Recognize your teachers: the guru within and the guru without
The road to soul fulfillment and spiritual progression is always inviting us to practice some good old discernment.
When is it that I am looking for a teacher because I lack confidence in my own inner guru versus when is it I am avoiding support due to pride — or fearing a higher commitment to the path?
For those who have a call to focus and progress in their spiritual path, here are some reflections of what’s the point of working with a spiritual guide.
It’s like comparing walking on the ground and mountain climbing. Once you learn how to walk, you can walk on the ground by yourself, but if you want to climb Mount Everest, you need a guide.” Seyyed Hossein Nasr
#1 Your practice is scattered, and you are confused
One day you do zazen, two days later go to a holotropic breathing workshop, and next weekend you go to a mushroom ceremony or have a reiki session. There’s an interest, there is a longing, but there is confusion, there is no discipline, and no sustainable effort.
This is so clear today, when so many people are interested in spirituality, going to different types of events and ceremonies, but having no idea how all of these connect to each other, how energy works, how to integrate. It is like a hobby that takes them a bit out of the matrix, but does not go much further.
The Spiritual disciplines are wisdom and not righteousness.” Dallas Willard
This lack of commitment and jumping around might provide fun and glimpses, but it is counterproductive to sustainable expansion and progression. It creates energy confusion as there’s no depth or discipline that allows any specific practice to build up. Don’t get me wrong: expanding and progressing is joyful, but not all fun means walking forward- sometimes we are just spinning around, if not playing on a slide. Why are you on this path in the first place?
Without clarity and honesty, we don’t progress. We just stay stuck in the same vicious cycle.” Pema Chödrön
There’s also a certain naïvity, that because one can feel something ‘energetically’, this movement of energy in one’s body must be a good thing. However, not all energy work is healing; sometimes it is just energy manipulation. Not all spiritual and energetic practices go together and contribute to each other. Also, any practice is not limited to “practice time”; practices activate different things in us that continue after the session- and these processes need their time to integrate. It is not because we cannot feel something after that is not there — as we progress and expand, we also upgrade our sensitivity about what is happening in our koshas (the different layers of our being).
A guide will support you to break through from being scattered and channel your energy.
#2 You want to go deeper, but don’t know how
You feel stuck in your spiritual journey, and not sure how to move forward. Here is the thing: not everyone wants to walk forward. Some just want to do enough to have a sense of well-being and that’s fine, that might be their path. But some know there’s more for them and the call is strong. For that, a spiritual guide can be of great help.
Be humble and recognize when you could use a good hand.
There’s a risk in this path that we keep without guidance just so we keep playing safe. We keep repeating the same practices even when we are ready for new ones. This is a play of the ego, holding us back. Working with a guide can be scary because a guide will not allow us to do that.
Every so often comes a time that the next step is unclear. In a way we all can do it alone; it might just take extra time. Sure, sometimes life will put you in situations to help you figure that next step out. Sometimes that step is to work with someone else. Be open to what is presented to you, to what feels in alignment at this moment.
Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.” William Butler Yeats
Guides work as expanders and catalyzers, helping us to break mental models that are limiting us- and we get closer to our true ourselves every time we let go of these illusions.
#3 Understand that you are not alone, and don’t have to reinvent the wheel
It is true that in our spiritual path we are to face the unknown, that we walk alone, and, at times, it’s pretty much like going down a rabbit hole. However, that doesn’t mean we have to make it harder than it has to be. Many have done this before. Multiple paths have been found, which cater to people with different abilities and needs.
As we are in a moment of big shifts, which includes letting old structures go, many of these old paths have been questioned, and rightly so. Gladly, we are all connected, and the progress of all those who came before us benefits us all; their spiritual progress benefits the collective soul. This means that people starting on their path today naturally start at a higher level than our ancestors- and we have much to thank our ancestors for that.
I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.” Khalil Gibran
In practice, this means that we don’t need to do certain things that our ancestors needed to do; some things don’t need to be so rigid anymore, for today we begin from a higher frequency already. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t need lineages and paths. It just means they have to be updated to the current state of things.
Have the discernment to identify when you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and when you have a strong call to work with a lineage or a specific teacher who has abilities you can greatly use to catalyze your growth.
#4 You need inspiration and motivation
This is a lonely path, that requires discipline, devotion, and patience. As we walk our path, we all want to quit at some point. Is this all worth it?
