The Letters Part 5
Subject: many moons
Sent: 05/10/97 5:35 AM
have passed since we last conversed.
you know, i love the way shakespeare puts things- i wish i could write like that. anyway,
how ya doin my favorite bear?
im ok. i have to admit i sort have given up on ever trying to see the world as you do. i tried to look at something without any words in my brain and it was hard. how did you ever find a space? or how did you know you found one? i guess you can't describe it. i have a question for you- do you feel you've found perfection? in other words can you deal with every single thing/situation that comes your way? is it possible? you seem so sure of yourself when you write to me - i guess i can't accept the possibility. i guess what im also asking is - how did you learn to trust yourself, the whole elephant? when did you really start believing all of what jean klein was saying, really start feeling it?
also, how do you know when you've made a rule for yourself? you know when you told me that sometimes you start playing the game right (found the right friends/job) and you think you've found a rule - but then after a while the rule turns out to be wrong of course. but isn't the whole not being a person thing a rule too? what makes it more real than any other rule? am i way off here?
i read your new addition- i saw some pretty familiar phrases there, norm : ) the thing is, norm, is that what i liked about your old entries wasn't there- the old entries had your personal experiences proving the things you had learned. this was straight philosophy. it wasnt as effective maybe? im looking forward to seeing more of you next year when im at berkeley. maybe you could send me a copy of one of those books you were talking about? love laura
Subject: Berkeley Bears
Sent: 5/11/97 12:19 PM
That's fabulous you're going to Berkeley. I think their football team is called the Golden Bears, at least something associated with Cal Berkeley is called that... Bears everywhere!
So how will you deal with such a tremendous change; will you deal with it perfectly? Is perfection possible?
The Zen folks use the image of a floating gourd--no matter how you poke at it, it turns effortlessly. This is called functioning perfectly according to circumstances, and no, I'm not there yet. It is still quite possible for me to find myself in circumstances that call up old routines--ways of dealing with situations that are not effective--but compared to how anxious and debilitated I have been, where I am now seems almost perfect.
It took years of floundering for me to get to the point of believing, with Jean Klein, that the idea of being a person is a joke. The search wasn't motivated so much by an idea of what perfection might be, as by the feeling that where I had been was unsatisfactory. I just wanted badly to get out of where I was, and this guy seemed to have a way. And yet, like you, I wondered, what is he talking about, "a space between thoughts"? "how did you ever find a space? or how did you know you found one?" I didn't get it, but I didn't know what else to do, so I kept looking.
The first time I experienced a space, I wondered, is this it? Is this what he's talking about? Does this fit the description, and if it does, where do I go from here? How does this experience relate to the change in point of view people talk about?
In the old days, monks traveled by foot all over China--and later, all over Japan--looking for someone who could give them some insight into "the great matter", or, "the matter of life and death." When they got to a monastery, they would ask to see the teacher, and they would ask a question, trying to find out whether the teacher actually knew anything more than the monk did, and whether it was worth hanging around to find out what it was.
One of the favorite questions to ask was, "What is Buddha?", and one of the famous early answers to this question was, "Dry shit on a stick." Monks carried this answer all over China, everywhere asking, "What does it mean? Does this guy know something or what? How could shit be Buddha or vice versa?"
Part of the reason for giving such off-the-wall answers was to raise questions in the monk's minds about what they already knew, to create doubt and uncertainty about their current understanding of things. The point of all the traveling and questioning was to get to a point where one's doubts were removed, so that no matter what kind of goofy answer anyone came up with you would not be confused by it. If someone suggested there was a space between thoughts, you said, "Of course there is; been there, done that."
Experiencing the space a few times didn't "settle my doubts", as they say, so I went traveling-- figuratively--to a good many of the old teachers of China and Japan that had been translated. A lot of it I didn't understand; a lot of it is still, as Eve said the other day, "more gibberish from Layman Pang". But I got a tidbit here and there, and every now and then another little insight, and I gradually got to the point where I felt I understood--that the parts I didn't understand were either references to ancient culture that I would never be able to put into context, or else they were embellishments that, even if I didn't understand them, wouldn't alter the basic picture. My doubts had been settled.
