New Year's Eve is one of those holidays I could do without. It's not quite as annoying as the Fourth of July, with its perverted nationalism, though the fireworks can be just as bad. Ms. Johnson really used to hate them. Wednesday night, my total firecracker experience was a few sets of wimpy ladyfingers or whatever they're selling these days, set off in the street by the neighbors. Bing Bing yourself.
The day we begin the New Year is absolutely arbitrary of course. It'd make more sense to begin it in the spring, like some cultures have done, instead of sticking it in the week after the Solstice, when everything is about as dead as it is going to get.
I don't know of anyone who's sad to see 2008 go, though I'm not that optimistic for the next few years. The people who voted for Bush and his lackeys in 2000 were idiots, and those who supported him in 2004 are criminals and traitors -- which everyone knows now, but how on earth did you let yourselves be deceived for so long? You should have just gone to Texas and checked it out.
Now we have Obama, who I really think is going to do the best that can be done. It's amusing to me that his liberal supporters are disappointed; anyone who'd actually looked at the candidate would've realized that he was politically to the right of Hillary Clinton, schooled in Chicago hardball, and a pragmatist. Which, may be exactly what we need. The early indications are, he's competent, which is more than we've seen in eight years. The fact that he's over-reached his Lincoln-esque policies by putting some dangerous opponents in positions of power and influence -- hope that works out for him. His invitation to a noted homophobic zealot for the inaugural invocation is a little scary. As a non-Christian, I don't see any real likelihood of the Constitutionally-mandated separation of Church and State manifesting any time soon. But it could be worse.
Anyway. I never did well with the drinking New Year's Eve, hungover New Year's Day thing. It's not a good night to go out drinking, either for your pocketbook or your criminal record. so I've usually stayed in. I do remember one night in the late '90's when I stayed in, put up with the noise at midnight sober, then headed down to lower Broadway to begin my own, independent celebration at Robert's Western Wear, probably to the astonishment of the hungover honky-tonkers trying to stare down their eggs and sausage.
But this year began with some much-needed silence and zazen, joining the good folks of the 12South Dharma Center (who in this case consisted of members of Rinzai sangha Alaya Dhyana, me, an impressive NZC newcomer, and one confused participant from another group) for some much-needed silence.
There are worse ways to begin your New Year (like all of those listed above) than four hour of zazen. Particularly necessary for me in this instance was the stark minimalism of the service. Sometimes the administrative crap involved in trying to keep an organization functional obscures the purpose you're really there. I never wanted to be involved in any of that, but sometimes shit must be done. And believe me, after dealing with t-shirts and arguments over furniture, as well as the prospect of trying to fix a long-neglected financial system, petty as it may be, it's nice just to sit.
This sit, using Alaya Dhyana's minimalist protocols, a sort of deconstruction of the old NZC rituals, was really refreshing. The NZC's affiliation with the ASZC and consequent adoption of more orthodox Soto protocols, sometime leaves us with a bit more ritual than I'm in the mood for. When I did my first NZC sesshin (zazkenkai, really) in 2005, I really looked forward to kin-hin, the intervals of chanting, anything but endless zazen. And when I started my ASZC weekends in early 2006, the (then-emerging) orthodoxy of their ritual seemed appropriate, comforting and somehow reinforcing. But when you cram all that bell-ringing and chanting into a ninety-minute space with only a total hour of zazen, it seems that one has boiled away all the soup and left the salt. Add in some dead reading of dead words, a little singing and extraneous philosophizing -- at some point, you're working against yourself.
So I began my year in silence. Real silence. Ding, ding, sit. Ahhh.
Tomorrow morning, five a.m., more of the same (or as close as I can get). Happy New Year!
Photo courtesy of Paul Felton.