…………… One of the most important questions when it comes to evaluating who you want to learn from is: Am I okay with a teacher hurting me to help me grow?
……………..I’m talking about the kind of pain that comes from an admired mentor getting in a person’s face and growling, “You are completely off your rocker and not in reality,” and then expanding on those observations, in detail. Or a person being asked to sit, unmoving, in a posture that leads to intense, unremitting aching, for hours. Or a person being asked to spend time deeply reflecting on past trauma or what might be called their “inner shadows.” Every one of these experiences has the potential for personal growth, but they also have the potential to harm.
xxxxxxxx To clearly state my bias on this topic, I founded Bliss Revealed to share eastern philosophical personal development concepts, which have been used by millions of people over thousands of years, religion-free, foreign culture-free, and pain-free to people looking for high-quality, time-tested technologies to change their lives for the better.
xxxxxxxx My mission as a chief happiness mentor is to teach people how to be happy, all the while being positive, affirming, and fun. Essentially, meeting students where they’re at and offering the opportunity for incremental change at the students’ chosen pace.
xxxxxxxx On a day to day basis, like when I end up sitting and staring, blinking, at some person coming at me with their psychic wounds, so full of emotions they’re dying for me to understand and validate, I can find myself pondering whether meeting people where they’re at is really fair to them. When I don’t share what I’m actually thinking and feeling, am I robbing them of an opportunity to consider a potentially different perspective, which could lead to healing and happiness? Or by keeping my deeper thoughts to myself, am I being more effective, in the long run?
Damned If You Do; Damned If You Don’t
xxxxxxxx When personal development teachers start offering their services they have to decide which one of two camps they will fall into, as to approach—do I meet my students where they’re at (nice and gentle) or do I just unleash myself, my perspective, and my observations all over them whether they have the capacity to digest that information, or not?
xxxxxxxx Because here’s the truth: if the teacher picks the latter approach they will, unavoidably, hurt a bushel-load of their students. Period. It comes with the territory that when you pluck people out of their cobbled-together mental house of mirrors—usually heavily reinforced by the people they’ve surrounded themselves with—and give them a big dose of Truth Telling, you will leave some students metaphorically by the side of the road moaning and bleeding having had an experience akin to being run over. However, these same teachers can end up being highly effective with students who can handle the notion that the deepest learning opportunities hurt. For these students, who have the capacity to embrace the pain of realizing that maybe they are completely full of shit wrong about themselves, their lives, and what life is, this approach can be like a powerful vacuum cleaner sucking them into a wider view of reality at the push of a button. Whisk! How fun!
xxxxxxxx Offering students this kind of instantaneous, magnified, likely painful, learning experience, does beg the question whether a teacher’s new students have the capacity to give permission to be so hurt (i.e. can they make informed consent). If a new student is like the typical hot mess that modern culture makes us, does he or she have the ability to understand how much their mind could be injured by being whisked into a bigger view of reality when the teacher looks into their mind and smashes their delusions? When a teacher who takes this “not nice” approach asks a student for permission to “just give it to them straight,” is that even an ethical question when they know that the student doesn’t have the slightest idea about where the teacher is coming from, about the teacher’s view from which they asked the question? Personally, I’ve seen teachers who choose this teaching approach and have stared broken-heartedly at the metaphoric trail of damaged students’ bodies left in their wake. So at this stage in my own professional journey, as a teacher, I reject this approach.
xxxxxxxx Instead, I embrace the idea of working hard to meet every single person I interact with where they’re at. Friends, family, people at the store, students, teachers, clients, everyone. This is the approach of gentleness and love. It’s the approach of realizing that not everyone wants to be in reality, much less have it stuffed in their face. This approach acknowledges that modern culture leaves tons of people in deep psychic pain, and that this state is so normalized that people don’t even feel it anymore they’re so numb. It acknowledges that not everyone wants to embark on a personal development journey just to speak with me. Ha!
