Life is your Guru

by Laura Bryannan

"Spiritual Principles Run Amok," by Belleruth Naparstekan, an article in the May/June, 1991, issue of Common Boundary, raises some important questions concerning the metaphysical adage "Life is your guru." The article discusses how some people get carried away when applying this rule to their relationships.

Naparstekan first noticed this problem when, in the space of a month, she saw three different clients who were embroiled in very unhappy relationships. When she asked each of these clients, "What do you suppose keeps you in this relationship?" the responses she received were, "I think we're supposed to be together," "I think we might be soul mates," and "I want to be sure I'm learning the spiritual lessons that are being presented to me."

Do these responses sound familiar to anyone? How many of us, when debating the pros and cons of a difficult relationship, have come up with something similar to the above as the final reason we're hanging in there? As more and more people continue to grow in consciousness and spirit, the issue of how to interpret and apply the rule "Life is your guru" will become increasingly important.

You don't have to be a student of metaphysics for very long before you'll encounter a theme and variation of the "Life is your guru" axiom (hereafter referred to as LIYG). It is probably one of the least expensive and most effective tools to use in order to grow in spirit. The fundamental thinking about it runs like this: In every moment of your life, you can use the events that occur and the people you interact with as signposts, mirrors and guides to your own particular issues that need work.

For example, the person next to you on the train is popping their gum. After listening to this for ten minutes you become thoroughly bothered, and are ready pull the gum out of their mouth and wrap it around their nose. Using the LIYG model, you realize that only you are responsible for your feelings; the gum popper is not making you upset, you are. Attempting to behave like a conscious person, you search within and discover that your anger at the popping is due to an internal rule you have that people shouldn't make disturbing noises in public. So, according to the LIYG model, you bless the person for helping you uncover this rule you have that is making you so unhappy on the train, and set about trying to let go of it. And, if you can truly let go of this rule, then you won't be upset the next time someone is popping gum in your ear.

If there is one area of life where you cannot escape the reality of LIYG it's in relationships--and this goes for romantic as well as familial and work relationships. Every relationship you have is there to teach you something about yourself. As one grows in consciousness, the harder it is to escape this fact--something much bemoaned by folks moving forward on a spiritual path. Two conscious people in a relationship can find many joys with each other, but there will always be "the work." Eeeek! When a growing person says to me, "But I just wanted this relationship to be fun. I wanted this relationship to help me forget my problems," I can sympathize. But there is no escaping the fact that when two conscious people are drawn to each other their dance together will always bring up issues to be healed in each of them.

This reality brings us to the heart of the problem. The above- mentioned client who said, "I want to be sure I'm learning the spiritual lessons that are being presented to me," is reflecting the standard LIYG approach toward his relationship. But when involved in a relationship that is abusive or unfulfilling, how does one apply the LIYG rule in a balanced way? When does the rule stop being an enlightened approach to life, and become instead a tool in service of fear, denial and masochism?

There are no absolute answers to these questions, as relationships are very complex and each is uniquely different. Sometimes what is needed is a reframing of perspective. Let's say you are in a relationship where your partner is not being faithful. One way to apply the LIYG adage is to explore your personal rules about fidelity, and see if there are attitudes you could change in yourself to make the situation more bearable. However, a more useful perspective would be to consider that this situation may be in existence to teach you about self- appreciation and self-worth. Perhaps the real lesson is to leave the relationship with the understanding that you deserve to be treated better, and have the ability to create a more loving relationship for yourself in the future.

In other words, not all trials and tribulations in a relationship are there to teach us lessons of compromise and unconditional love. Sometimes the lesson is that we should say, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" If the so-called spiritual lessons you are learning in your relationship are along the lines of "I'm not good looking enough" (because your partner is going out on you), or "I must be the stupidest person around" (because your partner always puts you down), or "I'm always so mean" (because you're constantly defending yourself from your partner's attacks), then you should consider that the real spiritual lesson to be learned here is to say, "I don't deserve this!" and get out.

