Friday, April 5, 2013

The Monks' Tale or How I Lost The West End Avenue Tibetan Wars By Way Of Dispossion Half Possessed By My Own Nakedness

[I have no info regarding this photograph, who the photographer is, etc. I do not own rights to it.  All rights belong to the photographer]

Prelude to The Monks' Tale 

(Note: I deem epigrams as the most vital part of my essays)

What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of Hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage.
-- Ezra Pound, Pisan Cantos, LXXXI

The moon and flowers:
Forty nine years
Walking about wasting time.
-- Kobayashi Issa

What came to me vaguely is now clear,
As if released by a spirit,
Or agency outside me.
And final.
-- Theodore Roethke, from Meditations of an Old Woman

Gather ye nosebleeds while ye may.
-- Norman Nightingale, from Bucolic Bouncers at the Belly Dancers' Ball

Happiness, the word, derives in part from "happen" or "hap" (n.) "chance, fortune. viz per-haps, may-haps, happenstance, etc. Happiness is a verb, a happening, an eventing/e-venting, it is an always relating, is interacting, is presence-with..."

And so happen-ness, happenstance, chance and fortune brought me to these three monks, rather, "monksters" is the more apt appellation, who had no mission toward me, no intent but just so HAP-pened to serve to challenge my own projections, expectations, naivete and world cultural ignorance though I hungered
precisely for the world outside of the fishbowl I grew up in, that I was mis-educated in in terms of race, culture and religion.  Thus, the despairing non-hero, I moved to New York City from the provincial mountain town of the South to befriend myself as "other" as well as the "other(s)" as myself outwardly and inwardly.

Who would be half-possessed

by his own nakedness?
Waking's my care --
I'll make a broken music, or I'll die.
-- Theodore Roethke, In Evening Air

My own "happiness" (that manic search in the Western world and of North America in particular, trying to outrun shadow, the "what is," partaking of the proffered formulae and spiritual nostrums which served only to further alienate me from myself and my community, was surrendered for a ruthless yet clumsy quest for something really real, true, accurate in its description of human behavior and ways in which one may meaningfully and creatively endure, survive the human community.  "Surrender" is not the accurate word for my relationship to the search for happiness.  It was, in spite of Ezra Pound's powerful (and truthful) words, "reft" from me.  People reft it from me.  Belief systems reft it from me already from early on "most bereft."  Not to sound pitiful or to make it a city in which I dwell (for once I did and I am indeed happy to say that that sorrowful city was "reft from me" by surprises both good and bad which led me into fortunate encounters on "the narrow ridge" with myself and other as  well as Self.   T.S. Eliot calls this "being reft from" the "way of dispossession."  One must be dispossessed, or some of us, at least, of what one thought was happiness or it was for awhile but then was happiness no longer.
  For years I had read and revered T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, this passage in particular regarding "the dark night of the soul" or the "via negativa" of Christian mysticism when one has been worn down, rendered to "nada" and awaits in the desert of being without fantasy or expectation of deliverance, salvation, enlightenment, where one is too tired/emptied for the self-indulgent drama of it all :

Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

When I moved to New York City in 1982, Eliot's Four Quartets in my jacket pocket, I did not consciously know that his words above would become an even deeper reality, an ongoing experience, for me.  All fantasies, notions, formulae, agendas, prescriptions (religious and otherwise) would be reft from me - just what did I love? and was that loved after thing real or realing?  what of suffering and the hunger/craving after what appealed to me both internally and externally?  and just who in loved and to what purpose and from what past and present context? Happiness was indeed fleeting, was "gold" but Robert Frost was correct in his diagnosis "nothing gold can stay." So far as I knew I was not gold and therefore could not "stay," at least could not stay for too much longer.  So my staying became motion, literal and metaphorical, I moved out of the South to New York City and into a Jungian analysis which continues to this day.  Then in this new beginning in the cuty I was 'bout done, done over, over done, overrun and risked one last "beginning again" "else I'll die.".  So at some point I climbed out of my basement apartment, my first "base" in the city in Harlem where I had lived with Korean fundamentalist Christians (I've written of this in an earlier newsletter) and located a nice room on the upper West Side, and so the "monksters' tale" unfolded, three young Buddhist monks and one "lost fart in a theological thunderstorm" (myself) happened together and created, well, weather, emotional storms, and eventual presence-with. With apologies to Will Shakespeare I begin my tale with his words:

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona [between West End Avenue
and Riverside Drive], where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean...

