Archived entries for Books

the baptismal cycle

Doing three loads of darks instead of paying my bills. Paying my bills instead of steaming those vegetables going limp in the fridge. Eating another energy bar instead of doing my back exercises because I don’t have the energy to exercise. Telling myself that doing laundry is exercise. Doing the dishes from yesterday after spending the rest of the day cooking instead of doing the writing I’ve been meaning to do for five weeks. Sitting down to write but remembering that I forgot to meditate again. Sitting down to meditate instead of sitting down to write and feeling more stress and sniff and snot coming on than anything approaching enlightenment. Then getting off my meditation bench and getting a load of whites started. Just another day at the office of life.

Guilt is the soul’s vacuum cleaner as it frantically runs over itself and begins sucking our own insides out for all eternity. And never finishes cleaning anything in the process. I had been feeling very guilty about not writing each week. I also hadn’t finished writing anything for weeks on end. Hmmm.

At the very moment that Hmmm hit my head, a little bell went off in my head as well. Well, on the washing machine. But, as I started shoving the hot wet whites into the dryer, a big insight flooded my little brain with big white a-ha light.

For months I have been trying and trying, again and again, to start working again but each start kept turning into fits and starts, again and again. I was Not Doing What I Am Supposed To Be Doing  (i.e. something that is hopefully a “contribution” and somehow “big” and “important” and “meaningful”). As that Hmmm ooched my clenched mental fingers ever so slightly off of their tight grip on guilt, I suddenly and profoundly and white light-ly realized that there is No Way We Can Do Whatever We Are Supposed To Do on this earth without also going through and even deeply into the many times — down times, quiet times, hard times, lots of times — that we must do All Of The Other Things That Need Doing, Too.

I also realized, in this truly immense little moment in front of my washing machine, that it’s not just the laundry that needs doing. Confusion needs doing. Fear and doubt and distraction and even procrastination need actual doing, too. That’s the way they teach us whatever it is they need to teach us… which is another way of saying whatever it is we are needing to learn.

We just really need to do these things we’d honestly rather not do with as much consideration and awakeness as we hope to bring to the big and important and meaningful things. If we don’t, those precious few big and important and meaningful moments won’t be — actually can’t be — as big or important or meaningful as they otherwise would or can be.

Joy and fire and light sure are fun in the moment. But, the fact is that the majority of the moments of our lives are at best merely non-inspiring. Some are absolutely painful, even devastating.  Nevertheless, all of these non-firejoylight moments are not what we must get over, around or past to finally behold and be bathed in some distant cosmic light. They are the quiet fire and forge for that very light. For all light. Whether we like it or not.

Fight these many times, and we stand in front of the washing machine for the rest of our lives. Live really into them, and we become more enlightened each time we stand in front of our washing machines. And finish all four loads. And, in good time, get to and accomplish every other accomplishment that still seems worth accomplishing after seeing such light. Baptism after baptism, by the umpteenth rinse cycle.

Just then, arms overflowing with warm whites like mounds of abounding blessings, I recalled a book whose title has always influenced me even as I have never actually gotten around to reading it. And have always felt a little guilty for that. The writer is a biggie in American Buddhism.

After The Ecstasy, The Laundry, by Jack Kornfield. I folded the whites and left for the bookstore. Standing in front of the stacks, I scanned the introduction and on the last page I read:

Pir Vilayat Khan, the 75-year-old head of the Sufi Order in the West, confid[ed,] “Of so many great teachers I’ve met in India and Asia, if you were to bring them to America, get them a house, two cars, a spouse, three kids, a job, insurance, and taxes … they would all have a hard time.”

That’s one cool Sufi. I kept flipping through the book. It’s basically stuffed with anecdotes of people from many faith traditions who have been to their various mountaintops and then had to deal with the sticky prosaic work of bringing their fistfuls of light back into regular life.

I caught a few more great thoughts, but I didn’t keep the book. I didn’t feel guilty about it, either. I had to get back home and start dinner. I have so many other books to get back to, and so many more to discover. I have eternal aspirations and eternal laundry. In a never-ending cycle.

I am blessed to have both.

fuzzy wuzzy logic

“Fuzzy stars!” And with that, my then two-year-old Larkin perspicaciously summed up my recent “serious” art purchase and walked off, perfectly happy.

Art has always been an inexplicable love for me. Not inexplicable in the sense that art shouldn’t be loved. Just, with all of the need for justification and productivity and “But, what is the value of it?” that I was pickled in by my upbringing, I had long had a nagging sense that I didn’t quite have—and should have—a really deep, almost theological reason for Art. And for loving it.

