What the Teacher Does

I am feeling a little fiery today. So: A reality check:

Much is made these days of “being one’s own teacher” and its corollaries, “Life is my teacher” and “Everyone is my teacher.”

But truthfully — that’s the end of the path. It’s not the beginning and it is not the middle.

The beginning, and much of the middle, is that we fundamentally can’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know where the path is really taking us at the level of direct experience until that experience arrives and destabilizes our carefully-constructed and well-defended egoic ecology — and we can’t perceive the deeper blocks in our own being, because they’re like feet gone numb from sitting on them. We can’t know whether the “spiritual experience” we had is a signpost of our progress or an advert for the spiritual tourist-trap around the next bend. That is why we have living spiritual teachers, the same as we have living tennis coaches or physicians.

Seekers are afraid of becoming limited by a “system,” or of falling under the influence of a false teacher — but if your intuition and good sense can’t steer you away from a false or unsuitable teacher, you absolutely cannot rely upon your intuition to guide you into the unknown territory of your own unconsciousness. The egoic obstinacy you have against apprenticing yourself to a teacher is also blocking your inner guidance.

The unavoidable reality is that you will undertake the spiritual path through the same egoic mechanisms which already imprison you. Something that you do not have is necessary to reach the escape velocity from the gravity well of your felt-identity.

So many people trust only their mistrust — and that mistrust itself is a huge wall between you and your liberation. We are so wounded in this society that we take our mistrust for granted, just as we take-for-granted the egoic hyper-individuation of which we are so very proud in the West, in spite of the soul-wrenching loneliness and inner fragmentation that is its genetic twin in the womb of our true potential. The attitude that we can DIY the spiritual path is really just another culturally-inculcated implicit bias.

While facing your shticks and bullshit is necessary — and it’s enormously powerful to sit knee to knee with someone who sees through all of it (and smiles indulgently the way a parent does when their toddler hands them a call on a toy phone) — spiritual awakening is not primarily a psychological process (even psychology viewed through a Jungian lens).

Let that sink in.

People misunderstand the real work of a spiritual teacher. It’s not to give you information about metaphysics or read your aura or help you fix your goofy relationships or realize “abundance” or feel “empowered.” All of that is superficial and basically irrelevant to your awakening.

A teacher does three things:

  • A spiritual teacher is a coach in spiritual practice, and s/he is a physician of the soul. S/he prescribes and fine-tunes the right spiritual practice to support each next step you take in your spiritual unfoldment. This s/he does through training s/he has received in that art from their own teachers, and the expertise gained from having traveled the path ahead of you. S/he supports your practices on the “inner planes” in a way that you just cannot do for yourself.  S/he helps you navigate between the edges of what you want (which mostly supports your existing compensatory structure) and what s/he knows you need to make the journey.
  • Through the direct effect of the teacher’s elevated consciousness on your being, s/he catalyzes your spiritual alchemy. This is very real and it’s very powerful, and it’s beyond mind and language. A capable teacher can do this without saying a word or in any way obviously manipulating set-and-setting, and this is rarely seen nowadays because there are so many basically-untrained/self-appointed teachers using psychological techniques presented as spiritual teaching.

The teacher is there as an exemplar, certainly, of how the Formless/Boundless can embody in a human being — and just to see what is possible is itself a teaching. But moreso, the teacher is a “relay station” of that which you cannot reach on your own.

  • But the most important thing a teacher does is to perceive and mirror to you the magnificence and unique gifts of your real being and potential — and to hold that steadfast in spite of your most-sincere attempts to prove to both of you that you are something else. Your teacher will open you at a depth in you that you didn’t even know you had until it was roused from its slumber by the touch of their awareness. What we really get from relationship with the teacher is the teacher’s relationship with their own soul and that kind of relationship catalyzed in yourself/with-yourself.

A real teacher will show you, not so much your deficiencies, but your inherent power, integrity, and nascent Divine Qualities and help you integrate them. S/he can do this in a way that can only be authentic to someone who wants nothing from you except your absolute freedom, including from themselves. In this, s/he navigates between the edges of what you want to know, from inside the narrowness of who believe yourself to be, and what s/he knows that you need to know in order to break free from the prison of your own identity.

This is the most intimate and fulfilling relationship two human beings can have, because while it honors the beauty and quirkiness of our human incarnations, it actually transpires beyond time/space — and the big breakthrough is when you finally meet your teacher there consciously. That’s when you really begin to get free, and walk the path together as the deepest of friends.


(See also: Following a Spiritual Guide and When the Teacher Falls)