Over the years I drifted as a bartender to wishing to be a simple mountain monk. The world of people comes to you with problems, dissatisfactions, a need to do something with time, a need for distraction, a need for conviviality. This is what I think sometimes. Maybe not all the time. I began to think of a medicine to treat the common ailment, knowing it myself.
I know, wine soothes in the night when you're tired and can't sleep. Why is that so? How does it leave you feeling the next day? It tastes great going down, but maybe the next day one is a little loagy, a little lazy, not so diligent, not so energetic, a few mysterious aches and pains, as if to pay for the feeling of painlessness and freedom of the night before, the quench of thirst, the calm of nerves bought not through meditation but through a certain kind of medicine not without its risks. Wine is good medicine sometimes, maybe not always.
My genetic legacy if it was anything involved some form of Buddhist thought, maybe Zen, maybe the Theosophical approach my father engaged. Something to honor. Something to help determine one's life path.
The bar I worked I regarded as a kind of temple, and anyone could come to it. There wasn't the intimidating aspect to it, the sense of having to commit to something life changing but rather some form of steadiness. Where else was there to go, that wouldn't insist on belief or ritual. It was a profane place, of gluttons and wine-bibbers. In a way there was something Zen about that, hidden, therefore constructive. As we all know, the pretensions of 'holy holy holy' can strike one as immediately tiresome, humored for social benefit, but cause for suspicion, a little creepy. Maybe there was even direct conduct of sin inherent in the place, but at least it was real, and real is where we find the conditions, the conditions of sickness, of our direct ailments, and a better place by which to conceive of a cure to treat such very ailments. And that is always the tension. How steeped in illusion, how tied into the perpetuation of the illusions is a place? Of course a place has many corners, many sub-climates, all going on at once. What is the basic overriding message, the tenor of such a place? How many bells and whistles, how much pumping vapid pop music? A healthy encounter with other beings with different takes and experiences?
Zen is a healthy way of going about things. An honest way. A way that goes beyond the usual ruts and assumptions, the dualisms our thinking falls into.
The barman monk is in an awkward spot perhaps. He fears if he told the truth the customers would dispel, and then there would be no money to pay the, as Thich Nhat Hahn puts it, best wishes to him, the electricity bill, the water bill, the telephone bill. So the real retreat, the true place of education must be located somewhere off site or in another realm, another dimension, another time.
In many ways I have grown tired of writing. What is the point of these exercises? Sometimes they perpetuate the illusions, the countless little offenses and dissatisfactions one whines about when really everything is completely fine and that one never needed to be restored to good order because one never really left it. It's all how you see things, and the very first perspective to achieve before anything else is the great fineness of the present moment, it's appropriateness, its necessity.
Perhaps there's something a little Heisenberg Uncertainty to it, at the root of Zen Buddhism, that the real gentle-person is found within, right there without having to measure or search or call holy or sacred. Just you, on your own terms, accepting, appreciating, no need for anything outside.
To be a writer, hah! This would be a curse, a juvenile misunderstanding of the brain's chemistry. Sure, one has native thoughts and takes on things that are healthily expressed as they might usually fall out of the boundaries of normal conversation. But to attempt to be a great writer is the effort of someone attempting to tame his own demons. And Hemingway himself writes late in life, to the effect, 'why did I listen to all those taste-maker pilot fish of the wealthy telling me my writing was good and wonderful; indeed I should have wondered what was wrong with it if they praised it so.'
All there is is the teacher component of writing, being able to present thoughts without intimidating someone else. Addressing the awkwardness of being human.
And awkwardness, if you listen to it as it comes about, is a good thing. It helps inform you, guide you. Mass culture might offer an array of things that strike you as awkward, over which you feel awkwardness participating in, even as there are many people with less cultural distance from the activity.