Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Gardener

We imagine that the “simple man” has it figured out. Or at least, doesn't need to figure it out. I don't think I've had that advantage of being a gardener. But I like the idea that one can just take care of their children, even if they are roses.

My wife's grandpa, Grandpa Burgin, was a simple man. He had been a tenant farmer and worked on the railroad. As he became older, he sat in an easy chair and chewed tobacco, spitting it into a repurposed coffee can. And he'd play solitaire, one game after another. His wife, Grandma Stella, would cook and clean. They lived in a little house in a little town. I don't know what they knew of the bigger world.

Once we moved a few hours away and we had them come to our house and visit. Grandpa Burgin would only come if he could work. He spent the day weeding. He worked at a steady pace from dawn to dusk, seemingly never coming up for air.

His son was pretty much the same. Whenever he came to our house, he'd fix something. We raised the stakes for him, though. First it was to add an addition to our house. And then it was to build a large studio, which ended up becoming a second house.

And my grandpa was much the same. When he came to my sister's wedding, he was very antsy. Finally we put him to work painting the outside of our house and he was happy.

The gardener is busy. She works hard. I don't know what she thinks about, but I do know that it takes a lot of focus to garden. My wife does quite a bit of gardening, and she's always focused on the job at hand. Sometimes when I ask her questions about what I'm thinking about, she wisely says, “Does it matter?”

Yesterday we read about Buddhist philosophical meditation, where one examines Buddhist concepts. I'm not quite sure if this varies from philosophical thinking. I do know that Zen people sit more to quiet the stream. The glorification of the simple gardener probably belongs more to Zen than to other branches of Buddhism.

Going back to grandpas and grandmas, if you work hard maybe you don't have time to think cosmic thoughts. The job at hand is so critical. The roses depend upon your attention.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Present Moment

“Throw caution to the wind.” Is that what we are hearing when the Zen warrior remembers what his teacher told him: that his fears will go away when he just attends to the present moment?

Would you drive 100 miles an hour when you just attend to the present moment?

I think being in the present moment is the opposite of “throwing caution to the wind.” We’d be acutely aware of inherent dangers if we were awake. We’d see that driving so fast might endanger others. We’d hear the vibrations of our car and know that, in this moment, we were driving too fast.

Supposedly the frontal part of the brain that tells us about consequences doesn’t get developed until our late 20s. Does that mean that we are living in the moment until then, and as we get to be old fogies, we start looking at the future and past?

No. I think that might be a misinterpretation of “living in the moment.” It is not the reckless abandon of the “happy go lucky” teenager. We’d see the consequences of our actions. We’d do the right thing. We’d make good judgments.

We’d notice that the horse we were riding was ready to collapse. We see that the person with which we were interacting was bored stiff. We’d see it all. There would be enough caution implicit in our moment to moment observations that we wouldn’t kill the horse nor would we bore our friend to sleep.

But, you might say, the warrior who faces a dreadful tomorrow might have been ill-advised from his Zen master to be in the moment. Perhaps he could prepare to avoid his possible execution tomorrow. I think the answer is that fear is about the future. If there is a problem in the present, then that is what should be addressed. This moment is not always about fulfilling sensual needs. It is about appropriately responding to the needs of an infant, or oneself, or the field we are tilling or the plant we are watering.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Penis Envy No More

Fourteen century Japanese story: The monk said that his member was three feet long. The nun said that her vagina was infinite, the container of all, and from where all Buddhas were born.

I think about Freud’s penis envy. Certainly the nun ended it once and for all. There is no doubt that every situation is a teachable moment. Did she act as a bodhisattva (one who saves all beings rather than crossing the stream to Nirvana)?

When I’ve been reading about Buddhist tolerance I read that sometimes it is best to be intolerant as the nun was. Perpetuating the monk’s delusion that his worth could be measured by a ruler would not have been kind. If delusions cause suffering, his suffering would just continue.

We talked last week about why these Zen stories about women aren’t more known. Would Freud have changed his view upon learning of the inadequacy of a man’s member compared to a woman’s vagina?

