Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Independent Spiritualist

Robert Hutchins, the architect behind the Great Books, and president and chancellor of the University of Chicago wrote "read critically, think independently, discuss good naturedly the issues of the day."

My classmate from over 50 years ago at the U of C Lab school responded to that quote:

“Problem is that is an impediment to military, group, spiritual situation or condition

Academics have a monumental problem with belief in God because they see surrender to a higher power as weakness. They cannot
accept His teachings as the complete & final word. They cannot accept mankind as flawed…

Academics are roadblocks to group action, unity, because the individual in each questions everything, and yet groups are run often by the dyslexic (legions of history here), the average (Woody Hayes), the mundane, and the sinners, the flawed…”

I can’t say much about the military since my experience was so brief (one semester in ROTC because it was required at U of I). I did ride on the plane with a student from West Point and was questioning him about what he’d do if his sergeant told him to do something that seemed wrong. He said that he’d been taught to do what is right, not what he was told. That’s what we learned from the Nuremberg trials.

Going back to the Garden of Eden, I think that eating the fruit was the beginning of independent thinking. I would like to believe that independent thinking is a prerequisite toward finding and following a spiritual path. That is what Christ, Buddha, Moses and all the other leaders did. And Gandhi as well. Buddha said that if he says one thing, and your teacher says something different, you should follow your teacher. Judaism is not founded on belief but rather on action. It is about humans discovering what is human. What Linji was talking about was that mindlessly following a path is no different than being a prisoner, shackled and bound.

I wouldn’t be pursuing a spiritual path if I thought that meant losing my independence. The fact that paths are ultimately unique means that we must, yes, must, be independent. Otherwise we are simple sheep, doing the right thing, not as humans, but rather as animals.

The surrendering, for me, is seeing our interdependence. When a gear shift grows up, it stops thinking of itself as a gear shift, but rather thinks of herself as an integral part of a car. In the same way, we surrender minute by minute. When we drive in traffic we can choose to be part of the dance of cars, or to drive in our own direction which will likely lead to an accident. Choosing makes us human. But following the crowd blindlessly will lead to a pile-up. We have to be ready for independent thought.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Qi and Air

The Prompt: Mark Strand, Poet Laureate

It is hard to be nondualistic when doing qigong, or when thinking about being separate from the air we displace. We have stale qi and fresh qi. We move out the stale and move in the fresh. I doubt that one qi is better or worse than the other. It is more like how we get hungry or tired.

In Strand’s poem, he ends with, “I move to keep things whole.” In fact, we do the same in qigong, moving qi to keep us energized.

The air moves as the man moves. They switch places for a moment until the air is returned. Is it the same air, having been displaced by a man? It now has been stirred up. It has a little tale to tell its grandchildren.

“I move to keep things whole.” I thought in college sometimes that I’d learn something and then I could ride in this sweet Cadillac and not have to struggle one bit. Ha Ha. That was a joke.

Even a poet laureate needs to move to stay alive. Even the Dalai Lama needs to meditate four hours a day. Is meditation and moving much the same? I think so. And what is movement? When I am still, I really move. My thoughts can be as chaotic as Niagara Falls. And when I move, I am still—busy but somewhere else. Is one better than another? Or are they brother and sister—one complementing the other.

Wordsworth wrote that “Art is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, recalled in tranquility.” It is one action for a man to walk around displacing air, and a much different action, after the fact, to remember and admit that one had done such an interaction with the world. It might be a obvious to a very precocious third grader, but not one ordinarily observed by an adult, unless, of course, they were a poet laureate… and a meditative one at that.

Friday, November 21, 2014

All Roads Lead to Rome.

The Romans were great road builders. They saw Rome as the center of the universe, and wanted to make sure that the little towns didn’t gang up against Rome, so made the roads so that they’d only go to Rome. You couldn't go from one little town to another.

Jim Jordan wrote about religions that there were many comic books and they all said the same thing.

Thoreau wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

I think I mistakenly misunderstood each of these maxims. I heard them say that any-which-way is fine.

If you’ve been in a forest you know that there are paths and there is getting lost. There are “not paths” so to speak.

Thoreau talks about “hearing a different drummer.” He’s not saying that you don’t need a beat… a path. You need to step to the music you hear. But you need to hear music.

Jim Jordan said that there are comic books. Which implies that there are also “not comic books.” Buddha’s enlightenment provided for Buddha (and others) a new comic book.

Rabbi Baker said the other day that we pick our road depending on where we are born and who we are. Roads are paths, and they have the three jewels of Buddhism: sangha (others), dharma (teachings), and Buddha (a sense of the infinite). Without the three jewels, one doesn’t have a compass.

