Over the years I have noticed that most spiritual teachers who teach on a national level develop what I call, “this year’s message.” That works because only rarely does anyone see them twice in a year, so most of their audience thinks they are listening to a wonderful message crafted especially for them. I suppose that tendency is a bit narcissistic, but given that they don’t have much to compare it with it is understandable. It is only if you follow a particular teacher more closely that you start to see and hear what I call “spiritual reruns.” Those of us who have served in environments where we had to come up with a new talk each week shake our heads with a mixture of disappointment and jealousy that people actually get away with such limited creativity.
I believe there is also a tendency, over the history of a teaching career, to recycle many of the same ideas. On one level, that makes sense. If I come up with something I consider really important I naturally will lift it up repeatedly because I want people to understand it. Over time I will develop my thought around that idea and it will expand. That’s a good thing! Perhaps the greater challenge is to keep my message fresh and avoid having my content turn into more of a reminiscing session than true teaching. As the teaching community ages, reminiscing becomes more of a danger. While great wisdom can be found among elders – a very counter cultural notion in the west – we also need a mixture of fresh but humble voices. New seminary grads need not apply.
As I reflect on the graying of everyone’s favorite teachers, I recognize it’s time for some fresh blood. It’s past time for those same teachers to start mentoring their successors so that we don’t have a generation that needs to spend time relearning old wisdom before they can step out and teach. Those of us who are a little older need to jettison our favorite examples and metaphors in favor of something fresh – even, and perhaps especially, if it makes us a bit uncomfortable. That discomfort stimulates creativity and nudges us beyond the same safe ground on which we have trod for decades. In the end, that process benefits all of us.