This topic fits nicely into the series around the shadow side of our lives. Ultimately, we all have a spiritual teacher–it’s that person sitting a couple of millimeters under out sternums. We spend a lot of our lives looking outside for inspiration, but that truth that we truly want and crave is within us. With that said, there are a lot of spiritual teachers who can help to inspire you to turn inwards. It’s a beautiful and sacred duty, and it’s one which I’m honored to be able to perform. But there’s some tricky stuff going on out there, and one of those things is this facade of being a spiritual teacher.
Looks Can Be Deceiving on the Spiritual Path
About the time people start trying to “act spiritual,” you know something is a little wrong in the situation. There’s nothing wrong in aspiring towards being positive, being kind, and being peaceful in all situations. But there’s a big difference between getting caught up in “always” being a certain way and being human. We’re all human–especially spiritual teachers. Especially is probably a little bit of hyperbole here on my part, but my God, some days it just feels like I have to do soooo much to be clear. So many emotions to be with and honor: sadness, rage, envy, and the whole lot. To deny those pieces will only force them to show back up in my shadow, and I don’t need to grow that thing out any longer.
Yet many spiritual teachers get caught up in a new box–this image of the spiritual teacher. They’ve probably seen too many iconic pictures of great spiritual leaders laughing and what-not. It feeds into this idea that they were always happy, and subsequently, you should always be happy. And you should always be soft-spoken. That seems to be mixed in with it. You should also be very still if you meditate, and you should be super-focused on whatever is going on. You should never yell or get angry. And on and on, if you see a spiritual teacher trying to do this, you might consider running away.
Shadow Side Spiritual Teachers
Then there are some spiritual teachers who teach in the vein of embracing the shadow, and that’s a whole other level of things. It can be a little confusing for a student if the teacher isn’t really good in explaining boundaries and that in embracing something like “rage” that you don’t get lost in it. You have to learn how to ultimately release the blockage that is fueling it.
But more directly, I’m speaking to the shadows of spiritual teachers and their unworked out issues. It draws in the very students and people they need to face it. But if the ego has set up shop again, then the spiritual teacher never owns their piece in the dynamic. The ego likes to consider itself sufficiently transcendent that it’s not playing a part in what it draws, and “oh my goodness, here’s another woman with severe mental illness. That can’t have anything to do with me. I’m enlightened.” Nobody is issue free. We all have our stuff, and spiritual teachers can’t get stuck in denial of that truth. Sometimes, teachers will still know it’s there and still be acting them out–I’m sure a number of friends can get me on this. As I said, we all have to do the work and just be without trying to be something or someone that we saw on a book jacket once.
Honoring Imperfection in Our Spiritual Leaders
The flip-side that generates this interesting desire for spiritual teachers to appear flawless and “perfected” is a culture that looks to leaders to be that way. How many times does a scandal ruin a politician’s career, for instance? (Politicians are people too, btw. Politician: it’s just a word…with way too many connotations attached to it.) Somehow people think bestowing the title of “Senator” on someone has made them transcend their foibles. It hasn’t. Neither does becoming a “spiritual teacher.” Most spiritual teachers I would not even put in the “category” of enlightened. Those that are understand what a ridiculous category “enlightened” is and how ridiculous it is to try and present a spiritual teacher facade. It’s another ego. Pure and Simple.
Staying Humble and Exuding Love
I think the best of us just work on being humble and exuding love. (I like the word “exuding” right now :). Once again, this doesn’t mean a spiritual teacher is always loving. A spiritual teacher knows how to use emotions like any other tool depending on what a student needs. But ultimately, they love you. They love you and hold space for you to discover your inner spiritual teacher. When that happens, the illusory student-teacher dynamic can dissolve into friendship.
I think that if there are warning sides that a spiritual teacher is using a facade it’s that they’re always “trying” to say the right thing or be the right way. I think what I’ve noticed in the really amazing teachers and masters is this sense of relaxation. They really have nothing to prove. They have no need to control you or make you do anything. Come and go as you please. It’s really of no consequence to them because they’re just being who they are. They are just being.