Peter Pans

Maybe you too have the eerie sense that a fair number of young men are not growing up fully. In this respect, they are Peter Pans.

I find it hard to state this thesis clearly. Toward the beginning of my “Secular Monks” piece, I gesture in this direction:

Recently, I began to notice that well-educated, bright, well-off, urban thirty-five- to forty-five-year-old heterosexual American men are tending either to remain single or to marry late in life. When they do marry, they have few children. One client of mine, a cofounder of a startup, conducted a straw poll and found that half of his two dozen male friends in this age range were unmarried, and only three had children.

The United States Census finds that fewer American men are married than ever before (only 52 percent, with 36 percent never having been married as of 2018), and that those who marry do so later in life. (The mean age of men at time of marriage in 2018 was thirty; in 1950, it was twenty-four). Upon marrying, they have fewer children (1.9 children in 2018 versus 2.3 in 1971). These trends are not confined to the United States. According to Euromonitor International, a marketing research firm in London, households in developed countries are getting smaller: In 2012, couples without children began to outnumber couples with children worldwide, and a scant 0.4 children per household is projected in developed countries by 2030. These numbers are consistent with broader trends toward singlehood status in the United States: Fewer Americans between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four are involved in romantic relationships (51 percent, reports the Washington Post), and more and more Americans are remaining single for long stretches of their lives. Apparently, Americans aren’t just bowling alone.

I don’t want to get bogged down in the case of eligible unmarried heterosexual men since the latter is merely meant to be a pointer to something mysteriously greater. After all, once we go searching, we could find any number of explanations such as the European Marriage Pattern:

The European Marriage Pattern (henceforth EMP) is a concept devised in 1965 by John Hajnal, who argued that parts of Europe had since the sixteenth century been characterized by a household formation system involving late female marriage, high female celibacy, and formation of a separate household on marriage causing nuclear-family households to predominate.

Perhaps the historical conditions right now are exacerbating EMP; this might very well be true; in fact, I suspect that it is.

OK then, if I’m not strictly concerned with smaller families and with fewer marriages, then what am I concerned with?

I have the deep impression that the following are true:

–that a fair number of younger men aren’t coming to take full responsibility for how they lead their lives;

–that less, in terms of responsibilities to others, is being asked, even demanded of said younger men;

–that, at this point in time, fewer rites of passage or elders are around to help facilitate the transition beyond adolescence and into full-blown adulthood (for instance, college is largely a time to “hook up” and get credentialized, a process that often habituates one more readily into atomized individuality);

–that having the capacity to be a friend to all, a neighbor to some, and a supporter of a few has not been developed nor has it had much of a chance to develop;

–that, consequently, pride, or self-will, has not been deconstructed and thus has not given way to humility, or acting responsibly for the sake of others.

The Peter Pans out there–and there are many, in my estimation–are thus not helped out of the fantasy when they believe that living and surfing in Bali while doing remote work is “cool” and “phenomenal.” In fact, it is a terrible way to be lost without being able to see, because of deep-seeded pride and because of the lack of help from others, that one really is lost. But lost they are.

I tell you a good life has heft and girth. A good man, portly therefore, accepts that he can’t keep running away, can’t keep checking out and shutting down but must, with an almost divine gladness, embrace being of great help to others. He must open up and then life, mysteriously, helpfully, opens to him.

Pandemic Boredom

Recently, I’ve heard from a number of people with whom I philosophize that they feel a real hunger for newness. Maybe it is that quaint village they remember and wish to return to or that mountain they want to hike up or the aqua sea they long to dip their toes into.

That hunger for newness springs from a sense of dullness, of sameness, of never-endingness. One spoke of being in a mode of dormancy. Others simply call it “boredom.”

Whatever they–or you–call it, it is not the way, is it? To make happiness contingent upon circumstances or the fulfillment of desires–is this not the folly about which plenty of wisdom traditions amply speak?

I tell you there is contentment right under your feet! This contentment stays put. In fact, it goes wherever you goes and dwells wherever you dwell. It gets up in the morning with you and goes to sleep when you do. Its intimacy is not owing to its special kinship with you; its intimacy is owing to its actually being you.

