The Surfing Guru

If you are on a surf board, and think you are at one with nature, think again.

Being a wave warrior and being on board the Rainbow Warrior are clearly two very different notions of living in the world. In the current conversation series, the Rubin Museum has invited people of many stripes and persuasions to come on stage for intimate one-on-one conversations about how the world operates, and what responsibility we share for our actions and inactions, those actions that have a binding effect: karma.

The monologist Mike Daisey knows all about repercussions from one's actions. He experienced serious career fall out after admitting that his claims about the exploitation of workers in Apple factories in China in his solo piece, "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," had been exaggerated. His defense? "All stories are fiction.
It is always a reductive and editing act."

I get the impression that karma is important.
Yet he came to the Rubin keen to know about karma ("I get the impression that karma is important.") Enter meditation teacher Thom Knoles, fully equipped with the trappings of the sage: grey beard, mala beads, elegant bare feet on stage, and the knowing twinkle in light blue eyes. "As the person who knows less, it is the American tradition to speak first," Mike Daisey playfully ventured. And this to the man who in India is hailed by the name "Maharishi Vyasananda" which roughly translates as "the great seer who sequentially elaborates knowledge blissfully".
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"There is no such thing as a stressful situation. There are stressful reactions." - Thom Knoles
And so it was: a sequential elaboration is exactly what we got. As a monologist, Mike Daisey had met his match. What was billed as a conversation resulted at first in a series of alternating and exquisitely articulated set pieces. First Mike on the subject of revenge and why bad things didn't happen more often to those who do bad things. Then Thom on the misinterpretation of karma: "If something bad happens to someone, it's karma; when a great thing happens to a person... We call it luck". Then Mike on the hijacking of eastern practices by corporate America: "Mindfulness is a wonderful way for workers to accept suffering".

My consciousness arranges my karma
But as with the best discourses, what started off as set pieces flowed into a shared experience from which we witnessed in real time Mike Daisey coming to an awareness of his personal dead end, a self-created limitation.
There is little choice for an audience to listen to Thom Knoles with anything other than a keen intent, such is his ease, eloquence and persuasive logic. As Mike paid attention to Thom, he learned as we learned that the key to comprehending the process of karma has its roots in how we perceive the world. The ways in which we acknowledge our existence dictates our karma. "It's your universe, you are the designer of karma," emphasized Thom. "This whole universe is actually extended self." The role of meditation is to witness that, and see it for what it is, break up the preconceptions, and remodel anew. "The only thing that exists anywhere is your own conscious state."

A road trip to awareness
"Part of my job reminds me of this process: assembling and dissembling," admitted Mike. "Performing is meditating for me." Something of that state also happened to him when he went on a solo motor trip across the country recently. To drive, and not think, a deliberate disassociation. Or, as Thom Knoles would put it, "To take the mind out of the field of thought... and to experience silent consciousness." Mike revealed that he emerged from this pilgrimage somewhat more removed from society. He came away feeling like he didn't actually have to like anyone anymore. "I can't tell if I am older and wiser, or if I'm cynical. It's very hard to sense myself," he confessed. This experience had led to a greater comfort level with himself, but was at the same time accompanied by a withdrawal from old friendships.

"People will ask me, 'Are you a shrink?' And I would say 'No, I'm a stretch'," grinned Thom. And then less jovially: "My job is to blow up your universe." Mike's job now, Thom suggested, was to realize that he was narrowing his options by this withdrawal. He urged Mike to transcend where he was. "Step outside the ever repeating known. Any place you find yourself, go to the other place. The unknown... will start to be recognized by you as the only safe place."
"Is the goal to have consciousness to feel everything and everyone?" asked Mike.
"Yes," said Thom, in his first one-word answer.
"Wow," said Mike, in his first one-syllable response.

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Karma-con. The Rubin commissioned artists Molly Crabapple, Sanya Glisic, Ben Granoff, Rodney Greenblat, Steven Guarnaccia, Michael Kupperman, Josh Neufeld, and Katie Skelly to create different segments of the Wheel of Life independently of one another. This was the karmic mash-up: a cosmic understanding of environmental greed, ignorance and aversion. The original inspiration can be seen outside the Rubin's newly installed Shrine Room.