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In Sartre’s essay Being and Nothingness, he devotes a chapter to the idea of Bad Faith. He uses the description of a waiter to convey this self-deception: a young man, darting quickly around a café, eager to please his customers, obviously play-acting at being a perfect automaton fulfilling his assigned role. The waiter knows what he is doing. He knows he is free, but deprives himself of this freedom in his bad faith. He knows himself, but chooses to act as something other than himself. He uses his freedom to deprive himself of his own freedom.

I read this essay when I was 19 for a phenomenology class. I was struck by the waiter character and the whole idea of Bad Faith in such a way that this chapter will still periodically burst into my thoughts. “Am I the waiter?” I’ll ask myself, frantic. The anxiety and question are similar to the repetitious, frantic question from the movie I Heart Huckabees (2004): “How am I not myself?” Except I know the answer.

Two years ago, I walked out of the charter school where I taught, through the city and up the parking garage, and stood looking at my 1999 Chevy Cavalier beater crammed in between the larger, sparkling vehicles. My work clothes were sharp, my cardigan matched my dress pants, I wore heels to make myself look taller. Shouldn’t my professional appearance extend to the car I drove to work? My similarly sharp co-workers walked past me to their vehicles, not expensive and new but far newer and cleaner than mine. I felt… embarrassed. I decided I needed to buy a newer car, a flawless, attractive thing that I wouldn’t sprint away from in the parking lot when I attended job interviews.

I wanted to exit my vehicle in sun glasses, and when people saw me and my charge, they would think: “That woman has her shit together.”

However, I was still relatively poor, making less money than my co-workers and a pittance in the grand scheme of things. Stringently, I saved up money, but in the end my budget limited me to a 2004 Ford Taurus. What mattered to me, though, was that an old woman had owned it, had barely used it, so it was shiny and practically untouched, beautiful, dent-less, sparkling, clean. Professional.

I was proud. I drove to interviews in my shiny car, in my work clothes, with my work purse. All of this was very different than the haphazard art, punky clothes and colorful, bizarre purses I preferred at home in my apartment. I had two sets of everything: for work, for me.

Two years later, my car embarrasses me again—now moreso than even the Chevy. Driving through hectic city traffic and chaos, I’ve slid on ice and found myself in fender benders. My hood dented in such a way that I couldn’t close it, so I bolted it shut. Ideally I would have purchased a new hood, but that was far more than I could afford. I cracked the front bumper. Then someone hit my back bumper in the parking garage and cracked it. On a foggy day, I backed up into a hidden pipe and cracked the other side. I purchased a roll of duct tape and sealed all these cracks with a heavy layer of blue tape.

My car is bolted shut and taped together. I work in a new school in a different state now, still making very little money compared to my co-workers, and my car looks ridiculous near their gleaming vehicles. I felt ashamed for a while, thinking that I couldn’t manage to avoid wrecking a car, and what would that old woman think about what I’ve done? I’ve tried to look professional and shiny and new, like everyone else I see regularly, but in reality I can’t afford things, I drive all over the place, work several supplemental income jobs, and have more on my plate than I can handle. The things I have just fall apart.

My attempts to be like my co-workers, who watch sports and have children, discuss popular television shows over tupperware and have never moved away from their hometown, who have close-knit families and free time and job security, have failed. I’m slap-dash, I just cannot compare. I’m weird and smoke too much weed and go to raves and concerts where hair gets ripped out and ears get bitten off, I drink beer with my line cook friends and shout at anime. I’m unstable and find myself checking into emergency mental health facilities overnight. I just cannot put on the same mask, it doesn’t fit.

I cover all my tattoos, afraid to let them show at work. I pick out clothes specifically to conceal them. I can’t let people know who I’ve actually chosen to be. Lately, I’ve been agonizing over a pathetic personal conflict involving my nose stud. When I had spent years working at the charter school, I had grown comfortable enough there to wear a nose ring and show my tattoos. This comfort vanished when I was back attending interviews and shimmying in skirts and high heels to stand in front of people in suits. I took out my ring and put in a tiny little stud.

I hate the stud. I feel like it’s not me, and I want to put the ring back in so badly. But—interviews. I’ve been cleaning up my image to attend interview after interview, failing every time, but still working hard to present myself as a sharp, professional woman who has her shit together.

I feel like two different people. There’s the professional façade, and then punky little me. I can’t effectively merge the two. I don’t know if this is something that takes time and perfection, or if I should just be myself and hope for the best. But the world of careers and enough money to get by—it seems to involve the automaton motions of the waiter. The concealment of the things that make me who I am.

I am the waiter. Except my movements aren’t so smooth, not so quick. You can hear the squeak and whine of my automaton limbs. My smile is too fake. The play-acting is less successful.

I know how I’m not myself. Perhaps it’s time to throw away my ideas of success and failure—and just be myself.

I have a friend who has always been an excellent source for a thoughtful answer, and I asked him once what would be the best textual resource if I wanted to learn more about Zen Buddhism—not the history, but just pure philosophy. We went to a bookstore and looked through the books together; eventually we found this book and decided it was the best one to buy. I’ve read it several times since, and it’s always been a great resource for correcting thought patterns that had gone awry and begun to fuck up my well-being.

Here are some of the passages I find the most helpful, in terms of keeping a clear and aware mind. I try to remember them, and use them to make my life just a little bit easier when possible.


‘You may say, “I must do something this afternoon,” but actually there is no “this afternoon.” We do things one after the other. That is all. There is no such time as “this afternoon” or “one o’clock” or “two o’clock.” At one o’clock you will eat your lunch. To eat lunch is itself one o’clock. You will be somewhere, but that place cannot be separated from one o’clock. For someone who actually appreciates out life, they are the same. But when we become tired of our life we may say, “I shouldn’t have come to this place. It may have been much better to have gone to some other place for lunch. This place is not so good.” In your mind you create an idea of place separate from an actual time… All that we should do is just do something as it comes. Do something! Whatever it is, we should do it, even if it is not-doing something. We should live in this moment. So when we sit we concentrate on our breathing, and we become a swinging door, and we do something we should do, something we must do.’


‘Even though you try to put people under some control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.’


‘We say, “Pulling out the weeds we give nourishment to the plant.” We pull the weeds and bury them near the plant to give it nourishment. So even though you have some difficulty in your practice, even though you have some waves while you are sitting, those waves themselves will help you. So you should not be bothered by your mind. You should rather be grateful for the weeds, because eventually they will enrich your practice.’


‘Calmness of mind does not mean you should stop your activity. Real calmness should be found in activity itself. We say, “It is easy to have calmness in inactivity, it is hard to have calmness in activity, but calmness in activity is true calmness.”‘


‘To cook, or to fix some food, is not preparation, according to Dogen; it is practice. To cook is not just to prepare food for someone or for yourself; it is to express your sincerity. So when you cook you should express yourself in your activity in the kitchen. You should allow yourself plenty of time; you should work on it with nothing in your mind, and without expecting anything. You should just cook! That is also an expression of our sincerity, a part of our practice. It is necessary to sit in zazen, in this way, but sitting is not our only way. Whatever you do, it should be an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.’


‘When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is. We put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. We just see things as they are with him, and accept them. This is how we communicate with each other. Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself. You are actually listening to your own opinion. If it agrees with your opinion you may accept it, but if it does not, you will reject it or you may not even really hear it. That is one danger when you listen to someone. The other danger is to be caught by the statement. If you do not understand your master’s statement in its true sense, you will easily be caught by something which is involved in your subjective opinion, or by some particular way the statement is expressed. You will take what he says only as a statement, without understanding the spirit behind the words.’


 

Full text can be found here.

 

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