Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Waiting for the Sincere Question"

For those inclined towards Zen practice, I thought Koun Franz' latest blog entry, "Waiting for the Sincere Question" was pretty good.

a favorite rant

The next time the p.c. bureaucrats get under your skin, perhaps there is some solace to be taken from this three-minute excerpt from "Charlie Wilson's War," a 2007 movie about America's covert war in Afghanistan. In this scene, a street-smart spy played by Philip Seymour Hoffman lets loose at his buttoned-down CIA boss. Who hasn't felt this way at one time or another?

Not for those whose ears are too minty-fresh for cuss words.

parallel parking

It ain't art, but a Youtube video of a hapless woman attempting to parallel park in Belfast has gone viral on the Internet. She was apparently unsuccessful in more than 20 minutes of trying. A case that arouses elements of deep sympathy mixed with relieved and self-anointing laughter ....

victory from the jaws of ...?

As in many such instances, there is something achingly human and achingly touching about National Basketball Association center Jason Collins' coming out of the closet and announcing he is gay.

Jason Collins
To live life in the shadows, to be constantly on guard, to fight endless uphill battles within or without, to suffer self-doubt and experience the indirect lash of the social microscope, to feel defiance surge and recede ... the universe of the homosexual man or woman, whether high-profile like Collins or no-profile like millions of others, has got to feel something like a war in which there is no escape ... just endless war... a painful, insistent smog lurking in even the happiest of moments.

A war.

But given the current uptick in a social willingness to accept and integrate and get bored with the persuasions of homosexuality, I wonder vaguely if Collins didn't want to grab some victory before the war was over. I wouldn't fault him if he did and I certainly don't mean to criticize his choices. I simply wonder: What does a battle-hardened and much-scarred veteran do when he looks around and there is no longer any war? How does s/he integrate those long years of suffering and anger and fear that now find no purchase or reason.

I am not suggesting that the battles of homosexuality are over in America. There is still plenty of animus pro and con. But for all the animus, it feels to me as if homosexuality is slowly taking its place alongside heterosexuality ... a fact of life ... interesting, sometimes exciting, but essentially boring ... couldn't we talk about something more interesting ... like basketball, perhaps? It feels to me (and I realize I could be playing the old-fart Pollyanna) as if the wave is cresting or has crested and all that remains is for the ocean to return to its less notable pastimes ... smooth and inclusive and dealing other, more current waves.

Grab some victory before the war or wave passes you by. How else to make sense of the lancing pains that laced the past?

I will applaud any man or woman who finds the courage to come out from behind the well-tended walls of secrecy. It takes real nerve, whatever the subject matter. Yes, the applause is deserved from where I sit. But what happens to a secret when it is no longer secret?

What's next on the agenda?

A Straight Pride parade?

where the responsibility lies

Later in life, my mother told me that when I was little, she once caught me doing something naughty ... she didn't remember precisely what.

Mom-fashion, she began to give me a tongue-lashing.

Kid-fashion, I began to cry ... hard.

Finally, she got around to a central question in such situations:

"But why did you do that?"

And through the tears of anguish and fear and with a completely open honesty, I blurted out:

"I did it on purpose."

Not, as I would later learn, "I did it despite..." or "I did it because...."

"I did it on purpose."

No more bobbing-and-weaving, no more explaining or excusing, no more elevating or demeaning, no more better-and-worsing, no more arming and defending, just, in some completely-spent arena ...

"I did it on purpose."

This may not bang anyone else's chimes, but this morning it bangs mine. Where the bullshit runs out, the daisies have room to grow.

Monday, April 29, 2013

how austerity affects health

The "Great Recession" as it is politely called is having both soaring and subtle effects around the world. Among the latter is a documented spike in preventable health-care problems. Suicides, depression, malaria, HIV are just some of the medical difficulties that can trace their roots to the fiscal irresponsibilities that made millions for some and took millions from others.

Here is a Reuters' story on the topic.

run-up to the next war

In the early going this morning, myway, an internet news site that promotes itself accurately as having "No banners. No pop-ups. No kidding." included on its "top news" page:

Powerful blast injures up to 40 in Prague,
Mother of bomb suspects insists sons are innocent,
Syrian premier escapes bomb attack in Damascus,
Major assassination attempts in Syria's conflict,
5 car bombs kill 36 in Shiite areas across Iraq 

AND ...  

Per-student pre-K spending lowest in decade

being Number One

In 1999, Georges Seurat's pointillist painting commonly referred to as, "Sur la Grande Jatte" sold at auction (with all the commissions and other merchandisers' charges added in) for $35.2 million.

Yesterday, I drove up to New Hampshire through a multi-trillion-dollar landscape.

It's spring here and my son had been to a Saturday track meet where someone stole one of the athletic shoes he uses when throwing the discus. Just one. Angus wanted the other pair of shoes that was hanging around the house here, so I drove them up to him in New Hampshire and we had lunch.

The countryside was full of the kind of mystery that not even Seurat could capture and no merchandiser could put on the auction block. Spindly tree branches, winter-wasted as an old woman's arm, were not yet exactly in leaf, but displayed an ungraspable glow that even the tiniest of Seurat's paint points would have overstated.

The golf ranges and ammo stores and used car lots whizzed by on either side of my route. Were they enhanced by or did they themselves enhance this moment that whispered and was gone or was gone before the whisper could be spoken?

The pale pink maples, the not-exactly greening grass ... everything seemed to be on some perfect cusp between concrete reality and reaching and wondrous imagination: Were the pinks actually pink or did I simply want them to be that way? Whatever the truth, it was lovely and free and outside the reach of even the most canny merchandiser or expert painter or mewling philosopher or spiritual adept.

Maybe that's what sends artists into the much-nourished realms of sorrow ... beauty is for free and cannot be touched and yet here they were putting a price of time and effort and attention on ... on ... on ... on something that is eternally profligate in its giving and yet refuses to be thanked or praised. Even "free" is saying too much: You can enjoy life, but you can't have it.

Nor are artists the only ones ....

Angus told me that not only had he had one shoe stolen on Saturday, but that he had also had a big-time downer on the field. Of his five discus throws, he fouled out on four. He had gone into the meet seeded as number one ... and then everything had turned to shit. He didn't go into the gory details and even his one good throw won him a second place in the meet, but still ... seeded number one and throwing like some rank beginner.

How alluring it is to imagine being at the front of the pack, "the best" at one thing or another. Doesn't everyone long to be Number One in whatever they're doing? But being Number One is delicious only up to the moment when Number-One-dom is attained.

