Do you need one?
What does it mean to be a spiritual leader, what are the qualities we must look for before trusting another human being with something so precious as our connection to self, others and the universe? What are some signs that your leader or teacher is not the right choice for you?
We have had spiritually “touched” people since the beginning of conscious humanity. For almost as long there has been someone tasked with interpreting and disseminating the words of the Divine higher intelligence to the masses. Spiritual teachers are abundant in this day and age.
With the advent of social media and the wide reach of the internet, a few of the most common and popular spiritual teachers have a large presence on platforms like YouTube. Thought leaders like Alan Watts (Zen), Tara Brach (Buddhism), and Mooji (Advaita) have their lectures and dharma talks cut and spliced into musical emotionally driven sound bites regularly. Although controversial in their own right, they can pale in comparison to a teacher like Osho (blend of Zen and Dynamic Yogic Practice) who led a large cult-like movement later accused of sex, drugs, and embezzlement.
Why would you be looking for a spiritual teacher, better yet, do you even need one?
For a beginning seeker stepping away from familial traditions, religious practices or possibly a lack of either, life can feel confusing and a bit directionless. Some may notice that their intuition is leading them toward a more spiritually focused path and some may stray from the idea of there being a higher power at all.
It may be helpful to listen to people that are respected and offer a kind, heart-centered perspective on how to improve one’s sense of wellbeing. Wherever you may lay on the spectrum, realize that you are approaching a pivotal moment in your spiritual life.
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear". - Zen proverb
How to find a spiritual teacher and someone you can trust
There are different ways to go about connecting to "your" spiritual study. Your mind may open to multiple ideas, this is definitely a time for self discovery. Search for what resonates with your emotional state - what makes you feel good and what doesn't. But, this is also a time to proceed with caution. As you are sparked to explore, take your time to look around, so to speak. When you are emotionally vulnerable, you become susceptible to an array of amazing people, but the door is also open to those that prey and exploit the emotionally weak.
This is not to turn you away from searching for something to give meaning to your life, to the contrary. Like any relationship just try to follow your gut, question what is attracting you and take things slow. This is a time of budding, you need to open up safely.
Gurus and self-help experts can be helpful but may be extremely hurtful at the same time. Be sure to have an open-hearted approach centered around acceptance, be sure there isn't a monetary requirement or physical compensation to get a closer spiritual connection. Be sure to maintain awareness for the projections of thoughts and ideologies that leave no room for your internal spiritual expression.
Trusting someone to guide you down a path of spiritual discovery can be time consuming. Self-discovery is an investment, it will feel like you can't consume enough talks, books, or classes. There can be an energetic high that makes you feel physically and emotionally wonderful that can become addictive. Regardless of the Avenue you take, remember the following tips:
- After some time you should be released from instruction to experience the practice for yourself - a good spiritual practice (based in religion or not) should be able to stand on its own.
- You must believe in the practice and what it's giving to you - you should be able to see the changes it brings to your life. Above all else
- Do not idolize the teacher, just trust and believe in the practice--as a beloved yet disgraced, Yogi has stated.
The purpose of seeking a teacher for spiritual growth
The purpose of seeking a spiritual teacher for spiritual growth comes down to where you are in your spiritual journey.
You might need a spiritual teacher if...
- You feel confused about a particular practice or text and desire a more in-depth approach
- You come from a strict upbringing of religious structure
- You have questions and need real answers from the lineage of said spiritual practice
- You feel bored with your-self study and need more
- You feel intimidated with the practice and need more direction
Misconceptions and truths about spiritual teachers at large
Tibetian teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a wise thought leader in his time. Allegedly at the height of his career he was often drunk and took advantage of his female followers. There have been many Yogi’s from the 1960s and 1970s that came to the West to teach Eastern practices. At some point, most of these prominent teachers were denounced for bad practices toward their followers.
Most recently a pastor fell from grace due to an infidelity scandal, that church, its congregation and its members have experienced a dismantling because of it. Belief in a higher power is in no way directly connected to believing in an eloquent or charismatic leader and orator.
Not everyone that touts spiritual ideology is able to adhere to the principles they expound. Before entrusting anyone with your body, mind and soul take a deep breath and be in a place of calm and acceptance. Do your research, explore the practice, investigate the lineage and use caution when wanting to pursue becoming a devotee.
Always trust your gut and talk to other practitioners to find out how this spiritual leader has evolved. Be sure to look for consistency and a clear moral compass - if something looks like a red flag, it very well may be. Be wary of people trying to take advantage of your vulnerability or naivety. You should never have to pay for help, advise or liberation of any sort. Helping and healing is to a true leader its own reward. A true spiritual teacher will guide with love and understanding and without an agenda of their own. Keep yourself open, use discernment and remember that the truest spiritual connection is the one you have with yourself.