Continue reading…

the golden wow

I begged my most Christian collegiate compadre to buy me condoms. Oh, the things a fledgling proselytizer doesn’t imagine they’ll be called to do. But, after two shocked eyebrows and one sigh of resignation as I bolted out of her post-collegiate apartment door for a date — and an impending affair — that I hadn’t thought I’d be having, I did find a dainty box of Trojans under her guest bathroom sink late that night, exactly where I’d asked her to leave them. Ecumenical, indeed.

In 1989, my one goal in life was to be somewhere else than I presently was and, by obvious implication, someone else than I presently was. But, blessedly, my running was just beginning to be less about running away and more about running, jumping and playing. My seminal trip to the Himalaya two years before had shown me just how big the world really is and had converted me in ways that at that point I had no name for. I see now that I had been converted to Curious.

Continue reading…

certainly uncertain

“I believe in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applied to theology.”

Three years after college, in response to my happiest, and most Christian, friend from college, I blurted that out as I was wiping away tears about something. I was wiping away tears about a lot of things at the time.

She sighed, bemused and frustrated. It was a sort of “what the H-E-doubletoothpicks does that mean” kind of sigh. She had just asked me what did I believe, if I didn’t believe in Jesus. Jesus made perfect sense to her, and she wasn’t wiping away tears about a lot of things a lot of the time. Ergo.

Continue reading…

smells like protestant spirit

I was quietly sobbing over Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in a public library in graduate school. A revered early 20th century masterwork of sociological analysis, this book is nevertheless not commonly considered a tearjerker. But, as I read passages like:

Not leisure and enjoyment, but only activity serves to increase the glory of God, according to the definite manifestations of His will. Waste of time is thus the first and in principle the deadliest of sins. The span of human life is infinitely short and precious to make sure of one’s own election. Loss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health, six to at most eight hours, is worthy of absolute moral condemnation[,]

Continue reading…

are you experienced?

Twenty-two years later, I open up The Dancing Wu Li Masters and find an E.E. Cummings quotation?!? Synchronicity just so is, I tell you. “Knowledge is a polite word / for dead but not buried imagination.” Ouch, as I sit here neck-deep in supposedly knowledgeable books. But, thank you, Universe. I needed that.

Continue reading…

totally un-understandable

I thought it was Werner Heisenberg who didn’t like what he saw. Turns out it was Max Planck. Those pesky 20th century physicists who changed our fundamental conception of the universe. One became so uncomfortably uncertain and one became so comfortable with ultimate uncertainty. Yin and yang indeed. Where to begin?

Continue reading…

Tao and the art of narrative circuitousness

Oh, and about that Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

In 1922, Werner Heisenberg, as a student, asked his professor and friend-to-be, Niels Bohr, “If the inner structure of the atom is as closed to descriptive accounts as you say, if we really lack a language for dealing with it, how can we ever hope to understand atoms?”

Bohr hesitated for a moment and then said, “I think we may yet be able to do so. But in the process we may have to learn what the word understanding really means.”

Continue reading…

i sing a song of saint e. e.

How did this man enter my life? How did his poetry spill into my life so completely? He’s been in my bed so many times… and I can’t even remember where I first met him?!?

I can remember when poetry itself decided to explode into my life. Fourteen years ago and newly in Austin, Texas, I had ended up on a Chamber of Commerce committee for the arts in charge of a member happy hour. I scrounged up a list of artists from somewhere and invited them, too. I figured it might be easier to raise money for the arts if more people actually met artists. The sociable was only marginally sociable when two longhaired young men in combat boots suddenly stormed in, shook my hand off of my arm, jumped up on two chairs and began performing. Loudly, and lyrically. Inexplicably, and perfectly. Just six minutes of lapidary words and ardent emotion, and the entire room was transfixed.

Continue reading…

a field guide to getting along

‘Tis amazing how much anger starts leaching out when one is on one’s way to a ‘Buddhism and Anger’ Seminar. Snitty about how everyone was loading the dishwasher. Snotty about how I was always the one who had to get everyone moving in the morning. Before I could embarrass myself any more, I sheepishly turned to my beloved and began, “Do you think that maybe, because of where I am going this weekend, I’m a little bit…?” Before I could finish, he burst into laughter and hugged me. So did my girls. And then they hurried me off to the airport.

Continue reading…

the blog of Anne Elizabeth Wynn. Copyright © 2004–2010. All rights reserved.