I’m reading a book by Kosho Uchiyama where he writes that zazen is the self doing itself. The idea is that you always have a naked self, an awareness that’s just you: pure and unprocessed, unaltered by thought. But though we start out naked, throughout life we wear all sorts of clothes: army uniforms, monk’s robes, prison clothes, the clothes of status and fame and wealth. And for most people, the entire problem of living is which nice clothes should I wear? If you translate that into more Freudian terms, you can phrase it as how do I best construct my ego?
Of course, Uchiyama’s point is that the clothes don’t matter. And I know that he’s right: internal experience is everything, and if you want to be joyful in a real way you have to strip away the delusions of psyche and self that get between you and the universe. If you do that your mind becomes luminous. Shirley Jackson: “Somewhere, deep inside you, hidden by all sorts of fears and worries and petty little thoughts, is a clean pure being made of radiant colors.” I know that’s true, and if you don’t believe me I can try sometime to explain it to you, but that’s not what this letter is about. This letter is about the absurdity of believing that there’s nothing that matters more than internal experience and still living in a world where you have a body and all sorts of physical desires and put on clothes every day and have a job and work out and fall in love. Like what if you perceive the essential wholeness and perfection of reality but you still like drinking negronis and you want to paint the wall a particular shade of light blue and you’re trying to decide which Lululemon leggings you’re going to buy next and your friends are visiting the small town you live in during the middle of a pandemic and you’re like wow what hike should I take them on and the country you live is in political turmoil and part of you wants to meditate all day and part of you wants to campaign for Biden and part of you thinks the entire US political system is just performance and smokeshow anyway? And what if that’s not a problem but a privilege? What if you love living in a contradictory and infinitely complex world with shifting demands on your time and energy and emotions? What if you like falling in love with the wrong people and reading letters between Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salome and sometimes you buy self-help books even though you know things like self-improvement and self-esteem are just psychological materialism and the self doesn’t even exist in the way most people think it does?
This is a homage to living in the world: to buying makeup and painting my nails and sprawling on the bed in a sweater from the Totokaelo closing sale that I’ll be padding around in all winter, to writing and trying and not knowing, to getting irritated at my friends when they make fun of me and letting it go, to late nights and too many drugs and having to leave because I’ve been seizing up with laughter for too long and my throat hurts, deer scattering on our walk home, antlers elegant and fur sleek—I could never kill a deer, I pray I’m never in a car that hits a deer—staring up at the ceiling while swirling patterns inhale and exhale and feeling the skin between me and the universe stretch out, grow thin, tearing up because I’m so lucky to know this feeling that so few people do (how would I even describe it: unity? joy?). This is a homage to waking up the next day and marveling that even though it’s completely illusory I still love the external world too much. I love the leaves in Park City in September—copper and crimson, lemon and gold—and I love biking up the mountain and I love the fear that swells in my chest when I’m going downhill fast on uneven terrain and there’s only a sliver of difference between falling and flying. RBG died yesterday and I cried for the future of this country—I was born in Canada, I got my green card just this March—and even though there’s a part of me that wants to stay in a monastery, move to the damp green countryside of Scotland or Wales, live in a little cottage somewhere in the Alps, I know I won’t leave: I love America, I won’t abandon it. I know that love is always doomed and I don’t want it any other way. I want to text you every morning, I want it to be you who disappoints me. C says he keeps a list of everyone he’s ever loved and he wants to have a party someday and invite every single one of them. C hasn’t met everyone he’s going to love yet. Just the thought of that tears me up.
Oh, to be hungry for the world, grateful for the world, always all mixed up. Hot tub, light rain, trip to the Salt Flats tomorrow. Playing God of War on a rainy Saturday afternoon (“You should start streaming on Twitch!”). I need so little but I get so much. I Zoomed with M and she asked me are you ambitious? And what I feel these days is that I don’t need anything anymore, I don’t need to be anyone: I’m happy to live and write in total obscurity; if there’s one person in the world who loves me back that’s more than enough. But also: I think that if you love the world you should do your best by it, and so I swear I’ll try to be a good vessel for the universe.
Because that’s the only thing you can do, I think: live earnestly, try to help other people, create things. Fish the maraschino cherries out of your cocktail glass. Delete tweets you change your mind about. Half my friends think progress has stagnated and the other half think AI will be running everything in 25 years. I try to make the world a slightly more pleasant place because I love the world and I don’t mind that my love is doomed. I read Parfit on morality and then I read Kant: like I said, infinite contradictions. I often experience desire as being about possession but T says that for him it’s more about accomplishment, having a plan and seeing it through. Which made me think of that Zizek quote about being a “good Hegelian: if you have a good theory, forget about reality.” I only want to say that there are moments when I’m tempted to give up on reality but I don’t think I could ever do it: instead I try to make plans and see them through. I think this means I’m a bad Buddhist but a good lover.