Thursday, January 31, 2013

tempest in a teapot

Like some small animal left behind in a land where predators abound, tragedy emits its lonely cries.

The horror and hurt are compelling and yet where no one hears, the cries are emptied of their meaning ... except to the the small animal left behind.

When "tragedy" is the topic, many may listen and wax sympathetic, but isn't the same true of other, more joyful experiences as well?

Can experience, good or bad, be improved somehow by the warming nearness of kith and kin? With or without the company, there is a loneliness that can insist. "Sharing is caring" ... or is it? Choosing to be depressed about all this is just a choice.

Am I wrong or is it true: Everyone's experience is a "tempest in a teapot" to someone else. It's not a matter of parsimony or meanness, it's just that there is only so much anyone can heap on his or her plate in a day and some things are given back-burner status. War, for example, is massively important and yet, at the moment, there is a splinter in my thumb.

No small animal left behind ever sees the situation as a "tempest in a teapot," a matter of little import. My experience may be a "tempest in a teapot" to you and perhaps yours is to me as well. More likely, we each lend what help we can without fully knowing the extent of the other's tempest.

But what I wonder today is whether the "tempest in a teapot" that is me is all that necessary? I'm not suggesting it is and I'm not suggesting it's not. I'm just asking. If the dots are already connected, what loneliness could any dot reasonably assert?

Another tempest in a teapot, I suspect.

the wind

Like children rushing out of the schoolhouse door for recess, the wind tumbles out of a leaden sky this morning ... bursting with energy, caroming off houses and cars and trees and the dwindling piles of earlier snow.

It is lively and assured and unafraid and chock-a-block with energies pent up in the classrooms where it once was 'good.' There is not a mean bone in its body, yet if the temperature drops as predicted, it will no doubt stand accused of various crimes that involve overcoats and mufflers.

Not mean and yet neither stupid enough for the narrow confines of 'benevolence.'

As children simply play and laugh and skin their knees -- full bore, nothing held back, with unconfigured gusto -- so the wind is wind ... edgeless and large, dying and being reborn ...

And all of that without a name.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Eido Shimano sues Zen Studies Society

On Jan. 3, 2013, Eido T. Shimano filed a $2-million-plus lawsuit against Zen Studies Society in the Supreme Court of the state of New York. The suit, which demands a jury trial, seeks to retrieve money and artifacts which Shimano and his wife Aiho claim were wrongfully withheld by the society.

With the support/donations of a willing sangha (community), Shimano helped to build Zen Studies Society starting in the mid-1960's. ZSS now has a New York City center (Shobo-ji) and a monastery in Livingston Manor, N.Y. (Dai Bosatsu). In the decades since Shimano helped to shape ZSS, he has been was widely accused (see the Shimano Archive among others) of sexual and fiduciary improprieties, which may now make it into the light of day in a courtroom.

It is not clear at the moment whether ZSS will fight the Shimano suit. As the suit itself makes clear, ZSS is not only disinclined to pay the Shimanos under their rich pension package, but is also seriously strapped for funds, whatever their inclinations may be. It is hard not to speculate that in order to fight the lawsuit, ZSS might be forced to sell one or both of its properties and thus, in effect, destroy the institution itself.

Zen in America ... and you thought "Dallas" was gone forever.

through thick and thin

Not much lives up to its actual billing, much less exceeds it, but I imagine everyone's found a thing or two in life that does just that.

For my own purposes, I thought of two today.

One was a hammer that I have owned for over 40 years, has seen some pretty hard use and will, I like to think, outlive me.

The other was zazen, the seated meditation of Zen Buddhism. It's not something I can photograph and I can hardly claim to own it. I can't remember what it was initially billed as, but since it has been around so long, I sort of assume it has done as well, if not better, than its original advertising.

I am grateful to have found a thing or two that takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'.

the edges

At the outer edges of friendship, there is enmity.

At the outer edges of enmity, there is kinship.

My best guess is that it is the edges that are the problem.

news ... follow the money

-- Exxon Mobil, Baghdad, the Kurds, the Turks and others are jockeying for the oil and its implications in territory claimed by the much-ignored Kurds.

-- The U.S. government, which bailed out big business using the too-big-to-fail argument, once claimed that the government would recoup the outlays of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Now, as if you couldn't have guessed it from the get-go, a watchdog report suggests that taxpayers will probably be on the hook for $27 billion. No word on whether the taxpayers will receive a bailout.

-- Mexican authorities raided and supposedly broke up the "Defenders of Christ," a group or "cult" led by a man claiming to be a reincarnation of Jesus that allegedly ran a sex-slave ring along the U.S.-Mexican border. Police are still trying to sort out who are the victims and who are the abusers.

-- In the Bronx, N.Y., a seven-year-old school boy was taken away in police handcuffs and held/interrogated for 10 hours in a dispute over a missing $5, according to the boy's family.

-- In Indonesia, a mob of monkeys, usually known for shying from human beings, attacked a village and its inhabitants, injuring several, one critically. The ten or so monkeys scared the hell out of the villagers. Authorities are trying to determine what caused the monkeys to go on the offensive. Maybe they too were looking for money?

snow shovel on the porch

Sitting on the porch before the street lights had gone out this morning, I noticed a snow shovel leaning against the wall, waiting patiently as it seemed to me. There is lingering snow here and there on my street, but nothing that requires the use of the shovel just now. Winter is far from over, so I have faith that this shovel will serve a useful purpose ... and I will thank its usefulness or curse its need depending on my own patience or exasperation.

When I came back inside, there was a predictably crabby email from a friend in Hawaii -- an economics professor and libertarian-leaning man with whom I shared some time in the army a long time ago. Barney called me out for my left-leaning approval of the Public Broadcast System video, "The Untouchables," which I sent along to him and others last night.

Barney has more than a couple of brain cells to rub together, so getting called out is a pleasurable part of our friendship. In this specific instance, what I found to be a pretty-careful journalistic answer to questions that deserved to be asked of Wall Street and big banks in the run-up to a global economic collapse, Barney saw the "righteous opprobrium" of the (left-leaning) Public Broadcast System.

The email issue sat between us like the snow shovel on the porch -- patient and factual in the face of either praise or blame.

It's pretty hard to do serious research or expend personal effort on any topic and not be swept away by that interest. I think it may be impossible, in fact. Nor should it be otherwise: How is anyone supposed to find peace with the facts without diving in to the very gritty particulars? Writing things off with a righteous or do-good bias is hardly an answer when the matter is serious. So getting swept up and swept away by injustice or racism or corruption or war or spiritual life ... I just don't see another possibility for anyone who is serious... dig in, dig deep, winkle out the particulars, don't stop with easy answers ... really dig in.

And what is good practice in the social arena is good practice closer to home, I think. It's easy-ish to see the flaws and depredations and hypocrisies of social activity or the actions of others. Woo-hoo -- nail the bastards to the cross!

But what is sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander: Looking down the street is easier than looking in the bathroom mirror. And I am not trying to run one of those facile guilt-trip thingies ... blame the victim; let him who is without sin cast the first stone; I could not see the failings without being capable of the same, etc. All that may be true, but it's also manipulative in some very false ways.

Despite the pitfalls that may let social entities or neighbors off the hook, still I think it is important to do some investigative journalism within, to dissect and examine in the same way a decent reporter may dissect and examine the social arena. The object of the exercise is not to excoriate anything. The object is not to rip anything up by the roots or tear its heart out. The object is ...

In Zen Buddhism, a framework I like, I can't remember if it was Layman P'ang or Ikkyu Sojun who was quoted as saying, "I am not a Buddha. I'm just an ordinary fellow who understands things." Shining baubles are not the point. The point is to be happy and relaxed and no longer quite so impressed or oppressed by snow shovels on a porch.

