My nightstand is 11 books deep and over half of it is about Zen. Paper enlightenment isn’t always good for the soul. Too much reading and you’ll get stuck with ideas and no practice. That’s where I am at the moment. I’ve just finished a book on Zen Master Hakuin, and now I’m reading translations of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō and Mumon Ekai’s Mumonkan.
It’s wonderful to encounter different perspectives and to take time to understand them. Although I cannot claim to fully comprehend their complexity (or perhaps simplicity), it’s nice to sit with them.
In fact, it’s been nice to sit with myself too. Lately, there have been a lot of passing thoughts that I didn’t notice I have. Many of them are ideas about the world and some of them are about me. For example, one of the ideas that’s been on my mind lately is about masculinity.
It sounds unusual to talk about this because I didn’t know that I held this idea until recently. Or well, I didn’t have a solid understanding of it. Being out of the closet (as gay) at age 11, I spent a lot of my younger years introspecting about who I am. Much of that time was spent with women, exploring topics that society deems as more feminine (i.e. emotions, empathy). I did this instead of developing traditionally masculine parts of myself.
Most of these traditionally masculine parts are heavily tactile. I never learned sports, fishing, or how to fix cars*. Instead I adopted the idea that these areas were mysterious or innate in some way (i.e. some guys are just naturally athletic or mechanically minded). And I was sure that I was not one of them.
I completely abandoned these topics and paid no mind to them for a very long time… well, until I joined the military and was suddenly surrounded by guys. Areas that were once mysterious started fading. Last year I started to spend a lot of time outdoors hiking**. This was a random growth. I started exploring tactile activities that I hadn’t enjoyed or thought about when I was younger.
As I’ve spent more time sitting in meditation recently***, I’ve noticed this subtle change. Lately I’ve been craving a long list of traditionally masculine activities. I know that’s a strange way to put it but I’ve been wanting to go rock climbing. Last week I worked on my car without feeling terrified I was going to break it. And I want to know more and do more. I don’t feel exhausted of it.
To someone who doesn’t feel this divide, what I’m writing about may not make any sense. Masculinity isn’t inherently about turning wrenches and femininity isn’t about emotions and social skills. Society places these generalizations on the genders and everybody feels it in some form. If you’re a dude and you don’t know how to work on your car, maybe you feel ashamed or embarrassed. Even if only a little bit. Or if you’re a chick and you’re one of those gals who scales those crazy upsidedown rock climbing walls, maybe you feel rebellious****.
I know this is basic Gender in Society 101 but I feel that sometimes I forget it. And often it feels like an invisible wall that confines me unknowingly. My car is mysterious and I avoid the thought of maintenance. I don’t think about why I’m avoiding it or why it feels so mysterious to me but I just push it out of my head.
Maybe that’s what I’ve been getting from my stack of paper enlightenment; these mysterious invisible walls are just mental constructs. Whether about gender or about my own limitations, I build my own confines. I think that everybody knows this but we’re not always conscious of it. We run into these invisible walls accidently and turn back around automatically without examining why we’ve put the walls there in the first place.
The cliché ending to this would be: “go off, do whatever you love, #noconfines #teardowntheinvisiblewalls” but I don’t think that’s quite the right answer either. Instead, I think it’s important to remain conscious. When you want to explore a new interest, whether it be in woodworking, kayaking, or maybe even the introspective stuff too, pay attention. Notice if you encounter a roadblock. Feel your way around it.
Get excited about new interests*****. Car maintenance isn’t that mysterious – well, actually it is but that’s okay too. The mystery isn’t bad. It’s all about exploring and learning.
Anyways, it’s getting pretty late here. Please forgive my generalizations about the genders. I know dudes that are very emotional and chicks that could beat me up. The masculinity/femininity was just to illustrate the most apparent invisible walls we build. These walls can be incredibly complex and difficult to deconstruct. I guess the first thing is to notice them. Anyways… I should get going. These are just the things that have been on my mind lately. Have a wonderful day/night wherever you are!
* This is to grossly undercut both femininity and masculinity
**Seriously, if I wasn’t out in the woods physically, I was there mentally
*** This sounds much more mysterious and exotic than it really is, promise
****Why would you feel rebellious? What status quo are you breaking? Oh, and P.S. I’m jealous that you can climb those funky walls. I want to be like spiderman too!
*****WOOT! YEAH! ROCKCLIMBING! EMOTIONS! WOO! FOOTNOTES! YAY!