The Search for a Guru

In my field, one of the more commonplace concepts is that of the guru.

A guru is a guide or teacher. We usually associate gurus with spiritual or religious sects, although a guru can also present intellectual ideas or understandings. Usually, however, a guru is the master of a defined spiritual path who shows the way to a particular body of followers.

I have a lot of mixed reaction to the idea of a guru; you might as well. The basic image is of circling he-who-is-close-to-God in hopes of receiving a little of the energy. Knowledge might be passed from on high through words, but just as often through the transmission of wisdom through the eyes or awareness.

I acknowledge the desire and need to honor the sacred. I know that there are individuals whose connection to the heavens and ultimate truth far exceeds my own. If they are willing to pluck a star and shine it in my heart, I’m welcoming of the gift. In return, I’m willing to acknowledge the sacrifice required to live in holiness and provide for those of us who are still struggling with how to spell the word “consciousness,” much less embody it.

And yet I tussle with the many facets of the practice. Quite honestly, I’d flunk the Basic 101 course. In my entire life I’ve probably sat still about two hours in a row and that was because I was sick or strapped into a plane. My legs fidget by themselves. Really. They aren’t connected to my brain or willpower or certainly a Commandant outside of me. Yell “Stop Wiggling” and they’d absolutely convulse. When God passed out the ADHD genes he gave me a double scoop.

Secondly I’ve yet to excel in Followership, the Intermediate required class. When my sons started Little League, I’d pray throughout every game—when I wasn’t laughing, that is. If they weren’t busy running the bases counterclockwise they were drifting to the nearby playground from far left field or hitting each other with bats. No matter how many times the coaches tried to demonstrate correct behavior, it went nowhere. Open brain, insert sieve, out it goes. It’s not that I’m looking to be a leader, it’s that I can’t stay on track—anyone’s track, much less my own.

Thirdly I completely strike out when it comes to the most advanced of requirements, that of Agreeableness. I try. I really do. I sit at family dinners and tell myself to paste my mouth shut with mashed potatoes and gravy and simply NOT TALK, but if I think someone is off or wrong, why, who else is going to set them straight? Just last week end at a lounge over rock and roll I was compelled, as in ethically forced with a god-given duty, to relay MY opinion (or Truth) about the reason people perform blood sacrifice. Needless to say, listeners thought it at least creative, as my response included mention of Egyptian pyramids and monoatomic gold and pineal gland harvesting. (If you’re interested, let me know—I’ll write my dissertation in next month’s column.) Christ himself might sit in white robes and gold sandals in front of me but if he makes a single factual error—why, I’m on it.

Many times in my life, I’ve needed a teacher. The issue is that they haven’t all been cloaked in long robes, hair, and bears. One of my favorite gurus was Mr. O’Dougherty, a literature teacher, whose booming voice scared the meekest of students into the hallway. He’d turn his big piercing eyes on you and you’d wondered why you hadn’t done your homework twice-over. God help those who didn’t do it at all. From him I learned to love language and reading and oratory. I learned that when pressed, I could really do something with my pen. He inspired my spirit.

Yet another important guru was my son’s great-grandmother, who recently died. Alice was a salty old broad who passed out advice like some grandmothers do cookies. During her 90’s, she lived in assisted living. Every morning, she rose at dawn and arming herself with the daily newspapers left downstairs, began to knock on doors. Her deal wasn’t really to deliver the papers, although that deed did get accomplished. She really wanted to know if anyone had died during the night. If her intrusion didn’t yield a response, she’d call for an ambulance.

Alice wouldn’t have passed as a religious guru or spiritual teacher, under most dogmatic auspices. First she swore too much. Webster would have edited out at least every other word. Second she didn’t think too much of religion. But when my now ex-husband pointed out that the Bible asserted that miracles are possible through faith alone, she gathered her rosary beads and oil, visited a sick friend, prayed to Mother Mary, and was anything but surprised when her friend pretty much rose from the dead. Alice believed in life and taught me to do the same.

For my part, I’m open to the teachings of those in authority; for the gurus who call themselves gurus. Still and yet, does naming oneself something make you that? In the end we must each decide who our teachers are—and should be. I know I’d miss a lot if I restricted my list of acceptable teachers to those with the label. Who’d want to miss the Alice’s of life?