Thursday, July 28, 2011

Parents as Benevolent Dictators

Benevolent dictators like to think that they are a gift of god. They have one interest, and that is to give people what they want and/or need. I guess it must really be "want" because otherwise they wouldn't be seen so "benevolent."

I heard about a parent today who gave and gave and gave. He held the purse strings, barely gave to himself, but gave generously to his children and even his ex-wife.

I remembered how when our kids were in high school (college?) we gave them a credit card and told them that this was the family money and they had to spend wisely. We were fully open with them about our finances and they were responsible to see that the family didn't overspend.

At lunch today we were talking about this and I said that the benevolent dictator gives everything but what is most valuable. One of us said "freedom." My wife said "autonomy."

Then I started thinking about the Buddhist story of the squashes who fought with each other so the monk had them meditate (a little far fetched?)... and then he told them to touch the top of their head to see where their spine starts. They did and realized they were all connected to each other.

I'm not sure how autonomy and being connected work together. Some one will have to help me with that one. Maybe it is in the meaning of the Buddhist saying "not one, not two."

In any case, if you are a parent (and we all are in some walk of our lives), try to see whether you can shift your family operation to become a democracy. Disclose your assets and let the family decide how the resources might be expended (and/or saved). Not only will this help your kids grow up, but they will have something to show their friends much cooler than the latest iphone.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tomorrow might be Doomsday

Our head teacher at the Buddhist temple made a scroll for our weekend sit. It said, "everything changes, everything is connected, pay attention, and beginner's mind."

One of the priests is taking a math course and is wondering how he'll ever use what he is learning.

R has a recurring visit of breast cancer and she is angry at it.

I see the doctor tomorrow about the supposed cyst or whatever in my chest.

People open their hearts and the anger dissolves in its tracks.

My sister and I were wondering how all these coincidental occurrences happen to put us on this planet. I lied and told her I didn't believe in god when she asked. I would have lied if I told her I did. With as much mystery as there is, how can one know (anything)?

I thought again yesterday about the young magician in the park who said, "is this your card" only to discover that it was not.

I'm not sure who titled this post. I don't remember writing that... though I must have... just a few minutes ago.

Time to eat fruit. Fruits and vegetables are delicious.

Lots of passion about Walmart.

My arms are sore from swimming today... first time in a couple of years. It was wet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Still More on Walmart

I would highly recommend watching the PBS Frontline documentary. Yes, it is true Walmart can guarantee the lowest prices, but at what greater cost to our nation's economy? I think Becky's point about Walmart creating a fictitious perceived need for mass quantities of cheap, shoddy merchandise is quite valid. We need fewer things. We need to take better care of what we have, so things last longer. So there is less frequent a need to buy more. I think that if we merely accept this economic mono culture as an inevitability we surrender our greater good to a big business monopoly. I belong to the local historic preservation commission. Recently I attended a statewide preservation conference. The theme was "Old is the new Green". I think this is a valid philosophy, whether one protests the wasteful destruction of still viable buildings or one purchases household goods from a resale shop. There are so many ways in which we can reduce our footprint, and happily these measures are less costly in both the short term and the long term. We need not think that Walmart possesses some kind of gravitational pull that is irresistible.

Sent from my iPhone

May I put your wonderful green statement on my blog.

I don't disagree with anything you are saying. I hope that education will help people be more sensitive to the effect of their behavior on the planet.

In the meantime, what are we going to do with all the activities that we see as destructive?


Kim, yes you can post my response. I don't have any solutions at the ready; if I did I'd run for office. Seriously though, the solutions are achieved through many small steps.

Walmart reply.

Do you seriously mean this? Do you know how many farmers they have f.....d?  Towns they have ruined? You admire what they have achieved?! Kim!  Are you just saying this to get a rise out of people? Watch the Frontline episode on Walmart and let me know if you feel the same. If you look closely at the people who's quality of life you think has improved, look again.
Hi Becky,

Yes, I'm serious.

suggests that Walmart is responsible for jobs moving to China. If there wasn't Walmart, it would have been KMart or Target buying more goods from China and having a bigger market share.

Remember that US dollars going to China do have to come back to us. It might not be RCAs USA TVs, but RCA was doomed anyway as their products became too expensive to produce.

Unfortunately, people suffer when change occurs. But things do change, and Walmart takes advantage and initiates those changes. We had a Walmart behind FV... I'm not sure if it was there when you were. The clientele there didn't seem to mind the cheap and varied goods.

May I put your comment on my blog?
Yes, you may.  You can edit the "f......d" if you like for politeness sake.

