zen and the art of telling a woman…

… that being strong, smart, and funny is not a come-on.

This might be the flip side of yesterday’s post.  Or not.

A long time ago, just after DOS and before Google, I discovered and inhabited several message boards.  Some were putatively professional; all were mainly entertainment.  Those were exciting times of vitriolic flamings, on-line romances (none of which I partook) and the occasional useful discussion on the merits of catch-and-release on rainbow trout populations in Montana.  After one particularly vicious skirmish, I sought refuge with a psychologist colleague and tried to determine what I had done to provoke the imprecations about my sexual mores.  I wanted him to know under no uncertain terms that I had not, repeat had not, been acting in a way that could have been interpreted as sexual.  I was a lapsed Catholic, for goodness sake, who still practiced guilt fervently.  His response shocked me: “So what?”  So what?  “That’s right.  So what if you had been flirtatious or even – heavens – brazen?”

I did what I always do when I don’t like the direction a deconstruction is going.  I got a second opinion.  This one arrived from a friend who had witnessed the online exchanges.  The long and short of his explanation was that women who project a “strong, smart, funny” persona sometimes are seen as “seductive.”  (“Seductive” was not his word, by the way.)  It apparently has something to do with feeling emasculated if bested by a “girl” in an intellectual battle.  The upshot of it all is that it’s easier to cast aspersions on the female’s sexual morals than to say, “You’re wrong.  So there!”  I trusted his opinion because not only does he earn his living deconstructing language, he is the owner of an intellectually formidable male brain.

Thankfully, my online days ended soon thereafter and the issue became moot.  But over time, in the RL, I’ve learned to tread carefully as the “strong, smart, funny” persona elicits a very different response than the “i-need-help” or “i-need-rescuing.”  (For the record, I don’t have an “i-need-rescuing” persona; it’s more like “shut-up-and-listen-because-i’m-trying-to-drain-the-swamp” persona.)

Zen content:   Schireson describes Zen Women who don’t permit rescuing.  They face rejection after rejection from the Zen masters they approach hoping to be accepted as students.  They fight to be seen for who they are: strong, smart, funny – vibrant, devoted, and yes, even sexual.  They accept being sent home to care for family as part of their commitment to following the path.  And they return to the Zen master when they have met their familial obligations.  They didn’t beg, plead, offer their bodies or spirit to get their way; they neither asked for help nor needed to be rescued from injustice by anyone.  Not only could they “not afford to take (perceived or actual) inequity personally,” they had to “let go of (their) demand that Buddhism meet (their) needs perfectly.”

Strength of practice is in not letting actions or judgments of others direct the way we want to be in relationship.  Buddhism as a practice of the relational enhances the dynamic tension between the “strong, smart, funny” and the “i-need-help” aspects of self. That’s a mouthful of a sentence.  Simply put: our commitment to save all beings has us sensitive to “help-me-rescue-me” vibes.  If unaware of this tendency, we can and will fall prey to bolstering our own value through the vulnerability of the Other.  And we will miss the power of relating through the strong, smart, funny nature we share.

“Strong, smart, funny” says we’re in charge of our own way of being, open to a boundless relating.

It’s not a come-on.

It’s an invitation to the Other to meet as an equal.

Thank you for practising,


zen and the art of telling a man…

…he’s a really good friend.

There has been a confluence of blog posts in the last few days that have me wondering if my practice has turned me into a buddhablob.  It started with Nate’s post Happy Bodhi Day 2009 on Precious Metal and that darned cute picture of a bodhi-mas tree.  I got all warm and fuzzy thinking about how special it was for him.  That should have been the first sign of impending disaster: as sincere as my wishes to Nate are, I’m not the warm and fuzzy type.  Never mind those Beanie Babies on my bookshelf; they are leftovers from the days I thought I would be able to finance my daughter’s education by hoarding BB’s and selling them on Ebay.  After the Great Beanie Crash of ’99, I switched back to unicorns – if you think they’re cute, you’ve never seen what a unicorn horn can do to protect a virgin.

Then there was John’s post on Orc-Sex.  Whatever merit I had accrued from my practice over the last 10 years got sacrificed faster than anyone can Google kama sutra. I hit ‘publish comment’ and then read my comment – some people reverse letters, I go one better.  There She was.  I must admit, I’ve missed me: that Me who had an opinion, who leapt fearlessly if somewhat stupidly into a fray, who rarely let a bunch of gentleman-folk talking about sex, drink and fly fishing (or visualizations) stop her from joining in, who gets really perplexed by the weird reaction when she sends a letter that says “Dear Joe, I want you to know I’ve always treasured our friendship…”

I can thank Barry from Ox Herding for the insight that I can blame my gender-blindness and its consequences on not being held enough as a child.  And on growing up with 5 boys (cousins) and one older brother.  Which is why I have not figured out that men think differently from women about relationships.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not like I’ve had an indulgence of men falling for me.  Hell, there are a number of women who shall go nameless who now have all the men I didn’t even know I was meant to love and leave.  So when a guy comes along who becomes a good buddy… and I really did treasure his friendship… when he says “let’s go fly fishing,” how was I to know … (Note to Self: G-rated blog; stop before you have to say you’re sorry!)

It occurs to me that in getting past the wormy confusion of misconstrued exchanges, I may have taken this practice of “mindful living” a bit to far.  Don’t get me wrong (again): I hate that cutesy, flower child speak I hear that passes for loving kindness or conflict avoidance that passes for consensus.  But when did equanimity become a refusal to engage in relationships that are edgy, challenging, and meaningful in ways that I don’t think uni-gendered relationships can be?

It’s tough being a gender-blind female in a world that is relationally bimodal by gender.  Whether assimilated or segregated, you become outcast to some aspect of the relational.  Schireson makes that point really clear in Zen Women.  Early “female Zen masters” are portrayed in the same image and idiom as male Zen masters, as chang-fu – manly men.  Assimilated into the male, they have no relational markers of being female; even Schireson fails to find the female version of Zen “master” other than to use the male term and avoid using its antonym, “mistress.”  Where they aren’t chang-fu but segregated in their female role, women who became fully realized in their Zen practice have complicated, entangled lives riddled with misconstrued relationships to self and (usually male) Others. It’s enough to make a grown woman cry.

I enjoyed Kyle’s post on the Reformed Buddhist and though it was all in good fun, it made me wonder if, in building meaningful sanghas, we’re doomed to end up with smoking rooms and sewing circles (notwithstanding or perhaps thankfully for the Lady Lamas).

The secret to the Zen art of telling a man he’s a good friend lies deep in the watery cave of the Nagas.  It’s the esoteric last verse of the Prajnaparamita: form cannot be sacrificed for interbeing.  So, before I convince myself that the Buddha had it right when he separated male and female disciples because otherwise it just would have been a (t)horny mess, I think I’ll take up fly fishing again.

Thank you for practising,