– Common New Orleans greeting
Some of you oldies out there surely remember the comedy group Firesign Theater. They put out a number of comedy albums in the late 60’s and early 70s. One of my favorite bits, from Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, was about a former child actor watching one of his movies on TV called “High School Madness”, a parody of the old Henry Aldrich movies that I used to watch as a kid. The actor played a character named Porgy Tirebiter. I can still recall the lyrics to the intro song, sung by the Android Sisters: “Porgy Tirebiter!/He’s a spy and a girl delighter,/Orgie Firefighter!/He’s just a student like you.”
Firesign Theater albums had rather unusual titles, like the one above. Another LP was titled How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All. What was cool about that one was it had a sort of Zen ring to it.
Of course, everyone is somewhere. Relatively speaking. From the viewpoint of ultimate truth, however, nobody is anywhere.
Another title I am fond of, this time from a book, is Pema Chodron’s Start Where You Are. She’s a respected Buddhist teacher, nun and author, and her book is about Buddhist slogans or lojong and the meditation practice of tonglen (“giving and taking”). As the subtitle indicates, its also “A Guide to Compassionate Living.”
I like this passage from Chapter 6:
Start where you are. This is very important. Tonglen practice (and all meditation practice) is not about later, when you get it all together and you’re this person you really respect. You may be the most violent person in the world— that’s a fine place to start. That’s a very rich place to start —juicy, smelly. You might be the most depressed person in the world, the most addicted person in the world, the most jealous person in the world. You might think that there are no others on the planet who hate themselves as much as you do. All of that is a good place to start. Just where you are— that’s the place to start.”
Many of us have already started, but very few are actually where we want to be. So, sometimes it’s a matter of re-starting from where we are. It’s important to keep in mind that as we shouldn’t judge others, we shouldn’t judge ourselves, either. In Buddhism there are no judgments, only lessons. If we are less than perfect, that is quite all right. The journey to mindfulness or awakening does not require that we be anything other than what we are right now, and the only place we need to be is where we are.
Now, to be able to start where you are, you have to be somewhere to begin with. Again, the ultimate truth offers us a slightly different perspective, but then it kind of circles around. First, the ultimate truth asks that we let go of the idea of being anywhere, and going anywhere. The Buddha called his path a “pathless path.” That’s because it is not a route or course that is laid out like a bicycle path or a road. The path does not lead us away from where we are, it leads us to within where we are. To walk the path, though, we must be able to see reality ‘as it is,’ which is the ordinary reality, and here’s the twist, the ordinary is the true nature of reality – the reality of where we are, where we start and restart from. In other words, it’s where y’at.