I put off writing this article for a llooonnngg time. (Which is partially why you haven’t received a newsletter from me in a while. I have other reasons, too! But I digress…)
I put off writing it because I didn’t know what to write about. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have lots of ideas tumbling around in my brain, but every time I tried to actually write about one it all fell apart, because I felt that it was not profound, meaningful or insightful enough. I know that sounds really silly, but it’s true.
The irony is that when I get stuck in the mental loop of thinking that what I offer has to be some certain way, I automatically limit myself and what I am capable of offering. I have a mental model of what I should offer and then I try to pull and push and heave and cram to MAKE SOMETHING FIT into it.
When I operate this way, my teaching sucks. It’s awkward and ineffective at best. At worst, well, I’d rather not talk about it.
I have been inquiring lately; why do I impose these standards on myself? Where did I get this idea that I have to be so profound and deep and transformative (i.e. the perfect spiritual teacher) all of the time?
I would like to share some of my realizations with you.
We live in a culture that values the extraordinary. A culture that tells us that if we really want to be successful and fulfilled that we have to do or be something amazing, something phenomenal. We must “deliver the goods” (whatever the goods may be) and if we are not able to, then we are not as amazing, unique and special as the people who do appear to be “delivering.”
This paradigm shows up a lot in spiritual communities – be they yogic, shamanic, new age, Buddhist or what have you. Within these communities, we often project extraordinariness onto our spiritual teachers.
This is illustrated by the fact that when a community discovers that a spiritual teacher is flawed, they are often shocked and appalled. I understand being appalled and I understand being angry at someone who abuses their power and leads others astray. What I want to poke at a little bit here is the shocked part. The ideals that many of us hold around spiritual teachers being perfect, extraordinary, super-human or the like are simply not true.
Instead, we might ponder the possibility that we are projecting our own desire to transcend the ordinary, challenging and mundane reality that is life onto these people. When we are shocked to find out that they are only human, we might ponder if what we are really shocked to discover is that no one is perfect, no one has all of the answers, no one is exempt and even if you are enlightened, you still have to do your dishes and apologize when you act like a jerk.
This dynamic shows up in my own life. For example, people often think that I have a “special gift” because I am clairvoyant. It’s true that I may have an aptitude or proclivity towards being intuitive, just as someone might have for playing music or doing math, but it is not a special power. Everyone is intuitive. I have just chosen to spend my time cultivating my intuition. The problem comes when my clients think (often subconsciously) that because I am clairvoyant that I am special, extraordinary or have somehow transcended things like chronic pain and acne and arguments with my partner.
The problem gets much, much worse when I start to buy into it too; I start to subconsciously believe that because I am in this role that I have to live up to these projections. This creates said feeling of pressure (and a whole lot of self-judgment) because I struggle, I have bad habits, and I make mistakes of all sizes, just like every other spiritual teacher who has ever lived.
When I give myself permission to be ordinary, there is a huge, psychic sigh of relief that floods my whole being. Because that’s the truth. I don’t have to be special. I don’t have to know or be anything other than who I am.
When I let my students see that I am ordinary, the same thing happens for them. Together, we can all let go of the mistaken idea that we have to be anything other than who we are at this very moment. We can be confused, we can be depressed, we can be lost, we can struggle, we can get it wrong.
The irony and the beauty lies in the fact that THIS is where actual spiritual practice gets real. THIS is where we find it’s true transformative nature. Not in the transcendence of the mundane, the ordinary and the struggle, but in the allowance of it. In surrendering to it, in allowing ourselves to be ordinary.
The truth is that spiritual life, just like all of life, can be mundane. Spiritual life is doing your dishes, dealing with uncomfortable shit, feeling confused, feeling stuck, having nothing to say. That’s all a part of it too. I suffer when I think that it is supposed to be some other way. I suffer when I buy into the lie that I have to be anything more than who I am.
When an ordinary man attains knowledge, he is a sage.
When a sage attains understanding, he is an ordinary man.
– Zen Buddhist Proverb