Tuesday, January 19, 2010

get real!

An email friend -- formerly a newspaper reporter, now a college prof -- wrote yesterday to wail about and rail at the sheer weight and idiocy apparent in faculty meetings. I wrote back that maybe it was like being at a gathering of Buddhists -- one in which everyone was so busy being serene and circumspect and 'loving' that it made you want to scream, "Go get laid! Go rob a bank or something!"

Get real!

What a great line: "Get real!" Anyone can utter it with the utmost fervor and sincerity and, let's admit it, righteousness.

War kills our children and the children of others.
Get real!
Everyone needs health care...no one wants to die.
Get real!
Education is a good thing and ignorance harms us all.
Get real!
Drinking and driving don't mix.
Get real!

Make up your own laundry list and, like as not, there is a component that bears a similar stamp: Get real!

And then, with luck, we all hit a brick wall. Looking in the mirror one day, we may wonder what became of our dreams or shudder at what we have become. There is a distance between our actions and our hearts. And looking in the mirror, we may say with fervor, "Get real!" And a wee and uncertain voice may plead from within, "But how ...?" We may not like where we are and wish we were someplace else, but the spiderweb of circumstances seems to spread out in all directions ... sticky, confining, confounding, and inescapable.

It's a piece of cake telling others to "get real," but when we consent to consider our own lives and circumstances, a vague and vast helplessness seems to rise up. Sure, I'd like things to change -- or at least that's what I imagine -- but all I've got to work with is the same pile of habits and hopes that I claim I would like to escape. How do I know things would actually be better if I did, in fact, "get real?"
Perhaps the better-the-devil-you-know compromise is the best I can do...slump down in my life like some sullen teenager at the back of the classroom.

Get real!

Sometimes I feel incredibly and inexplicably lucky to have run into Buddhism as a practice. Other persuasions, as far as I can see, offer a get-real formula that is riddled with imaginative, but not assured, relief. How can "God" be an answer when no one is encouraged to know God? How can "heaven" (with or without the 77 virgins) mean much unless there is some understanding that is experiential rather than simply emotional or intellectual?

And while it is true that Buddhism uses come-hither and not-yet-actualized encouragements like "enlightenment," the scene is leavened by the inescapable imperative: Get to work! It might be nicer to sit around hoping the Tooth Fairy will magically dose us with whatever it might mean to "get real," but the old computer adage sets the bar: "Garbage in, garbage out." Dreams in, dreams out. No work, no results.

Buddhism as a practice is pretty annoying because it calls on its constituency to be ... oh shit! ... responsible. Responsible for what? Responsible for this life, this very particular, warts-and-all life. Everyone might prefer it if someone or something else were responsible, but the longing to "get real" means investigating whatever it is we consider to be false. False -- the old "me," the one who compromised his or her dreams, the one who feels stale and repetitive and trapped, the one who hollers, "Go get laid! Go rob a bank or something!"

Getting real means that the disconnect between body, mouth and thought -- and the uncertainties and irrealities that evolve from that disconnect -- require reconnection. Body, mouth and thought can never actually be disconnected, but it can certainly seem that they are. So, for conversational purposes, we say that a reconnection is necessary in order to settle into our true -- our get-real -- selves.

And Buddhism counsels responsibility ... a responsibility that no one can take for us. Investigation of our warts-and-all self is the only course available when seeking out our get-real self. Curse the heavens as we may want to, praise one god or another as we like, still the fact remains. "Get real" is not an endeavor for sissies.

In the Buddhism I trained in, there is some emphasis on meditation -- a route that leads directly to the old, stale, compromising and wobbly self. To sit down, erect the spine, shut up and focus on, perhaps, the breath, is to express our responsibility and reconnection. True, it may not feel very responsible or reconnected, but that doesn't change the fact. Where thought, word and deed are one, there is no one-ness ... there is only one-ness.

I suppose other persuasions may point out the same thing -- how to get real -- but their barriers seem higher and more confounding to me. Standing between the one who might hope to get real -- to settle and be at peace with their true nature -- there seem to be a host of get-in-the-way barriers: Church, God, scripture, praise and blame. They may be very good tools, but walking-around evidence suggests that too often the promise of get-real is nothing more than a chocolate-covered version of get-false.

Buddhism is not much different except ... it suggests the possibility of getting real where you stand ... not where someone else stands.

Where thought, word and deed 'reconnect,' the discovery is not open to doubt or belief.

Where get-real is the direction, and responsibility is brought to bear, what the student discovers is marvelous: There is no got in get-real.

There is just -- at last -- real.

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