The minute an authority figure claims to be perfect, I say run fast in the other direction. That is something I have clearly learned from my close association with religious leaders, spiritual teachers, and healers of all sorts. Power corrupts, whether you are in politics, a healing profession, or a religious organization. It just does. I have seen it so many times that I have made my peace with that fact. It is a law of nature, like gravity. Drop a rock from a tower, and it falls to the ground. Give someone a lot of power, and it goes to his head. Friedrich Nietzsche warns, "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster." Sometimes I would like to hang that sign over the teachers' dining room at Omega. At Esalen Institute—a center in California similar to Omega—they do have a sign hanging for their faculty to see. It reads: "You always teach others what you most need to learn. You are your own worst student."

Wise leaders and healers understand this phenomenon of power. They lose their taste for having power over anyone and instead make it their mission to empower others. The world is moved by these kinds of leaders. We call them our heroes. But even they are not perfect. Take people like Carl Jung, or Albert Einstein, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Teresa—whomever you admire—dig a tad below the surface of their great work, and you will find real people. You will find men and women who bear typical childhood scars, who struggle with personal relationships, and who fret over the small things even as they move mountains and inspire the multitudes.

I am grateful that this insight has been ground into me through my work. It reminds me, over and over, not to be seduced into thinking that someone or some group has the answers to my questions. Teachers, therapists, and healers are there to help us heal ourselves. As long as we remember that, and do not expect the impossible, we will be doing ourselves a big favor.

I have seen many people come to Omega looking for empowerment and self-realization, and leave having given their power and selves away to a guide. (I will use the word guide here for any kind of therapist, healer, religious leader, or spiritual teacher.) But I have also seen people forgo the rewards of therapeutic work because of the mistaken notion that a guide should be a fully perfected human being. When you decide to begin working with a guide, remember that you are working with a man or a woman who has unique strengths and also normal human weaknesses. It is understandable that you would want your guide to possess all the wonderful qualities you find lacking in yourself. But this may not be the case. Sometimes the most compassionate and helpful guides are those who are only a few paces ahead of you on a healing path. Who better to lead you through the woods than someone who has struggled with similar issues?

A good guide tries to get his or her own personality out of the way. An inexperienced or self-interested guide does not. A good guide is always turning the focus away from himself and back on the student or client, always reducing the work at hand to its most simple, personal, and intimate dimensions. Good guides are not miracle workers. If they suggest they have special powers to heal you—or if the people around them prop them up as magicians—I would think twice about working with such teachers, counselors, or therapists. Oftentimes the most effective guides are what I call extra-ordinary people. They are extraordinary healers because they are profoundly ordinary people who are comfortable with their humanness. They are extra-ordinary.
Excerpted from BROKEN OPEN: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser. © 2004 by Elizabeth Lesser. Reprinted by arrangement with the Random House Publishing Group.  


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