It's a story as old as the beginning: the promise of wisdom, with the price carefully concealed. On the path of enlightenment, it's common to seek and find mentors that help us move forward on our journey. It's even more common to misunderstand the purpose of those mentors and the form in which their lessons arrive.
Whether we realize it or not, all of us are on a journey of spirit, and we have many teachers throughout our lives. For those of us that are conscious seekers of spiritual wisdom, though, our human mentors almost invariably disappoint us sooner or later. Whether it's the latest front-page news story about a major religious figure that was caught doing something very wrong, or something more personal and closer to home, it affects us and our relationship with our spirituality. In this post, I explore the top three reasons our mentors disappoint us and share some suggestions for what to do when this happens.
#1 - We confuse the message with the messenger.
Why it happens: Human mentors are just that - human. We're all here experiencing the illusion of separateness because we still have things to learn. That means that all of our mentors and would-be mentors are all deeply flawed in some way or another. The important caveat is that these flaws do not make them incapable of being a clear channel for spiritual teachings.
What to do about it: Great spiritual wisdom can come from the unlikeliest of sources. Learning to separate the nourishment we derive from a teacher's ideas from the person who's saying the words allows us to learn from everyone we meet, and gives us space to be compassionate with ourselves for the ways in which we ourselves struggle with our own humanity. I invite you to soak in the wisdom of every teacher while simultaneously enforcing boundaries that feel good for your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
#2 - We have different goals for the relationship.
Why it happens: A mentor relationship often feels just as close and personal as our relationships with our family, friends, and lovers. Friction in a mentor relationship can leave us confused and hurt, and often arises because the goals for the relationship were not made clear by one or both parties.
What it looks like: After working with a new mentor for a short time, I felt friction between us at every meeting. I was confused and a little upset. I'd been very much looking forward to working with her, but instead of feeling encouraged and supported by her, I felt a little attacked. She poked at my ego in small ways from all sides, and I felt less sure than ever of not only why I was working with her but what I was doing on this path in the first place.
To get some clarity on the situation, I first consulted a psychic that was recommended to me as being a very clear channel. The psychic told me two things that helped me tremendously: that my mentor wasn't feeling any friction - that it was all me - and that I was feeling the friction because I didn't actually need a mentor.
After sitting with these insights for a few days and being really honest with myself, I realized that the problem was that what I wanted from her wasn't what she wanted to give me. Down deep, I was looking to be coddled. I wanted to be held close and told that I was special, that she saw me and validated my abilities, and that she supported me emotionally on my continuing journey. In short, I was looking for a mother figure. And she was not into it, at all. What she wanted was to teach me some techniques, hand down some of her wisdom, and, maybe, to have her own ego bolstered a little bit. We all like to feel good and valuable, after all.
What to do about it: While it was probably true that I didn't need a mentor, I very much recognized the benefit I could get from a teacher. She had things to teach me that I wanted to learn. As soon as I course-corrected from my side and recognized the inappropriate emotional grasping I had been doing, the friction in our relationship disappeared. She stopped sniping at me, or maybe I stopped noticing it, and I learned things that I still use all the time and for which I am incredibly grateful. Even though I find myself increasingly out of alignment with her political views these days, I still refer people to learn her areas of mastery from her with the message/messenger disclaimer.
While I was able to salvage the relationship without talking to my mentor about it, most any mentor worth your time and trouble will be willing to have a discussion about the stated and unstated goals that may be operating within the relationship. Mentors who have attained a reasonably high level of spiritual mastery know and understand themselves at a deep level, and are willing to explain their internal workings in terms that are clear and free of blame. While they may not be willing or able to give us exactly what we want, they will not judge us for wanting that. Most likely, they had a similar experience along their own path as well.
#3 - We learn everything they can teach us.
Why it happens: All relationships have expiration dates. Some are fleeting encounters. Some last for a season or a few years. Some last for nearly our entire existence of being separate from the all that is. But they all end. For those on a path of conscious exploration of being, relationships tend to end when one or both parties can't or won't grow any further.
Our mentors tend to show up at the times in our lives when we are ready for their unique lessons. At that point, we either choose to grow from the lessons, or we turn away from the change and choose stagnation for the moment. Either way we decide, there is a moment in which we realize that the spark, the pull, that was there at the beginning is gone. The relationship doesn't fit anymore and we feel conflicted about that. Is the problem us, or them? Or both? Or neither?
What it looks like: After being with my first mentor for five years, it started to feel like it wasn't a good fit anymore. I was feeling called more in the direction of shamanism, and that wasn't her thing. Our personal relationship as friends also didn't feel quite right anymore. The energy exchange between us felt imbalanced once I had learned everything I wanted to learn. I was confused and didn't know how to handle the feelings I was having about the situation.
What to do about it: My recommendations here are pretty much exactly the opposite of what I did. Because of course they are. I make mistakes so you don't have to! At the time, my child was going through a lot and I was very upset by what was happening. I used the pressure I was feeling in that part of my life as an excuse to allow distance to build up between me and my mentor. Realistically, I sort of ghosted her, and I feel ashamed of that. It was a terrible thing to do. I suspect she hasn't spent more than two minutes thinking about it, but I think about it more often than I like to admit. In hindsight, I would have loved to have a quick sit-down conversation with her about my feelings and goals, to thank her profusely for all of her time and teachings, and to wish her well in her future endeavors. So... you know... maybe try that if it feels right.
What do you think about this? What has your experience been with your mentors? If you can think of a reason that should appear on this list that doesn't, please leave a comment!