Well, here we are. Another Pleasant Valley Sunday...

First off, sorry for taking the week off. This is actually one of those “too much to say: don’t know where to start” sort of abstentions, so it’s not for lack of topic. Honestly, it’s actually more due to superstition. I admit that I abhor the idea of jinxing things. So, we won’t. Right? Everybody keep whatever it is you cross crossed for me, and I’ll tell you all about it by the middle of the coming week.

Actually, Friday the 13th was a great day (minus the window falling out of my truck while I cleaned it. BUT it didn’t hit the ground and shatter, so I was able to glue it back in place. So there F13!) Last Friday is the reason for the jinx fear. We shan’t talk of it again (wraps on the underside of the table while biting his tongue).

Right then. So my window is glued back into place. I had to wedge a 2x4 between the house and the window to keep it pressed in while it dried, but I drove it extensively yesterday, and it’s still attached. This is kinda important, because the truck will be intergal to the whole what-happened-on-Friday thing, and... damnit! (auf Holz klopfen! Toi, toi, toi!)

So let’s find something safe to talk about.

How about names and persona?

I get called many things (most of them printable, and about 80% mentionable in polite company!) “Andrew” and “Andy”, mostly. Back in high-school, to my stoner buddies, I was “Dee”, “Drew” (making a comeback lately) or the very wasted, two bowl--two beer variant “Drewski”. In the mid-late 80’s, when I became involved with computers and the beginning of the on-line world full of nom-de-plumes, persona and user-names, I was a whole raft of silly things. But for the last near decade, I’ve been one of two handles: “Mr Bad Example” (taken from the Warren Zevon song of the same name) or Zen.Trixter.

“Mr.Bad.Example” is an ode to the old me, if I am willing to cop to it; a musical memoir to a life lived in pursuit of all the wrong things, and at the expense of everyone else. It is, of course, one of my favorite Zevon songs...

In about 2005, after I'd started teaching for a 501 NPO (focusing on harm reduction, of all things) I decided that the name didn't fit the level of credibility I thought I needed, so I retired it. The name I took next is one that generally suits me better anyhow, and it named not only me, but this very blog.

I spent years working in the music industry as a roadie, tech, and sound & light man. From 80's hair metal though to rave and psy-trance shows, I've worked with names both big and small. I've had the privilege of hanging with some extraordinarily cool and talented musicians--true road warriors. And there's no greater group of travelers and road family than The Grateful Dead and the culture--both musical and social--that swirled around it and emanated from it for these past forty-odd years; what's now typically referred to as the "jam band" scene, including the likes of Phish, moe, String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic, Govt. Mule, et al. I spent the vast majority of my 20's working for bands like these when they played outdoor shows in the Midwest, or out on tour in the summer. One of those off-shoot groups, the Zen Tricksters, is a long-standing Dead tribute act, and I've had the privilege to have seen them on numerous occasions. Great musicians. I always liked seeing them. They play here in Portland frequently. Go see them, support them, and buy a shirt or disc. I also, always liked the band name (BTW, Shaking off the Weirdness as a title to the blog is taken directly from the Zen Tricksters album of the same name. Tip of the hat to ya, boys).

Having spent a pretty generous amount of time studying anthropology, psychology and sociology in college, one of my favorite mythological and historical archetypes was that of "the fool" and its close cousin (often its second face) the "trickster".

In the book Mythical Trickster Figures (1993) authors Hynes and Doty state that every trickster archetype or example has several of the following six traits:[1]

  1. fundamentally ambiguous and anomalous
  2. deceiver and trick-player
  3. shape-shifter
  4. situation-inverter
  5. messenger and imitator of the gods
  6. sacred and lewd bricoleur
...and I'll have to say that those things all make a number of my Jungian circuits buzz. The fool and the trickster both have at their core something that has always resonated deeply with me, and that is the knowledge and acceptance of the fact that this existence--this human experience we call "life" and all the intricacies it offers and/or entails--is absolutely absurd. There is so much of our experience that, when one really accesses it on a truly honest level, just completely and utterly boggles the rational mind, or flummoxes the heart, that taking it seriously would rip you to bits at best, and crush you into nothing at worst (or flip them 'round if you choose). The mere fact that the Universe we currently experience is roughly 14 billion years old, and yet of that, you get 75-80 years (if you're lucky) to figure it all out is patently absurd. After my first existential crisis at age ten, I quickly became aware that it's true, Jim; no one here gets out alive. I'd better get right with this madness, or else I'm going to spend my whole life freaking out over just how small and insignificant I am.

So I started finding people who had a better handle on this weird paradigm than I did, and better environments that didn't pretend that this Universal craziness didn't actually matter. The whole idlyic, bucolic ideas of living in the later 20th century just didn't cut it for me. But Mardi Gras? Carnivale? The Long, Strange Trip? These things at least nodded at what I knew was true experientially. Old hippie hold-over teachers. Drop-outs in the NorCal hills. Professors who ate peanut-butter and mayo sandwiches. Off-gridders in the Nicolet National Forrest and folks living in North Chicago industrial-park warehouses welding together things they called "Sunrise over Moscow" from bailing wire and kitchen pans. Glowy UV ravers and neo-shamans trying to bring about an archaic revival. These people were able to teach me more about reality than anything or anyone before, and for the most part, since.

One thing I noticed very early on was that often these lessons came in forms I couldn't perceive at first. These teachers would very often use some subtle (or often not so subtle) slight of hand in order to get me past myself, which was very interesting to me because typically I wouldn't have noticed myself getting in the way of myself in the first place, which--of course--is a) the point, b) almost always the way it goes, innit, and c) very Zen, now that I look at it. The more you think you "know" the less you're able to "learn". This really has informed my teaching style as I've taken on the roll in the past. Get people to want to know and teaching them will be easy.

The menagerie of spirit animals that have attached themselves to me over the course of my shamanic life and practice reflects my trickster nature; rabbits, cats, coyotes, owls and monkeys--things more clever than overtly powerful. The thing I enjoy most about all my animal aspects is that they all have a naturally curious nature, which is very "me". Essentially, they're all very good "beginners' mind" critters. I aspire to that aspect of their personalities.

And that of course brings us back to Buddhism and to Zen.

To me, the trickster is one of the most important archetypes in all of mythology, and Zen Buddhism is ripe with stories, lessons and koans of very smart people getting duped into enlightenment. I simply love that about our spiritual heritage. The very first enlightenment experience aside from the Buddha is that of Mahākāśyapa. The Buddha had been trying to get people to comprehend suchness. He held up the flower. Mahākāśyapa laughed out loud.

Enlightenment, with a smile. Only a fool would believe it was possible...