Wednesday, February 22, 2012

lone-wolf, pack-wolf and other nonsense

In the practice of Buddhism -- or anyway Zen as I have known it -- there is sometimes reference to a "lone wolf" effort. Lone wolf practice seems to refer to individuals who practice outside the formats and rituals that have grown up around the supportive and vital realm of "sangha," the group or community that supports the "Dharma." Lone wolves go their own way, sometimes imagining that no ritual or format can adequately embrace or hem in the unlimited understanding they seek ... and sometimes claim to have attained.

I have known people who delight in their lone wolf practices in the same way a teenager might delight in pointing out the very real hypocrisies of an adult world. Look Ma, no hands! Buddhism encourages people to find out for themselves and not to grow lazy in a world of support that must invariably dissolve.

I have known people who can grow rigid as a Congregationalist at the first hint of lone-wolf apostasy. Their reasons seemed to vary: Sometimes it is a matter of maintaining their status as teachers within the organizations they head; sometimes they will point to the fact that Sangha is one facet of the Triple Treasure (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) that Buddhism alludes to; and sometimes they will point to the unspeakable something-or-other that is an honest experience for anyone who has practiced intensively with a group ... it really cannot be captured in words, but anyone who has experienced it knows it is true.

The exchanges between these two points of view can be intense ... and, in the end, intensely boring. Nevertheless, I think these two points of view can crop up in any individual heart. Sometimes it's a real screaming match. Sometimes it's just a hovering doubt.

My gum-chewing question this morning is this:

Who is not a lone wolf ... which is another way of saying, who could possibly be a lone wolf?

Leaving Buddhism out of it for a moment, who has not been to a party or been surrounded with one or more loving friends and not felt a moment of utter loneliness, a sense that no matter how loving the scene, still there is no one who can break the crushing falls that can crop up in life? Sure, talk therapy helps and points, group hugs support and soothe, but in the end each clings to his or her own tenuous branch and ... well, it's lonely ... utterly lonely and the lack of meaningful connection is like salt on a wound.
Inside the protective shell, nested in the guts of things, a pearl.

My view is that experience cannot be shared in any ordinary sense. Experience cannot be shared in a social setting that may proclaim with a smug assurance, "sharing is caring." People can share their asses off and still feel utterly bereft. Altruism never quite fills the bill of putting separation to rest, of assuring some relief and release. Altruism may be better than an alternative selfishness ... but how much better?

Lone wolf or pack mentality ... it's a toughie.

And for my money what settles the case is a sit-down-shut-up-and-investigate practice. Literally. If intellect and emotion cannot address the issue, what can? Well, you can and I can ... with practice.

How could a lone wolf ever be alone? Literally -- how? The sky, the stars, the wind and water, the scents of this life's forests ... the idea of being alone is ludicrous.

How could a pack wolf ever be together, unseparated, consoled and warmed? Literally -- how? The idea of being together is as ludicrous as the idea of being alone. "Interconnectedness" may be good salesmanship, but it can't hold a candle to interconnectedness.

Well, it's not a topic that anyone could somehow out-think. It's not a topic which opens its arms to heart-felt prayers and lamentations.

But, as the oyster may reveal its pearl, so an unadorned practice -- setting aside lone-wolf and pack-wolf -- can open its shell and go about the business of this life ... to shine ... and enjoy yourself.

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