Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Thanks for Nothing

He arrived early and waited for his shadow to c…

I wrote this earlier at the temple. I arrived way early because I got mixed up about the time. And then Bill, age 91, walked in and we talked about population and other world crises.

I do usually come early. My goal is to be 15 minutes early. I like to “open up.” I like to have the best parking space. I guess I should take the worse parking place. Carl, my first Chan (Chinese Zen) teacher, asked us to think about where we parked. It was a dilemma. Where does a thoughtful person park? I might give the wrong impression to someone arriving late if I left the best space for them. They might think it is ok to be late.

I had the idea today in our discussion that we have to keep the ball rolling. That is our job in life. In some way, we have to keep the ball rolling. Why? Well, in the same way, we could hope that other people will vote for the best candidate, we can’t always trust that they will vote. I’ve been in situations, even in the last year, where no one showed up to a group I was leading, or where I was the only person who showed up when someone else was leading. We can’t wait around for someone else to keep the ball rolling. In Hong Kong, everyone, it seems, is participating. What is China going to do? If they back down they give Hong Kong its independence. If the don’t, they will destroy a wonderful city. The people realize the value of their independence and freedom.

Tonight we are writing about gratitude. Not the kind where you thank Miss God that you got a bicycle for Christmas, but rather another kind. It’s the “thanks for nothing” gratitude. Not when you are sarcastic, but when you aren’t. Earlier today, at the same time that the police were hitting the protesters with their batons, I was quietly sitting in the temple with about ten others. I was feeling a tremendous dissonance between my life at that moment and the life of those protestors in Hong Kong, being up against the police, fighting for the freedom of their city. How could life be so different from one place to another on this small planet? I wondered. 

We listened to Steve Stucky (http://sfzc.org/gratitude), having recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic cancer, talk about his gratitude. He would wake up and sit on the edge of his bed and say the word gratitude. He wrote on his blog, “The ‘practice of gratitude’ for me begins simply with saying the word ‘gratitude’ and allowing whatever arises in thought to be regarded as lovable no matter who or what it may be. This immediately cuts off the mind of personal preference and acknowledges that everything, absolutely everything is fully participating in the fact of my existence this moment. The challenge of this practice often slaps me in the face and sets off a series of seemingly impossible barriers.”

It just flashed through my head what conversation we might have with Miss God when we go to Heaven (if we are so lucky). If we had a long happy life we might thank her, assuming we believe she choreographs such things. But suppose we were unjustly put in prison for life. Supposed we were tortured all our life. Then would we complain and ask for a refund.

Seems the gratitude that Steve is talking about is not thanking anyone for the gifts that he had received in his life, but rather for life itself, in all its many facets. It reminds me of when Jim talked about how he was thankful that he could be sick.

I wrote about suicide yesterday. How bad do things have to get so there is no hope for a better future, where all that can be imagined is dismal? When doing yourself in might be the only out?

I have had a life of privilege and good fortune. For the most part, we are well and have all we need. Not too many people can say that. We have lots of love in our family and never a dull moment. So I feel a bit dishonest saying, “thanks for nothing” because I’ve been given so much. I get a check every month from the State of Missouri that is such a gift. It allows me to do whatever I want.

So I want to have gratitude for nothing. What gets in the way is that my life is so plentiful. If I was in Steve Stucky’s shoes in 2013, I would still have my memories of so many blessings, so I would see those memories as my object of gratitude.

I took an IFS (Internal Family Systems) workshop with him about a year before he died. He was standing right where I am sitting now. That’s weird. It was kind of like being in Rome and standing right where Michelangelo stood. How I wish I had had that experience when I studied Art History.

So I thought writing this would be easier. I thought I could appreciate the moon-faced Buddha just as I could the sun-faced Buddha. Now I realize it is not so easy, especially for someone whose life has been so filled with sun-faced Buddhas. See http://suzukiroshi.sfzc.org/archives/index.cgi/710817V.html?seemore=y if you want to know more about these Buddhas who accept “life as it is,” as Suzuki Roshi would say.

Monday, August 12, 2019

What’s Your Number?

What’s your number? I wrote yesterday about essences, and how they basically don’t exist. What we are is mainly constructed by our imaginations. To a vulture feeding on our body, I might just be a tasty delight, or maybe just something to “tide him over” until he finds something better.

A better photographer would have captured his number. It was 18.
It is hot in Austin. Today I went out in the afternoon and then came home and slept. I don’t know why it is so tiring to be in the heat. I think the trick is to stay cool. Luckily our house is well-insulated.

Suicide is an interesting choice. Seems like things can seem so bad that it is better not to be alive. Sometimes it is understandable, and sometimes not. This is a fascinating article (https://www.history.com/news/stock-market-crash-suicides-wall-street-1929-great-depression) contradicting what we’ve believed about stockbrokers jumping from windows when they went broke. “…the number of suicides…in Oct. and Nov. 1929 were among the lowest of any month that year.” I was always curious about that… whether losing money would be enough to get someone to jump out of the window of a tall building.

People come to the temple to try out meditation. Like any self-help endeavor, they think they will benefit and instead find something difficult and uncomfortable. It is more like staring into a mirror for an hour. But the mirror doesn’t just show how you look but how you are. I talked to a psychological nurse practitioner today who told me that he never asks his clients why they are the way they are because they would just feel attacked. We don’t ask ourselves that question in Zen. Rather it is a process of noticing how we are. Are we hot or cold, hopeful or suicidal? And, in the end, we just become ok with however we are, realizing that’s our number. Like the stockbrokers, even though they had lost everything for themselves and others, there was something that kept them going. I suspect that if I asked my 100.5-year-old father-in-law how they survived the depression he would just say, “we did what we needed to do.”

Sunday, August 11, 2019

What is Buddhism? One more try.

There is a story about an atheist rabbi. An atheist Jewish boy is sent to talk to him. The boy observes that the atheist rabbi spends an entire morning praying and attending to other temple practices. Finally, the rabbi turns to the kid and asks him why he is there. The boy explains he was sent to the rabbi because he too does not believe in God. The boy asks the rabbi why he prays and cares for the temple as he does since he doesn’t even believe in God. The rabbi exclaims, “you don’t think I’m going to give up the practice.”

Today, as we were reading Dogen and I simultaneously thought about the rabbi, I realized that “what” like ”why” is the wrong question. A much easier question, and probably the one that the person wanted to know, is “what does a Buddhist do”?

It is an important tenet of Buddhism that things of empty of an inherent essence. If you took a chair apart, molecule by molecule, you’d never get to “chair.” The chariness of a chair is something we add to a certain configuration of material substances. So Buddhism itself is really empty as well of any essence which makes it kind of a sacrilege to explain (some might certainly disagree here).

But what does a Buddhist do? That, on the surface, is easier to explain. Buddhists might focus a little more when doing everyday tasks. They might sit. They might chant. They might read the sutras of Buddha and/or his followers.

