In my years of practice as a devotee and eventually as a spiritual mentor and elder myself, I experienced and learned of countless unfortunate stories of bad relationships between students and their spiritual elders. It is almost like a rite of passage to experience drama with a teacher. However, there are certain tips which I found which could help one avoid such negative situations.
1. Know what you are looking for. Start your spiritual journey with what you are looking for in an elder. Some people are looking for a community. Others are looking for a teacher. Some are looking for a father or mother figure., while others are looking for a friend. A combination of these qualities can be found in elders however, it is important to understand what qualities are important to you and what type of assistance you need. This will allow you to identify those qualities in elders you may be interested in.
2. Understand what you bring to the table. Understanding how you are helps understand who is best able to deal with you. We all have "luggage" and sometimes that luggage can interfere with our learning and or relationships. Understand your learning style and communication style. If your teacher communicates or teaches different from your ability to learn or understand, you may need to adapt to other styles or find another teacher. Knowing who and how you are helps you to be able to know what works best for you.
3. References. When you are considering a spiritual teacher it is important to casually and discreetly check around with a wide range of people to verify the character and reputation of the person. Checking in with a wide range of people prevents you from being biased from one perspective or another. You don't want a limited perspective of the person, but a wide-range perspective.
4. Take Your Time. It is important not to jump into a student teacher relationship right after meeting but to "ease your way in". Go to their events, get readings, do spiritual work, and get to know the people you want to study with. You will start to see the type of life they live by your experience with them. You will also see how they treat people and how people treat them. In essence, you will be able to see what you are getting yourself into.
5.Beware of Romantic Relationships. While it is possible to have a romantic relationship with your spiritual elder, I generally discourage that because it can be very complicated to navigate effectively. In the event that the relationship turns sour, it can be a disaster for the student. You must plan ahead and know what you will do in that situation. Have a plan B to ensure your spiritual practice and wellbeing will be taken care of. It can be a conflict of interest when a person reads you who is romantically involved with you because that person may be biased in their interpretation of Spirit.
6. Communicate. When you finally find a teacher who you are considering and who chooses you, communication must be transparent between the two of you. Communicate any challenging issues you may have with the person, not to third parties. That is how gossip starts. Be honest and transparent. Gently communicate your expectations of a teacher and inquire with their expectations of you as a student.
7. Loyalty. When you choose a teacher, you must be loyal to your teacher. Try to understand what loyalty means. It does not mean becoming a slave or allowing yourself to be humiliated and become someones doormat. It does mean giving your teacher the benefit of the doubt and assuming good intentions unless they show you differently. It also does mean being a vagabond, going here and there, for guidance. Inquire with your teacher first for spiritual guidance. Also, understand that you not only choose a teacher. That teacher chooses you. Honor your choice. Understand that all relationships have challenges at some point. Understand the difference between challenges and obstacles, and tough love and malicious intent. A good teacher will challenge you and encourage you to stretch to be your best self, not your worse.
8. Reciprocity. In an ideal teacher-student, elder-omo awo relationship, the elder shows their loyalty and commitment to the student by teaching and spiritually guiding them in spiritual practice and encouraging them and teaching them to be their best. In return, the student supports the teacher by being open to the teaching and guidance-learning what is taught, supporting the teacher in his or her performance of ritual work, and economically if need be. An elder should not manipulate his or her position at the expense of the student. The student should not feel entitled to the support of the teacher without giving anything in return. It's not only about money. It's about the exchange of energy. It's about time, learning, commitment, attention, and work.
9. Learn and be Taught. Learning is active. You can learn whether a person teaches you or not. Being taught is passive. It is dependent on a teacher. You must be an active learner while at the same time being receptive to the guidance of your teacher.
10. Patience. This is perhaps the hardest of them all. Its importance to be patient when studying under a teacher and constantly being mindful of your progress as a student. Are you learning? Are you studying? What emotional issues are coming up? Is it related to your past, your present, or your fears about the future? Are you mastering the information and guidance you have already been given or are you just collecting information waiting for the next handout?
These are only a few issues to considered when looking for a spiritual teacher. If you need assistance looking for a spiritual teacher for your spiritual development and practice, click here.