Who do you think you are?

Published on February 10, 2012 by      Print
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By Scott Robinson

Misery comes through attachment, not through work.
As soon as we identify ourselves with the work we do,
we feel miserable; but if we do not identify
ourselves with it, we do not feel that misery.
Swami Vivekananda, Karma Yoga

During a delusional period when I was pursuing what I thought was a vocation to the ordained Christian ministry, someone gave me a list of things ordination would not do. Two items on the list were:

  1. It will not make you more holy.
  2. It will not make you less lonely.

Preparing to self-identify as clergy will improve neither your interior make-up nor your social situation. And why should it? We can practice Christian ministry without being ordained ministers; in fact, all Christians are called upon to do just that. But as a friend of mine put it at the time, “People get to a certain level of holiness, and they think they ought to be ordained.”

Most of the stories I read in RY that lampoon the foibles of Yoga Zombies and Soulless Hippies seem to me to be getting at the same thing: you can practice yoga without needing to self-identify as a yogi. A mala around your wrist won’t make you any more holy than a clerical collar around your neck.

But people feel a strong need to identify themselves as something–to deploy social markers that, they believe, will make them feel more­ (or at least appear more) holy, sexy, successful, wealthy, important, sophisticated, stylish, influential or any combination of the above.  Why else would there be so many yoga teachers? You get to a certain level of bendiness and you think you ought to be certified to teach. (Note: this does not apply to any yoga teachers who are reading this, OK?)

I never wrote more music, or had more success in the classical music world in which I was trained, than when I worked on a loading dock. I’d get home at 3:30, take a shower, and compose music all afternoon and evening. (And, I could lift heavy things.) But I spent an awful lot of that period of my life being miserable. Given the opportunity to be a working class sage like the garbage man in Dilbert, or Larry Darrell in The Razor’s Edge, I squandered it bitching and moaning about “wasting my life.” I am a composer, I kept telling myself, as though the fact that I spent hours every day composing had no bearing on that fact. And maybe going back to school and getting a teaching job were the right things to do. And maybe they weren’t. I do know that I wasn’t as “successful” a composer as an adjunct professor as I was when I was working in a tire warehouse; I was only marginally less miserable.

Death of a Salesman
is the story of Willy Loman, a traveling rep who never makes the splash in the world that he wants to.  Though he makes a living, he never becomes the successful, universally known and “well-liked” figure he desperately wants to be.  Moreover, his son Biff, having rejected his father’s profession, is also failing to make something of himself, in Willy’s estimation.  Ultimately, Willy attempts to redeem his own failure by committing suicide in order to finance a business for his sons with the life insurance money.

After Willy’s death, Biff tries to get his still gung-ho younger brother Happy to see the truth about their father.  Though Willy had put his whole life into succeeding as a salesman, Biff argues that his true calling was masonry, which Willy regarded as a mere hobby.  “There is more of him in that front stoop than in all the sales he ever made,” Biff says, referring to one of Willy’s projects. “He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.”

How does a person travel down the wrong road for years, decades—even a whole lifetime?

Is there no voice within saying, “Wait, stop, go back, exit here”?  And if there is, how do we silence it, and why? Like the man who looked for hours under a streetlight for the keys he had dropped in the alley because the light was better there, we waste so much time looking for what we want where it isn’t to be found.

Happily, if nobody ever figured out that they were barking up the wrong karmic-vocational tree, there wouldn’t be any Recovering Yogi, and we would all be the poorer for it. But maybe if we thought of some of the apparently soulless and undead as tragic­ — indeed, as Willy Loman in Lululemon — they might make more sense to us. They are, after all, as many (most?) of us have been at one time or another, consumed by “the underlying fear of… being torn away from our chosen image of what or who we are in this world.”*

* Arthur Miller’s “Tragedy and the Common Man”

About Scott Robinson

Scott Robinson heard Krishna Das say, “I don’t think my high school guidance counsellor had ‘kirtan walla’ on his list of professions,” and every day he feels better for having heard that. In his mid-forties, Scott gave up college music teaching and embarked on full-time a kirtan/spiritual direction/dad track in 2009. He is currently finishing up study in spiritual direction at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, and has begun study at the New Seminary for Interfaith Studies in New York. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, two brilliant daughters and two incessantly shedding dogs. You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about Scott’s work and more at www.opentothedivine.com .



