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Some Guidelines for Teachers of Spiritually Based Traditions
Teachers of spiritually based traditions have an enormous responsibility. We are the guardians and leaders of ever evolving healing systems. We must love and respect our own humanity and we must accept the responsibilities of our vocation.
Below I have shared some of my own guidelines for teachers of spiritual traditions. These the some of the standards I use for myself that have evolved out of my own mistakes and experiences. These are guidelines and ideas that help keep us in a space where we cannot only be professional, but where we are less likely to use our perceptions and skills to unintentionally or intentionally cause harm to others and ourselves.
1. Don't do dumb stuff.
Just don't. And if you do dumb stuff, which we'll all wind up doing at some point, have the courage to say you did something dumb and try to do better. I've heard, more than once, teachers of many traditions doing things that are hurtful, unethical, or mean and expect that their status or rhetoric will provide them with an excuse for their behavior. Excuses perpetuate suffering. No matter your title, knowledge, class numbers, or fuzzy sounding spiritual talk, doing something hurtful, unethical, or mean is still doing something hurtful, unethical, and mean. A true practitioner of a spiritual tradition is able to say when they messed up. They are able to be a humble, flawed human. They can be accountable. Our accountability helps us grow on our path. Accountability married to self-compassion wipes down the blackboard and gives us another shot at the equation. Accountability often shines the spotlight on an issue that when addressed will lessen our own suffering and make us stronger teachers.
2. Be true to the teachings that truly make you happy and work for you.
We all agree and disagree on many aspects of spiritual teachings. That's the way it should be. As teachers we should never be afraid of disagreeing with each other, we should only be mindful of disagreeing with ourselves. It's our own internal lack of integrity that gets us into trouble. It's our "walking differently than we're talking" that tears us apart and mires us in shame and confusion. Being true to the teachings that resonate most with us, even if they disagree with our colleagues and friends, gives us remarkable confidence and strength. It also creates a beautiful community of varying viewpoints that can speak to many different people at many stages of spiritual development.
3. Do your work.
Put down the fluffy yoga bunny rabbits and unicorns, roll up your sleeves, and get into your own healing work. Healing is beautiful, healing is powerful, and healing is uncomfortable and messy. Doing our own work is essential not only for our own happiness, but to allow us to become greater healers and teachers. When we do our work, when we get into the deep roots of our own healing journey, we clear space that can be used to more effectively help others. We can be more present, more awake, and more able to hold space. We become less likely to use teachings as excuses to perpetuate delusions within ourselves and in our relationship to others.
As teachers of a spiritual tradition, it is essential we find our own teachers who can guide us and help us to heal. It is also essential that we find teachers that won't allow us to "spiritual talk" our way out of our own healing. For example I have found it most helpful to see therapists who see other therapists. I remember Brene Brown saying in a talk that therapists who see therapists have highly attuned BS detector. We need this extra clarity of perception as spiritual teachers, because we can subconsciously delude ourselves with rationalizations based on teachings that are ultimately false, destructive, and cause great suffering. We need people who can lovingly call us out so that we remain clear with ourselves.
There's that great line in Mary Poppins, "Some people, for no fault of their own, can't see beyond the tip of their own nose." We are all that person. It's very challenging if not impossible, no matter how much mindfulness we do, to see outside of all our own patterns and perceptions. We all have bind spots. While having our blind spots illuminated may temporarily bruise our egos, it is the light that keeps us honest and helps us heal. It's also the light that helps us to stay clear with our motivations and intentions when working with others.
4. Live by the old saying "With great power comes great responsibility."
As teachers we must always realize that we have a sacred bond of trust with our students. With that trust comes enormous responsibility to use our gifts as healers for the lessening of suffering and never to use them to aggrandize our own sense of self or manipulate our students. It can be very seductive for the insecure teacher to use their heightened powers of perception and knowledge of spiritual principles and ideas to control and manipulate students. Students come to us in an incredibly vulnerable space. That vulnerability is sacred and precious. Our job is to check in with ourselves as often as possible to make sure we are honoring that vulnerability and not using it for our own selfish purposes.
There will never be a time when we will not need to check-in with ourselves. As Buddhists say, we will always have the potential for great healing or great suffering. It is up to us to keep growing on our path so we facilitate more healing and cause less suffering. It is up to us to continuously check-in with ourselves about our intentions and motivations. It is up to us to seek out mentors and teachers who can serve as our own guides. It is up to us to stay humble and accept the great responsibility that comes with our work. We are at the tipping point of a great revolution in healing as our world grows and expands. It's our job as teachers and leaders in this world to expand, learn, and grow along with it so we can continue to be of healing service.