My wife has taken on quite a different role lately. When I was ill she did things that I always do, like run errands for me. Now she is with our kids, guiding them in their mourning of their grandma. It has been liberating for me to see how I don’t need to be the one “doing things.” Sometimes when we can’t function well we see how others are so able to do so. Both my wife and the nun reframed my views.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How Much Profit Is Too Much?

Today at lunch with two friends I heard the comment that insurance companies want too great of a profit. The other person nodded her head in agreement, adding that no one needs to earn 25 million dollars.

Actually there is a law limiting such profits: http://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2012/02/04/does-obamacare-limit-profits-for-health-insurance-companies-in-your-state/

And, actually, I’m suspicious that this law actually benefits the consumer.

Suppose one wants to go into the insurance business. Would they be more apt to choose a business where the profits were unlimited, or limited?

Competition drives down prices. Companies are drawn to sectors where they can have higher profits. But to get those profits, they need to be efficient and good.

One of my friends said that her insurance company wouldn’t let her go to MD Anderson, where her specialist worked. If this were a profitable industry, another company would hear of this disservice and jump into the field.

Do we care more about the profits, or do we care about the service and the price?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Subsidizing Self-Driving Cars and Sinking Stocks

Supposedly self-driving cars will save lives, save the environment, and save time. Someday we’ll call for a cab… and actually get a cab and no driver to take us where we want to go. It is a brave new world.

Let’s assume that it is all good. I have no way of knowing that, nor do I trust the worthiness of predictions. But that’s another point.

The question is whether the government should be spending 4 billion on this endeavor. Actually, calling a spade a spade, should they be taking $12.40 cents from every man, woman, and child in the US and giving it to the car manufactures to invest in a hot technology with a lucrative potential?

Does the fact that this car will benefit mankind mean that the government should subsidize it? What else should they subsidize? Is there not already sufficient momentum that these cars will be built without the subsidy? What effect will this have on the current cars? Won’t they become more expensive to produce and to buy because they aren’t being subsidized… and many people will therefore choose the driverless cars that maybe be artificially cheaper?

On another front, a friend wrote that she had lost a lot of money in the market slump. Another friend (probably more than one) decided to pull their money out of the market during one slump or another. I tried to explain that you don’t lose money, per se, until you sell a stock at a lower value that what you paid for it. Companies and countries have growing pains. They don’t always do well. That’s a given. Sometimes you should take a loss. But often, you can just repeat the mantra, “the market goes up and down.”

Here is a graph of the Dow for the last 115 years. It goes up and down… but over time goes up. Another mantra, “It is going down so it can go up again.”


Unfortunately, sometimes this up and down might be inconvenient. One might need it to be up on a day that it is down. There comes the Zen teaching that most, if not all, of our suffering comes from the fact that life is different that how we'd like it to be. The givens are: your computer will crash and you’ll lose your data (especially if you don’t back-up), you’ll die, sometimes your friends will unfriend you, etc. etc. Love it or hate it. That is the way things work.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Guns on Campus and the Wild West

I’ve been thinking a lot about the open carry law. I’m threatened by seeing citizens around me with guns hanging from their hip. Actually I haven’t seen that yet, but still, I’m scared.

Imagine this. That in some classrooms there would be a button on the desk. If the student pushes it, the teacher evaporates. Is that atmosphere conducive to learning? Can a teacher say, “Well, Johnny, maybe you should look at it this way.”

I’m sure in 38 years of teaching I’ve said many things that would incite a student to push a button. That possibility of evaporating would keep me from reentering the classroom.

Is the button much different than a trigger on a gun? I don’t think so. Texas allows concealed guns on campus. University of Texas says that this has been the case for 20 years.

I did have two situations with students and guns. Once I had to terminate a staff member who had a gun collection and had previously checked themselves into a mental institution because they were afraid they’d use their guns. Another time I had a student who ended up killing one of his teachers with a gun. So it isn’t as if there is nothing to worry about.

