Spiritual enlightenment is a funny old thing, isn’t it? I can’t say I totally understand it. For a start, can you be a little bit enlightened? Is it something you can work towards in grades, like my old clarinet exams when I was young? Or maybe it’s like being pregnant; you either are or you aren’t.
Then how do you know when you’ve got it? Do you have to go somewhere for a test? “Good morning Miss Jackson. Thanks for coming in and seeing us today. We’ve got just a few questions so if you could just sit here….oh….you’re levitating. Never mind…”
You don’t have to delve too far into an online search of ‘enlightened people’ to see that none of them did it alone. They all had, and then became, a guru. (Not, as my predictive text would prefer, a gnu; which opens some delightful mental images.)
If you’re looking for the fast-as-a-trip-to-eternal-understanding-can-ever-be route to getting that big old spiritual light-bulb, seems like you need to find yourself someone who is “lit” (As the young people say. I think.) in the yogic sense of the word.
A guru is someone who has not only completed their own spiritual journey, but is truly absorbed in the teachings they have chosen as their template for life. They are a mentor and so much more. In fact, sometimes a student’s relationship with their guru is considered as the equivalent of a direct connection to the divine/The Universe/God/god/whatever you choose to call it.
Whilst I consider my teacher to be incredibly knowledgeable, an inspirational game-changer in the world of yoga, and absolutely brilliant at what he does, he’d be the first one to admit he’s no closer to enlightenment than the rest of us. Awesome teacher and someone I want to study with for a very long time? Hell yeah. Bloke with a hotline to the divine? Hell no.
But truth is having one figure to which you can turn for emotional insights, guidance and support can be incredibly useful for those of us who feel like their spiritual path is taking way too many undesirable diversions.
So I had a thought – what if we could be our own guru? (And the best news is there’s no unkempt beard, questionable robes, dodgy headwear, brain-washed cult, massive financial donations, or illegal activities required. Winner!)
Here’s how we might start:
Get into your guts, guru.
Your guru would be the one you could turn to when you didn’t know which way to go. Even if they couldn’t tell you the answer, they’d at least help you learn to listen for it. Of course, in order to do this you need to practice being quiet. What do you need to do to hear the still small voice within? How can you build the confidence in your inner wisdom, and go with your gut? Pause, breathe, and see if you can begin to find moments of calm regardless of how turbulent everything else is.
Make it plausible to pause…
When you found your guru you’d often get to spend a big chunk of time in their presence. (Or at least somewhere close to them.) By pressing ‘pause’ on your normal life you’d get some headspace to get to grips with the new path you found yourself on. But here in the real world we’re rarely given the chance to think about getting away from it all, let alone actually doing it. So recognise that there’s no way you can be of service to anyone who needs you (let alone yourself) if you’re leaping from one item on your ‘to do’ list to the other, and find YOUR way of taking time. Even if it’s only for a breath at a time.
Know where you are and start from there.
Any guru would know exactly where you were starting from on this epic spiritual journey you are about to begin. And you need to do exactly the same. Have respect for where you are on your own journey. Your guru would challenge you just enough to get you out of your comfort zone, but nothing too hard or too fast. Recognise that you need to learn and grow and thrive, but only at the right rate for you. No one wants a burnt-out yogi.
Get outside of yourself.
Perhaps one of the biggest values of having a source of guidance who isn’t us is that they’re seeing everything from the outside. They are our independent witness who is able to spot when, how, and where we may sneak back into not-so-great patterns when things get tricky. Can you be that person for you? Are you able to take a step back and be a curious observer of what’s going on for you, rather than an active participant in it all?
Celebrate the small wins.
If you had chosen your guru well, you may have found yourself one who fully endorsed ‘having a good time’. (Interpret that as you will.) Anyway, the point still stands. Recognise when things are going well for you. Your chosen guru would undoubtedly tell you when you were making progress, so be that person for you. Remember - most of the time there is more stuff going well than there is going badly. We’re primed to focus on the failures, but do your best to override our pesky programming and give yourself a pat on the back whenever you can. (Another good reason for working on that shoulder flexibility in your asana too.)
Do your homework.
Finding and a guru isn’t just someone to have hanging on your wall with an inspirational quote, or credit on your social media account. Either directly or indirectly, they were there to give you things to make you learn. It’s very clear that you have got to do the work; whether that’s delving into some books which fire your curiosity, booking a workshop with a new teacher, or getting on your mat and trying something different with your practice. So go do it.
A guru would give you a central point of focus. Their teachings would help you find your benchmark for how you live your life; what you do and how you do it. So be clear about the way you want to be in the world. Set your inner Sat-Nav so your intention is clear and unwavering. This isn’t so that you know when you need to beat yourself up for taking a wrong turn, but you can begin to hold yourself accountable for how you are doing.
Love all the learning.
Be open to learning from other people. Any guru would be part of a lineage; they learnt from their masters, who learnt from theirs, and so on. Remember that nothing is ever learnt in isolation. Learn from those who have been on the path before you. Or, for a real challenge, see what you can learn from people who have been on a different path to your own. Can you approach their lessons with a truly open mind and allow their experiences to enrich your own? Wherever you are, and however much you think you know, try to keep your beginners mind open to it all. (Even if it all it does is confirm that payment of your savings into an off-shore bank account does not bring about instant enlightenment.)