Sunday, February 28, 2010

family time

As a means of placating the tax man, I just went through the check stubs I had tossed rather carelessly into a box on the shelf. What I needed was the last stub received before I retired after some 20 years at the newspaper.

There were a LOT of stubs ... some running back to 2006. There were others elsewhere.

And when I had finished and found what I wanted, I took the remaining stubs and put them in a manila envelope -- a big one. It was stuffed to the breaking point.

And as I picked it up and marked it for future reference and then looked for space in the filing cabinet in which to place it it occurred to me:

"Here is a sum total of the amount of time I did not spend with my family."


Funny how we may want things to be perfect or describe them as perfect.

But as soon as we open our mouths or exercise some thought, that perfection is lost and another replaces it.

With our perfections, we create nothing but imperfections ....



Do Chinese people have weekends -- times off from work that appear at regular intervals? I imagine they do, but I don't know.

And I don't know what the customs are in other parts of the world either.

Maybe there are people who do not pay attention to such schedules, who just work when it's time to work and rest when it's time to rest, with no real distinctions between the two: Work is not "harder" or "worse" and rest is not "easier" and "better."

I wondered about this when I read a comment saying that the person writing it felt that getting up at 6 a.m. was "cruel and unusual punishment." I imagine he was half kidding and half serious. Six in the morning doesn't sound especially early to me, but then, I have kids and besides have always been a 'morning person.'

"Early?" "Late?" "Better?" "Worse?" I'm not interested in making some federal case, some Buddhist case, out of it. But is it true? A schedule is possible, but does that make it true? A judgment is possible, but does that make it true?

Just a little gum-chewing.


In spiritual adventure, there is a difference between talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk. And sometimes those who have just begun to walk-the-walk can be dismissive of those who are just talking-the-talk ... in other words the ones who are doing precisely what they did at an earlier time.

Talk-the-talk means reading books, collating information, analyzing, dissecting, waxing wise, swooning at lectures, hoping, believing ... you know what I mean.

Walk-the-walk means to put into action in body, mouth and thought what previously we only knew so much about. It's messy and confusing a lot of times, but it is doing rather than crooning. It's acting on the dictum, "put up or shut up."

Looking back on my own talk-the-talk times, I can be grateful ... if a bit embarrassed. How could I possibly have tried to walk-the-walk if I hadn't talked the talk ... in spades, in my case: Yes, Adam, you can talk this mystery into giving up its secrets, you can find a solution, you can grab the brass ring ... here, have another book, go to another temple, talk with some guy wearing a dress. OK, been there, done that ... and am probably capable of doing it again.

But having walked the walk in whatever limping fashion for a while, I now am less embarrassed by whatever talk-the-talk capabilities I or others may have. Monotheism, for example, may make my teeth itch with irritation, but it has the potential to lead a serious person to walk the walk. Really, it can ... or so I tell myself and as a result sometimes bend over backwards trying to point out the ways in which talk-the-talk can nourish a more fruitful walk-the-walk arena.

Bend over backwards to point out the nourishing soil.

But today I think that bending over backwards is too much. Too kind to what does not need either kindness or cruelty. The same soil that may grow some beautiful flowers can also enhance nothing but pernicious weeds. There is no knowing the future, any more than there is knowing the past and so making nice is not much different from making nasty. The whole matter is, as much as anything, a matter of luck, of destiny, of the confluence of circumstances, of, if you like Buddhist terminology, karma. Some dumb people get smarter. Some dumb people get dumber. Some smart people wise up. Some smart people remain dumb.

I think it may be a bad habit on my part -- trying to put a picture frame around what cannot be framed ... imagining that talk-the-talk will lead to walk-the-walk; imagining that talk-the-talk is the foundation of walk-the-walk; imagining that walk-the-walk is better than talk-the-talk ... or worse either; imagining ... well, imagining anything whatsoever.

Yesterday, on the peace picket line, I was talking to a woman I hadn't spoken with before. She looked over my robes and told me that she had studied a lot of Tibetan Buddhism in the past, had left it behind, and now was finding herself re-interested in ways she hadn't quite expected. I thought we were having a conversation, so I told her some of my experiences and point of view. But then I realized she was not really talking with me, she was talking with herself, trying to assess what her actual interest was. She wasn't really interested in a conversation -- in what I might say: She was operating on a frequency we all do from time to time: "How do I know what I think till I see what I say." She wanted a venue in which to find out what she thought. So after a while, I shut up and issued little on-the-couch mutterings ... "umm-hmmm" and "that's interesting" and "how did that happen?"

It all made me think that, as Charles Williams once wrote in one of his metaphysical thrillers, "people believe what they want to believe." They teach themselves at their own pace, for better or worse. And the best I can do is to stop imagining one thing or another, answer when asked, ask when I want an answer, and otherwise let life play out as it will ... which it will irrespective of my imaginings.

There really are better and worse ways of going about things. Talk-the-talk really cannot assure peace. But walk-the-walk is no guarantee either. There are sages and idjits, but that bit of information and fifty cents will get you a bus ride.

Best, I guess, is (by necessity) to tend your own garden, pluck your own weeds, and not worry too much about the kindness and cruelty that may appear elsewhere.

You are the teacher. You are the student.

Just make it a good and nourishing school.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

linguistic ineptitude

Once, while I was in the army, I met my father in Paris. We had met before in Germany and I was the one who spoke the language better and could find out what we needed to know. But in Paris, my father's French was better than mine, so, when something was relatively important, he did the talking.

It wasn't that I was utterly lost in French. I had taken quite a lot of it in college and could catch the drift of most conversations, but I was not fluid enough to have a serious verbal ping-pong match, as I could in German.

One night, as we sat in some student-packed restaurant with a group of French people, the conversation was lively and friendly. People wanted to know where we were from and what we did. When they heard that I was in the army, there were a lot of snide remarks I was in no position to rebut ... though I could understand well enough: Military life was the life of murderers and assholes ... just look at Vietnam. a place where U.S. president John F. Kennedy was helping a full-blown bloodbath to develop.

I knew what they were saying but did not have language that would allow me to answer in their own tongue. I felt confused and cranky ... I knew what they were saying, but....

And that, these days, is sometimes how I feel when in the company of Zen Buddhists who are well-versed in teachings I recognize as true things, but I haven't got the linguistic facility to play the game in their terms. This inability makes me loath to open my mouth. When people are on their own frequency, I like to encourage them according to their frequency, not my frequency.

And so, when someone starts talking about "samadhi" or "prajna" or "sunyata" or "nirmanakaya" ... well, I feel as if I am back in that French restaurant, knowing that things refer to something I take seriously, but without the linguistic facility to play on that playground. And worse, I no longer want to play on that playground. I know what is going on and I agree with the direction, often, but I don't any longer have the energy -- and certainly not the skill -- to care much.

French is a perfectly good language. German is a perfectly good language. English is a perfectly good language. Zen Buddhism is a perfectly good language. You are a perfectly good language. I am a perfectly good language. There is no topic any of them might overlook.

Nuff said ... though sometimes I do feel wistful.

dancing among heroes

Anyone who has decided to take a spiritual endeavor seriously knows the feeling ... that sense of being in one of those action-adventure movies where the hero is trapped in a room where ceiling, walls and floor are all moving inward, tighter and tighter, more and more threatening ... a room with no doors.

It may be that someone entered the spiritual adventure with high hopes of salvation and relief and untold treasures yet to be found, but as serious effort picks up steam, well, it'll wipe the smile off the optimist's face. There are no choirs of angels or books or beliefs that can free you from this noose. There is no last-minute reprieve.

Narrow, narrow, narrow is the way. Inescapably narrow and pressing. It is a time when the smallest mote of dust can become unbearably heavy and create a razor-wire hell.

And often such a recognition, such a face-to-face and in-your-face reality, is enough to make anyone retreat off and return to a cushioned pew of safety and belief and pleasant songs. Where what had offered to open the heart wide instead clamps down and squeezes, where a beckoning salvation evolves into constricting damnation ... well, you can see why the cushioned pew is all the rage.

Only the most courageous and patient live to tell the hero's tale. Others find themselves relegated to the role of singing the praises of heroes they know nothing about.

And how is it that the heroes live to tell the tale? How is it that they can beckon and point with open hearts to a wider realm? Why are they dancing? How do they do that?

There is only one way to answer such questions: Try it and find out.

what are the facts?

One of the things I discovered -- or thought I discovered -- as a newspaper reporter was that facts seldom, if ever, persuade people. It is opinion and bias that have more impact.

At the time of the discovery, I became disgusted and downhearted and cynical by turns. There I was, doing the best job I could to gather what might pass for facts and all that work amounted to piss in a snowbank. Naturally, I did not want to think that my work was all but worthless. But when the facts are staring you in the face...?

Today, I still think that bias and opinion are the king and queen of the mountain, but to my mind it is just a fact and not something to get your knickers in a twist about. What lessons does this fact teach? And what bias and opinion do I bring to bear instead of investigating the facts?

I thought of all this last night when I tuned in part-way through "Bill Moyers' Journal," a public television show hosted by former newspaperman, author, government flak and Christian-inclined good guy, Bill Moyers. Moyers was talking to a couple of men who seemed to be lawyers and who both had been involved in a court case surrounding California's Proposition 8, an anti-homosexual-marriage initiative.

