But not every teacher is right for every student, and the first thing to delve into are your own needs.
Confused, Scared, DirectionlessI have no illusions that many of you have been and felt very lost. The idea of connecting to your own inner knowing seems like something that happens on the other side of the moon. But that's not true at all. You own intuition/inner knowing is always right here. It's always waiting for you to start listening, and if you feel like you need a spiritual teacher to help you out of the muck, I encourage you to go even slower. Because the old and unhealthy habit of people is to give their power away. They say to themselves, "Ah-ha! Here's a person with all my answers. I'll just do whatever she/he tells me to do."
But that isn't right. That just continues cycles of pain because even if the teacher is extremely conscious or even awake, s/he can't know what your answers are. Only you do. And even if what the spiritual teacher is telling you sounds right a lot, the teacher won't always be right in what actions you need to take or not to take. You cannot abdicate your power on your spiritual path to ANYONE. So if you are interested in finding a spiritual teacher and you feel especially confused, I encourage you to slow down and take a few more breaths before making any big commitments.
The Many Types of Spiritual TeachersI like to point people to my "What Is a Spiritual Teacher?" blog because I see this sacred role in many aspects, including the mind, heart, body, and energy/spirit. I believe spirituality is in all things, and so you can have teachers helping you with different levels of awareness in each of these different aspects of yourself. For instance, I consider yoga teachers who teach physical poses such as vinyasas and so forth to be spiritual teachers to the body. Putting aside those people who just teach yoga as an athletic outing, yoga teachers help people bring consciousness to their bodies. They help students to see what's stuck and where in their physical bodies. They help them to be in difficult spaces and to breathe into those spaces. And they help them prepare for that beautiful meditation that comes at the end of a yoga routine. All of this is part of helping someone appreciate the sacredness in their body.
And there are many more types of spiritual teachers. Some few can teach multiple aspects, and some fewer are masters that teach every aspect simply through the profundity of presence and being. These masters can use any tool in the toolkit--any aspect of life--to teach if they even feel called to teaching. Ultimately, teaching for masters is just a matter of being, not of action, so they'd be wholly different to experience than other teachers who are still doing a lot of types of instruction. I always warn people about running off to seek a master because most people have no idea what that term means and the reality of the individual that they are seeking.
The Cultivation of the Inner TeacherYou should also be paying attention to how the teachers you find cultivate their students' inner teachers. Some of the biggest warning signs are teachers that make you dependent on them for knowledge, connection to God/universe, or anything else. I know some older traditions get stuck on yoking/tethering yourself to one tradition or teacher. The hook into that tradition is that the teacher/teaching becomes your means to salvation/nirvana/moksha or some other magnificent sounding term. To the unaware student (and this isn't meant to be critical--most us have been unaware because of how we've been taught to look for our gratification and answers externally), these high-falluting terms sound pretty good. We're like, "Yeah! Gimme some of that."
Then you're caught in the cycle of karma with that teacher. Because make no doubt about it, the teacher is locked in a cycle of karma whenever he is professing to have all your answers or the keys to your enlightenment. Only you can ever have those, and when you hear teachers telling you that you have your answers, you may actually be frustrated or scared in a new way. This is actually a good thing, but it may take time to get used to it. Because these uncomfortable feelings are your outer layers of lies that are standing in the way of your inner teacher. I encourage you to inquire further within, and of course, there's never any rush to do so. So you can touch these feelings, and then back off before making any decisions. Then lean into them again to see what it is you are really afraid of.
The Online Phenomenon and Basics of Locating a Spiritual TeacherOkay, so I'm sure some of you were looking for tips on locating a spiritual teacher. As I said, obviously, the Internet is one. It brought you here. But the Internet is a big, big place, so here are additional thoughts on that score:
- Facebook. Lots of us teachers have set up shop on Facebook with profiles and pages. It's worth a look-see to see if someone is saying something that resonates for you.
- YouTube. I love how YouTube has given even more voice to teachers. I encourage you to check out their different channels and listen to teachers like Mooji and Eckhart Tolle.
- Google. Clearly many of you know this, but you can search on different topics and on spiritual teachers specifically to learn more.
As for the more commonly understood types of spiritual teachers, they can be found at meditation groups, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other groups. Oftentimes you can find different types of groups with advertisements at spiritual bookstores, the church bulletin board, or yoga studios. As always, keep tuning in to your inner knowing to see who feels right to you.
Finding an Awakened Spiritual TeacherFinding an awakened spiritual teacher is still kind of rare these days. I expect that will change, and I often tell people that this isn't quite as important as it may sound. You just need the right teacher for you in this moment. Sometimes you'll go through different teachers to help you through different phases, and that's perfectly healthy and okay. I think the bigger problems come when someone gets into the "until-death-do-us-part-mentality" with spiritual teachers. Then they can't let that person go when it is clearly time to move on. The spiritual teacher may even tell the student that it's time to leave and continue the journey on their on or to find a new teacher. But attachment is a nasty thing, is it not?
So, there is this way that you have to learn how to hold this relationship loosely, and yet it also requires you to be disciplined at times. You can't run away from the teacher, per se. Ultimately, it's just you running away from you, and I bring this up because an awakened teacher often scares the marbles out of people. There is a very powerful energy that is alive and moving in an awakened spiritual teacher, and that energy connects with students to be a kind of tuning fork for the students to find their own inner pitch. Awakened teachers tend to work on the most basic and profound level of presences and energy. And for many unprepared students, this is a shock and triggers all the old ego defense mechanisms when that inner harmony starts to resonate batch to the teacher's pitch. So I encourage most of you to not idealize this type of teacher and really only go searching for one when you're ready.
The Awakening StudentThe best students for an awakened teacher will always be students in awakening. It's not because awakening students can't get support for unawakened teachers (who can be very kind, loving, and conscious), but the awakened teacher knows the spiritual integration process. The awakened spiritual teacher won't try to force the awakening student into a structure, which can happen with the unawakened teacher. The unawakened teacher tends to be a little too committed to the structure that they are teaching (yogic philosophy, the Koran, the Bible, etc.). They don't always understand the amazing blessing of what is happening, and it's actually what the many key spiritual teachers in the aforementioned books and in other teachings were pointing to. So, the awakened student can potentially get trapped in a shell that is no longer needed. Don't misunderstand me--all spiritual and religious traditions are helpful. But they have their roles, and when the spark of wisdom is aflame, there is a time to step back and a way to properly fan the flames.
And most often with awakening students, that role is to fan the flame of their own inner knowing.
Continually Return to Your Inner KnowingI think you're noticing a theme here, right? How to find a spiritual teacher is about how to listen to yourself. It's also being willing to step into inner challenges because the right teacher may sometimes scare you. It's also being willing to step out when something no longer serves you or if you feel like it's not the right relationship. It's a delicate dance some days, and other days, it's extraordinarily clear what to do. If you really don't know how to tune into yourself, I encourage you to search the other blogs here I have about your inner knowing. No one can tell you who the right spiritual teacher is for you except your owner inner teacher. And that's ultimately where this whole thing is taking you--back inside to the wisdom you already own.
Today's lovely photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.