I’ve been thinking a lot about gurus.
When I was about twelve I saved up my leaf-raking money to take a course at the local library on transcendental meditation. Other kids were saving up their babysitting money to buy new clothes—I wanted to sit in a circle with a bunch of adults and learn how to find my center. I was a twelve-year old girl with an inordinate amount of curiosity to explore that which was outside of my world.
I gathered my fruits and flowers for the final ceremony in which the guru gave me my mantra, and knew immediately, viscerally, that it would not work, that I hated it. Perhaps he had (as I read later) plugged me into some mantra-formula by age and gender and whatever criteria they used to match me up, but I was never one for formulas. I would have asked for another but didn’t dare. During the class sessions in some nondescript conference room I would often peek, opening my eyes and watching the others in their apparent bliss. It was not a bliss I would ever find, and he was my last guru.
Or was he?
Gurus are alive and well and we all, without exception, have them. They come in many forms, rarely with long flowing grey hair, with flower leis and saffron robes.
Seth Godin is one, sort of.
I subscribed to his blog some time ago and each day he offers a little burst of wisdom, in the cloak of marketing advice. He’s a bit like the gypsy fortuneteller who hits upon the general which we then apply to our specific details, his words relevant to each individual precisely because they are so universal.
I must admit that when I read his blog I do get this quasi-creepy feeling that he is hovering above my desk, speaking to me in the booming echoing voice of a movie God. Yet I listen, because he is one of my nouveau gurus, because he is one who makes me think, takes my mind places it might not have otherwise gone.
The other day he wrote about our narratives and how much easier it is to follow the status quo, to read the script rather than change it… which got me thinking about the tiny seemingly inconsequential decisions that, as a whole, have an immensely important impact on our lives. How do we make these choices? We rely on others, to a great extent…we have to.
We used to think of curators as those intense, overwhelmingly intelligent one-topic geniuses. They were in the background, taking gentle and cautious guardianship of things that we might never even know of or bother with. They lived in museums and dusty libraries, focusing their attentions like light through the pinhole of a camera obscura. (It was a tenth-century Arab who discovered that the smaller the pinhole the sharper the image. Indeed.)
Call them curators, tastemakers, coolhunters or, yes, even gurus, they are writers and stylists, photographers and producers, filmmakers and designers and chefs. Some remain behind the scenes like the curators of old, others are public and revered like movie stars.
Our senses and intelligence are constantly stimulated, distracted, drawn here and there, fickle our tastes and overwhelmed we are with the options of what to read, what to watch, what to eat, what to wear. Everyone vies for our attention, and our time is short, precious.
At times reluctantly, at others with humility or even with adoration, we look to them for guidance, for direction. We need them. You may think you don’t. You may think that you choose for yourself, but you do not. Our google searches are curated, as is the news that reaches us, the books that grace our bookshelves (virtual or not), the food we eat.
We all, in one form or another, rely on them to help us see. They are the directors who stand in the shadows of our lives and guide our gaze, script our paths. Some desire only to enlighten us, others to trick us into buying their product, whatever that may be. Madison Avenue has become every street in every city; advertising is embedded via product placement to catch us unawares.
This is, then, the challenge we’re all faced with in this wild new field of flowers of vivid color and hue, richly perfumed scent. We don’t want to be followers, to take the path oft taken, but instead to wander on our own, to be surprised, enchanted, to carve our niche of originality amidst the noise. We want to pick a bloom and share it with others who’ve never known such a scent, who have never touched such velvety petals or pondered such poetry in form or hue, but we are corralled like penned animals (to slaughter? oh my, I hope not) to certain pastures.
The net is spread wide in social media, and creates an illusion of vast open spaces where everyone is your friend, every world open and free and vibrant, but as soon as it hits the water it is reeled in and tied tight, our focus narrowed, our options limited.
There are 7,002,572,871 people on earth, with no two exactly the same. Despite what they want us to believe, we are, at birth, as we are at death, original.
Some are content to be neatly and tidily niched, others buck and struggle its yoke. There are times when we want to buy the kit and not make the choices of what it contains, to sit back and accept with pleasant submission the direction of others.
It takes effort to choose for ourselves, even to choose those who will guide us to the new, help us to explore and develop our tastes. Finding a good curator, or better said a group of them wide and varied, is as important as finding a good doctor, or mechanic, or vegetable stand.
Now more than ever, when faced with an explosion of possibilities, it has become all the more vital to curate our own curation.