Learning to be ordinary, finding honesty in self

I’m in charge of the Williams Meditation House this year, and I am writing this to explain a little about what the house is used for.

The way I see it, one’s religion is the thing that one puts first. The thing that one puts first is not a set of beliefs, nor is it a set of goals. The thing that a person puts first is part of that person’s life all the time, never leaving that person, always receiving that person’s attention. In general, this “thing” might be thought of as an approach to life. The approach to life which is so deep that the person does not ever step out of it, this is that person’s religion.

It is rare to see an ordinary person nowadays. People here are involved in being special. People here are very smart. Everyone here, all the time, is interested in what they are doing. We must put great attention into what we are doing here, or else we would not be good students. Therefore, we do homework, go to clubs, play sports, care for our friends, help social causes. We do class projects on a time schedule, and we do our own projects according to our own time schedule. People here are always involved in doing something. There are few people here who are ordinary.

Many people bring this same attitude into spiritual practice. Many people use spirituality to decorate themselves, give themselves identity, some people even use spiritual practice in order to feel special. I was listening to the radio the other day, and I pushed the button that scans to find a new station, and it came to rest on a religious channel. The man on the radio was speaking in a deep, calm voice filled with devotion. He was saying, “Oh, Lord, we know what you ask of us today, and we hold” or something like that. I hit the station-finder again, and then heard another person saying something like this: “High fly ball to right, the runner tags up, the throw comes in, and YES, he beats the tag to third!”

I think that the second person was being more honest. By “honest” I mean simply that he was being ordinary. This is, in the end, what people can trust. A person like this is not concerned with himself, and so he can be simple and pure, helping others simply by living a normal life. On the other hand, if we are always worried about our characteristics, then we forget who we are. Here is an example.

When I was a senior in high school, I had a lot of girlfriends. I hadn’t had any girlfriends for years previous (too busy with homework and tennis) and I guess you could say that senior year I made up for lost time. One of these girlfriends was a girl who was extremely pretty.

She was so pretty that I couldn’t remember how pretty she was, and I was startled each next time I saw her. She was only a freshman, but she was already the prettiest girl in my high school, and I started flirting with her the first chance I got.

I was a shallow, confused, self-centered airhead, and so I thought that the best compliment I could give her was to say that she was pretty. I said it a lot. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but she never seemed to like it much. This was strange to me, and I wondered a little, but I never thought that I was doing anything wrong by saying that. But later on, after a few years passed and we had broken up and I had gone off to a monastery for a while and then lived as a hermit for a while more and she had gone through lots more high school and had experienced a little more hardening, we were talking again. We were discussing some other girl and I mentioned that I thought this other girl was pretty. My wonderful, lovely ex-girlfriend then said something that brought me down into a surrounding darkness. She said, “Not as pretty as me though, right?”

Of course, this other girl wasn’t as pretty, and it was easy to say so, but the hint of seriousness in her voice deposited itself in my chest, stuck like mildew in my heart. We so easily stop looking at life right-side up, and start looking at it upside-down. We start out so natural, so wise, and then we give up that wisdom of innocence in order to manage ourselves more effectively.

Here was this girl who just a few years previous had known that the shapes of faces are like the shapes of clouds, and she had been tricked into thinking not only that there is substance in the form of a face, but had gone so far as to depend on that artificial substance for her own identity. We can all live whatever lives we want to, but the actions we take add up and steal our lives away from us if we believe in them. In this way, to believe in actions is the same as believing in a face.

For everyone who lives, it is true that we can do whatever we want, but eventually, there is a question that stops us all. We have to attempt to answer it, and there comes a point where our lives won’t progress any further except in terms of trying to find this answer. The question is: “What is the everlasting source of joy, source of peace, which will not go away?”

We pretend that we are so deep, so secure, so far beyond self-consciousness. But the truth is that whatever we live, that is our life. My girlfriend lived prettiness, and therefore began to think of herself as “pretty.” To become an adjective is not a good idea. Even if that adjective is “wonderful” or “wise.” We can pretend that we are not attached to our beauty, our ugliness, our intelligence, our stupidity, our life situation, but if it’s only pretending, then we do not have to wait for these things to begin to fade before we feel the deep insecurity. Therefore, we must be careful to understand that spirituality is not about becoming something. It is about taking a step away from becoming something.

Moreover, if spirituality is something special, it is not real spirituality. If a person tries to meditate with the idea that “I will have a deep, majestic, sacred experience,” then that person has not yet begun to see spirituality on its own terms. If a person wants to meditate so that others will be impressed, then that person is foregoing all the most wonderful parts of meditation, even if the “other who will be impressed” is God or Buddha. These self-centered views are very difficult to overcome.

In meditation, we throw all of this away. We throw away our ideas about our faces. We throw away our opinions about our intelligence. We forget about our own life situation. We drop our hope that we know something about wisdom. We get rid of our direction and personal goals. We let it all go. This is not like the other things we do all day, especially those of us at college.

We empty our minds of all those thoughts we have all day long. We empty our minds of those mental approximations, the virtual reality inside our heads that we use all the time in order to avoid the real, scary, real-life situation that sits before us. We get rid of the screens we have in place 24 hours a day, and accept the world just as it is. This is not like a person who says, “I am wise because I know a new philosophical concept.” On the contrary, there is not much to say at all. This is real.

When we sit like this, we are unobstructed. We can feel the life living through us. Humans, as living beings, so rarely feel the life energy flowing through us. We so rarely feel the life itself becoming life. This warm, steady, invisible beauty is our everlasting source of happiness. Humans have a deep desire to search for it and feel it directly, rather than just read an article about it in the school newspaper. Once a person has felt it, that is not necessarily enlightenment, and it is certainly not the end of suffering. As long as people are suffering, wise people will suffer. But to feel this life gives a person an understanding that realigns him with the life he is meant to lead. To feel this life gives a person an understanding that realigns him with the life he is meant to lead.

Therefore, it is important to have faith in ourselves and not let a lifetime disappear day by day. It is important to do whatever is necessary in order to fulfill our potential as the deep, majestic, dignified person we really are. This is being ordinary. To do so requires some exploration, however, and so I hold meditation sessions twice a day, every day, at 5:30 am and 8:00 pm. Feel free to walk down to the baseball diamond at Weston field and then walk down a little path into the woods behind the backstop. Bring a flashlight, and after a few yards into the woods, turn left and you’ll see the Meditation House. Or call me and we’ll walk there together, x6282 or 00tss. Come for whatever reason you feel like.