Sunday, February 3, 2013

bubblegum revisited

Like the bubblegum surreptitiously stuck up under a student desk -- maybe for later retrieval, maybe to be forgotten forever -- the old and obvious reasserts itself in my mind this morning: When it comes to peace of mind, thinking doesn't work and emotion doesn't work  ... only finding out works.

How many times and in how many forms has that bubblegum been chewed? Buddhists lean on their imaginary friend, Gautama, who encouraged his followers to "find out for yourselves." And the same bubblegum can be found under a thousand other religious and philosophical desks... or reaching up insistently from some summer sidewalk.

But no matter how often this find-out bubble gum is chewed, the desire not to chew it asserts itself. Let's make it a religion or a philosophy or a deep meaning or a profound mandate ... maybe then we can bring peace to heel, capture and tame and have control and explain and find meaning.

In my early days at a particular Zen center, I was sitting at an informal tea being wowed by all the conversation. Everyone seemed to know stuff I didn't know ... lots of names like "roshi" and "sunyata" and "compassion" and "emptiness" ... I was new and hadn't quite got the lingo down and sure wished I could know what everyone else seemed to know without a backward glance. For a while, I sat there longing to catch up, to be part of the crowd, to be as competent. I was in awe ... and yet after a while that awe turned to a kind of frustrated rage and in my mind a voice spoke up, sharp-tongued as a prairie school marm: "Will someone please tell me what I want to know so I can get the fuck out of here?!"

And of course, if asked, I would have been hard-pressed to say precisely what I wanted, but "peace" is a pretty good bet ... and no one at tea, informal or otherwise, could tell me that. But the fact that no one could possibly do what I so dearly wanted them to do did not stop me from insisting, somehow, that someone had a secret that I didn't and they were being churlish pricks by not sharing it with me. They seemed to be part of a club that knew the secret handshakes.

But of course all the handshakes in the world couldn't give me what I wanted. I could curse out those around me all I wanted. I could bury myself in philosophy and religion all I wanted. I could tug my forelock and play humble. I could exercise my wise or witty intellect all I wanted. How smart ... how kind ... how assured ... how full of shit!

I wasn't much different from anyone else, I imagine. I was understandably lazy and my habituated laziness expressed itself in trying to learn the social handshakes in place of ....

Making the personal effort.

To find out.

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