Or, as Gautama was alleged to have 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."

Social activists may bridle and balk at Gautama's observation ... "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem!" But the solutions selected seldom seem to solve as advertised... which leaves left-leaning liberals like me to whine, "but we've got to try!" Sure ... but try what and with what unadvertised consequences?

I try to put the bathroom mirror to good use ... not always with much success. The snow shovel on the porch is neither impressed nor depressed as far as I can figure out. Left-leaning applause or righteous opprobrium may be as important as it is possible.

I try to dig in.

The snow shovel awaits its turn.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Frontline: "The Untouchables"

As usual, the Public Broadcast System's "Frontline" shows what decent journalism is all about with its program entitled "The Untouchables," a documentary that examines why not a single Wall Street executive has been criminally prosecuted for the 2008 meltdown for which they were responsible through the sale of bad mortgages. The Justice Department, like the crime lords it might have chased, has its reasons. Consumers lost hundreds of billions of dollars; Wall Street and bankers have paid mere billions in fines... talk about a successful business trade-off! The program is far more even-tempered than my assessment.

enter without expectation, leave without regret

Enter without expectation.
Leave without regret.

This morning, I spent some time responding to a letter in which a 14-year-old was "so excited" to think that someone might be reading her words. She described herself as "a very spiritual person," a practicing Jew who believed deeply in "God" and yet was interested in the world of Buddhism. How could she "combine" her interests? What books should she read? What practices should she pursue?

I have to say I love getting my ass pinned to the wall. And I felt pinned. Who is serious and at what depth can never be known. I held the inclination in check ... to tell her to go out and sin some more. Something was compelling her to write ... long-hand ... with lots of little smilie faces. What was it? And how could I possibly address whatever seriousness she felt? There was no knowing ... and so, of course, I wrote something in reply ... more to honor her effort than to give any sort of meaningful response.

"Fourteen!" my mind exploded. "Are you kidding me?!"

But my high-handed surprise was held in check: Does age have anything to do with the unsatisfactoriness that life can dish up? Are tears any less wet because a teenager weeps them ... or an octogenarian?

I wrote, put a stamp on the envelope and placed the letter in the mailbox. Just because I'm not sure what to say doesn't mean I can't say something.

The girl's letter caused me to go back in my mind and to review the whole of my own spiritual interests and failures and delights. It didn't get me anywhere, of course, but I found myself doing it anyway: I was pinned; I was tongue-tied; I was left stammering. What the hell did it all amount to? Others may have smooth and assured answers, but I have not. More to the point, perhaps, I don't mind as much as I once did. Answers are pretty flimsy customers.

But the review process did bring to mind my own perhaps-too-fiery conviction that has gained nothing but heat over the years: The spiritual format that invites you in but does not usher you out is not worth the powder to blow it to hell.

Enter without expectation.
Leave without regret.

honor in the news

-- In Indiana, medical students have taken to honoring the cadavers they work on as part of their training. In what may seem weird or macabre from the outside, the students hold a service for the body that has helped them with their studies. Relatives are invited.

-- In northern Syria, at least 56 bodies were found on the banks of the Quwaiq River -- young men and teenagers with their hands bound and a gunshot wound to the head... executed, apparently without a reverential glance ... a dishonorable slaughter.
"We don't know who they are because there were no IDs on them," said a volunteer who was loading bodies on to a lorry.
 --  And in the Netherlands, Queen Beatrix, almost 75, has announced her intention to abdicate in favor of her son, Prince Willem-Alexander. The abdication, scheduled to go into effect April 30, is not a shocker since several preceding monarchs have done the same, but still there is something honorable about those who are powerful and then set power aside.
The queen ... said she had been thinking about this moment for several years and that now was "the moment to lay down my crown".

description, explanation

Shortly before 5, this mind woke up and, before the aches and pains kicked in, began Tinker-Toy-ing idly ....

Perhaps it is better to describe than to explain. Description, while freighted, is less freighted than explanation. Maybe to describe is better, kinder, less self-involved ... describe, and let others find their own explanations.

Or maybe it's apples and oranges ... another useless deconstruction along the lines of the silly joke question, "What is the difference between a duck?"

It's silly on the one hand and yet, perhaps, worth a look on the other.

More often than not, both description and explanation seem to carry with them the desire to control and limit and make bite-sized-morsels out of the great out-there. If I claim to know, then I don't have to admit I don't know; if I control, then I don't have to face the fact that I can't control; if I limit, then what is limitless (whatever that means) is not quite so threatening.

Description and explanation are not bad or naughty or less worthy in some sense. But I have a hunch that clinging to them -- either or both -- puts sand in a perfectly good gas tank.

Are these times being overwhelmed by explanations? I don't know, but sometimes it seems that there is a willingness to skim over the descriptive facts in a rush to explain or issue an explanation, whether 'out there' or 'in here.'

Quick! Duck and cover! Two paragraphs back I used one of those spiritual-life fire-alarm words -- "clinging." Spiritual lifers may be quick-quicker-quickest to explain how clinging or attachment screws up a peaceful life. It's as if, by explaining it, clinging or attachment could be outwitted ... I would be in control ... and the explanations could camouflage or obliterate the fact that I actually do cling.

Bill, my stepmother's longtime partner, used to be into antiques. Not oak, but rather the stuff you see in museums behind the velvet ropes. Americana was his working world. Although I know little about antiques, still I was impressed with the fact that Bill was not just some milk-sop crowd-pleaser who wore insistent cologne and pranced around what he was trying to sell. Bill could tell you who made a particular piece, where it came from, whether it was a good example of a particular style and, yes, how much it might be worth on the open market. But Bill also knew, literally, how the chest or chair or dresser had been built, the very-particular steps that had been taken to bring the wood out of the forest, to cut and shape and join it, and to finish it. He knew a lot ... enough so that he never claimed to know the mind of the man who made the piece. Bill could describe but seemed to leave explanations to the less-well-informed.

In Zen Buddhism -- or, for those with no interest in Buddhism, "in life" -- there is a saying: "The hard stuff is easy. The easy stuff is hard." It may be hard indeed to reflect on the constructs of this very personal life -- to examine what up until now had gone unexamined. Deeper and deeper the reflection may go. Harder and harder it may become. Back and back into the forest that provided the wood for this particular antique. How it was cut and planed and connected and polished. Like de-layering an onion, it can seem endless and bring tears to the eyes. Hard, hard, hard... until at last there are no more layers and the onion-ness is all that's left. Easy as pie ... and that's when things get hard.

Who could describe or explain or understand a yawn? Who could build a piece of furniture? Who could cling or weep or laugh? It may be easy as pie, but it can also be harder than diamonds.

Another description. Another explanation. And now it's time for breakfast.

Monday, January 28, 2013

news stuff

And in the news ...

-- The dead are not always excused from a day in court -- and occasional postmortem execution -- as a tale out of Russia and earlier litigation makes clear.

-- A video takes on the age-old question of what happens when an unstoppable force and an immovable object collide.

-- In Pennsylvania, a school has 'solved' another age-old problem by requiring boys to request and sign out for toilet paper.

-- Iceland has breathed a sigh of relief since a court ruled it does not have to repay outlays by British and Dutch governments that covered Icelandic bank depositors' losses during the 2008 economic collapse. Five billion dollars.
The Luxembourg-based European Free Trade Association Court ruled that deposit-guarantee laws did not cover "a systemic bank failure of the magnitude experienced in Iceland."
"Systemic" is an interesting word. I guess that, depending on circumstances, it can mean that no one can be held responsible for organizing and promoting a particular system. Talk about "the dog ate my homework!"

eye of the hawk

There is something marvelous in the hawk.

