Monday, January 12, 2009

Yoga Snobs, Part 2: The Anti-Story Yogi

In the last installment of this series, I described a yogi who, in my belief, chose to look down on certain people for physical reasons. In this installment, I will describe a yogi who looked down on people for reasons more mental/spiritual.

At my yoga studio, we sometimes had guest instructors. There was one in particular who taught a couple of times and then did not come again. I thought it might be interesting to take more of his classes, so I sent him an email asking him where he usually taught. He wrote back and told me that he taught regularly at the Y. We got to chatting. He told me he worked as a speech writer to supplement his yoga income. I told him that I worked as a Technical Writer to make money, but what I really loved was fiction.

His response was that he did not read fiction because fiction was untrue and he was opposed to untruth. He said that "at least" I did technical writing and that was based on fact (as if to say that the writing I did for a living took the curse off the writing I did out of love).

I was flabbergasted. This man thought that his allegedly spiritual, yogic beliefs made it acceptable for him to insult what I did!

I wrote back and pointed out that in fiction, no deceit occurs because there is an understanding between the writer and the reader that what is described is not literally true. On the other hand, there is ample potential for deceit in speech writing, especially when done for politicians.

I never communicated with him again, nor did I attend any of his classes at the Y.

The notion that a story can be a negative thing is not uncommon among yogis and meditators. Someone once told me about a type of meditation whose goal is to help the meditator achieve a state of "no story." I think they were referring to Vipassana, though I have not been able to find any references to "no story" on Vipassana-related web pages. Perhaps it was some other type of meditation beginning with "V." In any case, she explained that people cause problems for themselves and avoid seeing the world accurately by making up stories about the people around them. For example, an insecure person might walk past a group of people, hear them burst into laughter, and conclude they are laughing at him. He does not know this with any certainty; it is a belief, a story he chooses to tell himself. With sufficient practice of the right type of meditation, I have been told, one can free oneself from this habit of hurtful storytelling.

Are we to take this to mean that all fiction and storytelling is to be avoided? That is apparently how this yoga instructor took it. And yet, storytelling is an important feature of every culture on earth. Even Zen Buddhists use stories, called Koans, to teach and illustrate Zen principles. Many of them describe events that (gasp!) never actually happened.

Most likely, the yoga instructor had no problem with this type of instructive storytelling, despite what he said about being opposed to untruth. He would have understood that there is a higher purpose, indeed a higher truth, in such storytelling.

What he didn't understand is that the same is true of all good storytelling. Any decent-quality novel, short story or myth tells "untruths" in order to get at deeper truths. This man's avoidance of fiction is his great loss. I feel a little bit sorry for him. Not that sorry, because he was a jerk, but a little sorry.

Apparently I'm not that spiritually evolved.

Are you a Yoga Snob or a Balanced Yogi? Find out by taking the Yoga Snob Quiz. Actually, this quiz is more of a joke than anything. It's worth doing for the fun of it, and also to generate a signature so that you can show everyone in your forum, or everyone you email, what kind of yogi you are.

Have you ever been the target of a Yoga Snob? Please share your story--yes, story, because stories are good--by leaving a comment. Anyone can post a comment; you do not need to register. Thanks!


James said...

That guy sounds like a nut bar!!

Vivian said...

Kind of. He's not the only person I've ever heard of who took on a religion or practice and went overboard with it. It's pretty common really. After all, what could be more insane than the Taliban or the Inquisiton or the Crusades? Lots of nut bars there.

Heather said...

I just love these thoughts! I've heard this behavior called "Spiritual Materialism"... I think once you take anything too seriously and rigidly - you sort have missed the point (thus with writing fiction) You should have asked...what the heck is TRUTH anyway, and why do you seem to have the market cornered on that? LOL

Vivian said...

Thanks for stopping by, Heather! I agree that it misses the point and yet some people seem to have a need to do that. I think perhaps because they want life to be simple, which it is not of course. Have thought about writing a blog entry about that...

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