Here we are going to look at the fact that we are all teachers and we are all learners. Now, that probably seems fairly self evident to many of you. If you slice and dice your life up into its various components, then you can easily see situations where you play the teacher to others and where others play the teacher to you.
If you’re ever in a classroom setting, then it’s easy to see which role you are in (although one may be your official role, unofficially you’re also in the other simultaneously). But beyond formal instructional settings, we may also play the role of “teacher” when we guide our children, mentor coworkers or simply make choices in life that are observed by others. Similarly, those around us are our teachers – either formally, informally or by our observation of their actions and choices.
When we move into the arena of “student” and “teacher” in the spiritual areas of our lives, there are a couple of interesting things that happen, especially when one begins looking around for their “teacher”. The first thing I’ve noticed is that when many of us look at others as our possible spiritual teacher, we tend to forget that others may be looking at us as theirs. My second observation is that when we find someone whom we revere as our spiritual teacher, we tend to put them on a pedestal setting them apart from ourselves. Because we see them as having some esoteric knowledge that we want so deeply to obtain, we begin projecting things upon them – both good and bad.
Let’s be clear – It’s okay to want to honor those who are assisting us along our path. Those who have been instrumental in my growth, I have either acknowledged this fact to them personally or stated it to others. But, I’ve had to be careful that in my paying tribute to the role they’ve played in my expansion that I’ve not created separation between us.
Personally, I’ve always had a little trouble when people refer to their “guru” and even more trouble when people refer to themselves in that manner. Yes, some of the spiritual teachers who have taught me by way of their writings have attributed their wisdom to some Eastern guru. I think there was a time in our collective spiritual growth when maybe this was necessary. Someone from the West going off to India and then coming back and trying to teach some new spiritual philosophy probably needed to point at “their guru” to gain credibility – much like how we tend to value more the message of someone because they have a PhD. Hopefully, were moving beyond this need. Up to now unfortunately, self taught learners have not been given as much credence in our society as someone who has the “right credentials”.
Yet beyond this issue of establishing credibility, I do see how the acknowledgment of someone being one’s guru is also part of that natural honoring of our teacher. That’s okay to a degree so long as we’re not setting up an unnatural separation between ourselves and this individual. Yes, we may have learned from the one we call a guru, but if everyone’s honest – the guru probably learned from us as well.
I know I’m a teacher to others in many areas of life – including spiritual, but I’m no guru. And, I’m also a learner in many areas as well – including and especially in my spiritual life, but I don’t have a guru. As I present these writings, they come from a place of humbleness in my heart where I recognize I still have so much to learn. Yet they also come with a recognition that I have gained a degree of wisdom which I am called to share with others. I don’t see myself as separate – either better or worse, wiser or more ignorant than anyone else. Rather, I see myself as connected to everyone else – and with that wisdom comes a desire to want to teach you as well as learn from you.
Beyond the role we all play as models for others, many people intentionally take on the role to become a “teacher”. In my opinion, the best teachers have a clear vision of the information they wish to impart. The best teachers desire to assist others – to show them something specifically, to bring them wisdom and knowledge. The best teachers don’t see themselves as separate and apart from their students. The best teachers see that we are all teachers and learners, that we are all in this world together to learn and grow. A truly wise teacher would never call themselves a “guru”.
I’ve encountered a few people in my time who call themselves a guru. I was always amazed by the people who laid themselves at these peoples feet in order to gain their “wisdom”. I have to admit that I have felt the pull myself a time or two.
What is it about these people that calls others to them? From my experience there are generally two factors at play here.
First, these individuals frequently exude a high level of charisma. That is, there is something about them that just naturally draws us to them. Their behavior exhibits a confidence that we would like. There words indicate they possess some kind of knowledge that we don’t have.
Which brings me to the second point previously mentioned– we desire something that we believe these people have. Life is complex. There is something in us that wants to “make sense of it all”. We believe these “gurus” have the key to our understanding. We “follow” these individuals to gain the wisdom we believe they have.
It is natural that we have this pull within us where we want to learn and grow. One of the essential aspects of life is that we are here to grow and evolve, so all of this is appropriate. It’s also natural that we will encounter teachers at the right moment in our lives who can offer us guidance on our next step. Yet, we need to grow beyond that place where we put our teacher on a pedestal. Doing that sets up a faults sense of separation with someone who is only playing that role temporarily.
Which brings us back to our key point – let’s don’t lose sight of the fact that we are all teachers and learners. We are playing both roles simultaneously in different parts of our life and playing both roles with the same person at different times or areas in our life. It’s like we’re conga dancers who keep changing partners and directions – sometimes I’m following you, sometimes you’re following me and other times we’re off in teacher-student relationships with someone totally different. When you’re the student, you need to keep this perspective in mind!
Likewise, when we encounter a teacher who labels himself as a “guru”, we need to be cautious. Their self proclamation is setting themselves up as separate and apart from us. By the very aspect of their doing this shows the limitations in their wisdom. They are forgetting that at sometimes and in some ways they will be playing the role of learner.
Yet even if presented with these facts – watch out! Some so-called “gurus” will deny their vulnerability or ignorance using their talent at talking or displaying their charming charisma. If we try to point out that their actions are separating them from us, they will often use and manipulate us by way of their understanding very well our internal need to comprehend life. This inner need of ours to understand the meaning of life can be used by others to become their followers. No matter how much they tell us that they are “enlightened”, by the very nature that they divide themselves from us – they show that they are not enlightened and most likely have some shadow work to do.
So may we all be humble! We are all ignorant in our own way. Acknowledging this opens us to learning and growth. We may need a teacher but we don’t need a guru to evolve towards the higher possibilities of our life.
Yet may we also feel our power! We are all teachers in our own way. Acknowledging this opens us to sharing our wisdom with those around us who may need it. We may be their teacher but we’re not trapped in the divisive role of guru.
Always keep in mind that the evolution of humanity requires that we be receptive learners and gracious teachers.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!