Emerson wrote, “…and the great man is he, who in the midst of a crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude,” he wasn’t advocating for walking alone (which he did not do), but rather about not being swayed every-which-way by the crowd. He heard a beat. It reinforced the path that he was on.

It is not our challenge to walk alone. It is not to head off the path and get lost. It is to find our road, lined with the three jewels.

And that road will lead to Rome, which is our center—our Buddha nature, our Atman, who we were meant to be, etc.

I believe Baby Boomers were mistaken that any-which-way was a path. We were wrong and lost.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Camas Lilies and Jerusalem

I'm not into lilies today. I moaned that would be the prompt as I drove here.

Earlier I had heard that the fifth person had died in the attack at a synagogue in Jerusalem. A vicious attack, where their shawls were lying in the blood, like the Holocaust, one of the victims said.

Lilies in the field. Are there any such things? The other day someone was telling me that heaven was on earth, and, gazing out on the lilies, we might believe that. But then this or that happens, and... where is heaven?

I did mention to my heaven on earth friend that the idyllic heaven would be boring. Where would the challenges be? Where would the opportunity be to bloom, if everything were already bloomed like the lilies?

Such contrast. A pristine field of lilies, blooming their hearts out, and the shawls, laying in blood, telling a story we don't want to hear.

Do we walk in the fields and feel the wind caress our faces? Do we watch the news with a box of tissues to catch the tears?

My mom didn't want me to see the hellish side of life. She thought the challenges were enough without the sad. She hid an obituary of someone I admired so it would interfere with my schoolwork. We never went to funerals. She always maintained she lived on “heaven on earth.” After she passed, we read in her diary how depressed she actually was. But she didn't want to share that amongst the lilies. We needed our opportunity to bloom, she thought.


Fracking Fracking

Maybe I shouldn’t write about fracking because I know nothing about it. But I’m fascinated how with this and a myriad of other subjects, people take sides. And they often think that those who take a different position are stupid and evil.

Like the other subjects, there are costs and benefits to fracking. The costs are the danger to the environment and the benefit is the cheap oil. Joe might see the environment as the most important value, or Mary might see getting oil or gas for cheap as the most important value.

Saying “I support fracking” at a gathering might get you hugged or stoned. The subtext might be a statement about your values. Is it independence from the Arab nations? Is it cheap oil? Is it the preservation of the water table?

We feel anger or love, depending on how our preferences align with one another. We’ve made a decision and, despite our limited information, attach that decision to who we are. I’m a fracker, or I’m an anti-fracker. And if you aren’t as I am, then I’ll befriend you.

I heard about a tribe of Indians. When there was a disagreement, the elders would sit around a table with a pumpkin in the middle. They’d all work to understand the problem they were facing, represented by the pumpkin. They wouldn’t try to convince others of their point of view. They’d work together to understand all sides of the issue.

Socrates disliked the Sophists because they practiced debating to win rather than as a means to find the truth. It seems when we are convinced about something, we forget the other side. We become irrational in that we insist that the pumpkin is only what we see from one vantage point.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Give Yourself a Break

”Life Goes On Here. I sit as often as possible and attempt—with somewhat limited success—to make mindfulness a part of my daily life.” —from a prisoner I encourage in their Buddhist practice.

Some of the challenging words in his statement, which may be just an expression of his humbleness, are “with somewhat limited success.” If one is aware that they are not being mindful, then they are being mindful of their mindfulness. And if they aren’t aware, they are not aware, but they are still on that continuum of degrees of mindfulness. They are perfect, so to speak.

Dogen wrote: If you wish to practice the way of the Buddhas … you should expect nothing, seek nothing. Cut off the mind that seeks and do not cherish a desire to gain the fruits of Buddhahood. – Zuimonk (trans. Cook, How to Raise an Ox, p24)

Wanting success in our mindfulness takes our eyes off the path and lets the peak of the mountain distract us.

Sometimes we gently put down the tea bowl. Other times we set it down less gently and make a noise. In the former case, we are mindful when we set it down. In the latter case we are mindful of how we set it down. Beating ourselves us because our mindfulness came a little late is not only non-productive but wrong. As I read the other day, we are both the bull and the china shop in the phrase, “like a bull in a china shop.”

We rock! My friend might have said “I sit and make mindfulness my daily life.” In some more challenging words, “as often as possible,” I sense a tang of guilt that he doesn’t make mindfulness a practice often enough, so an excuse is warranted. Again, now pain has entered the picture. Pain of not doing it always. What is creating the pain? An anxiety about not being perfect.

Yet Suzuki Roshi said that we are perfect just as we are, and we could stand a little improvement.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


More than one Buddhist priest has maintained that dana, or giving, is the most important of the Buddhist six paramitas (or perfections). The others are virtue, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom.

