“They each loved each other
with every fiber of their being.
They chose love over fear,
not afraid of the other leaving.
They had spent years
searching for someone
to make them feel complete,
but only when they realized
they already were,
did they meet.”
“My heart is not captured easily. I am
disinterested in small talk,
disillusioned with love, and too focused
on my dreams and aspirations to
lend anybody my attention for long.
But if we make that connection,
if you find your way into my heart,
God, I will fall for you like gravity has
let go of the earth.”
Someone found pics of 4 diamonds (not made) and someone else realized that on the main floor there are 3 diamonds, a blue, yellow, and white one. The diamonds in the pic are the same colors but there’s a red one. The blue diamond looks the most grand, then yellow, then white. I thought blue or red might be a fusion who fought Rose, but where’s red?! Then I realized, ROSE WON THE BATTLE! SHE DEFEATED THAT DIAMOND IN THE MURAL! There are only 3 left! RED WAS THAT DIAMOND! There are even markings on her right arm and leg where her shards are while the other two are plain in each pic! ROSE BEAT HER! AAAHHHH!!!
How to look for a spiritual teacher always begins and ends with your inner knowing. This is the only way to find the right people to support you on your spiritual path. With so many new spiritual teachers and guides appearing these days to help people become more conscious and potentially awaken, the field of options is much broader than it has ever been. Add on to that the power of the Internet to find many of these individuals, and in many ways, we are in a kind of rebirth of spirituality.
But not every teacher is right for every student, and the first thing to delve into are your own needs.
Confused, Scared, Directionless
I have no illusions that many of you have been and felt very lost. The idea of connecting to your own inner knowing seems like something that happens on the other side of the moon. But that’s not true at all. You own intuition/inner knowing is always right here. It’s always waiting for you to start listening, and if you feel like you need a spiritual teacher to help you out of the muck, I encourage you to go even slower. Because the old and unhealthy habit of people is to give their power away. They say to themselves, “Ah-ha! Here’s a person with all my answers. I’ll just do whatever she/he tells me to do.”
But that isn’t right. That just continues cycles of pain because even if the teacher is extremely conscious or even awake, s/he can’t know what your answers are. Only you do. And even if what the spiritual teacher is telling you sounds right a lot, the teacher won’t always be right in what actions you need to take or not to take. You cannot abdicate your power on your spiritual path to ANYONE. So if you are interested in finding a spiritual teacher and you feel especially confused, I encourage you to slow down and take a few more breaths before making any big commitments.
The Many Types of Spiritual Teachers
I see this sacred role in many aspects, including the mind, heart, body, and energy/spirit. I believe spirituality is in all things, and so you can have teachers helping you with different levels of awareness in each of these different aspects of yourself. For instance, I consider yoga teachers who teach physical poses such as vinyasas and so forth to be spiritual teachers to the body. Putting aside those people who just teach yoga as an athletic outing, yoga teachers help people bring consciousness to their bodies. They help students to see what’s stuck and where in their physical bodies. They help them to be in difficult spaces and to breathe into those spaces. And they help them prepare for that beautiful meditation that comes at the end of a yoga routine. All of this is part of helping someone appreciate the sacredness in their body.
And there are many more types of spiritual teachers. Some few can teach multiple aspects, and some fewer are masters that teach every aspect simply through the profundity of presence and being. These masters can use any tool in the toolkit—any aspect of life—to teach if they even feel called to teaching. Ultimately, teaching for masters is just a matter of being, not of action, so they’d be wholly different to experience than other teachers who are still doing a lot of types of instruction. I always warn people about running off to seek a master because most people have no idea what that term means and the reality of the individual that they are seeking.
The Cultivate of The Inner Teacher
You should also be paying attention to how the teachers you find cultivate their students’ inner teachers. Some of the biggest warning signs are teachers that make you dependent on them for knowledge, connection to God/universe, or anything else. I know some older traditions get stuck on yoking/tethering yourself to one tradition or teacher. The hook into that tradition is that the teacher/teaching becomes your means to salvation/nirvana/moksha or some other magnificent sounding term. To the unaware student (and this isn’t meant to be critical—most us have been unaware because of how we’ve been taught to look for our gratification and answers externally), these high-falluting terms sound pretty good. We’re like, “Yeah! Gimme some of that.”
