Thursday, April 16, 2015

How to leave a spiritual teacher

I work with students of all kinds: art students, drum making workshop participants, folks who want to learn about oyster growing.  Yet the most delicate teacher / student relationship I have is with people who come to learn about creating and maintaining a shamanic relationship with the spirit world in nature. Here I am not the teacher so much as the school secretary; you remember the one who stood guard behind the counter, who knew the rules when you were late or didn't have your permission slip. She may have been difficult to get by, but she wasn't the one who marked the exams or gave out the grades.  That teacher in shamanic work is the spirit world itself.  So when you decide to leave a spiritual teacher, you are in fact leaving a particular form of relationship with spirit, and this takes skill, compassion and clear intention.

The first step is to Meet the Teacher.  By this I mean meet the forces, elements and creatures that have been your guides during this time of your learning. And also meet the human teacher and other students who have been journeying with you. Call all these seen and unseen teachers to be present to witness your decision to leave.

Know the Story of your experience and tell the truth about it. This is a truth without explanations or excuses.  Changing and growing as you learn, so that your present teacher is no longer able to move forward with you, is is the true goal of all learning.  Not being clear with yourself and others about who you have become is an obstacle whose tendrils and thorns reach out into both worlds.

Be Food for the human and other-than-human teachers who have guided you to this moment of parting.  Do this by creating a feast of thanksgiving as well as a feast of edible food.  Sharing memories, joys and sorrows while sharing something nutritious feeds gratitude into any cracks or holes that may be made by your leaving.

At the conclusion of your leaving, Have Courage to be truly gone.  Just as water flows always downhill, and yet is constant at each place of its course, so too may other students be waiting for their turn to flow in the knowledge of  your spiritual teacher.  When you hold on due to some lack of readiness to accept completion, you hold back others who are ready to benefit.

The art in this essay about how to leave a spiritual teacher was created during the time I decided to leave Martin Prechtel's school of spiritual ecology in New Mexico.  The titles of the paintings, in italics, were the names of the lessons that came out on the desert as I struggled to transform indecision and anxiety into clarity and calm.