So smooth.

So assured.

So fierce.

So complete.

So ... hawk.

Looking into the hawk's eye, I have felt yearning, a yearning the hawk shows no inclination to reciprocate. Why should s/he? Hawk is hawk ... and I suppose that is what I yearn for....

To rest easy and simply be the person my dog thinks I am.

daring and cowardice

Yesterday, as I sat typing, I heard the front door to my left-rear open. It opened as it sometimes does when the wind is blowing outside and the door has not been properly latched ... a quiet little slip-click. But the wind was not blowing and, when I turned around to look, there stood a small young woman with hair that seemed too black to be true.

She introduced herself politely and asked about sitting in the zendo, or Zen meditation hall -- a possibility I advertise as occurring Sundays from 9 to 11. It was 9:30. She wanted to sit, had sat in other times and places and was a senior at a nearby college.

She had caught me while I was doing something else on the day when sitting was advertised within a prescribed time frame. If it was advertised as 'x' then, well, why wasn't it 'x?' The young woman did not ask such questions and it did not seem to occur to her that, if what was advertised had been true, then she would be late and the advertised promise would no longer be available.

We chatted amiably for a few minutes and agreed that she would come back at 11 ... time enough to finish what I was writing, shave, brush my teeth, etc. ... at which point we could sit and, since she said she liked it, chant a little as part of the sitting. I like chanting too and used to impose it on visitors, but now ... well, if someone is willing to sit, that's daring enough from my aging point of view.

Sit still, sit straight, shut up, focus the mind ... it's a kind of daring I call 'daring' based on my own past and persuasion. When the delicacies of despair rise up and inspire this sort of action ... well, I have to admit I am touched and will do what I can to support the effort.

But one man's daring is another man's cowardice and everyone makes their choices. My choice rests in the realm of a willingness to reflect within. It really takes balls, from where I sit ... and it is touching, perhaps because I too was touched.

The young woman was late again on her return. An agreed-upon 11 turned into 11:30. I had given up at 11:15 and gone out to sit, asking my wife to direct the young woman if, by some chance, she actually did show up.

She did, knocking on the zendo door, entering, settling herself on a cushion and then sitting for half an hour or more. No chanting. No kinhin or walking meditation. Her tardiness implicitly said, "Our agreements are subject to my whim." Which, of course, they were ... except that they were up to me as well and I had things to do. I will do what I can to help, but a step-'n'-fetchit appreciation of spiritual life does not strike me as either kind or appropriate.

Afterwards, outside the zendo, the young woman said she would like to come again. I said fine, but please give me a heads-up a day or two in advance of her coming ... and between the two of us, we would find some mutually-agreeable time. I have done the get-up-at-3 a.m. Zen practice in the past, but nowadays I need my sleep. The young woman said 9 was a bit early for her ... so ... OK ... we can work it out. I told her with a smile that if she was late the next time, I would kick her butt. She smiled back. Daring does not show up all at once.

Later in the day, I had an email from a Catholic priest friend, one of the rabble-rousers in the bid to correct a variety of Vatican corruptions. As usual with email correspondence, we batted several topics back and forth before the connection ran out of steam. In one email, I mentioned that I had had lunch with a fellow whose wife's brother had studied Catholicism with my emailing friend. Yes, my priest friend responded, he remembered meeting the couple ... nice people, but he remembered thinking they were "all talk and no action."

All talk and no action ... not enough daring when it came to raising Cain within the Catholic church.

I wrote back that the friend with whom I'd had lunch was living out a delayed-action hell that centered largely on his time as a Special Forces medic in Vietnam so many years ago. He was working hard to assuage, if not escape, the grueling, grinding ghosts of the past ... a no-fucking-around pastime. And if the Episcopalian links that he had chosen as part of his daring effort to confront that past ... if those links rested on benevolent and loving talk, then who was I to quibble and wax wise and lay claim to some much-improved view? Was he placing his faith in a house of cards that was bound to collapse? Sure he was ... but then, which of us has not done and which of us does not continue to do the same?

You can't just talk -- you gotta DO something about it! And if you don't, then you are "part of the problem" and less worthy in some sense.

I am sick of uppity wisdom, my own as much as any. "All talk and no action." The thin-lipped or mealy-mouthed representatives of some more-laudable approach ... well, stick it where the sun don't shine! I freely admit that I can marvel at an apparent unwillingness to investigate a self-imposed format -- of talking the talk but being unable to walk the walk -- but that ... is ... my ... problem. I see nothing wrong with stating my point of view, but it's only my point of view and life is more interesting than my point of view, however much I may love and cling to that point of view.

Daring ... what is not daring? Cowardly ... what is not cowardly? I don't mean to dissolve the scene into some relativisitc puddle of mediocrity. But seriously ... humanly ...

I like chocolate. I dislike anchovies.

What a pussy!

What a hero!

If I could get a handle on what I'm trying to say here, I wouldn't have written so much.

So it goes.

birds of a nitwit feather

This morning, on this blog, I was called out (anonymously, of course) for "frequent misrepresentation of Zen."

I don't doubt for a second that it is true.

But I also marvel that there might be someone who thought or thinks that there is a shiny and correct representation of Zen.

I'm not sure which of us is the more pitiable ... and have little inclination to find out.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

splitting hairs

A Kashmiri Muslim woman prays on a cold winter morning during the festival of Eid-e-Milad at Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar January 25, 2013. Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims on Friday thronged to the shrine of Hazratbal, which houses a relic believed to be a hair from the beard of Prophet Mohammad, to celebrate Eid-e-Milad or the Prophet's birth anniversary.
REUTERS/Danish Ismail

If I get it correctly, Islam can be pretty testy about representations -- statuary, art, etc. -- of the Prophet. People have been murdered for such apostasy. But how do relics such as hairs differ?

There are probably enough fragments of the "true cross" around the world to heat the city of New York for a winter and Buddhist bones are not far behind, but neither Christianity nor Buddhism seems embarrassed or angered by such collections ... or anyway they don't issue fatwas.

Maybe it's just apples and oranges ... I don't know.

parallel lines...

It is said that parallel lines meet in infinity.

In one sense, this is a real mind-fucker: Parallel lines by definition do not meet. And "infinity" -- well, who in their right mind could get their mind around that?

But when you stop and think how much energy it takes to keep parallel lines at a distance from each other, perhaps it's not so odd.

Energy -- the same energy that goes into any "paradox." A delighted and sometimes cranky energy which, when relaxed, allows what is sensible to be sensible.

Who says that plus-two and minus-two cannot live in simultaneous harmony in the same apartment?

Who says there is some oil-and-water difference between "hello" and "goodbye" -- that they are not a perfect expression of the same thing using different sounds?

It takes so much energy to prattle about "oneness" and to keep it segregated from "separation."

Maybe that's just how things go -- banging my head against some wall because it feels so good when I stop.

death certificates

If I judge correctly from television dramas and from the number of medical institutions dedicated to halting the flow, death among human beings occurs when the vital organs cease to function. Brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and pancreas "shut down" and a death certificate can be issued.

Yesterday, while skimming TV channels in search of a little mind morphine, I paused briefly on a Christian/Catholic station. Wearing ornate clothing, a man in his 50's was reading with a smooth earnestness ... I guessed what he was reading might have been the Bible because the most frequently used word in the Bible -- "and" -- came up a lot. What a wonderful, lullaby word ... "and." The American novelist Ernest Hemingway made some good money using it as well.

I lingered for a minute on the channel. Christianity infuses my culture and I am interested in cultural threads, the people who espouse them, and the weavings in my own heart and mind that find their beginnings in what I may more generally ignore but nevertheless may be inspired to act from. Belief is human, I am human ... I guess that about sums it up.