When I hear this, I think they might have a conflict of interest. Are they encouraging me to empty my wallet into the donation box?

I saw a starving kid in Mexico City, so I gave his mom money. Then I followed the mom into a church and she put the money into the donation box.

So then we give her food stamps.

Perhaps she put the stamps into the box, or sell the stamps and put the money into the box.
Once I asked a begger who had a sign saying give me money for food. I asked him if he’d like me to buy him a meal. Get lost, he said.

Giving. Uck!

I went to the Bat Mitzvah today of the daughter of a rabbi. She mentioned that her dad told her that even if one in ten people use your gift meaningfully (food not alcohol) that the gift was worth giving because you had helped someone.
Buddhists say that gift, giver and receiver are one.

Buddhists give without attachment to the gift or the receiver ( And here comes the problem for me.

Given our interdependence, we are not separate. Everything we do affects others. I give to you and you give to me, for you and me are co-conspirators. So does giving even exist?

I had an Israeli philosophy professor in college who said that you shouldn’t help anyone with a guarantee.

After that I went to lunch with some people and one of them reminded me of the fact that when you give a gift you need to let go. When Barnes left his great collection to Philadelphia, he insisted it stay in the same house where he had lived. It took expensive and long legal maneuvering before his wishes could be reversed. Now a beautiful museum exists in a location closer to the population that he wish to educate.

How hard it is to give something without strings! I remember how surprised and envious I was when I heard that the University of Missouri—St. Louis hired someone with the stipulation that they’d find something to do. There was no teaching or research required. Just a paycheck and the individual could decide how to be useful. I used this as my model when I taught. I’d start up programs and courses that seemed needed and/or interesting.

But back to attachment. I gave Bill a packet of sugar, but held on to it. He could never take it. There was no gift. Finally he let go, realizing that I could not let go.

I must work on that, remembering what David Steindl-Rast, said in Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, “One single gift acknowledged in gratefulness has the power to dissolve the ties of our alienation.”

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Reasonable Man

The rabbi spoke of the reasonable person argument, suggesting that the Palestinian Militants are not reasonable people and therefore peace between the Jews and the Arabs is not possible. Palestinian militants want martyrs and Jews value life. Valuing death as a martyr is not reasonable.

Terri offered the homeless man a half of a sandwich and some veggies. He said that he wanted the whole sandwich. She said no. He walked away, but then came back and asked for the half. He didn’t want the veggies. You and I are reasonable people and say that we’d do things differently. If we were hungry, we’d take what is given. As reasonable people, we would choose the most nutritious items, like the veggies. And then we might save the veggies for our dinner and eat the sandwich now, because it won’t keep without refrigeration. If we were very clever, we’d sell the sandwich and buy some bananas, which is a very good food for the money. And… if we had ideas like that, we'd really be reasonable, and we wouldn’t be homeless.

You might disagree. But navigating life is like playing chess. You make a plan of attack. You consider possible moves that your opponent might make. You think ahead.

I knew a man who was a potter in Mexico. He had 13 kids and a wife. They all slept in one room on sheets of worn cardboard. Every week he’d make beautiful pottery and sell it to a wholesaler on Friday. Then he and his wife would drink all weekend. And they bought expensive whiskey. By Monday they were broke and would start the cycle again. What would a reasonable person have done?

I remember shopping at a grocery that bordered on Ferguson, Missouri which has been on the news. People with food stamps are not reasonable shoppers. They buy food loaded with sugar, fat, and salt. They starve their brains of nutrition. I had a student from Ferguson who had never eaten a raw carrot. “If it isn’t processed and cooked to death, it isn’t food,” she said.

We used to talk about teachable moments. Should there be a required course for people to take before they are given food stamps?

Or should we just give people money and hope they come to their senses sooner rather than later. As William Blake said, “If a fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.”

Actually I think that it is not reasonable to think that there is one reasonable way of looking at things or living life. I suspect that Hamas and the food stamp shopper think they are reasonable. I suspect too that the first step toward peace is to acknowledge that each of them is reasonable.

I know, in my job as dean, some people would have said that I was not reasonable. And I thought they weren’t reasonable. That seems to be more the nature of conflict than a correct perception. I’d go so far to say that I suspect we (the human species) are all reasonable. We just hear the “beat of a different drummer.” (Thoreau)

P.S. My neighbor told me this morning that he sometimes is not reasonable. I asked him if he realized that in hindsight, or at the time of the action. I don’t remember if he answered.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Getting Things Done

I was going to write about “giving” which I’m sure I’ve written about before, and it continues to bug me as a practice and topic. I just came back from Torah study and want to write about “God” because when I hear such things as God is all the “omni-es” (plural of omni-), I get the heebie jeebies.

