Friday, July 15, 2011

crazy efforts

There is something satisfying about finding someone who is devoted to something, someone willing to follow the Yellow Brick Road of their love or interest, someone so devoted that s/he is willing to hit a hundred brick walls, make a hundred errors and still keep going. I guess I like it because such an effort contrasts so sharply with the willingness to sink back or rely on a judgment or opinion or belief that is based on mere smugness or grade-school research.

The topic in question may bore the socks off me, but the effort involved, the unwillingness to be distracted or sidetracked ... well, it may smack of megalomania, but the willingness to be wrong and correct one's own errors and then persevere ... I like it.

Today, The Washington Post carries a story of a Virginia man caught up in a kerfuffle with the Daughters of the American Revolution about whether a particular ancestor fought in the American Revolution and was thus qualified to be listed by the DAR. The researcher's evidence appears to be exhaustive (and exhausting), but the DAR continues to bar the gate. Does any of this matter? In a country with intractable economic problems and in the midst of two unexplainable and expensive wars, who could care?

Who could care?

I certainly don't. But I am pleased to see this researcher persisting ... falling down, getting up, researching the research that proved to be faulty, badgering and nagging and keepin' on keepin' on. Yes, the whole topic may strike me as being dumber than a box of rocks, but the effort...? Who will make a similar effort ... about anything?

Spiritual life requires a similar effort, I'd say: Dumber than a box of rocks, open to giggling and raging and swooning assessments on every side, finding hordes who agree and yet not relying on the agreement of others ... anyone can believe this shit and find books and temples and pious friends to support the outlook ... but who is devoted enough to see it through, never give up, refuse to be satisfied by some cotton-candy 'authenticity,' persist despite the fears and frustrations?

Sure, it's crazy.

But who isn't?


  1. Genkaku,

    Your issue touches upon one of my greatest concerns about the "New Right" including a number of the billionaire class and many Tea Baggers.

    There is the thinking that research does not matter if it opposes their value system.

    I (and may be you) were taught to respect well conceived and constructed research over out cherished values, but not everyone holds this view.

    This kind of "wrong thinking" is not new, but it has reared its head again in the 21st century and I find it very troubling.

  2. Andy John -- Not to beat a dead horse but I obviously agree with you. But there is a difference between people who can do no better than to reassert what they believe ad nauseam -- not addressing the issue but rather buttressing beliefs they insist on -- and someone who investigates out of what might be called a perilous love, someone who cares about the issue more than s/he cares about trumpeting a theme that has yet to be investigated thoroughly.

    True believers are a dime a dozen. True investigators are more rare. Does arrogance and idiocy often prevail? Sure. The best any of the rest of us can do is to make sure we don't make the same mistake.

  3. I was having a conversation the other day about talent vs. practice. My friend, who is a performing artist, firmly holds the view that talent is irrelevant and in order to get very good at something one needs to practice so intensively that others consider it compulsive.

    That actually seems to be true in the arts, in medicine, in science (both hard and soft), in sports and in spiritual practice (including but not limited to Zen, Yoga, and the mystical traditions). It seem to apply in business and finance and other areas as well.

    The fact that not all the efforts of these hard workers entertains others is completely irrelevant. Even you "compulsively"practice your writing as you journalize your own grand and not-so-grand musings every day even multiple times a day in this blog.

  4. Genkaku,

    May we both be as persistent as Wayne Bates in whatever endeavors light our respective fires.

    - Andy

  5. Billy John --

    From 101 Zen Stories:

    The First Principle

    When one goes to Obaku temple in Kyoto he sees carved over the gate the words "The First Principle." The letters are unusually large, and those who appreciate calligraphy always admire them as being a masterpiece. They were drawn by Kosen two hundred years ago.

    When the master drew them he did so on paper, from which workmen made the larger carving in wood. As Kosen sketched the letters a bold pupil was with him who had made several gallons of ink for the calligraphy and who never failed to criticize his master's work.

    "That is not good," he told Kosen after the first effort.

    "How is that one?"

    "Poor. Worse than before," pronounced the pupil.

    Kosen patiently wrote one sheet after another until eighty-four First Principles had been accumulated, still without the approval of the pupil.

    Then, when the young man stepped outside for a few moments, Kosen thought: "Now is my chance to escape his keen eye," and he wrote hurridly, with a mind free from distraction. "The First Principle."

    "A masterpiece," pronounced the pupil.