In a recent workshop, I took at Dharma Rain in Portland, Oregon, 20 or so of us were asked about the practices in our temples. We found that actually, our practices varied tremendously, and we had very few practices in common. Still, we would say that we share a similar path. 20 artists might do the same in describing their practice. One uses their voice to sing, one uses a camera, one paints, one pots, etc. But they still have a common practice.

Yesterday I reached for some silverware in a dirty pan in the sink and didn’t realize that our very sharp kitchen knife was in there too. I cut my finger and started screaming at my wife for leaving the knife in the sink. I realized later that I should have looked before I leaped, and my sizzling electrodes were the results of not sitting for a few days. I could have looked at my bleeding finger with curiosity and appreciated the beautiful color of my blood.

Today I went to Target on the way to the temple to get some laundry soap for my wife. It was an unfamiliar Target. I finally found the soap, but could not remember how to get out of the store. I was too embarrassed to ask, so I decided to walk the perimeter of the store and eventually I’d find my way out the door to the cushion. Finally, after passing three sides of the store, I found the cash registers and the exit doors. Again, a sign that my focus was lacking. Fortunately, I remembered where my car was parked and made it to the temple in one piece.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

What is Buddhism?

Holy crap! Our Buddhist temple had a table at a gay pride festival. We were very close to one of the music stages. So my head is still reeling from the drum machines. It will take a week of sitting to quiet it down. At least, it seems that way. People would come up to the table and we'd give them one of Sabrina’s jiz┼Ź stones. The others were much better than me in being a public face. I could barely hear their questions and couldn’t come up with an answer better than “I have no idea.” I wanted to say, “it was a cow that kicked over the lantern.” But instead, I shut up, knowing that they wanted to hear something more digestible. Funny, if I had asked someone, what is Buddhism, and they gave me some absurd answer, I would have bought it hook line and sinker. But I’m old enough to know I’m not the average bear, but rather the crazy one. I remember in my previous life talking at a deans' meeting about how I finally had a really good carrot. I wasn’t talking metaphors. Did you know that there exist carrots that are really carrots? I suspect they were very recently harvested from a back yard garden.

People wonder, what is Buddhism. I used to teach sculpture and when students didn’t know what to do I’d give them the test. We were always able to figure out what sculpture they wanted to make.

Here’s the “what is Buddhism” test.

All questions can be answered with binary answers.

  1. Is it something that existed from the beginning of time, or just with the time of Buddha’s enlightenment?
  2. Is it a religion?
  3. Does it have a god or gods?
  4. Does it preach non-violence?
  5. Will it save the world?
  6. Can you be a Buddhist and be part of another religion?
  7. Why meditate?
  8. Are mindfulness and Buddhism the same thing?

I could go on and on. But unlike the sculpture test, there really are no clear answers. It isn’t binary. In sculpture, you can decide if you are going to make something representational or abstract, bigger than 12” or less than 12”. In Buddhism, there are no such answers. More like life. Did I do good? No clear answer?

There is a concept of “skillful means” where you do what is needed to get the person to the next step. But even that is iffy. It seems sometimes as not being honest. My skillful means was to let the other people talk because they had answers.

Imagine the challenge: you have one minute to talk someone into doing something you like to do… like sitting. What do you say? Especially when drums are beating loudly in the background. I don’t know.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Impermanence and Immortality

I came up with the idea yesterday that we are immortal. My idea is that “we” just morph and morph and morph. No matter is created or destroyed. This is all in reaction to Jeff’s suggestion that because we aren’t permanent, nothing matters. Smart wife (a.k.a. mensa), though a little shaky from her 2nd cataract surgery, says that things matter and things don’t matter. The question for me is “who is me,” especially in light of our recent uncelebration of our 50th anniversary. If I’m changing every breath, then how do I earn the right to have one name and one social security number? Who is it that is xxx-xx-xxxx? Is it my body that never stays the same, and on a molecular level, doesn’t even have any edges?

Is there even a relationship between “things mattering” and “things being permanent”? In the Buddhist view, it matters that we are suffering, and the suffering is unnecessary. That is not to say that sickness, old age, and death are unavoidable. It isn’t “if” but “when.” But suffering in the sense of “out of kilter” is avoidable.

Still, there is the question about “things mattering.” Bertrand Russell claimed that he was prone to worry until one day he realized that, in the grand scheme of things, that whatever happened would have virtually no effect in the grand scheme of things. Yet he worked hard throughout his life to both understand the nature of reality and to communicate that understanding.

Still, there is the question about “things mattering.” I think they do matter in the sense that we love, and in fulfilling that love, we want to make things better and more beautiful. Maybe Russell is right that it doesn’t matter, yet living as if it does makes a better life for both us and others. So that seems like enough of a reason to live a “good life,” whatever that might be.

Vaughn and I meet weekly online to talk about our Zen practice. He lives in Alpine, Texas.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Cataract Surgery, Robots, Boredom and More Science

I’m at the surgery center with Linda who is having her cataract surgery. It is always difficult for me to write in the morning because nothing yet has happened. Though we woke up at my usual time (5:20am), it seemed too early since it wasn’t waking up to go sit. If I was a different person getting up for oneself or for someone else might be the same. As usual, we stayed up too late last night. Next time I retire I’m going to sleep more. Sleep is good, but kind of a waste of life. Sitting (meditation) is probably a waste of life too. Eating is a waste of life. Hard to figure out what wouldn’t be a waste of life. Working at a job probably is a waste of life too because you are trading work for money, which suggests that if you could be paid for not working that would be preferable. These are the words of a very lazy person, influenced by his 5th-grade math teacher, Mr. Moulton, who said the best mathematician would be the laziest one because he’d find the simplest and most elegant proof.

For many people being really lazy would be very difficult because of the possibility of impending boredom. We make it complicated because if our life wasn’t wrought with problems we’d have the challenge of finding something to do. Buddha had this problem when he was waited on hand and foot. He was not exposed to sickness, old age, or death until he snuck off to see the world.

We go to the store to buy milk. A robot would take the milk from the shelf, put it in the basket, roll over to the check out counter, pay for the milk, rollover to its self-driving car, and go home. A humanoid would try all the free samples, and ponder whether to buy this or that and answer a phone call and notice a beautiful woman with a skirt that is too short and be anything but bored.

Imagine if we could go to the store and buy some milk like a robot and check out and return home. Some might think that is boring. Would we read the carton and memorize all the words stating the manufacturer, the amount of fat, and maybe even the name of the cow that produced the milk? Oh, wait, am I getting distracted by noticing too much. Again, the robot might note the expiration date on the said milk, but wouldn’t pay attention to the name of the cow because one cow is no different from another cow, at least to someone who didn’t know these particular cows.

If it was only this easy to go get a carton of milk. The instructions for programming the robot would be relatively simple compared to what we actually do when we go to the store. And much of what we do is not the task at hand. It is mainly because we get bored easily. At least that’s my take.

The nurse is having trouble putting the IV into Linda. She’s saying that Linda has a good vein, but she’s having trouble threading it. At least, that’s what it sounded like she said. Oh, now she’s trying the other arm. She put a tourniquet on that arm and now is trying to find a good vein. The bad veins are all raising their hands, saying “pick me, pick me” but the nurse is wise to these veins and doesn’t pay attention to them. Now she has some needle in Linda and is injecting something which I assume is beneficial.

