How to be a Guru

Many Gurus started out with the natural intention of “helping others,” but are easily swept away by the marketing of self-image and the cult of the individual.

Sofia Batalha
4 min readSep 1, 2023

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Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

Here in the modern West, we think that to be a Guru, whether spiritual or self-help, is to be special, someone who holds the keys to light and healing. It’s to be someone inspiring who knows things and holds the answers we seek and the meanings we yearn for.

Many Gurus started out with the natural intention of “helping others,” but are easily swept away by the marketing of self-image and the cult of the individual, along with the dangerous linearity of infallible recipes.

Many people tell me that they really want to “help others,” that they feel fantastic when they help someone, and that’s what they want to do with their lives. I often say that the need to “help others” doesn’t come from being special or pure of heart, but from a visceral and biological imperative: as beings who live in groups, our intrinsic nature is to help others, and we even receive chemical benefits of pleasure from doing so.

Helping others is, after all, “just” being human.

But because we’ve dissociated ourselves so much from the concept of community in a hyper-individualistic culture, we’ve come to think that someone who wants to “help others” is special.

Again, as gregarious beings who live in groups, we need to belong, be heard and considered, be looked at and caressed. We all deserve it; we all have a right to kinship. We also have a responsibility to listen back, to take other voices into account, to look after and cherish others.

The Fast and Perfect Fallacy

After studying some proven method, ideally as quickly as possible and with the right to a diploma and certificate, it’s easy to become a Guru. We confuse the monetary investment in training with real learning, deluding ourselves that the amount paid is equivalent to the commitment and willingness to fail and learn. Mistaking the investment of time in experience and practice with the diploma received. Then, we must find fragile people and keep them that way, with micro-aggressions, bullying, and hierarchical and toxic manipulation, while we believe we are experts and always needed. Perhaps even untouchable in some way, reflecting ideals of perfection. Often, none of this is even conscious. Fear is an essential tool here: the fear people have of the “wrong decision,” as well as the fear of what might arise without the Guru’s advice and the illusion of perfect cures and triumphant arrivals without stains or flaws these are just some of the anxieties that arise when someone feeds on the delicate power we carry in our chests.

The point is that it takes maturity and discernment to take the time to make mistakes and learn; it takes humility to realize how we actually engage in presence or how we act. Is it for the good of the other or our own benefit?

However, a true Guru does not make her/himself necessary or fundamental. They are the ones who remember each other’s sovereignty and are part of the web of responsibility and reciprocity, not hierarchy.

No one has all the answers, is infallible, or lives outside the web of responsibility or accountability.

A true Guru doesn’t exist outside the cult of personality, being only people in relationship and presence. We are all humans, each with our own traumas, biases, and blind spots — people who are sometimes calm and sometimes exalted, tender, and we all need affection, even if we have diplomas that prove we know the infallible methods and recipes. Because, in reality, we all know that life’s path is complex, seasonal, and never linear.

Let’s map ourselves in humility.

It is essential that we map ourselves in humility and responsibility, without any illusions about our exceptionalism.

We easily confuse helping others with authority and leadership, sometimes forgetting that loyalty and integrity must always be present. Forgetting that there must be responsibility and ethics in actions.

With excessive crystallization (1), we can become insensitive, cruel, and full of resentment and bitterness because everything is subject to our cutting judgment. The feeling of defeat, losing, or surrendering can be difficult. We have to be the winners, the ones who are always right. We tend to run away from the imperfect result, from shame, disappointment, and dishonor. A Guru has to know the right answer and deliver infallible results! Sometimes, we keep running away for a long time, hiding in other people’s processes. Ardently, we lose ourselves.

We need to accept that we need shelter, to let ourselves fall, exhausted, into the silence of the deep darkness we carry. We curl up, cuddle, and cry. Abandoning ourselves to our sadness, shame, and the guilt of dishonor. Surrendering to the unsustainability of pain, opening the doors of our internal armor, and allowing ourselves to feel all the defeats in our bodies.

Time is what we need to mourn our griefs and sorrows. Tears accumulate at our feet. When we raise our heads again, now without certainties, only with scars and empty of needs and expectations, we contemplate maturation and liberation. We admire the beauty of pain, imperfection, and many truths. We forgive without illusions of perfection, appreciating the dynamic, powerful, and complete truth of the human being we have now become.

We are human again!

(1) Part of this article was adapted from the chapter Caves and Rocks of the Northwest, in the book “A Happy Place.”

Translated from: BATALHA, Sofia. Como ser um Guru. Vento e Água — Ritmos da Terra, https://ventoeagua.com/revistas-online/revista-39/como-ser-um-guru/, number 39, 2022

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Sofia Batalha

Journeying 🌿 between inner and outer landscapes, remembering ancient earth practices, radical presence, active listening, ecopsychology, art and writing.