Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Are You Calling Me a Radical?

For a good week now, I've been haunted lines from a song. It just kept arising, in various situations that seemed completely unlinked. This morning, I was thinking that the song was from a band a friend of mine loves, but then it appeared again - five minutes ago - on the soundtrack in the coffee shop I am in. I knew it was time to do some research.

Supertramp's "The Logical Song" was a hit single in 1979, when I was 3 years old. It's a song about the experienced freedom of childhood, and how growing up, "getting educated," and getting evaluated by others creates some major identity confusion.

What's interesting is that there have been a few posts lately dealing with some of this. Robyn from My Fair Isle speaks of homeschooling, unschooling, and her children struggling to enjoy a program at a Waldorf school. From the bits I've read of Robyn's ideas about learning, there's a deep desire to provide something for her children that runs counter to the kind of education the Supertramp song speaks of, and which most of us experienced. Having spent years teaching, and exploring learning theories and experimenting in my classrooms, I completely agree with Robyn that the standard models of education for either children or adults fail us in many ways.

On a different, but related note, The Zennist posted recently about leaving childhood ideas of the world behind and taking responsibility for our lives in adulthood. At one point, he brings up the perennial topic of guru or spiritual teacher exploitation, suggesting that attachment and enacting views of the world we developed as children probably play a role in being involved in these kinds of relationships later in life. The "I wasn't "saved" by mom or dad, so I'll seek out a savior figure spiritually" kind of thing.

Going back to the song, the entire thing hinges on not knowing one's self. The chorus of the song is of a man desperately seeking identity:

At night, when all the world's asleep,
the questions run so deep
for such a simple man.
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd
but please tell me who I am.

My guess is that all of us have been here, even if we never say it out loud to others. Wanting confirmation that you "are someone" to "somebody," we take what others say about us as true, or seek out more opinions when what we hear doesn't sound so good.

If my Zen training has done anything, it's taught me to turn within and let all that chatter go. Not at all any easy task, and in many ways, it's felt like another form of unschooling, breaking a trained pattern of acting in the world, seeking confirmation or rebuke, and then acting based on that response. Sometimes, I have wanted to fit in, so I'd go along with that which stifles the living precepts and suffocates my life. Other times, I wanted to be seen as the "radical," and so I trotted out my views in situations where they weren't called for.

Behind all that, though, seems to be this deeper search for identity. Who am I? What am I supposed to be doing here on this earth? What is my deepest intention now?

All of this has been up for me a lot lately, as I've navigated career issues, a fairly new romantic relationship, a leadership role in my sangha, and everyday life. I feel very blessed in many ways, and in other ways, somewhat stifled still. However, the gift of dharma teachings that remind me again and again not to place my faith in the transient things of life, while also caring deeply for those same transient things, are invaluable.


Trevor said...


Great song!

The new ladyfriend recently asked me what I want to do with my life. "Well, I can't imagine being anything but a Zen teacher of some sort, as funny as that sounds."

As for desperately seeking identity, my practice has been about letting go of the "desperately" part.

Unknown said...

today, sanding the floor. the first time was when I was about thirteen. my daddy made me do it. now i'm sixty years old and the experience is the same but different. I chose to do it. Back then, i hated the sanding because i thought i could be doing something better. not that i ever found it. now i don't hate the sanding but the old bod sure kicks up a painful fuss. here i am sanding the floor (i'm on a needed break). over and over, machine back and forth. this is it. this is all there is. hour after hour. in the middle of the universe, sanding a floor. what could be better.

Anonymous said...

Hi, actually it was Roger Hodgson, co-founder and singer of Supertramp, who solely wrote and composed The Logical Song. This is just one of his many classics to include Dreamer, Breakfast in America, School, Take the Long Way Home, Give a Little Bit, Fool's Overture, and so many more. Roger is currently on his worldwide tour. Visit his website at www.RogerHodgson.com for details. You don't want to miss an opportunity to see him live. See Supertramp's heart and soul.

Nathan said...

Ha! I was waiting for the fan base to come out. Thanks for the info. Anonymous.

Yeah, Trevor, I'm with you on letting go of desperation.