In addition to the obvious spiritual mentors and comrades, try looking elsewhere. In fact, look everywhere. Maybe your best mentors and spiritual allies never set foot in a church or synagogue. Your spiritual guru could be sitting on the surfboard next to you waiting for the next wave. Your spiritual ally could be the tattooed, multipierced convenience store cashier. Your spiritual guide could be the kindergarten-age child who seems to do nothing but smile and stare at you on an airplane. Think of the possibilities.
Years ago, after driving my cherished BMW convertible for over 120,000 miles, I was on my way home from leading a motivational seminar when my car decided to blow up on the freeway. Luckily, I was able to coast off an exit and right into the parking lot of a nearby convenience store.
Once I gathered my thoughts, I realized I was in an unsafe part of town. I also realized I wasn't alone. Although I hadn't immediately noticed him, I soon became aware of a man who had instantly run to my aid. Apparently, he'd seen my car coast into the parking lot and, for some reason, decided to take me on as his project. While I angrily used my cell phone to call a tow truck, he proceeded to comfort me by telling me that he was an auto mechanic. He quickly began working under my smoking raised hood, all the while conversing with me in what I remember to be a very kind, comforting conversation. "Where are you from? What do you do?" he asked. "I hope your family isn't worried about you. I'll try to find out what the problem is and see if I can fix your car."
After being told by the tow truck company that it would be more than an hour's delay, and after my stranger-mechanic reluctantly proclaimed no hope for my BMW, I halfway surrendered to what I'd previously considered to be an annoying conversation. I began to answer his questions about who I was, adding, "No, my family won't be worried about me. Thanks for asking." I then told him that I was a motivational speaker on my way home from a seminar I'd just facilitated in Los Angeles.
"Oh, you mean like Zig Ziglar?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I used to listen to Zig Ziglar tapes. I loved those tapes."
"Well, I've got some tapes of my own in the trunk," I said. I opened the trunk and offered them to him. My newfound friend continued on with his kind words of consolation for my unfortunate situation, and assured me that he would stay with me until the tow truck arrived.
I finally started asking my rescuer about himself. "What's your name?" I asked.
"What do you do?"
"Well, I've worked as an auto mechanic."
"Where do you live?"
"Over there," he pointed.
"In that apartment building behind the convenience store?"
"No," he replied.
"Where then?" I asked.
"In my car, with my wife and my little boy, behind the store."
With a huge flood of emotion, I suddenly realized what a fool I'd been. For almost two hours, this kind, unassuming man had comforted, humored, and protected me. And although I offered him money, and a "let's go to the grocery store" proposal, the only thing he would accept from me was my motivational tape series. "I'll cherish this forever!" he proclaimed as I climbed into the cab of the tow truck.
A lot of preachers and speakers (including me) claim to be many things, but this man was a true guru for those two hours. If I'd had a tape recorder or a camera with me that day, everyone would have been impressed by his example. But since I didn't, all I can do is tell his story and remind myself that gurus come in many guises.