Door-to-Door Dharma: Assuming the Missionary Position.

Via on Apr 6, 2013

One dark, dreary day last week I took to my bed for some much-needed snuggling time with my dog, Garbo.

She nestled her head into my armpit as I grabbed a book from the bedside table. This, I thought, is heaven. Then the doorbell rang, sending Garbo rumbling to the front window to terrify my guests. Who was at the door?

Jesus, that’s who.

No, it would seem that a dog and a book and a rainy day are not, in fact, heaven, as two Jehovah’s Witnesses on my front stoop were prepared to inform me. They invited me to the sanctified local Hotel-and-Convention-Center to find out what heaven is really all about and how I can get there. This was all the proselytizing they had time for before an 80 pound dog was poking her snarling snout through the door, ready to maul them to a polyester pulp.

Though they seemed to know a lot about eternity, they weren’t quite ready to be taken there just yet. Join us, they said, and left the stoop quickly.

Good girl—I patted Garbo’s head. Along with being the best companion a gal could ever hope to have, she is the hell-beast that’s saved me from dozens of altercations with Christians. Her fur covers every piece of furniture and all of my clothing, but the godless fear that she inspires makes all those hairballs worth it. Good girl.

I mean no disrespect to Mormons or Baptists or Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I’ve never understood why they think that showing up at my house in the middle of the day, inviting themselves in, and asking the most personal questions about my spirituality is a good idea.

The minute I see them coming down the street, Bibles in hand, donning well-pressed trousers and ankle-length skirts, I turn down the stereo, draw the curtains and hide behind the sofa—just like when I used to hear gunshots outside my Maryland apartment window. To me and (I assume) many others, the missionary pop-in is just as scary as marauding groups of gun-toting teen gang members…though, luckily, for the most part, both groups are terrified of large, snarling dogs.

Admittedly, I’m a self-righteous asshole when it comes to Christian missionaries. I can’t stand the way they appear at my door, assuming that I’ve not yet heard the good word. I can’t stand the way they try to sell religion with a stack of pamphlets that depict Jesus as a benevolent, Kenny Loggins-looking white man with a fistful of fish. And I really can’t stand the way they accuse me of having a one-way ticket to hell when I mention that I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.

The look in their eyes when I say this is the same one in the eyes of American Idol judges gazing upon auditioning fat girls with shrill voices. That’s sweet, they seem to say, but it ain’t gonna get you to the top.

No amount of, Yeah, well the Bhagavad Gita says I can, can wipe these smirks off their faces.

Believe me, I’ve tried.

A recent conversation with a friend about my dislike of missionaries brought up an uncomfortable fact. He pointed out that I had, just a few days before, posted a picture of an OM symbol on my Facebook page, just one of a smorgasbord of icons, new age quotes, You Tube chant-a-thons, and chakra enlivening events down through the years.

How is all your yoga is good, yoga is great, yoga is the true path stuff any different from those missionaries?

While the innumerable differences were dazzling clear to me, I conceded he had a very strong point. Just the other day as I was putting groceries into my car, I looked up and saw a massive Bikram Yoga billboard looming over me. Lose Weight Faster! Burn 1,500 calories a class!

Christians use Kenny Loggins-lookin’ Jesus to sell their path to Heaven; Western yoga uses weight loss.

Walking the path to heaven is, apparently, a great cardio workout.

So many yogis are Christian refugees. Go to a yoga class and you’ll find preachers’ kids and former Baptists who still harbor the fear that they are hell-bound. You’ll find non-practicing pilgrims who fear the holidays because they know that their parents will drag them to sunrise service, hoping they will drink the ecclesiastical Kool Aid. These escapees are always the loudest chanters, the most dedicated meditators. They have the most malas and Facebook profiles filled with pictures from their many trips to India.

If it weren’t for Christianity, we’d find the yoga studios empty and the Krishna Das CDs in the 99 cent bin at Big Lots.

But yogis know how to sell their religiosity almost as well as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We have the couture and the necklaces and the satellite radio stations for our gong-laden hymns. We have celebrities and websites and a million bumper stickers proclaiming our views. Maybe because so many of us grew up in a culture where God is sold like sneakers and new smart phones.

Even if you aren’t a refugee, God has been marketed to you via a mini-series or political campaign. We may choose to draw the curtains on this Christian nation, but we can’t shut it out completely.

This is often why we go to yoga.

