The journey toward our spiritual home–the home which we are, which has never left us–refuses to present itself like a satisfying guidebook. We humans don’t get a handbook as we incarnate advising us how to navigate through confusion, muddy waters, not-knowing and other emotional perils.
We often struggle.
We often seek. We seek a path, we seek ourselves, we seek God, we seek happiness.
We listen to advice offered by spiritual teachers. We listen to friends who seem to “have it all together”. We often try to follow a path which seems to have guided others to their own sense of peace, illumination or wisdom.
Following advice from spiritual teachers can be a mixed blessing.
The advice can sooth us, convince us that our own knowing feels right. It can ease us, give us confidence to walk toward our own inner guidance. It can hold our hand and urge us on when we feel too shaky or insecure or confused to know whether to turn left or right.
Yet, that spiritual advice can seemingly point us in the wrong direction. The teacher points to pitfalls he crossed. He points toward ways which seemed to open doors for him. She offers techniques that seemed to assist her at various junctures of her journey.
Fortunately or unfortunately, no spiritual teacher can lead us home. Only our inner guidance knows the truth of who we are in this always-changing moment.
A teacher might say “There is no self.” This statement might guide a person to embracing the groundlessness of possibility, a groundlessness of not-knowing, of community, of interconnectedness. Or it might shake the very foundations of a person’s journey promoting confusion, isolation, a stagnant mental idea with no relationship to the reality of now. It can ever be a very harmful statement at certain junctures of a spiritual journey.
A teacher might utter: “Go to the silence to find yourself.” This advice might prove utterly contradictory to inner guidance which might be urging outward connection and activity. Or it can gesture beyond the monkey mind’s chattering into that which we are before the first thought.
Teachers might say, “Quit thinking!” This advice, given under the right circumstances, to the right individual, might shine gold and guide home. When others shared this with me, it sent me into months and years of confusion.
The moment is always shifting, like sand. Our inner guidance states something one minute; by afternoon the exact opposite energy might be more helpful. One moment it might be helpful to witness the gaps between thought. Another moment, insights gained by thought can illuminate the path with a heart-opening ray of sunshine.
A spiritual teacher might advise embracing vulnerability. The revelations of this practice might break us open to love and openness. In another person it might keep one attached to an identity of being a vulnerable individual, a separate self. It might be stellar advice. It might be absolutely inappropriate. It may, in fact, be both.
In many recent blog posts I’ve urged opening to pain. To finding the treasure within the pain. However, it’s only in the past several months that my capacity to open to pain–without an attached story–has grown. This advice six years ago would have simply created more unbearable pain, rather than alleviate it. In twenty minutes my guidance might say–enough, already–it’s time to gently distract yourself rather than feel more pain. Just now I reached for an aspirin to alleviate a headache.
Should spiritual teachers be ignored? Should they quit sharing their experience? I think not. Their advice often provides mirrors to assist us. Yet, we need to continue to listen to our own knowing, our own guidance. When we can’t hear our own guidance, Life might be sharing a compass with us. When we feel resistance to a teaching, listen closely. Sometimes are resistance comes because the guidance is not pertinent to our moment. At other times, we’ll sense that the resistance needs to be faced. That the teacher’s words are pointing to a wider path, an allowing, a clearing in the dense woods of confusion through which we trod.
I am deeply grateful to many spiritual teachers who gestured toward the Infinite and grateful for those who continue to share. Yet now I realize what many of them have repeatedly said: Don’t believe me. Look at your own experience and see for yourself if it’s true…