Lots of food last time, so foodless this week. Also, I’ve been reading more Bill Bryson, which may have influenced this post. It’s another departure from the “norm,” whatever that may be in this blog about food and travel and science and disease and the misery of Olympia and weird stuff and remarkable people.
I’m considering becoming a part-time guru. Here’s why:
For much of my mature adult life – which started, oh, in my 50s some time – I’ve found myself offering advice to any number of younger people who seemed to want it. We’ve talked about any number of things – life decisions, the nature of reality, extra dimensions of spacetime curled up in tiny places – and after this kind of ice-breaking small talk we start exploring what’s really important to them. I may have won this role because I’ve been a writer all my life, which means researching everything from astrophysics and quantum dynamics to the standardized angle of pitch of the threads on 1880’s machine screws and the ingredients in a 1980s Dunkin’ Donuts cake donut after they stopped using lard (all true!). I’m grateful that my hundreds of clients over the years sent me off in so many different directions of exploration, no matter how trivial or esoteric or self-serving, and that I’ve also had plenty of “me” time to dig into what’s really intrigued me that doesn’t involve screws and lard, so when all is said and done I’ve learned a lot.
Factor in all the novels I’ve written and a high school textbook, a couple of dozen crossword puzzles, the television shows, radio comedy, a dozen plays, stories, blog posts, poems… if this sounds like bragging, it really is. I’ve had a blast doing all these things (plus all the road trips)! But I also just turned 70 and if I’d done absolutely nothing for 70 years but clip my toenails and spit watermelon seeds at squirrels I’d still have some eminence grise. By dint of being, well, 70, gray, and predominantly vertical.
(from dalailama.com) (Siddhartha)
So the trick is, when does this mashup of acquired knowledge become anything akin to wisdom? I don’t know, but if I were to become a part-time guru, I’d need to be wise. I’ve read the Tao Te Ching and some of the Dalai Lama’s works and know that within the broad reach of Buddhism wisdom is elusive stuff indeed (unless you’re Siddhartha/Buddha and his reincarnates). And they’ll tell you, if you think you’re wise, you’re not. If you believe you’re somehow exalted, you’re not. So, I think the best path toward any semblance of wisdom is to assume that it’s not available to you.
But still, I’ve helped more than a few people navigate through rocky relationships and doomed marriages, just by listening and gently counseling (“He’s not nice to you? Boot him out!”). They’ve thanked me, and I’ve charged them nothing. I’ve helped others who’ve suffered through depression or a complete meltdown of their self-esteem, and again, it’s free. That’s how real gurus should act — share their smarts at no cost.
The mountaintop experience
Remember Luke Skywalker at the very end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens? He’s at the top of a very steep, pointy island as the girl climbs endless stone steps to present him with his old light saber. Luke says nothing to her. He doesn’t take the light saber. He just stands there with his eminence grise, being terribly wise, being inactive (nonaction, by the way, is a very Tao kind of behavior). It was a classic guru moment.
So you do the same thing. Find a place of considerable elevation, like the top of Mount Battie. Assume the lotus position. Ponder imponderables. Seek favor in the clouds that scud by. And here comes a fleshy middle-aged woman whose cheeks are streaked with tears, struggling up the last few paces. She sits as you do, breathing heavily from the exertion of the climb.
“You’ve come a long way,” you say. That’s the ice-breaker.
“They say you’re wicked smaht.”
You smile nearly imperceptibly.
“I came to you because I feel my life has lost meaning.”
You pause for some seconds before saying, “I will think on this.”
And you do. Your body relaxes and your eyelids slowly droop, shutting out the maya (“illusion”) of the physical world around you so that your mind can chew on the word “life” and mix it with the face of your visitor, the tear stained cheeks. You can feel the moisture on your own cheek, and quite abruptly realize they’re not tears at all but rather the salty, dewy wetness of Ursula Andress’ face against yours, the sinuously tawny and curvature-blessed Ursula Andress of Dr. No from 1962 (for whom you’ve long felt a stronger than average fondness, because you are, after all, an older guru) after she has emerged from the ocean and laid herself naked before you and after several things subsequently happened for which neither of you now feels any guilt, just elation. Her heat, her animal redolence overtake you as you cling to your embrace. She whispers in your ear, “What we’ve just done. Does it mean anything?” With a sardonic grin you respond as 007 would, partly aloud —
“You know better than that.”
Well, it was aloud. You hear a gasp, your eyes flutter open, and your middle-aged guest is wreathing herself in smiles. She affirms her self-discovery: yes it is about me, I do know better than that, and that’s the whole point. Meaning in my life comes from me, not from some old semi-retired average dickwad white guy sitting on top of a small mountain. In time she departs, with a new jaunt to her step, and your lids droop down once more to return to that sandy tropical beach and that eternal embrace.
So, as the Tao says, “The sage dwells in the affairs of nonaction,” and if I am to emulate the sage with any success whatsoever, I will need to do nothing. So be it. I’ve gotten pretty good at doing nothing these days, so why mess it up?
There you have it.
(Ursula courtesy of a Dr. No movie still)