Then you’re caught in the cycle of karma with that teacher. Because make no doubt about it, the teacher is locked in a cycle of karma whenever he is professing to have all your answers or the keys to your enlightenment. Only you can ever have those, and when you hear teachers telling you that you have your answers, you may actually be frustrated or scared in a new way. This is actually a good thing, but it may take time to get used to it. Because these uncomfortable feelings are your outer layers of lies that are standing in the way of your inner teacher. I encourage you to inquire further within, and of course, there’s never any rush to do so. So you can touch these feelings, and then back off before making any decisions. Then lean into them again to see what it is you are really afraid of.
The Online Phenomenon and Basics of Locating a Spiritual Teacher
Okay, so I’m sure some of you were looking for tips on locating a spiritual teacher. As I said, obviously, the Internet is one. It brought you here. But the Internet is a big, big place, so here are additional thoughts on that score:
Facebook. Lots of us teachers have set up shop on Facebook with profiles and pages. It’s worth a look-see to see if someone is saying something that resonates for you.
YouTube. I love how YouTube has given even more voice to teachers. I encourage you to check out their different channels and listen to teachers like Mooji and Eckhart Tolle.
Google. Clearly many of you know this, but you can search on different topics and on spiritual teachers specifically to learn more.
I know many of you would also like to find spiritual teachers in your area, and I think there are always wonderful teachers nearby. They may simply not call themselves a spiritual teacher. As I said, there are many types teachers. A heart teacher teaches you to love unconditionally. This person may be working at the Humane Society, a cancer research institute, or anywhere really. Whatever they’ll be doing, they’ll most likely love doing. They are around, and if you start to look with your heart you’ll find them.
As for the more commonly understood types of spiritual teachers, they can be found at meditation groups, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other groups. Oftentimes you can find different types of groups with advertisements at spiritual bookstores, the church bulletin board, or yoga studios. As always, keep tuning in to your inner knowing to see who feels right to you.
Finding An Awakened Spiritual Teacher
Finding an awakened spiritual teacher is still kind of rare these days. I expect that will change, and I often tell people that this isn’t quite as important as it may sound. You just need the right teacher for you in this moment. Sometimes you’ll go through different teachers to help you through different phases, and that’s perfectly healthy and okay. I think the bigger problems come when someone gets into the “until-death-do-us-part-mentality” with spiritual teachers. Then they can’t let that person go when it is clearly time to move on. The spiritual teacher may even tell the student that it’s time to leave and continue the journey on their on or to find a new teacher. But attachment is a nasty thing, is it not?
So, there is this way that you have to learn how to hold this relationship loosely, and yet it also requires you to be disciplined at times. You can’t run away from the teacher, per se. Ultimately, it’s just you running away from you, and I bring this up because an awakened teacher often scares the marbles out of people. There is a very powerful energy that is alive and moving in an awakened spiritual teacher, and that energy connects with students to be a kind of tuning fork for the students to find their own inner pitch. Awakened teachers tend to work on the most basic and profound level of presences and energy. And for many unprepared students, this is a shock and triggers all the old ego defense mechanisms when that inner harmony starts to resonate batch to the teacher’s pitch. So I encourage most of you to not idealize this type of teacher and really only go searching for one when you’re ready.
The Awakening Student
The best students for an awakened teacher will always be students in awakening. It’s not because awakening students can’t get support for unawakened teachers (who can be very kind, loving, and conscious), but the awakened teacher knows the spiritual integration process. The awakened spiritual teacher won’t try to force the awakening student into a structure, which can happen with the unawakened teacher. The unawakened teacher tends to be a little too committed to the structure that they are teaching (yogic philosophy, the Koran, the Bible, etc.). They don’t always understand the amazing blessing of what is happening, and it’s actually what the many key spiritual teachers in the aforementioned books and in other teachings were pointing to. So, the awakened student can potentially get trapped in a shell that is no longer needed. Don’t misunderstand me—all spiritual and religious traditions are helpful. But they have their roles, and when the spark of wisdom is aflame, there is a time to step back and a way to properly fan the flames.
And most often with awakening students, that role is to fan the flame of their own inner knowing.
Continually Return to your inner Knowing
think you’re noticing a theme here, right? How to find a spiritual teacher is about how to listen to yourself. It’s also being willing to step into inner challenges because the right teacher may sometimes scare you. It’s also being willing to step out when something no longer serves you or if you feel like it’s not the right relationship. It’s a delicate dance some days, and other days, it’s extraordinarily clear what to do. If you really don’t know how to tune into yourself, I encourage you to search the other blogs here I have about your inner knowing. No one can tell you who the right spiritual teacher is for you except your owner inner teacher. And that’s ultimately where this whole thing is taking you—back inside to the wisdom you already own.
Get a rat and put it in a cage and give it two water bottles. One is just water, and one is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and almost always kill itself very quickly, right, within a couple of weeks. So there you go. It’s our theory of addiction.
