404 Talking | Stephen Garrett

Teacher? Yes, Death could be your Greatest Teacher.

I have been a cremationist for over a year now, a hospice volunteer for many more and each day I am grateful for all death is teaching me about real life – it is a wonderful and humbling experience all at once.  The surprise of the past twelve months is I have taken a new teacher.

I had been looking for ‘my’ teacher since early adulthood.  I found many and after the prerequisite honeymoon became totally disheartened by their hidden yet painfully obvious humanness.  A humanness that ultimately and always leaked through that spiritual glow designed to entrap us truth seekers.

This is not to say my experience with them was void of learning, in fact I learned much over the decades mostly when the teacher/student marriage came to an abrupt end.  And yes, before you mention it, I take full responsibility for putting each of them up on that darn pedestal and then watching with deep sadness as they fell back to earth with a thump.

Most of my early teachers came in the form of authors, poets, and philosophers – they came in the form of books.  The list is long and includes names link Dan Milman, Carlos Castaneda, Lao Tzu, Leonard Cohen, Stephen Levine, Gandhi and JJ Krishnamurti.  In the late eighties and well into the 21st century I stepped fully into the world of personal spiritual development – the land of shaman, guru and the slippery slope of student-teacher relationships.

Each teacher I took had lots to offer and always seemed, at least at the outset, much like some sort of demi-god incarnate.  Brilliant in some ways, charismatic in others, always though ahead of me, above me, somehow closer to God or the Truth than me.  I never seemed to be quite enough to ‘get it’. It wasn’t until their humanness showed up as it invariably did that the wakeup light went on.  The spiritual bubble always burst and I was always left flabbergasted, in a stunned state of disbelief.

The first time it happened back in 1989, I wrote it off to my lack of experience in picking the ‘right’ teacher.  So I picked again, and again, and again.  Each time the pattern was similar; the disappointment predictable; and the ending a certainty.   I thought initially it was I, then as I broadened my perspective and listened to other seekers, I discovered my experience was not unique.  In fact many folks had similar stories to share about betrayals they experienced at the hands of a so-called guru.

It mattered not what realm the teacher claimed to be ‘enlightened’ in, money, sex, relationships, sales, book writing, or finding God.  Each one of them, under the test of time, fell from their throne right into the depths of their humanness.  Each one fell prey to money, sex, or power abuse – each and every one of them.  Human ego always prevailed proving time and time again to be the ‘teachers’ undoing.   It was predictable, 100%!

I recognized my part in it, after years of experience, and take responsibility for putting them up.  They in their own right, each of them, were also responsible for accepting the elevated status and believing their own press clippings, thinking that they were it.  My last experience was so heart breaking it burned out of me the need to have a ‘teacher’.  It helped me understand that the teacher student relationship as I had structured it needed to change.

I changed it and stopped taking on teachers.  I understood myself to be both student and teacher and the roles switched often throughout the day so the same must be true for the teacher.  I also was now clearly able to distinguish between the teachings and the teacher.  A teacher may have skill in a particular area of life and be totally stupid in other realms of living – the skill is not necessarily transferable, and this is where I often made mistakes.  I assumed awakening in one area applied to all areas of a teacher’s life.  Entirely not true!

I also grew to understand that I was no more or no less powerful than any of my teachers, we were each of equivalent power.  Than means the teacher is not more powerful than me.

So at the end of the day I was clear no more ‘gurus’ for me.  That moment of clarity was empowering for me and I put myself back on a level spiritual playing field.  I was now approaching my growth without a feeling of lack.  This new terrain brought me face to face with a teacher I had forgotten to notice, to be aware of, and to listen to with a fully open heart.

That teacher is Death.

Death has no preferences or aversions.  Death visits all ages, all cultures, all sexual preferences, all religions, all political persuasions, all income levels – all living beings including all animals, mammals, fish, foul, plant life and even bacteria.  Death is a top priority in the cycle of life so much so that life could not exist without it.

Paying attention to death and those going through it, along with those close to it will inform your life if you listen, learn and love death as a teacher.