Many people have asked me my opinion on having a teacher on a spiritual path. Like everything else in life, there are only points of view as to whether this choice is the best one for you. All I can do is reflect my personal experience regarding having a teacher and what I feel the benefits and problems are of engaging in this kind of relationship.
First and foremost, a teacher is someone who has been down the same road that you are traveling – albeit at least a few miles ahead of you. They understand the pitfalls and the roadblocks, and can assist you in making your path easier and less painful. They can comfort you with the knowledge that many people have walked this road before and survived, no matter how difficult the path may appear to you in the moment.
Second, a teacher can reflect things to you that you would never see in yourself – at least not without a lot of self-honesty, which is hard to find when we are first on our spiritual path. Denial is most often our companion and we avoid what we fear is painful, even if we are doing it subconsciously. The point is that a teacher has more awareness and can see through the mental and egoic strategies that we eagerly justify and defend.
Third, a teacher creates a safe and supportive environment to allow us to open our hearts and minds in, giving us the opportunity to explore aspects of ourselves we would normally avoid. A good teacher will not use anything we have shared against us or to hurt us, and above all will not manipulate us with that information. This is not unlike the relationship we have with our doctor – what is discussed in the treatment room stays in the treatment room.
The dangers of such a relationship are found when a teacher has not totally cleaned their ego-mind and still has the tendency to want to use people and situations for their personal benefit. The flip side of this issue is that many times the student does not understand the teacher’s point of view because they can only see from their limited point of view. They then judge the teacher, not totally understanding their intent or the bigger picture. In these moments it helps to speak to other students who have been down the road before for clarity – one way or another. The purpose of your spiritual path is to increase your personal power, self-love and self-worth, not to give it away to others.
Other dangers involve becoming attached to a teacher feeling that if they were to leave you that you would never achieve enlightenment. This is just another appearance of “I am not good enough” manifesting itself in another guise. There is an old Chinese proverb that says: Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself. A teacher can be a mirror for you, they can reveal many hidden aspects of your mind, and they can point out many of your habit behaviors that are causing you pain in your life. But in the end they cannot do anything for you. You must do it for yourself. Anyone who promises otherwise is a danger to you.
For me, having a teacher has been an incredible blessing in my life. He taught me what unconditional love was through action – not through words. He reflected to me the love and blessing that I am, revealing the lies that I am not. He gave me words of support when the path was dark and encouraged me when I thought I would never make it. He was brutally honest with me, since there was benefit or investment in lying to me. He lent me his eyes to see the world through so that I could experience that life can be heaven on earth. And most importantly, he loved me just the way I was, with all my bad habits until I finally could express the light that I am.
Hopefully my words will be helpful to you and assist you in making a healthy personal choice. As always, I wish you the best on your path.
Dr. Sheri Rosenthal is a master Toltec teacher and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Toltec Wisdom and WITH Forgiveness. Having trained with don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, she currently takes students on spiritual journeys, works with personal apprentices and enjoys being extremely happy. You can reach her at http://www.sherirosenthal.com , http://www.journeysofthespirit.com and http://www.withforgiveness.com .