You've heard about "the path." It's the one we use to navigate through life's distracting struggles, the road we take toward enlightenment (whatever that means to us). We understand that the path is unique to each of us and that we are able to use a variety of means--reading, meditation, community service, prayer, retreats--to make our way along it. Yet at some point, we may wonder whether it's time to find a seasoned guide, and to develop a one-on-one relationship with someone who can help expedite our progress.
"Many people ask about finding a teacher," says Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass., and author of Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience. So how do we find someone to spur us on to greater self-awareness, happiness and peace? Is it as simple as the old adage: "When the student is ready, the teacher appears"? If so, how do we tell if we're ready for a kind of relationship that few of us have ever known?
Because the path is individual, there are, necessarily, no rules. But these guidelines will help you understand the process and maybe even identify the teacher who's right for you.
Evaluate yourself honestly
Make a truthful assessment of what you want from a mentor, and what you expect. Most traditions of faith offer four different ways to connect with the meaningful: spiritual study, contemplation, devotion or service. Consider which of these four most appeals to you, and find a teacher who emphasizes your chosen path.
Be realistic, too, about the commitment you're willing to make to this part of your life. "Ask yourself what such a relationship will require of you," says Sylvia Boorstein, author of Pay Attention for Goodness' Sake, and a co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, Calif.
According to Boorstein, Westerners often feel uncomfortable in the formal student-teacher relationship common to many traditions of spiritual learning. It may be that a simpler, less formal relationship with a teacher makes more sense for you, or that you can find significant inspiration from fellow travelers--your spiritual buddies--along the path.
"It's always valuable to have mentors and companions on the spiritual trip," says Boorstein.
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