When I was at a yoga training at the Satchidananda Ashram, one of the first things we did as a group was to explain how our spiritual paths brought us there. Trainee after trainee said that they were there because Swami Satchidananda’s teachings started with the idea that all religions were equal. That, as he said, Truth is one, Paths are Many.

The Lotus Temple at the ashram included quotes and altars to all known religions—there’s even an altar for religions not yet known.

Yes, the food there was good, but it was this idea of equality and acceptance that led them there.

Many of them had grown up in Christian homes, and confessed that the Bible was used the way Stephen King used the clown in It: to scare little children. The minute they became adults they adopted secularism or paganism or Buddhism; they found more benevolent books to worship.

I was certainly one of them. I’m the daughter of two ministers and spent a lot of time eating doughnut holes, drinking out of Styrofoam cups in church basements. I did hard time in patent leather shoes and white tights.

When I became a yogi, my mother was disappointingly unsurprised. What else would you be, she said. Certainly not a Christian. Thankfully, she was delighted that I believed in anything spiritual. (This excludes Mormonism, which I often threatened her with during my adolescence. You rebel in the best way you can.)

But I find myself behaving like a pamphlet-pushing missionary nonetheless, as my friend pointed out. I do post a lot of new age propaganda on my pages. I put those fish bumper stickers to shame with my dashboard Saraswati altar. I’m constantly suggesting to my friends that they attend a yoga class with me, that this yoga class will change their lives, or at least their tight hamstrings.

Even my newborn nephew isn’t immune; the Om Mani Padme Hum onesie from ol’ Aunt Sara arrived from Etsy before he arrived from his mom.

A few days ago I found myself playing missionary to one of my very best friends, a gal who patiently sat through my yoga graduation while fighting an urgent need for a cigarette. A gal who’s listened to my chakra talks and lectures about the benefits and tastiness of kale juice for all these years. She is the mother of two small, inexhaustible boys. She gets little sleep and very little time to think about her Muladhara chakra.

In spite of all this, she loves me.

This is why, after years of cajoling, she finally went to a yoga class with me. It took some scheduling, and with two small kids, a lot of re-scheduling, but it happened. Throughout class I peeked at her, waiting to see her reaction. I could barely focus on my own practice, and found myself in the wrong pose a few times. I wanted to see the exact moment that she became enlightened.

That was good, she said. I can feel it in my legs. I’d go again.

She enjoyed it and that was enough for her. But where was the enlightenment? Why couldn’t she see how wonderful, how transformative Yoga was? Why didn’t she ask me for any literature, or get a season pass to the studio?!

As we dyed Easter eggs with her boys, I felt deflated, as though I had failed. After years spent trying to get her in the door of the studio, I hadn’t shown her all that it had to offer. But I hadn’t given up all those years, and this was no time to start. She came, she enjoyed it, that was enough for her. I opened the door, and she was still curious to come in.

She’ll find her own path to heaven yet; I hope I’ve helped her along the way.

Perhaps it’s time for me to cover myself in ill-fitting clothes and go door-to-door. I can forgive those Jehovah’s Witnesses their passion, their desire to spread their truth to others.

Maybe next time I can invite them in (if Garbo will let me), offer them some fresh juice, and listen to how they’re finding their path. We aren’t so different, it almost pains me to say.

Truth is one, paths are many—and while they didn’t get me to that glorious Hotel-and-Convention-Center, they did get me a little further down my own path.

Namaste.

 

 

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Ed: Bryonie Wise

 

 

 

About Sara Lovelace

Sara Lovelace is a yogini, writer, filmmaker, and fearless fool. She received her MFA in Writing from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, and her certification at the Satchidananda Ashram, VA. You can contact her at sara_@coco-cow.com.

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4 Responses to “Door-to-Door Dharma: Assuming the Missionary Position.”

  1. GaryM says:

    “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” — Mother Teresa

  2. Dedicatied yogi says:

    FYI the message that there are many paths to "GOD" came from Jesuit nuns, so yogis don't own "the way", many other
    "denominations" even stereotypical ones understand this truth. Relax and be open.

  3. elaine says:

    But there is a difference between posting stuff on YOUR facebook page and preaching door-to-door.

  4. Jim says:

    A witness friend told me they call it "HBH" – Home but hiding. I hung buddhist prayer flags over my front door – and my prayers were answered! Haven't had any visitors in years. They must mark us down in a little black book, because the flags have been gone for two years and I see them in the neighborhood frequently.

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