My dad made me promise on his death bed not to be a dean. I went ahead and did it anyway. (He also made me promise not to retire, which I did.) I feel one of his reasons for me not becoming dean is that it is a dangerous job. As a dean, you need to make decisions that affect livelihoods. Some faculty/staff would have instantly pressed the evaporate button if it was available.

The other side of the coin complicates the issue. If I was a potential shooter who wanted to take as many lives as possible, would I go to our local grocery, Central Market, that doesn’t allow open carry… or would I go to Natural Grocers that does. Where would I be most successful?

I like the idea (fable) that in the Wild West, you’d have to hang up your gun as you entered a tavern. Are we going to have check rooms now at this store and that school, so that people can hang up their guns? I’m baffled… and scared a little about leaving my house. Where is it safe?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Thoughts about Not-Knowing God

Many moons ago, and then, more recently, I read Bertrand Russell's Why I am Not a Christian. At the first reading, I was convinced that anyone who “believed” had been duped. More recently, I felt that Russell stereotyped the tenets of belief in such a way that his argument was valid, but did not apply to many believers.

When I started going to Torah study I wondered who this God was to the participants. I found that they generally thought of him/her as an expression of an idea, much like beauty or love. I came to believe that there wasn't much to deny. If you call God the nature of things, or the overarching force to the universe, then that's what it is.

But then I just talked with Linda about her mom's funeral today, and she told me about how the minister said that if you don't believe in Jesus you won't be saved... and I'm glad I wasn't there because then I would have had to practice restraint.

I really wanted to write about something more interesting... to me, at least. In the Torah (Lev.19:4) we read, “Do not turn to idols.” In the Talmud (Shabbat 149a) it interprets this to mean, “Do not turn to that which you conceive in your own minds.”

I see this as a beautiful expression about how we really don't know answers to the really big questions... and believing (or conceiving) answers is playing a very dangerous game. Not knowing allows the universe to breathe. And it allows us to breathe. The problem with knowing is that we have to hold our breath because we can be proved wrong at any moment.

The Zen precept I'm working on now is meeting people on equal ground. I think not knowing helps me do this. I don't know what havoc the person next to me has experienced recently. I don't know their ambitions and accomplishments. I don't know much of anything about them. I do know that they are unique and special. Isn't that enough?

When we idolize one thing we un-idolize another thing. Yet, meeting all on equal ground places us all at the same level. We are all well-intentioned and honorable. We are all chosen. But we aren't more special or chosen than anyone else, despite what we've been told all our lives.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My Father's Knot


I was going to write something about the difference between grieving and compassion. If we are all suffering, as Buddha surmised, then we might grieve for others as we are feeling compassion. But I'm not going to write about that. Maybe.

My relationship with my dad was complicated, as people like to say on Facebook. There is no doubt that he was a stellar guy. He was smart and kind and funny. He knew so much, but never rammed his opinions down anyone's throat. In fact, many of his friends held ideas diametrically opposed to his, though that never shook their deep admiration for him.

He had one father who died when he was an infant, and a step-father who was not very nice. He basically was fatherless. He married a woman who thought that she knew everything about raising kids, and despite his intelligence, she felt that he could do no right. She'd say, “Shut up, Edmond,” when he'd try to be the parent. So I didn't have much of a father. If I tried to remember things that he taught me, like tying shoes, it would be a very short list.

On the other hand, he taught me a lot. He taught me how to deal with difficult situations. One day he told me, “you can never move too slowly.” I asked my students what he meant by that. Finally we made some progress toward understanding this koan. So I called my dad and told him that we figured it out. He said, “figured out what?” “What you said last week, that you can never move too slowly.” “That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard,” he said.

That was my dad. He said things not because they were set in stone, but because they might get someone to consider a new way of looking at the world.

When he was in hospice, they asked whether he'd like a priest, a minister, or a rabbi. “A philosopher,” he said.

He was generally disappointed with his kids. It wasn't that we were complete failures, thought sometimes we were headed in that direction. Rather, we had cousins that went to better schools and were very successful before they were 30.