The show made no apology for being lop-sided in its presentation. There were no advocates for the "immorality" that some ascribe to homosexual liaisons. But Moyers asked the devil's advocate questions and these two men were allowed to bring their evidence to bear. What struck me was the effort they had made in marshaling witnesses -- including those on the other side of the argument -- who addressed head-on the "immorality" or the social-fabric-disaster or the-children-will-be-hurt or the danger-to-the-sanctity-of-marriage and all the other heart-felt objections to homosexual marriages.

These guys had done their homework. They knew there were passions in play, but they brought up the facts ... fact after fact after fact after fact. They were not outraged that people did not believe them. They did not swoon when someone did not think they were right. They did not shout or bang their fists or white-whine ... they gathered what facts they could and stood firm. That firmness seemed to be rooted in the idea -- what else? they were lawyers -- that in a country ruled by laws, those laws needed to be equitably applied. They recognized the human capacity for passion and opinion and bias, but refused to concede that passion and opinion and bias should be allowed to rule the land...unless, of course, anarchy were to be the objective.

It was an interesting program for me. The issue of homosexuality, while socially inflaming, was not so much what interested me. What did interest me was the ways in which any human being might carry out the same investigation and care in their own lives. Clearly such an investigation is not popular. Clearly facts can put opinion and bias in a revised and often weakened position. But to investigate and find out the implications of anyone's own persuasions is the only way I can think of that will provide a peaceful and equitable life ... personally peaceful and equitable.

Passionate airheads are a dime a dozen and I am perfectly capable of standing at the front of that line. But a good, if daunting, habit to get into is the willingness to really investigate, the habit of not simply settling for the obvious or the delicious. If I say, "I am a Buddhist," well, what the hell does that mean? What does that mean really, when I am alone and have neither supporters nor detractors to rely on?

What are the facts? Are the facts ever the facts? If no one else investigates the facts, if people seem content with nickel-and-dime opinions, why should I bust my butt trying to get things straight?

Why? Because I prefer to be happy. Being "right" is a cheap date -- easy and smug. But being happy requires some effort and care.

I think the effort is worth the price of admission.

But that's just my bias.

extra baggage

I was thinking this morning about a millionaire Zen teacher I have known and my mind wanted to ask ...

"You're already a millionaire. Isn't it time to stop acting like one?"

Which made me think of longtime Buddhists and similarly want to ask,

"You're already a Buddhist. Isn't it time to stop acting like one?"

Friday, February 26, 2010

lay people and monks

From: Swampland Flowers: The Letters and Lectures of Zen Master Ta Hui (1088-1163); Tr. Christopher Cleary:

As gentlemen of affairs, your study of the Path differs greatly from mine as a homeleaver. Leavers of home do not serve their parents and abandon all their relatives for good. With one jug and one bowl, in daily activities according to circumstances, there are not so many enemies to obstruct the Path. With one mind and one intent (homeleavers) just investigate this affair thoroughly. But when a gentleman of affairs opens his eyes and is mindful of what he sees, there is nothing that is not an enemy spirit blocking the Path. If he has wisdom, he makes his meditational effort right there. As Vimalakirti said, "The companions of passion are the progenitors of the Tathagatas: I fear that people will destroy the worldly aspect to seek the real aspect." He also made a comparison: "It's like the high plateau not producing lotus flowers; it is the mud of the lowlying marshlands that produces these flowers."

If you can penetrate through right here, as those three elders Yang Wen-kung, Li Wen-ho and Chan Wu-chin did, your power will surpass that of us leavers of home by twentyfold. What's the reason? We leavers of home are on the outside breaking in; gentlemen of affairs are on the inside breaking out. The power of one on the outside breaking in is weak; the power of one on the inside breaking out is strong. "Strong" means that what is opposed is heavy, so in overturning it there is power. "Weak" means that what is opposed is light, so in overturning it there is little power. Though there is strong and weak in terms of power, what is opposed is the same.


the "goodness" factor

I asked on Zen Forum International, but thought I would ask here as well:

What do you think would happen if we stopped (in one way or another) calling Buddhism "good?"
Would the whole structure collapse?
Would it be more honest?
Or ...
What do you think?

For fear of stifling reaction, I did not offer my thoughts there, but here I will say that I think that the tentative "goodness" of spiritual endeavor is probably a necessary expedient means. But, in order for that spiritual endeavor to flower, "goodness" has to be recognized as just that -- tentative.

It is said that Gautama Buddha once extended his clenched fist to a weeping child. He pretended there was gold within that fist. Sure enough, the child stopped weeping. But of course there was nothing within his hand.

Before the weeping ends, before a little experience kicks in, the fabrication of "goodness" gold is necessary -- a way of getting attention, an understandable and perhaps forgivable fib.

But making a profession of "goodness" would eviscerate any honest and fruitful spiritual endeavor, I think.

The same rope that might be used to pull a car out of a muddy ditch can also be used to hang a person to death.

So my view is, don't try to push the river. Don't pretend to be in a place you are not. If "goodness" is the current need and persuasion, then go ahead and be "good."

But don't let it hang you.

hard times

On the car radio yesterday -- it must have been the BBC -- I caught a segment of a story about an upcoming vote in an English district that had previously been considered a "Labor bastion." The thrust of the story seemed to be the impact of the dismal economy on voting preferences.

The reporter, while not pretending to a scientific poll, talked to various people on the street and sure enough, many who had voted Labor in the past were now leaning towards the Conservatives. But beyond that, some (who sounded older than merely outraged teenagers) said they would simply stay home ... a pox on both their houses.

The weariness imposed by the economy seemed apparent in the report. The same people who brought us the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now had a chance to overthrow those who were spending vast sums trying to clean up the fiscal mess left in the wake of a deregulated frenzy of banking and insurance and stock-brokering greed.

And of course none of this money -- either the money being spent to prosecute wars or the money accrued by those who found openings for their greed -- belonged to the people amassing it. It belonged to the people who were now feeling the pinch and had put their trust in the governance they were being asked to vote for...again.

On every side there was a bid for "trust" when any credible basis for that trust had been severely eroded.

More than the social mewling and hand-wringing, what interested me in the report was the fatigue those interviewed seemed to feel -- the beaten and beaten-down attitude that spoke to me of a wearing away of even the convenient and savvy cynicisms.

It all made me think of the half-remembered report that the government here in the United States had contingency plans in place for the possibility of civil unrest. Frustration and sorrow might make such an option seem sensible -- throw all the assholes out! -- but were that to happen, how would the country show itself as much better than some tin-pot South American dictatorship? How would that honestly ease the honest pinch that voters are feeling?

Funny how those who have created the havoc are often the children of privilege. Well-educated, well-coiffed and imagining that that privilege is somehow a right instead of an obligation. But the greed of those who rule and the greed of those who don't rule is the same greed. And I imagine that those better-versed in history could make a pretty good case that it had never been much different.

On BBC television last night, there was a clip about a medical school in Cuba -- one that was educating people from all over the world to be doctors. The education was free and the only request made by the government-sponsored program was that those privileged enough to receive the education would return to their often-destitute countries and lend a hand there. Sure, it is a propaganda weapon, a way of showing that a dictatorial Cuba can offer a blessing as well as a curse, but the bald fact is that people in need would actually benefit. The clip did not dig into the ways in which ordinary Cubans might be deprived in order to pay for such a program, but on the surface at least, there was a decency to it all.

And it made me wonder in what ways individuals might offer their own medical programs to the world. Greed has palpable effects -- people go hungry, people go blind, people die as a result of greed. It's not new or novel or likely to change any time soon. There is no stopping it in others. But there are ways -- and they don't have to be high-profile, virtue-laden exercises -- in which we too can offer our privileges to an environment that has run out of trust and distrust, that is tired, that is uncertain. For starters, let's stop calling it "good" -- that just muddies the waters.

If greed starts at home, under my own two feet, then the place to begin is under my own two feet. No need for flag-waving and whining. Just start at home and revise the notion that because we were born on third base, we must have hit a triple. It is easy to point out the screw-ups of others -- the well-educated, ignorant, arrogant rulers -- but their mistakes don't have to be our mistakes, whatever base we were born on.

It's not a matter of high-falutin' philosophy or religion. It's a practical matter, one that affects both the one who makes the effort and the one who may benefit from it ....

Gautama Buddha said, "It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do -- that is my concern." And this is not just more feel-good, religious horseshit. It is not just some activist lollygagging. It is a practical observation in what may be verifiably difficult times. To start where you can make a difference is to make a palpable difference everywhere.

I'm not kidding.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


An email from a young man today informed me that he believed in spirits and angels and asked me what I thought of that from a Buddhist perspective. "This the the highest belief one could have," he asserted. And further, "I would like to meet someone who believes in bodhisattvas or angels like I do and is not a mere slave of his belief."

Aside from the obvious confusions he faced, I was struck by the touching nature of seeking out a superlative in life.

There is, for example, a Zen-oriented book called, "The Supreme Doctrine." The Jews sometimes refer to themselves as "the chosen." Hitler described blond and blue eyed Aryans as the best. I believe there are several American Indian tribes whose tributes to themselves include the use of the words, "the people." And lots of religious texts I have long since forgotten refer to the "highest" or the "best" or "most complete" or some other superlative designation for a particular way or faith or activity.

It's a curious matter -- superlatives.

And all I can think of is that where there are superlatives, there is ego. I don't mean that as a criticism. Just as an observation that might prove useful the next time a superlative walked into anyone's life. Ego frequently means difficulty and sorrow so maybe superlatives would be worth checking out and digesting a bit.

don't be a cripple

My younger son and I will go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles for the fifth time tomorrow morning. He turned 16 and wants to get a learner's permit, which means he can drive as long as there is an adult in the car with him.

