Friday, May 8, 2009

this metaphorical life

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During army basic training, we were trained in a lot of ways -- saluting, shooting, marching ... it was an eight-week instruction period. And among those instructions was this: When standing guard duty at night, if there appeared to be movement beyond your perimeter, never look directly at what you think is moving. Always look to the side of it. Looking to the side of things made them clearer.

And maybe it's so in spiritual endeavor. Metaphors and similes abound and yet no one actually leads a metaphorical life. But without the gossamer threads of metaphor and tale-telling and philosophy -- without looking to the side of things -- it is too hard to see clearly. But just because it may be too hard to see clearly doesn't mean anyone's vision is actually blurred.

A fellow who passed as a Zen teacher once told his audience that he saw his function as putting ketchup on things for us. Something tasty. Something alluring. Something to the side of things. And so he read sutras to us and commented. And koans, and commented. And encouraged and nagged and mystified us. And came up with metaphors that might lead us all back to our unmetaphorical lives. It was just his job. He was moderately good at it outside the fact that he thought it was his job.

No one leads a metaphorical life.

This life is not "like" something else. It does not have some 'other' or indirect or profound meaning. If I hold a rock in the palm of my hand, what question could there possibly be about it? We may call it a "rock" for conversational purposes, but when has conversation ever adequately nailed down the edges of this unmetaphorical life? When has conversation ever made an unmetaphorical point worth relying on?

I like ketchup as well as the next person. I love the symphonies that stories can play in my mind. I love to sway to the music, to be taken away in some ineffable delight. I love being astounded and invited and encouraged and somehow loved. Metaphors and meaning can do that for me and I too love to swoon.

But when I go to Burger King -- let's face it -- it's the nourishing substance of the hamburger that I'm after ... not just the toppings.

So ... where's the beef?

How's that for a metaphor? :)
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