There was a blog post I read years ago about a guy looking for a way out of his misery. Let’s call him Bob. Some might have though of him as a spiritual seeker, but Bob probably wouldn’t have considered himself that. He was certainly searching and working for personal change. In short Bob wanted to be happy. We can use the terms here Spiritual Seeker and Spiritual Teacher and it doesn’t have to do with God. To me spirit just means Life. So if you are working to change your Life, then you are doing Spiritual work in the way that I use the term. I have a lot of atheists studying my approach and it doesn’t offend their beliefs at all once we explain what I mean by certain terms. Buddhists are spiritual, but they don’t worship a God. If you want to be more connected in your relationships, more connected to your Self, and feel connected in the world, then for me, that is Spiritual work. You could just as easily call it emotional work because it is about how you feel in your life. But I digress. Let’s get back to Bob.
So in this blog post Bob was describing what he wished for. Bob wanted some wise old master to come along, take a long look at him, and tell him, “I’ve been looking for you. There are things that you have been seeking, and it’s time that I share them with you.” That would be nice wouldn’t it? Someone show’s up, knows what we need deep down in our soul without you having to articulate it, then confidently takes you by the hand and delivers on it. It would be particularly awesome because perhaps at that stage of seeking we wouldn’t even know ourselves what we were looking for or how to articulate it. It would be as if we were thinking about prospecting for gold and some old miner walks by and says, “Hey, I’ve go something for you.” He drives us to the mountains, walks us back into a canyon, points to a particular spot on the ground, and says, “Dig right here.” All without even asking. That sure would save a lot of groping in the dark.
For a couple reasons it just doesn’t happen that way, but this is often how our conditioned mind imagines, or wishes it would happen.
First let’s understand why our mind might imagine it the way that it does. One of the things our mind does is imagine scenarios or stories. In those stories it casts us in a starring role, and assigns roles to other people in our imagination. These roles often fit set patterns. In the spiritual seeker role we are inexperienced and learning so we are groping and fumbling to change our life. It’s a struggle in the beginning just like any art or sport. You will fumble through growing pains learning public speaking and personal change can be a much bigger project depending on how far you take it. In public speaking we are just learning to make a better external presentation. In personal change work we are working to transform the inside and how that shows up externally. It’s much easier to fake the outside part. In public speaking you might just prepare one talk, give it and you are done. Being happy with yourself and in your relationships means you’ve got to live it every day. So it makes sense why we might fumble and fall down in the beginning and imagine ourselves as inadequate in this process.
So in this role playing we are naturally feeling inadequate and that is the role we cast and see ourselves in our mind. It is a kind of victim role as we feel somewhat powerless over the internal parts we are trying to change. Then from that victim perspective we imagine and script the rest of the story. The story is of change that we want to make, and since we are powerless in this imagined story, we need someone else to help us. So we create in our mind an imaginary person who will help us out and make things easy. This can be a spiritual teacher, therapist, coach, or savior. In a relationship scenario we might mentally cast our partner into the scripted role of making us happy.
Some of these roles are more intense than others in terms of the magnitude of the victim perspective, and what the teacher, or guide’s role is expected to do. If it is a really powerless victim perspective then the story needs a savior type person to do the saving. With a savior cast in the secondary role, the victim character doesn’t have to do much of anything. He or she just shows up, gives their life over to the savior character in their story, and the Savior does the rest. With a spiritual teacher, it is expected that you will have to do some work, but that you will be helped along with some kind of blessings or Grace from the teacher. With a coach, or Guide, it is more about them pointing out the most efficient paths, and informing you of the dead ends, pitfalls, and slippery rocks to avoid. Guides and coaches don’t carry you or your baggage. They provide the tools and guidance, but they aren’t lifting your burden off of you the way a savior character is expected to do. In any case there are different versions of the story and different degrees of victimization. I’ve tried to use different words to describe the different teacher roles we might script in our mind to make some distinctions in the different ways people might imagine a scenario.
The Problem with our Story
One of the problems with a Teacher actually playing out the role Bob’s victim character assigned him is that it reinforces a victim perspective in Bob’s mind. One of the roles of a Guide is to free a person from the dynamics of their victim based beliefs. If the guide comes along and plays this role for a person, it actually tends to reinforce a victim paradigm in the mind instead of break it.
