Sunday, April 21, 2013

a fortress without walls

This morning, like some grandmother awaiting a visit from kids and grandkids, my mind bakes blueberry muffins in preparation. The grandmother knows that not everyone likes blueberry muffins, but it is what she knows how to do and she enjoys it and so she putters around, concocting the offerings that her life can provide. Even if no one likes blueberry muffins, still they smell good and offering is about all anyone can do.

Today, a woman I have never met is planning to come to the zendo. In email, she has indicated an interest in Buddhism. I would like to make her feel welcome but ... who knows if she will like the blueberry muffins that are offered ... or whether I will. Offering is about all that anyone can do.

One of the muffins toasting in the cupcake pan is the old spiritual-life suggestion, "Understanding is knowing to get out of the way of an on-coming bus. Practice is for the bus you didn't see coming."

In one sense, the saying is as simple and toasty and un-weird as a blueberry muffin; its homey straightforwardness is devoid of censer/thurible solemnity ... it's a simple if-then promise: If you practice, then the thorny adventures that life can dish up will not be so painful. That sounds, muffin-fashion, like a pretty good deal.

"Practice is for the bus you didn't see coming."

On the one hand it is true. On the other hand, like so many spiritual lollipops, it is utter claptrap.

It is claptrap in a sense that any sane person can recognize in an instant: No one can perfectly know the future. (If they could, there would probably be a huge uptick in boredom and suicide.) A quick glance at anyone's past proves this time and time again. It's part of why "practice is for the bus you didn't see coming" is so alluring, so yummy: Wouldn't it be kool to be able to sidestep the buses you didn't see coming, the ones that knocked you silly in the past? Gimme some of that! What I wouldn't give for some relief from the bruises life serves up because "you didn't see it coming." To be prescient and serene and not get knocked on my ass ... what an invitation! what a promise! Yessir, practice is for something and it is a something I want.

Very kool. I want it ... and ... no one can know the future outside of confecting some oooooeeeeoooo magical-mystery-tour mythology.

Claptrap ... but so delicious, I think I'll take a bite ... and practice because the buses I didn't see coming can be pretty ferocious. I am tired of the wounds. I want relief. I will practice.

Practice is for the bus you didn't see coming: It's a sucker punch and a red herring on the one hand and perfectly true on the other.

The truth takes a bit of practice, a practice that gets beyond the claptrap or relief or prescience or wondrous salvation. No one can know the future ... that's obvious ... and I wonder what it would be like to be 'no one' and hence know the future.

At the moment of mustering the determination to practice, there is someone in action, someone who seeks relief, someone to save from the bus you didn't see coming. There is nothing wrong with it -- what nitwit wouldn't avoid an oncoming bus? -- but the question is, does it work? And if it doesn't work, who is it I am seeking to save from the slings and arrows or outrageous fortune?

At first, practice may seem to be building a fortress in which to be safe and sound and unpummeled. A sensible and warming and protective home. A relief.

But perhaps what practice teaches is more like ... well, maybe it is truly an excellent fortress ... but it is a fortress without walls. The winds of past, present and future meander across the plain unobstructed by the claptrap of relief and wonder and a longing for safety.

Who would cry out for safety when they were already safe?

It's just another muffin emerging from the oven.

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