TREATISE ON ZANDTAO
I started this section on path and transcendence as a new treatise. It is a while since I worked on the Treatise, and it took over my life for a month. Sleep went completely haywire – I am not a good sleeper anyway. I forced myself to lie down – maybe two or three hours, meditate then write. It wasn’t a plan, it happened. Four or five years after Ch 20, it was clear this was the final section of the treatise, a summative of what was before together with some new learning that put it in perspective. It was surprising how it all knitted together but I should note it is not the final part of my learning – just the end of a significant stage.
Path is not a word I want to use, it has such a confusion attached to it, yet it is by far the most important thing that can happen to anyone. In one sense I was lucky I had an upheaval early in life that turfed me onto the path but I was so immature I did not know my luck, straddled the path for many years until I matured enough to know that the path was the most important thing. What is also so important is that if you have experienced the path in any way, cling to it, hold on to it, don’t let those around diss it, laugh at your effusiveness whatever – the path is the most important thing.
You have to know how important the path is. Vanity is not usually good but I am going to begin with describing my journey to the path; maybe there is no vanity much could have been better but there is no regret - that is ego. Talking about memory (khandha - sanna) and describing self in the end is perhaps the opposite direction that I should go if I want you to learn about the path, because in the end memories and selves are not path. But we have to learn lessons, and drawing sound conclusions from history, whether personal or social, is a good way of doing it. I draw from the past without clinging; even though it is five years on this chapter is not a rehash.
I begin at 23 where I was dead-alive – working as a programmer living in Sevenoaks. And drunk, too drunk to sleep but it wasn’t drink that was really stopping me from sleeping it was the path. I was going nowhere, screwing up the job, and as a joke I complained that operations staff were always having a go at me. Being stupid I got a prank notice typed, and put it on notice boards. For the computer manager that was the final straw, in itself not too much, but I was just screwing everything up; he marched me out of the building. That was the best thing that could have happened to me, and I know the people were guilty at what happened but I am just grateful .... NOW. Then I was nowhere, I describe myself as hitting bottom but as “hitting bottoms” go there was not a lot to it. I had no job, I was in a mess, and I took the 200km journey back to the parents. This was the conditioned move, but it was not the healthiest move.
You see I had been middle-classed, and my middle-class conditioning had led me to hitting bottom. Don’t get me wrong. Being middle-classed is not a hardship unless you fight it, being middle-classed is just a strait jacket. There is no blame here, no complaining, just middle-classed.
I had never made a decision. I played football, went to school and got qualified; there was little more to it than that. I do remember walking a lot but that was it. No learning experiences, no real conflict; when you hear of what some people have had to deal with there is a bit of guilt calling this "hitting bottom". But middle-classed, all of it was just conditions. A reasonable home, slightly short of money, a grammar school education and going to uni. Looking back there was just a strait jacket of numbness.
And no blame. This was post-war white middle-class suburbia. My parents’ generation were frightened. I don’t know what my parents did during the war we never spoke of it. It was something that was buried, that we were afraid of. I know my father wanted to join up – conditioned into “fighting Gerry” but he was too young; he went to Israel after the war. And he did say one time he wasn’t sure he was on the right side. I think my mother was a Land Girl but no-one discussed it. But the war was a prime mover in my conditioning, my parents wanted their family and house, they wanted my education, and that’s what they lived for. That’s what my neighbourhood, my community lived for. Family, house and education, that’s what we all did; that was the understandable post-war conditioning.
But my teenage years were the 60s, and this was a time of questioning – and a time for the fear that resented that questioning. But I wasn’t part of that questioning – even when I went to uni. I was middle-classed, na?ve and spent 3 years drunk; especially the first year I had no idea. I was just drunk because that was what was done – conditioning. I am lucky the drug wasn’t more harmful, more damaging to my life, apart from embarrassment nothing that couldn’t be undone.
