Finding your own personal spiritual mentor. (Even if that mentor is dead.)

The really smart marketer Seth Godin got met thinking about mentors the other day. While I’ve always believed the spiritual path is best navigated as a solo journey, and have railed against “gurus” in the past, the word “mentor” evokes a different image for me. I picture a wise sage who, when needed, dispenses valuable advice and counsel, ensuring that the spiritual journeyer stays on course.

But how do we go about finding our own spiritual mentor?

According to Godin, it’s easier than you think. He points out that our mentors can be anyone, living or dead, whose example we live up to and honor, “even if we never meet them, even if they’ve passed away”. He writes that most of us don’t have mentors within our reach, so “for the rest of us, heroes will have to do”. And the good news is there’s a vast supply of heroes available. In his words:

I find heroes everywhere I look. I find people who speak to me over my shoulder, virtual muses, who encourage me to solve a problem or deal with a situation the way they would. This is thrilling news, because there are so many heroes, so freely available, whenever we need them.

Once you find your own personal hero to emulate, he even coined an expression that can help guide you in your life decisions:

WWHD. What would my hero do?

Now commiserating with a dead hero may seem like an unusual way to receive guidance, but consider that Napoleon Hill, author of the classic motivational book Think and Grow Rich, gave similar instruction. Buried deep in Hill’s long-time bestseller you’ll find a chapter devoted to “The Sixth Sense: the Door to the Temple of Wisdom” that addresses this very subject. His initial comments on mentorship mirror those of Godin:

My experience has taught me that the next best thing to being truly great is to emulate the great, by feeling and action, as closely as possible.

At this point, Hill ventures into more esoteric territory that may surprise those who view Hill as a straight-laced uber-capitalist. He reveals that “every night over a long period of years”, he “held an imaginary council meeting” with a group he called the Invisible Counselors. Who were his counselors? Some of the greatest minds of all time including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison.

Hill says that his communications with the panel of counselors worked like this:

Just before going to sleep at night, I would shut my eyes and see, in my imagination, this group of men seated with me around my council table…here I had the opportunity to sit among those whom I considered to be great…(I) called on my cabinet members for the knowledge I wished each to contribute.

Now it needs to be noted that Hill had extensive knowledge of each of his “cabinet members”, which also included Henry Ford and Napoleon, having studied their lives in detail. He knew their backgrounds, their manner of thinking and their individual characteristics. So it’s easy to see how he may have conjured up his league of mentors.

But Hill’s story goes a step further. After a few years of regular evening sessions, Hill notes that he “was astounded by the discovery that these imaginary figures became, apparently, real.” In his book, he details several encounters that moved beyond give-and-take conversations where his counselors begin giving him unsolicited advice.

One night Hill awakens to find Abraham Lincoln standing at his bedside. Lincoln informs him that: “the world will soon need your services. It is about to undergo a period of chaos that will cause men and women to lose faith and become panic stricken. Go ahead with your work…this is your mission in life.” Hill follows this advice (and who wouldn’t listen to a direct appeal from Abe Lincon) which leads him to write the aforementioned Think and Grow Rich.

As time goes on, Hill discontinues his these regular nightly meetings, but throughout his life he goes back to the counselors whenever he needs mentoring or advice. And they were always there for him.

On scores of occasions when I have faced emergencies—some of them so grave that my life was in jeopardy—I have been miraculously guided past these difficulties through the influence of my counselors.

Ready to find your own spiritual mentor?

For starters, let me point out that Hill was a voracious reader and in effect knew the counselors he enlisted well. So it only makes sense to choose a mentor whose teachings, and life, you’re well versed in—or to kick-off the process by studying books by and about your preferred mentor.

Additionally, Hill believes the earliest one can encounter the counselors is the age of 40–and that in most cases, they’re usually not accessible “until one is well past 50” and only after you’ve gone through “years of meditation, self-examination and serious thought”.

