Saturday, January 16, 2010

the One True Color

Sometimes that which is treasured is worth treasuring. Sometimes not. But which is which is not always easy.

One of my all-time favorite tales, one I used to tell my kids when they were little, comes from the world of the Hinduism, a religion/philosophy I admired in part because it always seemed to have the good sense to laugh at itself.

Once upon a time, a tinker carrying a vat came into a particular village. He set himself up in the town square and offered to dye the villagers' cloth in his vat. So the villagers lined up with their bolts and bits of cloth. The first in line told the tinker she would like her cloth dyed blue. Into the vat went the cloth and out it came, blue. The second in line said he would like his bolt dyed red. Into the same vat that had produced a beautiful blue went the bolt, and out it came, red. And so it went, down the line -- red and blue and green and yellow. Each bit of cloth went into the same vat and came out as requested. Finally, there was only one man left in line. He approached the tinker and handed over his cloth with the request, "Please make mine the color of what is in the vat."

I suppose different people will hear that story differently according to the color of their cloth, but I think many if not most would like to be as acute as the last fellow in line. Yeah -- I want to know the essence of things, the essence without the colorful diversions, the very-god of very gods ... the center of the universe, the one answer to every question. What a treasure that would be!

And certainly that last guy in line is an inspiration and an encouragement ... someone suggesting that there is a treasure and it is worth having. Where there is a brass ring, people are bound to try to grab it.

But I see the story somewhat differently these days.

Red and blue and yellow and green ... is it really so smart to relegate such secondary matters to secondary-matter status? Didn't red and blue and yellow and green come out of the same vat? And if so, how could they be any different from exactly what the savvy villager was asking for? I think red and blue and yellow and green are precisely the same ... the one answer to every question; the brass ring among brass rings; the treasure among all treasures.

And still, people will treasure what seems to lie far away and out of sight. They will treasure the magical invitations of their minds. Red and blue and yellow and green are not as special, as magical, as savvy as questing after the color of what is in the vat. Sometimes they will work their asses off trying to attain what is already apparent in the clothes closet: Red and blue and yellow and green. They want something else because what they have just now is not good enough, not holy enough, not functional enough, not peaceful enough, not ... magical and wise. They can make quite a lot of noise about the worthiness of the quest for the One True Color, the Something Else that will bring meaning and peace to all that has gone before.

And if you say, "What's the matter with the blue shirt or red dress you already have?" they can become despondent or even outraged. No, no, no ... I am full of anger and sorrow and regret and a whole lot of colors that aren't the One True Color. There is a greater treasure to be had! Or, alternatively, they can grow lazy ... why bother seeking the One True Color when every color is it ... let me stick to Buddhism or Christianity or Islam as my rock and salvation: Since there is no better way, let me make the best of what I've got and stop mewling about some One True Color. I've got my treasure and I will treasure it as best I may, accepting the fact that there is no brass ring, no improved course. I'll compromise because that's the way the fickle finger of fate has arranged things.

And so they treasure what is not much of a treasure at all...a clothes closet full of colorful compromises.

The pivot in this long-winded and tortured metaphor is the matter of work -- of investigation, of attention, of responsibility. That work begins and ends with the colors already in hand and rousing up the energy to take a look. Red is a good color. Blue is a good color. Yellow is a good color. Green is a good color. Love is a good color. Anger is a good color. Greed is a good color. Joy is a good color. Acquisitiveness is a good color. Compromise is a good color. Fucked-up is a good color. Hell, even religion is a good color. It's a good color because it is your color -- your honest clothes closet, your for-the-moment treasure. Naturally it might be nice to find some tinker who would provide the One True Color without your work, but that will never happen. Who could possibly know your colors better than you ... or treasure them either?

Work. Investigation. Courage. Patience. Doubt. Making mistakes. Heavenly breakthroughs. All of them asking. All of them answering. All of them a magical vat. Whose vat is this? Whose cloth? Whose hope? Whose sorrow? Whose colors? Whose magic? Whose treasure? What other color could all this possibly be?

Maybe, with a bit of effort, we can all become like the Hindus ....

And laugh a little.

1 comment: