Religion and Philosophy
There is a centuries-old Zen koan that has accumulated any number of answers through the years: How does the Buddha meditate when he is too hot or too cold? The ancient zendos made few concessions to the severe climate: there was no heat; you were given maybe one blanket, and you wore the same garment winter and summer. One answer was “Buddha hot, Buddha cold,” which meant: when you’re hot, sweat; when you’re cold, shiver — what’s the problem? Another seems at first glance to say the opposite: “Heat kills, cold kills.” It is not heat and cold themselves that kill, but our ideas about them. Heat and cold are not problems. They are just facts. It is what we do with them that creates problems.
My fortieth birthday was approaching like a tidal wave. I was single, childless, and questioning my life as a performance artist with a cult following but no steady income. I lacked the requisite evidence of adulthood: a couch, a dining-room table, a matched set of dishes, a color television. Although I tried to convince myself that this was because I had recently separated from a lover who owned nearly all of the furniture and electronic devices I had used for seven years, I knew the real problem was that I’d dedicated my life to my work and I wasn’t getting famous fast enough. There were no book contracts, no movie deals, no television appearances coming my way. I needed help, a map to guide me through the midlife moonscape of defeat.