Now, not all spiritual teachers are alike, and I'm certainly a specific type of spiritual teacher (You can read more about the topic in "What Is a Spiritual Teacher?"). So when I'm writing this blog, I am speaking towards how I and others like me work. Many other spiritual teachers are actually very helpful in preparing students for the deep work I offer. Many people often benefit in working with me after having worked with those types of teachers and having learned about other spiritual traditions. Then I can help them go deeper into those ingrained beliefs, core issues, and fundamental human drivers (like the fear of death). Working with someone else before me is not a prerequisite, however--there are no prerequisites in this work. It's just something I've observed for many people.
1. The Student Knows All Her/His Answers Are WithinThis is a really important idea with which to have come to terms. Until this happens, individuals come to a spiritual teacher and can get really turned off when the teacher doesn't answer their questions. A student may wrongly assume the teacher is stupid, uninformed, or willfully trying to undermine them. It's a little ridiculous. If you add in a super cynical attitude, many of these individuals barely last any amount of time in working with a true teacher. Which makes it difficult for much inner work to happen for that person.
When the spiritual student realizes that the teacher doesn't have their answers, a lot of beautiful things can happen. If a teacher sends a question back to the student like, "Who am I?", then the student is more willing to grapple with the question as opposed to hoping the teacher will tell him/her. The teacher can help show how the student's thinking is creating her/his reality. Energetically, the student is much more open to connect to the energy of the spiritual teacher, to themselves, and to the Divine. This sacred trinity of interconnection often brings issues, feelings, and ideas up into the student's consciousness that otherwise would have stayed hidden. This is when the work gets really good and often intense.
2. The Student Is Willing to Be VulnerableI'm not sure we're ever quite fully ready to be vulnerable because each time it comes, it always feels brand new. But the student has to at least have the willingness to be vulnerable. Without it, the conversations and the work will dance along in the shallow end, and all the big mountainous issues in the room will be avoided. The teacher may touch something, and the student will retreat. It becomes a game of freeze tag. The teacher tags the student, "Tag! You're it." But in freeze tag, the taggee is now stuck. The work gets stuck.
Most commonly, Westerners retreat to the intellectual mind. They think that spiritual work is about beliefs and ideas, and they hide from the messiness of their body, heart, and energy. Thus, the encouragement to be vulnerable is an encouragement to be vulnerable on all levels. An open-mind doesn't take you very far if the heart and everything else are still be closed. And usually, it's the mind that is helping to keep things closed, so how open is it really?
3. The Student Is Ready to WorkWithout self-discipline, going to a spiritual teacher for a session, a retreat, or workshop is kinda like going to the movies. You have a blast for a couple of hours, feel a little bit of an energy high, and then come back to the reality of your life where nothing has changed. This is because you haven't created the space to change. Energy connections go on in sessions with me, but they can only do so much. It's like if a little surge of water comes to your fields. If you don't till the land to receive the water, most of it just runs off. Sure, some of that life juice seeps in, but the fullness that you could have received is otherwise unappreciated and unabsorbed.
This is part of why I named my ebook "Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening." The idea is that you are actively doing work to create space for spirituality in your life. You are cultivating your spiritual life. That means getting out the hoe and shovel to remove rocks and debris and anything that is going to impede your spiritual growth. Then when you call a spiritual teacher into your life, you can more deeply absorb this energy into your life. This energy can then help you unearth things you did not know were there. But since you're ready to work, you can use this as opportunity to go even deeper where others would have run away.
4. The Student Is Ready to Be Humble and CourageousSomehow, it feels like humility and courage go together, so they come in at number four together. It is incredibly humbling to see how much inner crap you can carry. When you see this, you may want to runaway and avoid it. This is most people's conditioning. Consequently, we all have to learn how to be humble and accept what we see within ourselves. We also have to be courageous to face our inner garbage. This inner work takes us to a new level of taking responsibility for our lives.
Most people haven't been paying any attention to their inner world, so they may have no idea what it feels like to take responsibility for thought patterns and feelings. Instead of justifying an unconscious statement as, "This is just how I feel," you have to learn how to unravel these feelings and the things you say and do. The teacher will point out these aspects to you, and each time, it will require new humility and new courage to hear, see, and take action to heal this latest discovery.
In general, humility is a core ingredient to working with a teacher so that you can accept things you don't want to hear. The opposite of humility is pride. Pride is one of the great hiders. It hides away people's issues, and it will try to control everything going on around you to keep you safe. But instead of safety, it keeps you trapped and beyond help. Thus, humility is the sledgehammer that you have to take to your own pride. I cannot emphasize enough how important this. Most of the worst sessions I've ever had involved a student with too much pride who thinks they already know everything about themselves and often how the session should go.
5. The Student Is Ready to Embrace LoveOh, this one looks like the easiest one, but it is often the hardest. People have so much self-hate that they have no idea what love looks or feels like. Love can be the MOST threatening thing a spiritual teacher ever offers to someone. It can challenge a person to look at all their darkness. It can challenge a person to redefine their ideas of love and learn how it can be present in deeply connected ways in many relationships. Many students who are unready to embrace love think that they are in love with their spiritual teachers. Others may decide that they absolutely hate the teacher, which can seem ironic. But if the unconscious ego is still in too much control, it'll see kindness as having ulterior motives. It'll think that the teacher is trying to torture you by bringing up painful memories, or the unconscious ego will otherwise assume that the intense discomfort that has come up in connection with the spiritual teacher is somehow the teacher's fault. Then the student will runaway.
These things happen. They are all part of the many layers of defense mechanisms that people create. Love destroys those mechanisms. I know it may sound shocking to think of love as destructive, but love is here to teach us important and often hard lessons. It is also like water. Anywhere there is a dam between a student and me, love is pressuring that dam so that we can connect. The more blockages there are, the worse love can feel. And it isn't just the teacher's love, it's also the student's love. That's a lot of what students are really feeling. They're feeling the pounding of their own love trying to burst out of the dam to connect in a real and true way, potentially for the first time. And when that connection is made, now the individual can begin to learn how to bring that love into all aspects of their life. That's one of the greatest gifts a spiritual teacher can offer.
5 Ego Defenses and Traps You Need to Know
I am sure that some of these words may bring up some concerns and fears if you are interested in connecting with a spiritual teacher. That is actually normal. The important part is knowing that fear is coming up. The important part is knowing that this fear is not you and that you are doing something very healthy and helpful in connecting with a spiritual teacher. There will be some really fun and amazing moments in this work, but because so many people think that spirituality is a new way to non-stop ecstasy, I have to set up the framework in the way that I do. If anything, doing inner work will make the fun parts of the connection more fun because there won't be quite so much expectation that this is what you should always feel with a spiritual teacher.
Trepidation and Fears About Connecting With a Spiritual Teacher
And of course for those of you in the healing and growth phases after a spiritual awakening, well, this is a whole other kit and kaboodle. What I wrote still applies, but there's an added element in that we are engaging with your awakened awareness together. Usually in awakening, it's pretty clear if you're ready or not to work with a spiritual teacher or if your inner teacher is ready to run the show. The benefit here is that in connecting with me, your energy is learning from my energy what it can look like to embody awakening and not just be floating off in the ether.
Contacting a Spiritual Teacher and Continuing on Your Spiritual PathFor those of you interested in working with me, feel free to click over to the contact page and send me a message. There are also plenty of other wonderful spiritual teachers out there, and if you need more help in choosing one, please check out this blog post.
How to Find a Spiritual Teacher
Be well on your spiritual journey!
Today's photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.
Post updated on January 2, 2017.