Wednesday, September 28, 2011

a letter

I wrote this last night to an email acquaintance and thought today that it might be of some use to some others ... or not.

Dear A -- Several months ago, on the weekly Saturday morning peace picket line whose membership shifts from week to week, I ran into a woman of perhaps 70 with a really beautiful face and a lovely demeanor. We got to talking and it turned out that she was a Quaker. And because she struck me as a credit to humanity, somehow, I decided to give the Quakers a whirl. It was the second Quaker meeting I had ever been to (the last one was years and years ago, when I was in an 'ecumenical' phase). Everything was very quiet and clean and the benches made me wish I had brought a cushion, as others had. Several people spoke and it wasn't offensive, but it was hardly as heart-piercing as the fellow who had stood up years before and seemed, without show, to be talking directly to his god. There was a nice meal afterward and people were friendly. The meeting room felt a little like a zendo, but I realized then as I have been realizing with increasing frequency that spiritual life in its formats just doesn't interest me much any more. I'm not saying I'm above it or beyond it or that I have grabbed some brass ring. It simply doesn't interest me as much as it once did. It's good stuff and I will recommend it to anyone who is looking for a way in which to codify their search, but ... well, I sit when I sit, usually on Sundays in the zendo for an hour or so, but during the week when it seems appropriate. After all these years, it feels a bit odd, but recently I gave away 99% of my 'spiritual' books and I haven't missed them yet.

I guess my conclusion, if there is one, is that I agree with you ... start with the thing or things, person or people, who are closest to your very pedestrian heart. To be honest in this way is to be at home in your home. There may be hints and nudges from elsewhere (Buddhism, TV, I don't know what) but taking care of your family (literal and metaphorical) is best.

I sympathize with the teacher who would not listen to your 'family' as being most important. There are so many excuses for not digging in -- getting down and dirty with spiritual efforts -- that sometimes people fall over backwards trying to cut off the tools of laziness. Don't worry, there's an asshole born every minute, so running into one of them is hardly unusual. The best lesson anyone can take from assholes is this -- just don't YOU be one.

I came to spiritual life based on the lashes of the intellect. My father, a college professor, and mother, a writer who was bright enough to be invited into Mensa (the brainiac society) and deciding she didn't want to hang out with all those people who could do no better than to be bright, were both smart people. Not loving, but smart. My father's father was a Presbyterian minister ... a fact that is enough to make anyone hate religion, which my father did in spades. His religion was ... the intellect. My mother, who was smarter, could not escape her smarts, but was smart enough to know that smarts were not the answer to the serious questions of peace. Still, I was stuck with smart parents ... and couldn't quite figure out what was wrong with them ... or wrong with me. It was a painful business. Eventually, I got wrapped up in Vedanta and later switched to Zen ... a practice that, for my purposes, was nothing but DOING. You could think/believe any damned thing you pleased, but that a $2 would get you a bus ride. Experience was what I was after, not more thinking. So ... that was 40 years ago. I went through all the typical asshole phases -- over-enthusiastic, rigid, wise ... blah, blah, blah... all of it very informative and useful, though sometimes I wonder if I had to be quite so much of an asshole for quite so long. Now I am an asshole, but I do my best not to prove it at every turn. The holy and the serene will have to go their way without me. Which is not to say I am above or beyond a little Hollywood when the occasion calls for it: I do wear my robes to the Saturday peace picket where everyone else wears signs expressing the expected peace sentiments. I figure a guy in a dress draws attention and if that attention will cause anyone to think about what they think, then it's worth the show biz.

As my teacher said, "take care of your family." My experience is that when you do that, the word "family" seems to spread out like kudzu, wider and wider and wider. It's nothing sexy. It's just what seems to happen.

Take your time and take good care.

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