Sunday, March 25, 2012

Let's get it straight . . . .




Let's get it straight,
or maybe
crooked.

We all want to be
on the other side,
where there aren't
any beer cans
or plastic
bags.

And this ain't no
metaphor. The
other side is not
in the city or on the
moon.

It is about water,
and really about
Nirvana, that place,
so very far away
that we don't even
see it when we
look in the
mirror.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Three Little Pigs and the Expired Auto Sticker

Our neighborhood cars with expired stickers have had their windshields defaced by a citizen who believes that people shouldn't let their stickers expire.

There is a lot of angst expressed on our neighborhood elist about the individual who is performing these deeds.

I suggested that, like the pig that builds the brick house, why not just keep our stickers up-to-date and not have our windshield defaced. My argument fell short, because (in the original fairy tale) the wolf did not go away, but rather went into the house through the chimney and became soup. (I can't fathom why this is an appropriate kid's story.)

It was pointed out to me that the citizen (a.k.a defacer) also defaces some properties being renovated, scribbling on renovators' walls and fences that they don't have the proper permits. Perhaps it is a matter of the permits not being clearly visible, or perhaps the defacer is just spiteful. Maybe the permits need to be bigger or better lit. I don't know.

What concerns me about this situation is that we are fighting fire with fire (defacing with anger). This is the stuff that wars are made of, and we all know that we have enough of that. And not just country angry at country, not just one family angry with another family, but even one family member angry with another.

I'm not sure of the rationale that Mr. Defacer is using. Perhaps he feels this is his compassionate response to the dangers to life and limb when an unsafe vehicle hits the highway, or when renovations are done without the proper authorization. Perhaps he is a believer and advocate of civil disobedience, and is doing what he believes is right.

But why the angst? What does that accomplish? Mr. Defacer scrawled on my windshield. It took an hour to clean it off. And then it took a day to let the anger subside. The anger is something we don't need to create. The birds are leaving me gifts on my windshield. When we are able to talk (they are busy fellows) I apologize to them for not providing a Johnny-on-the-Spot. But is this a cause for anger?

Gluten-free Vegan Bread

This recipe is from Namaste's website

Granny's Gluten Free Oven Baked Bread
This bread was so great in the breadmaker we begged Granny for the oven baked version. Contributed by Sharon Gilman. Thanks Sharon!
Ingredients
3 ½ cups Namaste Perfect Flour Blend
1 ½ cups milk or rice milk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
½ cup cornstarch, arrrowroot or tapioca flour or powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 tablespoon yeast
¼ cup warm water

Directions
Mix yeast in ¼ cup warm water and set aside for 5 minutes. Warm milk, add oil, honey and cider vinegar. Beat (room temperature) eggs and add to milk mixture. Add yeast mixture to milk mixture and blend.
Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and blend on medium speed with electric mixer for 3 minutes. Pour into well greased loaf pan. Cover loosely with waxed paper and towel and let rise for 30 minutes in warm location. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cover loosely with foil tent to prevent over browning and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for another 35-40 minutes. Let cool completely.

Here is my variation (altered 4/5/12), which eliminates the oil and eggs and doubles the recipe. It makes three loafs in this 1 lb. bread pan

Granny's Gluten Free Oven Baked Bread (Kim's Vegan
Ingredients
7 1/2 cups Namaste Perfect Flour Blend
3 cups almond milk or soy milk
2 tablespoon cider vinegar
for oil: 3/4 cup cold milled flax seed.
for eggs: 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons flax seed AND 1 cup + 2 tablespoon water
1/4 cup honey or agave nectar
1 cup cornstarch, arrrowroot or tapioca flour or powder
2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon xanthan gum

Directions
Mix yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and set aside for 5 minutes. Warm milk, add oil, honey and cider vinegar. Beat (room temperature) eggs and add to milk mixture. Add yeast mixture to milk mixture and blend.
Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and blend on medium speed with electric mixer for 3 minutes. Pour into well greased loaf pan. Cover loosely with waxed paper and towel and let rise for 30 minutes in warm location. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cover loosely with foil tent to prevent over browning and bake for 50 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for another 50 minutes. Let cool completely.

Gluten-free bread needs to be toasted quite a bit. I do it on "6" — the highest number on my toaster.

