That A**hole is Really Your Guru.

Via Philip Urso
on Jan 25, 2011
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Philip’s article was first published on ej a year ago; it’s getting a dust-off and celebrating it’s 1st birthday with a repost…

As in A**holeA**holes are the best thing ever for your spiritual growth.

You’re on a spiritual path, and you try to have compassion for all beings. But you draw the line at a**holes, right? It’s as if you say, “I can love all these people, but not this a**hole; this is where I draw the line!”  A**holes show you the limit of your ability to love.

People have a lot of faults. You can put up with most of them. But a**holes are the ones who have faults you find personally offensive.  Whatever it is about them, a**holes show you what you have subconsciously declared “unforgivable.”  And this line in the sand is a key to your own awakening.

Run away!  Run away!

We go through the world… and it goes through us too.  Everything is fine — then we see an a**hole, and he sticks!  You’re in the supermarket, passing by aisle four and, out of the corner of your eye you recognize a person you really don’t like, a real horse’s ass.  Maybe this person has done something to you that you find reprehensible, or maybe you just don’t like them, for whatever reason. You think, “Oh, I hate that dickhead! I hope he didn’t see me!”   You pick up the pace and plan a safe escape.  With growing urgency, you hope you don’t run into him and have to talk to him!

Now, the world no is no longer going through you cleanly. One minute you’re in the supermarket, shopping calmly, and the next you’re in a desperate state, trying to avoid this turkey. Everything was fine until this SOB showed up. Now you’re having a private, internal crisis.

Welcome to the frontier of your own spiritual growth.  Right here in the friggin’ supermarket.  It’s an unexplored frontier, and it’s a little scary.  In this case it’s so scary you are running from it.  Sneaking down aisle six in the opposite direction of the a**hole, you are physically running from it!

Hidden within

Two things can happen, at this point.  You can experience a major clearing in your spiritual growth, or have another lesson in how to make your own pain.  The critical inflection is whether you blame the a**hole for this disturbance or whether you look within yourself for its cause.

Since we’re well schooled in how to create pain, let’s focus on the other choice.  You may say, “Well, it’s definitely the a**hole.  I was fine until I saw him!” In order to go forward, just assume you’re wrong in this assumption.

Consider what you are really reacting to when you see an a**hole. Consider the possibility that the a**hole might be triggering something hidden and unresolved within you.  If that’s true, then the a**hole is not out there; he’s buried alive within you!  The a**hole is showing you what you have deemed “unforgivable.”


We’re insane meaning makers


Try this out: The world you see has no inherent meaning in itself.  It is meaningless.

And our whole life is about trying to give it our own “personalized” meaning.  Relationships, events, circumstances. Think about it.  Don’t we try to “personalize” all these things so that they make sense in our personal story?  Our whole life is about justifying ourselves.  We keep assigning meaning to everything that bothers us so that we make sense.  We explain it to others so they might understand us. We are insane meaning makers.  We desperately make meaning out of nothing so our story still makes sense.  We hope we’ll feel okay and that others will understand us.

A**holes show you what you’ve hidden


If we come across things that we cannot safely fit into our story, well, those are the things that are unforgivable in ourselves.   Those things must be kept hidden!  Those things must be kept out of our story!  Those things must be buried!  Secretly, we think: “No one can see these things about me!  No one—including me—would buy my story if they knew these things about me.”

The catch? These buried unforgivable parts of yourself need expression. They don’t actually want to stay buried. But they are so scary, heinous, and horrible that you don’t want to own up to them. So, instead, you take the unforgivable parts of yourself and project them onto other people. You call them a**holes, bitches, jerks, liars, and—even worse—murderers and terrorists.

You take what is unforgivable in you, deny it in yourself, and project it out into the world. It’s a clumsy and transparent way of protecting your fragile story.  You feel a little better because it’s not you; it’s them. Those bastards! They’re guilty, not me!  This is called projection.

Everyone you condemn in this world is giving you the opportunity to grow spiritually.  A**holes give you a golden opportunity to suddenly see what you could not.

