Yesterday, I got an email from a freshman at a nearby college. He is studying religion and wanted to come by "Black Moon Zendo" to sniff the wind, do an interview, and complete a homework assignment. We talked a little on the phone.
Did you ever notice that your own experiences are nothing special? They were just your experiences and, although you might be willing to share them with others -- or even build up your standing on account of them -- still, they were just your experiences -- something you had seen or done and, well ... where's the new experience?
But then someone comes along and says, "Wow! You met the pope!" or "You own a Ferrari!" and they are impressed or interested or something. And you can tell that their attention and perhaps deference is excited. But since you actually met the pope or own a Ferrari ... well, yes, it's nice, but what's the big deal?
Evan, the fellow who wants to come here tomorrow morning and do his homework, was polite both in his email and on the phone ... kind of ueber-polite. Buddhism was clearly something important in his life, for whatever reasons. He seemed to be impressed to talk to someone who was doing what he had only read about or written about for his religion class. Or perhaps I am selling him short, but I think you know what I'm saying: Which of us hasn't been in that wowser frame of mind, that deferential frame of mind, that you-up-there-me-down-here frame of mind?
And my distinct problem is this: I want to help Evan out. I imagine that I could help him in the same confounding way he may imagine I could possibly help him. It's a real nutcracker. I defer to his deference and yet know in my heart of hearts that we are both just students, just teachers, just gettin' on gettin' on. There is a difference between us AND we are the same. It's all a fart in a windstorm and yet ... I stink.
The good thing about deference is that it implies attention. It may be a whopper-jawed attention, but still it is attention. And without attention, how can anyone solve the problems they hope to solve? Homework, enlightenment, compassion ... it doesn't matter. Still attention is necessary.
So I will honor Evan's attention. I will honor his deference. And I will honor the fact that I am not grown-up enough not to wish that we could dispense with the disparities of deference. It may make me feel as if I am walking into a sewer of lies, but what truth could there possibly be outside that sewer?
I guess I'd better do my homework.