Posts by "JJ Wong"

On Teachers and Students

Reflections on “Essential Sufism” edited by James Fadiman & Robert Frager

Teachers and mentors are fundamental to all disciplines and traditions. If a synonym for Sufism in Arabic is “Path” (or tariqah), then parallels exist between Sufism, Taoism (the Way/ ), the Monomyth (the Hero’s Journey), and probably every spiritual or narrative tradition known to humans.

Similar to a guide, mentor or old wizard in any epic story, teachers serve as guardians of the path in our lives. They test us to ensure our sincerity and devotion to the cause. Whether its spiritual, career, relationship-based or other — A teacher’s primary purpose is to empower us as students to go beyond ourselves. In order to grow, we must undergo ego-death. We must go through many episodes of trying times. Even humiliation. All for the sake of the journey.

“The true teacher knocks down the idol that the student makes of him.” — Rumi

It is too simple to assume the teacher is the truth rather than recognize that the teacher only points toward the truth. The greatest shame is to be a carbon-copy or to even fall short of one’s teacher. A teacher does not exist so we may imitate him or her. A teacher shows us possibilities while delighting the spark in us that more can still be done.

“On all paths of spiritual training, the teacher is of central importance. He or she embodies the teaching as a living representation of the tradition. He or she helps the student to grow beyond the boundaries of self. Because each person can only, by definition, operate inside his or her current limits, outside intervention is indispensable to make the “breakthrough”. My Teacher depicted this state of things with the following analogy: “You can give yourself first aid, putting a bandage on a wound. But you can’t operate on yourself.”

The fundamental changes that the path requires in the students’ worldview and behavior resemble a major operation. The very personality features that the student holds tightest to, with which he or she most strongly identiifies on this level, are also the ones that prevent the student from fully becoming what he or she potentially is.

[Rumi has written] “It is necessary to make so great an effort that you are not left standing, in order that you may recognize what it is that will remain.” — Ozelsel

Humility, patience and perseverance are hallmarks of any successful practitioner. A student who surpasses his or her teacher is changed from the student when they first entered the tradition. Beginners often hold onto ego. There seems too much at stake.

Instead of finding something outside of ourselves, a teacher shows us that what we desire actually exists in us from the get-go. We search the world for the treasure without realizing the treasure was with us the whole time. This is one of the fundamental lessons of the Hero’s Journey. The elixir is not outside of us — as fairy tales would have us believe.

We possess the elixir already.

We just have to chip away all the nonsense which surrounds it.

A teacher helps us refine and dig-out what is already here. With their sharp eye and trained hands, a teacher sculpts us into who we truly are.

2017 — A Year of Tranquility

Halfway through and I still hate New Year’s Resolutions.

New Year’s resolutions in May, baby.

I’ve been writing and re-writing this piece for over six months. No special reason. Publicly declaring my goals and ambitions feels icky and sickening. I’m a fraud. Personal development is for yuppies Valsalva-manueuvering their way through daily ice showers a la Tony Robbins.

I’m doing it anyway. Here, here, look at me! I’m doing a thing!

According to trusty Wikipedia, New Year’s Resolutions have been around since Ancient Babylon. The Romans dedicated resolutions to their god Janus. Medieval knights hopped on the bandwagon and reaffirmed their chivalry through “peacock vows”.

“The most common reason for participants failing their New Years’ Resolutions was setting themselves unrealistic goals (35%), while 33% didn’t keep track of their progress and a further 23% forgot about it. About one in 10 respondents claimed they made too many resolutions.” —

Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying “lose weight”), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.”

Time to incorporate a classic man-woman hybrid approach.

I’m taking Marie Forleo’s advice this year for my New Year’s Resolutions. I love her life-affirming advice and attitude. Her words are on the cuddly, fluffy side. She’s grounded in realness, though some of it might be a bit woo-woo for ya’ll.

That’s okay. Not your cup of tea. I get it. Thanks for stopping by!

Here we go. Three Groups, Forleo style.



Continuous Learning — Daily writing, reading and fitness.

Payoff for making this happen?

Mentally — Habit of consistent input (reading) and output (writing). That brain’s gotta be used for something! Exercise stimulates the brain too 🙂

Emotionally — Get out the serotonin-dopamine-endoprhin-cocktails! Feels good to do good.

Physically/Financially — Fitness is a no-brainer. Being physically fit is a reward in and of itself. Being fit gifts my body with more efficient energy, contributing to better results in other areas of life. Reading and writing are skills fueling any work endeavor I’ll engage in, so it’s win-win all around.

Spiritually — The peace and stillness of getting into Flow states in creative work such as reading/writing or through physical exercise…there’s nothing quite like it.

How blessed is life when the skills and challenge of your activities intersect at that juicy sweet spot!


How will this benefit others?

Being happy with who I am and feeling accomplished in my learning allows me to empower others more through sharing a wide variety of meaningful stories.


Who will I have to become to make this a reality?

Committed to good habits. Doesn’t matter how I feel.

If it’s time to write? I’m on it.

Time to exercise? Let’s go.

Time to read? It’s done.







Work which harnesses and develops my professional strengths — writing, communicating and storytelling.

Payoff for making this happen?

Mentally — Constant evolution of skills and growth through learning. Gotta get those neurons firing! Flow state when the degree of challenge and skill intersect just right.

Emotionally — Feels good to be doing something meaningful with my time, skills and energy.

Physically/Financially — Allows me the resources to continuously invest in my skills, learning and projects.

Spiritually — Fulfillment knowing that I’m walking my path and working toward something bigger than me.


How will this benefit others?

Telling meaningful stories and communicating well empowers others to do better with their businesses and/or projects. It could be something as small as a smile to helping people communicate their life’s message and value to others.


Who will I have to become to make this a reality?

Responsible, reliable and disciplined.

Become more dedicated to the process and the nitty-gritties of life. The details.

Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows and when you fall in love with the process, that’s when the magic happens.