Vanity thought #980. Personality Disorder

Another lesson I’ve learned from my recent vacation is that I have no idea who I am. Apparently I have no fixed identity and choose whatever role I feel is more appropriate under the circumstances. Consequently, I am in two minds about it.

Being away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings bumped me out of my usual routine. Everything went completely upside down. When it was my usual time to read books I had to read newspapers in the hotel lobby. When it was time to chant I had to do something else. When it was time to listen to classes I didn’t even remember about it. My mental equilibrium was totally ruined, I practically lost my mind out there.

If I were to ask myself: “Are you behaving like a devotee?” I would have honestly admitted that my guru and Śrila Prabhupāda would have been ashamed. One little trip outside my comfort zone and all my sādhana was lost. No wonder I will never be trusted with serving a deity. I can’t look after a pet or even a plant, what to speak of worshiping deities. I would have missed their baths and meals and changes of clothes and there’d have been no āraties.

And yet I still thought of myself as a devotee. I looked at the world from the perspective of a devotee. I saw people doing their things as a devotee would see them and I saw myself breaking sādhana rules as a devotee would, too.

I used the word “devotee” in previous paragraph for the lack of a better choice. Usually we can only claim to be fallen servants but I wasn’t serving enough to consider myself that way, and yet I looked at things through the prism of our ācāryas’ teachings. I clearly saw that there was no devotion in my heart and ordinary concerns completely took over and yet I judged my failures to remember the Lord from the perspective given to us by Prabhupāda. That perspective is devotional even if I didn’t share in it in any major way and there was no trace of surrender in my heart.

What I found interesting is how other people related to me, too, how they saw me, what they expected of me. At home I’m a known “unknown”, even people who don’t understand me know what to expect and relate to me accordingly. Out there no one had any idea.

I walked past people and they gave way seeing me an ordinary man. I opened doors for strangers and they thanked me as they would have thanked a person I myself see in the mirror. I sat on public benches and other people adjusted themselves according to my external appearance, too.

Natives saw me as a tourists, fellow travelers saw me as someone they could turn for help, being in the same situation and all, people in our group expected me to lead the way, hospitality workers smiled and expected tips. Drivers asked for orders, others asked for directions, my mother asked for daily reports – everyone was somehow related to me and expected me to behave in a certain way. Most of the time I obliged without complaints because I really felt myself to be what they wanted me to be.

That was the strangest part – I was fairly comfortable in all those roles and I easily identified myself with them. Being a devotee? Didn’t cross my mind, but I’ve already said that.

So, who am I? Now that I’m back my memories are still vivid but also quickly fading. I remember various encounters and how I felt about them but I also know that without regular reinforcements I’ll soon forget the whole gamut of colors, smells, sounds, and emotions that accompanied each encounter.

I WAS that person everybody saw but not anymore. Am I the person I was before I left on vacation? Not really, I still can’t find my stride, for one thing, and I feel kinda wiser, too. A week ago I had no idea of various experiences awaiting me but now I’ve lived through them and I realize that I was a bit naive in assumptions about myself.

A week ago I was confident in my identity, now I know it’s very fragile and won’t last long even if I try very hard to rebuild it. Which one should I rebuild anyway?

The thing is – devotees also expect me to behave in a certain way and I oblige just as I did when tipping bell boys or helping people lift heavy luggage myself. I came back into my “old” life and it started shaping me again. Now I have to learn how to think, what to think, what to do, how to do certain things, how to keep appearances and how to keep schedules and what not. I used to know this stuff but I kinda forgot, being away and engaged in other types of service.

What’s the difference? I don’t know the answer. Being with devotees is certainly better for my sādhana but I’m not a sādhaka! It’s external to me just as playing all those other roles. If I had a choice I would choose being a sādhaka, of course, but it’s not really a choice and it’s not who I really I am.

Right now I know I have a relatively calm period when practicing sādhana should be easy but I also know that it won’t last forever. May has holidays, too, and we already plan to go and visit relatives who also expect me to behave in a certain way, so I know that my sādhana will suffer again.

The only constant thing in these circumstances is chanting but it cannot be done in the shadow of our daily life. I cannot chant like a traveler one day, practicing devotee another, hungry man, sleepy man, man being hot or man being cold, man being relaxed or man being tired. Stress, pain, pleasure – I cannot bring any of those things into my chanting.

Not only that, I also cannot give in to any of those roles. This makes me think of Vṛndāvana – pure devotees there do not notice any and all personal circumstances. We think we can tolerate a bit of this and a bit of that, some other things are out of question, but after our tapasyā is done we expect some comfort, and that is a non-devotional attitude. People with this attitude will never attain Vṛndāvana. Never.

There’s no limit on how many inconveniences pure devotees can tolerate without even noticing. Whatever happens, they take nothing personally. Pretty soon it will be scorching hot there, day and night, with no shelter. Outside temperature will be always higher than temperature of human bodies and it will be tough. Pure devotees will not seek shade or fans or air-conditioning, they do not take shelter of such material things, they only take shelter of Kṛṣṇa and if He makes them live through Vṛndāvana summer then that’s what He wants and it makes devotees happy.

Sanātana Gosvāmī once burned his feet to blisters while walking on hot sand to see Mahāprabhu and he didn’t even notice the pain.

That’s what people with fixed identities as Lord’s servants are like whereas I am nothing like them. I’m this and I’m that and I enjoy all the variety and therefore doors of Vṛndāvana are always closed for me.

On the other hand, feeling distance from all those identities is probably the first and necessary step. I didn’t see it that way before but now I do, so it’s progress. Hopefully, with more chanting I lose interest in assuming those identities, too.

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