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Buddhadharma : Fall 2012
FALL 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 69 my books with Euclidean perfection—the small- est slip of the pen vexed me inordinately. When approaching our home, I had my front-door key out and ready a half a block away, whereas it never seemed to occur to my wife that she would need her key until the door materialized directly in front of her, inexplicably thwarting her entrance. Pushing a handful of stiff kale leaves into the blender, I flashed on a memory of submit- ting a handwriting sample to an analysis booth at the state fair when I was eleven or twelve. A computer did the analysis, and I was crushed by the precision with which the lengthy report ranged over my hidden foibles—my insecurities, my shyness, my overly lush fantasy life. On the drive home I sat silently in the backseat, staring at the cold, clinical descriptions of my flawed personhood. Now, standing in my kitchen, the main thing I remembered from that cruel report was that I had a fearful nature. And that was it. That’s what lay beneath my fastidiousness, a kind of ambient fear—a primal suspicion that if the wet towel was hung up with a fold in it, or if, say, the bottles of supplements weren’t all turned out on the shelf so their labels showed, the entire universe would spin wildly out of control and collapse into a black hole of madness and chaos. I sulked with the revelation of my fearful, uptight ways, just as I had that day sitting in the backseat of my parent’s car driving home from the state fair, stomach seething with shame and corn dogs. But I was going to change. I resolved, then and there, before the lone witness of my blender, to become as carefree as I’d always pre- tended to be, even in the littlest details. Especially in the littlest details. I began thwarting all of my little compulsions. I recklessly squeezed the toothpaste from the plump middle of the tube, rather than from the bottom up, though it made my stomach harden into a fist. Into my breakfast cereal I sliced my banana in nightmarishly nonuniform chunks. I resisted making my trademark little asterisk before each item I wrote on our grocery shop- ping list, just scrawling them down, letting them hover unmoored in the whiteness. And, most of all, I deliberately took the eggs from the carton in the most random ways I could, my hand shaking ever so slightly as I did. But three days into my new endeavor I grew dejected. It was an absurd project. Because I was, of course, doing all this carelessness very carefully. It was artificial anarchy, premeditated chaos. I was just layering a sort of meta-neurosis icing over the original neurosis cake. It was a ridiculous strategy that would’ve made a Rinzai Zen master laugh uproariously. Before belting me repeatedly. My situation was hopeless. That night, close to midnight, I lay in bed in the dark, my wife sleeping serenely next to me. Suddenly it occurred to me that tomorrow, at least, I’d have a break from the egg dilemma, because, mercifully, there was only one egg left. Surely, even I couldn’t be anal about taking a single egg from its carton. Or could I? What if my very relief was a sign that I’d already failed this koan? On the other hand, who knew what tomorrow would bring? Slowly I drifted off to sleep, knowing only that the riddle of one lone egg waited for me in the cold dark- ness of the refrigerator, like the bald head of an inscrutable Zen master. I always removed the eggs from the carton in a precise, balanced fashion. I began on the far ends of the rows and worked my way in. But now, in contrast to my wife’s insouciant egg grabbing, I felt suddenly ashamed of my meticulous ways. SAM GUTHRIE is a writer and Buddhist practitioner living in Minneapolis, Minnesota.