If we follow a spiritual path firmly rooted in everyday life, a path unique in many ways to the experience of each individual, at some point the question of finding a spiritual teacher or teachers must arise. This can be a difficult question to answer, because those who re-create everyday life as their spiritual path are in many ways breaking new ground.
For those of us whose spiritual path leads us away from the structures of organised religion, there are no rules, there is no dogma, just a sincere search for self-knowledge and the divine. No one teacher can lead us on such a path, since each of our lives is different. Bearing this in mind, are we to find our way without any guidance at all? It can seem an impossible task.
If we don’t have anyone to tell us, how can we know if we’re on the right track? And where exactly are the boundaries between selfishness, self-care and martyrdom? Luckily, there are teachers along the way – both inner and outer teachers. We just have to know where to look.
When the student is ready…
I would like to suggest that life is a spiritual path with many teachers and an abundance of wisdom available to us at any time. All we have to do is ask, and be open as we wait for an answer.
Life lived consciously is a path of observation, of self-awareness and self-checking – always questioning: “Is this genuine? …. What really matters to me? …. How do I really feel? …. If this child in front of me were truly sacred… if this laundry were sacred, if this food were sacred… what response would that call forth?”
Admittedly, it is not difficult to fool yourself on a solitary spiritual path, to drift into ego and illusion and feelings of superiority and judgement. After all, many of us tell ourselves constantly how spiritual we are.
Surrounding ourselves with the external trappings of spirituality, we focus more on these than on the things they represent. We try to convince ourselves of our own spirituality, and even harder than we try to convince ourselves, we try to convince everyone else.
We may even delude ourselves into thinking that our spiritual practice calls us to take care of ourselves at the expense of others, but there is a well-defined line between what Thomas Moore calls care of the soul, and simple selfishness.
For many, spiritual teachers come in traditional forms, presenting themselves as ministers, counsellors, or personal coaches. They might reach us through books, workshops or sermons, or even through casual conversations. They might be parents, neighbours or friends who, through their example, inspire us to live differently.
Many of these teachers can lead us on our path for a while, and then we will find ourselves thanking them and moving away, once again taking our own path, seeing where life leads next.
Some people find an existing spiritual path that calls to them. The rest of us are wanderers, moving from place to place, creating a unique synthesis of learning and insight.
An unusual teacher
A friend of mine has an unusual spiritual teacher – his two-year-old son, whom he cares for as a stay-at-home dad. A man of great integrity, he works to experience every scream in the middle of the night as a call to loving-kindness, every messy mealtime as a lesson in patience, every question as a challenge to think in a new way, and every shared new experience a return to innocence.
Another person in the same situation might resent the hard work and get each arduous chore out of the way as quickly as possible, but this dad consciously uses the material he is presented with every day to continue his spiritual and personal growth – embodying the essence of the everyday sacred.
The inner teacher
A criticism often levelled at travellers on an individual spiritual journey is that their spirituality is destined to remain shallow, failing to reach the same depths as someone who chooses an established tradition and perseveres within that framework. I disagree.
A seeker who is open and committed, working towards self-awareness, taking regular time to connect with the divine in whatever form it presents itself, learning both from inner teachers such as intuition, dreams, and the Shadow, can learn as much about themselves and life as anyone else. Teachers such as these are always available to us.
The voice of intuition is a quiet teacher, a still small voice within that lets us know when a choice is absolutely right, though we couldn’t explain why.
It is the voice that tells us something is wrong as soon as we walk into a room where people have been fighting. That little voice that says go to the doctor, have this pain checked out – or, it’s ok, this is nothing to worry about.
Intuition is the certainty that someone is lying to you, or telling the truth. It is the urge to turn left instead of right, or to take a certain street, or the thought of someone that pops into your head a moment before they phone. It is a sense of inner knowing that is as steady as a rock, despite our regular attempts to overpower it with the rational mind.
It can take courage at times not to turn away from the voice of intuition, because sometimes it is hard to hear, and at other times, what it tells us is very different to what we want to know.
We often ignore the signals in our lives because we are afraid of change, but if we listen to our intuition we can find out what is going on underneath. One way to bypass the rational mind and get to the intuition is to say to yourself, “If I knew the answer to this question, what would it be?” Write down your ‘pretend’ answers, and you may be surprised at the wisdom that comes out.
Another simple way to access your intuition is to go to a bookshop and let your intuition guide your hand over the shelves. Often you will find that the book that you feel jumping out at you will have exactly the message you need to hear.
Ask your intuition what food your body needs to promote its optimal health at that moment. Or go for a walk, and see where your intuition and your feet carry you. Be open to what might happen when you step outside the limits of the rational mind.
How an Anam Cara can help
A spiritual path can sometimes be a lonely one, and it’s not unusual to envy those who find comfort in an established community, even while knowing that such a community wouldn’t suit us at all. An Anam Cara (‘soul friend’ in Irish) was a person in the early Celtic Christian tradition, who would help another on their spiritual path, to listen, provide accompaniment and support, to walk with them through the darkest times without judgement. From my training, an Anam Cara is a person who is trained to provide a similar service in a non-denominational way. S/he will talk with you about your spiritual path, help you where you get stuck, and provide support and guidance without telling you what to do, think or believe.
Don’t give up
With every journey, spiritual or otherwise, there are times when we are tempted to forget about the whole thing, to give up, to be sensible and practical just like everyone else. These are the times when we need companions and teachers – inner or outer – to remind us that there is no going back, just a decision to take a different path.
Ultimately, the richest learning from any teacher is not from what they say, but from what we learn about ourselves in their presence. By engaging our inner teacher as we live our everyday lives, we face the challenge of coming to know ourselves, and in knowing ourselves, we come to know everything. When all of life is a spiritual path, there are many teachers, and all of them bring us closer to the still point, closer to truth, and closer to each other.
If you would like to learn more about everyday spirituality or about getting to know your inner teacher, contact me to make an appointment. I’d love to hear from you.