"Leadbetter’s Cockatoo," in Edward Lear’s 1832 work Illustrations of the family of Psittacidæ, or Parrots. (Besides being an illustrator of nonsense, Lear was also an accomplished natural history painter.)
I. A little story, one of my favorites.
I mangle stories, so you may have heard a more elegant version of this, but the point is the same:
Someone asks Buddha, "So Buddha, you know how sometimes you wake up and everything is super clear: you see what you've been doing that's fucking yourself up and causing suffering all round, and you just know with certainty that you aren't going to do that anymore? And then you don't! What do you think about that?"
"Oh, that path to enlightenment is excellent," Buddha says. "Yes, this sort of liberation from illusion is a wonderful gift, like a clean sharp knife. Very beautiful. You will be able to help many people and yourself on the path to full awareness through this sudden clarity. Very fine indeed."
The questioner continues, "Well then, what about when you see what you're doing wrong and how you are creating suffering, but you just can't seem to make the changes you need to make. You keep trying and failing and getting disheartened... What about that?"
"Oh!" Buddha says. "Yes! That is a most excellent path to enlightenment! You truly come to understand the struggle and grow in compassion for others who also struggle. When the illusions drop away, that is even sweeter. I highly recommend this way of cultivating awareness. Through this practice, you will be able to help yourself and other people very well. Yes, very good, very fine."
"OK," continues our friend, "What about when you just don't think you're doing anything wrong. You blame everyone else and you make excuses for yourself and you just keep on suffering and causing suffering."
And Buddha exclaims, "Excellent! Yes, this is one of the best paths to awakening. When you finally get it, you will really, really get it because you have so thoroughly gone all the way into suffering. This is a very great practice toward enlightenment. You will surely help yourself and other people greatly by taking this path."
II. Three Things I Know about Being Single, Upon Ten Years of Reflection
1. You have to do everything yourself.
2. You get to do everything yourself.
III. And a Fourth Thing
Every so often, the time comes to gather your inner resources, face your fear and loathing, and ask for help.
IV. Thinking in the Shed
Last night I read Malcolm Bradbury's very funny short novel Cuts (1987), about a silly man named Henry who spends all day in his little shed, writing, until he gets sucked into writing for television, during Maggie Thatcher's reign. Before he gets sucked in, however,
"There were moments when Henry was glad he was a writer, for writers could live in their own minds and didn't have to go outside at all."
As he explains to an interviewer, ""Writing is mostly thinking, I find.'"
Which all reminds me of me.
V. Scampering toward Leopard
Yes, my point is, I am enormously proud of myself:
Today I caught a whiff of enlightenment (freedom from the illusion of fear), stopped thinking, and went outside my little shed, as it were, to the Apple store.
There, I asked for help doing something I would definitely have put off onto someone else if there had been someone else I could put it off onto.
[This is me and the Holy Spirit dancing on the way to the Mac Shop, by Edward Lear.]
Though the Apple boys and girls are unfailingly kind and helpful, in the store I feel that same queasy fear I felt trying to figure out public transportation in Istanbul.
And when I have to do things to my computer, I experience the primeval fear of things blowing up, coupled with the more modern fear of very expensive things shuddering to a complete and irreversible halt.
(You who are computer literate will perhaps not comprehend my fear when I tell you that I was only upgrading my operating system.)
I try to avoid those queasy feelings.
However, one of the neat things I've learned living alone is that if there's no one else to do something I really, really want done, I will do it. Eventually.
What I really want is to put words, pictures, music, and motion together, and since this summer, I was finding there're programs to help me do that (like GIMP, the free alternative to photoshop) that I can't download because my OS is out of date.
So now I've installed Leopard, I can! The nice young man at the store told me how. He didn't even laugh at all.
(I think the language is part of the fear factor. "Installing Leopard." Doesn't that sound like you should have to know something--something dangerous--to do that?
Instead it consists, as you know, of putting a DVD in my laptop and clicking "install." It could more rightly be called Folding Laundry or something.)
Anyway, as Buddha might say, there are three ways of getting to the Apple shop: right away, later, or maybe in your next life.
They are all excellent, all very fine. All will lead to a good story to tell, and if you can't make it on iMovies, you can always draw it in the dirt with a stick.
Thus concludes the lesson for today.