The second problem with Bob’s wish for someone to come along is that it inflates his self importance. While the story casts him in a character role of a person that needs, help, it also casts him as a person who is special. Bob is so special that out of the millions of people that the teacher could have chosen, he chooses Bob to bestow his teachings on. That’s a great story of imagination to make Bob feel better about himself. This part of Bob’s script offsets the victim emotions of neediness and powerlessness that he feels in the struggle through personal changes.
So if a teacher doesn’t come along and tell Bob how special he is, or how he is one in a million, that’s because later on, that teacher, if he is worth his salt, is going to have to dismantle that self importance later. Now sometimes there can be real value in building up a person’s self esteem so they are more confident in themselves and therefore do more for themselves. So I’m not saying this doesn’t happen and can’t be helpful. It’s a trade off. This idea of” specialness”, can be distorted in a person’s mind to mean, “better than” other people. In the process of spiritual growth this eventually has to be clarified. That specialness quality balances itself by a clear understanding that all people are unique and special, yet all are of equal value and to be respected equally. All are different, and all are equal, and to be respected as much as yourself because they have the same human value of life. Sometimes this is an understanding better gotten further down the path as early on it can be quite a conflict for the ego.
So if Bob is a person with the kind of self importance that cries out to be recognized as special, then that just might be the kind of person a great coach or guide type teacher will ignore. It might not feel good for Bob to realize that his ego is screaming for attention, but that’s just the lesson he might when a teacher doesn’t pay any attention to him. It’s kind of ironic that we can learn about how our belief system reacts, and ourselves when someone we are trying to get attention from doesn’t.
So if we are aware of a story like this, or any story for that matter, we can look at the way our mind imagines these scenarios and learn something about the belief system of our ego. In the case of Bob we can observe the contradiction between a kind of victim character that seeks help and guidance because of a sense of powerlessness about doing it alone. At the same time this character is so special that he is chosen out of millions by a special teacher that sees something special within him. While these two parts of the ego’s identity can be contradictory, they can also exist within the same character we cast in our imagination. Seeing these ways our mind imagines things are clues to the types of limiting belief systems we are living by.
Finding the Right Teacher, Guide, Coach, Guru, Savior Fit for You
If the kind of spiritual teacher you are looking for fits the role of savior or guru, then you might get those stories of specialness from the guru style teacher. Perhaps they will dote upon you a kind of specialness, and tell you to rely on them for their blessings of grace and that will be enough. There is nothing wrong with this format for personal change. It has merit as a devotional path. Sometimes a person starts out with strong victim and specialness aspects of their personality and the guru type teacher is the type of teacher that will appeal to them.
The upside is when such a teacher has a level of awareness and plays the role the student assigns them in the beginning. This opens the door for the relationship and the student starts walking the path. Then as the student matures and grows in personal power, humility, and self love, the teacher weans the student off their victim story. At the same time, the teacher takes the student and pulls him up on the same pedestal, treating him or her with respect as an equal. The teacher doesn’t have to break the pedestal of respect that the student has put him on. Rather, the student is guided to climb up on the pedestal and treat himself and others with that same level of respect he established with the guru. It’s not about eventually kicking over the pedestal, but rather treating everyone, including yourself with that level of respect and reverence. By the teacher eventually working to dismiss stories of specialness, the student is guided to become free of previously limited beliefs.
The potential downside of this type of guru teacher is that they may become lost in the characterization of themselves. If you have a number of people around you and they are all putting you on a pedestal, and you play along, you find that such treatment is quite seductive. The teacher starts out playing a role in order to benefit the student, but can become trapped by that characterization that benefits him or herself. When he or she does so, the student is trapped and the teacher is trapped living in their illusionary stories. Because the teacher doesn’t assign a role of equal to the student, the student doesn’t have the beliefs of his victim, less than, persona challenged. This kind of trap has happened more than once with teachers, and is likely to happen again in the world.
Some clues as to what kind of teacher you are engaging with is to watch how they treat people and how they ask people to treat them. Do they sit alone on the stage, or ask others to come up and share. Do they encourage others to teach, or have some of their students progressed to teaching themselves, or are students discouraged?
Teacher – Student Relationships
If you are not seeking a guru type of teacher to guide you on a devotional path, you might do well with a guide or coach. A guide (or coach) type of teacher will have you carry your own weight. While they might have a tremendous quality of love and consciousness to impart to you, they won’t profess that this will be enough. They will expect you to work and practice in order to transform your inner self. Their long term goal is the same as the Guru, they just start with the premise that you have the legs strong enough to make the journey instead of waiting til later for you to believe that.
