Thursday, April 10, 2008

Finding Spiritual Teachers

Inanna has written a great post at her blog on Spiritual Teachers. It starts out like this:

I consider myself lucky to have had many spiritual teachers in my life so far. I joke that if it weren't for the Jews and the lesbians, I'd be nowhere, spiritually speaking.
It just gets more interesting from there. Go read it.

Among other things she asked us to say who we admired from our own faith. (1)

Good question.

I wrote about choosing spiritual teachers some years ago. Here is an excerpt from that article:

What To Look For (And Avoid) In Groups and Teachers:

I am often asked to give advice about choosing a teacher or joining a circle. I'm a very practical Pagan so I tell newcomers that any Priest/ess worth the name will have their life more or less in balance.

As Pagans we understand "cause and effect" and we know that these laws operate on a holistic level. We pay attention to our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health because we know that imbalance in one area affects the entire system. As we are, so is our practice. Or as the TechnoWitches say: 'Garbage in, garbage out".

If you are looking for a teacher, you'll want to find someone who enjoys balance, and has the kind of life you someday wish to have. Look at their entire life, not just the bit you see presented at the full moon. If you are looking for a circle, you'll want to consider what sort of energy they project and attract. Ask yourself if you really wish to mix with that energy.

Here are some other things to consider when choosing a group or a teacher:
  • Is their life harmonious or do they live from crisis to crisis? If their life is in constant chaos, just how good do you think their magick is?

  • Can they sustain healthy relationships? If their emotional life is burdened by resentments, betrayal, abuse, anger or codependency, then what will their relations with others in the group (or their chosen deities) be like?

  • Can they handle money responsibly? If not, what can they teach you about abundance and prosperity? If the group works out of a perpetual "sense of lack" or if they fear the responsibility that abundance brings, what sort of energy will they attract? The issue here is not how much money a person makes, but how well they manage their resources.

  • Are they secure in themselves or insecure? Can they share power appropriately or do they have too many control issues? Or, are they the helpless type? If so, they'll want someone to come to their rescue. If they refuse to address the issue of power honestly, the circle will remain unbalanced and out of tune.

  • Are they responsible? Are they someone you can count on? If not, they could let everyone down at the worst possible moment. If they are the classic "flaky Pagan" they will be good at avoiding responsibility or they will get others to do the work for them. If you play this game, you are limiting their growth, and hurting yourself.

  • Do they know how to nurture themselves? If not, they will eventually burn out from the Three Pagan Demons: Stress, Mess, and Excess. Since misery loves company, they might resent (or even sabotage) any attempts you make to become happier, healthier, and more balanced.

  • Are they a source of negative or positive energy? If they whine, rage, play the victim/martyr, spread gossip, or complain all the time, you have your answer.

  • Can they communicate well with others? Can they resolve conflicts with fairness and civility? If not, the circle could be rife with unspoken resentments, passive aggressive behavior, and negative energy.

  • Do they have healthy personal boundaries and respect the boundaries of others? If not, the circle is at risk for sexual abuse, codependent enmeshment, and a host of other problems.

  • Do they influence others for better or for worse? Look at their former students and circle members to see if they are actually better for knowing them. Have these people been challenged to change and grow? Are they more insightful, empowered, and happier as a result of their work together or are they stuck in place? Has their spiritual practice deepened and matured over time? If not, why not?

  • Do they treat their practice with the respect it deserves? Check to see if their rituals are chronically late or ill prepared. If so, it is a sign of disrespect towards the circle members and the deities they serve. If your group puts up with this, they might need to do a little less magick, and lot more work on their self-esteem.

  • Are they trustworthy? Don't rely solely on their claims; ask around. Pay less attention to what these people say and a lot more to what they actually do. Remember that trust is not given blindly. Trust must be earned.

