When I was on vacation on a small island in Maine, I came across a book called One Thousand Moons: Krishnamurti at Eighty-Five. It is a beautiful book of photographs, long out of print, of the great teacher at work and at rest in California, England, and India. I knew the name of J. Krishnamurti, but hadn’t ever read his books or tried to understand his thought. This changed a few days ago, as I began reading his books and biography. Now I’m immersed in his elegant, subtle and sometimes difficult teachings, which has had an impact on my own thoughts and writing. Here is a man who thinks like I do, or at least I complement myself by thinking so. Like the Buddha, when I read his words or listen to his talks, I say, “Yes! That’s it! That’s what I’ve been thinking all these years but haven’t been able to put into words.” Well, today I tried just that, and here’s what I came up with:
Really, there’s not that much to do.
We don’t like to be told this because most of us measure our worth in being busy, in having responsibilities. But where do these responsibilities come from? Where does this busy-ness come from? From society, we say. I’m forced to do these things, we say. But no. We have chosen these responsibilities, this busy-ness. We stay busy because if we were to cease our busy-ness we would be forced to confront the emptiness of our own selves. We find purpose in action. We try to lead meaningful, productive lives, contributing to the good of society with our labor and our political activities. We try to make the world a “better place.” In reality, we are acting a role. Millions of years of evolution, and we have come to this.
The world economic system that exists today gives us the illusion that we have more choices than ever. And that through this multitude of choices we can find ever-increasing happiness. But actually we are more constrained now than we have ever been. Because the deluge of choices and information that is presented to us now actually dims the true light of wisdom that is within us. We believe we need to listen to the experts to tell us what to do, where to go, what to eat, what to read and see, and how to believe. This is the trick of every organized religion. This is the trick of the priest and of Oprah: that someone knows better than us. That by aligning ourselves with a specific belief system, by following the advice of this or that guru, we can finally achieve lasting happiness. Buy have any of us ever found that to be true?
Look at religion. Are religious people happy people? Does following the edicts of this or that faith or this or that messiah make anyone truly happy? Or instead does it lead to the gaping divisions between human beings that we see today, and that have in fact been going on for centuries? Our distant ancestors may have killed each other over territory or food, but never over ideas like we are doing today. We human beings nowadays are killing each other over ideas in our minds that we attach to as truth but which have no basis in fact in the real world as it is. We say that if only society would change, then we could be happy. But society has been created by human beings. All that we are as humanity up to this point has been the creation of human beings. There are no other forces outside of our own selves that have done this to us. We are in this position because this is what we’ve created.
People say, if only there was peace in society or in my immediate surroundings, peace with my job, with my boss, with my parents, with my children, then I will have peace in my life. We want everyone else to change to make our own lives peaceful, but that will never be the real solution. We can never change the world, only our reaction and relationship to the world. Buddha understood this. We hold this notion that we are making slow and steady progress towards peace. Our political leaders say this. They have signed some agreement, this country has given up nuclear weapons manufacturing, some religious figure gives a sermon, prizes are given, scholarships and grant money distributed, students go to work overseas on their summer breaks, building hospitals and homes for the poor. Progress!
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with building homes for the poor. But these acts alone won’t create peace, won’t solve the crisis we are in. Only a revolution in our own consciousness, in the way we relate to one another, without beliefs, without dogma or political ideologies, only then can we perhaps find peace. Because within each of us, beyond thought and opinion, beyond notions of right or wrong there exists a reality that is not dependent upon individual wants and desires. It is mystical and subtle, not easy to grasp. It is truth, but it is ever-changing, ever-becoming. We discover it only in relationship to the world and to one another.
When two human beings, without ideas about each other, truly communicate with one another, and by communicate I don’t mean talk and nod “yes”, or shake their head “no”, or think of how they are going to respond before the other person is even done speaking, I mean communicating with their whole being and all their senses, meeting the other person as a brand-new being, as perhaps the first person on Earth, only then can we even begin to see our life for what it really is and begin to treat one another as human beings and not just as a means to our own individual ends or our own individual happiness.
Other people don’t exist to make us feel good. Please remember this. First we must let go of all we have learned (not forget it, mind you, no one is asking you to forget arithmetic or how to drive a car or how to cook noodles), but to keep our learning at a distance, to know it’s there but not to allow our learning to come between us and the other, to not allow our ideas about the other to color our interaction with them. This is very hard to do.
