Tuesday, August 31, 2010

foggy and irked

Today I think I will listen to a little Mozart and do a little zazen. These seem sensible activities for someone who feels pervasively cranky -- tired of posturing, sick of doctors and their pills, irked by the infirmities of the body, less willing to think and act on the behalf of others.

In the movie "Brazil," a wonderful and depressing view of the future from the Monte Python crowd, there is a scene in which a rebel -- someone who acts outside the lock-step norm -- is being chased through a mall. A wind comes up and with it, hundreds of feet of computer paper. The paper, like a spiderweb, ensnares and enfolds the rebel until there is nothing left to see but a pile of computer paper.

When a friend, with whom the rebel was trying to escape the forces of conformity and mediocrity, turns back to help the rebel, he frantically searches through the paper, ripping it aside in an effort to save this life. Deeper and deeper he digs into the paper until, in the end, he reaches the floor of the mall: The rebel has disappeared altogether, as if the whole world had turned into some South American dictatorship in which people are simply "disappeared," and the vice-like grip of mediocrity has won ... again.

Zen students will have sage advice for this straitjacket world and how to unravel its wiles, but now and then there are peels of self-centered disgust and dismay. Sick of doctors who cannot distinguish between "being alive" and "life;" sick of pills; sick of kindnesses once expected and exercised; sick of spiritual and political efforts swathed in pomp and little substance; let someone else cook and plan and take care and think for a change ....

Someone like Mozart is probably sensible.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

"The 14th Dalai Lama" in comics

I love surprises -- things that seem to have no particular bearing on what went before or came after -- but I have to say that receiving a pre-publication verson of "The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography" by Tetsu Saiwai was pretty much off my charts.

The volume is a comic-book version of the Dalai Lama's life. Its unnumbered pages seem to be about 200 and its publisher -- a publisher I used to take seriously -- is Penguin Books. The retail price is set at $15. It's in English.

Its mediocrity of intent and execution leave me asking myself, "What's the matter with me?" "What cultural wave has passed me by while I was busy doing something else?" and "To whom would such a book be useful or informative?" "What would make a publisher gamble the time, energy and money on a 200-page comic?"

No matter how I twist the matter, I just can't figure it out. Would someone interested in the Dalai Lama want a 200-page comic? A kid? An adult? High-falutin' propaganda? Is someone at the publishing house sleeping with someone else?

Very peculiar in my mind and the more I concede the peculiarity, the more I struggle to see what I must have overlooked -- some segment of the human race that sees things in a wholly different light.

Well, it was a surprise all right. The only difference with other surprise moments is that I imagine I have an explanation and meaning that I can ascribe to them and thus put them out of my mind ... "I know that!"

Between knowing and not knowing, my guess is that knowing is more dangerous.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Towards darkness, a small group of us trudged up a rise near the school and prepared to settle down for the night in the snow tunnels we had dug during the day. There was a snow fence at the crest that raised the drifts to six or eight feet and we had had a good time creating all sorts of byways within ... and finally got school permission to sleep out in them. We were in the sixth or seventh grade and sleeping out on weekend hikes and the like was part of our world.

As night descended, each of us chose a tunnel, laid out our sleeping bags and prepared to sleep as we talked back and forth. "Everyone OK?" came one voice. "OK over hear," came another.

The temperature outside the tunnels was probably 10 or 20 below zero F, but inside the tunnels there was no wind and it was perhaps 30-40. After a while, the chatter died down as first one and then another of us drifted towards sleep.

But not me. In the silence, all I could think was that our body heat was likely to melt the snow around us and we would wake up fatally buried in the tunnels we had constructed. No one else seemed to worry about it, but I did, and finally I got worried enough to move my sleeping bag right up to the lip of the entrance hole in my particular tunnel. I wanted some form of escape route from the protective walls I had chosen. It was colder in the 'doorway,' but it calmed my frazzled nerves.

Funny how we choose some protective garb or situation as a means of warding off the cold dangers that are available ... only to find that our protections themselves shape new and subtler threats. Education, profession, marital status, travel ... each holds out a protective and in some cases delicious talisman, one that will keep other difficulties at bay.

But once having achieved the safety net, the silence sets in and the no-escape potentials begin to hum like bees ... at which point another bit of safer ground is sought out or erected.

Where is the safer ground, the ground on which the feet are firm and the heart is at ease? Hang around long enough and it becomes clear that there is no guaranteed safety hatch. Circumstances arise and there is no place to run, no 'other' way out.

Mostly, I guess, people cope with this recognition by ignoring it or pretending there is no cave-in in the offing. "Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you" seems to be the common-sensical approach. Where projection doesn't work and reflection doesn't work, what does work if we are to become safe and at ease?

Circumstances arise. Circumstances fall away.

Who says so?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

off to college

Today, my older son is off to begin his freshman year at college. It will be his first extended time away from home and, although he was dead-anxious to go, still there were uncertainties in his silences.

I was sent away to boarding school in the 4th grade. I cried like a baby then. Nowadays, the confusions and tears are internalized. On the one hand, it's all normal and a progression of life. I do want my son to test his wings. On the other hand there is an utterly irrational whisper insisting that my son belongs at home with me.

Buddhists will note appropriately that there is attachment in all of this -- the very stuff that nourishes the soil of suffering. True. And also true is the fact that I will make no effort to turn away from or dissect or somehow dissolve that soil ... that's how deep the attachment is.

The older I get, the more convinced I become that peace has to do with greeting what comes with open arms ... even if it hurts.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The Guggenheim Museum in New York City is largely round. Round architecture is curiously inviting and wasteful since human beings lead lives surrounded by linear stuff -- tables, chairs, windows, etc. A round building bespeaks an imaginative 'waste' of space.

The inside of the main gallery spirals from top to bottom with art displayed against the walls. Thus, a visitor can take an elevator to the topmost point of the spiral and, in some cases, follow the historical route taken by the artist -- from oldest to youngest. Perhaps s/he began with realistic depictions and colors, then segued into more abstract representations, then went cubist, and then, perhaps dropped off the edge of the earth in some search for the essences of painting and art. In the end, the viewer may be left no longer looking at ladies in hoop skirts and gentlemen with starched shirt-fronts, but simply a few lines ... or just a plop of color.

Were the onlooker to begin at the end of his or her downward spiral, the art might seem to convey nothing at all. A blob of color and ... that's it. But what is it? Only a person who gets paid to sound informed could say for sure and that certainty would not necessarily mean a hell of a lot to someone who was not paid to talk up an artistic storm: It's just a blob, after all, or a couple of lines of color ... and there might be some irritation that the viewer paid good money to come and see this, this, this ... whatever the hell it is.

