The spiritual teacher and spiritual student relationship gets some attention in conversations and spiritual blogs, but I felt like offering my thoughts on this topic. I think it can’t be emphasized enough how powerful of a relationship this can be, and like any powerful relationship, a lot of things can get stirred up in both people. So if you are a spiritual teacher, healer, or other spiritual helper, you have as much to do and be mindful of in this relationship as the student.
Many of you helpers already know this, but for those who are beginning or who are thinking about embarking upon this journey, you will get to listen to me talk even more about the importance of your own self-care. When you are working with students, it’s a space that’s expected to get messy, and it’s important that you don’t drag your mess into the room. It’s better to cancel a session than to go into it if you’re really off-balance, but more on this shortly.
As for students, it’s like I said; this is a very powerful relationship. In addition to all the other work that you may be doing, this relationship will often be a focus of your self-work. You may be asked to learn how to open your mind more to things you don’t like to hear, feelings you don’t want to feel, and even physical sensations you don’t want to feel (Think about if your teacher is having you do a fast or going on a rigorous hike for self purification). The human instinct to attack/avoid anyone perceived as creating pain or discomfort can often get focused on the teacher, and this is unskillful to say the least.
So these are some opening thoughts about the spiritual teacher-spiritual student relationship, but lest I forget, this can also be the most profound and loving relationship of your life (for both parties). And because of that, we need to be mindful and dedicated to knowing ourselves to truly unlock and appreciate the fullness that is available in this relationship.
I’ll start by addressing more of the spiritual student’s concerns before switching later on, and I do already have a blog post called, “How to Find a Spiritual Teacher.” So I won’t go on too much about this topic since it is before the actual relationship. However, how you step into any relationship is important. Looking at your motives and what you are trying to get is really important. If you are simply looking for a teacher to help you feel good all the time, you should probably look elsewhere. This is not what spiritual teachers do. If you are trying to reach total enlightenment, you should first consider what you mean by “total enlightenment.” People use words like this with me, and rarely do I hear back an answer that shows that they really understand the meaning behind those words. If someone does understand it in some truthful way, then that greatly influences which types of spiritual teachers they should choose. They might even consider going to find a spiritual master (assuming that the student is aware enough to know what a master even looks or sounds like–they don’t necessarily act like spiritual teachers).
And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there are all different types of spiritual teachers with varying abilities who can help you with understanding your mind, your heart, your body, and the subtle energies that you’re connected to. So assuming you’ve found one already, let’s talk more about what you’ve found.
Your Spiritual Teacher: Not What You Expected
I’m not going to get into the topic of frauds, wounded teachers/healers, and other such people who don’t really know what they’re doing. I’ll assume that you found a genuine spiritual teacher. Be sure that you do understand their abilities. As I’ve also talked about this blog, a spiritual teacher who works on the level of the mind will know lots of philosophies and techniques. S/he’ll probably be able to talk to you fairly easily and ask you helpful questions. S/he may not be a body teacher. Most spiritual teachers are focused on certain levels of awareness, and that’s just fine. Be cognizant of where you teacher is, and if you aren’t in a deep enough awareness to do so, you may notice when you run up against your teacher’s limitations. This is okay. The teacher has not failed if you discover a limitation. You can’t expect one person to offer everything you need all the time. As you grow, you may outgrow a teacher, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves (It’s too easy for some egos to think they’ve outgrown someone). Simply learn to appreciate what they do offer, and when it’s time to go, you’ll know.
Additionally, while I encouraged you to look at what your expectations are and what you are trying to get, stepping into connection with many spiritual teachers will expose other expectations, desires, and needs that you didn’t realize you had. This is great. This is exactly what this type of relationship is supposed to do! However, many people will suddenly feel like they’re not getting what they really want, and of course, a spiritual student can step out of this relationship at any time (so to can the teacher, but I’ll get to that). And if a student isn’t ready for deep self-work after they’ve discovered these new issues, then they should step out of the relationship. However, hopefully, you’ll work on these hidden agendas, and in so doing, you will greatly clarify what you truly are seeking on your spiritual path.
Keeping Open Communication With Your Teacher
Because so much can get churned up, it’s really important for the student to maintain open communication with their teacher about how they’re feeling in the relationship, what they need, where they feel stuck, where they feel that they are growing, and so on. This is relationship 101, and it applies here as well. If you have a really sensitive and intuitive teacher, they may know a lot about how you are feeling, but that doesn’t substitute for communication. Many students are practicing using their voices to express their true feelings in relationships, and so this is another way that this relationship provides a valuable training ground to do just that. In so doing, that allows the teacher to better tune into you and to adjust to what may need to happen in your work together. Without that communication, misunderstandings can pile up. The work can stagnate. A lot of things can get derailed, and while the energy of a connection like this will continue to do its work, the more that all levels of awareness are united and focused in the spiritual work together, the more things naturally seem to open up.
Hating the Teacher and Falling in Love With the Teacher
These two may sound really different, but they’re typically the same issue. The student wants something from the teacher. In the former example, the student doesn’t feel like s/he is getting it. S/he may not like how the truth is being present to her/him, and because this student has so much pain inside, the student focuses that pain on the teacher. Obviously, I’m not talking about if a teacher was abusing a student, but as I said, we’re assuming for this blog that you’ve found a good one. And spiritual teachers may do some surprising things to help force up unconsciousness from a student. (Check out Spiritual Tests from a Spiritual Teacher if you want to understand what I mean). If a student has turned to hatred towards their teacher, then clearly there is a major issue at work inside the student. Usually, it’s more a dislike than hatred, but dislike is on the road toward hatred.
