Mr. Rogers: The First American Guru?

dogwelder / Foter / CC BY-NC

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.


21 comments on “Mr. Rogers: The First American Guru?

  1. I am going to google later and see if I can find some of his shows – have never seen them and it sounds so way ahead of it’s time, the ideas/thoughts. Wonderful!

    My first was probably my father, can’t remember specific sayings but just his presence 🙂

    • Kozo says:

      As you already know, Annie, presence is everything. That is what I’m trying to do with my kids: just be present. I’m typing this on my computer while my son is asking me for vanilla yogurt.

      Check out the link at the bottom. There is a great video of Mr. Rogers speaking in front of congress.

      Thanks for the like and comment, Annie.

  2. Oh….beautiful. I miss Mr. Rogers. You are so right…he was a guru. Now my everyday guru was my grandmother. She taught me “do onto others as you’d have done onto you”.She taught me about being yourself…because it usually makes your life alot more fun anyways. She also taught me about noticing things, about staying here, now…..”feet on ground, hands on heart” (a Jann Arden lyric). You know, I’m an oddball in this world maybe now….all I can hear is the wind…..I have 3 tabs…no other windows…

    • Kozo says:

      Your grandmother sounds like an incredible woman. I might have to have you do a guest post about her one day.
      Also, if I had a garden as beautiful as yours, I’d only have one window open and it would be made of wood and glass, not pixels.
      Thanks for the comment, Paula.

  3. NIKOtheOrb says:

    I’ve not before read or heard someone describe Mr. Rogers as aptly. It’s true, he was an guru. He may well have been the first for many children, who are now adults. How many of us don’t remember The Land of Make Believe and the lessons there and all his neighbors he used to take us all to visit? Mr. Rogers was the real deal, too, if you watch the video linked at the end of your post, where he defends educational television.

    • Kozo says:

      He was also a Presbytarian minister and a vegetarian who neither drank nor smoked. He definitely was on the Path. I might even have to force my kids to watch him on youtube instead of Power Rangers or Fineas and Pherb. Thanks for the comment, Niko.

  4. diannegray says:

    I didn’t know about Mr Rogers so I watched the video of him – wow, what an amazing man! 😀

  5. rarasaur says:

    Love this! It’s so true… Mr. Rogers was my first guru as well. 🙂

  6. eof737 says:

    Interesting perspective… But he was a TV character. 🙂

    • Kozo says:

      True, but the real Fred Rogers wasn’t much different than the Mr. Rogers on the show. I’m not sure if you saw the viral video of Mr. Rogers testifying in front of Congress in 1969, but the real Mr. Rogers was even more articulate, passionate, and selfless than the one who appeared on the show.

  7. Oh, I love Mr. Rogers, too! Just wanted to thank you for the shout out to my post on front porch culture! Fun to see my post alluded to here!

    • Kozo says:

      Thanks for the visit, Kathryn. I have a feeling that people are going to be referring back to your article for years to come. It is such a relevant analysis of how the world is changing with the advent of the internet.
      Have a beautiful day. {{{Hugs}}}

  8. Professions for PEACE says:

    I love this post! How did I miss this one earlier? I definitely need to come back here for some enjoyable forays into the past 😉 Your writing is always inspirational. I adore the peaceful wisdom from Fred Rogers and am composing a post about him as well, so I will be sure to include a link to this amazing post! Happy loving hugs, Gina

    • Kozo says:

      That is so sweet of you to read my older posts. I agree Fred Rogers was a saint. I can’t wait to read your post.
      I made my son watch Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and although he resisted at first, he got sucked in. I was so thrilled that Mr. Rogers is still appealing compared to Pokemon, Power Rangers, and Fineas and Pherb. 🙂

  9. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Ahh lovely thanks for inviting me over!

  10. fgassette says:

    I love your article. Mister Rogers was special here in Pittsburgh, a wonderful caring man. I remember him as a youngster and my daughter grew up with his wisdom. Thanks for sharing so much about him and your insights.


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