Bruce comes along in the ’70s and said, “Well, hang on a minute. We’re putting the rat in an empty cage. It’s got nothing to do. Let’s try this a little bit differently.” So Bruce built Rat Park, and Rat Park is like heaven for rats. Everything your rat about town could want, it’s got in Rat Park. It’s got lovely food. It’s got sex. It’s got loads of other rats to be friends with. It’s got loads of colored balls. Everything your rat could want. And they’ve got both the water bottles. They’ve got the drugged water and the normal water. But here’s the fascinating thing. In Rat Park, they don’t like the drugged water. They hardly use any of it. None of them ever overdose. None of them ever use in a way that looks like compulsion or addiction. There’s a really interesting human example I’ll tell you about in a minute, but what Bruce says is that shows that both the right-wing and left-wing theories of addiction are wrong. So the right-wing theory is it’s a moral failing, you’re a hedonist, you party too hard. The left-wing theory is it takes you over, your brain is hijacked. Bruce says it’s not your morality, it’s not your brain; it’s your cage. Addiction is largely an adaptation to your environment.
We’ve created a society where significant numbers of our fellow citizens cannot bear to be present in their lives without being drugged, right? We’ve created a hyperconsumerist, hyperindividualist, isolated world that is, for a lot of people, much more like that first cage than it is like the bonded, connected cages that we need.
The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. And our whole society, the engine of our society, is geared towards making us connect with things. If you are not a good consumer capitalist citizen, if you’re spending your time bonding with the people around you and not buying stuff—in fact, we are trained from a very young age to focus our hopes and our dreams and our ambitions on things we can buy and consume. And drug addiction is really a subset of that.
In recent years, the process of ‘restorative justice’ has been used more and more frequently as a way of dealing with crime. As a part of the process, offenders are brought face to face with the victims of their crimes, to hear how they have suffered as a result. The aim of this encounter is to bring healing, for both victim and offender. The victim transcends their rage with some understanding and forgiveness towards the offender, and the offender empathizes with the victim, becoming aware of the real meaning of their crimes.
This process changes lives. Victims feel free of the weight of hatred and are able to move on; offenders have a wider sense of perspective, and are less likely to re-offend. Sometimes offenders don’t meet their specific victims, but just the victims of similar crimes. But this still leads to a new awareness, and new patterns of behavior.
This highlights the amazing power of empathy.
To a large extent, all crime and all cruelty are the result of a lack of empathy. It’s a lack of empathy which makes someone capable of attacking or oppressing other people. A lack of empathy for another tribe or country makes warfare and conflict possible. A lack of empathy towards other ethnic groups, social classes or castes makes oppression and inequality possible.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to ‘feel with’ another person, to identity with them and sense what they’re experiencing. It’s sometimes seen as the ability to ‘read’ other people’s emotions, or the ability to imagine what they’re feeling, by ‘putting yourself in their shoes.’ In other words, empathy is seen as a cognitive ability, along the same lines as the ability to imagine future scenarios or to solve problems based on previous experience. But in my view, empathy is more than this. It’s the ability to make a psychic and emotional connection with another person, to actually enter into their mind-space. When we experience real empathy or compassion, our identity actually merges with another person’s. The separateness between you and the other person fades away. Your ‘self-boundary’ melts away, so that in a sense – or to an extent – you become them.
If you experience this state of connection with another person, then it’s impossible to treat them badly, except unintentionally. You recoil from their experience of suffering in the same way that you recoil from your own suffering. In fact, you feel a strong desire to relieve their suffering and aid their development.
Empathy has powerful psychological benefits for us too. Research shows that people who are more empathic feel more satisfied with their lives, and have better relationships. Some scientists used to belief that human beings are naturally selfish and individualistic, but more and more research is showing that empathy – not selfishness – is ‘hard-wired’ into us.
Animals often show empathy towards one another, even to members of different species, and this manifests itself in random acts of kindness. As Lynn McTaggart – author of The Bond – puts it, ‘Animals often partner up with members of unrelated species… There are even instances of an animal from one species adopting those of another.’ And within their own species, animals often share food to make sure that weaker members of their group are fed, even when they have to sacrifice their own food.
Are Women More Empathic?
Studies have suggested that women are generally more empathic than men. For example, studies have shown that women are significantly better at ‘reading’ people’s emotions purely from looking at their eyes. Other research has shown that women’s friendships tend to based on mutual help and problem sharing, whereas men usually develop friendships based on shared interests, such as sports and hobbies.