I know he knows how to drive ... I taught him. But the state has yet to recognize his ability and his school mandates a fairly expensive driving school for the kids (what a great racket for some auto driving school!)

The first time we went, two days ago, his birth certificate did not have the required raised seal.

The second time we went, yesterday, the building in which the registry is housed was blacked out -- the victim of a snow storm.

The third time we went, this morning early, the computers had still not been brought up to snuff. There was no direct telephone line that would allow anyone to find out when, in fact, those computers were working.

The fourth time we went, this afternoon, there were "about 10,000 people waiting," according to my son, and both of us knew how long a wait that might be.

So we'll try again tomorrow morning. Early.

Each visit required a ten- or twelve-mile drive round-trip. Each disappointment caused my son's face to go still with anger and frustration. He had no background in bureaucracy, in rules that are laid out but not very well administered, in the ways of a world that can disappoint the hell out of you.

From his point of view, it seemed such a simple request: He had filled out the papers, had the proper documentation, had gotten a check for the appropriate amount from me ... he had filled his part of the bargain. But the institution that implicitly promised to fulfill his wishes was dragging its feet like a crippled dog.

I knew his frustration and anger. I had felt its sting in the past, failing to understand why, if someone made a promise, they didn't either keep it or take responsibility for not keeping it. But bureaucracies, like the people within them, are not rife with promise-keeping: A promise is something they make in order to feel good about themselves. Taking responsibility would mean not feeling good about themselves, so ....

The best lesson anyone can learn from the crippled dogs is ... just don't be one. Let others promise and feel good and renege if they want to. No need to fault them. Just don't you be a cripple.

But that doesn't mean I can't sympathize with my son.

American ninnies

I'm sure there were those who came for the money and status, but I also think that the Zen teachers who once came to America saw an opportunity for refreshment of something that was laden with culture and lethargy in their homelands. All those dancing or philosophizing ninnies in America may have lacked the gravitas necessary to Zen practice, but their pep, when harnessed, was more likely to express a no-kidding joy.

When harnessed ....

Anyone who has been to a Zen monastery or a Zen center may be wowed, as I once was, by the setting and format. It was clean and disciplined and, most beckoning/repelling of all, silent. Not a dust mote seemed to be out of place. There was none of the dancing or philosophizing that could be found in the streets, outside the confines of monastery or center, inside my heart. It was novel, it was beautiful, it was inviting, it was elevating and elevated, it was scaaaaary. But the question that whispered from some shadowed corner was, "Suppose it's true? Suppose it works? Suppose there were something that would still the uncertainties? Suppose ...?" It was hard to see how something so distant, so rigorously perfected could work, but suppose it could?

Suzuki Roshi once called Zen practice was "a very formal practice with a very informal mind." But for the informal, dancing-ninny mind, it is hard to imagine that a world of dust-mote rigor could set things right. The mind rebels: It's too tight, too tight-assed, too belly-button, too ... too limited and limiting.

And I sure as hell wouldn't recommend it to everyone.

But, since every problem, of whatever sort, requires some rigorous and attentive examination and exercise, well, maybe Zen practice makes some sense to some people.

A very formal practice ... yes, Zen is surely that. Other spiritual persuasions, as far as I can see, provide similar, if differently-expressed, rigors. The difference with Zen is that it kicks its students out the door: The object is not some endless, chase-your-tail belief system. Zen, in effect, says, "Get out there and dance!"

But the richness of true dancing can hardly be known without some rigorous practice. Free-style dancing is dancing, but it is also not yet free.

So... a very formal practice with a very informal mind. Nothing is assumed and yet the format of practice looks like nothing so much as a lock-down assumption: Do it this way ... No! Not that way! And in a hundred-hundred ways, the mind rebels and resists and pretends it has attained an easy informality. The mind longs for the limitless because it is limitless, but its sense of the limitless is not only limited by habit and bias, but also by its own search-for/longing-for the limitless.
The rigors of a very formal practice are enough to make a blind man weep.

Well, I haven't got the pep or the time to carry out this disquisition. Gotta get my son over to the place where he can receive his driver's permit. I started writing it when noticing another American ninny flonging his Zen dong ... making sweeping statements from the apparent comfort of an apparent informality ... dancing an unlearned dance. Any Zen student might do the same ... me too, for sure. But just because it's popular doesn't make it true.

Zen practice, that dust-mote rigor, is so easy that it's hard-hard-hard. But the mind is never hard. It is always dancing and flowing like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. Life is always dancing.

And the pep is so beautiful and so compelling and so ... home sweet home. Might as well get out there and dance. It doesn't take a Zen student to know that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

hats off!

A gloppy snowfall bows trees and bushes around here. The maple next door, a failing beast whose limbs have been trimmed and wired in an effort to save it, shows new signs of distress ... a distress that may bombard my driveway with car-damaging limbs. Telephone and electrical wires are laden with ornate, thin walls of white.

It is a day full of revised plans. My sons get a "snow day," which means they don't have to go to school...but do have to get out and shovel, which may make them wish school had opened. My daughter, if her college is open, will go despite it all -- she's tough and determined.

It's pretty easy to get into a revised-plan mode when something like this snowfall arrives. The easy drive to bank or supermarket -- things I had planned to do -- now require rethinking, reframing and perhaps some crankiness that an easy plan had been so easily thwarted. Circumstances arise and "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men, do oft times go awry (gang aft agley)."

The snow is an obvious thing.

But I think it is less obvious that replanning and rethinking is what anyone does all the time ... all the time. Not a moment goes by when circumstances don't dictate a nudge this way or that. It's so subtle, perhaps, that we get used to ignoring what we are doing and focus instead on our "successes" or "failures" as occasioned by circumstances and desire. We plan. We succeed. We fail. And, when the snow is obvious enough, we revise.

Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, what we call life is thrown into a cocked hat. All the time. But is it life that is thrown into a cocked hat? Is life dismayed or delighted? Does life wear a hat, cocked or otherwise? Of course not: I wear a hat, I make plans, I revise my plans, I am dismayed or delighted.

Just noodling and thinking that life's 'benevolent' course deserves our attention, even when it's not snowing:

Hats off to life!

So to speak.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Sometimes it wonders me (though I can also understand) that people would concern themselves too much with the 'right' this and the 'wrong' that, the 'correct' this and the 'incorrect' that.

I know it feels good and perhaps supportive and less lonely -- the correct Buddhism, the incorrect ethics, the right carpentry, the wrong turn on the highway.

But, looking things over, I think it probably makes better sense simply to use what is useful and discard what is not. What others do and think and say may be instructive and helpful -- or it may be confining or despicable -- but still, isn't it the usefulness that proves itself worthy in thought, word and deed?

Usefulness just seems to me to make better sense than praise and blame.

stuff falls off

Yesterday, I made a hurry-up appointment with the dentist to address a tooth whose pain was enough to make me skip supper the night before and, in addition, take an upscale pain medication stashed in the bathroom medicine chest ... something I dislike doing if I don't have to.

The young-woman dentist was every bit as cheerful and forthright as her father who generally tells me good-naturedly to shut up so he can do his work. We agreed with minimal lollygagging that the tooth had to go. That's what happens when you get older -- stuff falls away or, from a more clingy point of view, is taken away.

The idea of losing the tooth was not appealing. The idea of losing the pain was quite appealing. So the cheerful dentist did a good job inserting the needle loaded with Novocaine and then went about other business while the stuff kicked in. I was left in one of those one-size-fits-no-one dentists' chairs in the care of a dental assistant.

And as we chatted about my kids and hers, it turned out that her husband had, at 48, had a stroke last week. He did not do any of the bad things doctors say can lead to a stroke ... no smoking, cholesterol in good shape, modest drinking, and didn't neglect his exercise. Despite all of his clean living, he had a stroke and Darcy told me about the family fallout.

She told the story with the kind of reserve that people bring to such stories ... wanting to talk about it because it was, after all, the latest compelling news, and yet wanting to keep it private as well. She wanted to look strong and capable and in control at the same time she told a story that bespoke a loss of control. As if her husband's stroke weren't enough -- and it depressed the hell out of him -- there was a great-uncle who had died, not unexpectedly, the week before.

Stuff falls off or is taken away, not just by old age, but by life itself.

Without laying on the Buddhism too thick, I told Darcy a small breathing exercise she might try when the whimwhams came calling. "It's cheaper than meds and if it doesn't work, you don't lose much more than a couple of minutes," I said, sugar-coating the exercise.

Pretty soon the Novocaine had kicked in and it was time for the cheerful young dentist to do her work. My focus shifted away from Darcy and onto the fact that life was taking one of my assumptions, that stuff was falling off ... and that there was something visceral that didn't like it one damned bit.

The extraction took five minutes or less, but it seemed to take forever. It wasn't painful physically, but mentally it was a blow. Its implications spread out like the ripples after a rock is dropped in a still pool.

Stuff falls off. From six to sixty, stuff falls off. What was controlled and assumed becomes uncontrolled and proven unworthy of assumption. Like Darcy's husband, any efforts I had made on behalf of health and control and assumption proved uncertain: He had a stroke, I lost a tooth, Darcy's lifestyle was upended, her kids were shaken as one of their bulwarks, their dad, shape-shifted in illness, and the cheerful dentist probably had her own tales to tell.

