by Patsy O’Brien
Guru guru guru. Many people seek gurus throughout their lives. What do we seek in gurus? Defined as “a spiritual teacher,” almost anything can be a guru. Life lessons can be teachers — your successes and your failures. Your parents can be your spiritual teachers, even if the relationship is painful. Animals and nature can be spiritual teachers…what does a fox teach you about living in the woods? Then there are the more classical spiritual teachers like the Pope and Thich Nhat Hanh.
Like so many others, I’ve had a complicated relationship with teachers. While growing up, I consistently received very poor grades, usually ranging from C-’s to F’s, regardless of my efforts. I just didn’t seem to ever really understand the assignment or pass the test. It was only when I found a college that didn’t assign grades or administer any tests, that I was finally diagnosed as dyslexic.
I am still negotiating what being dyslexic means as an adult, but it felt great to finally have an explanation other than “you are just not a book person.” Growing up my teachers thought I was lazy, slow, or rebellious. Since my academic struggle began in elementary school, I began the work of disassociating letter grades from my identity at an early age. “That D has nothing to do with me”, was a recurring thought I remember having as a child. I would watch movies that always had similar plots of “The enthusiastic teacher who believed in the lone, sad, seemingly-stupid-but-really-a-genius student and helped them become the most successful person of all time.” I was always looking for that teacher who would finally SEE me, SEE that yes, I was terrible at tests and took a while to read, but I was actually an undercover genius. But it never happened. I even came up with speeches in my head carefully articulating the moment when I would accept a prestigious life achievement award: “and to my teacher Blah Blah Blah who believed in me when no one else did… we made it! We finally made it!!”
I actually had the opposite of the “I believe in you” relationship with most of my teachers from elementary through high school. Not only did they not believe in me, they also didn’t trust me. So by the time I was in middle school, there was one thing I learned pretty thoroughly — it was to not trust THEM. In 7th grade I began to have a more f— you attitude toward teachers. I began realizing that there wouldn’t be any authority figures to keep me safe or stick up for me, so I would have to protect myself (and my twin sister).
I began to question everything that people in authority told me to do. “But WHY? Why do we have to do XYZ?” The questioning made relationships a lot worse. It was only after finding my yogic path that I was confronted with my lingering feelings of uneasiness around authority figures. I was always vacillating between two thoughts: “I hope the teacher finally sees me and thinks I’M the most special and will think I’m smart”, and “oh no, what if I lose myself and what if I get taken advantage of?”
Happily, yoga doesn’t encourage blind faith or not questioning at all, yet at the same time it is also about practicing surrender. All of those ‘terrible’ teachers I had really were my gurus and I still have time to make amends and bow down to what I learned from having them in my life. I still believe that grades do not equate intelligence and that school CAN be a positive experience for everyone.
When you are a kid being harassed or just disappointed by authority figures, there is a lot of time spent speaking to your INNER guru. When life puts you on the sidelines, that is the time for inner reflection, for knowing that deep down, you have the strength and smarts to pursue any dream you can dream up. So listen! Listen to it all. Listen to yourself, to your mirrors all around you. It doesn’t mean you have to ‘do what they say’, but just to keep awake and truly listen. People can have an all-or-nothing feeling around Gurus. In yoga and Buddhism, it’s a good thing to question, but how much skepticism is healthy? There can be such low self-confidence in Western practitioners and at the same time a widely held dogma of “Be your own authority” in a way that is all about talking but not about listening.
So don’t fret, if you are still looking for your Guru or are scared to even find one…If you listen clearly, you will hear all of the spiritual teachings that are always being clearly laid out by your spiritual gurus, moving you towards awakening.
Patsy has been in love with meditation and yoga at Laughing Lotus SF since 2009. She completed Yoga School at Laughing Lotus in the Fall of 2010 and is currently one of the substitute teachers at Laughing Lotus SF! Having a beginner’s mind is particularly important to her on and off of the mat. She loves to paint, teach yoga, write, and surround herself with her Laughing Lotus community!