Lots of noise now, as patients up and down the corridor are getting prepped. Sometimes I wish I could just turn the volume down, which I say I’d like to do, but would I get bored? And why don’t I get bored when I’m sitting. What could be more boring and yet it isn’t. It is more boring to be in a noisy bar. Should all situations be equally interesting or boring?

Now the nurse turned off the light because Linda has had drops to numb her eye and I guess that dilates her pupil. She’s now cleaning her eye with a micro-macrame or something sounding like that. Something to clean her eye anyway.

Lots of activity to prep someone for a simple surgery. I wonder if the nurse is thinking about other things.

Now I have to pay attention to the instructions for the caregiver.

Back home. My daughter and her youngest came over. We’ve been doing a science experiment the last couple of days where we soaked an egg in vinegar and it was supposed to bounce instead of break. I was happy that the experiment failed. That seems to be such an important aspect of science—that many experiments fail and you have to ask why.

So Linda is getting better, glued to CNN and watching a country that isn’t.

P.S. I went to the grocery to get milk and ended up getting a bunch of stuff, and forgot my favorite staple: bananas.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Victims, Survivors, and Dispensing Stuff

I have two subjects to write about. I’m wondering if they are connected.

What happens to my stuff when I die? And, how do we become survivors of the recent shootings rather than victims?

So “what happens to my stuff…” is about the stuff that is not liquid, like pictures and books. But maybe it goes deeper, like what happens to stuff that occupies my worries and fears? Having just taken a van load of books to Half-Priced Books and getting $100, I realize that there is not much value in used books. The same with my pictures. Since people aren’t lining up at my door for them, they won’t be lining up after I am gone. Hopefully, my kids and their kids will take a few, but beyond that, it is up to them to give them away or recycle the paper. There are always people who run estate sales. They will do the dirty work.

Non-Original Painting with Original Texture 
Though, in the end, all our stuff in an estate sale would just net a few thousand. As we have less and less time left in our lives, I think the critical factor is to breathe and smile (Thich Nhat Han). Our material stuff is usually hardly worth the effort to convert it to cash.

I think the worry about the stuff is really the worry about death. Stepping off the 100-foot pole (a zen koan) is what brave people do.

Now, how can we become survivors of the recent shootings? We are having or participating in a couple of vigils tonight.

It is important for Jews not to forget the Holocaust. They say this is about not letting it happen again. I don’t know to what extent remembering keeps something from happening again. Disasters happen over and over again. When problems occurred at our college our wise president would calmly ask, “what can we put in place so this doesn’t happen again.” That seems like a good question to make the transition from victim to survivor. White supremacy and anti-Semitism are interrelated. Both believe that those that are different from us are a problem. People are now getting their information from such a variety of sources. The supremacists and the anti-Semites peoples each view media that echos their beliefs. Eliminating prejudice is certainly an uphill battle.

Today I went to my Ph.D. pharmacist to evaluate the supplements I’m taking and evaluating my general health. I asked him why doctors would generally laugh at what he prescribes. He said that doctors don’t review research—that most of their continuing education is listening to doctors who are paid by drug companies. It would be interesting to know to what extent this is true. Then I asked him about weight and BMI scales. He said that they are bogus, that they were developed right after WWII when there wasn’t a lot of food, and they make no allowance for body types or muscle mass. He said that he’d be considered “morbidly obese” where in fact he’s a healthy weight lifter. I wish better and less conflicting information existed. Everyone is an expert and everyone has their own conflicting ideas. Here's a free test he does.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

That's What I Want

You take an in-breath. Will you be able to take an out-breath? You don’t know. Wherever you are, whether it is El Paso, Dayton, or wherever, whatever might be the probability, you don’t know. This could be a cause for depression. But whether we admit it or not, we all know this deep in our hearts. We are all on death row, and we don’t like to couch the fragility of our existence in those terms.

And then something happens, where lives are prematurely cut off. That makes us remember that our next in-breath might not be followed by an out-breath.

I spent the morning with my grandson who is barely five. I took him to a toy store to get his birthday present. He was very confident that he could scope out the entire store and pick the best toy. I asked him whether it was the best for everyone or the best just for him. He’s just at that age where this made sense for him. He said for me, not for everyone.

Getting a Car Inspection
So he picked a curious toy. It was in a package and it was one of 12 Japanese characters, and he couldn’t see which one it was. But he wanted it, and of course, when he opened it, he didn’t get the one he wanted and got the one he didn’t want... but he wasn’t too disappointed and came to like the one that he did get.

Yesterday I was grouchy, hungry, “caught in a self-centered dream,” as we recite at the Buddhist temple a couple of times a week. I was bent out of shape at something someone had done. I assumed it was done to me, but in fact, as the truth came out, they had tried an experiment and their website didn’t work as planned, and I thought they were being rude where they were just trying their best to find the best way of doing something.

And then I just received a letter from Charles, a prisoner who is now one of the leaders in a Buddhist group. He talked about something that had upset him and bent him out of shape and happily, he didn’t make much trouble because of it, and seemed to be quite happy about that. I suspect it was being out of control that got him in prison.

Last night I was using two computers, one for video conferencing and another for playing a YouTube. First I couldn’t get to the YouTube, and I finally discovered because the battery had died completely (no out-breath) and forgotten the time of day, and therefore couldn’t get on a number of websites. And then the YouTube was playing very softly for no reason, even when I increased the volume all the way up.

I was bent out of shape, and someone shamed me saying that Buddhism should allow someone to have things go wrong and not be crazed. I remember when Katie, a non-Buddhist colleague about 40 years ago was presenting a multi-projector slide show, and the slides were messing up, getting stuck, or whatever, and I was so impressed by her calmness. I don’t remember her slides at all, but I’ll never forget how calm she was.

I want some of that. And sometimes I feel that. And sometimes I’m very frustrated because people are waiting around for something to happen, something different from technology not behaving.

Finally, the technology did work, and we listened to a meditation about dying and decaying. It wasn’t sad. It wasn’t depressing. It was more like stepping on a piece of rotted wood and seeing it dissolve as powder into the dirt. And remembering that once it was a seed, and once it was a strong tree, and once it was a just dead tree, and now it is powder, ready to feed its nutrients to a new tree.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Does Cutting Work?

I told my daughter to tell her kids that you can cut an earthworm in two and each part would grow the missing part. My smarty wife googled it and shamed me, telling me that it wasn’t true. The head would grow a new tail, but the tail would not grow a head. She had never heard about it as a kid. I figured that earthworms in Chicago could grow a head, while those in the middle of Illinois could not.

Then I asked some others and they believed the same thing, not about Chicago vs. middle of Illinois, but that bisecting earthworms would increase their population. So what do I really believe now: what I grew up believing (and didn’t adequately test), or what my wife of 50plus years Googled? No comparison! Though I realize that’s slightly ambiguous as I meant it to be.

