My Mother the Zen Master by Cliff Mazer, Ph.D.
Once upon a time, when I was a boy, around age 12 or 13, on a beautiful summer day in Highland Park, Illinois, my mother came into my bedroom unannounced, as she had a penchant for doing, and said in a clearly critical tone of voice, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” The reason I knew she was in a mood to criticize was because her teeth were gritted and both she and her younger sister (my Aunt Bobbie) were rabid teeth grinders…especially when they were mad or “irritable”. That must have been some kind of weird psycho-physiological trait handed down since ancient Jewish mother caveman times….
I was sitting in the tweed upholstered armchair, the only really comfortable object in my bedroom that I happened to share with my goody-two-shoes slightly older brother Neal, rocking and spinning around lazily (it was a Lazy Boy recliner)……I cautiously answered, “Um, I’m doing…. um, nothing.” I remember her looking at me in a peculiar but recognizable manner that expressed equal parts confusion and disdain. She shook her head ever so slightly and continued on toward my tall wooden clothes dresser where she then engaged in a predictable ritual. In this unusual cultural sacrament and maternal obsession she would rustle around in my underwear drawer arranging and rearranging my clothing and Fruit of the Looms until her behavioral compulsion mysteriously passed….and then would disappear from my room, always closing the mirror backed door behind her in a certain way that seemed to subliminally say, “See, I’m giving you your privacy and personal freedom..but you really have none….so get up and DO something!!!” This incident reappears in my adult consciousness quite often. Not only do I notice that my mother was and continues to be the Zen master of dual opposite messages (considered by some to be a method for either instilling enlightenment or schizophrenia in children) but she also taught me an early form of dualistic thinking. For that I thank her very much. However, I will pass on the schizophrenia part, having both “bad genes” and enough personal problems and emotional issues as it is. I also remember that it felt kinda good to see my mother leave my room without having scored any lasting psychological “criticism points”. I also felt no guilt, only the dawning sense that other people, even parents, have their own emotional demons and dragons to slay.
If dualistic thinking is generally defined as, “a mind caught between polar opposites” and Buddhism (in a spiritual sense) seeks to transcend such conflicted forms and mental illusions, then perhaps I now have a better idea as to what I was really “doing” that summer day on that rocking chair in my 60’s era plaid-patterned bedroom with matching twin paisley bed covers so very long ago. In fact, I was doing nothing, but i didn’t realize until now that I was doing nothing consciously, and in so doing was working on becoming a mindful and individuated human being. I was also beginning to practice the stealthy teenaged art of being alert and passive-aggressive at the very same time. Two points for me.