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Friday, February 11, 2011

Power Outage In A Rest Stop Bathroom


Luckily, there was a rest-stop on the Maryland-Virginia border. There was no way I was making it all the way to D.C. without stopping to relieve my bladder. No way. I fumbled to hit the turning signal as I got off on the exit ramp. It was a grey day, so it was worth travelling today. The smell of fast food and gasoline hit me as I crossed the crowded parking lot.
Inside, warm, stuffy air hit my face as I entered through the doors that had sticky handles. I passed a Hispanic family, then an African American family; such a diverse rest-stop being that the nation’s capital was less 20 miles away.
There was a line for the bathroom. Of course there was, and I became impatient as I was delayed longer than I anticipated. I pulled my cell-phone out to pass the time. No service. Curious as to why such a crowded area would lack 4G, I looked around as if the answer was in the air. The man in front of me had peculiar clothes. Wrapped in black and white robes, I couldn’t help but think that using a urinal would prove to be difficult.
The line moved forward. However, the man in front of me didn’t shuffle a few steps further. Attempting to hold back my impatience, I casually tapped the man’s shoulder. His neck straightened out, and I happened to realize I interrupted some sort of meditation as I obtusely pointed out that the line moved a couple of inches. I blushed as embarrassment rushed over me. I apologized, “Sorry, I just have to go real bad.” I felt childish saying this, but no shame. The man’s face quickly brightened as he realized I was embarrassed.
“It’s no problem,” said the man who must’ve been no older than twenty-five. “I’ve been waiting for about five minutes already.” The light-hearted feeling I had just gained from his kind facial expression quickly left.
“Five whole minutes?” I whined.
 “Apparently there is some sort of electrical problem at this rest-stop. They’ve rigged a makeshift toilet while the plumbing is out.” He grinned. Possibly at the absurdity of the situation, but I couldn’t tell as I was growing more impatient by the second. “Just let go,” he said.
“Excuse me?” I replied, not sure what he was referring to.
“Just let go.” He added a wink to his referral. Huh. I looked at my cell-phone to check the time, realizing I wouldn’t get home in time to catch The Office reruns that TBS has every Tuesday. “The receptions bad because of the power outage,” he informed me. “Do you have somewhere important to be?” he inquired. I sheepishly admitted no, understanding that TV wouldn’t have any significance to this holy man. Curious, I had to ask what he was wearing. I had nothing else to do as the line slowly shuffled forward.  “I’m a roshi.”
“A what?”
“A roshi. I’m a Zen Buddhist master, sort of like a priest, if you will.”
“Oh, so like some yin-yang sort of deal, right?” I said, thinking I’d impress him with lack of ignorance for other cultures.
“No not quite the same thing,” he smiled. Again, I felt childish but without shame. The man, clearly younger than me, had this strong affect and I couldn’t understand why. His eyes looked welcoming as I turned over in mind whether or not to dive into a religious conversation here in the bathroom line. I noticed I had let go of my impatience as the line shuffled forward. We were almost by the tiled entrance of the bathroom.
“Okay, well, how would you summarize your faith? In one sentence or less. Because Christians can say, like, that Jesus died on the Cross and rose from the dead. What’s your religion got like that?”
“Equanimity,” he simply replied. I recognized a Latin word within that definition.
Fishing back into my high school Latin knowledge, now gone, I spat out, “Equal-hearted-ness?”
“Almost. It’s literally ‘equal-mind-ness. Close, though,” he reassured me as he smiled again.
“Ah, well what does that mean?”
“To put it simply, it implies an “equalness” towards every day events; letting go of needless attachment.” I was somewhat baffled by this definition. Hmm. Just then, a worker of sorts walked out of the bathroom.
“Excuse me gentlemen. If I could have your attention please: this restroom is closed for the day. I’m sorry for making you wait for nothing. As you have probably found out, there is an electrical power outage, and it is difficult to pinpoint the exact spot that will fix this problem. Again, I am sorry.” A large, collective groan emerged from the line of unrelieved men. My companion just nodded and shot me a grin. The line was led by the worker to the backside of the facilities. Outside, there were plenty of trees and the plumber, or maybe he was an electrician, pointed the crowd that way. Slightly disgruntled, but aware of this new idea of “equanimity,” I strolled alongside this roshi to the trees. The crowd of men dispersed, some headed for the trees, but the majority continued to shake their heads in disbelief of such an inconvenience.
I heard chuckling up ahead. Perturbed by the laughter, I thought, what could be so funny right now? I looked at my line-partner and his smile reappeared. I was flat out confused. We reached the source of the laughter by the trees. My roshi friend went towards the figure that had laughed. Tapping on his shoulder, my friend embraced the older man as he turned around. Still needing to relieve myself, and very confused at what was going on, I approached the two men.
“Kind sir-“ the roshi began. I cut him off, “Sam. Sam Rogers.”
“Sam Rogers,” he started, “this is Chun Tzu Lee.” I awkwardly shook hands with the gentleman, noticing that his back was slightly bent, maybe as to bow.
“Funny how we have to come out here to relieve ourselves,” Mr. Lee said with a hint of sarcasm. “I can’t believe they’re forcing an old man to the wilderness when all he wanted was to use a bathroom!” I couldn’t see how he thought himself to be old. His skin retained a noticeably model-esque tan that made him appear as if had justreturned from the beach. There wasn’t an age mark to be found on his face.
