Sunday, February 24, 2013

Spiritual Teachers

Watkins magazine just published its annual list of the 100 most spiritually influential people in the world. It was interesting to see whose names made it on to that list, but I found it even more interesting to ponder about all those whose names didn't - and why they didn't.

How, I wondered, would you go about compiling a list like that? It seems they did it mostly by looking at how many times people entered those names into a search engine, but of course to enter the name of a spiritual teacher into Google you first have to know their name. It occurs to me, however, that at least 50% of the spiritual teachers in my own life have been people whose names nobody has ever Googled. Like the Scottish gardener for instance. Let me tell you about him.
Many years ago, when the daily walk from my home to my workplace used to take me through a small park, I often stopped to exchange morning greetings with the gardener who looked after the park. He was a short, bronze-skinned Scotsman with a happy smile and a jaunty air. And at least twice a week, as our morning paths crossed and we chatted briefly about this or that, he would make some seemingly simple comment that for some reason would echo in my mind for hours afterwards, a comment which, on later reflection, I realized was actually quite profound. It was no wonder, I sometimes mused, that this little park is such a pleasant spot; no wonder that the flowers shine so brightly and the grass is such a vibrant green, for this gardener, in his unassuming way, is encouraging them to grow, just as his words encourage growth in me.

It is experiences like this that have helped me gradually come to realize, over the years, that everyone I meet is my teacher and that every situation holds within it the opportunity to learn and grow. Yet as we go about our ordinary, everyday life,  this constant, two-way process of teaching and learning is for the most part something that happens below the level of our ordinary consciousness.

Then of course there must be a whole lot of spiritual teachers who do get Googled but presumably not enough to get themselves on to the Watkins list. Although I have been taught and influenced by many of those who names do appear on the list, the one whose influence on me has been the greatest of all is one whose name doesn't. Not yet, anyway. So let me introduce you...