The a**hole is holding a mirror

Projection will never end, and we will never find peace, until we look inside.  While we try to make a**holes guilty instead of ourselves, we are not escaping guilt. We are nurturing it within us.  By looking out and blaming others for our hidden guilt, we distort our vision.  Blaming makes us blind, so we unwittingly keep it safe.  We continue to look out at the meaningless and color it in with our own of fear and guilt.

Our perception of the world is not a “fact” but a distorted mirror.  It reflects back at us our scary personalized story.  In a wonderful way, “a**holes” show us the part we have buried—the hidden part.

There’s more.

The g-word:  the intention for self-sabotage

In spiritual circles they talk about “the power of intention.” You may think you have a nice intention for peace and love and hippy-dom for all.  But don’t forget that guilt is an intention too.  You may think you’re safe from guilt, but if you’re in the habit of noticing the a**holes in your life, you’re really just protecting the guilt within you.  And guilt is an urgent intention. You’ve probably loaded guilt with a lot more power than you load into your nice intentions.

Guilt is the intention to be punished. This is primal.  Pause and think about that a moment.   The guilty ask for punishment.  Don’t you in some insane way welcome some form of punishment—whether in the form of slight inconvenience or full-on trauma in your life—when you feel guilty?   Guilt is a prayer for punishment!

The prayer of guilt is the source of all self-sabotage. If you have a**holes in your life, and you don’t look within, your prayer will be answered.  Something will go wrong.  (And you think your prayers are never answered!)

Back in the aisle four: your spiritual frontier


Every time you feel resistance to a person, thing, or circumstance, you have an opportunity to clear guilt from your life.

To enter your spiritual journey, ask yourself these two questions:

1.    What exactly do I hate about this jerk?  What exactly did he ever do or say that I find unforgivable?

2.    Have I ever, EVER, done, said, or thought about doing, that same thing?

If you want truth, search with your whole heart.  You may notice a tendency to gloss over, to be “right.”  This is delusion.

Be patient. It’s in there.  Maybe you’ve never actually done that thing—but, have you thought about doing it? Have you been tempted to do it with enough venom that you needed to bury the impulse?  I suggest, yes.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t be projecting it.  If you’re bothered by a person, if there is an a**hole in your life, you’ve buried something inside you.

Have you ever had a murderous thought? And now, what petty crime is this a**hole guilty of?  Why else would it bother you, if it weren’t unforgivable to you and in you?

Awaken by a**hole

Once you see the a**hole in yourself, you can forgive yourselfYou have just expanded your ability to love.   You just cleared away an intention for punishment, for failure.  And you removed a major obstruction to your own happiness.

You’ll know it worked if this a**hole doesn’t feel like one to you anymore. You’ll feel clear. He will never look like an a**hole to you again.  He may have surface quirks, yes, but you won’t be afraid of him anymore.  That shows you that you forgave yourself.   In truth, he was your guru.  You might even quietly appreciate that about him.  (This does not mean that you need to continue a relationship with him.)  And now, you have one less person in your life that gets you hung up, stuck, and anxious.

If you persisted in looking into yourself this way every time you felt anxious or hung up about anything, you would eventually clear away all the a**holes, all the anxiety, and all the guilt in your life.  You would be surrounded by friends everywhere.  And all you had to do was clean out yourself by forgiving yourself. The people out there had nothing to to with it, ever.

If you’re lucky, really lucky, maybe someday you can be an a**hole for someone else!


About Philip Urso

Yoga Teacher Philip Urso loves to train yoga teachers how to teach exhilarating and unscripted vinyasa yoga classes. He co-founded Live Love Teach Yoga Teacher Training School with fellow yoga teachers Deborah Williamson and Stacy Dockins. His two 5-star podcasts on iTunes — A Crash Course in Miracles and Yoga Classes, Live Love Teach — have over two million downloads. Philip studies the dynamics of love and fear and teaches practical, reliable and lasting methods for choosing between the two. His Elephant Journal column explores these very themes. More info at


36 Responses to “That A**hole is Really Your Guru.”

  1. TamingAuthor says:

    Good lessons. Very accurate.

    So how does this chain of causality begin? What locks us up in this confusing matrix? What are the primary types of things that knock people out of this awareness?