Before we even meet people, we’ve already made up our minds about them. Especially people we already know. We say, oh, that person is kind, that person is mean, that person is always insensitive or hurts me with their words. That person is needy, that person is selfish. As soon as we think these things, we negate any possibility of meeting the other in a place of true compassion and love. We create a legend about the other and so believe the legend we have created.
Attaching to beliefs as if they are truth is our downfall. So, the question is: how can we free ourselves from our beliefs so that we can meet the other in right relationship? I don’t have the answer. I’m just asking the question.
This is what I’m thinking about today.
This summer, I will:
1. Make more tie-dyes. If you want one, let me know.
2. Sit in the backyard, in the sunshine, listening to the Dead. Neighbors beware that 8/27/72 will be set to repeat.
3. Swim in the pond. If you want to join me, let me know.
4. Go to the beach. Target sells spray-on mineral sunscreen now. Thank me later.
5. Spend some down time with the wife and kids on an island off the coast of Maine, where there’s no internet unless you visit the library, no cell service, no television, and a lot less problems.
6. See family and friends near and far, both here and there.
7. Take photographs. Maybe paint and write.
8. Ignore the scoffers and the internet shamers.
9. Avoid commerce.
10. Not listen to the experts.
11. Drink my berry/kale/chia smoothies and do my barefoot running and yoga.
12. Create my own life. Do good not by politics but by being myself.
In surfing, one of the first things you learn is to never turn your back on the ocean. All might be calm on the horizon, but the moment you turn your head to see if the seagulls are stealing your Funyuns, a watery fist swings up from nowhere, flips you sideways, cracks your board into your skull, and pins you underwater. You rise, gasping, with ringing ears and angry tears in your eyes, salt mixed with more salt, looking around wildly for the culprit, only to see calm ocean everywhere, the thief of both your balance and your dignity hiding around a liquid corner. Until next time.
Same with your life. Or in my case, my life. I rise every morning like the good citizen I am. I make coffee, shower, put on clothes, drive to work and back, staring into a computer monitor and moving a little piece of plastic with a button on it around and around in tiny circles on my desk. I make decisions that may or may not help people, may or may not bring people happiness, relief, or at the very least, a modicum of satisfaction. Some days I pretend to care. Some days I really do care; about all the young faces before me, all their hopes and dreams, their tan, athletic legs, their sun-kissed locks of hair that would look right at home atop the heads of Thor or Freyja.
I eat when I’m hungry. I eat when I’m not hungry. I talk to myself in my head, make plans for my future. As in, how will I get through the boredom and frustration of the next work hour, day, week? When will I get an office aboveground, with a window, running water, a bathroom, and maybe air conditioning? What will I have for dinner? When will I need to go grocery shopping? Buy more toilet paper? Will I have enough money to buy toilet paper? Will I have to return bottles for gas or steal money from my children to buy gas like last time? Have the hemp seeds I bought a month ago gone rancid, or can I add them to tomorrow morning’s smoothie?
No matter how hard I work, not matter how hard my wife works, we never have enough money. Writing about it or not writing about it has the same effect, which is no effect. I try not to mention I’m poor in polite company anymore, unless I’m making a joke about it. Everyone has troubles of their own, thank you very much, and besides, it must be something I’ve done wrong. I shouldn’t have gone out for sushi. I need to get on a budget. I should have paid off my student loans by now. Why did I rent that beach house twenty years ago? How could I have been so irresponsible? Put back those cookies.
Social media mocks me. Things that are trending mock me. Audi SUVs mock me. Vacation photos mock me. Boats whizzing by on the river with Golden Retrievers barking on the bow while I’m pulling boulders out of the ground on a Saturday morning mock me. Honest work is all I can do, and it’s not enough. I know I have a bad attitude some days. Yes, I should breathe. Go for a walk. Listen to music. Meditate like the Zen masters taught me. Sit under a tree and read my book and let little green caterpillars from the branches high above fall and then tumble down my neck and into the back of my shirt. Yes, yes, yes. I should do all these things.
I’m a man which means I should suffer in silence. Or not suffer in silence and let my feelings out, in which case I’m a crybaby. Shut up, already! No one wants to hear it! Didn’t I tell you in the paragraph above that everyone has troubles and yours aren’t any more special or depressing than mine?