More commonly, students fall in love with the teacher. Now make no mistake about it, this relationship is all about love. It is the love that has no opposite, But romantic love that students often feel is the only way they can initially interpret the vast amount of feeling and connection they may have with the teacher. For those who have different sexual preferences (meaning for instance that they’re a heterosexual man with a male teacher and are suddenly having romantic feelings for the teacher), this can cause all kinds of additional upset with the ego gender identity now being questioned. Truly, we live in a world with a poor, poor understanding of love. As such, love tends to be one of the greatest teachings a teacher can offer, and this relationship is at ground zero of it. Once again, this goes back to communication so that what is moving inside a student is shared, and it is seen. Things that are ignored or hidden bear strange and often unhealthy fruit. A good spiritual teacher will simply say that the student is beginning to feel the vast amount of love that s/he already has, and the teacher has mostly been an excuse for them to feel what they already are: love.
Falling in Love With a Spiritual Student
Let’s jump over the fence now, shall we? We might as well start off with where we left off. It most certainly happens that a spiritual teacher can fall in love with a student. The lesson is much the same as the one for the student. The teacher has found someone who meets some inner criteria of what romantic love looks like in another, and the loving connection that is being shared is more than the teacher is used to handling. Hopefully, this isn’t your first time. Hopefully, you also understand that this is desire and not love. Many of you who have experienced this will have already discovered that as you sit in that space of love and look at the desire that is trying to masquerade as love, it eventually reveals to you a deeper issue. Any level of desire is connected to an issue and illusion inside of oneself. Sitting in love with the student (without acting upon it) allows the issue to unravel itself. When that happens, how you see your student typically changes. It can actually end the relationship between you. It’s a simple truth that a lot of karma gets played out between teachers and students, and that’s okay. As the teacher, it’s your job to know your stuff. So long as you are aware of it and are not acting from those issues, feeling romantic love and desire towards a student is fine. Just let it show itself to you and do your work on yourself to address it.
However, while I talk about the student needing to communicate this to the teacher, for you, you’re going to have to work with this on your own. Most students are not able to handle that information either wanting to share a romance or feeling really uncomfortable in the space because of your desire issue. I know this sounds like a double-standard, and you are welcome to use your discretion on this. But so long as you are not letting this feeling get in the way of the work and can work with it on your own, it’s not an issue. Typically, when this issues arises for a student, that issue does get in the way of the work, and that’s what makes their communication vital.
Choosing Your Students
I think there’s a misconception that as a teacher you’re supposed to take on all students. That’s not the case. You’re supposed to take on the students that feel true to you with whom to work. The humility of the spiritual path and of being a spiritual teacher is to realize your limitations. You only have so much energy and time to work with students, and this is a powerful relationship, as I’ve mentioned. As the teacher, you can be in five, ten, twenty, forty, or more teacher-student relationships, depending on how you work. That’s A LOT! And you have to honor your own energy in how much you can handle as each student is also a different energy with different issues.
Additionally, knowing your limitations allows you to know when to send a spiritual student on to find someone else. Even if a student is really excited about working with you, only you know what your capabilities are If you are not good at working with the body and this student has a lot of body issues to address in their spiritual work, then it’s important to send the student along to someone else to work with him or her. You can probably think of other examples, but mostly, I want to emphasize that you don’t need to exhaust yourself. This is one of the big red flags that you’re a wounded healer. If you over-exert yourself to try and help everybody, you’ll likely end up serving almost nobody, especially and most importantly yourself.
Self-Care and Ending Relationships
I’m not going to go into this too much, but self-care is really important if you are a spiritual teacher or healer. It’s so important to stay clear, especially if you work with subtle energies. The more subtle the work you do, the more important the self-care is. Also working with heavy abuse and trauma issues can also be extremely taxing. Don’t underestimate what is being asked of you in working with such issues, and if you have too many students right now with big issues, you may have to end some relationships or postpone them so that you can have an appropriate workload. This really is no different than any other workload in any other career, except it can’t be measured, and often as a teacher grows, their ability to handle more and more grows with it.
However, even as a teacher grows more powerful, some relationships need to end. Many students will want to cling onto you. There is only so much a teacher can do to teach students that the spiritual path is about them learning to listen to their own wisdom. Plus, depending on the teacher and student, this relationship truly may be the most connective, loving, or overall healthy relationship in the student’s entire life. But it’s not your job to provide that. It’s your job to help the student to understand him or herself. So if the clinging and attachment can’t be shed any other way, you may have to end a relationship to push the bird out of the nest. Oftentimes, it is the only way a student learns to fly.
And of course, some relationships will complete. When you know that you are done with what you have to teach a student, it’s important to let the student know. When possible, a nice little parting ceremony or ritual can be a lovely way to let each other go.
Growing Together as Teacher and Student
Make no mistake about it, teachers and students can grow a lot together. This can be an extremely dynamic relationship depending on the teacher and student. In the more dynamic relationships, the teacher’s growth pushes the students to grow, or they have to leave the teacher (although they may not realize why they are doing this). As the students grow, it pushes the teacher further along on his or her path. New levels of connection open up that can reveal new issues as well as deepen the bond, which may be a lifelong one.
But ultimately, however long this relationship lasts–one day or one lifetime–it is sacred. If you have found a teacher or student(s) (as the case may be), enjoy this precious space. There truly isn’t any other space and relationship quite like it.