xxxxxxxx However, it’s important for teachers who choose this nicer, gentler approach to not lose sight of a potential dark side to it: when a teacher is meeting their students where they’re at there is, unavoidably, a backdraft of distancing and coddling which arises from their communications. Sometimes, I have people thinking after speaking with me that they have made their point and that they’ve successfully convinced me to believe X, Y, or Z, when in fact I did not share any of my actual thoughts or views about the information they offered me and, sometimes, was just watching them express deep emotional injuries and compensation techniques. For most of us, isn’t this the same approach we take when speaking with a small child? Do we drop f-bombs and discuss how capitalism is creating a world oligarchy with a five year old? Hell, no. Every one of us meets a child where they’re at by talking with them in ways that are tailored for that child’s developmental stage to be positive and affirming. While at the same time, the child walks away from that interaction with the experience of a mutually transparent discussion. Basically, two totally different narratives and experiences of the same, shared conversation. This is the natural, normal, and healthy way for all of us to interact with small children. So, does this mean that when I completely edit everything I say when I’m meeting people where they’re at that am I just treating everyone like a child? Whoa, stop the presses, that is a very disturbing thought, which instantly puts a yucky-face expression on my face when it crosses my mind.
xxxxxxxx For the personal development teacher who has decided to meet their students where they’re at, to mitigate the potential of possibly walking around feeling an adult/child dynamic with everyone, it’s essential to speak with people while being in the widest, widest view of the other person, the situation, the world, and life that they can be at that time. For me, I work to stay in touch with the energy behind the thought, “We are all one,” which antidotes any hint of motivation to treat the person in front of me like a child. When I keep my view wide, my motivation to meet others where they’re at is a manifestation of pure compassion. It is to dance with someone, to create something beautiful, and let them lead. It’s founded on the fact that my world is not exactly anyone else’s world, and that means that my observations or views are not necessary or even “correct.” I can just let the world itself do the work to aid that person’s personal development journey while we dance together. It’s about humility and service, as defined by the other person. Because really, as a chief happiness mentor, there really is ONLY LOVE.
Turning to the Classics
xxxxxxxx Looking further at whether a teacher has to hurt their students to engender true change, let’s consider a character from eastern classical mythology, Saturn. He’s not only a bit of a scary guy (he’s technically a “bad guy”), he’s also the bravest in all the cosmos. Yup, a bad guy is the bravest. One story goes a bit like this: a super-baddy was going to come and kill everyone. Humanity and the cosmos could be saved by any one of the planets appearing in the path of the baddy’s destruction. After some reflection, Saturn, being both brave and someone who liked the cosmos, decided he could sacrifice one of his big toes for the cause by putting it in the path of the bad guy, resulting in it being shaved off and forever gone. He made this choice while all the other planets, the good guys and the other bad guys, hid to save their hides. But humanity and the cosmos survived to see another day. Go Saturn!
xxxxxxxx In addition to being the bravest, another role that Saturn plays in eastern classic mythology is that of a teacher. A very, very mean teacher. Saturn is often the one who kills people’s children and pets; he’s often the one who has people lose their job and homes; he’s often the force of nature which prevents dreams from coming true, and for hearts to break. He’s delay, prevention, cold, obstacles, harshness, isolation, and pain. Eeek!
xxxxxxxx But to stop there would be to neglect the deeper aspect of his mythological teaching style, which is that Saturn is also completely present, immersed, and in reality with his students which means that he feels every ounce of the pain his students feel from his teaching approach of fostering personal development through pain. He hears their cries for mercy and surcease. Every blow he rains down on his students, he’s aware of and feels the damage and agony he’s causing. But the idea is that he’s so brave and strong, and loves so selflessly, that he endures his life being one of endless agonies because he knows that his students will ultimately find the fountain of primordial joy of life underneath the trials he visits upon their lives. Basically, Saturn says to himself, “I will endure a hellishly painful existence hurting people so they can experience life as being made of joy with no opposite.”
