There I was, sitting cross-legged under a mosquito net in thick humidity somewhere in the middle of Sri Lanka, so far off the map that not even the locals had heard of it. I was at Vipassana, the 10-day silent meditation retreat, which has become popular in recent times. It was the end of day six and we were being shown our nightly video to reflect on. The Guru (spiritual teacher) in the video had already mentioned a few times that those who left without completing their 10 days were “weak-minded”, and tonight he seemed even more aggressive towards those abandoners. It had already felt a little like a cult to me, and maybe he was right, maybe I was a little weak-minded, but that was it. In my mind, if this bloke was any sort of guru he wouldn’t be making comparisons and speaking poorly of others, so I left and never looked back.
To find life’s purpose. Have no judgements, no expectations, and give up the need to know what happens tomorrow. Be fully present and appreciate all that is in your life right now – Caroline Myss
It’s fascinating how those of us in the West, who go in search of answers, tend to venture to the East in the hope that we will find a teacher who will give us all the answers. It really seems quite counter-intuitive considering the cultures are so very different. Sure the overarching premises are relatable but the way in which we must integrate them into our lives is vastly different. Not only that but the moment we expect answers from another individual, we give all our power away to an outside source. I’m speaking from experience; it’s a lot easier to run away to Asia in search of answers than it is to face the real world. I’m not disregarding the search, and it’s part of the journey for some of us. For me personally, there was a huge benefit to the trip, but that came more from creating space by stepping away and taking myself out of my comfort zone, and the personal growth that came from that.
There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey. – Paulo Coelho
I will never forget, when I first arrived in London I went to a Satsang, or talk, with a well known and highly regarded spiritual teacher. I cannot deny that when he spoke there was true value in his words, and even his gaze was powerful enough to mesmerise you. It felt like he was staring into my soul. There was a real peacefulness in his presence, but when members of the audience had a chance to speak and were addressing him like a deity, he didn’t rebut and it felt to me like he no longer saw himself as equal to his audience. This completely went against my belief that we are all equal, and for someone to be in a position as he was and not correct the individuals, made me question his intent. It really solidified for me the importance of not putting others on a pedestal. I think it’s fine to appreciate the value in what these people have gained in their journey, as there is with anyone who has adventured or been down the path of self-inquiry, but at the end of the day these people are only human and we are all perfectly imperfect in our own way. Therefore we should approach them as such.
“No one man should have all that power” – Kanye West
If I’m perfectly honest I have always been skeptical of the so-called “guru” or “teacher”, and probably come across a little jaded. Maybe I just haven’t found myself in front of the right teacher, but to me, it always seems as though there is a margin for human error or ego when sitting in the presence of someone who is capable of seeing and connecting with you on a deeper level. Maybe that’s the point, they are just here to test us to the point of realising our own power. As Alan Watts puts it, the guru is there to send you on pointless journeys, over and over, until eventually, you realize that they are just feeding your belief that you must do certain things to find fulfilment. When in reality it has always been within you.
I’m sure they have their place but it always felt to me like they were somewhat disingenuous. That being said I have always found value in teachings by the likes of Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Lama Surya Das, and Mooji, etc. However, these teachings have always been through a filter or medium such as a book or podcast. These mediums allow us to advance ourselves spiritually and have a more pure filter of delivery. For example, Ram Dass’s book ‘Paths to God’ has probably been one of the most influential books I’ve read in recent times and I gain a great deal from his recorded lectures, yet even if he were alive today, I’m not sure I would visit him. I’m not saying he was nefarious by any means, I just believe that when an individual records their learnings and teachings, all the value is there without the potential for the concepts to be misconstrued through the emotion of the follower.
I believe that life is the greatest teacher, and although a guru may give you the skills to use and develop, there is no better teacher than the “real world”. For example, yesterday I was listening to a fantastic podcast about a woman who had turned her entire life around by refining how she spoke about life, meditation, visualisation, and using gratitude lists. Then, last night my housemates and I revisited an episode of a tv show (The Midnight Gospel) which we were already halfway through. As soon as we resumed the show, the first thing the lead character said was “you need to stop focusing on the negative stuff”. It really resonated with me and already felt profound. But if that wasn’t enough, my housemate then kicked me, laughed at me, and pointed at the TV. If that isn’t the teacher appearing when the student is ready I don’t know what is. It’s not a new lesson but definitely felt like I was being forced to pay attention again. My point is that life won’t always be as obvious as a guru, but when you start to pay attention it’s always talking to you.
“We’re not broken. We don’t need fixing. We don’t need teaching. All that we need is to finally accept all that we are” – Panache Desai
Thankfully most great minds write books or record audios and I personally believe that these hold all the value that we will ever need. I’m not saying “don’t trust Gurus”, I’m just saying, don’t get caught up in the quest to find one, remember that they are only human, and be open to the ways in which they manifest themselves.
“The biggest advances are not made by being a great teacher, they are made by being a great student” – Pursah