In the passage “Knots” we read tonight, a knot kept the father from expressing his love. Or maybe I should say, “his like.” Both of my parents were full of love, but in their very critical mode, found it difficult to like many people. We all had faults. I couldn't tie my shoes. My sister couldn't keep her bangs out of her eyes. Someone else raised their kids wrong. And on and on. It got to the point where I didn't want love anymore. I just wanted to be liked.

The other day I went to a performance by three-year olds. It was a marvel how the teacher was totally ok with the students’ ineptness. It was a joy how she made all the kids feel comfortable and do their best... and even if they weren't ready for center stage, that was ok too. I wish she was the one who taught me to tie my shoes.

P.S. (Credit card track) Wasted time today looking for a credit card bill. Finally found it, but the vendor had put down the wrong last four numbers that really messed me up. I did cancel one card today. My wife said she'd come home if I cut my cards in half. Actually I have eight in her name to cancel. Is it ok for me to pretend I'm her when I call them (and save her the grief of calling them)? Another moral dilemma.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Learning to Mourn... Wanting to be Grief Stricken

She insisted on going to visit her granddad after her grandma died. She said that she wanted to mourn.

Mourning wasn’t part of my experience growing up. When my father was a small child, his dad died. He experienced his mom crying, screaming, and tearing her clothes off. When my grandpa died, whom I was very close to, my dad only mentioned it at the end of a conversation I had with him. “Can I talk to mom,” I asked. “No, she’s at your grandpa’s funeral,” he said.

Jews have some unusual ideas about death. For one, a grave yard is called, “land of the living.” For another, if a funeral procession and wedding procession are going down the same road, and if the road narrows, then the wedding procession should go first.

Funerals were rarely attended by my parents. They weren’t part of the business of life. Echoing a Jewish saying, my mom would say, “Life is for the living.” However, my mom felt great grief when tragedy struck our extended family if it was a kid. When my cousin died, or when another cousin was found to have a serious impairment, she fell apart. But we were generally shielded from death. I discovered that a dear neighbor had died when I was shuffling through my sister’s desk. I asked my mom why she didn't tell me. She said that my school work was more important and she didn’t want to distract me.

Buddhists have an idea of impermanence. They believe everything forever changes. Jews too have such an idea, though a rabbi described it the other day as every moment is new. I then asked A, a Zen priest, and she said that this idea of “new” aligned with Dogen more than just changing. It is a new day. It is a new moment.

I sometimes worry that I’m a sociopath, or perhaps a little on the autistic spectrum because I don’t fall apart in grief when confronted with death. I could not do well in a Shakespearian tragedy. It seems hard for me to realize that a person really is gone because they remain so much in my mind. And if they weren’t in my mind, there certainly wouldn’t be any grieving.

P.S. (Credit card track) He asked why I had ten credit cards. “Ten,” I exclaimed, “I have 29.” So I asked him if he had $800, would he toss it to the wind? That's approximately the value of the 50000 that you get from AA with a new credit card (on a good day). “No,” he said, “I wouldn't throw $800 away.” “So why wouldn't you take the credit card.” “I'm trying to simplify my life,” he said.

Obviously there are costs and benefits to playing the credit card game. There is risk, some loss of credit, and time expended. It takes some discipline and some organization to keep track. I seem to do ok.

Is it dishonest to take a credit card just for the money? I actually once asked this question to a bank. They want you to fall for their offer. They hope you will screw up and incur fees. Capital One Bank told me that. Does that mean that we should do it? It is somewhat a moral dilemma.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Pray that All Things are Born in Heaven

We read the story today of an old woman who asks Buddhist Master Zhaozhou Congshan how she can be free from the world of suffering. He tells her to pray that all things are born in heaven and that you yourself suffer forever in the sea of hardships.

I don’t think she wanted to hear that. It reminded me how once I called one of my favorite teachers and told him that I’d been rejected from some competitive exhibitions. “You must not be any good,” he retorted.

A rabbi was telling us the other day that it takes three to four generations to change behavior, and that education doesn’t help. As we talked more, it became clear that he thought of education as “instruction” and I thought of it as “experience” (à la John Dewey). He then agreed that it might be a little easier to change with experience. In the story, Master Zhaozhou is providing an experience for the old lady. She is taking on suffering for everyone. What she’ll hopefully discover is that she’s not separate from them, and she will be “reborn” (to use a Christian term) in heaven.