We can only live one life at a time, and as a friend said, the longer we do something, the harder it is to do anything else. For example, I’d like to learn how to be a pot farmer. But obviously that will never happen. So, I could write a story or a book about being a pot farmer. Purge all my wonder. Have all my questions asked and answered that way. Yet, when I write, I would rather be painting. When I’m painting, I’d rather be taking photographs, and when I’m taking photographs, writing. I suppose this is a good thing, although most days it doesn’t feel that way. It’s an invisible circle in my head that no one sees.
All of this is true, some of it is true, maybe none of it is true. What’s really important, and what I started out wanting to say before I digressed into a pity party, is that it’s really, really important to heed the surfing instructor’s instructions: never take your eyes off the horizon. Don’t turn your back on the ocean. Keep your eyes open. Front.
About a week ago, my wife, bless her soul because she tolerates these missives, came up with a genius idea while we were driving. She reminded me of a metal box I bought her for her birthday one year. The box was decorated like a vintage lunchbox and was meant to hold art supplies. What if, she asked, instead of art supplies, we write down our dreams, things that we want and hope for, on little slips of paper, and put them in the box? Then, as we accomplish the things we want to do, we take the slips out of the box. I joked that we’d need a bigger box because it would soon be filled with hundreds of unfulfilled dreams and desires. But I was just being sarcastic. It is a great idea, and we are going to do it. We talk about buying a bus or camper when our kids are in college, outfitting it with solar panels, and driving cross-country, taking our time and following the sun. Maybe that will be the first slip that goes into the box.
If we keep our eyes on the horizon long enough, coming up for air every time the ocean of our lives tries to hold us under the waves, I know we’ll get there.
I woke up and stared at the bedroom ceiling, filled with worry about the never-ending stress of my job. The stress that never ends, even when I’m on vacation. I vowed to myself that this would be the year I would make a change, get a new job, finally do something that stirred my soul and made me excited to get up every morning. Maybe work outside. Get a job on a farm or learn to build houses. I went downstairs, made my first of many cups of coffee. I fed the fish, checked out my new haircut in the mirror, opened the front door and sat on my steps as the sky lightened. I looked left, up the hill, and could see the sunlight I knew was just then rising above the river, the blue-orange light that meant another day hurtling around the sun. I looked at the cracked, uneven boards of my porch, drank the delicious brown nectar of that first cup, smelled fall in the air. Oh, yes. It was coming, if it wasn’t here already. The same smell I knew I would smell three months from now when I stood at the window of the concession stand up at the high school football field as I waited for a booster to set my steaming styrofoam cup of coffee on the sill of the stand’s window. I looked down and examined the cut on my right heel that just wouldn’t heal, the victim of a shoeless summer spent in and out of ponds, climbing on rocks, setting piles of brush on fire, and pulling boulders out of the stingy earth. I thought about this one life that we all share, and how we really have no idea what happens after we die and how anyone who says they know what happens after we die is lying or scared or both. I wondered why I was always trying to get people to go skinny-dipping with me, why I was always telling people about the books I was reading or the great new band I discovered. How I always try, in my own little way, to get people to maybe step outside of their ordinary lives, to turn off their electronic reading devices and maybe join me in something that might at first be uncomfortable but that could, in time, become something new and wonderful in their lives. I also thought about how much I’m up against, with almost everyone I know already in their forties and pretty happy, or if not happy then at least somewhat content with the way things are, and besides, why should they change now? I want to encourage people to try new things, but get knocked back a little when I realize that their lives are just fine without my suggestions. What do I really know, anyway? Do words matter? Do these hundreds of pieces of writing I’ve accumulated over the past eight years mean anything? Will they be lost in the ether like so many of my other words, and my work. In one hundred years, who will remember me? Will the joy I felt swimming in a pond at dusk ripple out into the universe and maybe give someone else the courage to jump in? Or is everyone else just fine, thank you very much? The sky gets lighter, the buzzing of the insects (cicadas? crickets?) quiets down. My stomach cramps from hunger and too much coffee. Should I have blueberry pie for breakfast? Yes. Yes, I should.
