When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Will Appear…Sort Of
If you are on a path of personal development and spiritual growth, then I’m sure you’ve had the experience many times over of something coming into your life at exactly the time when you were ready to receive it. I know I have. When it happens it has a sense of destiny, like god or your higher power or your higher self is sending you miracles and affirming for you that you’re on the right path.
When those things start happening, you’re on the right path, no doubt, but I don’t think anything supernatural is occurring. There’s a much simpler, much less exciting explanation for it. I realized this several years ago when I began healing from one of my central issues: emotionally distant relationships.
Throughout my teens and twenties, I had one bad relationship after another. Sometimes the men were abusive, sometimes simply emotionally shut down, but they all had one underlying commonality: no possibility of a future. They were all poor raw material.
After I got sober and began my personal development journey, this slowly began to change. One day, something happened that caused a mutation in my evolution, moving me forward a couple of epochs.
I was sexually harassed at work. It had happened before, but I had always kept it to myself, secretly believing that I had somehow provoked it. This time, I didn’t keep it to myself. I told my supervisor, Tom, and was amazed when he took it seriously. Very seriously. He told me that no one had to put up with that kind of treatment and that he was sorry it happened. We spoke privately until he was sure he understood the situation. Then he set about rectifying it, swiftly and discreetly, careful to protect me from further embarrassment and humiliation.
I was so touched by Tom’s caring and sensitivity, I went home that night and cried. I felt a deep, aching sadness that went much further back than the work situation. I grew up with a father who would never have done that for me, indeed, who never did do that for me. That I had to first experience such tenderness so late in life, from a boss, in a work setting, made me so sad, I cried for days every time I thought about it.
My experience with Tom was a systemic shock. What Tom did was right, what my father had always done—blame me first and ask questions later—was wrong. But I realized that I expected my father’s reaction from every man I encountered. I must, or Tom’s reaction wouldn’t have shaken me to my core as it did.
I had no choice after this. I was practically forced to begin noticing kindness in men. Doing so meant going against a deeply ingrained belief that I didn’t even know I had: that “kind man” was an oxymoron. I’d been thrust into a situation that proved this was not the case, and I knew I had some work to do if I was to really believe it, to believe it in the same way I believed that all men were like my father.
I talked and journaled and read and thought, until my feelings began to match my new belief. More than that, I started attracting a different kind of man into my life. It took a while, but today I take a man’s good will and kindness as a given unless proven otherwise. I still hear that old message, but I almost never listen to it.
The student had been ready, and the teacher had appeared. Or had he? Because really, the teacher had always been there. There had been many kind, caring men in my life before Tom came along. My seventh grade science teacher, my college humanities professor, and a number of ex-boyfriends who never made it past casual status because they were just too “boring.” The teacher hadn’t suddenly appeared; I had just suddenly noticed him.
So it’s not really a matter of teachers dropping from heaven into our lives. They are already here. We are surrounded, inundated, deluged with them. They are always tugging at our sleeves and tapping us on the shoulder, trying to get our attention. But if we haven’t done the work we need to do, we won’t notice them.
I find this comforting. It means, once again, that my growth is up to me. There is no external force governing how much or how well I do; only me. I firmly believe that if I do the work and have an open mind, I will learn the lessons I need to learn.
What is that work? It’s different for everybody. Usually it involves ferreting out negative beliefs, and paying attention to events that jar us out of our complacency and challenge our worldview. Often these are painful events, things we would rather avoid than experience.
It isn’t that pain is necessary to grow. But pain is part of life, and our attitude towards it determines to a large extent whether or not we do, in fact, grow. Some people become shut down and bitter from their pain. Others triumph. It’s largely a choice we make. If we learn to see pain (as well as everything else) as an opportunity to learn, we can continue to grow in every stage of life. If we learn to be ready, teachers will never stop appearing, and we will never stop growing.
I learned from my experience with Tom that the teacher was there all the time, that he wasn’t placed on my path by a power beyond my own when I was ready to see him. While this thinking removes the magic from the event, it doesn’t remove the spirituality. In fact, this view validates its spiritual nature: Teachers are always and already present, no matter what I do, no matter where I am, no matter what’s going on. I need only be open to them.