Some crisis hits your life and you don’t have the FIRST CLUE of how to respond. So, maybe you panic a bit. And, maybe in your panic, you start thrashing about a bit – looking for someone who has the “perfect answer” to your dilemma.
You find one, of course. There is always some self-proclaimed “expert” on any given life problem. And, in your fear and desperation, you go “all in” to the proffered solution. You’ve found your guru.
But then, . . .
. . . the proffered solution doesn’t exactly achieve what you hoped. Maybe it even backfired and now your circumstances are worse.
Here’s why that didn’t work:
YOU know yourself better than anyone. You know your circumstances better than anyone. You don’t need a guru. What you need is self-trust.
And, mayhaps – a teacher.
What’s the diff?
For kicks, I asked one of my teachers, best-selling author Jen Louden*. For many years, Jen didn’t know she was my teacher. She taught “from afar” through her best-selling Women’s Comfort books. At that time, I generally approached self-improvement with a whip and a hair shirt. Jen, through her books, taught me a gentler approach.
Fast forward all these years, and NOW, I’m writing too. I reached out to Jen to thank her for her help “back in the day,” and she connected back. So now – super cool – I’m getting to make a friend from a teacher.
Ironically, Jen is just getting ready to open up her TeachNow course, so she was really up on the subject.
As you read through our interview (our very FIRST here at Life After Tampons), give some consideration to your own propensity to seek gurus as well as some thought about when you are actually the teacher. We’d love to hear your stories in the Wisdom Circle comments as well as if you’d like to see more interviews and, if so, from whom.
LATvian Jen and Best-Selling Author Jen Discuss
Teachers vs. Gurus
LATvian Jen: Jen, you have been teaching for 20 years. When you and I were talking off line a few weeks ago, you said something that startled me and made my heart sing. You said, “Gurus are on the way out.” Can you say more?
Jen Louden: Those of us who are evolving and learning, we insist that anyone who teaches us evolve, too. Whether it’s yet another politician exposed for his secret life or a spiritual teacher with money issues, we’ve known the truth for a while: everyone has a shadow. No one is perfect. We understand that in a certain domain you can have something valuable to offer – whether that’s mid-life like you Jennifer or it could be cooking or spiritual insight. But we no longer believe that also means that our teacher must be highly developed in all domains of their life.
In fact, we want teachers and leaders who can say, “I’m good at X but other parts of my life, are not always so hot and that’s okay.” We now need this level of honesty to trust you to teach us anything.
However, here’s the big caveat: when you experience a stressful life event(s) that knocks the spiritual and emotional wind out of you, you might forget you don’t want a guru and instead go looking – frantically – for someone with THE answer. This is normal and you must nip it in the bud – especially at mid-life. You do not want to lose time chasing the chimera of someone else’s truth.
When life throws you a whole bunch of curve balls – as it often does – see it as a sacred call to develop self-trust. Yes, teachers and guides can help steady you in listening to this call but never kid yourself: they can never know what you know – or will, once you stop to truly listen.
LATvian Jen: Have you ever gone frantically searching for the answer?
Jen Louden: Only a gazillion times.
I had a terrible habit of this and it’s exhausting for so many reasons, not the least of which is this — I am so clear that all my own teaching and wisdom comes from within me. I am no longer, like I was in my youth, a researcher or a synthesizer of other’s work. I’m being called into a far wilder territory. I can’t follow that call if I look for someone else to show me the way.
LATvian Jen: Your program, TeachNow (more about that in Jen’s bio at the end), has a really different take on who can be a teacher. Many people are afraid that they don’t know enough about their passion to teach it. Do you find that people who take TeachNow want to be gurus?
Jen Louden: Not at all but they often think they have to be a guru or an expert to teach.
All our lives teaching has been modeled to us as a top-down patriarchal experience where someone else has THE knowledge and we sit at their feet to receive it. That is, of course, a very outmoded and ineffective way of teaching. Never the less, we have internalized it as THE way.
So when you are delighted by something, say finding your mojo at mid-life, and you want to share that delight with others – perhaps through e-courses, writing, retreats, etc. – it’s very easy to unconsciously fall into “I have to always feel perfectly mojoed. I have to feel lit up all the time or I’m a fake. And since I don’t, I can’t teach.”
Or you might feel you have to know everything about mojo and mid-life before you can teach, which is, of course, impossible. You can’t ever know everything about anything!
These ideas block so many people from making teaching part of their life. Which makes me shout, “Argh!” and gnash my teeth because the world needs you.
LATvian Jen: Did you ever think you needed to be guru?
Jen Louden: Hell yes! I was thrown into teaching – I had a best-selling book at 28 and was asked to speak. I was consumed by feeling like a fake because I was so young, I was still struggling mightily to embody what I was teaching, and had no idea how to teach or facilitate. I struggled with all that for only the next 17 years.
I created TeachNow two years ago when I saw a dear friend, and one of my spiritual teachers, struggling to fully take his seat as a teacher. I thought, “Holy molly, it’s not just me who feels this way.”
Also, let me be very honest: I wanted to be a guru. I thought, as many of us do, that if I could just be beloved as an author and teacher, then I would finally be good enough. That’s the shadow side of teaching that we teachers and leaders must face in ourselves. We teach for various reasons and not all of them are going to be pure or lofty. That’s normal and it’s not a problem, as long as we bring our shadow into the light and work with it. Otherwise we can hurt our students and ourselves.
LATvian Jen: What’s the difference between a guru and a teacher?
Jen Louden: A guru knows. A teacher questions. A guru says “This is the way it is.” A teacher brings forth that which is within you.
I’m being a bit flippant here because I do believe there are realized beings who can do both – know and question, declare and bring forth. But what I’m trying to bust is the idea that we don’t want to put anyone – including ourselves – on a pedestal.
Instead, you want to stay connected to your humanity and revel in your imperfection. When we project our desire to have a shiny, perfect, blissful life onto teachers, we feel less than, which prevents us from living our true genius. It’s actually a very weeny thing to do – to put others up on a pedestal. We give away our sacred responsibility to create a better life for ourselves and the world.
Jen and I would love to learn from you. In the Wisdom Circle space below, share with us and our other LATvians your teacher/guru stories. And make sure you sign up here for updates from LAT.
* Jen Louden is a personal growth pioneer who helped launch the self-care movement with her first book The Woman’s Comfort Book. She’s the author of 5 additional books on well-being and whole living including The Life Organizer that have inspired close to a million women in 9 languages. She co-created, with Fortune 100 executive trainer Michele Lisenbury Christensen, the popular course TeachNow to empower people who need more confidence, more income, and more power in their teaching – no matter the subject. September 19th you can try TeachNow for free. Visit http://bit.ly/OBl8Wh.
(On occassion — like this time – when I share stuff with you, if you decide to move forward, I make a small commission, too. You should know that I will NEVER hook you up with anyone whose work I don’t personally admire. On the other hand, you’re your own guru, so pick teachers who feel right to you.)
Photo: flickr, Mark Heard