How to Decide If You Need a Spiritual Mentor
Are you on a spiritual path of self-awareness and awakening? Feeling confused as to whether you have the right spiritual teacher? Or whether you need one at all?
If so, then here's a quick guide to help you make a decision as to whether you need a spiritual teacher, and if so, and how to find the right one for you.
What is your expectation of a spiritual teacher?
The first step is to clarify what your own expectations of what you want from a spiritual teacher. The concept of needing a spiritual teacher, mentor, or guide is fraught with conflicting opinion. This is simply because we attribute our own subjective interpretations onto the same label. So, if you have ten different people, they may have ten conflicting opinions as to the nature of this role.
What do you want to achieve?
Next, ask yourself what it is that you want to achieve on your spiritual path.
Once again, there are multiple answers to this question. Here are a few examples:
- Understanding the nature of consciousness and personal experience
- Seeking an awakening experience or enlightenment
- Moving beyond suffering or emotional distress
- Achieving personal goals - like improving your career or relationships
- Belonging to a supportive community
- Acquiring spiritual freedom
These are all very different spiritual paths, and so whether you need someone to help you is dependent on what you are seeking.
Following your own path
One of the biggest obstacles on the spiritual path is getting caught up in the patterns or habits of the mind. This can keep people stuck for many years, or a lifetime - going round in circles without making any real progress at all.
There are different levels of spiritual seeking. From a desire to reduce immediate suffering, to wanting deeper insights into the nature of life, through to seeking the lived experience and embodiment of spiritual awareness.
Whether or not a spiritual teacher will helpful for you depends on two things:
1 - Your personal goals and the type of spiritual path you are following at this particular point in time.
2 - Whether the qualities of the teacher, or spiritual mentor, align well with your own path.
Finding a teacher who aligns with your spiritual goals
Let's consider three common spiritual goals...
Relief of suffering:
Some people are seeking to improve their quality of life, to reach personal goals, or to move beyond unpleasant experiences in life. In you are in this situation, and you are looking for practical ways to relieve suffering, to move beyond the patterns and habits of your mind, then seeking support from someone who understands these dynamics can be very helpful.
First, decide on which level you want to explore this problem. If you want to learn tools to make your life easier, then find educational tools which provide this information. If you need support, then find an appropriate type of therapist. If you want to explore the deeper spiritual dimensions, then find a spiritual teacher. The type of support you need ultimately rests on becoming clear on your goals.
Likewise, if you are seeking knowledge and understanding about the world, then you first need to determine the angle from which you want to explore this subject. Do you want to go down an academic route? A self-study route? An experiential route? Or would you prefer to follow a particular spiritual tradition?
Once you have decided what path you would like to follow, then you can proceed accordingly. Either through self-exploration of a subject, joining a learning group, or following a particular spiritual tradition.
You may later find that you change path, and this is not uncommon. Often as we make progress on this journey, we come to a point where we realise that we no longer align with it. This is usually an indication that we have moved into a different stage of spiritual growth. Simply update your assessment of what you want, and re-align accordingly.
Unfortunately spiritual experience is an area which is just as complex and subjective as deciding whether you need a spiritual teacher.
Spiritual experience is often accepted as existing on its own, without any requirement for the presence of a spiritual teacher. Experience and labels, or language, are fundamentally different things.
So, in essence you could simply have a spiritual experience and that would be sufficient. You have got your desired awareness. In this situation, because your experience is subjective, there is theoretically no need to participate in any spiritual teachings or follow a spiritual teacher.
But the reality is that many people also seek to understand, or to make sense of, these spiritual experiences. They want to know how it relates to them, or to existence. They also want to know how to integrate these experiences into their everyday life. These questions are usually best answered by a spiritual teacher - someone who has already explored these questions, and who can give you the answers that you seek.
The key to preventing a lot of wasted time is to become as clear as you can on your own goals and aspirations from the outset. Otherwise you can go chasing down one path, only to find it is not right for you. So, you follow another path. Then another, and so on...
So, be clear on which spiritual path aligns with who you are, and what you are seeking, and follow that route. At each stage of your spiritual journey just be aware that you cannot gain deep levels of insight from someone who does not possess it themselves.