A few minutes into the documentary Pirooz Kalayeh made about me, Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, is a scene in which I’m at a Zen center in New York City who had invited me to speak there and the head of the Zen center asks me, “Do you think that unresolved problems in your childhood might have something to do with your acting like a perpetual adolescent and refusing to become an adult?”
That’s why I found a recent Salon article by Scott Timberg called “Why Grow Up?” is a Political Question: Our Cult of Youth is No Accident – And It Has Dire Consequences pretty interesting. Because if I’m an arrested adolescent, then so are most of the people I associate with. I seem to be born of a generation of arrested adolescents and the trend appears to be growing with each new generation.
The article is mostly an interview with Susan Neiman, an American philosopher who lives in Berlin and directs the Einstein Forum. She is the author of the book, Why Grow Up?: Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age.
Neiman sees the glorification and fetishizing of youth as a grave danger. She says, “By encouraging our most infantile characteristics, and diverting us from the truly important adult questions, it distracts us from the social problems that need to be solved. We will not be able to solve all of them in a lifetime; but it’s hard to contribute to any solutions without reinventing adulthood, and embracing it.”
I posted a link to this article on my Facebook page and in response my friend Marc Catapano said, “I think that basically ‘maturity’ in today’s society is a marketing ploy. You need to buy the right stuff to prove you are a grown up. And unfortunately although I like the POV of the philosopher she offers no evidence of today’s society being particularly immature beyond marketing.”
Last year, on the occasion of my fiftieth birthday, I wrote a piece for this blog that was edited and reprinted by Shambhala Sun magazine under the title A Punk Looks at Fifty. In that article I said, “I’ve never grown up. That annoys a lot of people I encounter.”
The article was inspired in part by an ad I saw for Cadillac cars that implied that what a real grown-up ought to have is lots of very specific stuff – a new car, a house, a mortgage, a 401-K, etc., etc. And I have never had any of that stuff. Yet somehow I’ve paid my own taxes and made my own way in this world for the past thirty years.
I blame Buddhism.
At least in part. I also blame punk rock. I blame the attitude that punk rock and Buddhism have in common. And that is the attitude that there are different ways to live your life, and that the ideals of the mainstream majority may not be the best.
A Buddhist monk not only doesn’t have a Caddy and a pool, she or he is supposed to own no property at all. In actual practice very few Buddhist monks really live up to this ancient ideal. What normally happens even in Asia is that you put your stuff in storage or leave it with your family and then enter a monastery wherein, for the duration of your stay, the amount of stuff you own is severely restricted. But even this somewhat half-assed version of the ancient vow of poverty has a big effect. You start to notice that you don’t really need very much. Most people who go through this ritual imitation of real poverty come out of it with a lot less wants and needs than the average population seems to have.
I get what Nieman is saying in her interview when she says, “The state has an interest in preventing us from thinking independently, and it cultivates and exploits our worst tendencies in order to do so, for grownup citizens are more trouble than they’re worth.” And I’m right with her when she says, “We all suffer from the fact that we have no appealing models of adulthood – young people who fear that there’s nothing to look forward to as well as older people who fear they need to resign themselves to being able to do nothing interesting or meaningful after a certain point in their lives. It is this view that is profoundly unhealthy.”
My best years were not in my teens and twenties. That pretty much sucked. I’ve had a lot more fun since then and I plan to continue enjoying myself as long as I possibly can in every way I can think of.
In fact, Susan Neiman doesn’t say anything in the interview I really disagree with. It’s actually the author’s preface that bugs me. It begins, “Whether you look at superhero-besotted Hollywood, the clothes alleged grownups wear in public, or the spread of video games out of the suburban family room, it’s hard to miss noticing that much of contemporary culture is caught in childhood.”
I’m not so certain that it’s the clothes you wear and the movies you watch that determine maturity. Real maturity may be more about the ability to think for oneself that Susan Nieman advocates in her interview, rather than the ability to dress like a adult is “supposed to” and avoid superhero movies that the author of the article endorses.
To me, Buddhism has always been about learning to truly think for oneself. How you choose to dress or what movies you like are largely irrelevant. To me, the real sign of maturity is when you can actually be who you are rather than what someone else thinks you ought to be.
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP
September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED
September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT
October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova
November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
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