I am reasonably sure he’d say he’s just getting the bagels ready.
I accept that. That is what he’s doing, after all.
Across the room, as the rest of us finish praying through shacharit (the morning service), the guy who’s in charge of the bagels is getting the juice and milk; the jam, peanut butter, and cream cheese out of the dorm-sized fridge in the corner—and he’s toasting bagels, four at a time.
And that’s all he’s doing; he’s getting the bagels ready.
I want to say he’s doing something profoundly spiritual. I want to say he’s connecting us—to one another and to the Divine. But to name what he’s doing and to call it Significant ruins it. It makes it about me—about what I want it to be. It’s like this:
The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality. Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit. The teachings are treated as an external thing, external to “me,” a philosophy which we try to imitate. We do not actually want to identify with or become the teachings.
(Chögyam Trungpa: Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, p13)
I was going to write about how male spirituality is different from female spirituality. How all the talks and meditation sessions and yoga classes are so dominated by women. I was going to write about how men can be uncomfortable with that, but that maybe men’s authentic spirituality is one of action without calling it spirituality. It is. But it’s not just men’s spirituality that functions that way.
I spent much of my life uncomfortable with the word “spiritual.” It seemed fluffy and goofy and for guys who run around in kaftans with heads of garlic on strings around their neck. What I really thought was that it seemed weak and unintellectual.
I always considered the source of my power to be my brain. I could name things, understand things, remember things very well and very fast. And that’s not a bad thing. Naming has its place. Think about this:
For us, the naming represents a celebration of becoming aware, of knowing the universe at a different level than we had known before. One of my favorite examples is something that today we just take for granted. It’s called the electron. But there was a time before anyone ever dreamed that such an object could exist. In fact, we know the first person who had that dream. It’s a guy named G.J. Stoney. He was an electrochemist in England, and he said, “Hmm, there’s a funny bit of possibility that there’s a bit of matter smaller than an atom.” He was a person who later actually named the object the electron. So what does the naming do for us? Well, once we know it’s there, we can start to use it. And, boy, we’re using it at the very instant with the electrons that we’re manipulating to talk back and forth.
S. James Gates (On Being, June 6, 2013)
You wouldn’t be reading this now if not for the electron. Given the fact that there are probably about seven of you reading this, that’s less important than the fact that I wouldn’t be writing this now if it weren’t for G.J. Stoney and the electron he named. And that’s really only important because this was an assignment from my havruta.
We need to name things. We need to do it to make things work. But we also need not to be so smart.
I need not to be so smart.
As a man, I am a namer. A knower. Most likely a know-it-all.
And it’s been very hard for me to let go of that. And it always will be.
But understanding and knowing are not the same thing. Human beings can understand on a level beyond knowing and naming. We can just get the bagels ready.
Put the bagels in the toaster. They will pop up. After that, put them on the plate.