I think this idea of suffering for all people is workable. For one, it is all we can do. If you consider suffering is how one responds to life then you can’t really help another. But you can model for others by going into your own suffering and reducing it.

When Buddha was enlightened he said that all beings were enlightened. He realized that we aren't separate. Like with suffering, the real culprit is believing that we are not separate and that we don’t really suffer alone. What the old woman was asked to do wasn’t really possible. Can a finger suffer without affecting the rest of the body?

Perhaps the wise teacher, in telling his student to take in all suffering, was creating an experience where she would focus on good thoughts about others. Perhaps she would realize that she too was born in heaven. Perhaps the Master’s instruction was using a little bit of reverse psychology.

It would take a lot of compassion to suffer for all, as Mary and Christ did. It is the ultimate benevolent act... to take a bullet for a friend (or even for someone you don’t know.)

P.S. Too many credit cards saga: Did successfully cancel one credit card today. Almost did another, but then they offered me $50 if I spend $300 on groceries. How many carrots is that at 99 cents a lb. and bananas at .45 cents a lb.?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Homage to Dorothy

Grandma Dodie did it. Lifting 202 N. Allen, Leroy, Ill.

I get speechless when something important happens... like my mother-in-law moving today to another world. She's been so much part of our lives for 46 years. She never hesitated to give us what she could. And she was an incredible witness. She noted everything that happened, apparently without judgement.

She was very different from my mom who evaluated and judged everything. When we’d go to visit my mom, the 2nd day (after she slept on it), she’d tell us what was wrong with us and what should be changed. I was so use to it that I never objected. Sometimes Linda did.

Linda’s mom was different. She seemed grateful and duty-driven. Her great pleasure was in participating in the unfolding of life. But she also got pleasure from following directions... lovingly... that was Dorothy.

Our kids would come and go to them as they were growing up. They’d always come back well-behaved... and that would last a few hours.

One time we had a big tree cut by our house and she eyed a large piece of the tree. She asked for a hammer and chisel and carved our address in the wood. It lasted for about 10 years.

They lived in our house-to-be for a year when it was enlarged (and did much of the work)... and then another year when we built a studio. I soon realized that what we really built, besides a house and studio, was a pretty incredible and long-lasting relationship.

A friend told me today that when someone dies, something leaves the room. With machines, they aren’t much different whether they are turned on or off. With people it is different. What emanates... that life force... appears to vanish when the person leaves. May Dorothy find peace in her new life. We will miss her.

Del, Dorothy, Josh (with camera), and Melissa

Friday, January 8, 2016

Nudging History

A Black student, Nissy Aya, at Columbia said, “It's traumatizing to sit in Core classes. We are looking at history through the lens of these powerful, white men. I have no power or agency as a black woman, so where do I fit in?”

Dennis Prager claimed that Columbia made a mistake listening to her and following her lead. http://www.creators.com/opinion/dennis-prager/a-response-to-a-black-student-at-columbia.html

He said that Columbia should keep up pushing the laurels of the great white men, because it would be sad if someone missed learning about these men.

I doubt that Nissy was asking for that. She wanted balance. She didn't want to throw out the baby with the bath water.

I’m more in line with Nissy. I attend a group (all women except for me) where we look at stories about Zen woman. It provides some balance for me.

There are extraordinary examples of great women and people of color that students could study in their core curriculum. Prager is just defending the establishment.

I remember when I was at a meeting at the College Art Assocation around 1971 and Jansen was there (author of the leading text for Art History I & II)… someone asked him why there were no women artists in his book (or very few). He got up and walked out.

I came to learn from Beaumont Newhall’s photo history that he wasn’t writing about the famous photographers as much as he was deciding who will be remembered and will be forgotten.

History sometimes forgets some of the heroes of the past. So it has to be nudged to correct the inaccuracies.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Failure and Plagues

Yesterday I talked about dying. Today I’m going to talk about failure… and maybe about plagues, another uplifting subject.

