When I really think about it, Mr. Rogers was the first guru I ever encountered. He walked like a guru, talked like a guru, and even his opening song espoused many of the teachings of well-known gurus:
“It is a beautiful day in this neighborhood”–be here, now
“I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you”–“when the student is ready, the master will appear”
“So let’s make the most of this beautiful day”–Carpe Diem
“Since we’re together, we might as well say..Won’t you be my neighbor”–equanimity, interdependence, unconditional love and acceptance
If you combine this invitation to millions of viewers across the United States with Jesus Christ’s edict to “Love Thy Neighbor,” then you really see the power of Guru Rogers. Long before the internet and Kathryn McCullough’s observation that blogs have become the new front porch for the virtual worldwide internet neighborhood, Mr. Rogers was expanding his neighborhood to include all races, creeds, and economic backgrounds.
But what really convinced me of Mr. Rogers’ guru status was what he did while he sang the opening song. Do you remember?
After he entered the room, he calmly walked to his closet and exchanged his suit jacket for a sweater. He then sat down on a bench, slipped off his formal shoes and tied on some casual canvas shoes. Every show started in the same way. In our day and age of fast food eaten on the run and multiple screen, multiple window multi-tasking, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who mindfully flows through transitions like Mr. Rogers. For example, how many of you are reading this post with other windows open? Do any of you have the television or radio on while you are on the computer? Is anyone at work?
Don’t feel bad; I’m no better. While writing this post, I have 24 windows open including my NaMoWriMo novel, my WordPress site stats, an episode of Prison Break on Netflix, and three different email accounts. On one of my three computer screens is Cristian Mihai’s post “There’s always something to keep us from writing…” In the post, Mihai recommends unplugging the internet cable and just writing. How ironic is that?
Fred Roger’s single minded attention to detail reminds me of stories I read about John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. Apparently, Coach Wooden spent the whole first practice teaching his new players how to put their basketball shoes on. He made them smooth out their socks, slip on their shoes without creasing the socks, tighten the laces row by row, and tie a perfect double knot. They would then repeat the drill over and over until everyone got it right. Imagine being one of the top recruits in the nation on your first day with a coach known as one of the greatest minds in basketball, and the only thing he teaches you is how to put on your shoes. Some recruits must have thought Wooden was insane.
But Wooden knew that “failing to prepare was preparing to fail.” He knew that a blister from a creased sock could sideline a player. An ankle injury from loose shoes could end a career. He knew that focusing all one’s attention on one activity at a time would help players sink free throws at the end of a tight game.
Fred Rogers and John Wooden knew like many gurus that the secret to life lies in the present. The future is a dream; the past is a memory; all we have is this present moment. Why not cherish it, love it, and give it our undivided attention? We seem to have forgotten this lesson which is why most of us can’t remember what we had for breakfast this morning or what we watched on cable last night. For many of us who meditate, our sitting is the only time in the day when we disconnect and focus on one thing (Spirit Lights the Way has a great post about how difficult it is to disconnect during meditation).
My challenge raising my sons is to be fully present when I spend time with them. I want to make our time, our space, and our relationship sacred, just like Mr. Rogers used to do. It might only be for 30 minutes a day, but I am going to try to unplug the internet, resist touching the iPhone no matter how much it vibrates, and just love and play with them.
I’ll end with a quotation from Mr. Rogers. He would end his shows with “‘You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the world like you, and I like you just the way you are.”
Thank you for reading, sharing, and/or smiling.
Who was your first everyday guru? What lesson did they teach you? Please share.
- Mr. Rogers’ defense of PBS goes viral more than 40 years later (todayentertainment.today.com)