Three years for a degree, then one year of a two-years masters course – the second year writing up a thesis whilst working – and I had a good job as an analyst-programmer with a firm whose people had character. Some took me under their wing, but I was useless - incompetent. At uni it had been the exams that gave me motivation, now in a job there was none. I had no discipline, no decisions, everything handed to me on an academic plate, no idea what I was doing. Even though the people had character, the firm was the usual ladder and career, middle-class educated people buying into the conditioning of family, house and education for their kids. Because the firm had character I met some good people outside, one in particular, but I really just blew it and was pushed out at the end of a year with minimal salary increase. Fortunately I was still arrogant from uni, took umbrage at the insult, and took a backwards move to Sevenoaks where the job had nothing for me, the place had nothing for me, and bottom was inevitable.
And when I hit bottom I ran back to middle-class numbness. In that environment I didn’t have to think, no decision-making, just the numbness of the middle-class strait-jacket. Only one thing I remember in three/four weeks there. I passed a Manchester pub with Xmas office revellers, and I listened. I wanted their enjoyment but I knew I could never have it that way – something had happened I was now different.
At the end of three weeks I knew I had to return to London. Looking back I am amazed. I had limited money, and nowhere to stay. I got on the coach, arrived at Victoria, and walked into a temp agency where they gave me a job in a Hounslow office cubicle as a cobol programmer. I hated the job but I now had discipline – I was there to earn money so I had to do what they told me as well as I could; I did, lasted three months and they were surprised when I left.
The job meant nothing to me, but in that three months the path was revealed to me. I have no idea where it all came from but there were all kinds of exhilaration bells and banjoes, bliss in the evening, and in the cubicle numbness. I first met the “guys” in my loft flat in Chiswick, what Eckhart Tolle calls presence. Sometimes I would sit and meditate – I have no idea who told me to meditate, and they would just come – well they were there all the time but I would notice them. I started writing – the guys were also the muse. The only thing I recall was Martin Smoothchatter at Bert O’Smellies – it was amusing for the Arts Centre. And that was the big thing. There was a great lady in my first job who introduced me to the Arts Centre. What was I doing, a maths graduate, in an Arts Centre? But these people helped me open up. What was some mixed-up feelings about “hitting bottom” and the guys, became an understanding about creativity and the path. Three months of that exhilaration and compassion was driving me, I began to work in a kids’ home.
My work had some meaning, not a cubicle, it was part of my trying to follow a path. All that I was at that time was path. But I was immature, and was still responding without making decisions. The path was taking me, but I was so immature and lacking in discipline I had no idea what it meant to hold to the path. I was on the path and that was it, that was all that mattered.
I have to mention those Arts people again because they were so important. Not likely but I could have hit bottom, gone back to middle-class numbness, returned to work having experienced the path and put this unusual event behind me. But I had creative people around me who valued what I was going through because they had gone through something themselves. This path academy was so important to me, and these wonderful professors made me understand enough of what had happened to me.
Through their connections I went to Belgium where I stayed in a cottage, and just wrote. I went to the British Council in Brussels and got any book and just bounced off it – reams and reams of bouncing off. Two months. I had a great experience in the Ardennes. I had just been reading Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda, and full of all this death over the left shoulder and the like. I walked into the Ardennes and intentionally got lost. At some point I said “turn around and get back”. I trusted myself and was doing so but it was beginning to get late. There was a road and I followed it, got home – only to discover if I had trusted myself I would have saved myself walking around in circles for an hour. I was full of all this but the people around me didn’t get it.
Back to the Arts centre people again, if you glimpse the path you need right people around you.
So that was me, the path and exhilaration, and I was irrevocably changed. Again there was no choice, this time the path beyond conditioning was driving me whereas before I was just conditioned – middle-classed.
After a year of child-care I turned to teaching, compassion told me that I needed to try to be pre-emptive, what’s that appalling American word - ???? But the path had lost its total control, the bliss had subsided and I had slipped into the drink again. I was too immature to recognise what I had and that I needed discipline to keep it.
