The Challenges of Teaching

The Challenges of Teaching

There is a common idea that awakened people automatically become teachers. But teaching is a skill, one that allows us to speak to the student at their level. Many don’t have this skill. They speak from their understanding and others hear from theirs. Mixed results ensue.

A traditional spiritual teacher also adopts their dedicated students, guiding their way home. This is a large, long-term responsibility not to be taken lightly.

Often what triggers the start of teaching is an inner call to share the revelations of a major experience or stage change. It feels so profound and important we want to share! This is why you see many people teaching about awakening but nothing more. They’ve jumped in after the first shift – or even the first opening. Many fade out after awhile.

Usually, there is a lot of unpacking after a major shift. Do we want to be acting out our stuff with students? Teaching can bring out issues in the teacher that create co-dependency and difficult karmas for everyone. Some groups even descend into cults.

Another common issue is the “no person here” approach of some teachers and traditions. This is a renunciate emphasis that has minor advantages in disentangling. But it can also lead to a blind spot if there is no acknowledgment of what remains. And that’s simply because if you have a human body, there’s a person here still functioning in the field of karma. Those dynamics may be much reduced but let’s not confuse that with zero.

Certainly, there can be the experience of no self. The asmita or possessive, reactive self falls away as well as the attachment to ahamkara, the I self. The farther along you get, the less of a presence this has on the experience. When you’re infinite, how important is a point? But as long as we’re in a body, there has to be a default reference point or we’d lose it. Thus, the mix of laws of nature here continue to influence our expression. In many ways, the very awake become even more distinct personalities, liberated from old constraints.

To take a Brahman perspective, nothing has ever been created, and yet here it is. There has to be a willingness to embrace paradox. Denying your role in interactions can lead to delusions of perfection or non-involvement.

The key here is differentiating experience from framing. How we think about or frame things filters how we relate to our experience. If we don’t recognize the philosophy we’re using, it can become a shadow. Our understanding is very important but it can also be a trap. These issues are amplified by someone in a teaching role as they’re passing on their approach through word, deed, and energetic embodiment.

Even more difficult, they can become embedded in their philosophy from teaching it and will naturally defend it if others point out an issue. Perhaps it becomes clear why it’s valuable for a teacher to have peers and not be an island unto themselves – something we discussed on the Sofia panel.

Traditionally, someone didn’t begin to teach until instructed by their teacher. Texts mention 12 years of post-awakening maturation first. Very few meet such a standard and a set number of years is arbitrary. Some mature into it more quickly than others but we shouldn’t over-estimate progress. It’s advisable for a mature, stable embodiment to be present to teach and that the teaching be as high and inclusive as possible.

This does illustrate why it is very important to bring discrimination to the table. We want a teacher who can help us get home, not just share some nice ideas or experiences or their drama. Even with an excellent teacher, we don’t want to be idealizing them, however grateful we are for their support. We all remain human. No matter how evolved, they’re still a “work in progress” as Rick Archer likes to say. Still working out the last sprouted seeds of karma they came in with. Still have momentum from prior to awakening. Still have laws of nature which are mixed.

Yet if they are going to take on the role of “Spiritual Teacher,” we should expect integrity and responsibility.

You also want to know the difference between charisma and presence. Charisma can be very enticing but is all about the personality rather than the peace.

But its not all on the teacher. We have to recognize what we bring to the table. Being around the awake, especially around someone in a teaching role, can really bring our baggage to the surface. Presence can kick up our mud or reactivity. The teacher may swat our egoic tendencies or precious beliefs too. But this shouldn’t go beyond tough love. We don’t want to get caught in acting out their unresolved junk.

In a spiritual setting, the karma at play isn’t just yours or the teachers but the groups and the wholes. It’s all called to the table for the progress of the whole.

In that sense, karma isn’t personal. There can certainly be old resistances we’ve carried forward through lifetimes that bring us similar experiences. But it’s that resistance that calls events to us to make it more conscious so we can resolve it and bring balance to ourselves and to the whole. We’re in this together.

If we’re taking things personally, there is then that tendency to blame others. Spiritual teachers often get blamed by their students for rough experiences. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi joked about students hating his teacher and himself. Our resistance can be embedded in our sense of self and thus quite defended and offended by anything that gives it a prod. The Internet is full of gripes about peoples former teachers – sometimes justified and sometimes just unresolved junk that says more about them than the teacher.

In other words, teachers get dumped on a lot in helping others.

It’s a curious thing. Spiritual teachers can be the most beneficial and yet difficult relationships. This is especially so when we get very involved with them. The relationship becomes a vehicle for growth but also purification and karma. Most people can only take so much of this and need a break.

Such is the nature of love. Those we love the most are often those that bring us the most pain and difficulty. Life…


Last Updated on November 6, 2018 by Davidya

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  1. Jane killingbeck

    Thank you Davidya….very clearly and beautifully put….and affirming. I am a recently ordained one spirit interfaith minister after many years of spiritual journeying and much of this resonated with me both as a student in the past and as a teacher now …there are many perils, and constant awareness of how the ego can get involved and an ability to laugh at when it does are important ….and not take myself too seriously . And always humility despite people’s tendency to want to idolize me or give their power away ….i see my role as providing space for people to come together and deepen their relationship with the eternal oneness and with each other and with themselves ……but see that now I have this role people come too me with their stories and their questions which is a great honour but I need to be constantly aware of the responsibility to give them truth …and to rely on inner wisdom to deal with them…and to meet them where they are as you say

    1. Thanks, Jane. You raise some good points. A sense of humour about oneself and some humility go a long ways to avoid some of these issues. And we have to learn to set clear boundaries with students so we don’t end up culturing an imbalance of power.