But starting at the top of the spiral, with all the ladies and gents depicted, you can sort of follow the mind that seeks the essence of things and hopes to portray them. Deeper and deeper the artist descends into simplicity until ... until ... until well, until there's a blank canvas. No one wants to pay 10-15 bucks to see a blank canvas and so, faut de mieux, there is 'art.'

I used to love the machinations of telling tales with a spiritual twist -- ordinary stuff that seemed to hum or pulse with mysteriousness ... with something not seen but sensed; something anyone might see and yet is not readily seen. Stories are neat that way, chugging along from here to there like some trans-continental railroad and yet it's not just the linear trip, the intent, the importance of the travel ... there are also all those magical sights to be seen. Yes, you are getting where you want to go, but on the way, the subtext stories and beauty spring up like dandelions.

Tales and stories are terrific. They are the ladies in hoop skirts and the gents in starched shirt-fronts. There they are along the river's edge, picnicking or lounging in a sun that is kept in check by demure and colorful parasols. There's Jesus as a carpenter and Buddha beneath the bo tree and the Bal Shem Tov waxing wise and the sufis dancing. The train chugs along, taking passengers on their determined routes and the stories oil the wheels, which nonetheless go clickety-clack, clickety-clack.

But little by little the tales run out of steam ... or seem to invite steamlessness. Look! There's a towering hemlock or some mica glistening on a cliff-face rock or a rattlesnake briefly seen whisper-slithering under a protective log. Isn't it all enough all by itself? Tales are wonderful, but the things themselves become somehow wonderful-er. Things don't have stories or meanings. They have 'is' or something quite a lot like it.

Japanese calligraphy elevates this observation to an art form, but as an art form, it is forced, like any artist, to recognize that calling it art or pretending it is actually a story, is too much.

And so we are left with a plop-blob on the canvas ... a not-terribly informative tale offering a smooth spiral into easy silence. Wonderful-er. Stories lose their savor where things are wonderful-er. Of course you can always find some twit who will ignite a story about how wonderful-er is implicitly more wonderful than something else and since there is no something else ... blah, blah, blah.

Tale-telling. I have loved it and still do to some extent. And I find plop-blob paintings as uninteresting as the next fellow. But somehow the stories and their usefulness dwindle and the way things are says it all. If you see it that way, fine. If you don't see it that way, fine. But elevations require more energy than I seem to have lately. Let others tell the stories. I like the breeze.

Monday, August 23, 2010

the "terror" business

It seems to me that if I had the energy I could probably document to a fare-thee-well the grand entrance (circa 2001) of the word "terror" on the national and even world stage.

It's such a convenient word for politicians and others hoping to convince a nation or a world of the need for action. That convenience has seeped down to the American public. "Terror" and "terrorism" are now as well-worn as an old pair of sneakers...which is to say they don't mean much more than "the people you don't like."

A history of the Department of Homeland Security says:

Eleven days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (on New York's World Trade Center towers among others), President George W. Bush announced that he would create an Office of Homeland Security in the White House and appoint Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as the director. The office would oversee and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard the country against terrorism, and respond to any future attacks.

On Feb. 1, 2010, the Washington Post reported:

The Department of Homeland Security received a nearly 3 percent boost in discretionary funding, to $43.6 billion, in President Obama's 2011 budget request.

The money includes $200 million to pay state and local costs of securing terrorism-related trials; a 10 percent increase, to $950 million, for Federal Air Marshals; and $734 million to deploy up to 1,000 whole-body-imaging scanners at airports that use radio or X-rays to detect objects hidden beneath clothing.

These quotes are high-profile examples of the avalanche of terror-steeped linguistics that have dripped into our times. But the words "terror" and "terrorism" and "terrorist" reach into every barroom and civics class in the country. Few, if any employ the old journalistic saw, who-what-when-where-why-and-how, when it comes to the tendrils of terror.

I hated the words when the politicians began to sell them and I still hate the words today.

One simple word and suddenly someone is asking for $43.6 billion dollars. Wave the "terror" wand and people pony up ... what the hell, they're scared, just as intended. Americans use the word to describe their foes, real and imagined; Israelis use the word against Palestinians; Palestinians use the word to describe Israeli actions ... but with less effect in America: Israel, after all, is our friend so Palestinian terror is more terrifying than Israeli terror. Germans, Brits, French ... everyone wants a slice of the terror pie. And people have heart-felt reasons why the use of the word(s) is acceptable and appropriate.

But what gets lost in the shuffle is the dumbing down of discourse and understanding. Why anyone might feel pushed to the point of becoming a suicide bomber gets lost in the after-shock reports ... the blood, the destruction, the truly scary and inhumane aftermath... the kind of "terror" that news outlets can get their sound-bite, dividend-driven heads around.

An internet dictionary defines a "terrorist" as:
▸ noun: a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities
▸ adjective: characteristic of someone who employs terrorism (especially as a political weapon) ("Terrorist activity")

And no one in their right mind would deny that terrorism is real and horrific. But the notion that anyone could fend off the mind of a person bent on terrifying actions is thoughtless and facile and carries with it its own sort of ignoramus terrorism.

$43.6 billion to stop terrorism?

Stop terrorism?

Can anyone really halt minds that -- legitimately or connivingly -- envision such bloody tactics to achieve their ends? $43.6 billion ... and wait till next year: The terrorism wand is a conjurer of money.

But is anyone wondering what impetus lies behind such acts of terror? Sure, there are power hungry people with personal agendas everywhere in the world. And yes, some people don't understand your peaceful point of view unless you kill them.

But what about the people who are simply hungry or watch their family members die on account of someone's definition of "terrorism?" Facile definitions are obscene where people go hungry or unattended or must act as servants in a household not of their making.

2001 marked the launch of a great new world, a world in which terrorism was the excuse and the explanation and the expense account and finally, the old pair of sneakers -- not even worth investigating because (right?) it's just so damned obvious.

End of poorly-constructed rant.


The newspaper was delivered at 4:45 a.m. Sitting on the porch, I can see the lady's lights when she swings onto the block each morning, makes a couple of stops and finally slips the paper under my door. No one else is around. She does her job. Somehow, I am impressed: No one else is looking; do it anyway.


I wonder if it's true ... maybe sometimes, but not always: People who have suffered more are more honestly kind to those around them. I was remembering the kindness of Dokai Fukui, a man who, before he became a monk, had been captured by the Chinese during World War II and spent some time as a badly-treated slave building a railway. He returned to Japan with a number of physical ailments, became a monk, and yet, when he encouraged me to practice zazen or to see things in another light, he was the soul of kindness ... firm but ever willing to lend a hand.

Yesterday, I read an interview with a woman who had considerable contact with the world of Buddhism. She had tried Zen but switched to Tibetan "because they are happier." I too love the Tibetan smiles, but it is too late for me: Smiles and frowns each carry their wisdoms and their idiocies and my job, like anyone else's, is to winkle out which is which.

Yesterday as well, I reminded the woman who came to sit with me that there was a mythological swan in Hinduism -- a swan which, while floating on a vast body of water, is capable of sipping the one drop of milk hiding in its vastness. Even those who have precisely zero interest in spiritual endeavor do the same, I imagine: Sip the pure milk from the murky water; find the truth among the fabrications. It's a hell of an effort and some get no further than text and ritual ... the ability to parrot the wisdom and kindness of others; the ability to read and regurgitate instructions; the ability to gather up and husband the cozy, if uncertain, contentments of belief.

What does it take to be a swan? Sometimes I think it just takes a courageous curiosity ... but maybe that's wrong. A swan is a just a swan -- what need for curiosity? Drink your milk.

Just noodling.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

barking dogs

Did you ever see a dog standing at the edge of the bay, barking seriously at each wavelet the broke and slurped up the sand? Not all dogs do this, but some do and it's a bit peculiar.

How easily we slip through our own fingers in this life. Over and over and over again we bark -- come up with new and improved explanations and meanings and understandings -- "I know that!" -- that might still the waves and provide a smooth peace in a life edged with uncertainty and choppy hope.

Intellectually, we "understand" and we "know" that barking at the waves -- that continuing with the same old habits -- just doesn't work very well and yet, in the last instant before we surrender to what we "know" so well, we try just one last bark, one last understanding, one last wish that we could control and be the master of the seas that surround us.

None of the other barks has worked, but, who knows ... maybe this one last bark, the one last explanation, this one last understanding will bring life to heel and I won't have to surrender anything. Maybe this time I can come up a winner... cool as a cucumber and exciting the applause of others.

And one last bark turns into another last bark, and then of course there's just one more, just one more, just one more ... and our lives slip through our fingers as we try to keep life from slipping through our fingers.

Such a habit: "I know" and "I understand." "The meaning is...." Woof! Woof! Woof! Sometimes it is quite desperate and touching -- where IS peace and ease that whispers and insists? I've worked so hard! Don't I get some reward, some understanding, some relief?

Sometimes life just slips through our fingers while we were busy woof-ing.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

on a positive note

After getting my tail in gear for a short walk this morning, I stopped to talk with my neighbor Joe about his recent two-week trip to Kenya. He had gone as part of a church effort to lend a hand to people who had less.

It blew him away. Before he returned home, he gave all the clothes in his suitcase away. He helped build mud huts. He helped set up a water tank that had piping to the nearest source, some half-mile away. He received what food these poor people offered. He told stories to children.

Joe is nearing retirement and had spoken before about wanting to help others in some way. The trip to Kenya put his wishes squarely in his face. Standing outside his middle-class home across the street from mine, he seemed newly-embarrassed by all the stuff he had ... all the stuff that was nice enough but not really necessary. He wasn't about to pull some Walden runaway, but he was clearly moved, clearly touched, and clearly somewhat confused: What was his next move? He tried to define and enclose the topic (God came into it, for example), but it didn't really work. His happiness was ... well, confusing.

How nice to hear someone feeling positive about doing something positive.

flotsam and jetsam

Like some successful depth-charging of an enemy submarine during a WWII movie, now and then chunks and hunks of what once was come floating to the surface.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a longish, even-tempered piece about how Buddhism deals with its sexual upheavals. More specifically, it focused on Eido Tai Shimano, my former teacher and a man given to using and discarding American paramours. This has been going on for some 40-plus years without ever floating to the kind of surface the New York Times might provide.

For anyone who was and remains concerned not only by the wounds inflicted and the dubious financial activities of Mr. Shimano, the article (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/21/us/21beliefs.html?_r=3) great hunks of information out and perhaps the pivotal line of the article was, "Mr. Shimano did not return several phone calls." The refusal to take responsibility for his actions or respond to the long list of women who felt wounded by their liaisons has been a 40-plus-year constant.

So in one sense, nothing has changed. But in another sense, those of us who remember a time before the internet, when circulating information and bringing its force to bear were all but impossible, the New York Times piece at least opened a small door. A chunk of the submarine floated on the swells. Will it correct what has for so long gone uncorrected? Probably not. Mr. Shimano's twisted sense of "noble silence" is as effective as it is corrupt.

So many years have passed. Maybe it should all just be forgotten: After all, there are crooks in every walk of life. But there is a small voice that whispers in my ear -- rightly or wrongly: Zen Buddhism deserves better than lip-service.

But that's just my bias.

Friday, August 20, 2010

take care of it

About two blocks from the apartment I once lived in in New York, there was a second-hand store. This was at a time before anyone used the term "pre-owned." It was just used stuff and I loved nosing around in its dusty nooks and crannies.

Like some guy in a hardware store ("I never met a tool I didn't need"), I usually found myself hooked on one thing or another -- a lamp, a small statue, a plate ... it was as if I hated the idea of going home empty-handed.

After a while, the guy who ran the place knew my face and we would exchange pleasantries as I poked and prodded. Usually, I would pay the asking price for whatever I found, but on at least two occasions, I found something I really liked and simply could not afford at the asking price. In both instances, the owner told me he would lower the price, but only if I promised to take care of the item.

It was an odd and wonderful request, somehow. It may have been a come-on, but I had a sense that he meant what he said ... if you love it, then honor it and take care of it. Don't treat it as if it were just another thing among all the other things you owned.

One of the things was a small bedside lamp stained in a mahogany color (and perhaps mahogany wood) with a chip out of its dish-like base. Forty years later, it still stands on a small table to the left of the bed, making book pages visible.

The other was the four-inch-high, rusted-iron(?) head of a Buddha or bodhisattva. Like the chip in the lamp, the head had a piece broken out of the back. It was a nice but unremarkable head, but its three-inch wooden stand had clearly been hand made with a great deal of care. Even today, when I see it sitting on top of the refrigerator with its water and incense bowls, I'm not sure if it was the base or the head that got my attention in the first place.