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  1. Matthew says:

    A welcome respite from snark. Thanks for this earnest and thoughtful piece.

  2. Joslyn Hamilton says:

    As someone who took about 35 years to come to terms with who I actually am (a writer), and spent way too many years as a yoga teacher because it seemed like the logical thing to do, I so appreciate this piece and found it quite moving. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Scott.

  3. Don says:

    This is an excellent piece, thanks for sharing!

  4. T.A.H. says:


  5. kylie says:

    um, what just happened? i was totally with you until the middle of the second-last sentence. the rest of it makes perfect sense and is an excellent reminder of lots of things. and then my eyebrows met in the middle as i tried to understand where lululemon came into it. the rest of the piece comes over as thoroughly inspirational, and then it looks like there’s a random dig at the end. please, is that what you were trying to get across, or have i misunderstood?

    • Scott Robinson says:

      Hi, Kylie. Sorry for the confusion. If I understand correctly, you’re asking if I was making a “random dig” at Lululemon. Not at all. I was simply positing a different way of thinking about the “Yoga Zombies” on the next mat–one that both honored the tragic aspect of self-identification, and amused me by the way it sounded in my head. Try saying it out loud–maybe you’ll see (hear?) it my way.

  6. Chrissy says:

    I loved this thoughtful piece. While I have bounced from one thing to another over the last 20 years, nursing always came back full circle…releasing the fear and jumping in feet first has been both a blessing and a challenge…it’s not easy to figure out where you need to be in the world….this is a great reminder that it is OK!

  7. Cookie says:

    This is really nice. Not why I came here tonight, but glad I did. Hey, who really says “I wanna be a yoga teacher when I grow up!”, either? New Seminary for Interfaith Studies? Maybe that’s where I should go next. Hmmn, maybe, after I get these kids raised…..

    • Scott Robinson says:

      Thanks, Cookie. Actually, the New Seminary makes it pretty easy to learn from a distance; you may want to check them out now, just to see if the program can fit into your life while the nest is still full!

  8. Ad says:

    I agree with Matthew. I unsubscribed from RY because I was tired of the snarky posts trashing Lulu (no, never bought anything there myself) or snide comments about the “perfect, pretty young girls.” People aren’t soulless zombies–what a horrible and judgmental way to think about others. Give them a break. They person decked out in everything lulu is probably just as insecure as the person worrying about being the only one not in lulu.

    This is yoga. Why do we care what people wear or where they put their mat? But some RY contributors and commenters clearly do care, which is fine; I was free to unsubscribe and I did.

    This post, however, might have me back as a reader. I’m glad I saw it passed around on Facebook. This is exactly what I hoped for when I started reading RY. Kudos to an amazing writer with a great message.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Me, too. As a home yoga practitioner and someone who eschews almost all of commercialized yoga, and has no desire to take a teacher training OR practically any workshops.

      I’d spent about $1,000 on studio yoga classes over the past 3 years.

      I actually first got into online downloads just one month ago.

      Snark and being above it all at the same time are not appreciated at the lower levels on the Maslow scale that I inhabit.

    • Scott Robinson says:

      Many thanks, Matthew.

  9. Dan says:

    Fear causes us to silence the voice within; income is necessary in our society and is our primary measure of success, so there is tremendous pressure to let “career” dominate our lives. Few of us are lucky enough to find support to explore paths in life that could help us understand our emotional predispositions and discover a way to live harmoniously, with a sense of well being. We find ourselves with responsibilities – debt, children, aging parents, a difficult marriage – before we get a chance to know ourselves and discover just how far off the path we’ve gotten…

    • Scott Robinson says:

      Absolutely, Dan. I think that’s what Swami Vivekananda was getting at; whatever we have to do to get by, if we don’t identify ourselves with it, it won’t make us miserable. I was just as much a composer while working a day job in a tire warehouse as I was when teaching college music–more of one, in some ways. But I kept telling myself that I couldn’t “be” a composer as long as I “was” a loading-dock worker, so I made myself miserable.

  10. lucy says:

    “Who do you think you are?”

    Ummm… I’m Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are??

    but for reals, thanks!

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