I tried to cancel another credit card. I think I have twelve more to cancel. It was the same racket. If I spend so much in three months they will give me $75. I can’t say no. That is 75 cans of diced tomatoes (with tax). Would I throw that away?

And then there is Scandal. I need to buy 4 episodes to get to the last 5 episodes. I bought two today. Probably tomorrow will buy the next two.

Failure. But it was so nice to meditate tonight and just breath deeply. We think of all this stuff we want… steaks, travel, sex… but when you are having trouble breathing, you want one thing. To take a deep breath without coughing. It was great.

This week’s Torah portion has to do with the seven plagues. We read this tonight in our little meditation/Torah study group.

There are only two groups of people for whom the Plagues do not present a problem—those who accept the Bible literally and those who dismiss it as book of tales on par with the legends of King Arthur or Robin Hood.  For the rest of us there are lots of questions with only partial answers. What really did happen in Egypt? What were the authors trying to tell us happened? What message is there for us at the dawn of the 21st century in these Plagues? The easy answer is that God sent the Plagues to establish His power and might, to prove that He was Master of the Universe. This may be an easy answer, but hardly a satisfying one. From: http://downhomedavartorah.blogspot.com/2016/01/torah-readings-for-saturday-january-9.html

If we’ve been bad, I can see how we will believe that we caused the Plagues. And if we’ve been good, we believe that life is unfair (why didn’t God listen?). Maybe there is some third alternative, that life happens as it happens. Earthquakes and floods come and go. If we want to read something into them, we can. Or we can do our best to live a good life irrespective of the cards we are dealt.

Goodnight.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Recovery from Life and the Plagues

In 24 minutes my alarm will ring telling me it is time to write.

I’ve been thinking about the idea that death is recovery from life. Linda thinks that’s silly… that it is a misuse of the word “recovery.”

I started to see life as a marathon (which I’ve never literally have ran). When you are done, I assume you need to recover. So it may be with life.

I read the other day about an urn that makes a tree out of a person. You put in the ashes, add some water, and presto, a tree is born. Granted this happens eventually, but it takes a long time. Imagine waiting in a grave to become a tree. With a good tomb, it might not happen over night.

And I finished the first 4 years of Scandal. Whew! That was rough. I’d have to pay $2.99 each to see the next four. That is something I can wait to see next year on Netflix.

Back to this idea of recovery. Some die fast and some die slow. When you die fast, it doesn’t seem like a recovery. It is more like you just had your life taken away. But when you live a long life, and then your body starts to fail… well, that may be more of a recovery.

In all this morbidity, our clock in the kitchen wants to be an hour slower. I replaced an ok battery, but still, it is slowing down like my mother-in-law. I told Linda I would rough up the contacts… she said that we had it in St. Louis and that it has lived a good life.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll write about why God apparently chose the Israelites over the Egyptian. How else do you explain the seven plagues? Though… it wasn’t like it would be smooth sailing for the Israelites… so maybe they weren’t so chosen. More tomorrow. Maybe.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Heaven and Hell

There is a story of a Heaven and Hell that are the same except that in Heaven people feed each other with long spoons and in hell they starve because their spoons are too long to feed themselves.

There seem to be two points. One is that H and H are the same place, and two, that the difference is that when you care for others you'll be in Heaven.

So what makes us think that if only I had x y and z I'd be so happy. Supposedly, dentists have the highest rate of suicide and the poor Burmese are happy beyond belief. What does that say?

How do we reframe the life we have so that it is Heaven? Other than feeding the other, what can we do.

The people in Hell are just thinking about themselves. They are not part of a whole, but rather believe they are single entities. The are miserable and starving—not only from lack of food, but from lack of loving and being loved.

We talk about being nurtured. When we are young, we think happiness is getting what we want. But soon discover that has problems in itself. We might have what we want and then worry that it won't stick around. It might grow stale. It might fall on the floor and break.

