Disclaimer: While at the time this was written statements in this article were true for me, I’ve since discovered a ‘guru’ can also be a reason to hide from my own inner-teacher and truth. The slippery slope of enchantment in another (no different in many ways to falling in love) leads inexorably to unrealistic expectations and pedestaling.
The teacher mentioned at the end of this article, is no longer my teacher. That does not mean his teaching is of no value. It simply means the relationship was no longer serving my own unfoldment. (July 22, 2014…Feast of the St. Mary Magdalen Day.)
In a popular Facebook group for enlightenment chit-chat, someone wrote about how post-awakening, a spiritual community or teacher seemed unnecessary if not impossible. This man, prior to his popping awake four years ago had even been an ordained member of a Buddhist community. Then, it all fell away.
This question of the need for a teacher post awakening is a juicy one. A deep and true awakening obliterates the seeker, the very identity that attached itself to a club (Buddhism/Tantra/Shamanism for instance) or to the role of a student/aspirant. And the often-unspoken truth is, the seeker loves to search more than it desires to find. Pre-awakening, attachment to the role of spiritual practitioner can be a sly haven from waking up.
In my tectonic shift from spiritual dilettante to “Holey Moley I’m Awake” three years ago, I wrote that “I used to be a seeker and so I invested energy and time in renovating that house. I continually decluttered it with new meditation or visualization practices. I repainted it inside and out with new knowledge, to make it more beautiful and give it curb side appeal. I threw out the junk as best I could, so that my house would be spacious, simple and Zen like. I wanted that house of my mind to be a place of stillness, equanimity and joy.
I worked really hard to make it all of those things though yoga, tantra, self-improvement books and psychological house cleaning. And yet always, hidden dirt under the carpet or a skeleton in the closet would emerge to reveal that stillness was not here. Only the unstable illusion of stillness was here.” (When the House Burns Down ).
But that said, two years post house-burning–after basking in abiding equanimity and inner stillness–I found myself unexpectedly encountering the muck of conditioned responses and ancestral line mud in my spick-and-span house of emptiness. I would say the stable ground of my awakened awareness started to develop patches of quicksand….and this is when a teacher became helpful.
For me, a teacher is simply someone further along in their own awakening journey. And to discount the need for this kind of been-there-done-that guidance can be a sign of spiritual immaturity at best and spiritual egoity at worst.
Rather than luring me back to Seekers-ville (as if it is even possible once we glimpse the truth of what we are not), discovering a teacher post awakening seems to have stabilized and accelerated this enlightening process (thanks to Tim Foley for that term). And it is a process with stages and depth. Too many mistake it as one-shot deal, a kind of “I’ve arrived” when all that’s happened is a threshold has been crossed from the unreal to the real. Yet there exists an entire landscape beyond that initial shift–and it does have its share of pitfalls.
So, in the playful spirit of clickbait lists, here is my top five reasons to have a teacher even after you have realized you are not the ‘me’ you thought yourself to be.
Why a Teacher is Good for You–Even if your Me is Missing in Action
1. A Real Teacher Points the Finger Back at You.
Here is where you need guru-discrimination. There are teachers out there, looking for adoration, power and glory. But there are just as many teachers out there where the value is in a teaching that points you in one direction: inward. This is of immense assistance when the the residual of ego (the survivor bits of your awakening firestorm) show up clambering for self improvement or well-being through the externals of him, her, this or that. Your teacher, if this teacher is real, reminds you simply: “This outward Spring and garden are a reflection of the inward garden.” ~ Rumi
2. A Teacher Helps You Keep Your Mirror Clean.
You already know what I mean. Just when you think you are seeing the spotless reflection of God-Self/No-Self in the mirror of your daily life, you find a smudge. The one that looks like a “me” having a me-moment — you know, like arguing with reality. A teacher at this juncture is a great astringent for that greasy spot on the mirror of self-reflection, readily pointing out in Rumi-esque ways, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
3. A True Teacher Rescues You from the Trap of Mental Gymnastics.
This is perhaps the biggest pitfall post-awakening. The mind jumps in to analyse. And it’s frankly, exhausting and diverting. Because the mind is not where it’s at–the mind in fact, is a decoy from the heart, where all spiritual truth resides. You won’t realize this while you are busy bickering in virtual chat rooms with other no-selves about how many angels dance on the head of a non-duality pin. But trust me, there is so much more to be relished in the bliss and peace available in the fullness of the heart than in the dry debates of the mind. A good teacher will point out: You are in your head again. Please step aside. Or as Rumi would instruct, “And from beyond the intellect, beautiful Love comes dragging her skirts, a cup of wine in her hand.”
4. A Teacher is an Accelerant for the Fire of Truth.
Here we enter the tricky notion of progress. Post awakening the celebration is a kind of arrival-relief, an end-of-the-journey satisfaction for the road-weary. It’s so damn clear when the seeking ends, that what was sought was here all along (or as Rumi said, that which you are seeking is seeking you), a merry mirth emerges as well. The cosmic joke on us can be so en-lightening at first, that the idea there is a “go further” seems absurd. Where is there to go, and who is there to go? Yet, if you sit long enough in in the post-awakening terrain, there is a niggling question that emerges: I have awoken but am I living this awake-ness?
In the words of neo-advaita teacher Adyashanti, during a 2008 gathering: “Even though you’ve seen in that moment that there is no you, nonetheless the dissolving of you has now begun in earnest and you can expect it to continue in ways and to a depth that you never imagined. And that’s basically what it’s about. And once that process has started, it doesn’t really need your help. It just can use you not hindering it. The “me” can’t help it along, but the “me” sure can kind of slow the whole thing down. “
And that is where a teacher steps in. A good teacher sees where you are stopping or blocking this progressive unfoldment, and with skillful insight (and sometimes a spiritual transmission) gives you the momentum needed to overcome post-awakening-inertia.
5. A Teacher Can be A Conduit for Grace.
A definition is probably needed here and one of my favourites is this line by progressive Christian theologian Preston Sprinkle, “Grace…means that God is pursuing you.”
It is by this mechanism of grace (God’s pursuit of us) that we initially awaken to the truth of who we are–which is an ultimate irony, because in the quest for enlightenment (which I call the end of suffering) it seems as if we are are the pursuer. In fact, two years prior to my own grace-filled overnight awakening, I wrote a poem hinting at the same insight about who is chasing who and what happens when we surrender our search.
“When I stopped looking,
God found me. When I was minding
My own sweet business, God
Kept butting in.
What a pain in the ass. After eons
Can ‘t stop
The point then of a deeply self-realized spiritual teacher in the context of post-awakening is that grace can continue to manifest as God nagging us and cheering us through our teacher to go further. It’s all too easy to rest on our awakening laurels, sit in self-satisfied bliss or peace, and imagine ourselves “cooked.”
A good teacher is a like a great chef, tending to each student’s progress with a knowing eye. It’s not enough to leave the awakened student at a low simmer when a full boil is best. Or to take that cake out of the oven before it rises–for the impulse of the divine is pursuing itself to wake up ALL THE WAY, to the place where separation of any kind ceases to exist.
This far shore of enlightenment is not a place we often reach alone–but more often with the guidance of a teacher or teachers who point the way. And grace is the mechanism by which a teacher can truly teach. It’s not about the words a teacher speaks—it’s the truth carried on the backs of those words.
(Disclaimer: This post is in no way meant to suggest you need to find a teacher to be on your path. It’s simply to say, if one shows up, it might be a good thing.)
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