Monday, July 16, 2012

give me the simple life

Monday around here is the day when two large and noisy and battered diesel trucks come by to pick up the garbage. One truck takes the generalized trash, the other, on alternating weeks, consumes either the bottles and cans or the accumulated paper items.

For those who consent to look into it, it can be a rough cob, recognizing how much stuff has accumulated in this lifetime. No matter how brief or how long that lifetime, still there is stuff. Treasure or trash makes no difference: If you dropped dead tomorrow, all your stuff would be somebody else's trash ... coffee tables, socket wrenches, lawn mowers, jewelry, collected works, butter knives, blue jeans, designer T-shirts, vacuum cleaners, socks, Fast Lane passes and souvenirs. And worse than someone else's having cope with your stuff is having to cope with it yourself ... if you consent to look into it.

One good thing about the drop-dead scenario is that no one can burden anyone else with their wisdom or ignorance. Drop dead and that aspect is gone ... except when you get someone expatiating on the transmission of wise teachers or the bad habits of parents. Yes, someone will have to cope with the socket wrenches, but picking up your mental trash is not a requirement.

Anyway, when anyone starts looking at their lives and their accumulations, it can be pretty overwhelming. On and on and on it goes ... all this stuff. How nice it might be to simplify, to strip away the collections so lovingly collected. Henry David Thoreau, here I come!! Day-dreaming by a Walden Pond you've never seen, or, if you have seen it, you notice, crestfallen, that it's just a pond after all... no mystical magical vibes rising from its morning mists, no inspiration or devotion other than that which might equally arise from an average mud puddle.

How wonderful it might be to simplify ... to get rid of all that stuff ... to live honestly and without the constraining accumulations. Give me the simple life!

But of course simplicity is not rigidity and to the extent anyone dreams of simplicity, well, things are not yet simple enough.

I once heard the story of a fellow in New York who had climbed on some Buddhist bandwagon and conceived a notion to become a monk. He quit is job, sold his stuff, emptied most of his bank account, took a train to New Jersey and knocked on the door of a Buddhist center, retailed his recent efforts, and announced that he wanted to become a monk. The monk listening to him looked him square in the eye and said, approximately, "OK ... go get a job."

Detritus, trash, garbage, accumulations of a lifetime, whether short or long....

Mondays are trash days and on this on-coming hot and fetid day, some of the accumulation has been set out by the driveway. What a luxury ... somebody gets rid of my stuff for me. But the other stuff, the rest of the stuff, the collections of a lifetime linger and taunt for anyone who consents to take a look, anyone who is not longer quite so sure that more stuff spells more peace. More stuff doesn't work, perhaps, but does less stuff work? I doubt it. Even monks lovingly described as having "one robe and one bowl" have got their problems, I'd say.

In the old days, the Zen teacher Ummon was quoted as saying, approximately, "When you can't say it, it's there. When you don't say it, it's missing." The "it" may be taken as the ineffable -- the magical mystery tour that others call "god" "tao" or something equally wispy and yet somehow inescapable. Anyone can kid around about "it," and yet, for the (wo)man who consents to take a look, it's a no-kidding-around matter, and taking out the detritus of a lifetime may seem to be a reassuring effort in pursuit of actualizing the peacefulness and clarity of "it."

The only problem is that the more trash you take out, the more there is. Get a job!

Well, Ummon is dead and gone. I may hate it, but my trash is my trash ... or anyway that's the way it seems. Ummon doesn't run some ethereal trash collection firm. That's my responsibility. God's got better things to do than rearrange my sock drawer... or does He?

Tao prattle and toe jam, simplicity and shoe laces, what a mishigas!

There is a difference between taking out the garbage and just taking out the garbage, but I'm damned if I know what it is.

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