By Ty H. Phillips
Three months ago or thereabouts, I became a plumbers apprentice.
It was nothing like I expected. Instead of replacing penny-colored copper pipes and adjusting bathtubs, I spend my days jackhammering, digging trench, and for lack of a better term, churning feces—or as I refer to it—the dookie butter. I should really think about reaching out to Mike Rowe (host of the show Dirty Jobs), he’d have a proverbial buttload of fun standing knee deep in sewage grinding 40 year old cast iron pipe as they explode into poop filled pressure canons.
Needless to say, these long, physically demanding days have left me drained. I have little left by the time the day is over. Writing or even thinking about writing has taken a back seat—a far back seat, like stretch limo back seat.
I was driving to work one day when my co-conspirator messaged me and said, “You need to write! What about The Four Noble Truths of Plumbing or something?” I was non plussed at first. I am typically running on empty and anyone that knows me knows I am not a morning person. So talking, let alone thinking this early while I am speeding down the freeway heading for more crap diving, well…meh. That being said, I did end up thinking. Maybe there was something to that.
The Truth of Plumbing
Much like the first noble truth, the truth of suffering, there is the truth of plumbing. It exists. Our homes and businesses are lined with water and drain and sewage pipes that make things work and keep things clean. We may not like to think about it, any more than we like to understand and think about suffering, death and discomfort. Regardless of what we want though, this exists.
New construction plumbing is like new convert happiness. It’s pristine, it’s clean, it is untouched and it is also devoid of the ups and downs of life that make the first noble truth so powerful. New construction plumbing is also a lot easier than existing plumbing work, which is dirty, labor intensive, smells like shit (literally) and leaves you desperate for a Purell bath. Life and understanding the first noble truth make us intent on the path.
The Truth of The Cause of Clogged Pipes
Like the cause of suffering, there is also a cause for clogged pipes; age, bad input (socks, baby wipes, hygiene products, shoe laces, toys etc.). Suffering has a cause. There are different forms of suffering like sickness, old age, death, decay, heartbreak, attachment and the list goes on. Like suffering, we often ruin our pipes through willful poor actions, ignorance, or they corrode from old age, years of wear and tear, and sediment buildup (use your imagination on what sediment may or may not be).
We have to understand what the cause is before we can start to pursue a correction. We can’t just will it away or walk in blind and send a 5” blade down an 1 ½” pipe. We have to understand what’s going on. We have to be willing to look at ourselves and our errors.
The Truth of The Unclogging or Replacement of Pipes
The third truth seems off, but the actual truth is the cessation of suffering. There is a way. We can find the cause and we can correct it. I ended up with heart failure years ago because of two reasons—genetic condition mixed with poor lifestyle decisions. The drain is clogged because three women thought flushing tampons for years on end was a good idea (yes, this was one of my first jobs). We know the issue now. When we know the issue, we know how to tackle it. We know there is a way to tackle our behaviors or curb a bad habit of flushing or consuming.
The pipe may be not be salvageable, our lives may not be salvageable but the truth of how we can approach each situation remains the same. We can face things with the light of understanding or we can hope the pipes don’t back up and spray our houses down like a dirty firehose.
The Truth of the Plumber
So, we know the truth of the pipes, the clog, the solution and now we call the plumber…or walk the path. The final truth is the truth of the path. There is a solution and the action needed to make that solution stick (plumber/path). You call me in, I tear up your house, dig through your floor, tear out the pipes, get covered in dookie butter and make things all better.
This is the path. It isn’t clean and pristine like we think when we start. It’s not new construction. We have a lifetime of habits, delusions, denial and experience to deal with. It’s going to cause us to face our polarity bias, our cognitive dissonance and everything else that makes us feel dirty and like crap. It is for a good cause though, just like having your pipes snaked or replaced, the path leaves us with free movement. We have understanding, we have hope, we have freedom from the clogs of ignorance and attachment (or at least we keep going in that direction).
So maybe it is an unorthodox approach but a friend once told me something that I think is perfect story to close this piece.
Back when the Buddha walked the earth, he came upon a man of low birth. A pariah. The man worked the places where the trash and the dead were discarded. He was a humble man, and he wanted to learn the Dharma from the Buddha. The Buddha saw him with his Diamond Eye of Wisdom and called to him. When the man approached the Buddha, and the Buddha went to him, some of his followers implored him not to touch the pariah. The Buddha put his arm around him and said “Look! I’m touching the pariah, and I still live!” Then, admiring the pariah’s work ethic, the Buddha gave him a job. He made him his personal attendant.
There’s no better way to experience real fulfillment than by doing hard work in dirty environments, and finding a way to laugh, in it.
Editor: Dana Gornall