Whenever we look up to someone, a few different things may be going on.
One is projections of qualities alive in our awareness which don’t fit into our identity, so must be happening with someone else. Another person may be more awake, more clear, more insightful, have an open heart, and more, and whenever I see that in someone else, it means it is also right here, although not noticed much yet.
For instance, this is already Buddha Mind, only a Buddha Mind manifesting confusion and not noticing itself very much. This is already awakeness, right here, in the midst of all confusion and dullness, and this awakeness is no different from the awakeness here when it notices itself. There is already a profound amount of wisdom and insight here, as becomes clear when I do inquiry (The Work, Big Mind process, headless experiments) and find in myself what I otherwise go for teachers and wise ones for. There is already an open heart here, only temporarily hidden by all the dust kicked up from beliefs and knots.
Another, related process, is a clinging to certain beliefs and ideas about how people, or a category of people, or a particular person, is/are or should be.
All of this is inevitable and a part of the process, as long as there is still a belief in stories and identities, and still a sense of an I with an Other.
Projections help us notice what is already here, either as potential or unfolded more fully, but we can’t see as here because it doesn’t fit our identity. We see it first out there, in the wider world and someone else, become more familiar with it there, and can then slowly find it right here now as well. The wider world becomes a mirror of what is already here now.
And beliefs and identities inevitably are at odds with reality, which helps us see that they are just beliefs and identities, and in that is an invitation to allow attachment to them to fall away.
For both projections and beliefs (two sides of the same coin) it is helpful for our projection object to – at some point – fail horribly in living up to what we project onto them or our beliefs. It will happen at some point, whether they do it consciously or not, whether they have prepared us for it (to the extent possible) or not, and whether it is a gradual disillusionment or a spectacular downfall.
When we become more familiar with this process for ourselves, in our own life, we learn to see the tremendous beauty in it. There is a perfection built into it, which unfolds as it has to, and is always an invitation for us to find in ourselves what we seek out there, and see how our beliefs are flawed – just by its virtue of being a belief.
There is a beauty in our parents not living up to our childhood godlike image of them. Of Santa Claus to be revealed as fictional. Of our partner turning out to be just human as ourselves. Of Trungpa being a raving drunk. Of GR attaching to one-sided views and being an arrogant asshole. Of Richard Baker’s door having somebody’s wife’s shoes outside of it.
Of course, we have to use some common sense here as well. We are all flawed in contrast with our abstract ideas of how things should be, and it is a good thing. But that doesn’t mean we need to put up with abuse or whatever else may be going on. For instance, if a spiritual teacher’s flaws have too much of an impact of the community of students or ourselves, it is probably good to address it openly and see if it can be changed, and if not, have the teacher leave, and if that is not possible, then leave oneself.