Saturday February 22nd, 2020
I finished a book
Free to pursue other things
A small weight lifted
Mark the day, mark the time. It’s 4am and I’ve done it. I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I made it all the way through. It’s a miracle. Okay, well, not a miracle but it is astounding. If someone were to ask me what the book is about, the honest truth (my truth) would be: I really have no idea. If pressed (which: who does that about a book?), I guess I’d say something seemingly meaningful but actually avoidant like: it’s a coming of age story; a finding who we are story; a story about running until there’s no where left to run.
So I read the book and this morning I finished the book. So, that’s a thing that happened. In two-weeks time spent at a monastery, I read the 530-page book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Percolation: The other day, as our work crew was readying to fill the 1988 Toyota with mulch down at the gate, someone mentioned having a preference of shovel. He said he’d been working with it the last few mulching times and gotten to know how it handles, and thus, preferred to use a particular one. Someone else joked: Ah, so you’re attached to it, to which I lightly (and surprisingly) chimed in: I think there’s a difference between attachment and making efficient use of a tool, or something to that effect. As Buddhist practitioners, I think this is a topic that is in need of unpacking. Tossing around the word ‘attachment’ doesn’t do us any favors if we don’t know what it means for our own self and what our motivation or end-game is with it.
Too often, this word gets used with a jilted tone or in a snide manner in a skewed context. It’s not at all helpful to tell someone else when you feel they’re attached to something. It’s also not helpful to patronize someone about it. “Now, now, be a good Buddhist and don’t be attached.” Blech. Who wants to be treated like that? (And I’m coming from experience here. I’ve heard long-term practitioners chide people, myself included, like this.) Spiritual whitewashing is something I have very little tolerance for. As soon as I get even the slightest hint that someone isn’t being sincere or isn’t well-grounded or is caught in the form of the practice, I high-tail it the other way.
In my way of thinking, connecting with others and gravitating towards certain people and certain things is not necessarily attachment. I also don’t think all preferences equate to being attached. For me, attachment is a rigid structure for denying the truth and reality of impermanence. It involves relying on someone or something or some experience to be a certain way in order to make us feel a certain way. When we’re attached, there’s something we want to have stay the same and not change. So, in my view, I think there’s potentially a way to be in close relationship with others and to have likes and interests without being “attached.”
And, as with most things, there’s a spectrum when it comes to attachment, so in a sense, preferences are an attachment, they’re just on the low end of the spectrum. Where any particular attachment falls on the spectrum I think depends on how quickly we are able to shift gears when something unexpected happens. If we prefer a certain shovel, for example, but our shovel is unavailable, we might say: Oh darn. Well, that’s okay, this other one will do. Sure we would’ve liked to have had access to the other shovel but it’s not a big deal to use a different one. It’s on the very low end of the attachment spectrum.
It’s this low end of the spectrum area that has me thinking that perhaps to label it all as attachment, does the actual strong-natured, unhealthy style attachment a disservice. It’s kind of like if we use the word love and say I love you to our BFF and then also say I love this hamburger. When the same word is used to describe two very different situations, doesn’t the meaning of the word suffer? I think it does.
To be clear, I absolutely think working closely with my attachments is an important practice to invest in, and I do. But I also want to be clear about what it is I’m working towards and why. Personally, I’m not looking to divorce my husband, give up my beloved hobbies and interests, and move off into the woods with only the basic necessities for survival just to prove I’m someone’s idea of a “good Buddhist.” I’m cool with where I’m at with my practice and I feel I can be in love with my husband and enjoy a bunch of other things while also cultivating non-attachment, call me an optimist. It starts getting sketchy for me when people start associating any kind of connecting or relationship building with negative forms of attachment. I’m not looking to win some golden trophy for not investing in relationships on the basis that relationships automatically involve an unhealthy form of attachment.
Percolations from my sit. My main practice focus (what I write most about because it’s what I myself practice most) is: cultivating joy, the art of resting, practicing gratitude, and the power and importance of words. There’s other stuff too, but I think those are the primary threads. And underpinning all of them is the core understanding: there is no such thing as an insignificant moment.
The tea water boiler is hard at work. There are Brothers in the kitchen preparing breakfast. I am sitting alone amid 25 long, empty tables. And most of that is true to some extent, though “alone” and “empty” are subjective and “hard at work” could be argued as well. Many words are determined by what’s being personally applied and assigned to them as meaning; the particular lens they’re being viewed from.
The other day, a charged-up lay person asked me about the sign at the bottom of the driveway. The one that says: You are now leaving Deer Park. We are here for you. He said: “Well, I was told that they’re not here for me, Nicole. I was told that. So what does that even mean?” I knew what he was referring to, based on a conversation Mike told me he had had with this person a couple days prior. With what I knew and how he was posing the question, it was clear that any answer I gave him would not be well-received. I replied simply: “Well, it depends on what you think here for you means” and left it at that.
His conversation with Mike stemmed around his feelings of being bullied by the “staff,” as he called the monks here. He felt their offered corrections and instructions to him were over-bearing and mean-spirited and he felt that they should not say anything to him because he was paying “them” to be here. Mike responded by clarifying that the monks aren’t staff and that they are here first and foremost to invest in their own spiritual development, as monastics dedicated to their practice; they aren’t here to cater to however people want to show up here and go about things on their own accord.
It’s worth mentioning that this person sat on the very cusp of not fitting in here well at all. He was an elephant in a china shop and extremely unaware of this. I witnessed directly one such correction from one of the Brothers and it was very skillfully done. It doesn’t take long to pick up on the fact that this individual lives his whole life, every day, as a victim. He even went so far as to say that his family have literally sent spies to befriend him in order to use the information they learn against him. I overheard him tell people this on multiple occasions. My heart went out to him every time. What a terrifying way it must be to live thinking that everyone is out to get you. My follow up thoughts gravitated around untreated mental illness, which served further to extend my heart out in his direction.
It’s a tricky, sticky thing to rally friendliness of spirit and energy without simultaneously opening the door for people to then want to chat; to be friendly from afar, non-verbally. It’s a work in progress for me.
Pepper trees sway in the breeze,
Succulents wick in moisture to store for later use,
The ground is wet with puddles and loosened earth.
We are here, tucked away in the hills, nesting.
Accompanying the coyotes,
We do our best to practice walking
In sacred accord with all beings.
End of the day Saturday. Two more full days to go. I leave for home on Tuesday. Thankfully, I feel ready for the journey. My time here has been well spent and I look forward to returning home to my sangha, Be Here Now. I feel grateful that I have a sangha to return home to, as many people here don’t have that, and thus are often quite sad to leave.
It rained but good here today. Today was a community work day. We had two sessions of working meditation. During the first session, I volunteered to be on the bathroom cleaning crew and since we tend to multiple units sprawled out in a few different areas, I got well soaked through. I likened myself to a wet mouse. Fortunately, my set of monastery clothes are made of synthetic fiber and dry pretty quickly. In the time it took me to nap, they were ready to wear again.
It stopped raining sometime around 2pm, so for our second session of working I was on the mulch team again. Team mulch! It’s been really enjoyable being on mulch detail. I like the guys I’ve been routinely working with. We’ve had fun together.
I woke naturally at 3am today and had a shorter nap than I would’ve liked. I’m done in. Time for bed.