Being Number One is merely a matter of applause and does not reflect any honestly satisfactory reality. Only a fool could lead a life based on applause. But still, reaching for Number One is like going for the Golden Fleece or a druggie who has just scored a much-needed dime bag. What I wouldn't give to be "the best." And yet when the laurels arrive, what is it I hold in my hands or set upon my head?

This is no joke. Or anyway I imagined that Angus went into his meet carrying some of that freight. If everyone seeds you as Number One, then you must be Number One, mustn't you? But what does Number One do for an encore? How does he re-establish his Number-One-dom-ness? How does he keep the applause going? Does he apply patches where the boat threatens to sink or does he learn that all boats sink ... that's why there are an endless array of boats?

It wouldn't surprise me to think that Angus was carrying some of this baggage when he threw the discus and threw it poorly: Anyone can enjoy being Number One, but believing it's true is an invitation to some very painful confusion.

No one can put a price on what is simply free. A single dot in a Seurat painting, a maple tree by the side of the road, a mis-thrown discus or a perfectly-thrown one ... it's free and profligate and delicious ... but that's no reason for anyone sell their lives like some flint-eyed sissy of an art dealer.

Being Number One is a matter of coming in second.

Better to be Number One.

opening the Bush library

Last week, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opened in Dallas, with four former presidents and the current one in attendance. Everyone was very cordial. Today, I received this cartoon:

Perhaps the advance of history can be most easily marked by the latest willingness to make what was once illegal and heinous ordinary and acceptable. 
History will probably remember George W. Bush kindly, but from this closer vantage point, it makes me wonder why 'history' seems to blur the edges of all men and remember them "kindly." It makes me think that history is largely an ego trip.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

in the realms of 'ego'

Recently, I was emailing with an Internet chum who is likewise interested in Buddhism. He was describing a dust-up he was involved in with another person with Buddhist trappings. My chum was diffident as he described his small cat fight ... referring to his own complicity (he used the word "ego") in the argument.

And suddenly, the word "ego" lit my hot, bright fuse.

"Fuck it!" I wrote back, "Ego is what we've got. Pretending otherwise is just that ... pretense."

In Buddhism, "ego" is one of those code words. It's like the crazy aunt that people keep locked in the attic while they pursue a more sane and sanitized lifestyle. Ego is a three-letter word whose tendrils of meaning and difficulty and error spread far and wide ... toxic and stinging as a Man o' War jelly fish. Ego is attachment and judgment and bias and all the clingy stuff that screws the pooch of a happy life. Ego is the mud puddle that southern belles in immaculate white skirts step around with a mincing disdain ... gracious goodness! I wouldn't want to sully my attire on the way to the ball!

In 'serious' settings, good-hearted and sometimes manipulative men and women in spiffy robes can discourse at length about the wiles of ego. Students soak it up ... if I were enlightened, I wouldn't be so fucked up, so confused and uncertain and dissatisfied, so ... crazy as the aunt in the attic. If I were enlightened, there wouldn't be any mud on my skirt. If I were enlightened, I would be nice and kind and compassionate and clear-eyed and serene and unruffled and ... well, things would be different, I tell you! I'd be like my hero -- Gautama maybe or some latter-day bright light -- and what a clear-eyed fellow s/he was/is! No crazy aunts in his/her attic!

OK, it's a starting point, a means of encouraging reflection. But as a continuing diet, it's cotton candy and horseshit. There is no attic in which to lock this crazy aunt. There is no mincing distance that can be placed between what you are and what you are. Who or what, precisely, do you imagine makes up all these wondrous tales and fabrications about something called "enlightenment?" It's not a criticism -- it's just a question. If Buddhism demands honesty, how honest is anyone being when they padlock the attic door?

How could anyone be 'enlightened' without ego's nourishing and refreshing assistance? Sure, it may take some getting used to, some practice, some attention, but in the end, a life full of pretense is pretty wobbly, however holy the precincts. You want to pretend you have an ego or could get enlightened or that you don't have an ego or are somehow unenlightened? Knock yourself out!

Just don't blame me if there are screams in the attic.

geographical hors d'oeuvres

Watching a television show called "How the States Got Their Shapes," I felt as if I were eating potato chips and just couldn't stop as small fact heaped on small fact, salty and deliciously addicting. The ones that stuck with me included ....

-- That Florida, that southern clime claimed by Disney World and babes in bikinis and garish wealth, was home to the largest cattle ranch in the United States. That the Spanish had brought cows with them when they colonized the area in the early 16th century. The cows ran wild and only later were hunted for food. And for that reason the men who tended cattle in Florida became known and prefer to be known as "cow hunters." They used bullwhips in their hunts, cracking them as a means of moving and controlling the wayward beasts. And from this cracking of whips, the now-pejorative word "cracker" evolved. It did not mean a doltish redneck back then ... these were hardy, hard-working and honorable people. There was and remains a community called Crackertown in Florida.

-- That northern Maine is not served by U.S. utilities, but rather gets its power from Canada. Northern Maine contrasts with the southern areas where the "Massholes" have taken up space along the coast. In the north, cell phones and GPS systems are useless. Northern Maine, once home to a booming logging industry, is in many ways, literally and metaphorically, off the grid. It does not take kindly to the fact that Maine was once part of Massachusetts. It was a tantalizing and simultaneously somehow frightening thought ... going to a place that, like much of the earth, simply has no wireless communication. No wireless communication and people get along just fine, thank you very much.

All this and more like it touched my mental taste buds and then disappeared. Totally useless information that made me feel somehow lighter and brighter.

looking for a beggar

Yesterday, I went looking for a beggar here in privileged Northampton. I wanted a photograph to add to a somewhat acid column I submitted to the local newspaper and which they seemed willing to run. The theme of the only-half-tongue-in-cheek piece is, roughly, let's make begging a statutory right... as in life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness ... and begging.

I drove past the supermarket parking lot where a woman occasionally stands with a cardboard sign around her neck that asks for donations. She wasn't there. I drove to another spot, a traffic island where others occasionally solicit hand-outs from passing cars. No luck. Finally, I gave up and drove to Main Street, although finding a parking space on Saturdays is hard.  And right away I spotted her.

She was seated on a low wall, reading a book in the sunshine. In front of her were a two-pound coffee can wrapped in red terry cloth and a cardboard explanation of her plight. The coffee can was about a third filled with loose change. The cardboard said she was homeless and needed money.

I approached with a vague sense that I was being manipulative, profiting from the sorrows of others. But I set my concerns aside and told her what I wanted -- a picture of her to accompany an article I had written about begging. For the picture and a signed permission, I would give her $5.