Yesterday I had practice discussion with a Zen teacher and was describing how I was angry at what someone had done, and she suggested that I try to look at who was it that was angry. When I saw the picture of the worm, I thought about her question. Maybe I could just cut the anger off. I wonder if people who are cutters want to do that. Just cut the anger off. And then it will go away.

Certain places and people seem to be triggers for anger. They don’t do things as I would like them to be done. Someone believed that I didn’t pay for a workshop, so they circulated a signup sheet with a comment next to my name, “Did not Pay.” I’m not positive my credit card payment went through because I have a vast amount of credit cards and don’t have the time to check, but I do have a note from them that I did pay. But whether I paid or not is not really relevant. There are other ways to tell someone they are delinquent than public shaming.

So I wrote to them that they embarrassed me. In accordance with their typical practice, so far they have not responded.

But anger. In Zen, we talk about equanimity and tolerance. Why can’t I just say that some people are different than others? Why can’t I forgive someone for not realizing that they meant no public shaming... they simply wanted me to know that I didn’t pay and they didn’t have time to send an email.

So let’s say I was a Bodhisattva and my path was to save all beings from suffering. What would I do then? First, I’d not be so concerned about what I was feeling as what they might be feeling. If someone is not thinking and they hurt your feelings, what do you say? If you say, “you are not thinking,” you might hurt their feelings. Will you ease their suffering?

This would all be laughable if it was the first time that poor communication occurred. But every interaction with this institution has the same result. Perhaps I am just overly sensitive? But when I am treated well in some communities I feel especially hurt by others.

I remember a situation in another community where someone was given a single bed sheet for a double bed. There are options and possibilities here. One could just return the single sheet and ask for a double. Or they could use the single, being thankful for having a sheet. Or they could stomp their feet and feel insulted and unliked.

We can choose. But what response makes the world a better place? Letting someone walk all over me doesn’t work. Going postal doesn’t work. Is it enough to tell someone how you feel? Should I have just assumed that they met no insult when they said, “didn’t pay.” Should I now follow up with a second email or phone call and ask them what they discovered? Or wait it out?

P.S. Planarian flatworms are able to reform their entire body from slivers just 1/300 of the animal’s original body size. Ain’t that a miracle!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Wild Party for 50th Anniversary

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Those words are empty unless they are followed by actions. The shootings in El Paso and Ohio could have had some benefit if they had resulted in some positive actions. How bad do things have to get before gun laws will change? How long do things have to change before schools change their “core curriculum” to one that includes the love of fellow humans, other beings and the earth? I’m frightened to go to a gay pride festival next weekend. Might there be another shooter there? Will be all be homebound given the danger of public places?

We made it!!! 50 years of matrimony. It was touch and go (what does that mean?).

Anyway, we had an elaborate celebration. All the invited guests came (Linda and Kim). I bought sunflowers and Joan gave us sunflowers. And the gourmet meal (ice cream, blueberries, and banana not shown). Here are some pictures of the wild party.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Reality and Imagination

Spent the day with Norman Fischer at his dharma talk and workshop. He spoke about imagination in zen. I like the way he spoke of imagination as what is needed to approach reality, but I'd go a step further and eliminate this idea of reality altogether. Whose reality? I think we'd do better just admitting that we each have created a world. Period.

This is my last day of not being married for 50 years. It is odd to imagine having other people as teachers or even wives. I don't know if other people do this. Or even if you are in a parking lot and you wonder what it would be like to have a different car than the one you have. I'd rather have my dream car, which is the Mercedes Jeep. As to teachers, it is a rather tricky business. Do I want this teacher or that teacher? Norman Fischer would refuse to be a teacher but rather called himself a friend. The real teacher one has is themselves. And especially the mistakes that one makes is the ultimate teacher (if we don't repeat them too many times).

But I would almost choose my wife of 49 and 364/365 years except that she reads my mind too often. So I almost don't need to think because she's thinking of the same thing. But actually, this is good because someday I might stop thinking and then I can ask her what I would have thought of if I could think. So, unless something changes in the next 83 minutes, I think it will be great to make it to 50.

I've gone about a week now with nine meals a week. It seems like it would be torture as we think we need to eat every few hours, but really it gives me a lot of energy. People didn't eat three meals until the 1700s. Ancient Romans ate one meal a day. Hunter/gatherers ate less often than that. I don't think our bodies are meant to eat and digest continually.

I do need to remind myself to drink more water. The drink of the gods.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Stories and Fences

I am confused. In Zen we talk a lot about stories and how our stories are made up by our minds. My story might be a world is for me, or against me. My story might be that I’m a weakling or a strongling. If there is a reality (which I doubt) then we probably can’t see it.

Imagine a large donut. Is there one view of it that is truer than another? I don’t know.

I’m a little bored with “life as it is.” After two years of watching a train wreck on CNN I’m feeling the need for a little fantasy.

But fantasy is more than making things up. Sometimes it is a better way of being more literal. For example, describing our president as a man rather than as a beast might be less accurate.

Today I feel like I’m in the last stages of a marathon. In two days it will be 50 years of marriage. Many turns and twists to our lives. We lived in 5 different cities, had two wonderful kids and 4 wonderful grandsons, etc. Facts can be pretty boring though.

I remember as a kid when my closet was actually an elevator going to the land of OZ. I would make a machine noise and it would go down and down and down to a place where life was very different. Our cousin wouldn’t buy into our fantasy. Now he writes science fiction.

All the fences around us have been torn down and are being rebuilt. Fences make a big difference. You live inside fences and you tear them down and voila… your space blends with your neighbor’s space. Do we trust Robert Frost quoting the adage that good fences make good neighbors? What really was his take on that?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Renewing Vows

“My heart leaps up when I behold a zebra in my yard.”—Sears Roebuck

Well, we got close. Our 50th anniversary would have been in three days, but we are calling it off because of an irreconcilable difference. When I told her about the zebra skin baseballs she was very upset and said that was “bad bad bad.” “Why would you degrade a zebra into a baseball?” she asked. She had no problem insisting on leather seats for her new car/anniversary present. Is a cow less of a sentient being than a zebra? I guess we can return the car. $369,000.000,000 in merchandise was returned last year. Adding a Honda CR-V to that will be a mere blip.

“I refuse to associate with people who revere some animals and squish others. It seems they [the people, not the animals] are talking with a forked tongue.”—Tonto

Yesterday I wrote about a little itty bitty zebra. Today I will tell you about the miracle that made a believer out of me. That is quite true. When my dead goldfish that had been half-eaten by Malcolm’s cat was revived with a few vitamin drops, I made a vow to always love the divine and to be at her service. But when Zebe started growing by leaps and bounds, I renewed my vows.

Our house where the zebras and goldfish lived was here until a few months ago.
Zebe ate a lot. One of the reasons my growth was stunted early on was because of Zebe. When Zebe learned to talk, her (discovered sex) first words were, “give me food.” I gave her the mainstays of my diet: steak and bananas. She’d complain about the bananas, “What do you want to do, make me into a monkey,” and then she’d devour them, skin and all. I think she just wanted to give me a hard time.

