"I don’t need to wear the tragedy mask to be upset, nor the comedy mask to laugh. Must I wear the label of 'spiritual teacher' to teach spirituality?"

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”

~Diane Setterfield

I’ve always had a deep love for words, for definitions, for labels. When I’d find the perfect depiction of an emotion, it would put me into a state of ecstasy unmatched by the experience of that emotion alone.

There’s something about putting your finger on it, about defining the indefinable, about making the abstract into little concrete symbols.

In my journey from addiction, self-hatred, and self-destruction to self-love and healing, I began to experience the indefinable. I searched for a definition.

I searched science books, philosophy books, relationship books. Nothing made any sense. I was in the midst of a spiritual awakening, but I wasn’t willing to look at spiritual books. To me, spirituality was out of the question. It just sounded fluffy and awful.

I did the best I could and defined my experiences of oneness and connection to the world as “love.” Although, I was still unsure of this “love” thing. After all, it had sex, romance, and all of those things tied into it—and that is not what I was experiencing.

I started to carry a dictaphone with me everywhere I went, trying to find the answers, until one day, I did. But if you’ve read The Love Mindset, you know that story. Today, I’m here to tell a different story.

It’s a story about how we use words to push each other away, isolate ourselves, and breed judgment.

To me, spirituality is, quite simply, about understanding that we’re all connected at the core. It was this connection to everything that I experienced during my recovery. It was this recognition of interdependent existence with all living things that healed me, nourished me, and enlightened me. This awareness is what I mean by The Love Mindset and it is this awareness that I think will change the world.

This is nothing new. People have been spreading this idea since the beginning of time. Every great leader has told us to come together because we’re already together. Perhaps that is the definition of truth—something that continues to ring true to people over time.

And yet, throughout time, another thing has happened, again and again. In our pursuit of coming together, we’ve created groups dedicated to coming together that prefer some people over others. We decide to love each other and then judge people who don’t.

Jesus told us to love each other and judge no one. Many modern-day Christians judge and reject non-Christians.

Buddha told us to liberate our minds and detach from our self-definitions. Many modern-day Buddhists define themselves as such and imprison their minds within the discipline.

The madness goes on.

I found this madness within spirituality. I found that, with the label “spiritual teacher,” I began to be immediately accepted and favoured by some people, while being violently rejected by others. I faced judgment and love—but for what?

Alas, another mask.

My addictions, my eating disorders, my self-judgment, my IQ, my sad story—these self-definitions isolated me from people. And now, so have my self-definitions as a spiritual teacher, a healer, an awakened person.

I don’t need to wear the tragedy mask to be upset, nor the comedy mask to laugh. Why, then, must I wear the label of “spiritual teacher” to teach spirituality? Even more so, why must I insist on calling it “spirituality” when it alienates so many people who need it?

I realized I had to choose what mattered more to me: connecting to people or defining myself.

I choose to connect to people.

I choose to bring people together.

I choose to understand that, at this time, people are divided and triggered by words.

I choose to see that the labels I put on myself, my message, my work—they all alienate people. They alienate people because I am, first and foremost, alienating myself. I am calling myself something in particular, something that is different from something else.

If the way I’m defining myself, the self that is interconnected, is not ringing true to people—then I’m not defining myself in a way that promotes interconnection.

How, then, to define myself?

This is the good part.

I won’t.

I will do my best to keep teaching this amazing, elusive truth and I will continue to use the words “love,” “spirituality,” and “oneness” as I see fit. But I will not define myself as a teacher of those things, because I’m not. That’s not what I am.

I’m indefinable. And I like myself that way.

Maybe one day we’ll come up with a word for people who teach us to ourselves. When we do, maybe I’ll call myself that. Maybe.

Until then, I’ll sprout my wings and fly with that special kind of freedom I feel when I shed a limiting label for myself and refuse to replace it with anything in particular.

But that’s just me, my opinion, and my journey. Perhaps, for some, the label “spiritual teacher” brings a freedom that it doesn’t bring to me.