When it comes to these types of teachers you won’t get any special invitations. Coaches and Guides won’t reinforce, and even will challenge existing ego beliefs right from the start. To work with these Guides you essentially have to try out for the team. They might see all the raw talent and potential within a student, but won’t encourage them one bit. In their approach they know it will be a person’s personal effort and actions that make the difference and that is what they measure. It is more likely that the guide will assign a practice or exercise and see if you worked on it. It might even be a difficult practice, one that the teacher knows the student will struggle with. In this phase the teacher is testing to see what a person’s level of desire, work ethic, and commitment is. They don’t care if a person successfully completes an exercise. That is not a way to measure. For great students to become masters, it is more about persistence, and their willingness to continue even after they fall down.
In trying out for the team, and in this case, a personal and emotional growth path, can’t be measured by talent or early success. That’s because in the beginning, there is no talent to assess. In the beginning everyone is fumbling over their own ego, emotional reactions, insecurities, self judgments, and judgments of others. People don’t show up to the spiritual path process already enlightened, or with any great emotional skills. They usually don’t even start out as happy people. They typically show up because something isn’t working in their relationships and in themselves emotionally. So you see you can’t really spot long term potential in these situations.
Long Term Strategy vs. Short Term Wins
Nor can you tell who will work through their initial issues, and look around to see what else in their lives they can apply their spiritual tools to. Perhaps they forgive their ex and feel better about it. One person says, “Okay, I’m done with this work. I got out of it what I wanted.” But the next person says, “Hey, that feels better and if I go back and forgive everyone in my past I’m going to feel even better.” So the second person does some more work and cleans up all the emotional baggage from all their previous relationships. That second person is going to go a lot farther into unconditional love and consciousness. It is these second type of people that are willing to work harder, and longer that will make the longer journey. For these individuals the roots of their practice grow deep into love and can better weather other storms in their life.
A coach or guide is going to see the different types of people and notice these differences, simply because of who keeps showing up and the different results people get. It is this second type of person, the one that grows their spiritual roots deep, that demonstrates the potential to accomplish a great deal more in their personal journey. Because of that demonstrated action, and because that person just plain shows up more, the teacher will give them more attention, guidance, and support.
A Spiritual Teacher isn’t Going To Look for You and Pick You Out
It is the type of student that will continue to work their internal process through the different layers that arise over time that the teacher will invest more attention in. So if you are aligning your self with a coach or guide type of teacher, and you want to get a lot of guidance and attention to help you in your process, then do two things. One is to show up and keep showing up to get coaching and guidance. The second is to put into practice the exercises and techniques being taught. In this case it is not a matter of the teacher choosing the student. It’s more about the student choosing the teacher.
There is real value to be gotten from a good teacher. You can’t learn to quiet your mind from a book. You can’t learn to dance from a video. You can’t learn to fly an airplane by reading the manuals or watching other people do it. Mastery over your beliefs requires that you get into that space of thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and perspectives in your mind. Having someone guide you through the process can save you from a lot of painful trial and error efforts that don’t produce results.
Three important questions to help you select a teacher. The first is: Has this person done what you want to do? It is important to select someone that has mastery over the subject that you want to master? In personal development or spiritual work this isn’t always easy to determine as you don’t know what emotions they feel, or the quality of their personal relationships when the public isn’t looking. For this reason it is important to spend some time getting to know the right coach or teacher. Don’t just write them off one direction or another based on one opinion.
The second question is: Does this person have the ability to convey it to me in a way that is effective for me to learn? I’ve put my Self Mastery audios on line so people can listen and do this work at their own pace. However, in the beginning, when it is dark and change isn’t possible, this might be too much. That person might be better off showing up at an event, or seeing a guide/coach in person. This way they are more accountable and are more likely to do the actions the teacher asks. Because of this some people start working with me by showing up at my events.
The third question to be addressed is, “Are you both willing?” Will the teacher make the effort to put their attention on you and your process? And are you willing to make the effort to put your attention on yourself and your process? That’s why sometimes you need to show up and embrace their work first. When you demonstrate this effort, then the teacher will take notice and say, “Okay, this person is demonstrating that they are worth my time and attention.”
I hope this helps.