The Orioles are dying in third place, and we are all in a low place. So, clear your mind. Breathe deeply and prepare to travel the ancient, uncluttered and wise path toward Enlightenment.
We shall find the Way to Camden Yards to Experience the Playing of Baseball. And Zen will comfort us and teach us to Understand and Accept what simple, cluttered minds call "losing."
Come, children. There is much to learn.
The only joy in the world is to begin.
We find the way to Wednesday's game. The O's are playing the Cleveland Indians, which have been "winning" two out of every three games. We bring an earthly possession called a ticket. We also bring "The Little Zen Companion," a little book of 400 sayings costing just a little money. The book will be our game program.
The silly question is the first intimation of some totally new development. Why then in the first inning does second baseman Bret Barberie field a simple grounder then throw the ball in the general direction of China? It loved to happen. Ah, we see. The ball, being everything and nothing, simply traveled its own way, which is neither right nor wrong -- although it was scored an Error.
A speedy soul named Kenny Lofton eventually scores and the Orioles are already "losing." But what is losing? There is no losing without winning, and without winning there can be no losing, and how would you score that game?
The word Zen holds curious, magical powers. It means spiritual, calm, mystical and simple, "where the best moment is now, where things are what they seem, where we see with the refreshing directness of a child and not through eyes grown stale from routine," says the "Zen Companion."
The heart of Zen practice is sitting, which is called zazen or "sitting." The aim is to still the mind and to ultimately reach a state of pure, thought-free wakefulness. The game-time temperature is 95 degrees. Yet, we shall sit, purely, and without alcoholic beverage. We seek the Art of Tea. We settle on lemonade.
Brady Anderson is on first, after his physical self was dented by a fastball. (Mentally, he remains at peace.) But is he really on first and with one out?
"I am going to pose a question," King Milinda said to Venerable Nagasena. "Can you answer?"
Nagasena said, "Please ask your question."
The king said, "I have already asked the question."
Nagasena said, "I have already answered."
"What did you answer?"
"What did you ask?"
The king said, "I asked nothing."
Nagasena said, "I answered nothing."
Rafael Palmeiro becomes one with the plate. A sign in right center says HIT IT HERE, but where is here? Palmeiro hits into a double play. Men run off the field of still, sweet grass.
Fourth inning. Ho! The Indians score two runs by doubling, walking, sacrificing, and tripling. O's pitcher Kevin Brown is seeking the ancient Eastern practice called throwing strikes. The one who is good at shooting does not hit the center of the target. Or plate.
Sitting in pure wakefulness, we sense the temperature rising to seemingly 110 degrees. Should you desire the great tranquillity, prepare to sweat white beads. There is much stillness in the air, creating much perspiration or what Ikkyu Sojun -- a beloved figure in Japanese Zen -- might have called "body odor."
The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit's one home. Harold Baines doubles in the gap to right-center in the Orioles' fifth. There is then much running around the bases and the Game reaches Zen equilibrium or what simple minds call a tie score, 3-3.
From our sitting, we rise to order a beer and sing "It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A . . ." We do not ponder the song's meaning.
Rather, we tell a classic Zen story that is adapted here for baseball: A Zen Master approaches a hot dog vendor at Camden Yards. Make me one with everything, the Zen Master says. The vendor understands not. He makes one with the works.
If you wish to drown, do not torture yourself with shallow water. In the Indians' seventh, the man calling himself Lofton triples, again. Orioles pitchers Kevin Brown and then Jesse Orosco seek enlighten ment by throwing the wildest and most free-spirited of pitches -- which in themselves are neither right nor wrong. Their existence, however, leads to five Indian runs. Must it be? It must be.
The man called Ripken has now played in 2,111 consecutive games, which the "Little Zen Companion" plainly addresses. Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine. In the Orioles' eighth, Chris Hoiles homers with Bobby Bonilla on. And it is good.
It is over. What is the sound of one hand clapping? The Orioles lose 8-5. They are 47-55, .461, 15 games back, 2-8 in the last 10 games. Our life is frittered away by detail. Forget catching Boston. Things are entirely what they appear to be and behind them there is nothing.
True Enlightenment is a wild card.