Thursday, November 25, 2010


There is nothing like a secret to get someone's attention. It is like whispering only better. Whispering has some sound, some obviousness, but secrets, while asserted, live beyond the furthest hill, the deepest deep. Secrets are as smooth and impenetrable as an unshelled hazel nut held in the palm of the hand: There you have it, but what is it you have?

Posit a secret and the children gather around, smiling and laughing and longing to know. Adults furrow their brows in the face of secrets. Think of a secret you long to penetrate and you'll see what I mean.

Deep secrets.

I think of spiritual life with its profound mysteries and secrets: A little practice seems to make it obvious -- there is a secret here, something that defies even as it tantalizes. Who is God, really? What is enlightenment, really? In what realm does the deepest secret lie? Peace is not the absence of war, but what, precisely, is it?  For those who take spiritual endeavor seriously, this is a serious realm, not something to be taken lightly. Others may encourage us with the 'mysteries' and 'secrets,' and such encouragements may push us onward with practice, but then, suddenly, the dime may drop: This really is a secret ... my secret ... it is not someone else's secret ... and what is it?

Once upon a time, when I was in the army, I worked for a unit that dealt with secrets. My section -- Violet Section -- was charged with listening to tape recordings of telephone calls between East German government functionaries. We would sit in front of reel-to-reel tape recorders and make sometimes detailed notes on pieces of paper that were marked "Top Secret" and then a code word to indicate that the notes that followed were even more secret than "Top Secret." Drip by drop, this information made its way up the food chain to the State Department, our guiding authority.

On one particular graveyard (midnight to 8 a.m.) shift, I caught a long call about production figures -- a sure indicator of one aspect of a communist regime's success or failure. Sugar beets, coal, steel, potatoes, apples ... a laundry list of nourishing products. The call went on and on and on (boooorrrring) and I busted my chops trying to get it all right. The taped calls were not always clear. There was static and voices faded in an out. So I had to work. By morning, I had it pretty much straightened out. The top-secret stuff was rendered in some kind of orderly English. Simultaneously cranky and satisfied -- the call was less juicy than I might have wanted, but I had done the work -- I got onto the bus back to the barracks when the shift ended.

Over breakfast, I thumbed idly through a copy of the New York Times. And there -- on page 13 -- was the entire litany I had worked so hard to decipher and translate. Page ... fucking ... 13!!!!! Without knowing it, I had been working on a press release and had imagined because the sheet I was writing on said so that it was  Top Secret. And it hadn't even made page one! I had made what I considered a page-one effort and been rewarded with ... well, hell, it was hardly secret if the New York Times reported it. What a bummer!

Enlightenment, compassion, peace, emptiness, Mind, mysterious activity, realm beyond realms, limitlessness ... all that work and it ends up on page 13, in front of our noses, easy as a hazel nut. Sure, it was stamped Top-Secret-code-word, but those are just the secrets of others. How secret could anything be if it is your secret?

Turn to page 13 and find out.


  1. Was it worth it? And did I do any of that anyway?

  2. If we are supposed to have no secrets and thereby speak the truth. Why are we liars? Because we are guilty. I am not a liar (trying to not be).


  3. For once... Ok. Something about exclusivity once made a difference for me. I thought I was special. :)