Sunday, May 15, 2016

Jack Kerouac and suffering

Jack Kerouac suffered in his lifetime. He lost his brother, Gerard, and laid bare his grief about it in the classic, Visions of Gerard. More than once he wrote starkly about the sad death of his father. He bemoaned the loss of his beloved cat, Tyke, in The Dharma Bums. He agonized over not being accepted as a writer (and then he agonized over fame when it came). He struggled with editors who wouldn't leave his work alone. He grieved about relationships he couldn't salvage, about being a good enough son to Mémère, about finding the right place to live, about the general misunderstandings of the concept of "beat," about his friend and muse Neal Cassady (a lot to unpack there but Daily Beat readers don't need specifics). He suffered over the irony of being born just to die (hence in part his affection for Buddhism but also Catholicism) -- wishing he could be free of that slaving meat wheel and safe in heaven dead. And on and on . . . .

Perhaps it's good that Jack suffered so. Without it, would he have produced the Kerouac canon we marvel at today? And yet, even as the biggest Kerouac fan alive on the planet (a subjective truth at best), I sometimes wish there had been more peace for that guy.

Suffering. It's been on my mind lately for some reason. Maybe because we just wrapped up reading The Dharma Bums in my Kerouac class at the University of Maine at Farmington, and I was once again immersed in reading and thinking about Buddhism.

One of the interesting things about on-line blogging is that you can revisit your thoughts about subjects from literally years ago with relative ease. I found the below post  about suffering in my LiveJournal (which I no longer post to) from June 18, 2006. Reading it today, 10 years later, I sound to myself as if I found the magic cure to suffering! Which, in fact, I did find but didn't implement and still don't. It's not that hard a concept to grasp intellectually, but living it out is another matter. The root of suffering is attachment, but the noble eightfold path away from suffering is a real bitch to walk.

So, I'm really no better than Jack Kerouac where suffering is concerned, but the saving grace is that it puts me in pretty good company: with Kerouac and the rest of the human race.

Here's that LiveJournal post:

Suffer. Or don't. It is entirely and completely up to you. And if you choose suffering, that is fine with me. Suffer endlessly and tirelessly and with abandon! Just don't expect me to suffer with you. I can and will empathize. But I will not sympathize. I don't want to feel what you feel when it is dark and self-absorbed and unconscious.

My father died of Alzheimer's. My brother died of AIDs. My mother is dying of Alzheimer's. I've been divorced three times. It's Father's Day and my son is 3,000 miles away. BLAH BLAH BLAH! Same goes for anything about me that looks like good stuff from the outside (read Edwin Arlington Robinson's Richard Cory for insight into the latter). Who cares? Shit happens to EVERYONE! Yours isn't any better or worse than mine or vice versa. It just IS what it IS!

Why can't people get that? Too simple, I guess. What would they identify with and attach to if not for their heartbreaking stories of woe?

THAT is what makes me sad. Not what happens. What people do with it. Yesterday I heard someone wailing like they had lost a limb. No. They had to make an extra trip to the store because they forgot something. And now we have Intermittent Explosive Disorder, another in a long line of psychological excuses for being a spoiled, undisciplined, unbearable brat of a human being. GROW UP! Grieve and get on with it.

I am not saying pain is fictitious. Anger, frustration, heartache. All are real, and quite equitably distributed among the population from what I can gather.

D.H. Lawrence wrote the following:

Self Pity

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

If you heard this like a lecture (and an unsolicited one at that), I am wanting you to hear something else. Maybe you would be willing to re-read it in the spirit of loving-kindness in which it was offered?

I left this quote under the windshield wiper of someone's car the other day. Someone I love dearly. Maybe others will find it uplifting as I did.

"Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth."
--Katherine Mansfield

May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May we not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
May we dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression, and prejudice. (Thanks, Pema.)

No regrets, no waiting, no ordinary moments....

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