The Practitioners' Quandary

Welcome to bDharma: The Practitioners’ Quandary, in which we reflect and envision what it is to be a Buddhist in the world today.  This is a communicative venture, and a showcase for talent, and a storytelling arena. 

Storytelling is the basis of literacy.  It’s a hugely satisfying way of reminding us of our humanity, and is the basis of the entire industries of movies, theater, literature, television, I’d say even journalism, not to mention dinner parties and dates. Storytelling is one of the main activities of ego.  We take little wiffs of emotion and concoct major storylines out of them.  But is there anything more comforting in this dark age of decline than a really good yarn? And if it has the gossipy appeal of being about people we know, or at least know of? Off the charts enjoyable. 

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche talks about the subconscious as a bank of stories that underpin and unite all the other stories we tell ourselves.  “The whole pattern of psychology works in such a way that it is impossible for the explicit thoughts — virtuous thoughts or evil thoughts or neutral ones — to be suspended in nowhere, without any context whatsoever.  The subconscious thoughts make the context that is necessary for the explicit ones.  They constitute the sort of pudding or background texture which permits the process to function in such a way that the next appropriate thoughts in the explicit sequence can come through.”  My father died when I was 10 therefore I’ve had a lot of separation angst my whole life, etc., etc., etc.  We place a lot of truth in these stories. 

 Family stories are the same way.  They are a bank of stories that underpin the family identity, the family zeitgeist, family culture if you will.  My mother was our great family storyteller, and now she is gone, leaving no one to fill that role. 

I am fascinated by everybody’s family stories.  Malloy family stories tend towards the grandiose and legendary, like the manic musicals that peppered the 60’s of my childhood.  The time one of my dad’s summer workers, the son of a family friend, called in to say the brakes on the dump truck he was driving had gone out.  You drove it that far, my father responded, you can drive it the rest of the way.  So the story goes.  There are dozens of them; my mother would recount them with pride and pleasure.

Stories unite us.  They give us a shared understanding of ourselves.  They give us enjoyment.  The magazine is all about stories.  So pull up a chair, or a park bench, and enjoy this while it lasts. Then pick up a pen or a keyboard, and make it a conversation.