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VICKI WOODYARD
Interview with non duality magazine.
March 2011

 

Vicki Woodyard received a B.S. degree, magna cum laude, in English and Psychology from the University of Memphis. She was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and makes her home in Atlanta. She has spent her life on the spiritual path. Although Vicki has been writing all of her life, LIFE WITH A HOLE IN IT is her first book.

 

 

NDM: Can you please tell me about Vernon Howard; how he became your teacher and his teachings?
  
Vicki Woodyard: Vernon Howard taught what is called The Work, not that of Byron Katie, but of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. There is a strong element of Sufism in it, although Vernon himself brought forth the teachings in his own way. He was a powerful writer but an even more powerful speaker. Those who ventured into his classroom got jolts of awareness that left one feeling every negative emotion they had ever managed to suppress. He did this, not by the content of what he said, but by his aura. His words were stripped down statements about reality. He couched them in teaching stories. He taught people how to “witness every negative thought and emotion consciously.” He spoke of the False Self and the True Self and how to know the difference. People came from all over the world to hear him speak. He knew that people were hanging on his every word to hear “the one word that would free them,” so to speak, but it never came. He left his students in a place of waiting, which is quite effective. He knew what he was doing.
 
I ordered a tape of his from New Dimensions Radio. My husband had just bought a copy of The Power of Your Supermind, one of Vernon Howard's books. During that same time, I had a powerful dream that pointed me in the direction of the desert, a school with protected windows and a guide that said, “You have to go down to look up.” I discovered that Vernon Howard taught in Boulder City, a little desert town outside of Las Vegas. I knew I had to see him. Once I got there, I knew it was the next step for me. I studied with him for eight years, until his death in 1992. I didn’t visit often, not more than once or twice a year, but I studied his talks and books daily.

 

Vernon Howard

 
 

Gurdjieff

 

 

NDM:  What happened to you during those eight years of studying with Vernon Howard?

Vicki Woodyard: What happened was a slow evolution of consciousness. Much happened on the inner planes; whereas my outer life was business as usual. Vernon did not speak about the fact that he knew all about each student and what it took to “clean the machine,” as the  Work speaks of it. In my case, dreams and synchronicities often led me a deeper and deeper understanding.

Vernon was much like a Zen master in that he insisted on being aware and practical. He said things like “Eating an expensive dinner is the same thing as losing your soul.” Of course, this was also a way of separating the sheep from the goats, something he did with alacrity. It got rid of intellectuals and dilettantes. One man left because he didn’t want to sweep the hall; others left because they didn’t like the fact that Vernon wore old clothes and refused to use anything but simple language.  He showed you the living experience of what you were actually like.

Anyone studying with him immediately got in touch with their shadow side; he made sure of that. I had to deal with age-old issues of anxiety, insecurity, self-doubt—all the usual suspects of an ego. And yet when I faced the music, faced my actual condition, did things I didn’t want to do, there was usually some kind of nod you got from him.  You might go to class and find him saying something you KNEW he was saying just for you. But woe be unto you if you told anyone.

I gave myself over to his teachings, which were nothing but the ancient wisdom presented in his unique way. He was a tough teacher, a taskmaster, and that is exactly what I wanted. Little did I know that I would be tried in the fire to the extent that I was. I thought when I lost my daughter to cancer when she was seven that I had made it through the worst experience of my life. I began studying with Vernon five years after her death. He himself died of cancer in 1992 and I became close to his secretary. She died of cancer in 1999 and then in 2000 my husband was also diagnosed and died in 2004. I was left alone with the teachings and by that time, I knew about the word inevitability, another word for surrender.

NDM: Who were his teacher(s) ?
 
Can you also tell me about some of the Sufi methods, or any types of sitting meditations, or  methods that Gurdjieff used such as Self remembering, witnessing, and so on?
 
Vicki Woodyard: Vernon Howard never named a specific teacher, although he studied virtually everything known about the Way. He did speak of esoteric Christianity, which is about applying wisdom to our everyday lives, not just on holy days. At some point, he openly spoke of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, but by the time I arrived on the scene, there were no further allusions to specific teachers. There was a strong Sufi influence. Irina Tweedie’s book,  Daughter of Fire, is about her studies with a Sufi master. Being with Vernon Howard was like that. He left no grass to grow under anyone’s feet.

Self-remembering was key to his teaching.  He showed that inner wisdom could be accessed and known by anyone through humility and hard work.  He had a way of shaming and embarrassing the ego that was fool-proof. Someone said that coming through the doors of the hall was like going through an X-ray machine at the airport. All of your junk was on display. And frequently students got ill while with him. This happens often in the presence of a powerful teacher. Anger is brought to the surface, as are all of the negative emotions. He said that negative emotions are interconnected. His favorite thing to thunder was “You do not exist!” This echoed the words of Gurdjieff, who said of his institute, that “Personality scarcely has a right to exist here.”
 
 
NDM: Did he ever tell you how he came to this realization?  His "story" so to speak, or was he more of the traditional type, preferring not to discuss this in public?
 
Vicki Woodyard: He never spoke about his awakening. He was, for me, “the iron wall of Zen.” He brought me straight up against myself and forced me to look within constantly. The result of this is that who I used to be is different than who I am today. I used to be intellectually top-heavy and he knocked that out of me, indeed that is the Fourth Way teaching, that man is out of balance. I needed many whacks on the head and he would probably say that the man who gave them had no need to say whether the stick is realized or not.
 

Irina Tweedie

 
 

Nisargadatta

 
NDM: When you said that , "What happened was a slow evolution of consciousness. Much happened on the inner planes; whereas my outer life was business as usual. "
Can you please elaborate on this. What do you mean by a slow "evolution of consciousness?  Do you mean the way Sri Aurobindo or some of these neo-advaita teachers like to talk about it?
 
