Sunday, October 26, 2014

spiritual (?) life

A week or so ago, the new roof was put on the small zendo here. It was a preservative move and yet it coincided with an almost-complete dwindling of my own continuing sitting (zazen) practice: I simply don't do that any more. As a result, my ability to sit half-lotus -- my preferred cross-legged position over years and years -- is diminished, if not demolished.

What a strange concatenation and yet there it is -- a longtime devotion simply loses its imperative. From a Zen student point of view, I am no longer one of the tribe. I occasionally read the explanations and confusions and delights of others who remain part of the tribe -- the "emptiness," "compassion," "joy," "importance," "imperative," "noble truths," etc. -- and yet simply find little or no interest in the Greek chorus.

I'm not against it; I'm just not particularly for it and sometimes that makes me wistful for a love that was so rich and full and serious and meaningful. There was a language to use -- let's put it in Zen Buddhist terms -- and a tribe to belong to and -- to put it briefly -- I was pretty important.

From where I seem to be sitting, spiritual endeavor is a good thing and I am grateful to have met with it and I am no longer willing to scratch up the spiritual enthusiasm, the group hug, the wonder and desolation.

I would like to say something kind about it and yet, increasingly, I can see why people keep their mouths shut ... despite its attractiveness, it's still a bit too much like the well-scrubbed door-knockers who show up on the front stoop with pamphlets and serene insistence: You need our brand and you may get fucked if you don't get on board.

Say something kind.

Well, I do think that everyone needs a way to make sense of stuff and the stuff is their stuff. It's tough to find a seriousness that will challenge and clarify your own life, never mind anyone else's life. And it is for this reason that I look back on Zen practice with thanks: Zazen or seated meditation goes for the throat ... which does not mean it hasn't got its vile and twisted group-hug corruptions in the form of what is blithely referred to as "sangha" or the community. Put any spiritual endeavor in a group setting and you are asking for trouble even as you praise and try in vain to smother the doubts.

But that's spiritual life -- like it or lump it, you're bound to get fucked. In fact, if you don't get fucked, you find no usefulness or clarity in it.

Zazen is straightforward in my estimation, but my estimation is not yours and it is your estimation that counts. I can't think of a better approach to the uncertainties and sorrows of this life than zazen ... but that doesn't mean you can't think of one. I like zazen because I love myself and there is something both sane and insane about that love.

Everybody who is inclined that way makes up spiritual endeavor all over again. It may look old and hoary and worthy of veneration, but that's just sissy talk. At the time when an individual makes a serious decision to investigate the sandstorm that their inner life provides, a true spiritual life is born. Will that decision turn to action? I don't know, but I do know that if it does, then it's Nellie-bar-the-door ... the wonders and the unmitigated vileness arise together, a package deal, the front and back of a single hand.

I'd like to say a good word about spiritual endeavor, but that just means I have found a new way to think well of myself .... that my life was not in vain or some such drivel. Spiritual endeavor is a pretty good tool ... and it's more full of shit than a Christmas turkey. That's about the best I can say for it... live with the shit; enjoy the turkey. If something exalted or better is what you seek, then buy a Honda: The Japanese make pretty good cars. If peace of mind is on your agenda, be prepared for a wily war which cannot be escaped.

You're terrific -- nuff said.

Go get 'em tiger!

Call it "spiritual." Call it "not spiritual." Just don't be any lazier than you have to be.


  1. I always sat burmese style, but our zendo wisely provided quite a few chairs for those of us who didn't get up and down so easily. I saw zazen as the training, but bringing what it gave you into your life, off the zafu, was the real practice. Confronting the ignorance of others patiently is a trial. Confronting your own ignorance is an endless hell. Do your best, keep at it, etc. After that, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. "Do your best, keep at it, etc. After that, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

      LOL! Love your take, oldcharlie!

      Until these last few years I never really understood that illness like arthritiis and water retention can really ruin one's sitting posture.

      I've come to I've come to appreciate raised sitting platforms and well made chairs.

  2. Interesting read. Thanks for posting this.

    It made me wonder if the way meditation practice was presented in the Ryutaku-ji Rinzai Zen tradition is partically to blame for your loss of interest. While I was taken with that approach for many years, subsequently I have found that other takes on meditation are very helpful. But may be I'm just too old for a Kamikaze approach to life.

    I have often wonder if Zen Buddhists have a mistaken understanding in that some seemingly still teach that Zazen alone or Zen Practice as a whole is life's panacea. I've seen the same thing in Martial Arts and in some Yoga schools. As far as that's concern that claim has gotten old. Over time it has also given me reason to dig deeper.

    In the case of martial arts, yoga schools, and zen sangas it could very well be that the case for the practice is overstated to attract a certain type of newcomers for no other reason than to pay the bills more consistently.

    Your story also brings to mind a handful of stories about artists or musicians who put down their brush or instrument and say "That's it! I'm done" only to come back to their art some time in the future older, wiser, may be with a little regret, but with a better and deeper understanding. But not everyone returns.

    As for me. My own extential angst keeps me going, my age and health say tone it down.

    "Well we all shine on like the moon and the stars and the sun"
    from the song Instant Karma
    - John Lennon