Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Maybe it's not true, but I think it is: Everyone gets their wisdom from everywhere. This is particularly useful to anyone who is 'one-pointedly' devoted to anything. Baseball, chemistry, business, art, spiritual life ... very useful.

What brought this to mind was an observation made by either Yogi Berra or Casey Stengel -- two baseball greats. The line, only approximately remembered, is this: "If people won't come out to the ballpark, you can't stop them."

I really don't care much who said it or whether the quote is 100% accurate. As with the various wisdoms of Buddhism or other spiritual concerns, what I really care about is whether, in practice, this fractured-English observation stands up to scrutiny ... whether it is true in fact and not just some sugar-plum, safe-sex belief.

Spiritual life -- to which I have devoted some time and interest and often half-assed effort -- is a fine example of the usefulness of a horizon that widens by necessity. I am only using spiritual life as an example with which I am familiar ... not in some effort to arm-twist others into 'goodness.' If I knew more about baseball or business or art, I would use that as an example.

In spiritual practice, everyone begins with belief and hope. Belief and hope are OK as far as they go, but, with practice, they simply don't go far enough. No criticism intended -- it's just a fact. At first, practice is exercised as a means of gaining expertise, of learning the ropes, of finding the hand holds that will allow the student to climb the spiritual-life mountain. There is nothing easy about it. It is very hard work and it is littered with failures. Determination is brought to bear -- win, lose or draw, I will do this! Other activities are set aside in a one-pointed effort. Bit by bit, the expertise grows.

My teacher once said, "For the first four or five years (of practice), belief and hope are necessary. After that, they are not so necessary." Why? Because experience trumps belief and experience trumps hope. What someone knows is simply more compelling than what they believe or hope. Baseball, business, art, chemistry ... I imagine they are much the same.

But as an actual-factual expertise begins to assert itself, what has been set aside in the past also starts to become more apparent. Some are willing to rest on their accomplishments and just be a very good baseball player or businessman or artist or chemist or Buddhist. They are willing to take their place within a pecking order created by others. They stop ... and as a result fall into an unnerving pit. Things are settled and because they are settled, there is a sense of uneasiness and doubt. In quiet moment the old song asserts its question: "Is that all there is?"

And of course it's not. All the expertise in the world cannot limit or compass the life anyone leads. Life is bigger, more various, more interesting and, possibly, more scary, than that. And for those who have the courage or the common sense, the willingness grows to take their hard-won expertise and try to apply it in a wider context. All that hard-won expertise has a way of falling on its face when relationships fall apart or come together, when instead of sun there is rain, when joy turns to sorrow or vice versa.

My guess is that what creates uncertainty is the deep understanding that the deepest expertise is only as good as the person who is experienced. There is no pecking order. There is no relying on the perceptions of others. There is, at least in the initial willingness to address uncertainty, a profound sorrow at the loneliness. Experience cannot be shared, no matter how wise or experienced it may be. There is a shapelessness to the very world I have sought to shape. The handholds of expertise are fine ... but they don't work. Yoiks!

Out of expertise springs a profound inexpertise. But, assuming there is some determination, this is a good, rather than a bad or scary, thing. Expertise brings with it a wonderful focus. But it also brings a realization that life cannot be narrowed to focus. Life is relaxed and limitless. I, by contrast, have run around focusing, shaping, limiting. All the expertise in the world cannot eradicate the dog shit on the sidewalk ... the stuff I invariably step into. I have seen the tree, but missed, in that seeing, the forest inherent in that tree. Those who contrast the "tree" and the "forest" have missed the point: The tree IS the forest and the forest IS the tree. This is true in fact ... not just in some religious or philosophical fortune-cookie sense. Relax. Blue sky is blue. No need to be an expert.

If the people won't come out to the ballpark, you can't stop them. No one can stop anyone from doing what they don't want to do. The question that needs to be answered is, why am I trying? What new expertise do I hope to create ... another round of expertise greeted by another round of inexpertise and pretty soon you end up dead anyway.

Everyone learns everything from everywhere. The tools of attentiveness and responsibility are worth nourishing. But after that? Well, relax ... dogs gotta shit, right?

As my teacher once observed, "Except for me, everything is the teacher."

1 comment:

  1. so much words just to show that there is something next after "this".

    what ends up reassuring is always the humor that, hey, when the joker at school ask me or criticises me about what i have been learning or who my teacher is, there is a deviance that every boy will produce:


    mommy say it's time for bed dad. see ya.

    muacks. love ya.