Tuesday, July 28, 2009


During my time in Hawaii I read two books. I mentioned the first one - Saltwater Buddha by Jaimal Yogis (who left a comment on my post right here - squeal!), which is an awesome story that I'm about to read again. It's such a great introduction to Zen in the mellowest, back-door way. You're reading a very cool story about a guy trying to find his story and suddenly you realize it feels like you've been meditating the whole time. I've since Googled that shit and found other articles by Jaimal, and he's a great writer on any subject. Reading him feels like an easy conversation with a good friend, like the best part of a lazy afternoon. Highly recommend Saltwater Buddha (here - complete with 36 5-star reviews. No kidding.)

The second book I read was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Rober Pirsig. (Spoilers ahead.) If you've read this book without slitting your wrists: kudos, and I'd love to hear from you. (Unless you claim to understand what that book was about, because then we'd both know you're a big liar.) I hope I can definitively say that it's my last time reading a story about a guy with schizophrenia going through a schizophrenic episode while writing. For a lot of reasons.

Anyhoodle, I read the very painful book (and the afterword to the latest edition - oh my god) and pretty much hated it. I hated page ten and page eleven, pages one hundred and one hundred and fifty, and every page in between. Every day there was hate while I laid by the pool and forced myself to finish the book I hated. Yes, I did understand parts. I really liked the narrative of the trip, and I enjoyed the relationship between the author and his son, Chris. (Holy . . . ) I even enjoyed the stuff about multiple hypotheses and a good amount of the philosophy as it related to the subject-object stuff. Pretty cool. And, fine, after I was finished, the whole thing kind of started to grow on me. But seriously. I never want to hear the word "quality" again.

So I was laying by the pool forcing myself to finish the book, really only because of my slight OCD, and finally on page 285 was the first thing that really clicked for me. Now, 284 pages is far longer than I would wait for most books to make sense, mild anxiety disorder or not. But there is something compelling about ZATAOMM, so I pushed through the parts I didn't understand for over half of the book. And then I read something that clicked for me.

The author is discussing a detailed motorcycle repair that, if I remember right, comes down to a single screw. To make the repair, he needs to take off a cover plate, and the screw that would enable him to take off the plate is broken. At that point it doesn't matter what the specific repair is because he can't get past the screw. He starts this portion of the story, "Stuckness. That's what I want to talk about today." He describes: "This is the zero moment of consciousness. Stuck. No answer. Honked. Kaput. It's a miserable experience emotionally. You're losing time. You're incompetent. You don't know what you're doing. You should be ashamed of yourself." It was at this point that I took notice. Incompetence and shame? That sounded familiar to me. Suddenly, 284 pages in, I found something I could relate to my quest of learning how to surf.

He goes on for pages about the grief this type of situation causes to the mechanic. The whole repair hinging on one single screw. It's a mess. And then he proposes another view:
Let's consider a reevaluation of the situation in which we assume that the stuckness now occurring, the zero of consciousness, isn't the worst of all possible situations, but the best possible situation you could be in. After all, it's exactly this stuckness that Zen Buddhists go to so much trouble to induce; through koans, deep breathing, sitting still and the like. Your mind is empty. You have a "hollow-flexible" attitude of "beginner's mind." You're right at the front end of the train of knowledge, at the track of reality itself. Consider, for a change, that this is a moment to be not feared but cultivated. If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then you may be much better off than when it was loaded with ideas . . . Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the psychic predecessor of all real understanding.
Swoon. It gets even better after that.
It reminded me of something Jules said during my last lesson when we were talking about my unemployment and the fact that I'm not currently a contributing member of society. We acknowledged the intense social affirmation that comes from being a Sick Workaholic, and I mentioned that I miss that sometimes. I miss fitting into society in that way. She talked about her former life (pre-beach bum, she called it) and I got the sense that she really understood my dilemma. And then she said this: that if you're lucky, really lucky, something in life comes along and cracks your egg and you're not able to continue on the path you were previously on. Your understanding changes. Your priorities get reordered.

Stuckness. The place at the front end of the train of knowledge. Not to be feared but to be cultivated. A difficult shift, at least for me. I don't totally understand it, but I do know that my egg has been cracked. And I'm going to try to stay here a little bit longer to make sure I learn as much as I can.

(Sorry that my posts lately are really long and all about this kind of junk. It's so where I'm at, but I know it's not that interesting on a wide scale. I won't be here forever :>)


  1. I did love that book but I too never wanted to hear the word quality again after that. It's been ages, maybe I should pick it up again. Right after Saltwater Buddha natch.

  2. ohmygod i fucking hated that book. and felt all alone in my vitriol. i couldn't read anything but the backs of dvd boxes for two months afterward, i hated it so much. it broke reading for me.

    p.s. i'm digging the long, self-reflective blog posts lately. mostly because i'm sort of in the same place as you—trying really hard to figure out what's next. and hoping to all hell that i didn't peak too early and wind up working at wal-mart because i can't find anything better to do.

  3. I read that book. Ages ago. And the only thing I remember about it is that it took me forever to get through it so I can totally relate.

    And no apologies needed. I, for one, have loved your recent posts. They remind me that I'm not the only one thanks!

  4. I read ZATAOMM when I lived in Korea. Still trying to figure out what a chautauqua is.

  5. I love these kinds of posts from you. They're brilliant. Naturally, I project myself into them, but I can't help it!

    There are moments when you provide the most amazing insight and I'm left feeling like I've just had a quiet moment away from the smog and noise and expectation and fear and worry and blah blah blah, and am left staring at this person I once knew. Somewhere along the way of Being an Adult and Fitting the Mold, we forget exactly who it is we are. So sweet to remember and/or discover.

  6. Please don't apologize for these kinds of posts- I love them!

  7. I, too, love these posts. Reminds me of times past.

    Keep on keeping on :)

  8. I, too, love these posts. Reminds me of times past.

    Keep on keeping on :)

  9. I barely remeber the book, but this resonated a lot:

    "But seriously. I never want to hear the word "quality" again."