    How do you encourage people to start down this path?

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Seva Soule Yoga, practiceYOGA. practiceYOGA said: More Philip! <3 […]

  3. Through my own soul searching and transformations…I have been (and currently am) an a-hole to a lot of people….but you know how I look at it…I always know, in my heart, that they still love me when they get right down to it and I feel the same within myself when I think of my personal a-holes…ya know…even the people I really cannot stand…I always do my best to note their good points because everyone has them…do I still consider them a-holes…yes, no doubt, but I do leave room within to secretly hope they will one day see themselves and reach their potential.
    Thanks for the article, I appreciate when someone "lays it out", realizes what ALL OF US think and feel as human beings and can be completely honest!! :>)

  4. Sharon Marie says:

    FIRST, FORGIVE yourself, for whatever wrong you think you've done to yourself or to another person. Your relationship will shift from self hatred, to self like, and eventually, self love. THEN, and only then, will you be able to forgive that beautiful guru a**hole in your life. Be patient. It takes time and practice to undo the self hate and to remember who you really are; LOVE. Namaste

  5. Philip Urso says:

    Giselle, an observation. Regarding a**holes, it does nothing to "note their good points" and not deal with exactly why "I still consider them a-holes…" You react to them from something within you. It has nothing to do with them. You, leaving "room within to secretly hope they will one day see themselves and reach their potential" does nothing. You'll wait a long time!


    Stop looking at their "good points." Look intensely at why they are an a-hole to you. Then, find the very same thing within yourself. And forgive you. If you are successful, the a**hole would miraculously disappear! Really what would happen is the a-hole in you would finally be forgiven and you would not project it on innocent bystanders anymore.

  6. I do forgive myself…I've been abused (physically, emotionally and mentally), homeless, spit on, publicly humiliated and almost killed…all because I refuse to give into others way of being and choose to remain who I am no matter the circumstances…and I'm still here and gradually coming "full circle"…soo…yes, I have, definitely, forgiven myself (and continue to do so)…and as I come to know the real me….I realize I am not perfect but I have always given others the benefit of the doubt over and over (including the "a-holes" and some remain in my life still and, obviously, are growing and are shedding their "a-hole ways") and that is why I know that they do, deep-down, realize the truth within themselves…unfortunately, I have realized through my trials and tribulations that not everyone becomes enlightened enough within themselves to, not only, know who they really are, but, also, to come to understand what it means to not be so hard on themselves so that they may not be so hard on others…like I said…

  7. I have learned this lesson the hard way and I continue to learn it and the more I become whole within myself, the more people "see" the real me and those that are ready and willing I will reconnect with and neither one of us will be an a-hole to each other any longer. (had to make another comment to fit all this in.) :>)

  8. sadienardini says:

    O. M. G.

    I love it!!!

    Now please write one on maintaining our Zen around soccer moms gone wild!

  9. Sharon Marie says:

    Hi Giselle. I might be your a**hole. A friend of mine had very similar experiences that you are mentioning here. My friend was quite emotionally invested in these experiences, very attached. I would go as far as to say, the experiences defined him. As my friend poured out his story of incredible hardship, even near death experience to a "guru", the guru's response was, "Yes, and your point is?" My friend was kind of shocked, and stunned into silence. My friend said to himself, "What an a**hole!" Then the guru said, "These experiences, they happened for you, not to you. This is life! Congratulations, you have a life!" My friend seemed to walk much lighter after that encounter.

  10. Julie Duncan says:

    I could not have come across this at a better time. Thank you!

  11. kathik says:

    Philip, does a-hole / teacher work the other way ’round? ‘Cause you don’t SEEM like an a-hole! 🙂
    This is really easy to see in our kids, and makes laughing at tantrums much easier … i don’t have to dig too deep to find the shrieking brat or petulant teen in myself! Grownup a-holes, different story … this is hard work. Thanks a lot, A-Man!

  12. TamingAuthor says:

    How do you distinguish between a-holes that are annoying and maybe in your way, and those who are actually very destructive? How do you apply these very valid concepts when dealing with those who enslave or destroy human lives? Do you believe we can successfully apply these concepts to issues of world peace? (Not saying that I do not, as I do, but was wondering how you had thought this out.)

