Diamonds and Dollar Signs

Spectator at Pathmark Gospel Choir competition

Sometimes you just get lucky. You don’t have to figure anything out, because people before you did that and got it right. Let me tell you what I’ve got in mind.

One of the many things I learned from 100_2865.jpgAb, my guide in Morocco is that, being a gift from Allah, Moroccans did not criticize the weather. By implication they understand everything that we think of as delivered by fate, luck or the indifference of nature to actually be a gift of God and therefore unassailable and undoubtedly for us. Further, they see it as their job (and, or course, ours) to figure out not so much why they’d been given that particular blessing as how best to use it. Not an easy task sometimes — holocausts , child molestation, tsunamis, insomnia and rain on weekends come to mind–but our job nonetheless.

Had I not somehow lucked into meeting Ab and subsequently reading out of the mainstream and into the mystics, this beautiful attitude and I might never have crossed paths. The mainstream religious understanding most of us grew up with often depicts the reverse, urging us instead to lobby God to do what we want.

“Dear God, please do what I want. If You do, I’ll be real good…amen.”

That said, recently I’ve been struggling with a couple of those gifts. The result: I found myself saving up a bunch of rants (Remember that word. It pays off later on) to dump in this space. The first of which began:

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. For that matter, if you meet anyone who writes poetry, kill them too. Yes, I’m going through something. It began yesterday at the Rubin Museum of (Himalayan) Art, a Buddhist poetry reading. See, I don’t understand poetry. In fact it generally drives me and my self esteem into the same hole most of America’s mortgages are in right now. But rather than put it on me, I choose to hate poets.

Then there the actual Buddhists. img_0477.jpg I have a picture of the Dalai Lama on my desk and, yes, I do feel like he’s actually looking at me with the most incredible combination of warmth, understanding and encouragement. And yes, I’ve read a bunch of stuff and I meditate daily and go on week-long meditation retreats, but when it comes to all the basics of Buddhist thought, for me it’s like being back with the poets. I think I’m closing in on things when I retranslate the basic concept of “no self” as no ego, but, if that’s right, why the hell don’t they just say No Ego?

Then there’s the part about life being suffering. The truth be told, I’ve been having a ball the last bunch of years. I live indoors (with heat in the winter) and am madly in love with my wife and, in an admittedly different way, most people I meet. My job is fantastic, my health is remarkable (when I’m not crashing my bike into things or being crashed into by them. And I’m far enough removed from that first bunch of years that they don’t hurt any more.

Furthermore, I’m convinced that brief pleasures damned well do satisfy and delight for their little minute. When I remember I’m only here for a little minute, that seems sufficient. Only if I expect or demand or require more of them–and only then–do I suffer. So I don’t do that. So, no suffering.

So why am I carrying on like this? I love ee cummings and Ryokan and some of William Carlos Williams and I even write some (although I deny it) poetry and I hate poetry. I meditate and read the Buddha and img_0481.jpgPema Chodron and anybody named Suzuki and I can’t stay meditatively focused beyond two breaths. I only get pissed about that once in a while, and I can’t follow a dharma talk (a Buddhist non-sermon) all the way to the end. Sometimes I want to blame it on the concussion (May 5th, bike crash, blah blah blah…) but all this predates that, so I’m really stuck with that being me.

Then there’s the mystery of the blog. Just as I didn’t know why I was involved with poetry or Buddhist thought and practice, I didn’t know why I’d taken to putting my brain product onto the internet. I thought I’d found the answer in “The Gentle Rant” on Matt Munisteri’s web page.


Mr. Munisteri plays great guitar and writes songs you just want to keep hearing. Writing about song writing he said:

One great thing about a song is that it doesn’t have to be fair or definitive. It doesn’t have to be researched or objective. Usually its only job is to take its subject – perhaps even one examined many times before – and hold it up at that particular angle where only one side, in a particular light, can be seen, and then purport that one side as the only one that matters or contains even a shred of truth. Then, for a couple of minutes, it is definitive. If we’re lucky a song’s bridge (release) will tip its hand, and then we’re really in delicious territory. Sometimes its subject is love.

Reading The Gentle Rant I discovered this: I write this stuff because I just want to. “This is what it looks like to old Goldberg.” As long as no one writes back to the contrary (there is a Comments section, but no one uses it for real comments) my stuff reigns. Whoopee!

But once again, dear reader, I was wrong. The words I post for you never really represent the thoughts I’d begun with–the thoughts that carry the “right” label. It’s actually the act of writing that I love! By putting thoughts into words I discover things I didn’t know when I started writing. Often I end up writing contrary to what I’d originally intended. Look at what you’ve just read! Not to mention the one which was to be at the heart of this posting.

Go back to the picture at the top: The title and the guy wearing a hoodie covered with diamonds and dollar signs at the Pathmark Gospel Choir fest. Given the usual set of stereotypes–the old material v. spiritual dichotomy–this would seem like irony, like a deliberate set-up on my part to undercut the spiritual nature of what was being presented on stage. The truth be told, that was my initial reaction. The process of writing, however, has moved me along to a truer truth:

The man was there listening to gospel music.

My initial reaction was an ego creation, an interpretation, the result of a collection of historically conditioned and not particularly joyful neurotransmitters banging into each other under the self-superior direction of yours truly. On the other hand, the simple reality of sitting with a man listening to gospel music and a whole Winter Garden filled with people listening to gospel music…


Thanks, God.

Published in: on February 21, 2008 at 10:50 pm  Comments (3)  
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