Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is "action" the miles to go that Robert Frost spoke of?

Robert Frost wrote, "But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep." Until Melanie mentioned "action" in her comment on my last post, I didn't really consider that important part of the equation. Could it be that the "miles" that Robert Frost spoke of were the work that went with the promises? I had always thought of promises and miles as unrelated. But maybe not.

Today we took out a shelf in the closet to replace it with another shelf. Then I had to do drywall repair. I missed working with my hands. Haven't done that for awhile. It felt good!

Started counting my breaths again while meditating. Some people recommend this for people just starting to meditate. Others do it their whole lives. The challenge is not to create a self who counts the bodies' breaths, but rather to integrate the counter and the breather.

Some are saying that if we tax more we'll be able to pay off the deficit. I read about a couple of studies on this showing that the government spends somewhere between $1.29 and $1.58 for every dollar they tax. Reminds me of the students who drop out of school to earn money to go back to school. They end up in debt.

Today I finally rang the bells at the right time during a Japanese chant. It was partly because we chanted slow enough that I could find my place. Now the challenge is not just to make noise, but to make music. And not just with bells, but with the rest of life too... even with the clerk at the grocery who thought I should play the lottery because my groceries came out to be exactly $20 (she thought that was a good omen). She said that she wanted to win the lottery. I told her that it has been the kiss of death for many. She said that she would disconnect her phone. I said "good luck."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Two great ideas: Talk!!!! and Talk!!!!

This morning I asked my focused wife for help with my room reorganization. I was flustered. I was feeling out-of-sorts, ready to throw something against the wall. So I said to her, can I tell you how I'm feeling... and did. Talk!!!!

Then we ended up taking a van load of stuff to Goodwill and making a lot of space. The fluster disappeared. Wow! And next to Goodwill is a good Thai restaurant. We had a wonderful lunch. And it was a lot cheaper than the one in LA that was $253 per person... plus $10 for parking!!!!

Then I got a call from a sister that indicated confusion in the world. Someone had a different idea about something... and then my brilliant niece talked to the someone... and now all is well. Talk!!!!

Such easy stuff... talking!

I heard that some Christians believe that one shouldn't meditate because the devil might invade one's consciousness. This more or less happened to the Buddha the night before his enlightenment, but he fought her off. He talked to her and told her to get loss. Talk!!!!

And I did something a little different tonight in the temple. After the wood rapped twice on a stump, I was supposed to hit the bell once. But right before I did it, the head teacher said, no, I should hit it twice. That's what I like about Zen. The schedule keeps changing.

So you have a problem? So you aren't feeling good about something? Talk!!!! Talk!!!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Making Art

We had a discussion the other day about practicing. In this case, it was "sitting." But I kept thinking about practicing art. And how Jerry Savage (one of my teachers) said that in ten years, only one out of a hundred art school graduates will still be making art.

I often hear from former students who aren't making art. They feel a little apologetic, and I sometimes think that I failed them.

And I think of John Cage, who was asked by his Buddhist teacher for a greater commitment and he said, no, he had promised his music teacher that he make music.

Most of the people who continue throughout their lifetime to make art are pretty good. They might have gotten that way through lots of practice, though maybe it was the other way around.

Today I was re-befriended on Facebook by my first art muse. She had grown up with parents as artists, so she had learned the ropes from birth. And now it is almost 50 years later. How time flies!

When the current Buddhist head teacher here was applying for the job, he said that we all practice perfectly. That's a common Zen statement (that we all are perfect). And the second part of it is that we could stand some improvement.

So why the guilt? We admire mechanical men who seem to be in control of everything. Yet, when push comes to shove, we might eat a second piece of pie, knowing that if we were better, we would have just enjoyed the first piece twice as much.

This week I built some shelves in my closet. It was something I've wanted to do for a couple of years. Art is like that. We admire people who are productive, yet sometimes we just procrastinate.  And sometimes we just repeat ourselves, making it look like we are still breathing (and fertile).

Any ideas here, anyone?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Drugs

I ate a piece of turkey. It was just a breast that was cooked so I didn't have a chance for any of that greasy skin. My mom used to tell me that I was goin' to hell in a hand basket. Maybe I would have if there had been greasy skin.

