My beautiful partner Teresa suggested I write a blog post about how I move through the world, about comedy, and being a kind of goofy alien walking around. I don’t think many of the people who read my blog know me very well, or know that part of me. So I wanted to let them into my process a bit.
First of all, I want to say that it Is okay to not be like everyone else. It is okay to be different. To live life In a different beat. To process things differently than others. It is okay to feel like an alien sometimes. These are my people. It’s okay to redefine how to interact with life. This has been a major inspiration in my life. A kind of life art project. Being a person burning too hot, creatively, artisticly merging with life saved me, and I want to encourage people to be visionary, to find their own way. It’s okay to be a fool sometimes. After all, being a Baka (fool in Japanese) is a big compliment in Zen.
Life is hilarious. I am always making jokes. Always saying something outrageous. Something shocking. Something silly. I think it has helped keep my marriage happy. Keep close with my girls. I love physical outrageousness. I love unexpected exaggerations. And I am very physical, emotional, very affectionate. I wrestle the girls, and we get pretty out of control. I make sure no one gets hurt, but it gets pretty outrageous. The intensity and fun accelerates in one second. The girls love it! We get amped up quick! My true speed seems to be redlined!
I think I am a goofy life dancer. I like to improvise as I move and talk and mess about in life. One time in a college class a student said to me he could not tell where I was from, like my gestures did not seem to fit anywhere. This was of course my goal. This was my game. The professor, who had studied at Julliard, said about me: “He is a budding actor”. I never became an actor, but I think I kept on a similar track. I became a movement artist and teacher, trying to break up the rust in people. I like exploring. Exploring moving and interacting. (My wife is an actress, and she is amazing, by the way! I am in awe of her intelligence. I could never do what she does!)
In my life, I had a ferocious passion inside of me which took me to Japan to be able to explore how to yield it and get ahold of it and not be pummeled by it. I felt like I could not move forward or back. I knew only extremes. I was an exposed nerve. Raw. I needed space, I needed time and space to feel it all and let it through. When I first started sitting, I would leave the zendo and literally bound in joy around the dirt and gravel driveway around the zendo. And I saw with the Roshi someone who was moving from a different place. A place of wild uninhibited freedom. In that, I saw possibility. I saw what it is to be a blank slate and open up to life and move from a liberated place. And also I saw someone super intense and shining and joyful. Before I met him, I felt that no one could handle me or my intensity. Meeting him gave me permission to be myself.
I also saw this wild joy in the people I admired in the monastery. It was like we were all becoming children again. There was light all around, and it was infectious.
Interacting with the world, with the present moment in a creative way, is surprising, unexpected. It is not doing it like everyone else. It is playing with how to do it. Challenging the norms. There is playfulness there! Like, maybe I will walk down to the grocery store. The expectation is to walk down the street with certain predictable mannerisms. But it is so fascinating to play with those expectations. I’m really not sure what will happen as I walk. Being inside of what is happening, falling in love with that process, gives more freedom of inventing things as we encounter life. This is not an idea. It’s a physical process. It can’t be faked. I am not just talking about movement, but our relationship to reality as we move through space in this life. I can assure you, it is malleable. We see over time, some rules can be bent or broken or dissolved.
I think that is part of the Kufu of life. The same Kufu we discover and work with in our practice can be explored in our lives. It must. It is part of the play. And we can keep going into this for a long time. Finding more freedom as we become our lives and drop our assumptions. Our ideas of good and bad, or small mindedness. Letting that go, encountering things fresh. I’m not just talking about comedy. I’m talking about freedom, and it keeps deepening.
I can say that this playfulness, this freshly encountering things, has been my main way of healing in this life. To begin to move without assumptions, to allow life to mold you. To find harmony, be led by deeper forces. To see that there is something much more interesting happening if we can listen. In fact, I’m not sure where the line between healing and play and comedy and zazen are anymore. I feel like a fool. A giddy fool.
