Image / Tim Hester
The vulnerability of one who has entered any path aimed at deep change is undeniable. Whether the path is one of meditation, psychotherapy, yoga, religious study and/or conversion, or the deep academic study of a range of subjects, transformational work has as its foundation the goal of eradicating our stale ideas, false beliefs, and the unskillful habit patterns which have thus far guided our lives. For any of us, some of these bits are useful or innocuous in their influence upon our lives, while others are entirely false and have certainly restricted our growth. From the inside, with our inherently limited vision, we cannot always tell the difference. Because of this dilemma - the desire to change on deep levels and the inability to do so alone, due to our own incomplete perception and understanding - we need teachers and guides.
One role of a teacher/guide is to aid us in dismantling that which is false within us. Beliefs about ourselves, about the world, and about others which distort our clarity must be removed in order for our understanding to blossom, in order that wisdom may root within us. This is not generally a pleasant process. Our ego resists it. Our minds resist it. Our lived experience screams "but I know I'm right about this!" in argument to the expanded notions our teacher will present to us along the way. Inwardly, outwardly, or both, we're likely to fight this change even as we seek it.
In these places of dismantling, these fields where controlled burns are followed by quiet repair and the ultimate arrival of fertile and seeded soil, we are largely without our previous personal defense systems. These burned with the chaff to make room for our new ways of understanding and relating to ourselves and the larger world. In the meantime, we rely on the new teachings and our teacher to guide us through the situations and decisions that naturally arise in our daily lives, which haven't stopped to wait for our mastery of the new order.
The teacher/guide/therapist/professor-student relationship has extraordinary intimacy embedded within it. It is, in all cases, unlike other relationships we cultivate in our personal lives. There is a power dynamic inherent in these relationships that precludes the kind of equitable exchange we can expect to develop in our peer connections, friendships and intimate romantic relationships. As living beings, of course we're all equal. But when it comes to the terrain of deep psychological and spiritual work, ignoring the truth of the teacher-student dynamic reduces clarity within a working space that's already bursting with challenge, adaptation, evolution and the tender vulnerability those create.
It is a sacred role of the teacher/therapist/guide/professor to create a safe container to hold the transformation of their students, and to maintain it wisely with boundaries that allow students to reach their fully rooted place without sustaining new wounds. Without lighting un-prescribed fires, without initiating an uncontrolled burn. When that cannot be done for whatever reason, the duty is then to clearly and cleanly end the therapeutic or teaching relationship. No teacher is right for every student.
The history of the church, the history of psychotherapy, the history of yogic leaders across time all show this to be one of the greatest challenges for a human teacher to master. The fact that this sacred role is rarely played to it's full capacity by human leaders is not reason to abandon our expectation that it can be and should be, nor reason to despair and abandon our efforts at deep change within ourselves. It is reason to choose wisely, to cultivate discernment and discretion, to apply the wisdom and compassion that we do already possess, and appreciate the opportunities to further cultivate those as we move forward on our path. The path is not always entirely clear, and yet worthy of our continued seeking.
Dana Wyss Healing Arts
Breathe deeply, practice often, be well.