Be Your Own Guru

Sometime back in the early 2000s, I had that sentence flash through my brain – be your own guru. I thought it was deeply profound and a unique insight. It had arisen in my spirit in an organic fashion, and it seemed to spring from Source itself. Surely, I was a prophet. 

I briefly considered buying the domain name, writing a book, starting a movement, and being the guru that brought “be your own guru” to the people. Briefly. Very briefly.

Come to find out, a person named Betty Bethards wrote a book by that title way back in 1982 (a book I haven’t read, by the way, so this is not a plug, but it could be awesome for all I know). Then I found another book with the same title. And then several books with almost the same title — How to Be Your Own Guru, Be Your Own Change Guru, Find Your Inner Guru. It seems I wasn’t all that special.

Or, perhaps, we were evolving together and a bunch of us were getting the same message: It’s time to take ownership of our spiritual journey.

Evolutionary shifts are often messy, and the leap to being our own guru seems to have its own share of fits and starts. One of the byproducts seems to be some disenchantment with spiritual teachers. I’ve seen several instances lately of people turning away from gurus they once revered. And I’ve noticed that when people reject teachers I don’t resonate with, that is fine with me, but when they turn against those I respect, I feel an internal pushback. I want to parse the ways in which the teacher’s message must have been misunderstood. I want to bring the person back into harmony with the teacher. 

But when I move beyond that initial moment, I start to accept that everyone’s journey is valid, and their rejection of a teacher is what they need in this moment, and learning to listen to our intuition, learning to be our own guru, is often a herky-jerky affair.

On my journey to self-guided spirituality, I’ve learned to hold loosely to those I revere. We’re on this journey to begin with because we’re seeking answers, and when we find someone who seems to have them, we tend to clutch their teachings with a tight grip. We become a disciple, and we want to spread the gospel of our guru. But every single time I believe I’ve found a guru who has transcended this life and the ego completely, I’ve soon been given the opportunity to witness their humanness.  If I hold them loosely, though, I leave room for what rings true to wiggle into my spirit, and I stop wasting the energy of holding them hostage to my delusion of their perfection. 

If we don’t hold them loosely, then when we see their humanness, we tend to reject them, call them a false prophet, and even wage our own little smear campaign. We call them narcissists and money-grubbers. We sneer when someone mentions their name. Our newfound insight into “truth” might even cause us to judge someone else’s journey just because they are currently listening to that teacher. 

Please note, I’m not talking about the true charlatans. Those who have put on a spiritual disguise to collect wealth and power are their own special kind of repulsive. Preying on a person’s desire for spiritual growth is the lowest of all cons in my book. 

No, I’m simply talking about the many, the increasing many, who have had an insight and felt called to share it with the world. Some might even suggest that I am in that number, and in my very small way, I suppose I am. I’ve learned some important lessons on my journey, and for whatever reason, I feel so led to make them public. So, for those who are listening, and I’m glad that you are, I urge you to hold anything I say loosely. Let it roll around in your spirit. See how it feels. Take it for a test drive. If it feels like truth, you are welcome to it, free of charge. If it doesn’t, well, I’m only human.

Maybe I Know Too Much

Sometimes it feels like my brain is stuffed to the gills — if a brain had gills, of course. In my work, there are certain times of the year that feel like the seven seconds of a bull ride, except the seven seconds goes on for two weeks or even two months.  A life that not all that long ago felt quite manageable and even easy-going has suddenly morphed into a juggling act of meetings and deadlines and unavoidable tasks.  And here’s the kicker — not one of these responsibilities, taken by itself, is all that difficult. It’s the combination, the conglomeration, the complicated stew of stuff that becomes a little, well, crazy-making. 

When you were a kid, did you ever get a jar, poke holes in the lid, and then run around outside at dusk collecting fireflies — maybe you called them lightning bugs — and put them in the jar like a natural lantern or a neon entomology exhibit? Well, if you can remember what it looks like to have 25 bugs desperately searching for a way out with their emergency flashers on, then you have a sense of what my brain looks like during these bull-ride moments.  

And I know I’m not alone. Perhaps you, as well, face these times when it’s all you can do to stay barely ahead of the closest looming deadline. 

During these intense times, we shift from our heart to our head. It feels like a matter of survival. I stop listening to my intuition because I frankly don’t have time. My daily devotional is a to-do list. My meditation is the monotonous hum I enter into while grading paper after paper after paper. My prayer is the plea I give to students to get their work in on time.  And, truth be told, I know they have their own jar of fireflies to deal with. 