The latest journal entry is a beginning at trying to make this doubt settling process clear. Since, for me, it was a rather lengthy, complex, convoluted process, I couldn't figure out how to present it chronologically. There weren't any big events or funny stories so much as reading a passage here and getting a glimpse, then reading another passage and getting another glimpse that made something I'd read earlier more comprehensible, etc., etc. I couldn't figure out how to relate it all with the sort of anecdotal approach I had used earlier, so the best I could come up with, so far, is this attempt to talk about things in general--"straight philosophy".
The idea is that our thinking of ourselves as persons is one of the greatest impediments to seeing the true nature of things, and at the same time it is the easiest concept to see through--you only have to watch your own mind at work. My hope was that I could explain that part of the process clearly enough that it would set the stage for what comes next--talking about Zen stories (I think that's what comes next.)--which should be more interesting and entertaining... We'll see.
So how is this settling of doubt different from other rules? “what makes it more real than any other rule?” As Yuan Wu said, “If you cast away judgment and comparison and affirmation and negation all at once, your emotions ended and your views gone, it will naturally become thoroughly obvious.”(THE BLUE CLIFF RECORD, Thomas Cleary and J. C. Cleary, Shambhala Publications, 1977, p.366) All other sorts of playing the game within the system involve defining what is real and what is important in words, in the terms of everyday reality. All words--whether spoken by a Zen master or the guy selling cigarettes--they are all part of reality, but they cannot describe reality--they are not up to the job. The Zen person knows this, knows that reality is bigger than anything you can say about it, knows that all our "judgment and comparison and affirmation and negation", block our comprehension of reality, even though they are practical in everyday life.
One of the old fellows said, "When you realize that there is no connection between your senses and reality, you have arrived at the truth." Not only are words inadequate, one's senses are inadequate, and in the end, "A patchrobed monk has nothing to cling to." Now why should one get giddy at the realization that there is nothing one can cling to? A contemporary guy said, (approximately) "Its like jumping from an airplane without a parachute... it can be very scary until you realize there is no ground." Once you realize there is no ground, falling through the sky can be lots of fun.
I have just the book for you, CRAZY WISDOM, by a guy name Wes "Scoop" Nisker. (He used to do the news on the radio.) Its very entertaining, comprehensible, full of good stuff, and I'll try to get it in the mail real soon.
Subject: book me
Sent: 05/21/97 11:09 PM
you called me a moon bear and that reminded me of the sky which reminded me of the 4 elements which reminded me of the 5th element, a movie i just saw that blew my mind with its special efects and future stuff galore. in other words, i recomend it.
so anyway. after a period of rockiness last week over the weekend and still half continuing until today, ive felt that feeling i get when i think that i understand what you are trying so nicely to tell me. it's unexplainable except by the word FREE- free from feeling like a person with emotions and worries -a wonderful kind of high that i smile when i look at the sun even- a feeling i could do anything and not make a mistake? kind of like you said in your letter "its like jumping from an airplane without a parachute...it can be very scary until you realize there is no ground". that is a great way to describe life- but isnt death a "ground"? i think thats what an existentialit would say. actually they might not say that- i think the really good ones have accepted death and moved on, death is no longer a "ground" for them. anyway, this is wonderful to really feel this realizeation but it never lasts. thats why i asked you about perfection. i dont know if i have been feeling that way just cuz of a good mood or because i found a space or what- but anyway the feeling is upon me and then i start thinking about it . "it will pass and i will not feel this way for long" i tell myself. i kind have been brought up with the philosophy "you have to give some to get some". what do you think of that? it definitely rings true in the world of money and jobs- right? but what about feelings of freedom? do you have to spend some down time to get up again? those happy chemicals in the brain cant always be flowing right?
