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From the Heart: The Best Rejection

by Alan Cohen


When composer George Gershwin was developing his career, he contacted his esteemed role model Maurice Ravel and asked if Ravel would take him on as a student. Ravel, familiar with Gershwin’s work, rejected him, replying, “Why become a second-rate Ravel when you are already a first-rate Gershwin?”

A true teacher does not inculcate students to replicate the teacher, but instead inspires students to discover their own greatness and bring it forth. It is said, “A true teacher makes himself progressively more unnecessary.” The word “education” derives from the Latin educare, “to draw forth from within.” In many ways modern education, by contrast, seeks to “pound in from without.” Certainly we can learn facts and glean guidance from experts. What we do with those facts and guidance is an inside job, the results of which create results unique to ourselves in all the universe.

A friend of mine was studying with a brilliant Shaman in New Mexico. One day she asked him, “How can I be more like you?” He replied, “The way to be more like me is to be more like you.” The message was that the shaman’s talents sprang from tapping into his authentic self and letting it shine. The student’s talents would spring from her allowing her authentic self to shine.

Emerson said, “Imitation is suicide.” You can follow in someone else’s footsteps, but then you must find and walk your own path. My mentor said, “The student should strive to devour the teacher.” A student should absorb all that the teacher has to offer, and then go beyond the teacher. To simply replicate a teacher’s method or material is an insult to the teacher and the student. I am always excited to hear when one of my students takes what I have taught her, adds to it, and develops her own unique curriculum incorporating my teachings with her own insights. I take it as a compliment if a student goes beyond what I have taught. I have sought to stand on the shoulders of my teachers, and I seek for my students to stand on mine.

The word “guru” is spelled. G.U.R.U.: “Gee, you are you.” The same God that guides a guru, guides you. Ram Dass’s guru Neem Karoli Baba told him, “Guru, God, and Self are one.” This could be the meditation of a lifetime! God lives in all equally. Some people realize this more than others, which qualifies them to be a guru. If they truly know this, they direct you to the God within you.

Gurus sit beside a river giving or selling water. The limited guru tells you, “I am the source of water. If you want more, come back and get it from me.” The unlimited guru takes you by the hand and guides you to the river so you can draw it forth in infinite supply for yourself. God does not live only in an exterior person. Those who believe they are God and others are not have missed the point. Those who believe that God lives in others but not themselves have also missed the point. To know God is to know the God in everyone.

A woman once wrote to me to ask me to certify her to teach a course based on one of my books. “Which book would you like to teach?” I asked her. “Dare to be Yourself,” she replied. I told her, “I cannot certify you to be yourself or to teach others to be themselves. Your real certification to teach the course is to be yourself. You teach by model far more than words.”

I have learned a great deal about humility by watching the spiritual guide Bashar coach his students. Bashar never accepts credit for a student’s insight or advancement. He always reflects a compliment and gives credit to the student. When a student tells him, “Thank you for giving me a powerful insight,” Bashar replies, “Thank you for opening to recognize the insight.” Or the student reports, “You really touched my heart.” Bashar answers, “You were open and ready to touch your own heart.” Teachers who empower their students, rather than taking students’ power unto themselves, are true teachers.

If you are rejected by a teacher, employer, or lover, rejoice. You have most likely given your power away to that entity—an unhealthy act. Any time you believe someone can give you what you cannot give yourself, you disempower yourself. The person who rejected you is redirecting you, either to another place that is better for you, or to the ultimate teacher, employer, or lover— yourself.

George Gershwin went on to become one of the most popular and beloved composers of the twentieth century. He achieved this status without studying with Ravel, who, in rejecting Gershwin from leaning on him, and inspiring Gershwin to follow his own course, turned out to be the best teacher Gershwin ever had.


Alan Cohen is the author of many popular inspirational books, including the new bestselling The Tao Made Easy: Timeless Wisdom to Navigate a Changing World. Join Alan in Hawaii this December 2-7 for his life-changing seminar Transformer Training to develop your skills and/or career as a teacher, healer, or leader. For more information about this program, Alan’s books and videos, free daily inspirational quotes, online courses, and weekly radio show, visit www.alancohen.com .


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