There comes a time in each of our lives when we are summoned to a larger existence. It may be at a time of significant life transition, an unexpected change in health, unrelenting mental stress or distress, seemingly intractable addictions, or the emerging call of the soul that urges us to begin the journey towards a larger and more meaningful life – one that realizes our fullest potential and humanity.
Throughout time and across cultures, individuals seeking to turn a corner in their life and gain an optimal and profound well being of body, mind, and spirit have relied on mentors to guide them along the path. These wise woman and men have articulated the “secret” of a well-lived life. Remarkably, their formula for a happy and peaceful life is quite similar, and they’ve been caring enough to leave us a road map that shows the way towards a profound health, whole healing, inner peace, and human flourishing. It is no different now than it has been in times past.
Consider the following. We each have the innate capacity for a rich and sustained health, happiness, and wholeness. However, we are each stuck in a limited view of health and life. As a result, we cannot see this ever-present potential. Nevertheless, this potential is already and always in each of us, whether we see it or not. But like clouds covering the sun’s unchanging light and warmth, we cannot see the brilliance and warmth of our true nature. We cannot see what’s possible because of inner and outer obstacles that hide from common sight the precious opportunities of human existence.
These obstacles vary according to the disposition, capacities, and life experiences of each individual. Most often these unseen obstacles cannot be clearly identified without the kindness and help of another individual. That’s why mentors have always been an important aspect of the search for a larger health and well-being. They can see and show us the aspects of our being that we cannot see by our self. Their advice and guidance enable us to break through habitual patterns, rigid mental attitudes, and unskillful behaviors that keep us stuck for decades. For many of us this means a lifetime of unnecessary mental distress, unsatisfying relationships, premature physical disease, and a disenchanted soul.
In our time it is not easy to find a skillful mentor because we do not value this capacity in western culture. Our focus on self-reliance has ignored the reality that there are things we cannot do for our self. This is quite apparent when it comes to our education. None of us would learn to read or write with out the assistance of others. Similarly, none of us would consider trying to build a bridge without the instruction, guidance, and mentoring of a skilled engineer. But when it comes to the most important task of life – creating a life of optimal health, happiness, and wholeness – we act as if we can do it alone. As a result we too often squander our time and energy on fruitless efforts. The important realization that we require the help of a skilled mentor and that relationship will help to place us firmly on the path to an optimal health of body, mind, and spirit.
How does an authentic and successful mentoring process work? First, you must be extremely careful in selecting a mentor and guide. There are many who offer such services. Yet in too many cases these individuals have neither had authentic mentors themselves, nor directly experienced through their own work the possibility of a larger health and healing.
Therefore, in selecting your personal mentor, coach, or health counselor you must be quite discerning. Examine carefully the character, generosity, caring, wisdom, and skill of this individual. Does he or she “walk the talk?” Become aware of his/her reputation with others. And be certain that you have the special chemistry and connection that will allow for faith and deep trust. This is a relationship that may stay with you for a lifetime. So choose well, measure its value by the changes in your life, and if you discover through careful thought and evaluation that this individual is not right for you, then move on.
The process itself has several phases. Without a precise and clear understanding of how we arrived at our current circumstance we cannot apply the correct and skillful means that lead to transformative change. So we begin with a period of intimate sharing and listening. The mentor must be able to listen with a completely open and meditative mind, hearing and knowing you for who you are beyond his interpretations, projections, or mental boxes. You must be seen, fully seen. You must be acknowledged, fully acknowledged. And from this sharing, mutual respect, understanding, and deep knowing there will effortlessly arise a clear and comprehensive understanding of your current life circumstance.
From this understanding there will naturally arise the next step. We cannot say specifically what this step may be for you, as it is unique to each individual. Your direction should be a personally tailored program of study, reflection, dialogue, and specific practices that join together in the goal of overcoming the obstacles to reaching your greatest potential. According to your needs this approach must be continuously refined, reshaped, and modified to properly and precisely respond to your ongoing growth, personal discoveries, and experiences. So this is a dynamic process between the individual and his/her mentor. The aim is clear - the end of distress and suffering and the attainment of a profound health, happiness, and wholeness – but the approach must always be flexible and tailored to the needs and experiences of the moment.
Although we may see the early results of our efforts quite quickly, this is a lifetime process. Growing into your largest self is your life. So in the beginning of the process ongoing feedback and dialogue is important, in the middle support and advice is invaluable, and towards the maturation of this work the relationship becomes a sustaining rich spiritual friendship. This is how it has always been. The level and character of interaction may shift over time, but the basic relationship is always available when needed and ripens with time.
I’ve spoken here from my personal and ongoing experience with my mentors and teachers. They cannot do the study, reflection, and practice that I must do. They cannot change my life. But they can point the way through their knowledge, life experience, inspiration, and compassionate commitment to helping. It is from this experience that I’ve written these words of advice for my reader. It is from this experience that I have learned that we can all live the life we’ve imagined and are called to. It is from this experience that I have learned that distress and suffering are only temporary stains on human life and that a profound happiness, health, peace, and wholeness are innate to our being.