As for me, I’m buying into it and have enlisted the aid of my own spiritual mentor—the great American businessman turned philanthropist and spiritual author John Templeton who, by the way, passed away in 2008. I will write more about him and my experiences in an upcoming post.

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  • kemalettin

    Then listen to the stars, listen to their harmonious address! See what wisdom has emblazed on the decree of its light. Altogether they start to speak with the tongue of truth,

    They address the majesty of the All-Powerful, All-Glorious One’s sovereignty: We are each of us light-scattering proofs of the existence of our Maker,

    We are witnesses to both His Unity and His Power,

    We are subtle miracles gilding the face of the skies for the angels to gaze upon. We are the innumerable attentive eyes of the heavens which watch the earth, which study Paradise.[2]

    We are the innumerable exquisite fruits that the hand of wisdom of the All- Glorious and Beauteous One has fastened

    To the celestial portion of the tree of creation, to all the branches of the Milky Way.

    For the inhabitants of the heavens,

    We are each of us a travelling mosque, a spinning house, a lofty home; Each is an illumining lamp, a mighty ship, an aeroplane.

    We are each of us a miracle of power, a wonder of creative art

    Created by the Powerful One of Perfection, the All-Wise One of Glory; A rarity of His wisdom, a marvel of His creation, a world of light.

    We demonstrated to mankind innumerable proofs,

    http://www.nur.gen.tr/en.html#maincontent=Risale&islem=read&KitapId=499&BolumId=8763&KitapAd=Letters+(+revised+)&Page=36

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wakeupcall/ Tom Rapsas

      You had me looking for the source of this beautiful language–the Risale-i Nur by Said Nursi. Thank you for sharing. ~Tom

      • kemalettin

        Coul I offer tenth word of sozler from risalei nur collection

  • Y. A. Warren

    The term “guru” often refers to one who is seen as “one with god.”

    The problem I see with so many spiritual leaders is that they do not lead by their agreement in word and action. They tend to put themselves above human laws. This is not the way of true parent/teachers. We are all given the ability to follow in the path of The Holy Spirit, some with more ancestral input than others. The only reason to seek teachers is that we want to follow in their footsteps. This is why I, who doesn’t consider myself “Christian”, am still drawn to walk the walk of Jesus.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wakeupcall/ Tom Rapsas

      Excellent points, Y.A., and it is hard to top Jesus as a mentor. As you allude to, if only all Christian leaders followed his example, walking his walk and talking his talk. The world would be a better place. ~Tom

      • Y. A. Warren

        Thanks.

  • http://www.seektokeep.com Lujie Chen

    Great post about forming your ‘Mastermind Alliance’! I really enjoyed reading Think and Grow Rich :)

    I’m wondering if you have any advice on youths trying to find their ‘spiritual’ mentors, since Napoleon Hill believes that one will only encounter them after 40/50s (which seems to be a long time for me!). If we have no one in mind yet, how should we go about choosing which ‘mentor’ to study on and understand deeply?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wakeupcall/ Tom Rapsas

      Hi Lujie,

      I checked out your Web site “Seek to Keep”, very well done. I believe it is I who should be coming to you for advice on mentoring!

      If we have no one in mind for a mentor, it is up to us to dig deeper into the field of our greatest interest and seek out the leaders in the space. We can do this through online research, and when we find someone who really interests us and we believe he or she can offer us guidance, it is time to read, read, read everything we can about this person. (I’m talking books here.) Through osmosis, we can identify how that person would think, act and operate in different situations–the old, WWJD approach, only instead of “Jesus” we insert our mentor’s name. ~Tom

      • http://www.seektokeep.com Lujie Chen

        Hi Tom,

        Thanks for your kind words! :)

        We actually haven’t really explored the topic of spiritual mentors in the book – only included a small section on mastermind alliance, thus I’m very intrigued by how can someone actually find these spiritual mentors.

        Thanks for the insights! It’s definitely an area which I will like to give it a shot! Will let you know when I succeed :)

        Cheers,
        Lujie