xxxxxxxx If he’s nothing else, Saturn is considered a very effective teacher, and this fact gives personal development teachers the opportunity to point to this myth as a way to legitimize the view that the best way to teach others is to not meet their them where they’re at, and instead to unleash their perspectives, views, and observations on their students at all times (i.e. to be not nice).
xxxxxxxx To which my response is: well, good for mean teachers; personally, I’m not a mythological god so I’m not looking to model my teaching style on one. And since I’ve never met another personal development teacher or spiritual teacher who is a mythological god either, I believe it’s a nice teacher’s ethical duty with new students to just be LOVE in action and let the world do the painful teaching. I’ve definitely chosen my camp—to meet all people where they’re at—while keeping a close eye on its potential dark side of paternalism.
In For A Penny, In For A Pound
xxxxxxxx On evaluating a potential teacher, and deciding whether you’re attracted to the nice or not nice approach, the only piece of guidance I have for people is this: pick consciously and then do everything you can to stick with your decision. For my first spiritual teacher, I consciously went with a teacher who was unbelievably knowledgeable, highly networked, and not nice. That meant that from the first day I was around them as a student, I consciously, and with gratitude, did not get bothered by their condescending jibes or having them describe me to other students, when I was not present, as “crazy” and to be socially avoided, among other thoughtless behaviors. That teacher literally has such a vast breadth and depth of knowledge of esoteric ancient wisdom traditions, while also being completely selfless with non-stop teaching, that I felt I was getting a great bargain when I chose to obsessively dive in and relearn the world with them. When I made that assessment and choice, I was making a commitment to myself about what was important to me and what wasn’t. As my spirit healed and blossomed from all I learned under their tutelage, I never gave one hoot that they were not nice.
xxxxxxxx However, being different people with different qualities, many of that teacher’s other students ended up being damaged by their experiences studying with them and for some it even hindered their personal development progress. This is why it’s so important to choose consciously and wisely when you pick someone to learn from and to take the time to look clearly at the pros and cons of the nice/not nice approaches as part of your consideration. Totally true that if you pick a nice teacher, you’ll likely learn at a slower pace and possibly not at all. Totally true that if you pick a not nice teacher, you could end up being trampled upon and torn asunder by not being able to digest how a mean person could be adept at ancient wisdom traditions.
xxxxxxxx Once you’ve made that decision, to learn fast or slow, to risk being hurt to gain knowledge and view, or to be conservative in your goals, stick to it. Don’t blame the teacher you pick for being, well, like they are. You picked them and one of the best things you can do for your own personal development is to understand that only you are responsible for the repercussions of that decision. Dive in whole-heartedly and maximize the positives and minimize the negatives with your new teacher. No teacher will ever be perfect, forever, for you, period. With the mantle of self-responsibility settled squarely on your shoulders, if you find after a time that you’ve “chosen wrong,” then stop working with that teacher—not with blame in your heart for them being themselves—but full of gratitude that you learned what you needed to from that choice and now you’re going to make even higher quality choices for yourself moving forward.
xxxxxxxx Come and dance with me, by starting with Step One of the My Bliss Path™ program, SuperHero You!™. Isn’t it time for you to become a superhero? Yes! Learn your ancient wisdom heroic type and start leaping buildings with a single bound today!
xxxxxxxx This article was inspired by the audiobook Small Favor, by Jim Butcher, as performed by James Marsters. While the main character Harry is in the backyard with all the Carpenter kids, Charity, the kids’ mom, notices that Harry is teaching his apprentice, Molly, to shield objects by having her siblings throw snowballs at her. Charity asks Harry whether that was how his teacher taught him. He responded, “Snowballs are good practice, nothing gets hurt but her pride…..[my teacher used] baseballs; pain is a good motivator, I learn fast….but [with teaching Molly] there’s no rush .”
xxxxxxxx This led me to think about my views of pain as a potential teaching tool and my own experiences as a student, with my first spiritual teacher and my current one, and also ponder the styles of other teachers I have known over the last twenty years of studying ancient wisdom concepts and life-skills.