I lived on the ice (not “on,” but eating it) that built up in the freezer of our ancient Frigidaire. Sometimes berries would melt onto the ice and give it a good flavor. Getting the ice out was always a challenge. I used a rusty screwdriver that I found in the back coach house in the photo above.

My son is named Josh, and he continually joshes me. I can’t figure out why. His present dilemma is that water is dripping into his electrical box and he wants to fix it himself. And gallons of water came into his car and he had to use his shop vac to vacuum it out. Then I was sent this. A handyman finally does something that makes sense.

Electrical genius
So here’s what sometimes happens when you mail-order one zebra. You need to specify “one virgin zebra.”

Zebras after their release

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sears' Zebras

Sears used to sell zebras. Once upon a time. It was their policy to sell anything that people wanted. Almost.

Anyway, as a kid, I was hard to please. I had everything. Everything, that is, but a zebra. And I thought a zebra was just what I needed to make my life complete because we also had lots of flies, and flies don’t like zebras because their stripes freak them out. Go ahead, Google it, if you don’t believe me.

So, I was about six. It was the early 50s, and we had a big back yard. One day I came home from school and a little zebra was in our back yard, eating our unmoved grass. I decided to call it Zebe, and, with a carrot in my hand, I called Zebe.

Did you know that zebras like to walk backward? They aren’t the best at turning around. They might do that if a lion was chasing them, but when it is a six-year-old kid with a carrot, they just walk backward.

So Zebe finally made his/her way over to me. I wasn’t sure how to tell the difference then. And Zebe saw the carrot and went for it, and my hand as well. Luckily I was a pretty fast thinking kid and I threw the carrot up in the air. Zebe caught it in mid-air.

That was cool so I ran in the house and got a baseball. Finally, I had found a friend to play catch with.

But Zebe kept eating my balls, one after another.

I came in the house and told my mom to call Sears and complain. I thought, in a just world, that Sears should replace the baseballs since it didn’t say in Zebe's instruction book not to play catch with it.

Here’s the conversation I overheard:

Mom: Hello, we just received a zebra and it has been eating baseballs.

Sears: We do warranty our products. And we do sell the finest zebras in the world.

Mom: My son is very sad after losing all his balls. How quickly can you replace them?

Tea tray to hold zebra balls

Sears: Those balls are $2.99 each. My supervisor says you need the special balls made of zebra hide. Zebras won’t eat those.

Mom: We don’t feel we should have to pay for them. We are entitled to free balls, given that there was a problem with your zebras.

Sears: Ok, we’ll send you one ball free. But after that, we can’t both stay in business and provide free balls.

Mom: (As she slammed down the phone). Thank you!

The next thing we knew, a zebra ball flew threw our picture window. That was fast, I thought.

I took the ball into the back yard and threw it at Zebe. He/she backed up to it and sniffed it. Did you know that when zebras sniff, it is like a hurricane? Anyway, Zebe sniffed the zebra ball, and upon realizing what it was, shed tears from him/her eyes. Pools of tears, enough to drench my tennis shoes.

Tomorrow: Why is Zebe growing so fast?

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Almost a Winner

I told my wife that I was just going to make things up. I think our president if we want to call him that, has given us all permission to make things up. Unlike a traditional muse, she told me that it sounded boring. She’s really been a good muse for 50 years, always telling me the truth rather than what I wanted to hear.

As I sat this morning, I thought about this car that had backed into me at Central Market. It was a large shiny black SUV, and mine was a small SUV. The driver didn’t hurt me, but he smashed the passenger side of my car to the point that a passenger would be no longer.

I counted to ten. I didn’t want to get out of the car and start yelling at the guy. I wanted to remember that he’s a human being too, and he probably feels terrible enough that he ruined my car. He was an old man with a mustache that was well-waxed. He had a cream-colored cowboy hat and was well-dressed with tight-fitting jeans that had silver stars on the pockets.

I asked him for his driver’s license. He mumbled something and went back to his car. I could see him opening his attache case on his front seat. He reached in and grabbed a handful of 1000 dollar bills. Here, he said, this should take care of that. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry,” and didn’t seem to have regrets. He probably used the money to buy himself out of most unpleasant situations like someone else we know.

I felt well-compensated for my 9-year old car that I was sure was totaled. I looked at the money and the next thing I knew, he was quickly driving away.

Later that day I went to deposit the money into my bank. First, the teller called over the assistant manager, who called over the manager, who said, “wait here,” and a policeman came rushing into the bank. “Where did you get this money,” he said. I told them the story and they said, “we are looking for that guy. Do you have his license number? What kind of car did he have? Did you get his name?”

The bills weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. Where I thought I had cleaned up, and an unfortunate event turned out to be fruitful, I now faced my stupidity for accepting these poorly printed counterfeit bills. They even all had the same serial numbers, the teller pointed out to me.

P.S. I’m at the beginning of a zen practice period. I’m going to eat 9 meals a week and make one writing or drawing a day. Here’s my first meal.

Kerbey Lane, Austin, Texas (Vege breakfast w/gluten-free pumpkin pancakes, scrambled tofu and soyage)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

You Must Not Be Any Good

I phoned my painting teacher after receiving three rejections in one day. I wanted him to say they were stupid imbeciles. Instead, he said, “you must not be any good.”

I had read the Rilke letters a couple of years earlier, but I certainly didn’t get it then how risky it was to have my ego rely on the opinion of others. More than dangerous, it is a no-win proposition. If people like what you do, you could quickly abandon your internal compass and just rely on them. And if they rejected what you do, you could either give up or change your work to try to please them. Why didn’t I follow the sage advice from my writing professor, “listen to everyone and believe no one."

I once asked Peter Saul who was visiting our college if he’d change his direction if none of his paintings were selling. Instantly, he answered. I was dismayed. I felt gratitude a few years later when I had teaching jobs, and my livelihood didn’t depend on someone else’s tastebuds.

I was struck in the last year when someone asked what you were about from the vantage point of a distant observer. The person who says they want to do this or that, but isn’t working toward that end is a fraud of sorts. If they really want something, why aren’t they working toward that? Is it because they don’t have the time.

My teacher who so rudely answered me used to teach at several schools across a state. After 12 hours of driving and teaching, he’d find time to paint. Sartre was most productive writing each day after 12 hours of being a journalist. Anyone watching him from the sky wouldn’t doubt his commitment.

My wife is either teaching pottery, teaching tea ceremony, or learning about one or the other. Someone watching her might get pretty bored, but they wouldn’t doubt her commitment. That seems to be what Rilke was talking about.

As to my commitment, which is what I should have written about from the start, I have no idea. That’s for another time after I talk to the person watching me. What does she see? What will she say?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Way Seeking Mind Talk at Appamada, Austin, Texas, 4/28/19

Audio: https://soundcloud.com/appamada-zen/2019-04-28-dharma-talk-kim-mosley

I sent this talk to three spiritual friends who weren’t able to come. One made a comment about why Hillel spoke in the negative, standing on one foot, summarizing the Torah, saying, What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it! The distinction of positive and negative commandments are essential to Judaism, but I’m going to leave that out of this talk. I do have a theory about this, but you’ll have to ask me about that another time.

