1) The book reading/signing with Brad Warner was awesome! Not only did we fill the place to capacity (30 or so by my reckoning) but Kevin Sousa treated Brad, Cara, and I to dinner at his Salt of The Earth restaurant! It was really fun and I was happy to host one of the more important authors in my life. Sometimes we get to meet our “heroes” and even more rarely they are sometimes as cool as wed like to think they are.
2) It’s a given in the Zen world that every person who gets “involved” in zen comes into the room with the “wrong” motivation. We want to be peaceful, to have less stress, to love more, better, or with more honesty. We want to improve ourselves, we want “enlightenment” or wisdom, at the very least we want to be something other than what we walked into the room as. One of the wonderful things about zen is that even if you start with the completely wrongheaded idea, doing it long enough and regularly enough tends to “work” anyway! One of the funny things is that we come to Zen looking to fix a particular problem or set of problems and eventually we learn that not only will we not get the solutions we are looking for, but that we aren’t even asking the right questions!
In my younger, poorer years I neglected going to see a dentist for a long time. I had good reasons for this, I was broke, dentists are scary, and my teeth seemed fine to me. One day I noticed a spot on a tooth that I couldn’t seem to brush away, “oh great, ” I thought ” A cavity so bad that it’s on the front of my tooth!” So I went to the local college school of dentistry which offered extremely reasonable rates since you get worked on by recent graduates doing a sort of residency. After taking x-rays and examining I asked what the bad news about the spot was and the hygienist said “oh that’s just plaque” and popped it right off with a pick, on the other hand the x-rays had revealed severe bone loss and a need for immediate surgery and aggressive cleaning if any of my teeth were to be saved from falling out! In other words what i went in with seemed like a huge problem for me until the dentist showed me that it was nothing and that much more sever, undetected issue was at hand.
Same with Zen.
I came into zen looking for peace of mind, a way to make the whole world not scary and to somehow take away all the bad parts of my life while leaving the rest of it basically untouched. Well, just like my dissolving jaw line, it turned out that all the stuff which was out of sight, undetected, was causing far more harm than all the surface stuff i thought was the real problem. I don’t care how smart, wise, or perceptive you are, until you sit down and stay very quiet with your own thoughts for a little while you really can’t see what is causing the suffering in your life. It goes way way back and our minds have gotten so used to shouting it down and covering it up with superficial problems that we not only don’t know whats really going on down there, we don’t want to know!
Why am I talking about this now? Well for one thing, even with 10 years of meditating under my belt new things continue to be revealed as I sit zazen. The other day I was sitting, my monkey mind just beginning to settle down after about 10 minutes when something, a thought or realization i guess, popped in and I realized “I do a lot of things to be validated by other people!” It’s almost as if I’m always performing for an audience in the hope that someone (apparently anyone) will recognize it and pat me on the head saying “you are very good!” I recognize that lots (maybe all) people do this to some degree I realized how strongly it affected my sense of self! As soon as I had this sort of light-bulb moment I also realized that it was harming me, getting in the way of being a genuine person and easing suffering, I can now begin the work of undoing the habit.
Once again, I didn’t come to Zazen with the knowledge that what was causing my suffering was the set of habits and conditioning that had begun even before i was old enough to talk, but sit long enough and they come up. Sit even longer and slowly, inevitably, they go away.
3) Trayvon Martin.
I try to keep this blog as inoffensive as possible, however occasionally something happens (like the Sandy Hook School shooting) and I feel like maybe I have something to say. I wont address the murder and trial of Trayvon, and I think anyone who doesn’t have their head up their ass will agree that it is a fucking shame when a young person loses their life for whatever reason. Rather Id like to address the ridiculous notion that somehow this case was not about race, and the even bigger fable that race is no longer a factor in this country. The right-wing pundit corral has even claimed that to mention race in this event is the real racism.
It is, of course, a load of shit. I have my own opinions on the Trayvon Martin case, but I think aside from this specific case the notion that we in the US are somehow “Post-racial” or that racism is a thing of the past is ridiculous. Anytime you have a society with a past like Americas you are going to have long-term fallout, repercussions, and ripples by which events of the past still affect the present. When a race has been systematically suppressed and given second best (or third or worse) opportunity for education and advancement then that group is going to be saddled with that legacy for a long, long time. The idea that just because black people are now granted equality (or at least lip-service is paid to their equality) can’t erase the result of generations of second class citizenship anymore than we can expect the oceans to repopulate overnight just because we stop overfishing today. Time, whether we like it or not, is required to right our historical wrongs as a nation. No amount of self-righteous “I never owned a slave, don’t blame me” can change the fact that generation after generation of black American has been raised with one boot on their shoulder holding them down. Both in historically overt ways (Jim Crow laws) and psychologically subtle ways (equating black people with “inherent” criminality) have created a chasm between black people and the rest of American society and no amount of right-wing self-denial can bridge it.
The problem is, most of the racist people in this country don’t even know that they are racist. By accepting the “common wisdom” that “we” are not racist, we deny the reality that is all around us.
We are born into a society with its own history, behavioral cues, and a class/caste system in place that we are indoctrinated with birth, like it or not, we are fed a series of non factual cues and stereotypes (about everything, not just people) that we generally swallow so early and is reinforced by our parents, teachers, media, and peers so constantly that we seldom question them. Sometimes when forced to deal with the reality of this unrealistic conditioning we stop, look around and get a tiny glimpse of reality and modify our worldview. Far more often, unfortunately, we circle the wagons and declare our dedication to the “party line”. As reality seeps further and further into our world, as I believe it always does, that facade of bullshit gets more and more brittle. its defenders more strident, and eventually, finally, the truth bursts forth like flood-waters and the new “reality” asserts itself. What a shame that it has to take so long and be fought against by so many who would rather cling to a clearly mistaken idea than to be uncomfortable for the short time it takes to become acquainted with reality.
Whether you or I like the idea or not, the Trayvon Martin case was also about race. I see it is an opportunity to examine my own biases and behaviors, it has caused me to think deeper than I normally do day-to-day about my own acceptance of the conditioning that this society has trained into me since I was a child. When something terrible happens, sometimes the best thing we can do is to take that shock, sadness/anger, and outrage and use it to look at our own world rather than turning the blame outward, its much harder to do, but in the end it changes the world for the better.