one thing that has been bothering me is something i think i asked way at the begining and i dont remember the answer. it started with your saying something like after you realize "you will be able to serenely watch the world crumble around you". it seems to me that if someone like hitler rose to power in america today, there is no way we could just sit there and watch america crumble while he kills everybody. am i off?
so "judgement and comparison" are practical in everyday life? when are you supposed to draw the line between using this judgement and comparisment and when are you supposed to take a bigger view. that seems to be the problem in life anyway -when to do things and when to let them go. how is this supposed to integrate "like a floating gourd" ?
so we're building a house this week for Habitat for Humanity -it is so fun working with hammers and nails and stuff. i would love for you to send that crazy wisdom book- "Book me" my friend would say. seeya! love laura
Subject: Free bears
Sent: 5/25/97 3:47 PM
Are you graduated yet? It seems like the right time of year, about, but I'm a bit out of touch with these things.
It is wonderful that you’re getting a taste of freedom these days--I’m incredibly pleased for you. You reminded me of ZEN ESSENCE: The Science of Freedom, a collection of tidbits translated by Thomas Cleary. In the introduction he says:
“Zen is the essence of Buddhism, freedom is the essence of Zen. At its simplest and most profound level, Zen is purely devoted to liberating the hidden potential of the human mind. The Chinese Zen master Ying-an said, ‘Zen living is a most direct shortcut, not requiring the exertion of the slightest bit of strength to attain enlightenment and master Zen right where you are.’
“The freedom that Zen proposes is not remote, but right in this world. It does not require anything extraneous, but can be put into practice in the midst of normal occupations and activities. It is applicable immediately, and develops naturally.” (Shambhala, 1989, p. xv)
The ultimate freedom is the freedom from birth and death, which, of course, if one thinks in ordinary terms, is not possible--every body dies eventually--but if you continue to experience and explore that freedom you have already tasted, you may come to find that it is not personal. You may come to feel so integrated with the universe (as opposed to isolated from it), that the de-commissioning of your particular body seems inconsequential. Rocks and trees will carry on, and even if human beings disappear from this planet altogether and are replaced by insects, that-which-you-are just keeps rolling on, undisturbed.
That point of view may seem TOOO remote and impossible, but here's a story for the interregnum: A person falls off a cliff but their fall is arrested by their clothes catching on the branch of a dead bush. Their weight is too much, and they can see that the roots are pulling free, but just at that moment they see a strawberry plant growing in a crevice, with one ripe strawberry in reach. They pop it into their mouth just as the roots let go--it was delicious.
The point, of course, is that one can enjoy even a fall to certain death, and one can be happy continuously (while you're awake), without having to pay for it with down-time. You don't get up in the morning and run at top speed all day long--you walk, and you sit sometimes. Happiness has its varying intensities, but it doesn't have to give way to sadness, anxiety, etc. Now if Hitler II appeared on the scene and started killing everyone, we might decide that the world would be a better place if he were rehabilitated or dead. If killing him seems like the right thing to do, we can do it without anger or hostility--we can live every second in joy, no matter what.
But shouldn't we feel sadness and anger for the suffering of our friends at his hands? Those down feelings are available, of course, but they require taking a point of view that is optional. Whatever point of view one takes is determined by where you are in the flow of the universe at that time. Those whose identity is bound up in the existence of their injured friends have no choice but to suffer when they suffer. The further afield one has learned to cast the net of personal identity, the greater one's equanimity, and if one's personhood has been absorbed into the ultimate, then one acts as conditions warrant without being personally involved.
Wherever one is in the flow of things, that is the point from which we must begin. (I think there's a book with the title "Start Where You Are".) There is a saying, "If you take care of the roots, the branches will come of themselves." We do the best we can in situations that require judgment and comparison, recognizing that our vision is limited, realizing that even Zen masters don't know the ultimate ramifications of things. And as we go along, making decisions as they are required, we pay attention to what goes on inside our heads, learning what we can about the reality of ourselves. The more we learn, the better our decisions become, and the more comfortable we become with the limitations of our abilities--some of us float more like a brick than a gourd, but we're comfortable with it.
