See what I did there?
Alright, I’ll admit that was a lame attempt at linking my conversion to Buddhism to the Tom Cruise movie Seven Years in Tibet. Honestly, I haven’t seen the movie and don’t intend to. That was just my attempt to use a play on a pop culture reference to rope you into reading this post.
Now then. On June 23, 2019, I celebrated 7 years sober. Well, the term “celebrate” is a bit misleading. My celebration consisted of a zazenkai, a sort of Zen mini-retreat at the Nebraska Zen Center. And honestly, it was more draining than anything else. Buddhist retreats of all types and duration are the subject of the book I’ve been reading, The Accidental Buddhist by Dinty M. Moore.
I swear that’s the name of the author.
I don’t have any idea if the author used a pseudonym or not, but if he did, I love it. Think about it. The guy finally finishes his book, he gets the whole manuscript printed out and on the afternoon when he’s going to go drop it off at his publisher’s office, he decides since it is kind of a long drive, he should eat first. He’s so proud of himself for finishing the manuscript, but so drained from his efforts, he just finds a can of soup in his cupboard and shoves the contents in the microwave. Preoccupied with the drive ahead and what he’s going to do with all the free time he has now that his book is finished, he forgets to cover the bowl and beef stew sprays out all over the inside of the microwave. Indifferent to the mess, he pulls the lukewarm soup out and as he’s eating it over the sink, he ponders what name to slap on the book to give it some zing. He sucks the last of the soup straight out of the bowl and, with beef broth and carrots dribbling down the sides of his mouth, he looks over at the empty soup can.
Thinking that it can’t be as simple as that, I do a little digging and discover that Dinty Moore is also the name of a little dive eatery located in (wait for it …)
Nebraska City. Just 44 miles down the road from where my apartment..
Yes, of course it’s a coincidence. But still kind of interesting. However he came to the name Dinty Moore, or if it’s his real name, is incidental. Returning to the point, Moore recounts a conversation he had with a Buddhist monk named Bhante Gunaratana (Bhante G. for short) at a retreat at a Theravada Buddhist monastery in High View, West Virginia (I Googled it and I swear it’s a Buddhist monastery in West Virginia.) During the conversation, Moore tells Bhante G. he is a writer and teacher and the monk eagerly gives Moore a copy of his own book Mindfulness in Plain English. In this book, Bhante G. sums up meditation better than any description I’ve come across.
“Meditation is not easy,” he writes. “ It takes time and it takes energy. It also takes grit, determination and discipline. It requires a list of personal qualities which we normally regard as unpleasant and which we like to avoid wherever possible … So why bother? Why waste all that time and energy when you could be out enjoying yourself?
“Simple. Because you are human, you find yourself heir to an inherent unsatisfactoriness in life which will simply not go away. You can suppress from your awareness for a time. You can distract yourself for hours on end, but it always comes back – usually when you least expect it.”
Wow. I don’t know about you, but that is one of the most precise, insightful and succinct summaries of the human condition I’ve ever encountered. Clearly Mr. Dinty W. Moore (I’m sorry, but that just can’t be his real name. It’d be like if one day, I get a whole book written and email the PDF of the book off to my editor and she absolutely loves it and asks me if I want to use my real name for the cover. “No, I say. “I’d like to use the pseudonym Busch. Anheuser Busch”) thought so too.
The zazenka I did on my sobriety birthday was exactly how G. described meditation, only it was seven hours of it with a break in the middle for caretaking of the temple grounds, a silent lunch of mushroom and leek soup and crackers with tea. In the late afternoon, I left the temple, ran a few errands, then promptly collapsed in my bed for about 11 hours. I wouldn’t have thought doing nothing but some sitting, some walking, a little yard work and eating lunch would have such a profound impact on my spiritual, not mention physical, fortitude but it did.
Because G was right on the money. Meditation, especially, seven hours of it, does require energy, grit, determination and discipline. With six years of meditation practice and seven years sobriety, I’m here to tell you that the benefits of meditation are worth the cost of admission. And the inherent unsatisfactoriness he describes doesn’t go away.
At the risk of beating a culturally dead horse, Americans are always striving for the next personal, social or material success that they are convinced will make them happy or content or at least distracted for a week or month or year. The latter may be true, but is that justification for the effort involved in the former?
Speaking for myself, the jury is still out on that one. As long as I don’t up and decided to become a Buddhist monk myself, it always will be. So, going into this the eighth year of my sobriety I can say, with unmost certainty, that nothing is certain. I have lived through and endured more in the last 15 years than most people endure in a lifetime and I’m here to tell you that, you and I, we’re no different. I have my chains with rocks strapped to my ankles like Marley in A Christmas Carol same as you. And meditation and the program of AA have taught me that there is no finish line.
As Sam Harris, the philosopher and neuroscientist said, “We need not know what lies at the end of the path to experience the spiritual benefits of walking it.”