Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Beer & Buddhism

Spiritual practice? What does that even mean?

I’ve grown tired of spiritual pursuits. Bored with religious proselytizing. I no longer welcome the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness that comes to the door. And I don’t engage the Black Muslim who calls me brother with a wave of his newsletter. I’ve about had it with true believers. I’m not even much interested any more in finding something upon which to hang the label “Truth”.

And yet....The spirit is hungry for something. Some thing that sorts sense from nonsense, that gives a direction to all this otherwise directionless living. Some thing to give meaning to passion and prayers.

Tonight, over beer in a Bloor Street pub, we spoke to this. People, sharing what we do, explaining our hungers and dreams, our indulgences and bad habits. It was an evening of personal time with allies from my working world, people who share with me the burdensome tragedy-comedy of lives gone askew. We laughed while we consumed chicken wings and gossiped about our three affiliated places of work. But mostly we spoke of other things: the music we love, social work jobs in Nunavit, club-hopping and the passion of dance, eating or not eating meat, growing corn and making wine, why people come out to a pub to watch Glee, the inequities in sick time benefits.

I was glum and worn down when the evening began. My colleagues cheered me with complaints of their own. “It’s all about the BMW,” I was told – bitching, moaning, whining. Like listening to the blues, it raised me up. Something about shared sorrows. Not so nice when your woman leaves you maybe, but a different thing to understand that leaving and getting left is in the nature of things. It connects you somehow, pulls you down into the deep whorl of being, doing, enduring; this tragic-comic life, the inevitability of things going wrong.

Beer, of course, is an ages old spiritual practice. No doubt lots older than Buddhism, or any other formal creed with its precepts, rituals or deities. Tonight, it feels like it’s all part of a whole. What my beer teaches me tonight is to be present to the chicken wings. The crack addict waiting for his rented room will be there tomorrow. There’s nothing to do for him tonight. And the kid who had the mental collapse and who needs to find the vet for his puppy, he will show up tomorrow or he will not. And the eviction notice that’s on the way for the guys letting all their street friends crash with them...well, it won’t come any faster or slower because of my worrying.

It’s a beautiful night. The rain isn’t rain, but drops of cool moisture falling from the sky. It isn’t the eve of December, but the graceful arc of the planet as it bends its way around the sun. Whatever is hurting in my life has no intention of punishing me. But darkness follows when the sun goes down, my strength wanes with every passing year, and the edge of the knife is sharp.

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