Why anyone needs books about spiritual endeavor sometimes beats the hell out of me when a little attention makes things perfectly clear. It was just a trip to the dentist, after all, and, however much I may dislike such trips, it wasn't anything extraordinary. Stuff falls off ... things change ... and perhaps the spiritual endeavor pointers are good for something if they can point out that stuff does indeed fall off and here's something you can do about it.

Only of course there is not a goddamned thing you can do about it in the sense that control and assumptions simply do not accord with life. Control and assumptions accord with habitual behavior and thought, but they don't accord with life. But in the sense that anyone might review and revise their outlook, something can be done, something that accords more with the facts and less with the fictions.

Stuff falls off.

In old age, this observation seems to take on increasing force. Not only do physical attributes take a licking and not only do physical capabilities wane, but the mind is, bit by bit, less concerned or compelled by what once was -- and for others remains -- concerning and compelling. It is harder to return to the world of assumption and control. It is harder to come back to earnest conversations. It is harder to be convinced ... by your self or others. And, whatever the sense of loss that may grow up around all this, still there is something consoling and smooth in it, as if something had been staring you in the face and you said, "oh yeah, I knew that."

Stuff falls off. You knew that. You knew that when you were six and you know it again as the years progress. Sometimes it feels desperately important that things are somehow taken away -- don't take my tooth! don't give me a stroke! -- and sometimes it's like water flowing downhill ... what the hell else did you expect?

I feel lucky to have run into a spiritual endeavor that addresses such matters rather than fleeing from them. What use is heaven if you can't do much more than whine about hell? It can be hellish to lose control, to lose a tooth, to have a stroke, to feel your world upended in little and large ways, but ... when was it ever different and what made any of us imagine that it should be different?

Stuff falls off. All the time, stuff falls off. One moment leads to the next, one moment falls off and another appears. No one can hold on and no one can escape. It's not determinist and it's not annihihilationist and it's not relative and it's not absolute ... it's just what happens, isn't it?

To become depressed or angry because the sky is blue hardly seems sensible. The blue sky isn't depressed or angry or at a loss. Does stuff fall off the sky?

So it strikes me as a good question -- a question anyone might ask, whether dentist or Buddhist: "Falls off what?"

Monday, February 22, 2010

one final act

In "The Book of Five Rings," a 17th-century treatise written by Miyamoto Musashi, whom some consider the greatest swordsman Japan has ever seen, these (approximate) words appear:

"Even if a samurai should have is head cut off, he should still be capable of one final act."

A number of years ago, "The Book of Five Rings" became the darling of businessmen in the United States. In it, various commentaries suggested, these stock brokers and bankers and captains of industry found strategies that spoke to the business world in which they fought and clawed. None of the commentaries I ever read suggested that honor and uprightness were of any particular interest. And none suggested that such latter-day readers would be capable -- even by aspiration -- of "one final act."

What a description of determination and discipline -- to be capable, after all ordinary supports and hand-holds were erased, of one final act. I am sure that latter-day samurai wannabes would be happy to brag about their prowess and power and samurai lineage, but to be capable of one final act? I doubt it.

But critiques or praises of others is not so much what's interesting to me. What I think is useful would be to know what your own final act might be ... the final act ... the one after the end.

For example ... now.

the solution you seek

In Buddhism, there is the tale of Gotami, the grief-stricken mother who approaches Gautama Buddha with her dead child in her arms and pleads with him to resurrect her baby. Over and over again, Gautama tells her that he cannot. Over and over she begs him.

Finally, Gautama tells Gotami that she must first bring him some mustard seeds from the first household she comes to where no one has died. Gotami sets off with heartfelt determination and begs from first one household and then another. The residents are all happy to give her a few mustard seeds, but when she asks if anyone has died in the house, they are dumb-struck: Of course someone had died there.

Finally, Gotami returns to Gautama and says, approximately, "Enough with the mustard seeds! Give me the teachings."

Even setting Buddhism aside, the story of a heart-wrenching tragedy resonates with anyone whose heart beats. Whatever the tragedy, it can reach to the heavens and tear your life apart. Who does not recognize tragedy, whether it is their own or someone else's? Little or large, tragedy can eat you for breakfast.

And yet, in the end, tears are not enough.

Somehow, everyone seeks 'the teachings' that will put their tragedy to rest. Maybe the teaching is "time heals all wounds" and the practice is simply putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe there are drugs. Maybe ... well, who knows which bandage will bind this wound?

Whatever the suggested cure, one thing is known for sure: The blood is real, the tears are real, the searing is real. Philosophy and religion can take a hike. This is painful!

I was reading a Buddhist-like web site today that promised enlightenment in a week. It wasn't cheap, but still ... if my dead child could be resurrected in a week, would I really worry about money? Who wouldn't 'give anything'...?

I have plenty of practicing Buddhist acquaintances who would scoff at the notion of enlightenment in a week, and yet how different, really, is a lifetime practice from a shazzam, instant-gratification approach?

As a practical matter, there is a quite a lot of difference, but where your flesh and blood lies lifeless in your arms, where tragedy rakes and claws, isn't the longing the same? To find relief? To find release? To be quits with sorrow or uncertainty? ... right now, if not sooner!

I guess we all have to fall prey to diversions -- to seeking the mustard seeds from the first house in which no one has died. Sometimes the diversions are offered by charlatans, sometimes they are offered by people whose motives are nothing but the best. But either way they are diversions from the flint-hard reality that tears are not enough ... hell, even the teachings are not enough. Everything is a diversion and a lie, in one sense, until we put the teachings we are offered into effect.

From the release and relief point of view, this flint-hard reality is as if life looked us in the eye and said, "cut the crap; there is no solution until you find it." This may seem like cruel and unusual punishment in a world rife with altruists and other well-intentioned or hug-prone people ... but there it is ... like it or lump it. Seeking answers from others, relying on others -- whether for a week or a lifetime -- cannot resurrect what is so beloved.

Yes, there are good teachers. Yes, there are bad teachers. But these are only teachers -- the wise and kindly and misguided and despicable ... the ones who send us in search of mustard seed from the first house in which no one has died. The tragedy is real, the search is real, the usefulness and uselessness are real ... but is all that really enough to resurrect what is so beloved?

Is it possible that what is so beloved sits chortling on the living room carpet at your feet?

Better take a look.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

get a life

It may be a sometimes-desperate matter, but it's also a peculiar one -- having a life.

Life is what you are, not what you have. Tree-life, bush-life, sky-life, you-life, me-life ... and on and on, not just in some spiffy philosophical sense, but honestly. No one can name it and no one can escape it ... even the dead are stuck with this farm called life.

See if it's true and I think it will lighten the load.

All that ruckus and it's as simple as that:

Get a life...

So to speak.

stop pussyfooting

The Zen teacher Rinzai once tried to build a fire under the monks at his monastery with the (approximate) words: "Your whole problem is that you do not trust yourselves enough!"

This morning, I was reading elsewhere a question about whether an idea expressed in the Tao Te Ching was in any way linked to a similar idea in a particular Buddhist sutra.

And all I could think, in my usual, undiplomatic mind, who gives a shit whether such things connect or don't connect, whether wisdom of a particular kind pops up here and also there ... and how curious that might be, given the time and distance between the two places? What matters is that the wisdom appeals to you, whether it emanates from prince or pauper.

Trust yourself! Don't worry where something comes from ... worry about whether, since it appeals to you, it is true. Find out. Who cares if it's a rest room graffito or a profound holy text, trust yourself: Find out if it's true. If all you can do is laud one thing and disdain another, if all you can do is elucidate and make convincing connections, how the hell will you ever know anything but confusion?

Isn't it the finding out that counts? Sure, prop yourself up with wisdoms you find convincing or alluring or reliable ... but then, trust yourself and find out.

Rest room graffito. Profound holy text.

Never give up.

Find out.


This morning, the dawn is sweet and soft, with a pale blue sky sporting a few pinkish clouds. It's chilly, but not cold, on the porch. The heat is on in the zendo and I think I may not have to bring a blanket to throw over my shoulders during zazen later. There are birds out there somewhere. Spring, if not yet in full swing, is whispering and promising.

No particular idea insists, but there are colorful bits of glass thought shifting, as in a kaleidoscope.

-- In Afghanistan, a fierce fight is underway. People are in fear for their lives. American, Afghan, soldiers, civilians. In a hundred years, what fruit will this tree bear?

-- In California, the Dalai Lama says his meeting with U.S. president Barack Obama was low key and he does not resent it. He understands the need for diplomacy and connection between the U.S. and China -- an economic connection that should not eviscerate America's principles of law and equality.

-- In Florida, three teenage girls crossing a railroad trestle were killed as a male friend watched helplessly from the far side. It was about 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The boy screamed at them to run, then to jump ... but to no avail.

-- To the extent that tolerance just implies and newly-dressed intolerance, well, I think it cannot last. Everything relies on everything else in one sense -- peace/war, joy/sorrow, excitement/boredom, tall/short -- but to the extent you rely on anything whatsoever, there is bound to be sadness and confusion.

-- My cousin writes that if I want to get my book into internet-accessible shape (she pointed out a site where I can do it for free), I need to have a cover. I have a cover. You can't judge a book by its cover, but these days the cover of the book is about the only thing that arouses much interest: I designed it and it came out 95-97% the way I wanted it ... and I like it. Maybe I'll work on that project later today.

-- My youngest son turned 16 yesterday. I picked him up at about 11 last night from a friend's house. My son's girlfriend was there as was his friend's girlfriend. A good birthday, my son's face said to me. Spring is coming.