She looked at me out of alert, blue eyes. Her face gave off an underpinning of open, lively prettiness that contrasted with the Master lock held on a chain around her neck and the lumpen-proletariat, large or extra-large, black T-shirt and shorts she wore. She got the gist of what was happening and immediately searched her backpack for a pen with which go give her permission. She took the money without remark and shoved it in the right front pocket of her jean shorts.

She claimed the unlikely name of Raven Storm, said she was 30, and replied that she counted "the streets of Northampton" as her home. Then she sat still for two or three pictures. If I had been a reporter, I would have asked her a bunch of questions, not the least of which might have been whether she had made up the name she gave me.

But I wasn't a reporter. I was a photographer -- someone who wanted an illustration of the topic of I had written about. It is easy to read about poverty where there is no in-your-face concreteness ... the kind of concreteness offered in a photo. Poverty is conveniently "oh dear" when there is no face, no body, no hair-do, no personality staring you in the eye. Poverty is easier to forget when there is no breathing personality involved.

After the photo shoot, I came home and shipped the picture and the permission off to the newspaper editor with whom I had corresponded about the column. He had asked me to make some corrections, which I had, and that suggested to me that the newspaper would run it, though when was never stated. I hoped that the picture might make it in under the wire of publication necessities ... a long-shot, perhaps, but worth a try.

Only after I had done what I could for the article did I return to my whispering sense of profiting from someone else's misfortune. The transaction had been straightforward, but still ....

And then it occurred to me to wonder how long it had been since anyone had paid Storm Raven to do a job that only she could do ... to exhibit an expertise that only she had ... to be, in whatever small way (even a manipulative one) the center of attention. She was the only Storm Raven there was -- beggar or queen, no different -- and for a brief time, that was important to someone.

I was not entirely mollified by my reasoning, but I had to admit it probably deserved to be part of the mix.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

cinders of conflict

An accidental shooting death during a boar hunt in Moldova has sent politics there into a tailspin that may threaten the small country's entry into the European Union. Worse may be yet to come.

An American held for six months in North Korea as a spy will face a judicial decision shortly on whether, among other things, he acted in an effort to overthrow the regime. The potential penalty is death. The decision will come at a time of heightened tension between North Korea and whatever enemies it finds politically expedient to dredge up on any given day. Sabre-rattling has yet to lead to drawn sabres, but you never know.

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were shot dead in Sarajevo. The event is widely credited as being responsible for the outbreak of World War I a month later.

One man...

One event ...

One war.

on the wry side of life

My son sent this along in email:

national body odor

When was the last time my country came together in a sense of satisfaction and unity after, perhaps, having put a man on the moon or discovered some medicine that would benefit the world? When was the last time anyone glowed quietly that their country had done something decent and good and, yes, perhaps pretty exciting ... something positively creative? The acceptance and protection of gay marriage may one day be seen as an obvious and decent and honorable accomplishment, but that day is not today.

Nowadays, increasingly, Americans bond as one (roughly speaking) when someone like Osama bin Laden is put to death or the grisly business of war dresses up in "success."

The slow slide into a national crassness is dispiriting.

It is wispy and amorphous on the one hand and as plain as a fart under the covers on the other.

To create and give has a salutary warmth. To rely on the bullying and bloody as a national adhesive ... well, the angels of national satisfaction may still be angels, but within the heart there is the rightful sense that these are lesser angels ... and somehow there is no escaping their toothy maw.

A week or so ago, Americans bonded when two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring scores. This was horrific and the sense of horror was intensified by the remembrance of the 2001 demolition of the World Trade Towers in New York. The horror translated into a huge manhunt, one that effectively locked down Boston as men dressed in black and carrying rifles and attended by military vehicles swooped and swept through the streets. We'll get these bastards! And sure enough, as it seems, we did ... and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief and satisfaction and, perhaps, national pride. There was an enemy ... he had been identified... he had been defeated.

The ascendancy of the word "terrorism" in our language -- the use of it as a get-out-of-jail-free generalization -- has set my hair on fire for a long time. Will no one look to the roots of what is so plainly horrific? And what is the result of not-looking? Isn't it just the nurturing of a different kind of terror, the kind of terror that diminishes individual rights, cripples the creative decency that might rightfully warm the national heart, and leaves the society with what feels like an advancing case of spiritual body odor?

Nor are Americans alone: In Britain, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that it is, for the first time,  operating potentially-armed drones over Afghanistan. It's all "surveillance" at the moment, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know how that story will play out.

Well, Bill Moyers' interview with Guardian columnist and author Glenn Greenwald makes the points better than I can. I think I am too busy being terrorized, too busy being caught between tears and rage, too busy playing the placard-waving and unduly-righteous activist.

I hate this encroaching body odor. Greenwald and Moyers offer some attentive soap in attempting to identify the problem.

beloved horror

Mewling, simpering apologists are likely to come out of the woodwork -- all dulcet and cozening and oozing ill-concealed self-interest -- but still I think there is something to be said for it on a very personal level: Sweet juice depends on bitter fruit.

Yesterday, on the car radio, I caught an incomplete interview with an Evangelical Christian woman (I think she had written a book) who was talking about the hostile reception that religion can give to the world of psychological counseling.

She did not go into the gritty specifics, but she provided an instant street cred: A. She was an Evangelical Christian whose husband was studying to become a minister and B. The older of her two sons had returned from a Christian college, showed signs of distress that a mother might detect, and then committed suicide.

As I say, the woman did not go into the specific ways in which the institution that promoted her faith disdained the kind of help her son might have received, but, like other listeners, I filled in the blanks with my own biases: God cures all ills; the Bible has all the answers; no earthly answers can compare with the blessings of heaven; psychology is for the faithless and weak ....

Hell, I lean Buddhist and have heard the same stuff dressed in only slightly-differing robes.

And of course it is at this point that the cozening apologists will leap to the defense of their beloved Christianity or their beloved Buddhism or their beloved ... whatever is beloved: "Let me explain how it really is. It's not like that at all. Christianity/Buddhism/whatever is more thoughtfully benevolent and clear-headed than that. We don't do bad stuff. We only do the good stuff, the compassionate stuff, the wise stuff."

OK, apologists have institutions and jobs and income to defend and the 'benevolence' story is a pretty good story ... as far as it goes ... which may be pretty far. The camouflage can be pretty convincing.

But I sympathized with that Evangelical Christian woman whose son had committed suicide. I don't know to what extent the ethos of her faith contributed to her son's death and her subsequent anguish. But the anguish was no joke.

