Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Marketing the Self

Genju, over at 108 Zen Books, has a post about experiences at a recent mindfulness conference she attended. The following stood out for me:

in various encounters, the rumble of territorial markings became audible. Well surely I couldn’t have filtered out the human tendency to want, to crave, to feel unsafe and therefore to bare fangs, set boundaries, and draw lines. Apparently, I did. I do. This is where the practice of simply noting is a good one; it helps negotiate through the conversations that circle the marketing of the self and poorly masked rhetorical questions. I mean noting that in myself as well because certainly there were many, many times when I caught myself falling into being the product rather than the person.

Marketing of the self. Aren't we taught to do that pretty early on in life? You gotta stand out or you'll be forgotten, right? You better promote or you will never be successful, right?

I believe there is a double bind around all of this in modern societies. The human tendency to self cherish is the main dish. Humans have been eating it, probably since the beginning of our species. In addition to the main dish is a set of side dishes called consumerism, capitalism, and commodification. Ever seductive, they add endless flavors and textures onto the main dish. I suppose it might be the case that plain old self cherishing gets kind of dull after awhile. It's so much more exciting to be the hot, new product on the block. Or the respected, reliable old one.

The pressure to be a product is damn strong, so much so that even spiritual teachers are falling for it in droves. Being a person with some wisdom mixed with a bag full of delusion doesn't feel good enough. Being a person who takes a shit and can't quite wipe it all clean isn't sexy enough. Being a person who is articulate one minute, and has nothing helpful to say the next just doesn't cut it. And so, we end up with teachers with trademarks at the end of their names. Teachers who spew endless amounts of flowery, high fullutent language. Teachers who market themselves as healers, and then end up abusing the hell out of anyone who gets close to them.

It is any wonder that so many of us are so confused in this life?

Some people get really irritated with me when I start talking about systems and collective conditions. They say things like "Zen practice is about you. Focus on yourself and stop pointing the finger at others." But this isn't about simple judgment. This isn't about damning those trademarked teachers to hell. It's about cultivating an awareness of the larger patterns that are influencing our thinking and behavior. About seeing much of what we see as "normal" isn't, and that to the extent that we continue mindlessly eating it, we'll be used and controlled by it.

As Genju points out, simply noting that this is occurring is a major step towards breaking the pattern. Every time you see through the story, it's influence on you becomes weaker. What I am suggesting here, though, is that we need to recognize the main dish, and also the side dishes as well. They all play a role in keeping each of us oppressed.

We need to re-learn the sources of true nourishment. And the first step is simply seeing how so much around us is not that. How so much in our minds is not that.


Karuna from The Gathering said...

I think self marketing becomes difficult when people aren't so self-assured.
I like how you write we need to nourish ourselves and make ourselves the main -well maybe not in those exact words, but that's how I hear them! I like it!


Genju said...

I love where you've taken this, Nathan! You've helped me put words to my discomfort as I wrote that post. I was very aware of how those larger systems of acceptance and validation - what you brilliantly call the main dishes - were holding sway over my words. I'm still struggling with the power of these greater (and most self-serving) systems over me and hence my work. In the end I believe I will see deeply into the illusion that the "power over" is. Or better yet, the very fact of being connected with a system that works through "power over" rather than "power with" is sufficient for me to walk away.

Jeanne Desy said...

I think our awareness needs to open to include the systems that have conditioned us and the energies that surround us. When I read this I thought of the story that the Buddha was able to recall all his previous incarnations when he became enlightened. His awareness was not confined to the concrete here-and-now.

Mumon K said...

For some reason, as I read this, the line from Fargo came to my mind: "You gotta eat a breakfast, Marge...I'll fix you some eggs."

I think it's only coincidence that I thought this and you live in that part of the world.

Humans - like other mammals - have to make themselves known to other members of their species, to interact with them.

And the aid workers in the famine must be fed first or no one will be able to eat.

Yeah, folks go way overboard with trademarks and advertising and all that rot.

There's a calligraphy on my wall that says something to the effect that he flower doesn't have to shout out loud to be fragrant and beautiful; it is great calligraphy, done by a renowned calligrapher.

The saying was also used in a 3 Little Ninjas movie, but that too is a coincidence, I believe.

There's a notion of balance that I'm trying to bring up here.

Most of the time it's OK to remain quiet though.

Nathan said...

"I think our awareness needs to open to include the systems that have conditioned us and the energies that surround us." That was definitely what I was trying to get at here. Although when you add Buddha's incarnations, that adds a whole nuther layer. One I think is worth exploring - and one I sure have next to nothing to say about at this point, lol! :)