Changes 4/5/12—added xanthan gum, increased yeast, decreased temperature, increased time. Next loaf I'm going to change the flour from 7 to 7 1/2 cups to see if having more flour will help. I'm assuming that the long cooking time is because I have too much moisture.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A tten shon. Confessions of a “first-class slob.”

Click on collage to enlarge.
A young Zen student was given the job of arranging flowers for the various altars in the temple. He was a very serious sort of young man and was concerned about doing a proper job. There may also have been a bit of vanity involved. “Flowers no higher than the statue’s eye. Check. Odd number of flowers in the vase. Check. No thorns or spiky flowers. Check. No all-white arrangements except for funerals. Check.” As he was working, an older monk came into the room, watched for a moment and asked, “Do you want to know how to make a perfect arrangement for the altar?” “Oh, yes!” said the youngster. “Well,” said the monk, “You take a bunch of flowers, put them in a vase, step back and say ‘That’s perfect!’”

I’m acutely aware these days how poor my attention has been. Yesterday I spend 15 minutes looking for a glass of juice that I had finished earlier and even washed the glass. When I saw the glass in the dish rack I finally figured it out.

Saturday I helped someone set up for tea ceremony. I asked, after altering the wiring on the heater, if it was all working. The tea teacher saw a light on the heat controller and said “yes.” I should have checked the heater itself, which wasn’t heating.

I bought some wiper blades yesterday. There was a twenty dollar rebate. But I threw the package away at the store and didn’t have the UPC code. And now I see that the rebate ended two days ago, a day before I bought the blades.

Last week I contributed to an IRA, but did so from an account that didn’t have enough money in it to cover the purchase. In the meantime, the mutual fund went up and I lost $150 or so.

I could go on and on. Luckily none of these errors was life threatening. They cost time and money, and in the case of the tea ceremony, the error resulted in lukewarm tea. My wife, in the spirit of a true geisha, was very polite when she said that the tea was perfect.

In Zen, Dogen tells us that when we are cooking we should be directing our attention to our cooking. We use the expression, “where were you?” when someone is one place physically and another place mentally. What a gift it is to be “with” another person, and not just sharing with them a physical space.

My mom used to say that I was a “first-class slob.” I always liked the “first-class” part. I thought that softened the blow a little. My neighbor thinks I’m OCD because when we go to our favorite Mexican dive for breakfast I organize the menus on the counter so they are all going the same way, and rearrange the multi-colored chairs sometimes so they look better. So is OCD and SLOB related (a question for my dear deceased psychotherapist aunt who would give me definitive answers (unlike my psychoanalyst sister who says, “ask your aunt”))?

So back to the zen student arranging the flowers. What a difficult job! We want the flowers to look like they just grew that way, and were not arranged. Yet the harder we try to imitate nature, the more unnatural it looks. Is greater attention the answer? Probably, but it has to be wholehearted attention, not just “concentration.” That is another topic for another post.

P.S. I wanted to report that now that I’ve discovered how inattentive I am I would turn over a new leaf. So I went to get some groceries. When it came time for checkout, I remembered that, as usual, I had forgotten the reusable bags I have in my car. Then, when I got back to my car, I remembered that I had forgotten to take into the grocery the bag of recyclable bags that I’d been carrying around.

P.S.S. Just heard a wonderful keynote for SXSW by Bruce Springsteen. At the end he said, “Don’t take life too seriously ... and take life as seriously as death.”

P.S.S.S. I’ve been reading about Shanavasa, the third patriarch of Buddhism. His enlightenment came when his teacher (Ananda) tugged on his robe. He was asking Ananda, “What kind of thing is the original unborn nature of all things [who were you before you were born]?” Imagine how that simple tug must have moved his attention from his mind to the present moment. A tten shon.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Taiwan/US cultural exchange exhibit

A couple of my art pieces were in a traveling exhibit in Taiwan and the US. After the fact, they are now doing an illustrated catalog of the exhibit. I wanted to share what I'm submitting for the catalog:
I've been making my staple collages for about 15 years now. I'm struck with the beauty in what we throw away. I used the same stapler in the 1950s in my father's store to recycle hosiery boxes into Christmas handkerchief boxes. Sue Eisler gave me permission to use the stapler for art making. She staples with a beautiful and vigorous reckless abandon, while mine is a more controlled and functional means of attaching one layer to another. 
In these particular collages I incorporated a brochure that Sheow Hwey gave me of the beautiful Taiwanese dancers who, though physically handicapped, showed us all that our only path is to work with what we have.




Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Do Dogs Have Buddha Nature?

Click on collage to enlarge!
I asked that question to my teacher one day. That was certainly beginner's mind. I can't remember what he said, but he was kind not to tell me that it wasn't an original question. He did (and still does) gives me a guilt trip whenever I try to understand life with my too discursive mind.

Barbara Kohn, the Austin Zen Center head teacher who proceeded Kosho McCall, taught a koan class that I took. There we read the koan. Mark Bykoski, a fellow zen student who reads Chinese, translated the koan from the Chinese for JustThis. I thought it was particularily revealing that the various answers the elder monk gives is predicated on him being asked the question. Here's a funny twist on the koan which ends with a similar "Because you have to ask."

I was greatly relieved one day to learn that Buddha Nature is not the goodie two-shoes in us, but rather who we really are. Perhaps it is an onion with all its skin removed, or maybe, rather than removing the skins, we merely have to polish the skins so that the nature of the onion is revealed.

In any case, I'm stuck with some preliminary questions before I can answer this age-old canine question: is there a dog, and is there me?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Beyond Good and Evil

So how do we stop walking around with two boxes, one for good and one for evil? Long lines are evil, short lines are good. Rich people are evil, poor people are good. Mosquitoes are evil, butterflies are good.

My neighbor said he won't talk politics because people get so worked up. But he said he'll vote.

Anyway, here are some strategies:

1. Go to a quiet place and get centered.
This might be counting to ten. Or meditating. Or taking a walk. Or eating a bowl of fruit. Do whatever works for you. Let the anger subside and the ripples in the water diminish.
2. Describe rather than judge.
Once we are in the judgment mode we stop observing. We've decided what's good and what isn't. Imagine instead you are a scientist and describe what you are looking at. And when you get tired of doing that, describe the observer describing the event. The difficulty in drawing is actually in seeing what is in front of us. A cd laying on our desk is not a circle unless we are right on top of it.
3. Look at the costs and benefits of both sides rather than making a "judgment."
Even a horrific disaster has many benefits. We are often in situations where we don't choose good from bad, but rather choose something with more benefits and less costs than another thing. What should I put on popcorn, butter or spray butter-flavored Crisco? Do I need to demonize one to choose the other?
4. Step outside of yourself and imagine what someone/something very different from yourself might think.
Contemplate a topic like contraception from the viewpoint of someone who trusts the Pope. Do we really want to call them "stupid" if we don't trust who they trust? And what do they call us for being so ignorant? Allow yourself to see what you'd think if you grew up with different influences, different handicaps. 
5. Realize you don't know all the answers, and, in fact, are prone to thinking you know a lot more than you do.
What do we really know? We can make a fair amount of safe bets. We turn a corner in our car and assume that there isn't a big hole in the street. But sometimes surprises come. Or take a simple question like "how long is 3 seconds?" One could study that for their lifetime and probably raise more questions than they'd answer. 



Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kate's comments on Contraception—Ananda and Mother Theresa

Kate suggested that I had just changed the players in my recent blog about contraception. I was making the government evil when they intervene, and good when they don't.

This morning I read about the second patriarch, Ananda, who had a difficult time getting enlightenment. He memorized everything the Buddha said, but still, within Buddha's lifetime, never saw the light.

The first patriarch, Mahakashyapa (aka Kashyapa), was enlightened when the Buddha held up a flower and Kashyapa smiled. Of course, there was more to it than that. Kashyapa also had 30 of the 32 prerequistes that Buddhas have. When Kashyapa was enlightened, a golden robe came down from the sky. I guess he was outside.

Ananda kept asking Kashyapa if there was more to enlightenment than the robe. That's like asking the president if there is more to being a president than living in the White House.

