Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Crazy like a fox

I got interested today in an article in a National Geographic about domesticating animals, especially the part about breeding foxes to produce tame, loving foxlets.  It works.  Some people have them as pets.  But here was the interesting thing to me: in one experiment, a cub's mother for some reason couldn't raise him, so he was raised by a tame fox.  But he didn't learn any of the tameness - he just stayed a wild fox, true to his DNA. 

You hear about wild foxes in Zen, and if you are interested, there is a long, erudite article on Wikipedia about a famous koan, Pai-chang's Fox.  This is beside the point, but it is clear that it being a fox is not considered a desirable reincarnation.  There is reference to "the deeply embedded Asian folklore stereotype that 'there is something occultly nasty about an oriental fox,' as Robert Aitken notes."

But that's not my concern, except to marvel quietly at all the textual exegesis Zen has gotten itself into over the years since its patriarchs burned the scriptures and the wooden buddhas and said, Just this. I don't mind at all if people want to involve themselves in this instead of molecular cooking and visiting all 48 states, I mean 50 states (they changed it when I was little); I don't mind except when some ardent student of Zen corrects my understanding.  That riles me, I can't help it. It seems to be in my DNA.  Here is my general understanding of all religion and good manners:  It's not nice to make other people feel stupid. 

My concern is about the fox breeding experiment, and the practical application of its findings into my own small life, and yours, and the lives of all the friends I have seen quit meditating and go on trying to be tame.  In particular, I care about my life, which has been devoted for a long time to not suffering so much.  To some degree, I have learned to accept the suffering that is not optional but built into the bipolar temperament, the depression that is about nothing, caused by nothing, just karmic, but still heavy, sometimes brutal.

And after all these years of practice, and the years of preliminary practices, from literary studies to yoga to tarot to dream study to therapy, am I a tame fox?  Not at all.  In fact, I detect within myself today that 11-year-old, in a sense, pre-conscious, an idle dreamy child with no ambition and the sense that most work - such as dusting the rungs of the dining room chairs - didn't make sense.  Warped undoubtedly by an insane father, yet unsure that his insanity was entirely caused by The War (the big one), because all his siblings were awful, too, and they weren't soldiers. So maybe it goes back and back in the DNA, back in karma, the drunken Irish Poet temperament, call it, the poetic suffering replicated generation after generation in the DNA.

It's been a long journey back to that little wild fox.  But I live in a nicer house now, and I have a steady boyfriend, okay, husband, some nice friends, a good cat, rather more equanimity about it all.  Still all my own teeth.  And I think life is not about being good and tame, not even about being the best little wild fox you possibly can.  No no no.  It's just, okay, be yourself.  An aimless little wild fox. 

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