Finding our spiritual mentors is a process

Last modified: 3/21/2016 7:03:01 PM
“There are many paths to the top of the mountain but the view from the top is the same.” I love the truth in this sentiment, and I think of interfaith in the same way.

There are many spiritual truths and profound wisdom in all of the world’s religions. From Hinduism, the world’s oldest religion — and third largest; Christianity being the largest and Islam the second — to Shamanism, the world’s oldest indigenous spiritual practice (perhaps rivaled by the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime), to Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and more; in interfaith seminary we delved into the spiritual truths, beliefs, prayers, chants, sacred texts and sound currents that exist in all faith traditions.

The truth of my own experience is that having a conscious, aware and experienced spiritual mentor serves my own spiritual journey in the most profound way. A spiritual guide is able to intuit and offer insightful feedback, or perhaps offer a prayer, a chant, a mantra that may be a good practice. And when my own spiritual mentor offers a gift like this, it’s as though she places it on the table, and I may pick up what resonates, and leave whatever may not feel right for me. She remains detached from outcomes. This feels like a gift to my soul. My own inner work and daily practice is up to me, but my heart opens just a little more with gratitude for having found a spiritual mentor who can intuit for me a mantra so well-suited and that resonates on such a deep level, it brought tears to my eyes the first time she sang it for me.

Traditionally in the West the role of a spiritual teacher may have been filled by a member of clergy from one of the many branches of Christianity or perhaps a rabbi in Judaism. However, a spiritual mentor could be any person with training and experience in any faith tradition — including shamans, native American Indians, aboriginal elders. Or in the case of interfaith, it could be an ordained interfaith minister who has spent two years studying the various faith traditions that exist throughout the world.

It’s fascinating to me that at this point in our planet’s history, we are slowly opening up to what has worked in the rest of the world for thousands of years, from healing traditions like acupuncture or reiki to spiritual traditions from many of the world’s indigenous cultures. Monadnock Community Hospital even has its own reiki volunteer program, and acupuncture is covered by most health care plans these days.

One thing in particular that I look for in a spiritual mentor is someone who has done enough inner work so that they don’t project their own darkest inner realms onto other people. For me, this is one of the most important characteristics in a spiritual guide — for them to own their own shadow. I look for a spiritual mentor who aims for authenticity, not perfection. They own their own muck; knowing that like the lotus flower, we blossom because of, not in spite of. As the venerable Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “No mud, no lotus.”

When a person has done this kind of inner work, they can offer spiritual guidance with clarity, insight and wisdom. Often they will have committed to their own kind of daily spiritual practice, whether that be a walk in nature, meditating, praying, chanting. And their experience of sustaining a sacred space for their daily spiritual practice or sadhana, allows the capacity to cultivate a relationship with their own inner divinity — that benevolent, compassionate, and empathetic observing awareness that exists within each one of us; a place from where they can observe their humanity — their very ordinary, yet also universal human experience.

Too often we see leaders who are not willing to own their own shadow. One of my main issues with some strands of Christianity is that we may be taught the idea of good versus evil, so to own something within ourselves that may be considered evil is a terrifying concept.

Another idea that works better for me is again what Thich Nhat Hanh teaches about all of us having both positive seeds and negative seeds within, and we get to make the conscious choice to cultivate the positive seeds. There is no need to disown our negative seeds. In “No Mud, No Lotus,” Hanh writes, “We have the seeds, the potential in us for understanding, love, compassion, and insight, as well as the seeds of anger, hate, and greed. While we can’t avoid all the suffering in life, we can suffer much less by not watering the seeds of suffering inside us.”

And how do you know who may be the right spiritual mentor for you? Shop around. Make a few calls and conduct a few interviews. And of course, trust your gut. Listen to your own inner guidance and follow the whisper of your own soul.

The Rev. Camilla Sanderson lives in Temple and is presently practicing creative nonfiction writing in a low-residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of “The Mini Book of Mindfulness.”


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