So I have two topics for the future. Someone once told me that you should leave some work undone each day so you don’t have to start on something new in the morning. Probably good advice, isn’t it?

Anyway, what is toughest, when I don’t have someone yelling at me, is to get anything done. I should have said, toughest for me.

It has been a constant struggle to keep from wasting time. Or whatever it is that I do that takes so much time.

My neighbor claims his time is worth so much an hour, so he weighs a certain task (like returning some toothpaste that he doesn’t like) with what he would get at his billable hour rate (though he’s retired). On the other hand, I have the attitude that I benefit the world by returning some bad toothpaste by letting someone know they shouldn’t stock it… and, though a few dollars isn’t much money, a few dollars added to a few dollars, plus interest, is.

So some don’t jump when someone says they’ll give them a couple of hundred dollars for trying a new credit card. I do, and thus have an embarrassing number of cards.

Which isn’t quite on the topic of getting things done. It is just an illustration of the dumb things I do when I’m not getting things done.

So what do I try to get done every day?

Torah study with drawing.
Writing on this blog.
Record what I eat and eat 26 weight watcher points a day.
Make a photo and put it on

If I miss a day I end up missing a week. It is so much harder to get back on the wagon than to stay on the wagon. That wagon moves at quite a pace and it is hard to jump back on.

Making a photo can be hard. I was out walking and saw some old photos…images that would be okay, but ones that I was doing for others and not myself. So I didn’t take any pictures. Later I’ll go get some propane tanks filled. Maybe there I will find something that I haven’t done before.

In the meantime, thanks for being here for me.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Will I still be 14?

I was always the youngest, it seemed. I had two older sisters...and (obviously), two older parents. I was the one who had to go to bed the earliest.

I was a young freshman in high school. A new crop of students joined our class that were a year older because we had all done 7th and 8th grade in one year. And then, as I just turned 17, I went off to college. A few years later, I was the youngest grad student, and a few years after that, the youngest faculty member.

I couldn’t connect to the other faculty members, who seemed old enough to be my parents. I had many students who were older than I.

Sometimes I’d remember when I was 12 or so, that I took groups horseback riding in the woods or on the beach. Some of the men though they were cowboys and wanted to run their horses. I had to boss them around. I was as short as I was young. But somehow I managed those cowboys.

And then I had a crisis when I turned 40. I finally morphed into someone who wasn't the youngest anymore, but was far from being the oldest. I was in kind of a la la land. And by then I had a wife and couple of young kids. So what was I, a husband/father or a kid?

I was intrigued with learning about young art forms and technologies. If it was new, I wanted to have it or do it. I think I identified with these newly-born babes to see how they'd fend in a world full of seniors.

When my parents retired in 1980 I had this idea that they'd be waiting for death. Nothing was further from the truth. They lived another 20–25 years, but I had trouble imagining how they could be anything but the hard working parents I had known.

Then my wife’s parents retired. I got to know them pretty well because they spent a couple of years helping us add onto our home and build a studio. They were waiting for death, expecting it to knock on their door at any time. Funny thing is, due to the miracles of modern medicine, they are still kicking around in their nineties.

And now I'm 68. I feel better than I have for a long time. And I don't see me as the old guy. I'm older than most, but not all, of the people I see in the course of a day. I look for young doctors who will be around when I'm too feeble to find a new one.

And now I'm 68. It is hard for me to wrap my toes around that. My dad always wore a suit. When he was dying, he was looking forward to me wearing his suits. I brought some of them to Texas, but soon gave them to goodwill. I'm not the old guy in the suit. That's Mr. Rogers.

And now I'm 68. I have to keep repeating that because I can't really believe it. Last year I went to my 50th high school reunion. How my classmates had aged! I was still 14.

And now I'm 68. My wife tells me I’m going to live 16 more years, according to the actuaries, who now give us two more years than they did previously. That’s 84 or so. Will I still be writing these posts then? Will I still be 14?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Buy Local and Worldly!

I told a friend the other night that I was going to go to Walmart to buy some canned pumpkin. She looked aghast. “Why would you go to that evil place?

“Read my blog and I’ll tell you,” I said.

One of the mantras in Austin, and probably elsewhere is to buy local. Because I’m a relatively new to Austin, and relatively in love with the world (Earth), I have thought this a strange love.

It isn’t that I don’t want to support the wonderful local businesses. It is just that I don’t want to overlook the other guy who is on the other side of this fine planet.

I do enjoy the ambience of local eateries. In fact, three times a week I go to one for breakfast. But I’m also a fan of Costco (and in St. Louis, Sams).

