Last night I reread the previous thing I put up here, “Stuff Part 2.” And I realized that what I wrote could be taken two ways. In one sense it’s about a guy trying to throw away stuff that he’s accumulated in a storage unit. But it could also be taken metaphorically.
I’m kind of dumb that way. When I read the Bhagavad Gita a long time ago, I thought it was a story about God coming down and helping a guy in a battle. Someone had to tell me that the five horses of Krishna’s chariot represent the five senses, that Krishna and Arjuna represent the personal self and the more elevated self riding in the same chariot of the body, and so on. I was too dense to get that on my own. Seems I’m the same way with my own writing.
Our personality, our ego, is like a storage unit in which we keep all the things we don’t want to let go of. We know that eventually we’ll have to let go of everything. But right now we don’t. So we keep it. Some of us are very protective of our storage units. We spend a lot of time organizing the stuff inside, reminding ourselves of what’s there, defending it against those who might want to steal it, or just defending it against the unavoidable decay that all things undergo. Others of us are less protective of our stuff. But we keep it anyway and we don’t really want to let it go anymore than the more protective folks do.
If you realize that you have to let go of the stuff in the storage unit that is your self, and you know you need help to do that, who would be best to call upon? Going back to my own actual concrete and metal storage unit in Durham, NC, I was very lucky to have my friend Catie help me.
Catie understood very clearly what I was going through last weekend. She has her own stuff. She doesn’t care much about Ultraman and Godzilla junk. But she’s a huge fan of Morrissey. She’s even gone so far as traveling to England or far flung parts of the USA just to attend his concerts. The way she tells it, even waiting in line for tickets to see Morrissey is a magical experience for her. She has, in her apartment (the Lady Cave) what she calls her Shrine to Morrissey. In this shrine is a collection of memorabilia collected during those journeys. She may not understand what I see in a kids’ TV superhero show from Japan. But she knows what it’s like to have stuff that’s important to you and that other people can’t really understand the significance of. In the more metaphorical process of cleaning out the self, you need that kind of helper.
A lot of people will reject certain teachers because they believe they are flawed and therefore cannot teach them the perfection that they seek. They search, instead, for teachers who they view as pure and untainted. But what they’re seeking when they look for that is someone to help them get rid of the stuff in their storage unit who cannot understand why they’re keeping stuff in a storage unit at all. I’m not really sure that would be the best kind of help one could ask for.
Besides that, I think these kinds of “perfected teachers” are mostly the stuff of legend. They’re mythical creatures much like the Loch Ness Monster. I use Nessie as my example because I, Brad, the guy writing this, truly wants to believe that the Loch Ness Monster is real. I want to believe that there actually is a living plesiosaurus swimming around in a lake in Scotland. Seriously. But I’ve looked at the evidence and none of it holds up to careful scrutiny. As much as I wish it were true, I have to admit that it’s probably not.
The greatest teachers, in my estimation, are those who understand what it’s like to have a storage unit of the self. Oh Jesus what a horrible clunky metaphor! But I’m gonna run with it. My teachers, Tim and Nishijima, are not ego-less “perfected masters.” They are, in fact, both people with very strong egos and very clear attachments. My troll Gniz was criticizing me recently for not pointing out the flaws in my own teachers. I refrain from doing so because they’re also my friends, and you don’t go on the Internet and reveal the hidden flaws of your friends. That’s not nice. That’s also a good way to lose a friendship.
But suffice it to say, they have flaws. It’s not that they have no stuff in their storage units that appeals to me and works for me. Rather it’s the way they deal with the stuff they’ve chosen to keep in there. It’s very different from the way that most people deal with it. The differences are subtle, so subtle sometimes that most people would miss them completely. But they are deep and profound. These men have discovered a way to both keep that stuff in their storage unit and not keep it at the same time. It’s the kind of trick that I would have thought impossible. And I’ve spent years and years and years with both of them watching very carefully for signs of sleight of hand. But I’ve come away convinced that what I’m seeing is actually true. And because it’s true it cannot be magic. It must be something that I can do too.
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said that, in practicing Zen, you have to clean out your room. He followed up by saying that sometimes you’ll bring all the stuff back into the room after you’ve taken it out. But, he said, you have to take it all out first. I would also add here that most people will end up throwing away a lot of things, but still taking back the most important ones. This is precisely like what you do when clearing out an actual storage unit.
If you threw everything away, you’d also throw away those things that make you most effective in helping others clean out their storage units. You’d throw away the attachment to your stuff that makes you a good sympathizer to someone who needs it.
Understand that this stuff doesn’t necessarily need to be actual physical stuff. Some people have no possessions at all, yet still manage to cling very hard to their personal stuff anyhow. Sometimes the very fact that they own nothing becomes a huge thing that they own and are completely unwilling or even unable to get rid of.
Anyway, those are the thoughts on this matter that were swimming around in my head and demanding to be written down when Crum the Cat woke me up this morning. I was unable to go back to sleep, even though I seriously needed to, until I typed them out. And so now here they are for you to enjoy.
And with that, I will begin another day of getting rid of stuff. Yesterday I sold six big boxes of books, DVDs and CDs. Today I’m hoping to cut things down even more. I will not get rid of all of it. Not just yet anyway. But the time will come eventually. Do please consider making a donation to help me move the important stuff I have to keep. I hate to say that shit and sound like a damned televangelist. But this move is costing me a god-damned fortune no matter how much junk I unload and my battered PT Cruiser is going to need some upkeep in order to make it out to the West Coast in one piece.