If you knew how many times I asked myself if I was going borderline crazy. Yes, we question “reality” multiple times. More than guiding your practice, a spiritual guide will provide the motivation and inspiration to keep going. Who knows, maybe even adding some lightness and humor into it, if you are lucky.
When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready… the teacher will disappear.” Tao Te Ching
#5 Avoid unnecessary mistakes and progress faster
The spiritual world is full of optical illusions. Guidance saves us time and energy and can prevent us from getting hurt unnecessarily. It’s beautiful that we can redirect all our falls into life lessons — and many times we do need to fall. However, not all mistakes are necessary.
Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.” Josef Albers
This also allows us to progress faster, as we support each other: what would be of scientific progress if everyone had to figure out exactly the same formulas on their own, over and over again? Guidance is a catalyst, it can help with that.
#6 Humbleness and learning through relationships
Gurur Brahma Gurur Visnur Gurur devo Mahesvarah
Guruh saksat param Brahma tasmai sri gurave namah
As the Guru mantra above reminds us, the guru is everywhere. The guru of creation, the permeator, the destroyer. The guru in us, the guru far from us.
Yes, we all have our inner guru. We are our own guru, life is our guru, and sometimes a guide is our guru.
There’s much talk about no need for an external guru. Often times we really don’t. Yet have the discernment that all that self-sufficiency is not camouflaging for pride and arrogance. Or even for fear of the work that this might require of you, for a guide will take you out of your comfort zone and show you things you don’t see — otherwise, she/he wouldn’t be a guide.
A teacher is not a savior as much as a helping hand, a facilitator- as your math teacher in school was.
We all learn so much from relationships, and sometimes what our path is asking of us is to soften by having a teacher figure. Sometimes we need a teacher merely to learn to be humble. To break that inner arrogance, to let go of pushing, and controlling. Life is but a book full of metaphors creating the situations we need to progress. A guide is one of them.
If you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather learn to see your own faults.” Sri Sarada Devi
Also, multiple teachers can come in a lifetime. My tantra guru says he has had over 60 gurus in his life so far. Recognize the need for a teacher, and recognize when it’s time to let the teacher go. It’s that simple. How about not make such a big deal about it?
Just like everything in life is a teacher, sometimes a teacher “teacher” is a teacher. Sometimes you have enough within you to walk the next few steps. Sometimes you could use an extra hand. Use all these magnificent resources that have been put at your disposal humbly and wisely. Open yourself to receive.
#7 Devotion: surrender & trust
Your guide is a person from whom you have chosen to learn things. A part of this agreement requires surrendering to the process. This is a chance to learn surrender and obedience from a place of love. That’s the agreement. To trust. What is spiritual practice without surrender and trust?
Again, there are multiple ways to learn this. Sometimes life will create family and work situations for that. Other times, it will give you a spiritual guide. It’s just another way; trust your path, for your path, is yours, and the tools given to you are given to you. Can you handle them?
As long as you are there with a guide, be there, in totality. Spiritual progression doesn’t work when we only put our toes in the water. We are to jump, as a token of trust.
If you no longer can trust and surrender to your guide, then stop wasting your and their time: just like in any relationship, why would you stay in any relationship like that?
Now, if you have issues surrendering and trusting in general, I invite you to take a good look at yourself — maybe these are just the virtues you need to develop next to progress in your path. To be able to surrender and trust is a big part of the progression itself. Again, a guide can help you with that, through the teachings, sure, but also through the relationship itself.
To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.” Gautama Buddha
The spiritual path takes patience, time, willingness, and discipline. Oftentimes people come to me expecting shortcuts. The work, however, is to be able to sustain the connection in the long term. The only shortcut that I know of to do this is devotion. The more devoted we are, the faster we get to progress. The thing is, this is not a shortcut at all: you can’t fake devotion.
Discipline, willingness, you kind of can fake these till you make it. Devotion is either in your heart or not. A spiritual guide is an invitation to tap into devotion, surrendering, and trusting.
#8 You know some things you don’t know, but you don’t know what you don’t know
There are things we know that we don’t know, and there are things we don’t know that we don’t know. People who have walked farther than us can see things we cannot even consider exist. A guide can guide you on (at least) some of these, so you can experience them yourself and have.
You might hit your head on the wall on and on, feel stuck telling yourself all kinds of stories of why, but still not managing to break through. A guide might have that magic sword that you can use to cut through.
