How Do I Tell the Difference between the Mentor and Conditioned Mind?

I have to begin with a story, not an old Zen story but a story of one of my earliest experiences of the Mentor. This story happened a long time ago, many years before I knew of this practice or Buddhism or Zen. I was completing four years of a specific course of study and was in the process of discerning next steps. I was pursuing three possibilities, all very different, and all three were pursuing me — but on different timelines.

One Friday I received an offer from one of the three. I needed to give them an answer on Monday. I had not yet had interviews with the other two, although I was one of the final candidates for each. I launched into a three-day “discernment process.” Actually, I was just agonizing over how in the world I would be able to know what to do.

I made lists of pros and cons. I sought the opinion of live Mentors and friends. I prayed. I sat in silence. I went on a hike with friends. I looked everywhere I could for guidance (really, “looking for the right answer”). Sunday late afternoon came and I was in despair of ever knowing what to do.

So I dropped the whole conversation and went for a jog. As I was plodding my way up a particularly long hill, a “voice” clearly said to me “I want you to do what’s most loving for you.”  Two things happened in that moment. One, I started to sob. It was the kindest thing I had ever heard in my life, and I was touched down to the soles of my running shoes. Two, I knew exactly what would be the most loving for me in this situation. I knew how to respond to the offer on Monday.

I now know that voice was the Mentor speaking to me. At the time I was more in the camp of “the still, small voice of God,” but they are exactly the same thing. When the Mentor speaks, it speaks to our hearts, to Center, to our core. It rings a bell of clarity and truth. It moves us, touches us, and inspires us. It says the things we have always wanted to hear from the people in our lives … and often didn’t.

Of course, I have to admit that the story I just told is one of the more dramatic offerings of the Mentor. On a day-to-day and moment-by-moment basis, we aren’t in such a life-changing situation (well, maybe we are…..) and the clarity we are seeking can be much more mundane — or at least it seems that way. This is where it can be more confusing about what is the Mentor and what is a voice pretending to sound like the Mentor. Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate can — and does — use any kind of voice and “guidance” to lead us down its path of suffering.
  • How to Recognize the Mentor
Here is where I find pointers from the Guide most helpful. “Look to your heart” and “Record and Listen often.”  It is in our hearts that we can know the Mentor, even when it is not as dramatic as it was for me during that Sunday afternoon jog. Ego-I always speaks to our mind, wanting to engage us in a conversation that leads nowhere. It often uses many sentences to engage us, as opposed to the brevity and simplicity of the Mentor. If it is long, it is probably conditioned mind. If it is at all judgmental or disparaging or unkind or sarcastic, toward us or anyone else, it is conditioned mind. The Mentor is always speaking what is good for all. And, I find, the Mentor often has a great sense of humor. Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, on the other hand, is deadly serious.
  • The Voice of Life
One way to think about the Mentor is as the voice of Life, that which is truly one with Life, IS Life, and can only speak Life’s truth. It is the voice of Center.

I have had experiences where I have been sad or furious about some perceived injustice or slight in my life, and I have grabbed the recorder and spewed out the whole miserable story. Then I transfer my recorder to the other hand (an excellent disidentifying technique), take a deep breath, and wait. The voice that shows up may still have ragged breath from sobs, but it will be clear, calm, and to the point. It acknowledges I am having a hard time, and then reminds me that I know the next thing to do. And I always do. (Later, the whole miserable story gets erased; I don’t need to give any more time and attention to that. The Mentor’s guidance is what I want and need to hear over and over again.)

  • Our Best Friend
The Mentor is always our best friend, forever. Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate proves time and again that it is not. It is good to pay close attention so that we get very clear about the difference. Lots of Recording and Listening will make it very clear. We each become our own expert on our relationship with the Mentor. Because, of course, the Mentor is us; we are the Mentor. We all are animations and expressions of the one Life that is all that is.