Is there anyone, spiritually-inclined or otherwise, who does not set out in search of some sweet juice? Little and large, philosophical or psychological, who hasn't set out on the search for the Wizard of Oz? I don't mean that in some snotty sense ... I mean it in the sense of something beloved and hopeful and ... yes, indeed ... sweet.

That search is attended by many tales -- supportive and encouraging tales, stuff that promotes action on behalf of what is beloved. The tales build spires that twinkle in the sun: God is great.

But the sweetness will never be as sweet as it can be until the bitterness of all sweet tales is addressed. There is literally nothing, no matter how sweet the tale, that does not carry with it honest horror stories. This is not bad or cynical or a reason to shy from what is beloved. It is just the way things are built.

Perhaps, as it seems to me, it is as if a person were to hold two tennis balls, one in each hand, held in arms extended forward. The tennis balls are of equal weight and color and usefulness. They both pertain to the game at hand ... the game of what is beloved. The game can be played with one ball, but if only one ball is employed, the game is slowed, the sweetness is diminished and the land of Oz remains a fairy tale and a knock-off.

Holding the tennis balls, anyone might feel their weight, see their reality. You can only play with one ball at a time, but denying the other ball is to deny the game its delight ... the payoff sought in what is beloved.

Personally, lightly and with certainty -- let the institution and philosophy suck an egg -- hold what is beloved and the horrors of which it is capable close. What is beloved is sweet. It is to die for, perhaps. What is anguished is horrid and bitter. It is to die for, perhaps.

Do not deny the one in favor of the other ... that just prolongs the search for sweetness. Using attention and responsibility, gather your beloved strength. Let nothing stand in your way. Hold these balls lightly and without fear ...

Then toss one in the air ...

And find the sweet spot.

Friday, April 26, 2013

GBS revisited

Passed along in email, another George Bernard Shaw keeper:
Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity.

colonoscopy recovers treasure

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The idea behind the Tampa Women’s Club charity event was simple. For $20, you could buy a flute of champagne and a chance to win a one-carat, $5,000 diamond.
Organizers of the Saturday event placed $10 cubic zirconia stones in the bottom of 399 of the 400 champagne glasses. The prized diamond, donated by Continental Wholesale Diamonds, was placed in the last.
The problem? Eighty-year-old Miriam Tucker accidentally swallowed it.
Tucker told local news media that she didn’t want to put her finger in the champagne, so she drank a bit. While laughing with women at the table, she realized she swallowed it.
Embarrassed, she had to tell jewelers who were frantically searching for the winner.
Already scheduled for a colonoscopy on Monday, she had a doctor recover the jewel.


This photo of the Matterhorn's North Face won the Professional Landscape category in the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards. (Nenad Saljic/Sony World Photography Awards/AP Images)

Dolly Parton joins the Yakuza

I was sitting in the waiting area of the dentist's office yesterday reading a very well-written article about the battle of Bunker Hill, one of the flag-waving events of the Revolutionary War. Though frequently trotted out as an example of colonial grit, the battle in fact was a significant defeat for the scrappy colonials. I'm lousy at history, so I was interested and it filled the time as I waited and waited and waited.

I was sitting about four feet from a reception counter that was roughly shaped like a circle behind which there were two computer-imprisoned women who both said good morning to newcomers and made future appointments with those whose procedures for the day had been completed.

Another optical illusion
I was hip-deep in Bunker Hill when, on the far side of the counter, I became aware of a checkout customer with shoulder-length blond hair and a formidable set of boobs. Boobs are a guy thing and I'm a guy, so I left my 18th century focal point for something more up-to-date.

At first, being a guy, it was the boobs. But as I looked further north, I realized the face above this impressive rack was quite masculine, And as my focus sharpened, I realized that the voice making a future appointment was as deep as toe-nails. And into the bargain, the short-sleeved, low-cut blouse encasing my initial point of interest revealed a couple of quite muscular arms, both of which were heavily tattooed. The total effect was as if Dolly Parton had joined the Yakuza. It was big and brassy and sassy and I-don't-give-a-fuck-what-you-think. I began to like this person for entirely different reasons.

First and foremost, I really enjoy having my deeply-ingrained assumptions challenged. And on the deeply-ingrained front, sex is a biggie, probably a primordial urge to sustain and extend the species, but my hunch is that the average heterosexual guy doesn't think in such studied and serene ways. Guys want to get laid ... end of story. Boobs suggest getting laid. Boobs ... woman ... get laid -- something like that, all in a nanosecond of assumption and habit. All the politically-correct and caring stuff kicks in later.

But suddenly, sitting in the dentist's office, my assumptions about men and women, boobs or the lack thereof, were challenged. Was there really anything sacrosanct about "women" and "men?" I wasn't asking for some long, heart-felt analysis or explanation of transgendered people. I was interested in what I could actually know and what I could actually know was that my assumptions seemed to be too presumptuous. Masculine and feminine ... sure, it's true ... but is it really true? Man as woman, woman as man -- do the brightly-etched lines of assumption and distinction really compute?

The bottom line was that I found myself both delighting in and delighted by this biker babe behind the receptionists' counter. Eeeehaw! -- shake my tree! And beyond that, the line rose up unbidden:

You go, girl!

I never did see the dentist. I'd had enough excitement for the morning and got sick of waiting, so I went home ... pleased as punch.

a little mental drool

Like a single raindrop drooling down the mental window pane ...

Maybe it's like this...

In the beginning, everything is seen but nothing is clear.

Later, nothing is seen but everything is clear.

And later still, clear and unclear lose their excitement:

It's just raining after all.

Some people use spiritual life as a means of escaping the world.

Some people use spiritual endeavor as a means of engaging the world.

But I don't think spiritual life works like that.

Saying I don't think spiritual life works like that does not mean I know how it does.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

medicine on your iPhone

I wonder if "revolutionary" is too strong a word. I kind of doubt it.

bits of news

-- Teachers in Mexico are rioting over proposed reforms that seem to resonate here in the United States.
The reforms impose centralised teacher assessment and seek to end corrupt practices in the education system.
Those practices include the buying and selling of teaching positions.
But unions say the reforms could lead to big lay-offs, and critics also suggest they may be paving the way for the privatisation of Mexico's education system.
As stated, the argument seems to be that keeping your job relies on upholding a yardstick of mediocrity and corruption. Privatization, which is happening incrementally here in the United States and seems to threaten any guarantee of universal education, has been the subject of similar outcries, though no rioting as yet.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
-- The hospitalized suspect in last week's Boston Marathon bombing has been read his constitutional rights and has stopped answering interrogators' questions. I, for one, breathed a sigh of relief: There was some discussion about the possibility that his constitutional right to silence might be overridden in the anguished frenzy that followed the bombings ... that he would, as the American citizen he is, be one of the exceptions allowed under the statute; that something called "terrorism" and the visceral fear that is so carefully nurtured under its banner would be allowed to rule the roost ... and thus visit a more insidious terrorism on the rest of us.

