8 Tips for Finding The Right Spiritual Teacher
By Scott Kiloby
Spiritual teachers can be helpful. I know this through my own experience working with some great teachers. Here’s a little guide that might help you find the right teacher for you. Keep in mind this is only a perspective. It is not a definitive or objective guide.
- Find out what Enneagram type your teacher is. If you are not familiar with the Enneagram, I suggest reading up on it. The Enneagram divides personalities into 9 types, and each type has a core woundedness and a way the ego behind the type survives psychologically and emotionally in the world. Not knowing your teacher’s type can blind you to his or her unresolved issues that are often embedded within the teaching itself. You can essentially inherit a distorted view of reality by blindly following a teacher’s words or instructions without knowing his or her type. For example, some teachers are very anti-authority, even going so far as to put down all other teachers with broad and sweeping generalizations. This may be coming from the deep seated fear behind the Enneagram six type, which feels threatened by authority. It may not be an enlightened view at all. Or perhaps your teacher looks very peaceful. This may make you assume he or she is resting in a very deep peace. And he or she may be. But if he or she is an Enneagram type nine, the peaceful posture of the teacher may be coming in part from an ego that has suppressed anger and fear and has an attachment to peace along with an aversion to conflict. All teachers fall within some type or types. Explore the types. Ask your teacher what his or her type is. Or better yet, talk to his or her loved ones. You are likely to get a better view of it all that way.
- Avoid extreme views about teachers and teachings. An extreme view is that “all teachers are ego-maniacs” or “I must have a teacher – no one gets enlightened alone.” These all or nothing kinds of viewpoints can be examined. You might find that you are holding onto an identity behind that viewpoint. As that identity is examined and released, the extreme viewpoints can relax. Then you can decide which teacher is right for you or whether a teacher is right for you at all. You can decide based on each teacher rather than using extreme generalizations. There are some really great teachers out there. Don’t rob yourself of some help they may be able to give you. Also, don’t rob yourself of recognizing that a teacher can’t do it all for you. Taking responsibility for your own investigation is key. A good teacher merely helps you with that.
- Avoid teachers who hold dogmatic or extreme views. The ego is the ego, no matter how you slice it and no matter what its content is. If a teacher is holding onto a viewpoint and demanding that he or she is right all the time, I would move to another teacher. One of the hallmarks of a strong ego is the need to be right and a lack of openness in examining the belief in one’s own thoughts, no matter how enlightened they appear to be.
- Don’t assume teachers ought to give their time and resources for free. Thousands of years ago, teachers had less expenses. People often came to them. Many teachers have given up their day jobs in order to travel and teach. They have expenses too. Not only household expenses but website and other expenses. Instead of holding an extreme view like “no teacher should charge,” look to whether the charge or suggested donation is reasonable given travel, lodging and other expenses of the teacher. Some teachers are already fairly wealthy from jobs they held before teaching. Don’t confuse their lack of a charged fee for some enlightened view about money. They may just be wealthy. I respect a teacher who charges so that his or her spouse doesn’t have to pay all the bills of the household. That shows responsibility and integrity.
- Ask your teacher about embodiment. If he or she says its just a concept or that it is nonsense, then watch closely. Is the teacher presenting any unresolved trauma, self-defensiveness, anxiety or addiction? If so, embodiment probably needs to happen in the teacher. The body holds so much. Watch out for teachers who start teaching right after an initial head awakening. They may be in a sort of infancy stage with their awakening. Years from now they may start realizing that their bodies didn’t come into alignment with that initial awakening at first. Stick with those teachers who have “sat” with realization for many years and have worked through a lot of issues.
- Don’t assume a teacher is enlightened just because he or she is nice. And don’t assume a teacher is not enlightened just because he or she is direct or even mean sometimes. Sometimes an overly nice personality is a people-pleasing personality, with a teacher experiencing a deep desire to be liked or loved. Might be good to throw away the word enlightenment altogether and just look at how issues are resolved or not when they arise. A teacher who is really direct can come off as being mean, when in fact they are merely being direct. Look behind any facade. If you feel the teacher is getting angry or afraid, ask him or her about it. A teacher who is really honest about what is coming up is a good one. A teacher who appears outwardly to be psychologically and emotionally stable may have resolved many issues or may be putting on a facade. A teacher who gets self-defensive all the time might have a lot of issues to resolve. Best way to tell is to spend time with the teacher outside of meetings or ask loved ones.
- Examine any projections towards the teacher and ask the teacher to examine projections towards you. Usually if there is a mutual investigation, this can open the door to a mutually beneficial relationship. It is easy to project all sorts of positive things onto a teacher. In those moments, you are not seeing the teacher as he or she is. You are seeing him or her from your own filter of projections, usually coming from your own deficiency story, such as “I’m not awakened” or “I’m not good enough.” Once you examine all projections, it is hard to think of a teacher as being better than you. Inquiry is the great equalizer. Use it often during meetings with teachers.
- Leave a teacher that is abusing students in any way. No matter how awakened the teacher seems, abuse is abuse. It often comes from unresolved power and control issues within the teacher.