Guides Not Gurus
From time to time, I will share a meme on social media if I find it inspirational or I think it may be helpful to those I am connected with on various platforms. Most of the memes I post are related to practicing mindfulness. Like most people on social media, I simply post them without much thought. My intention is to be collaborative in nature. I am not taking credit for what I post. I am simply sharing ideas, thoughts, and information.
The other day I posted a meme that contains a popular catch phrase I have heard for years, "You aren't stuck in traffic. You Are the traffic." I was surprised to receive this direct message about it a couple of hours after having posted it: "Your post about traffic- did that idea come from my book? I am only asking because that is exactly the way I phrase it in my talks. If it is, then I think it should be credited."
I will refrain from naming who this individual is, because it is not my intention to embarrass or disrespect him. He is a self-proclaimed "brain-based and heart-centered" mindfulness coach who promotes his work quite a bit on LinkedIn. While I have no ill-will towards this individual, I let him know in a direct manner that I did not appreciate him questioning my character. In addition, I sent him a link to an article about this popular catch phrase from 2010. Seeing as his book was published in 2018, his accusation was baseless. I suggested that next time before he insinuates that someone is plagiarizing his work, he should do a quick Google search first before he ends up in an embarrassing situation like this. I also suggested that maybe he should credit the person in the article I sent him for creating the phrase in future editions of his book and in his future talks.
To this individual's credit, he was very apologetic once I called him on this baseless accusation. However, I must confess, I wonder what would drive a mindfulness coach like him to act in such a manner, since mindfulness, which came out of the Buddhist tradition, is over 2,500 years old. So very few, if any, of the concepts are new. Simply repackaging them or presenting them in a different kind of way does not make them his intellectual property. After all, I was reposting an internet meme, not writing a term paper with citations. I digress.....
This incident made me think about how our coaches, teachers, and advisors that we often hold in high esteem are just regular people like the rest of us. They are human. They make mistakes. I believe it is important for us to realize this. I have had several similar interactions with other well-known respected individuals. In fact, I had to block a so called "positivity guru" on social media and on my iPhone because some of the words he directed to me were anything but positive! The hordes of people who read his books would be shocked to know some of the things he said and his true beliefs on a myriad of subjects.
Do I say any of this because I consider myself above the fray? Absolutely not. I have my flaws, and I often misspeak or misstep like everyone else. Just ask the people in my life! I am sure they could hold a three-hour viewing of the greatest hits film of my most "human" moments. The point I am trying to make is that coaches, teachers, advisors, and mentors can be important guides along our personal journeys, but ultimately, any answers we seek will eventually come from inside ourselves. As a coach, I love working with and helping people, but the individuals I work with are going to have to do the "heavy lifting" to see any real growth.
Shortly after this incident transpired, I reached out to my friend, Timber Hawkeye, to ask him his philosophy on often being referred to as a teacher and guru. I am fortunate to know Timber well, as he published my book, Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times. If anyone has earned the right to be called a guru, teacher, or coach, it would be Timber, as he is the best-selling author of several books, including Buddhist Boot camp, and he has a popular podcast and over half a million followers on Facebook. His book talks around the world are often standing room only. Timber, who is as humble as he is intelligent and articulate, does not like being called a guru, teacher, or coach. Unlike the individual who wanted credit for creating something that he did not actually create, Timber puts more of an emphasis on sharing. He recently expressed this to me:
"I am a sharer. Teachers offer answers. I only ask questions. Identifying as a teacher would imply that I know something, and I am trying to teach it to others, but the only thing I know for certain is that I don't know anything for certain. Being a teacher is a huge responsibility that would place me "above" students, yet I remain a student, and we are all at eye level. I am not a guru, and I am not an expert. I am a sharer."
Timber's words make me think of a book that I read a long time ago that had a profound impact on my philosophy of coaching and teaching, Dr. Sheldon Kopp's If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! The title of the book was taken from a quote by ninth century Buddhist monk Linji Yixuan. By saying this, he wasn't actually imploring his disciples to murder The Buddha. Rather, "killing the Buddha" means killing our beliefs that we (or anyone else) know and understand it all. There are times when we need to seek advice from experienced teachers, coaches, or mentors who have traveled similar paths, but all of our journeys are solo in nature. They can help prepare us for the roads ahead, but they are not with us during the entire trip.
A few years ago, a documentary about Tony Robbins called I am Not Your Guru was released. This title resonates deeply with me. By all means, find mentors and teachers in your life who can help you navigate your path, but don't expect anyone to have all the answers. Listen to these wise people, but also take time to immerse yourself in stillness and silence and listen to your inner voice. This is where you will find the answers you seek.
How did the awkward situation with the mindfulness coach who wrongly accused me of swiping his words end up, you ask? Later that night after our initial discussion, he sent me the following DM: "Sitting in meditation this evening, it was crystal clear that my response to your post was impulsive and unfair to you. Not my best moment and I regret the impact upon you. Always room for growth."
I have great respect for the way in which he owned his mistake. It's a good thing our teachers aren't perfect guru-type individuals. If they were, they would be doing us a disservice by setting impossible standards for us to aspire towards. Seeing the way he handled this situation with such grace made me think of the concept of "the opposite of namaste," which is the title of Timber's new book. A commonly used definition of namaste is "The divine within me acknowledges the divine within you." But, Timber gives us some food for thought when we come across someone who acts rude, hostile impatient, or greedy: The Opposite of Namaste- "The ego in me acknowledges the ego in you." I recited this as I pictured this individual in my mind, and I thought to myself, "I am just as human and just as imperfect as he is." In doing so, my ego acknowledged his ego.
Teachers or coaches or mentors (whatever you want to call them) who are aware of their own shortcomings better understand the human condition than those who believe themselves to be infallible. These are the ones we can learn the most from, because they see themselves as guides, not gurus.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness and Social & Emotional (SEL) skills to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website: www.greggraber.com