But watching the TV, I felt a small eek. It wasn't the eek I have felt in the past when assessing a belief that I consider foolish or harmful. That eek has its own belief framework. But this eek was different ... it was an eek that felt like an ostracism. For whatever brief a time, it felt as if the vital organ of belief had simply shut down. There was nothing deliberate or cantankerous about it ... it's just that this particular human organ had ceased to work. The man on the TV was asserting a very human characteristic. But it felt as if he were talking about a favorite toy. I too have loved toys and remember them fondly but going on and on about such toys is ... well, it was time to change the channel.

It was a small moment, but it brought me up short. Belief is not exactly a 'vital organ,' but it certainly is pervasive as a social glue. If the belief function shuts down -- just wears out and refuses to perform its previous function -- there is a sense of feeling bereft ... as if some blackboard that had been filled with quantifiable and useful information were wiped clean by some night janitor.

Was this a certifiable death? Obviously not or I wouldn't be writing about it. Calling belief important is not the same as calling it vital. But the importance is so overarching and prevalent that its loss can feel somehow fatal. Obviously, this is an overreaction, but still ... where the blackboard is suddenly emptied, the longing to fill it up, to get social and agreeable, to reglue what seems to have come unglued ... it's pretty strong.

Brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and pancreas -- when these guys shut down, there is a quantifiable death. But I have a hunch that there are other deaths that precede the coroner's signature -- shut-downs that may feel a bit bizarre but are really just a part of the flow; shut-downs that have nothing to do with conscious decision or will to improvement.

Obviously belief does not qualify as a "vital organ," but that doesn't mean it can't be relied on as "vital" and its loss, however brief, felt as a death... the creation of a vast arena in which to write and enjoy ... whatever you choose.

The 'vital' organ of belief shuts down. It may feel like a death and yet ....

What does not kill us makes us strong.

Strong enough to watch the cop-shop movie a couple of channels away.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


There is, within, something as smooth as water.
And weightless.
It is from here that the tsunamis advance and it is to here that tsunamis recede.
It does not disdain the typhoon or lapping waves, but its smoothness is not hampered or improved.
It fits.
Smooth as water.
Not even wet, yet no more and no less than wet.

I am who you say I am

In an event reminiscent of the Buddhist saying, "after enlightenment, the laundry," my daughter and her newly-minted husband arrived yesterday ... and the first thing they did was to visit the Probate Court.

My daughter wanted to legally change her last name to her husband's.

Anyone might think that changing their name is their own damned business, but business has its own demands and most of them are bureaucratic and largely infuriating.

At the court, the new couple, married in Fiji last week, shelled out $180 to start a long-winded, weeks-long process that includes providing a birth certificate, marriage certificate and a willingness to have the change printed in a local newspaper ... and then have that clipping returned to the court which will then certify the name change.

Let me see if I've got this straight: I get to call myself what I want ... but only if you say so.

Sure, it's par for the course -- you define me and I define you -- but is par for the course enough?

women make their point

In Montserrat, Spain, economic hard times meant cutting the school-bus service that local families relied on. A dozen moms took the issue by the horns and produced a pin-up calendar that raised the money to restore the bus service.
"It's like a noose around our necks, these budget cuts," says Jose Maria Mas Garcia, the Socialist mayor of Montserrat. "We're forced to pay interest on debt rather than help our citizens."
It wasn't entirely easy for the moms:
"At first it was really embarrassing," Sancho says. "One of my photos was taken outside at the bus stop near my house — in November! It was so cold, and I was naked in the street, with my neighbors gawking."
And not everyone was happy with the solution that worked:
"What do we pay taxes for?" one man yells. "Our women shouldn't have to do this."
And in an associatively-related incident ... in Davos, Switzerland, where the world's money movers and shakers are meeting, three women ripped off their shirts and tried unsuccessfully to enter the male-dominated meeting.

P.S. Meanwhile, in Kyrgyzstan, the president has stiffened the penalty for bride kidnapping ... a longtime practice with what was formerly a three-year maximum jail term. The penalty has been raised to 10 years.

Proponents of bride-kidnapping argue that it is an integral part of nomadic Kyrgyz culture, but some academics argue that the practice has been adopted relatively recently in history.
One leading motivation is believed to be the desire to avoid the cost of onerous dowries.

Zen Buddhist sing-along

This morning I got an email from an old acquaintance who involves himself in the world of Zen Buddhism. It said:
I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is described by Wikipedia as "a social networking website for people in professional occupations."

So I looked up "professional" and was informed in part that it means:
-- relating to work that needs special skills and qualifications
-- showing a high level of skill or training
-- behaving in an appropriate way at work and doing your job well
-- relating to a profession and its rules, standards, and arrangements
-- working in a profession
And I tried to make all of this compute or make sense in some way. I could only infer that the LinkedIn world I was being invited into focused on Zen Buddhism in some way. And the matter seemed to implode of its own weight.

When it comes to Zen Buddhism in my mind, the only "special skills and qualifications" I can think of boil down to being alive. A "high level of skill" was never my forte ... I was a serious failure in more 'professional' ways than I can count. "Behaving in an appropriate way" strikes me as miles beyond my grasp. "Rules, standards and arrangements" work well for those in a profession, but I am retired.

I am not pulling a watch-me-be-modest/watch-me-be-superior schtick -- I was seriously trying to figure out why and in what way I might contribute to my acquaintance's interest in LinkedIn. I like and practice Zen, but the invitation felt a little as if I were being invited to join the Daughters of the American Revolution or the American Numismatic Society ... I am the wrong sex for the former and, in the latter instance, while I can imagine others' being interested in collecting coins, paper money and medals, still, I am not.

This is all clearly just my stuff. I admire people who may attempt to improve whatever it is they are improving by creating a group effort. Support and encouragement are good things ... and I will certainly try to encourage anyone I run into, but it's a young (wo)man's sport -- singing songs around the camp fire.

I do try to be agreeable in my dealings with others, but I have also learned to listen to myself when I disagree. It's just a matter of disagreement, after all... and disagreements help to enhance agreements.

And as a small, wry addendum, the timing of this morning's email seemed to dovetail nicely with a suggestion that I rethink my gun-shy attitude towards 'social media.'


My mother once said that, when it came to sins of commission and sins of omission, she preferred the sins of commission.

And, leaving aside the hot-button nature of the word "sin," still I think I agree. No one can grasp the past, but anyone can reflect on it and when it comes to reflection, a screw-up with concrete particulars, while galling and barbed, provides an understanding that omission cannot. Sins of commission are not left floundering and asking the unanswerable what-if questions.

It is interesting that spiritual persuasions all make room for the past -- usually for its sorrowful aspects. Christians, if I am not mistaken, refer to the regret experienced "for the things I have done and for the things I have left undone." And in the Zen meditation hall, at morning service, we used to chant more or less:
All the evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
On account of my beginningless greed, anger, and folly,
Born of my body, mouth and thought --
I now make full and open confession of it.
Leaving aside the tortured syntax, I think the drift is apparent: Everyone who reflects a little feels regret. Some institutions and formats make financial hay based on that regret. But whether or not regret is manipulated for institutional gain, still the regret is probably real enough and compelling enough. And it can be a wonderful goad in spiritual endeavor ... pressing for some resolution and peace and desire to be out from under the lash of recollection....

Recollection of a past that cannot be grasped and yet seems to grasp the one doing the recollecting.

Has anyone else noticed or am I just making this up? -- that when the bad stuff is recollected, it has a force and particularity and credibility that does not seem to invest whatever good stuff is likewise recollected. Somehow, so-called evil brings with it a dead-eye certainty while so-called good is invested with a kind of wispy uncertainty: What was evil/naughty/painful is "fershur" but what was good/laudable/wondrous is nagged by "yes-but's."

