I’ve been thinking about becoming more of a blockhead. Now, the fact that I’m doing this, thinking, shows that I have a ways to go before achieving Blockhead Extraordinaire status.
That honor, of course, belongs to Charlie Brown. Thanks to Lucy he’s been a blockhead ever since June 1958. I was nine at the time. I probably was a blockhead in training even back then, but I didn’t have a Lucy to tell me so.
Forty-nine years later I’ve learned that life is my Lucy. It’s pulled the football away from me enough times to make me realize that whatever else I may be, “blockhead” is an apt personal description.
And this isn’t at all a bad thing, even though being a blockhead is a negative to most people.
Thumbing through one of my favorite spiritual books yesterday, I read a quotation from Tai-hui in The Zen Koan as a Means of Attaining Enlightenment:
"The main thing is to shut off all your sense organs and make your consciousness like a block of wood. When this block of wood suddenly starts up and makes a noise, that is the moment you feel like a lion roaming about freely with nobody disturbing him, or like an elephant that crosses a stream not minding its swift current."
Encouraging. According to Zen, it seems that my problem isn’t that I’m too much of a blockhead, but that I’m too little of one. I’d like to be that lion or elephant. But first, it seems, I’ve got to be a block of wood.
Easier said than done. My many years of daily meditation testify to that. The urge is strong to do something else, anything, rather than that one thing.
I’m coming to look upon my mantra and my meditation as casket-building. A rehearsal of sorts for death. Mystics are always saying, “Die to live.” I don’t really know what that means, but it has a ring of truth.
Nail down the wooden lid. Lie still in the darkness. Not much room to move. Claustrophobic. Creepy. Yet also: exhilarating. Now we’re down to where the religious rubber hits the road. Becoming a genuine blockhead. Dead to the known; not yet alive to the unknown.
What stirs? Can the block of wood really start up and make a noise? Or does it just remain a useless clump of cellulose?
Not that uselessness is a bad thing either. In “The Tao of Paris Hilton” I mused about the virtues of not being a good for nothing. Chuang Tzu speaks of a long-lived, greatly-venerated tree that appears to Master Shih in a dream and explains why it has never been cut down like other trees:
"Because they are useful, they suffer, and they are unable to live out the years Heaven has given them. They have only their usefulness to blame for this destruction wrought by the people. It is the same with all things. I have spent a long time studying to be useless, though on a couple of occasions I was nearly destroyed. However, now I have perfected the art of uselessness, and this is very useful, to me! If I had been of use, could I have grown so vast?"