If you’re reading this blog, like me you’re probably looking to improve your life in some way. You’re looking to create more happiness, less doubt, more joy, less worry, more purpose, less confusion, and the list goes on. To help us all get there, teachers can accelerate the process but there’s a caveat.
First of all, all teachers are human and therefor fallible. Which means that you need to take everything a teacher, author, leader says with a grain of salt.
There are tons of gurus and experts claiming they know the answers. The question is, do their strategies actually work when applied to your life? In this blog, I’ll share with you my philosophy on learning new teachings and how I discern whether or not a particular teaching or practice is right for me at this a particular time.
Before I get into my strategy, I’d like to share with you an experience that sparked the idea for this blog. I am big into learning different spiritual paths; trying them on and seeing what works for me. Lately, I’ve been studying Buddhist teachings and where I live in St Paul, there is a great little center called Common Ground where I attend practice sessions and lectures.
The founder Mark Nunberg was giving a talk one evening. At the end of the talk there is always a chance to ask questions. Curious about how this would apply to my life I remember asking a question, something like, “so is desire good or bad?” He gave a long answer, much of which I have no idea what he said, but he concluded by saying that if I wanted to know for myself, I should just observe what it’s like when I give in to a desire (like wanting cheesecake) and what it’s like when I don’t.
It was surprising to me that he didn’t give a cut and dry indoctrinated-style answer. The answer was to see for myself.
This was an “ah-ha” moment for me. And I realized that so many teachers out there are telling people what works and what doesn’t. What I do is this: If a teaching (or result promised) sparks my interest I give it an honest try. This usually means I apply it everyday for about a month. I did this with cold showers. Some of my teachers swore by taking cold showers. They said it gave them more energy, motivation, and cleansed the whole body. I was very resistant. Mostly because I do not like cold-anything (even pizza). Eventually after hearing enough of the benefits I was committed to trying it. The first week or so was pretty rough. But after about the third week I actually started to enjoy cold showers. Now it has become a habit that I do first thing in the morning. So, there’s one of many examples from my life where I had to just give the practice an honest go.
Now there are some practices that I have no interest in trying. This may be obvious, but just in case, I’ll mention it here. I will never try something that will hurt myself or others. That’s about the only stipulation I have. (Note: If you have a health concern, and aren’t sure if a practice will work for you at this particular time, consult with an experienced health care provider.) Otherwise, I’m willing to give just about any teaching that inspires me a test-drive.
So, what you need to do with any teaching is try it on for yourself and see what happens.
If it works…great! If it doesn’t work, the practice may not be right for you at the time. It doesn’t mean the teacher’s a liar and that all their practices are off. It just means that at this particular time in your life, the practice was not effective for you. You can always go back and try them on again.
I see personal growth and spirituality mostly comprised of small “t” truths. Although they may work for many people, they’re not universal. I see problems and stunted growth when people force their “truths” on other people. In my experience this is disempowering for the students, and robs them of the opportunity to discover their own wisdom.
I also witness people so often dismissing ideas, practices, and lifestyle shifts because they’ve already decided that it wouldn’t work for them based on a prior belief. Before you jump to a conclusion try out a practice or teaching and observe how your body or mind responds to see if it’s right for you. You’ll learn to be a master of your own life that way.