-- What is frozen thaws. What thaws becomes frozen. Is there something unclear about this? Is there some principle missing?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

the cheerleader effect

Woke up this morning thinking that some people approach religion/spiritual endeavor in the same way a high-school boy might scope out a unattainably pretty cheerleader ... with awe, with hope, with doubt, with skepticism, with a visceral longing that might as well be called hormonal. Boy, what would it be like to get a date with a chick like that?!

And it's not just an idle metaphor. My younger son recently told me he had a "girlfriend," and, although he holds the particulars pretty close to his chest, I can see the look of pride, delight and uncertainty written on his face. This is serious. And I can remember my own moments of similar seriousness and hope never to relive those daunting, delicious times. I long to ease my son's concerns ... and know I cannot or, if I could, I would be doing him a disservice.

My son's girlfriend is not a cheerleader, but in his eyes, she is ... is ... is ... wow and wonder ... it is all like trying to put words to something that refuses to stand still long enough to be named; it's like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Idiots and poets may call it "love," but that's just more Jell-O.

Religion/spiritual endeavor can have the same cheerleader effect. Delicious, daunting, exquisite, hopeful, dubious and bright as a searchlight against the night sky. With so much delicious confusion going on, with so much visceral longing, with so much abject praise ... well, those of us who are no longer teenage boys know that you have to get over it.

And yet some never do. Religion/spiritual endeavor remains forever locked in cheerleader mode. Money-making religious institutions are content with, and sometimes even encourage, the cheerleader frame of mind. It is a great, great pity. I am even tempted to use the word "sacrilege." Such a world is like a teenager who learned how to masturbate but never got laid.

Everyone goes through the wow's and wonders. It's OK. But the interesting part of religion/spiritual endeavor begins when the boy gets his first date -- when he actually goes out with the object of his visceral longings. He may not get laid on the first date, but he begins to see the scenery with new eyes. Sometimes things are disappointing. Sometimes they are even better than expected. And so, perhaps, there is a second date and a third and a fourth ... and the Jell-O begins to gel in concrete ways ... not that it's any easier to nail it to the wall.

Some meditate. Some pray. Some sing. Some find other particular ways in which to express their date with religion/spiritual endeavor. But the key is, they DO something. And then keep on doing it. Doing it when it's fresh, doing it when it's stale, doing it when the heavens open up, doing it when the shit rains down.

It is in the doing that the wow's and wonders, the wet dreams of the past, can be set aside in favor of something with more meat on the bone. Far from becoming simpler and easier, things now become more complex ... but their richness begins to shine. It may be a love-hate relationship for anyone who is serious about religion/spiritual endeavor, but the richness cannot be denied.

Richness is not found in the world of cheerleaders, but there is no denying that cheerleaders can point the way.

Friday, February 19, 2010

"The Hurt Locker"

Tonight I watched "The Hurt Locker." Despite my trepidations, it turned out to be less horrifying in its blood-and-gore components and far more horrifying in its quiet observations about the shredding of the human condition.

The movie is a story about a bomb squad in Iraq and the adventures they encounter as they seek to disarm improvised explosive devices in various settings. These are men who care and yet their caring is, by necessity, held at bay ... except when, despite valiant efforts, it pops out unannounced and puts these men in greater danger than they already face. They are human beings who cannot afford too much humanity ... a horrific price to pay.

But the movie was quiet in its assertions. No flag-waving patriotism, no flag-waving pacifism ... just war and the hurts that it can inflict. It was like a whisper and that whisper was raw and insidiously sad.

empty nest

Empty nest.

The family has taken off for the wilds of New Jersey to celebrate my son's 16th birthday with his mother's clan. I sent him a balloon bouquet at his grandmother's house since every time I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he seemed literally incapable of thinking of something.

The quiet is all around.

I did rent a couple of movies, one of them "The Hurt Locker," which I imagine no one would want to watch with me. Even I am not sure if I want to see it, though I would like to find out how the scorching indecencies of war are handled in serious hands. But watching those indecencies, however they are handled, does not hold any appeal. I just want to find out if someone can be serious about the subject...even if it does make me want to puke.

And then I rented a movie that promised some comedic relief -- "A Serious Man" -- about which I know absolutely nothing except what the upbeat blurb on the back of the package was willing to tell me.

And there was a note from a cousin suggesting I list my book on some internet site that allows people to read it on-line, a la Kindle, so maybe I will spend time investigating that.

It is strange having nothing immediate to do on behalf of others.

the consolations of sorrow

The endless ads and commentary that accompanied the winter Olympics on TV left me looking around for some other couch-potato entertainment last night. I like watching athletes do what they do, but have almost zero interest in what others think about what they do.

So I settled for "Armageddon," a 1998, end-of-the-world, action-adventure/sci-fi movie and used its advertising as an excuse to switch back to the Olympics, where I actually did get to see a few people snowboarding and skiing slalom.

In "Armageddon," an asteroid is threatening to destroy the earth and everything/everyone on it. The only option is to send a group of off-beat oil-drillers up to dig a hole in the oncoming asteroid, plant a nuclear bomb and blow the thing up. As a means of underlining the seriousness of the impending disaster, there were occasional soulful shots of people in different parts of the world -- friends, enemies, religions, kids ... everyone was going to get frozen or fried if the oil-drillers failed. Message: What difference does it make who we love and who we hate? -- we're all in this shit together; oneness is true, divisions are superficial; everyone fears death.

What is it about disaster that is so consoling? Sure, the movie was just a small bag of potato chips on which to idly munch, but the consolations of disaster have personal and political and religious nesting places as well. The Bible does it; political leaders use it to create patriotism or as a means of assuring their jobs; Hollywood makes money from it, though probably not as much as the church; and individuals can sometimes experience disasters in their own lives ... a real and serious refuge ... but a refuge from what?

Who would I be without my worries?

In "Armageddon," the off-beat drillers succeed in their task. The world is saved. The hero and heroine kiss and the American flag never looked so red-white-and-blue as it flapped in the wind. It was an OK bag of potato chips ... or at least more interesting than the ads and commentary during the winter Olympics.

During the parts of the TV Olympics where the athletes did what they did so well, there were marvelous efforts, marvelous successes, marvelous defeats, marvelous mediocrities. It was wonderful stuff, or anyway I liked it. It was straightforward and human and painted a picture of human endeavor. Heaven and hell became the property of commentators and ad shills. Going 70 miles per hour down a slope was ... well, this was it; this was this.

What would heaven be without hell? What would hell be without heaven? What would war be without peace? What would peace be without war? Each brings a spice and focus to the other and without spice ... well, who would I be? Wouldn't it be boring? Wouldn't things lack savor? I don't honestly know, but I do know that knowing is easier and less frightening than finding out. Since spice is the spice of ordinary life, the notion that there might be some other settling option is too unsettling. And so it continues, around and around, one thing relying on the other, one person relying on the other to provide spice and consolation and importance.

It's not a bad thing or even particularly unusual, but it does raise the question, is it true? Is there another way of approaching things -- a way that is not constantly relying on the spicy consolation of worry or disaster which gives meaning to the spicy consolation of peace or success ... and vice versa?

The only way to know is to find out. Sure, others can point the way, but without finding out in a quite intimate setting -- your setting -- how could you ever find out something that was not just more of the same ... same ol' same ol'.? Is the world bent on your consolation? Is the world bent on your destruction? What makes you think the world -- or this life -- worries about such things in the first place? The only way to know is to find out.

What would enlightenment be without samsara? What would compassion be without enduring cruelty? What would heaven be without hell? Who would you be without me?

Christians and Jews, I believe, have been known to say that God cannot be known -- that the way to know God is through his works. It's pretty much the same with anyone who takes an interest in the ineffable. The ineffable, after all, is not effable, if that's a word. So it is in the doing, in the downhill skiing, in the couch-potato enjoyment of a TV movie, in the consolations of gloom and doom ... that God can be known ... at least according to some.

But belief systems, however sweet and however true, never assuaged uncertainty, never settled the scene, never broke the links between heaven and hell. What will break those links? Only you can do that. Sorry, but there is no other option: It may be boring and it may be scary and it may be elevating and it may require courage and patience and doubt ... but there is no other option for anyone who wants to take a break from this heaven-and-hell, war-and-peace, joy-and-sorrow, consolation-and-desolation hamster wheel.

"Armageddon" ended happily; the winning and losing skiers had made their runs ... and out in the kitchen, there was a beef-stew pot soaking in soapy water ... it really did need to be scrubbed.

And I didn't require any conviction in order to do it. Just soap, water and elbow grease.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

a laughing carrot

After I got out of the army, I went to work at a book-publishing house in New York City. It was one of the first full-time jobs I ever had and it seemed to fit nicely with my background ... pink, well-educated and polite. There were rugs on the floors and no one ever laughed too loud.

After three or four years, I took a 20% pay cut and went to work as a reporter in Massachusetts. It was as if there were more oxygen in the air -- a noisy place filled with ringing phones, cigarette smoke, cuss words you could sink your teeth into, and the occasional bottle of Wild Turkey buried in the bottom a right-hand drawer. Every day there was something new, some new assignment that involved contacting people who had concerns that might not even include newspapers or books or even much politeness. I could not believe anyone would be stupid enough to pay me to do this work ... I was a pig in shit.

But one of the things I noticed at gatherings outside the office was that the same people who used their curiosity as a good tool in gathering news stories seemed to be largely incurious when outside their professional setting. They talked about the office or its politics or its gossip. The curiosity brought to bear in an office into which news poured from all over the nation and world or region ...? Well, if it didn't affect them, it seemed unworthy of their wonder.

