Hello from Houston, Texas. I just arrived here. Tomorrow I will lead a day-long zazen thing starting at 9:30am and ending at 3:00pm at the Houston Zen Center, 1605 Heights Blvd. Houston, TX 77008. You should be there.
Tomorrow I will be in my element. People will be here specifically to see and talk to me. I’ll be on stage – or at least in front of the meditators – and I’ll talk to the group. I have no difficulty at all with that, no stage fright, no jitters. I just open up and talk.
My problem is when I’m not in my element. Nobody who meets me at a book signing or a retreat or a Zero Defex gig or a movie screening would ever guess that I am painfully shy. Yet, in fact, I’d say I might qualify as cripplingly shy.
Put me at a party where nobody knows who I am and I can’t even bring myself to start a conversation with someone. I’ve lived in Philadelphia since March but I only know two people in the city. And I met those two people at places where I was “in my element” i.e. at book signings and lectures.
I signed up for meetup.com and went to two meet-ups, but they were kind of terrifying, so I never went to any more.
For years I masked my terror at meeting people under layers of carefully constructed misanthropy. I was too shy to talk to anyone, so I just hated them instead. All through high school I hated everyone, college too, adult life… Oh man!
OK. I am exaggerating a little. I have managed to find my way into certain groups of people. In Akron I was a part of the early hardcore punk scene. In high school I had a little nerd clique I hung out with. In Japan, when I was a teacher, I managed to find a group of like-minded ex-pat teachers to be my pals. I loved the people I worked with at Tsuburaya Productions — most of them, anyway. So it’s not like my entire life has been one of staying in my room hating on everybody.
Besides that, being shy has been a positive boon to me as a writer and musician. Because I am so tense with social interaction, I have lots of time to spend by myself writing or practicing my instruments.
I think one of the reasons I was initially drawn to Zen was because Zen centers were places I could go and be around people without having to talk to them. Talking was always the hard part. It was never like I didn’t want to be around people. I just didn’t know how to interact with them.
Before I got into Zen, I liked places where I could be anonymous but still be with people. I’m not a great fan of shopping malls, but I liked going to them when I was a teenager because it allowed me to be with people without having to say much. I still like that sort of thing. It’s one of the reasons why I always choose to live in large cities.
Zen has been good for me because it’s all very ritualized. You don’t have to think a whole lot about how you’re going to say the right thing to somebody. You’re not supposed to talk anyhow. You just bow when it’s bowing time, chant when it’s chanting time, sit when it’s sitting time. It’s very nice.
I probably would have been a good candidate to be recruited by a gang or a religious cult if any had been available to me in my youth. But alas there were no gangs in Wadsworth, Ohio and no cults either.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I would imagine most people are shy and probably getting shyer as social media replaces real social interaction.
One thing that has helped me is the realization that everyone is pretty much the same. I mean, I always knew that. But something about this Zen stuff allows you to start to see that very, very clearly. You see that even the people who put on the show of being completely at ease so well that they themselves start to believe it, even they are trying as hard as you to find out the right thing to say and the right thing to do.
That makes it a little easier. But I still find it to be an uphill battle.
Anyway, come talk to me at the Houston Zen Center tomorrow!
* * *
I’m shy to ask this, but some donations would be most helpful!
* * *
Here’s my upcoming events schedule:
Sept. 6 Houston Zen Center All Day Zazen
Sept. 9 Austin Zen Center
Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland– Movie screening
Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland — Lecture Event
Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center
Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland
Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany
Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany
Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near WÃ¼rzburg, Germany
Oct 18-19 Retreat in Bonn, Germany
Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany
Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands
Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands
Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab
Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands
Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands
Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)
Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1, Utrecht)
Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands
Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU
Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK
Nov 9: Noon — 5pm Manchester, UK