One day, these things will be someone else's bric-a-brac or perhaps just be consigned to a large, black garbage bag, but in the meantime I am somehow pleased with their tales: If you love it, then honor it and take care of it. That way they will always be bright.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

lying in hard times

In hard times, as usual, there are people who are not suffering hard times. My mother told me once that as a teenager, the only way she knew there was a Great Depression was that her family lost an upstairs maid.

I guess it has always been that way. Some suffer, some don't, and some don't know.

But listening to the radio as I drove back from the dump just now, the news was making noises about "the last American combat brigade" exiting from Iraq "ahead of schedule." Seven-plus years, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed and over 4,000 American service men and women lost. It was and remains a divisive war, but whatever side a person takes ....

It seems extra hard to get lied to in hard times. Eg. 50,000 American troops remain in Iraq and one reporter had the decency to say that the public should get ready for more American losses. Eg. 15-30 million people are without work in the U.S. depending on who you listen to and yet both government and stock market speak in optimistic tones ... about stocks, about the economy, about a trust that is growing in the land. It's hard not to wonder what planet these self-serving 'leaders' are living on. It's harder somehow to get lied to in hard times.

General Motors, an American auto maker that was bailed out by the government several years ago, is planning an initial public offering of stock a couple of months from now. The government will be partially reimbursed for its (meaning yours and my) earlier largess. Because of GM's connections to other industries, some investors will be forced to buy in. But what commodity is General Motors prepared to offer the average investor? Cars that rival Toyota and Honda for reliability? Or will they sell primarily overseas in places that will not benefit the American workers suffering from hard times?

It will be interesting to see, but it does, associatively, remind me of the old saying, "If someone tells you it's free, grab your wallet!"

finding excuses

Last night's BBC map showed vast areas of Pakistan affected by an enormous flood. Huge. Debilitating. Outside words even as words like "cholera" or "starving" or "helpless" were voiced over the scene.

In China, clips showed cities and towns inundated, though on a smaller scale ... but still huge to those swept away or simply disappeared like woodsmoke on the evening breeze.

And somewhere in the past -- a month was it? or two? or three? -- was an earthquake that literally decimated Haiti.

Elsewhere in the world, men and women prosecuted one war or another -- shot, hacked, maimed, imprisoned, tortured, bombed, won, lost ....

On a comedy channel, a very funny woman once did a riff on situations that individuals got themselves into and yet clearly deserved the question, "What the fuck is the matter with you!?"

I don't care what flag you're flying ... what the fuck is the matter with you?!

Sure, we can all be dickheads, but do we need to institutionalize/find excellent excuses for the condition?

What the fuck is the matter with you?!

political realities

Barney shipped this along today:

You, who worry about democrats versus republicans--relax, here is the real problem:

True Story!!!!!!
In a Purdue University classroom, they were discussing the qualifications to be President of the United States . It was pretty simple the candidate must be a natural born citizen of at least 35 years of age.

However, one girl in the class immediately started in on how unfair was the requirement to be a natural born citizen. In short, her opinion was that this requirement prevented many capable individuals from becoming president.

The class was taking it in and letting her rant, and many jaws hit the floor when she wrapped up her argument by stating:

"What makes a natural born citizen any more qualified to lead this country than one born by C-section?"


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

imperial/blue collar Zen

I sort of know what they mean -- or anyway I imagine I do: "Imperial Zen" and "blue-collar Zen."

Imperial Zen is full of cultured brocade and the next cookie is delicious in the same way the one before it was. Imperial Zen follows a path that is sometimes said to be "2,500 years old." As in a scavenger hunt, it digs up bits of treasure marked upon ancient maps.

Blue collar Zen is as homey as folk art -- lovingly created and chiseled and yet not quite smooth around the edges. Blue collar Zen's simplicity is obvious and its beauty is mysterious. Sometimes blue collar Zen means Zen for Americans, something that reaches beyond "a bunch of smart white guys." It is for everyone.

As I say, I sort of know what these bits of terminology mean, what they're pointing at, what dangers and delights are implied.

But outside a little social conversation, I don't like either one of them. Something inside just cringes -- seriously cringes. It's not as if imperial Zen or blue-collar Zen were wrong.

They're just wrong.

Someone else will probably have a more nuanced and educated point of view.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

good times and bad

Funny how, in the midst of dissecting and analyzing the malfeasance of a particular spiritual persuasion or point man (and I am thinking here of the sandstorm around Eido Tai Shimano) we can forget how much the persuasion or discipline really means to us. We really do love it in one way or another.

But I suppose that negative dissecting and analyzing is no different from the unquestioning blind-eye we can bring to our spiritual persuasions. We claim and claim and claim again to love it ... and haven't got the patience or nerve to see the sand on which our most vaunted castle is built. It's all good ... hallelujah!

I feel pretty lucky to have found a persuasion that, in good times and bad, offers a concrete way (a way not relying on belief or hope) to check things out and be assured of something more than airy-fairy answers.

slick talk

As a habit, I watch the BBC news on television at 6 p.m. on most days. Not that I can't read most of it on the internet, but the visuals are sometimes useful.

At 6:30, there is a program called "The Nightly Business Report." I guess it's a good report, but the thing that continues to astound me about it is that no one seems to be skeptical, let alone ashamed.

Besides telling what particular stocks and bonds did on a particular day, there are a smattering of analysts poised to bring focus to particular aspects of the world and its investments. Last night, a fellow who seemed to be in his 60's said his company was advising people to get into selective junk bonds ("though we don't call them that any more").

And that seems to be the essence of an edgy economy whose brokers and bankers want to part people from their money: Rename the product and suggest that such investments deserve the trust of the 60-70% of the American public whose work creates the wealth that bankers and brokers pissed down the drain not so long ago.

People are working longer hours for the same pay ... when they have a job. It's not at all certain they will keep their job, so the tendency is not to spend on something as iffy as a much-lauded junk bond. Food and family count to those who watch TV. Those who are on TV have nice clothes and seem to think the money they are talking about is as easy as playing Monopoly. In hard times, it has a kind of arrogance: 15-30 million people without work depending on who you listen to and these people are still pretending times are flush.

I have a hunch that Main Street is a bit smarter than Wall Street. P.T. Barnum's "There's a sucker born every minute" has less force when the servings of macaroni and cheese increase in number. When the government asks for the people's trust, the people have a right (and plenty of evidence) to ask "why?" And without that trust, the hard times that are today are unlikely to be the good times of tomorrow.

Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." I guess that people who tout a Monopoly-money world don't mind if they can't fool everyone ... just as long as they can rake in enough for their own purposes.

There really is something obscene in all of this.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Sometimes I wonder whether testiness rests more on age and fatigue or on just plain experience (right or wrong).

I was reading a Zen Buddhist thread just now and felt the testiness rising. I don't want to be cranky with people I don't know and so, increasingly, as the testiness seems to mount, I just don't/can't write anything. 35-40 years of involvement and the best I can come up with is, "Do it, if you like."

It's worth a laugh in one sense, but in another, I do have to bite my tongue. Virtue and vice ... do it if you like.

A piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified was returned after being stolen in late June or early July. The true cross. Stolen. Returned. OK, do it if you like.

Talking to others is OK. Writing is another matter.

Just noodling.

issue oriented

I was watching a TV show the other night with my younger son -- a 'documentary' about soldiers taking Special Forces training. The exercise at hand involved six or eight guys whose problem was to move an 800-pound barrel of explosives (actually water) from where they were to another point on their maps.

There were several teams, each with five poles and four tires. The problem was not just how to move the 'explosives;' the problem was also to figure out the best way to do it and to get everyone to back the effort.

Besides the trouble each team had working up some kind of rolling sling for the 'explosives' -- something that would roll without having the tires cant so much as to be useless -- there was ego-tripping. Separating individual opinions and self-worth from the job at hand proved extremely difficult.

I didn't see the end of the show, but was struck by the humanity of the problem -- trying to put the issue before preferences and self-esteem. Not easy, but certainly worth trying ... for ourselves and our spiritual practice, I think.

Where to draw the lines. Where the lines get blurred. It's a tough nut.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Cool morning, cool as fall. Next door, a blue jay seems to underscore a change of seasons, racketing and waiting patiently for others who will make a racket too.

Seasons all seem to ride in on symphonies.


Has it ever been any different? Something happens, little or large, and some reaction is aroused in its wake. Over and over again. The situation seems to cling like warm bubblegum to the sole of a shoe and accompanies the traveler wherever s/he goes ... over and over.

I don't want to start another Eido Tai Shimano thread. There is already one with 284 responses on this blog, but the situation, the bubblegum in which I have stepped, goes on and on. It's just where I am for the moment: Tiring, saddening, outraging, deserving, slimy, self-serving, with mixed emotions and faceted thoughts ... on and on and on.

And little stuff is no different, clinging and cloying until ....

Until it either wears out and is conveniently forgotten in the face of some other something, or it is seen through to the end ... which never turns out as expected, but anyway it can be laid to rest in a mind full of reactions.

I guess that, little or large, we keep banging our head against the wall because it feels so good when we stop ... stop playing the heads-and-walls game ... and just breathe a little.

Funny how, no matter how profound or serious the circle becomes, still it is a circle and we all come back home.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


How could you be where you are if you hadn't been where you were?

The question trips lightly off the mind's tongue, together with the implication that since there is nothing that can be done, why worry about or extol it? And there are a hundred sage approaches to pride and regret.

But seriously, how could you be where you are if you hadn't been where you were?

Every smile flows from every tear; every tear is nothing but what once was smiling. And only an intellectual would say that such things are endlessly interlocking: It takes more than one thing to 'interlock,' and how many things are there, really?

How nice it is to be happy!

Thursday, August 12, 2010


In order to get some kind of handle on Zen Buddhism, I think it is first necessary to go elsewhere. Zanzibar, a new relationship, a tobacco barn, Main Street, a baseball game, the backyard shed, a spiritual persuasion, a political cause, or to the zoo.


And when the elsewhere's begin to crowd around like impoverished kids pleading next to a relief-supply truck, then, maybe Zen will suggest itself in ways that make sense.

But until then ... go elsewhere and find out.

Or, practice Zen ... and find out.


Upon reaching an age of reason, every unspoiled child can ask the same question, "Why should I was the dishes if they'll just get dirty again?" And the answer that comes back boils down pretty much to, "Because I am the mom and I say so."

Adults may chortle gently at teenage questions they themselves asked so many years ago, but there still seems to be an internal logic and good sense to them. No matter how neat and clean, how punctilious or attentive anyone's habits and executions may become, still there are changes in the attitude towards accomplishments or the accomplishments themselves.

The thing most desired comes to fruition, and then ....

The thing most hated still sucks, but....

The dishes, of whatever kind, just get dirty again.

Over and over and over again.

Of course, you could just stop washing the dishes and live in a pig pen. You could shoot your next-door neighbor's yappy dog in the head and pay whatever price that entailed. But ....

On reflection, accomplishments are a bit odd. Yes, it's done, but is never quite completely done, never static, never something steady-state. Eventually, I think you come back to the koan, "Who is the mom?" And without answering that one satisfactorily, the dishes will never get washed, the sky will never be blue, and that damned dog will keep on yapping.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

my kingdom for a joke!

What I could use now is a good dirty joke ... or even a good clean one.

Having spent the morning between 5 and 1130 working on a bureaucratic form -- make sure of spelling, commas, tone, facts etc. -- I feel as if there were sludge in my thinking department.

Jokes are high-octane, on-target, blackboard-erasers.

Funny how laughter or sneezing or any number of other things just seem to clear things up and put you on track.

Zazen ain't bad either.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

old habits

After a solid night's sleep (rare), I lay in bed for a few moments this morning and realized that nothing was wrong. Stomach, heart and other complaints that have taken me to doctors lately simply were not expressing their need for attention. To have nothing happening was 1. odd and 2. somehow boring. But not so boring that I didn't lie there and marvel for a while.

Funny how anyone might pray fervently for one thing or another and yet, when they got it, be so habituated to their acts of petition and complaint that, well, there was a sense of loss. Without something to strive for or complain about, who would you be?

It's a little like Martin Luther King's approximate observation, "It's not what's wrong with the world that scares people. What really scares them is that everything is all right."

Less politely, it's also like the old critique, "He's so dumb he could fuck up a wet dream."

Old habits die hard, but even if you can't plunge a dagger
into their heart, still you can examine the anatomy of the situation and learn a little something.


Monday, August 9, 2010

national anthem

"The Star Spangled Banner," national anthem of the United States, did not gain political approval as a national anthem until 1931, which seems a fair stretch from the War of 1812 and the battle at Ft. McHenry during which the Americans successfully defended Baltimore from a British assault in 1814. The British attacked with an hellacious barrage that went on and on and on and on. By morning, Francis Scott Key, author of "The Star-Spangled Banner," was able to frame the the anthem's question, "Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave ...?"

