Thursday, July 20, 2017

Flowers

Photo by Janelle Curlin-Taylor (altered by Kim)


Flowers

I had an idea that Rich might bring a prompt about flowers. Thinking about flowers, I had a flashback from about 50 years ago. My aunt Reggie, my wife, and I walked by some flowers in Reggie’s garden. She went totally ape over these flowers as she pointed them out to us. She started exclaiming how they were so beautiful ... And she started jumping up and down like gorillas do when they meet a long lost friend. Or when a dog jumps all over her long lost master. I had never seen any human so excited about anything. I am kind of a dead beat and often say to myself, “bah humbug.”

Isn’t that what Ebenezer Scrooge would say in that Dickens' A Christmas Carol?

My grandkids started calling me grandpa no fun, until I adopted the name myself and took the fun out of that.

Reggie's excitement about the flowers was especially poignant because she had experienced a couple of tragedies. Normally our family didn’t do tragedy. Experience tragedies, that is. One of Reggie’s sons turned out to be severely disabled and then Reggie had a surgery that limited the use of one side of her body. And yet she was all there, like a cheerleader, telling that flower how beautiful she was and how much joy that flower had given her. Joy to die for, as the curious expression goes.

I was in a store the other day and the free sample lady gave me some chocolate and said it was to die for. I said that if you died you couldn't taste it. At first she tried to object, but then she looked at me and said, “you're right... It is something to live for.”

I was jealous of how Reggie could get so excited over a flower. Part of me thinks that one thing is just as beautiful as another. I decided one semester in college to photograph the ugliest thing in my life. It was a beige coffee cup from the vending machine in our art building. Finally I started to make beautiful images by cutting it up (which I took as cheating a bit). The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts owns one of the prints (link). But never did I jump up and down over that not-so-beautiful cup.

My painting teacher at the time, who was a great influence on me, claimed his greatest discovery was that corners pick up dirt. He would get excited about that idea. I never saw him excited over flowers.Though Indian turquoise jewelry tickled his fancy.

This takes me to the sirens that sang so beautifully that they'd lure the sailors into the rocks. Do flowers do that for some? Some find peace in flowers. Reggie, on the other hand, found ecstasy. I don't remember the flowers themselves. But I sure remember Reggie, and marvelled at her enthusiasm for these flowers of hers. Here’s a documentary on Reggie: http://jklabs.net/million.html

P.S. After everyone read their writing about flowers, and two women complaining that their lovers had been so inept at giving them the right flowers, and another saying that she and her girlfriends give each other flowers (because men don’t have a clue?)… I scooted over to Central Market to get my wife flowers… only to find that there was a power outage, and CM said I could come in, but could not buy anything. A week ago my wife had bought herself flowers and pointed them out to me, saying “look at the flowers I got from you.” I had the combined thoughts that I was glad she was getting what she wanted… and a little guilt that I wasn’t the one to get them.

P.P.S. Easy to please a woman? I asked her what kind of flowers she wanted today. She said carnations. But by the time I got to the store this morning, I wasn’t sure what she had said. So when I came home, I told her I couldn’t remember if she had said carnations or what. She said “carnations, but that she didn’t like all carnations.” So I took a picture of the ones “I had bought her last week” that were starting to wilt. She also said there were some other flowers she liked, but she forgot their name.

P.P.P.S. We did an exercise the other day at a Zen temple. We each took three minutes to describe a gift we had received in the past. What was surprising was that it was not the gift that had really touched us, but really it was the connection that had formed with the giver. The gift itself of little consequence in the interaction. What are we really saying when we pick apart the gift?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What to Do

In the Kalama Sutta, Buddha talks about what to “go by.” I hesitate to use the word “believe” because Buddhism is not a doctrine (doctrines are true because one believes them... a circular proof).

“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful: these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.” (Perhaps the koan “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” (Linji) is saying the same thing.)

I find this close to John Dewey's idea of experience as education. We learn by observing and doing (often even failing). I loved the way that Jon Boorstin spent days observing on the set of All the King’s Men before helping out. He ended up with a key role in directing the film.

My cousin, Mark Kriss, and his sons, Jesse and Peter, created a polling platform for capturing meta-knowledge. They created a way of evaluating a situation by giving weights to opinion givers. I think we do this naturally. We trust the opinion more of someone who has an established reputation in a field (the wise) than a person who does not.

