Today, as I sat at my computer answering e-mail and worrying about the election, a lovely person in Japan sent me this photo....
(The Great Buddha in Kamakura, reading my book.)
Seeing this picture made me realize that somewhere along the line, I have lost my way.
I used to be very Buddhist in my thinking. Well... perhaps not *very* Buddhist. But somewhat Buddhist, especially for a westerner. My philosophical beliefs are an eclectic hodgepodge at best, but there's some good stuff in Buddhism. Stuff that makes a lot of sense.
One of the foundation stones of Buddhist philosophy is especially appealing to me. Namely, that desire leads to suffering.
For example: You see a kid at the grocery store. He wants a candy bar. His mom says no. Result? Suffering. He pitches a fit. Similarly, when I was in my early twenties, I spent a long time desiring various types of romance, and because none was forthcoming, suffering ensued. Much suffering.
It's simple. The more things you desire, the greater your potential for suffering. It's basic math. And when you stop to think about it, the solution is obvious. If you want less suffering in your life, you simply have to reduce your desires. You need to let go of things.
This particular truth fits in well with other parts of my personal philosophy: my love for simplicity, my appreciation for the cynicism of Diogenes, and my basic bumish laziness.
I used to be good at letting go. I kept my life simple and had few desires. That was what made it possible for me to work on my book for more than a decade without wanting to kill myself. I told myself the truth: that it would probably never be published. I did my best to avoid that desire (sometimes with only moderate success) and therefore saved myself a lot of disappointment over a great many years.
But lately, I've fallen from that path. I worry endlessly about all manner of things. I feel responsible for so much. I want to make sure book two is really good. I want to to be pleasing for my fans and successful for my publisher. I want to lose some weight. I want my country to get back on track, to take care of its citizens and stop shitting on the rest of the world. I want, I want, I want....
And for a year now, I've been wondering why, for the most part, I'm not really happy. It sounds really horrible to say, but it's true. By the numbers, I'm way ahead of the game. But emotionally....
Here's the deal. It's one thing to be unhappy when your dog gets hit by a car and your house burns down. You should be unhappy then. Everyone can understand that. That's a sensible response to your situation.
But when your book gets published, becomes a bestseller, and gets translated into a billion languages you're supposed to feel good. You're supposed to feel super-amazing-good. But a lot of times I don't. That's not sensible. I don't understand it, and it frustrates me. Not only that, but it seems downright perverse at times. Then on top of it all, I feel like a real shit for not constantly feeling like the universe is giving me a hummer.
So why, I constantly ask myself, was I so perfectly content as a poor teacher with an unpublished book and 20,000 dollars of credit card debt? Now I own a goddamn riding lawnmower, and I worry about my lawn. For over a year now I've had a solid knot of tension nestled between my shoulderblades like a lump of hot lead. I worry about the next translation of my book. I worry about my carbon footprint. I worry that in writing this blog, I'm going to come off as an utterly self-absorbed frothing emo titmonkey.
But writing about it helps. That's what I do, you see. I write about things. That's my deal.
People who don't write usually assume that writing is a process of communication. They think I have something in my head, and I'm just transcribing it onto the page.
But that really isn't the truth. Writing is a process of discovery. I think about things, but then when I start to write about them, I learn things while I write. I figure things out *because* I write. This happens in poems. In those silly satire columns I write, in the novel, and today, it's been happening here in the blog.
Right now in fact. I think I've finally put my finger on something important. Desire. I have been too much with the world lately, getting and spending. I think I need to start letting go.
I realize that might sound ominous, but it isn't. I feel good. Better than I have in months. Letting go shouldn't be seen as giving up, either. In Buddhist philosophy, once the problem of suffering is realized, there is still right thought and right action.
So now I'm going to go vote, largely without desire. It feels good letting go of that. Later I will work on the book without desire.
In between those two, I think I will go the Kebab House for lunch. Sometimes they serve a great soup called "Fire and Rice." That, I think, I will desire just a little. Because it is really good soup, and no matter what else I might be, I'm still only human.