Sunday, June 27, 2010

among the shrinks

I was thinking about my sister the other day and it occurred to me that once of the reasons I liked her company probably came from the fact that she is a social worker. Yes, Revan is funny and bright and kind and a lot of other laudable things in my mind, but the social-worker aspect suddenly hit me as something that shed light.

If, fairy-tale fashion, I had to pick one profession whose members I might prefer to hang out with, the shrink-oriented would probably be it. Not because they are necessarily saner than any other group (they can sometimes be even more devious than the more recognizably troubled), but because they are in a profession that cannot so easily sidestep the panoply of human life -- the real wowsers and the dull-as-dishwater details that influence people. Secrets are often their business ... and then the secrets beyond the secrets. Their pomposities can be wearing, but still, the framework, when healthy, makes for good conversation.

The other night, when I was talking to a funeral home employee, I found myself right at home, talking turkey, no holds barred ... about a profession he admitted he didn't often expound on in social settings. Death is one of the secrets that do not generally make up 'polite' conversation, but one of my failings is to wonder endlessly, why not? If it's true and if it's human and even if it's scary ... well, all that is natural, don't you think?

But of course many people do not think so. But when among the psychologically employed, there is a chance to rest easy and talk free and wide ... death, the Red Sox, serial killers, raising roses ... and, assuming some pomposity of cool distance doesn't ooze in, it can be a delightful thing. Anything is fair game. Anything is interesting. Anything goes. Sure, there can be pauses for one bias/meaning/explanation or another, but in general, the world is your conversational oyster.

Yes, I like getting into a ranging conversation like that with my sister or anyone else. But sometimes I think that my delight in what is delightful stands in the way of fully enjoying what is not so delightful. I feel constrained not to say what I might have said to my sister or any other enjoyable interlocutor. Perhaps this is one reason I can find less and less to say for spiritual life.

"It's important," the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki once said of spiritual practice, "but it's not that important."

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