Two Evenings with John de Ruiter

John Smith—06/2002
Born in Canada, John de Ruiter lectures around the world on his new vision of an enlightened humanity. A couple of years ago, I attended two of his meetings.

HE'S DOUR, he's measured to the extreme, he's remarkably peaceful and wise, and he gives the best impression of enlightenment this side of Galilee. His name is John de Ruiter, a self-styled Canadian teacher who lectures around the world, and runs retreats back in his hometown of Edmonton.

John was speaking at Conway Hall in London on the 31st May and 1st June, and I was fortunate enough to be tipped off by a discerning friend that this man was well worth listening to. The meeting began in silence as John, sitting in a relaxed position on a swivel chair, with legs apart and hands on his knees, slowly scanned his audience. After about 10 minutes of silence, with expectation tangibly building in the hall, a woman in the front was brave enough to start the ball rolling by asking a question. She spoke at length about the anguish that she felt in a family situation and how she had lost the peace that she had discovered during her last meeting with John. How would she get that peace back? Instead of answering her immediately, John stared at her for a good five minutes. Finally, he spoke, in words so slow and measured that I found myself hanging on to each syllable as if it were Jesus himself sitting on that stage (John's handsome features, beard and long wavy hair certainly encourage such comparisons).

"Its okay to feel as you do", he said, introducing to the audience his central philosophy "okayness" and to the hallmark husky voice of a gentle mountain-man. John's compassion, his honesty, his sincerity and his integrity were very obvious to those of us present. His "its okay" wisdom was a soothing balm for so many of us on the spiritual path who feel pressurised by the agenda to evolve, to create our realities, to judge our progress, to reach for what has always been in our palm to begin with.

For John, what we feel, believe and think has nothing to do with the essence of truth that is within us. What we feel, believe and think basically doesn't matter to that part within us that is "real" or is "true". And to bring forth what is real and true within us requires perfect honesty. In John's words, "Honesty is the most profound happening that one could ever experience. It finally takes us from the illusory path to Truth directly onto the road of Truth. Every other path leads directly away from Truth."

Another man angrily told him about the loathing and shame that he had towards himself. When he has finished, John said that if he could say exactly what he had said a moment ago, but with tenderness, he would have no problem. When another man said that he found it difficult to put down his defences, John bluntly told him that he was not worth defending that the inner truth needed no defence.

The evening was quite long, and I left the first night feeling moved by what I had heard. His message of okayness was refreshing, and I needed time to digest it. So I slept on it and looked forward to the next evening.

The second session started in the same manner: again a woman started things off (women do seem braver than men in this regard) with a long and involved question to which she received the usual reply of okayness. Then a man began asking some very probing questions, and I started to feel the edges or limitations of John's philosophy. The man pointed out how important for him integration of his thoughts and feelings had been, and that he could not understand how John could dismiss them as irrelevant to the soul. Although this was a question that had been on my mind, what struck me most about the questioner were his sincerity and humility. His honesty matched John's.

I enjoyed that dialogue because it showed me the power of honesty, and in that moment it dissolved any notion that John was more or less enlightened than any other honest seeker. From then on, having removed John from the peg of enlightenment, I was able to see his philosophy of okayness without getting destracted by his enormous charisma. For me, the spirited questioner who dialogued with John was like the boy who saw that the Emperor had no clothes, and from that moment on I could see the same.

The main problem with John's lectures is the limit of semantics. Describing "things" that to most of us are abstract to the extreme - such as "okayness", "truth", "honesty", "it", "real", "reality" - will always present an insurmountable problem. These terms were used by John without any explanation, and when some of the questioners did challenge them, his definitions were tautological, involving further nebulous abstractions. So "truth" became that part of us that is "real", and "reality" became that part within us that is "true". When John was trapped in a corner, he would appeal to our sense of direct knowing, placing his position beyond critical assessment: "You know what is true inside." He even came up with this gem on okayness: "Nobody needs okayness. You can let yourself be unconditionally okay with never ever being okay again. That's okayness."

Such obscurity may well be a reflection of language's limits in depicting the reality of a realised man. However, there were also inconsistencies within his abstract message which, for me, presented a more serious problem. John said that it was "not okay to identify with the self", that our thoughts and feelings have no relevance to our truth. He encourages us to identify only with inner "truth". In saying that, he rejects a part of himself and others, contradicting his message of self-acceptance. He gets away with this by narrowing the definition of what is "real" in a person to a pure abstraction, and in this manner the judgement and rejection of aspects of "being" are hidden in definition. (It is a bit like defining perfectionism as self-acceptance by holding a definition of "self" to be "that which is perfect".)

In rejecting thoughts and feelings, and appealing to direct knowing, I believe that John actually does a disservice to his audience because he negates our visceral connection with reality, and presents a situation whereby we could feel less compassionate for another because the despair they might feel is unreal from our lofty perspective. If we cannot acknowledge the pain or joy of experience, no matter how much it is ultimately based upon illusion, we can have neither compassion nor empathy. It is ironic that John spoke so beautifully about tenderness the first time I heard him speak, while holding the view that "feelings don't matter". What kind of tenderness is this that is devoid of feeling?

In dismissing the experience of the self in this manner, John also dismisses our unconscious or subconscious. Ignoring profound portions of being in order to focus exclusively upon an abstract core would be considered by many as unwise. After all, few can even comprehend the true depth and meaning of our thoughts and feelings. Maybe John has sorted this out in himself, but for the rest of us, any path to "realisation" must respect the unconscious portions of being, for it is those portions, which John dismisses as "don't matters", that direct our unfoldment. I remember reading a little anecdote in Jung's autobiography where a Rabbi is asked how come people could talk directly to God in the biblical days? His answer is that "Only then could they stoop so low." We need to delve down into the depths of our being to find the heights of enlightenment, and we need to have the humility to accept that there are parts of our being which have control over us!

One of John's primary methods of defending his philosophy is by stating that we can see that anything else just "doesn't work". But what does he mean by "work"? Does he mean that a life that is working would be a state of bliss 24 hours a day? People are alive, they are sad, they are happy, they are confused, they have moments of clarity, they have moments of despair. This is the human condition. Our problem has less to do with serenity, then with the honesty of getting in touch with our feelings, our thoughts and our physical breath. With age and experience, some of us begin to delve beneath this play of consciousness, to the stillness in the depths, and we realize how the surface agitation springs up from the combination of strong and slow undercurrents washing upon the shore of three-dimensional reality. Life is complex only when we seek to control or understand its processes, but the actual living of life is so horrendously easy that most of us have dissociated from the experience into fantasy.

I have no doubt of John de Ruiter's sincerity and his display of serenity. He seems, however, very stuck in his portrayal of "enlightenment"… very stiff and wooden. I believe that his message of okayness has and will be very useful to many people, even though he has tried to expand this useful tool into a general philosophy, and fallen, in the process, into the very trap the tool is designed to avoid — rejection of the self. However, I am pleased that I saw him, and I think he is a very courageous man to sit on a stage in front of hundreds of people, playing out the role of an enlightened being.