We got back from New York City late last night and it’s promising to be a crazy week. I had all these expectations of sharing deep and meaningful themes about not sleeping in the City That Apparently Doesn’t or about the Hakuin Exhibit or about the powerful lessons gleaned from watching the NYC Marathon. But….
Into everyone’s life a little New York City must fail. No, that’s not a typo. The last time I was in NYC, I was 14 years old. Armed with a Kodak Instamatic and all the worldly-wisdom of a teenager, I took dozens of pictures of the city and the prints lie fading in an album somewhere under my altar. I do remember Rockefeller Center but not much else. What lasted as a memory though was a very brief moment with the guide at the NBC studios. After a mock TV interview, he smiled a million-dollar smile and said, “You should be on TV!” The delusion that I might carried me along many years until I did one day end up on TV for an interview and learned a harsh lesson about the fickleness of human appraisal.
Well, sounds like a cliché but returning several decades later, I fell in love with New York. Not all of it. Just the parts that failed. In a city that demands you look-see at everything (we were in a hotel on Times Square), it was disconcerting that no one actually looked or saw anyone. What I did see was stunningly beautiful and profoundly distressing. The Hakuin Exhibition, of course, was breath-taking (and I’ll write more later this week when the dust settles and I actually process some of my notes). The iconic looming buildings, the unrelenting onslaught of things to be desired was exhausting. (OK, I did go into H&M and avoided Sak’s, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s – and who can resist Tiffany’s!) Chinatown baffled me but the Brooklyn Bridge took my heart; I feel like I’m cheating on the Golden Gate Bridge with a shorter lover!
Then there were the rag-tag clusters of kids, the homeless men and women, and at the corner of 5th Avenue and someplace sat a mother and child holding a sign “lost my job and homeless.” The young girl with a sign that read: Stranded in NYC and want to go home. The skeptic in me says I’m not really seeing a woman and her child “starving and homeless.” Any more than I can see whether the kids skateboarding are neglected future troublemakers or the man leaning on the garbage bin truly is drugged, drunk, or mentally ill. I am blind, not knowing what is my blindness.
It’s easy to get tangled in my expectations despite knowing that reality in any huge city is not uniformly neat and tidy. It’s easy to fall back on practice as a way of avoiding that gut-wrenching sensation that we are leaning too much one way and not enough another. And being fundamentally blind, like those blind men on the log bridge, I tangle in and trip easily on my wants and wishes. And perhaps that’s why I love what fails me. That’s the edge of my practice. It’s as easy as falling off a log – if I let myself.
Thank you for practising,
Edit: Please visit Ox Herding today as well for another of Barry’s terrific teachings on practice: Notes on Buddhism, 2. My favourite line: “Practice plunges us into reality, which often is not welcome.”