Men and women have also been shown to have different speaking styles. Women’s conversations usually last longer, because of their use of more ‘back channel support’, such as nodding, smiling and other gestures. If they disagree, they tend to express their opinion indirectly rather than making a statement, helping to avoid confrontation. On the other hand, men tend to more blunt and opinionated. They use more imperatives and tend to ‘talk over’ more. As the psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen puts it, ‘men spend more time using language to demonstrate their knowledge, skill and status.’
This makes sense: after all, the vast majority of ‘man’s inhumanity’ throughout history really has been man’s. Almost all wars have been orchestrated and fought by men, and most social oppression has been inflicted by high status men, seeking to protect and increase their power and wealth.
This also makes sense in terms of women’s role as mothers. Surely their nurturing role encourages empathy, because of the need for a strong emotional connection to children. At the very least, you could say that this emotional connection would have made it more difficult for them to lose the ability to empathize.
Empathy with Nature
Empathy can spread beyond other humans, to other living beings and to nature itself. Many of the world’s tribal peoples respect nature because they sense that it’s alive, and because they feel connected to it. They sense that all natural things – not just animals but plants, stones and the whole Earth itself – are not just objects but beings, who are part of the same web of creation as them. They empathize with plants, animals and the Earth, and so are reluctant to damage or destroy them.
As the great Native American philosopher Luther Standing Bear wrote, for the Lakota Indians, ‘Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle. In the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them.’ As a result, wrote Luther Standing Bear, anticipating the modern animal rights movement, ‘The animals had rights – the right of a man’s protection, the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, and the right to man’s indebtedness – and in recognition of these rights the Lakota never enslaved an animal, and spared all life that was not needed for food and clothing.’
This attitude brought a sense of responsibility. Many indigenous peoples saw – and still see – themselves as the caretakers of nature, with a responsibility to preserve harmony. As Chief Edward Moody of the Nuxalk Nation says, ‘We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.’
To a large extent, our environmental destruction is a manifestation of our lack of empathy for nature, and the Earth. Our strongly developed ego means that we experience a sense of ‘otherness’ to nature, that we can’t sense its aliveness, and so don’t feel any qualms about exploiting and abusing it.
Healing Through Empathy
Just as the lack of empathy makes cruelty and oppression possible, the presence of empathy heals conflict. The wider empathy stretches – from victims to offenders, from one ethnic group to another, from nation to nation and religion to religion – the less brutal and more harmonious a place the world will become.
And perhaps most importantly, as Restorative Justice shows, to some degree empathy can be nurtured. When people are brought together in a neutral context, with an open, trusting attitude, empathy naturally establishes itself. Distinctions of ethnicity, religion and other superficial ‘identity badges’ begin to fade away, as does the sense of grievance and rage derived from past events. The same could be said of nature too: when human beings spend time in natural surroundings, relaxing into its stillness and space, a bond naturally establishes itself.
And it’s this bond which is surely our true nature. Empathy shows that the concept of separateness is an illusion. Empathy is simply the experience of our true connectedness, the exchange of feeling through the channel of shared consciousness which unites not just all human beings, but all living and non-living things.
Think of someone you love, and be aware of the warm feeling that wells up inside you. Hold on to that warm feeling, and let it spread throughout your body, including to any parts of you body where you feel discomfort. Let it flow into your mind too, so that you feel empathy and compassion to your own thoughts, even the negative ones. Think of all the people around you, in the rooms or buildings close to you, and imagine that warm glow of compassion leaving your body and spreading to them. Think of all the people in your city, in the streets and buildings, and expand the warm feeling to them too. Thinking of all the people in this country, across the towns and countryside, and expand the feeling to them too. Then expand it further, to all the people on this planet, the millions of people in all the different countries. Feel the glow of compassion spreading from your being to the whole world, and into the space above you, rising up into the sky and the whole universe.
Use your imagination to picture how the world looks through other people’s eyes. Think about how other people’s predicaments make them feel, and how their experiences mold their perceptions.
When you speak to other people, give them your full attention. Don’t think about other things, look into the distance or look at your i-phone. Giving people your full attention shows that your respect them, and establishes a strong connection, which enables empathy to flow between you.
Before you condemn another person for behaving badly, think about the reasons for their behaviour. Is it because of bad experiences they’ve had in the past, or because of personality traits that they have no control over?
Be altruistic and kind to others. Make sure that your life contains an element of service, where you part the needs of others before your own e.g. caring for the sick or elderly, charity or voluntary work. Altruism and service help us to transcend separateness, and to connect with others, creating a follow of empathy.