You can see their work at http://visionprize.com/ They also found significant the variation between one's opinion and what one believes are the opinions of others.

For example:

“None of the experts believed that black carbon emissions would reduce 50% in 2030, yet they believed that was the belief of some of their colleagues.”

Why?

I can't figure out why it has taken me 70 years to figure out how insufficient our answers and explanations really are. Kids ask why and they are curious. And then they go to school and are given answers. I read the other day that the only facts are in our minds. But they don't tell us that in school, did they? We are fed answers sufficient to quell our curiosity.

An exception to this was when I had a color theory class where the teacher wouldn't tell us stuff. He'd grunt or shrug his shoulders when we'd ask him a question. He’d ask us to look harder and to find out on our own. He opened us up to the exploration of color, reminding me what Matisse once said, “I’ve spent all my life playing with color.”

What is a kid asking for when they ask why? Do they want to know the answer, or are they just saying, “Look at this…isn’t it awesome?”?

There a joke in my family that I ask a lot of questions, and worse, I expect answers. And not grey answers like my color theory teacher would say or not say, but black and white answers. When my aunt Reggie was a beginning psychotherapist, she'd give me answers…just the kind I thought I wanted. So when I’d ask something of my sister, a psychoanalyst, she would always answer, “Ask Reggie.” Unfortunately, when Reggie became old and wise, her answers became less binary and much more confusing…and rich.

So what should we do with kids questions? What can we do to encourage their curiosity even more?

William Blake wrote "never seek to tell thy love... Love that never told can be. For the gentle wind does move. Silently Invisibly" That seems about another form of answers. Think of when someone asked you if you love them. Isn't it always when the relationship is dissolving? So they need to clarify. They need to make an experience into a fact. And from there it goes downhill. Silently. Invisibly.

My grandson asked me the other day, holding up a piece of parsley at his school’s Seder lunch, “Who made this?” Unfortunately, I gave him an answer. I could kick myself. There are so many questions I could have asked him, like who does he think made it, or why was he asking the question, or what else in the world is he curious about who made it, or how might he find out who made it. I was not curious about his curiosity and for that I failed him. Maybe next time I can do better.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Let It Go

Prompt: Let It Go by Danna Faulds

It takes so much energy for me to not let it go, yet I hold on with dear life, as the expression goes. It has a life of its own. It could be the pristine surface of a new car. It could be my ability to climb walls when I was 20. It could be any number of things that went away on their own. The scroll in the zendo tells me that everything changes. Holding on tight doesn't really keep things from changing. It just prolongs that change a little.

I had to meet her dad to take her to the prom. He didn't want to let go. How I would love to meet him now, learning that 50 years ago he may have been the primary person responsible for splitting the atom at the University of Chicago. But then it was just a dad who couldn't let his daughter go. And now she may still be held tight by her dad, long ago deceased, who won't let her go.

I was thinking about letting go of my stories. Which one should I start with? How about the one that I can do anything by myself. That's a joke. So many tools were given to me that enabled my survival and my happiness. People for thousands of years worked their tails off so I could type on this ipad. And so many people went way beyond the call of duty to nudge me on. So I'll let go of my thought of being self-reliant. 

I could let go of my story that I'm any better than I am. When I goofed up today and forgot to give the chant card to the head student, I was embarrassed. Someone might have noticed that I wasn't as good as I wanted them to believe. I screwed up, as I do most days in one way or another. Major screw up ;). Yet if I let go of me being any better than I am, then I would just look at my major screw up as indicating I'm just a beginner.

I could let go of the fact that I know anything at all. In ancient China, if you said you've seen a painting, that would mean you could replicate it from memory. So what have I seen, even of my own work?

Let go of friendships too? Why do we think that friendships are forever? Maybe some are, but others change or die. Is that ok? It doesn't matter. Everything changes, right?

I read yesterday that both men and women speak an average of 16,000 words a day. I wonder if I should let go of the idea that I said anything other than to express a lot of confusion. How many of those words were needed? How much more would I have learned if I had shut my mouth and listened? I must let go of the idea that I have something to say. And maybe convert that energy into having something to hear...or even just to be.