It was a good lesson for me, and I wasn't much different ... there is only so far anyone can go with their intellectual and emotional minds before they shut down, make their decisions, claim their biases and make do with what they've got, however narrow or expansive: There may be a time for curiosity and learning, but someone has to do the dishes, someone has to put spaghetti on the table and make the car payments ... from sheep herder to Ph.D., it's the same.

But because of my pink, well-educated, polite, and unsettled upbringing, my format was somewhat different: I was stuck with a farm of never quite crediting a farm to be stuck with. It was as if, no matter how wonderful or compelling anything was, there was a whispered insistence: "What's beyond that?" It wasn't a better or worse farm except to the extent that it could never quite settle down. It was just the farm I lived on.

And saying in words that anyone is stuck with a particular farm is never quite accurate. Farms suggest defined boundaries, but everyone, on whatever farm, finds themselves looking over the barbed wire of certainty. Sometimes that yearning or curiosity is straight-forward, sometimes it expresses itself by reiterating in the loudest possible voice the wondrous boundaries that have been created. Everyone may have a farm, but everyone knows in their heart of hearts that there is no farm: To live on the well-fenced farm is to see the far mountains, the mountains wreathed in curiosity and possibility. The limits speak of limitlessness, but what is limitless cannot be limited, would take boundless energy ... an energy that could not be requited because, after all, there is always something "beyond that."

So ... better to tend my farm and vote Republican; better to sip white wine and abhor the war; better to ask "what's beyond that" and lounge among the worries that bar so many doors.

After five years, I had become entranced by spiritual life. Spiritual life seemed to offer the best setting in which to get to whatever it was that was "beyond that." But I was entranced at the time by book reading, temple-hopping, lecture-attending. My mind was filled to overflowing with delight and yet the question could not be stilled: What's beyond that? I could not be satisfied to live in a world where there might be much agreement, but no one ever laughed too loud. Virtue and bright understandings might be nice, but, but, but ....

But I wanted to laugh till the tears ran down my cheeks, find a farm without the barbed wire, put to rest what I sensed, but didn't know, might be put to rest. Speaking of the far mountains, believing in their wonders, praising their splendor ... where was the laughter in any of that? It was a hellish recognition for me. Spiritual life was "good," but it "good" really didn't have much meat on the bone.

So I took up Zen practice and threw myself into it with all the virtue and goodness I could muster: Sit down, shut up, erect the spine, focus the mind ... this was how I would find a farm worth tilling, a land without barbed wire, a place to farm without making it a farm. But it was a farm. It was where I was, however much I might pretend it wasn't.

Day after day, week after week, year after year. Sitting, chanting, absorbing, abhorring, swearing, sweating, reaching from the tips of my toes to the tips of my fingers. From dawn until dusk ... tending the carrots and potatoes and lettuce on my farm. I followed the advice I could stomach and, when I couldn't stomach it, I grew into it with time. And occasionally, there would be laughter.

Down on the farm, it was, as all farms are, a serious business. Everyone's got a serious farm to till. So ... till it. I tilled mine as best I could, which, as often as not, was not very well at all. Two steps forward and three steps back. Just about the time I felt that I could tuck some understanding, some harvest of carrots, under my belt, somehow the carrots would dissolve, as wispy and ephemeral as wood smoke...leaving me with ... leaving me with... leaving me with ... with WHAT for Christ's sake!?

I once asked my teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi, what the difference was between the time he had taken up Zen practice and the moment when we were sitting across the kitchen table and I asked the question. In the beginning, he replied, there was lots of uncertainty and pain ... legs hurt, back hurts, mind hurts. Ouch, ouch, ouch! And now, I asked? "Now," he said with a smile, "laughing all the time."

In the beginning, tilling the farm has meaning and importance...publishing farm, newspaper reporter farm, teacher farm, religious believer farm, hot-rod-driver farm.... Everyone has to eat, after all. Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone fences the land with care and fences out varmints that might spoil the crop. Everyone cares for their tools and sweats under their noonday sun. But where the meaning and importance are set aside -- as when pulling a weed that threatens some delicious carrot -- what do you get? What is left?

Well, I can't speak for everyone, but if I had to guess, I guess I'd guess what you get is ...

A laughing carrot.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

what's the matter with beautiful?

A snippet on the car radio suggested that clothing designers were reconfiguring their goals to address new economic realities ... the new Depression which no one ever calls the Depression. More wool, less cashmere. Still spiffy, but, well, you know ... not a rack devoted exclusively to spiffy stuff.

I never could get my head around haute couture ... anorexic, angry-looking women showing off clothes that are pretty embarrassing in their 'artistic' excesses. I have the same inability to appreciate when it comes to hooker couture ... the miles-too-naked look on women not equipped to look good in such clothes. "What's the matter with beautiful?" a voice in my mind asks when it comes to the hautes and the hookers. But of course 'beautiful' is a matter of taste.

Looking good ... how many ways do we all do that? In clothing, in language, in our endeavors ... always dressing up as best we may for our own pleasure and for the reflections we see in others' eyes.

But what's the matter with beautiful? What's the matter with the come-as-you are you? Sure, there are times when fakery is required ... but is there some reason to fake when there is no reason to fake?

What's the matter with beautiful?


How many wisdoms does anyone accrue in a lifetime?

It doesn't matter if the lifetime is long or short, everyone seems to collect or formulate them. And yet, when looking back at such wisdoms, how many of them were superseded by other wisdoms or, alternatively, simply ran out of steam?

What was astounding and convincing becomes common-place or dubious; what was profound and compelling becomes shallow and mundane ... it just seems to be the way of wisdom.

An internet dictionary defines "wisdom" this way:

▸ noun: the trait of utilizing knowledge and experience with common sense and insight
▸ noun: the quality of being prudent and sensible
▸ noun: ability to apply knowledge or experience or understanding or common sense and insight
▸ noun: accumulated knowledge or erudition or enlightenment
▸ noun: an Apocryphal book consisting mainly of a meditation on wisdom; although ascribed to Solomon it was probably written in the first century BC
▸ name: A surname (rare: 1 in 50000 families; popularity rank in the U.S.: #5844)

Wisdom may be deeply cherished or accorded a status of profound importance ... but how well does it work out?

Maybe, better than being wise, it is best just to let wisdom do the thinking.

the poseur

Funny about spiritual endeavor:

Without a very concrete effort, you just end up as some sappy poseur and never get anywhere.

And yet exercising a very concrete effort, you just end up as some upright poseur and never get anywhere either.

If this is true, I think it is reasonable to deduce that the most important aspect of spiritual life is tying your shoe.

No one in their right mind wants to live life as a poseur.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


There was a fellow in the memoir-writing class I 'facilitated' a while back whose offerings always left me feeling as if he weren't telling the truth. I didn't mean it as a criticism, I just meant it in the sense that I didn't think he was telling the truth.

And what did I think he was telling? He was telling something that he hoped would win applause ... something that would allow him to conceal whatever his honesty was and yet reap approval ... approval that would then allow him to approve himself.

Art poses a strange koan: If it cannot communicate with others, it's probably worthless except in the elevated sense of self the artist might have. Art has to communicate ... but if the artist only works in order to communicate, s/he's bound to be disappointed and come up short ... a two-bit faker.

Art, I think, requires the artist to tell the truth ... his truth, her truth ... the truth.

My brother-in-law (when he was still alive and was studying sculpture) sat down in front of a block of wood one day and ... it scared the living shit out of him: "I realized it was just me and the block of wood. Nothing else." That moment frightened him so badly that he never went back to sculpture again.

His honesty impressed the hell out of me.

This ... is ... it! Right and wrong have exactly nothing to do with it. Approval is too much of a compromise. Failure and success are completely off the mark.

This ... is ... it.

Art may scare the crap out of you, but at least you can look in the mirror without tears in your eyes.


The snow is tickling from the sky this morning ... just a flake here and a flake there floating downwards to join their fallen comrades.

There has been so little snow this winter that I fear for a summer water supply. I don't like shoveling, but if shoveling is the price of drinking water, I guess I can stir my stumps. It's either that or believe with nitwits that there will always be bottled water in the supermarket.

John, a fellow who used to practice zazen here, once asked, "Did you ever notice that people who complain about hard times are still drinking bottled water?" An apt juxtaposition for my money.

Water: Setting aside the white-whiney activist hand-wringing it can occasion, isn't water what we need? Isn't it who we are? The lion and the gazelle that lion might eat both drink from the same pool. Water is a sine qua non for animal life.

Sometimes we long for life because there doesn't seem to be enough. Sometimes we complain because there is too much ... and shoveling is a pain in the tail.

But either way, we certainly need to find our own watering hole ... and drink.

seeking wisdom

Out on the porch here, there are bookshelves I built in between the storm windows. It's about the only space available in a house with three kids to put the books.

Two of those shelves, perhaps five feet long, contain books about spiritual endeavor and understanding ... with a leaning towards Zen Buddhism, the persuasion I prefer.

The Blue Cliff Record, Mumonkan, Huang Po, Hui Neng, Dhammapada, Rinzai, Hui Hai, Dogen, and a bunch of others. There is also a bit of extra space where the volumes of the Shobogenzo once lived ... I gave those away. And upstairs, next to where I sleep, on a night table, is a copy of Ta Hui. There are more besides -- books from other traditions like Tibetan or Christian or Muslim or Jewish, but not so many of those. In the basement is a trunk full of books on Vedanta, including the complete works of Swami Vivekananda.

