There seem to be a lot of posts recently about the messiness of life. I highly endorse this, and think it should become a regular practice. Shiny, attractive posts filled with gorgeous chunks of wisdom are all fine and well, but really, don't most of us have enough candy in the house already?
A few nights ago, I watched an old Japanese film about wealthy young adults rebelling against tradition in post-WWII Japan. Given all the destruction they had witnessed as children, perhaps you'd think they would have a deeper appreciation for life. But for most of the characters in this movie, the opposite is true. They frequently claim boredom as the driving force behind their actions. They believe in "nothing" in particular, and spend their days drinking, screwing, water skiing, playing cards, and generally wasting their days away. Because nothing is really fulfilling, there are frequent attempts to escalate things, including an older brother who attempts to steal his younger brother's girlfriend because he wants some good sex. It's a man-driven film, but I can think of women-driven films that fit the same bill, like any number of Valley Girl centric films from the 1980's.
What's so fascinating about the people in these films, and those who live like them in real life, is that although they dive into dark, rejected, and sometimes dangerous areas of experience, it's done so in a surface kind of way. In other words, these people are in the messiness of life, but they never learn embody and integrate it into the rest of their experience. They are the opposite of the "always look on the bright side of life" types - cue Monty Python. Whereas the former drown in the sea of samsara, the latter try to avoid looking at the sea completely.
Emma, over at The Chronic Meditator brings up a favorite subject of some Zennies: shit.
Who ordered this truck-load of dung?
Life is like this. You’re sitting in your monastery, or you’re sitting at home or in your office, and then someone delivers you a whole truckload of shit. It’s right in front of your house or office.
There are two things about this delivery of shit in your life. The most important thing is, you did not order it. Life is like that. ‘Why me?’ you say. You didn’t deserve it, this thing just happened to you. You didn’t order it and you’re not responsible for it.
But, the second thing is that no-one saw it coming so you can’t ring up someone and get them to take it away. You’re stuck with it. So the first thing is that these things can happen and no-ones to blame. And the second thing is that you’re stuck with it.
As Emma goes on to point out, even though we are "stuck with the shit" in a certain sense, this doesn't mean we actually have to be stuck with it. Do you understand? Every moment is an opportunity to either hold on or let go. To try and carry more or to be carried more by the world.
And I think when it comes down to it, it's helpful to look your view of shit - whatever you think is shit - straight in the eyes. No flinching. No attempts to justify it - the attitude I mean. Because behind the story about how terrible something is or how much you don't like it, is an attempt to solidify yourself, to put a definitive cap on what is happening or has happened.
Recent reappearances of old girlfriends in my life have shown me how useless those attempts at narrating finality are. Recent disappearances of a few people I thought were going to be new friends have shown me how important it is to hold lightly any narratives about beginnings. In fact, an hour after my nephew was born, I had an emotionally intense, dramatic dream where my father and I both dropped him and let him get too close to a drain, then watched him get sucked down it. Even though I didn't put a lot of stock into it, until I actually saw the baby with my own eyes, a tiny part of me worried I'd be walking into a tragedy as I went down the hall in the hospital.
Barry over at Ox Herding offers this:
the Buddha Way goes through the self, an untidy and unruly place that contrasts with our aspirations. So grab some gloves 'cause we're gonna get dirty.
Mumon, who writes Notes in Samsara, posted this passage from the Lankavatara Sutra on Tuesday:
The Tathagatagarbha* holds within it the cause for both good and evil, and by it all the forms of existence are produced.
Similary, the Roman playwright, Terence (2nd century BCE) wrote:
Homo Sum: humani nil a me alienum puto
I am human; nothing human is foreign to me.
If we sustain our practice, we will inevitably encounter the foulest of aliens and demons (along with angels and devas). We may not want to touch but this is the soil that nourishes our relationship with all humanity.
The challenge is to develop the ability to "get our hands dirty," but not be poisoned by that dirt.
When facing life as it is, it's often helpful to remember this, from the blog of Jodo Shinshu Minister Toshikazu Arai:
Whenever I hear of natural calamities, I cannot help realizing that our seemingly "normal" and "eventless" daily life is actually a miracle, a gift from nature. We humans have developed science and technology and are acting as if we were the rulers of the entire earth. We are even trying to extend our influence to the moon and other planets. However, we mustn't forget the fact that the human species came into existence after many rises and extinctions of other species. It is said that even the human species faced extinction several times in its existence of about 5 million years. We should appreciate the fact that we are only granted a limited time of existence on this planet and on this universe.
Whether something is abundantly joyful, devastating, or fairly neutral, just being here and experiencing it is kind of amazing. The whole planet could be taken out by something in space, or by own stupidity, tomorrow for all we know. Since I tend to lean too hard on the side of being "good" and "upstanding," keeping this in mind has allowed me to let go of some of that purity bullshit. Alfred Lord Tennyson famously penned these lines in 1850:
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
True love includes the whole works. It includes the times your handed a truckload of shit, and the times you transgress even your own deeply cherished values. In other words, you have to learn how to embrace your inner asshole in order uphold the Bodhisattva vows, or whatever vows you have taken into your life. And you also must learn that the very definition of a "transgression" can never be fixed in this fluid life of ours. That which we think was a terrible mistake might not turn out to be so. And that which we thought was a pile of shit dropped at our doorstep may actually be the perfect meal for this moment in your life.