At the end of the day, each of us is responsible not for judging the appropriateness of others’ labels, but looking at our own and asking, in earnest, “Does this serve me? Does this serve my purpose?”

Even if we do not get answers immediately, it is in the asking of these questions that we truly set ourselves free.

* * *

What about you? What labels will you shed today?

Why I’ve Stopped Calling Myself a Spiritual Teacher


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21 More Comments

  • May 11, 2014 at 8:06 pm
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    Veronika,this is such a wonderful post. Our minds (meaning our own minds and the minds of those who perceive us) are so ‘tricky’ in a certain sense, we need to keep agile to slip out of even the gossamer chains of such definitions as ‘spiritual teacher.’ Interesting realization and lovely post.

    Reply
    • May 12, 2014 at 12:12 am
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      I love how you phrased that Reba. You have a beautiful way with words. Yes, we must slip out of those chains …and then laugh about binding ourselves with them once again!

      Reply
  • May 11, 2014 at 10:34 pm
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    So important your choice and i think the label can stop us doing what we are called to do. Thanks for sharing xx

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    • May 12, 2014 at 12:11 am
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      Yes! Isn’t it funny how we put ourselves into cages? How liberating to know we do have a choice.

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  • May 12, 2014 at 1:48 pm
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    Searngly honest, a really welcome challenge. Thank you

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  • May 13, 2014 at 7:00 pm
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    This is a beautiful exploration, and a brave and powerful decision. For a moment, I had this vision of dressing my website header with “The Indefinable Teresa Deak”

    I kinda like it!

    Hugs and butterflies,
    ~Teresa~

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    • May 18, 2014 at 6:04 pm
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      Indefinable, infinite, and incredible! I love that you have a similar post on your blog, Teresa. It makes me smile to know that so many of us are going through the same label-shedding self-liberation. It’s wonderful to share this path with you!

      Reply
  • May 16, 2014 at 1:52 pm
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    As I was reading this the phrase “I am” was going round and round my mind with a sense of peace with it. There was no finishing to the phrase, just the words “I am”. Shed all of the labels and we remain who we are at our core which for me has no label or words to attach to it, just “I am”.

    Thank you for sharing this my friend xx

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    • May 18, 2014 at 6:02 pm
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      Yes! I feel you on this deeply, Mariann. I am therefore I am. 🙂

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  • May 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm
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    As always, i love your insights Vironika and your own beautiful way with words and agree wholeheartedly.. labels can restrict us and in dropping them, allow a space to just be, without the need for defining ourselves as ‘one’ thing. Words are personal to each of us depending on our own experiences and conditioning and once upon a time, I felt disconnected from the term Spiritual also .. I’ve since warmed to it but don’t use it as a label also, though like you i do believe in the magic of words also.. just not as concrete human labels. Much love <3

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    • May 18, 2014 at 6:02 pm
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      Wow, Caroline. “I do believe in the magic of words also.. just not as concrete human labels.” That is such a profound statement. Words are so powerful and full of potential, aren’t they? Like minds. We must learn to use them well or they will use us.

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  • June 8, 2014 at 2:28 pm
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    I love it and yet I’m puzzled. Which is a good combination of things to be. 🙂 Puzzled because those who may have reacted violently to your label have others whose work may resonate with them more, to turn to.

    It’s very much like the Buddhists example you used. I am not attached to anything except my attachment to remaining non-attached. 🙂

    Be whatever you say you are. Let those with whom it resonates enjoy and those with whom it doesn’t find another. So it is, so it has always been. That is why there are so many options for us all to choose from.

    The One, The All – from my perspective – who is playing the game of pretending to be broken so It can re-call Itself over and over again, has given it self many faces and many sources to turn to to aid it’s apparent remembering.

