I have been reading Quink's book. Quink, attentive readers will recall from occasional recent observations in the "Comments" section of The Buddha Diaries, is a fellow blogger and a somewhat more recent graduate than I of the absurdly misnamed British "public school" system. "Public", of course, in Brit speak, in this context means private--and exclusive of all those whose families either have no long history of association with the school in question, or can't afford the fees. Quink's book, "Swinesend" (please check out this link!), is a hilarious satrical indictment of the system. I got a good few chuckles of recognition as I read--along with the occasional cold frisson of recollected dread, pain and fear.
One of the great benefits of the meditation practice in which I have been engaged for some years now is that it affords me the opportunity to observe those patterns of feeling and behavior that originate in those "public school" days, and which persist in attempting to make their appearance in my life even today. So long as I manage to remain awake, I am able to catch them: the armor I instinctively resort to when anyone happens to get close; the exercise of boyish charm to deflect attempts of others to reach the more tender inner places; the knee-jerk teflon response to unwelcome feelings of pain, fear, and grief. As a small boy entering the "system" at the age of six--this was boarding school, mind--I quickly learned these skills in order to protect myself from the slings and arrows of other nasty little boys. I perfected my skills as I went along, and exercise them today without a second thought--unless I happen to pause and have that second thought, and recognize that the devices I learned as a six year old are neither necessary nor useful to a man of senior years. That's where meditation comes in useful.
It's also where I find myself in disagreement with Christopher Hitchens, whose "God Is Not Great" I am also reading. In his eagerness to indict all religions, he castigates Buddhism with the familiar charge that it requires you to leave your mind at the door along with your shoes. Which is not my experience of Buddhism at all. The mind part. I can live without the shoes. My experience is that Buddhism has everything to do with the mind, with mind-fulness, with bringing things to consciousness that might otherwise negatively affect my life and that of those around me--precisely those things, in my case, that threaten to govern my life and my behavior patterns in unproductive ways. I'm grateful for the daily opportunity to observe, and in some cases to correct them.
It's interesting to observe, though, how I go along with virtually everything Hitchens has to say about religion--and how my back goes up when he attacks my own beliefs. Well, I'd argue, not so much belief as practice. Now I have to wonder about that other issue we've been talking about recently: the ease with which we see the faults in others' arguments and beliefs, and the trouble we have in seeing those in our own. Which brings me back to my recent contretemps with Carly, on the subject of contemporary art...