Friday, July 13, 2012

public Buddhism, private Buddhism

It took me some time to 'get used' to the Zen Buddhism I had decided to practice. Sure, I got over the 'weird' of sitting a large room with a bunch of people who were deliberately not talking, but it took me longer to know what public face I should put on my interest/affection/devotion.

At first, of course, I wanted to tell everyone. This was Good News and I wanted everyone to know that what I had discovered was something they too should discover ... and perhaps, behind the velvet curtain, should agree with me about. I was excited.

But not everyone was as excited as I was.

So I swung to the other extreme and simply never talked about it, though I was spending up to 40 hours per week practicing zazen or seated meditation. The tight-lipped silence got its come-uppance one evening after a dinner with a woman I knew as a really nice person. Shortly before dropping her off on her doorstep -- after several hours of congenial conversation -- I mentioned that I was interested in Buddhism. She was no dummy and in short order had it out of me how much I practiced and much of the backstory. She was visibly angry: "How could we sit around talking for hours and you didn't even mention this?!" she chided me. She really was pissed ... and looking back, I think she had a right to be.

But still I didn't know how to handle things. I didn't like blabbing and silence was obviously not true either, so what was the way?

I'm not sure how many years this confusion persisted -- finding Zen 'important' in my own life, but not wanting to inflict it on others. My problem, of course, was that I thought there was something to inflict, something important, something that might be bruised if I didn't care for it properly.

When did all this fidgeting stop? I'm not sure, but I do remember one night in the newspaper office where I worked, I was seated across from a woman who had been a Catholic nun. She was really a good egg and I would ply her with 'Christian' questions when the religion-oriented news story I was copyediting required some sprucing up. We'd chat about Christianity or Zen ... but the interesting part was that the importance of it all was no greater or less than tales about our children or whether sheets were on sale at Walmart.

And there it was ... just a topic anyone might treat seriously or not so seriously. It wasn't going to bruise or break. It didn't need protecting or promoting. It didn't require anything. You want to talk about it, talk. You don't, then don't. Just like stamp collecting or skeet shooting. Solemnity doesn't enhance anything any more than frivolity diminishes it.

Anyway, I'm glad to be out from under that weight. Public face, private face ... it's the same old face in the bathroom mirror.

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