Tuesday, April 10, 2018

the fires of reminiscence

Strange to think there was a time when some facet of my being was positively desperate for actual-factual, in-the-present reflections/reminiscences about Zen Buddhist personalities. Somehow, those small tales helped to mortar the bricks of my own ascending brick walls of Zen credulity and personality and satisfaction. Hearing historical and largely-hagiographical tales of the dead was useful, but hearing tales in the present or near-past in first-person cadences ... ahhh, that was meat on the bone.

The springboard for this thought-thread arose this morning when a friend sent along a 2014 talk about my Zen teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa, a man who was also lecturer Larry Shainberg's teacher. Whereas once I might have gobbled and ingested and delighted in and swallowed-whole, now I only managed about half of the video... with some skipping involved.

God, how I once loved this stuff! But this morning, it was a bit like homework I knew I could do but could find no particular reason for doing. True, Frank, my friend, had sent it along on the off-chance I hadn't seen it (I hadn't), so it was a gift and I did want to honor Frank's effort. And true, I had used a lot of my life following the slips and slides of Zen Buddhism and its practices, so of course I might want to revisit .... blah, blah, blah.

The truth was not that I felt so exalted that I could dismiss the past out of hand but rather that it was a part of the past that felt gently irrelevant ... or perhaps relevant in ways that seemed thin gruel on the reminiscence meter. If I had to choose between this video and recollections of my first serious girlfriend or the strands of music woven by David Oistrakh in a UCLA-Berkeley gymnasium, the girlfriend or the music would win my ravenous teaching-attention hands down.

Where did all that ravening for spiritual mortar disappear to? So much longing woven with, I imagine, the dread that spiritual adventure might suddenly collapse and reveal itself as a terrific pile of nonsensical shit. I needed-needed-needed the mortar back then. Now it felt comically like a bit of cement appended to the cement shoes some hitman welded to my feet on my way into the Hudson River. A little more cement/mortar didn't mean much one way or another -- either way, I was sunk.

The fever of reminiscence can be so fiery and also so banked. It can roar and yet it can also nudge: "Ask me if I give a shit." Well, maybe not quite that flip ... but pretty close. I wonder where the line is. I can do all the parsing about "unresolved issues," but still I wonder where the fire goes when it goes out.


  1. I find it pretty easy to disregard almost anything these days. And if someone takes exception to it, I play the age card without shame.

  2. An alternative to consider:

    As an evident connoisseur of stories, could it be you just didn’t care for the story about your onetime Zen teacher that Shainberg had to tell. Not every author or lecturer appeals to everyone.

    As to your idea of spiritual life as an adventure that’s worth pondering.

    On the one hand, “All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was... what he was doing.” — Jedi Master Yoda

    On the other hand I always find people who talk about “this precious moment” pretty annoying. Yet, sometimes, when the conditions are right:

    Birds Chirping.
    Big Smile.

    Could be spiritual life is in fact less about going on adventures and more about creating conditions for the smiles. Or not.

  3. Also I wonder how much of a semantic dance “spiritual life” is.

    What encompasses spiritual life? Healthy living? Good health care? Concern for the environment? Treating people fairly? Honesty in government? Striving for Peace?

    Likewise is the abscence of prayer, chanting, breathing exercises or meditation mean life is not spiritual?

    What about Enlightenment?