The Humbling Process in Becoming a True Teacher

spiritual humility, tree, blue sky, dead tree
Anyone who realizes anything on this spiritual path typically goes through a humbling process.

It's humbling to see that we aren't who we thought we were.

It's humbling to see that many of our assumptions about life aren't true.

It's humbling to see how much suffering we've caused ourselves and others.

It's humbling to know that most if not all of that suffering was unnecessary.

There is so much to be humbled about, and as I said, most anyone who is sincerely on this path will be humbled. But for those who truly are called to teach, more humbling is required. It's required because you'll be working with more types of people than just yourself, and you need to be a clear space for so many more kinds of attachments than you ever could imagine existed.

Jim's Mentorship Program (Being Taught How to be a Spiritual Teacher)

Investigating Your Call to Spiritual Teaching

Most of the people I've ever met who are spiritual teachers are on this path for the wrong reasons. Those reasons include:

Seeking a sense of specialness

Seeking to help others with issues that they haven't or only partially healed in themselves

Thinking that they know the truth after an initial spiritual experience

Thinking that they know the truth after years of study

This last one comes up particularly for people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s plus. I think the ego must be dismayed by all its failures, and so it has to assume success somehow. It's like, "Well, I've studied all of this and spiritual truth is simple, so I must already know it!"

But the present moment isn't a test. You don't read books on it to prepare you for it. You are in it; you are it. It's realization--a deeper understanding of this truth--that helps a person take the steps towards spiritual teaching if they are called. If not, the above types of teachers are like dance instructors who have only seen dances on video streaming sites and think they can teach others how to dance.

Finding Your Calling as a Spiritual Teacher

The Desire to be Special

Appreciating Different Levels of Spiritual Teachers

Now, I want to be clear about  the fact that there are all kinds of spiritual teachers operating at all kinds of levels of understanding. They serve many, many useful functions in maintaining social structure. Most teachers are in what I call level 1 and level 2 categories. 

Level 1 teachers are teachers who have learned a spiritual tradition, and they repeat it for everyone else. They go to seminary; they get attuned for energy; they get trained in coaching; and so forth. They are exceptionally common, and they will always be needed to help teach rules to people and continue spiritual traditions. Most people want clear rules to tell them what to do and how to live so that they can live safe, happy, and healthy lives, and hat's what most major spiritual traditions and spiritual teachers do.

Unfortunately, it's not possible to ensure safe, happy, and healthy lives for everyone, but a lot of these spiritual traditions seem to give people a level of illusory comfort. So they serve a purpose.

Level 2 teachers usually have had some kind of significant spiritual experiences, and they typically want to give those same types of experiences to others. It's like a yoga teacher who had a profound yoga experience once, and now they teach the style of yoga that helped them to others. They are typically confined in their understanding to only what they have experienced and can't see beyond their modality/tradition much like level 1 teachers. Furthermore, level 2 teachers often badly misinterpret their experiences because of all the unresolved ego inside.

Misinterpreting Spiritual Experiences

You can read more about spiritual teachers here:

What Is a Spiritual Teacher?

The Path of the True Teacher

But if you want to be a "higher level teacher"--please hold this level idea loosely--this is a whole other animal. You have to want to truly know the truth and be willing to surrender everything. In this way, you WILL NOT feel higher than everyone. Instead, you are going to be ground to dust.

This is very humbling and powerful in a way that almost no one understands. 

Right now, everyone around the world is walking on dust/dirt. They are silently uplifted by it. It doesn't matter your name, religion, sexual orientation, gender, skin color, location, or anything else. You are being uplifted by the ground beneath you.

That's what a true teacher is like. While other lower level teachers often seek to be higher than everyone, the true teacher seeks to be lower than low. They seek to embrace the truth of their nobodyness.

In that space, they can support anybody.

Be Nobody

Stripped of Attachments

The humbling process usually begins in everyday life. Whether by your teacher's guidance or life itself, things that you truly want are taken from you.

And I'm not talking about the clean out the closet spiritual tool where you get rid of old stuff you aren't using. I'm talking about having the closet, room, and home taken from you. The emphasis here has to be on "taken from you" because that is how it feels to the ego.