That Walmart was there when I was there and I shopped at it then. It is since one of the battles I have chosen amongst the many I have to choose from. Maybe because it is relatively easy for me to choose to not shop there. One of the things that bothers me most about them is that they have left most people no choice. They are super wealthy and can do anything they want. Also, the cheap and varied goods are crap and give people the idea that they need more than they do and can have more than they need because it's cheap. More shit in the landfill. I have fallen victim to the craving for more cheap crap, but now get my fix with other people's discards at the thrift store. Much more satisfying, but I still have too much crap. And yes, a small Indonesian child likely made what I have bought second hand, but I somehow feel slightly better about it in that I'm not buying a new thing so another new thing can replace it on the shelf.
I like the idea that each has cost and benefits. Maybe the reason we can't agree is that one of us is looking at the costs and one is looking at the benefits. Neither of us is right. 
It looks like you have found another choice to shopping at Walmart in the thrift store (where my wife shops too). I share your feeling that we consume too much, that the quality is not great at Walmart, and that the little shop where they know your name is warm and fuzzy. But Walmart is not evil. It is just an evolutionary point in the history of merchandizing. They fulfill a need (or perceived need) for many. It is great that you are trying to persuade people that they have more choices. Once KMart and Sears were really hot. Now it is Walmart and Costco (where I go). What is next? Maybe a return to yesterday? Or maybe Amazon (where I shop a lot too.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why I like Walmart...

Lots of intellectuals think Walmart is evil, in that it invades towns, eradicates small business, and pays its workers paltry sums. On the other hand, it is one of the biggest employers in the US and it provides for many people goods that they would not be able to afford elsewhere. Small businesses are neat until you are looking for odd items or cheap prices. Do I enjoy shopping at Walmart? No. But I admire what they have achieved and how, for many, they have improved their quality of life.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Last Thursday my pilates teacher, S, noticed that one of my breasts was bigger than the other... so then she started feeling around and felt two little bumps... so she told me to get a sonogram. I called my doctor's office (Dr. P) who said that I would need to see the doctor first, but she was busy until today, and that was a week ago, and that I could see the physician's assistant instead on Monday. I don't remember the assistant's name, but let's call her "A." (When I told my son the story he said it was a little confusing without any names.) So A felt the bumps too and sent me to have the sonogram. The sonographer woman, B, who was very cute, put this warm thick clear jelly on me and then rubbed this geiger counter over me and said that she didn't see anything but she'd show the image to the doctor "C." She left for about 15 minutes and then came back and said that C didn't see anything.

Later Monday A called me and told me that all they saw were cysts and that I would hear from Dr. P soon about what I should do next. My sister S who is different from my pilates teacher S because she lives in Los Angeles wrote me and asked me about the doctor's report. So I called Dr. P's office and the nurse for A said that I was on her list to call, and that the doctor (P) thought it was probably nothing, and that the sonogram showed nothing, but that my Dr. P wanted to see me to be sure. So I have an appointment on next Wednesday. In the meantime, my pilates teacher, S, who is (still) not my sister, texted her breast surgeon "T" who then called me later today and said he had looked at my sonogram and he didn't see anything and I shouldn't worry. (I asked T how he saw it since I didn't give him permission to look at it and he said because it was at ARA, which is where I had it done... Austin is a small town, I guess.) Anyway, I told T that I was going to see my Dr. P. on Wed. since he was going vacation. We agreed that if she suspected something she would order a bilateral mammogram that he would look at after his vacation. I don't know where T was going on his vacation... nor does it matter.

I suspect this should all make me very worried, but it doesn't at all because I watched a really old movie the other day and I said to my wife that I bet all these young vivacious people in the movie are now dead and she agreed... Or maybe I'm not very worried because I just am not very worried... but I think maybe I need a time chart, or a spreadsheet, or some other way of organizing all this information. Or maybe this could be a new college aptitude test, with a list of questions at the end. And I suspect this is just the beginning of a saga that might do more damage to my brain than the rest of me just to keep the players straight.

So who went to St. Ives?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sloppy Attempt #1,000,000

Teacher said in the 2nd grade that my painting was sloppy. Since then I've been trying to be sloppy. Here's attempt 1,000,000.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Meditation for Kids... or Why I Sit?

Thursday I'm teaching meditation to a group of kids in a summer camp. I'm told that they are middle school kids, around 12-13 years old. So I wondered what I'd say to them about meditation, and why someone might want to sit and face the wall as we do in the zendo.

Forty years ago I taught art to 6th graders. They were a pretty intimidating lot, being little adults, with attitudes about art that were impenetrable. I went back after that to focusing on younger kids (though I taught college kids at the same time who were always ready for adventure).