Or maybe others' recollection factories are different from my own.

Whatever the case, I think there is something to be said for making peace with the "good" and "evil" of a past that cannot be grasped and yet may grasp with a lazy, conclusive insistence or a fiery ferocity.


I wish there were one answer, but I doubt-to-a-certainty that there is. I think every (wo)man has to gut it out using whatever perfect tools s/he has. How I wish, sometimes, that I could credit some other absolving force -- some god or benevolent being. But I always run up against the brick wall of doubt that  belief invariably provides: If I don't know from experience who, precisely, this benevolent being is, then what sort of peace is that? I am stuck seeking out my own benevolence ... and that benevolence can be in elusive supply. Tough titty, Adam ... do it anyway.

I count myself lucky -- for my purposes alone -- to have run into Zen practice. I prefer it as I prefer chocolate to anchovies. Sit down, sit straight, sit still, shut up and focus the mind. Nothing else. No more shazzam fantasies. Nothing else. Looking back, I count myself lucky. Whether anyone else might be similarly lucky, I haven't got a clue. Some people actually like anchovies, though it beats the hell out of me how or why. And there are those willing to praise and merchandise Zen practice. Well, the best I can do is to say I like it.

Sins of omission, sins of commission. Good and evil. A past that cannot be grasped. And the old refrigerator magnet, "Your life is so difficult that it has never been tried before."

So what's the point? Where is the brass ring? What's the payoff punchline? Where is the happy-happy-happy that books and religious nostrums credit themselves with?

Hell, I don't know.

But I do encourage myself from time to time when regrets come calling: Enjoy yourself. Enjoy yourself as a rose might enjoy the summer sun. Enjoy yourself.

Correct what needs to be and can be corrected ... and enjoy yourself.

If you're not enjoying yourself, you've missed the point.

And if you've missed the point, it's no big deal. That's pretty enjoyable too, don't you think?

Oh well, I've probably got it all wrong ... again.

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Dare to Disagree"

Passed along in email:

mea culpa I guess

Let push come to shove, I guess I should tone down my growly objections to such 'social media' as Facebook and Twitter.

I'm as big a fan as the next person of gizmos and gadgets and the wonders they are capable of. With three kids, for example, a dishwasher is a marvel beyond price in my book. But one good thing about the dishwasher: It actually washes dishes.

What I object to with Facebook and Twitter is not so much the marvelous magic of almost instantaneous communication -- that's pretty wow. What I object to, based on the amount of time my kids (and I imagine others) spend employing this magic, is the apparent belief that such 'social media' create social connections ... that because messages are friendly, the user has therefore cemented a friendship.

Friendship is real roast beef. Social media strike me, at best, as pureed spinach... healthy enough, but baby food whose nourishment is unlikely to stand the test of time. To believe that friendship is what appears in 141 characters on a screen is (in my mind) to be cruisin' for a bruisin'... something that leaves the believer bereft and hungry in the end.

Well, my presumptions are either valid or they are not. And perhaps there is some middle ground that I am unable or unwilling to concede in my growly objections.

Probably the best way to find out why it is inadvisable to stick your finger in a light socket is to do so. But my opinion and a couple of bucks will get you a bus ride.

As American humorist Will Rogers put it:
There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.
 When it comes to Facebook and Twitter, I'm just sitting here peeing on the electric fence, perhaps.

a reminder to myself

A reminder to myself ....

I was reading a couple of responses to things I had written on the Internet, things that roughly fell into the category of spiritual musings. The responses were laced with that kind of thinly-veiled righteousness that can infect spiritual commentary ... lotsa "metta" and "clarity" camouflaging a "right view" that would better be described as "my superior view."

OK ... nothing new in it, but it did make me think:

If I cannot meet my own expectations, what makes you think I would be stupid enough to try to meet yours?

As I say ... a reminder to myself.


Last night I got caught up in re-watching "Chinatown," a 131-minute mystery set in 1930's Los Angeles. The 1974 movie is a murky delight and holds up surprisingly well after so many years.

Murder, incest, corruption and persistent bits of misdirection all move the plot along. There are characters with character. The story is resolved credibly and without employing the cheap tricks of loud violence or 'hunk' men who don't shave or women who have had their breasts 'done.'

Anyway, the movie kept me up past my bedtime and made me happy to know that it was possible to tell a good, meaty, unapologetic and carefully-crafted story in two hours and a little. Others may insist on calling it a "film." I thought it was a good movie.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

kill the women

The United States has decided to lift its ban on military women in combat.

Will that help to sharpen the focus on what war provides -- killing our mothers?

I sort of hope so, but I'm not holding my breath: Those who require killing in order to realize their ends don't much care who dies as long as those ends are met.

masturbation makes babies?

I suppose the pope may be forgiven for a not-only-but-also argument, but I find something manipulative and desperate in his view of the social-networking sites on the Internet... probably just my old-fart point of view.
"The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young," Benedict said in his message. "Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there."
Perhaps, like holy men and holy texts, Facebook and Twitter may invite people to heal and be whole -- to imagine there actually is a social network in social networking. Maybe it's a good starting point for serious social networking, serious healing. But the capacity to imagine that "social networking" is social networking -- to think that the sense of aloneness and loneliness can be conquered on some electronic screen -- lacks nourishing calories: It's like imagining cotton candy provided a healthy diet.

OK, OK ... there are all sorts of ways to serious-up, of actualizing a healing world. The spiritually-inclined read books and go to lectures and put money in the church plate for starters. The socially-inclined need somewhere to begin as well and maybe Facebook and Twitter are just the ticket.

But it all strikes me as being a bit like masturbation: It may be very pleasant, but what sort of nitwit imagines that masturbation makes babies?

"self-help and what is"

A piece of froth I sent off to the local newspaper yesterday. I doubt if they'll print it, so I think I'll put it here:


When it comes to the wondrous world of "self help," nothing beats making a little room for what is.

This may be easier said than done, but maybe it's worth a shot since what is, is, after all, what is.

What flummoxes this ability that everybody has is the willingness to put endless amounts of frosting on what is already a perfectly good cake.

A kiss or a laugh or a cold wind may be perfectly obvious and complete, but then, sure enough, I need to gussy it up ... as for example, by writing about it.

In academia, the rule still applies -- "publish or perish." The intelligence and capabilities of the individual may be perfectly apparent in the classroom he or she presides over, but then there's that other stuff that needs to be tacked on. The other stuff: "See? I really am intelligent and capable!"

In conversation, a topic may be earnest or silly, but is the topic really the topic or is there "other stuff" going on? "Other stuff," as in what I think about the topic and how that reflects on me and how well or poorly my friends may think of me on account of the other stuff I ice the topic with?

There is nothing wrong or naughty about icing the cake of what is. Its only difficulty lies in the fact that the habit of icing the cake can blind anyone to the pure and relaxed enjoyment that might come from what is.

I get so busy giving my sainted opinion or analysis of a situation that I lose track of what the situation actually is... a Facebook mentality, you might say.

A kiss.

A laugh.

A cold wind.

Does it get any better than that?


Check it out.

universal solvent

I was never any good at science, but as I understand it, water is the closest chemical thing there is to being a "universal solvent."

Solvent ... a cleanser, a thinner, an eraser, a melter, a dissolver.

Am I wrong in thinking that spiritual life is often -- or is it always? -- a search for some universal solvent, some fixer, some overarching and magical touchstone that has the capacity to heal and restore what may be wounded and shattered? The nimble and savvy may say this is not the case, but nimble and savvy people invariably run out of steam: How many tall spires can any man erect? How many agreements can anyone reach before things become narrow and disagreeable and in need of some powerful solvent?

