Uma Spender (previously Jessie Neave) - name in transition - new website coming soon!
Searching for 'the Guru'
When I started doing some work with the incredible ‘Big Hearted Business’ a couple of years ago my dear friend Clare dubbed me ‘The Wellness Guru’. Whilst I know she meant it in a light and playful way there was something about that title that really rubbed me up the wrong way. I didn’t really know why, but I knew at that time I didn’t want to be associated with the word ‘Guru’ (wellness I’m OK with!). And when something doesn't feel right, I know I'm going to find a lesson in it somewhere!
Like many other people I know, this word conjures up all sorts of uncomfortable connotations and imagery. There are many examples throughout history of Gurus' fall-from-Grace, some spectacular and public, some (I suspect many more than you would imagine) silently shameful - leaving only those students directly associated in the wake of spiritual devastation. I believe that when we are seeking the spiritual we certainly can benefit from guides and teachers along the way, but when we put too much need into that relationship, a transaction of power is in play, at least unconsciously, and the ‘Guru’, it seems, often receives more of that power than they can handle. I don’t think that this happens in the beginning, or even intentionally for most, as was the case with one of my ‘old favourite’ Swamis...let's call him Bob.
The disciplined work Bob had done to become so revered and cherished by his students was absolutely authentic, and I will be forever grateful for the knowledge he passed to me. However, at some point, many years after my long stay in the Ashram in Tiruvamanalai, it was exposed that there had been an abuse of the power that Bob held over some female students….it’s not an unusual story, I don’t need to give any more details I’m sure. Human nature is strong and the pressure of the dictated Spiritual path is difficult, to say the least. This was all years ago, I didn’t really know how to process my feelings around it at the time but I knew that it was a significant moment in my own Spiritual journey. The moment where I energetically cut ties to the school & that teacher, and continued my Spiritual quest off the dictated path, with the Guru within.
The common Indian language Hindi takes it’s roots in Sanskrit, the ancient language of Yoga where every syllable is drenched in powerful meaning. So many of these Sanskrit words have been reabsorbed back into our own language as Yoga becomes more and more popular, but their meanings are often quite shifted or simplified - some great examples are ‘karma’ and ‘chakra’. If you ask almost anyone what they think ‘Guru’ means they will most likely tell you ‘teacher’, or something similar, however the original Sanskrit translation is not so simple. The word is broken into two parts - Gu & Ru. Gu literally means ‘darkness’ and Ru means ‘light’. The way this was taught to me is that your teacher, or Guru, is somebody who is bringing you Jedi style from darkness to light. This sounds like a lot to ask someone else to do...it was certainly too much pressure for Bob! Human Beings are all made of dark & light, if you put a Teacher on an unrealistic pedestal they are bound to fall. After many years of searching and contemplating I am convinced that those epic moments of spiritual growth that I have received, and have witnessed others receiving, have come from those times where we have looked deep into our own shadows, or darkness, and had the courage to bring them to the light. The Teacher might point you in the right direction, but you have to do the walking. In this way we carve our own individual spiritual paths with the materials of our own unique experiences, allowing those tender moments of intense vulnerability to breathe expansion into the core of what we are really capable of learning in this (unique & individual) life. It is wonderful to learn from and with others, but if the path they are showing feels dictated or rigid it can only be one thing: outside of your own.
As the path unfolds there is a Guru in every situation, every relationship, every event, and, it is sure that the most challenging or “dark” moments hold the most opportunities for growth into the light. The true practice of Yoga has nothing to do with gymnastics or acrobatics, even when it is very physically dynamic, and it has nothing to do with power or ego during the transfer of knowledge. For me, getting onto my mat is the daily practice of actively bringing my shadows (those uncomfortable, unpleasant and even traumatic parts of myself held in the sub-conscious and energetic bodies) to the surface, and allowing them to lead me, to be my Guru.
As I begin to accept the title of GuRu, I know that I will only ever be my own, and, as I walk the path of a Teacher, it is only to guide others to their own inner GuRus.
Wishing you a peaceful and abundant 2016, hope to see you on the mat soon!