Saturday, January 26, 2013


My mother once said that, when it came to sins of commission and sins of omission, she preferred the sins of commission.

And, leaving aside the hot-button nature of the word "sin," still I think I agree. No one can grasp the past, but anyone can reflect on it and when it comes to reflection, a screw-up with concrete particulars, while galling and barbed, provides an understanding that omission cannot. Sins of commission are not left floundering and asking the unanswerable what-if questions.

It is interesting that spiritual persuasions all make room for the past -- usually for its sorrowful aspects. Christians, if I am not mistaken, refer to the regret experienced "for the things I have done and for the things I have left undone." And in the Zen meditation hall, at morning service, we used to chant more or less:
All the evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
On account of my beginningless greed, anger, and folly,
Born of my body, mouth and thought --
I now make full and open confession of it.
Leaving aside the tortured syntax, I think the drift is apparent: Everyone who reflects a little feels regret. Some institutions and formats make financial hay based on that regret. But whether or not regret is manipulated for institutional gain, still the regret is probably real enough and compelling enough. And it can be a wonderful goad in spiritual endeavor ... pressing for some resolution and peace and desire to be out from under the lash of recollection....

Recollection of a past that cannot be grasped and yet seems to grasp the one doing the recollecting.

Has anyone else noticed or am I just making this up? -- that when the bad stuff is recollected, it has a force and particularity and credibility that does not seem to invest whatever good stuff is likewise recollected. Somehow, so-called evil brings with it a dead-eye certainty while so-called good is invested with a kind of wispy uncertainty: What was evil/naughty/painful is "fershur" but what was good/laudable/wondrous is nagged by "yes-but's."

Or maybe others' recollection factories are different from my own.

Whatever the case, I think there is something to be said for making peace with the "good" and "evil" of a past that cannot be grasped and yet may grasp with a lazy, conclusive insistence or a fiery ferocity.


I wish there were one answer, but I doubt-to-a-certainty that there is. I think every (wo)man has to gut it out using whatever perfect tools s/he has. How I wish, sometimes, that I could credit some other absolving force -- some god or benevolent being. But I always run up against the brick wall of doubt that  belief invariably provides: If I don't know from experience who, precisely, this benevolent being is, then what sort of peace is that? I am stuck seeking out my own benevolence ... and that benevolence can be in elusive supply. Tough titty, Adam ... do it anyway.

I count myself lucky -- for my purposes alone -- to have run into Zen practice. I prefer it as I prefer chocolate to anchovies. Sit down, sit straight, sit still, shut up and focus the mind. Nothing else. No more shazzam fantasies. Nothing else. Looking back, I count myself lucky. Whether anyone else might be similarly lucky, I haven't got a clue. Some people actually like anchovies, though it beats the hell out of me how or why. And there are those willing to praise and merchandise Zen practice. Well, the best I can do is to say I like it.

Sins of omission, sins of commission. Good and evil. A past that cannot be grasped. And the old refrigerator magnet, "Your life is so difficult that it has never been tried before."

So what's the point? Where is the brass ring? What's the payoff punchline? Where is the happy-happy-happy that books and religious nostrums credit themselves with?

Hell, I don't know.

But I do encourage myself from time to time when regrets come calling: Enjoy yourself. Enjoy yourself as a rose might enjoy the summer sun. Enjoy yourself.

Correct what needs to be and can be corrected ... and enjoy yourself.

If you're not enjoying yourself, you've missed the point.

And if you've missed the point, it's no big deal. That's pretty enjoyable too, don't you think?

Oh well, I've probably got it all wrong ... again.

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