Wonderland: Thoughts on Willy Loman, “Personal Branding,” & The Spirit

This is a draft of some thoughts I had while constructing a larger essay on issues of body, mind, and spirit.

There are good reasons for not disclosing our most vulnerable moments. One reason is that disclosure might change others’ impressions of a carefully crafted “personal brand.”

It is quite popular now to worship at the altar of one’s own marketing machine, and while I confess that I am attracted to the control and management the branding appears to offer, I have some concerns. I watch Gen Y especially lavish attention on personal branding and I keep having this disturbing mental image of Death of a Salesman.  I worry that any language commoditizing human beings is destined for moral bankruptcy and ultimate failure.

In even the short run, allowing others a glimpse behind our branding curtain, especially one that betrays our public trademark, risks potentially serious consequences. Those who have invested in our “brand” may become disoriented or even feel betrayed. If someone has yet to know us, he or she may decide not to engage, now or ever.

Asset? Sometimes.

As human beings we are drawn powerfully to the idea that we are to manage, control, decide, and dominate. Personal responsibility  surfaces regularly in politics, psychology, athletics, medicine, education and the law. In short we are surrounded by a culture of, “I’m in charge, and if I’m not it’s my own fault.”

We should take care of our bodies, and we should take care of our minds. A huge percentage of human potential is left on the proverbial table by our unwillingness to take up and use the things available to improve our lives through our own efforts.

Living exclusively in the intoxicating haze of our own power, however, is also a great way to lose touch with our spirit. It makes the reconnection more difficult.  Physical and psychological elements grown giddy with their own influence become increasingly resistant to being quieted and even silenced when their influence grows too great.

Some integration of mind, body, and spirit is clearly indicated for a balanced and healthy life, but the simplicity of this idea on paper masks the complex relationship of the elements that make us human. It is not a mathematical equation, for example, of spending too much time in your head, so now you should go for a run. Nor is it as simple as noting an absence of prayer or meditation time and devoting extra hours to the process until you recalibrate.

This issue rests in the need for a premise that our minds and bodies both serve and take direction from our spirit.

Wonderland: Opportunities for Surrender

You don’t realize you are acting like someone with something to lose until you no longer have anything to lose and the new way is clear.  It helps explain why modern life is criticized as less spiritual than previous ages. 

Nearly everything on a day to day basis is fixable now by our own efforts.  Our opportunities for surrender are revealed by their requirements, and therefore when they are not required, they remain veiled.  Imagine a new parent holding a child burning hot with fever in the middle of the night.  If those people are alone on the prairie with no one to call on but the Lord, the opening of the human heart is mandated.  At my house, we pick up the telephone and call the pediatrician.

This is a complicated area that is easily misunderstood.  I do not believe that if you have the chance to go to the hospital you should stay home and pray.  The sermon vignette about the man who, stranded on a roof in a flood, turns away a raft, a boat, and a helicopter because he is “waiting for God to save him” is one of my all time favorites.  Swept away to his death by the flood, the man enters Heaven and questions God about why his faith was ignored.  “Ignored? I sent a raft, a boat, and a helicopter!”

What I do believe is that we must be conscious of a pattern of relying on only ourselves, “ourselves” defined as our minds and our bodies to solve our deepest and most challenging personal problems.  These core elements of our humanity long to be united with our spirit, but the spirit will only take them up and share power when they agree to one fundamental principle. 

They must agree that they are nothing.