Wednesday, March 2, 2011

before you started

I suppose others are not as dim-witted as I am, but I imagine some are, so I will mention it anyway -- the tendency to try to get there before you have ever started. The tendency seems to be based in a strange combination of "instant gratification" and plain old laziness.

I once stood on a road outside of Sacramento, Calif., thumb extended, trying to hitch a ride to the East Coast. Although my destination was 3,000-plus miles away, my mind was filled with reaching my goal by the end of the day. No amount of rational thinking could disabuse me of the hope. In some recess of my mind, I was plumb sure I could do it. I would like to excuse this idiocy based on age -- I was about 20 at the time -- but there is too much evidence that age has nothing to do with it to make a very good case.

And I noticed the same thing when I first began Zen practice -- sitting at an informal tea after evening's meditation. I didn't know most of the people and I didn't know much of the Zen lingo, but as I sipped my tea, I felt a hot flash of irritation at all the subdued and confusing and polite conversationalists around me. My mind spoke up in no uncertain terms: "Just tell me what the fuck I want to know so I can get out of this place!"

Who knows what I wanted to know, but I knew I wanted to know it. I wanted to know it NOW and I was convinced that the people around me were keeping it from me on behalf of some oh-so-important institution or other holy relic. Screw that! Just tell me and I'll go home and watch TV! If "enlightenment" were so all-fired pervasive and if "peace" lay within ... well, spell it out in single-syllable words that will allow me to understand and actualize ... and coincidentally get off my goddamned knees, which were killing me.

It may all sound funny now, but it wasn't funny then. And the same tendencies linger and linger like bad breath. So you learn a little of your spiritual path and suddenly you think you know a lot. Six or eight hotshot beliefs and you've got it nailed and run around pestering yourself or others with your wisdom. You did your best to get there before you even started and, even though you didn't quite make it, still, you nail down some basics and find a cozy nest. A little ritual, a little incense, a couple of bright openings, a name or two to describe your wisdom, and viola! -- the East Coast!

If "enlightenment" and "peace" are never missing, why bother to break a sweat? I'm OK, you're OK, right? Just live in the moment, right? And of course the answer is simple: The reason you have to break a sweat is that you're an idiot. Presentation is not actualization, and the contract always has its fine print.

Idiocy is nothing special or even particularly reprehensible. It's just a fact. If you don't know, you don't know. What really underpins and elevates this all-too-human idiocy is the insistence on knowing. In ordinary affairs, knowing can be used as camouflage for a ground-zero idiocy and uncertainty. It's common enough ... relax. But further down the road, with some experience under your belt, the insistence on knowing really gums up the works. The insistence on reaching the East Coast takes on new and refined appearances.

Somehow you've got to break a sweat if you want to learn how to stop breaking a sweat.

A Zen teacher was once discussing "mind" with a student. "Put it down," the teacher coached. "But I can't put it down," the student said. "Well then," the teacher suggested, "if you can't put it down, pick it up."

West Coast, East Coast, idiots, savants, teachers and students, yesterday, today and tomorrow ... how complicated is this computer screen? If you insist on whining, at least learn to enjoy yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Why would you want to get to the east coast?