by Eric Jennings

I’m suspicious of anyone who smiles or laughs too much. Define too much. You know it when you see it. Especially the nervous laughter that’s meant to defuse or deflect. Does this apply to the Dalai Lama? I used to think no, but I’m coming around.

I learned about Ulvade when I hopped in my car to run some errands. I caught just enough of the tail end of a segment to know there has been another, another, another, another mass shooting. I cried again. I’m always crying again. I’m always still crying.

I came home an hour later, and Pam was playing her guitar, which meant she hadn’t heard. I considered not telling her right away. Let her have just a few more minutes, maybe an hour or ninety minutes of blissful ignorance. In the pause, I thought, “I’m not detached enough.”

I preach detachment in my yoga classes. I offer it as a practical and easy way to “maximize benefits and minimize risk.” Step partly away from yourself and observe yourself in your practice. It allows a broader perspective, maybe even a less subjective one if that’s possible.

There are two Is in my practice. I, in my body, am moving and breathing and holding. I, in my mind, am directing and guiding, and observing. During a ninety-minute class, the two Is will sometimes merge. It’s a bliss born of awareness, the opposite of ignorance.

Is someone who is always smiling (or laughing) living in a state of bliss, and if so, which kind?

I wasn’t detached enough because I was hurting. Detachment eases the pain. I partly learned that through getting tattooed but also in many other ways, including, of course, in my yoga practice.

Buddhists will tell you detachment is the only rational response to suffering. Or is it the only adequate response?

Detachment is the epitome of cool, right? Can’t touch that guy. Look at him standing a little apart from everyone else. He’s always watching, learning, reading the room. Observing. He doesn’t react. He waits for a lull in the conversation so that when he’s ready, he can speak softly, slowly. Slyly. Not so much a wisecrack or sarcasm, but a slightly cryptic, zen master response. One that makes you go, hmmm.

Does wearing orange robes make it easier, this detachment thing? I’ve detached enough from my hair to shave it off my head every day (or two). Maybe I shouldn’t wear black all the time. Orange as the new black. I hated that show, but what a great title. Detachment helps one survive prison, especially solitary confinement, and death row. So we’re told. 

After trying to find the right balance of detachment and compassion, I tell Pam. We both cry a little more. It comes so easily. And regularly. We should be used to it by now, but how does one get used to hateful oppression and horror-inducing violence? Through detachment?

That… doesn’t feel right. That doesn’t feel at all, does it? So, no, detachment doesn’t mean not feeling. It means not suffering. From the feelings. From feeling too much. I don’t know what the fuck it means. I don’t like the suffering. I don’t exactly like the feelings, but I want them. I’m tired of suffering. I’m good at detaching from it. But it always comes back. Because… well, just open a newspaper. I mean, load a skeuomorphic home page on a news site.

Do you know about zen koans? They’re short, cryptic stories used by Zen masters to help their students achieve kensho, momentary enlightenment. To the uninitiated, they’re incomprehensible.

Zen Jingcen of Changsha was once asked by a monk, “How do you turn the mountains, rivers, and great earth and return to the self?”

Changsha said, “How do you turn the self and return to the mountains, rivers, and great earth?”

If a zen student meditates on a koan-like this long enough, and by long, I mean years, it may eventually lead them to enlightenment. I’ve been reading koans for almost fifty years, and I haven’t understood one. Not that I’m supposed to. Maybe I should join a zen club.

Several times during the last…

I just had to go look up how long its been since that kid murdered those people while the cops were busy handcuffing parents in the parking lot to stop them from trying to save their children; they even dropped one father onto the ground and piled on top of him, because it happens so often now that I can’t tell one massacre moment from the next.

Several times during the last 48 hours, I have found myself standing in a room, whichever room I happen to be standing in, with my hands in my pockets and staring off into space. Not thinking about it. Not thinking at all. Just empty. Detached. Didn’t I used to call that dissociation?

Oh shit! I think I’ve finally figured out how to meditate. It doesn’t require a pillow, new age music, incense, mantra, yantra, whatever. All it takes is enough suffering. It’s like, after my umpteenth, wholly preventable, but we won’t do that because money, literal massacre, and I know I’m not supposed to use ‘literal’ like that, the key to enlightenment was there inside me the whole time.

BTW, you know those times when you walk back downstairs to do something, but then you instantly forget what it was? That’s because you accidentally stumbled on an alien who had to wipe your memory so they could escape.

Did you see that video of the person telling the zen pizza joke to the Dalai Lama? He completely and utterly didn’t get it. “I’ll have one with everything.” He just stared at the guy and almost looked dumbfounded.

So what am I getting at? Nothing. Just this. I literally was just standing in the living room, hands in my pockets, staring out the window, at nothing, for like five minutes, or maybe it was a couple of hours or a few seconds, I don’t know. And then I realized what I was doing. And then I realized I’ve been doing it a lot. And then I realized I was detaching. And then I realized I was meditating. And then I realized I was crying. And then I realized I was.

I wanted to tell you. I wanted to reach out. I wanted to connect. I wanted to remember something I already remembered and didn’t want to anymore. I wanted to remind you of something, but as soon as I walked downstairs to my computer, I forgot what it was.

The master asked the disciple, “does a dog have Buddha nature or not?”

The disciple answered, “moo!”


We welcome Eric as a regular contributor to the blog. You can find out a bit more about him here.

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