(Now lest you fear that I’m about to launch into some crazy exploration of the esoteric intersection of Britpop and metaphysics, I’m not. I just needed a clever opening line. So thanks for indulging me.)
But we’ll get the to guru in a minute. Let me start at the beginning.
I have been part of an amazing writers’ community since 2004. Several times a year I am privileged enough to go on retreats with an incredible bunch of creative spirits. My most recent writing foray as part of this group has involved a teleclass for bloggers in which we’re all, more or less, learning how to navigate this new ground collectively. And there’s something strangely liberating about the fact that there is no real “expert” in this Brave New World of the Blogosphere.
Last week we got to talking about questions of transparency and how much to share in such an uber-public forum. This is tricky territory for someone like me as conventional rule dictates that therapists are supposed to be a bit more opaque. Or, in some cases, maybe even totally opaque.
Of course, I’ve never been one to play by the rules, so it probably comes as no surprise that I find this exercise in cover-up not only futile, but problematic to boot. All of the “boundary” talk among colleagues has often felt, to me, like an excuse to hide, or to be less than fully present in an honest-to-goodness, human-to-human process.
God forbid a client gets a window into my vulnerability! It spoils the ruse.
Once, years ago, I had a therapist who actually asked me if it was okay for us to acknowledge one another if we were to cross paths in, say, the grocery store. While I get the whole privacy thing, I still remember thinking that it was the most bizarre question ever. Perhaps I was also a little bit horrified to conclude that we actually live in a world where the act of blatant ignoring might seem like an even remotely good idea.
Since then, I’ve run into myriad therapists of my own in the public sphere. The Weirdness Factor is always directly proportionate to the level of comfort they have with their own humanness in the glare of the “real world” light. After all, it’s easy to play the actualized sage inside the confines of the more dimly lit “container” (therapists love this word).
I find all of this caution and heightened self-consciousness to be not only laborious, but less than completely authentic. As someone who sees a ton of fellow yoga teachers and healers in my practice, I cross paths with my clients all the time. At workshops. At networking events. At parties. At yoga studios. It’s part and parcel of the world I live in. And it works.
Granted I am a “new breed” of therapist/teacher. And it’s about time someone led the charge. Because, honestly, I don’t think people want opaqueness. At some level we all deeply crave transparency and the felt-sense of knowing that our teachers are as human as we are.
While I happen to be picking on therapists here, they are not the only ones guilty of this kind of hiding (although they are particularly good at it! And the historical context of the profession affords them more of a license to do so.). But make no mistake: teachers and mentor-figures are susceptible to what I am terming “The Guru Effect” too. It is a very rare leader indeed who doesn’t fall prey to it, at least in part.
If you’re not yet convinced that this is a problematic phenomenon, just consider an extreme example: the recent John Friend shenanigans. The more leaders have to appear invincible and all-knowing, the more shit they end up shoveling behind the curtain.
What’s paradoxical is that we want it both ways. We want our leaders to be fearless and full of answers because it’s easier. That way we don’t have to own our power at the deepest level. And, at the same time, we want transparency and authenticity because these are the qualities that offer us the courage and compassion to touch the depths of our souls.
Of course the lopsided dynamic between teacher/student is one in which both sides are complicit. The student must be willing to elevate the teacher to a heightened status. And the teacher must be willing to engage this elevation in order for the imbalance to perpetuate. What many of us forget, however, is that when we put people on pedestals, we unwittingly devalue ourselves at the same time. I see this a great deal among peers. And I want to shake them and issue a rally cry: “Take back your power! YOU have the answer. Not your teacher/therapist/psychic/guru!”
While there is nothing wrong with having mentors and guides, I am wary of all the fawning bows to “My Teacher.” Yogis/yoginis are particularly guilty of this. It’s as if one’s lineage is more important than how she actually shows up in the world. Not to mention the fact that it elevates one particular figure to a status that is, more times than not, larger than life. It stinks of ego, whether from the perspective of the teacher who needs the acknowledgment, or from the perspective of the student who must define herself by association. Such bows are not always humble.
Nevermind the fact that this dynamic can lead to a renunciation of ultimate power on both sides. And, when this happens, I think we have to ask ourselves some serious questions about the energy that we’re putting out into the collective.
I will go on record as stating firmly that The Age of the Guru is Dead. While we may not use this term readily today, we no doubt still cling to a paradigm which is modeled in similar hierarchy. And it’s severely outmoded.
My posting last week, Birthday Tears at the End of the World, was more vulnerable than much of what I’ve put out there in the blog forum to date. On our weekly conference call, my fellow bloggers and I were discussing the trippings and the trappings of transparency, especially as they pertain to those of us who are teachers, coaches and therapists. How deeply do we share? What are we comfortable with? What is “appropriate” both personally and professionally? What are we going to regret in the morning? What is going to induce what Brene Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover”?
And then my friend and colleague, Kassie Benham (who, by the way, writes a tremendous blog called Life in Play), brought up a great point. She took the masculine-centered, guru model to task by venturing this hypothesis: what if the new paradigm of embracing feminine strength (and by “feminine,” we do not mean to imply gender but rather energy) is all about engagement of the questions in mutuality? What if this model is predicated upon working together to find the “answers” in community and concert? What if there is no ultimate authority?
To embrace this paradigm, which offers no absolutes, is to hold fast to the tenet that vulnerability is not indicative of weakness, but rather great strength. And not everyone is ready to venture there. After all, we’re safer in the hands of The Teacher. Or, in other cases, we’re safer being The Teacher.
The space of collective inquiry is where I have intuitively lived much of my life. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have teachers and mentors. However it is to say that they come to have their limits. In fact, right now, I am faced with the heightened sense that I have “outgrown” a couple of key players in such roles. The truth is that I haven’t so much outgrown them as I have outgrown the model in which they root themselves (and in some cases they’re not even conscious of the fact that they are perpetuating dynamics that are hierarchy-based). And that’s where it gets tricky. If all parties are willing, this can mean simply changing the paradigm and the parameters of engagement (which is actually far from simple!). Or, conversely, it can mean loss and the closing of a finished chapter. But the flow of accelerated energy and consciousness stops for no one. And so there are decisions to make.
From the therapist/teacher end of this, I like to think that I have been working hard to consciously swim with the tide, to make choices that feel right deep in my gut (even if they are not always in perfect alignment with the dictates of convention). This has certainly meant allowing myself to be seen in less-veiled ways. It has meant greater levels of transparency and a commitment to teaching from lived experience. It has meant evolving relationships with clients past their points of origination when necessary. Or redefining them entirely. It has meant being humble (and privileged!) enough to trade when I find someone who has something commensurate to offer me in return for what I give. In short, it has meant being flexible, open, curious, and willing to take risks.
And so I am dedicated to perpetuating what I recently heard referred to (cleverly!) as “the non-guru lineage.” After all, this is the spirit in which we are re-envisioning our collective evolution.
If this is a path that calls, I hope you’ll join me in the trenches.