...I once rented a clean room in one household though divided, unbeknownst to me, into two, myself being one (and inwardly reft in two), and unexpected monks the other.  Located on the West side of Manhattan, I occupied a nice spacious room in a nice spacious and very well-appointed apartment. The woman who owned it was a successful artist who happened to be a follower of a particular Tibetan Buddhist teacher who was much the rave at the time in the United States and parts of Europe.. She was very wealthy, extremely naive and was therefore taken advantage of by guru and by his monks and to my introverted nature's chagrin there was a regular parade of young monks in and out of the apartment, and all had keys (I had not been informed of this when I was interviewing as a potential tenant) and everyone of them smoked like chimneys casually flicking cigarette ashes on the floor, the sofa, tables, etc. I had, of course, projections about monks of all kinds and flavors (Christian, Buddhists, etc.), positive "ideal" projections about their spirituality and being "spiritual" (which meant in object relations psychology terms that these "spiritual ones" were "all good" so the question is begged: where/who was the "all bad"? and the answer was me, Exhibit A, since shadow must and will go somewhere out of oneself and onto another and out into the world).  These all good and archetypal projections were rapidly withdrawn. It was a hard but great (fruitful) crash and crash-course in what Jung calls "the Shadow" and the phenomena and fact of "projection" thus began my ongoing wake-up that so-called or explicitly "spiritual" people - especially self-identified "SPIRITUAL PEOPLE" and those who catch the "all good" projections of searching others - are not exempt from having shadows, often haven't done much shadow work or were over-shadowed by others shadows so much so and in a wounding/traumatizing way that they split off/went up and "transcended" (read "dissociated") to and identified with archetypal "Love and the Light" thus foregoing/avoiding the need to actively consciously embrace their shadow, the shadow of their group and culture, and do the life long arduous and humbling work required to live consciously with Shadow, personal, collective and transpersonal.  Consequently, historically, currently, "spiritual charm schools" grow up which attract many "spiritual" ones (read "wounded ones") for persona-ego training where shadow and all-too-humanness get disguised, masked (in other words "a spiritual make-over"), repressed, denied and projected outward upon people, places, things, events, activities who then carry the shadow as scapegoats and sinners. Weak egos co-opt spirituality, become identified with it and the Spirit, God, Ideal, Archetype, become inflated and thus present a mask, often a very convincing mask for they themselves are convinced, of being enlightened, empowered, in touch with sacred energies and the "gods themselves."  I am not saying that authentic experiences of encounter with the archetypal world are false. What I am saying is that from my own experience and that reported by others (one only need read the history of religion for countless testimony of grandiose identification with a god or spirit and the ensuing suffering inflicted by the "righteous ones" upon the scapegoats, the non-spiritual ones, the others, the heretics, infidels, of those who own the rights to the Holy Citadels and Keys to the Kingdom) the phenomena and fact of egoic co-option of the archetypal, sacred dimensions is part and parcel of so-called spiritual paths and encounters and much harm is done to the one and the many.  I did not know any of this in those early years in New York City though I had already indeed the shadow of religious groups and people to a massively wounding degree.  My flight to New York City was greatly motivated by such wounding which engendered my search for a Jungian analyst to help me find a way to meaningfully understand and come to terms with the realities of human groups, especially of religious/spiritual human groups.  I moved to New York City to find or lose God and God-groups finally and for my greater good.  Bingo.  From fundamentalist Christians to Buddhists.  Who can make this up?  My Jungian analyst at the time delighted in the obvious evidence via synchronicity of my being pursued by the Self, what Jung calls the central organizing energy or archetype within humans (and in all things). 

After about three days of moving into my room and the apartment I quickly pointed out to the unexpected/unofficial tenants, the monks, that cigarette ashes on sofas, furniture, carpets, floors, tables, etc. would not do. One monk, the leader of "the Pack" as I came to call them, blew cigarette smoke in my face, flicked ashes at me and told me to "shut up!" What? Now, I had begun reading the books about Tibetan Buddhism found on the shelves of my landlady and was enthralled, greatly attracted to, and moved by what I read. What I read reinforced what I had expected and projected that these young monks
(late teens/early 20's) should be like as well as demonstrate like the gurus, teachers, monks  and mediators I was reading about (they caught my own naive, raw, untarnished "all good" projections, of course, looking back in retrospect). But all good "they were NOT!"

