Thursday, December 31, 2020

Gloomy day

I made a video of me making this piece because someone asked how I did it. Here it is:

New Year’s Eve

We don’t usually stay up until midnight. We watch the NYC ball drop at 11 our time, and then turn in for the night. We don’t have any problem with NYC beating us to the draw. But tonight at 630pm I received a voice message from 2021… from Europe. How could that be? I thought, a voice from the future. I felt way behind, like my spaceship was stuck in the past and I was hearing from the future. And now the futures are sleeping. At the same time I was corresponding with a cousin in California. Their sun hadn’t sat yet.

I’ve spent countless hours at the seashore counting waves. You see, when the tide is coming in, every 7th wave comes in. The others don’t make it all the way. And this is all because of the moon. I was never told why. And then, that damn Internet. Some oceanographer from UCSD claims that the ocean isn’t that smart, that the ocean can’t count, and none of this fantasy about seven is the effect of the moon but rather the wind. I know we have an epidemic of not believing in science. I believe science except when it contradicts my experience. Then I just say to myself that the so-called scientist should have spent more time on the sea shore and less time thinking.

This might be the 11th year for our weekly writing group. One of my weaknesses is not being able to quit. If it has to do with art, especially. Some people don’t do groups. I start to waste time without parameters. I regulate much of my life. I drink 8oz of coffee a day. I think I might have cheated the other day and took an ounce more, but usually it is just 8 ounces. It is that or the whole pot… and then I don’t sleep well, and my marriage goes on the rocks because Mensa goes for some coffee and there is none. So now she knows what I’ll do and all is well.

This year a zebra joined our household. This is a highly particular zebra, as zebras go, and it insists on sleeping on our bed. Luckily it doesn’t mind if we plop on top of her so room in the bed isn’t a problem. But the dark strips on the zebra, being full of pigment, mark up our sheets… so I told zebra that she needs to leave the stripes on the floor. What, she said, do you want me to be naked? Well, we now have perimeters for that too. We turn off the lights, close the shutters, close our eyes, and then zebra carefully bundles all her stripes in a neat pile… on the floor…before crawling under the covers.

P.S. Someone asked if the zebra story was a dream. Of course not, I answered.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

My Neighbor Totoro


At one time I convinced myself that now did not exist. Thinking of a time line, now is a point on the timeline. It is a point, not a line segment. A point has no length; ergo, it doesn’t exist.

So I imagined one’s spiritual path as footsteps in the snow. It is morning and the rising sun glistens the new blanket of snow. You walk out into the virgin snow and when you turn around you see the path that you took. You look ahead and you see your destination. There are no footprints in front of you, but you can imagine your path forward toward your destination.

You look over at the cat. You stop in your tracks. You look down at where you are standing. That is now. It is not the trail you have created. It is not your anticipated journey. It is that track that you are creating, right here and right now. It is under your foot, that one footstep in the snow. By the time it sees the sun, by the time it can be seen, it is the past. It is not now.

I’ve been told that each moment recreates itself. It is not a little shift, a little alteration. Each footsteps in a new footstep. One has infinite choices of where they might place their left foot after stepping into the snow with their right. It is a new day, over and over again, with each step. That is now, and it does exist. But you can’t see it because it is “underfoot.”

Monday, December 21, 2020


I said the other day that I don’t like curriculums. I seem to be going through a period of not liking things. I suppose I could figure out what I really don’t like, so that the other stuff wouldn’t have to suffer. But that isn’t in the cards for today. Suzuki Roshi talked about turning on a pure plain white screen. In meeting others, whether it be an individual or a group, that seems to make so much sense. Another Zen teacher quoted or misquoted Buddha saying “Gaze upon your thoughts with kindness and remain still.” As we gaze either upon ourselves or others, with stillness and presence it is hard to be anything but kind. The next nugget from the Zen teacher was this phrase, “without manipulation or judgement.”

So you walk into the classroom. If you were a boy scout or a sailor, you’d wet your finger and see which way the wind was blowing. That’s starting with a pure, plain white screen. You certainly can have a topic but curriculum seems to bind you to a particular approach to the topic. Suppose you approach the other as a pure white screen. At first you notice how they walk into the room, and then you notice how they are when they sit down. Are they ready for wonder and curiosity, or are they preoccupied with what happened last and how are we might be perceiving their constructed colorful screen?

When we sit in meditation we can construct the same pure white screen. We might have pictures on the wall, but we can pull down the screen and start there. When you clear your mind, what appears? What have you been obsessing about that is on your screen. You walk into the zendo? You bow to the zafu and then you bow to the room. Finally you are sitting and physically still. But where are you? Did you remember to even open the door? Did you get out of your car? What is on your screen?

