September 22, 2009

Bat Loops

Why. That’s always been my question. It’s the wall I’m banging my head against. Sometime, when I’m feeling particularly masochistic, I ask myself why I always need to know why. I’ve got a beef to pick with causation. I want, I want, I want, I want more than anything else a reason. Why.

Life is suffering. It’s a statement of fact, not a why, but we could turn it into one if we feel the need for cold comfort. Suffering is caused by desire. Ah, now that’s a why, that’s a reason. It’s a reason, but not the reason. Why do we desire? It leaves that one out, or hides it behind. Some say ignorance. We desire out of an ignorant belief that gaining what we desire will end our suffering. Well didn’t it? Or so the legends say. Suffering can end, suffering came to an end. When? When he gained, saw, awoke to, realized that which he desired – the reason why, the truths of suffering and the causes of suffering and the end of suffering and the path to the end of suffering. It’s not just any path, mind you, but the ‘right’ path, so named eight times over, the ‘middle’ path, the path that is the ‘goal.’

I want to know why, always why, but this desire causes so much suffering. It causes crying in the bathroom suffering and arguing with authority figures suffering and late nights with too little sleep suffering and psychosomatic heartburn suffering. And still there is no answer, no why. Some little part of me tells me there doesn’t need to be a why, maybe there is no why, let it go, hide in a hole, have a drink, read a book, forget about it. I’m far too stubborn for that, and I know if I listen, I’ll be right back here next week, crying in the bathroom.

I am absolutely convinced – CONVINCED – that if I find the why I’ll be free of the suffering. Yet enough of the skeptic remains to think it is folly to be so convinced of anything and then the cynic chimes in and basically tells me I’m screwed and then the aversion pops up and tells me to avoid the whole thing, hide in a hole, forget about it. It’s a vicious bitch of a cycle. Hello, samsara, how well do I hate your [internet edit] existence.

I’ve been meeting with my thesis professors every week, and I’m starting to understand what and how, but I feel like a damned idiot for needing them to hold my hand every step of the way. I still don’t understand why. I feel certain if I understand why, I would intuitively realize all the related what and how on my own and, the bigger perk, I would feel like I am on the ‘right’ path, even if it is only named so once rather than eight times. I don’t know that the Buddha foresaw this exact situation, but I’m sure his eight-part path covers the bases.

Even that can be frustrating. Half the time right speech seems like keeping my mouth shut and trying very hard not to argue, because that just devolves into more head banging. On the other hand, if I don’t ask, I don’t learn and what I produce is even more crap. So I can either sit there in what never looks like less than sullen silence or I can invest myself, actually try to figure it out, make them mad, make me frustrated, and then get to crying in the bathroom. I keep thinking if I can just find that one, perfect, non-confrontational, half-enlightened question that they’ll be able to give me an answer, give me a why. We can all have that “Aha!” moment and live happily ever after. Yeah. Right.

So I keep reinventing my faith. They’re professors and they’re good professors and they should know this stuff. If I just follow along for long enough, hold their hand hard enough, eventually I’ll figure it out, see the value of this process, where this path is leading, find my why.

Well, the Christian church can attest to just how good I am with faith. Hell, I changed my entire religion, my entire life because I needed the why. Long before I found Buddhism, I rejected my entire heritage and upbringing because it couldn’t give me the why, couldn’t even show me the path that would get me to the why.

So what’s the likelihood of a couple of professors holding me on faith for the next few weeks (let along the past five)? It’s not a bet I’d take. On the other hand, I do have a few weapons up my sleeves. I have stubborn, for one thing. I have stubborn in spades, enough for any dozen people, and damn it I want, I want, I want, I want to know why! I won’t even let my stubborn clinging to my preconceived notions of what why ought to be get in the way of that.

And I have a shelf full of Dharma books. I was reading Ruling Your World the other day (which has always struck me as an astoundingly arrogant sounding title, no matter what is on the interior pages) and was reminded that I have been very selfish lately. It’s been all about the ‘me’ game. I want, I want, I want, I want to know why. That’s when masochism comes in handy. Why do I want to know why? Well, to help others. Right? Oh wait, did I lose sight of that? Surely I did or I wouldn’t be so angst ridden now.

Knowing why will help design better buildings which can improve people’s lives, support their practice, revitalize the earth, support the community. Knowing why helps turn a selfish desire into something that might actually accomplish itself someday. The Buddha didn’t set out to figure the why of suffering for his own sake. It was prompted by witnessing the suffering of others.

Every time I remind myself of that a little of the tension drifts out of my shoulders. Maybe I should get the bodhisattva vow tattooed on my arm. Or backwards on my forehead so I can read it in the mirror. Although, that might limit my future career prospects. And I’d have to walk around with a mirror everywhere I go.

Then there’s always the path, that noble, eight-fold, middle, goal-esque, thing. It’s just full of baby steps, little things, present-moment accomplishments, the easy-wins. No, I’m not going to tell my professor they’re full of shit or call them idiots because they didn’t understand what I drew. I’m going practice gratitude, say thank you, ask questions, and try, try, try to keep an open mind. No, I’m not going to go out and roll myself into a drunken stupor at two in the afternoon. I’m going to take a walk around the block, cool down, enjoy the fall weather, and then go back to work. No, I’m not going to set my studio on fire. I’m going to carefully roll up that drawing, pull out a new sheet of trace and the sharpies and start again. See, baby steps.

Yesterday there was a bat in the attic, cute and small, but not supposed to be here. It was making erratic loops and twirls over the desks, baffled by the bright fluorescents and the tilting trusses cutting through the space. I called to report it, hoping to solve this problem. Later it flew out a window all on its own, probably the same window it came in through. Lucky little sucker. It got out.

Most days I feel like that bat and most days I act like I do, trying to solve the problem without ever knowing why. We may never know why that little bat was in here, but it made it out okay.

I hope I make it out okay, whether or not I ever find the why.


Teacher Jim said...


john said...

The bat flew into your college, learned what he needed to know, and left. You are doing the same thing for the same reasons.

Good Luck : )

Jan said...

Followed some threads to find you here. Refreshing! When I read your profile it sounded just like me, but I live in the middle of the conservative Christian heartland we call western Michigan. Love that you think about getting the Bodhissatva vow tatooed on your arm. What a hoot! I am settling for a mala bracelet these days and my desk covered with pix of the Dalai Lama. Nice to meet you. May you be peaceful and at ease...