In any case, Kashyapa (aka Kate) said, "Knock down the flagpole in front of the gate." In the good ol' days, when the Buddhists and the non-Buddhists argued, each would raise a flag. Whoever won the argument would be allowed to leave their flag up, while the crowds (?) would tear the other flag down. Big government/little government, insurance company pays for insurance, or not, and whatever else we might argue about. So knocking down the flagpole would be like becoming ok with contradictory points of view. No more dualistic dividing the world into the good guys and the bad guys. Anyway, when Ananda chopped down the flagpole, it crashed with a big thud, and he was finally enlightened. Note: Another interpretation is that Kashyapa had one flagpole and Ananda a second. Taking down the pole indicated that they were both of the same mind and now transmission had occurred. The problem I have with this reading is that there wasn't enlightenment until Kashyapa said, "take down the flagpole." Did Kashyapa know that Ananda would become enlightened?

I had lunch with a group of people today at Elsi's. A woman in the group had recently heard a talk by an author who had been Mother Theresa's closest aid for 10 years. Supposedly Mother Theresa never learned this woman's name because she wouldn't allow any personal relationships between herself and her patients, her associates, the helpers with each other. I asked the woman if the author was criticizing Mother Theresa or just describing how she was. I guess Mother T felt that personal relationships—even holding a baby more than absolutely necessary—would interfere with one's relationship with God. I want to add that Mother T claimed that in all her life she only contacted with Jesus for one week. But we can't say that she didn't try.
"Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear." Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1655720,00.html#ixzz1oD6e7KFa
So let's take down the flagpole and just describe. Maybe there is no "good" and no "evil."


Friday, March 2, 2012

AARP may not be your best friend.

I've been checking into Medicare Plan F. When I called United Health Care I got one price. Then I called AARP. They also chose United Health Care, but at a much higher price. All the Plan Fs are identical, with the exception of those with a large deductible.

So I told this to my wife, and she asked (she never asks this), are you going to write this on your blog? I hadn't thought of doing this ... but why not? Anyone else have good or bad experiences getting Medicare supplementary plans? Does it seem to matter what company you go through?

Health insurance and contraceptives

I think we are missing the point in the debate about health insurance paying for contraceptives. Those who advocate that women should be able to get contraceptives say that health insurance companies should pay for them by law, and those who find contraceptives sinful advocate that they should not be provided by their chosen companies.

Both sides are passionate about their beliefs. And both, in my opinion, are assuming that because they feel a certain way, that it is the job of government to legislate the behavior of insurance companies.

We complain that insurance companies' rates are so high. If contraception costs $1000 then the company needs to charge someone $1000 plus some additional costs for administration and profit. It doesn't matter if the woman or a school is paying for the insurance, the cost isn't going to be a gift of the gods.

Is this a role for government to legislate what the insurance companies should do? How about if that legislation is counter to what many desire? You might say, yes, they should pay for contraception because you believe in it. And yes, they should pay for abortions because you believe in them. But how about for something that you don't believe in ... but that the majority of citizens do? Should they pay for that too?

I see nothing wrong with insurance companies creating custom plans for employers (and for individuals). I'd like to live in a country where they could do that. And the $1000+ that I might save in premiums can pay for other things that I might value more than contraception.

Short Term Rentals


There has been plenty of discussion on the Austin neighborhood elists about SRLs (short term rentals), pro and con. Some people have found them to be a blessing, and others found them to be a nightmare. "Good" and "bad" are labels used by the various contributors.

Some aspects of this discussion have caught my attention. One is how everyone is trying to sway others to their point of view. I'm reminded, as an alternative, to the Indian tribe that has discussions with a pumpkin in the middle. They are reminded by the pumpkin that there are many sides to an issue, and the challenge is to see all the sides.

The second issue is that I get the impression that everyone would like the law to enforce their point of view. For example, some say that the landlord should live in Austin. There may be more oversight if this occurs, but does this warrant a law? And what about a "out-of-Austin" landlord with an impeccable record? Should they be exempt from the law?

It is too easy to muddle our lives with laws—laws that force others to conform to what we think is best. But do laws really improve the quality of our lives? And do they support the dissenting opinion?

An equally important issue is whether we already have laws in place that, if enforced, would solve many of the problems.

Let's look at other means besides more regulations to solve problems. And let's be mindful that regulations create new problems as well as solve them.