Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Few Chapters

I woke up this morning a few minutes before 4:00 a.m. Most of the time when I awaken so early, I look at the clock and roll over and go back to sleep. Not today. Today I got up, unloaded the dishes from the dishwasher, made a pot of coffee, and went online, looking for something to catch my attention. An acquaintance who had just gotten home from a night of partying noticed that I was online. We chatted briefly on Facebook, then I looked at the "to-read" books on my desk and picked up When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön.

The book has been sitting on my desk since October, along with others that have been there even longer, waiting for that elusive time when I would be in the right mood to read them. Today, the mood was right for When Things Fall Apart. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but I was not expecting what I got upon reading the first few chapters. I suppose I was expecting to read an instruction book on how to cope with difficult times in one's life. And perhaps that's what was intended. Instead, though, I began reading a book that seemed to me to have been written to enable the reader to have a conversation with himself about the real world. Not the world as it has always been understood to be. The real world.

I suppose I expected the book to be more "spiritual" in its approach, which always has been a bit of an issue with me. On the one hand, I think "spiritual" often is code for "you must believe what I believe with respect to religion," but on the other hand I think "spiritual" is simply a way to classify how one integrates one's personal sense of morality with the way in which he interacts with other people. Come to think of it, maybe the latter meaning may get at my experience in reading the first few chapters. But there's more than that. I just can't quite put my finger on it yet. I suppose the concept of circularity that seems to me to underpin Buddhism became clearer to me. Previously, I had interpreted that concept of circularity as requiring a belief in reincarnation (if one were to accept some fundamental Buddhist principles). But what I understand now is that circularity or rebirth in the Buddhist sense may simply describe the constancy of change.

As I write this, I realize I am not able to express in words what I believe I am beginning to understand intellectually. That is a bit disturbing, because words are my currency, my pathway to knowledge and understanding. But that notwithstanding, I find I feel more about what I am beginning to realize than I can articulate. For inexplicable reasons, though, I am comfortable with that, despite my discomfort. That, is circularity. But it makes sense in a ways it did not before I began reading the book. I'm only four or five chapters in, but I feel that I've learned much more than could be held in just a few chapters.

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