Last week the right book came to me at the right time: I found Way of the Peaceful Warrior at my favorite local bookstore/cafe in Western Massachusetts, along with a few other books, discounted for their end-of-year sale. I've long resisted reading this book, because it always felt a bit New Age to me, between the cover illustration and the "A Book That Changes Lives" subtitle. Shudder.
But it's a dark time these days, and as in anything, when you're lost on your Path, it can help to get some new insight from a different teacher, like when I'm having trouble learning something in aikido from Kayla-sensei--Brandon has a different way of teaching that can help me learn from a different angle. It's always good to learn stuff from different teachers, and sometimes, like now, it's necessary. I read Way of the Peaceful Warrior while traveling yesterday, and I have to say that it's worth checking out. It is not, in fact, New Age; it's a fictionalized semi-autobiographical Zen novel, but (I think) accessible to people, in that it tells a story of how Zen teaching translates into action and change and practice, without the obliqueness of straight Zen dialogues (which, hey, sometimes they put me to sleep, too). I read Way of the Peaceful Warrior followed by an intensive reading of Dropping Ashes On the Buddha, the book that first brought me to Zen and still the one I find most grounding and helpful.
It's hard to describe what happened over the course of yesterday. I realized that I created my life the way it is; that I have in a variety of fields and manners bound my happiness to other people; and that the various things that I don't like about myself are just things, and it's my not-liking that creates my internal stress. In fact my entire life span of weariness that I've felt for so long is all mine, created by and bound up in my thoughts, and I can put it all down. I have to, in fact, or else I'm pretty sure I'm going to go insane eventually. At the very least I will remain extremely unhappy. And why would I do that when I can put it all down and work to save all sentient beings?
If we were actually concerned with the goal, those would be depressing lifetime pursuits. But we're not, we're concerned with the journey and the now and involving ourselves with the universe. I save myself, I save everyone; I help someone else save himself, he saves everyone. It's not something I pretend to understand at the moment, although I swear I used to, but that doesn't bother me in the least.
So, I will put it all down. I will not desire the past. I will feel sadness for the things I have done and the things I have lost; it will be now, the sadness will come and go, and it will be now (I will outright stop worrying about things that might have been). I will not fear for the future, for what my life will be in twenty or forty years. I am here and it is now. I free myself from the bonds of what someone else may think. I free myself from the paralyzing concern of the future. I put it down.
And so I passed through a gate. Not a big or irrevocable one, but an important gate nonetheless. So much thinking and ideas. Put it all down.
I'm closing a circle, coming around again to where I hurled myself off the Path a few years ago to go check out the hells of desire and experience--curiosity satisfied. Next, please. So it may be coming time to start formal Zen training. Which I probably should have done in 1996, but God forbid I do anything the easy or sensible way, and in any case here we are. And now I will act the way I want to and think I should, and people can hate me for it if they want.
Here's to 2003 being better than 2002. Please. Really.