Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Velveteen Rabbit


I saw a photo of me 60 years ago. “What a cute kid,” I thought. Then I remembered how I thought of myself then and was surprised at how different that was to how I think of myself now.

There is a Buddhist meditation where we scan our innards (see: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/khantipalo/wheel271.html). The idea is to not get attached to our youthful stupendous looks and to just see ourselves as nothing too appetizing.

This is more in line with the Velveteen Rabbit, who has developed her charm and grace over many years. She is no longer our prom queen. The beauty she now maintains is far deeper and more substantial.

In Europe we see buildings that are a couple of thousands of years old. Some have been maintained and others are mere skeletons of what they once were. But they all have a patina and a presence that is not seen in our modern buildings.

We are a society of the new. Models have a short life span. Unfortunately or fortunately, they don't look like the rest of us. Wouldn't it be nice to see people in the fashion ads that had bald heads and beer bellies and used a cane or wheelchair to get around? People might not look like Miss America, but on the inside, they have the patina of a building that has been around for a while and have acquired a big heart and much wisdom that has lit up the lives of many.

Sadly, some mourn their aging. They look at how they aren't as they were, not at what they are. Some attempt to change their exterior rather than paying attention to the beauty of their interior. They are looking in the wrong mirror. Hopefully they will figure it out before it is too late.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tackle Hunger in Texas


Making choices. I don't eat cookies. But yesterday I was hungry and and had one. Mmm. Then another. If one didn't kill me, another should be ok. Right?

And next to the cookie was a piece of chocolate cake. It was a small piece. Why not, I asked myself?

Then I went home, feeling like I had to confess to my wife how I had strayed from my path. She’s heard me before. Being from a Republican family, she gave me that pull yourself up by your bootstraps look. 

Recently I've become more aware of the multiple voices within me and how each decision seems to come from a jury. The hungry part of me presents his case, “I'm hungry and these cookies in front of me are there for the taking.” Then my rules part says, ‘But cookies aren't on the list.” My lenient part chirps in that just today my rules part shouldn't listen to that Scrooge. 

And one thing leads to another. Over and over again. Two cookies and half a piece of chocolate cake! Glad there is nothing stronger around!

A researcher in St Louis works with pigeons who will delay gratification for a bigger award. Some recent experiments with kids found that those who could delay gratification would go further in their careers. I wonder how delaying can be learned? Is it too late for me? I wonder, too, if there are emotional and physical ills that come from the denial of gratification? 

Freud described the ego as that which negotiates between our parents, the super ego, and our instinctual desires, our id. How we manage to walk steadily between these two voices separates the men from the boys, or is it the cookiers from the non-cookiers? 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Go Straight Ahead

The Old Woman of Taishan

Master Dogen's 300 Koan Shobogenzo,* Case 29

Featured in Mountain Record 17.2, Winter 1998


 The Main Case

There was an old woman on Mount Tai path. A monk asked her, “Where is the path to Mount Tai?”
The old woman said, “Go straight ahead.” The monk went on.
The woman said, “My dear reverend, you too go off like that.”
Monks came, one after another, asked the same question, and received the same answer.
Later, one of the monks told Zhaozhou about it and Zhaozhou said, “Wait here for awhile. Let me check her out.”
He went to the woman and said, “Where is the path to Mount Tai?”
The woman said, “Go straight ahead.” 7 Zhaozhou went on.
The woman said, “My dear reverend, you too go off like that.”
Zhaozhou came back and said to the assembly, “I have checked out that old woman for you.”

Peter said 50 years ago why don't you just become Kim the photographer?  He was telling me to go straight ahead. He was an architecture student and then became a landscape architect. 

I didn't focus. I wanted to try everything. I had to ten majors in college. I moved from perfectly good jobs to other jobs. I taught new stuff all the time and always wanted to do new things. I never sensed that I was going straight ahead. Or was I?

I had a great uncle who had been a rabbi but gave it up partly because he realized that all religions had so much the same wisdom. He is my spiritual leader. The lamp I photographed was his. I am surround by his objects in my home. He taught me, as did my parents and teachers, to listen to everyone America believe no one. 

Maybe it is my ADD. Maybe it is how I see all things as so related to each other. When the wise woman told the monks to go straight ahead she was saying that you decide and do not waiver. But what do I do, where my straight ahead is rerouting continually? I guess that is my straight ahead. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

1959

I remembered first looking in the mirror and wondering if anyone would notice the two zits on my face, or the braces on my teeth. Did my breathe smell? I wish I could chew gum but the orthodontist told me that it would make my braces come off and then I'd have to start all over.

I put the butch wax on my hair so that it would rise up to the sky, making me just a little taller. They called me “Mouse” at school because I was so short. Still am, but I don't think about that so much any “I could have been a basketball star,” I thought, “if only I was a few inches taller.”

I would go to a few parties, but I had no idea of what to say so I would just dance every dance. I liked the slow dances mostly because I could feel a warm body pressed against mine.

Finally I found a girlfriend I could talk to. We'd talk on the phone every night. I can't remember a thing we might have talked about. But one day see invited me to be on Chicago bandstand with her and I broke up with her. But that was after I had bought her an engraved bracket with my name on it. It must have cost a couple of dollars. There was a little Chinese store around the corner from my house where I ordered it. It was run by a little old Chinese woman. I remember the smell of the store and how everything seemed to twinkle. 

I had two older sisters. Boy did I envy them because I wanted to be older. Being the little one in the family and being a Freshman in high school were about the worst positions in life that one could have. Or, at least, that's what I thought at the time.

Recently a zen teacher said that the greatest source of our suffering is wanting to be someone we aren't. I wanted to be tall like Mark, a better athlete like Billy, a better student like Jon, and 16 like my sister's boyfriend. I wanted to be so many different people. I probably just looked out the window in classes and played "what if" with myself, wondering what it would all be like if I wasn't me.

I think that was the year when my horse fell on my foot, slipping as we went down a muddy hill. I started the year with a cast on my leg and managed to be on the basketball team for a few weeks, even with the cast. But homework was too tough, ending my hopes of becoming a professional athlete. 

It was also the time when I stared taking pictures. Finally I could express myself. Finally I could do something that others couldn't do. Finally it was ok to be me.