Who do you think you are?
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:
- It will not make you more holy.
- 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 .