-- In Dallas,  four former U.S. presidents and the current one are scheduled to gather to schmooze and delight in the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and current president Barack Obama will make nice with George W. Bush, the man who brought us the demolition of the World Trade Center towers, a war in Iraq and a war in Afghanistan. He may also have done much to enshrine the word "nucular" in the war lexicon of American English. At least Margaret Thatcher was graced by a command of the language.

-- The Roman Catholic pope, Francis, an Argentinian, has met with Argentine activists begging him to open Vatican archives as they search for information about loved ones who disappeared during the Dirty War.
The group's leader Estela de Carlotto said the Church must know where some of the children were taken.
She met the Pope during a general audience at the Vatican, and handed him a letter asking for the archives to be open.
"Every detail can help to identify those who were taken from our families," the letter read.
She said the Pope had told her: "You can count on me. You can count on us."
Vatican archives are generally not opened for many decades.
Maybe the pope was telling the truth. I don't know. But, based on the Vatican's batting average in the matter of priest sexual abuse, it is hard to imagine that the "holy father" will be instrumental in releasing information that would in any way suggest that the Vatican knew of such atrocities ... and by knowing, was implicitly or explicitly complicit. Transparency, if history is any guide, is rarely transparent.

youth, age and George Bernard Shaw

It was George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and determined socialist, who once observed, "Youth is wasted on the young." Given his intelligence and wit, it is hard to know if Shaw intended with his bon
mot to skewer the inattentive galloping of youth or mock the knee-jerk, ache-plagued whining of the aged. Either way, I figure GBS was smarter than your average kumquat.

Taking the most obvious point of entry, youth stands accused of frittering away its time in idle pleasure and uninformed delight. Put bluntly, youth is after a good time and sometimes achieves its goals. Youth is the puppy that races unheeding around the house, hits the linoleum floor in the kitchen, finds no purchase, skids and slips and goes ass over appetite ... and then gets up and does it all again. It may have bumps and bruises, but goddamn! it's fun.

The eye seasoned by experience observes all this and then, perhaps, retreats into Shaw's wit. It is a place leavened by truth, but it is also -- secretly and not so secretly -- a bit jaundiced:

If youth is wasted on the young, maybe it's worth asking if age is not likewise wasted on the elderly. Is there some reason that the wide-eyed joy of youth should not be found in less rambunctious times? Life is spendthrift and profligate in its gifts (look at the grass in summer, the fallen leaves in autumn, the snowflakes in winter), so what makes those slowed by age or infirmity imagine that the joy goes missing when they can no longer lift potato sacks or party until dawn?

Youth is sometimes accused of a wanton, if energetic, stupidity. But I wonder if the same accusation might not be laid at the doorstep of those less agile: When has joy ever been limited by agility ... or the lack thereof? Doesn't anyone use what they've got in order to get what they deserve? If you don't know what you've got, whose wasteful problem is that?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wikileaks wins one

Worth noting: 
Iceland's Supreme Court upholds ruling against Valitor, a local processor of Visa and MasterCard payments that declined to credit donated funds to DataCell client Wikileaks.

The frenzied presumption of guilt both in so-called 'terror' cases like the recent bombing of the Boston Marathon and among big companies unwilling to see their income stream compromised by government pressures ... well, it may not hit your 'scary' button, but it sure hits mine.

evocative photo

        A house in the middle of the Drina River near the town of Bajina Basta, Serbia
                                               Photograph by Irene Becker

Britain's "depression"

In Britain, policy makers in well-pressed suits are on tenterhooks as they await an economic growth report due out Thursday. The slightest statistical downward trend could lead to declaring a "depression" instead of an ever-so-much-nicer-sounding "recession."

As elsewhere in the world, these policy makers are desperate to have consumers spend. Spending drives economic prosperity. But the wish, while economically sound, is riven by a factual insanity: What planet are these people living on? Precisely what are consumers supposed to spend when they are out of work or on the financial edge or suspect that policy makers are doing little more than whistling Dixie.
Take the cases of Kevin Bishenden, 50, and his wife, Nicola, 40. He's an upholsterer who says that no one wants to hire someone his age. She says she just can't find work. The only reason they aren't homeless is that Britain's welfare state manages to keep a roof over their heads.
But they've slowly been shedding all their possessions, together with memories of a past life. First a bike, then stuff from the kitchen. All the DVDs are going, though even Star Trek only gets you a few pennies. They've already sold their wedding rings.
Bank lending rates are historically low and the hope of policy makers is that businesses will borrow, expand and create jobs. But why should businesses want to expand when consumers have little or nothing to spend or no stomach for spending it? Businesses sit on mountains of cash and the Bishendens sell their wedding rings.

The stock market is back to levels last seen before the economic meltdown in 2008 and the structural reforms that might head off any similar, derivatives-driven collapse have been watered down or demolished. The stock market is doing well. Business as usual.

Anyone might rant and rave about all this and I'm not much different. The searing exasperation is everywhere: If they're so smart, how come they're so bloody stupid? Even leaving common decency aside, if the peasants don't eat, eventually, the lords won't either.

Of course, the well-heeled can make a lot of money in the window marked "eventually."

story time

My hunch is that religion or spiritual adventure would fall flat on its face without a good story to prop it up.

Who would listen without catastrophes and warm lights, without promises and perfections? Heaven and hell, virgins with grapes, brilliant lights and surprises, unfathomable realms, miracles and magic, snakes in the garden, gods and demons, relief and release, the scary part and the good part, metaphors and similes ... and not getting left behind.

Seriously, doesn't there have to be a good story, one that is woven and rewoven as the need to patch up its shortcomings becomes apparent? It is intricate, it is delicate, it is far-flung and marvelous.

And it would be churlish to dismiss one tale just because some other tale seemed better appointed. People make stories; it's no big deal. Some stories are incredibly delicious. Good news! Look Ma! I'm a believer or intelligent or right or powerful or rich!

Story time. OK.

But the question that whispers to me this morning is: What if the good spiritual news were true not because of the story, but despite it? What if, despite the good news, there really were good news? Could anyone tell that story? Would anyone want to?

