By J.L. Pendall
I’ve championed Lay Buddhism for a long time—I’ve even called monks a bunch of dirty names over the years.
Yet here I am. I make almost two grand a month stocking shelves. That’s almost double what I was making before we all got a raise. I live in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment in an old, old house nestled on the part of town where there are still cobblestone streets.
For the first few months after the raise, things were going great. I actually had money in my savings account. Savings! Who’d a thunk it? Then, I don’t know, something must have happened. The new income bracket made me lose my food stamps, health insurance, and it seems like the price of food is going up because my dietary habits haven’t changed.
I’ve got two furbabies. Rudy, the younger one, is mostly here to keep My Zozo company. Zoe’s about 16. She still gets around pretty good and plays (though not as much as she used to), but I’m starting to worry about her more and more. I work nights and weekends, so I never see my family or old friends, and I’m too blind to drive.
The four years I put into a BS in psychology basically brought me right back to where I started before I went to school: stocking shelves and helping customers find stuff.
As a bachelor, I’ve basically got four different full time jobs: work, housekeeping, cat caretaking, and writer/musician. I’m also supposed to call my parents every now and then, reach out to friends, exercise, eat right, get plenty of sleep, meditate for an hour a day, keep up on the laundry and go out on the town every now and then to find a potential mate.
I’m a depressive; I can’t wear all these hats. Life’s too complex, the to-do lists are never-ending and the results are always temporary.
Each day is very much like the one before it, with a few unexpected giggles and tears here and there. Only my friends help me through—my work friends, that is, I never see my old friends anymore. Yet the time with them is fleeting, only a few minutes each day between stocking shelves with arbitrary crap that no one needs.
Whenever I walk through those sliding doors and clock in for the night, I’m betraying almost all of my deepest held values. Whenever I buy or sell something, I’m playing my part in the subjugation of people and the wholescale rape of the planet.
I only do it for love. If it wasn’t for Zoe, and that perpetual dream of finding someone to share this life with, I’d have no motivation for any of it. I don’t care about things. Sure, I want stuff. Whenever I see an Amazon ad on FB, I scroll threw and salivate as I peruse all the neat furniture, instruments and doodads they have for sale.
But the truth has been hammered in too deep: all of it breaks, gets lost, or gets boring. And all of it was made and sold by people who are suffering.
As for work acquaintances, I’ve gotten “close” to a few, but all anyone wants to talk about is, well—work. They want to gossip and complain, and they want me to join in so that they can feel validated.
The thing is, I only care about someone’s complaints if they’re 1) matters of life and death, or 2) I love the person.
You know what I do at work? I stock bread, and then I zone (face) products for six hours.
I’m not great at general stocking because I’m blind as shit and mildly autistic. I could learn, sure, but Big Corporate doesn’t allot time for learning curves. You either kickass at a job right away, or they’ll push you out and replace you with someone else.
I could quit, sure, and find another job in the area. I could even move, leaving behind the friends who keep going in the hopes that I might make new friends wherever I go.
But here’s another truth: it’ll just be the same thing. The job doesn’t matter; the location doesn’t matter. It’s still going to boil down to mindless repetition that drains ones energy so completely that there’s nothing leftover for the passions.
I could play the game. Working hard and kissing ass so that I could get promoted. I could save up and buy a house, a car (that I drive illegally), and maybe even accumulate enough bullshit to attract someone to me. But a relationship based on resources isn’t a relationship worth having, in my opinion. Love isn’t trade to me. Love is love, it’s a primal bond that has nothing to do with all this stupid crap we fuck about with.
Without Zoe, and without love, I see no future for me within the machine because the 9 – 5 leaves me with no energy left for any of the things I enjoy.
I just want to write, sing, have intimate chats with people, and meditate the day away.
The only paths I see that could lead to that are 1) winning the lottery, or 2) being homeless. Without a home, my main needs would be food, water and shelter, and those are surprisingly easy to come by as long as you’re happy with minimalism.
Those needs met, the rest of the day is yours to do with what you like. I could pull out a ukulele and sing old folk songs. I could meditate in the park for five or six hours at a time, occasionally heading to the local library to publish something.
I could be back on food stamps and Medicaid, and save up some money to rent a cheap hotel once a month to shave, shower and do laundry. I could travel and meet people, forming bonds with other outsiders into a little Sangha.
No bills to pay, no mouths to feed, no corporation to jump through hoops for. Just life. Is this the Way? Not just for me, but for all committed Buddhists? Because the fact is, we can’t keep the precepts and participate in civilization at the same time. The whole Western world exists by pillaging the Third World. And this continues each time we sacrifice our free time for company time.
Without love, I just can’t see the point of it—of doing the same thing over and over again while making some billionaire richer. Without love, domestic life has no meaning. The day is coming when I will be without love, without someone or something to support other than myself. Pointless.
I imagine the Buddha came to a similar conclusion when he turned away from industry/hedonism and spirituality/asceticism. They’re both pointless paths that perpetuate cycles of suffering. Love is the only thing worth suffering for.
Buddha had love. If I was in his shoes, I never would’ve left home. He had a wife he adored and a newborn son. I can’t help but ache when I think of all the beauty he walked away from, all the shit he had to go through to just find himself lost under a tree.
Civilization is my Bodhi Tree.
I’ve tried everything I can to find peace within it—even Buddhism. And yet the only time I feel at ease is when I’m with someone I love or quietly breathing, resting with the vast unknown. To rest with that without being called away by work or debt—what a joy!
All I really know is that, whenever I clock in at night and go to work stocking shelves, I’m making my own little contribution to the destruction of the world. Without love keeping me here, there’s no way I could keep at it without my conscience smothering me to death.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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