Tuesday, July 9, 2013

alligators of the mind

... Another viscous day in the making, the kind of day on which it might be somehow fitting if an alligator waddled up the street outside my house. It's the Louisiana bayou ... again.

... The French writer Albert Camus once observed (approximately and with the tucked-in smugness of someone who knows his observation is apt), "Some people climb onto the cross in order to be seen from a greater distance."

And who in the audience would not murmur a fervent "amen?"

But it's a bit of a quandary: I know that I too have taken spiritual life with the kind of seriousness that flat-out could not understand why others were not equally serious ... or, more accurately, solemn. This ... is ... serious and given even half a chance, I will talk your ear off about it. In some spiritual persuasions this sense of insistent solemnity is even codified: Convert the benighted heathen who, without this wise counsel, are doomed to a technicolor hell that even Dante might have a hard time imagining.

This aspect boils down to "if I take this seriously, you must too. How else can I know that this is serious?" This -- spiritual adventure or whatever -- is important because I am important... even when I assert that there is a greater Something-or-Other that is more important that I am. And if I agree and you agree ... well then ... spiritual life can be seen from a greater distance.

This importance aspect can go on for a whole lifetime.

But then another aspect may raise its head. At some juncture, being seen from a greater distance can lose its savor: Spiritual life is still important, but selling it to either self or others is like drinking just-turned milk: Sure, it tastes like milk, but it is tinged with a sour flavor that is not quite right. And at this point, the serious/solemn person may withdraw into a codified humility, a kind of good-taste correctness. There was a reason your mother told you never to discuss politics or religion at the dinner table: So since talking about it solves nothing, don't talk about it at all. Good taste dictates a sort of lock-down demureness ... the kind which knows with assurance which of three forks to use for the salad. Being seen from a greater distance is not the point, ergo not being seen at all is the point. Spiritual life is private, so I will climb on to the cross of diffidence ... yoo-hoo, you in the back row, can you see me all right?!

I once went to dinner with a woman I had not seen in some years. I was pedal-to-the-metal involved with Zen Buddhism at the time, but I did not mention it at dinner. Instead, we chatted amiably about the years when we had not seen each other. But when I walked her back to her apartment, I somehow mentioned an interest in Buddhism and she picked up on it immediately. And she cussed me out with the seriousness of a non-critical friend: How the fuck could we have sat all the way through a very pleasant dinner without my mentioning something that was important to me?! It was a gentle, if serious, tongue-lashing: What the hell was the matter with me?! My diffidence might be correct, but it was also seriously fucked up. When has correctness ever solved serious matters?

She was right -- whether on the cross of salesmanship or on the cross of restraint ... well, there is a time to serious up in spiritual endeavor. Seeking applause from others or seeking applause from self ... you have to ask yourself, how well does applause or technicolor crucifixions actually work?

It takes time and attention and patience. But ...

This morning I will have oatmeal and raisins and peanuts and brown sugar and a bit of banana for breakfast. It's about what I always eat. Later I will go out into the Louisiana bayou and do some food shopping.

I'll keep my eyes skinned for the alligators.

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