Sunday, January 6, 2008
Blues for Buddha.
For 15 or more years, I have lived in a Black and White World. I was a student of Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. There was right and there was wrong. There was proven and nonexistent. There is something fundamentalist, however, in a view that defines the world strictly in terms of black and white. We are surrounded by Extremism today; from the Middle East to our own Nation's Capitol. I began to realize the fundamentalist nature of the black and white world I was striving to live in. All that philosophy was obliterated by my experience in New Jersey. If I felt that as strongly as I did, if I chose to accept that experience, I could no longer think in the same way.
An important book from my college days was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. After my discovery of Objectivism, I looked back on it as bunk. It wasn't shades of grey, but it fuzzed up the black and white. I have long wanted to reread Pirsig's book; just to see. Recently, I did. I feel my eyes are wide open again. Much of the book matches my current thoughts and the way I am _actually_ living my life.
Some of my early blog posts hinted of this new thinking. As early as April 17,
“If you are carrying around more than you need, that is too much weight. If you are trying to be someone you are not, you can't possibly be happy no matter what you tell yourself.“ Eerily on April 27 "Sometimes, even for an atheist, the universe seems to be sending a message." I don't even remember why I left that in! And even though it was my last post from my old perspective, on December 16, I threw in “All of us could benefit from a daily reflection.”
All this lead to further reading on Zen and Buddhism. I found a copy of The Complete Idiots Guide to Zen Living. In the book, I recognized myself right away. I found great comfort.
The Monks of Myanmar touched me with their protests, though they worked for naught. I was intrigued that these Monks were protesting something seemingly rational, worldly. At an Outlet Mall Bookstore in Perryville, MD I found The Universe in a Single Atom; the Convergence of Science and Spirituality by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His book shocked me with his scientific approach to Buddhism. There are many concepts from Quantum Physics that were foreshadowed in ancient Tibetan thinking.
This is not really new for me. As a child I had an experience that was profoundly Zen. I have mocked it in retelling the story. However, I now feel I was looking at it from the wrong perspective. I was walking home from school in the Third Grade; about 8 years old. I was chanting the word “was.” I can't explain that, I was a weird kid, but I remember it very clearly. I had been chanting for a couple blocks. Suddenly, I lost my grip on the the word and the world. For a moment, I stopped, somewhat disoriented. It was as if a flash of light had wiped my mind clear. Gradually, the word, and the sidewalk in front of me, came back in focus. It felt profound; like looking out over the Ocean or the Grand Canyon. In college, I had a bookshelf teeming with books on Zen. In those books, I recognized this early experience in the descriptions of enlightenment; satori and nirvana. In the Dorm, I practiced meditation on and off for a couple years.
The books have been gone for a long time. School finally caught some traction. A career path began to form in front of me. I had a life and my practice fell by the wayside. Years later, discovering the black and white world of Objectivism, I looked at my flirtation with Zen with a chuckle. I remembered the chanting 8 year old with a good laugh. If a kid could do it, how profound can it really be? As I explore this ground again, it is not funny, it may be just that simple.
Further, wanting to sail off and explore the world, listening to Blues and American Roots Music wasn't ever really going to fit my former thinking. I have been in flux for some time actually; working my way back to happiness. Obviously, what I had been doing was not making me happy. I have made an effort to explore where I was when I was last happy. With the help of my Coach, I walked back through my travels and found treasure.
Part of what attracts me to Buddhism is the non-reliance on faith. There is no dogma, no palatial venues for stilted ritual. It is simply a path to a clear mind rooted in the present, free of the agony and suffering of misplaced desires. Buddhism is full of tolerance and compassion. There is no sense of good and evil, only ignorance and suffering. In short, you “focus on your mind, see what is in there, discard what is unnecessary, and focus on what truly brings happiness” [Wade Davis, Light at the Edge of the World, National Geographic].
The Buddhists say that Life is suffering; not in a draconian Original Sin way, but in an honest and direct way. Hey, you're human. You will do things you'll come to regret. You will be hurt by other humans; and even by the big bad world. This is part of the deal. If you can't get over it when it happens, you will suffer. If you are overly attached to material things or dogmatic ideas, you will suffer. If you begin to think that the world is just as you think it is today, and that it will always be, you will suffer. If you clear and calm your mind to develop an honest, open view of the world, you will get better. Let it go and it will be gone.
The Buddhists don't hang on to their troubles. They acknowledge them and let them go. Let it burn through you but burn out. The Blues is very Zen in this way. People who don't understand the Blues think that it is a sad music. The singer sings about his troubles, but the Blues is happy music; just ask B.B. The music has the same function; wallow in it in a song, acknowledge it – even celebrate it - but let it go. The joy returns. When B.B. King sings "You upsets me, Baby" or “The Thrill is Gone.” He is not decrying her or even what she did/does to him. He is celebrating the joy of being human. He brings it back by holding up his troubles and then burning them down with visceral, gut-level music.
I am starting to see the outline of the answer in the fog. Happiness didn't come from the stress and the striving of the rat race. Happiness is wanting what you have, in loving where you are. Buddhism is not such a long leap from from where I was. Still I'm not sure where I'll end up exactly, but change is underway. Nevertheless, my slogan “Eat When You're Hungry, Work When You're Broke” is a profoundly Zen statement. Part of me was there before I was.
Right now, I feel like I've climbed too high in a tree. I am swaying in the thin branches, high at the top. Part of me is still holding tight to past thinking, like the last large branch. Another part of me knows that if I just let go, I will come to rest gently on the ground. I am not yet sure where I will land. As I read and practice, it will become clear. I know, when I'm ready, I will let go of that branch, soon. Some of this feels shocking. Some of you are lifting your chins off of your keyboards. I have a ways yet to walk, but I feel I am coming home.
What is the sound of one hand sailing?