I was musing today about the last two posts on this blog: the one from all-American Dale Carnegie who succeeded at convincing people that the way to be popular and to be successful was to be genuinely interested in other people and not promote yourself in a vacuum.
The post I uploaded last night was the unhappy tale of a woman whose life was dedicated to writing poetry, novels and other books. Her struggle to achieve what she wanted was wracked by her unwillingness to consider that her talent was minor (needing more work and discipline.) All her life, she chased potential lovers, infatuated with more than one person at a time, wearing out her friends and lovers alike, dying in her eighties unsatisfied.
Then today, as I enjoyed an iced green tea latte looking through magazines at Barnes & Noble, I leafed through Shambhala Sun and Tricycle, Buddhist periodicals which both featured articles about anger on the front cover. Inside were glossy pictures of articles about how to deal with anger and how to “escape the prison of your own self-image” (don’t have one!) I brought both of them home and have been reading a few articles slowly because you can’t read that stuff quickly and expect to process it, at least I can’t.
What struck me was how these Buddhist articles contained a completely different way to think about life than what we are used to (as described above.) Many of my shelves are filled with books about Zen and Taoism written or translated by Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, Stephen Mitchell and John Tarrant. There are also numerous volumes of ancient Chinese poetry written by Taoist monks translated by Bill Porter whose pen name is Red Pine.
Even so, I haven’t yet absorbed or understood enough from those writings to feel that I’m living the way I’d like to under Zen or Taoism. I’m too Western or not Eastern enough. Or perhaps it’s because I am so deeply inculcated with Western materialism and its easy values. After all, it’s fun to buy things for my granddaughter for her dorm room when she starts college at Johns Hopkins University in a week or so.
Well, I think I’ve got it. I can give up a self-image that requires me to keep striving: to do something or be something that I still haven’t achieved. I can give up anger and being annoyed about a myriad of things that won’t change. I can stop jousting with my ego and be frustrated about how it spills over to other relationships in my life. I don’t have to keep collecting things or searching for something elusive that I thought I always wanted.
I’ll let you know how it goes. My father was a research scientist with a strong personality. In the last years of his life, he took up translating the Tao te Ching himself, eschewing translations by Westerners whom he thought were incapable (because they were not Chinese) of understanding the language of ancient Chinese texts.
He taught himself ancient calligraphy, producing scrolls that my brother had professionally mounted when he was living in Shanghai on business. My Dad also tried to meditate, sitting at zazen and holding sessions with a handful of volunteers on a weeknight at a local church which offered a free space to meet. I give him credit for trying to live his own spiritual approach to Buddhism or Zen before he died. It kept him engaged and challenged, exploring the ways of the Sage or maybe even learn how to become more like one.
Sounds like a good idea to me too.