A Chan priest in St Louis stopped at a roadside fruits to buy some peaches. Each merchant had similar peaches at different prices. The priest bought some from each. Later, his monks in the car asked him why he didn’t just buy the cheapest peaches. “They both have to make a living,” he said.

I’m soon to sign-up for a Medicare drug insurance program that has Walmart and Sams as their preferred pharmacies. I’m signing up for it because It is the cheapest price. I’d rather go to Walgreens or CVS, though they aren’t local either. Our local People’s Pharmacy would be far more expensive.

Some say, “Why would you buy all that stuff from China?” What I don’t think they see is that US dollars going to China eventually come back to the US and buy US products. So if you believe you are costing the US jobs, I think you have to look at that exchange more carefully.

Or you might complain about the poor conditions in the factories overseas. I think the other side of the coin is that these factories provide jobs that our neighbors the wages need to survive.

I come from Russian and Lebanese stock. if we go back 50 or 100 years, not many of us in Austin are native to Austin, let alone the United States,  What about the rest of the world? Don’t we want to support them too?

I end up buying the best products I can find at the lowest price. I make many purchases through Amazon. I like Central Market because the quality is good, the prices are reasonable (as compared to Whole Foods), and the employees are nice. And it is local, though that really makes little difference to me. They have food from all over the world, which gives me choices I wouldn’t have elsewhere.

Another argument for not going local: the more interdependent we are (as if that’s a choice we can make), the less likely some country will declare war on us. The sooner we become one world the better. Our neighbors aren’t just the people next door.

So Buy Local is fine, if Local means the Earth. And then, when we start trading with aliens, I hope local will include them.

At one point nationalism was a bad word. Buy Local is a form of nationalism, reduced, of course to a city rather than a country.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Don’t Buy an iPhone?

The rabbi who led yesterday’s Torah class loves technology. He said that the new iPhone is gorgeous and that he wasn’t going to get one because he didn’t want to encourage the bad labor conditions in China. I don’t think that Silas has the opportunity to work in such a factory that makes products like iPhones for the world. Yes, the factory conditions are terrible, and I think that the opportunity to work is a godsend for the people who work there—even considering their high suicide rate. Only looking at one side of the coin gives us an opinion that is skewed.

Milton Friedman (video) used to talk about how these sweatshops have given countries (including the USA) the opportunity to prosper and emerge from poverty (his parents worked in such shops when they came to America). Should Apple be a better citizen of the world and insist on better working conditions? In doing so, the cost of the phone would increase and Apple may go out of business. What is the solution here? I’m sure some of the best minds are trying to figure out how to improve the conditions and still stay in business.

I’m curious whether countries like China are better off with sweatshops or not. We tend to jump to conclusions and some, like the socially conscious rabbi, hesitate to support companies who use such manufacturing venues. But is our voting with our dollars helping or hurting?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Clear Speech

I feel like something gets stuck as it goes down my throat. Something I haven’t looked at for awhile. That’s what I want to write about.

It may be one of those things that we don’t like to talk about.

The other day the rabbi asked if anyone was a Republican, and I raised my hand. He asked me to explain. I said I raised my hand because I didn’t want anyone to feel bad about raising their hand. He then said, but you aren’t a Republican, are you? And I answered, “I didn’t say that.”

Most of the people I know are not Republicans. I feel I’m closest to the Libertarians. That may be a foolish way to vote, because it is, in most circumstances, throwing out one’s vote. In any case, that is not what I wanted to write about.

I raised my hand a few times and the rabbi didn’t call on me. My mind raced for an explanation. I thought, “Does he not see me, or does he think my comments are dumb? Should I keep raising my hand, or should I take his ignoring me as a loving act to prevent me from embarrassing myself?”

We were talking about the building of the tower of Babil (Genesis 11:1), and how G_d wasn’t impressed in the least. Nor was G_d impressed that everyone had the same language. So he says (perhaps to the angels), “let us go down there and confuse their speech so that on one understands what the other is saying.”

One would think that G_d would have been glad to see the people so unified. Is he creating individuals here? Is he threatened not only by their ability to communicate (possibly about Him) but by their ability to build a tower “that reaches the sky.”

Was there a connection with God picking Moses as his spokesperson and Moses not being able to speak clearly. Was clear speech actually a product of the discursive mind, and a source for our delusions. The primary delusion from clear speech is that we are understanding one another.

None of these thoughts about speech were going to be my comment, though I wish they would have been. I was going to comment on the tower, and how, reaching the sky, was an icon that the people would worship instead of G_d. Someone did mention that idea.

The idea of discarding our ability to communicate clearly is now more interesting to me than seeing the tower as an icon. In the same way that some dictators see literacy as a threat, so G_d might see clear speech as a threat. If another person can truly “get” us, do we really need G_d?

