In the pursuit of spiritual growth, meeting and learning from the people we come across through our work and social life remains one of the most enriching experiences. Who we surround ourselves with can make a big difference between staying stuck and realising our full potential. The power of that lies in us: we can hang out with people who aren’t growing or we seek the company of those who inspire us to better ourselves.
Of course, we can also learn from those who are stuck. By observing how they live we remind ourselves how we don’t want to live, which would give us more focus and clarity about how we do want to live. Moreover, we can use the emotional responses we have towards them to understand ourselves better.
But learning from someone you admire and respect gives you another level of growth. If you’re lucky enough to meet someone who inspire you because of what they’ve accomplished in life whilst staying true to their deep personal values – one who seeks continued growth and is generous in sharing his knowledge – you stand to gain much for your personal growth.
Finding a teacher is not easy and the best teacher is often ‘an unlikely teacher’ with whom we come into contact unexpectedly and without our setting out to find one. But even the best teachers will not give you the learnings you need unless you know how to be a good student.
How to be a Good Student
Firstly, you must want to grow. The drive to grow is inherent in all of us but sometimes buried under a pile of negativity if our lives were overtaken by our struggles to get out of unwanted situations. Our drive to eradicate struggling becomes more eminent than the drive to become the best we can be. Sometimes, the struggle to be free from unwanted situations can be a manifestation of the drive to grow – the difference being that the former is focused on changing the situations while the latter is focused on changing the self.
As soon as you make this shift in focus, you take responsibility to look at what you can do, what is within your power to change. It gives you back a sense of control in your life because you are now focused on your abilities and strengths. Once you do that, more options become available to you, and you can calmly move into changes. Change in self becomes the driving force to affect changes in your situations.
Many relationships break up because one party is not growing while the other party seeks to grow. Within that relationship, if you feel you aren’t growing when you want growth, that the relationship isn’t supporting your growth, then you will seek to grow outside that relationship. But very often, we don’t communicate enough about the incongruent levels of growth in a relationship, especially if the other person seems to be content with the status quo. We stay put because we fear change.
When you’re able to get to the level of wanting to grow, you are making a commitment to change, and that includes a willingness to face up to some uncomfortable feelings. This level of commitment to growth gives you a feeling of being solid within yourself. Even though the process of growing requires you to feel weak and vulnerable at first, that emotional risk you take of putting yourself in a place where you might feel rejection and shame (which may or may not be the result) will lead you to a stronger place within yourself.
Growth implies change. Any change means that we must let go of what we currently hold on to – whether it is something physical, a belief about something or an emotionally-charged idea about someone. That damned ego must be coaxed to relax its grip so that we can move into the unknown space where all is possible (including the possibility of pain though the probability of finding joy here is greater). You can’t get to this place unless you let go of what you hold on to now.
A good teacher will recognise that she learns as much from her student as the student learns from her. As a student, this should not be your focus in your relationship with your teacher (lest you develop an entitlement attitude) but you need to adopt a give-and-take attitude in your interactions with your teacher. Just because you’ve found someone whom you can learn from does not mean that you can be selfish in that relationship. Give from your heart, sincerely, and be a good friend back.
A good teacher-student relationship might never have to be stated as such. As long as you are aware of learning from someone, that makes you his student. What you do internally with the information you get, and what you do differently in your interactions with others as a result of the internal changes, determine whether you are learning and growing.
A lot of times, your teacher will tell you things that are difficult for you to hear, no matter how subtly it is put across. If you are committed to grow as a person, you would take on this information no matter how uncomfortable it feels. Once you’ve accepted the feedback, you’ll be able to examine within yourself how true it is and what implications it has on your life. In recognising your truth, you will grow.
As you grow, begin to step up, using what you have learnt so far. Step up to the level you aspire to now. This allows you to check yourself and make the necessary adjustments along the way. The best way to grow is to keep growing. If you take setbacks in the spirit of learning, they become valuable feedback to further your growth.
Check with your teacher if you need guidance but use what you already have. This will prevent you from using your teacher as a crutch or substitute for your inadequacies. Inadequacies are often imagined, real only in your mind. They are also easily corrected by jumping into the water and finding your way out.
Of course, for any relationship to work, it is essential to establish trust. Trust is developed by observing how someone operates to remove any cause for distrust such as betrayal, manipulation or any other forms of misrepresentation. For your part, you need not be a model citizen to earn the right to learn from someone. The prerequisite is simply a willingness to listen, to consider what you’ve been told, to make appropriate changes.