But it took until 1931 for Congress to put its stamp of approval on the song as the national anthem. Prior to that vote, such songs as "God Bless America" and "America" were heard at official gatherings without any congressional imprimatur.

One hundred and seventeen years.

This country, like every other, had flags to spare. Each symbolized this or that, called attention to this or that, inspired awe or devotion or, perhaps, horror at the cause for which it was raised. Flags are a serious business when it comes to symbolism, cohesiveness and propaganda.

But the national anthem had to wait. I guess music is more complex than cloth.

As a totally useless piece of information, I thought the scene was interesting.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

crisp day

After the recent avalanche of hot, humid days, today it is as crisp as a carrot ... nice zazen weather. A woman is coming to sit with me ... i.e. she built a fire under my sometimes lazy ways.

How Zen students cannot see their own function as teachers beats the hell out of me, though of course I was exactly the same.

the moral/ethical path

Ethics is what we do on behalf of others. Morality is what we do when no one is looking.

I guess I thought of this again today because I was reading the words of someone searching for a Zen teacher. As he put it, once bitten, twice shy: He had run into choppy waters in the past and didn't want to get blind-sided by some new charlatan.

No one can see the future, but the writer's concerns deserved some reassurances, however flimsy those might be.

One of the good things about Zen practice is the fact that it requires your own effort, your own practice, your own experience. Mostly, this is what any decent Zen teacher will do -- encourage you to practice zazen or seated meditation ... and find out for yourself. The good part is that no one, no matter how elevated or how debased, can ever take that experience from you. No books or wisdom required -- when practicing zazen, you know ... even if what it is you know is not yet precisely clear.

Some spiritual endeavors seem to rely on ethics, which can be measured and judged. Lots of religions have laundry lists to be adhered to.

As far as I can see, Zen is not much different, but the ways in which it encourages ethical behavior have slightly different roots. Zen's roots are not some attempt to bolster a temple or teacher or text or teaching or power structure. Rather, Zen's ethics rely on morality ... what would you do if no one else were around and you faced a particular situation or sorrow?

When I started sniffing and snooping spiritual endeavor, I was more interested in the morality of things: What did spiritual endeavor mean when the woo-hoo'ing crowd was nowhere in sight? Was it fact or was it some elevated fantasy? Did it or did it not work?

Of course separating ethics and morality smells strikingly like one of those homework projects in religion or philosophy. But I think that not separating the two is as mistaken as trying to paste them together.

What will you do when no one else is around.

What will you do when everyone around you is praising god?

In both instances, what's interesting and informative -- i.e. outside the realm of mere homework or belief -- is the doing.

Doing tells the tale, whether in ethics or morality.

Just noodling.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

summer and fall

Here it is, Aug. 7, and this morning, against a blue sky, a raft of Canada geese flew past, chattering in ways most often reserved for September and October.

Who's to know when autumn arrives? The geese seem to know what they're doing.


Yesterday, I went to a bookstore. The colorful spines and covers were all around me and the store smelled ... like a bookstore. Since this is a town with a college, perhaps it's not unusual that there is still a bookstore, but it had been some time since I went into one, let alone planned to buy anything.

For my son, whose birthday is approaching, I gathered up a fat compendium of disaster procedures. What to do when the electricity stops, where to find water, how to weave -- that sort of thing. The book is only half a joke since he may never be inclined to put it to use. But the amount of stuff young people don't know about and can't do sometimes strikes me as astounding. I don't like the panic mode that make such books possible, but I also don't like neglecting what you can do when you have to. So maybe the purchase of that book hinged on a suspicion about the future.

For myself, with the help of a gift certificate my daughter had given me for my birthday, I bought a bit of the past -- a book called "The Bolter." I had heard the author, Frances Osborne, on public radio and liked the stories she wove while being interviewed about a recollection of forbears who had lived in the early part of the 1900's ... wealthy, decadent, promiscuous WASPS who helped to make the high-profile parts of the 1920's and 1930's what they were.

When I got my book home, I skimmed through it idly, looking at the pictures and then reading a bit of the intro. It held out some promise, or so it seemed to me, and yet I could feel my mental gorge rising. This was about people who had and spent money and yet, I imagined, never discussed it. Money was a given and the eye-walloping houses in which they lived were nothing special -- they were just the way things were and the way these people expected them to be. This was simply their atmosphere of life.

What made my gorge rise was not some egalitarian disgust in which the have's and the have-not's were unfavorably compared. What felt like a noose around my neck was the narrowness of what I imagined the thinking to be ... like a Ku Klux Klan rally at which "everyone thinks like me." Here, I suspected, were people with good educations who ignored the particulars of the rest of the world.

As I say, I only skimmed the intro, and it may be that there is more to be gleaned than my own narrowed perspective. But what I did read and what it made me idly think was: "Perhaps there should be a law: Anyone who lacks curiosity will be summarily shot." If the atmosphere is rich and well-cushioned, then that's the atmosphere. But what about the rest of life? Aren't you curious?

And of course the question is unfair. People are curious in their own ways and with varying degrees of seriousness. But I think what got to me was the implied unkindness of a narrow, incurious world. Ku Klux Klan or well-heeled stock broker or religious zealot ... the potential for unkindness wafts up like the scent of skunk cabbage.

I know, I know -- who's to measure, who's to assess? But as the Supreme Court justice said of pornography, "I may not know what it is, but I know it when I see it."

Interesting how my gorge rose without ever reading more than 20 pages. Now, on behalf of my gorge, I will have to read more to get some sense of why those imperative pearl necklaces and large, roomy cars and aren't-I-wicked activities were (if so) as incurious as they were. I will read some more even if something in me rebels at reading and rebels at the subject matter as well. "Greed, anger and ignorance" trip off the tongue lightly. But the particulars are important, gorge or no gorge.

Friday, August 6, 2010


With the death of Aitkin Roshi, a man who provided light in my particular firmament though I never met him, it is hard not to think:

Eventually, all those we revere will be dead and we will be left in the role we once assigned to them. No longer will there be some other boss, other teacher, other friend. Now it will be up to us ... the ones who once lacked understanding and clarity and who went to the 'sages' for help.

Now, like it or lump it, it's our turn. No more relying on others: This is it. Mother, father, teachers, friends, religions, philosophies ... poof! You're in charge.

