So, over the last three or four years, I've been experimenting.  I suppose one could look at it as a sort-of social/psychological experiment.  At least I do.  Field research and data-gathering have been going well, and I am ready to release some of my initial (and very preliminary) findings.  I've touched base with "the Journal 'Nature'" (at least that's how they always refer to it on NPR, so I figure that's how I should mention it.  You know... to sound all official-like) but they don't seem too interested in my research.  Elitists!  They pointed me towards two avenues: a thing called Tricycle (which I didn't understand, as it has nothing to do with cycling of any kind at all), or something called "Mimeograph" which is a journal, I think, although I've never heard of it.

Anyway, I'm not sure about how to go about presenting my findings, but as with all good science, I know it involves charts and graphs.  Far be it from me to fall on my face when it comes to scientific inquiry and analysis, so anyway, here we go.

Fig 1: Mean-average chance of something significant happening in my life.
As the chart clearly illustrates (aside from the fact that I can't properly spell "significant" with this little caffeine in me) the chances of something significant happening in my life at any given time is exactly 50% (that's %50, for my research colleges at Cambridge).  This is a pretty significant finding, and I was as stunned as Louis Leakey at a "Old bones no one's ever seen" convention.  This is ground-breaking (Leakey joke.  See what I just did there?  Anyway...)

Alright.  Let's get serious.  I guess.

I've been making a practice of having no real expectations of life for the past few years.  This stems--in part--from a conversation I had with my sensei Hogen Bays earlier this year in sanzen.

It was a wee little thing of an epiphany.  A weepiphany, if you will.  Totally kensho-lite.  But he nodded in a way that--to us students of his--says "Good.  You got that one.  Now go chop more wood."

When you think you know what's going to happen next, you're walking down the wrong path.  Assume anything--anything at all--and you're in for a surprise.  It may be a good surprise, or a nasty one, but you will, in fact, be surprised.  Why?

Because you don't know what-the-phuq you're talkin' bout, Willis.  Srsly.  You have no idea.  No, you really don't.  At least I don't, to be sure.  I've proven this to myself over and over again, and a few years back, I decided to finally take a clue.

I have spent the unfortunate majority of my life thinking I knew what was around the corner.  Where I was going.  What was going to happen in a sequence of events.  That style of living was a comfort of sorts.  "No one enjoys stumbling blind through life" I thought.  "Better get things sussed so's I don't stub mah toes!"  But through my 20's and early 30's, my feet saw more hard corners and errant Legos than I cared to admit.  Well, I don't care now.

That idea of comfort in a presumed understanding of the Universe is so deadly.  Whenever I think of a concept like that--an assumption that is held for its own sake in order to make you feel better about your complete and utter insignificance to the Universe--I think of two things, obviously related: Friedrich Nietzsche and Monty Python.

Comfort.  Contentment.  We believe that these things are important to our lives, our joy, our experience of happiness.  We tend to equate them with "happiness" in the same way that we equate "health" and "love" with happiness.  But they are truly illusions.  They are not the things-in-themselves.  We look at them as indicators.  Maybe they should be looked at more as symptoms.

Nietzsche, in Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen, stated this through the eponymous character:
In truth, man is a polluted river. One must be a sea to receive a polluted river without becoming defiled. I teach you the Overman! He is that sea; in him your great contempt can go under.

What is the greatest thing you can experience? It is the hour of your greatest contempt. The hour in which even your happiness becomes loathsome to you, and so also your reason and virtue.

The hour when you say: What good is my happiness? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment. But my happiness should justify existence itself!

The hour when you say: What good is my reason? Does it long for knowledge as the lion for his prey? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment!

The hour when you say: What good is my virtue? It has not yet driven me mad! How weary I am of my good and my evil! It is all poverty and filth and wretched contentment!

The hour when you say: What good is my justice? I do not see that I am filled with fire and burning coals. But the just are filled with fire and burning coals!