Yesterday we went to the beach. We live on an island in the Salish Sea. It’s beautiful here, although the water is not warm, all of that Alaskan water coming down the coast to cool us down. When we got there, I maniacally ran out into the water, kind of soldier clownish, kind of over wild enthusiastic. A bit unhinged. This is kind of my inner way of being, which I don’t show all of the time, but I let it out a bit running into the water. Later when Teresa, grinning, came out into the water, she said the families and kids at the beach were staring at me, not knowing what to make of me. “Is he okay? Is someone drowning? Is he joking?”
I actually think I could have had a career in comedy. It is a short trip for me to get pretty out there severe and wild! Severing the safety line feels right. Playing the maverick. And I think that wildness is very shocking for some people. I think comedy is intelligent shocking. Being funny is being smart. Being a bit too wild at the right moment. Startling. I like to push that edge. It feels right.
My kids’ friends don’t know what to do with me. We were at a conference last Spring and I made a joke in a wild voice about the dancing going all night and several kids looked at me like I was an alien! A bit too out there! Too much intensity. Unexpected! My kids are just used to it!
But also the kids around while we go camping can’t stay away from me. I got the wild fun bug. Fun cooties. Somehow I’m a badminton all-star. A water frisbee maniac. Where we went camping there was this shallow bay. I couldn’t help but run and dive for the frisbee way too dramatically. I thought it was so funny to just let it loose. Let things rip. Something in me needs exploding. Am I one of the kids? Or some feral homeless man stumbled upon the scene?!
At that campsite there is a huge forest swing. Somehow, I felt so compelled to just rage on there and be a bit too reckless. I had to tone it down to be a good example for the kids, but my true nature is daredevil forest swing guy. In that, I had almost forgotten, I realized I don’t really have a break, I’ve got a gas pedal and I want to floor it!
Comedy is startling. Comedy is rock n roll. Comedy is rebellion.
I make up little songs when I hear my wife say things. That started a couple of years ago. Just hearing little songs when people speak. I can’t explain that. Something happened with my way of processing sound that I make up little songs all of the time now by what people say. Like, normal phrases are just musical to me now. It’s really interesting. I don’t know what to make of it. I always make up little songs. Little songs to the girls. I think it’s funny. Being strange, being untamed.
I’m very audio in my processing of life. In my early training I used to hear the energy, hear the samadhi coming in the zendo in Japan. I could sense it coming, crawling up out of the pathway by the O haka (cemetery) by the zendo. I could hear it, humming and descending through me as I met it and melded into this bigger process. How about you. Is there something coming through the air bumping into you trying to open you up? What assumptions are blocking that?
As we allow life through us more and more, interesting things begin to happen. Sometimes I am awoken in the middle of the night and I hear people’s dreams. I can hear the dreams of my kids and my wife. I think the barrier between minds is not thick. Is permeable. This may seem a surprise, but that’s just our small thinking.
The same creativity, the same inventiveness we find in our sitting, in our standing, we can explore that inventiveness in daily life. We find a way to merge with life, just as we find a way to merge with our zazen. The assumptions I hold are the stuck places in my system. The rebelliousness, the rebellious artistry of opening up to our zazen translates to everything we do. And I can say that the rabbit hole just keeps going deeper. It just gets more fun and mysterious. With time, we see that we are walking around a luminous field of empty phenomena. Out true nature is bright. Where do our assumptions land in this field of light?
Thinking differently, experiencing the world in a creative way, this spawns a different type of learning. Of meeting life as absorption play. This way of relating, I have found very attractive and stimulating in my life. The idea that we can discover new things, invent life as we experience it, uncover the veil, this is very important. Learning, stepping into the unknown, living on fire. This is so exciting. So precious. So I am trying to play with that in my life. I just walk around and invent what is happening and receive this great life energy and play. In a way I feel more akin to wild butoh dancers than stiff meditators. I’m not perfect at this. I’m just a goofy burning artist hoping to reveal something humorous, sublime, and unexpected. To share a bit of my process and tell a few of you that I get it and to please keep going. And if anyone tells you that you are too intense, look at me, a maniac fool on fire running into the ocean.