How to choose a trustworthy spiritual method or mentor? Things to look for and to avoid

This is a sensitive topic. Most of us don’t like to be misled, not even in small things like believing a salesperson and realizing later that we shouldn’t have believed them or been so naive and should have done some more research or be more thorough.

But when it comes to choosing an inappropriate mentor or method, this issue becomes even more difficult. Touchy, rather. A spiritual mentor is someone you trust, and that trust is absolute because they will know basically everything about you – not only the information that you decide to leak. You’ll take their advice and accept their guidance. 

In case you choose a teacher with whom you don’t have a personal relationship with (let’s say you follow a teaching via YouTube), it’ll be a one way road only. It’s a significantly different approach to follow a teaching compared to a traditional, strictly personal, intimate relationship. There is another important difference that shouldn’t be overlooked: you only see a filmed and edited version of someone. Even more so in case of other social media like Instagram or Facebook. What you see and read is filtered and controlled multiple times. 

It doesn’t mean that it’s bad or less valuable. Very similar rules apply in this case as well, when you don’t have a personal connection: pay attention to where that teacher or mentor speaks and acts from. If it’s a place of judgment or love. If they want to celebrate themselves, their achievements, knowledge or intellect, or work to evoke your inner knowledge and guidance. Pay attention to how they interact with people during a Q&A or a satsang or a talk show. Look for reviews and opinions whenever possible.

And pay attention to what your heart whispers while looking at them and listening to them: the way they move and talk. And most importantly: don’t be discouraged if it turns out that he or she wasn’t the right one for you. It may take time, and each step on the road of this quest is valuable, like in my following story.

When my daughter was just a baby, my mom used to visit a homeopathic doctor. She was really impressed by the doctor’s calmness and holistic approach she showed her, not only with regard to medicine and healing but also in everyday life as she talked to my mom about her views and ideas.

My mom suggested that I go and also take my daughter to her, as we had some difficult times (I was a single mom then and our financial situation was far from stable). So we did go several times for about a year. For me these occasions were neither very positive nor negative, and I wasn’t sure how effective the therapy was, but as it was a gentle method, I wanted to give it a try.

One time when my daughter could already walk, she was playing with the toys that were prepared on a small table while the therapist and I were sitting as she was asking about our experiences and the progress we were making.

And then my daughter reached out and touched the therapist’s hand briefly but with great affection. It was a natural, spontaneous, open hearted and loving gesture from her. I was close to the therapist and saw how that move startled her. She pulled her hand away with an unconscious move.

There was nothing bad or malevolent about that pulling away. There was a moment after it, when she composed herself and got back to her smiling and gentle and attentive therapist role. 

I don’t have any bad feelings about her. And she may be a good therapist, too. To be one, she didn’t have to show that gentleness and all the caring attention. Still, she decided to do so, but in a second without having the time for conscious control she lost that facade, the authenticity of that picture.

How I chose my spiritual guide

I remember when I first met my spiritual teacher, Anamé Valéria Balázs more than twenty years ago. And with her the method that was later to become Karma Killer Yoga by Anamé Program. It was one of those rare encounters you’re certain to have a huge impact on your life. I didn’t know it back then, but it turned out to be the most important one in my life.

During the years I gradually gathered all those signs that showed her authenticity, which may be helpful to you, too.

  1. Timing. Every one of us has our own blocks and it’s not that hard to see them for other people. But a good spiritual teacher will know when it is time to go against them. And as soon as the right moment comes, they’ll act.
  2. Being impersonal. A spiritual teacher’s role is not to be encouraging or consoling or reinforcing. They have one task: to serve your evolvement. And in case it requires that they be angry, they’ll act angrily. If it requires for them to be harsh or to leave you alone with a problem, they’ll do just that. But always for the sake of your development, and not because of their personal motives.
  3. Challenge. The true spiritual path is a narrow one and it’s easy to get lost. It’s the teacher’s role to guide your steps, warn and challenge you whenever necessary (often, usually)😊
  4. Love. It’s the purest form of love to risk being the subject of projections and blame and God knows what else of your students only to make sure they stay on the right path.
  5. Inspiration. Always. The way they live and what they represent. With their whole being.

What pieces of advice I found when I did a bit of a search?