The hour when you say: What good is my pity? Is not pity the cross on which he is nailed who loves man? But my pity is no crucifixion!

Have you ever spoken like this? Have you ever cried like this? Ah! If only I had heard you cry this way!

It is not your sin -- it is your moderation that cries to heaven; your very sparingness in sin cries to heaven!

Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the madness with which you should be cleansed?

Behold, I teach you the Overman! He is that lightning, he is that madness!
You say "So what?"  Well, that's reasonable.  But when I read this sometime in high-school, it tingled me.  It sent a shiver through me like experiencing my first erection (and I'm not making that up).  And, like my first erection, I had no idea why it made me feel that tingle.  I had no idea why because I had no context for the experience.  Later in university, and after a (very) hard few post-high-school years, it hit me like a sack of wet, angry cats.

Wretched contentment.

The French (leave it to them) call it malaise.  To us Amerikaners, we tend to call it "complacency".  Kierkegaard called it (sorta wrongly) "despair".  It's that mild uneasiness that arises when you're stagnant, but okay with your own stagnation, because it's better than one of the alternatives.  Yet in accepting that stagnation, you rule out the other alternative.  Sorry.  I'm not trying to be obfuscative (and I'm digressing).  It's my blog.  Deal with it.

Back to the point.

This complacency we tend to drop into out of fear of being hurt by something that may or may-not happen in life--this attempt at homeostasis--touches this idea of assumptions.  We tend to think that we know what's coming.  We tend to WANT to know what's coming.  Hell, we even think we CAN know what's coming.




I told my teacher Hogen, in that sanzen conversation (is that a "sanzenversation"?) that "No enlightened being would ever assume anything about the future ever.  That must mean that nirvana is a constant state of complete and utter amazement at every single event, no matter its size.  It's like an eternal state of 'Holy shit! Really?'  I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.  But I'm pretty sure that that not-knowing is a good thing."

So my life has been a practice of not-knowing for the last few years.  In many places, it's been a practice of acceptance, of sorrow and tumult, of stress and of deep, deep pain.  At other times, great joy.  Utter amazement.  Wonder.  As a matter of fact, the latter seems to have outweighed the former, but by a percentage, not by a magnitude.  But the practice has allowed me to experience the wonder more often than I had previously anticipated.

This wonder has manifested itself all over the place.  Watching squirrels in trees and on phone-lines, watching snow fall, feeling rain, smelling the earth.  It's sorta obvious that I get it from nature.  But moreover, it manifests now more noticeably in my relationships.  This practice of "not knowing" and "not assuming" anything really fills my current relationships with a wonder that is really hard to describe.  It can really be heady at times.  Not being complacent about relationships is actually really challenging, because (even though we don't like to admit it) us monkeys really actually try very hard to shoot for homeostasis in our relationships.  The predictability makes for easier present-buying, I think.

But the more I've taken my hands off the modeling clay that is my love-life, the more I've been finding the rewards greater than I could possibly have envisioned.  And moreover, to stop envisioning or assuming what "love", "relationship", "sex", "gender", "partner", "love-life", etc, even mean is as fertile a ground as a freshly cut field in the shadow of an extinct volcano.

Can you have romantic love without sex?  Can you really experience the depth of connection that comes between two people without that slippery in-and-out friction?  Can spirits fall in love without the consent of the bodies?  Is there just "friends" and "lovers", or is there something between that that's not so base and tawdry as "FWB", but more than "just friends"?  Where does the idea of "partnership" go when boots are left outside the door, but not actively banging, yet those boots still like rubbing up against one another in a fashion?  Can you get through life without falling off the tightrope of the preconceived notions of the onlooking masses?

I don't know.

But I'm down with finding out.

Let's see what happens...

Oh, and by the way, the pie chart is slightly wrong, at least in a zen context.  The chances of something significant happening at any given moment in my life are, in fact, 100%.  My bad.


forrest said...

Really nice post Andy. Thanks.