Go ahead: call me perverse. You won’t be the first. Call it Thoreauvian contrariness–an insistence on arguing the opposite of whatever everyone else is saying–or call it plain old outright ignorance. Go ahead and call me on this: go ahead and argue that I’m an Evil Capitalist Imperialist Pig who’s in bed with The Man, or go ahead and tell me I need to wake up. Go ahead: I dare you. Whatever accusations you sling at me, I ain’t budging: for good or ill, like it or not, I’m posting these pictures of, yes, evil environment-eating earth-movers for today’s Photo Friday topic, Tranquility.

Maybe it’s the fact that I actually know people who work blue-collar jobs, but when I see bulldozers and other heavy equipment at rest, I think several things. First, curious Lori wonders what they’re building. Second, transgressive photo-snapping Lori wonders whether she can get away with snooping and taking pictures. Third, environmentalist Lori wonders about the longterm ecological effect of this construction: haven’t these workers read The Lorax, for goodness sake? Fourth, tomboy Lori thinks, “Cool: huge sandbox toys!” And fifth, daughter-of-a-truck-driver Lori sees these machines as a paycheck: here are the tools of hardworking men and women who are simply trying to feed their families. Again, I know people who work blue-collar jobs: that’s where I come from. So whenever I hear upper-crust environmentalists whine about urban blight, part of me wonders who built their house and out of what materials. It’s easy to throw stones when you live in a glass house, and it’s easy to denounce deforestation while surfing the Web from a house built with, yes, tree carcasses.

My sister’s ex-husband used to work for Caterpillar, so my sister at least spent a good many years literally in bed with The Man, or at least a man who was himself in bed with the Evil Empire. As a carry-over from those days, my father has a sweatshirt with a Caterpillar bulldozer emblazoned on the front and the caption “Very Pushy.” My Dad can be pushy at times…but now that he’s mellowed with age, the caption seems more quaint than threatening. Yeah, earth-movers are pushy, and they wreak environmental havoc…but somewhere under the pushiness I see the image of my father, a hard-working man who over the years wore down the carved design on his wedding ring from sheer manual toil. Until you’ve pushed a mile in these caterpillar-treads, do you have any right to condemn?

Besides these personal reasons for seeing something other than evil in the lines of an earth mover at rest, the Zen teacher in me sees an opportune moment of insight. I’m sure that today’s Photo Friday submissions will consist mainly of conventional notions of tranquility: mountain lakes, forest streams, sunset beaches. There will be few if any people in these photos: there won’t be any sign of work or toil. In a word, most folks’ notion of “tranquility” is what you find on vacation or, better yet, on a vacation brochure: a far-off, unreachable place entirely divorced from the day-to-day realities of bumper-to-bumper traffic, boss-inflicted deadlines, and screaming children. Of course we can’t find tranquility in our daily lives…because we define tranquility in a way that excludes our daily lives from it. If tranquility has to be quiet, clean, and sweet-smelling, then most of our life doesn’t qualify.

I heard a story once about a Zen monk who moved to New York City to start a meditation group. Having very little money to get his Zen group off the ground, the monk rented the cheapest place he could find: a junky but spacious warehouse in a working-class district. The monk spent months clearing the warehouse of junk, polishing the old, beaten wood floors, and painting the walls. When he finally opened for “business,” the space had been transformed into an open, airy, beautifully meditative place.

Except, unfortunately, for the noise. Because the warehouse was in a working-class district of a huge city, the street outside roared with the sound of thundering trunks and honking taxicabs. Workmen in neighboring warehouses shouted to one another, and someone insisted on blasting their radio at an ear-shattering level. Because this meditation hall was an old warehouse, one entire wall of the room consisted of a large floor-to-ceiling freight door which rattled and reverberated with every passing trunk or booming stereo beat. In a word, meditating in this space was like sitting in the middle of a sonic wind-tunnel.

The monk, however, sat silent and unmoving in his meditation: his mind being clear and quiet, his entire surroundings were clear and quiet. Although he would have naturally preferred to have meditated in a quiet mountain monastery, he realized that the heart of the city was where people are: if he wanted to teach people how to meditate, he had to go down and get his hands dirty in the places where people actually lived and worked. And so the only thing that troubled this monk’s meditation was the grumbling he heard from his students. “This place is too loud! Why’d the old man pick this place to start a meditation center?”

So one day the old monk did what any self-respecting Zen Master would do: he called his students out. In the middle of meditation as he heard his students sighing and squirming, distracted by the noise, he leapt to his feet and shouted, “You want quiet? I’ll give you quiet!” And with that he rushed over to that huge freight door and opened it wide, the sounds of the street spilling into the room like a tsunami. “If you can’t find quiet here, you’ll not find it anywhere,” the monk said as he returned to his seat and his students returned to their meditation, chastened.

The place where my Zen Group meets isn’t in bustling New York City, but we are around the corner from the fire station and in the line of passing traffic. There’s always at least one siren-sounding emergency during Wednesday night practice, and there’s always a continuing parade of passersby talking loudly and drivers honking. These days we’ve been sitting to the sound of Wednesday night open-air concerts in the Square around the corner: noisy, distracting stuff. And yet as I tell newcomers who come to the group looking for tranquility, peace comes from within, not without. What difference, really, is there between one person shouting to another and the song of a bird? Or between the squeal of tires on pavement and the wingbeats of passing geese? We label one “sound” because we like it and the other “noise” because we don’t: that’s the only real difference. And because we think our everyday lives can’t possibly be havens of tranquility, we never find peace there because we aren’t open-minded enough to see tranquility in all its forms.

Many Christian-influenced meditators take comfort in Psalm 47:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Taken out of context, this is a statement of tranquility…and yet the rest of the psalm describes the tumult of earthquake and warfare: “Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolation he has brought on the earth.” God, it seems, is the ultimate earth-mover: he don’t need no stinkin’ bulldozer. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Finding God in quiet and tranquility is fine and good…but can you find God when the earth around you is movin’ and shakin’? Can you find God in downtown New York City, or Buddha in the gears of a machine? If God and Buddha aren’t in these places, they ain’t nowhere, sweetheart: if you can’t find tranquility right here, right now, you ain’t gonna find it anywhere. And you can go ahead and call me Very Pushy for saying so.