What Is The Role of a Mentor?
This morning on Facebook, I saw a post on the wall of a Buddhist teacher I follow online that left a bad taste in my mouth. The post was from one of her former students who complained that the teacher had not satisfactorily responded to his private message, called her a “hypocrite” and said he had been left in “vajra hell” as a result of an experience with her about which he did not elaborate. My first thought was – this guy doesn’t seem to be particularly devoted to his practice or he wouldn’t be behaving in this manner. Of course, I don’t know either side of the story in much detail. But I’m pretty sure that anyone committed to mindful living would try a bit harder to address his grievances privately, rather than attacking the teacher in a public forum.
This brought up a lot of questions for me about the responsibility of a spiritual teacher (or a therapist, for that matter). A teacher or therapist is someone we turn to for guidance and advice. They give us the tools that we must put into practice ourselves. It is easy to place the responsibility for our growth on our teachers or therapists. If we’re not making progress with a particular issue we’re trying to work through, it is much easier to assume it is because we haven’t found the right mentor – or worse, that the mentor has done something to inhibit our growth – than it is to take responsibility for our growth ourselves. We put our mentors on pedestals and expect them to have all the answers. But in reality, the real role of a mentor is to help us find our own answers.
As far as the hypocrisy charge, this is something I have given a great deal of thought to both in relation to the mentors in my life and my writing. Though I am very dedicated to living with mindfulness and authenticity, I sometimes find myself failing to live up to the advice I give in my blogs, and I have seen and heard about my mentors doing the same. I once watched a video in which Elizabeth Lesser, founder of the Omega Institute, addressed this very issue. She argues that mentors are not superhuman. They are not infallible. Of course, one would hope that mentors would try their best to live up to their own advice – and most of them do. But just because they have moments of weakness – like all of us – does not mean they are hypocrites. And it certainly does not make their advice any less valuable.
In the end, it comes down to taking ownership. No one is an island and we need help if we are going to grow. We can’t do it alone – and that is where teachers, therapists and mentors come in. They have walked the path and have wisdom from the trenches that we can use as we make our way down our own roads. But we cannot place the burden of our personal growth on their shoulders. They can’t grow for us. And if they do something that disappoints us, then the best course of action is not to criticize, call names or blame the mentor for our struggle. The best course of action is to move on, continue down the road and ask ourselves what we can learn from the experience that will contribute to our growth.