In elementary school they would send me to the cloak room when I wasn't behaving. That seemed to be often, and my record was twice in one day. Now I go to the cloak room (zendo) almost every day to sit and face the wall. What might have been construed as punishment has become somewhat of a necessity like eating, drinking, sleeping, or all the other sundry things we do to stay alive.

I eat because I'm hungry, though I'm realizing more and more that often I eat and I'm not hungry. I drink because I'm thirsty, though sometimes when I'm thirsty I don't drink, and sometimes when I'm not thirsty I drink because that's what you do in certain places (a coffee house, for example). I sleep when I'm tired, though, sometimes it is because my wife says it is time to go to bed. The water is muddy, at best.

Why do I sit? Up to seven seconds before we make conscious (rational?) decisions we make unconscious decisions. Am I sitting because my unconscious is telling me to slow down and/or wake up?

We hear about cars going from 0-60 mph in a few seconds. Earlier today I was thinking about kids and how fast they are still going at "0." Kids... no, all of us! We sit down on the couch, and have the TV on, a conversation ensuing, a bag of potato chips being consumed, and multitudinous thoughts racing through our heads. That is what we call "laying back," "zoning out," "vegetating." Maybe in reality we are going faster than ever. Maybe at 60 mph we are going slower that we are at 0 because we are trying to focus on the situation at hand in order to stay alive.

So what happens if we really slow down and simply focus on our breath? Is this "ground 0?" Is this an opportunity, in stillness, to start to notice that we may not really be hungry, tired, or thirsty? Is this an opportunity, in stillness, to notice that we may not be doing the best for ourselves or others?

Suzuki Roshi said that what is most important is to discover what is most important. I suspect that he knew what this was (to know who he was). It is a life journey. I suspect that it may be facilitated by a little "quiet wakefulness."

That is why I sit.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

You Don't Care

You probably don't care about my CASIO FR-105S Printing Calculator that was the victim of my carelessness the other day. Now the nine is dead, along with some other problems too sad to mention. Usually I drink from a glass, but in order to be safe, I had a water bottle with a cap. But I lost the cap, and then yanked a cord that did the deed.

A sad result from that deed (indeed).

I wonder if we are much different than calculators. I understand that our brain power is not much more than the average computer. We have a broader array of skills, perhaps. My neighbor insists that he can calculate better than a calculator. I wonder how he'll feel when I text him numbers to add together.

I'm wondering if I should wait a few days to see if the 9 repairs herself, or if I should microwave the thing with a bowl of dry rice to see if that might fix it.

And then, should I bury it? Or I could cremate it, though fires aren't allowed right now in Austin.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

End Conflict Now!

I decided to end suffering today. I thought I'd start out with about 24 people in a class I was teaching at the zen center. So I asked them if they had any conflict in their lives. They all said yes. Then I told them to close their eyes and to look at the conflict without blame, guilt, or judgment. I was convinced that no conflict could exist without the fuel from at least one of these.

When they were through looking at their conflict I asked how many had gotten rid of their conflict. No one raised their hands.

It reminded me of a magic show in the park on July 4th. The young magician said, "is this your card?" and the volunteer from the audience said, "no."

So then we did a 15 minute mediation. I started thinking about the usefulness of conflicts, how conflicts keep us from getting close, and how fear ties us to our conflicts. It became clear that without conflicts we'd have intimacy... and we all know that we don't want that.

Next I went to a dharma talk about the Eight Fold Path, which starts with suffering and ends with a means to cease suffering. What was not talked about was our need to suffer. Without suffering we'd be facing ourselves and others without any clothes. Stark naked.

I've also been thinking about the koan about stepping off a hundred foot pole. Maybe to give up conflicts and suffering is that stepping off. How economical it is to live a protected existence on top of that pole!

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I watched a young couple at my usual taco breakfast place this am. They were lovely with their youth and love for each other. To what extent were they being led by their chemistry, and to what extent by their heart and mind I do not know. The urge to have children is universal. I could see urges bubbling out from their skin. Those who avoid having children, or even intimate relationships, seem to adopt others to care for in one way or another.

Wordsworth wrote, "the child is father of the man." Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote (I assume in response),

‘THE CHILD is father to the man.’
How can he be? The words are wild.
Suck any sense from that who can:
‘The child is father to the man.’
No; what the poet did write ran,
‘The man is father to the child.’
‘The child is father to the man!’
How can he be? The words are wild.

As babies are being born, others are finding the end to their lives. Another mystery. Reminds me that one thing just leads to another.

Is the larger figure in the drawing a man, someone closer than the mother and child, god, or ???. I don't know.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

1st drawing for awhile

I quit writing because I was stuck. I realized I didn't know anything... and I couldn't figure out what is important. So I decided to shut up for awhile. But now, I want to draw again because I don't feel alive when I'm not.

Anatomy Lesson and Love