In chemistry, water is "closest."

But, as the old saying has it, "'close' only counts in horseshoes."

"Close" is never close enough when it comes to spiritual adventure, spiritual effort, spiritual games. "Close" is something that asserts and perceives distance and distinction and control ... stuff like belief and hope and ornate theology. It's close, maybe, but the human heart is unlikely to sit still for "close." "Close" doesn't heal or cleanse or melt or dissolve. "Close" always leaves a residue of shit to clean up.

I wonder if a cow, while standing in a herd, beseeches the heavens to find a herd.

I wonder if what is melted prays to melt.

I wonder if what is "gone" seeks to leave.

What will anyone do when everything is done -- when all agreement loses its footing and ....

Man, is it cold this morning!

the serious stuff

To say things are serious is probably too much.

To say things are not serious is probably too much.

If this is so, then it is best just to do what you do, love what you love, eat what you eat, think what you think ....

And let the seriousness take care of itself.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

compassion and clarity

If it were impossible, would Gautama have suggested it?

If it were possible, would Gautama have suggested it?

I'm not pickin' on Gautama here.

Just sayin'....

look ma! I crucified myself

Endless, endless, endless ....

Just about the time the mind reaches a cozy resting place, another example of why that coziness is unwarranted crops up.

In California, newly-released documents depict a no-doubt-about-it coverup by the Catholic Church when it came to pedophile abuses by priests in the 1980's. The incidents are unlikely to attain a courtroom status due to the statute of limitations, but the pure, brazen marvelousness of an institution that begs for and even demands a virtuous status and then acts in ways that are purely heinous ...

It beggars the mind. Every act of decency and humanity -- and there have been many -- is diluted and maligned by the foot-dragging unwillingness to address the matter squarely.

It is like a man who magically manages to crucify himself ... painful and ineffably stupid.

Not unusual, of course, but still ... painful and ineffably stupid.

the potential of renewable energy

While it is true that organized crime, like the U.S. government, is capable of fucking up a wet dream, still it is interesting that the Mafia should seek to turn a buck in the renewable energy arena.

If organized crime sees potential, perhaps businessmen and political hacks everywhere should be paying more attention.

death and moping

In The Dhammapada, a collection of sayings, Gautama the Buddha is alleged to have observed:
All fear dying.
All fear death.
But what is it that makes death such a mopey business?

In death, from the imaginative perspective of the living, everything is lost, everything is surrendered. And if everything is lost, what could possibly be left? It's pretty disheartening because no amount of imagination can answer that question ... though it's not for a lack of trying.

Heavenly hosts, fiery furnaces, girls with grapes, breathless peace ... imagine, imagine, imagine ... mope, mope, mope.

But if everything is lost and everything is surrendered, what is it, precisely, that constitutes this "everything." What is it that is so disheartening?

My suspicion this morning is the "everything" that is lost is pretty simple.

What is lost is simply the willingness to complain.

That'd be enough to scare the pee down the pope's leg.

Let us now bow our heads in silence ... and mope.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

little boxes ... Pete Seeger

A general view of newly built houses at Dadun village of Lingshui ethnic Li Autonomous County, Hainan province, January 18, 2013. Around 3,500 villagers started to move into 1,029 new houses, each of which measures 253 square meters and took two years to build, according to local reports.

let me explain...

Today I think: Maybe the whole of what is called spiritual life boils down to little more than the discovery that things don't need explanations, that explanations are a waste of perfectly good energy.

Of course that in itself is an explanation of sorts and pretty much a waste of energy ... so ... well, I guess everyone finds out what they need to find out, but what they need to find out is not always entirely clear and ... maybe an explanation or two seems to help in the lead-up to the sibilant collapse of explanations.

A piece of what put me on this frequency came from Charlie yesterday -- an email I will quote here as a means of not doing my own work:
Back when i was a young hippy in Arizona, Paolo Soleri began building Arcosanti down in the Verde Valley using idealists and other volunteers for labor.  I had friends in on it, got to know folks and used to go down now 'n then to play poker.  I remember Paolo grumbling once that it might be easier to make idealists out of construction workers 'cause turning idealists into construction workers wasn't workin' real well.
That literally made me laugh out loud. It was like the "Scrubbing Bubbles" advertised on TV that promise to keep a toilet bowl sparkling clean. Whoosh! In an instant, I was sparkling clean.

Laughter: Beyond perfect ... lacking all explanations. Explain it and you just end up with a shitty toilet bowl. Everyone can do it and yet there is an idealistic yearning to do what anyone can already do without lifting a finger.

Laughter: Explain it and you're fucked. Fail to look into its ideal particulars and you are as bereft as an idealistic hippy who has no clue about how to mix cement and has no intention of finding out. That would demean the ideal. Everyone wants the sparkly stuff and no one wants to sweat ... probably, in part, because there is some instinct that purely knows that no amount of sweat will ever attain the sparkliness of laughter.

Sparkly life. Sparkly spiritual adventure. Sparkly toilet bowl. Sparkly laughter. Washed clean in the sparkly blood of the lamb. Sparkly enlightenment. Sparkly explanation ... that loses its sparkle in the telling because there is a difference between explaining and sparkling ... or is there? I don't know.

Two days ago, I ran into a sparkly, soaring surprise that was very much akin to laughter. A friend had given me a copy of his son's book, "Babel No More," an examination of polyglots and the particulars that went into their extraordinary ability to speak many languages.

I was blown away by the first six pages. The writing was very good and the particulars sucked me in like some Norwegian whirlpool: The 19th-century Catholic cardinal, Giuseppi Mezzofanti, had been credited with being capable of conversing in 45-50 and maybe more languages. Was it true and if so, how the hell did he manage that? I was drawn into the mystery in the first six pages ... sparkly with interest and enjoyment at learning something I didn't know and was surprised by. Wowsers! Wowsers ... and yum-yum-yum.

That was two days ago. One day ago, I continued reading beyond the initial six pages and I could see where things were headed. In the first six pages, the question was delightfully posited. In the remaining 300 pages, the explanations would be sought, the facets addressed ... and the mystery, if not solved, at least depicted in its many particulars.

The writing continued to be fluid and chatty and human and ... I ran out of steam and knew, somewhat shame-facedly, that I would never finish. I didn't fault the book ... it was just that explanations, tentative or otherwise, let the air out of my tires.

Questions are enough or, more likely, too much. This recognition made me feel slightly guilty, slightly anti-social ... what the hell was the matter with me that I couldn't find compelling consequence in the explanations that a wider society might embrace and assert? It all had a slightly unfriendly feel to it and yet I didn't feel unfriendly at all. I just lacked the energy to agree with the social glue of explanations ... even when they were true and I did agree: Idealists who can't mix cement on a construction project are clearly a useless addition. That's one explanation and I find it convincing.

These days, there is a greater willingness to be what others might call stupid or uneducated or uninformed. But "willingness" overstates the case, suggesting as it does that I have some control or choice in the matter. Really, it's more like loving chocolate and hating anchovies ... it's just how things are for me. I like the sparkly surprises, clean and sharp as a hound's tooth, but the desire to grab hold or hold on or explain those surprises and that sparkle seems antithetical to their surprise and sparkle.

Stand outside a library and think about it -- a whole building dedicated to explanations ... and yet every year they add more explanations because the explanations of yesteryear don't have quite the sizzle and pop they once did. It's not something bad or idiotic -- and it's not an invitation to an assured and persuaded stupidity -- it's just the way things are with explanations.

Ah well, I am digging myself into an explanatory hole here. It's probably just an old fart returning to his idealistic roots ... I like the sparkly stuff but have run out of the delight in sweating. Isn't sparkly enough?

