The Guru Trap: sub-contracting awareness and responsibility

In my time I have spent with horses I have become aware of how little as humans we actually connect with them, yet demand almost immediate understanding and response from them. How often in context do we truly open ourselves to direct feedback from them? This note is written in context of human-horse relationship, but as I hope you see that merely serves as a point of reference, my discussion is about human condition – and so intended for equestrians and non-equestrians alike.

First let me rewind, what do I actually mean by direct feedback? I mean direct, as in “from our own intuition”; honest and open respect for the raw information that we receive through our senses.

Also i should add a short definition around my use of the term “guru”: Think of guru as a collective metaphor for anyone or anything that we permit to define the how, what and why decisions we make around our personal choices.

Let us have a reality check

We all run our own models and patterns in our heads; and as the NLPers out there would have it, 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. Taking this a given, then we quickly realize that we run our lives based on a processed synthesis of the actual. We sub-contract our perception to the unconscious processes that we run in our minds. This filtering is an absolute necessity, evolution has given us this as a means of focusing, without it we would be not lost in, or overcome by an ocean of information; it therefore helps us to target our most basic survival instincts, those we need to ensure safety, food and shelter.

There is plenty of excellent literature out there on what is actually the very individual nature of reality (The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood provides a tidy introduction for the neophite, or some of  core NLP literature “The map is not the territory), so I do not intend to repeat here, however I raise it as it serves an excellent springboard for this discussion, I want to look at the sub-contracting idea.

Not my fault …..

How often in the early 21st century do we stand 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 (and where to find it); how to understand and communicate around others, and how to behave in different situations. So we are hard wired (at least in our infancy and youth) to be led if you like.

And as we age and mature do those instincts fall away. Or do they? Perhaps we just seek new educators and leaders. If we question the rebellion of youth, is it perhaps more comparable to an academic paradigm shift; a simply new set of rules to supplant those in place up until that point.

S0 in context, do we actually grow up.

Indulge me: we often talk of our pets and domestic animals as being forever in a child-like state, brought sustained by their environment which is essentially lacking in any degree of independence or self-determination. Domestication is total. And as I look into the way we live as humans today I find some parallel in condition. So let us stop and consider how different are we?

As I noted above, 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 listen only to humans, and then we are often selective, we like our like experts – both having someone’s word to respect and they like to be respected. Such respect does not always need to earned or developed, sometimes it can come in simple forms, a uniform or an series of letters after a name. We then often without any instruction sub-consciously 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. Returning to the original inspiration, how many of us seek out the “expert on the horse” rather than ever looking at the the horse itself. But isn’t this is a bit like saying, that if we wish to understand our children we must ask their teachers? How many of us would accept that. Yet we take on the enormous responsibility of caring for and keeping an intelligent and sentient being, and then engage some third party to tell us about it.

And what do those third parties tell us?

They tell us what we should do, or how we should be doing with it; they tell us what it should look like.

They express – and educate us to similarly express – clear opinions on top-line, muscular development or paces, and yes, we may talk of temperament, but only as an athletic enabler; we consign expressions of independence or character to issues which can be dealt with using various forms of constraint; or perhaps something that creates an extra element of frisson which might quicken the adrenalin.

In so doing we create shadows of life, outlines of being which we can then label and colour as we choose.

How often do they really tell us if our animal happy or sad, healthy or unhealthy. How often would they tell us what it wants, perhaps we might engage an animal communicator in times of need, but even then we should ask ourselves what we are actually seeking.

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 discussed 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. And let us 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

So I 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 control structures therein.

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 (my wording).

I wonder if it is not just the French!

Run yourself a Guru audit

Now I am not about to propose anarchy but what if we sought a little less third party 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 – be it jogging instead of paying a gym, growing you own vegetables instead of using the supermarket for everything; or perhaps finding the space to understand what your horse actually might want or need from you.


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