      Congrats on your ordainment. I looked at One Spirit myself some years ago when considering how to be in the world after the openings began. Turned out writing was my route. 🙂

  2. Vivi C

    Thank you, once again. Clarity, truth and how the textures unfoldings can arise, much appreciated. Have witnessed some aspects of what is shared here and appreciate the clarity. Blissings dear brother.

    1. Thanks, Vivi. Yes, I’ve seen the challenges myself over the years too. It’s one of the more difficult professions as it requires a radical self-honesty and focus. It’s one thing to reflect periodically – it’s another to be the flag-bearer of standards.

  3. Thanks David. A useful article for me to reflect on as I have been a teacher of mind/body, personal and spiritual development for decades and was well trained to teach all of these. I’m very grateful in particular for learning how to teach yoga of all sorts at Yasodhara Ashram. Swami Radha was very practical and focused on quality of life as a human being.

    Then awakening came through me and now snippets of that knowing naturally enter the field of guidance to others. I don’t label myself as awakened with participants or talk about the ‘experience’. I do not consider myself a spiritual teacher but conversations about spirituality enter the field and come now from a deeper experience that seems to be very useful for others to think bigger than they used to about who they are and what life is. And I try to stay aware of the potentially slippery slopes in these roles, projections that come, the profound impact on others that needs to come through this vehicle, not from ego mind, self importance etc, re-reading this now awareness of the ego mind defending the fact that teaching is happening.

    I think any field where one may be giving “advice” can be a tricky one to navigate. That was also true when I was a healthcare practitioner. People often put and hold all sorts of people into positions of power and themselves in some kind of lower position. I experienced that as a healthcare practitioner too. ‘Advice’ or guidance needs to start from themselves and perhaps different perspectives of that can be offered back to expand understanding of what is possible.

    Maintaining balance requires humility, honesty about my “real life” as a human (and that I’m far from perfect as a person and that there is no such thing!), keeping it practical, letting the discussions emerge from the student, not from me. And most important, not getting too serious and knowing the wisdom of everyone contributes to what I think best as a dialogue of some sort. My teacher’s prayer is that I stay a humble servant of the absolute, admit when I am not, and get my little self out of the way of a flow that isn’t about me.

    And yes, the jyotish chart has teaching in spades so I don’t expect that I could stop it if I tried.

    Thanks for opening up this conversation David. I read all your articles even if I don’t comment often and they are so useful for me.

    1. Hi Sohlea
      You’re welcome. Keep in mind it’s different when you’re trained and qualified to teach something. Spiritual teachers should be able to embody what they teach. But we don’t expect most math teachers to embody math. 🙂

      Nonetheless, there are some points to consider here. Integrity and responsibility are good principles for anyone, teaching even more so.

      And yes, in my “normal” life, I don’t speak of it unless asked. But it certainly informs the reality and what is said often comes from a deeper place than the person.

      Yes, I’ve seen that with ivory tower academia and the medical field also. Some are happy to take the perceived status although I was reading today about how people are buying social media “friends” to be perceived as influencers. A very slippery slope when everyone is being gamed, even the gamers.

      What you describe will become more automatic over time as the little self gets littler. But the need for humility remains, however vaulted the vision.


  4. Jim

    Hi David, a good article. Though it is also worth mentioning that one doesn’t need much formal guidance spiritually, once we are reliably transcending our reality. Certainly following a teacher is completely optional. Once fixed on the path, if we need assistance or clarification, it comes from anywhere to assist us.

    On the other hand, simply growing the light within becomes a natural service to others, such that they can also grow a great deal spiritually just from companionship, with no formal student-teacher relationship necessary.

    Although it is never spoken of, going at it alone, and carefully, for many years is a great way to make much faster progress than always needing sanction from a teacher.

    1. Hi Jim
      Well – it depends on one’s path. I agree that many lean on teachers or teachings (concepts or beliefs) more than may be healthy. What you suggest does require decent discriminative skills so we can stay on track. But yes, I agree we’re in a time where many are unfolding with little formal instruction. This blog would have little interest if most people were students of someone or other.

      Things have evolved a lot. When I was younger, many saw people in other teachings like foreigners who might be poisonous. Now there’s a lot of cross-pollination going on.

      I would say we do need proper instruction in techniques to get moving on the path well. And a working framework to understand what is unfolding. Then, a lot of it is about living life and integrating the unfolding.

      At a certain point, we become ripe. Then spending time with someone awake can help facilitate the shift. This is less necessary for some but as you mention, what is needed will show up and it doesn’t have to be a formal “teacher.”

      Many also have softer shifts that may require clarification or a bit of support. But somewhere around the Unity shift, the “inner guru” comes online – we know what we experience because we are it. Then outside teachers become less valuable.

      Then we become able to support others in various ways – by presence, healing, support, or whatever the laws are here.

      1. Thanks for these posts David. They are very much appreciated. Hovering around the doorstep of the inner guru in meditation and being simply in the presence of others who are, as you so well say “unripening”, and working towards “living it” helps it continue to unfold. With each step we take we seem to be pulled further along by the unseen forces of serendipity.

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