-
As we made our way back from the trees, the two men stopped at an old Nissan Altima. The roshi, whose name I still did not know, opened the driver side’s door and pulled out a satchel. “Come join us for lunch,” he invited. Hesitant, I thought of home and my TV show. But I soon realized how bizarre this rest stop had been: wait in line for one toilet, meet a Zen Buddhist, go to the bathroom outside, and meet a friend of the Buddhist. Wishing to learn something about either of them, I agreed to some lunch.
Inside, it was emptier than it was ten minutes ago. The power outage left the food court helpless and the bathrooms empty. Luckily there were some burgers and fries to be found at McDonald’s. I offered to pay. The roshi’s friend didn’t hesitate to let me do so while the Buddhist himself had to be coaxed. We sat down at a window seat. The roshi pulled out a few pieces of literature from his satchel. I asked the older man if he was a Zen Buddhist too.
Lao Tzu
“No,” he replied. “I am a chun tzu.” I chewed mindfully on my burger.
“Oh,” I said shortly. The roshi smiled at him, and then at me.  “And how does that differ from a roshi?” I inquired. Everyone sipped from their soda straws simultaneously. With the older man in no rush to explain, the roshi began to talk.
“Well, first of all, as I told you, I am a Zen Buddhist. Chun Tzu Lee is a chun tzu. A gentleman of sorts. He’s Confucian.” Confused again, I was puzzled by the fact Buddhism and Confucianism were two separate religions. I had always believed them to be fairly similar. Well actually, I just knew they were Asian religions, and that was it.
“Would you explain your religion to me a little bit more?”
“Certainly. Zen Buddhism differs from a Tibetan Buddhism. We focus on meditation. It’s a method of emptying in order to refine our attention. We believe that ‘the mind has other ways of working than its normal, rational way, Zen is convinced.’” (Smith, 89.)
“So this meditation doesn’t come so easily does it?” I pondered aloud.
“I wouldn’t say so,” said Mr. Lee with a soft laugh.
“Well, there’s a type of meditation called zazen. This literally is a seated type of meditation. Monks will ‘sit for hours on end in the lotus posture they inherited from India.’ They hope to ‘awaken the Buddha-mind that will reshape their daily lives.’” (Smith, 88.)
“Well, do Zen Buddhist’s use any holy texts?”
“Mmm, not always. We like to focus on sanzen, or a type of consultation with our masters to discuss meditation. In these meetings, we discuss koans, or problems. They’re kind of like word problems…For example, what is the sound of one hand clapping?” I couldn’t think of anything. Wasn’t that a Simpson’s episode? Hm. He wouldn’t find that amusing. Um…
Without cutting my train of thought, he said, “Don’t worry. Monks repeatedly visit twice a day with their masters to figure out their koans. They make an initial breakthrough called satori. It can take several years for them to figure it out.”
 I slurped the remnants of my soda through the bendy straw. I couldn’t help but feel extremely overwhelmed with the knowledge that was placed before me. I offered to get Mr. Lee and the roshi more soda. And as I returned to the table, I realized that a quick conversation had taken place.
“Mr. Rogers,” the chen tzu started, “Roshi Thomason wishes for me to tell you a little bit about my religion.”
That was the roshi’s name! “Oh please do!” I said as I sat back down.
“Well as you may or may not know, Confucius lived in the sixth century B.C. ‘Agonizing over the inhumanity of his day [that is, during the Chou Dynasty], Confucius looked in an altogether different direction for a cure. He became obsessed with tradition and its power to civilize.’ (Smith, 107.) And as you can imagine, a system of ethics were established to create peace and stability.” The chen tzu sipped some more of his soda, “While I could go into specifics, the ethics are founded on four main ideals. So remember both the four Zen Buddhist points that Roshi Thomason told you as well as mine,” he said with a smile.
“The second idea is chen tzu, like roshi, it is an esteemed title given to superiors. A chen tzu is a gentleman of sorts. He is to be treated with respect. You have instinctively done this for me, and I am pleased to tell you that you’d make a good Confucius practitioner because you respect your elders.” I blushed a little to the comment.
“That is part of the third concept, propriety, which encompasses filial piety. There isn’t much to say here other than that you embody this well. The fourth idea is called te. It’s the power of moral example. (Clark, Class Notes.)You also displayed this well with a firm handshake. It also looks like a ruler who rules by example, not by law.”
“Huh, so there are four concepts in Confucianism too?”
“Mhm. Oh, wait, excuse me! There are five!”
“Oh? And what is the fifth ideal?” I was ready to get going now.
  “You’ll have to get in touch with us for that! We’ll just have to leave you with a cliffhanger. Give us your email, I have a class to teach tomorrow and have to be settled in tonight,” said the chen tzu.
“Likewise I also have to be back and my zendo, my church, for tomorrow!” said the roshi. Our conversation was abruptly cut short. I wasn’t disappointed, though. And somehow I knew I would keep in touch with them, and still possibly learn a thing or two from these two men.
-
On the car ride home, I couldn’t help but ponder over what I had just encountered. And pulling into my driveway, I pressed my garage door button. It was late now, and I was in a crummy mood from coming home so late. When the door didn’t open, a feeling of impatience rushed over me. But rather than giving into the emotion, I thought equanimity.  