The soul mate issue is an interesting one. Practically every adult has had an encounter with someone they felt completely at ease with the first moment they met them. (Or sometimes it's the opposite, and you simply can't stand the person, even though you have no concrete reason to feel that way!) In any event, whenever you encounter someone with whom you feel an immediate rapport you have just encountered a soul mate. This is a person you have spent many lifetimes with, so no wonder you feel like you've known each other for years--you have!

Some writers and teachers have tried to maintain that we all have just one true soul mate that we are destined to spend our life with. This sounds lovely and romantic, all right, but it just isn't so--the situation is really much better than that! We actually have many, many soul mates out there waiting for us. Let's face it, we've all had thousands of lifetimes. It just doesn't make sense that, in all of these lifetimes, we only created one true mate.

So, if your reason for staying in an unhappy relationship is that this person feels like a soul mate, don't forget that there may be another soul mate better suited to you waiting around the corner--waiting for you to have the self-confidence to let go of your current unhappy relationship so they can enter your life. Sometimes I look at facing the very important (and scary) decision to leave an abusive or unhappy relationship as something like a test the universe has placed in front of you. If you make the life-affirming decision to leave the relationship, the universe finally has it on record that you have changed your attitude and will honor your self-worth from now on. This is cause for celebration! You have passed the test and can expect to see some changes in your life that reflect your new attitude.

Another important thing to remember about soul mates is, just because you've had many eons of good times together in the past, it doesn't mean you're meant to be together as mates in this life. Encountering the energies of a soul mate can be completely overwhelming: it's fun, it's juicy, it's sexy; they understand you better than you do yourself and you feel an ease with them that you've felt with no one else. So, of course, the natural thing to think is, "This must be my partner for this life!" Unfortunately this is not always the case.

Quite often, two soul mates will get together to help each other through a particular issue or problem. When the issue is resolved, the reason for the liaison is gone and there will be a pull to separate. Another common reason soul mates can't work it out is that one or both partners are not willing to face the important issues that the relationship is meant to bring up. When you're dealing with a soul mate, you're dealing with perhaps thousands of years of history as partners. The relationship will always have particular themes and concerns that each of you work on when you're together. If, in this current life, one partner just wants to have a good time and doesn't want to follow the soul path of the relationship, then the relationship is bound to fail.

I've seen this type of situation create some of the most traumatic frustrations you can ever imagine in the partner who is willing to face the issues of the relationship and do "the work." This is the hardest kind of relationship to end because of what I call the "If only's": This relationship could really work if only he would settle down; if only she liked my kids; if only he didn't drink; if only, if only, if only... Folks in this kind of situation need to respect these if only's--they tend to add up to something insurmountable. They need to remember that even though the connection between them is incredibly powerful and tangibly spiritual, it is no guarantee that the relationship is meant to be long term in this life.

So, perhaps when trying to apply the metaphysical adage "Let life be your guru" to your relationships, a useful guidepost might be another metaphysical adage: "Are you acting out of love or fear?" We need to look at our relationships as objectively as possible. All relationships have their trials and tribulations. If you can see that these trials are pushing you in the direction of learning to be more loving, more self-confident, less judgmental, etc., then "the work" of the relationship is truly life-affirming and is worth sticking with. If, however, you find yourself using LIYG as an excuse to continue in a relationship that is not likely to change for the better (or change you for the better), perhaps it is really your fear of taking a stand, or fear that there won't be anyone else for you, etc., that is keeping you there.

"Life is your guru" is an incredibly useful tool to approach life with. But, just like any tool, it can be dangerous when not used correctly. A hammer is the best way to get a nail into a piece of wood, but if you're not careful you could end up with a smushed thumb. Use the tool "Life is your guru" to get the job done and not for self-abuse and you'll never go wrong!

Common Boundary. Subscription office: 8528 Bradford Rd., Silver Spring, MD 20901. 301/589-6536.

Go to Laura's Home Page

Last Updated: 1 feb 99
Laura Bryannan