The surprising thing about the slice of turkey was that 1) it was good and 2) I instantly recognized the taste as if I had of eaten it yesterday. And 3) (don't tell) I had the urge to storm the fridge and eat the entire carcass and get grease all over my face. I guess it is time for Veggie Heaven or Mr. Natural (my favorite Austin veggie restaurants).

We spent the day with a blind dog who got around very well. He could even catch a bouncing ball!

And we moved forward on my daughter's wedding planning. Looks like things are shaping up nicely.

Happy Thanksgiving!

No Dogs Allowed

No Pets

Kim at Padre Island

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

To Turkey or not to Turkey

Seems like every Thanksgiving I wonder if I should eat turkey. I like turkey, esp. the greasy skin. So why don't I eat it?

I like too a number of other things walking the street. But I refrain.

So I've been thinking about whether not eating turkey is based on a principle of some kind, or whether it is just a rather arbitrary point on a continuum.

There is a famous bio-ethicist, Peter Singer, who won't sit at the table with people eating meat. There are probably others who won't sit at the table with such an extreme bio-ethicist, esp. one born the same year as I was.

So imagine a bowl of eye-ball soup, made with human eye-balls. The eyes look out at everyone at the table, and winks when someone is too obvious with their stares. Not many of us would sit at this table.

At the other end of the continuum, imagine a table of vegan fare, captured in the wild by Jainists who carefully sweep the path before they walk, making sure not to step on anything living. I suspect not many would eat at their restaurant, but who would object to anything that they serve? (Probably someone.)

So we are all somewhere on this slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? We don't eat the family dog, but we do eat the family chicken. I guess each of us has to decide for ourselves what we'll do or not do.

In the meantime, think twice before inviting Peter Singer to dinner.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bodhisattva Vow

Some take the Bodhisattva vow to save all sentient beings. I have an uncomfortable feeling about this... partly from my experience, the other day, of sitting in the parking lot and marveling at all the good things ordinary non-bodhisattva beings have done. Then tonight, in my second favorite Mexican restaurant, I had a similar thought. Surrounded by things made either by beings trying to feed their mouths or kids, and food made from growing things, I didn't see any Bodhisattvas at work. Yet I saw goodness in everything I looked at...unintentional goodness. Or, maybe everyone is a bodhisattva. That must be why I love them so much.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hard-wired Dana and the S.E.C.

In the NYTimes today I read, "The S.E.C. (Security and Exchange Commission) is considering making stock and insurance brokers put their customers' interests first."

Who could be against this rule? Maybe the stock and insurance brokers. Maybe me.

The problem, as I see it, is that it would encourage too much trust in these guys (and gals). And trust that has not been earned. I'd rather put it out there that stock and insurance brokers are very interested in making lots of money and you should expect that, and carefully chew on everything they tell you.

One of the best teachers I've know hated his job and just did it for the money. But he knew his stuff and knew how to teach. As long as the money came in, he did a great job.

Here's the original article by Milton Friedman where he wrote that the social responsibility of business is to make a profit. This is probably the most controversial and least understood statement that he made.

Continuing on the theme of dana (Buddhist for giving), I heard some interesting facts about ants yesterday.

1) They feel and smell through their feelers.

2) They have two eye sockets, each containing lots of eyes. (Imagine what things must look like!)

3) When they find food, they leave a scent trail so others can find it.

4) They have two stomachs, one for themselves and one for their buddies.

I wonder what we have that is for the benefit of all beings? Are we hard-wired for generosity? How?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hello... it's not a Zen temple.


I've been around a bunch of young kids lately... doing comedy theater. I'm surprised the extent to which they are hooked on smoking (various stuffs), drinking, and junk food. How is it that they have (or believe they have) indestructible bodies? What happens to all the evidence that none of this (esp. the drinking and pot) will enhance their performances?


Am I just an old fuddy-duddy? I wake up each morning wanting to feel a little better than I feel. I would like to eat greasy ribs and pizza. But then I would have to deal with the effects of that, esp. throwing away clothes that still fit (though barely).