Confused and blindsided by the hostility shown to me after my polite request for what I considered to be reasonable behavior regarding cigarettes, ashes and such (I refrained from mentioning the clearing of phlegm from throats and spitting the results onto the floor...I am not exaggerating here...this really happened), I admonished the shouting smoke-blowing ash-flicking monk (perhaps I am describing a fierce Tibetan deity?!) for his not very Buddhist behavior. He sneered at me and said, "Fuck YOU. (Pointing his finger in my chest). Fuck Buddha. Buddha NOT real. Nothing real. YOU NOT REAL." He was furious with me which made me even more confused. I paid the rent here.  They did not.  I was righteous and polite in my request.  My brain flicked through my Buddhist studies and I pondered for a few seconds that perhaps this monk was from the "crazy wisdom" tradition of Buddhism and perhaps he was just seizing an opportunity to enlighten me in a confrontive/zen style/KATZ! teaching way (when years later upon studying adolescent psychology in grad studies I realized that in spite of his being a monk he was still an adolescent (with probable developmental issues since all these young men had been sent to monasteries as toddlers!) and that my "fucker/flicker/fumer/smoking farkUguru of the moment was "oppositional/defiant" which most adolescents/young adults go through on the way to more consonant adult behavior due to more mature egos). The other 2 monks were laughing, smoking, enjoying the confrontation. Great entertainment to see the pale tenant shaking and confounded by the anger poured upon him for requesting what he considered civil ettiquette regarding smokes and ashes and such.. They sprawled out on the sofas with their hip sneakers on when I noticed that underneath their robes they wore expensive blue jeans. "Wha'?!" I looked at the open  magazine on the table that one young man had been intensely reading (ahem) and read the cover, "PENTHOUSE".  Huh?


Cognitive dissonance doesn't quite say it and/but I had an AHA, a secular/humanistic/psychological one: "These are just kids really. Teens.Or barely out of 'em." and are probably letting their shadows hang out in the apartment which I assumed (correctly, since my landlady confirmed this when I confronted her with how these kids were acting when she was not in the apartment) was a safe (secret) place to rebel in away from the Guru's eye and the monastery rule (code) in New York City of all places to be celibate, precept-keeping (obviously horny/ornery young) teen/early 20's monks in). I was 10 years older than they were, 30 or so, and I guess that was old enough to qualify for oppositional/defiant behavior coming my way. But back then I still had idealized projections and expectations upon these young monks. And I naively assumed they had "manners" (should be pronounced "mannuhs" as I was a polite refugee from the genteel American South where Christian fundamentalism is even in the water so I was raised with and fed "good manners" OY and etc.) and that they just knew that cigarettes went into ashtrays where ashes also went, that the toilet seat was raised before pissing (the seat was NEVER raised and was urine soaked but I quietly, masochistically, like a "good Christian Southern boy, cleaned up the mess without an audibly uttered word though I thunk them plenty loud in my head)...

This went on for about a month. The behavior became more outrageous and "defiant" whenever the landlady (who revered these young monks, speaking of idealized projections) was not home. When she was home they were the very picture of enlightened beings. I laugh now because I took them, Buddhism, manners and myself all very much way way too seriously and did not see the all-too-human stories unfolding before my very eyes. But what did I know then but my own cultural prejudices (though I was earnest to work on them which is why I fled the so-called "polite" Southern fishbowl I grew up in" etc.  I wanted what NYC had to offer in cultural diversity, world views, styles, customs, etc.  Be careful what you wish for).

One afternoon I came home to the apartment and the monks were not there, or so I thought. The landlady had some strange rules that I was follow in her spirtual house and I politely (being much mannuh-ed) adhered to them, one of which was to keep my room door closed at all times even when I was home and even if I was not in the room. I heard raucous laughter coming from somewhere and like Goldilocks and the three bears it was "coming from myyyyyyyy room." I stormed through "myyyyyy door" to find the Pack sans robes, in blue jeans, shirts off, smoking away, shoes on "in myyyyyy bed!" They had found myyyy wine (the landlady wanted my wine in my room at all times since Buddhists, she told me, did not drink wine as it was against their religion to do so but since I was not a Buddhist I could drink wine in my room). One bottle was already empty and on the floor in the ground up cork particles giving evidence that the corkscrew had been a challenge...the other bottle (a really good and expensive bottle, mind) was nigh unto empty being passed quickly between them guzzling and glucking loudly and deeply, heads tilted far back as I've seen Tibetan trumpeters in ancient rituals blowing their long horns echoing through temple halls and over the walls into valleys below too deep to see the bottom of (talk about projections!!  Shangri La!! where I was very apparently NOT). 

