August 8, 2013

My Guru Problem. ~ Jen Donnell

I had a guru once.

He taught me, via music television, how to wear tight vinyl pants and jump around the stage like a rock star. In fact, he was a rock star.

I was 14 and wished we could meet. I wrote him letters and hoped he’d pick me out of all the 14 year old girls in the world. I would be his protege.

He’d show me his western wisdom and would be my first kiss. He appeared wise, after-all, with his long rocker hair and the way he was touting around a belief in free love.

I put posters of him on my wall, a makeshift rocker shrine. My mother took down my favorite, protesting the way his black jeans were unbuttoned. When she threw the poster in the trash, I cried. Didn’t she understand that I was only looking at the blue of heaven in his eyes?

He stopped being my guru a year later, when I realized that he was no longer cool.

When he died, two years ago, it was all over the news. I’m glad he stopped being my guru, as I wouldn’t want to learn how to drink to death in a hotel room or shoot my arm up with drugs.

I had another guru by the time I turned 17. The light of the universe shone through his hazel eyes, rimmed with androgynous black eye liner.

He told me I was beautiful and should be a model. This was what he told every girl he met, particularly the ones he sensed were a little insecure. I was a lot insecure and ate up his words, as if they were laid out on a silver plated spoon.

A few years older than I was, he wanted to ‘show me the world.’ Only, the ‘world’ mainly consisted of getting fast food and making out in his car. Still, there was something weighty in his eyes, something I wanted to learn from.

It didn’t take long for me to learn how not to treat a girl and what it means to date someone with sociopathic tendencies.

There were other gurus, of course. Some were altruistic, others narcissistic. Some were friends, others frenemies. Some were givers, other takers. Eventually, with a dose of therapy and years of self help books, I outgrew the need for a guru or hero worship, in general.

If, as I believe and science supports, we are all woven from the same burst of matter, why should one person’s truth bear more weight and importance than another? Though I’m grateful and appreciative of those I learn from and share with, I hope that they learn something from me as well.

If not, then the law of circulation will lead to another teacher coming into their life, or coming into mine. It’s not the person you should worship, but what you learn from them and how you use that knowledge and growth to enrich yourself and the world.

This would be fine and dandy, case closed, if I didn’t teach yoga.

Yoga: Where ‘anyone, who is anyone,’ has a ‘guru’.

How do you know if your yoga loving friend or instructor has a guru? Easy, because they’ll talk about their guru all the damn time. Similarly, their eyes will light up when they pronounce their gurus name. I recognize the enthusiasm, it’s the same way I used to talk about my favorite rocker when I was 14. The only difference is in philosophy. My rocker’s modus operandi was on how to be myself, society be damned. Each guru has their own philosophy, but what makes one philosophy better or worse than another?

There’s another way to tell if you’re interacting with a yogi who has a guru fixation: You’ll see it.

See what? Why, the near creepy shrine they’ll put up to pay tribute to their guru. It’s usually large and in a prominent place, so that you can’t miss it even if you want to. Most are quite elaborate, though some are simple—consisting of a framed photo or two. Often, you’ll half expect to see a box holding snippets of their gurus hair or fingernails.

Lastly, you’ll know they have a good, respectable guru, when their guru charges thousands of dollars. This money isn’t spent in vain, it’s so people can come and learn from their groovy guru ways. Occasionally, people have free gurus, but that’s less frequent now that yoga has hit the mainstream.

One of the worst moments I had during my yoga teacher training was the time we watched a video of a yoga ashram. Most of the video was of people praying before their guru’s image, every day, …. sometimes all day. I glanced around the room, wondering if anyone else thought it seemed a little unhealthy, having that level of hero worship. No one else seemed to notice—maybe they haven’t gone to therapy yet. My yoga training instructor was so moved by the film that he was crying, muttering something about his guru’s image transmitting energy. A few teacher trainers were half asleep, as it was a long video and the room was dark.

Here’s the thing: Do you want a guru?

I’ll be your guru, free.

First, look in the mirror. Recognize the beauty and magnificence of your own existence. Know that you are a miracle. A million chance occurrences conspired to bring you into being and, yet, here you are.

Learn from a book, your dog, your neighbor, your neighbor’s neighbor. Learn from your therapist, your aunt’s dog groomer, your yoga teacher. Learn from experience, trial and error, whatever works.

But don’t tout around one person and their image, out of the billions of amazing human beings that exist, and pretend this makes you more enlightened than Joe Schmo down the street, who worked 50 years at his mom and pop shop.

If you’re moved by this, there is no need to create a shrine of my image, photoshopped with the best of them. Rather, take a walk, go to a water park, adopt a cat, or do nothing at all. If you must gaze reverently at a photograph, let it be one of your best friend, a picture of that sunset you saw when you were seven.

Trust me, all of that is as magnificent as anything else.

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Asst. Editor: Edith Lazenby/Ed: Sara Crolick

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Jen Donnell