The Power of the Incognito Gurus
There is an age old wisdom that goes something to the tune of: endings are often beginnings in disguise. I find this to be a beautifully poetic articulation of the gift bestowed upon us by hindsight.
The idea that endings beget the doorway to new beginnings is a motif I’ve seen played out in my life numerous times. Yet, it’s only in hindsight that this knowledge becomes starkly apparent. It was the dramatic ending of a passionate, yet short lived college relationship that led me to the beginning of my spiritual awakening and subsequent studenthood in personal development and universal mysticism. Five years into my odyssey towards the infinite I began to crave the guidance of a real life teacher. Sure, I was grateful for the digital wisdom of New Age pioneers like Eckhart Tolle and Gabrielle Bernstein, but I longed for a personal relationship with a trusted advisor. Someone whom I could discuss the esoteric concepts I was learning and unlearning about myself everyday. Someone to guide me in integrating the spiritual with the practical. Someone like a guru.
The concept of regularly consulting someone like a guru, who’s triumphantly blazed trails you long to conquer makes perfect sense. The problem is figuring out where to begin. Sadly, it’s not yet possible to purchase a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship with a successful entrepreneur, author, parent, teacher, nutritionist, or fitness guru from aisle 5 at your local grocery store. Relationships, especially life-changing ones, take time to develop organically and grow into their full potential. So what to do in the meantime while on the lookout for your very own mentor or guru? My suggestion is this: start exactly where you are. Find a quiet space, take pen to paper, and conduct a sweeping assessment of the important players in your life. Think about the lessons your relationships and life experiences have taught you and see if you can identify the incognito gurus that exist in your life today.
When I applied this exercise to my own life, I came away with fresh perspective and a greater appreciation for the undercover gurus I never knew I had:
1. My Deceased Grandmothers - My grandmothers couldn’t have been more different. Aline was a sweet and gentle woman of English descent. Helen was a feisty Italian who wouldn’t take no for an answer and could whip up a pot of sauce and meatballs like nobody’s business. One lived the phrase “strong opinions, loosely held". One lived with fierce conviction of her dogma. I didn’t know it, but my grandmothers were my empowerment gurus; teaching me the importance of defining a value system of my own making and not apologizing for it.
2. My Thai Students - It should come as no surprise that the place commonly referred to as the land of smiles has mastered the art of weaving sanuk (Thai word for fun) into everyday life. As an English teacher in Thailand, I’ve experienced this first hand with my secondary students. I often enter the classroom to a chorus of cheerful pleas requesting, “teacher, play game!”. My experience in Thailand and specifically, my students have challenged me to make a concerted effort to have more fun. I didn’t know it, but my students were my fun gurus; teaching me to take life less seriously and lean into joy as often as possible.
3. My Nieces and Nephews - It’s been said that if you want the truth, you should consult either a drunk person or a young child. As an aunt to seven nieces and nephews, I have access to a reservoir of truth tellers whenever I need it. My young nieces and nephews know no way of being other than their authentic, truth telling selves. They also have memories like elephants. On several occasions when I’ve bribed them with with presents or ice cream in the near, but purposefully vague future, they’ve earnestly reminded me of my promise and called me out if I faltered. They’re unwavering authenticity has kept me honest. I didn’t know it, but my nieces and nephews were my truth gurus; teaching me the importance of remaining true to my word.
4. My Past Loves - It’s not an easy thing to revisit a failed relationship, but it’s often here that we learn are most valuable lessons. The vault of my past loves was tucked away in a cobwebbed corner of my heart, but once I summoned the courage to open it, I found there was wisdom beneath the pain. The tumultuous end of a romantic relationship showed me the importance of maintaining my identity as an individual, not just as someone’s partner. The fizzle of a relationship with a dear friend, who once felt like a sister, forced me to reevaluate the kind of friend I was being and the people I was prioritizing in my life. I didn’t know it, but my past loves (both friends and lovers) were actually some of my biggest self love gurus; teaching me that the foundation of all love is self love.
5. My Student Loans - A personal, yet staggeringly universal, obstacle I face on a monthly basis are my hefty student loans, which many days feel insurmountable. My feelings toward my debt have undulated somewhere between self pity and dogged determination over the last 5 years. Would I make the same choices now, at 26, that I did when I was 18 to acquire the money for college? I’m not certain I would. But one thing I am certain of is that paying my student loans off every month and going through the process to refinance them has given me a degree of financial awareness and appreciation that many of my peers are lacking. My college debt has been my gateway to gratitude. I didn’t know it, but my student loans were my gratitude gurus; teaching me appreciation for my college experience and the financial wisdom I’ve gained since.
While you’re on the lookout for your personal guru, take some time to ask yourself this question: are there any incognito gurus already in my life? You might be surprised at the revelations you uncover by conducting an honest inventory of the key people and milestones that have shaped your life’s experience.