I hear you're coming out July 10th for orientation--we're excited about seeing you! Take care.
Insect Art, Too
Subject: rainy day
Sent: 05/25/97 7:42 PM
what a mood setter this rain. normally i would love spending my rainy sunday in my nice warm room puttering about but im stressed to the max about stupid things- im thinking of myself as a person and its getting me a heartload of ache! ive got my depressed frinds calling me and i feel bad about that, i made plans with many different people and i would normally enjoy going out with all of them but i dont want to upset any of them and the thoughts of the others is bound to keep me from totally enjoying myself on whatever i try to do, and i cant seem to help feeling like a person. its really stressing me out (did i mention that?)
that book looks so good!!! thank you so much my buddy :) its so hard to explain to people what you are for me - i say you are my "philosopher buddy in california" but everyone thinks you are this young guy who im emailing with so then i have to explain that you are a family member and then they just dont get it. i have tried to explain some of what you say to the best of my understanding and some people understand and some people dont. i read the first intro and a little more and the quotes are amazing and the guy sounds so cool- the weird thing is im reading "On the Road" by Jack Kareouc and he is one of the first people mentioned by this nisker dude!
Do you ever think you "understand", as you say you did when you settled your doubts, just because things are going your way so splendidly at the moment? Like if something horrble went wrong (someone close to you dying before their time) would you be so certain you understand?
I hope you are doing well with your art norm - that buisness card is the coolest thing ive ever seen! Im going to put it on my wall :) next to the one with paws running all over it.
Run with the trains as I run with the track Love :) Laura
This Cannot Be Grasped
Subject: Rain or shine
Sent: 6/2/97 3:02 PM
You ask whether my equanimity might be a product of favorable circumstances rather than any fundamental understanding, and its a good question: How would I feel if catastrophe struck. Eve and I were talking about it, and she started enumerating all the things that are available for me to be depressed about. Its all relative, of course: to a homeless person my position might be wonderfully luxurious and enviable, while Jackie Onassis might wonder how anyone could survive under such horrid conditions. You always have the option of feeling bad or good about your circumstances, and if you think things are going too well to test your Zen, hang around--death is in the future of all you know and love :)
Yes, it is difficult to explain what we are doing with all this email. You have come up in family conversation on occasion, what with the wedding and college, etc., and Eve has mentioned our emailing. The usual response is, "Cool", but there is an air of perplexity in it--no one has ever asked directly, "What do a 53-year-old railroad guy and a 17-year-old high school girl have to email each other about?" In the absence of a question, I have never offered an answer, but the other day, Laurie was over getting help from Eve with her computer, and wandered in while I was writing you. "Whatcha doin', Norm?", she asked, reading over my shoulder.
I told her I was writing to you, and as usual, your letter was open on one side of the screen and mine on the other. Several thoughts converged on that moment. Here was a question and a ready answer, for one, and there was the question of Laurie herself. She has a phD in Psychology, you know, and her understanding of human behavior is along those traditional lines. As you may imagine, from my point of view that traditional way of looking at things is limited, and leads to at least as much suffering as it hopes to cure. So I had been wondering if there would ever occur an opportunity to broach the subject with her, to find out if she might have any affinity for a different approach.
I also had concern for your privacy, and how you might feel about someone other than Eve being privy to our communication. The decision that came out of all this was, "Would you like to read it?", getting up to give her my chair. So she read your letter and my answer to it. I gave her a brief history of your reading my web page, art English, Zen and the art... etc., but I didn't pursue the question of eastern/western psychology any further. She has an inkling, and my web page is available... When I sent my email, I simultaneously got this latest one from you, which I printed out for Eve and offered to Laurie as well.
Let me know how you feel about this--if I've done wrong I apologize and won't do it again. I think I know how you feel but I wouldn't presume to be infallible. Glad you like the book--tons of good stuff in there. Makes me wish I had time to read more, but those trains are calling, and the tracks...
