Recently I had a conversation with a friend about the idea of gurus and she said, “You have to write this on The Journal!” It has been on my mind ever since, but I’ve never had quite the right provocation.
Then comes Brené Brown and gives me exactly what I need.
Dr. Brown has created quite a stir with her TED talks about vulnerability and shame. I think she may be one of the most important teachers of our time. I posted her first TED talk a while ago. Her latest talk was posted this month and I’m inserting it here in case you haven’t had the good fortune to see it yet. It could possibly be some of the most important 20 minutes you’ll ever spend with yourself:
About 4 minutes in she asks these two profound questions
* How many of you struggle to be vulnerable because you think of vulnerability as weakness?
* When you watched people on this stage being vulnerable, how many of you thought it was courageous?
I can’t look at myself objectively and know whether what I do here is courageous – all I know is that I feel compelled to do it, so I follow that internal direction. But I do know that displaying my vulnerability here, with you, is the only thing that feels right and true for me.
People often comment about the power of my words because I allow myself to be vulnerable. A friend just wrote to me tonight and said that watching me “peeling back the layers” helps her to touch her soul. Another friend responded to last night’s post saying, “That was raw. Ye-outch. You’re the bravest person I know. Amazing how you can get in touch with how you’re really feeling!”
How does this relate to gurus?
Gurus are mostly portrayed as people who’ve got it all figured out. They’ve reached a state of enlightenment and can guide us from on high. Somehow we have gotten the idea that we can turn our life and all of our problems over to one of these people and it will be a magic bullet.
For the past 30 or 40 years our culture needed “gurus” to get us comfortable with many things that have now become commonplace – meditation, yoga, universal consciousness, etc. But now the time for “gurus” has passed.
Now is the time for teachers who are willing to admit that they are human; they have daily tribulations; AND they’re doing the work to move the next step down the path so they can keep leading. I believe that a true teacher is only ever a few steps further down the path than their students. This idea that we should only put our trust in someone who has got it totally worked out is what leads to cults of personality, scams, and devastation.
Instead, I put my trust in teachers who are a few steps further down the path than I am; who are clearly doing their work to clean up their issues; and who are willing to share that wisdom with me. I don’t want to work with someone who is trying to convince me that they’ve got it all worked out. Usually I don’t believe them; but even worse, if I do believe they’ve got it worked out, I end up feeling like a failure because I can’t live up to that standard of perfection.
We need to let go of the standard of perfection for our teachers and our practitioners. We need to see them as people who have flaws, and who also have courage.
That is why I love Brown’s questions so much. As a teacher, the best way for me to teach is to share my vulnerability with you. Sometimes, like last night, that includes sharing some shame. Other times it involves sharing triumphs. Either way, I’m human.
The other thing that touched me so deeply about Brown’s talk is near the end. She says, “You show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear, I’ll show you a woman who’s done incredible work. You show me a man who can sit with a woman who’s just had it, she can’t do it all anymore, and his first response is NOT, “I unloaded the dishwasher,” but he really listens – because that’s all we need – I’ll show you a guy who’s done a lot of work.”
As I continue to unpack the miracles from this last relationship, I can honestly say that I proved to myself that I am that woman. I could sit with him in vulnerability and fear – both his AND mine – and know my strength. So the next part of the equation is to find the partner who can meet me there.
Image found here.