaret is a busy woman, international best-selling and prolific author, speaker, expert in her field, and artist, she always made time for me and encouraged me. I remember once getting in touch with her very early on. We had never met in person nor seen each other on Skype although I was taking her courses. I decided to do my Master in Psychology then and asked her whether she would write me a reference for my Postgraduate training. She had just packed up her home belongings and was ready for the van to leave her property for her new ranch. Without any hesitation, she unpacked her printer, plugged it in, typed the letter, scanned it and sent it back within the hour of my request. It must have been 6am Colorado time. This is Margaret.
Margaret role modelled so many things for which I am so very grateful for. She also stresses the importance of surrounding ourselves with those who really want the best for us and want us to succeed. She shares:
“there are always going to be people – friends and family – who will try to discourage you and criticize you, so it’s vitally important to have someone close to you who you know will always support you in following your vision and your inner knowing. Keep reaching out for the support from those who truly want you to be all you can be, and limit your time with people who might be fearful, jealous or threatened by your vision.”
Dr Margaret Paul
Dr. Paul met Dr. Chopich who holds a Ph.D in psychology and is a best-selling author, and an ordained Chaplain, and together they created their therapeutic modality Innerbonding©. Both co-authored many books together (Healing Your Aloneness and the Healing Your Aloneness Workbook), which have been translated into several languages. Margaret credits Erika as being one of her inspirations as well as Dr. Bill Offman and Dr. James Bugental. Both men set Margaret on the path of humanistic existential psychology, from which her Innerbonding© modality emerged.
Perhaps because they really listened, Tom, Richard, Umesh and Margaret, with their embodied presence, had profound life altering effects on those around them. The ability to really listen and be present might also explain how they were able to reach such highs and depths in their lives.
THE BEGINNER’S MIND – TRAINING WITH SAMURAIS
“IN THE BEGINNER’S MIND THERE ARE MANY POSSIBILITIES. IN THE EXPERT’S THERE ARE FEW.”
These words by Suzuki were the first words I remember Tom Radcliffe speaking in my first acting class. He also asked me how I felt as I faced another actor whose presence and demeanour used to trigger and scare me. I replied ‘I’m ok’. He then asked me if I felt nervous? I replied ‘No’ and so he asked me to leave the class as he had nothing to teach me!
I write these words with much laughter now although I remember the world standing still and everything going in slow motion! I was ‘arrested’ or rather there was no thought for the first time just sheer insight. You read about these sorts of moments and encounters in novels. You dream of experiencing maybe one such magic moment. We knew this was no ordinary class, no ordinary man and that our lives would change after that. Tom changed my life and gifted me one of his swords when I left his class to embark on my own path.
Tom confided that he always knew he wanted to act very young, having read the Complete Works of Shakespeare at age 8. However, looking back, he candidly and tenderly admits:
“I was an extraordinarily sensitive and gentle person. I encountered violence quite young and it taught me greatly. I became someone who could not express his feelings”.
Tom became a person who in life could not feel a part of things and could not express himself. When he encountered acting, however, he realised that he could make connections with people and the world, through that medium, which became an outlet and a powerful vehicle of expression. He confessed to becoming obsessed with it and that sadly, in his teens, he fell into alcoholism, followed by being in his own words “a workaholic alcoholic”. He read plays all the time and went to all the classes and then met Meisner, travelling back and forth from the UK to the States to train with him over many years. Meisner not only changed but saved his life.
Tom had a very successful career working on TV and film but stopped it all at 30 and became a teacher although he did not consider himself one. He did other jobs too such as being a mental health outreach worker and working in Watkins bookstore in London. What was most important to him was “living in the moment”. Gradually he dropped the things that did not go in that direction, began to meditate in order to find out who he was and with Buddhism discovered ‘non-dualism, ’or ‘oneness’.
“I realised, on stage with my team-mates, as we were acting, that there was no separation. We’re all one. I would not have been able to understand this without my earlier experiences.”
Most recently, he lived incognito in a caravan with migrants in Calais for 18 months raising funds via crowdfunding for refugees ‘Help Refugees’(£70,000 were raised) and donated this to “L’auberge des migrants”. As a teacher, Tom is passionate about helping other actors and his students understand their unique gifts, how to express what they have in their minds, hearts and soul. He also noticed that Artists experience life differently.
“Art is a certain relationship with life. Artists do not see the divisions, they see the one thing. They see the world as it really is.” Tom Radcliffe
THE MAKING OF A MASTER TEACHER
“Living each day as if it were your last doesn’t mean your last day of retirement on a remote island. It means to live fully, authentically and spontaneously with nothing being held back.”
A GREAT LEARNER
How will you know if you’ve met the right teacher for you? Yogi Umesh shared how he felt when ‘he knew’. He noticed he started receiving answers he had been seeking all his life. He was learning from Guruji himself and felt what love was unconditionally from inside himself, total freedom. He felt complete.
“When I started learning from my Master Teacher Guruji, the techniques and knowledge he was transmitting, as well as teaching what I was learning, I felt deeply within me ‘that’s it’. I simply had to pursue my calling. I knew I did not and could not waste my life. I left my career and embarked on living in the Bangalore Ashram and started doing Seva (the Sanskrit word for service). I was feeling so much love I wanted to serve and contribute to the world.”