Now I reread my first line and discover that “clear speech” might have been on my mind, where I thought it was “not being called on” that was bothering me. I was not able to speak when I was young. Here again I was not able to speak. And now G_d doesn’t want us to be able to speak. And the greatest gift of my life was not being able to speak. It made me treasure learning to express myself and communicate.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I was wrong.

From Peter Hershock's Personal Zen, Private Zen         

I heard Peter talk about how the Buddhists made a great leap by changing from refutation to relegation. I imagined a bigger leap that they had done. I wanted to believe that they had come to accept others as both right and equal. Rather, they said that others were right, but that their teachings were inferior to their own.

And then, when A said that I was using the word “relegation” wrong, I dug for another meaning of the word. Why was it so hard to say, “A, you are right!”

I liked how a rabbi said the other day, “you know, nothing of what I teach is what I believe.” What a wild thing to say!

In the end, “teachings” are not very important. They don’t really make us wiser, do they? That’s why a book with the answers to koans would not help a confused student. Supposedly there is an answer book, but no one is interested in it, because it is the searching that is essential.

I think I was wrong because I wanted Peter to be saying this: that one belief is as good as another. We decide where to go on vacation. But we really can have a great time anywhere. So does it matter where we go? Does it matter where you decide to take pictures? If I had the choice of a picturesque spot or a dull spot, I’d take the dull. I like to defend the underdog. When I’m wrong, I’m the underdog.

The other day I was on the phone with my insurance company. I said, “I think you are wrong…could you check.” When she checked, she said what I had suggested. But did she say that she was wrong. No.

George Bernard Shaw said that you should make your first thousand mistakes as soon as you can, so you can start on your second thousand. Mistakes are how we grow. We misinterpret and then, with the help of friends, learn to interpret a little better. But not unless we open our mouths and make a fool of ourselves.

Which I do daily.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Yes and No

Warren Buffet said that the difference between successful and very successful people is that very successful people rarely say yes.

Before I remembered that quote I was going to make a case for saying “yes,” probably because I say ”yes” too often and “no” rarely.

My mother was the “yes” person, as was my sister who is closest to my age. My older by 5 1/2 years sister probably is more like my dad, saying “no” more ofter than “yes.” I should clarify that, with my sisters, it was often they who were asking as well as answering the question. They both “listened to their own drummer.”

Of the three of us, I’m not about to suggest who might be successful (or not), and who might be very successful.

Somehow I associate saying “yes” with being life affirming, and saying “no” with being overly cautious. In a game show, if I had a choice of $1000 or a mystery gift, I’d take the mystery gift. Or maybe not. I’d hear the voices of both parents. I’d weigh how I’d feel losing $1000 with how much I wanted $10,000 instead. (My dad said that you should only get insurance if you couldn't afford the loss.)

But suppose it was $1,000,000,000 or the mystery gift. I’d take it, going with the idea that a bird in your hand is worth two in the bush.

But if it was $10, I’d go for the gift, as I can afford to lose $10. And who needs a worm in their hand?

Sometimes I say “yes” when buying something, and then I’d have shopper’s remorse and return it. Part of the reason that I say “yes” so often is that I’m so good at returning things. I switched majors 10 times in college, which is one reason it took me 5 1/2 years to graduate.

I was given the name of “Jelly Mosley” many years ago because I changed my mind so often. I see myself as someone who really doesn’t care that much for one preference or another.

The Third Patriarch of Zen, Seng-T’san (606 AD), wrote the Hsin Hsin Ming (Verses on the Faith Mind), which starts with this stanza:
The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. 
In the third and last sentence, we see that in the relative world, where we are constantly fettered with the discriminating mind, we cease (with the smallest distinction) to have no preferences, and create a battleground with one side against the other.

I think the ancient lesson here is that it is of less consequence whether you say “yes” or “no” than whether you say either. Your son tells you he wants to drop out of college (as I did at one point). You can say “yes” or “no,” or you can say nothing (or you can ask, “why?”).

As Lao Tzu wrote, “He who knows does not speak. He who speaks, does not know.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Many who go through art school don't become artists.

I mentioned on Facebook that one of my former students was working as a janitor after going to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was apartment hunting with my son when he was going to start studying painting and we happened upon this former student. Seeing the student sweeping up in a basement produced a sad image in my mind of my son ending up becoming a poor janitor.

One of my former students on Facebook commented with the question, “What is wrong with being a janitor?” Another wrote, “If you wanted to be an artist, being a janitor is not the way to go.”

Buddha talked about right livelihood. Wrong livelihood encourages us to break the precepts, while right livelihood encourages one to keep them. A Buddhist should not sell liquor, weapons, or butcher animals.

