I, the bartender, meets them as if they are sleepwalking, in suspended animation, enchanted. Some of them, many, are great with their acts of being awake, playing out their dream-like roles. It is of course, a spectacle, a tense one, this cow-like habit of people going out in public, often to preen. The anthropologist within can be intrigued. I follow them through conversations, through their illusions they bring in, reassuring themselves of their unrealities as is always a part of the deal, asking for enabling. Some of them slumber lightly, their quietness being a sign of some awakening. Possessive of dreams, they hold on to me, as if I were too gentle a soul to disturb them, indeed, agreeably smiling along with them, for at least they are behaving. Some of them come in, and can no longer function, having behavioral issues. "How's that rosé," the sweaty faced late comer who knows about Tuesday Night wine tasting and of how the bartender is worn down and vulnerable by ten o'clock finally asks. A question I knew was coming. He futzes with the iPad wine list, unable to turn it on. It's dawning on him, basically, having been given a glass of water and then ignored, that he's not being served after the initial self-satisfaction of his arrival in a place he perceives to 'really understand him.' He's coming from a wine tasting of German Pinot Noir, tasting being here a code word. "Denny, you've had enough wine," I finally say, putting away the store'n'pour juices away in the cooler after wiping them down and giving the stainless steel cooler floor a shot of windex and the rag. He makes a last ditch effort for liquid sympathy, clinging. "My mother died a year ago this month." But him, I know, from being cornered at the end of shifts often enough. The site of him coming up the stairs, late as usual, was disturbing enough. There are still two people over in the corner. I bring the orange glow candles from the low tables back to the closet for recharging, putting them away in their pockets, the charger on top of the power amp. They are small, easy and light, but at this point it takes a bit of effort. One person at the bar is enough to make me nervous anyway. What do they want? "I didn't have that much tonight actually," he says thoughtfully. "But Cinco de Mayo…" He chuckles darkly, still pleased at the drunk bender he can pull off.
My patients, dreaming away in their daytime work roles… Coming home from a cookout, a coworker's mom, a retired English as a Second Language teacher, up visiting, I pass through Thursday night along Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park, passing where I spent far too long at another place as a barman. Another kind of show, tipsy young ladies in short skirts and high heels waiting for cabs to take them away, as loud young man swagger in front of a late night hamburger grill. I walk my bicycle to the corner, turn the lamps back on, pull my courier bag closer--the adzuki beans I cooked no one touched--and pedal home.
Napping in ropes on the boat, he is in meditation. The wind blows up, the waves come up. The men in the boat get antsy, and, the master called upon to do something, the message to them is Buddhist. Before everything else, even before the dream of existence of a concrete separate self, there is experience. Take down all the illusions and there remaining, at the bottom of it all, is existence, experienced through a clear consciousness like clear light quite beyond the dualism and definitions our dreaming minds label all things touched with. There is, in the end, nothing to worry about, consciousness simply being, just as the waves are. Calmed, no longer tied to their self-based perceptions, their worries about man in ship versus storm and water are eased. At least the meditating master, his mind freed, can see that, being at one with the entire experienced world, and so the event is offers a chance for a teaching, one that is recorded in the Gospels. It's an important lesson.
That the community of educators passing on the Christian lesson put it in such a way, as a story of an actual miracle, an act beyond the grasp of normal human existence and powers, rather than delving into the intellectual complexity, as the Buddha did, explaining a philosophy, was a worldly self-based choice, of dubious spirit to the truth. (Unless there was a person, named Jesus, who really did that, who really could do that and other miraculous things.) But it's as if there was indeed a council of worldly men, largely, some women, who wanted first a church, codified literature and ritual quite beyond the teacher and his constantly Buddhist teachings, a blueprint to define things accepted and things set apart. Worldly themselves, they had to make it about something worldly, love directly passed down from God complete with precious words. Intentionally emphasizing personality, they get it wrong, almost willfully wrong, but the words of the master shine through, some insisting that at least in the bureaucracy we get some of that right. Perhaps not completely wrong, as there are worldly parts to the Christian message, good things to behoove, of course, to make placing him in worldly context reasonable and proper.
Perhaps masters find that we should make our own mistakes, that our paths might be ultimately better. Thus we have to experience the prodigal way to better appreciate the teachings of the deeper realities of existence. We must be placed out in the boat in the storm. We must learn from the master, the master within, to meditate, to still the monkey mind and find the deeper awakened peace, rooted in something often called faith.
To quell one's anxiety… that is the difficult thing of life. And why does the barman now suffer from deep anxiety of having to be around the drink and the illusions that prevail? It could be worse; you could work at a law firm full of miserable angry people…
"I meet them," it should read, but I don't mind the mistake, "meets them." There's something to it.