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Coming Out of the Spiritual Closet


“The role of the teacher is to plant the teacher in the student.” – Thich Naht Hahn

iStock_000015980542XSmallThere are all types of teachers. Academic teachers, teachers of the arts, dance teachers, middle school teachers, swim teachers, and of course, the one that’s stumped me the most over the years…spiritual teachers.

What does it mean to be a teacher?

I’ve been sitting (and struggling) with this question consciously for the past year since I started working at Buddhist Geeks. A good friend of mine was gently nudging me to take the next step in my practice by teaching. Through his heartfelt challenge and because I had such a strong charge towards the idea, it was only proper that I explore this consideration more deeply. After all, I was slightly curious and mildly excited.

As I dove deeper into this inquiry, I first bumped up against my unexamined assumptions and beliefs about what it means to be a teacher. I somehow equated teacher with master and needing to have “it” all figured out before offering to others. It’s here that I quickly realized that a bit of the shadowy Zen drag had spilled over into my belief system.

But no one ever has it figured out fully, no matter how great they are at convincing you otherwise. The reason I know this is because humans evolve. Humans grow, change, and adapt. We are an endless process. And as such we are never done, masters at “it” or not.

Further down the rabbit hole, I came up against my own shadow in the form of judgement. “I can’t be a teacher. I’m too young. I’m too arrogant. I’m too judgemental.”

These judgements quickly turned to insecurity. Would my peers talk negatively about me? Would my friends support me teaching (really)? Or would I be subjected to high school antics? As I sat with this, my insecurities dissolved as I realized, YES to all of it. And it was here, in this “Yes” that I found peace.

I see teaching as a stage of practice, just as giving is a by-product of fullness. It’s a developmental stage of practice where at once I was receiving, now it’s time to pivot and give back what I’ve learned, discovered, and experienced to help others wake up to a deeper part of themselves. I would like to offer shortcuts, hacks, and lean approaches to the spiritual endeavor because I’m amazed at what I’ve found. So it’s at this point that I’ve decided to take the plunge and step into this new role of Integral meditation teacher.

What is Integral Meditation?

We all know that meditation is a spiritual technology used to discover the truth of one’s own nature. So what is Integral meditation?

Integral meditation is the application of Integral theory to meditation practice itself. After working and studying with Ken Wilber for the past 10 years, I’ll be offering a lean and modular approach to meditation practice in three easy steps:

      1. Meditation is an important pillar of spiritual practice.
      2. Meditation alone is necessary but not sufficient.
      3. To fully awaken, one needs to supplement their meditation practice with other types of practices or supplement one’s main practice with meditation.

So, how do we supplement our meditation practice? It’s here that I’ll be digging in deep with folks to help uncover each person’s unique practice matrix.

My “coming out party” is scheduled for January 16th as I co-lead the first-ever Ladies Life Retreat at Buddhist Geeks with my good friend and colleague Emily Horn.

Awakening is a spontaneous and developmental process which unfolds naturally with effort and surrender when the causes and conditions come together in a supportive environment.

So what happens when you bring together ten powerful women dedicated to waking-up in a structured practice container? This inquiry is at the heart of the Ladies Life Retreat and one that I look forward to exploring more deeply with a group of kick-ass practitioners.

I’m both excited and humbled to co-lead my first women’s retreat. And it is with the permission and blessing of my teachers that I “come out of the spiritual closet.”

What’s Hot for Kelly Right Now…


Currently Reading: Re-reading Integral Spirituality by Ken Wilber

Practice Focus: Zazen

Currently Watching: Homeland

Currently Listening To: Floex

Shadow Element or Emotion Discovered While Writing This: Being in the closet.

Link of the Week: Ladies Life Retreat


Kelly Sosan Bearer is the Co-founder of Integral Chicks. She was ordained in 2007 as a Zen monk in both the Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen Buddhism and is a senior student of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and Practice. Kelly also studies Hatha Yoga and Feminine Embodiment with Sofia Diaz. She is a published author in the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice and completed her graduate studies at Naropa University with a MA in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology. In addition, Kelly is also the Conference Producer and Creative Director at Buddhist Geeks. Follow her on Twitter @KellyBearer.

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11 Responses to “Coming Out of the Spiritual Closet”

  1. Gabriel Rene
    December 19, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Well put and well times Kelly! Thanks for the inspiration best of luck to you on this new stage and the new year!

  2. Kelly Sosan Bearer
    December 19, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Thanks so much Gabriel. I really appreciate your kind words. May we all flourish in this new year!