I doubt it, but I'm a story teller, like my brethren, so hold on a sec while come up with a new one.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Brad Warner's promos

I was just reading another one of Brad Warner's gleeful promotions of a book he had written and being, as usual, mildly irritated. I was not irritated by yet another author doing his best to sell-sell-sell because he had worked-worked-worked and if he had worked so hard, well, it must be worth promoting ... an often-dubious if completely understandable mind-set.

I was irritated because, although I have never read one of Brad's books and have no intention of doing so, still, what I have read on blogs here and there makes me like him quite a lot. In the world of Zen, if such a thing exists, Brad has balls, and I get tired of mealy-mouthed oratorios that encourage a great deal of daring while exhibiting almost none of their own.

Brad pushes an envelope that very badly needs pushing. He goes to the edges of things and puts his ass on the line. I don't always agree with the positions he takes, but I would rather disagree with a man of substance than agree with a bunch of murmuring sissies.

Brad is not a comely Buddhist. He may be literate, thoughtful and have a series of other well-thought-of attributes, but he is not comely. He is willing to piss in the punch bowl and take responsibility for it. That he has made a reputation out of this does not bother me. Why? Because he has done it. Full frontal nudity. Brad is not a Zen pussy.

Why then be irritated by his latest promotion?

Because I always enter some piece of his writing thinking that he will, in one form or another, piss in a punch bowl that is badly in need of some spice. He will unveil what everyone is secretly thinking about some hot-button topic ... and won't flinch.

So I was mildly disappointed to see it was just another promotion -- a promotion I forgave him, but still wished it were something other than a promotion.

And also, I was mildly irritated at myself. Why had I not been more splashy-noisy when I wrote my book back in 2007? I suppose part of it was a kind of diffident hubris. That and an unwillingness to push my own envelope ... what the hell, if you're going to be an author and a goof, go ahead and be an author and a goof. My style is not Brad's style, but that doesn't mean I can't wish I had been a bit more like him ... and maybe put a chesty young woman on the cover.

Oh well, too late now.

I'm not sorry but I am also a little sorry.

off the rails

Looking things over, it is hard not to reflect on the effort expended to lay the rails ... the hopes and uncertainties, the literal and metaphorical blood, sweat and tears expended, the sacrifices and false starts that led to an industrial or religious or philosophical system that redefined and improved what had gone before.

Straight and true and perfectly aligned, guaranteeing a swift, successful bit of travel.

God! What an accomplishment!

What an accomplishment that, bit by bit, becomes the norm.

The trans-Siberian railroad. The Orient Express. The Emancipation Proclamation. Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism. E=mc2. A house to call home.

Laying the rails.

And having laid the rails, sometimes through unimaginable effort ... what is left but to go off the rails?

sneak peek at "Downton Abbey"

It's just a musical parody trailer for those afflicted by "Downton Abbey," the laboriously-lush public television series set in post-Edwardian England, but it's got some fun to it:

times to come?

Signs of times to come?

-- In New Mexico, the air force is ramping up its drone pilot capabilities.
"Every combatant commander in the world is asking for these things. Down in Southcom, Africom, Pacom, they're all asking for these assets, so it is in very high demand," said Lt. Col. Mike Weaver ....
Drones ... the remotely activated surveillance and killing machines that have inspired delight and despair. Everyone would like to enforce his way. No one likes blood on his hands. Accidents will happen, but hey, everything's got a price, right?

-- In civil-war-torn Syria, someone has kidnapped two top-gun Christians:
Yohanna Ibrahim is head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo and Boulos Yaziji leads the Greek Orthodox Church in the city.
They are the most senior Christian clerics caught up directly in the war.
No one knows who did the kidnapping or why, but it is hard not to imagine that cash-strapped fighters would see a potential treasure trove in church coffers. Kidnapping has long been a source of income for those who want or need income, but perhaps the industry has been too narrow-minded in the past. Willie Sutton robbed banks, allegedly, "because that's where the money is." Religions, too, tend to stockpile money.

endless arrows

Moms and dads and friends and enemies and bumps and bruises ... life provides a hundred arrows for a quiver of living.

But moms and dads and friends and enemies and bumps and bruises cannot and do not provide the bow.

That's your business and mine.

falling out of bed

Once, when discussing shikantaza, the Zen Buddhist meditation practice that is sometimes translated as "just sitting," an instructor observed, "There is a difference between just sitting and just sitting."

Anyone who has tried this practice knows exactly what he meant.

I don't think Zen Buddhism has somehow cornered the market on such an understanding or that the understanding would somehow go missing if someone were a Christian or Jew or Muslim or stock broker or doctor or auto mechanic or artist or drug dealer.

There is a difference between just a kiss and just a kiss.

There is a difference between just a grain of sand and just a grain of sand.

There is a difference between just a sunset and just a sunset.

The understanding is clean and clear and no amount of verbiage can box it and put it up for sale as Zen Buddhist or atheist or humanist or ... or any other chosen format. There is a difference between what you just know and what you just know.

Clear as a bell. No problem. Instantaneous. Nothing special and yet quite compelling -- there is a difference between just a kiss and just a kiss.

But today I think that if there is a difference between just a kiss and just a kiss, just sitting and just sitting, then, no matter how clear the understanding...

You have missed the point.

Is there more than one way to fall out of bed?

Monday, April 22, 2013

altruism or something ... revised

Since I was sloppy before I will try to be neater ...

I'm not entirely sure what I'm on about, but I seem to be on about it:

Not with a million crucifixions
Nor a million tear-drenched nights
Nor a mountain of incense
Nor a prayer that never ceases
Will you ever save or free the world
Unless you free yourself.

This is a guarantee.
You have to cut the crap, now matter how sweet the songs;
'Why?' is the wrong question.
Walk past the precincts of praise and blame,
And free yourself.
Saving the world is not a matter of politics or politesse.

Forswear the dolors of the night,
Burn the book-marked pages,
Raise up the head that burrows in convenient sorrow.
Look things in the eye at last
And free yourself.
This is the price of saving the world, the burning brand.

Standing here, so far from home,
Where loneliness and crucifixion implore,
Learn the dance steps one by one,
The kindest leap or clearest breath,
And then, where all else fails at last, step off the cliff and know
That dancing has no partner and never, ever, was alone.

mixed messages

There was a time when I felt pretty guilty about even considering the idea that all of the much-ballyhooed cults that could leave public perception aghast ... every one of them evolved from a genteel and hopeful and sanctified environment.

