There were several items in the New York Times this week that got me salivating. But the one that cut closest to home was this one about the minstrel and erstwhile Zen Buddhist monk, Leonard Cohen: “On the Road: For Reasons Practical and Spiritual.”
As you might expect, the writer finds it paradoxical that Cohen has decided to re-take the stage at this late age. The story’s hook is that Cohen’s road tour is a mystical mingling of the sacred and the secular. The writer thinks that is notable, but I’m certain Cohen doesn’t. He’s not mingling anything. He is simply singing for his supper, because he’s broke.
Can anyone relate?
Cohen doesn’t pit the practical against the spiritual and make a divine quest out of it. There is no difference between the two. There is no either and no or. That ideological distinction is only in the mind of the writer. And it might be in your mind too. When you’re hungry, and you are broke or near-broke, it’s a good time to get your ideas about spiritual versus practical out of your mind and strap them to the bottom of your feet. And then walk the heck out of them.
Eating is a divine act. It is a mingling of the practical and the spiritual. Pass the ketchup.
A painting of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger. – Zen saying
Cohen is the kind of icon to whom we all lay claim. In truth, I have no claim. I was born a poor, illegitimate music lover and I heard my first Cohen when he was all but done as a singer, living as a mountain monk, and his Ten New Songs was released in 2001. A fellow Zen practitioner gave to me. When I heard Cohen’s bottomless voice surfacing from somewhere deep beneath his navel, when I heard the pure, raw, spare simplicity of the words, I was amazed. “Damn,” I thought, “this guy has spent serious time on his butt.”
But there’s a time to get up off your butt, and it’s about the time you realize that coming or going, walking or sitting, standing up or lying down, you’re always on your butt. Run out of money and what are you going to do? Put your butt on the road.
“Past mind is ungraspable. Future mind is ungraspable. Present mind is ungraspable. With which mind will you eat this rice cake?” – Zen koan
So everyone’s struggling now. Who’s not struggling? Since last summer, every idea I had of my illustrious future has been chewed up and swallowed. Every previous source of income has vaporized. These days I do many, many things, and I do anything for money. Little dribs that come when I need it most. Little sums that get me through. Funny, I actually see more possibilities now. There’s far more tunnel, to be sure. And there’s more light that shines in from all those cracks in the way I thought my life would go.
So come on now, everybody, sing along. Let’s sing and then have supper. You’re invited to my place for dinner, you see, because it’s all one place.
Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.