Whether it is or isn't, I do like to laugh.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Day (within)

I am glad that my country chooses a day on which to remember the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). Today is that day.

I am glad not just because King became a symbol for equality and justice, but also because it is nice to have a high-profile reminder of the cruel and idiotic, sage and wondrous activities of the past, the present and the future.

How much of what is right and true and wondrous and comforting today, whether socially or personally, will be thrown into an entirely different light as time passes? Slavery, lynchings, segregation and other depredations may be widely regarded as failures today and are easy pickings, in one sense. Once, however, that was not so. Black people were cattle, not people. And while there may be a long road ahead, still, views and beliefs have shifted somewhat with the passage of time.

MLK Day offers a time of reflection that might well be taken in a wider way, I think ... a time to reflect on the beliefs and hopes and assumptions and comfort zones that shape anyone's life. Love is good, war is bad, terrorism poses a threat, money is wondrous or evil according to perspective, religion heals or hinders, etc. ... just to reflect a little on the goose down in your pillow.

I think anyone can reflect in this way.

And I think a national nod to Martin Luther King Jr. may help.

messages from a lullaby

Four thousand years ago, a Babylonian scribe immortalized a lullaby.

Like many lullabies of that time and this, the tune may have sent sweet babes into the arms of Morpheus, but their words of warning were not always so sweet.

The Babylonian lullaby, for example, chastises the child for disturbing the house god with its crying and threatens repercussions. In Kenya, a lullaby informs the child that a baby that cries will be eaten by a hyena. Even the "Rock-a-bye-Baby" melody widely known in English, comes with the caveat that "when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall."

The two-edged sword of lullabies makes me think that perhaps they were intended not just for the babies at which they were aimed, but also at the exasperations and wishful threats of the parents who sang them.

learning to walk

One by one, I remember as if it were today, the small hands of my toddler children wrapped with urgency around my index fingers as the business of walking was addressed. There was nothing good or noble or altruistic or wise in it. It was just the course of events ... delightful to my children, delightful to me. What was new was new and we both enjoyed the woo-hoo of newness... as we practiced and inched closer and closer and closer to the moment when no support system, no index fingers, was required.

And this morning, I felt some of that same delight when I got an email from a guy I worked with before I retired in 2009. He was interested in meditation and "I thought of you."

The delight did not come from the notion that I could sell Tom some particular bill of goods ... that I could, without admitting it openly, rope in a disciple or an acolyte or a convert or a paying customer and sell him on Zen or Buddhism or something similar. As I might implicitly have said to my children, so I was delighted to say to Tom, "Meditation (like walking) is a good idea but it's up to you and there is no moral mandate in it."

I've had enough contact with enough people who claim a "sincere interest" in meditation and then take no action ... enough so that hope was not a part of this morning's delight.

It was just a small delight -- like the moment when a juicy green grape explodes in the mouth:

Hot damn! Index fingers -- how wonderful!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

herding the cats of sexuality

An Associated Press story points out that a lot of military commanders have met their downfall between the sheets.

Is anyone else immune? I doubt it.

What is scrumptious can eat you alive.

the day ahead

My wife and younger son have gone down to New Jersey -- first to see my dying mother-in-law and later in the week to pick up my newly-married daughter and her newly-married husband when they return from Fiji.

Later today, I will drive my older son back to college and the beginning of a new semester. The house will take on that strangely different 'silence' when no one else is around.

But first I need some breakfast, a shaved face and a little zazen.

It's a bright, clear day.

the highway to relief

The Zen Buddhist teacher Ta Hui (1089-1163) once said approximately, "I have always taken a great vow that I would rather spend my life in hell for all eternity than to portray Zen as a human emotion."

Given the sorrows and confusions of this life, it is perhaps understandable that spiritual formats would hawk their wares in the form of "relief." My own sense is that there is no other choice: How else could the sorrowful and confused and fearful understand what was possible? "Relief" would be such a relief in wracked and wrestling times.

As I say, I see nothing wrong with selling snake oil, with hawking relief. But as a lifelong diet, as something to embrace and rely on and grow old with, what once was a minor fib is given leave to become a full-blown and full-grown lie -- a wracking confusion every bit as sorrowful and piercing as the sorrows and confusions that led to buying snake oil in the first place. When the medicine only adds another layer of sickness, what sort of medicine is that?

Relief ... spiritual formats ... deep devotion ... snake oil for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pedal to the metal. Dive deep!

Ta Hui also counseled one of his students in a letter, "Stop seeking for relief." Here is the usefulness of snake oil "relief," the pointers of spiritual formats: In seeking for relief, the possibility cannot help but crop up in a troubled but determined heart ... an actualized understanding that snake oil, while deliciously inviting, simply cannot work. 

There is no relief. 

And, far from instilling a cold and distant indifference, such an actualized understanding is really ...

Quite a relief.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I created god

 When the anguish and grief became too much, I created god.

I was a child then and longed desperately to be approved and loved and held within and without. A child who receives such gifts cannot know the desperation and sense of loss and need to be found I felt.

Nor was it conscious or verbal. It was more like living in an inexplicable and piercing fog that spoke without words, "you do not deserve...." And the need replied in urgent supplication, "but why!?" But the fog never replied and so I created god. A god whose kindness and caring was a mirror image of this bitter, inexplicable fog. And much like fog, the god had no dimensions or sex or actual words ... it was a god I would conjure, sometimes with success, sometimes not. It was heaven in small moments, but otherwise ... otherwise was grief-stricken and alone.

I was not deprived as a child who created a god. I had things and food and shelter. I had stuff. But I also had mounting evidence as the years passed that those who might have been the purveyors of what I longed for were not going to provide it. Over and over again ... until at last the burning brand was fixed ... the answer to my deepest prayer was "no." Heaven beckoned because the hellishness of this fog was too outlandish to be true, too painful, too unredeemed.

I created god. I hated church as any sensible child might, but I created god. What other choice was there? Where no one else will help....

My mother, to her credit, sensed that something was wrong and sent me to a shrink. During the first session, we played Monopoly, a game I liked. But when the second session came and the shrink suggested we just talk, I knew the ruse for what it was and said flatly that I would prefer to play Monopoly. If I could not trust those most likely to meet the need I had, why should I trust a stranger? I was 10 or 11 at the time.

I look back on the kid I was and the god he yearned for with tenderness. There may be scars, but the bleeding has mostly ceased. Today I live at times in abject terror that I might inflict on my kids the kind of fog that surrounded me as a child. And no doubt I have to some extent ... but that doesn't mean I won't pray my ass off to elude such a nasty, self-centered gift. Better an ax-murderer.

The god I created would come by stealth, mostly ... brief moments of relief and release and the let-go relaxation of cool pond water on a hot summer day. It was in those god-like moments that I would know, at last, if only for a moment, that I was not wrong. Sometimes I would try like the devil to conjure him/her/it up ... to pray for assistance when the fires grew especially hot ... but those prayers went largely unanswered. God seemed to slide in under some back door in my mind and appear full-blown in a bit of music or an unrequested smile or a seagull floating on the air. These were times when all the knots came undone and the unprotected openness I yearned for was no longer spurned or maligned or ignored.

It was in a wider world, of course, that I learned in bits and pieces that others had likewise suffered and created gods. When I went into the army, family members were not supportive. Everyone (if they weren't rich enough or crafty enough) had to go at that time, but sympathy and caring were, as usual, in short supply. The army, aside from anything else, was a second-class pastime, not worthy ... though, as usual, what was worthy was never spelled out. The army, for me, was a snap: All you had to do was make your bed, shine your shoes, and shoot straight in order to find a wider acceptance and even praise. What a cakewalk. Of course I didn't entirely trust my own trust. The brand had been embedded. But it was comparatively easy.