A perfectly good religion or spiritual path -- something that succored and supported so many; something that was kind in the face of cruelty; something that attempted to answer the hard questions of death or deep uncertainty; something that offered to heal and bind up -- was the Miracle-Gro territory of mass suicides or self-serving scams or crass manipulations that could leave anyone gasping at the unkindness of it all.

I didn't want to think such thoughts at the time because, well, spiritual life was new and fruitful and good in my mind. It was a lifeline in whatever sea of confusion afflicted me. I felt somehow apostate that I even entertained the thought and I did what I could to preserve the good and turn my back on the wicked.

I worked pretty hard, but of course it did not work.

Out of the good springs the no-good. Out of the truth springs the lies. I wrestled and thrashed, but in the end, I could not escape.

Of course those who find spiritual persuasion a delusion from the get-go will pounce with glee at this juncture, forming their own cult of understanding: "See, I toldja so! A crock of shit!" They aren't lying, but that's not the same as saying they are telling the truth.

In Hindu mythology, there is a wondrous swan that is said to be able to sip a single drop of milk from an ocean of water. As a practical matter, this story is a koan: How could such a thing be possible -- to extract nothing but nourishment from a universe full of mixed messages? Where praise can't cut it and blame fares no better; where belief and hope and explanation soar and are profoundly crippled simultaneously ... what works?

I guess only a swan could answer that question.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

human rights violations

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black ....

Oh well, I guess it's good to remember that both pot and kettle are, in fact, black.

In response to a Washington report about human rights violations around the world, China has come down hard on the United States, accusing the sometimes self-righteous arbiter of human decency of its own corruptions, "saying that U.S. military operations have infringed on rights abroad and that political donations at home have thwarted the country's democracy."
The report released Sunday in China - which defines human rights primarily in terms of improving living conditions for its 1.3 billion people- also cited gun violence in the U.S. among its examples of human rights violations, saying it was a serious threat to the lives and safety of America's citizens.
'Improving living conditions for its citizens'... talk about a sticky wicket fraught with vast potential for corruption and cruelty in either East or West.

a fortress without walls

This morning, like some grandmother awaiting a visit from kids and grandkids, my mind bakes blueberry muffins in preparation. The grandmother knows that not everyone likes blueberry muffins, but it is what she knows how to do and she enjoys it and so she putters around, concocting the offerings that her life can provide. Even if no one likes blueberry muffins, still they smell good and offering is about all anyone can do.

Today, a woman I have never met is planning to come to the zendo. In email, she has indicated an interest in Buddhism. I would like to make her feel welcome but ... who knows if she will like the blueberry muffins that are offered ... or whether I will. Offering is about all that anyone can do.

One of the muffins toasting in the cupcake pan is the old spiritual-life suggestion, "Understanding is knowing to get out of the way of an on-coming bus. Practice is for the bus you didn't see coming."

In one sense, the saying is as simple and toasty and un-weird as a blueberry muffin; its homey straightforwardness is devoid of censer/thurible solemnity ... it's a simple if-then promise: If you practice, then the thorny adventures that life can dish up will not be so painful. That sounds, muffin-fashion, like a pretty good deal.

"Practice is for the bus you didn't see coming."

On the one hand it is true. On the other hand, like so many spiritual lollipops, it is utter claptrap.

It is claptrap in a sense that any sane person can recognize in an instant: No one can perfectly know the future. (If they could, there would probably be a huge uptick in boredom and suicide.) A quick glance at anyone's past proves this time and time again. It's part of why "practice is for the bus you didn't see coming" is so alluring, so yummy: Wouldn't it be kool to be able to sidestep the buses you didn't see coming, the ones that knocked you silly in the past? Gimme some of that! What I wouldn't give for some relief from the bruises life serves up because "you didn't see it coming." To be prescient and serene and not get knocked on my ass ... what an invitation! what a promise! Yessir, practice is for something and it is a something I want.

Very kool. I want it ... and ... no one can know the future outside of confecting some oooooeeeeoooo magical-mystery-tour mythology.

Claptrap ... but so delicious, I think I'll take a bite ... and practice because the buses I didn't see coming can be pretty ferocious. I am tired of the wounds. I want relief. I will practice.

Practice is for the bus you didn't see coming: It's a sucker punch and a red herring on the one hand and perfectly true on the other.

The truth takes a bit of practice, a practice that gets beyond the claptrap or relief or prescience or wondrous salvation. No one can know the future ... that's obvious ... and I wonder what it would be like to be 'no one' and hence know the future.

At the moment of mustering the determination to practice, there is someone in action, someone who seeks relief, someone to save from the bus you didn't see coming. There is nothing wrong with it -- what nitwit wouldn't avoid an oncoming bus? -- but the question is, does it work? And if it doesn't work, who is it I am seeking to save from the slings and arrows or outrageous fortune?

At first, practice may seem to be building a fortress in which to be safe and sound and unpummeled. A sensible and warming and protective home. A relief.

But perhaps what practice teaches is more like ... well, maybe it is truly an excellent fortress ... but it is a fortress without walls. The winds of past, present and future meander across the plain unobstructed by the claptrap of relief and wonder and a longing for safety.

Who would cry out for safety when they were already safe?

It's just another muffin emerging from the oven.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

angus courts success

And today, so many years later, as if to mark the day, Angus came in first at a track meet at nearby Springfield College, throwing the discus a personal best of 147 feet.

after the bombs

Was there ever a police state that did not anoint itself with the best intentions?

Was there ever a police state that did not owe much of its verisimilitude to the reports of an alarmist press that claimed to have the citizenry's best interests at heart, but evinced few and flimsy facts surrounded by a drumbeat of frenzied chatter?

Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon were really very frightening. Three died and more than 180 were injured. But any honest fear I felt has been compounded by the agencies and outlook of those tasked with the investigation. Fear heaped on fear.

There is relieved jubilation today that the second suspect in the case has been caught. 

It's over.


But the tendrils of implication nag.

I have no intention of moving to Idaho and taking up residence in some well-provisioned bunker. I have no intention of joining some nitwit fringe group that sees conspiracies in every corner. But that does not mean I cannot be honestly afraid of what multi-billion-dollar agencies like the Department of Homeland Security imply for the United States of America. It does not mean that I cannot be deeply disgusted by the frenzied and self-serving coverage offered by the media.

I guess it's nothing new, but that doesn't make it any more attractive or decent or honest -- the willingness to employ fear while claiming the high ground of stamping fear out. Companies, religious institutions, countries ... any number of social organizations use similar tactics. Shame and courage go begging. Fear works better.

Well ... it seems to have worked.

