Sansaku: How I Learned
There’s a scene in “Pretty Woman” where Vivian the prostitute sneaks into the bathroom and Edward the corporate raider suspects addiction. He bursts in to find she’s flossing. He says, “I’m not often surprised by people.” She says, “Really? Well they shock the shit out of me.” He was learning.
When Guru went to graduate school, his best friend was a cousin I’d never known. Guru studied psychology and Lou earned his doctorate in herpetology, which is all about snakes and lizards. I knew very little about that side of the family, even though I thought I did.
George tried to protect me from my genetic loading. I can tell it as a story. The boy was not allowed to know his father or his father’s side of the family. But it was obvious to those who knew, he was similar.
Guru was the old master who came for the boy when he’d come of age. “I knew your father and your father’s family. There’s many things they haven’t told you. For instance, you don’t know about his sister. She had the vision.” The vision for what?
I liked to sit with Guru after lunch. He drank tea and I asked questions. I wanted to learn about psychology and he practiced like he taught. I didn’t know we were doing sessions for the longest time. He did this within earshot of others and sometimes changed the subject when he knew they were listening.
“Do you ever feel when the door closes you’re being caged in a room with primitive primates and they’ll attack if you don’t entertain?” But he had considerable skill as an entertainer as well as a teacher and therapist. He did all three at once.
I’d heard about transference and asked him. He asked, “How do you see and experience me?” Like many psychologists and philosophers, he answered questions with questions.
He shifted the subject to my love interest, one of the teachers. I seemed to be attracted to complication. He asked, “What made you fall for her?” I remembered the vision. She’d just arrived.
After graduating from Stanford, she moved to the mountains outside Tahoe. I imagined Yosemite. I knew she’d taken her GREs and scored 800 in math. She could teach anything, but she’d been hired as head of Languages. This was before John Milton came to the school.
Dorah taught her classes in the library and knew every book on the shelf. The students liked to mess with her and moved a few each day. They made bets on how long it would take her to notice and make the correction. When we got together they wondered how long it would take before she wanted to put me in order. I didn’t see that coming.
When it comes to predicting the future, we have big-time illusions with foresight. These problems with seeing tomorrow are not easily remedied by experience or shared wisdom. Memory is flawed and notoriously skewed by events, like how an affair ends, not starts.
Guru knew long before I, the two of us weren’t suited for each other. Most people don’t know they’re like most people because we focus on differences. Psychologists have learned to focus on similarities. It’s why a word like war is related to a word like puke, not peace. You have to think about it. I thought the two of us were similar.
“She knows who she is and you don’t.” Guru had begun his diagnosis. “You have leaky margins and need to improve your borders. It almost appears you have none. But it’s a good problem and means you can learn.” He surprised me. It’s how I learned.