Thursday, March 17, 2011

Indian time

Yesterday, Scott, a fellow who does home improvement work, came by to estimate a couple of projects here. When we shook hands, I could feel both his hard work and his callouses. Scott was straight-forward and attentive. I had no way of knowing what the quality of his actual work might be, but I had a sense of someone who not only could but also would do what he said.

This morning, Frank, an old Zen buddy, sent me an essay by a former news reporter who had gone into teaching and was disgusted. He wasn't so much disgusted by all the knee-jerk aspects that receive a lot of ink and talk -- lethargic administrations, coddled teachers, money-making, cookie-cutter tests that really didn't help or inspire students, etc. What really disgusted him was the fact that at some point along the way, those in the teaching business had instructed the politicians and policy makers who were currently gutting the educational arena ... opting for the dumb and dumber policies and yet wailing about the failure of schools to adequately educate the coming generation. Hard-working teachers had failed and the politicians and policy-makers were the proof.

In good times, everyone wants to be a chief. Chiefs are the ones who direct and demand the productivity of the Indians. Chiefs are the ones who formulate intentions that others are expected to execute. They envision and philosophize and sometimes get lost imagining that their activities constitute the callouses on Scott's hands. Without a vision, how could there be an accomplishment? Ergo, by having a vision, the chiefs accomplish something grand and important and tangible.

I guess everyone has got a chief and and Indian within. The chief talks and imagines and analyzes and corrects and encourages and ... and then the Indian does the heavy lifting... the patient, callous-creating, try-and-fail work? But how often does anyone fall prey to his or her own chief and neglect his or her own Indian? How often does talk-the-talk suffice and walk-the-walk go begging?

It's always nice to work for someone who can direct the scene based on a history of actual-factual heavy-lifting. And it's a pain in the ass working for someone who has all the credentials and none of the on-the-ground savvy. It's like a West Point graduate who takes command of a combat company ... anyone with any smarts is skeptical of someone who has nothing more than brains. Nice clothes, intricate concepts and perfect posture only go so far ... there needs to be some skill when the bullets fly.

One of the nicest compliments I ever received in my working career came one summer when I was working on a state construction crew. There were other such crews who spent time leaning on their shovels, but this crew was not like that. It was flat-out hard work and I loved it -- loved learning how to do things correctly and then putting that information into my own sweat and blood blisters. About half-way through the summer, a regional foreman pulled me aside. He wasn't a lavish man. He simply asked me if I would like a full-time job working for the state. He was disappointed -- and I was too -- when he found out I was only 18. Job offers were for those 21 and older. But his asking let me know ... my Indian had earned his spurs.

Isn't all of this the same in spiritual adventures? The chief imagines and philosophizes and sometimes spends a lifetime simply being the brainy chief -- the wise West Point grad who cannot yet grab his own ass with both hands. The chief formulates a Yellow Brick Road of direction and intention and hope and belief and soaring visions and then ... and then ... and then....

Light as a feather ...
And then, with luck, it's time to get dirty, time to fuck up a hundred wet dreams, time to try and fail, time to become impatient and learn patience, time to weep that the envisioned goal remains out of reach, time to see progress only to realize you've been going backwards, time to play humble only to be called out for such arrogance, time to find a holy determination challenged by an unholy array of facts, time to long to be a chief but face off against what any real chief must do ... be an Indian.

What a balancing act, trying to find the way between dream and fact ... something useful and productive instead of just imaginative and wishful. And yet the only thing anyone can do is what they are doing. There is no going back. Likewise, there is no going forward except among feather-merchant Chiefs. There is just this Indian learning what it is to have callouses and a firm handshake -- straight as a string and never concocting chief-ly dreams.

It's Indian time...light as a feather.

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