Wednesday, March 7, 2012


And what result does success impose?

My guess this morning is ... endless correction.

Yesterday, a woman called up to ask about sitting at the zendo here. She identified herself as Nancy ... a rabbi. We had a very pleasant conversation on the phone. As always, I encouraged her to find some place else to sit, some place with a more ritualized setting. Around here, the slovenly attitude is more 'adult,' and less willing to put on the touching but misguided parent-child stage play. It's slovenly, as I say, but I am too old for a more energetic and 'compassionate' approach. I'll tell anyone anything I know, but, in one sense, we are all poor bastards in the soup together, lending a hand where possible, but with little energy left over to play the fool. Let's wail to our heart's content -- in harmony, perhaps -- but then ... let's move forward... a couple of limpers working with what they've got ... which is in every way perfect. I love you, but I can't help you. Anyway, I don't think I'll ever get to meet Nancy in person. She was brisk and can-do, but pleasant enough to get by ... until, perhaps, she couldn't get by.

When I built the zendo here ("zendo" seems like such a grand word ... it's just a 12x16 shed with an altar and some cushions), it was 1998 and I was pissed off. I couldn't find a communal setting in which to practice zazen and that, among other things, made me angry. Why didn't the world have a place to sit that accorded with my schedule? I did find one place, but the guy who ran it turned out to be more full of shit than a Christmas turkey and I had had enough of Zen posturings. So I set out the build the zendo ... bound for glory ... bound for success. I gave it a grand name, "Black Moon Zendo." My teacher looked at me quizzically when I told him and asked simply, "What does that mean?" It was a good question. A black moon shines in the night and shines in the day, casting a light that can never be seen and cannot be escaped. A name for game-players. I thought of changing the name, but in the end gave up. Anything else would be equally august, equally silly. All that grandeur for a backyard shed!

To this day, years later, my left thumb nail refuses to be whole. It is split from nail-end to cuticle ... a reminder of a time when I tried to drive a 16-penny nail into a zendo rafter and missed ... a failure of sorts... and something I cannot correct.

I thought it might take a couple of years to build the zendo, but being as anal-retentive as I was/am, it took something less than a year. When it was done, I knew its every flaw -- the joints that didn't quite meet, the corners cut, the wall board that needed unmerciful spackling because the studs behind the wall were not quite straight. I knew every flaw and yet it was complete ... a success I still enjoy looking at and using. Others came periodically and sometimes pronounced it "beautiful." But I was a man with a beautiful wife -- a man who once likewise employed the word "beautiful," but with time, as the very mundane particulars of marriage asserted themselves, no longer attended to the beauty. The wondrousness of the accomplishment -- the marriage, the success -- grew wispy. Yes, it was pretty surprising and pretty kool, but the surprise and the kool were not so easy to enunciate, not so easy to dismiss with a can-do and pleasant word like "beautiful." The zendo is just one of my 'beautiful' wives, one of my wondrous successes or failures ... now let's leave the bullshit out of it ... there is business to conduct, the moment to live in, so to speak.

How ferocious the business of success is. It seems to be woven -- or perhaps welded is a better word -- into the DNA. No one ever started a project in order to fail. The intention bred action and the action was aimed ... at success. Those who involved themselves in spiritual endeavor, for example, have a spoken or unspoken longing to succeed ... enlightenment or bust! improvement or bust! heaven or bust! But seldom if ever is the question asked, "What would you do with it if you had it?" or, "If you had it, would it really be worth having?"

Oh sure, there is forelock-tugging humility and savvy: "Success is not the point. Failure is not the point." Such easy-peasy stuff rolls off the mind's tongue with the can-do ease anyone might bring to the matter of chewing gum. But still, it is ferocious ... success.

The good thing about yearning, whether obviously or in hidden and sometimes saccharine ways, for success is that the more you do it, the more impossible it shows itself to be. "Success" means to be finished, to have completed something so that, at last, it is can-do complete. No need to look back. No need to revise. Success means something becomes axiomatic ... something that can be taken as an assumption. Success means there is a stopping point, a The End ... and now we can all go about our can-do business. The good thing about success in this sense is that it never works. Yes, we can all learn to tie our shoes and it's a vast success, a real accomplishment, something that deserves to be included on our curriculum vitae. This is really hot-shit stuff, as any four-year-old's face can attest. But then ... but then ... suddenly there are today's shoes that need to be tied and, well, we really need to pay more attention because, although we have enjoyed a vast success, we screwed it up today ... right now. "Beautiful" went down the toilet in the face of today's knotted error. Well, shit!

The good thing about success is that if we bang our heads against that wall often enough -- and lord knows the DNA imperative makes it a long-term project -- the dime begins to drop. It really is important to do what anyone might wish to do with focus and best-effort. No holding back. No 95% nonsense -- a 100% effort. But a 100% effort has to do with a 100% effort. It has nothing to do with success ... or failure either. Success and failure have to do with savvy, can-do me -- the competent and in-control and socially-graceful me. But me -- the successful or failure-prone one -- simply cannot stand up in the face of the winds life offers up and blows us down with. And as the dime begins to drop, it grows all by itself, no effort necessary -- some visceral, DNA understanding that things are really much lighter, much less confused, much less mistaken without tacking on success. Life is just more in tune with life.

None of this is something anyone could talk themselves into, as with philosophy or religion or any of the can-do applications. It is just something anyone might learn by paying attention.

Failure? Correct it.

Success? Correct it.

Can't do? Correct it.

Can do? Correct it.


Is there anything that could possibly need correction?

Who could possibly correct this?

1 comment:

  1. Or as Suzuki-Roshi once reportedly said to the fellow who kept pestering him about enlightenment: "Why are you so interested in enlightenment? Maybe you won't like it."

    And in the end, what is there anyway? Just our lives, just our lives.