See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April Showers

I've been so busy this month until now, that I'd barely taken notice of what time of year it was. April was never a very significant month for me until a few years ago, when it became a time of milestones. Six years ago my mother died, as part of a nexus of events which threw my life into chaos for a year or more and changed everything forever. A year ago, I had to have Ms. Johnson put to sleep. It was also in April three years ago that I discovered the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, an event which over time led to the changes in my own life and the lives of other Zen practitioners in Nashville which are probably the biggest stabilizer in my life today. Then there was this year's NZC retreat.

I came to this realization last night while watching Storm Over Mount Blanc, a surprisingly gripping 1930 German movie, my favorite so far of Dr. Fanck's mountain films - starring among others Leni Riefenstahl (of course!) and Ernt Udet (who was, interestingly, Germany's number two flying ace in WWI, behind Richthofen, of Snoopy fame). The film is an amazing depiction of man against mountain, all the more interesting when you realize that there were no stunts, in the modern sense, and no special events. Real mountain, real glaciers, real athletes.

The film itself is full of storms, and it was after the movie, when I went to bed early, that the real storm moved in. I've always loved storms, but I was rarely uneasy; the tornadoes last week did damage to the homes of people I know. Which seems to be the metaphor for current unease about these Ratzaz Diaries, among other things.

I think I began this blog because I felt isolated. Maybe a bit because I still felt, in the aftermath of my mother's death two years before, I still needed someone to talk to, and although I had some people I cared about in my environment, I had to go out of my way to carry on an intelligent conversation. That is, I was surrounded by nutball right-wing Christians and nonthinkers of every stripe at work, and I was frustrated in my search for the "spiritual" path I was looking for in my return to Buddhism a year earlier. The earliest Ratzaz Diaries entries (go look!) were rants against Christianity and the Bush administration. I think everyone finally figured out the Bush administration -- eight years too late, at least -- and I rarely hear from the Christians these days, or at least the oppressive variety.

So the Ratzaz Diaries lacks a focus -- instead of lashing out, it is more likely to celebrate. Which is okay of course. But there's a more insidious issue; I have friends now, and what is more, because I still seem to be the main communications outlet for the Nashville Zen Center (since inability to communicate is probably my biggest gripe about the people I now call my friends, which is not bad, considering how I felt about most of the people in my environment 3 1/2 years ago when I began) -- I find myself being (shudder!) careful about what I say.

Because I never wanted to be a spokesman for anyone but myself. I never want my own opinions to be mistaken for the opinion of a group, especially the NZC, or any of my Zen teachers, or even of my friends. And I find myself in a position in which it's hard to make that distinction easily. My principal Zen teacher, Michael Elliston, has encouraged me to let my zazen take me where it takes me, even if it's not where I thought I was going. And in many ways, the way I would express what I've learned so far would not fit into any Buddhist text. Thanks also to Brad Warner, for writing the book which brought me back to Zen from the particular angle of learning from practice, and not approaching "from the top down" -- from theory. That has made all the difference.

I still shudder at almost every dharma talk. Except for rare, brilliant moments, like Saturday night April 11 at Penuel Ridge. But more on that some other time.

And really, my personal opinions are not as strident as they were in late'05. I voted for Obama, he won, and though I don't agree with a lot of what the present administration is doing, I really hate to think what could have happened if the Republicans had remained in power. Indeed, it is the failure of the Obama administration to pursue and punish the villains of the previous one that is my biggest peeve with it right now; I conceptualized and then failed to write "Leon Panetta at Nuremberg."

I had a "friend" from one of these "Buddhist" events who really wanted me to write about politics. And I did. And when months later I wrote of rediscovering my own ethnic and cultural heritage, she decided that I was some sort of White Supremacist or something (which was not at all based in what I wrote) and decided not to be my friend. Which of course she never was; I can't imagine every excising a true friend from my life for any opinion they might hold. And strangely enough from that episode, the Zen practitioners came to my defense. Which tells me a couple of things.

First, that I find myself sharing more of parts of myself with my fellow Zen people only. And that's a little scary really, because I never want to be seen, or to think of myself, as withdrawing into some sort of closed group, especially of others who share my opinions on something. But it's not really that -- it's the ability to see clearly I cherish, and at this point it's the people who've been practicing zazen for a while who can do that,. The "Buddhists" without the essential practice can never see that, because they've simply exchanged one set of delusions for another. I never said any of the things that my false friend thought I said; she was simply incapable of seeing what I was really saying.

But a part of me is not really content to let the Ratzaz Diaries go on being a shadow of its former self. So you tell me: can I continue to say what I really think without having my words be taken as the twisted manifesto of the Nashville Zen Center? I really don't mind driving people away from me personally, if they don't understand me. I do dread the thought of fucking with someone's zazen practice because they mistakenly take me as some sort of leader, and think that my thoughts have anything to do with the totally personal development and "blossoming" they can realize through their own practice.

I even thought of abandoning this blog to the lotus-sniffers and developing another anonymous blog to get a little more virulent. Opinions?

Photos courtesy of Sharon Bogner.


teri said...

I think that's a bad idea. Why hide? Your blog isn't called "The Nashville Zen Center" blog. Maybe you could put a disclaimer right at the top stating that the opinions expressed are not representative of NZC, etc. If you have one already, I don't see it. Anybody who is going to be disuaded from exploring a Zen practice because of an affiliate's opinions probably isn't ready to be there anyway.

Mettai Cherry said...

When one becomes a leader (either real or perceived) their followers will interpret their comments differently. It can't be helped. What is for you to decide is whether it matters to you.

Anonymous said...

Rave on, John Donne!
Get weirder!

The uniqueness of others
inspires me to pursue my

woodone said...

I agree with Mettai Cherry's comment that whether you like it or not, as a leader, your speech may be interpreted differently - AND, we all know that you are not responsible for how others will interpret your words - only what you deliver - a paradox.

Here's a link to a Zen blogger who writes about Right Speech - on the internet and in life. It's not about leadership and interpretation, but maybe food for thought – or even guidance in your query?