The Spiritual Teacher – Student Relationship

A spiritual teacher is someone who serves as a guide along the path of your soul’s journey, providing information, methods, and modeling that help you realize your life dream.  They help you access and strengthen your connection to the Source of your own soul and spirit.  Spiritual teachers come in different varieties, from well-known gurus to personal mentors.  There are some common misconceptions about spiritual teachers, and ways that we tend to give away our power to them.  Below are some guidelines and considerations to keep in mind when seeking or interacting with a spiritual teacher.

1.  Spiritual teachers are human beings like you.  They have their own strengths, weaknesses, issues, fears, hopes.  They make mistakes.  They are not infallible.  Sometimes we expect our spiritual teachers to be super-human but this is a projection no one can live up to.  If you hold them as being above human foibles they will at some point prove that to be untrue.  This can lead to feelings ranging from disappointment to betrayal.  When this happens check in to see if there was an overt breach of your relational contract or if it was an assumption you had that was proven untrue, and approach the situation accordingly.

2.  Spiritual teachers are not substitutes for your own personal authority.  A spiritual path will push your boundaries and make you question your assumptions about yourself and reality.  It can be tricky to distinguish between what is not your personal truth and what is simply an uncomfortable unknown to you.  One way to maintain your personal power in these circumstances is to own whatever choice you make and learn from the results.  The point of having a spiritual teacher is for you to develop your own inner teacher; for you to follow your own inner guru.  Your inner teacher with teach you through successes as well as mistakes.  The spiritual path will provide ample opportunity for both.

3.  You don’t need them – everything you need is within you.  A true spiritual teacher will not foster dependence on them or their methods.  There are many paths back to Source, and your own soul is your truest guide there.  Whatever you respect and love about your teacher – you have that too.  Your teacher will often be a positive projection of your own abilities; in being with your teacher you are developing your own expression of those abilities.  If you find yourself thinking your teacher is special in some way and beyond the human experience, and therefore beyond anything you can create yourself, remind yourself that while you may not be experiencing it in the same way, and you may not end up expressing it in the same way, you have it too.  The goal is always to find it within yourself.

4.  A strong energy field does not a good spiritual teacher make.  There are plenty of examples of self-styled “gurus” who have strong energy fields, usually with an appealing high-vibration quality, who end up using their energetic charisma in service to their personal egoic agendas.  Energetic development and the development of integrity and wisdom can be done independently.  Maintain your personal power at all times so that your time with a spiritual teacher serves your highest good and so that you can integrate in a good way all aspects of the experience.

5.  Spiritual teachers are not here to make us feel good.  Spiritual awakening takes psychological mettle; it is both a wonderful and challenging process.  The job of the spiritual teacher is to serve the awakening of your soul’s true nature.  They are not always going to do or say things you like or that feel good in the moment.  Sometime spiritual teachers can dish out hard lessons.  Ask yourself if you want a nurturing healing environment or spiritual awakening and seek appropriate people accordingly.

6.  There may be a time when the teacher-student relationship is over.  Feel like a rebellious teenager?  It may be time to leave the nest.  The point of a teacher-student relationship is to help you develop your own autonomous wisdom and skills.  The time will come when, in order to practice and further develop that autonomy, you have to actually be autonomous.  When this happens, thank your teacher, do anything you need for closure, and leave the relationship.  When a relationship lasts longer than is in the best interest of either student or teacher, forces will come into play that will eventually make it impossible to stay; there will be a falling out of some kind, or situations will change making it hard or impossible to continue. 

7.  The relationship between a spiritual teacher and student is intimate yet impersonal.  The spiritual teacher and student should not be trying to fulfill personal needs through the teacher-student relationship.  This may never be 100% – we’re all human after all – but we should be tracking our “relationship lines” and discerning when there may be a conflict of interest between the teacher-student relationship and personal feelings and agendas.

Keep in mind that multiple relationship lines (teacher and friend for example) make for more complicated relationships.  How someone interacts with you as a teacher in any given circumstance may be different from how they would interact with you as a friend, and if you see them as both teacher and friend there will be a sense of betrayal in one of the lines when those circumstances arise.

Part of the spiritual awakening process is accessing your capacity to fell and express love and your own vital life force.  It can involve profound heart openings.  These feelings can sometimes be projected onto whomever we are spiritually engaged with – teachers, other students – as we confuse the awakening of our own heart nature with romantic interest.  Sometimes teachers have unmet personal intimacy needs that they project onto their students.  Remember the relationship is intimate, and may be one of the few intimate relationships you have.  It can be tempting to try to turn that impersonal intimacy into personal intimacy.  I recommend having a blanket policy that your relationships with teachers and students never become romantic.  Assume that if someone is coming into your life as a teacher or student they are not meant to be your romantic partner and act accordingly.  Any romantic feelings can be enjoyed as indicators of your own love-nature awakening and you can find an appropriate partner to explore those feelings with.