You Don’t Need a Guru; Life is Your Greatest Teacher

by Jess Stuart
tiny buddha

“Forget what hurt you, but never forget what taught you.” ~Unknown

I read a tribute Elizabeth Gilbert wrote for Richard from Texas who features in her book Eat, Pray, Love. It got me thinking that our teachers in life can take many forms and not always an obvious ‘traditional’ teacher.

In Eat, Pray, Love Liz went looking for a guru in India but learned a whole host of lessons from Richard, who was probably there seeking out the same guru for his own answers.

We can go through life looking for gurus, trying to learn from the experts, and seeking out those who seemingly have the answers to our questions, but what we often overlook is that the answers are there all along.

We don’t find the answers when we find the guru; we find them along the way, as part of our journey.

Sometimes a guru may help us uncover the answers within, but there is also so much more that those we meet and our experiences along the way can teach us about life’s journey.

The lessons can come from our kids, our partners, our friends, our enemies, and most of all from ourselves.

We can be our own teachers if we allow ourselves to learn from our mistakes.

A monk once told me there are no mistakes, only lessons, and we are a product of the lessons we’ve learned. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Without the mud there can be no lotus.”

We grow stronger from our challenges; we learn or to grow from these experiences, and this is what makes us who we are.

I’ve traveled around the world to various retreat centers, sat on many hill tops, and consulted a few gurus, but the answers I sought I found within me when I arrived home, stopped searching, and sat still long enough to notice them.

This led me to rebuild my life around my passion and fill it with meaning and purpose. I became a yoga teacher and was thrilled to be doing a job I loved, but in the early days I struggled. Marketing was not my strong point and the numbers for my classes were low, sometimes non existent.

As I sat in an empty room one night with my lesson plan, feeling defeated, I thought to myself, “What can I learn from this?”

I try to ask myself this question often, but especially when times get tough. Life is not always easy. Things sometimes don’t go to plan, and often we don’t succeed until we’ve learned a lesson and tried again, failed more, failed better.

I have learned valuable lessons from people who’ve come in and out of my life (often for only fleeting encounters). I’ve learned both from failed relationships and those that have evolved over different parts of my life to be stronger now than they ever were.

A friend’s betrayal taught me about forgiveness. A friend’s love has taught me about trust. My nephew taught me the importance of making time for play, and my pets taught me the power of unconditional love.

Depression taught me that it’s through the cracks the light gets in, and burnout taught me about my real priorities and the value of self-care. A house fire taught me about attachment, and a homeless man taught me to be grateful for the little things I have.

Success is a product of learning from experiences and failures—a product of our life, our experiences, and the people we meet along the way. This is the stuff that shapes us and builds our world, it comes from within, not from an expert or a guru.

Yes, we have formal teachers we can learn from—our parents, our schools, our gurus, those we aspire to and admire. But never underestimate the power of the lessons ‘ordinary’ people will teach us, the likes of Richard from Texas and indeed the lessons we learn from ourselves and our experiences as we navigate through life.

So take a moment and ask yourself what you can learn from your current circumstances and the people in your life. Whatever, or whoever, you’re struggling with could very well be your greatest teacher—and a stepping stone to greater peace, purpose, and happiness.

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  1. Sounds arrogant to me, to pretend to have success in spiritual life avoiding the help of a guide or guru... I agree that we can learn from every part of the Creation... But still a guru is needed... And to find a real guru, that's a difficult task...