Where’s My Teacher?

Making Sense of the Search for a Path and Trustworthy Teacher

Recently, I had a stimulating email conversation with M.C., a thoughtful young man from Australia.  I think his questions are shared by many of you. So, with his permission, I share our conversation here with you.

M.C.: Lately I feel like I have been caught up in the plethora of personal growth, health and fitness, personal success and wealth e-books and businesses flooding my inbox. I have my trusted sources/email subscriptions, yourself included, but they are few and far between. One fitness subscription I have, articles written by a bloke called Mike, have been a really reliable and honest source of information. But, as I have found with other online business people, Mike’s newsletter is constantly offering me the latest of his ‘buddies’ products. And out of curiosity I find myself checking out these ‘on sale’ offers with their irresistible marketing campaigns. The same goes for the Holosync support emails I receive which are supposed to serve the purpose of keeping me on track. Yet every second day the Director of the company is sending me deals of the latest personal growth or wealth generating e-product of his one his many ‘buddies’.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to have options and some of these campaigns are fascinating and offer thought-provoking ideas. But I constantly feel like someone is trying to sell me something. I feel like I want to just delete ALL of my subscriptions because I feel a lack of respect and privacy.

But I think I’ll just keep a safe distance and be wary of what’s out there and cut through the crap myself. If anything, the amount of information being sold on the internet, particularly in areas of personal guidance, has made me more determined to live honestly in my own life and be a source of truth. I’m wondering, have you had the same frustrations with this sort of thing? Particularly with the amount of people seemingly ‘cashing in’ on the wave of interest in personal growth and spirituality, a lot of it seems VERY impersonal.

On the other hand I was at the Domino’s Pizza staff rally for Queensland the other day and was inspired by one the guest speakers, A fellow called Bernie who is the head of an organization called yLead. YLead is an academy for youth self-esteem and runs all sorts of events, seminars, tours (including the very appealing ‘Tanzanian adventure’) and I’m guessing a fair bit more. This guy was truly passionate about his job and a lot of things he said in his presentation really hit home. A few things made an impression on me. One is that this guy isn’t content to sit back and watch other people do his work for him. This guy was in your face. Another was that there was a real person and a real presence in front of me, maybe something I’m not used to but definitely something I responded to.

I hope that real human presence isn’t being lost in place of the internet substitutes mentioned above. And if so, there must be a responsible and honest way to reach people via the sterile online environment. In saying that, I value OUR online email conversations very highly and I think a personal email exchange in a trusting and safe environment can be very beneficial and productive. Thoughts?

Paul: M.C., what you are touching on here, for me, is the question of “how do I find the best path and teacher(s) for me?” I agree with all you say about the slightly unsavory taste of much new age, online marketing as if so many healing practitioners and spiritual teachers are offering their goods in the noisy bazaar, mixed in with the tents of snake oil salesman, the fake Rolex watches, the pornography, and everything else imaginable.

However, as a practitioner of one of those healing arts, I can also relate to another side of the coin. There are a great many people today who see the many problems in the world with concern and compassion and who have dedicated their lives to making some positive difference. As one of those, I thought when I opened my practice 8 years ago that my compassion, good intentions, extensive training, and skills would surely bring an abundance of people needing my services to my door. This turned out not to be true. For several years, I survived only by working unrelated part-time jobs and tapping into retirement assets.

Finally, I decided to put money and time into a website, write pages full of content explaining my healing approach extensively, and to hire consultants to help me with design, search engine optimization, and other hi-tech marketing approaches. That began to pay off some time back with several new clients each week. Now, finally, my vision is being fulfilled, i.e. helping people and supporting myself.

When I waited modestly for suffering souls to find me, like the quiet shaman on the edge of the forest, only a few found me. The realities of modern life forced me to either give up my dream or compete in the bazaar along with all the other barkers.

But some friends saw it differently. They suggested that I had finally realized that I was, as the Bible says, “hiding my light under a bushel” and that I finally woke up to the 2nd part of that same verse, which goes on to say, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good work”.

In learning how to serve in this marketplace, I sought to maintain my integrity.  I tried to communicate what I know with dignity and authenticity on my webpages, rather than with exaggerated promises and manipulation, the hallmarks of untrustworthy marketers. And people seem to be getting that. I had a new client last week who decided to work with me through reading the first couple paragraphs of my bio, which reveal a bit of my personal struggle.

There are lots of sincere and legitimate helpers and teachers around. It is rare that they are so radiant in their divine connection we would even know about them if they had no representation at all in the modern marketplace. If you want to find that kind of teacher, then fast and pray and go walkabout in the central Australian desert, the Amazon rainforest, or the Himalayas. If you survive, there are perhaps a few rare, unknown and worthy teachers who might find you. Those folks don’t have webpages.