When my father was dying he was very brave, yet he had a lot of trouble going to the other side. My sister was yelling at him over the phone, telling him he didn't need to hang on—that he could let go now. It was as if he was holding onto a rope holding himself hanging from a branch on a cliff. He couldn't let go, even knowing that he also could not hold on.

I realized last night that holding on is much harder than letting go. Maybe I think I'm a loser if I don't hold on tight, even if it does little good. What can I let go of next? How long can I hold the rope, anyway?

Kim Mosley

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Prajna Paramita

I listened to a dharma talk last week about emptiness by Norman Fisher: Prajna Paramita. He spoke about how we and the objects around us are empty of an essence. We can call a chair a chair all we want, but all that it is, for the time being, is some apparent collection of impermanent objects that will support us, should we want to sit on it. And what is an object, either from a Buddhist or modern physics perspective? Is there really anything there?

He said that “we only exist in relation.” So my face exists only as a conceptual relationship of its elements (nose, eyes, skin, etc.). And my body exists as a name for an another assortment of elements. We exist in our minds as we relate to one another.

There is something there in the way we are connected. I wondered, when I went outside and looked around, how I had not noticed that "everything is connected" is not a theory, but rather an observation. The sidewalk is connected to the ground that is connected to the bamboo that rises up into the sky, touching the clouds that are touching the moon. So how many things are there if they are all interconnected? And is the past, present, and future connected in the same way?

We do not create this connection in our minds. Rather, these things that surround us are touching each other. We touch each other, either on a friendly day or a mean day. We don't like all our connections. But, like it or not, they are connections which are special and very real.

I didn't like the role I was playing in my dreams. Who makes up these dreams? I asked. And why am I the same person in my dreams? How am I connected to that stranger who lurks in my consciousness?

My grandson, age four, has been telling his mom his dreams. In the dreams where his mom has a role, he asks his mom in the morning how the dream was for her, believing wholeheartedly that his mom must have had the same dream as he, since she was a participant.

I had an art teacher who would tell us that all space was variation of densities. This really challenges the idea of separate objects. Another art teacher would tell us that there are no lines, only edges. The way our language structures reality, for things to be connected, they need to be separate. We don’t say that an apple is connected to itself. But it is connected to its stem, as it is to the hand that holds it. We look at our fingers. Yes, we have ten little Indians... But where do they stop and our palms start? Are they separate?

Giving seems pretty goofy sometimes. We give as if we are separate. But if we truly separate, we would have no need for one another. We get satisfied when our friends have their wishes fulfilled. We get disappointed when our friends are lacking in what they need. But in the sense they are our friends, like our fingers, we are, in the end, one and the same. And some believe that the divine permeates it all.

This morning I would like to talk about prajna paramita. The perfect wisdom the Buddha opened up to on this morning. As we were saying, wisdom means the wisdom of emptiness. Completely seeing and truly knowing that all dharmas are empty. So let’s see if we can investigate a little what this actually means. So when you hear the word empty it might give you a sinking feeling. Maybe the word sounds a little bit chilling. Maybe it gives you this creepy feeling that nothing actually exists. That everything is an illusion. Could that really be what emptiness means? Well, yes, sort of. Everything is an illusion. Nothing exists in the way we think it does. As a fixed entity with its own being. And when you study the emptiness teachings, that is exactly what they say. What are things empty of? They are empty of any own being. So nothing has its own being. Everything depends on everything else for its being. You depend on everyone and everything for your being. Without other beings, clearly, you are not here. Your parents for a start… And everyone else who feeds you and takes care of you every single day. The sun, the earth, the air. You completely are dependent on everything. All by yourself there is no you. And you have no being of your own. None at all. You only exist in relation. What happens when you really understand this point. You feel grateful. Of course you do. Gratefulness is the feeling of emptiness. Every minute. Thank you, thank you for this life. So this is what emptiness is. There is no you alone, only you in relation. It means if you look for yourself closely you will not find yourself. The more you look the more you’ll find there is nothing there. And this is definitely the case. If you look for your face you will not find your face. You’ll find nose, eyes, cheeks, eyebrows, skin, and so on, but no face. It turns out the face is empty of anything other than the word face, a concept upon which we put some feeling. And it is empty of anything of the various parts that we put a word on and say face. But then if you look for the nose and the eyes the same thing happens. It turns out that words such as nose and eyes are just concepts. —Norman Fisher