Saturday, September 11, 2010
Arles Church Light, France, 2008
When I walked into Helsinki Zen Center's zazen introduction a little over a year ago, the instructor asked why each of us found ourselves there. "I'm healthy, I'm married to the woman I love deeply, I have a reasonably interesting job with colleagues I like to work with and that gives me enough money that I don't need to fret about it much, I live in a nice little apartment in exactly the part of town where I want to live, and dammit, I'm still dissatisfied," I answered, "and I don't think a new computer will change that."
I would no longer say that. I am no longer dissatisfied, at least not in the way I described then.
I did buy the computer, though. It is nice, even though it occasionally locks up when waking up from sleep. I do that too, sometimes.
In fact, I'm… happy. (Shh, don't jinx it.) Not ecstatically jumping-with-joy happy, mind; just feeling pretty relaxed about it all. "Hey, rain smells good, doesn't it?"
I'm also frequently amazed at the incredibly good fortune I've done nothing whatsoever to earn–being born healthy to loving parents in a stable home in a rich and stable country with plenty of good life opportunities, and so on and so forth. Not that I think of this all the time, mind; it just occasionally hits me. "Wow. I could be up to my armpits in polluted mud, fighting off a dozen infectious diseases eradicated here a couple of centuries ago."
I'm less irritable, less nervous, sleep better, digest my food better, and have managed to develop and maintain a number of beneficial habits and reduce or eliminate a number of harmful ones.
I've also made some choices with my job that have, I think, made me happier with it, and I also think it's made some of my colleagues happier with me. Specifically, I asked to be relieved of managerial responsibilities, and to focus on knowledge work—teaching, troubleshooting, designing, coding, etc.—instead. That was a lousy career move in the conventional sense, but I think it was the right thing to do, both for myself and for the company.
It's as if some ballast has shifted, my boat has righted itself, and is now sailing much more lightly, without dragging a big wake behind it.
A part of the reason is, no doubt, zazen itself. It's a very good practice, and it suits me well. However, I think that that's still a fairly small part—a year or so of staring at the wall can only do so much.
A bigger reason, I think, is just having a spiritual practice. I don't know how much difference the specifics of the practice even matter, as long as it's something you're able to pursue sincerely. My wife's Catholic practice is working for her. I couldn't adopt that, for a large number of reasons.
There is some truth to Pascal's God-shaped hole. For a long time, I though about it much as this guy, although perhaps not quite that categorically. That, too, has changed. I'm happy to have found something to fill it, without having to do violence to the rest of me.