Monday, April 28, 2008

A Sleep and a Forgetting

I went to KCC last night. It was full of young people. In the kitchen at tea-break it was actually uncomfortably loud: Reyna and I had to scoot out to the living room.

It was nice to see them all there. Though I'm puzzled, as always, when young people come to the Dharma. How do they know, yet, that the world isn't going to make them happy? It makes so many promises. It's so beautiful, and so plausible. And it's so good at convincing us that our unhappiness is our own fault. If only I were twenty pounds lighter -- if only I weren't diffident -- if only I had enough resolution -- if only I did yoga every day -- if only I meditated every day -- if only I ran every day practiced the guitar every day went to the gym every day studied Italian every day read more demanding books learned to appreciate opera and Noh drama and Renaissance painting and memorized poetry and got out into the wilderness made more time for friends and understood quantum mechanics and stopped pressuring myself to do more things -- ah, then I would be happy.

They must be far cleverer than I, to have begun to have a suspicion, so early, that the whole project is untenable, that it guarantees its own failure. It's made all the more confusing by the co-option (by no means a Western innovation) of spiritual practices into schemes for worldly happiness. Yoga and meditation, after all, *are* methods for attaining a kind of happiness that I genuinely do believe in. So is appreciating Renaissance painting, for that matter. But you have to get the right end of the stick.

What makes the difference? Surrender, I think. It's precisely the bit of religion that I habitually think I can skip, that I characterize as Medieval or superstitious or authoritarian. The bit about giving up: about saying "I can't do this," about offering myself to be done with as somebody else, or something else, wills. "I'll do everything but that," I say, and then I wonder why it doesn't seem to work. It doesn't work, because it's like saying, "I'll do everything it takes to learn to swim, except get in the water."

What I learn, from surrender, is that it's not what it looked like, from the outside. I learn that my self-will, far from being my freedom, is actually the hag that's been riding me all these years. It's not my inmost self. It's a parasite, a tapeworm of the mind. It no more has my good at heart than a deer-tick does: it's simply feeding on me.

And then, of course, I forget. And I have to do it all again.

I was refraining from doing my three prostrations before the shrine last night, lest it should put Reyna off. So I simply scooted up to the umze's spot and got the liturgy out to bring back to her. When I turned around I saw that a couple of these young kids were doing their prostrations, and by the time I got back, Reyna was in the middle of doing them too, and looking radiantly happy. She took to it all like a duck to water.

In some embarrassment -- feeling myself an awkward, untutored oaf -- I began to do my prostrations too. But when my forehead touched the floor the embarrassment vanished. Once, twice, three times. Not what I conceive you to be, Lord, but what you are. The body has more honesty in it than the mind.

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