  1. When you sense the need for spiritual assistance to help jump-start your life again, first and most essential of all, look and see where you are inside of yourself when you are searching for that life coach, healer or spiritual teacher. Try and find (even in the midst of confusion and crisis) that inner faith toward your own Soul’s essential knowing. It feels like a kind of inclination beyond what your mind knows that you know. Most often, people don’t really “check in” to their motive in selecting someone to work with, and in not so doing, are often unconsciously seeking an outside rather than an inner answer. You see, if we are unaware that we are looking to buy an outside fix to our life’s problems, then we may have to evolve through a process of spending lots of time and money on a plethora of products and services until we mature to a true inner readiness for self-responsible healing and empowered self-realization. This is often the trail one takes, seeking an outside fix and placing responsibility on the power of the practitioner.

This is something that makes sense. However, the way I see it almost everybody is going from outside to inside. We either look for an outside fix to our problems or we ourselves are trying to manipulate the outside in order to fit our needs. Either way, whether by an immature mentor or our own experience, we slowly come to turn more and more inside. 

It’s also interesting how for some people the quest for spirituality is almost as natural as eating or breathing. 

I’ve never restricted my daughters beliefs, for instance, she can have her own opinions, although her choices do affect the amount of food she gets for lunch (don’t worry, I’m joking). However, as it turned out, spirituality is important to her. Just recently she had an odd dream that we discussed. She dreamed about a monk, he taught her about meditation. She told me that the dream was not dream-like at all and that she felt very conscious although she didn’t know it was a dream. In the morning she only remembered one of the teachings, the position she should assume whilst meditating and she actually tried it out the next day.

It’s interesting that we often go through very similar processes, become interested in the same topics at pretty much the same time. The same thing happened with this blog post, she was searching for qi gong masters and books on spirituality, completely unaware of the theme of my newest blog post.

Spirituality is part of her mundane life as well, for which food is a good example. This is how she described making miso soup and congee (Chinese rice porridge): when I cook I put energy into the process of creating and it becomes filled with light, when I eat, a much stronger and brighter light returns to me alongside the increased energy.

  1. When you read a spiritual healer or teacher’s website, articles, teachings, and marketing materials and review their claims, listen from a place beyond your mind. Listen to how it feels inside of your body (literally!) as you read and contemplate these materials. What do you sense? If there is a kind of “buzzy excitement” or a feeling of “yes, I seem to already know this that he/she is speaking of”, or if it feels familiar in an odd way, these are signs of truth recognized in your own being. Truth is Truth and your own God-consciousness knows, when you learn how to listen to this voice over the voice of egoic fear and mental conditioning. If you notice that what you have read comes back up in your thoughts a few days later, something real is stirring or being recognized from your inner physician.

I think this is a useful one. The feeling of above mentioned familiarity is different from when you agree with someone based on a similar worldview or having the same opinion about certain topics. A true spiritual teaching never offers you a worldview, it’s only concerned with the truth, which is not a static thing.

  1. Engage with the person you are considering working with. Watch or listen to a video, read the testimonials, watch them with other people and see how they respond. How do they treat you or their students and clients? Do they come from a place of superior knowing or consider themselves to be the “force” behind their student’s positive experiences? Do they take personal credit as the healer/teacher and put themselves on a “guru pedestal” you can’t reach, except by the wave of their hand? Or do they show graciousness, humility, and a sense of great joy and inspiration in helping to shine a light on your own truth? A real spiritual mentor or healer has depth from real living; he or she has obviously been through life’s struggles and does not hide that fact. A real teacher has been so profoundly attentive to his/her own process of inner healing and realization of truth that (s)he becomes the “wounded healer” – one who has walked the dark places of despair and can therefore help cast a light on the pathway through your own. The light is the gift of a true healer; a light that shines on and reveals your own!

Always pay attention to how a mentor engages with students and others. Recently I heard a zen teacher answering queries of his apprentices. What he said was correct, coming from a place of great inner wisdom on the one hand and a deep and thorough knowledge and understanding of the tradition and the scriptures on the other. 

But I missed the true connection in his replies. They were smart and well structured, but didn’t have that transformative power that only a heart to heart connection can have.

  1. A deeply mature healer or spiritual guide can really only help YOU to remove the blocks that stand in the way of your sensing and coming to know the shining light of well-being that is already inside waiting for your homecoming. You are a healer, wise one and guide — you’ve simply lost your way, as we all do and have from time to time.