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bending Over...To Plug In Part 2

  As I had mentioned in the first post, the second requirement that a power outlet required me to do was "pick up the power chord after it had fallen off the table."
  There are two aspects that I picked up on while reflecting on this act. The first was my duty to pick up the power chord. Sucked into the vortex of desperately needing to plug in the laptop, I found myself frantically getting down on hand and knee to pick up the stupid male part of the chord. Did technology actually just make me stoop? I thought technology was to my benefit, not the technology benefiting from me. And this first aspect quickly ties back into my first point in Part 1, separating ourselves from technology to focus on our path.
   The second aspect was completely different, and maybe not as much of a stretch as the first aspect. Too often are we confronted with second chances that we refuse to take due to pride. I think of some of Siggy Freud's ego defense mechanisms which ultimately allow for our mind to delay, lie, hinder, cover, or mar our reaction to trauma. Two of the more commonly known mechanisms are rationalization and denial (of reality.) The first, as many of us already seem to know, is a way of finding excuses to justify either a traumatic experience done unto us, or that which we have done. Simply put, it's lying (: Denial is what we know denial as: rejecting reality. These are just two examples of how we refuse to just pick up where we have left off. We've either strayed too far, lost sight of, or got tired with what our current route has been thus far. And while religions do a fantastic job at giving you the step by step process how to get back en route to an ultimate goal (i.e. faith,) one most understand it is self-generated. So back to the computer charger on the ground, I myself had to get the plug from the ground. The dog wasn't going to get it, nor was the charger going to find its way back up the table. (And yes, I know how simple of an action this was, but that's the point: getting back on track, starting with the small things so that we are able to recharge our computers [a different analogy with the computer AGAIN!]) 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bending Over...To Plug In

