Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Saint Nevins

I wanted to give a shout-out to the TAT Society, and specifically to Shawn Nevins, who continues to be an inspiration to me. TAT was the organization that formed around Richard Rose, who was Augie Turak's teacher, and for a few years mine as well.

I first met Shawn when he became involved in the Self Knowledge Symposium at NCSU. Shawn was a graduate student in Soil Science, which is to say, he was one of those people I would never have gotten to know if not for the SKS. A tall, unassuming guy from Kentucky, he spoke with a quiet drawl and did everything with a slowness and deliberateness that might be mistaken for low energy, but was in fact implacable determination.

Shawn was my comrade in those early days of the SKS. We lived in the same house, worked for the same group. I don't think I recognized his virtue back then, because, well, I was an arrogant intellectual back then, and the only things I valued were intelligence, energy, and articulateness, and Shawn didn't manifest those qualities . . . or so I thought at the time. The truth was that I frenetic and frantic, while Shawn was deliberate and steady.

The other distinction for Shawn, one I never gave him credit for, was that he consistently took bigger risks than I did for the spiritual life. He was a semester shy of finishing his masters degree, but he quit the program to spend a summer at Rose's farm with several others who wanted to get more intense. He took a job waiting tables, precisely because it was totally against his nature and would challenge him. Shawn's natural inclination was to worry about financial security -- I have a Polaroid photo of him at his desk, reading a brochure on U.S. Treasury Bonds. But that desire for stability and security didn't stop him from eventually going to live on Rose's farm, and eek out what wisdom he could from the dying and progressively Alzeihmer's-stricken teacher. I had once gone to live on the farm as well . . . but I left after eight months. Shawn stayed there for two or three years.

Shawn has the distinction of being my only contempory in the spiritual life who really found what he sought. He had a spiritual realization. When I spoke with him, it was clear that he had found what Rose had found. He was the real deal. Now, you would think that this would be resoundingly good news, that someone had become enlightened -- but it's actually horrendously challenging. Shawn had arrived at the truth through the path I wouldn't take. He kept asking the spiritual question -- "who am I" -- and he hung onto that question even as he rode his life down into despair. In a certain sense, he gave up everything in order to reach that state. There was also the awkward fact that he left our community and struck out on his own . . . that his realization involved leaving the sangha. As a guy who had dedicated himself to building that community, I was not keen on lionizing someone who "went off the reservation." I guess I was more attached to the organization than even the goal that it supposedly sought.

For years TAT was in a state of disarray and decline, especially during Rose's long slow decline into dementia. For a variety of personal and political reasons, the SKS distanced itself from TAT. The SKS was vibrant and growing and ambitious, and TAT seemed like the poor cousin. But now the positions are somewhat reversed. The SKS's growth plateaued, especially while Augie went off to write his book. TAT persevered and spawned new student groups, new teachers, new publications, and a video documentary.

I read a transcript from a presentation Shawn gave at a TAT meeting, and I was reminded again of how much he had accomplished through his quiet determination. Shawn's message is the one I've needed to hear: "Hang in there. Keep going. Trust the process." For Shawn, intensity is not about inspiration, or even hope, but persistence, and consistency of effort. It's a gospel I am finally ready to hear.



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