A good point. Whenever a mentor is somehow clearing your blocks, they do two things: tying you to them and by doing so taking away the opportunity from you to find your own strength and potential.

Many just start to search for something because of this feeling of ‘this cannot be it’. They give themselves away in their misguided attempts to “get it” from a spiritual teacher or guru or religion. The induction into remembering “Who you really are” through a relationship to a teacher or a teaching or a religion requires a very fundamental honesty and intimacy within yourself.

It’s not necessarily bad to temporarily follow a teaching that’s not from the purest source, because it may have benefits and it’ll definitely be a powerful teaching. So my goal is not to scare you at all, only to share some of my experiences on the topic I’ve had over the past twenty-something years, as I think it could be helpful to you, too.

What a spiritual mentor should and shouldn’t do

When doing research on the net I came across several tips and opinions of how someone you decide to follow should talk or act or behave. From the idea that they should walk with grace to the point that they should be able to eliminate your doubts when you test their knowledge.

From what I see, some teachers are captives of this should and shouldn’t game and these mental pictures themselves. Once I visited a class of a yoga teacher with whom I never felt natural: but not because I felt the need to be composed, which is a useful thing, but because I had the feeling that she was acting a role. A role of the yoga teacher. Because a yoga teacher is kind and always talks in a small and gentle voice, walks softly and slowly. 

And there’s the argument about money, of course. People seem to be fairly sensitive on this subject of charging for spiritual services. Many people seeking spiritual guidance think that one should not charge a fee for these kinds of sacred services. They say that when it comes to matters regarding healing of mind and body, it is the work of God/Spirit. Therefore, no healer, as a servant in this universal force, should charge a fee for something that comes from and serves Spirit.

Others, and most people I believe, realize that a spiritual mentor’s abilities and gifts are a deeply valuable offering that should be blessed with the honoring of exchange. While money has become our common currency of exchange for the procurement of goods and services of value, this was of course not always the case.

​In past cultures the community’s men and women who communed with the Spirits were treated with great reverence and often, too, with awe or fear. Not only were shamans and healers the place to which a family turned with hope when a family member became ill, but these shamans also had the responsibility for maintaining the community’s rapport with Spirit in matters of sustained livelihood, maintaining tribal morals, and assuring the community’s wellbeing.

Just as doctors and psychiatrists are respected and well-commissioned today for their work, shamans, healers and spiritual guides in other cultures were well cared for and supported by their clan. It was recognized in these societies that healers’ gifts came from a tremendous inner devotion, often coinciding with very challenging personal wounds, illnesses or accidents.

Healers were well cared for because it was recognized that their depth and power was derived from a certain type of deep inner observation. Many gifted healers, spiritual seers and visionaries seem to require a lifestyle outside the mainstream, in but not wholly of the world. This seems often to be a requirement in order to look into, understand, and work Spirit so that they can effectively offer the ways of healing to others.

The path of a spiritual teacher and healer (if he/she is an authentic and matured one) is most always fraught with great inner challenges. This only makes sense. For a person to become an initiated spiritual guide, he/she has to go beyond the realm of common place or conventional practice to study and understand the invisible realms of soul, psyche, and creation.

The healer must learn within him/herself to bypass the limits of the conditioned mind and become adept at the spiritual world. To do so, the spiritual apprentice must undertake the great inner hero’s journey to discover and step beyond his or her own wounds, demons (psychological patterns) and cultural conditioning to seek and to find the path of universal wholeness and truth.

So for one who has a gift of healing to be of useful service to others, he will have to either be a channeled bypass of the personality or will have to have made the inner journey of self-reflection, identity de-construction, and apprenticeship to the creative forces, before he or she can actually understand and apply the universal laws behind the nature of healing. No matter how you look at it, authentic and truly matured spiritual guidance requires tremendous life-devotion and dedication. It is the healer’s primary vocation, calling….a job, if you like.

I leave you to draw the conclusion and decide for yourself what to look for and what to avoid when looking for spiritual guidance.

And in the next post I’ll show you how my relationship with my teacher, Anamé Valéria Balázs has evolved through the years, before and after I became a Karma Killer Yoga instructor.

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