As anyone might note, I have been a fan of the 'old guys,' though there are some more modern authors gathering dust on the porch. Strangely, for all the affection I hold him in, I have no books by the Dalai Lama. Maybe that's because, in some old photo album, I have pictures of him that I took when he visited a Zen center I once attended ... perhaps that personal adventure and the photos are enough to satisfy whatever hunger I once appeased from between book covers.

To the extent that books betoken some serious interest, I guess you could say I had been serious about spiritual life. Or interested. Or suspicious. Or hopeful. Or believing. Or longing.

Whatever the case, I glanced at those books this morning with a kind of wistful I-remember-when and thought idly ...

You can't really say so out loud and expect it to have much effect, but perhaps the sole purpose of zazen -- the seated meditation encouraged by Zen Buddhism -- is to know for a fact that the wisdom whispering between book covers is none other than the wisdom in your heart. I mean honestly and personally -- no oozy-goozy wisdom nonsense.

How else could anyone recognize wisdom if they weren't already wise?

Books, of course, are for someone else, some reader or seeker. But Buddhism is not like this: Buddhism (or Hinduism or Christianity or Islam or...) is for you ... not someone else, not some uneducated or uninitiated boob ... Buddhism is for you, and zazen is just the means of proving it, of actualizing in your life what you already know and books or holy men or academics yammer about.

Somehow it's not enough to read and collect books, to quote and cite, to find friendship and love. Somehow there is the need to know in a deeper way, a more personal way, a way that brooks no interference ... and zazen is an excellent tool for learning what you already know.

As I say, it's pretty stupid to say this out loud. Those in the throes of belief, as I was when I collected all those books, may be smart enough to quote the observation that Zen practice is a teaching "beyond the scriptures" -- an observation true for any serious spiritual endeavor. But if you are collecting books and wisdoms and understandings, then you are not yet ready to relax "beyond the scriptures."

And it's OK. I look at the books on my shelves and a mind filled with "wisdom" from here and there, and it's as if I had been putting gas in the car before making a vacation trip. If you don't gas the car up, there's a good chance you'll never get where you want to go.

But there has to be a car -- something that actually moves -- in order to get where you're going. Zazen is a good car, a good means of moving from the wisdom you understand to the wisdom you know.

And it's impossible to tell someone who thinks or believes that wisdom is something else, is somewhere else, that the teaching outside the scripture just means you.

Zazen is a good tool.

All those books on my shelf begging -- begging! -- as a weeping child might beg ... saying the same stuff over and over and over and over again ... begging you or me to stop collecting books as a means of finding peace or wisdom ... begging you or me to get off our wise tails and actualize our relaxed and easy wisdom. Asking in a hundred hundred ways, "Don't you want to know?" and the piteous answer comes back, "Yes, I want to know ... but I wonder what book is on sale or what wise expositor may be giving a talk downtown or what wisdom lies beyond my ken."

No, posts like this are useless and perhaps arrogant. Believers need to believe. And it's OK. My books are OK (except for all the dust they are gathering -- dust I seriously do not want to clean). Belief inspires ... but I do wonder sometimes about those who insist on amassing more and more and more dust-catchers ... never acknowledging that there isn't s smidgen's worth of difference between those vast expositions and wisdoms and the dishes in the kitchen sink.

And perhaps some nitwit will think such an observation is incredibly wise and beyond their understanding ... or maybe even virtuous. Ick! Virtue is what is between book covers and it has its uses, but what lives between book covers or comes out of a guru's mouth is not an indicator of where you know, beyond the scriptures.

Scriptures will point you to the bus stop, but scriptures and fifty cents will get you a bus ride. Don't you want to get there, wherever 'there' might be? So if you want to get there, don't forget your wallet ... it's your money after all.

For those inclined to Zen practice, there really is a time to get off your ass and get on your ass ... to admire what is admirable, perhaps, but to turn the ignition key on the car that will take you home.

Let's just pretend I never wrote all this. :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

prayer for a chocolate cake

A while back, my daughter made a chocolate cake I liked quite a lot -- nothing but chocolate cake mix out of a box plus a can of pureed pumpkin. It came out not too sweet and with a nice density.

But when I tried to do it ... it was not so good as hers. Undercooked perhaps or with some other flaw, but not up to snuff.

So now I am trying again and saying my chocolate cake prayers -- straight out of the Book of Chocolate Cake Dharanis. I would really, really like to turn out better this go around, but the cake will make its mind up I suppose.

I already made the hard-sauce icing (a vanilla confection) to go on top. It's fine -- a dentist's delight ... powdered sugar, butter and vanilla ... hard to go wrong.

But the cake itself ... oh my!... let me get back to my beseeching prayers!

PS. It tastes good, but did not rise, despite all my caterwauling. I think my daughter forgot to tell me something important ... like adding eggs, for example.

universal solvent ... not

In the same-stuff-different-day department, "ecumenism" whispered in my ear again this morning.

After some experience and some noodling, I guess my thinking is this: Ecumenism is a social function. As such, it is really pretty good -- encouraging tolerance and a wider mind -- but if it acts alone, as a continuing point of view and a promoter of kindness ... well, the deeper questions will never get solved.

I am a male.
I have grey hair.
I have a variety of persuasions.
I am neurotic according to my needs.
I have the scars to prove one thing or another to my satisfaction.
I have blind spots which I do not see ... if I saw them, how could they be blind spots.
I try and fail according to capacity and bias.
Etc. Etc.

I am not a female.
I do not have blond or brown hair.
I do not have precisely the same persuasions as anyone else.

It's nice to get along, to seek bridges rather than a scorched earth, to help out where possible, to talk sweetly as a means of encouragement. Really, it's nice stuff.

But it will never reach, never settle the scene, never provide the actualized universal solvent that can rest so pleasingly on the tongue or in the mind. Water is pretty close to being the universal solvent. But "pretty close" clearly isn't the universal solvent.

Ecumenism oils the social wheels. It inclines some to utter the word "miraculous" with a lot of sincerity but without much examination. "God is known through man's activities," some may say. But that begs the question, who is God? And without answering that question, the universal solvent will always remain "pretty close" and life will remain a pretty-close compromise. And living a constant compromise is pretty thin gruel when all is said and done.

These days, as this morning, I find myself delighting in the fact that one person might be a Buddhist and another Christian, one person is a stock broker and another is some other sort of thief, one person loves dogs and another loves cats. This is this and everyone would like to be at peace and to live a life without compromise.

Good stuff. Sometimes mistakes, sometimes not. This is this ... it's not as if it were obscure or mystical or complicated. My hair is grey, that's all. My sex is male, that's all. I can bang my gums from now until breakfast about "oneness" or "interconnectedness" or "compassion," but hell, that's just part of my compromise.

Life without compromise, without goodness, without evil ... just this life. Relax, no need to state the obvious: If you drive a Chevvy, you don't drive a Ford. It's the driving that counts, don't you think? We all make mistakes -- get speeding tickets -- and, with luck, learn to correct them. It's the driving that counts, not the car makers.

Come home safe!

Buddhist stuff I don't know

Among the myriad things I don't know and/or am badly-informed about is this:

In Buddhism, as I have incompletely told myself the story, there are arhats and there are bodhisattvas ... both enlightened beings, whatever that may mean. Both have climbed the wall, metaphorically speaking, and peeked into the enlightenment garden beyond. But what that peeking inspires in each is ostensibly different:

Arhats drop down on the other side and are never seen again.

Bodhisattvas come back down the side they were climbing in the first place in order to tell others of the garden available to them. They do this because suffering is, in the Buddhist list of suggestions, painful and worth finding a solution for. Sentient beings are uncertain and sorrowful and deserve a helping hand because, in the end, sentient beings are bodhisattvas and bodhisattvas are sentient beings.

I don't really care much about the theological distinctions the theology of arhats and bodhisattvas suggests. I am sure there are vast discussions and descriptions available ... discussions and descriptions I am too lazy to care about.

What does interest me and what I am ignorant about is ... what's the matter with suffering? Yes, as a practical matter, it is as painful as fire -- the day to day bumps and bruises and tears and uncertainties. Who wouldn't want a functioning method for clearing up such difficulties? Fershur I would. And fershur I would be grateful for all the help I could get ... from Buddhism or arhats or bodhisattvas or the checkout lady at Wal-Mart.

But isn't it true ... if you light a candle, that candle naturally runs its course and burns out. You don't need to rush around wondering or hoping or praying or sweating over the fact that it will burn out. It is the natural course of things. To suggest that it wouldn't burn out would run against empirical observation. And why should suffering be any different? Suffering is endless, the devotees of suffering may crow ... and it certainly is not pleasant and it certainly is wily and it certainly can burn like the fires of hell. And I wouldn't for a moment make a philosophical bauble out of it.

But once the conversational efforts run out of steam and things are more relaxed, seriously ... make whatever efforts you like, climb whatever walls, espouse whatever philosophy or religion, speak of metaphysical or literal realms, express profound gratitude to saints and sinners ... candles just burn out all by themselves, don't they? It's not as if seeking a particular outcome made a great deal of difference and it's not as if a slovenly determinism could ease the scene ... candles just burn out all by themselves ... period.

Light a candle and the darkness appears. In the darkness a candle sheds light. Climb all the benevolent walls you like ... candles simply burn out by themselves, don't they?

Gardeners work hard, but when the sun goes down, it's time to sit on the porch and let their efforts bear fruit without any help whatsoever.

And the line comes back to me ... just because you are indispensable to the universe doesn't mean the universe needs your help.

