The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Saturday, April 2, 2011
Outer Space ... Spirituality ...

Being a born geek and having grown up in the days of the “space race” in the 1960s, I just had to watch the local PBS station’s recent replay of “The NASA Story: America in Space”, a 2009 BBC production. During the second episode, which was about the moon landings, Apollo flight director Gene Kranz spoke of what it was like at Mission Control during one of the “moon missions”. He recalls telling his people, all those intense geeky fellows with the horn-rimmed glasses, short-sleeved white shirts and black ties, that this is what they were born for; these are the peak moments of their lives. (He also told them in a father-like way that he would support all of their decisions.) When you walked thru the door into the control room and saw all of them at their control panels, hunched over flickering screens and pouring over binders holding charts and instructions, Kranz said that you could feel the atmosphere “crackling with energy”.

This is how Kranz helped pull off NASA’s and America’s greatest techno-miracles. It’s sad how the “Zen of Kranz” was lost somehow during the Space Shuttle days (Challenger, Columbia . . . and now, the end of American manned space flight).

As a Zen practitioner, I think that Mr. Kranz pretty aptly described what we seek in Zen. If you were to walk into a zendo during a meditation session, it would seem pretty still, almost like a morgue. But if the practitioners are truly doing what Zen is about, there should be a “crackling” of energy in their midst. At Mission Control, Kranz and his troop of techies were entirely focused; no day-dreaming, no angst, no idle chit-chat. Everyone was at the top of their game, playing it to the hilt. Another example might be a musician playing in the New York Philharmonic. She or he melts into the concert, she becomes the music; it takes her over, sweeps her normal day-to-day worries or amusements off the table. Another example? How about a figure skating team at the Olympics? Again, they become the skating; they are totally alive in it, and it in them.

In Zen – in theory, anyway – we seek to uncover, deep within ourselves, the truest essence of being; we merge ourselves into “just being”. Perhaps it really happens once in a while, but from my own experience, not that often. For the most part we are fighting off aches and random worries. Or sometimes, for me, the mind just goes blank. That can be very peaceful, but it’s not a virtuoso state. A Zen state is living to the hilt, being truly and completely alive in the precious moment, riding the surf-board of life on the wave of being (oh yea, surfing! – another example of someone seeking the big moment of intensity in ‘just being’, the Zen moment). It seems like we’re just sitting still, doing nothing – but on rare occasion, that ‘silent nothing’ becomes an all-encompassing everything. It’s not even a question of paying attention; whatever was paying attention has dissolved into . . .

T-minus 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 < you fill in the rest >

P.S. — it would be pretty cool if our sensei (dharma teacher) told us, during his weekly talk, that “failure is not an option” (the title of Kranz’s autobiography).

P.P.S. — no, no, wait. That’s just a bit too Teutonic for Zen. It would need more of a Taoist twist to it, a bit of contradiction. Something that works on more than one level. Like maybe “success is not our goal, and failure is not an option”.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:11 pm      

  1. Jim, Your comparison of the preparation for the moon landings and the work of those back here on earth to support the astronauts with practicing Zen is on the mark. While I do think there’s a big difference between the 2, in a lot of ways they are the same.

    The moon landings and Zen are extremely different in that one is very physical and the other is completley spiritual–or maybe intangible. But then again, they are th esame in that moon landings were few (and maybe there won’t be any more at all, who knows). The practice of Zen is full of a lot of the “drudge” work similar to the preparation for moon landings. But then in Zen once, maybe twice if a person is lucky (is my guess), one might experience that special moment that Zen seeks.

    So, yes, while they are very different in so many ways, when one gets right down to it, I guess they are the same.

    In fact, what you are describing is most of life: Most of it is the drudge of everyday life; then now and then there is a moment of intensity where one experiences the full vitality of “L-I-F-E”! Maybe experiencing the full intensity of life, of the experiences of life, of life’s searches all the time would simply be too much for the individual to survivie; so the ordinary must take over most of the time. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — April 3, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

  2. Mary —

    ROGER THAT! As they say at Mission Control. Great insight.

    Comment by Jim G — April 5, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

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