Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Dark Side of Core Values



This entire post is an excellent romp through some of the dark side of the yoga world, but I was particularly struck by some of the comments made.

Someone named AMO said the following:

When a person is surrounded by gorgeous young bodies, vibrating around their energy and exclaiming - "oh great yogi god of mine, teach me, teach me!" it is too much power for most people to handle. I know ego is my greatest character flaw. Especially ego connected to my deepest value, the value of helping others, of being of use. The dark side of that value, and all our values have a dark side, is I can slip proudly into the role of YOUR TEACHER if you show any signs of worshiping me.


Oye! I know this one all too well, having been an ESL teacher for many years, as well as an organizational leader in a non-profit, and at my zen center. Spending the past few weeks in this liminal place I'm in, I have watched this wanting to be helpful and loved because of it energy arise again and again.

Last Monday, I went over to an old student's apartment and tried to fix her computer. Even though I really didn't do much, she was grateful for a little bit of my time and also was asking if I might help out with some other things. I hesitated to offer more time on another day, and then later realized that this has been a strong pattern for me. I had to call her and tell her I didn't have time to help out right now because I knew if I did, I'd be playing that role again, and not getting the opportunity to examine it more closely.

What I have seen is that when I feel useful, helpful, or am "doing good," all seems "right" with the world. When what I am doing or not doing doesn't seem to be useful or helpful, all seems "not right" with the world. This isn't true 100% of the time, but both poles are a common experience for me.

There is an addictive quality to being considered the "teacher" or the "do gooder" and it can be at its worst with spiritual leaders precisely because they are so close to the source of all experience.

Another commenter, YogiOne, added this provocative paragraph:

Yogis expect Yogis to act better than others (We should know better). Christians expect Christians to act better than other people too. Same for Buddhists, Muslims, Jains, Hindus, etc. Perhaps these expectations are not realistic. Perhaps the identification with Yoga (or any of the other groups) rather than with our personal practice is part of the problem.


This identification process is insidious, and actually - in my experience anyway - is pretty subtle. In the beginning, you start taking in these new ideas, and there's a level of excitement. Maybe you see some tangible improvements in your life. You aren't as angry or sad, and/or maybe your body feels healthier. And then you become committed to the path you have chosen. You have scrutinized your life, made deliberate changes, and have become more willing to watch your faults. It's really easy to assume under these conditions that you "should be acting better" than others. In fact, sometimes it's completely true that you can handle things better, and people begin to uphold you as someone who can handle things better, which just adds another layer.

It's important, at the end of the day, to not idealize even the most life-affirming teachings and values. Everything can be flipped over in ways that bring tremendous suffering, perhaps especially that which can awaken and liberate us.

4 comments:

kevin said...

I know exactly that feeling and couldn't have put it better myself.

to the expectations or being better:
I know things I do improve my life, so am I better than those that don't or not? Being mindful of this interaction, the only thing I can do is remind myself not to judge.

to the power of teaching (or being useful and such):
I feel guilty if I see an opportunity to help and don't. But sometimes, having taking that opportunity, I feel like a jerk because I either don't help, make it worse, or come off as a know it all.

This post will stick with me a while, thanks!

Emma said...

I've done a lot of volunteer work in my time and I've also been sick a long time. So, I've experienced being the 'good helper' person, and the 'sick helped' person.

It's interesting to know both sides of the helped/helper coin so well.

I much prefer being the helper, of course, becuase there's a sense of being in the right place, and doing a 'right thing.'

Being helped is so much more challenging - I feel like a burden, as though I'm not in control, and as though I 'should' be grateful to people helping me when it's not my choice to have to be helped in the first place.

It's a very rich and juicy issue to explore! I find it a real challenge.

Barry said...

In my own experience, this (how to help responsibly) is a wonderful and rich area of practice.

My model for this was Zen Master Seung Sahn who never walked from an opportunity to help someone, no matter what the personal cost might be. People would come to the Zen center at 1 am and knock on his door. He'd get up, invite them in, and talk to them about their life situation. (Of course, people didn't always like what they heard, but I doubt the "news" would have been any better at 10 am!)

In Seung Sahn's tradition, the emphasis is on keeping a "how can I help you?" mind and on "just doing it."

Some of the exhaustion I've experienced in volunteer work and other "helping" activity comes from my attachments to my own situation and condition.

What would it be like to let go of those attachments completely? Would exhaustion still appear?

I'm clearly not there yet, but sometimes I get a glimpse of the spacious mind that only helps all beings. Wow!

Nathan said...

"Some of the exhaustion I've experienced in volunteer work and other "helping" activity comes from my attachments to my own situation and condition.

What would it be like to let go of those attachments completely? Would exhaustion still appear?"

Barry, I've been exploring these too. I think at the very least, the level of exhaustion and frustration seems to lessen greatly when I'm not attached to outcomes.

Emma, I don't handle the "being helped" role all that well. Or ... more specifically, I don't handle it well when I believe that I "should" be able to do something myself, and can't. Which is interesting. In situations where I don't expect myself to have mastery or the skills/energy to do something, being helped seems fine.

Hmm...

"I feel guilty if I see an opportunity to help and don't. But sometimes, having taking that opportunity, I feel like a jerk because I either don't help, make it worse, or come off as a know it all." Kevin, this is definitely one of those sticky places. I do think there are times when the best help is offering no help. And other times, it's selfishness that causes me to hold back.