Going back to Dogen (1200-1252), we see that a multitude of activities, if done with attention and devotion, are equivalent to meditation. Washing a grain of rice is a matter of great consequence. Dogen writes, “When washing the rice, remove any sand you find. In doing so, do not lose even one grain of rice. When you look at the rice, see the sand at the same time; when you look at the sand, see also the rice. Examine both carefully. Then a meal containing the six flavors and the three qualities will come together naturally.”

Even going to the tosu (toilet), if done correctly, can bring us into this moment. It doesn't matter what we do. The importance of a job isn't dependent on a pay scale or uniform.

I like the fact that the set of even numbers is as big as the set of all integers. In the same way, being a janitor, which has infinite opportunities to touch sentient beings and care for sacred spaces (all spaces can be thought of as being sacred), will change the world. And... I am glad that my son didn't get chosen for such a job and instead he's an animator and professor (partly because I would hear my parents lament that he wasted his talent, partly because having an idea (janitors change the world) and believing in that idea are worlds apart).

I learned recently about the idea of relegation rather than refutation. We can relegate being a janitor as an important but different job to that of being president of the US of A. Both are important jobs. Both change the world.

P.S. I was an unmindful janitor many moons ago in Champaign, Illinois at the Unitarian Church. I had to dust the pews, but it was so dark that no one including me could tell if I dusted or not. But when women wore white dresses, I worried.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Polio Shot

Years ago I had to get polio shots. The first one really hurt. So I told my mom that if she gave me five dollars I wouldn’t cry when I got the second one. I just focused on the money.

Today I will be getting one of my fingers fixed. It doesn’t have very much strength and won’t close all the way. The painful part (I had my thumb fixed three years ago) is the shot to knock it out.

I wish my mom would give me five dollars.

Oh, mom, where are you?

Maybe I should take five dollars from what I inherited from her and spend it on something I really need. When I asked her for money, she would ask if I just wanted it or whether I really needed it. I’d say that I did need it, which is probably why my nose got a little longer.

I’m not sure what I’m going to get with the five dollars. I know we won’t have time to go anywhere on the way home. Maybe I’ll send it to Heifer International so someone, somewhere, will have part of a goat.

I’ve been reading so much about offerings in the Torah. Yet my offerings have been so minuscule. Or I could send it to a pen pal in Kenya. For $5, he and his sister can eat very well for a day. They can get meat or fish, and a variety of other foods.

I’m always surprised, when working with my trainer, how I can move one part of my body while focusing on another. For example, I can move my shoulder and my hand moves. How does it know to do that?

In the same way, I will think about the five dollars when I’m getting the shot in my hand. What can I do with the five dollars to make the most difference in the world?

I’ll write a little later in the day to tell what I decided. Thanks mom for going along with my scheme to feel no pain. That’s it. No pain, world gain.

So I worked with my trainer this morning and we came up with an idea that I’d give $5 to the clerk at our local gelato bar and tell them that I’m paying for the next customer to come through the door…but they shouldn’t tell the customer it was me. Then I could watch their expression as they learned that their gelato was a gift.

After that, I started to realize that maybe meditation was the best procedure… that I would meditate through the entire procedure, from the shot to when they put the bandage.

We’ll see how that goes.


Ok. I had the surgery and it went fine. I’m even able to type, though the operated-on-finger is numb.

I didn’t think of giving away $5 nor did I meditate when I got the shot to put my hand asleep. I just breathed as deeply as I could and soon it was over. Before the shot they sprayed my hand with something that was so cold in hurt, which probably hid the pain from the shot. The surgery was easy. It just felt like someone gently touching my hand.

Now back to the rest of my life.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Eye Glasses

A” insisted that there is one basic truth, that things are “as it is.” You might wonder about the grammar here. The great American Zen teacher, Suzuki roshi, said this because in his mind, all is interconnected and interdependent, so “it is” works better than ”they are.”

I told her that idea is just one more lens through which we can look. One more pair of eyeglasses. She disagreed, saying we might not know what that thing is, but it is, nevertheless.

I remember an intro to philosophy course that I audited for awhile. The teacher went from one philosophy to the next, attempting to sell each one. Just when I was ready to buy, she went to the next…and the next…and the next.

I should have realized then what I realized later that one doesn’t contradict or verify the other, but rather that they are all right.

An art teacher and I were listening to Buckminster Fuller and afterwards he went up to Fuller and said that he’s been thinking of some things that are similar to what he said and could he share his ideas with him. Fuller said that he was very busy, but that he knew my teacher was right.

I didn’t realize the gist of his statement until recently. How did he know? Perhaps because we are all right. 

