Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Work With a Spiritual Teacher

I'm taking a pause from my general advising and teaching to talk a little about working with a spiritual teacher. Since the way I offer spirituality to people is about helping them to choose and discover their spiritual path, I generally encourage students to find other spiritual teachers to work with even as they work with me. I come from the thinking that one-size does not fit all, and even further, certain teachers are good at certain things and not others. You wouldn't have your math teacher telling you how to do gymnastics or have your gymnastics teacher telling you how to speak French, would you? (Yes, I know people can be multi-talented; I happen to be one of those people, but you get the point).

In the interests of helping people better engage with spiritual teachers, I'm writing this blog, so let's get to work.

Your Spiritual Teacher Doesn't Have Your Truth
The last time I checked my pockets I don't have anyone else's truth but my own. Sure, I sound pretty good in Skype sessions, workshops, and on this blog, but I'm still just speaking from my truth. It comes from my distinctive lens of experiences and interpretations. I'm pretty good at seeing stuff about other people, but that's never a substitute for your own awareness and deciphering your own truth. The biggest trouble people get into on the spiritual path is coming to a teacher for answers. It's like going to the desert for water. Sure there are some nice looking mirages, but ultimately, you should check your canteen. You may be surprised at what you're already carrying.

Giving Away Your Power to a Spiritual Teacher or Organization
Yet, people persist in looking outside to others for their truth, and when they do this, they are giving up their power. You see, it's really hard to start a religious war if you don't think your religious leader has any control over your spiritual path. You start to think for yourself, and then the idea of crusades and terrorist bombings don't make any sense. You see the greed, fear, and control behind them. Hopefully, most of you aren't being faced with issues like this, but you know what? There are still plenty of strange cults springing up around the world, and the teachers are telling people that they won't get this or that or be allowed to initiate in some way unless people do what the "teachers" say. While certain rites of passage can be secluded for the sacred space an individual needs, most of spirituality is really not a big secret. Be love. Help others. Spiritual truth is very simple. You know this in your heart. And in your heart is some of your greatest power; don't give it away to a spiritual teacher...EVER.

Appreciating Your Spiritual Teacher's Limitations
Here's an interesting thing that people forget; spiritual teachers are people too. They may be enlightened, but that just means they know what's real in life. They still get angry, make mistakes, and stub their toes. It's not a perfect world as a spiritual teacher, and many aren't enlightened. Some teachers are protectors of the path; so they help to make sure rituals are remembered and kept. In general, there are all kinds of types of spiritual teachers, and you can learn more about what a spiritual teacher is on this blog post link.

You will find all kinds of teachers. Some can teach you about how to appreciate your body through movement like conscious dance or yoga. Some can teach you about your heart and how to open it in love and service to others. Some can teach you about principles and ideas--which is the most commonly accepted form of spiritual teacher. Others will teach you through energy and their very presence may even shift you, depending on how they are designed to be. Every person has a different kind of soul design, let's say. Some just naturally resonate energy in a certain way, and their aim is to help people shift at the deepest level. In saying that, they are no more or less important than the other teachers, and as you've read this, you may realize that not everyone who is teaching in a profound way considers themselves to be a "spiritual teacher" as I'm defining it. That's fine. They don't need to. Definitions don't really earn you that much on the spiritual path. But you may realize that your 3rd grade teacher was a heart teacher, and that's where you learned a lot more lessons about love than you did about math or reading. That teacher may be the shining reason of how you've learned to offer and receive love. You probably never knew that you were being taught in that way until reading this blog.

Making Space for New Teachers at New Times
But a heart teacher is here to teach you about your heart. S/he may not take care of her/his body at all, and to learn that lesson, you'll need a different teacher. Some of us teachers can pretty much teach everything, although we all do some things better than others. And we are all growing and changing. To understand me a little more, I help people see the big picture and bring together what someone is learning in a cohesive way. It can be easy to get lost in all the different practices out there and make a mess. It's like having a recipe. You need certain proportions of ingredients to make a nice batch of chocolate chip cookies. If you don't, you just get a mess. So, I help people balance out what they're learning on the heart level, physical level, intellectual level, energy level, psychic level, etc. I make suggestions to people about when it's time to find a new body-healer or what-not as I see their development, but as I said, it's always up to the student to decide if that's right for her or him.