  3. Elsa Weber
    December 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Hi Kelly,  I wanted to share a principle of “Attitudinal Healing” that was developed by psychiatrist Dr. Jerry Jampolsky as he worked with folks with catastrophic illness.  The principle is “We’re all teachers and students to each other regardless or age or experience and the roles are interchangable.”  So even while you are “teaching” it’s very liberating to know that you will also be learning. This is so intuitively obvious with children.   One minute you are teaching them how to tie their shoe and the next minute they are teaching you how to BE LOVE.  So let your role of teacher organically fluctuate to student and back to teacher again.  This approach takes the teacher “off the pedestal” and is kinder to yourself and others.

  4. Kelly Sosan Bearer
    December 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    That’s a really beautiful approach Elsa. Thanks for offering this up. Very sweet!

  5. Gregor Bingham
    December 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Dear Kelly, 
    I love your vulnerability. I like this notion of ‘I am not a master and yet…’, and yet there is suffering. It reminds me of how easy it is to remain ‘not quite ready’ if we think just about ourselves and who we compare to as a ‘model’. There is a deep spring from which you have to offer, and there are so many, so many, so freakin many in need of that support and guidance. And bringing the humility and arrogance into the field creates such electricity for people to witness, and see themselves in, is I think a wonderful way to be a teacher. May you and your students find that crazy wisdom together. Best of luck!

  6. John Wagnon
    December 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    Hi Kelly – I like this piece.  Something that I continually struggle with when considering the question of spiritual teaching is straight out of Wilber – just what is meant by spiritual. What is being taught? What is this thing that we call spirituality that a teacher is teaching? Why is it important?  How do we expect to change after learning it?  It seems like if we don’t know just what is being taught and learned, that we’re left powerless to discern whether or not we are engaging the practice appropriately.  

    So my first question for you as a budding teacher would be – what are you teaching?  If what you are teaching is meditation, then why not just call yourself a meditation teacher?  What else are you teaching in order to teach spirituality?  What is it that makes one a teacher of spirit rather than a teacher of meditation technique? 

    Thanks so much for this transparent offering.
    Best always,


  7. Kelly Sosan Bearer
    December 19, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    Hi John,

    Really great questions to consider. In this piece, I do refer to myself as a meditation teacher. I’m certainly not hanging out my shingle as guru or spiritual teacher. Looks like this part wasn’t very clear in my post. Thanks for the feedback!

  8. Kelly Sosan Bearer
    December 19, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Thanks Gregor!

  9. John Wagnon
    December 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    Hi Kelly – thanks for the response – I really wasn’t intending to call you out on anything. Hope it didn’t feel that way. I can see how it could seem like it.  🙂  I still kind of wonder what your response would be in theory – how would you describe the goal or content of spiritual teaching?   Clearly there are many definitions, I’m wondering which one is your favorite?  If someone asked you “Why would I want to listen to a spiritual teacher?” what would you say?


  10. Kelly Sosan Bearer
    December 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Hey John,

    Cool, I didn’t feel like you were calling me out on anything. And I appreciated you pointing to something that wasn’t fully clear in my post. And feedback is always good!

    Like you said, there are many definitions of spirituality. (Here’s a post I wrote on Integral Chicks that goes into this topic briefly – http://www.integralchicks.com/2010/06/why-does-spirituality-need-integral/ ) As such, I think people engage spiritual teachers for many different reasons. If I had to boil it down, I’d say people go to spiritual teachers to alleviate their own suffering, whether they are conscious of it or not. So one might want to listen to a spiritual teacher to learn ways to suffer less (if that is of concern). What do you think?

  11. John Wagnon
    December 20, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    I strongly agree, Kelly.  I would add the dimension of meaning as well – though that may just be another aspect of suffering.   I think the goalless goal of spirituality is just that, meaning and contentment (absence of suffering) – all of the pain and darkness that we might experience in the process not at all withstanding. 

    Its a strange sort of double talk that we have to engage in sometimes, in which the reason for spirituality or attempts to define spirituality are obfuscated or denied or ignored. What we discover may not be much like what we wanted or expected, but we seek for a reason and we discover something (or maybe a lack of something). 

    You can tell I feel drawn to this fulcrum in discussion of spirituality – I am not content to presume that when we discuss it, that we’re talking about the same thing – and I think I am drawn in a way that is a little more urgent than a casual question of definitions. I feel a bit driven by the question.

    Thanks again for the discussion and article, Kelly.



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