But, in any case, there’s no one perfect teacher and different teachers are appropriate for a student at different times and phases of life. Even the “right” teacher can take a student only so far on their path. Then their ways must part. I have experienced this several times as a student. When that happens, it may seem that the teacher is falling short, no longer understands, or even is revealed as a charlatan. But it’s more likely that it’s time for the student to turn inward, become his/her own “guru”, or to find a new teacher.

Many modern teachers offer their services and workshops as commodities to large groups for large fees or via webinars and other even less personal media. It is hard this way to feel the connection and to build the true healing relationship, though I know that sometimes those big workshops or webinars may be merely the introduction, giving the student the opportunity to “sample the wares” before forming a closer relationship with a teacher.

Though it is somewhat out of fashion, I really believe in a mentorship model offering more personal relationship and less emphasis on the products and dollars exchanged.

Ultimately, I’d say trust your own feelings, sensations and intuition. I have found this of absolute importance as I go through this process. It is easy if one feels naïve, ignorant, and self-doubting, to simply give away power and trust to the teacher or the marketing materials. But it is a mistake to dismiss your feelings of doubt or reticence, what I call my “shit detector”. Those feelings mean either that you need more information before making a decision, or else that the teacher is not the right one for you at this time. But if you are consistently drawn to some teaching, like the way you felt about Bernie of YLead, then it’s likely a good choice for you.

Of course, if we knew how to consistently trust our inner guidance, we would not need outer teachers at all. And, if we are uncertain, we should still make the best decision we can, or else we’re just wallowing in fear and paralysis. If, through self-doubt and inexperience, we pick the “wrong” teacher, if we waste our money and our time with a charlatan, then we can learn from that too. We can recall that early in that choosing, we probably had niggling doubts which we ignored, allowing ourselves to be swayed by glorious, if dubious, promises. To learn this from our mistake is easily worth the price we paid.

M.C.: ‘To learn from our mistake is easily worth the price we paid’. If there’s one lesson I’ll take out of your last email, wrapping up the last 6 months or so, that will be it.

So yeah, I now know the trappings and perils of the online ‘bazaar’. Just today I received another email advertising a book on enlightenment for only $11. And the deal was oh so enticing, before I thought to myself, ‘hang on, Mitch, you probably already know 90% of what’s in that book, stop wasting your time, you already have the answers that are right for you’.

I believe that a lot of these self-help campaigns on the internet carry a strong message, if subliminally targeting the fragile subconscious of its target audience, that ‘You and your life are LACKING in some or several ways, THIS is THE answer that you NEED to FIX your life and make your life BETTER’.

Of course these programs may well go on to do just that for people, but nonetheless I see these marketing campaigns as taking advantage of the very vulnerabilities in people they are supposedly out to mend. There is a fine line here and I definitely have yourself in mind when it comes to remaining authentic yet competitive. Thank you for sharing, by the way, I had no idea it had been such a struggle for you starting your practice. This again, has lead me to consider, reconsider, and probably withdraw some internal criticism I would habitually launch at any marketing campaign that rolls along my browser. Still, I think my observations hold true in part and have lead me to draw the following: how about posting a free advert on the net simply reading, “You already have the truth within you!”, or something similar. Maybe this is too specific an example, but you get the idea. To me, this would be a refreshing reminder for those entangled in the ‘bazaar’.

Often I feel internal pressure to ‘have the answer’ and it’s a relief to remind myself that ‘no, I don’t have to’. I’m allowed to not know what I don’t know and know what I do know. Simple as that. This applies to the responsibility of the mentor I feel in making it loud and clear to the pupil that ‘you are on your own path, I can only provide you with guidance from what I have learnt from my own experience. Here’s the baton, run with it’. Often I see the subliminal hinting of the mentor that they possess some mysterious wisdom or that they are essential for the learning of the student, when this is not the case. As I’ve been on the receiving end of this sort of ‘pulling in’ treatment, naturally seeing this in others can get me fuming at times. But I am absolutely with you on the value of real world mentorship.

Gourmet food for thought. Happy to keep the ideas flowing. Cheers.

Your comments, questions, and stories are welcome below. I will respond.

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Paul Chubbuck is a practicing psychotherapist in Fort Collins, CO, using Somatic Experiencing to help people release trauma, abuse, and loss. He may be reached at 970-493-2958 or through his website at www.releasingthepast.com.

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    • Jo

      “. . . it may seem that the teacher is falling short, no longer understands, or even is revealed as a charlatan. But it’s more likely that it’s time for the student to turn inward, become his/her own “guru”, or to find a new teacher.”

      As I read this post, I was reminded of a few quotes I literally keep on post-its in front of my computer:

      “All that you are seeking is seeking you.” (A Taoist principle)

      “Instead of asking ‘What was I thinking?”, ask ‘What was I learning?'” <3