it’s summertime

Rant Part One: Going Crazy

It’s been crazy over here lately. But primarily in that days too short, weeks too long, way too busy sort of way that’s par for the course come May.

But things have been crazy in other ways, too. I’m going to do some confessing here. As you may or may not know, I’ve been terribly depressed lately. And not merely because of my romantic situation (or lack thereof) but in a more, shall we say, “clinical” way. And it’s made me feel completely disconnected from myself. Completely unsure of myself. Unable to accept what I know to be true of myself.

That is to say, unable to accept that I am, by and large, doing great.

I would have conversations with people about volunteering to teach again this summer at San Quentin. And they would tell me what a wonderful, selfless, amazing thing that is. And it would feel like we were talking about someone else. About some other person, some mutual friend. This guy named Scott.

And I don’t want fall into false humility here. I spend a great deal of time thinking about humility. I think that what humility is all about is knowing who you are. Both the good and the bad. I think about Shinran’s example of humility. Someone who completely accepted the fact that he was an unenlightened fool. While other teachers are running around spouting their greatness, their own status as awakened masters, he comes along and says, “Nope. Not me. I’m an ignorant, foolish being.”

But this doesn’t stop him from teaching. And I think this is the key, really. Here’s a man who fully embraced himself in an honest and straightforward way. He says quite plainly that he isn’t awakened, but he doesn’t let that stop him from being an amazing teacher, a compassionate being, nonetheless. He’s honest, brutally honest, about who he is and exactly where he is on the path.

I’m going to use him as a guide in the coming weeks. I need to toot my own horn here for a bit while remaining firm in my conviction that I’ve got a long way to go on my own path — I’ve got quite a lot of work to do.

So it’s summertime. And expect me to be writing a bit more. I’m going to re-engage myself in my own life and we’ll see what comes out of it.

Rant Part Two: Summer Session at San Quentin

It’s Memorial Day weekend. Almost six o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. The sun’s still up and a cool breeze in coming in through my window. I can hear a bus somewhere off in the distance, but other than that it’s quiet here. Birds are chirping. Earlier, a squirrel my dog had chased up a tree was squawking at us. And about five minutes ago I decided I wanted to write about my experiences at San Quentin over the past few weeks.

But on days like this it’s difficult to think about prison. When I do, I feel a strange mixture of gratitude and guilt. Gratitude for being a free man on such a beautiful, peaceful day. And guilt for being a free man on such a beautiful, peaceful day while my students are living in rooms no bigger than my bathroom.

This past Tuesday we spent a good deal of time talking about duhkha — suffering — and I pointed out that suffering is a choice. We choose what we suffer from. There were some dissenters in the group, guys who believed to the contrary, when you’re hungry, you suffer and there’s no choice about it. But by and large I think they got the real point I was making. A point about free will. That we choose the lives we lead. And those choices have consequences. My choices put me firmly on my couch this Sunday afternoon. Their choices have led them to prison.

And of course duhkha is a whole lot more than merely suffering. I choose to be simultaneously grateful and guilty. It’s where my head’s at today.