This is an essay excerpted from David’s forthcoming book, This Truth Never Fails, A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons (Wisdom Publications), available this June.
I woke up this morning wishing I were William James.
I went to sleep last night in the middle of his essay, “The Will to Believe.” Reading his dense and brilliant prose, I feel the force of his mind. I underline the really good stuff and struggle to keep my own mind loose enough to follow his closely reasoned argument. The last thing I saw before my head hit the pillow was his bearded portrait on the black cover of his collected essays. Looking straight ahead, he is the embodiment of gravitas.
Looking right at me, he doesn’t blink as I gently lay him down on the floor by my bed, turn out the light, and close my eyes.
I distinctly remember wanting to be my father when I was little. He was the minister up in front of all the people who sat politely listening and then shook his hand at the church door when they left. I would stand next to him holding his other hand as he said goodbye to everyone. They all seemed to know my name and I knew to smile and say hello without knowing theirs.
I saw clearly that my father was the center of some bright universe, and that he was clearly everything a man should be.
Of course I grew up to see more clearly his strengths and weaknesses—his gifts and blindnesses. Like the rest of us, he had no choice but to be himself as best he could. He had to uncover and use his gifts. He had to work with the deep loneliness and desperation that he inherited from his mother and father and their mothers and fathers.
I too, have inherited this fierce need to connect and the sometimes crippling sense of never being enough.
But I think I was nearer the truth as a young boy pulling on my dark robed and smiling daddy’s hand by the door of the church. He was (and is) brilliant and admirable—standing, as every person stands, at the center of their only possible universe. His gifts came out of his weaknesses and nothing could save him, or me, from our great discouragements and failures.
And William James—he too, had his life to live—both heroic and petty. I know from his own writing that neither his many gifts, nor the admiration of his peers and posterity saved him from the fullness and suffering of his human life.
I suppose I will have to continue to learn to take myself as I am—to hold out the unreasonable hope that just this life, just being David is enough—and perhaps more than enough.
(c) David Rynick 2012.
David Rynick became a Zen master in 2011. He is married to Zen master Melissa Myozen Blacker, coauthor of The Book of Mu, Essential Writings on Zen’s Most Important Koans. They lead meditation retreats and practice and live together in Worcester, Mass., in an elegant old Victorian mansion converted into the Boundless Way Zen Temple. David also is a sought-after life coach.
Prepared by: Valerie Carruthers /Brianna Bemel