    I love you whatever label you choose to define yourself by. Powerful sharing is powerful sharing, no matter the vehicle it comes in. <3

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    • June 8, 2014 at 3:27 pm
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      And I love you too 🙂 I appreciate how much of this you see, Yve. It is funny how, in speaking about the same thing, we can all miss each other so profoundly. I am always surprised by how much language limits us. Perhaps, one day, I will not speak at all 😉

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  • June 17, 2014 at 7:59 pm
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    Hi Vironika,

    I have dipped in and out of your website from time to time. It’s all very thought provoking and enjoyable.

    I apologise if I’m missing the point here but it strikes me that you need to be who you need to be (but I guess you know that). If others see you as a Spiritual Teacher then, I’d say, so be it but that’s their choice.

    In a totally different context, I remember a discussion with a mature Head Teacher at a rural primary school some years ago. She commented that she thought that her job title was wrong. She felt that it may have been better as Head Learner.

    We’re all on our own journey. We can find guidance on the way but we have to have the humility to look and listen. Perhaps we could all benefit by listening to people who recognise that they too are on a similar journey. So, perhaps, we can all in some (perhaps modest) ways, at times, be spiritual teachers but can anyone teach if they don’t first know how to learn?

    I know that in various contexts words have carried negative associations, or come to be devalued and there have been people who reject them outright. Yet again, other people respond by trying to re-appropriate devalued words, or labels.

    I’d say don’t give up on the title Spiritual Teacher but you may want to consider re-appropriating the term to embrace learning in the job description! Being a teacher doesn’t (and shouldn’t) preclude being a learner. Then again, only you can know if teacher, as a title, for you, helps and serves what you are trying to achieve.

    love,
    Brian

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    • June 18, 2014 at 3:53 pm
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      Dear Brian,

      I appreciate your interacting so deeply with this post!

      Where this epiphany hit me is somewhere close to “you need to be who you need to be”. You are absolutely correct about that, and who I believe I AM and YOU ARE, the only permanent identity, is complete, eternal, beautiful oneness. All is completely impermanent.

      By defining myself as anything else, I try to grasp for impermanence and stick it to myself, thus perpetuating suffering.

      This wasn’t about calling myself something instead of a spiritual teacher, but rather choosing to not call myself anything at all. I truly believe that flowers and trees would not be so keen on growing if they could label themselves throughout the process.

      This isn’t just about spirituality. It is about shedding yet another mask, and allowing myself to be more naked than I ever felt comfortable.

      And it feels wonderful 🙂

      I cannot tell you how liberating that process was or how much courage has surfaced up for me in the shedding of that label. I can only recommend something similar, however that looks for you.

      With love and gratitude,

      Vironika

      Reply
  • November 18, 2014 at 6:38 pm
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    Hey, Vironika. Obviously this wasn’t a great surprise to me as I knew you disliked such labels, but as always it was extremely well-written and pointedly explained. As I told you, when I wanted to practice qigong healing, I disliked labels as well. I don’t think I’d put Christianity in the same category as Buddhism, as I don’t think most Buddhists (certainly not those whom I know) judge the way Christians do. Not every Christian of course, but the born again, ultra conservative types talk and talk about accepting Jesus as your savior, yet they totally ignore his messages frequently preaching a religion of hate against those they consider to be “deviants” (like gays), or people who support the right to choose, or simply people who disagree with their views (such as teaching Creationism in the classroom). The Buddhists I know follow many of the Buddha’s teachings, but don’t feel imprisoned by them. Of course, they’re not hard core like, say, minks who live in a Buddhist Temple. But I wouldn’t call this an imprisoning within the discipline if they achieve an inner and outer peace from it. And many people who label themselves as Christian DO try to follow Christ’s teachings, but a huge amount of these people are younger and don’t actually attend Church, because they find it useless. So many reverends give sermons which seem incredibly outdated to them, and they figure if God is everywhere, what do they need a reverend for? They figure they can speak to God directly without some person dressed up in robes acting as a go between. And especially when you consider all the clergy that have been discovered to have have had sex with underage members of their congregations in The Catholic Church, and how the Church has has criminally ignored the problem by simply shipping these clergy off to different congregations, you can hardly blame them. Sch a huge number of young people today are literally starving for some different sort of spirituality. What’s sad is when you talk about things like love being the answer so many people just shut you out. I think a lot of them roll their eyes (figuratively if not literally) and think of such things as John Lennon’s song, “All You Need is Love”, and automatically believe it’s a pie-in-the-sky oversimplification of everything (never pondering whether Lennon was referring to something far deeper and universal than romantic love). What I ADORE about your work is that, while love is an intrinsic part of it, so are such psychological concepts as toxic thoughts being the wellspring of ALL emotional addictions, and that you explain it all with SUCH clarity and humor, and without a trace of psychological jargon. This is actually convincing me to post another reference to your book and “The Mindset Makeover” on my site (though I think I’ll skip the price, and people may look at that and just automatically reject it). But if everyone in the world could be exposed to it, EVERYTHING would change. HAVE to post that great quote above about words as well, as people use them far too recklessly, having no idea the sort of power they actually have.