   I couldn't help but feel pathetic as I failed to plug in this laptop's power chord into a wall outlet. Tucked behind the futon I now sit on, that outlet was hard to get to...it required me to 1) put the laptop and its chord down, 2) pick up the power chord after it fell off the table, and 3) struggle desperately to connect the male part of the plug to the outlet. Why is this worth mentioning? I personally thought that there's a generic  life lesson to be learned from these three points. I admit that it seems like I constantly look for these life lessons in any and every instance.  And thus far, I haven't found any negative effect from searching (and then relating.)
Jokes on you
 First lesson: putting the laptop and its chord down. That is, put technology down. I found that it was necessary to put down what my arms were carrying in order to find something small. This could be translated into many things in order to be a life lesson. Putting down, or rather, emptying ourselves in order to be capable of being filled up. Just this past Sunday, I heard in new definition for humility within the homily. "Humility" did not entail being the doormat of the world, rather, it was the concept of emptying one's self in order to be able to fully receive Jesus. (I did say I thought in generic, all encompassing mode:) So is Jesus interchangeable with other religious concepts? No, absolutely not. However, this redefined humility is a shared belief among other faiths. Maybe not under the term "humility," but still, the idea remains. Because Taoism is centered around "the way," I thought that this faith could be used as a point of reference in order to make a more generic life lesson out of "putting down the laptop." Taoism, I have found, also favors emptiness. I'd go as far as to say that less is more in Taoism because the constant state of emptying seems to be a threaded theme throughout the Tao Te Ching, the holy book of Taoism. "It is empty yet not depleted." (TTC 5:6.) Because Taoism gives us another point of view on this idea of emptying, whether it be for the sake of embodying Christ or being able to follow the way ever more closely, I can now make a more generic life lesson, or rather, a more general reflection.
    Tying back into my first point of putting down the technology and its baggage it brings. I'd make the argument that technology is the fore frontal distraction/occupation of most people's time. Whether it be for better or worse, technology occupies the average schmo's time.You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a 40-50 year old guy staring down at his iPhone4. So an immediate benefit of putting down the technology would be that grown men wouldn't walk into people. Throw in loss of social skills terminated (as soon as the cultural emphasis on technology as the only means of communication has subsided.) But on a more life lesson level, what is to be gained from putting down the technology from time to time is a gain in dignity. I feel cheap to know that a screen has me so invested that I can't seem to function without it. The computer will run with or without us. Yea, sure, we need to turn it on, but once that sucker's up and running, we are sitting there, cranking out the power by pedaling. We, however, seem to be at the mercy of the computer/tv/cellphone. And like I pointed out, yes, there are all the social stats and communication reasons for us to stop using technology as a life source, but still, we could make significant progress along the path without our heads down, staring at the cellphone, or our eyes glazed, glued to the television, or our ears muffed by headphones.


to be continued

Getting Back Into the Mix

Spittle bugs
I have taken an extended break from this blogging business. Part of the reason for such a delay in coming back is due to the courses I'm taking. I had a lot thrown at me from two of my biggest influences: Comparative Religions and a philosophy class. And there was a lot of concrete, generic information being thrown at me from the philosophical arena while I was learning some mind blowing Eastern Asia religions (Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.) While I am digesting and reflecting what I have learned, I am able to produce some sort of reflection that can generally draw a line that connects some broadly shared concepts.
The driving factor to actually hop back into blogging came just about a half an hour ago while I lay with my drool on my chin, sitting in a dentist chair. I usually enjoy getting my teeth cleaned, but this was the first time I encountered some mental and physical dilemmas. The obvious physical issue was the drooling. I felt a little demoralized as I sat, incapable of controlling my dribble. I couldn't really find the right amount of stretch my jaw needed to have to please my hygienist. So instead of frequently interrupting her work in order to wipe my spittle, I turned inward. Ah, the great indoors of the mind. And I must admit, rather than practice a new meditation technique (which I tend to do when I have a free second,) I thought of ze blog. So there is no actual religious or philosophical affiliation in this specific post, but I do want to encourage my growing audience to comment. The reason I make such a request is that in signing back in, I have realized in a few of the comments, how quick I am to press publish, and then later discover, or be told that I have made a mistake. (I am referring to my Qigong mistype.) So my perfect dreamworld would be if I was questioned on definitions, references, and parallels that I loosely draw between philosophy and religion.
I hope to have a few reflections on Aristotle mixed in with the Asian religions I have really enjoyed thus far. I particularly liked the contrasts between Confucianism and Taoism, both of which (with Buddhism) play as significant influences in Chinese (among others) culture.
Read on,
Pass on the URL,
Thanks,
Jack-Michael