Thursday, April 17, 2014

"My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun/  in Corners--till a Day/  the Owner passed--identified/  And carried Me away," she wrote, judiciously as always, poem number 764, after establishing her practice and thinking about many things.

I went to see my father teach a class a year or two before his retirement. on the subjects of plants and society.  At the beginning of it, he drew a distinction, between praying and playing.  When we pray, it is much different from playing.   The two should not be mixed.

That was during the days when I had graduated, looking for a way in the world, back home, thinking it over, what to do.  I suppose in a quiet way I was leaning toward a life that can most readily be compared to that of a monk, perhaps a Buddhist, all of this coming out of the subconscious.  I was thinking, as the Buddha's mind was doing, back when he was a prince now wandering seeker practicing this and that, thinking over the nature of suffering and desire, etc.  But living here in modern world America, one thinks first, 'well, how am I going to make money, what am I going to do for a career, keep a roof over my head, maybe start a family.'  So, one day, tired of a vague period of employment in landscaping, not feeling I was getting anywhere, I left my hometown with a few possessions and got on the train toward a city having absolutely no idea of what I would do.

I found a place to say, steady work.  A few years went by.  I worked a lot.  Slept on Saturdays.  And eventually, my curiosity led me out of the suffering that is the modern office clerk's life to the different form of suffering that is pleasure seeking, a lively restaurant that had a democratic quality to it.

I wrote then, I did some reading, of course, on the side, but steadily, nothing to be particularly proud of, but an effort.  Years, and years, and years.  And then, perhaps as I might have realized all along, but stuck in some psychological pattern of people pleasing, of overly empathetic urges--like when I'd go hang out with the old retiree in his tiny one room bare apartment with a Coleman kitchen, one burner, after a shift for one more beer--I was not in that mode of what to a Buddhist is 'right profession.'  In fact, I was in rather one of the worst and most harmful of professions, short of selling guns.  I was harming people.  I was aiding them maintain a great ignorance.

I was playing when I should be praying.

But there is that quality to life, the thoughtful life, of being a loaded gun, waiting, in a corner (where propped up safely so as not to fall down and fire off accidentally, as it might if leaned up against a wall) till the Owner, the Transcendental Oversoul, deep spiritual reality, Buddha nature, comes along and finally puts the real thou-art-that-which-is being into its proper usage.  (What else can you do with a gun but shoot it.)

I think of all the foolish years enabling people, thinking I was being kind to them, listening to their stories, having, years ago, not anymore, 'shots' with them.  As if anyone ever benefited in the slightest from any of that.  Just one long stupid 'ha ha ha' joke that, at the end of the day, went nowhere.

When I heard her poem's line quoted by a regular patron in the bar, as a vanity, as a means of showing off that he knew his culture as he swilled, blinking his eyes proudly, but with no follow up, no curiosity about what it might mean in all its deep sense, no placing it in within the Transcendentalism of her time,  I had to sense that I was in the wrong place.  As well intentioned as it may have been, or not, to quote Emily in passing context as a kind of show…

The sweeping logic of it all, Buddhism, I felt I could finally accept, and see finally as my own awkward efforts to fit in, to have an identity, a distinct self I could show, beyond the plain being I was, for the selfish confused vanity and attempt at scheming that it was.  For life is simple.  You eat, you sleep, you do your chores.  To try and carry, to hold up any identity--and this I might have felt more than others, having no easy proud professional identity to fall back on, lawyer, doctor, etc., thus having to try harder as a kind of tentative 'wine guy' (because I saw myself initially as a writer of undefined sort)--is tiresome.  It turns out that all experiences , to the Buddha, are pretty much the same anyway, no distinctions to be made in the final analysis, between the room at the Four Seasons and a tent.  Living in a city it seems all about making distinctions, what's the best job, the best hang-out, etc., but I found myself only able to relax when I made it all as simple as I could, and as I walked past a bar and looked into the window with greater certainty could I pass it all by as samsara, just that, the world where oneness of all isn't seen.

So I began to rue whatever extent I was participating in the illusions of pleasure and distinctions commonly made.  I seemed to find that a glass of wine wasn't the desirable thing after all, but rather a thing getting in my way to apply the logic and the meditative clarity of Buddhism to life, as I felt one finally must, finally being serious.

I guess it's a matter of needing to experience first hand the delusion, to prove to yourself that such laws are applicable and true.  I found myself, technically speaking, in the wrong profession, over and over and over, and could/can only hope that through it I might find the right one.

I have to see Dickinson's ultimate literary success as rising beyond simply that.  She was wise, as we all know, for keeping out of the spotlight, away from the 'admiring bog.'  This gives her time and the security for her message to evolve and mature beyond being, simply, good poetry, on into the timeless wisdom that we need.  She waited for her poetry to mature.  She didn't let the praise or critique of others effect it.  She wrote poetry for its own sake, indifferent to outside definition of what poetry should be like.  She followed a noble path in it, took it day by day, wrote of moments that speak of one who appreciates the present moment.  There is nothing quick or facile to her work.  She built it from the ground up, from little scribbles on backs of envelope paper.  No pop anthems that instantly achieve great commercial success but then blow away as far as offering any deep moral advice or psalm that lasts either in the life of its creator or the public at large.

And this is one of her gems.  There's a real sense of joy and purpose in it, the great comfort, that almost reminds one of an affectionate dog out with her master.  There's a sense of carrying through, of finally figuring everything out, so that all things make sense.  It's a victorious poem, one of fine clarity, conveying that all important sense of knowing what we doing here in this world.

Could tending bar ever be a 'right profession?'  It's a complicated issue.  (In a modern world of interconnectedness, who isn't involved in the sale of alcohol in restaurants…  Perhaps wine making allows regional countryside traditions to live long happy lives.  Christ himself wanted joy for people, wine out of water.)  One the one hand, yes, you're a binding element in a neighborhood, a place to discuss things, to share in information and life stories.  But, the Buddha is strict on this, that even a small amount of intoxicant impairs the mind, interferes with  the instrument.

Was Christ a more co-dependent figure than Buddha, a topic for another day...

So, it's a child's job, that of one who claims not to know any better.  I was impaired in judgment taking up such work, and it dependent on impairment to keep it up.  I came to a city and suffered along with it, but that doesn't suffice.  It was a job that embodied co-dependency.  And it was, like a lot things, hard work, physically, mentally, spiritually, meaning that it was a hindrance rather than a help.

But it was always as if the great reality had, like "The Owner," waited for me.

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