You don’t have to worry about being bored. The whiter and purer the screen the more it will reflect the space around you. You’ll see everything in the room, including yourself. You’ll see your mother who hit you. You’ll see your father who deceived you. You’ll find your childhood pet who licked you on the face. The challenge is simply to watch the movie rather than to be in the movie. Typically you have nothing to add to the old stories. But you do have the opportunity to watch these thoughts as you might watch birds playing in a spring puddle, without “manipulation or judgement.”

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Holiday Greeting

Dislikes, Likes, and more Dislikes

I don’t like art. I just want to tell how I feel. Seems like there is a side of art where one does anything but tell the truth. Art is just technique when it isn’t art. Just technique. It looks good but stops there. Seems like art can deny the importance of life and death. Couch art. Pretty pictures. Art unfortunately occurs despite someone not having enough food to eat or having a life without love. I feel like running as fast as I can from artists, especially those with talent. Some think of talent as a gift. Because I don’t have any, I think of it as a handicap. Imagine having 1000 voices. How do you know how to talk? Which voice would you use?

I don’t like recipes either. They neither work, nor are they fun to follow. And they always suggest garlic, which I consider to be food’s worse enemy. Food is delicious. Why garlicize it to make it taste like garlic. That makes no sense. I shouldn’t have said that recipes don’t work. They work on TV, but not when I try to follow them. And they always seem to scan your kitchen and ask for ingredients that you don’t have. They must be sadistic at heart.

One more thing I don’t like is instructions. Usually on the web they are outdated, so they lead you down a path that drops you off the edge of a cliff. Every once in a while, like with an Ikea puzzle, they make sense. But usually it is more fun to mess up and learn what not to do.

I guess I should like something or someone might think of me as a sourpuss. Well I like being loss. I like it when things are broken. I like when there are challenges. I like when there is the expression of love or pain. I thought I’d like it when I’d look at the NYTimes and Trump was not on the front page. But now I don’t know. It is kind of boring when you don’t get to read about the meanderings of a crazed man. Seems like I could cancel my subscription and all would be well. I’m not sure how much I like that.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Kim and Linda

I wanted to go to a monastery. I though there my life would be simpler and I could focus on what’s important. And then it happened. This little bug spread its wings and made too many people sick and made too many people dead and so I stayed home. I had my food delivered and barely walked out my front door. I would walk around my house in circles until I had reached 4000 steps. It was the best of times and it was the worse of times. Some people suffered terribly, and for some, their lives were saved as families became closer and were able to give nourishment that was so sorely needed. I wish, when it is over, we can hold on to some of the good stuff… people connected with their immediate family, and the earth getting a respite from our earlier insane life.  

Monday, November 30, 2020


We debated trust. She said it was about someone being dependable. I said it was about someone being who they are. She didn’t trust the thief. I did, saying that you could depend on the thief taking every opportunity to steal. I presented this quandary to my Zen teacher, hoping, of course, that she’d side with me. She said that we were both wrong, and that you can trust the universe. I told her that she kept saying that. “Maybe someday you’ll hear it,” she replied. So then I ran it past my friend A, who said that it was in the Heart Sutra. There are a few zen texts like the Heart Sutra that say everything, so that’s always a safe bet. I asked her what she meant and she said, “form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” Maybe I’ll understand that someday. So I changed the subject and said that we have to both see that everything is the same and also, that everything is different. So being “colorblind” is necessary, treating everyone as just another member of one’s tribe, while at the same time recognizing that they are so different. Then she said that this is just about semantics, which to me is a “heads I win tails I lose” argument because if you deny it you aren’t really listening and if you accept it then you are just wasting your time. So back to the question, what does is mean to trust in the universe. We can trust that we’ll be surprised by “what’s next.” Or we can use the idea of probability to explain everything. Like, “it was bound to happen.” That feels cold and actuarial. We use the word “refuge” in Zen. Trusting the universe seems like taking refuge, beyond using probability. I can trust the universe to keep me on my toes, and to encourage me to be authentic and loving. Life will not be an easy race, but the ride is fun.

(2 days later) I've been thinking more about "trusting the universe" and it keeps coming back to karma. Whatever we do volitionally creates karma. We can depend on the universe in that regard. My sister and I would drink my parent's scotch, and then add water so the level wouldn't change. We got away with it for awhile until we were busted. I think a lot of people think like that. They drink and drive and didn't have an accident so they think they are home free. But the universe is dependable in the way that we make a difference even when we fail, and that nothing goes by unacknowledged. We can trust the universe in that regard.