Take care, buddy,
Sent: 06/03/97 4:42 AM
my friend Ann said she wanted to email you with a question - i tell her or try to tell her a lot of the stuff ive been reading from you and the book. im not sure if shes going to do it.
no i havent graduated yet... pretty darn soon though! 8 days??? its a pretty crazy thought. i was sad and scared and happy about it all at once after i got home from spending a wonderful day with my freinds for memorial day. we're gonna hang out a lot next year, right norm? i know that im probably not going home for thanksgiving but they dont serve us food on those days at berkeley! i was reading the meal plan. they stuck me in a triple- 2 roomateS! i wrote them asking for a change of rooms. i dont know how i am giong to deal with all these changes, norm. my goard is not going to be floating. sometimes i think it wont be bad and other times i do. i went to a psychologist for two sessions a few weeks ago - my parents suggested it because i was coming home crying from the city or from school a couple times and feel like it a helluva lot more. it was so weird, i would break down crying from no reason in particualr, just an overwhelming sense of hopelessness or self pity or something. i just watched trainspotting today in art english class- that guy didnt seem too up on his zen. did you see the movie? the beggining is a sarcastic, cynical "choose life, choose a family, choose a color tv, choose a dental plan..." and on and on. and ends with the guy saying the same thing. he was just putting a name on things and making them sound boring or bad- right? i do that when i get in those hopeless moods. its "college" or "a job". it sounds so terrible when you just put a name on it, but then once you do its so hard to get around that mental block of a name to discover all the "wonderful" things that you describe so eloquently. driving" seems like such a chore until you get down to the wonderfulness of it. im afraid that i will never be able to get around that all the time. i sort of took a job delivering flowrs this summer and i wasnt so excited but now i guess i am and im sure tomorrow ill be depressed about it again. if i think of it in the non word mindset its cool but thats hard to keep up. what if im missing something? some exciting travel plans that ill miss forever cuz "im only young once". my dad said i dont have to work- he says theres money put aside for me by my grandma. but all my friends are working but i dont want to leave them but i do anyway. im getting caught up arent i.
next topic. coolness: i hate it when peiple think your cool for doing something (like delivering flowers which i do think is cool until i remember that i hate people who think they are cool for doing something) or wearing something or having something, but the urge seems to come naturally to be impressed by something that you dont have or a personality triat that you dont have (like the ability to take risks or something). from the nonperson pespective all this thinking someone is cool because they are a certian way is ridiculous , right if i admire someone because i think they are funnier than me or more interesting, is that wrong? am i admirng something that isnt there? you say you have to watch your mind working but what if my mind works different from some other sack fo protoplasm with a brain (ie my friend) - that seems to point out that there is a person doing the thinking differently- the fact that im even mind watching myself seems to point out that someone is doing the mindwatching. a pereson is doing the mindwatching on my brain and who is that? me? no...but who? and who is being jealous?
do you believe in prozac?
well, thats it for now. im not sure if i made so much sense this letter. maybe ill see you at the next trainspotting :)
Subject: related quote?
Sent: 06/03/97 12:07 PM
ëëThere is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we donít know.íí - Ambrose Bierce
nice i thought?? laura
Subject: read this first!
Sent: 06/05/97 4:53 AM
i told you i went to a shrink a couple weeks ago- it was really weird. what are your feelings on shrinkhood anyway? i was definitely on my guard for signs of personal thinking -i was going to ask you what you thought of it anyway -and she guessed that i was grappling with a lot of philosophical questions, and i guess thats it. but the reall reason i went is i just get depressed and moody and feel life is not what its made out to be and cry all the time and not look forward to anything like gradutatiing or college and soemtimes i think life is pretty cool, like now cuz i just had a good day by the rules (you know, good times with good frends) but especially when i feel free like what i told you before. sometimes i just wish i could feel free all the time. is there any way to "bring on the freedom"? i forgot how i did it the other times. this shrink was kinda cool actually - but only when she was talking about hypnotism. shes really into it- gave me a self hypnosis technique to supposedly get me out of those moods but i dont know if it works. seeyou in that big train track in the sky love laura
Subject: secret copy
Sent: 06/06/97 3:13 AM
norm- i meant to send this along with the other letter. i tried to do one of those blind carbon copies but i didnt get your address right. i hope Carl got this letter cuz he was the one i originally meant it for. love laura
(warning long email)
because i will probably never ever get to discuss this email with you ever never ever ever, i just want to say to you that it is most definitely a wise thing you are pointing out. sometimes i dont think youre wise at all and in fact have talked to Ann about it but then you go and do something like this, tell me something that is so gooooood and i know you got it all figured out my man.