The fact that all the mealy-mouthed Zen teachers of all times have urged us to assume the high seat, to see for ourselves, to be the arbiters of war and peace, to grow up ... still, secretly or not so secretly we leaned on them -- the wise ones, the good ones, the ones we may have praised. Our weaknesses were so many and their sagacities flashed across our skies. We were reassured. But now?

But now -- no shit -- it's our turn and no one else's. Quiver, quibble, be scared, express our egregious modesty ... none of that matters because the high seat is where we sit ... period.

Aitken Roshi dies

A thread on Zen Forum International announced today:

Aitken Roshi passed away yesterday, Thursday, August 5, 2010, at around 5:30 pm at Straub hospital in Honolulu. He was 93.

With many thanks!



Aug 6, 5:34 AM (ET)

HIROSHIMA, Japan (AP) - A U.S. representative participated for the first time Friday in Japan's annual commemoration of the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima, in a 65th anniversary event that organizers hope will bolster global efforts toward nuclear disarmament.

The site of the world's first A-bomb attack echoed with the choirs of schoolchildren and the solemn ringing of bells Friday as Hiroshima marked its biggest memorial yet. At 8:15 a.m. - the time the bomb dropped, incinerating most of the city - a moment of silence was observed.
Complete article


I was waiting my turn in the unemployment office yesterday. Across two widths of Formica-topped table sat a fellow in a well-worn T-shirt and jeans. His hair was grey at the temples and I guessed he was in his fifties -- a guy whose hands said he was not afraid to get dirty. He was waiting too.

Next to him sat what I at first took to be a young man. He was plump in a way that is common these days and he sported the clear beginnings of a goatee and mustache. His forearms were plump with muscle and fat and dappled by strong man-hair. The hair on his head hung down around his ears. It soon became apparent that he was with the guy in his fifties. The two talked in the low tones that people use in Formica-topped offices. Both seemed amicable and open and at ease with who they were.

But as they talked, I began to lose my moorings. The young man had a very feminine voice. I glanced at his chest, but could not say with certainty whether the extrusions were fat or breasts. Whatever checking I did, my eyes returned to the goatee and mustache, both of which said "male" in my head.

Finally, the young man decided to stretch his legs. He stood up, hitched up the jeans that exposed his butt crack, and walked into the hallway outside the office. Even standing up I was left guessing, as much as anything because my mind refused to get off the "male" frequency it had decided on. Still, after he returned to sit next to his dad, I gave up: This "he" was a "she." Or, if some mixture of "he" and "she," more "she" than "he." The goose-down goatee still flummoxed me a bit, but in the end my mind settled back on the fact that these were two people I somehow liked. Just pretty good people, whatever the sex.

What a deep-seated habit, the whole he/she thing. Of course it's necessary for procreation, I suppose, but otherwise ... well, what a habit. Here were two people who seemed content in their skins while I was not content in mine. I felt somehow that I had to know. But once I did know, what, precisely, did I imagine I knew and of what use was it?

I guess the usefulness was in pointing out to me what was pretty damned useless.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

another world

Already at 3:30 a.m., the outdoors was as close and moist and glutinous as chewed taffy. The forecast is for another hot, humid day and even in the darkness I can believe it.

-- Is this true or is it just my overactive imagination? When you're young and walk down Main Street, the people you see are young -- with a sprinkling of elderly people forming a backdrop. But when you are old, Main Street is full of elderly people, with a sprinkling of young people to enliven the scene. Do we just see ourselves wherever we go or is this just a perky imagination looking for an outlet?

-- A friend was good enough to look up descriptions of "Tathagata Zen" and "Patriarchal Zen" and send them along in the wake of some earlier references we had both made. But as I read through the definitions and the regard or disregard in which each has been or is held, I found myself not caring a whole lot. It's all useful stuff in one sense (sorry, I haven't got what it takes to spell it all out), but in another sense, so what? The Zen teacher Rinzai summed things up for me when he said, "Grasp and use, but never name." Everything is useful in its time ... so, go ahead a use it. Just don't imagine that naming it has much to do with anything.

-- Interest in writing has definitely waned. The topics don't rise up as they once did and when they do rise up, the excitement is muted. I can see why other writers find books or articles or history to fluff up their prose ... let someone else do the heavy lifting... hitch a ride and make a point or two. Still, no matter how bad the writing gets, I don't imagine I will stop ... it's such an old habit, entering 'another world' ... and then finding out that it's the world you're already in.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

what's wrong with not knowing?

Without getting into a helplessness swoon about it, isn't it amazing how much hard evidence there is that we really don't know from one moment to the next and still we imagine we do know and are in control of our lives?

The hard evidence, for example, might be seen in the the black man in neighboring Connecticut who was caught on film stealing booze from his distributor's company. He agreed yesterday without complaint to resign, and then proceeded to kill eight people and injure two before turning the gun on himself.

OK, the tale is shocking and frightening, but how much different is it from whatever is going to happen five minutes from now? I really don't know, irrespective of the Korean Zen that can drum-beat "don't know mind."

Why do I insist on doing what plainly lacks complete or even particularly compelling evidence? Would I go nuts if I didn't know? Would it be too scary? Would I be somehow less? What's wrong with not-knowing ... people, places, things, thoughts, emotions? Since the evidence points to a much wider spectrum than knowing, why do I insist on the narrow and demonstrably untrue? Even when I do guess what's going to happen, it never happens precisely as I imagined, so I end up being satisfied with pretty good guesses or approximations. That strikes me as a half-baked kind of life.

As I say, no need to get your tail in a knot. But it does strike me as a curious matter.

the perfect teacher

Sometimes there are deprecating glances and dismissive rejoinders when anyone admits to a wee whisper in the heart -- the whisper that longs desperately for "the perfect teacher." Unblemished, accepting and capable of overlooking the flaws I myself am so bad at overlooking.

"Every moment is the perfect teacher," I can hear someone saying. Well, maybe so, but where there are aches and cuts, who would not long to be thoroughly and completely healed? Sage nostrums can take a hike ... where do I find the perfect teacher? I'm not kidding -- I want this more than I wanted a B-B gun when I was a kid.

The perfect teacher ... the one without flaws; the one who accepts all flaws.

I like this idea of a perfect teacher in whom we can find surcease and release. Rationally, it's off-the-charts even if there are vast religions supporting it, but realistically, where the heart beats, it makes perfect sense.

Trying to find the perfect teacher may be as irrational as thinking you have actually found him/her, but where the longing arises, the heart opens up wide-wider-widest and it is this quality that makes the search for the perfect teacher a wise choice. Open up to what touches the heart ... what really touches the heart. Nurse and nurture that longing as a mother might nurse and nurture her child.