For the next 10 years I straddled the path, never forgetting it but only occasionally being fully connected; my signpost was the guys who sporadically were in my life. Drink was associated with the stress of work and it was teacher holidays that enabled the guys to be present. But far too few times.
Once the drink started again I began what I now see as a second childhood – my childhood of the path. I didn’t know but I had to learn how to live with the path and then mature until the path was 24/7; that took more than 30 years. Once I had met the path I called myself spiritual, and there was always spiritual investigation in my life. But for a long time that fought the booze. The booze came to a head with a powerful relationship that was so destructive for me, and at the end of which drink had a complete hold. Two years after the relationship I stopped drinking. I was completely addicted but I wasn’t bottom like I had been at 23. I was just drunk, chose to be drunk but had sufficient control of my life; that control was the path. I was getting migraines, and went to acupuncture. The doctor treated me I felt better, drank for a week and was back where I started. The doctor gave me an ultimatum – give up the drink or forget the treatment, and I gave up. Or rather the path had a chance to intervene, and gave the drink up for me. It was the power of the path that got me off the drink but because of the shape of my life it was not a power that I had to go and search for, it had been there with me all along. I got help from the acupuncturist and gave up. As I have described it, you might say I had a limited problem. This was not the case. There were times I needed a drink, I was not in control, I just kept sufficient control that it did not affect my job too much; it was different in my private life. When I decided to stop, the acupuncturist gave me special treatments, he provided me with herbs to cope with withdrawal symptoms, and I was regularly downing appalling concoctions of pure orange juice and brewer’s yeast. Friday evening was particularly difficult. I took up Tai Chi, this helped, but on my way home from the Friday class I struggled past a pub. But I stopped, the path stopped me from drinking.
Sadly that did not bring me back onto the path, just that the path was there. I was teaching and active in grass roots politics, and this filled my mind; I still hadn’t learned the required discipline.
Life took me to Africa, and as soon as I got off the plane I realised how lacking in freedom UK life had. Africa gave me nature, a slow life, and a chance to grow and reflect. After a few years I began what I called a mid-life review, that I recorded on a website, and so began my Buddhism.
The guys had never fully left me. Their main contact had been through writing, I had written two books, each at the end of a teaching position. I remember one Summer when I lived for the book “Kirramura”. I was writing in the early hours waiting for that time all day. I would go to the bedroom at 11.00pm, and lie still. Soon they would come – presence, it was as if the room was full. I would be almost poleaxed as I lay almost riveted to the bed. I would relax and then write. What a great Summer.
During the mid-life review I began meditating again sporadically and that feeling of presence came again. This time I was more disciplined and knew I had to make more of an effort. Soon after leaving Africa I was on holiday in Thailand and at Wat Phra Keau (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) I knew I was a Buddhist.
Knowing that and knowing what to do were two completely different things. By that time I was trying to meditate daily – having gained some discipline. That put an end to the highs but also an end to lows, and it raised the middle; overall meditation made things better but without the blasting bliss. I worked a few more years, and with an inheritance had sufficient to retire early. The gap between who I was on holiday and the teacher at work got bigger and bigger, and even though I was old enough to cope I didn’t want to. And that was a great decision. The writing has almost been non-stop. Even though I retired with the notion of studying Buddhism it has not really been that way, although parts of Buddhism are a significant part of my path now.
Living two childhoods I feel a sense of maturity that enables me to say I am now following the path almost 24/7. In the first childhood I was conditioned until the path stepped in, in my second childhood I straddled the path until I developed the maturity to understand the importance of being on the path.
Even though I have not really gone into what the path is, through the description of my life I hope to have conveyed how important it is. If you have a glimpse into the path you must find your own “Arts Centre” – the people who can help you enough to hold to the path.
Now I have to try to convey what the path is. Here is a graphic:-
The path is all of this to me but how do I explain it?