I don’t remember what got me into Buddhism exactly.
Maybe it was the taekwon-do, which I had recently taken up because I thought one of my co-workers at the Pizza Hut I was working at the time were going to get into a fight.
In any case, there were a few things I remember from my first foray into Buddhism: One was a book I had picked up on the way home from Pizza Hut, still in my uniform as I passed through the mall bookstore. It was a book of quotes called The Little Book of Zen.
The second was a TV show called Northern Exposure.
I don’t recall Northern Exposure ever explicitly referencing Buddhism. But it was the first show I ever saw where the conflicts were mostly internal. Other shows were about murders and car chases. Or conflicts between characters., but compared to the alien murderer and conspiracies of the X-Files, Nothern Exposure had low stakes: Maggie’s fear of bugs. Chris’ lack of inspiration. Ed’s vocation. Even the romance between Joel and Maggie seemed less about the romance and more a for exploring the Jewish doctor and the pilot’s psychologies.
I was hooked. It was a show that seemed calming and energizing all at once. I couldn’t find a word to describe it other than…quiet. It was the same feeling I felt in the mornings, crossing the footbridge to the mall parking lot at six thirty in the morning on my way to the Pizza Hut, feeling the vibrations of my own footsteps on the path. Below me, the Sturgeon river, clogged with stray shopping carts. Beyond me, the sky, streaked with clouds and the colors of sunrise.
I loved those clouds. I loved that sky. Different every single morning. But always beautiful.
There was conflict in Northern Exposure, but there was no yelling or door slamming. No passionate break-ups and make-ups. Even the characters who didn’t got along, still got along--they lived in the same town and had to interact with each other, so they did. Adam, the most unlikable character was invited to parties.
There was a sense of acceptance
Even the character Maurice Wiinnefield--a guy who was basically everything about the Tea Party before the Tea Party existed had a certain decency and dignity. Similarly, the neurotic Jewish New York Doctor was neurotic and out of place without ever being a buffoon or an over-the-top cartoon character.
A number of spiritual traditions have the theory that we are not who we are. The things that we think of as making up our identity--our physical forms, our jobs, our social roles, our personalities--are insubstantial and unimportant, waves on the surface of a deeper ocean. We are part of something greater and all of us are connected to that something, and thus, to each other.
We can be bloody-red as a sunset, grim as grey clouds, or bright, blue and endless. We are different…different from each other and different from day to day. But for all our differences, we are all the same sky. We cradle the earth and everything on it from horizon to horizon, from the trees to the malls to the teenage bass player in the Pizza Hut uniform crossing a footbridge over the Sturgeon River over twenty-years ago.
Listen. You can hear his footfalls in every word in this post.