As long as we have some definite idea about or some hope in the future, we cannot really be serious with the moment that exists right now.Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (p. 111)
I recently started working a night shift. It’s the first time I’ve ever done this. In some ways it’s easier than I expected. That is, I’ve always considered myself a morning person so I thought it would feel torturous staying up through the night. But thankfully it’s been fine.
One advantage it gives is extra time on the weekends to read and write (after the kids are in bed). I tend to do both in spurts. Sometimes I feel like there’s never enough time to read all the books I want to, or process all my thoughts. At other times I don’t feel like doing either.
Last night, a whole confluence of thoughts and ideas started swirling through my head. When that happens I feel a bit like a sponge soaking up water, or a bloated cloud getting reading to release rain. I feel like I need to get them out to clear my head.
They are totally random, but here it goes.
Recently, while listening to Weezer on shuffle, Long Time Sunshine came on:
Sometimes I want to pack it all up,
get on a bus and move to Vermont
or Maine, or any of those states back east
that I remember.
Sometimes I want to build a houseRivers Cuomo
with a wood stove or a fireplace,
and in the middle of the living room
an old piano.
I think about Vermont often. Sometimes it hits me so hard I start crying. I don’t know why. There’s something that it represents to me, I guess, that I haven’t put my finger on.
It’s not that I feel like we should move back there. At least, not yet. Maybe it’s the beauty, simplicity, and stark isolation of the place. These nights, I’ve felt lonely if only for the reason that I’m awake when most people are sleeping, and vice versa. Similar to the way I felt there because we were so new to the place, and barely knew anyone.
It was isolating in a good way. Fewer voices. Fewer options. Fewer opinions. The isolation of working nights evokes that same feelings.
We listened to Live From Here with Chris Thile, tonight. There was a woman on the show who was a River Walker. (I missed her name and couldn’t find it in the show notes.) What she does is goes to the head of the Mississippi River (Lake Itasca), takes a bucket of water, then literally walks it to where it lets out in the Gulf (90 miles south of New Orleans). Then she pours it out, saying a blessing over it. Something to the affect of: “May you remember what you once were, and return to this state of purity one day.”
This, too, brought tears to my eyes. It’s a beautiful act. So simple.
I want that for myself. To know what it is I’m here to do. To do something that powerful, and yet, so simple.
We’ve come up on two years since we stopped attending church regularly. (It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.) We stopped going while we were in Vermont. February 2017, I think. It’s strange to me that it feels so normal now. Maybe because I went every Sunday prior to that, for as long as I can remember.
At times I feel conflicted about this. Not from a moral or ethical perspective. But merely from a communal one. I always had such rich relationships within the church. I believe it’s possible to have these outside the church as well. But changing one’s circle of friends later in life takes time.
I think what kept me there for so long was the sense of security it gave. Not just the security of, You’re okay because you have Jesus kind of thing. But the security of being connected with so many “like minded” people. People that were so open and honest as well, which I appreciated. (Though at times, maybe too open.) People can tend to be both open or closed inside or outside the church, I suppose. But this openness did make it easier to grow and establish friendships more quickly.
The other day my six year old daughter asked me, “What’s heaven?” A lot of Christian parents I know (or knew) would have jumped at this opportunity. But I didn’t feel I had much to say other than, “It’s where some people think you go when you die.” She didn’t have any more questions about it. And I didn’t have anything more to say.
I’ve been reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki. It really resonates with me. I used to have the same feeling with the Bible. I wish sometimes to go back to that innocence. It may not be possible at this point, though. I tried reading through a Psalm the other day, for example, and I couldn’t even finish it. The language it used to talk about God barely made sense to me. I think a lot of this has to do with the cultural interpretation and baggage laid over it.
I wonder, too, whether it matters. The Bible contains a lot of valuable truth, but has been sadly hijacked by loud people with agendas. And there comes a point where—as with anything that is no longer helpful—one simply has to let go of it and trust that there is something else ahead.
I learned a lot from my Christian upbringing. I have no regrets for all the time I spent reading the Bible, going to church and doing Christian-y things. But I’m also okay with moving on and letting it all go.
It was helpful, and much of it will always stay with me. And I’m thankful for the thinkers who draw out its subversive truths like Richard Rohr and Rob Bell. But at this time I can only say that I no longer identify with it as a religion.
Each one of us must make his own true way, and when we do, that way will express the universal way. This is the mystery. When you understand one thing through and through, you understand everything. When you try to understand everything, you will not understand anything. The best way is to understand yourself, and then you will understand everything. So when you try hard to make your own way, you will help others, and you will be helped by others. Before you make your own way you cannot help anyone, and no one can help you. To be independent in this true sense, we have to forget everything which we have in our mind and discover something quite new and different moment after moment. This is now we live in this world.Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (p. 111)