On Being a Spiritual Teacher

As a teacher (or at least, as one seen by some people as a teacher) I feel it’s crucial, absolutely crucial, to always be willing to speak directly from the heart, always at the risk of losing one’s popularity, success or fame, losing one’s listeners, readers, fans or followers, losing one’s reputation or image as some kind of enlightened or nonjudgemental or unconditionally loving or deeply accepting, ultra-clear being or non-being; to even risk losing one’s livelihood in the name of truth and authenticity and the love of life itself.

But at the same time, it’s perhaps even more crucial, as a teacher, to hold even that truth lightly, and to always be open to feedback and criticism and even attack, to stay vigilant and not fall into the I-know-it-all teacher identity, to not rest on your laurels and think that because people are now listening to your words, that you are somehow more favoured or more protected or more valuable to life, and so far beyond everyone else!

I have seen this movement arising in myself in the past, and so I am always vigilant, checking myself for bullshit and the subtle creeping-in of the need for followers or fame or spiritual glory, and the need to be right, and the need to be seen as being right. And if I don’t find it, others will, and I am open to being called out. That’s what friends, partners, and mothers and fathers are for. As a teacher, can I listen, really listen, to honest feedback and not resort to replying, in the way gurus often do, ‘You are wrong! That is just your projection! That is just your ego talking! I am beyond human concerns!’

For so many years I didn’t want to call myself a teacher for precisely these reasons – because I didn’t want to mislead others with my unchecked blind spots, with some kind of unconscious need to cling to ‘teacher’ as a false identity and separate myself from those I saw as ‘students’. What separation! I didn’t want to pretend to know. For how could I free others from clinging to forms, if I was still clinging to the form of being the teacher who had all the answers, the one who had ‘arrived’ and from that position, could now free everyone else? I didn’t want to be a missionary for a truth which I couldn’t even hold onto myself.

So, call me teacher, call me friend, call me nothing at all, call me yourself, call me the biggest fraud who ever lived or even ignore me totally, you are always, always teaching me, and I am always, always listening. I am simply an eternal student of life, a fascinated child, and may that always be the case.

We may be teachers, but, as Nietzsche said, even if we deny it, deep down we are, thankfully, still “human, all too human…“.

And I adore this humanness.