Shocked, I stood frozen in place in the doorway looking from them to the shoes on the bed, the ashes on the sheets (and burn holes) and the floor, the wine spills, the empty bottle, my opened journals (before computers!), and did not know what to say as I felt my "mannuhs" recede into the rising reptilian brain rising up getting ready to strike). The pack leader, the smokeblower/ashflickter/fuckyou&daBuddhaNOT-REAL-ER dude, looked at me, smiled broadly and proffered the wine bottle to me shouting "Good wine!" (damned straight, I paid $20 bucks for that Saint Emillion) while the other two giggled gleefully. I grabbed the bottle, took a giant swig of it, offered it back to the leader, more laughter and applause. Nothing to be done. And thus the war, but not the mess and the pissy toilet and the phlegm balls, was over. And the oppositional/defiant attitudes did NOT diminish. But there was a truce. And acceptance that "the what we have here is the failure to communicate" heart of the matter had many cultural reasons which I knew not much about (being in my own country), their very different world and culture "and myyyyy very different to them world and culture" overlapped combustively and so in the end as through the ages wine became the great dissolver of such differences while thickening tongues and opening hearts.

My landlady never mentioned the mess these guys made and left all over the apartment. "They are," she told me with reverence after I had described in detail their "disgusting, disrespectful" habits and behaviors when she was not around, "enlightened beings AND they are very young. They take refuge in the Buddha and they take refuge here where Buddha, dirty Buddha, messy Buddha, angry Buddha, jean Buddha, precept-breaker Buddha lives. It is a privilege to clean up after them and I can undo some lousy karma along the way."

"My kinda religion," I said with contrition and conviction. And meant it. 

Small victories, I did manage to get my new "oppositional/defiant"-Tibetan-deities-acting-through-them
friends (yet another projection but projections are based in archetypes from which complexes derive, manifest and express) to take their shoes off when they freely helped themselves to my bed along with my wine, my tee shirts and jeans and anything in closets, trunks, chest of drawers, etc.  Privacy, I came to understand, in a monastery was not sacrosanct and possessions belonged to everyone.. Their cigarette ashes saturated my sheets and pillow cases, the room stank of stale cigarette smoke even though they brought me incense from their temple, good stuff it was, wood barks and such, which did paint over the tobacco gronk.

Eventually "the pack" was transferred to a monastery in Vermont. Last day I saw them there were handshakes and smiles all around. Each gave me gifts, malas, prayer beads, more incense, an image of the Guru signed by the Guru and, oddly, some used crayons and a pack of Salems (I did not smoke). Hugs and bows all around. One kid, Sonyam, cried and I cried. He left out the door still crying followed by his fellow who smiled the greater smile with his eyes, a smile I often conjure when all in my inner world is lost, rift, adrift, and bereft.. The leader smiled, bowed and as he walked through the door turned his head my way and shouted, "Don't eat meat! Meat bad!" to which I shouted, "Meat not real! eat or not eat is nothing really. No matter" and I heard their response to my response - laughing until the elevator door closed.

Sadly, empty, I opened my room door and saw that the room had been immaculately cleaned. The bed was well made. Clean new sheets and pillow cases! Four bottles, unopened, of red wine were on my desk where a stack of new notebooks which I used for my journals sat beside a photo of all three of them in Times Square at night out of their Buddhist robes, hair punked out, hipster as hell, cigs in mouths, bird fingers extended, jeans, tee-shirts, laughing grins while gesturing to the large billboard of a male model in briefs looming behind them.

My kinda religion.

I miss those punks. So when I saw this photo on Facebook this morning I immediately misted up, ruefully laughed, flipped a few Buddhist mind-ciggie-ashes (Salems of the mind) and actual bird fingers to the NOT REAL UNIVERSE and felt some REAL REAL LOVE.

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