I am afraid of the salvation that's being offered and of the salvors who offer it.

surprise! surprise!

I was thinking of saying that nice surprises were really nifty. Finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk, running into a good friend you haven't seen in ages, or hearing a few words that utterly reshape an outlook that had been soggy as wet cardboard ... it's as if something or someone hit a "refresh" button within and in less than the blink of an eye ... what a nice surprise! how wonderful! how nifty!

I was thinking of saying that of course the same thing is true of nasty surprises: Sure enough, the "refresh" button gets hit, but, well, it's not as nifty. It may be refreshed, all right, but it's nasty.

I was thinking of saying that it's fun-er to stick with the nifty surprises.

And I was thinking of saying that in spiritual endeavor there are no surprises. Or, if there are, then it is a clear indicator that more effort is required ... that surprises are a good warning signal. When things are naturally fresh, hitting the "refresh" button is obviously a fool's errand.

I was thinking of saying all that.

But I guess I won't.

Friday, April 19, 2013

yes, but

Aside from ....

Except for ....

Does anyone else marvel at the human capacity for yes-but-ing life?

It sounds so sensible. It is often based in hard-won experience. Languidly lounging in the greys between black and white....

YES, BUT ...

It doesn't seem to be genetic and it hardly deserves to be burdened with "good" or "bad." It's just one of those facts of life, I guess.

How does anyone get over the yes-but's attending on one situation or another?

What is the penalty for maintaining a yes-but fortress ... perhaps for an entire lifetime?

Life says "yes."

I say, "yes-but."

How does this compute?

how to wreck a perfectly good photo

meeting a celebrity

Fridays are the days on which the local newspaper, the Hampshire Gazette, runs a column I always read. It is called "ID" and it is a Q & A with one individual ... where does s/he live, what does s/he do, what mistakes has s/he made, what books or music does s/he like, etc.

The columns are not uniformly interesting, but they are uniformly about one individual and I like individuals, however imperfectly they may describe themselves. I feel as if I am getting the "meat" of "meat and potatoes." No generalizations or conclusions or humanity blithely skipped over as in news stories or wise analyses. This is people. This is, somehow, real blood.

One of the questions reads: "If your could spend the day with a celebrity from any time in history, who would it be?"

The question seems to get to me every time -- to leave me somehow sputtering and searching in my mind.

In general, I agree with former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins who once observed in a radio interview that "Meeting your favorite author is one of life's most reliable disappointments." It is better to leave the bright lights of the mind to their own devices -- to enjoy their brightness but not venture too close. Up-close is a recipe for disappointment, for a dimming of the brightness. What has fame got to do with substance or kinship, after all?

But for all that, I can't help myself. There are a couple of people I wouldn't mind meeting. Charles Monroe was a mail clerk in New Marlborough, Mass., when he was interviewed in 1939. And there was once a radio program I could never find again ... about a pig farmer and his wife in Louisiana or Mississippi or somewhere down south. He came across as a plain-spoken man who worked his ass off and positively glowed with love and common sense and ... just being who he was... the kind of man who made me happy to be part of the human race.

It's probably just as well that these men are probably dead and I could never meet them. That way, the light and delight remain undimmed. It may not make a lot of sense, but "celebrities" are kind of fun.

no 15 minutes of fame

This morning, before opening this page, I had a note from a very old friend, an economics professor at the University of Hawaii. He and I were stationed in Berlin in the early 1960's as German linguists and somehow our friendship has lasted despite infrequent meetings and great distances. He asked for news and I told him the thing that was uppermost in my mind. I am too confounded to reprise it in some more coherent way, so here is the first paragraph of the note I sent in return:
Barney -- As always, I am glad to hear you survived ... birthdays, condos, whatever. At this end of the world, less and less is new or news. Today, my younger son, Ives, graduates from basic training with the Army National Guard. He's at Ft. Benning. On Monday, he starts advanced infantry training. In the midst of a swirl of gnawing reactions within, I talked with him on the phone last night and he told me that during the 12-mile hike that was some sort of apex exercise, he stayed back beginning at mile 4 to help another guy who was weeping in pain from his blistered feet ... stayed with him the whole way ... and they made it together. And that is the son I know -- kind-hearted in ways that are unlikely to be easy as he moves forward in life, whether inside the army or out. It made me think how little decency and kindness -- just ordinary, day-to-day stuff -- makes the social headlines and yet that unremarkable world is really quite remarkable and noteworthy... and worth nourishing despite the fact that there are no 15 minutes of fame.
In a matrix of destruction and cruelty, there are always bright lights of warmth and kindness.

I find it infuriatingly saccharine and smarmy and demeaning when wondrous bits of common decency and kindness are elevated and praised. They are worth noting, but will always remain impossibly secret when they are any good. The light is not lighter because of the darkness. The darkness is not darker because of the light. The light is the light. The darkness is the darkness. They dance ... but there is no "they."

Cut the Gandhi or Jesus or Gautama sales pitch!

Don't speak to me of heroes when there are heroes all around me!

But here I am ... another smarm-meister and purveyor of drizzle and ick.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"This too shall pass"


Posted elsewhere, but I think I will put it here as well:
You are not kind because of Buddhism.
Buddhism is kind because of you.

a bias towards beauty

-- A shameful bias I will have to confess to sits on a small index card in the back of my mind. It is not loud or raucous ... it is just a biased reminder: Beware of people who keep horses: They are often rich and frequently careless of others who are less fortunate.

But that bias does not extend to horses themselves. No horse I have known was ever self-centered.

And so there is something sad about thinking that a beautiful breed -- the "Pura Raza Espanola" - Pure Spanish Breed -- may be headed for the slaughterhouse because of the economic downturn in Spain.

What wealth once raised up, wealth can likewise put to death.

It's just a bias: I love what I find beautiful. 

-- And, in another show of wealth, as many as 30 migrant workers were injured when a supervisor apparently opened fire on some 200 who had gathered on a strawberry farm in Greece to discuss unpaid salaries. No one was critically injured and the supervisor was arrested, but the waxing principle seems to be the same: Be thankful for the work you have ... or I may have to shoot you ... literally or metaphorically.

another salvation beckons

Wracked by uncertainty?

Scared of death?

Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

Passed along in email this morning was an article suggesting that acetaminophen -- stuff like Tylenol -- may cure more than minor aches and pains and have a side effect of easing existential dread.
The findings suggest anxiety about finding meaning in life and feeling physical pain may be rooted in the same part of the brain.
As usual, the findings SUGGEST.

And the mind leaps to PROVE.