old friends & old paths

Tonight I ran across my friend Charlie. I’ve only seen him a few times in the last year; we used to see one another several times a week.

It was obvious that both of us were glad to talk to one another. Charlie’s an older guy, and not in the best of health. He asked how I was, very directly, in that wonderful way some people have where they’re really paying attention. He said to me, “You look like you’re doing pretty good.”

I’m amazed because Charlie is one of those guys who can figure that stuff out. He didn’t say I looked great, and I don’t feel like I’m doing great. But “pretty good”? I can cosign that.

Tonight in reading Buddhism: Its Essence and Development by Edward Conze, I am struck by a sentence early in the work:

“The Buddhist point of view will appeal only to those people who are completely disillusioned with the world as it is, and with themselves, who are extremely sensitive to pain, suffering, and any kind of turmoil, who have an extreme desire for happiness, and a considerable capacity for renunciation.”

If any Buddhist finds this entry of mine, they will doubtless mull over each part of that sentence, and ask themselves how they measure up. Whether they weigh themselves with a sense of lightness or despair, seriousness or levity, depends on their circumstances or their mood.

I find myself chilled by the knowledge of how well I fit this list of character traits. There is one criterion I am uncertain of, that I feel on shaky ground. The others fit me like a glove.

“A considerable capacity for renunciation”. I definitely have that. Although now that I re-think, perhaps I’ve rad this wrong. I wonder if a capacity for renunciation means one is good at it – or merely that one keeps getting up off the ground and getting back on the horse. Because, in fact, it would seem I practice renunciation over and over, many times daily. I am forever woefully discovering I’ve been conditioned to think the same unhelpful things. Measuring people up, feeling anger, hurt, and surprise when lied to or abused, mentally abusing myself for my failures and limitations.

Each one of these well-worn thought paths has to be renounced. Even if it means doing this a hundred times a day. What does renunciation feel like, sound like? This path is useless. Or perhaps, I’ve learned all I can from Self/Self-Hate (wisdom arrived the day I began to see Self and Self-Hate are one and the same).

Today, seeing a friend like Charlie gives me a good, hearty dose of encouragement. I know that there’s someone out there who cares for me, and who loves me. It’s easier to commit to a path of renunciation – or self-discipline, or meditation, or patience – when I feel there’s a witness out there – somewhere.