In our society, we tend to focus on the achievements of the individual. We look at the politicians who won the elections, the sports figure who scored the winning points, or the lead singer who fronts the band. We ignore the teachers, role models, interns, volunteer phone banks and paid signature gatherers who helped that politician become. We give a small tithe of attention to the other members of the team who got them far enough to score that point, the coaches who determined the strategy, even the custodians who ensured the court was safe and appropriate. We ask Hootie what happened to the Blowfish. We know that isn’t anyone’s real name, but we don’t really care.
This post isn’t about the rockstars. It’s about the network that allowed the rockstar to be.
But first, about “Namaste”
I have a thing I say in class, explaining Namaste to new students. On the one hand, it literally translates as “I bow to you” and serves as a perfunctory greeting. Outside of a yoga class, saying the word and making the hand gesture, anjuli mudra, may be considered redundant. Inside the yoga class, people sometimes translates it as “the divine light in me honors the divine light in you.” Some readers may scrutinize the word to find these hidden, complex syllables.
The fact is, the “I” implied is simply different compared to an American I. Depending on your interpretation of concepts like Ishvara, Purusha, or pratiprasava, this may have religious or spiritual connotation. In the Hindu tradition, there are complicated diagrams for the relationship between different facets of selfhood and the inner connections to outer divinity. Even from a secular perspective, there is a sense that this is an I that is interconnected with all of the “I”s out there. Although traditionalists might not like my teachings, I argue that my culture dictates some deeper interpretation. Where some cultures naturally have a respect for social interconnectivity, people in the United States often need a little more translation of how to be good citizens instead of just looking out for themselves.
The “I” who bows is not the ego I that makes choices that do not serve us, and pushes us around. This is the I that feels centered and calm when we do good things for others, even though we will never receive credit. It is the thing that glows when we give a genuine, heartfelt compliment to someone at the exact moment they needed to hear it. This is the I that is expansive enough to fit all of our stories, without judging any as inauthentic or regrettable. It is the I that can accept all of our life experience as a continuing flow of moments that led us to this one, and that recognizes if any moment were lost, we ourselves would not be the same.
It is the I that recognizes and expresses gratitude for all of the people who made all of our moments happen, and who’ve contributed to who we are today. These are the strangers who made an offhand comment at the grocery store that caused you to reflect on something in a different way and shifted your perspective. These are the elementary school teachers whose names you struggle to remember. These are the kids who clocked you in with their band instrument case walking home from school in 2nd grade, only for you to defend them against bullies walking home from 4th grade. These are the friends who helped you through your heartaches, or who encouraged you to dig a little deeper and try the things that terrify you. These are the people who have grievously and unapologetically harmed you, making you stronger and wiser than you were in the past. These are the people who listen to your stories about all of the other people, who learn from your mistakes and help you re-perceive your experiences. The I in namaste is the I that recognizes, encompasses, connects, and envelopes all of this.
When I explain Namaste to beginners, I want them to understand that they are infinitely more expansive, capable, interesting, dynamic, vitally necessary, interconnected, and beautiful than they may have recognized. They are important because they showed up. They showed up to class, they showed up to their own life, they showed up to experience the world around them. How often do we not even make it that far? How often do we need to rely on the encouragement or strength of our support networks to make it that far? And they are in a room of other people who all did the same thing. There is a power in that force we tend to overlook, despite unity and connection being in such short supply today.
When I teach namaste, I explain the day-to-day greeting form, the expansive yoga form, and then I put an extra part of my own at the end, which traditionalists may not like. I tell my students that it sets a seal on the days practice and acknowledges our presence in class that day: “It’s a way for the students to honor and thank the teacher, and for the teacher to honor and thank the students, because we need all of us to be here to have a class.” It’s a way to take the very nature of selfhood into a communal plane, something not merely foreign but almost anathema to the average American today. Any man’s death, John Donne said, diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. I’d take this further: That which diminishes my fellow human, diminishes me, for I am involved in humanity.
Whatever Happened to the Teachers and the Motivators
It is not an easy thing, to be involved in humanity. I don’t know if you’ve looked around lately, but humanity’s kind of messed up.
Our culture demands more and bigger, without recognizing this is the definition of unsustainable. We are constantly reacting to our Pavlovian phone notifications, reacting to internet trolls, reacting to each other. We are doing so quickly, we rarely take time to be or to think, and our opinions are shallow, ill-considered, and desperately clutched to our chests. We praise the achievements of the individual, without regard for the cost of those achievements or the people behind the scenes who made things happen. Our sports figures turn out to be violent after being rewarded for using brute force to overcome anyone. Our politicians are liars after telling us what we want to hear. We form our communities online. We resent the physical human beings that occupay our spaces.
Just as I believe in using namaste to help us shift our conception of our Self in relation to our society, I believe in recognizing the efforts of facilitators. These aren’t the makers, or producers, or sales force, or artists, or critics. These are the people who make the world go round.
Think about “behind the scenes” for a moment. I can think about any number of local “scenes,” music scenes, art scenes, comedy scenes, restaurant scenes, down town scenes. These are the locations of activity, places that have been infused with enough humanity, that people want to congregate there and create more. Can you imagine the energy involved in creating something like that from scratch? The amount of time it takes to wait for people to arrive, to wait for things to gel, to continue promoting, booking, talking to people to make things happen? Can you imagine the size of the Sisiphean boulder that falls back down on them every night, as they volunteer to contact people to perform and publish notice to others to come witness?
I’ve watched a lot of these people over the years: People who love local arts so much they make huge personal sacrifices to sustain communities that need that heartbeat to stay united. It is often a thankless task because the better you are at it, the more invisible you are. Sometimes you have to look closely to see who is making the lists of events, and who is running the blog trying to promote them. I notice. I know how much energy and time it takes. And I see when these people feel like no one appreciates them.
The modern age cares so much about abstract technological connection and the primacy of the Ego Individual that we fail to see that we are killing the hearts of society that keep our blood flowing. This isn’t even from merely a warm and fuzzy, let’s all start singing Kumbaya, kind of perspective, but a cold-blooded economic one. As we ignore the millions of people without whom we wouldn’t have anyone to celebrate, they stop wanting to participate in the system. When we focus only on a person at the head of a machine, we don’t notice that the inner working are grinding together and clunking to a stop. We are noticing this decay now.
Kiwi, in the song “Turn It Around” off of Writes of Passage, wonders “In this land of pimps, players, and player-haters/ Whatever happened to the teachers and the motivators?”
They’re still out there. We just stopped noticing them.
So, to all of you who facilitate, who motivate, who organize, who gather communities and herd them toward a common goal, I see you. To those people who support others, friends and strangers, when they are low, or who continue supporting colleagues after leaving the field, I see you. To those who take the time to reach out online to opposing voices, and try to use reason and compassion to bridge divides, I see you. To those who stay up late at night, after the kids have gone to bed, before their early day job morning alarm, to help keep venues open and artists recognized in a society that doesn’t value beauty, laughter, wisdom, or self-care, I see you.
I see you even though we’ve never met, even though you have no idea I exist. I value to output of your labor, even when I can’t see the intricacies. I am grateful to you for showing up, when no one else would or could. I am grateful to you for making the effort, knowing that the fruits of your labor are far from guaranteed and that appreciation for it is extinct.
To all of my facilitators, motivators, benefactors, and organizers: Namaste. That light in me, that best, purest, most honorable self, honors and thanks that same self in you. Thank you for showing up, thank you for doing what you do, because we need all of us to have a functional society. Although people may not be noticing you right now, they are certainly noticing the decay and discord that happens when you’re absent.