Wednesday, September 12, 2012

bitch-slap spiritual life

Having been brought up in the furtive and uneasy world of the intellect, one of the things that appealed to me about the practice of Zen Buddhism was its sheer physicality. The philosophical and sometimes confounding verbal spin-offs were delicious, of course, but to sit down, erect the spine, sit still, shut up and focus the mind left the mental gyrations in the dust. In my world, physical stuff was clear and clean. In the world of the intellect, things were blah-blah-blah. The physical said "yes" without any doubt. The intellectual and emotional were constantly saying "maybe."

Still, I should not be too hard on the furtive, weaselly ways of the intellect. It was that very weasel, with its darting eyes and silver tongue, that suggested there might be a better mouse trap -- a less "maybe" way to live.

As a school-aged person, the summer jobs I loved best were the ones that broke a sweat -- clearing property lines with a home-made machete in the Oregon woods; running a jackhammer on some crumbling bridge; or picking up the garbage set out in front of neatly-kept suburban houses. At the end of the day, I was content, if achy. I had done something I could credit without demurrer. Intellectual accomplishments, by comparison, never rested as easy. There was always some sissy meaning or belief or conclusion ... the intellect could never be assuaged. It always wanted more and it was constantly in doubt, watching its flanks like some rich man who can do no better than to accumulate money. A blister or callous or aching back or completed bit of physical work ... now that, however imperfect, inspired confidence and ease.

It was the furtive weasel, of course, who noticed all this and recognized that although I only had one life, I was leading two lives and something needed to be done to reconcile them. How many lives can any man lead, for Christ's sake?! Well, in my case, the answer was, "quite a lot," and the disquiet this aroused, the sense of fragments and shards in a life that was obviously not fragmented or broken ... well, what could be done about that?

Any number of Zen teachers (eg. Dogen) have referred at length to the physical aspects of Zen practice or zazen. Frankly, as I'm sure such teachers might applaud, I really didn't and don't give much of a shit about what they said, how they explained, or how true anything they said might be. What I cared and care about is ... well, me. Me, with my furtive, weaselly intellect that makes little more than some more weaselly intellect, and my pure satisfaction and ease and certainty evident in a blood blister or a hole that has been dug.

It's hard to say why and how zazen filled my bill. How the hell can anyone claim that sitting down on a cushion and focusing the mind compares with the indubitable and delicious qualities of building a bird house or shoveling snow? Somehow zazen was the very put-up-or-shut-up I was looking for, but how or why it worked I leave to Zen masters and other feather merchants. Zen practice was the very bitch-slap I needed...end of story.

A bitch-slap ... think of it. When someone slaps your face, no one thinks of Kant or Aristotle, heaven or hell, virtue or evil, belief or disbelief. A bitch-slap puts things right-here-right-now. Ouch! And god knows there's plenty of ouch to sitting down cross-legged on a cushion. Searing, soaring physical pain accompanied by searing, soaring mental pain ... it's all enough for furtive weasels to tee off on "masochism." But without making the acquaintance of or friends with our pain ... shit, we're left leading a life that is constantly on the run, constantly bobbing and weaving, constantly on the defense. "Suffering," I once heard, "is the resistance to pain." It's as good a definition as any, but of course definitions and a couple of bucks will get you a bus ride. The actual-factual blood blister of pain will not succumb to a definition or belief, no matter how scrumptious or wise that definition or belief is.

Anyway .... I am grateful for the physical aspects of Zen practice. The literal and literalistic do-ing of it. No more books. No more parsing. No more fear. Just indubitable do-ing. How lucky I feel to have run into a practice that is just that -- a practice as plain and loud and clear as running a jackhammer. And I feel sorry for those whose spiritual endeavors lack such an aspect. How the hell can anyone expect to love god if they can't be god? The furtive weasel has a hundred answers ... answers constantly in search of more answers.

And perhaps the reader might ask plaintively and with some reason, "Sooo, did it work? Were the weasel and the blood blister reconciled? Is there some peace? Did you get a gold star for your Zen practice? Did you win a kewpie doll? Did they all 'live happily ever after?' Whadja get, hunh, hunh, hunh?"

And maybe there is an answer to such questions. If so, I haven't got it. I would say things are a bit easier now. If you're gonna be a weasel, just be a weasel. If you're gonna be a blood blister, just be a blood blister. No point -- and a good deal of anguish -- in getting tricked. How many lives can any person actually lead?

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like your mind has ripen old timer...:)