If you’ve ever traveled to a new and unknown country/city, you’ve most likely felt the tingling excitement of wanting to experience as much as you can … but not knowing where to start.
You ask locals, seek out information, and read maps.
In essence, you’re looking for guidance; someone who has already traveled the paths, knows the byroads, and is able to point out the dangers and problems along the way.
The journey of reconnecting with your Soul (Soul Work) is much the same. Without any map, we need a guide who can give us the right directions, the necessary encouragement, and someone who can help us avoid the clutches of the ego.
The inner journey is the most difficult and challenging undertaking that we can ever make. When most people start the spiritual journey, they make the mistake of using the ego’s voice and limitations to guide themselves.
But using the ego to seek transcendence is like asking a fish to describe what water is: it can’t possibly know what it’s really looking for!
Without mature spiritual guidance, we easily get lost, deluded, confused, and discouraged. In this article, my goal is to help you learn how to find authentic spiritual guides that can deepen your path of inner transformation.
Table of contents
11 Authentic Forms of Spiritual Guidance
If you’re feeling lost on your life journey and need spiritual guidance, let me give you an overview. From a bird’s eye perspective, there are numerous paths available to you. The major ones include:
- Spiritual teachers and gurus (what we will be focusing on in this article)
- Personal spirit guides (Read: 7 Types of Spirit Guides (& How to Connect With Them)
- Spiritual books, courses, and workshops (some, not all, are helpful – be discerning)
- Dream work (Read: How to Practice Dream Work (& Decipher Your Psyche)
- Learning to trust your intuition (Read: How to Trust Your Intuition)
- Astral travel (or active imagination)
- Automatic handwriting (Read: How to Channel Your Soul Through Automatic Writing)
- Meditation and visualizations
- Altered states of consciousness (Read: How to Induce a Trance State For Deep Psychospiritual Work)
- Esoteric practices such as reading the I Ching, Runes, or Oracle and Tarot cards
- Nature-oriented guidance such as going on a vision quest or ingesting a plant medicine like Ayahuasca
While some of these paths require tremendous commitment (these are usually the best), others require temporary or minimal effort. It’s important to focus on your current needs and desires to determine which paths to follow.
For instance, if you’re a busy mother of three children, maybe abandoning everything to follow a guru isn’t exactly a great idea. As always, be sensitive to your life context and ask yourself, “What is my core desire?“
Also, the above list isn’t exhaustive (I’m sure I’ve missed something) – you’ll find gaps, I’m sure. But I hope it has given you a clear overview on the kind of spiritual guidance paths available to you.
So what next?
In the rest of this article, we’ll be focusing specifically on how to find genuine spiritual teachers – one of the most spiritually healing (but also dangerous) paths out there. Here’s what you need to know:
Why We Need Spiritual Teachers
We may study books all our lives, we may become very intellectual, but in the end we find that we have not developed at all spiritually … To quicken the spirit, the impulse must come from another soul. The person from whose soul such impulse comes is called the Guru – the teacher.– Swami Vivekananda
In the realm of spirituality, true teachers never really teach you anything in the conventional way. They don’t want to provide new beliefs, rules, or information for you to cling to. Instead, they help you to remove that which is in the way, that which separates you from the truth of who you already are and what you already know in the depth of your being.
In other words, a true teacher’s job is to serve as a mirror, until we’re able to realize that the light within them is also the light within us.
In the words of the 6th century sage Lao Tzu:
The Sage has no fixed heart of his own. Those who look at him see their own hearts.
True spiritual teachers are like empty vessels that are filled with nothing. Through them, we experience the limitless, untouched ocean of love that can be found in all things. Through them, we also become conscious of whatever is blocking our ability to experience light. Whether it be past wounds, mental attachments, or egotistical desires, these blocks become the next part of your inner work.
I can say from personal experience that many spiritual seekers begin with the craving to find stimulating ideas, theories, beliefs, and intellectual discussions. But under the wings of a true spiritual teacher, they eventually end up becoming disappointed.
Seekers who are looking for novel or glittery ideas become disillusioned because such ideas are only signposts towards the Truth – they are not the Truth itself. And in many cases, these novel ideas actually become distractions that mislead us into the labyrinths of the mind again.
In the end, it’s true that the best Teacher is within us, that our ultimate guide is our own Souls. But how can those of us who have no idea what the Soul looks or feels like possibly guide ourselves when we are stumbling through the dark?
Download FREE Spiritual Guidance Worksheets!
Go deeper into learning how to find Spiritual Guidance with this journaling prompt + printable meditation mandala:
How to Find a True Spiritual Guide?
In ancient Shamanic wisdom, we don’t find a teacher; the teacher finds us.
Spirit Animals are one example of this truth: we don’t find our spirit animals, our spirit animals find us.
Once our thirst for answers awakens and we begin our spiritual awakening quest, the light within us becomes stronger, and the stronger it becomes, the more we attract guides and people that support our growth. For example, it’s common for spiritual seekers to receive guidance from spiritual signs and omens, prophetic dreams, and even serendipitous teachings or messages.
Sometimes it takes years for spiritual teachers and spiritual guidance to find us. But when they come, how do we know whether they’re the right teacher for us?
Understandably, most people feel some level of fear when considering becoming involved with a teacher. Deep down we fear being used, exploited, or entrapped.
The truth is that we are only ever trapped by our own desires, attachments, and what we project onto the teacher. If we truly seek liberation, then all teachers are merely vehicles of learning – and that’s as far as their role extends.
In my experience, you can tell that you’ve found your teacher when you feel an immediate strong and intense link of love for their teachings. Your heart will feel open and elevated when reading this person’s words or sitting in their presence.
But how do we know if these feelings are sincere? How do we know that we’re not just being charmed or given a false sense of security?
Here I find that the Sufi tradition has a wonderful approach where the disciples are allowed to test their Sheikhs (teachers).
There are at least ten characteristics of a true spiritual teacher:
1. S/he must have embodied the spiritual message to be able to have disciples.
2. S/he must have personally traveled the mystic path to be able to show the way.
3. S/he must have become refined and educated in order to be an educator.
4. S/he must be generous and devoid of self-importance so that s/he can sacrifice wealth on behalf of the disciple.
5. S/he must have no hand in the disciple’s wealth so that s/he is not tempted to use it for himself/herself.
6. Whenever s/he can give advice through a sign, s/he will not use direct expression.
7. Whenever s/he can educate through kindness, s/he will not use violence and harshness.
8. Whatever s/he orders, s/he has first accomplished.
9. Whatever s/he forbids the disciple, s/he has abstained from himself/herself.
10. S/he will not abandon the students for the sake of the world.
These characteristics are a starting point to help us distinguish between power, greed, or status-hungry “teachers” and genuine vehicles of Spirit that contribute to our evolution.
Unlike other teachers, spiritual guides are faced with the most difficult teaching of all: to teach others the way of ego death and surrender into divine truth. Ultimately, the teacher is a ferryman who takes you from the shores of your ego to the shores of Divine Union.
Anandamayi Ma, described as “the most perfect flower the Indian soil has produced,” once explained that a disciple’s attitude is more important than the guru.
Ultimately, no one can give us self-realization. We must find it ourselves. An outer teacher can only reveal the real teacher hidden within us.
Even the false teachers we come across on the way help us to learn the value of developing our own sense of spiritual discernment and judgment.
Finding a true teacher and genuine spiritual guidance, deep down, is about discovering how sincere we are on our spiritual quest.
Honest seekers understand that the outer world is only a catalyst for bringing us closer to the truth that is already hidden within us.
I hope this article has helped to educate, empower, and inspire you. If it has, please let me know in the comments below!