When the Guru Disappears: Owning Your ‘Inner Gold’

Oct 16 / Michael Simmons
I've had many spiritual guides throughout various stages of my life, and all of them have disappeared. 

These guides form a kind of psycho-spiritual family tree I carry in my body. Some journeyed with me for a few decades, others for a few years, but in each case, the alchemical makeup of the space between us altered. At some point, my resonance and divine intoxication with each individual faded as a sort of relational-spiritual sobriety settled within. 

What disappeared? What happened here? They bore witness to my "inner gold," the image of God within me, which I could not see. They held up my inner gold so I could see it and grow solid enough to carry it myself. 

In his book, Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection, Robert Johnson describes this process well. He writes: 

"When we awaken to new possibilities in our lives, we often see it first in another person. A part of us that has been hidden is about to emerge, but it doesn't go in a straight line from our unconscious to becoming conscious […] We project our gold onto someone, and suddenly we're consumed with that person […] That's a sure sign that something is changing in us, and we are projecting our gold onto the other person." (Johnson, 3-4)

We Must Project to Become Whole

When you project, you give away something of yourself to another. It's essential to do this. If you never see your reflection in a mirror, you cannot know what you look like. Similarly, if you do not project your shadowed inner gold onto someone else, it will remain hidden. If you find yourself "consumed" with another person, you likely see a hidden part of yourself in them. Psyche (Greek for soul) may draw you to them for greater wholeness. 

Johnson explains further: "Our gold goes first from us to them. Eventually it will come back to us. Projecting our inner gold offers us the best chance for an advance in [wholeness]." (Johnson, 4) So, projecting the emerging imago Dei onto another person is not only unavoidable, it's essential. Our work is to become aware of our golden projections and ask for (in some cases demand) them back.

When our Projections Begin to Fall

"From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must [...] suffer many things [...] and that he must be killed [...]. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" - Matt 16:21-23:24

"But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the [Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." - John 16:7

"However, I also understand discipleship as a stage in human development that can become an appropriate step in maturation. That is, the projection of the Self can be a precursor to the awakening of the Self within." - Meeting the Shadow on the Spiritual Path, by Connie Zweig, PhD

When you find someone to project your inner gold onto, it can feel overwhelming to imagine life without them. However, if you try to maintain the projection, you will deny yourself the vitality your soul requires. When Jesus informed his disciples of his looming death, their reaction was defensiveness and insecurity, and prompted a need for certainty. They couldn't imagine the divinity they saw in Jesus springing up in them. Owning back your inner gold is terrifying, but it is the way of Spirit, the way of wholeness.

Mythologist Michael Meade poetically spoke this in his Living Myth podcast:

"When the cracks in the world become more pronounced, the call of Spirit and the need for awakening, become more apparent. When everything on the outside falls apart, the hidden message inside life moves closer to the surface, calling for our attention."

Where do you see this in your life? What projections are starting to fall? Who are the individuals, institutions, organizations, or initiatives beginning to crack? What are you giving your life to, which no longer supports the new life emerging from within? Is your soul experiencing a changing of seasons that your ego refuses to recognize?

Psychologically, death is not an image of failure but of completion; it reflects loss, but loss in the service of greater wholeness. When the guide in any story or myth dies, they don't disappear. They take up residence within the hero's/heroine's interior life–the qualities that once lived outside now take root inside. As the title and opening quote remind us, when the disciple is ready, the guru disappears. 

Practical Next Steps

Below are a few ways to engage in the essential work of owning your inner gold.

For those who've had their inner gold stolen, or desire to reclaim their inner gold:
Perhaps you've trusted a leader, mentor, pastor, or spiritual guide to carry your inner gold, but in the end, they took it for themselves and never gave it back. Maybe you gave away your gold so long ago that you don't even know where to start looking. I want to invite you to consider individual shadow work with me. If you're interested, email me at [email protected], and I'll send you details. I'd love to set up a 20-minute chat to hear what you're looking to explore and how I can support you.

For Spiritual Directors, Pastors, Leaders, and Soul Companions (carriers of others' projections):Do you have directees, parishioners, or employees projecting their inner gold (or even their less desirable shadowed parts) onto you? Do you feel off balance in these relationships? Would new language and tools be helpful for you? Here are a few options:
  1. Shadow Work for Leaders & Soul Companions Workshop (Nov. 3rd) - In this 1-hour workshop, we'll hear from Connie Zweig, PhD (quoted above), as she discusses the necessity for shadow work to be integrated within spiritual communities/spaces and in the life of spiritual leaders/facilitators.
  2. Shadow Work for Leaders & Soul Companions 4-Week Course - This course is a follow-up to the above workshop and will spring from the topics and stories discussed in Dr. Zweig's book, Meeting the Shadow on the Spiritual Path
  3. If you're interested in individual shadow work, email me at [email protected]. I'll reply with more details. I work with several pastors, priests, and spiritual directors, often in owning their own inner gold and setting healthy boundaries with others' projections.
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Michael Simmons
Michael Simmons is a spiritual director and retreat facilitator, and serves on the leadership team with the Companioning Center and on the board of Deep Water, a local community that provides tools, processes, and space for women and men to heal. Michael is also an ordained elder in the Free Methodist Church and a doctoral student at Portland Seminary where he is also the full-time admissions counselor. Michael is gifted at helping people enter liminal space in order to explore and integrate their inner-landscape. Blending Christian spirituality and Jungian psychology, Michael loves equipping others with tools and language to heal and help others do the same.

You can find out more at Innerworkcommunity.org and email him at [email protected]. Be sure to check out Michael and Liz's (spouse) podcast, The Profaned Ordained, on Spotify and Apple Music.