Normality on Retreat

Guest blog by Keith Knapp

Can and should the concept of normality, and therefore the expectation of it, go on retreat, not just during this time of pandemic, but always?  Should the use of this word, currently said with hesitancy and a catch in the throat, be banished always to the category of the trash heap?  For myself or that which the world defines as such, it is starting to seem like it should (at the suggestion of a close friend, however, I’ll exclude from this discussion its use in geometry and washing machine dials).  Recently reaching out rationally to define and interpret it and opening to what it has strangled in the past.  This journey has pushed its conceptual essence to travel from the left side to the right side of the brain.  In that pathway of neurons it, normality, however it might be used, has crumbled away.  It just can’t be sustained or make sense within the heart mind. 

Logically and with all certainty the online dictionary defines normal as “…conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern: characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, and routine.”  Ahhh.  Embracing this is so easy and clear, permanent, solid, steadfast, and grounded.  Supporting our concept of the structure that we think was and is.  This feeling is so needed right now and yet it feels like a grasping at a solid “truth” and permanence that was always in the ether as much as the past or the future.  And past truth can go no further in the arena of normality.  It is completely and utterly unsatisfactory.  It no longer serves.  It no longer serves because, because, it falls flat in the expansive world as it exists.  In this world normality can tear but not shred, and it does not scar, unless embraced and grasped as a part of this whole.  It will strangle a soul until it hurts if allowed.  But the suffering normality can impart with clinging can also be reduced, if by choice, it is embraced and passes through.  This contradiction is something to work through.  Bringing the mind and heart together. 

But, is there any self or others in normality?  I personally don’t think so.  It is on retreat and must remain there.  At least for me, and that’s okay.  One more thing falls away.  Normal can only be found in something created through individual thought.  This is impermanent, imperfect, and impersonal by nature.  It can’t be pointed to and described, although many try to do so by saying “that is normal”.  Its very essence requires comparative and judgmental processes which serve no purpose.  Perfectly imperfect we walk through this interrelated world, not normal, but pretending that this imagined structure can be defined to support the systematic Escher-like life we all lead. 

Embracing a normality that is permanently and forevermore on retreat can be incredible, even if it only happens in spurts.  Retreat is where it belongs and retreat is where it should stay.  Without normality to create the structure of us and them the impossible becomes possible and there just is.  Whatever and whoever that may be, it is okay.  Not separate as a structure but intertwined and enviably together without difference.  Normality is on retreat, let’s leave it there, perhaps it can serve to support the wisdom of a wider community.  Leaving what was behind and embracing what is in the future as we explore and explore and explore. And explore.  

Author’s Addendum to Normality on Retreat

Sitting quietly a phrase from the “Normality on Retreat” essay rose to consciousness without effort time and time again.  The analytical brain flashing back to past English Literature and Philosophy classes where my young engineer’s brain stood bewildered by people working to interpret what was in the mind of an author at the time of a writing.  Comfortable now, but not then, with the idea that the same words and word groups can mean many things to each individual and also shift in meaning at different times in the life of the same shifting person.  Even to the author of these words.

This shift occurred (and continues) as I have settled in further with this question from the “Normality on Retreat” essay:  “But, is there any self or others in normality?”  With the great certainty of an online dictionary I had responded “I personally don’t think so.”  But, could the answer be “Yes, that is all there really is in normality – self and others”.  Or could the answer be neither or both of these?  I’ll leave those questions as they are for a bit more contemplation and just one final inclination.  If “no self” is within and without the construct typically defined as normality, but this same normality also fully encompasses the idea of self and others as separate entities, perhaps the answer to the initial question is “All of the above – yes, no, neither, and both.”.  Now for some class participation/discussion.

Published by Daishin

Daishin Eric McCabe is a Buddhist monk. He teaches Soto Zen philosophy, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and calligraphy to people of all walks of life and spiritual paths. He was ordained in 2004 and given permission to teach in 2009. He is fully ordained in the Soto Zen tradition and is a recognized teacher both in the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists and in the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. Daishin undertook a 15 year mentorship with Abbess Dai-En Bennage of Mount Equity Zendo, located in rural central Pennsylvania. During this time he trained at various Soto Zen Monasteries in Japan. In France he trained with Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, practiced in California at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and with Rev. Nonin Chowaney at the Nebraska Zen Center. He is a certified hatha Yoga teacher through Integral Yoga. Daishin has four years experience attending the spiritual and emotional needs of patients, family, and staff in a hospital setting, and three years experience giving spiritual direction and counsel to clients with mental health and substance abuse issues. He has ten years experience as a Guest Teacher and speaker at Buddhist meditation retreats, yoga centers, colleges, and multi-faith gatherings. Daishin studied at Bucknell University where he received a BA in Religion and Biology in 1995. He completed 5 units of Clinical Pastoral Education at Wellspan York Hospital in August of 2014, where he worked as a Chaplain in Behavioral Health, and in 2015 was granted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification Incorporated the equivalent of a Master of Divinity. Prior to chaplaincy he taught meditation and yoga for two years to clients at White Deer Run, a drug and alcohol rehab in central PA. He presently teaches yoga at Broadlawns Medical Center to patients receiving mental health care. Daishin presently resides in Ames, Iowa with his wife and family.

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