You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” Galileo Galilei
I remember when I was in elementary school learning the Pythagorean theorem. My math teacher didn’t just write the theorem on the board. He taught us a few other simple geometric relationships throughout the week, and then set some challenges to allow us to find out the theorem on our own.
Of course, the teacher knew the theorem, but he never told us. In fact, he never even told us what we were looking for. He just disclosed what was needed to get us to find it out on our own.
When we had a doubt, we would ask something, and he would answer what was needed to keep us on the right track and not get diverted. That’s all that spiritual teachers do: they put us on the path, entice us to walk forward, and help us to stay on the path, as they see the traps on the way.
I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” Socrates
#9 Elevate self-awareness and transmute self-righteousness
Any relationship is a great teacher; add a hierarchy in there and we are surely going to get a lot of triggers. When on the spiritual path, we often hear about the importance of not judging others. Every time we have a finger pointing at someone, we get three fingers pointing back at ourselves. Projections open the door to the great teachings of self-awareness.
“Love of the truth puts you on the spot.” Naropa Institute motto
Teachers are not perfect — and neither are you. I mean, how could they? They are human, in flesh and bone. Whoever is on this planet carries shadows, it’s that simple. They are not heroes or saints; they are helping hands.
I don’t expect my English teacher to be a perfect example of life; I mean I don’t want to deal with them if they are abusive or a jerk, but I don’t expect perfection. I expect first and foremost for them to be able to teach me English, not to be my therapist and hero. A guide can help you — but never walk your path for you.
Know what you can learn from a guide, what you came here for, and leave the rest aside.
Stop looking for perfection in someone else.
Judgment creates separation and must go. If we are not willing to work on that, we have certainly set a very clear boundary in how much we are willing to walk in the path. I know that many of us who have a big teenage rebel inside have issues with hierarchy and obedience. It’s a teaching in relaxing and finding inner peace.
Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
Growing up in a society with old structures and rigid hierarchies, of course, a part of us wants to rebel. Love, compassion, acceptance, and eliminating self-righteousness is part of the path. Expansion requires flexibility; it’s hard to expand something rigid and tense. That’s part of the “test”, or “play”. Our human structures might be terribly flawed, and much work is there for us to do, but don’t be mistaken: spirit, Light, or whatever you want to call it, is full of extremely rich structures. Ours are imperfect reflections. As above, so below.
Also, any guide is also on their progression path. Be sure they are learning and expanding a lot by teaching, and through the mirrors of their students. The more they guide, the more connected they get, and the more they channel so that the more they can serve. The same happens to you the more you trust, devote yourself and expand.
All that said, I am afraid ascended masters are not easily spotted on Earth. Maybe we are to learn to not treat anyone as perfect, as a savior, and be able to use them as mirrors for self-awareness. If earlier in history we bowed too easily to religions and leaders, maybe now we point fingers too easily and walk around with low self-awareness. Things change, meaning the necessary teachings change. I find that fitting to a period where distractions are so abundant, and inner silence so rare.
Relationships are great masters of the spiritual path. They give us a mirror through which we can learn through self-awareness. See, a monk in a cave might have a harder time observing how selfish he is than you can when your friend asks you for a piece of your chocolate. Self-awareness is a gift, and a spiritual guide can be a brutal mirror.
On top of that, guides that are following a true calling have a special gift of activating things in people by mere association. Out of a sudden, all kinds of triggers and shadows pop up in your life. Especially because when we signal to Spirit that we really want to go on that ride, believe me, Spirit won’t hold back the lessons. Trust me, this is a big part of the path. When working with a guide, your work will catalyze, which can be quite painful at times. It’s definitely not for everyone. But if you got the call, you got the call, and you will grow spiritually and in soul fulfillment.
We are all interconnected and have multiple relationship arrangements in our lives with parents, lovers, colleagues, friends, bosses, and neighbors. Each one of these is based on its own agreements. The health of these relationships depends on keeping these agreements or being honest and transparent when there are changes. It’s no different with a teacher.
If you can’t honor the relationship, then be honest with yourself and get out of the relationship, with the utmost respect. We are here to give and to receive, to help and be helped. When you are to receive support in your path, by all beings open yourself up fully to it. This is in itself a great part of the teaching. Life is nothing but a book full of metaphors for our progression, the teacher-student relationship is one of them, carrying its own boost and power.