11.03.2009

Dear Diary...

A fine metaphor occurred to me last night. It concerns my prime spiritual/psychological weakness. Some of you may not be interested, but I've decided to jump the shark with this blog and just turn it into my 14-year-old-style-diary.

When I played basketball with my dad, who was good at basketball, I knew he was letting me shoot when he could've blocked my shot, letting me dribble when he could've stolen it, etc. But around age 16, this stopped being fun. I wanted to compete against my dad's best game. Somewhere between 16 and 18, I got into a verbal fight with my dad about this problem. I must've been winning, and I said, "Dad, you're not trying your hardest! You don't have to let me win anymore!" But he insisted he was trying his hardest. My paranoia was the result of his (earlier) "faking it."

To explain my spiritual/psychological hang-up, I can use a situation like this. I am like the person who begins to pretend, for the sake of social smoothness, that I am something I'm not. But unlike my dad, who always knew whether he was faking it or playing his hardest, I play my fake game for so long that I literally forget that I'm faking it. [Side-thought: I wonder if there are any women who have gotten so good at faking orgasms that they begin thinking that they're having orgasms, and would answer "yes" if asked by a lie-detector, "are you having orgasms?" -- but who really aren't having orgasms.]

And I suspect I'm not alone. Yesterday, I mentioned that I feel bad about the fact that I respond to people who have "power" over me by smiling and nodding and being agreeable. That's my fake game. But I also think maybe the "game" I play with (say) my wife, is a kind of faking it. It feels real, in contrast to how I behave with (say) my boss... but I wonder.

This is Buddhism. And maybe it's "the kingdom of heaven." It's who you would be if there was no one to please, or who you would be if everyone were pleased by what you were. And this is paradoxical, of course.

In my imagination, "enlightenment" and "salvation" happen as moments in this life -- and they repeat. I'm not sure I agree with the Calvinists about the doctrine of "Perseverance of the Saints." I'm not sure I believe that there's such a thing as "total" enlightenment. When this experience comes, it comes by way of letting go -- letting go of the games you're playing, of all of them, all at once. And the reason it's a "salvation" of a kind is that in that experience, you realize that other beings will always be having that experience, that experience of "dropping it." What's left, of course, is no-self. Is nothing. But there's a communion in the realization of that, I think.

Anyway, when you have that experience of no-self, time keeps ticking. Reality keeps happening. It can only last a few minutes, or at most, a few days. Then, somebody starts urging you to "act normal," and although you find that confusing at first, they give you clues. You start behaving the way they expect you to behave (which is very similar to the way you were behaving before the salvation/enlightenment experience). In other words, having dropped the games, you discover almost immediately that it's more fun to start playing the games again than it is to just stand there with your nothingness.

And it's this, being lured back into "Maya," that keeps you out of the asylum. And that illusion lasts again until you realize that the Self is a collective projection. There's no "Self," no "me," only what all of you expect of me, and a willingness to participate in and as that.

So if I have a spiritual/psychological hang-up, it's in forgetting that Maya is Maya. But if I realize that, if I really am aware that that's my "thing," then maybe it's not a problem at all. What would you like to see me be? Just more of this? Don't you get bored? Always getting what's expected?

The next time you see somebody completely dazed-looking who claims to be bewildered by the pronouns "You" and "I," think carefully about how you participate in reconstructing him or her. Especially if he looks like "me."

6 comments:

Insignificant Wrangler said...

To quote Ry-thaniel's favorite line for ethos in professional writing: "fake it until you make it."

I do believe I take on imagine rolls in life. This year, I am trying to be both a graduate professor (at work) and a father (at home). I feel I am handling both roles fairly well, certainly with room for improvement.

To adopt a "condescending-friend-who-KNOWS-what-you-are-going-through" (and how unethical is that, Plato, to claim to know the soul of another?), such spiritual crisis accompanies impending parenthood. In the next few months, you will be completely convinced you 1) have never known anything, 2) that your parents are/were some kind of weird transcendent deity, and 3) that you are completely unprepared for an facet of existence. Given the impending sleep deprivation, #3 is probably right on point.

Of course, for an aspiring Buddhist, this might be a position of strength.

Casey said...

#1: check (ten years ago)
#2: check (two years ago)
#3: Yes: the part about Buddhism... being unprepared is maybe the best way!

You rhetoricians are really good at not getting stuck -- I say that in all earnestness. You seem to know when you're faking it. I admire that, because, as I said, I view my tendency to get so far into faking it that I forget i'm faking it as a weakness.

This morning I asked my students about their "Englishes." You know--the way they speak differently with friends than they do with parents. But then I got a surprising answer: I asked them, "Which English is your 'real' language?"

Unhesitatingly, they said, "The English we use with our friends."

And Ry-thaniel's advice for Professional Writing seems to assume something simliar: that the way we write/talk in professional settings is not really the way we write/talk.

But I think it might be. At least when I try to put my Rhetorician hat on, I feel like there's only faking it. Baby-talk is as fake as professional writing, and neither is less or more fake than the way I talk to Gretchen at dinnertime. Is it?

So whereas I feel like I "get stuck" in one discourse and start to imagine that it's the "real" discourse, ya'll Rhetoric people seem to shift between two or more "Englishes" but always have a good idea that one is "real" and one is "fake?" Is that right? But now I'm starting to feel like it's all fake.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Your complaint against professional writing pretty much rehashes the entire Greek v Roman debate. What is real, from the Roman/rhetoric side is what gets done. The emphasis is on action.

Also, remember that I started in psychoanalytical theory, with people like Zizek, Lacan, and Althusser. So for me, we are always, in a sense, faking it. This is actually one of the things that attracted me to rhetoric, its refusal to talk in terms of an objectifiable Real. I was reading some Zizek this morning, came across this, and thought of what I left on your blog earlier; this is Zizek summarizing why we don't pay attention to Althusser but instead focus on the debate between Habermas and Foucault:

"The point is not just that we must unmask the structural mechanism which is producing the effect of the subject as ideological misrecognition, but that we must as the same time fully acknowledge this misrecognition as unavoidable--that is, we must accept a certain delusion as a condition of our historical activity, of assuming a role as agent of the historical process."

As far as you have educated me, you Buddhists seem to accept delusion, but also seem to insist upon transcendence. We rhetoricians acknowledge that there is no spoon until you bend it, or until the spoon has deluded you into perceiving the possibility of a turn.

In other words, by turning to the personal, you did not jump the shark. The shark jumped you.

Casey said...

A very zen-like way to conclude this, Wrangler!

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Excellent! I have no idea what that means! This means I am improving, right?

Casey said...

No, it doesn't mean that. No such thing as "improvement." It just means you're changing.

On the other hand, it suggests that it's time for me to change too... which I hate. So it's kind of discouraging from my perspective if you're getting enlightened. I think it means I have to go read some Derrida or something.

I read about a book today called "Derrida, an Egyptian." (2004?)