Sunday, February 28, 2010


In spiritual adventure, there is a difference between talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk. And sometimes those who have just begun to walk-the-walk can be dismissive of those who are just talking-the-talk ... in other words the ones who are doing precisely what they did at an earlier time.

Talk-the-talk means reading books, collating information, analyzing, dissecting, waxing wise, swooning at lectures, hoping, believing ... you know what I mean.

Walk-the-walk means to put into action in body, mouth and thought what previously we only knew so much about. It's messy and confusing a lot of times, but it is doing rather than crooning. It's acting on the dictum, "put up or shut up."

Looking back on my own talk-the-talk times, I can be grateful ... if a bit embarrassed. How could I possibly have tried to walk-the-walk if I hadn't talked the talk ... in spades, in my case: Yes, Adam, you can talk this mystery into giving up its secrets, you can find a solution, you can grab the brass ring ... here, have another book, go to another temple, talk with some guy wearing a dress. OK, been there, done that ... and am probably capable of doing it again.

But having walked the walk in whatever limping fashion for a while, I now am less embarrassed by whatever talk-the-talk capabilities I or others may have. Monotheism, for example, may make my teeth itch with irritation, but it has the potential to lead a serious person to walk the walk. Really, it can ... or so I tell myself and as a result sometimes bend over backwards trying to point out the ways in which talk-the-talk can nourish a more fruitful walk-the-walk arena.

Bend over backwards to point out the nourishing soil.

But today I think that bending over backwards is too much. Too kind to what does not need either kindness or cruelty. The same soil that may grow some beautiful flowers can also enhance nothing but pernicious weeds. There is no knowing the future, any more than there is knowing the past and so making nice is not much different from making nasty. The whole matter is, as much as anything, a matter of luck, of destiny, of the confluence of circumstances, of, if you like Buddhist terminology, karma. Some dumb people get smarter. Some dumb people get dumber. Some smart people wise up. Some smart people remain dumb.

I think it may be a bad habit on my part -- trying to put a picture frame around what cannot be framed ... imagining that talk-the-talk will lead to walk-the-walk; imagining that talk-the-talk is the foundation of walk-the-walk; imagining that walk-the-walk is better than talk-the-talk ... or worse either; imagining ... well, imagining anything whatsoever.

Yesterday, on the peace picket line, I was talking to a woman I hadn't spoken with before. She looked over my robes and told me that she had studied a lot of Tibetan Buddhism in the past, had left it behind, and now was finding herself re-interested in ways she hadn't quite expected. I thought we were having a conversation, so I told her some of my experiences and point of view. But then I realized she was not really talking with me, she was talking with herself, trying to assess what her actual interest was. She wasn't really interested in a conversation -- in what I might say: She was operating on a frequency we all do from time to time: "How do I know what I think till I see what I say." She wanted a venue in which to find out what she thought. So after a while, I shut up and issued little on-the-couch mutterings ... "umm-hmmm" and "that's interesting" and "how did that happen?"

It all made me think that, as Charles Williams once wrote in one of his metaphysical thrillers, "people believe what they want to believe." They teach themselves at their own pace, for better or worse. And the best I can do is to stop imagining one thing or another, answer when asked, ask when I want an answer, and otherwise let life play out as it will ... which it will irrespective of my imaginings.

There really are better and worse ways of going about things. Talk-the-talk really cannot assure peace. But walk-the-walk is no guarantee either. There are sages and idjits, but that bit of information and fifty cents will get you a bus ride.

Best, I guess, is (by necessity) to tend your own garden, pluck your own weeds, and not worry too much about the kindness and cruelty that may appear elsewhere.

You are the teacher. You are the student.

Just make it a good and nourishing school.

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