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Dreams Escape

20201127: The Dreams Escape

Dreams are rising from the sleeper
like steam from a hot towel.
They waft past bedstead and dresser
bump and jumble their way toward the window.
The sleeper thrashes his sheets, 
throws off his blanket.
Fragments of dream—llama quilt-suited
for winter, striped Christmas candy,
spaceship diving toward Earth—
collide as they float.
Out they go into the damp of the night,
drawn by the need of dry-minded sleepers
up the hill, across the bay, fog on the water.
They are eager to say what they can't quite say,
share their stories that won't stand still,
find their way to dream islands, dream continents.
A wave of them—puzzle pieces, shards of letters—
float from the house, followed by a second,
and the dreamer drifts toward the day. —Sarah Webb

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Blocked Out Fiber

Do you ever think you are getting any closer? This mean guy wanted to kill Buddha. As he walked toward Buddha to do the deed, Buddha stood still. Yet the distance between the two remained the same. Finally the poor guy succumbed and became Buddha’s disciple. Last night we looked at the koan where the young monk wanted to know about Zen. His renowned teacher asked him if he had eaten his porridge and then told the monk that he should then wash his bowl. According to the koan, the monk was then enlightened. I wondered why at this older age I’m still the kid, the youngest in my family. The monk, so to speak. Why do I identify with one person in a koan rather than the other? How many lifetimes will it take to identify with the master? To be the one answering the question rather than asking it? Getting closer means to reduce the distance between you and it. Yet just the opposite seems to be true. For me, getting closer is not even like standing still, but it is like walking backwards.

So earlier I was on the floor moving a keyboard drawer so that it would center on a larger monitor. At the same time, Mensa was talking to our 6-year old who was reading to us. If I was a good grandfather, I’d drop my tools and focus on the conversation with this delightful kid. But instead I thought about how I needed to finish the keyboard so I could get the turkey in the oven so I could do the 5pm family zoom call so I could do my 7pm class and so on. I became very anxious and started thinking about the neuropsychologist who did a podcast talking about how it is the job of the brain to regulate the body. So what is my brain doing? Why were these particular chemicals being produced and not others. If I was a Valium user, I would have done that. I knew I was stuck in this anxiety of getting all this stuff done, and yet that didn’t make it go away… or at least it could have quieted down. Within me there were two of us… the one who was anxious because, damn it, he had a plan to get a bunch of things done, and then there was the one who had an opportunity to forget the plan and pay attention to his precious 6-year old.

So I keep walking, apparently faster and faster. Sometimes I can almost touch it, and other times I reach out for that banana split and bruise my hand on the glass that separates us. Maybe if I walked backwards more I’d move forward. Moving forward just doesn’t seem to work. My daughter-in-law was talking about how when you walk in the room you should be authentic. I said something like then you can’t be wrong like when you are trying to be someone else. We talk in Zen about returning to our original self… our original nature… our buddha nature… who we really are. It is a long road, like when the Israelites took 40 years to take what should have been a one-day journey. They couldn’t have taken a longer road if they had tried.

I think that if it was easier it wouldn’t be so much fun. It would be like playing darts except the dart would be attached to an elastic band that went right to the bullseye. What fun would that be?

Sunday, November 15, 2020


To "Ran" by Kim Mosley

It is not what we see
in the bright shapes of the day--
a crinkled gold of sunshine
on flowers and steps,
a pond we walk by catching the sky
a watered lawn the right green.

These are there, of course,
and true in their way,
as is the gray of concrete,
rainy morning duty
where we rise with not enough sleep
and drink our coffee, shake our arms,
our shoulders, to rouse ourselves.
Look at the sunshine creeping
under the blinds, we say,
You can do this—get out there!

But behind all that—the sun catching
rainbow on the drops from the sprinkler,
the paper we draw from our briefcases—
lies an ocean that sun and paper
float in, a dark they rise out of, like islands.

An antelope runs the plain.
It leaps the absence,
the gap,
the lightless fjords between the known.
Its body—not-body—is a black possibility,
a night that turns into the face of day

that turns into so many things—faces
and oranges and isthmuses,
crowded onto our mainland of the real.

Beyond it float fragments and wires
of the ungraspable,

an island of fog
where the unnamed and the unnameable
rub against each other in the mist

and the broad water beyond it all,
the deep below things and their names,
the black of everythingalltogether
not yet born
ready to rise.

Sarah Webb, 11/16/20

Anatomy Lesson and Love