I had recently turned 10, as I recall, and it was a lazy San Francisco Summer Saturday in the late 1950’s. By that age, I had mostly lost interest in the televised Saturday morning cartoon programs that had once amused and captivated me. Instead, I had been sulking around most of the day, becoming increasingly frustrated with the apparent options of experience, as if I had already sampled everything life had to offer, and none of it seemed to have any enduring power to attract me.
This darkening mood was unusual. Previously, I could usually find absorbing stuff with which to happily occupy myself, even if it entailed just lying out in the backyard, watching the white clouds drifting through blue sky. That day, however, the world seemed devoid of interest, and I felt no joy or passion for any of it.
The existential angst of my situation finally came to a head, and I decided to seek out some wisdom from the best source available. I went into the kitchen to find my father, who was enjoying one of his favorite snacks — canned sardines on soda crackers. I proceeded to confront him, complaining that I was bored. I whined that there was “nothing to do”, to which he smiled, focused his gaze intently on me, and exclaimed with gleeful enthusiasm, “Nothing do? Spit in your shoe!”
My jaw dropped open. The nonsense phrase seemed so astounding and unexpected that my mind simply couldn’t process it, and so fell silent. A vast universe of potentialities rippled out before me, beyond any sense of boundary or personal limitation. There was the tacit recognition that reality was not at all the fixed proposition which I had assumed it to be, but instead was tantalizingly opened-ended, and even delightfully absurd. Moreover, rather than being merely a localized and confined matrix of perception, I intuited that I was so much more – inconceivably more — and that behind the superficial facade of boredom, I was happiness itself, now and always.
I burst out laughing, and from that day forward, I was never really bored again. I will remain forever grateful to my Dad for inspiring that first “Zen” kensho (glimpse of true nature), though I must say that I never actually spat in my shoe.