So what does Charles Bukowski, author of Notes of a Dirty old Man and Tales of Ordinary Madness have to do with waking up? The brilliant, misanthropic writer might strike you as an unlikely source of wisdom. Sure, his work is teeming with hard-boiled truths about drudgery, strife, alcoholism, life at the bottom. But those aren’t the kind of insights you’re here for, right?
Let’s start at the end. Visit Bukowski’s graveyard in LA and you’ll see two words inscribed under his name: Don’t Try. If you see the connection, you’re doing good. If not, you’ll get it sooner or later. Relax!
A little bit about Bukowski. He lived in poverty for most of his life. Drunk, miserable, awful loveless relationships, working jobs he hated every minute of, stacking up rejection letters. He made it as a writer later in life. He was still drunk, miserable. And his writing never slowed down, never lost its edge.
During his brief period of fame, Bukowski was given an entry in Who’s Who in America and asked to give some life advice.
Here’s what he told them:
Somebody asked me: “What do you do? How do you write, create?” You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks, you make a pet out of it.
And that’s why his writing hits people the way it does. It’s not forced, contrived. It doesn’t shy away from anything. It doesn’t rely on comforting delusions.
Now let’s take a look at spiritual practice. People spinning themselves in circles. Ten, twenty, ninety day retreats. Getting up at 5 to sit. Blowing thousands on seminars and private lessons. Months, years. Decades. And for what? How many people ever grab that elusive thing they’re chasing? And what the hell are they running after anyway?
Do all of that stuff if you want. Bend yourself into a pretzel for all I care. It might even be good for you. Help you get to where you’re going. But it ain’t gonna help you in the way you think.
What you’ll realise, after X years of seeking, the big ‘aha’, satori, whatever, is this: There was never anything to gain. There was never anyone to gain anything. Every moment of trying is just feeding the illusion that you’re something, and that anything could be other than what it is, right here and now.
You’ll have dipped into the deepest states of bliss and oneness. Emptied the mind of all thoughts. Had so many moments of “this is it” “surely, THIS is it” “this HAS TO” be it”. Until you finally come crashing into a big wall. And you finally see it. You’ve got nowhere.
So you sit and wait. Nobody waiting for nothing. And after a while, or no time at all, the bug sees you. And slaps you. And kills the illusion of you.
And nothing has changed, everything is exactly as it is, right this moment. There are thoughts, sensations, sounds, colours, whatever. All in their perfect, transient suchness. But wherever you go, wherever you look, there you aren’t. And aren’t forevermore.
And there’s nowhere to go. Nothing to do.
Nobody to do it.