So I was asked to be part of a writer's group to work on some more sketches... and wrote back that I'd like to do that... but I didn't think the actors should drink before and during performances. I loved the way Liz Taylor pretended to be drunk, but it isn't so appealing to see people who can't stop laughing because they just had a little too much.


Which is probably what my writing teacher will say to me, telling me that drinking is part of comedy. I told my wife about my note to her... and she said, "well, it's not a Zen temple!"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Talking to the Dead

J: Grandpa, can you talk to someone who is dead?

G: Yes. You just need to have the right service, and the right phone. And the dead need to have that too.

J: So you can.

G: Well, not really.

J: How come?

G: Well, we are waiting for you to build the phone and start the service.

J: Can I get started now?

G: Never a better moment than now.

J: How do I do it?

G: You'll just need to start at the beginning. But why do you want to talk to the dead?

J: I want to tell them what I want for Christmas.

G: Oh. You know that the Buddha wasn't interested is such matters. He thought that we had enough to do with the living.

J: But what did he know. Did he have Christmas?

G: You have a point there, smarty!

Friday, November 19, 2010

"I" or The Persistence of Memory

We pay a lot of attention to our memory. As we navigate through life, we access it frequently to figure out what we think about something. Or even, to determine what something is. Or, why?

We construct "I" from our memory. Not from facts, if there are any such things, but from an ever changing view of how we think it went down. Someone says, "who are you" and the wheels start turning. Let's see, I was an Eagle Scout, and I helped that woman who was drowning, and I went to Mid-Good U, and and and... That's "I." That's what, according to my 4-year old grandson, was constructed at the moment of conception. The delusion I carry around is that "I" that was intact from my beginning. And now "I" continue to live its life.

Imagine if my brain is switched with another person's. Who would "I" be then? I guess it would depend on who remembered what.

But not so fast. Memory includes what I've done and how I felt about that (yet invisibly stitched together). So I stepped on a nut and cracked it, perhaps curtailing its possibility to become a tree someday. I might just remember randomly crushing a nut... or I might remember crushing the nut... and feeling terrible about it. Then I might go to a psychoanalyst and pay $10000 to feel better about stepping on the nut. That would be a changed "I." Wouldn't it? Or maybe just an evolved "I."

When I retired, I wanted to awake one morning fresh. As a new "I." I wanted to face life and see what "I" might do, not based on any preconception or plan, but fresh. Today is a new day.

I haven't been able to do this. The baggage continues. As well, the memory says, you promised so and so you'd do this. Or, my memory says, "when you do that (or don't do that) you don't feel good about yourself." Goofy?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Trust Dilemma

Not trusting anything or anyone certainly is no way to go through life. It is called "paranoia." That is why I like the idea of trusting that people will be as they are. Generally people will care first for their own paycheck, or at least for their own job. So a realtor who represents you will often (perhaps unconsciously) urge you to buy a more expensive house than you might need, because their commission is higher. And your trusted financial advisor will often advise you to buy and sell your assets because that's how she gets paid. There are exceptions, of course. I do know that the realtors and financial advisors who stay in business are often the ones who are as they are. They would rather take home a bigger check rather than a smaller one.

Are these bad people? Only if we expect them to have our self-interest first. They didn't get into these business so they could give money away. Our problem comes when we expect them to be our best friends. (As I say this, I feel gratitude for our fine realtor who brings us wonderful pies each Thanksgiving.)

I was surprised to hear a priest tell me that one of his biggest challenges is to attract a congregation. Here is a person committed to saving all beings (or some variation of that), and at the same time, focused on being fiscally responsible. A contradiction? Even zen temples have competition. May the best one win. (Did I hear something about "no gain?")

Milton Friedman insisted that we should eliminate the requirement that doctors are licensed. One of his reasons was to break up the monopoly of the AMA. But another was his belief that we don't pick doctors based on their license, but rather on their reputation. And if they don't perform well, there are the opportunity for civil suits. Will anyone hang out a shingle? Maybe. But will they have patients? We'll see. How is it that we trust our doctor (or not)?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whom can you trust?

A magician puts $50 into an empty box, puts the lid on, and offers it to the audience for $20. He gets a taker, who discovers $1 in the box. Is this fraud? Should magic be regulated? Is a sucker born every minute?

