Monday, March 8, 2010

Drop that Story

[image: Clocks, from today's NY Times. The one on the right has only one hand. Those tiny words written on that hand are "past" and "future," so the clock measures only the present moment.]
I am more aware of what Buddhism stands for this morning because we helped teach the sixth graders at Sunday School yesterday. It is always interesting to me how teaching or presenting Buddhism strengthens my own sense of its importance to me.

My part of yesterday's teaching was to present the Buddha's story. I was creatively inspired to put it in modern dress. That was fun. Kids really like it when you make references to his fully restored '62 Corvette and Twix bars, a significant part of anyone's recovery from starvation.

Tom said, driving home, that what made the Buddha exceptional was that he wouldn't give up the search. He had dissatisfaction and didn't push it away. He had a yearning to find clarity and make peace with life's difficulties, and he kept looking for the way. Most people experience moments of yearning for our true selves, but stick with the life they know. So many of us reach for a glass of wine or turn on the TV, or both.

We had the TV on last night for about three hours, soaking in the red carpet gowns and then the show itself, whose opening number was ridiculously over the top, girls with big feather fans, just as if feminism had never existed. Still, the evening was fun, with some friends who are fun, and good snacks. Laurie and I both shop at thrift stores, and she had on glam sneakers. Neither of us felt any envy or desire to wear a gown like that - it was more like window shopping on Mars.

They left before the show was over, knowing we go to bed early like old people, and we turned the TV off, not knowing who got the big prizes (and not caring much this morning). Immediately, the house was silent. The silence was big. It kept insisting on itself, how quiet it was. I felt like I'd just been to a long, engrossing movie, eating mindlessly while I watched, and now I was overdosed on both candy and stories.

Stories. We had seen dozens of bits of story on the big screen, climactic moments, amazing bits of acting, spoilers for quite a few of the movies. (Am I the only person left who likes the plot to surprise me?) Stories. Lately I have been surprised by an intense interest in writing a story, and studying narrative craft. It's been quite a while since I did these things. The last long fiction I wrote was the memoir I imagined our cat Sherlock would tell. Shelter Cat. That was when? - 1996, when we got him. Not long after that I learned I had cancer, and my aspiration to Be a Writer blew away. All I could do was write poetry then, or memoir about the cancer experience.

In the years to come, Zen made me feel different about fiction. The Japanese Zen I became most interested in is full of koans and other little ancient stories that do not follow the rules of crafting narrative, to say the least. Zen as I understand it is very much about learning to drop the stories we make of our lives. This is fundamental. In a sense, it is enlightenment, to just be here experiencing here. I remembered how you go on retreat and for a week do not read anything, do not write, do not watch TV or any other screen, and your mind gets quieter and quieter, like the Buddha's, sitting under that tree.

In the light of that, what about being lost in reading stories, watching them on TV, writing them? Last night I had to wonder, realizing how my brain felt stuffed full of far too many stories, how noisy the show had been. And all about competition, as so many things in our society are. About vast wealth and extravagant waste. Imagine if I had been in that audience dressed just as I was last night, in jeans and a turtleneck underneath a teeshirt my daughter gave me long ago. It is a beautiful blue, and has some modest sparkling bead embroidery on the front, but not nearly enough to make me look anything but freakish among all that chiffon and diamonds. I'm sure some strong men wearing bluetooths would have come soon enough to root me out.

1 comment:

  1. What your husband said in the car about the Buddha really hit home today. Parallel conversations taking place in my home last night and into this morning. Constant searching for clarity and uncovering the true self often requires defying convention (or TV and wine:-) and it takes such faith and courage to do so! Why is convention so available and acceptable?
    Thanks as always for your thoughtful posts,