I’ve sought out the services of many “inner work facilitators”: hypnotherapists, meditation teachers, yoga instructors, psychologists, the eccentric old lady next door- pretty much anyone who would listen. I partook in all this wisdom seeking in the hopes of feeling like less of stranger to myself.
All the forementioned facilitators were lovely, providing open ears and sage words, but I usually left my time with these folks feeling confused, like I needed a wisdom decoder.
My desire for such a decoder persisted, until I met David Wagner. David is a transformational teacher and author of the book Backbone: The Modern Man’s Ultimate Guide to Purpose, Passion and Power – he aptly describes himself as “a combination of a healer, life coach, and life strategist.”
As a friend, David exudes a refreshing transparency: precise with his language, and unafraid to express love . . . or raw humor, or curiosity, or whatever the heck he feels compelled to express. As a teacher, David fully shows up for the individual he’s working with. Every time I’ve experienced David in a professional capacity, he seems to enter the space holding a proverbial clean slate – having no agenda but to support that person (or group of persons) through whatever they’re navigating, and to support them in finding their freedom and power in the process.
David’s responses to my scattered thoughts and emotions, during a private session, were so uncontrived and clear I felt them strike me in my core, then resonate up to my mind, where I experienced dozen of ah-has in the span of an hour.
Because of this clarity and candidness, I thought it best for David to speak for himself – so, I sat down with him in his cozy office in Ojai, CA to get a better glimpse of what it’s like to be David Wagner.
Bailey Gaddis: How would you describe what you do?
David Wagner: People work with me on whatever they’re navigating; I’m like a midwife of freedom and power for people. When people are at that point where they’re ready to break free, where they’re ready to unearth some inner power that was previously jammed up, then I can help them to do that – to create space for them as they do that; I can assist that, I don’t do it for them.
I have made it my work to understand people, and to understand the way people live a life of wisdom. Basically, I help people to have a relationship with God; God in the broadest sense, meaning a relationship with Spirit, or something greater than themselves, or some unseen element of life. In some cases, that’s a matter or training people in practices like meditation, self-inquiry, etc.
BG: Why do you think it’s important to approach spirituality in a straight forward, no-BS manner? Or is that even an intentional choice?
DW: It is intentional.
Many teachers talk in that soft “spiritual voice” and create a certain environment (chanting, incense, etc.): they have a certain style. Maybe it’s useful, maybe it’s not, but you feel better when you leave because you’ve been bathing in a vibe, which is great; but, that’s not natural for me.
There’s a place where spiritual teachers can talk in a really ordinary language. I live a relatively ordinary life, so it’s natural for me to use sort of ordinary language.
BG: How are you affected each time you lead a retreat, or work with a private client?
DW: Every time I teach it’s different. Whenever I’m doing whatever it is that I’m doing, I’m not completely in it the way I would be if I were only a participant, but I’m immersing myself in the content I’m offering. Often, when I’m teaching, I’ll hear myself say things that are much more enlightened or wise than I think of my actual experience being. So I’ll hear myself teaching and I’ll learn from listening to myself.
Also, being in the experiential process with people, I’m right there in it with them. So if we’re meditating together – the way I do it – we’re going into a shared psychic space together; I’m experiencing what you’re experiencing.
The other piece of it is, it’s just incredibly moving for me to see people interacting with grace, and to see people going through the process of transformation – when they do it.
BG: What were the primary catalysts that led you to teaching?
DW: It’s my dharma; I was born to do this. So, in some ways it’s one of the only things I’ve been able to do well and feel like “yeah, this is my thing.” So that’s part of it, but the way I first got into spirituality was in AA when I was very young, a teenager. There was a heavy emphasis on service, and we had this expression, “you’ve got to give it away to keep it.” So, that was a general orientation and I discovered that was a really good way to stay sober and assimilate the work of transformation if I knew that I was going to have to help other people go through that process.
I also had a moment when I was in college [an art student.] I took a course called Mystical Consciousness, East and West, and it was a really cool teacher who was exposing us to all these different mystical traditions. One of the things he exposed us to was mystical Christianity. He showed us a documentary about mother Teresa, and there’s a scene where she and some missionaries have to go in and rescue children that are abandoned in a hospital in a war torn area. She enters the hospital and picks up an emaciated baby and looks at the baby, strokes the baby and says “beautiful child,” with so much love, and poise, and steadiness. She’s radiating so much love. It hit me in that moment; I realized that I could be whatever I want to be in this life. I could be a vehicle for God’s love on Earth; that was an option to me. Once I saw that I could do that, the realization erased all other options; there was nothing else I could do, as my main thing in life.
The way that I’m teaching right now, something that I’ve settled into over the past 15 or 20 years, is the most natural expression of that calling.
BG: When men complete Backbone, how do you hope their life (or their perception of their life) has shifted?
DW: It depends on the man. I wrote Backbone because after many years of teaching I realized 95% of the people I was working with were female, and the other 5% [the men] were already very open. There was no Oprah for men; so women had this huge expanse as a group, and men stayed out of it.
I wrote Backbone, and some of the men’s training that I do, to answer that. I wrote it in a way so a man that’s already on a spiritual path, could read it and find a masculine expression of his spirituality; and for a man who has no idea about his spirituality, the book can act like a primer for having an inner life.
A lot of men don’t really have a conscious inner life, and so if a man reads Backbone it can be confronting – they may need to take breaks. They’re confronted with the knowing that they can create themselves; they’re confronted with the idea that their life is theirs and the way that they are is their choice. If they get some tools about how to that from the book, I consider that an extra bonus.
To learn more about David, visit his website DavidWagner.com
This interview has been condensed.