In truth, we own nothing. We are owned by nothing. But in our ignorance and arrogance, we think we own things, including our perspective on life. However, much of our perspective on life was taught to us by other people; it isn't really ours. Realizing this leads to deeper humility and further engagement with the question, "Who am I?" As other things are "taken," the potential teacher finds deeper wisdom about how little they know. 

So attachments get pulled away, and it is not a "nice" experience for the ego. Attachments are like:

  • Becoming a parent or being a parent
  • Financial security
  • Your health
  • The health of your loved one(s)
  • The career you were passionate about
  • The life of a loved one (meaning that someone passes)
  • Your certainty about your understanding of yourself
  • Your certainty about your perceptions of life

There are plenty of other deep attachments too, but these are fairly common ones. And few people can pass through this stripping away process correctly. Most hold on to their attachments and hope that the thing that was lost will be returned.

Giving Up Something You Don't Want to Give Up

The Humbling Process Continues

The above experiences happen to a lot of people on this path. The difference with a true teacher is that somehow s/he also has a deeper sense of loss that opens them to the pain of others more profoundly than it otherwise might. A deepening of empathy and love happens that is critical to be of service to others that may be dramatically different than the teacher and who have attachments that the teacher knows nothing about.

So different experiences with people outside the potential teacher's social experience often enter their lives. For example, a potential teacher who knows nothing about rape and sexual abuse meets and engages deeply with people with such trauma. A potential teacher who knows nothing about hunger meets people who are starving or who are food-insecure. A potential teacher who knows nothing about financial distress meets people who are poor, or that teacher experiences poverty themselves. Sometimes the needed experience arises for the potential teacher. It's the type of thing that only the Divine can really bring.

The list goes on, and it is unique for each potential teacher. Essentially, they are learning more and more about the depths of suffering, and at times, they may also be actively sharing in deeper levels of suffering than they once had.

Suffering Is Grace

Embracing Your Ignorance

Along the way, the potential teacher is forced into a deeper embrace of their ignorance. 

You don't know anything.

Through the humbling process, that truth transforms into an immense power.

The unconscious ego is confused by that. To the ego, knowing things is power. But the statistical reality is that we know next to nothing about ourselves much less anything else. The typical human is 99% bacteria DNA.

Did you know that? Do you have any idea what all that bacteria is doing?

I know I sure don't. And in so many ways, I don't even understand what the 1% human DNA is even up to!

So we haven't even left our bodies to look at anyone or anything else, and we logically run up against this massive amount of ignorance. The only thing to do is to be curious.

Asking Questions, Inquiry, and the Curious Teacher

If you've ever been lucky enough to run across a true teacher, you may notice that when they interact with someone directly that they ask a lot of questions. 


They realize that they know nothing.

However, being curious allows a teacher to more fully know another person and to support the other person where they are. That's critical to being a true teacher; we meet you where you are.

You'll notice that other types of teachers want you to meet them where they are. That means, you have to believe what they believe. Or you must do what they do with the assumptions that it'll get you what you want and that they know what you want. There are endless problems here; most people don't know why they want what they want. And most spiritual traditions and paths are just trying to continue the tradition, not free anyone from attachments.

But with the true teacher, they want to understand you. The more they understand you, the more easily they can show you where you are attached. They want to help you be free of these attachments, and they have realized some level of freedom from ego and suffering to know what that freedom actually Is, not what someone else wrote about spiritual freedom in a book about the Buddha.

Spiritual Liberation and the End of Ego Suffering

Grinding Down the Ego to Dust

Grinding the ego down is not fun. Few people can stomach it. They usually just think the teacher or life situation applying the pressure is being cruel. This is one of countless reasons that few people ever become true teachers.

A person has to have some kind of deeper resilience to move through this. This is a resilience beyond resilience because most resilience is just the ego holding on. This deeper resilience comes through surrender where the person gives up their attachments. As they do, they find out again and again that all those attachments did--no matter how seemingly well-intentioned--was to make them suffer and to make others suffer.

At key points like that, the person turns towards the grindstone. They ask their teacher or the Divine power to increase the pressure--to grind away more. They are beginning to understand the depth of their attachments and the necessity of being humbled. Because only through humility can they lift others up and can they know the truth. Only through humility can they truly serve others with no thought/attachment to themselves. Only through humility can they be truly free and live a life in reality and service to others.

Spiritual Humility and Life Under God's Grindstone


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