A few friends have chided me for “explaining” my writing and not letting it stand on its own, so rather than appending this to the original post, I’m going to do a sort of Frequently Asked Questions separately to clear up some the elements that are confusing or lack enough context. I have also made some minor edits to the original where there is an obvious gap (like some context for the “when” question below).
My most recent post was tremendously long. It was posted with some unfortunate changes of tense/voice that make it a tad hard to follow in spots, as it was written over a long stretch of time in many chunks that didn’t always agree structurally. I’m slowly fixing the more egregious issues, and I already feel much better about it overall.
In checking my stats and google analytics I’ve discovered that the post became my most read piece ever in just under three days. I get about three searches a day for AFL related humor, and about three searches a day for a review of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland stories, and even a search almost every day for chicken enchilada pasta. All of those have now been surpassed by my thoughts on Zen and the end of my marriage.
I got one comment from someone who understood the context and has been reading my material for a long time, and that comment included a very nice compliment. I take that compliment very seriously because she is reliably honest and not afraid to critique because she knows I value her input and opinion.
I got another comment that came from someone who seemed to be less familiar with the context and though I’m sure her critique was sincere, the delivery was a bit rough for me and I’m not sure what I’ll ultimately do with that comment (so if it’s not there now you can infer that I decided to take it down).
I also got about twenty emails from people who had been forwarded a link to the post in emails or on Facebook. The emails generally indicated that they were uncomfortable commenting on a blog they don’t regularly read, or simply didn’t want to add what they thought was a silly question to the post. I’d say none of the questions were silly, and I’ve decided to tackle the ones that seemed to be the most common (or the most interesting).
Questions in rough order of frequency:
1) Was this at this year’s [insert name of retreat here]? / When did this happen? / I thought you lived in Georgia?
Yeah, sorry, not enough context in the post. I’ve made a couple of edits to provide some context to the piece, but I’ll add more here:
On September 10th, 1995 I married my best friend. We were both 19. We’d been dating since we met at a joint friend’s 16th birthday party three years earlier. Ten years later (9/2005) I helped her move into an apartment in West Salem and the returned to Boise, Idaho to sell our house so that I could join her. Five months later, the day after the following Valentine’s Day (2/2006), she told me she wanted a separation. Finally, seven months later on our 11th anniversary in September of 2006, after counseling and discussion had failed – and then my last ditch anniversary effort came up short – I knew for sure we would not survive as a couple. This happened before that, but it led directly to it. There was intentional symmetry to my posting this on September 10.
So, doing the math, that means these events happened six years ago, in very late summer 2006. For some extra context, both of the parties in that marriage have long since gone on to marry other people. Which gently leads into the next question…
2) Do you realize that the last part makes you sound like
a bit of a doormat?
Yeah, well…that’s because I was a doormat. Two things to PLEASE keep in mind: first, just because someone dreams that a person says or is a certain way, doesn’t necessarily mean that in reality that’s how that person is. Human relationships are complex. My marriage had many dynamics, many problems, many of which I was directly and specifically responsible for. When this happened, no matter what I said to the Roshi, deep down I still believed that somehow I could find the key, turn the lock, and FIX everything; that she would go back to being in love with me the way I had always believed she was.
Was I willing to do some pretty doormat-ish things? Yes.
Should she be blamed that I did things that made me
look like a doormat? No.
We shared a kid, sharing a kid is rough in a separation. Neither of us had a manual on how to navigate this, and neither of us would have interpreted it the same as the other even if such a thing did exist. This is why marriage is hard and divorce is harder. Please do not ascribe my personal recollections of these events the status of “truth” because, as in all things, they are only “perceptions” and “memories,” both of which are highly subjective.
3) What Lineage/School of Zen do you follow?
I, like the vast majority of Western Zen students in the 90′s and early 00′s, came up in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition. This is a based on the simple fact that the majority of western teachers and western writers came through that lineage. I started out by reading books by Robert Aitken, Philip Kappleau, and Charlotte Beck. When I began to seek out local organizations, their students were the priests and monks around me.
I have to say that first off, learning Zen – true Zen, by reading a book is exactly as effective as learning to drive a car by reading the DMV Driving Manual. There is a strong tradition of encapsulated knowledge that one can find in wonderful books, but those books are nothing like the actual act of sitting. The koans you read in a book are not the same as the koans you face on the sesshin floor. It is wonderful to read about Zen, to explore Zen from a philosophical or intellectual level; but I didn’t discover zen until I sat with a teacher and discovered the true challenge of facing the inner mind with only the tools of silence.
