The Guru Trap

I wanted to reflect a little on the human willingness to sub-contract; and I am not just talking at work!

Let’s start with a definition: think of guru in context as a collective metaphor for our those “experts” to whom we love to proffer the title wise. Those that we permit to define the how, what and why decisions we make around our personal choices. Most importantly those who readily accept our deference.

Gurus are something I have been particularly aware of in my time with horses. It is a space replete with them, like the Stetson sporting cowboys with their branded training aids who mistake submission for relationship. They tell us how to see our horses. We defer to the experience they impose upon us.

I realised this is more than about horses. This is us.

How often do we consciously engage with the feedback we get from all others? So what do I mean by feedback? I mean direct, as in “from our own intuition”; honest and open respect for the raw information that we receive through our senses. I may be using the horse-human relationship as an initial point of reference, but this discussion is about human interactions.

Let’s pause for a reality check, or not!

We all run our own models and patterns in our heads; we delete, distort and generalize the information we receive through our senses. By the time we are actually conscious of it, one has to wonder how much of the real world remains in our final perception. Experience ends up no more than a processed synthesis of the actual. We sub-contract our perception to the unconscious processes that we run in our minds. As neuroscientists like Anil Seth point out, we are all busy hallucinating experience. It recognises the subtly individual nature of reality.

Filtering of information is an absolute necessity. Evolution realised that without it we would be overcome by an ocean of information. It helps us to focus on our most basic and necessary survival instincts, those we need to ensure safety, food and shelter.

These processes create habits of perception, routines devoid of awareness. As these practices strengthen others dwindle. The better we get at taking others advice or direction, the less connected with our resilience or resources we become.

This position provides the foundation of this discussion.

Not my fault …..

More than ever, we are now disconnected from our own lives.

At which point does the necessary social learning we have to develop from our seniors morph into self-abnegation. As essentially social animals (like horses) we have to learn what is safe, what is not; what to eat and what not to eat. How to understand and communicate around others, and how to behave in different situations. We are hard wired to be led by (trusted) others.

As we age and mature we persuade ourselves that those instincts fall away. Or do they? Perhaps we just seek new educators and different types of leader. Even in the rebellion of youth are we just replace one set of experts with new ones?

Forever the child

Often we talk of pets and domestic animals as being forever in a child-like state, sustained in an environment where there is a nominal degree of independence or self-determination. Domestication is total. Dependence habitual. If I look into the way we live as humans, I find some parallel in condition.

This idea came to me looking at people and the horses in their lives, and the often lack of conscious awareness between beings, or should i say reciprocal awareness between beings (I think we can take as read that our horses are constantly aware of our presence, our energy and intentions).

Humans generally only know how to listen to humans, and then we are often quite selective. We like our like experts. And sadly, for others we love to be experts. Respect does not always need to earned or developed, sometimes it can come in simple forms, a uniform or a convoluted series of letters after a name. Sub-consciously we position ourselves against these symbols, creating a hierarchy and set of beliefs for ourselves before any formal interaction.

Allowed to play out, this can act as an enabler for something akin to a guru-disciple relationship to develop – thought we may not call it such, for example we may call them instructors, consultants or therapists. It’s a bit like saying, that if we wish to understand our children, we must ask their teachers? How many of us would accept that.

How many of us with horses find I easier to buy-in the behaviourist to learn of our animal rather than turn to it and openly observe. We engage an export to tell us about it.

What do they want?

The first job of our gurus is to hold us in that child-state. To ensure that we recognise our limited knowledge is limited beside theirs. To remind us that we are incomplete beside them and that without their insight we will fail to make sense of our world. They tell us what we should do, or how we should be doing with it; they tell us what it should look like. We accept.

In so doing they mould us into shadows of life, outlines of being which can be label and coloured as they choose. We become trapped within their subtle hints of shortcoming.

As complex life forms we are graced with an impressive sensory apparatus but we chose to “switch it off” – or at least much of it. As mentioned above, this is partly necessity, however it is there should we wish to reconnect with it. My point here is that perhaps we should find ways to turn to that more often than we do – look to our own resources sometimes before engaging an expert at a fee. Let’s face it we know that in such a contract both parties expect a service, so our expert will endeavor to prove their expertise and we will most often allow them to assert it.

A guru here; a guru there

Gurus are not just self-help peddlers or evangelists holding their flocks up in rural middle-America.

Look at how we live our lives and see a whole pantheon of gurus who we turn to tell us the how what where and why. Priests and clerics who tell us how our spirituality should be; our managers appraise us in the work-place behaviour and establish our personal learning needs; we seek life coaches; join gymnasiums to guide our exercise. We create clubs and societies that are born out of comment interest, but we then grow to create rules and expert hierarchies within them.

We allow others to construct what we consume – the newspapers, the supermarkets, the technology companies. Yes we make a choice but simply one of denomination or brand, PC versus Mac for example. And then we are controlled absolutely by proprietary framework or credo that forms the foundation of that choice.

So I find myself wondering if this is actually the condition we chose for ourselves. Does man really seek his freedom. Napoleon once observed of the French that for all the lofty values of the revolution, they needed to feel hand of the state.

Run yourself a Guru audit

Now I am not about to propose anarchy but what if we sought a little less expert direction.

Take five minutes and do a personal guru-audit. Ask yourself how people’s opinions influence your perception of your place in the world and your awareness of it, and interaction therewith. Be they newspapers you read, horse trainers, or anything else.

Now you have your list of Gurus, pick just one. Ask yourself about how that one influences your life. Then look to yourself and ask how you might wrestle back some “personal” influence control, establish what resources you have or need to achieve and set yourself a plan.

Over years of watching people defer understanding of their horses to others, an awareness of social conditioning has crystalised and it reaches far beyond the stable.

The call is to reconnect with yourself. To respect your intuitive resources. Engage them. Recognise you always have a choice. Own it.

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