I wrote this for my Zen midterm (the prompt: “write anything”). It was compiled in about an hour, so it’s not The Best. Also, it wasn’t written for people who read this all the time, so it’s pretty much a rehashing of a lot of things I’ve said here- it might get repetitive. Read at your own risk.
The Dualism of Everything
A Western upbringing, Zen, sub-vocalization, lucid dreaming, and death- five different topics, right? Not necessarily. They’re all intimately related as facets of the grand dualism between everything. Everything has two sides, and the best way to live is to strike a balance between them.
I was raised in a traditional upper-middle-class American family. Two parents, two kids, three houses in increasingly upscale suburbs as the years passed. An excellent public school system, then a well-renowned Catholic high school. A lawyer father and a graphic designer mother. My family’s love and support, my tremendous education, and enough resources to fill my every material need prepared me to do whatever I want. Now I’m in a top-notch college, studying computer science. I could become an entrepreneur, start the next Google, and make billions. I could become a world-renowned researcher and develop the next algorithm that’s used in computers all over the world. I could go into politics, writing, engineering—maybe not literally “whatever I want”, but at least close. I have ambition, ability, dedication, and all sorts of other traits that sound good in a job interview.
That’s one side of the equation.
But people who go straight for the money, people who pursue fame and fortune, always end up sad, right? So there’s another side to life. It’s the unselfish, ambitionless, powerless, meek, content, and caring side. It’s the side that doesn’t care if you don’t get the job, or even if you get the job but royally screw something up- you’re appreciated anyway. The side that’s not so much about being yourself as it is about being nobody. Being part of the grand unity of everything. You’re not a special little cupcake; you’re the same as everyone else. But it’s okay!
So there’s the other side.
For clarity, let’s call the first side of everything “Western” and the second “Eastern.” I figure these labels are as good as any. I’ve considered “conservative” and “liberal”, but those have too many associations with current politicians; “masculine” and “feminine”, but that’s a whole different ball of wax; and “yang” and “yin,” but I’m not entirely sure if that’s the same idea, and I’d hate to appropriate religious terms and then misuse them a bunch. (Is it the same? Maybe I should start saying yang and yin)
The point is, I feel like I know the worldly, Western side of life, pretty well, but I’m downright befuddled as to the Eastern side. What is it? The Christian church (the only one I’ve really known- and I’ve seen a couple sides, Methodist and Catholic) tosses the word “love” out there, and just lets it fill the space. Love of God, love of one’s neighbor. The Christian goes to church every week to proclaim, or at least convince himself, that he loves God a lot. Maybe he’s got a nice family and some good friends too, and he can love them. But as half of life itself, that seems pretty shallow. I like to ski a lot, and I feel like it’s more than just a sensory pleasure. There’s some deep, Eastern significance to learning to do something well, and doing what you love, God and all other people aside. I think.
So how does this all relate to Zen? I don’t know much about Zen, or any Eastern religion, but it seems like they tend to revolve around the “Eastern” parts of life- becoming “one with everything,” losing yourself, finding nirvana. (Meanwhile, the Western religions focus on doing good works so St. Peter will let you through the pearly gates- again, working hard to attain something.) It seems like this Eastern enlightenment is something you can’t attain by working at it. Which is why it’s so hard for a Western kid like me.
When I meditate, there are constantly words going through my head. I feel like I haven’t thought a thing unless I’ve put it into words. Maybe this slows me down while I’m reading, maybe not- that’s beside the point. I see this sub-vocalization as just another way I try to control everything around me and work harder to get to the next goal. Also, while I’m meditating, why don’t I think about something useful to get something done, instead of wasting a half hour? See, I consciously realize that that’s nonsense- the point of meditation is to sit there and NOT do anything. But I can’t seem to tell that to my subconscious mind.
At any rate, I’m trying too hard, thinking too hard, and trying to develop a capacity to lose myself, to fully exist in a moment, and to love. So here’s where the last couple of points come in, and why I think I still have a chance at achieving some sort of happy balance in life. First of all, I had a lucid dream the other night. I didn’t do anything unusual- I went flying for a bit, and it was really exhilarating- but I remember thinking that I can’t concentrate too hard on any one thing or I’ll wake up and lose it all. I was able to exist in this not-concentrating-but-still-existing-and-enjoying state for a few minutes, and that’s the kind of thing I’d like to be able to do more. It was pretty euphoric.
Also, I’m somewhat unafraid of death, as came up in class. I’ve dreamt about dying a few times, and it’s always peaceful. I realize that, when I die, everything I’m trying so hard to accomplish won’t matter. I think that, the more I keep that in my mind, the more I’ll be able to accept the little things that come up, and the happier I’ll be.
Ultimately, it’s all about balance, just like everything else. Keeping my life in balance between the ambitious Westerner and the peaceful Easterner seems to be the key to happiness. But the more I put it into words, and the more I think about it, the more I just don’t get it, because there are some things you can’t figure out by thinking really hard. So I’ll stop now.
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