The second gave me several issues that were confusing to him, one of which was that I wasn’t defining my practice edge. That’s critical to the way, and I added that to my talk. And then I realized that I had a small mind practice edge that I could work on, and a big mind practice edge that would have to work on itself. I’ll get into that.

The third person said what I didn’t want to hear, that I should cut out 1/2 my talk, say less about others and more about myself. I readily dismissed that, having already rewritten this so many times. Peg talked about giving feedback this morning based on a workshop she just led at the San Francisco Zen Center. I said something about how I had received this abusive feedback, and she agreed with my too honest friend. I realized I was using the stories about others as a shield from exposing myself. So I eliminated 1/3 of the talk and added more about my own spiritual growth. I hope you’ll ask questions after this now shortened speech to prod me into the further investigation of “what makes Kim run”?

I love the story about Ananda, Buddha’s sidekick and also the big beautiful dog at Dharma Rain in Portland. Ananda, the man, said to Buddha, “I think I’ve got it. Spiritual friendship is 50% of Buddhism.” “No,” said Buddha, “It is all of Buddhism.” 

My modus operandi has been never to fulfill an assignment. I felt an affinity with Moses when he was told by God to speak to the rock to get water out of it. And so to suggest to God that we weren’t obedient servants, he hit the rock as he had done before. Water gushed from the rock, but he so infuriated God for not following his instructions that he was never allowed to finish his 40-year journey. I had no idea why one of the college custodians called me Moses. Now I know.

So this won’t be a way-seeking mind talk, but rather a way seeking mind talk, without a hyphen. The way found me. I plead innocent. And I hope I don’t get to finish the journey. It is too much fun trying, and I hope others can have that aspiration.

Zen for me is a combination of a sitting practice, an ethical practice, a spiritual practice, and a philosophical practice. I know there is a book, The Three Pillars of Zen. I might have read it years ago but can’t remember. If these aren’t the pillars, they should be. 

Sitting is most important because it allows me to see clearer, like cleaning my glasses which my wife says I don’t do often enough. Stories become old, and I’m left with me. Just me. Me facing a wall. There is the zen story of the teacher who keeps filling his student’s teacup to the point it spills over. The teacher asks me, “How can I take anything new in my mind if it is already filled?

Part of this ethical practice has been my study of the precepts. I did this study at AZC once, and twice at Appamada. For me, the way of the precepts have taught me to look at the effect I’m having on others. Sitting provides room for my ability to foresee the impact of my actions. It also helps me notice how differently I feel when I squish a bug with my foot or carefully transport her to the garden. I realize more and more how I’m not a unique individual that has a world revolving around me, but rather a little part of an amazingly complex and beautiful cosmos. 

My spiritual practice has been an exploration of the non-material world. I grew up believing that there were only physical entities. Yet love and art did not seem to be material. As a photographer, I realized that there was a vast difference between the silver halide particles that sat on a paper support, and a photographic image, that possibly only existed in my consciousness. Love, too, was not material. What caused me to be attracted and/or care for another? What caused the way to make me a slave? The way itself is non-material. If I combed the universe with a fine tooth comb, I would not find love, or beauty, or the way. Does that mean they don’t exist? Some of the celebrated atheists, starting with Bertrand Russell, seemed to use that as part of their argument. Not material for them meant doesn’t exist. Or, they believe, if art, love, and spirituality can be explained as a physiological process then they aren’t real. I’ve come to realize that the material stuff that exists if it exists at all is pretty uninteresting. We think we are alive. But when we die, all that is material is a bag of bones. Nothing leaves the bag of bones. Were we anything but spirit?

Last is the philosophical practice. This is exceedingly important to me. I believe we all have philosophies that lead us through our lives. I don’t see a difference between philosophy and religion. Both deal with how we see the world. They answer questions about why are we here and what are we supposed to be doing. Questions like why do bad things happen to good people and vise versa. These questions are unanswerable. Yet they are essential to ask. In Buddhism, we speak of “Beginner’s mind,” that is really a great starting point for all these inquiries. It is really accepting that the answer to all these questions is “I don’t know.” It takes a lot of practice to get to “I don’t know.”

So how did I get here, or how did the way get me?

For the first five years of my life, we lived in an apartment in Chicago. My mom told those in the building to give me appliances and machines that were broken. One of the happiest memories I have is sitting on the stairs going up to our apartment and taking apart a clock to see how it worked. I couldn’t even wait to go back to our apartment to perform the dissection.

A classmate, Bruce, asked me to go to church with him when I was 12 or so. My mother said no that I couldn’t go, I was too impressionable. She was part of the conspiracy, using reverse psychology, to get me addicted. The next Sunday was Easter, and, I think I went to six churches. BTW, reverse psychology is also called “paradoxical marketing.” We do a lot of that here.

My grandpa told me he’d give me a Jaguar if I married a Jewish girl. When he went broke, I bought my own Jaguar at the model shop. Actually, my mom bought it. It was about 8 inches long, made of plastic. I painted it black and then put red dots on it that contrasted nicely with my dark green bookshelf.

I had everything I needed as a kid. My parents differentiated between wanting and needing. My dad would take us to the Museum of Science and Industry near our home in Chicago. We’d go to the museum store there, and the game was to convince him that we needed to buy this or that. I think it was his way of teaching us persuasive speaking. My sisters and my parents were exceptionally verbal. It was hard for me to get in a word edgewise, as the expression goes. And my mom couldn’t hear very well. I couldn’t pronounce words correctly, so I was mostly left out of conversations. Yesterday I was at the doctor’s office with a mom and three kids… a little boy and his two older sisters. That was me, that little boy. I can’t imagine how my mom dealt with all of us. 

All I wanted to do was to take things apart. I loved math as well, but the rest of school was challenging, especially since all my schooling through high school was at the Univ. of Chicago laboratory schools. What saved my life was finding a photo teacher there, Robert Erickson. Erickson was part of the Way conspiracy as well, teaching me to speak without speaking through my photography and drawing. That was when I was 12, and instantly I was a photographer. He was a fantastic teacher never telling me what to do. Or so I thought. Years later, when I was teaching, and he was speaking to me about how I needed to give students choices, I said to him that he never told us what to do. “You don’t know how much I told you what to do,” he said, laughing.

Too many good things were happening in my life to believe this is a probabilistic universe. I used to read a book of miracles at night at the U of C library where I went to do my homework. I so wanted to observe a miracle. Then I realized a few years ago that we have nothing but miracles in this life of ours. The wonder of us all being here, on Earth, at Appamada, caring for one another is a much bigger miracle than in that old book about people who saw the image of Christ on an old piece of cloth. 

Down the street from us was our neighborhood Catholic Church. It had a brick wall around it with no openings on the side of the street that I was allowed to be on. We were confined, as kids, to a 25-block area around the Univ. of Chicago. But we also were allowed to wander around downtown Chicago alone, so I wasn’t completely sheltered. I figured out that the brick wall surrounded the center of the earth. I guess it was Hell, but I didn’t want to go near it to see. Finally, years later I went to the church and saw that the deep hole to hell was now a lawn of grass. I did love the mass in Latin. It was so eerie and foreign.

