Thursday, 8 February 2018

You Damn Well Can Do Something About It

This week I encountered a piece of apparent fluff from The Stranger, Seattle's edgier (or maybe just more sophomoric) alternative newspaper. And as often happens in The Stranger, it turned out to be hard-hitting insightful fluff.

A Playlist for the Brokenhearted is a Valentine's Day laundry list of good hurtin' songs for the damaged, courtesy of Sean Nelson. (By the way, Sean, if you see this: pretty much the entire Magnetic Fields catalogue. Not just Smoke and Mirrors. I Don't Want to Get Over You. I Don't Believe You. You Must Be Out Of Your Mind. I Don't Believe in the Sun. Seriously. Throw a dart.)

Seems like a throwaway premise, until you start the half-page preamble, which turns out to be an extended Zen contemplation on a "little morsel of non-insight" that crushed people are often thrown:

"The past is past. Nothing you can do about it now."

Regular readers know that facile responses to suffering are one of my detonators. And the writer goes on to vivisect this one with literary power, even citing at one point an early work by Alan Watts. (Is Nelson a Zenner? He writes like one. Not a Baby Boomer Western Zen "When Things Fall Apart" mandarin, but a gritty younger guru-sceptic "Hardcore Zen" type, from our invisible-but-still-next generation.)

The text amounts to a didactic consideration of the philosophical ramifications of love – something the Buddha suggested we'd be better off just not doing. But we're gonna do it, since it's our nature. It's also about forgiveness – of others, of ourselves, of love itself. To which end he offers his mixtape, as a means to revisit and reanalyse the reader's specific train wreck.

So I'll just let you savour it yourself. There's much to appreciate, even if the playlist itself turns out to be beyond your tastes or knowledge. (Again, you'll find the Stranger article here.)

In the meantime, I'd like to drop a bomb of my own:

You damn well can do something about it.

As William Faulkner famously said, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

Yeah, the events – and often the people – that hurt you have fled into the past, where you can't reach them.

But the suffering is right here and right now. Where you can totally kick its butt.

The fact that Zen is all about here and now leads some to imagine it means ignoring the wrongs and wounds of the past; to insist they're not alive, not important, not still banging around out there causing suffering in all directions.

If that were so, Zen would be a pointless New Age pipe dream.

So let me be perfectly clear: You damn well can do something about the pain, regardless of what caused it or when. You can make it bearable, which is the same as declawing it. You can even turn it into insight, forgiveness, fulfilment, contentment. And in a very concrete sense, you can go back into the past, to the place where the past lives, and pull it out by the roots.

Many paths will take you there, but I advocate zazen as a good start and the foundation of a lifetime practice.

I also advocate Zen and Buddhist insight into the origin and nature of emotional pain.

Most of all, I advocate awakening to the fundamental nature of reality and our own existence.

It works.

Peace and progress to all brother and sister seekers.


(Art from Sean's article in The Stranger.)
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