In Heaven and Hell we find the same food and the same silverware. And we find people acting differently. This is counterintuitive in a sense. Feed others to be fed?How can that be? Is that different from our primordial instincts?

I heard about an elephant that died, and all the other elephants came to the elephant corpse and mourned for three days. Why should other elephants care about an elephant that they might have rarely interacted with previously?

I keep thinking I should say something more personal about my particular quest for happiness. When have I tried to feed myself with an impossibly long spoon? And have I realized that I'm not separate but rather part of a team?

What is the food? What can I do to help others eat it? Perhaps not interrupting and letting others tell their story is one way (Lao-Tau)? What are other ways?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Scandal and Meeting Others on Equal Ground

I've been watching Scandal... heavy duty... now in the fourth year, and one to go. But my 10pm alarm rang, so I had to turn it off to write.

Linda asked if the world is really that crazy. I said yes. And Scandal doesn't hold a candle to the Torah for the crazy things that men and women do.

Linda's mom is on her last days on earth. Between the roller coaster of Scandal, and the roller coaster of Linda's mom, and all the other roller coasters (like the Chinese stock market today)... life is pretty crazy.

What is a lull but a moment before an explosion? Why are we surprised with each explosion? How does one stay sane knowing that at slightly random intervals something tragic will happen. And at other random intervals, something beautiful will happen.

I'm reminded of a book I saw 50 or 60 years ago... called The Miracle of Birth (now a YouTube). Life seems a lot more than that. It is not just the land of milk and honey. It is the whole shebang.

+++++++++++

On another subject, I promised someone I'd write something about the idea of meeting others on equal ground (a Buddhist “precept”). We tend to judge others. And doing so means that we compare them to us. And we always win... or at least most the time... because we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.

I can often hear myself thinking when judging others thoughts like:

“He doesn't stand up straight.”

“He mumbles his words.”

“He doesn't have an advanced college degree.”

And on and on. I carry a bag of these thoughts... and no one can win because I pull out one for every situation.

And in reality, when I do it, I'm the loser. I lost because I had a chance to connect with someone and instead cut them off.

Guess I have my work cut out for tomorrow.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Tragedy vs. Misery

Another resolution was to cut my number of credit cards in half. That would leave me more than 10. So I called Discover, and they offered me $100 if I spend $1000 in three months. I said “yes.” Yes, a sucker is born every day.

One of the benefits of being sick is that you lose a little weight. I was going to go to Weight Watchers and renew my lifetime membership, but I'd get in trouble with Linda. As it is, I'm going to sneak out twice today... one more than allowed. (And ended up just sneaking out once.)

I loved this quote by D.H. Lawrence, “Tragedy, ought to be a great kick at misery.”

I guess it would be like pinching someone who is depressed. Misery is looking inward and tragedy is looking outward.

So tomorrow... the next day in this saga... a few more kale tamales... a few more pills... a massage... make a smoothie with all the scraps of veges...

Good night.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Closer to Normal Today

Feeling closer to normal today. I woke up at 6:30 am, with a great line on my tongue that I should have written down. Instead I went back to sleep and forgot it.

I'm not supposed to do any physical work. So I sit in a chair and ask Linda to do this or that. I kidded her last night that she doesn't have a 24/7 smile. I guess she's human!

Will, no fever today. Looks like a couple of people who were praying for me were successful. Or, more successful than those praying for the pneumonia.

Get to go to Torah study now... and then the hardware store for six screws. I have recently organized all my screws and nuts so I wouldn't have to keep going to the hardware store. Yet, I always come up not having the ones I need. Is there a lesson there? Preparation doesn't work?

And I continually mess up by not reading instructions. It seems I'm wired to think that is cheating. Maybe after I'm 70, soon, I'll start reading instructions. But I'd rather make mistakes.

There are actually a couple of ideas I wanted to write about.

One is from Torah class today, where Moses is told by God to take off his shoes because the ground is holy. One thing I've learned in the last year is that saying x is y (this ground is holy) says nothing about z being y or not. But, the odds are a little greater, if x is y, then z is y. Just a little greater. You reach into a bag and grab a M&M. Generally, if you hear objects clanking around in the bag, they will be M&Ms too.