  13. Ross Knights says:

    Yup. I have had some really outstanding yoga teachers who had outstanding a**hole moments.

  14. Kali Ma Das says:

    My Guru says we try to fix uncomfortable moments so we can be OK in them instead of fixing ourselves to be OK in every moment. Become A-Hole Proof!

  15. evolving says:

    I too have the very same question/conflict. There is an @$$hole in my life that has put a direct target on me. He is my ex. is extremely abusive, and is a functioning sociopath. We share children, and are attached that way for at least another 5 years or so. We've been separated 7 years, I've overcome and grown immensely in that time, yet cannot figure out what more to do internally to free myself from the destruction he creates.

  16. Candace says:

    Thanks for your article Philip, it's always good to be reminded that I am responsible for my thoughts and perceptions. However, It seems to this tiny mind that there needs to be a distinction between people and their actions. The idea that actions have no inherent moral weight keeps making me itch.
    Jesus and God, for whom Jesus spoke, do love all humans, regardless. However, Jesus warned us that without sincere repentance and reform of our sinful behavior we will never find God (the Kingdom of Heaven) within us. He didn’t walk into the temple and say to the money-changers, I love you, keep doing what you’re doing. He was pissed off and told them to stop defiling His Father’s temple.
    Jesus recognized a clear distinction between sin, actions that keep us from knowing God, and moral behavior that puts us on a path toward God.
    Yoga recognizes the same distinction between moral and immoral behavior by setting up the Yamas and Niyamas as a foundation for a yogic practice.

  17. Candace says:

    So, yes, love all humans and have compassion for the suffering we experience the thicker our veil from God. But the Universe/God, through It’s natural functioning, presents a very narrow key-hole through which it can be fully known by humans and those that pass through carry no weight of sin. In this way a natural form of ethical judgment does play out no matter my thoughts or perceptions. My job, of course, is just to keep seeking my own heart’s voice that will guide me toward God and let the Universe do the rest (and the a**holes be themselves).
    These rambles of a simpleton, which may come from a complete misunderstanding of your point, are given with humble respect…

  18. Tamara says:

    nicely done~ i agree with so much of this….those that trigger us the most are an invitation to look at the trigger. there is a balance between knowing the issue is yours and the ahole is mirroring you, and then the flip side of seeing the gift in knowing your truth and handing the ahole's stuff back to them and turning away.
    nicely done. brave point to take on!

  19. lauren hanna says:

    Okay yes! We forgive ourselves and look inside to determine why we see this person as an a**hole. But also, what about those who hurt us without cause? and who really are a**holes? Not only must we forgive ourselves for seeing the a**hole as such, we must forgive them and practice what a psychologist would call – unconditional positive regard 🙂 After all, if this person is truly an a**hole, they must have a lot of shit going on. And, more than anything, they probably just want a great big hug. We are all doing the best that we can – and when the a**hole personality dominates in people, we should forgive and love them even more, because they probably really need it.

  20. Philip Urso says:

    To see him differently is forgivness. To see that he is afraid and doesn't know what to do, just like you and me, all of us. He will change form an a**hole into a scared child in your eyes if you are successful. He may still act in crazy ways and be difficult, but your huge opportunity for spiritual growth is to see what you see in him, what is at the core, his real fear, and investigate whether you have ever felt it yourself. Forgive it in you, and he will never scare you again. Understanding and compassion will replace fear, even if he's so out of control that they lock him up. compassion replaces hatred.

    There are 2 easy questions. it costs you nothing to try. You could gain a lot.

  21. TamingAuthor says:

    For the most part, I agree with your analysis. Though I do believe there are differences that can be recognized, and recognizing those differences plays a role in successful handling.

    Forgiveness, that irrational act, is no doubt an important part of the transition to awareness that is supernatural. Given forgiveness makes no sense in a rational world, it is only accomplished from a transcendent view. We have to see things "as they are" in their deeper essence to be able to forgive. You have pinpointed a very critical variable.