How could I reconcile the contrast of my parents who thought that we no longer needed religion to my grandpa’s view that I should marry a Jewish girl? In fact, my father believed that the survival of humans on Earth depended on intermarriage.

In the summers I went to a poor little town in Oregon called Cannon Beach that since has become a vibrant big town. I worked at the horse stables, still there in some form run by Terry, the son of my boss, driving a stagecoach, running a burro ring, and taking people riding on the beach and in the woods. It was quite a growing up experience bossing around grown men, telling them not to run their horses. I was such a little guy that my friends called me “Mouse.” The Burro ring was the most fun because the local girls would come and talk with me. My grandpa would come from Portland every weekend, and we’d work together gathering firewood, fishing, and working around the yard. He would always let me do as much as I could. Years later, I worked quite a bit with Linda’s dad, Delmar Burgin, who is now 100 and going strong. He knew everything about home building and repair and would let me do it all. His job was often to just grunt when I was doing the wrong thing. I’m so grateful to the two of them for what they gave me both in terms of confidence and skills.

My father gave me (and many others) a way of looking at the world. Weekly, most of my adult life, I’d call him and complain about something. He’d somehow shift the complaint somewhere else, and we’d have an interesting conversation. Once he told me that you can never move too slowly. I worked with my students on this one for a week, then called my dad back. Dad, I proudly said, we figured it out. What, he said. What you said last week, that you can never move too slowly. “What,” he said, “I’ve never heard anything so stupid.” That was my dad.

I was neither part of a Jewish community or a Christian community. 

My dad rarely spoke about Judaism, overtly, that is. He was convinced that his family’s best option was assimilation. He even insisted that my sister Gail joined the local church when she moved to Louisiana. 

When my mother’s uncle, the rabbi Lewis Browne,  decided that all religions were mainly the same and gave up being rabbi, the whole family followed and left most of their religious practice behind. Leaving Jewish spiritual practice behind became the norm for many not only in the United States but also in Israel.

My two sisters, Gail and Sandy, were my guides to growing up. In fact, they would often say in unison, “Grow up a little, will ya.” Gail understood me. She’d always be available to talk, especially about my frequent questions about girls. She even taught me to dance, which I never learned to do very well—partly because she mistakenly taught me the steps in reverse from what the guy should do. When a girlfriend invited me to be on Chicago Bandstand, I knew it was time to end that relationship.

I want to get back to this Way that sought me. I joined a very liberal Baptist Youth Group in Chicago, went in the spring to a Baptist camp to whitewash the cabins, and ended up getting a job as a dishwasher there. During the breaks, I’d question the kids on their unsinkable faith. After one week I was told, “You really don’t want to be here, do you?” 

In college, I was exposed to Kerouac, saw Ginsburg, read Alan Watts, and was in love with Buddhist thought. Then I took a course which included William Blake. His view of Christ as a tyger rather than the lamb we made him into was quite appealing. I had several Catholic friends and was jealous of their devotion. But I couldn’t have it for myself because it seemed so intellectually dishonest. I had my art, and I had my family. But I wanted more.

In 2007 I retired from teaching over 35 years and then being a dean of Liberal Arts for 3 1/2 years. It was a good move, even though my dad made me promise on his death bed that I would neither retire nor be a dean. I summoned my mom, who’d been dead for 5 years, and she said, “Shut up Edmond.” My dad, being fatherless and lacking the proper psychological training, wasn’t allowed to give us advice.

I now had the perfect setup for retirement. I had a pension close to my salary, a house and a large studio on an acre and 1/2. But the only life I knew was as a student or a teacher. I was 61. I’m not sure how the Way did it, but I decided I would learn about Judaism or Buddhism. 

My mom had a little meditation instruction from a yoga teacher. She said to me, why don’t you meditate? She had me sit on the carpet and put together my thumbs and forefingers. Maybe I was supposed to do something with my eyes. I think I sat for about 5 seconds.  In college, a psychologist told me I was my own best expert. I told him, no, you don’t know my mom.

I met a rabbi who had a little congregation in a room in a basement. He gave me an exhibit of my artwork, and I started to attend his services and a discussion group. I couldn’t sing, and I had no background in Judaism, and I was utterly lost. At about the same time, I went with my wife who has always been fascinated with Japanese arts, to a brush painting class. There I met a couple, Will and Carol, who invited me to their sitting group. I started going every week and soon went to a retreat with their teacher, Carl Jerome. He had me sitting every day, counting my breath. Whenever I’d see him, he’d ask, “how’s your sitting?” I used to love that and also would have no idea what to say. He later left Zen to a Chan temple, and I started going there on Sundays. 

So how’s my sitting?

Carl, I’m beginning to think that my sitting is beginning. Before I was just there, on the zafu which shows us how to sit by sitting 24/7 on the zabaton, but now, after 12 years, I’m not just looking like I’m sitting but actually doing that. I’m finding more and more that I’m returning to relaxing or maybe returning to returning. Returning to relaxing my slouch, sitting upright. And returning to relaxing my mind, which means to let my thoughts in and out, imagining they are a river flowing through me. Before I was just letting them in and pretending. Pretending wore out, I guess.

After moving to Austin, I started up at AZC. I made some great spiritual friends there. That was especially important because they were so patient with me, such a rank beginner.  And I was new in town, hardly knowing anyone. AZC was good to me at first with Barbara and then with Kosho. And in my usual manner, I said yes to everything and was doing a dozen or more tasks there. Early on I took a day-long something with Flint, though I actually don’t remember it very well. I think it was sufficiently different from the rest of AZC that it didn’t quite register. And I wondered what love and psychology have to do with Zen. 

Finally, too many straws broke my camel’s back, and I started going to Appamada. For a while, I was just going on Sundays, Wednesday nights, Inquiry and Depth in Practice. At some point, for a practice period, I stupidly said that I would come every morning. I was just going to do so for the practice period. But I never figured out how to not come and sit. Flint has challenged me to see if I can stay away. Perhaps that is more of the Way's paradoxical marketing, asking me not to practice. It reminds me of Rilke’s question to the young poet that he should ask himself in the middle of the night if he must write poetry. Maybe if he doesn’t have that need, he should drop the entire idea and try something else.

If meditation was easy… if I could understand any of this, I’d quit doing it immediately. I’m a glutton for punishment, and I love challenges.

Here’s why my teachers, Peg and Flint, have been so valuable. Over and over again they tell me I’m wrong. I appreciate that so much. Last week I presented to Peg my latest before the latest sitting theory. She pointed out the errors in my thinking. She thinks my dog was not in a state of open awareness by the woodpile but was concentrating on the mice and the baby rabbits. And even with what I just said, she’ll probably disagree as she so often does. I appreciate endlessly how each of my teachers has been saying yes, but… all my life. 