I wrote something about searching around for the best religion when Jim Jordan, the recently deceased priest and husband of Barbara Kohn, one of my Zen teachers said, “In the end they are all comic books and they all say the same thing.”

I had lunch with three women today, all of whom had serious Christian backgrounds, and all of whom are straying from the gospel. I got a sense that their new beliefs were really no different than their old beliefs. Their attachment to their beliefs was the same. 

What is right? If all the comic books say the same thing, we can think that they are all right. But suppose they say different things. Perhaps one says that the world is 6000-10,000 years old and the other says it is 4.5 billion years old. Can both be right?

Most intelligent people would say no, they both can’t be right. So they ascribe to one view or the other. But another way to look at is that they are systems for viewing reality based on assumptions. The Intelligent Design people say that the Bible is factual. Their conclusions follow that assumption. Others have different assumptions. Geologists assume that carbon dating gives reliable information. That assumption gives another date for creation. We can choose this theory or that, but we should let the others have their view. 

Where this gets tough is when conclusions start to cause wars, like when Hitler decided that Aryans should live and others should die. What do we do if we don’t agree with that view? I think in the same way that we should let our neighbor alone as long as she doesn’t interfere with our lives or property, we can allow people to have their Aryan stories until they start to make it impossible for non-Aryans to live with their stories.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Forgetting Be Here Now

Around 1980 I went through EST, and then took a few “graduate seminars,” one of which was called, ‘Be Here Now.”

I remember nothing about it, other than the title of the seminar.

When meditating, one of my gauges about where I am is how startling it is when I hear the bell at the end of the session. If I’m startled I take that as a sign that I was off in la la land. If, on the other hand, I’m waiting for the bell and the ringing doesn’t phase me at all, then I know I’m looking out for the bell rather than paying attention. I’m not “here now.” I am for the middle way. It doesn’t catch me at one extreme or the other.

The key, here, is paying attention. One of the neat things about psychotherapy is that you have someone (when it is good) that is paying attention to you. Not someone who wants to tell you what you should do. Not someone who is worried whether or not their car will start. But someone who is listening to you. Someone who is there with you.

Maybe I should capitalize “YOU” because they aren’t just listening to another person, but they are giving you permission to be YOU. Why is that so difficult for us to do for ourselves?

Being alive, really alive, is all about paying attention. I wish that we didn’t have the word “meditating” and instead we had the word “attending.” The therapist listens to the other. Can we listen to ourselves, focusing on who we are—who we really are? Can we gently hold ourselves in our arms, lovingly, as we watch our breath go in and out? Can we watch thoughts come and go, without beating ourselves up for thinking this or that, or for thinking at all?

We don’t need to medicate with outside stimuli or “feel good” substances. We can simply return to our being, our Buddha nature, our original self. Even if we do it for just one breath, we see Buddha in us for that one moment. We are back in the womb, attended too from the other, gently floating without aspirations or anxieties. We are “here and now.”

Try that. One breath where you pay attention to the breath going in and out. Breath in and notice its distinct taste or smell. Feel as it cools the area below you nose. Hear the sound of breath coming it, and the breath going out.

Now look at your hand. Don’t name it hand. Just look at its color, its texture, its variations, and its repetitions. That is what “Be Here Now” might have been about.

Friday, October 17, 2014


I’ve been procrastinating writing about meditation.

I usually don’t know what I’m going to write when I choose a topic. What I say or think is often a surprise for me.

What do I really think about this or that? Usually my thoughts are pretty limited. When I think of the word “meditation” or whatever, I’ll usually have one thought or image. Maybe I’ll think about sitting last night and how afterwards I lied when I asked everyone to say in one word how their meditation went.

I said “busy” and actually I was preoccupied with a pain in my leg. It takes a lot of strength to sit up on a chair. I sit on the edge of the chair and try to sit so that I’m neither leaning backwards or forward.

My left leg seems to hurt when I’m leaning one way or the other.

I decided to work on counting my breaths to ten, and then starting again. Sometimes I would get distracted and start thinking about things, then I would feel my leg, and then go back to the counting. I’m usually tired when I start sitting, but more rested at the end. 

I remember hoping that the time would end. I don’t do that so much anymore. 

Sometimes my eyes were closed, and sometimes they were open a little.

Maybe I was busy.

Am I convinced that meditation is a cure-all for my ills or the ills of the world? No! Am I more alive when I’m meditating that when I’m in a busy environment. Yes. 

Sometimes I think that if I had an hour to live then I’d want to sit. Some of the people in the group used “peaceful” as their word to describe their sitting. 

I will write more in the future about this curious activity. In a Zen temple, it is so public and so private at once. I like that dichotomy.