    Reply
    • November 18, 2014 at 7:07 pm
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      Thank you for your kind words 🙂 I think there are many people of all religions who are committed to non-judgment. I think, when Jesus said “love thy neighbor as thyself” – it was too vague for people to take it as a call to not judge. I am certain in the fact that the good of human nature prevails as long as we continue to open up to one another, and so my only job is to do my best, avoid judging others, and share my experiences vulnerably. People can do with it what they please. 🙂

      Thank you again for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  • April 14, 2016 at 11:06 am
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    Hello Veronika,

    I’m aware of my own thoughts that have limited me in the past, and later have wondered why I believed them for so long. Then I remember the general rule that if I/we stick with any form of thinking or behaviour that harms or limits us ‘there must be something in it for us’. Sometimes the logic behind this can be quite upside down or twisted though!

    For about 10 years I held a responsible position running the cemeteries in my area. During that time I enjoyed the work and got to know a lot of people in the area. When the time came to move on to other work I felt a real sense of loss. It took me a while to realise why. Over the years I had begun to accept the identity of the Superintendent and the way that other people saw me. When that wasn’t there any more I felt quite naked. During the time that I had done that job I had lazily allowed that identity to become my definition of who I was. So when I suddenly wasn’t, my definition of who I was began to wobble alarmingly! Fortunately I came to realise that it had been an illusion and that brought me back to my ‘real’ self. So why had I so willingly colluded with the illusion? ? Partly laziness, but also it automatically gave me some respect in the local community . . . . not for who I was but for the job I did. This in turn gave me some feeling of safety, making it more difficult for people to attack my character. It also allowed other people to trust me more . . . . which felt nice . . . but had no justification in fact. In time the role actual became limiting but, subliminally, I had become addicted to the benefits described above. This made the prospect of change, which was probably due, quite frightening but I couldn’t have said why at the time. Now I am free again and can be myself, as I need to be at this point in my journey through life. Whoopee!!!!

    David.

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  • April 15, 2016 at 9:55 pm
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    Wow, David! You have captured so perfectly an experience that I have had many times in my life! When I was in school, college as well as everything beforehand, I always got this intense anxiety at the beginning of a semester with new teachers. I’d fall into this comfort zone of getting good grades–a feedback loop with the teachers where I think they’d just expect a certain caliber of work from me, so they wouldn’t (I assumed) put as much effort into grading. But meeting a new teacher–that was terrifying. I had to reestablish myself, prove myself, fit their expectations. This anxiety followed me into every job and relationship. I think the most liberating thing I ever did was to learn to be comfortable as just a human being. No job title, no name, no frills. Just, me and my smile. It’s a constant journey, but I feel like you do–free again each time I do it. And that’s definitely a big “Whoopee!” 😉

    Reply
  • February 19, 2017 at 4:36 pm
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    Hello I am very interested in meeting a perspicacious/clairvoyant/person who knows things without telling them person living in Cyprus if you could help me find one living anywhere on the island thank you. I need help with a member of my family

    Reply

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