Tom shares something similar from the point of view of what makes a great learner. He noticed something about our intention and singled out generosity and a willingness to truly understand experientially.
“People who are not good at learning are selfish. What makes a great learner is someone who wishes to understand something. In teaching, there is a tiny number of students who want to understand. Some people want to understand to make themselves better. They’re here but they don’t hear. As an acting teacher, some people walk away with an acting trick. Other people begin to understand the craft and to truly live.”
EXPERIENTIAL VS INTELLECTUAL KNOWING, SANKALPA AND INTENTIONS
Even though Yogi Umesh had many opportunities to teach, he was not ready to do so. He felt he was gaining a lot of experience as a practitioner and teacher, but his knowledge, he thought, was still too ‘intellectual’. So Yogi Umesh set out very strong ‘Sankalpa’ ( which is a Sanskrit word and practice meaning setting out very strong intentions) and promise to himself he would start teaching only when he experienced the teachings from deep within himself and not from memory or from his intellect.
“Usually now even if I am involved in ‘teaching’ I don’t teach per se although I am a teacher. I just share my experience and what I learnt. If what I impart to those who listen works, great. If not they are free to discard. I remain very normal.”
Yogi Umesh realised also that his Indian knowledge body of work was very sophisticated and advanced level material not easily accessible to everyone without past exposure to the key concepts. He felt that he, and other fellow teachers ,involved in disseminating the Vedic and other philosophical and spiritual Indian teachings, needed to reach those without prior exposure to the teachings in a different way. For him the link was engagement and story-telling, making all people (because the teaching is universal) part of the story, and more specifically, to involve Indians in their culture.
“I realised that people wanted to understand from within themselves what the knowledge meant and not from the outside. To be able to reach people in this way is not a small feat for a teacher. Teaching ancestral and sacred knowledge of the Vedas, Yoga and other, requires a type of intelligence, maturity and understanding of science which not many have. It’s a great privilege and responsibility.”
SELF-RESPONSIBILITY AND KNOWING THYSELF IS EMPOWERMENT
“Yoga is when your mind is totally calm, when you’re in love. Then you act from this deeply connected place within and you do things from this place moment by moment, with intensity, love and peace, but whilst remaining calm .Yoga is all about your mental calm, how your being is calm. Your experience of the situation (like, dislikes) does not matter. Your actions do not come from judgement. You are not dependent on anyone, or external conditions, for your peace and happiness.It happens when you take responsibility for your own self (body/mind/emotions/ spirit) and then you learn.”
Our Master teachers imparted much more than knowledge and the art and crafts of their trade. What was of utmost importance was to understand something about ourselves and about others, which ultimately led mentees to a profound understanding of their craft. But equally important was understanding who we’re not. This principle is also an important psycho-therapeutic and yoga concept, along with self-awareness, taking responsibility and emotional literacy.
They also ultimately taught their mentees about the meaning of life, connection, relationships and working as a team especially when “everything goes out the window” for the benefit of society and the world. In acting speak this means that as you walk on stage you might forget all your lines and so you connect to your fellow actors. In yoga, business and psychology, the same is true: all we have is ourself, the moment and each other. This is true of any field I have worked in, in all spheres of life.
Dr Margaret Paul was able to synthesise similar concepts in a very simple (but not necessarily easy to do) six steps modality I investigated scientifically. Margaret’s method Innerbonding® is also “yoga” since it is about union, which naturally led me to becoming a yoga teacher. Yogi Umesh, Tom and Richard were all also able to break down very complex concepts into simple truths. When I worked for Richard I was able to edit all the Tax department newsletters (with his and the experts’ support) with no tax experience. After graduating from Tom’s class I produced and acted in my own theatre productions.
“It’s absolutely essential to find out what you’re not. You’re not anything that you are aware of. Anything that you are aware is not you. Therefore you are not your body, not your feelings and you’re not your thoughts. Once you know that, there’s only one thing left that you can be. And that is the awareness of those things, that awareness is common to everything that lives. “
“When we know who we are in our soul, then we know that we are all connected – all one. Experiencing this oneness with all beings brings much peace and joy.”
Dr Margaret Paul
“The knowledge of the heart is in no book and is not to be found in the mouth of any teacher, but grows out of you like the green seed from the dark earth.”
C. G. Jung
My sincere appreciation and gratitude to Yogi Umesh, Richard Mannion, Tom Radcliffe and Dr Margaret Paul for all that they are and that they have generously contributed. Other teachers I owe a great debt to are Karen Kral, infinitely compassionate psychotherapist, Psychology Lecturer, Dr Ben Roberts (my thesis supervisor) and the late William “Bill” Esper, my acting teacher in New York City, former Rutgers University teacher and founder of the Bill Esper Studio in New York City, who sadly passed away in 2019 just as I was writing this piece. He is greatly missed and will forever be remembered. Great thanks also to Sree, Kalpesh, Dr Poonam, Dr Lisa Aronson Fontes, and Drs Heidi, Kate and Rob.
Chopich, E., & Paul, M. (1990) Healing Your Aloneness: Finding Love and Wholeness Through Your Innerchild. HarperCollins. New York, NY.
Help Refugees: https://helprefugees.org
For more information on the teacher training visit:https://srisrischoolofyoga.org/in/create-registration/?id=438033