OK, fine. Need a stepladder to come to this non-dual realization? Take one from the keen observers of nature’s peculiarities. There is so much to observe and to love in but a few square feet, isn’t there? Isn’t this what the nature poets keep telling us?

The sound of the creaking door. The footfall on an old floorboard. The road runner balling up on an old tree stump in the midst of the falling snow. The mourning doves bundling up in the back yard as the wind whips and whirs.

What more could you ask for?

A pandemic is just the time to unlearn everything you presumed to know and then to see what’s always been right here in the very heart of being.

The News IS Drama: A Danger

It’s not that news stirs up drama, though of course it does that. It’s that the news is drama.

But drama is not meditation. And meditation is the nature of universal consciousness.

For those working in the media, something happens and immediately it’s “taken up.” As my Zen teacher says concerning practice, “Don’t turn it into something.” But the media’s impulse, its charge is to continually turn a happening into something. That something is endlessly repeated, relayed, modified, discussed, debated, gossiped about. Not only all that. But the news sequesters endless “likes” (support, loyalty, greed, excitation, contingent happiness, etc.) and “dislikes” (ill will, hatred, jealousy, envy, etc.), the immediate result being the veiling of very possibility of equanimity.

In this sense, the news is actually quite dangerous. Dangerous because it promotes two ideas. One is that something is always happening. The other is that that happening is always “turned into something” that is endlessly liked and disliked.

But this, in essence, is samsara, the samsaric condition of wandering mind. In other words, this is the very epitome of suffering. The news is modeled on wandering mind while exacerbating its tendencies!

Meditation, therefore, mustn’t be the news. Instead, it simply is what has never happened. Call this The Unhappening. What is this? What is it? And it doesn’t, because it can’t, turn The Unhappening into anything else; in fact, it sees The Unhappening as being manifest in, and as, all happenings. More accurately, meditation is The Unhappening.

Then what is The Unhappening, the very “root of stillness” (in the words of The Daodejing)? What is it? And what are you before all happenings, before and after every news cycle, before all births and after all deaths?

What is right here beneath it all?

The Seeking Self Isn’t No Satisfaction!

In a collection of Dharma talks entitled Zen Classics for the Modern World (2011), Rinzai Zen teacher Jeff Shore states,

For the ceaselessly seeking self, nothing it comes across will give lasting satisfaction. Once the seeking self has come to rest, the most ordinary and commonplace is quite enough. “When hungry, eat; Tired, sleep.” The fool ended may laugh: You call that the summit of a life of religious practice? Yet how extraordinarily ordinary are the everyday, immediate events of our lives–when freed of tedious manipulations and self-centered seeking. Nothing esoteric, up in the clouds. Far from being dull or stupid, this is intrinsic wisdom. And it naturally works in the world. (pp. 92-3)

“What is lacking here?” Jeff Shore sometimes asks his students. For if there is something lacking, then seeking begins. And when seeking begins, it only stops when it arrives at what it seeks. For a brief moment, there may be rest. But then the mind sees lack, then seeking mind arises, and then striving for this or that continues. Thus, it is said that “delusions are endless.”

The best that can be offered the seeking self is temporary relief. But that is true folly! The irony, in fact, is that the seeking self, quite ambitious though it is, is not ambitious enough! To be “truly ambitious” is to see through all of one’s suffering–to end it right now!–and for that to occur, the seeking self must dissolve in the eternal, infinite water of Reality!

This is why Buddhism is at odds with modern culture. Capitalism perpetuates our “upside-down view” (more Buddhist lingo) by giving a stamp of approval to one of the Three Poisons. That poison is greed (rebranded “self-interest”). Ignorant and not knowing that we’re ignorant, we continue perpetuating dissatisfaction. Rough!

The worst thing that can happen is for you to keep getting what you want. The best thing that can happen is for you to see that the seeking self IS the source of all of your dissatisfaction. It’s not that it can’t get no satisfaction. It’s that it is the very fount of dissatisfaction.

The essential point is to bring this entire apparatus to a full stop and so to rest in the Source. Not more forwards, therefore, but in a sense backwards, diagonally backwards. The rightside-up view is here, always here, just when the upside-down view is seen through.

Then, yes: “how extraordinarily ordinary are the everyday, immediate events of our lives—when freed of tedious manipulations and self-centered seeking.”