“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” ~Lao Tzu
While this Lao Tzu quote may sound familiar, I recently learned there is a second portion of that quote that often gets omitted.
“When the student is truly ready…the teacher will disappear.”
The first part of this quote was a healing anchor for me as I went through what I call a thirteen, or a divine storm.
In one year’s time, I went through a devastating divorce, was robbed, got in two car accidents, and lost a dear friend to a heart attack. I felt like I was watching everything in my life burn to ash, including my deepest desire of having a family, and found myself on my knees doing something I had never done before: asking for help.
I realized the way I had been living my life wasn’t working anymore and I needed to learn, so I became the student and opened my palms to the sky asking for guidance.
So many teachers came. I found a therapist who helped me heal from my divorce, I found spiritual guidance after being lost, I met other divorcees, and found meditation, which was a loving balm to my broken heart. I was ready, so the teachers appeared.
Each teacher that came forward instilled in me the importance and effectiveness of the right support, and as I faced all the challenges of building a new life, I continued to seek help. What I learned allowed me to find my life partner, one who desired creating a family as much as I did.
As my life transformed and I opened my heart to love again, I thought the first part of this quote was the full lesson.
Until recently, when I encountered the second part on a quote website.
Staring at the words on my screen, my whole body stopped. Tears fell down my face as I realized all these years I’ve spoken about the teachers that arrived in the face of my divorce, but hadn’t really spoken about the teachers that left.
Specifically, the biggest teacher, my ex. For the purpose of this post, we will call him Jon.
When Jon dropped the bomb on Thanksgiving Day of 2012, and said he didn’t love me anymore, I honestly thought I could stop it. I thought I could save the marriage. But nothing worked. Not couple’s counseling, not locking myself in the bedroom and refusing to eat, or crawling under the hide-a-bed he was sleeping on in the living room, pleading for him to stay.
Jon’s refusal to work on the marriage left me with something I hadn’t spent real time with in my thirty-seven years. His refusal left me with myself.
And the truth was, I had been lying to everyone around me for years. I had been in an on and off again affair and swayed violently between immense shame for my actions and complete confusion as to why I kept going back to a man I didn’t really love.
I didn’t understand what I was doing or why.
I would cover up the shame and confusion with overdrinking, lots of TV, and listening to constant music. I would cry in the shower, so afraid I would be found out. I was convinced my friends and family would all stop loving me.
But something had been alive for a long time. In fact, it was alive when Jon and I were engaged in college.
I was a musical theater major, and in my last year of school, when I was planning my wedding, I threw myself at two men I was in shows with. Nothing happened with the first guy, but with the second, we kissed, and I immediately felt ashamed and appalled. What was I doing?
So I told Jon, and he asked me a powerful question, “Do you want to postpone the wedding?” I told him no. I told him I loved him. I apologized and promised this would never happen again.
So the wedding went forward, except a week before I walked down the aisle, I felt scared again and asked my mom if this was a good idea. She thought it was just nerves and talked me back into getting married.
Our first year of marriage was both exciting and tumultuous. We were both actors, and very passionate, and many times would have escalating fights filling our small Queens apartment with our voices. My parents came to visit, and my mother pulled me aside, concerned about how we were speaking to each other.
I told her this was what actual communication was like, not just staying silent like she did with my father.
So the yelling continued, as did all the excitement of our careers, and we spent a lot of time apart as we worked at different theaters. Even though I thought we were on the same page about having a family eventually, the years went on and on.
Until my thirty-sixth birthday, when I finally got off the pill. I was terrified. I never thought I would wait this long to have a family, and as the months went on and my period continued to come, I heard again and again how scared Jon was too. Nothing I said would make any difference, and the fights were getting uglier and uglier.
I felt so alone.
And a panic was rising in me. A panic that he didn’t want to have a family. That I was married to a man who didn’t want to be a father.
Then he kneeled in front of me a year later and confirmed my panic. Turns out, everything I felt was actually true.
“When the student is truly ready…the teacher disappears.”
Jon was my teacher for nineteen years. I met him when I was eighteen, wide eyed and madly in love. But now it was time. Time for me to learn what it looked and felt like to be with a partner who shared my deepest desire.
Time to learn what a healthy relationship is, and what healthy and loving communication sounds like.
Time to learn how to honor my instincts and process strong emotions, and especially my anger at being in my late thirties with no children.
He didn’t need to be there anymore, because I was finally waking up and ready to learn the lesson he was in my life to teach me.
He could leave, and actually had to leave in order for me to grow.
Lao Tzu was speaking to one of the most profound teachings we have, that change is constant. People come in and out of our lives for different purposes, and our deepest suffering arises when we try to control every outcome. We try to control our relationships, our friendships, and the people we believe have to always be there.
But what if each teacher is here for the time needed, and when they leave, it’s actually a reflection of what you are ready for?
What if people leaving, relationships ending, is actually a reflection of your readiness for transformation?
What if your heartbreak of any kind, romantic or personal, is a moment of sacred alchemy?
Take a moment today to honor the teachers who have left. Perhaps write in your journal around this question: What did you learn when they were gone?
For me, I sat down on the floor and cried. I felt a great wave of relief recognizing Jon left because I was ready.
And I would not have known otherwise.
You are so much stronger than you know, and your greatest learning comes when you claim the wisdom of those teachers who have left.