As with all things, there are phases to being a spiritual student. There’s a time when you don’t know how badly you need this. There’s a time when you know you need this but have no idea what a spiritual teacher really looks like. There’s a time for dedicating yourself to a teacher and a practice. Then, there’s a time of letting go of that teacher and graduating from that space.

And that’s key. No one is meant to be a student for their whole lifetimes to someone else unless they consciously choose to do so. That conscious choice is very different than the desire to have a teacher or stick with something because of conceptual commitment. Usually a true lifetime student to a teacher isn’t really a student at all, but simply one who is wearing that guise because it pleases him or her. Most of the rest of lifetime students are devotees caught up in the illusion that the teacher still has something that they do not or that when enough time has passed something miraculous will happen. I’m sure the miraculous can happen in a future present moment, but as always, this thinking misses the point of the miraculousness of this moment. In this miraculousness, there will come a time when you are ready to graduate from the space of being a spiritual student.

What Is a Spiritual Student?

It’s always important to define my terms. We so often think we’re using the same terms, but we’re not. A spiritual student dedicates him or herself to living the spiritual path in every moment. A devotee may devote him or herself to a teacher or a path, but when the teacher isn’t looking or the devotee isn’t at church/the ashram/synoguge/mosque, then the devotee thinks s/he doesn’t have to be “spiritual.” Such is many peoples’ thinking. Devotee or not, people think they can turn spirituality on or off in their lives, and subsequently, life can be very painful as they do things that do not resonate with them because they think they have to and that the spiritual life is impractical. The spiritual life is, however, immensely practical. It’s more rational and smart than society gives it credit. It’s about living completely and consciously in every moment, and the true spiritual student knows this. So he or she seeks out a means to better achieve this, and that often means finding a teacher.

When the Student Is Ready…

However, the ego may think it’s ready for a teacher, and your soul may not agree. The soul always trumps the ego no matter how much the ego thinks that it’s in control. This has left a lot of people feeling like they’re wandering, and of course, when you’re seeking something from the outside world, you are lost. The spiritual path is always an invitation into the inner world, and oftentimes, that’s the biggest shift that needs to happen before a spiritual teacher can arrive into your life. Right when you suddenly realize that you have your greatest teacher within you, then the spiritual teacher in the external world may show up.

Of course, you may feel like  “Why would I need a teacher now that I’ve realized this?” Well, perhaps you do not need the teacher. Or perhaps the teacher can now help you to truly unlock your inner teacher. In truth, that’s what all true spiritual teachers are doing. We really have no use in telling you who you are, how to live, or what the meaning of life is (the meaning of life is green cheese squared by the way. ;-p). Seriously though, what teacher has time for that? The incomplete teacher gets stuck in trying to answer everyone’s questions and solve everyone’s problem. That type of teacher is constantly frustrated and can quickly fall into trying to control his/her students to get them to some outcome that s/he thinks they should achieve. Ultimately, it’s like trying to give everyone fish instead of teaching them to fish. You can only reel in so many fish by yourself. Truly, it’s not the teacher’s role to control anyone either, and ultimately, all outcomes are perfect as they are even when they bring immense pain.

The Work Begins and You Do Not Know What to Expect

The spiritual work with a teacher will take you straight into the unknown. It’s an uncomfortable and uncertain place at times. It’s more uncomfortable the more you resist it. It’s a little like swimming. Innately, your body knows how to swim, but it sure helps to have a swim instructor talking to you about strokes, observing how you are using your arms and legs, and letting you know where the sharks swim. The swim instructor cannot swim for you, but occasionally, she or he can jump into the deep end when you get in over your head or whack the shark on the nose to get him to go away  (I’m really enjoying the swimming/water metaphor :).

Truly, you will have to get used to certain types of discomfort on the spiritual path to shed old skins and emerge more fully as yourself. You may have all kinds of experiences with the spiritual teacher. Some you’ll enjoy; others you won’t. Until one day, you realize that you’re complete and can move on.

Completion with the External Spiritual Teacher

The feeling of completion is unique. It’s neutral and quiet as most deeper spiritual guidance is. It simply says, “I’m done.” When working with a spiritual teacher, the teacher will also feel this as well, and the two of you can continue to work together if you both choose to. But this is really now coming from a space of choice. This is a powerful place to make any decision, and not too many people really choose anything. There’s too much ego, karma, fear, anger, and all the other stuff in the way. That’s why so many people may not really understand completion. Nonetheless, it may come, and then you graduate from this relationship. You may choose another type of relationship with the teacher such as becoming a friend or perhaps the roles switch. You may become a mentor in some way perhaps as in helping the teacher set up Web sites, fundraise for a spiritual center, or whatever talent you feel moved to share.

Or you may simply move on, which is beautiful as well.

For the ego, graduation is viewed as having nothing more to learn from the teacher. In a world full of information, that’s never true. That’s just an ego idea. In the spiritual truth of the matter, it’s all about self-knowledge. From that lens, you never really had anything to learn from the teacher because it was all about self-knowledge. You already had it within you. With that said, you still may find limited and incomplete teachers. As I wrote about some time ago in “What Is a Spiritual Teacher,” there are all kinds of teachers out there. Some can only help you learn more about your heart. Others can help you learn to better connect with your body. Still others understand the ways of the mind. In some cases, you may be building a “whole” teacher from multiple sources, and if this is your path, that’s beautiful. So, it is possible to cycle through different teachers in that way, but the feeling of completion with the teacher will still be there. And after awhile you will sense that you’ve come to a point where you’re ready to swim on your own.

Leaving the Shallows Behind

Perhaps some people get scared of swimming on their own without the teacher or the water wings. In truth, we are never alone, but still that idea may be hanging on. Perhaps it’s why so many people get lost in the devotee path. Too afraid to let go and simply trust their own spiritual knowing, they permanently yoke themselves to a teacher. But as I said, the teacher is not the giver of your light and is not able to walk your path. And walk your path you must. It doesn’t have to be as a spiritual teacher or healer. Becoming a spiritual student never has meant that you have to live in monasteries the rest of your life. It simply means you’re learning to bring spirituality and presence in every moment. Then you have to go live the life that’s in your heart whether it’s as a president, mother of four, or an accountant. Personally, I think that this world is greatly in need of enlightened accountants. Money is energy, and it’s been badly abused. So having more people who know how to help balance the flows of money in and out of bank accounts is a great asset. And…ahem…depending on the statistics you look up, the average debt per U.S. citizen is between $8000 to $12,000. Clearly, people don’t know what to do with money in this society.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is no part of society that doesn’t need enlightenment, and so when your path no longer needs the instruction of an external spiritual teacher, it may be time to walk more firmly in the material world. The spiritual path will make you very strong and grounded, and we need people like that to really re-create the Earth in a new way.


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.

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