I was running around the track a few days ago when I suddenly realized there were just going to be some things I would never get to do. I’ll probably never go to Paris, for instance. Not that I really want to. I’m sure it’s very beautiful, especially in the springtime. But I also imagine it’s a noisier, smellier French version of New York. I suppose this is just some kind of psychic self-defense. A blue-collar provincialism that screams I never wanted to go there anyway. But I know there are some places I’ll never get to, or places that I’ve visited that I’ll never get back to. Like Solomon Beach on St. John, where my wife and I used to go before we had kids and that used to have this laid-back hippie vibe but is now “family-friendly” and a stop-off for small cruise ships. Or Sierra Hot Springs in Sierraville, CA where I spent one idyllic day soaking naked in an outdoor hot spring while redwoods swayed overhead and I could see the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Or Mexico City, where in college I climbed to the top of a small mountain to visit a shrine where the Virgin Mary had appeared to some schoolgirls, and I looked in all directions and all I saw was city. I’ll probably never be able to take a year off from work, grow (another) beard or not cut my hair and just spend my days surfing. Realizations like this are part of being an adult, I guess. I’m not sad that by Western life-expectancy standards, my life is half-over. I’m certainly not ready to throw in the metaphysical towel. My wife and I are giving serious thought to selling our house once the kids are in college and buying either a VW Eurovan or decommissioned school bus, outfitting it with solar panels and vagabonding around the country while we cook all our meals on a camp stove. Part of the wisdom that comes with age is knowing one’s limits. I’m lucky in that I can take pleasure in the little things. Not just because they are the only things I can afford, but because they bring me the greatest joy. This morning, for example, I drove to work in the sunshine with the windows down, drinking cold coffee, eating a day-old donut, and listening to Ray LaMontagne’s new album, Supernova. I knew I was going to be spending the day in a basement buying back textbooks from ungrateful college students, but my morning commute allowed me to store up enough good vibes to get me through the day. With a bang, summer is here in Maine and I know beach and swimming-hole days aren’t far away. Family trips, finding old vinyl records, time spent with friends, more cold coffee, and skinny-dipping opportunities are in the offing. I look forward to exploring in ever-greater detail my little corner of the world. I don’t feel sad at all I’ll never eat a croissant on the Champs-Élysées. I’ve got Frosty’s twists on Washington Street.
There’s a line in one of Ray’s new songs that goes, “Maybe it’d be best if I just let things lie/Guess I’m never gonna get back to Ojai.” Having never been to Ojai, there’s no way I’ll ever “get back” there. But I hope from there you can at least smell the ocean.
- Don’t give a fuck.
- Learn proper form.
- Drink wheatgrass and/or other green foods.
- Go meatless.
- Grow long hair and/or a beard.
- Find the right shoes.
- Or no shoes.
- Leave your technology at home.
- Lose the Lycra.
- Run when you feel like it.
- Take naps.
- Drink a shit-ton of clean water.
- Get a roller. Not that kind of roller. The foam kind.
- Get naked.
- Down with coffee, up with green tea.
- Take a sauna.
- Find your drishti.
- Eat less, run more.
- Work less, run more.
- Maintain creative indifference.
- Maintain creative fidelity.
- It’s OK to walk.
- Think like a child.
- Stand up.
- Do something else.
- Lose your boss.
- Take your time.
- Relax. Breathe. Have fun. This is your Original State.
I’m done with day four of my barefoot challenge and it seems the stars are aligning. Another 30-minute walk this morning, posture resets, and stretching. Later in the afternoon, I went to a sporting goods store and found a pair of barefoot Merrell trail shoes on sale for half price. I started reading ultra-marathoner and vegan emissary Scott Jurek’s biography today, and I’m learning a lot. I notice it’s important to be mindful when starting a new journey, but to not let the details get me down. I’ve always been the kind of person who needs to write everything down, to make lists and resolutions. I have a manila folder that says “running” on it where I stuff all my self-help scraps and notes. I’m wearing my mala beads, remembering to stand up straight even when I’m not practicing my running form, trying to drink less coffee and more green tea, upping my intake of nuts and other healthy fats, using my myofascial roller to ease the stiffness of these old joints. On some advice from a friend, I even bought a few bags of Epsom salts and starting soaking my feet every evening. An element of serenity is starting to manifest. I feel calmer, my mind is quieter. And I’m starting to understand the appeal of the whole mani/pedi thing that my women friends are always on about. I think about my brother and sister monks, running around Mount Hiei right now, in their flimsy straw sandals, carrying lanterns through the night, and stopping to pray at all the appropriate shrines along their path. I run around my college track, dodging the occasional toddler, stray dog or tennis ball, keeping my eyes on the horizon.