I also appreciate Appamada. Henry Kissinger said something like the only place politics is worse than Washington is in colleges. Appamada is fantastic in that it does work. People are treated well. They are allowed to learn and perform to the extent of their ability. There is mutual respect for one another that I have not experienced anywhere else. One regret I have is that I didn’t come to any of my administrative jobs with this experience. I started to write, I might have tried harder. But Linda, Melissa, and Gary will tell you that wasn’t my failing. My failing was I should have relaxed.

In fact, I did a piece for St. Louis public television. I asked my family “what do I need?” and one of my kids answered, “to relax.” Another said, “to worry less about your kids.” I took a picture of them saying this, then mounted them on blocks of wood that were put into a canvas shopping bag that I had painted.

I had thought when I retired I would work for the rest of my life to prepare myself for my next lifetime. It wasn’t that I was a great believer that I’m a phoenix that will be reborn, but more that this seemed like a good practice. Also, I thought Judaism and Buddhism would be a reasonable inquiry about death, as was my sisters’ passing in the last few years. Then one day I realized that there is so much that I’m doing, and so much more than I could be doing that I’d forego that idea of preparation and just do things. I think the shift occurred when I was asked to be on an Appamada council, and also when I was “elected” to be on our Buddhist Action Now Council, even if I voted against me. These all seem like opportunities to make a little difference in the world. 

Two more things. I love the Torah and the Talmud. Especially the Talmud. It reminds me of all the conversations I had with my father. In Judaism, I found so much of my parents. Even the prayer we thought my mom made up and I altered. It was from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5), “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” My mom would say this to us and to the grandkids, “I love you with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my might.” I added that she should ask my name because I wanted to be sure she was saying the prayer to me. So that’s become part of our family prayer, depersonifying God. It was curious to learn many things from Judaism, for example, that “might” meant “riches” rather than “strength.”

I started to work toward a Bar Mitzvah, doing a drawing and writing every day on the Torah. I only finished about 150 days. Early on, I discovered the Bar Mitzvah was not originally an elaborate ceremony like it is today, but was automatic when a boy turned 13.

And my family has been so much a part of this Way. Part of me regrets I had nothing much to do with religion growing up. But part of me reacts, like my mom, with the heebie-jeebies when I hear people talking about God as a being. That seems so dishonest.

And both of my kids are getting some religion, my son, Josh, from his Jewish wife, Sarah Zwerling, who loves Jewish holidays, my daughter, who is head of the board for the school at Congregation Beth Israel, and my grandkids, who argue about God when I drive them to Sunday school. In the latest episode, I asked my 4-year old Nate where was God. At school, he said. When Nate came to our house that evening, I asked him if God was there today. No, he said.

Second. I love Koans. We study koans on the fourth Wednesday night of the month. Literally, they mean “public case.” Two monks are usually having a conversation. It starts out mundane, coming from the little mind, and suddenly becomes earth-shattering, coming from the big mind. Often, in the process, someone is enlightened. 

It isn’t a meal in Judaism if you don’t talk about the Torah. So maybe in Buddhism, it isn’t a dharma talk if you don’t discuss a koan.

Here’s one I wrote for this talk:

What is my way?


Where did I go?


Then how can I return?

I can’t.

At that, I wasn’t enlightened. 

My way is returning. This stuff I do isn’t entirely about relaxing, as I suggested. It is about returning over and over again to the job at hand. So I am washing my bowl. Am I wondering what I’ll have for dinner? That’s wondering what I’m having for dinner. So I return to washing my bowl.

Thursday I was timekeeper. I hit the bells to begin and end the zazen and the chants. I missed one of many bells in the middle of a chant. It wasn’t a critical bell, and I’m not sure if even Peg noticed. But I was lucky. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the time. I somehow looked up enough that I didn’t miss when our sessions began or stopped. But this job was too critical to rely on luck. My practice edge—that which is between me and the practice I’d like to have—is paying attention. It is returning more and more frequently to the task at hand. Waking up, as we say. Note: I spoke with Vaughn about this Friday in our peer-to-peer practice. I realized then that my real practice edge was something I had mentioned to him a year or two ago, about how, in a dream, I came to a steel wall and couldn’t find a door, and was trying to get to the other side. I guess that’s my big mind practice edge. Paying attention is my small practice edge. Joko Beck writes in Everyday Zen, “So let’s just sit with what may seem like confusion. Just feel it, be it, appreciate it.“ The absence of a door isn’t something I can do anything about. I just have to sit and wait until the door appears. Then I can go through it.

Next is the question, where did you go? The photographer, Harry Callahan, used to say that people would go on vacation and forget to take themselves with them. He meant, superficially at least, that their pictures were entirely about the place and not about the person making the picture. People think they’ve stepped off the boat, but really, mentally, they haven’t left home. You are here, wherever that might be. Always. And when you aren’t, you return. To your center. To who you are.

Next is more manageable, and maybe breaks a little with the koan form. “How can I return?” I merely said you can’t. So the way is nothing but returning over and over again to relaxing body and mind, just where I was in the first place.

I sent this version of the talk to a friend who also is not able to be here. She’s a therapist, and also loves to dance, sing, and play the cymbals for a band. She asked me how did I express my spirituality. It seemed what I was describing was mental to her. This is an excellent illustration of how friends can be so helpful. It reminded me of Reb Anderson’s essay on “A Ceremony for the Encouragement of Zazen” that Michael Sporer and I poured over for a month. Reb Anderson wrote, “Conventionally speaking, Zen students say, ‘Now I am going to the meditation hall to do zazen.’ However, the formal actions which you or I perform in assuming the traditional bodily posture of sitting medita­tion are not actually the zazen of buddha ancestors. Their zazen has nothing to do with sitting or lying down. These ritual forms which we humans practice are a ceremony by which we express and celebrate our devotion to the actual reality of zazen.” So zazen is an embodied practice, rather than solely a mental practice. 

In an earlier version of this talk, I spoke about walking through Central Market as being the practice. I told that to Peg once, and she said, “oh, a self-improvement program.” I was noticing that I wasn’t being very thoughtful about others and they were saying, “excuse me.” Really I should have been the one saying excuse me. Now I’m thinking of Central Market differently. It is a practice to return over and over again to the task at hand. Wheel the cart, avoid obstacles, get the groceries. Then comes the challenge. You were told to get pineapple, and they are out of pineapples. To add insult to injury, you go to the service counter to complain, and everyone is working on spreadsheets, and they won’t look up. Your choice is to get angry or to return to relaxing body and mind, and have gratitude that they are giving you time to do a little three breath meditation.

So here’s how I can do it, the next time I am frustrated and thinking of going postal. And if you don’t think I’m ever there, talk to my wife, Linda. Or even ask all my imaginary animals in our house.

Here’s how I’ll return. Let’s all do it. It just takes 10 or 20 seconds. First, I take a very deep breath. I let air into my lungs, making sure I bathe all the recesses of my lungs with oxygen. I hold it there for a second, and then slowly release it as if I’m saying goodbye to a beloved guest. Then I repeat this two more times, and I’m home free, realizing that they have other food at Central Market besides pineapple.


Who's in the world?

Xiushan said, "What can you do about the world?" Dizang said, "What do you call the world?"