Apprenticeship Myths

Under The Teaching Tree by Terence McKenna 1985

Apprenticeship Myths

He who has eyes to see, let him see.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The great universities of the Renaissance expanded the teaching of classical philosophy, arts and sciences to a wider public. The system demanded great effort, discipline and initiative from the student; the responsibility was entirely on him and the means at his disposal. Before that, teaching was limited to technical instruction and selective training in a rigid and unilateral way and for only a few.

At present, the concept of teaching embraces the innovative principles of the XXth Century that responded to the development and flexibility of the mind and the dominant role of personal psychology. Schools such as “The Little Red Schoolhouse” and Rudolf Steiner’s approach revealed the importance of reaching and stimulating the student first, so that it is he/she who desires instruction. Several types of intelligence were identified, and perception of the unique inner world of each acquired as much importance as purpose.

At all times, apprenticeship involves all aspects of daily life and experience. It begins with the home, the family, social surroundings, and extends to the university or technical school. Each type has different requirements and stresses different disciplines. Nevertheless, generally speaking apprenticeship continues to be regarded as a force that is exerted in one direction only: it is the teacher who imposes the rules and the material. The relationship between teacher and pupil remains formal.

Of them all, spiritual training distinguishes between external application that focuses on execution and appearance, and inner in-depth capacity of perception.


Spirituality is not a trade for which a person can be trained; it depends as much on the teacher as on the student. Spiritual apprenticeship does not follow a manual of rules and instructions, nor does it require intellectual effort. It requires breaking with all mechanical formulation and voluntary immersion into a state of constant receptivity, awareness, and energy management. Movement and flexibility are essential, as are the delicate arts of listening and transmission.

To develop Consciousness requires a sort of juggling where rules of the physical world are observed while remaining firmly loyal to the dictates of inner sensibility. The first deals with the administration of form, what is lived in the physical body and is managed daily. The second follows a universal ethics where in-depth inner reality mirrors absolute perfection. For the normal personality this spells fear, insecurity and constant risk. Instead of comfort and convenience, the spiritual path is one of discrimination, and even if it may be followed in urban life, it does not cater to usual material priorities.

It is not a doing. It emerges from within the seeker, predominating over everything else. It defines the way in which intelligence and the senses function, determining priorities that appear abstract to others, evoking a wider and deeper vision of existence. The spiritual teacher can only facilitate the experience that the student bears inside of himself, and help him integrate this state of being in the world. The purpose of the information the teacher brings creates space and defines affinities, tracing an invisible ancient route. It is the opposite to the habitual preparation of the student for the world. Instead of accumulating information, he is shown how to extract the essence of reality to allow for revelation.


The posture of the apprentice in the field of spirituality is to sustain lucidity and purpose on an Ideal while holding a broad diffuse perception of the emergence of subtly fluctuating phenomena. It transcends time and space, basic ingredients of physical survival and management, simultaneously maintaining physical, mental and emotional health in a complex world of reactions.

Vision emerges from a change of vibratory frequency in the whole body that develops attention without tension. This activates a higher holistic intelligence that transcends personal interpretation. It resembles the type of attention and opening necessary to supervise a wide field of possibilities, without a fixed point/perspective.


Perception is the decoding ability of intelligence. At the spiritual level it requires an adjustment of the lens of the observer who goes beyond the experience of being the subject who perceives the external world and relates to it as active and manipulative agent, to being a receptive aware being who influences and is influenced by its surroundings.

It may be compared to dreaming or an elevated state where one perceives oneself from a sort of subjective objectivity on equal footing with what surrounds us. Reality is an experience that reveals a different and yet familiar world, more luminous, and of greater and more extended dimensions.


To adjust adequately his or her capacity of sensibility, the apprentice must be familiar with the vast region of ordinary emotions and at the same time must have acquired a certain mastery over them, so that they no longer control attention. The feeling experienced at these levels involves the whole self. Interpretation, recognition, or revelation comes as a result of an impersonally affectionate receptivity.

The experience of Truth is caught with all the senses, at all levels and possible purposes, in a state of transcendence, without definition, priority or material meanings.

The spiritual teacher guides the student of Truth towards global perception and the recognition of perfection through the depth and amplitude of his or her own experience in the world. He (or she) never forces or demands anything that does not emerge from the availability of the individual. Explicit or implicit responsibility and permission is fundamental for the simple reason that learning involves the development and refinement of willpower. The teacher orients through insinuation or directives rooted in universal ethics, and whatever conclusions a student draws are never verifiable or comparable in the material sense.

The authentic teacher inspires the student in the experience of being alone before Truth, and whole, making his or her own decisions, assuming consequences, and learning by sharing and leading in the world. Instead of a traditional placid shepherd who gathers and feeds needy sheep, in the spiritual path the teacher is a teacher of teachers.


Teachings create expectations and apprenticeship, ambition.

In places like South America, there is a tendency to adopt a posture of distance and conditionality towards the teacher. Such a one is elevated for its title, even if in truth he/she is another employee, paid to forge an image or a form. The student only needs to obey, and this attitude is called “respect”. It does not think for itself but merely repeats what “should be”, automatically responding to the prevailing confusion over knowing and being. A teacher is expected to model the student through instruction and imparted information. Subsequent interpretation and flexibility is a side effect to which not much importance is placed.

Under the stoic surface of the “respectful” student, resentment and demand may be found: someday he or she will be recognised as someone special. Interest is limited to short attention spans where material priorities prevail – the senses and the intellect. Under it all, an infantile hopefulness is detected: the promise of a formula of “being right” that wins respect and admiration from elders and peers. Because, for such an individual, Truth is a prize that is won with time and money, confirmed by eventual certification.

In some places of the world the posture of both the teacher and the student go to the extreme opposite. There is little obedience or respect, and under the seal of individuality and creativity truths are distorted and absurd expectations sold.


Imitation is not reality. We would need to understand better the concepts of education, mastery, discipline, types and levels of learning, and finally recognise the implications of aptitude and individual disposition. Most important is the recognition of the dignity involved in the nature of transmission and the depth of genuine commitment that a person must make to prepare him or herself to learn.

For everyone, the laboratory or school of learning is always life, the substance-matter that composes daily experience and common situations. Along with this consciously sustained perspective, the keen eyes and senses of the apprentice behold a universe of subtleties, tonalities, meanings and relationships of all sort. The most difficult situations become a challenge and acquire a purpose that opens the understanding of multiple possibilities and probabilities.

In this type of experience, the relationship between master and student becomes one of integrity, authentic respect and gratitude – the first for the opportunity to serve, and the second for the essential inner contact that reveals infinite nuances of feeling and greater meaning.

The only thing asked of the apprentice is to get out of center-stage. Essentially, there is no great difference among technical, university, or spiritual learning. Instead, it is one of individual priority and discernment.