 Vicki Woodyard: I can only speak of it in my own way. I have read Aurobindo, Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta and many others. The truth is obvious in all of these men. What I mean is that I was wed to to the path of awakening. No one had to light the fire; it burned within me mightily. It kept me busy, not meditating or doing service, or anything but witnessing my actual state of consciousness. And because I was doing this so faithfully, things would happen that were mind-blowing. Wanting truth as much as you want air IS service, is meditation. Vernon showed his students that self-unity is an arduous task. Many of the neoadvaitins ignore the discipline of awakening. Someone said to me, “All of Vernon’s true students will broken and thrown back upon themselves.” Sure enough. At the time I learned of his secretary’s death, I had already lost much. Then my husband was diagnosed and I could no longer get to any of the classes being taught by his students and that was as it should have been. I was fledging and fighting for my soul’s survival at the same time.

I spent five years taking care of my husband after his fatal diagnosis with multiple myeloma. During that five years I went through a daily hell, not being able to apply any teaching for very long. I was wracked with grief and a sense of impending doom. This was the second dark night of the soul I had been through, the first one being my young daughter’s death. As much as possible, I did my inner work, but I can’t say I did such a hot job of it. Sometimes one just has to suck it up and walk on. You might say this evolved my consciousness in a pretty drastic way. I learned that I was enough on any given day. That I was the Way, even though it might not feel like it.
NDM: Can you please elaborate on this self enquiry method and this discipline that he taught you? Why do you think you were unable to do a hot job of it; to apply these teachings at the time when your husband was diagnosed with cancer?
 
What would happen to you exactly?

 

Vicki Woodyard: He taught what any true master does, that you are the Self and that the False Self is constantly obscuring this fact. He forced you to witness your own darkness, to face your shadow in order that the light might be revealed. He gave us permission and encouragement to study darkness, both within and without.

I did not do such a hot job of it because I was thrown into the fiery furnace. When you are there, all you can do is be there in all of your misery, just as Christ was on the cross. Vernon said once, “When you are carrying your cross up Crucifixion Hill, offer no resistance whatsoever.” I had to experience my resistance daily. I never lost sight of the teachings; I just didn’t want to look into the face of death. Everything is paradoxical; the best teachings always are. As I looked deeply into the face of death, I also looked deeply into my own inner hell which seemed to be about my husband’s death. In reality, it was the death of illusion.

You asked what would happen to me exactly? That is hard to put into words. I would just get up in the morning ready to face another day of suffering. At the end of Bob’s life, we were living in the Infusion Center as he got tanked up on platelets, etc. and lived to fight another day. He was finally told by his doctor that it was time to stop treatment and he didn’t want to. He was hanging on for my sake. I finally told him I would be okay without him and he was able to let go. The death of my husband forced me back on myself totally. It was a blessed relief on many levels. I was so tired.

A Zen master contacted me after Bob’s death and stayed in touch with me for the first year. I had also been in touch with a man named Peter, who runs like a thread throughout my book. He had awakened spontaneously after a series of strokes and said, “For what it’s worth, I hold your hand in this.” So I was never left without help of a higher kind. I also had the support of an awakened soul by the name of John Logan, who had beaten throat cancer, and like Peter, was rock-like in his spiritual support. They did not come at me intellectually, but with the full force of presence. I moved into silence and letting go, rested and healed for years. I am now in my seventh year alone.
 

 

 
 
 

Vicki Woodyard

 
NDM: So where has all this intense suffering brought you to? Do you feel healed, whole and complete or is there something still missing? 
 
Vicki Woodyard: These days I am at peace. Wholeness is my experience. Ups and downs arise from within like the heartbeats on a monitor, the experience of thoughts rising and falling away. All great teachers say the same thing in different ways, “I am.”  Vernon Howard once said he gave the same talk just using different words.  As a writer, that is what I am now doing.

If anything is missing, I chalk it up to the fact that I have momentarily fallen asleep. Having a sense of humor is a great help to me. As I said on my website, “Every guru is trailing toilet paper on his shoe.” I have stepped in enough “you-know-what” to not mind it so much anymore. That is the way of the warrior. You just plow ahead until you reach the still point.

Ultimately nothing is missing, but Lord knows, we have heard that enough times. Hearing it intellectually is one thing. Living it from the heart is quite another. Living it from wholeness demands a surrender that arises from rock bottom.

NDM: Amen.  Can you tell me about your book, Life with a (w)hole in it.  How did this arise?
 
Vicki Woodyard: The book arose as a way for me to make it through the night (the dark night of the soul). My writing is quirky and moves between dark and light, taking the reader on a journey. I am honest to the core and that comes across in the book. I simply began writing about the hell I was going through.

Now that I am living a peaceful life, I still write in that style. Just like one painter throws paint onto the canvas and another stipples it,  I write for the sheer intuitive wholeness it brings to me and hopefully, the reader. I do not shy away from suffering, because it has proved to be alchemical for me. I hope my writing is alchemical as well. For me, writing is about bringing the reader to a state of aliveness. If I want to make them laugh or cry, I am free to do so. But always behind it is the Self that I am.

LIFE WITH A HOLE IN IT: That’s How The Light Gets In is a title that describes my journey on the path. Holes were poked so that the light might shine through me a little better. It is a little book that can be picked up and read all the way through or at random. It is easy for me to stand behind it because living through it brought me to where I am today. It follows me through five years of life as a spiritual student and caregiver for a dying man. Today I don’t describe myself except on my driver’s license and other required places. One day, even that won’t be necessary.
 
For more info visit
 

 

 

LIFE WITH A HOLE IN IT: That's How The Light Gets In by Vicki Woodyard