  • Are they conscious of their own emotional issues, and working to become healthier, overall? The truth is that we all have emotional burdens to bear. All we can ask of other human beings is that they become aware of their issues and do the necessary work to heal. However, it is not acceptable for circle mates or teachers to inflict their problems on other people. Offering mutual support to each other is a good thing. Asking you to carry their burdens for them is quite another. If they try to engage you in their drama and trauma, walk away.

  • Are they Learners or Posers? Healthy Pagans are willing to learn from others and from their own mistakes. They know the crucial difference between making a mistake and being a mistake. They don't let their ego get in the way of learning. If they "miss the mark", they make amends, and move forward bearing new wisdom. Posers only care about looking good, and they love to blame others for their problems. Which sort of person will your God/ess respect?

  • Are they creative? Can they help you to be more creative, as well? Or do they confuse being an artist with being immature? If so, they'll want to be the Artiste with "the vision" and have someone else do all the work.

  • Do they know the difference between "deep play" and acting out? If not, your rituals will be a lot less about personal expression and divine inspiration, and a lot more like bad theatre.

  • Are they compassionate and kind? If a Priest or Priestess isn't good to their kids or if they neglect any animals in their care, leave that circle immediately. (If you witness actual abuse contact the authorities on your way out the door. Ethically speaking, you may not leave another being in harm's way without trying to do something about it. Take spiritual and legal counsel, if necessary, and proceed with caution, but do the right thing. Who knows? You may have been sent there for just that reason.)

  • Do they honor their word, their partner(s), and their friends? If not, they are asking for a karmic kick in the butt. Get out before that happens.
Trust your gut, and don't do things you aren't comfortable doing. Above all, use good judgment when you seek to learn.

It's important to remember that some people come to Paganism wanting power; power they aren't ready to use, either fairly or well. If they achieve authority among us without having the wisdom to temper their use of power they will then go on to abuse others. If we allow this, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Wishing you strength, love and laughter,



(1) This was my answer:

Who do I admire from my own Pagan practice? Very few, I'm afraid. So many of us are Lost Children. Modern Paganism is, in many ways, still very much a teenager emotionally: Good hearted, rebellious, angry, impulsive, creative, energetic and prone to making poor decisions, trusting the wrong people and often getting hurt. But that's changing, I think, and it's for the better, too.

I admire Anne Hill tremendously. I've known her for over a decade now, and I've never known her to do a mean or petty thing. She is wise, patient, kind and open to learning every day. She is also a great mom and a good friend. And, she is a grown-up, which is to say that she handles her life in a competent manner, and still finds time to play, sing, dance and walk her dog.

I also admire my friend and colleague, Snakemoon, and for the very same reasons.

Both women are great writers and both are great readers, too, and this gives them a wider range of experience then the Pagans who simply read in a narrow and specialized realm of thought.

I also admire two Pagans you'll never hear about. Both are Green Witches and great Moms, and they quietly do good work in their home towns.

Like you, I come from a very eclectic background. There is wisdom in every corner of the world and I don't want to miss any of it because of labels. I've trained in a number of different traditions in order to get the skills and insights you can only get from a certain sort of dedication given over time, but I remain open to the wisdom I find everywhere, including the wisdom I find among my progressive Christan friends.
Art: The Mirror.

I choose this image to make a point. Sometimes we have to be our own best teacher, advocate and support. Spiritual people learn from our mistakes. We trust ourselves. We are willing to look honestly in the mirror to see what we love about ourselves, and what we can improve upon. We also trust the connection we have with the sacred (however we define that) and take time to nurture and cherish our spiritual life. Also, we have fun.



Hecate said...

You know, you write such amazingly good stuff. The next time that my circle opens for new members, I'm going to ask you if I can link to/excerpt from that.

Dj Connell said...

Thank you so much, Hecate. That means a great deal to me.

I sometimes get requests for print copies of the essays on community organizing, networking, ethics, ecofeminism and/or healthy living from various teachers and groups leaders, so one of these days, I'll put the best of these into a book.

Best Regards,