so in case you dont remember- you told me not to be sad that we are all leaving next year and that we will probably never EVER see each other again, at least not in the same friendshippy kind of way. because tonight and today were so good friendship wise this thought still brings a tear to my eye while yesterday it probably wouldnt have -but thats just my moods talking and im trying not to let moods get in the way of my perseption of life. cuz moods are moods and thats what they will stay - i still havent gotten a handle on them (see above mentioned tear) but now that im talking about them in the third person, as moods and not me, i am slipping into your email, believeing when you say " I will miss, yes, but sad...NO. I do not choose to be it. You don't have to be. This is my word of wisdom...choose not to be sad. " it really does work Carl - i think that is why you are so good in panic situations (car accident)- you dont "choose" to be panicky , you dont let your mood get in the way of your perception. that is where existentialism and zen converge i think, or at least as little as i know on each of these topics- dstancing yourself from your idea of "things that will make me happy". where they diverge is that existentialism takes the more condemned to be an individual approach while zen takes the more connected to the universe approach to the alternative to living life looking for "happiness". but all that is educational babble and i probably sound like ronnybaby.
you know i wish i could stop getting caught up in the social system of life- just live in it but not attached to it. like not worry when someone is not saying "hi" to me or some idiot thing like that, or being able not to take it personal when someone is making fun of me- the way you handled Silvia was most excellent Carl. i never did get to talk to you about it -you must have a different kind of love for her if you are not sad that she doesnt like you. good that you are not brainwashed into thinking your self image is reliant on the fact that she loves you. sometimes i really get thrown though, Carl because you talk about certain things non stop- you repeat stuff like getting massaged by jane over and over and i start to get wrong ideas about the way you think- i start thinking you care about being "popular" or some bizarre things like that.
the only thing that bothers me about all this is that sometimes i really do like feeling loved in the old way, i like being friends with people in the old way- at least 25% of the time it is quite nice. but i dont feel
conncected to the universe so i dont have that to turn to if i give up the old way of thinking. i must ask norm about that (philosopher buddy) .
well, good job on symposiumness today and good job on fainting at the doctors - your amazing that you could do all that scary ass public speaking after donating blood to the testube gods. as for me, i went biking on my moms ten year old bike that just wasnt meant to climb hills and i had the gearshift all mixed up cuz it was in the middle and had no numbers and i didnt get it on the lowest gear to climb the hills with but ill learn. i am so antsy without running to do - i definitely want to get into biking- its so hard! i love it :)
ok, ttyloitiaeigiyc* love laura (talk to you later or if there is an eclipse ill get in your cocoon)
Subject: Catching up
Sent: 6/7/97 3:23 PM
I'm snowed under, as usual, but I'll try to catch up on a few hanging questions. I would be happy to hear from Ann, although my response might not be too prompt.
Who is watching who, when you're watching your brain? Your brain, though all the pieces are in one scull, is not one thing. It is an amazingly complicated network of things, and whichever part of it is active at any moment is who you think you are. Most of the time, which part is active is determined by your brain's response to the current situation, based on what it has learned from all the other situations you've been in. An illustrative (not necessarily true) example: Your brain associates a particular circle of friends and activities and environments with times of being happy (safe and secure). When it perceives that these things are changing, the emotion of sadness is produced--the sadness is a way for one part or a combination of parts of your brain to pass the word to the system in general that a happiness-threatening situation is at hand, and we'd all better swing into action.
