Waking Up Is Hard to Do

Do you have trouble sleeping?  Is your life a nightmare punctuated with happy non-sequiturs?  Are you trapped in a dead-end job or a lackluster marriage?  Well, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t help you.

The “waking up” alluded to in the title of this post is not the usual kind most of us have to do every morning, Tasered into consciousness by an alarm clock or cattle-prodded into twitchy alertness by a nagging spouse.  It’s meant to refer to the enlightenment that attends an “awakening” in the practice of Buddhism, something I’ve yet to experience and don’t expect to any time soon, if ever.

Before you read any further, perhaps under the mistaken impression that you’re about to be guided through the wonders of effective meditation and the naturally-imbued evolution of consciousness, let me say that I’m hardly an expert in these matters.  I consider myself a permanent beginner.  This isn’t so much out of humility as incompetence.  I’m not a guru, just a regular guy–occasionally irregular, if you factor in heartbeat and bowel movements–who’s trying to make sense of his life while there’s still time.  Believe me, it’s been an uphill struggle most of the way.

I can’t pretend to understand a lot of the things I’ve read about Zen Buddhism, a practice that transcends verbal thought and aims to take you to the essence of things by circumventing language.  I’ve always enjoyed using language–including vulgarity. You might even say I’m addicted to it.  Aren’t we all?

But there’s also something incredibly refreshing about silence, and I wish I had more of it in my life.  Not just in my mind, with its incessant chaotic river of verbiage, but in my home and the outside world as well.  I used to listen to a lot of music, which I sometimes miss, but now I don’t.  I still have some CD’s and could play the radio through the computer; I just can’t be bothered anymore.

My wife Jina is also prejudiced against most music these days, convinced as she is that it is a by-product of Satan’s voluminous anus.  I beg to differ, much as I think she might be right about Korean ballads and the contemporary Christian garbage she infiltrates her already God-conquered and church-colonized brain with.  Since these days she usually listens to it in the living room with the door closed, I don’t make a stink.

Also, when you’ve been stuck in a broken record of a marriage for many years, after awhile you just raise the white flag and admit defeat.  You have to let the other person win arguments and petty squabbles, even if you’re choking on indigestible chunks of crow.  Otherwise you’ll give yourself a stroke, or at least a sore throat.

The other day when I came home from teaching a group of businessmen in the morning and meeting the beautiful young managers from the other company I work part-time for, who are so cool and trusting that they’re giving me a new class to teach for them without even having to sign a contract (I’ll let you know later which party gets burned–just kidding; I trust them too, even though the company they work for is just as evil and indifferent to the human suffering it simultaneously alleviates and produces as your garden-variety oversized corporation; one mitigating factor, perhaps:  at least it’s only national and not trans-), either of whom I would happily ask on a date if I weren’t married and not even mind the sting of rejection from, they’re so nice and charming–long hair, sparkling eyes, lovely smiles–the works–

Anyway, when I got home from my pow-wow with these two captivating powerhouses of thwarted desire, I was alarmed by an ominous hum emanating from the vicinity of my apartment building.  I tried to trace where the sound was coming from, immediately recognizing it as a cloud of fanatical Korean Christian mosquitoes chanting the word “hallelujah” at a million miles per hour.  For that analogy I’m indebted to Mr. Jack Nicholson in the film The Last Detail, which is one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve ever seen.

My eldest brother took my middle brother and me to see the movie when I was nine years old, even though it was rated “R”, meaning restricted for anyone under the age of seventeen.  I might have even gotten in for free–I’m not sure–as I waded through the forest of walking human trees and sneaked into the darkened theater to marvel at the wonders of grown men swearing, drinking beer, and engaging in the kinds of comfortably corrupt behaviors that made becoming an adult feel like such a worthy goal.

In the movie, there’s a scene in which Jack Nicholson’s character says of a group of Sokka Gakai worshippers (or Nichiren Buddhists, if you prefer) chanting their collective mantra “nam yo ho rengye kyo” at a meeting in Greenwich Village, “Sounds like a bunch of mosquitoes.”

Only the mosquitoes that I overheard might as well have been on crystal meth.  I sighed and rolled my eyes for the billionth time in my sarcastic excuse for a life and trudged up the steps of my apartment, only to realize the sound was coming from the apartment directly under mine.

A few of you might have read a post I wrote a few days ago about the nefarious little dogs who live upstairs from me.  At least they had the decency to be quiet this time, although they might have barked at me as I entered the stairwell–I forget.  Otherwise it would feel like being the meat in the middle of a sandwich made in hell.

(The sky, I neglected to mention above was and still is the color of baking soda in water.  I couldn’t and can’t see the mountains beyond the building where I live, as if they’d been eaten by pollution’s vast appetite–another stolen line–that one from Woody Allen–two in one post!  I’d better start making some serious money so I’ll be able to pay for all these lawsuits.  The cryptically mystical, pestilential miasma makes me feel like a character in Ingmar Bergman’s classic film The Seventh Seal, about either the bubonic plague or the Black Death.  Whenever I leave my apartment I think, “I forgot my cotton face mask–rats!”)

Unlocking the door to my apartment, I greeted my wife and said, “The crazy people downstairs are at it again.  Can you hear them?”

To give you an idea of what a flake she is, she said, “They’re not crazy.  Maybe I should join them.”

Denial works in strange ways.

I’ll have to save the protracted argument we had yesterday for a later post.  I’ve got to get ready to go to church.  I’ve got a few questions to ask Jesus.  He’d better be on his toes.




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