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 bookThink 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.
This post originally appeared under a different title on my Wake Up Call column at the faith site Patheos, January 9, 2014.