All this is just stuff I don't know much about. But when has knowing ever solved much? :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

the way

There is no best way.

There is only the way.

Embracing the best way is like dieting on chicken shit when you could be eating chicken.

There is only the way -- the way that is actualized through the study and practice of the best way.

Leave wondrous wisdom to others.

Eat your chicken.

It's the best way.

shoot to kill

Sometimes the matter looms large and obvious but more often there is just a lack of attention to the things that spring up brand new and shatter the comforting assumptions of life.

In Alabama, a 40-something woman biology professor is in custody and accused of fatally shooting three fellow academics and wounding three others, apparently because she was denied tenure.

Academia is not rife with incidents in which people "go postal" so to speak. It is a world of semi-colons and patches on jacket sleeves. It is overtly sane and civil, although anyone entering the groves of academe knows that sanity and civility can be sorely tested and is often poorly faked. There may be menstrual cycles, but academia is not a world accustomed to flowing blood.

And outside the academic arena, women are generally under-represented in the going-postal world in which violence erupts from some great anguish.

So, in Alabama, perhaps two bubbles of assumption and contentment were popped: An unexpected explosion of violence and a woman as perpetrator. Safe assumptions and presumptions were shattered and the mind was forced to surrender, to grow wider, to tear down old walls ... and, of course, create new ones -- new ones that would once again create a sense of safety and identity and meaning: Academia was not immune to violent bloodshed and women too were capable of being armed and dangerous.

Alabama shattered the mold, for those who were involved and those who might be interested.

But isn't it the same in every moment? -- Life, that deranged gunman or gunwoman, pops up and rearranges the mind's careful and barely-heeded assumptions. Bingo! -- everything is new, everything challenges what went before. Inattention suggests that the toothbrush we used yesterday is the same one we use today, but is it true? Inattention suggests that the love we felt yesterday is the same love we feel today. But is it true? Inattention suggests ... well, we process without much attention and move on ... until our attention is arrested in some sharp way, maybe delightful, maybe horrific.

Constantly rearranging, constantly rebuilding, constantly revamping, constantly finding whatever haven feels safest, sanest, and least open to some deranged shooter. But the shooter always arrives ... now and now and now and now ... until our Kevlar vests are pretty beat up.

It is worth it, I think, to pay attention to our habits of safety and the recognition that there is no safety. There is no safety because ("because," the mortar between the bricks in the safe havens we construct) the ego, that sense of self we long to preserve and protect ... well, where is it? Who is protecting what when the gunman or gunwoman rides into town, loaded for bear; the gunman or gunwoman that no thinking or emoting can parry or evade; the gunman or gunwoman who is after you and there is no escape; the gunman or gunwoman who is never missing, however much we may choose to ignore him/her; the gunman or gunwoman of this moment; the gunman or gunwoman who operates on a shoot-to-kill order?

In Alabama, the situation is loud as a gun shot.

But we ignore at our peril the gun going off next to our ear ... right now.

dancing with demons

In psychology, I believe, the establishment will tell you that a person in the throes of an hallucination is every bit as convinced by that hallucination as another person might be convinced by his or her reality -- a more recognizable or agreed-upon or 'sane' reality.

A man who is convinced that a piece of rope is a venomous viper is thoroughly convinced. Maybe I've got this wrong from the psychology point of view, but it sounds about right. And I certainly admire the shrink who can help to bring the rope back to life for the one hallucinating -- who can help to make life more manageable and less threatening.

Who would not wish to eradicate that which poses a danger or a fright? Or, if eradication proved impossible, who would not wish to learn at least to dance with his demons?

I never did learn to dance very well. Never did get over the glass-is-half-empty, you-don't-deserve-it formatting. And it's too late now. Others will have to do better. I certainly hope they will...that they will not settle for compromises or half-measures.

Someone once suggested that suffering, in the sense that Buddhists use the term, is little more than resistance to pain. Resistance ... the unwillingness or self-serving incapacity to dance.

My resistance consists in this: I still long to dance with my demons. It is just one of my demons: "Hey Adam, didn't you get the memo? -- white men can't dance!"

Resistance ... yes, I can play the spiritual-endeavor card ... run through the paces of experience cum reflection -- ask "what demons?" and "who creates demons?" and "whose resistance is this?" -- but it's too late now. I'm tired and I'm no longer impressed. If the rope is a snake, the rope is a snake. Let someone else lay out good money and energy to recognize ropes.

I never did learn to dance with my demons.

But maybe that's pretty good dancing.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

fire crackers

A nice-looking man with a beautiful boy in the crook of one arm stopped in front of the peace-picket line today and began pacing to and fro, haranguing the effort of those sporting signs that urged an end to Afghanistan and Iraq and killing and a variety of other topics.

The man was angry and confused and angry all over again: Why were we unwilling to trust Obama? Didn't the people of Afghanistan and Iraq deserve a better life, a more peaceful life, a less locked-down life? He wasn't swearing, but his tone and volume said clearly, "What the fuck is the matter with you people?!"

The beautiful boy sat peacefully in his father's arms.

A couple of the pickets took the man's bait, tried to reason with him, tried to engage him in a more thoughtful approach. Naturally, it didn't work. The anger and confusion had him by the throat and he was determined to fight back ... and the peace picket was just a concrete manifestation of the battle he was trying to wage.

He was loud. And I thought he did a good job of shaking up what can otherwise be a pretty complacent group -- heart-felt, perhaps, but a bit smug in its conclusions ... much as the man was smug in his or I was smug in mine. He put a fire cracker under things and lit the fuse. The explosion blew complacency to the winds ... at least for the moment.

Fire crackers. Boom! And suddenly all those foregone conclusions, those well-coiffed arguments, those painstakingly gathered philosophies ... well, life seems to say, "Up yours!" Suddenly things become present and pressing and there are no hand-holds, smug or otherwise. It's not always a nasty thing -- sometimes it's as delightful as an unexpected kiss ... boom! and the whole world is revised, certainty washed away and yet certainty asserted, a total refreshment.

And all the time, the little boy sat in the crook of his father's arm, beautiful and at home.

Just beautiful.

Beauty seeks no hand-holds.

liking the kids

At my son's track meet yesterday, I got to talking with a couple from a nearby city. Their son was likewise competing in the shot put. The immense indoor arena was packed with kids in uniforms, starting guns going off, races being run, hurdles being hurdled, and parents passing the time chatting about one thing and another while they expressed their love and support and waited for their kids to strut their athletic stuff.

The couple were very pleasant people. In the course of our idle conversing, our waiting, our love and support for our kids, the husband and I found ourselves agreeing on our pride in our children. Not in their athletic prowess, though that was nice, and not on their academic abilities or colleges they might attend, but on their active abilities to be decent human beings in a larger world. The man told me a couple of stories and I told him a couple ... not as a matter of bragging, but as a matter of pure satisfaction at knowing people who would put themselves out for others. However self-centered teenagers might be, and both of us had been there and done that and recognized that ego-tripping is part of growing up, still we could point to instances of decency and kindness and ....

We liked our children.

And what a piece of good fortune that was. Our love seemed to me to be like an underground aquifer of some kind -- silent, invisible, nourishing ... the kind of stuff uncertain poets might eulogize to small effect. But to like your own kids was different. It might as easily have happened that although you loved your kids, you didn't like them much. We were happy to like our kids as people who had found a footing in something our own experiences told us was important.

Our small tales to each other did not skirt the understanding that our kids could be self-centered, sullen, or idiotic. Those tales just recognized a bright light on what could sometimes be a dark night.

The conversation made me happy, as if I had found a friend who shared something I took seriously. How nice not to be the only one who felt this way.

And it made me think of spiritual endeavor -- of how anyone might love like a silent aquifer the person who we are and yet it would be a matter of good fortune to like this person, to find within the mistakes and crankiness and pure idiocies a person we could, so to speak, live with and like. Not mindlessly forgive, without ever investigating or examining... but, like a pair of comfortable shoes, just like.

Zen Buddhists will get their knickers in a twist about the duality of this inept metaphor -- what self? who likes the one who is liked? blah, blah, blah -- but I wonder if all that is so necessary. If you like something or someone, you just like him/her/it. Isn't that nice? As Rinzai put it once to his flock of monks, "Your whole problem is that you do not trust yourselves enough."

Put down on paper, it sounds sort of silly ... returning to the place from which you started (or never left) after so much grunting and groaning, failure and success, philosophizing and religion-izing. I like this and dislike that: What's the big deal? I like my kids and dislike anchovies. OK. Then and now ... what's the matter with that?

No doubt I am just getting too lazy to swat flies. But what's the matter with flies?
What's the matter with duality? What's the matter with certainty? What's the matter with doubt? What's the matter with love? What's the matter with laughter? What's the matter with tears? What's the matter with nothing is the matter or something is the matter?

Oh well, I "stayed up past my bedtime" last night ... waiting for my sons to come home from the post-track-meet partying, watching "A Few Good Men" on TV ... stayed up past my bedtime and so am a bit wooly around the edges, writing not-quite-coherent stuff ... and I have to get my tail in gear for an hour's worth of peace-picketing at 11. I'd rather sleep, rather erase the wooly mind but ...

What's the matter with a wooly mind?

What's the matter with peace-picketing?

I like my kids.

That's nice.

Friday, February 12, 2010


In spiritual endeavor,

Some days are like this ...

...and that's why we practice.

And some days are like this ...

...and that's why we practice.

Determination is a great friend in spiritual endeavor. Rest nowhere. Let nothing deter you.