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The #1 Most Common Mistake Teachers Make : No Master Mentor

August 28, 2014

 This is the last of a three part series from our fabulous OMbassador, Shakti Sunfire, who teaches yoga and hooping around the world. Many of our followers are teachers of dance, yoga and other movement arts. We hope you enjoy this 3rd part!

In the great stories of humankind - the myths and the epics and the wise hand-me-downs of times past, there comes a moment in the journey of the hero, or heroine where they loose their way. Wrapped up in the too-smallness of their old skin in the face of their own urgent becoming, they loose sight of all the innate powers that lie within. They are knocked off the path, abducted by trolls, or dragons...they face the necessary but destabilizing fear of refinement that ultimately polishes them for the great adventure that is to come. 

Somehow, somewhere along the way, we as a culture have lost a crucial piece of that story in the face of old and worn-out paradigms - egoic displays of rugged individualism. The ferocity of“I’ll do it myself” - or more commonly - “I SHOULD be able to do it myself” that is ultimately the undoing of the heros/heroines quest. The missing piece that you’ll always find in any good journey, is that the hero or the heroine NEVER DO IT ALONE.

The single most common mistake teachers make is to think themselves an island, self-sufficient unto themselves and wholly capable to slay the demon, and trick the dragon, and ascend the mountain of becoming ALONE.

I know this because I tried it, and I’m speaking from the depths of my being when I say I would not be here in the role that I am blessed to occupy - as teacher and leader, without standing on the backs of many teachers before me. I cannot stress enough just how crucial it is to align yourself with a master mentor and I’ll tell you why.

Often people ask me; “how the hell did you get to a place where you can teach full-time?”  

“One part incredible luck, and one-part angelic guidance,” I’d say with a wink. 

But any real time spent in reverie has me confirming for myself over and over again that really and truly, without my flesh-and-blood mentors, I would not be where I am. Which is not to say that each individual can’t become on their own. Quite the contrary. To be in the refiner’s fire of our own self-evolution is completely a personal practice. The guru does NOT indeed live outside oneself. But to loop back into the hero’s journey, what we see in nearly every tale is that the hero himself has NO idea of the kinds of powers he possesses. No idea that, like the Monkey God Hanuman, he can leap across an ocean to redeem the treasure of his desire. 

Not until some benevolent being clues him in. “Remember? You’re a GOD??”


And it’s more than that. It’s interesting to me really, how many of us are fringe creatives, blazing our own trail, creating beauty and art and connection in the world, and yet, in my view, due to the particularly self-inflated nature of our western culture, we fail to see, or have forgotten that any good teaching...and good art, is accumulative and responsive. That ANY creative process is a “next-octave” of what has come before. We are tribal beings at heart, and whet
her or not we really take it in, we are CO-CREATIVE beings as well. But we try to hide this. We tuck what inspires us away, deep inside, where no one will ever see its source because some part of us believes ourselves lesser than, a fraud, a phony, unoriginal - GASP! The worst insult as an artist.In that particular tale Hanuman is reminded of his innate powers through the reflection of his loved ones and his friends at a crucial time of need, and not a moment before. How many times have you hit a wall, perhaps banging on the same door that will not open, and have been saved from your ruthless pounding by someone who cares about you? Who can see the bigger perspective? One you will never attain with your nose pressed against the wood grain of the door? It’s like that.

I’m being dramatic here, I know. But trust me, this is coming from direct experience and so I am picking on myself FIRST. The truth is, once I surrendered to the positive influences that are my teachers a great many more doors opened to me. And all of a sudden I had new material to play with, to try on for size. New stories to tell, new ways of thinking about sequencing, and multi-level instruction, and marketing. I had new input that highlighted for me my particular soul powers - powers I couldn’t see on my own. I had a new student base that gathered around my teachers, and I had all their feedback to inform me. Everything, in those years of direct apprenticeship was about throwing a soul piece of me out there, and waiting to see how, and in what way, it came back. Humbling myself enough to listen to those who influenced me. To feel the texture of THEIR words come out of my mouth. What fits? What doesn’t? How does that make me FEEL? Is this really ALIVE for me? All questions I would be asking myself. Taste testing. Experimenting. Searching through fields of inspiration and suggestion. And low and behold, when the time was ripe, and not a moment before, I found the ME I was searching for in all the voices and ways of the THEM.

And guess who was right there with me celebrating my discovery of all the gifts they already knew I possessed? My teachers.

A mentor of mine once said to me, the best teachers are eternal students. After nine years of intentionally saddling up to leaders I admire, I am convinced this way of leading - the open door way, where I filter in soul food from the field around me, only to process it through my lens and send it back out, creates a healthy teaching ecology, and I will never stop this practice. I will never close that door again.

I’m sure by now there are a million thoughts floating around in your brain. Some in agreement, some confusion, some ready to argue with me. I always love a good debate. But before we get into it, there is one more piece that I have learned through my own experiences as an apprentice, that is completely paramount to a healthy apprentice/mentor relationship and COMPLETELY CONTRARY to the way MOST teacher training programs are run today - in ANY and every industry.

I believe that to be a master teacher, the most important piece you can apprentice to is your DIRECT and ALIVE experience in any moment, and to source from that place unapologetically and without fail. 

It’s rather hard to do this when you have someone telling you exactly how a trick should be taught and a class laid out, and a theme spoken and, and, and... Certification often seems to hinge on regurgitation rather than the preparation of your vessel for authentic voicing. No wonder it’s hard to make it as a movement guide. We’re all taught to wear clothes that don’t fit.

Human beings are intuitive. Many of us don’t believe ourselves to be, but we are immensely sensitive. We learn best when our teachers TRANSMIT lived experience through their movements and their voice. 

I struggled with this in a very personal way. Having gone through over 1500 hours of yoga teacher trainings in a variety of schools of yoga, I always left the certification unfinished precisely because it was expected of me to demonstrate that I learned it THAT way and could teach it in THOSE words...when in the intelligence of my body, in the depths of my own experience I felt a different way. Perhaps a small tweak on the instruction, or order of things. Perhaps a desire to blend a few different schools based on what was coming alive for me in my own practice. And so, very early on, I decided to approach each training as a testing ground and the participation became less and less about certification, and more and more about inspiration.

I know many of you are with me on this. I also know that as creative beings we tend to do this anyway, whether or not a certification is persued and granted. We can’t help ourselves! I’m also called to say that there are reasons why certification is completely valuable. The point is not to knock it, it’s to speak to something not often spoken to.





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