If Jews are chosen by God, and given “the promised land” that sways the chances that others are chosen as well, and given their “promised land.”

The second is from when I used the phrase with Michael today that one has to step outside of their shell. As I said it, I could see a shell of a body opening up, and the inside becoming the outside. It made me think of Flint's blog post (http://flintsparks.org/2015/12/the-space-between/),

“Many of you have heard me say, over and over, that awakening does not happen “in” a person. It happens “between.” If our lives are woven as a single fabric and linked as one inconceivable network of relationship, then to “attain individual enlightenment” has no meaning. However, the realization of liberating intimacy through profound meeting is the great gift of all contemplative practice and spiritual inquiry. But opening the space between us requires courage — the courage to see and to be seen. This capacity is grounded in the practice of loving presence which is the embodiment of wisdom and compassion.”

Perhaps when Socrates said that the "unexamined life is not worth living" he meant “life” not to mean my individual trials and tribulations, but rather “life” meaning interactions and intersections with others. In Torah study we read from a book called the Aura of the Torah (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0827609485/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=43209081026&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=10674722123649549816&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_7ueyorf35u_b). Aura is something we often miss as we get caught up with the trials and tribulations of our lives. As Wordsworth wrote, ”...Little we see in Nature that is ours;....”

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year—Resolutions and Worrying

There seems to be some disagreements about whether New Years’ resolutions work. Like most things, they probably sometimes do and sometimes don't.

I'm making one today. To write something on my blog everyday. But not like before. Maybe. I'm going to focus on being honest rather than being wise. Somehow I realized this year that I am pretty stupid. Not so much in a demeaning way. More about realizing that we can know so little.

And I fight pneumonia... looking like I'll be the winner for now, mostly. Funny to think of the pneumonia as "not me" and "me" as the warrior. I tell others to embrace their enemy. Maybe I should take my advice?

Barbara writes about worrying. My mom and grandma were the worriers that I knew.

I commented on her fine blog:

Bertrand Russell wrote in his autobiography that as a youth he was fraught with worry, but then realized that anything that might happen in the grand scheme would be of such little consequence that it wouldn't matter. He claimed that he stopped worrying then. I once talked with someone in the early days of AIDS. He said waiting for the test results was excruciating, but finally learning about his death sentence was exhilarating. He had been liberated, in a sense.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Response to the poem “Mayfly” by Ellery Akers. Her poem starts: A mayfly struggles in the muddy water. I tell myself not to interfere, but ....

++++++++++

The angel helped the mayfly whose lifespan was only one day. It was not one of those acts that will appear on the front page of the New York Times.

I was struck by the reflection of the angel: how she felt better helping the mayfly escape the muddy water. Was “to feel good” the angel’s stimulus, or simply something she noticed after the fact.

The other day I helped a little bug find its way from our dining room to our garden. Why did I do that? If my motivation was simply for my own pleasure I would consider myself pretty selfish. Or if it was to avoid feeling bad for the demise of the bug in a foreign environment, I would think of myself as equally selfish.

So why do we help our struggling siblings? Are we separate from them? Are there really lines in the sand where I end and you begin? My mom used to say that when we mourn, we mourn our own death. Do we feel nothing for the other?

Why does the angel first tell herself not to interfere. Is it because the bug’s life is so short? My mother-in-law is at the end of her life. Yet she probably has many mayfly life spans ahead of her. And many angels. Yesterday she was dressed in her street clothes even though she couldn’t make it to the streets. It made her angel daughter very happy to see her ready for another day in the big world. Last night she fell out of her bed and survived without an injury (talking about a cat having nine lives).

In any case… Do angels give us life by taking care of us? Is life given and taken? We see daily incidents where life is taken prematurely, either accidentally or on purpose. We are saddened when this happens. It is as if a person was meant to live much longer than they actually do. But imagine they were only suppose to live as long as they lived. And imagine the mayfly was suppose to have a longer fluttering in the muddy water. Suppose suppose. Endless thinking takes me away from making someone’s day a little easier or happier.