And one night, sitting in my favorite bar in the early 1960's with an army acquaintance, we proceeded to drink too much. We were gabbing along when all of a sudden the conversation turned serious. This acquaintance was a good enough guy, but hardly a close friend. Nevertheless, with his face wracked with fear and desperation, he admitted to me that he was a homosexual. I had lived in Greenwich Village and knew many of the pick-up gambits that homosexuals might use, but my suspiciousness was vaporized by the anguish in his face. We belonged to a security outfit. Homosexuality was an absolute no-no both in the military and because of the danger it posed to the secret intelligence we knew: If someone were to capture my acquaintance and threaten to out him as a homosexual, he might spill the top-secret beans. He longed to be himself and yet could not ... everywhere he turned was a fog of disapproval and rejection. In his anguish, I felt my own. I was not alone in that searing aloneness that had led to my creation of god.

The greater and more soaring the anguish, the brighter and more blissful the god. And my god, while not always available for consultation, was burnished and bright beyond belief.

I suppose nine years of fairly intensive Zen training and seven years, once a week, of shrinkery served as indicators of my gods and demons. But the happy ending I envisioned at the beginning of either or both was revised with the passage of time. By the time both became part of the past, I was grateful to them not so much for waving a shazzam-like wand ("and now everything is all better") as for banking and informing the sense of awesome and awful depths or Disney-esque wonders, twinkly as bright lights ... big and beautiful and awesome. The ouches are just as ouch. The wonders are just as wonderful ... but things are gentler and less insistent and less overwhelming ... even when they overwhelm me.

Among others, I hold a small boy in my arms and feel our shared warmth and perhaps sing a little ... something soft and enfolding and both Romantic and romantic ... something along the lines of "Por Ti Volare."

 As a child, I did not weep.

I created god and lived in fog.

Now the tears are soft and warm ... sunny, you might say.

PS. A friend who found it impossible to post here, sent the following in email as a partial commentary on the above:

original thinking, original thought

When I worked as a news reporter, it used to make me testy as a wet cat when someone would regurgitate an idea I had retailed to him/her ... under the pretense that the idea or thinking was their own. By extension, it used to put a burr under my saddle to hear someone expatiating ideas they had clearly read in a book or heard on the evening news. There was never any attribution or nod to the source of the presentation ... and I thought it was galling and gutless ... and, of course, common.

Nowadays I think there's something to be said for recognizing:

1. All thinking is original thinking.
2. There is no such thing as an original thought.
3. And whatever thought there is, it most assuredly does not belong to me.

varieties of 'importance'

Yacht makers pin hopes on super-rich.

A man carries his wounded daughter in Syria

Canada's new plastic banknotes feature Norway maple leaves instead of the Canadian sugar maple leaf, botanists say.

Tao Porchon-Lynch became, at 93, the Guinness World record holder as the oldest yoga teacher. (Copyright: Reuters)

the Vevcani factor

Vevcani is kidding ... sort of.
The tiny Macedonian town of Vevcani boasts its own constitution, its own currency and a passport emblazoned with a golden coat of arms.
And every year, the town hosts a festival that thumbs its nose at not just the solemnities close to home, but solemnities everywhere.
The sharp satire leaves nothing untouched, targeting the national leadership, politics, religion and social issues....
To selected guests, the mayor hands out red passports of the "Republic of Vevcani," with its coat of arms depicting two harlequins dancing over a magic cauldron....
"We have all the things necessary to be independent and they will be activated if the need arises," he said....
"It is something that is not real. It's a mask. Anyone who has any common sense understands that it is a mask. You take it off and burn it."
It all makes me think that a little Vevcani sass wouldn't hurt anyone.

hello world!

It may be childish, but at my age, childishness is about all that's left:

There is a gizmo on this blog that allows me to see where those viewing it live.

United States, Poland, Bulgaria, Brazil, China, Australia, Venezuela, Malaysia, India, Ethiopia, Greece, Ukraine, Russia, Finland, England ... and my childish heart delights.

I don't care if those viewing the blog are intent on selling me a longer pecker or looking for some niche in which to offer me a Nigerian windfall or hoping to scam me out of money I haven't got. It just makes me childishly happy to see all those names.

I want to say "hi." And I wonder if those viewing the blog actually have any handle on English when their native tongue is something other than English. And I wonder vaguely if what I write creates some impact in their lives ... though I don't dwell on that one much... anything can have any impact and some of them are not at all what was intended or hoped.

It's just a childish bit of speculation and enjoyment. Imagine that! All over the world ... sort of. Kool!

So ...



My daughter got married yesterday ... which put me in mind of marital rituals ... which put me in mind of rituals in general... which made me think rituals are worth the price of examination, not with an eye to undermining or dismissing them, but simply as a means of keeping things straight.

An internet dictionary defines "ritual" as
1. : the established form for a ceremony; specifically : the order of words prescribed for a religious ceremony
2. a : ritual observance; specifically : a system of rites
    b : a ceremonial act or action
    c : an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner
No mention is made of the fact that individuals or groups need to accede to or enjoy the ritual in order for it to have any clout.

There were odds and ends of thought that buzzed around my daughter's wedding ritual. She, like me, is an American and hence living largely under the Christian umbrella of marriage ritual ... irrespective of church-going habits.

Marriage rituals, like any others, have their prices, both literal and metaphorically. First of all, they require belief. More mundane considerations include: 1. a willingness to pay for a diamond ring whose worth is inflated by the choke-hold applied to the diamond market ... diamonds are not really that rare, but if their flow is tightly regulated, an inflated price is too good to pass up; 2. a willingness to shell out $30,000 or $40,000 or more in a wedding industry whose overall income I can't immediately find; 3. a willingness to credit the notion that either the church or state or other power structure has some business in your business.

I don't begrudge anyone their rituals, but perhaps the question can be asked: Who owns whom in this world of ritual? If, for example, the church calls matrimony "holy," what do the people who get married call it? And isn't what they call it more credible and important ... what the hell, they're the ones getting married. If they choose to call it "holy," I see nothing wrong with it ... but let's keep it straight: For whatever reasons, this is a choice. The power source does not come from behind the altar, it comes from the couple standing before it. And without acknowledging what's really going on, how can people help but dilute their own responsibility and flummox their own joy?

Not for a moment would I excuse myself from the world of ritual. Not for a moment would I stand on some exalted, examining height and imply that I were somehow exempt. Most notably, perhaps, I have practiced Zen Buddhism, a world rife with ritual in its formatted sense. Mental and physical ritual ... yup, been there and done that and am damned glad I did. But what I also did was to take comfort in a ritual that others indulged in: This was OK because others were likewise engaged. I could rest and relax and hand over the responsibility. The Mom and Dad of ritual made it OK. I gave myself permission to feel safe and blameless and perhaps improved.

But was it true?

Maybe ritual is like an acetate overlay on a map -- a clear, plastic sheet with various specific markings that emphasize aspects of the map below. It all makes pretty good sense ... until the map itself is removed from sight. The overlay is not the sine qua non. Rather it is the map -- this quite personal life that may include an enjoyment of ritual -- that makes sense ... even when the confusions and sorrows of that sensible world may cry out for overlays.

I can hear Buddhists, among others, suggesting that 'we' must free ourselves from all overlays and all maps, that rituals are illusory and false, but I wouldn't say that. "Vast emptiness" or the "unconditional realm" is nice talk, but it is still just talk.

Delusions R Us.

Overlays R Us.

Maps R Us.

No reason not to employ and enjoy them.

But, when it comes to happiness and peace, there is something to be said for taking responsibility.

Taking responsibility and not being tricked.