For What? That Is The Question
First, you need to know what you want to study. And with the proliferation of "spiritual pursuits," how do you choose? What criteria do you set for your choice? What do you want to accomplish? What's behind your interest? Intuition? Serendipity? Friendly advice? A so-called charismatic teacher? Is it a passing fancy? Or are you willing to go all the way?
There is no end, no limit to the choices confronting you. Everything from Raw Foods groups, which are quite spiritual in their own way, to esoteric systems of meditation, each with their own specificities and challenges.
How Do You Know If A Teacher Is Competent?
I ask this because there have been some pretty dodgy stories about gurus. People being led down a supposedly pristine path only to be bilked, misled, or even murdered. Frankly, this is hard for me to understand. Early on, I learned that I had to rely on my own devices: to find a system that worked for me, to learn and practice it, and ultimately to live with it. I discovered that my body was a laboratory and I was a kind of mad scientist, at least to the outside world. I had to keep my own council, learn from my blunders — no one else was there for me.
I also ask because not every system works. That would be impossible, as impossible as every baseball player hitting .400, or every lawyer winning every case, every actor playing every part. Logically, some so-called spiritual pursuits must not produce results. Does that mean you should avoid them? Well, before deciding to avoid something altogether, you better know what it can or can't do for you.
How do you do this? There's nothing wrong with dabbling, especially at first. There's nothing wrong with trying something out. Just make sure you question everything you see, hear, or feel. That is your challenge: to fashion yourself into a Spiritual Detective. To dig deep, to practice, to evaluate. Only after exhaustive research can you begin to decide.
And you know what? After doing the research, after following up every lead, after cross-examining all the experts, you may find you don't actually need a teacher. Think of it. You've worked hard to find a practice that suits you. You may find that you can forge ahead on your own. I'm not saying you shouldn't look for a teacher; you probably should. There again, don't accept everything he/she says without critically evaluating it. Every good teacher wants you to question his/her authority.
Notice I use the word Practice
It's an important word to bear in mind during your research. Why? Because it's very hard to judge non-specifics, systems based on philosophy rather than actual practice. If you can do it, fine. It may be just the thing for you. I wasn't able to settle for philosophy; I needed something concrete, something I could practice. I'd already attended church for twenty years, listened to years of philosophy and rationalization. With only one takeaway: that I be patient, have faith, and wait. Yes, the parables and the stories were beautiful. Yes, the Bible is a great story, but I wanted to know more. Just how was all this accomplished? What made Jesus able to accomplish so much in so little time? Was he born with it? Or did he learn it on the fly?
That last part intrigued me because it resonated with stories from other religions. Stories of men, like Buddha, who were trendsetting spiritual detectives. Pioneers in the pursuit of self-knowledge. Imagine setting out to find yourself and the source of human suffering. And finding a meditation practice to overcome it.
A proactive approach rather than a re-active one. Which points to Jesus' missing years. Where did he go and what did he find? Was he setting an example for YOU? That, with or without a teacher, it really didn't matter. As long as you are willing to make the journey, to do the detective work, you will find the answer. Because finding the answer is more important than finding a teacher. Finding a teacher is only one way of finding the answer. And before you can do that, you must learn discernment, a faculty that involves your entire being — a faculty that resists being swayed.
If you need a teacher, one will find you. If you don't, you will find an answer anyway, all by yourself. The important thing is due diligence. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."