For extra credit, let me say that Sanbo Kyodan is a synthesis school that combines the Soto tradition of pure sitting (i.e. total silent mind meditation) and the Rinzai tradition of mental engagement in meditation (Koan study, deliberate thought, focus techniques); and as such it embraces both the sudden and the gradual enlightenment ideals (though not equally in my personal experience).
All that said, I have a strong personal affinity for Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land) Buddhism due to its strong corollary to the evangelical Christianity that I grew up with; and I have a deep respect for Esoteric Buddhism because I think that tantras and mandalas and prayer wheels are interesting and I find the complexity of the cosmology to be enthralling.
But I’m Sanbo Kyodan because that’s what I (figuratively) grew up in. It’s sort of like being a “Ford Guy” or a Red Sox fan…you are what you were when you first discovered it.
4) What community do you practice with now?
I do not practice now. I have not sat sesshin in five years. I have not sat for myself in more than a year. There are days that I think I should go back to the zafu and see what I can fix inside myself. Of course, there are days I would kill puppies for a cigarette too…so I’m always afraid of my cravings. My spirituality is complex, and in its complexity are some very beautifully broken things. I am both afraid of meditation and afraid of myself without it. I feel strong internal guilt that I don’t sit, and strong internal guilt when I do. I do not know how to merge these things. I know that regretting something I don’t do is abstract, regretting something I did do is concrete. I can compartmentalize the abstract, but I struggle with the concrete. Hence, I do not sit.
5.a) Was this with [insert Roshi's name here]?
OR its direct corollary
5.b) Did this happen at this/last year’s [insert name of retreat here]?
First off, I was very very careful to anonymize the Roshi. I was very careful to avoid any pronouns or descriptive language that would identify them, though I had two people identify the Roshi correctly entirely based off of the quotes and the nature of the Dharma talks. I anonymized the Roshi for one express reason: I am human and this was six years ago. I may not remember the details of the Dharma talks or confuse the wording. I’m extremely uncomfortable with the possibility of misattributing something that would have been “wrong” based only on my six-year-old memory of what was said.
If I can successfully get a “proofread” of the quotes by the Roshi, then I’ll ask for permission to use the Roshi’s name. Until then it remains anonymous. All of this is because in Sanbo Kyodan (and really any lineage) Dharma Transmission (the blessing of a student to repeat and perpetuate a teacher’s message) is a very serious thing. I have circumvented that in this retelling to write about a personal experience, but I absolutely would not attach a teacher’s name to it without that teacher’s express permission.
6) Did you sweep the Barista off of her feet and live happily ever after?
No. We dated three times. Our first date was dinner at a nice sushi restaurant. On our third date I was her guest at a house party she’d been invited to; where I discovered that at thirty I was never again going to be twenty-four, no matter what someone gave me in a red solo cup. We parted amicably and remained friendly. Neither of us was what the other was looking for, and we came to that conclusion without drama.
7) Objectifying a girl as a coin to be grasped was a rather sexist image, even as a dream.
This is apparently a flaw in the narrative that needs to be fixed, but let me be perfectly clear: Meeka wasn’t the coin. I wasn’t trying to grasp Meeka.
I’d spent months with my foot on the brake trying to prevent the relationship with Heather from dissolving. While I was desperate to hold things back, to keep things together, Heather was very busy pursuing the next thing, very busy moving on without me. I had been very busy sulking and pouting and playing the martyr. That dream was about coming to grips with starting to look for something for myself, with moving ahead in my life again. It wasn’t about Meeka (in fact I hadn’t really considered her consciously until that weekend), it was about taking my foot off the break and starting to make some forward progress for myself.
I will continue to edit the post to fix some of the more problematic sections, and after some encouragement I’ve decided that I’m going to submit it to a couple of pertinent publications and see if it can stand on it’s own. If something comes of it, I’ll follow up here.
If there are still questions or issues that you had with the piece that I haven’t addressed here, please feel free to comment here or email me (mybadpants at gmail, or you can use the Contact page above) and I’ll answer them in the comment or add the emailed ones to this post.