At this stage, I know what my calendar says I have to do, and I know what my to-do list says I have to do, and I know what my internal chore-minder says I have to do, and . . . well, I think I know too much right now. 

So, I’m going to take the only time I have, this moment here with you, to unknow some things. I’m going to steal this time, if you will be so gracious as to allow it, to set aside every deadline, and every item on that to-do list, and every piece of writing waiting to be created. For you see, even writing this was one of the fireflies bouncing on the walls of my spirit all week.  I pondered and struggled and tried oh so hard to think my way into a heart message. And it really can’t be done. 

When it comes to the life of the spirit, it is possible to know too much, to know so much that you become ineffective. From an overwhelmed brain we receive stress and frustration. This stress and frustration can lead to depression or anger or even illness. The antidote for an overwhelmed brain is an overflowing heart. 

Now, let’s be clear, I’m not anti-intellectual. The brain has skills we need, and I’m glad it knows things. But the brain is a tool, not the boss.  When it becomes the boss is when we have problems. In our busiest times, it’s easy for the brain to feel so indispensable that it thinks it’s the boss. And because our heart doesn’t blow its own horn as the brain does, it just sits there quietly waiting for us to remember it, waiting for us to realize that maybe we’re knowing too much and not feeling or being or loving enough. 

So for this moment, I’m going to trade my to-do list for beingness and my deadlines for awareness. I’m going to sit here in this moment, with you, and let my consciousness expand into awakening. I’m going to release my stress and frustration and for just this moment feel only love and peace and joy. I’m going to remove the lid of the jar and let my light shine freely into the world, sending that love, peace, and joy to anyone with a willingness to receive it. 

Do you feel it? 

Yeah. Me, too.  


I See You

If you’re a fan of the film Avatar, then you recognize the greeting of the Na’vi. “I see you” was both a literal acknowledgment — I see you standing before me — and a spiritual one — I see your heart with a seeing that is also knowing. 

The Maori people of New Zealand practice a traditional greeting known as the hongi. When two people meet, they press their noses and foreheads together. It is the literal act of the breath of life being exchanged as a symbol of unity.  This greeting may be performed by both Maori and non-Maori. You are welcome to participate in a hongi greeting with no fear of unintentional cultural appropriation.  For the Maori, unity can only be unity if all are included. 

In Malaysia, there is a particularly lovely greeting.  You take the other person’s hands in yours for a moment, then release their hands and bring your own hands to your heart while nodding slightly to symbolize meeting with open hearts and in good faith. It would, of course, be considered polite for the other person to do the same. 

Many Asian countries greet others with a bow. In India, you take on the posture of the anjali mudra, or prayer hands in front of your heart, and you say “Namaste” as you bow.  Namaste literally means “I bow to you.” The Indologist Stephen Phillips suggests the essential meaning as it is practiced is “salutations to the divine child in your heart.”  Namaste is a bow of recognition, a bow of acknowledgment, just as the Malaysian heart-hands, the Maori hongi, and even the fictional Na’vi “I see you” are all something more than a simple “hello.”

This acknowledgment, being seen, is something we all desire, and beyond that even, something we all need. It is comforting, affirming, and empowering when we feel seen by others. 

But when was the last time you were seen by you? 

Sometimes acknowledgment from others doesn’t come. Perhaps your life has become rather insular and the encounters with others who might see you as a whole and valuable person have become rare. Or perhaps you do experience acknowledgment from others, but it doesn’t seem to be quite enough. There is still a void in you that cries out to be seen.  What we seek from others is often an indication of what we withhold from ourselves. 

Brene Brown said, “Talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you love.” This is simple advice, but the kind of wisdom that can change everything if we put it into practice. 

The act of fully acknowledging yourself, spending the time to talk to you as if you were someone you loved, might need to begin with a greeting. 

You can make that look however you need to, of course, but here’s a suggestion, in case it helps. I recommend taking time with each step:

  • Stand in front of a mirror. 
  • Make prayer hands. 
  • Lean forward slightly in a bow until your forehead and nose touch the mirror. 
  • Take two or three breaths, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Feel your own warm breath bouncing off the mirror and returning to you.
  • Lean back and put your hands one on top of the other over your heart. 
  • Speak these words out loud to the person in the mirror: “I see you, divine child of my heart. Namaste.” 

Whatever happens from there, let it happen. You might cry. Let yourself cry. You might feel compelled to say words of affirmation or comfort. Speak them. You might just want to continue staring into your own eyes. Then do so. 

It’s possible even that nothing will happen. You may have no real reaction. But at the very least, you’ll know you were seen. I hope it was by someone who loves you.