What we do in Zen is create a new network in the brain, one that is active no matter what the circumstances are. Ordinarily, when you see dog-poop on the sidewalk, the revulsion network is activated; when you see a butterfly, the beauty-appreciation network is activated. The Zen-network is activated by dog-poop, butterflies, feelings of sadness, feelings of joy, thoughts of hugging someone, thoughts of killing someone--no matter what happens, the Zen-network (which is permanently connected to the joy-module) is active: "A thousand miles, the same mood."
So how do we "bring on the freedom"? We have to come to believe that it is possible, usually by seeing someone else's example. Carl is giving you a good example, although you seem to think he may be somewhat inconsistent. Even if you have a good example, it is a habit you have to acquire, and prior conditioning is a big impediment, but you have already had a taste of freedom and you know that it is possible for you as well, even if only for short intervals.
IF you believe its possible, and IF you believe its worthwhile, and IF your suffering goads you onward; you make more determined efforts, and you get more impressive results.
So what kind of effort can one make? I think it is very helpful to get into the habit of reminding yourself of your intention first thing every morning. My sponsor used to say that your ego sits at the head of your bed every morning, waiting for you to wake up so it can start making you miserable. At the least, our brain is likely to bring forth the paradigm it is most familiar with first thing, so it is important to get the jump on it. I always start the day by reading part of a book that is intended to help one understand what its all about, and rereading the ones that are most helpful.
From there its just a question of remembering to remember. There is a saying: "Rocks and trees are teachers--all things are teachers." As you watch your reactions to things and people around you, you will see how your mind reacts to conditions, you will come to understand your programing--which is something even people on Prozac have to do if they are going to be ultimately happy.
The Buddhists lean on three things: The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Buddha is the example of what can be done, the Dharma is the teaching--HOW it can be done, and the Sangha is the community of fellow travelers on the path--those who support and encourage us. There is a danger in all of these: the Buddha can be seen as super-human--so different from us that his experience does not apply. The Dharma can come to take precedence over what the Dharma is ABOUT--how to arrive at the truth that is beyond words. And the Sangha can become a community like all others--a system in which we strive for position according to the rules. Ultimately each of us has to see the truth for ourselves, but the three things can be helpful, depending on where one is.
Shrinks can be helpful, too, although not always in the ways they anticipate being helpful. There is a book by a shrink that I would read if I had more time: THOUGHTS WITHOUT A THINKER: PSYCHOTHERAPY FROM A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE, by Mark Epstein.
Now I am a bit extreme in the lengths to which I go. There are some situations that seem to be more conducive to my learning "Zen mind" than others, and some seem nearly impossible to learn from. For example, I don't watch TV, read news or fiction, listen to music, go to movies, travel, or "socialize". Other people may be able to practice Zen in these situations, but for various reasons I find them either difficult or superfluous. In general, I don't do entertainment, except for the art I do (for which I have a "dharmic" rationalization). It may seem like a rather austere existence, and Eve certainly finds it so on occasion. She and I eat out a lot, which is entertaining as well as being necessary, and we sometimes go for walks, but while these may seem exceptions to my monkish life, I have learned a lot from watching my reactions to her, and vice versa--we are major teachers for each other.
As you may guess from the above, I am rather limited in the "hanging out" department, but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing you, easing your transition if I can. I am certain you will quickly find new friends who are more fun to hang out with than me--I'm more interesting in cyberspace than in real life. I used to hang out after AA meetings and talk to whoever else was around, and this one guy told me one day, "The things you say in meetings are more interesting than what you say in one-to-one conversation." (He was brain-damaged from an auto accident, and one of the side-effects was unlimited candor.)
I wouldn't say that everyone has to adopt my approach in order to make progress--everyone doesn't have to spend nine years in AA, either--but everyone has to pay attention to the situations they are in and their reactions to them. They have to decide how important it is to make progress, and what things are helpful or not for them.
No, "life is not what its made out to be"--its much better than that. Washing the dishes is so incredibly entertaining, and dusting furniture! What wonderful thing is going to happen next?