The story is told of the executive who was asked what the most valuable asset a prospective employee might have. He responded, “Experience, because people with experience make fewer mistakes.”
The interviewer asked, “And how do you get experience?”
The executive replied, “By making mistakes.” The truth is that there are a lot of spiritual folks out there with a whole lot of spiritual education who lack experience, but that doesn’t stop them from presenting themselves as spiritual teachers. They are quite often very guarded, and restrict themselves to students who don’t really want much from them because they know they can answer the simple questions. If they aren’t seriously engaged with a teacher and a spiritual practice of their own – and we should be clear that spiritual teaching is not spiritual practice – they will remain at that entry-level both in their own spiritual journey and in their own spiritual practice.
When I was younger I didn’t understand why some organizations refuse to ordain or license spiritual teachers or preachers under a certain age – even long after I had passed the age in question. Of course, such hard and fast rules punish the prodigies among us, but the truth is that there aren’t too many real prodigies in any field and so such rules screen out more blowhards than prodigies. I believe that, with some notable exceptions, anybody who wants to be a spiritual teacher should have worked in the real world for at least ten years before they start teaching – and for every year of higher education they have had we might want to add a year to the ten. For every significant loss – and by that I mean a truly significant loss (not having their red felt cowboy hat fall into a urine filled toilet although I am almost over it now, nearly fifty years later) they have endured, we can subtract two years. Then for the next ten to fifteen years they should teach under the supervision of a mentor, and they should always be a part of a network that provides true accountability and support. Anything less leaves you with a loose cannon who potentially does far more harm than good, and we have seen the results of that far too often in every spiritual tradition.