    There is, however, a need to discern the exact state of affairs. In many cases the *-hole's behavior arises from banal sources, such as misunderstanding, miscommunication, disappointed expectations, false perceptions, or opposed interests.

    However, as one moves along the continuum, I believe there are those who operate from extremely deep ontological fear. They are a small percentage but a very destructive group who imagine they are under attack from all quarters, at all times. As the ultimate catch-22 they see your love as a Trojan horse. They see your love as an attempt to get behind their defenses and sabotage them. Very tough to handle. Perhaps we can misjudge the potential depth and extent of the "evil" that is possible in this regard. (And when we misjudge the task, we end up thinking the fundamentals are not true, when it is simply a misjudgment re the size of the task.)

    Along this continuum one has to exercise discernment. Misjudge the nature of the problem and one is subject to considerable harm. One may need to put in place special conditions for those who suffer ontological fear so they can find enough safety to begin the process of coming out of their destructive mindset. The safety comes from both the environment (a retreat or other solitude) and from the quality of being one brings as a presence as one "sits with them."

    In these more extreme cases, we are dealing with a significant chain of karma that has to be unwound quite carefully, with skillful means. I guess i am saying you have hit on the fundamentals and then there are the nuances that make success increasingly likely.

    The line of thinking you propose (forgiveness) is rich with potential. Perhaps we have just not satisfactorily filled out the picture and world peace awaits the fruit of such work.

  22. […] Is it a sin to be afraid? You may see what was unforgivable in yourself and in others as simply mistakes made from fear. Would you condemn another person for being afraid — just as you are sometimes? Could you see that all our actions born in fear -no matter what they look like, are really a cry for help? Would you condemn another for asking for your help? (Here we may be forgiving our own projection.) […]

  23. […] expression of my voice I sat him down and angrily declared, “I feel like I am married to an asshole, and I do not want to be married to an asshole.” I mentioned a few instances that I felt were […]

  24. […] I once saw a book while browsing at Borders titled “How to Hug a Porcupine.” The sub-title read: “101 ways to love the most difficult people in your life.” It is common, and it is human, to have difficult relationships in life, whether they are romantic, familial, friendly or business-related. Our porcupines can be our biggest teachers in life, and that is a blessing. Alas, a blessing in disguise. […]

  25. I hate you. You've ruined my escape from supermarkets and my deft ability to avoid a$$holes. Damn you.

    Pretty spot on and hilarious to boot….lets dust this relic off and air it out again, shall we? :)) Thanks Philip….write more!

    Posted to Elephant Journal on Facebook

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Like Elephant Journal on Facebook

  26. thumbsdown says:

    Do you have to use a**hole? how ugly. And in the same sentence as guru. Ya know, there is something to be said for respectable journalism and spirituality. It's just so sensationalistic and crude. I personally didn't read any of it since I see it laden with the term. Can we not make our point without going for attention grabbing verbal garb?

  27. thumbsdown says:

    P.S. words have power. We know that. Everything is vibrational. Must we use this ugly term alongside quoting Course in Miracles and Jesus!?? I'm sorry but it is just sooooo unnecessary. So one would wonder….are you really honest about your motive in using it?

  28. karlsaliter says:

    Nice work here. I liked the thought about how " We go through the world… and it goes through us too.", the idea of how its clean passage through us can get nixed in a moment of judgement.

  29. Karl…what the…?!

    There's this song in my head, "Everywhere I Go You're There…."

  30. Merry White Benezra says:

    Yes up to a point. But sometimes you discover the a**hole guru has done a fair amount of damage while you were trying to be spiritually correct. This is the nub of my novel, Special Karma: A Zen Novel of Love and Folly.

  31. Renee says:

    Yay. I graduated! In my current situation. I’m the a-hole!! I did the personal work so the other person is not for me. Now what do you do when you know that you are somebody’s “guru”? Move on from the relationship and let the toil in their own discomfort? What’s the most loving way to proceed? I’ve apologized and owned all of my part and I don’t see anyway for the relationship to continue which is sad. The best I know how to do is bow out gracefully and politely decline any attempts to invite me back be the target they project on.