Is it possible that losing your mind is a very zen thing to do? I find the thought comforting. I order a new copy of Suzuki Roshi’s obscure, perplexing, illuminating book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I know I used to own it, but it’s migrated. I’m experiencing a new, unfamiliar state of unknowing, not-knowing, as in unknowing why I came downstairs once I get down there. Is that zen? I find something down there that I need to bring upstairs, however, I don’t recognize that it’s not the thing I went down for. Things unfold in a more circular way. Go down library stairs for credit card record book. See clean purple water glass. Fill it with cold water from the fridge and bring it upstairs, using the bedroom stairs on the other side of the house. Put water glass down (after drinking some) and start to make bed. Stop making bed and wander into Henry’s office to kiss his neck. Back to my office. No water glass or credit card record book. Go downstairs and open the fridge. Eat a few plugs of orange. Go up the bedroom stairs. Make the bed some more, if not completely, because I see the purple water glass and take it to my office. Still no credit card record book.
Where. . . I sit down and open Suzuki Roshi’s book. I didn’t ever meet him, although I did spend some time at the fabled Tasahara Zen Center that he founded in the mountains south of San Francisco. I heard two students there seriously discussing what position Buddha’s hands were in as he slept. I thought this was dumb so I went out to my car. . . the lovely red Peugeot, Fried Egg, with such luscious caramel leather seats. I smoked a joint, thus achieving instant beginner’s mind, or so I thought.
- Does this mean losing your mind is like being stoned much of the time? I find that comforting as well. My few years of dope smoking reawakened me to the vast pleasures of being. Not achieving or striving, although things seemed to take form magically, almost on their own— movies I made, lectures I gave, class plans I formulated. During these drug years I was a Professor of Humanities at the San Francisco Art Institute. Many of my students were stoned much of the time as well. I had assigned Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man by James Joyce to my Freshman English Class. When I asked one of my students a question about the book he replied that he couldn’t read it because it had bad vibes. This seemed a reasonable objection to me and to others in class as well. I looked carefully at the copy resting on my desk to see if, indeed, it did have bad vibes. It seemed possible. Did James Joyce have beginner’s mind?
William York Tindall, whose fabled seminar on Joyce at Columbia University I took in graduate school, treasured a pair of tiny pink doll panties he had been given by James Joyce. He said when Joyce became seriously oiled in a pub he would take the panties out of his breast pocket and wave them around, cheering. This seems a zen thing to do. I was not able to tell for sure if the book had bad vibes, but I did assign Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar to the student instead. I was certain Brautigan’s book would not bad vibe him.
When we had a fifties dinner party at my house in Corte Madera, Richard Brautigan and his girlfriend (you can remember who his girlfriends were as they usually appeared on the cover of his books with him), brought President Nixon’s favorite hors d’oeuvres,
(I used to know how to spell that, but today I had to look it up), lovely crisp saltine crackers spread with catsup, not as bad as it sounds because when Nixon was president catsup had sugar in it, not that nasty high fructose corn syrup.
However, Richard Brautigan, although a whimsical and charming wordsmith, must not have had beginner’s mind because he eventually shot himself, not a zen thing to do. Nixon committed political suicide, definitely not beginner’s mind. I’m following this chain of anecdotes and observations much as I make my way up one staircase and down another, weaving my way through tasks and chores, sitting down to write. . . writing like wandering around a large, spacious meadow.
Susuki Roshi said meditation is like giving a cow a green, luscious meadow. The Dalai Lama said “sleep is the best meditation.”
A final note: the second time I went to see Eya Yellin, my first psychic, (see blog post March 30th) I confessed my desire to become this thing,“a psychic.’ Eya instantly replied, “fine, stop using drugs.”
A final, final note.
I’m in Portland, Oregon, with our daughter April and granddaughter, Yashi. I hadn’t posted this blog because my small writing group (Elsha Bonhert and Maja Clark. Susan Killeen and Jeanette Paulson weren’t there. Jeanette was traveling in Italy), didn’t like the ending; said it was weak and who was Richard Brautigan, anyway? I feel they should know who Brautigan was, for gods’ sake, forgetting once again that not everyone lived in the Bay Area in the ’60’s. I suspected they were right about the weak finish.
I’m confessing my fears about losing my mind to April and she asks me how old Mom was when she died. We calculate it, and both register shock when we realize she had just turned 79, five years older than me. In five years Mom had slid from the refuge of the mild dementia she sought after my dad died, to a sweet, if somewhat confused and very messy, early childhood.
Most of my fear evaporates! No kidding. In comparison I seem to be doing fine. But what about Igor Stravinsky? At age 83, when hospitalized in NYC, he would return from a few weeks of coma with total awareness. In fact, as Virgil Thomsun remarked in a 1965 interview series published in The New York Review of Books, Stravinsky seemed to be completely cognizant of significant events that took place while he was unconscious, and would comment on them in a cogent and witty way. The next time I am comatose, or coming out of general anesthesia, I will ask Henry to give me a quiz on current events, to see how I’m doing in comparison to the great Igor.