Sunday, October 28, 2012

'beyond compare'

Perhaps it would be like being in a room where walls, ceiling and floor had somehow magically disappeared. Logically and psychologically, it makes no sense, in one sense, and yet in another sense...? A world without comparison.

In a book dedicated to the parameters of one form of 'insanity' ("The Language of Schizophrenia"), a patient was quoted (approximately) as saying, "The air is still, here -- the air between the things in the room -- but the things themselves are no longer here."

In ordinary terms, such an assertion might rightfully be included in a book depicting the particulars of an insanity. This is nutsy, right? This is off the charts. This leaves any attentive reader gasping for air: What the fuck does that mean?! And since no answer springs readily to mind, well, perhaps out of kindness, the doctor will find a pill that will 'fix' it.

A world without comparison.

My mother, who grew up in a WASP-y world of the early 20th century, once passed along to me one of the reproving observations of her upbringing: "Comparisons are odious." The saying was aimed, I imagine, at the individual willingness to compare one person's station to another's: I'm better off or less well off than someone else is. Comparisons were odious because they are snooty and self-serving and, in the end, a weak basis on which to premise life or living.

In spiritual life, temples and texts are laced with the promise of things beyond compare -- heaven or hell or God or unexcelled enlightenment or complete understanding or attainment or other "beyond compare" ways of being or seeing or knowing or something. It sounds now, as it always has, incredibly delicious and desirable when compared to my workaday worries and woes, doubts and fears, laughter and tears, bumps and bruises, delights and sorrows. Really, it beckons like moonlight on a dark path and I too have used its deliciousness to inspire one spiritual effort or another ... busting my butt for ... well, secretly and not so secretly, busting my butt for a world "beyond compare." It sounded purely wonderful and worth striving for.

Seldom if ever did I stop to think that perhaps a world "beyond compare" was just that -- nothing special or, if it was special, there would be no way in hell to assess that specialness because, after all, it was "beyond compare." How in heaven's name could anyone assert they were in a room that lacked floor and ceiling and walls, the very definition of a "room?" How in heaven's name could anyone strive for what is "beyond compare" and then somehow attain it when the floor and ceiling and walls were ... gonzo?! And on what basis could anyone assert that what was "beyond compare" was any different from what was not "beyond compare?" It might be OK for advertising purposes (temples and texts), but where the rubber hit the road, how could it possibly make any sense?

This morning I woke up where the rubber hit the road. There was no escaping waking up. There was no escaping needing to take a leak. There was no escaping the aches and pains of old age that wake up with me every day. There was no escaping the increasing weakness associated with that age -- a weakness that is not just physical, but also mental: The willingness and ability to do almost anything slips away with age, not least because the willingness to compare ... takes too much energy and is too unreliable. This is not a criticism, it's just what happens. In old age, capacities and connections seem to fall away like globally-warmed shards of the Arctic shelf. It feels a bit dispiriting, on the one hand, but on the other, there it's just what happens ... no more job, no more world of comparisons in which to measure and reassure myself of myself, no more bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed involvement, no more seeing without glasses, a receding of the wild emotion for or against the horrors or wonders ... it's a generalized dwindling.

And this morning it occurred to me that dwindling together with the other bits and pieces of dwindling was the energy required to make comparisons. After a lifetime of doing just that -- making comparisons and hence asserting a social connection and a rebuff to loneliness -- it felt and feels a bit scary at times... a plain-as-salt recognition that comparisons may be odious, but they are also a means of social camaraderie. Wouldn't I be lost and forlorn without my comparisons? On the other hand, how does anyone go about being lost and forlorn?

It is pleasant to agree that a room has walls and ceiling and floor. Very pleasant and yet is it true? If not, is the truth worth elevating or longing for when it is as plain as the nose on your face? Comparing this no-room with a room imposes a recognition that this is really a waste of perfectly useful time.

A Chevrolet parked across the street ... beyond compare.
A brilliantly-pink dawn morphing into grey skies and a wet chill in the air ... beyond compare.
A set of aches and pains against which I reach for ibuprophen ... beyond compare.
A recognition that this is Sunday and later I hope to do some zazen... beyond compare.
A growly, hungry stomach ... beyond compare.
A longing for companionship ... beyond compare.

If everything -- honest injun ... just leave the spiritual and psychological nonsense behind for a moment -- is beyond compare, how could anything be beyond compare? And if nothing is beyond compare, who would bother to say so? Why compare when, ipso facto, there simply is no comparison?

Intellectually and emotionally, all of this may sound like the mumbling rant of some old bag of bones. But where the rubber hits the road, where people lead their own incomparable lives, I think it makes some sense... and yearning for what is "beyond compare" is pretty insane. Naturally it would be a good idea to straighten out a lifetime habit of compare-and-contrast ... just straighten it out, not because it is odious or spiritually advanced or personally desirable, but because, in the end, it wastes a lot of energy and creates a lot of sorrow.

"Beyond compare" -- check it out. Is it really so necessary? Is it any more useful than the habit of comparing and 'connecting the dots'? Isn't connecting the dots as "beyond compare" as not connecting the dots?

If the sky is blue, wouldn't you be bored silly if a friend insisted on telling you over and over again that the sky was blue? Wouldn't you wish s/he'd just shut up so you could watch the World Series in peace?

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