Since college, I’ve moved from place to place, through various shitty jobs.
I’ve had to stay with my parents when my job or living situation fell through. This is something I’m not proud of, although a lot of people my age have gone through similar things (and I’d be willing to bet it’s not just a recent thing either- it’s always been this way). The most recent time was when my wife and I decided not to stay in Thailand and came back to the states. That was in 2012. My frustration with my inability to get a good job and find a career path, my embarrassment about this, led me to go back to school (a decision I’m happy with). Once I graduate, handling the debt will be a big challenge, one I’m trying not to think about. Somewhere in all of this, I started teaching meditation classes (actually when I came back from Thailand). So that’s part of that whole picture.
I’ve tried to do a lot in this life, and not much has gone as I’d hoped. I say this not to complain, although I am frustrated with it, as many people are, I say it because I feel like I’m on the cusp of something right now, especially with school. I could be wrong, but I feel like I could start truly accomplishing things soon.
I mean that I might actually be able to get published within a few years. The meditation teaching thing probably won’t go anywhere, at least for a long while. I say this based on my efforts over the last four years, and people’s reactions. It’s sad, but you can’t force things. But I could publish, I could get a decent job. I continue to study meditation as I teach it, and I may be able to learn new techniques soon, which is exciting to me, and has been part of “the plan” all along. You never know, but my path seems to be moving forward.
Part of this moving forward involves a lot of effort. Think about school. For it to work, I need to study, write, participate in classes. I’m not willing to just get by, as I might have been when I started my bachelor’s. I want to get involved. I want to feel passionate about my work.
Then the issue is, partly: i know on some level that all of this is transitory. Even if I get a career I’m happy with, live in a place I love, have a wonderful family, get recognized and even paid well for my writing, it will all pass. In 70 years I’ll be dead. Maybe with medical technology, let’s say 80 years, 90 years. Perhaps in a day. In any event, my “accomplishments” won’t matter much in 200 years.
This is true for many accomplished artists, for professors who change students lives and give inspiring lectures based on decades of intense passionate study. Whether I go for it and build a life that is amazing, or invest time in staying on the couch, just getting by, it’s true. I’m a small part of a very large process. A significant part of my wanting to be somebody is a sense of panic that I need to prove myself to one is never sure who.
In the midst of this is my practice. I feel that, as long as I keep sitting and stay of the path, I will be okay. I may go through various ups and downs. I may have to work at a job I find fairly unsatisfying (not the worst I’ve had, but not a pure delight) for a long time. It’s possible that I may have to do this for most of my life. I’m not who I thought I would be when I was a child, or in college. As long as I stay on the path of the dharma, I am learning what I need to learn, and moving along well. I should be okay, at some level, with being a nobody. Walking into Market Basket with dirty jeans and an old second hand shirt, smelling like I’ve been cleaning toilets, because I have been, not being seen as the writer or the thinker or the artist I imagine myself to be, I should start to accept that. Millions do. Millions live with much less, strive harder against more significant challenges.
I’m not trying to showcase my liberal guilt. I would happily take a more prestigious job and work to buy a house, build up my savings, create a nest. I do realize, at the same time, that my desires to build myself up, and find an audience are not totally “healthy.” Beyond pop psychological notions, the dharma teaches that to be a simple practitioner is the best we can hope for a lot of the time. Other things would be distractions. Getting invited to parties (which I don’t usually enjoy), getting recognized for your art, having a big house, a full social life, an easier life, these distract from just sitting down and training your mind. My situation is ideal in a lot of ways, including my isolation.
At this point, here is how I see it. I want to get a better job. I want to live in a place that makes more sense for myself and my wife. I know that the dream of a perfect home and family are illusory. I know that the dream of a career is imperfect. I know that life can provide distractions from meditation. At the same time, I believe now that, as long as I can keep sitting, those distractions don’t need to be issues. There is no reason to either drive myself crazy working to extract myself from where I am now, a poor person in a challenging place, and there is no reason to just sink into the cushion of being a nobody. Either way could work, as long as I do it right, and doing it right is based on a feeling. As Trungpa said, Zen is very black or white. You pass or fail. It doesn’t matter. You know when you get it right, and then you move on to the next thing, the next moment.
Realizing that accomplishment itself is not the most important thing for me, and never will be, I can organize my priorities, while trying to move ahead. This sounds painfully personal as I write it. It is true. I can tell now, sitting here writing, that part of the problem is a fear of falling on my face as I try, and this is worth getting through. To not pursue the future of a better life because I know that I could give it a shot, and still end up a nobody, would be a mistake. You have to try. Knowing the rules of this game, the game of being an adult person, you have to try. Practicing means that you also know it’s a game, and that there are levels of game, the highest being practice itself.