Being Activated by a Spiritual Teacher
Letting go of teachers is a tricky thing, right? Because when you're really activated at times, it's tough to see clearly. Being activated means one or more of your issues are being triggered. It becomes easy to project those issues onto a teacher. Say that you're working with a massage therapist/energy healer, and that person is working on abuse issues with you. Perhaps, the work has gotten deep, and now you're afraid this person is going to abuse or manipulate you. You want to get away from this person. That's called being activated. You're not seeing clearly because a lot of the abuse issue is getting moved like dirt getting kicked up in a dust storm. It happens like this so that you can clear it out. Much of clearing issues is kinda like re-living them. With the support of a good teacher, the issue moves, and you release it. And you should feel a little lighter and a little better. It's not always a clear cut thing in the intensity of the moment. If you don't feel like things are being healed, then that is a good sign that it's time to move on from this person. Just don't jump ship too soon. Dedication and commitment are extremely important things especially when the seas get rough.

Letting Go of the Notion of Progress
In instances of healing, there can be a clear sense of progress. If you have a broken leg, then when you can stand, you can feel the difference. In spiritual practice, you may not get a sense of progress, and it's important to let go of the idea of getting somewhere when you work with a spiritual teacher. The important thing is that as you develop your inner knowing, you continue to check in with that. You ask yourself, "Is this still a good relationship for me to have?" If the answer is "yes," keep going and trust the process. If it's "no," let your teacher know and move on. It's really very simple, and any true teacher should trust your right to make choices and live your life anyway you want. You may even make mistakes in when you let go of a teacher, but that's okay. If you fall on your face, that teacher will still be there to help you stand up because undoubtedly the teacher has done more than a few face-plants her or himself.

Trusting Your Spiritual Teacher
You should have chosen a teacher whom you can trust. As I said, your inner knowing is crucial here. It will help you to find what feels right for you when the teacher offers different ideas or practices. It'll help you to know when to leave and when to come back. This is a very fluid relationship, and some of you may only need certain types of spiritual teachers once every 2 or 3 years. It completely depends on you, and none of this operates on an 8 Steps to Enlightenment program that you can do in 30 days. I've noticed that such nonsense is running around out there. It's setting up strange expectations for people, and some of the techniques are being used with a lot of bad intentions around them--in this case, pushing people into places that they may not be truly ready to embrace.

I know there's a very immature line of thinking that says you're never in a place that you're not ready to be, but I try to be pragmatic in living in this world. I would say that sticking someone up on a mountain ledge to climb it without prior training is unnecessary. I mean you may still be able to do it, but part of how I work with students and create a safe space is to find the gear they need to climb and help them train on an indoor rock wall for awhile. In this way, that's how I do my part as a spiritual teacher to develop trust with students, and I encourage you when you search for spiritual teachers to make sure that they're creating a space and connection that you can trust.

Teachers Aren't Perfect and Neither Are You
Please, please, do yourself a favor: delete the word "perfect" from your vocabulary. You're not on this path to be perfect. You're on this path to be you to the fullest degree that you can be you, whatever that means. No one on this planet is perfect, and if you get into this path and into a relationship with a spiritual teacher looking for that perfection, you'll be disappointed. You may also ignore parts of you that are difficult to work with and that fall outside of your definition of perfection. A good teacher will help you go into those difficult parts, and you both may not have the right answers at the time. But as many notable teachers say, you do the best you can. And that's all that you can ever really expect from yourself and from a spiritual teacher. You both are going to do the best you can, and then you trust God and the universe to take care of the rest.
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