I watched a recent documentary (Inside Job) on what is called a financial crisis. And, after feeling that some on Wall Street appeared a little shady, went to the grocery to get a prescription filled. I patiently walked the aisles (waiting for the filling of the prescription) only to discover that their computers were down and they didn't know what to charge me. The pharmacist said we could pick a number... like 20. I said I like 6. He said no so I left. (Note: when I got home I looked up the drug and saw that it should have cost me $35! I decided I wasn't worth that.)

Anyway, after hearing how fraudulent the Wall Street guys were (in the movie), I wondered if everyone is equally fraudulent, i.e. not really caring about their customer. I started looking at the cereals and reminded myself that they are selling very little nutrition (and lots of calories) for lots of money. Whom can you trust?

We do have government organizations watching over food. Food that is not our friend. Why do we think that the government will run (i.e. regulate) Wall Street any better?

There is an adage that if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Or that as interest increases, so does risk. Lots of people didn't watch what they were doing on Wall Street and got in trouble. Unfortunately some of those who probably deserved to get in trouble were able to exit smelling like roses.

Now, back to fraud. It is real, it does exist, and the awareness of fraud is the basis for making Wall Street honest. One problem with regulating (or over regulating) is that sometimes it justifies actions that shouldn't be justified.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Where did the beauty come from?

What is the transition between things as they are (with objects, molecular structures; with thoughts, bio-chemical reactions?) and things as they seem (happiness, joy, love, anger)?

I sit in a parking lot and see all these things. None made with anything but self-interest (perhaps). And yet, the things provide pleasure, opportunities for human interaction, joy, and sometimes negative emotions.

I have a couple of yogurt cartons on my desk filled with random objects (pliers, tweezers, knife, emery board, etc.) In one sense, these are just structures. And in another sense, they are dancers creating form, movement, and emotion.

At the moment of conception a life starts (maybe). We sense that was the beginning of "I." And yet what is the connection between I and the physical organism?

These are the questions I have that put me in a quandary. How can the two intertwined worlds coexist without any apparent connection to each other?

Tonight I heard that when the hands join in gassho it symbolizes the bringing together of the different parts of the body.

Maybe it is the delusion that things are what they seem that keeps us sane?

You put dumb old words on a piece of paper and you might have a "knock-out" poem. Where did the beauty come from?

Any ideas?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'm Stuck

"What did your face look like before your parents were born?" is a zen koan that I've also heard as a question that a wise teacher asked to trip up a wise-ass student, "who were you before you were born."

I asked this to my four year-old grandson and learned that he is quite convinced that he has always been who he is. So then I asked, "at the moment of conception, when you were smaller than the head of a pin, were you who you are now?"

"Yes, he answered"

And at the moment right before conception, when you didn't exist, you were not who you are now...right?" He nodded "yes."

Buddhists believe this idea of a permanent "self" is one of our delusions. My grandson doesn't agree. But I didn't think it fitting for me to tell him an opposing view. He's got to figure this one out on his own.

And then there is this question. If "self" is created at the moment of conception, then does it disappear at the moment of death? He saw no problem with that idea. (We framed it in the context of the mice in his house that we were trying to send off to another world.)

And if you think this post is bad, you should thank me for not yet writing about the downfall of capitalism from a libertarian perspective, which is actually where I'm stuck.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sarah Palin and NPR

I failed trying to explain how I love NPR and I also don't think the government should fund it. And it is partly out of that love that I worry that whoever holds the purse strings might dictate content. Why do some have such faith in government to do the right thing?

In the meantime, I went to a birthday party in New Jersey at Bounce U for my grandson's five year-old friend. I spent a while in the car while his little brother was finishing his nap. I thought about all the stuff I saw from the passenger seat of a car in a suburban parking lot... and how most all of it wasn't created out of love or generosity or loving kindness... but rather out of fairly selfish (Adam Smith used the word "domestic") aims.

Then I went to the party and actually slid down the slide and bounced around. I started wondering about all the life that was at this party. Where did it come from? It wasn't the product of people with only domestic aims. It was exhilarating... the noise, the exciting, the laughs. Wow! Wish I was five.

Anatomy Lesson and Love