And how does the good mother act? Is she inattentive? Not at all. So bring an unswerving attention to bear on the honest yearnings -- however insane they may seem. Books don't answer. People don't answer. But an attentive mom?

Well, mom is god. Any kid knows that.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Zen and the Art of Seduction"

Received the following in email today. The 1982 document is unpublished, but has joined the Aitken (Roshi) archive (a public record) in Hawaii.

"Zen and the Art of Seduction" by Robin Westen

It may be dusty, but it may also be pretty informative for anyone interested in Zen practice.


During a radio interview yesterday, an author complained that these days everyone wants to be a writer, but nobody reads books. Bucking the trend to some extent, he pointed to a magazine on the west coast that only read submissions accompanied by a sales slip indicating that the would-be author had bought a book.

Everyone's got something to say. Everyone would like others to listen. Has it ever been any different? I don't think so. It's just that now the internet does not discriminate -- as publishing establishments once did -- between good writing and bad. There is no fickle finger of fate sending out pink slips that say, "your writing skills suck."

And where no one can yank your chain, the willingness to believe you have something interesting to say trickles weed-fashion across neighboring tracts. No critic says, "boring" or "derivative" or "repetitive" or just plain "stupid." The playing field has been leveled on the internet and with a level playing field, why should anyone be expected to read? Some people write better than others ... equality is not the point. How can anyone be expected to sift through every bit of mediocrity, however heart-felt or sincere? I sure as hell won't.

Reading may be a strong informer of writing, but you have to be devoted to writing before you find that out. And is there some cachet to writing? Less and less that I can see.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Having recently visited a doctor who grew pretty touchy when I asked him to go over a point yet again ("I've already explained that," he said more than once), it occurs to me that I too can overlook the need for repetition:

And so, for no particular reason, here are several things I think it's worth repeating:

The Cucumber Sage
The Invitation

As I say, this list is in no way exhaustive -- they were just things that came to mind when thinking about the inability or unwillingness of those in possession of good suggestions to be smug or distant just because they happen to have such information.

Ben Franklin

Some quotes from Ben Franklin:

-- He that lives upon hope will die fasting.

-- Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it, is.

-- He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.

-- All would live long, but none would be old.

-- Anger is never without Reason, but seldom with a good One.


perfecting the slob

Slick, four-color design magazines and upscale housing on television shows often depict something quite interesting. What they depict is nothing that is interesting, nothing that is loved: No books on the walls, no velveteen portraits of Elvis, no orange ceilings, no refrigerators with magnetized reminders.

The reason for leaving out such human traces, I imagine, is that the viewer will not be distracted from the architecture, the layout, or the placement of things. Certainly there can be a couch, but not a couch with a beautiful or ugly lap blanket lying carelessly over the back.

As in a Zen meditation hall, you can see better if there is less to see. You can introduce your own color or style without fear of contradiction. This, the magazine pictures seem to say, is an empty canvas on which you are welcome to paint.

Sometimes I wonder if people try to make their minds resemble the spare and dustless symmetries you can see in magazines or on TV ... a place in which the smell of an apple pie would never entice the nostrils.

On the one hand, the mind is as full of endless chatter as a teenager's room may have unwashed clothes on the floor. Who wouldn't want to clean up this mess? On the other hand, once cleaned to perfection ... well, how interesting can perfection actually be even if it were possible?

As a supreme court justice might know pornography ("I may not know what it is, but I know it when I see it"), so each person may recognize his or her own inner slob. But recognizing his or her own inner perfection may be more than honest person could achieve. Scrub the floors until they glisten, paint the walls, vacuum the rugs, fill up the bank account, get the right car or spouse, give away all your worldly goods, erect a hermit's hut in the forest ... at what point will someone say "enough!" and just hang up a beloved velveteen Elvis ... stop perfecting things according to someone else's thin-lipped dictates?

Slob living doesn't work very well.

Micrometric perfection doesn't work much better.

How about picking your velveteen Elvis and following it to the ends of the earth?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

100,000,000 affected

Some 100 million people were said to have been affected as Twitter -- an electronic 'communications' device -- was temporarily shut off for maintenance today. Here's the story

100,000,000 is a lot of people.

When I ask my sons what it is they communicate with such devices, they grow evasive and inarticulate, making me imagine it's sex, drugs and whatever there is that stands for rock 'n' roll these days. But even if the communication is naughty somehow, what is it that makes these devices so addictive?

A safe distance? An anonymity that allows for honesty? A loneliness looking for an outlet? Business deals? Love? An electronic circle of friends ... which makes me wonder how the word 'friend' is intended these days?

I don't mind being left out of the loop -- I can barely work the cell phone I keep for auto emergencies and tracking down one child or the other -- but there must be some human threads running through these gotta-have-it devices.

Well, whatever the reasons, someone certainly is making a lot of money.


Discovering the obvious can seem too prosaic and yet, where the discovery appears, it can feel like quite a square dance -- full of bright music and smiles. The dime drops and there is some dial tone that gives a whole new meaning to our old-fashioned telephone.

It's pretty obvious, for example, that the mind is a grasping, greedy cuss, and yet when anyone slows down enough to really examine this obvious realm, it can be like a vast revelation. You can almost imagine a couple of buffed pamphleteers showing up unannounced on your door step, hawking the 'good word.' That's how stunning the discovery of the obvious can be.

Sure, it's d'oh that the mind skitters and skates and scoops up belief and hopes and possessions like some vast street sweeper. Obvious stuff. But for those who consent to look into the causes and results of such a mind ... well, whoa mama!

If a grasping mind is good for grasping and yet things are always in a state of flux and thus ungraspable, what the hell is anyone supposed to do with this wily cuss -- the one that can put spaghetti on the table and yet cause so many doubts? Some summon up brass bands of philosophy and religion. Some reflect back and try to make some sense of things. Whatever the course, it is clear that what is obvious has even more scope than initially imagined.

Oh well, I guess I was just thinking about the rarity of people consenting to reflect in a way that will bring them home. Everyone reflects, but the seriousness with which they reflect varies and more often than not just leads back to an elevation of the wily cuss who started the reflection in the first place. Still, if you bang your head against the wall often enough, the dime may drop -- do'h! -- into your lap.

What's the matter with a cup of coffee? What's the matter with some eggs? What's the matter with some hash-browned potatoes? Sure, it's obvious ... but is it obvious?