When I moved to Los Angeles in 1998 I began a twenty-year search for the ultimate teacher – someone who would guide my way towards if not full enlightenment, at least a little more peace and joy in my life. I got more than I bargained for, racking up at least 4, possibly 5 people that at one point in my life may have been considered my ‘guru’ – all of them, by the way, men. More on that later.
While I wasn’t conscious that moving to Los Angeles would send me on a road of ultimate self-discovery, in hindsight, it is obvious to me I was always being guided down the very path I needed to tread.
I believe many people move to Los Angeles to break ties with the past. Disconnect from who they think they are to learn who they are sans family trauma and all the stories that have defined them to that point. This was certainly the case for me. In a fevered attempt to release myself from the ties that bound me to a very limited perception of myself, I dove head first into the spiritual and healing communities of Los Angeles – the epicenter of false gurus and weekend workshops where you can always find a teacher willing to illuminate your path to enlightenment.
Like a crack head, I became addicted to self-help. Yoga, breathwork, reiki, crystals, plant medicine, various modalities of psychotherapy, acupuncture, colonics – you name it, I’ve done it. I had a deep yearning to unearth every single hurt, pain point, and unresolved emotion that stood between me and my ultimate joy and liberation. And I always found someone willing to take me there, believing these were worthy pursuits and realistic goals.
I attacked my spiritual practice like a warrior. By golly, I was going to heal myself if it was the last thing I did. I’ve spent thousands of dollars (enough to put a sizeable down payment on a house anywhere but Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco) pursuing a better life than the one I had, convinced someone else had the answers. However, not once did any of my teachers tell me that maybe I should relax a little – put the breaks on – back off the so-called healing.
If we are to be students of life, of course we need teachers, just as in elementary school. Someone had to show us the ropes, teach us the ABC’s, give us the tools to think for ourselves. But typically, elementary teachers don’t thrive off an unequal distribution of power as so many ‘teachers’ in the self-help and wellness communities do. Much of the abuse we see in today’s culture – whether it be of a sexual nature or not – is due to the fact that those who have knowledge thrive off students who seek it. Like parasites, they feed off the energy of students sitting at their feet keeping power structures firmly in place. The only reason this guru model persists is because we – particularly women, although men are subject to abuses of power as well – have abdicated our own power. We have, albeit likely unconsciously, consented.
Let’s get back to the role gender plays in this. I consistently see wise, strong, empowered women use the term ‘guru’ or some other reverential title when referring to their male teacher. (‘Shaman’ is another popular moniker.) I have yet to see a woman teacher, despite how knowledgeable and full of wisdom and grace she may be, call herself or even be endowed with the title ‘guru’. I realize this may seem like a matter of simple semantics, however its more than that. Our words have power and designating a teacher with some title other than the name they were given or simply teacher contributes to a hierarchical structure in our spiritual communities and beyond.
I am one of the lucky ones. I’ve emerged from my spiritual studies, relatively unscathed, not suffering from gross abuses of power or sexual misconduct that seems to run rampant. I’ve certainly heard stories about some of my teachers, but whether it was divine grace, good karma or sheer dumb luck (not sure if those are truly distinct entities), their wrong doings never landed on me. At least not in any way that left me with permanent damage.
However, like a leaky faucet that drips two or three droplets every minute, I allowed my power to seep from my pores and into those I followed blindly. It took some time, but eventually, I forgot what it was to stand on my own two feet – to be without the guidance of someone else who professed they knew what was best for me. Eventually, my faucet was empty and their bucket was full.
I’m on what may be considered my fourth ‘teacher’ but I steer as clear from assigning him (yup – still a man) the title of ‘guru’ as a whore from church. I consider him more of a guide or coach. I know my life will be just fine without him. I don’t have a driving need to see him. I’m not addicted to my time with him. I don’t feel guilty if I forget to practice what he has prescribed. The biggest point of differentiation is simply my perspective. I know I don’t need fixing.
After ten years, I’ve quit looking for someone else to show me the way. I’ve practiced and absorbed all the techniques and wisdom teachings from various traditions and regurgitated what doesn’t feel helpful or useful. The purging has been just as, if not more, important as the digesting.
Through this process of seeking I’ve come to understand myself intimately. I’ve learned to heal myself and honor the truths that live inside of me. Finally, I’ve become my own guru. I only need to gaze inward and upward for guidance.
My studies and spiritual development have changed my world-view and relationship with myself and my God for the better. But the only thing I am cured of is the belief I needed to be cured in the first place.