I saw the Michael Richards racist tirade at the Laugh Factory and the subsequent apology on Letterman on YouTube this morning. I can’t stay up that late anymore. Though I’ve been meaning to go see something at the Laugh Factory for a while now and had I noticed Michael Richards was doing a show, I might well have gone that night. If you haven’t seen it, just log on YouTube and search for Michael Richards. It’ll come up. It’s some pretty strong stuff and a pretty sad display. But in a lot of ways it’s just more typical Hollywood shenanigans. Tom Cruise on the couch, Mel Gibson’s arrest and now this.
What was interesting to me, though, was something Michael Richards said on Letterman. He said, “What’s strange is that I’m not a racist and that just came out.” Now I’m sure most of the audience, and most of you reading this right now, saw that and thought, yeah, right, not a racist my ass! Actually, though, I believe him. And the reason I do is because some of my own experiences in Zazen practice.
In a way I think Zazen may be a little like stand-up comedy, at least certain kinds of stand-up. I haven’t seen Richards’ act. But, from the video it looks like he does the kind of on-the-edge stream-of-consciousness style that’s pretty trendy these days. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like he’s very good at it and maybe he should stick to more scripted material. Be that as it may, I find some things in common between that style of stand-up and what happens in Zazen sometimes.
In order to do the kind of stand-up Richards was attempting to do, you have to let down a lot of psychological barriers. It’s a bit like free association in psychotherapy, I imagine, though I’ve never done that either. You never know what’s gonna come out when you start letting all the barriers down and just saying whatever happens to pop into your head. Or, in fact, saying things before you’ve even had time to process them mentally. Doing it one-on-one with a psychologist whose job it is not to judge you is relatively safe. But doing it in front of an audience is dangerous. As Michael Richards proved. Doing it silently on a cushion facing a wall that never heckles you or charges you by the hour may be the best way.
We all carry loads and loads and loads or repressed stuff with us everywhere we go. There is a lot of stuff in your head right now that you do not even know about. Some of it is very good and some of it is intensely bad. When you do Zazen this kind of stuff starts to bubble up to the surface.
You may not be a racist. But you’ve grown up in a society where racist attitudes are very strong. You’ve been exposed to them since the moment you were born in ways overt and subtle. Though you’ve probably consciously denied these things and may never have spoken them, they exist in your psychological make-up. Not just racism, but all kinds of dark and evil things. You think these things are not part of you, that they are out there, somewhere else, in those other people, those bad people. Not in you.
But the only reason you can recognize what’s “evil” is because it is part of you. If you’re healthy you recognize it as part of you that must be repressed. But even this knowledge is mainly on a subconscious level. Consciously you believe you do not even possess these attitudes at all.
There is a very strong, intimate connection between you and all other human beings. In fact, you and everyone and everything you meet are expressions of the very same ineffable something that creates this universe. Spiritual type people love to say this kind of thing as if it’s all boundless beauty and wonderfulness. But look again. You’re not just one with the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees. You think Michael Richards is a racist? You can only recognize what he is because it’s part of you. You’re one with every hateful sneering madman who ever burned another human being alive just because he didn’t like the color of his skin and just because it gave him a false sense of power. You hate those guys who torture poor innocent Arab-Americans falsely accused of terrorism? You’re them, too. Think George W. Bush is a fascist? Look in the mirror, buddy. There’s George W. Bush. You are much, much closer to all of these people than you are to the sunshine and lotus blossoms you dream about in your fantasies of Enlightenment.
People who are into doe eyed, dolphin hugging, incense and peppermints spirituality will never, ever get to the most profound and important truths because they turn their heads away from reality and try to escape into misty dreams of fantastic far-off worlds.
But, here’s the thing. If you can face down the worst part of your self, if you can look it right in the eye and stare it down, you can come to terms with what it really is. What it really is, is nothing at all. But if you want to discover this you have to be prepared to give up everything. To really give up everything, I mean, not just make a show of giving up everything. You have to give up you. And if you think that’s easy, if you think you can do that in an afternoon, if you think someone else can do that for you, if you think you can do that by taking a pill or eating some ‘shrooms, well, you’ve come to the wrong blog.
This is one of the reasons, in fact, that taking drugs or doing any of the supposed quick’n’easy methods of reaching Enlightenment are some dangerous mojo and not recommended by anyone who has any sense at all. You cannot dive into this stuff fast and hope to come out of it sane. You must move very, very slowly.
If you do move slowly into it and take it all the way to the very end of the process, you’ll come to see that the real core of your being is something infinite. What you’ve called your “self” for your whole life is just a thin, fragile skin on the very surface. Like a bubble floating on top of a deep, deep ocean.
When you’re ready to shake hands with Satan and call him your friend, you might be ready to meet God.