|This post was published by Elephant Journal on June 19, 2020 at https://bit.ly/3e0zNLy with the title, “Why We Need Spiritual Teachers, Even When We Think We Don’t”|
I have an aversion to “Teachers.” Not those who stand at the heads of classrooms of kids, but those who pre-suppose they have something spiritual to teach. Which is unfortunate, since I adore self-help. I don’t trust the glorified guru. Anyone proposing there is anything outside of oneself to look to for the way — I hate being told what to do (unless it’s in bed). I think as soon as someone is on a stage then the likelihood of humility (which I see as the most necessary requirement for wisdom), is too greatly reduced for legitimacy to remain. It scares me because generally I see people confuse the messenger for the message. And then people are abused and we’re shocked that the person others handed their right minds over to wasn’t above abusing. And I get it. I get how and why people want to put free will aside and follow a set of directives and I get how, with unchecked power, someone can become an abuser.
That being said, I believe we need meditation instruction. I asked for a teacher to show up in my life a couple of years ago (maybe not realizing how hard it would be for me to accept just about anyone into that role) and about a year and a half ago, one showed up. And she showed up in the only form I could accept her in: a sweet, kind of goofy, lion of a woman whom my first memory of was her explaining to me the meaning of Grace in terms I could understand, 10 years before she officially became my teacher.
Up until last year at my first silent zen retreat, I was flailing around in the dark thinking that that was what I was supposed to be doing. Thinking that it was all magic and mysticism instead of direct, translatable experience. I thought I was a magical unicorn on the path of my own journey, when in fact I am just one of the masses who has come to meditation for answers. My experiences are not unique, which is why she is able to answer my questions before I even ask them: because oh so many have traversed this path before me and everything I experience, though it may appear unique through my eyes, is phenomena that preexists my experience of it. My questions are expected, my back pain is the norm, my constricted breath is the process.
“You may experience light, or you may not. You may experience heat, or you may not. You may experience love, or you may not,” she says. I often want her to stand before her students in all her glory and demand that we recognize her superiority. But of course, this is not her way. And I wouldn’t be able to listen to her if she did. When we first walked and talked last year, she called me “defended.” I thought this was such a nice change from being called “defensive.” At least she was creative about it. And often she knows (because I’m not shy about telling her) that I am fighting her instruction in my head, that I am refusing to do as she guides, still, just to prove that I am still the one in control. It doesn’t seem to bother her. Sometimes she just gets a sad sort of look on her face, all patience and total understanding, “I’ll get there if it’s right for me to get there,” she seems to be saying.
It’s a little bit horrifying and a whole lot relieving to realize how much I don’t know. It’s like because she demanded no power from me, it allowed me to open my hands to her. I accept both truths: that I can’t get where I want to go on my own and that it is wholly up to me to decide to do so or not.