Category Archives: Personal

Last Flight of the Crow

 

Well, that about does it for me.

I started this blog for many reasons, but now I have none to sustain my writing here. I just have run out of things to say, and as I’m still such a beginner as far as Zen is concerned, I find I have nothing left to offer here. I don’t have a sangha or teacher or zendo nearby to inspire posts. I have been infrequent at best with meditation. Intellectual Buddhism will only get one so far, and at times I find myself going too far in that direction. And I have no desire to jump on the latest Buddhist blogger meme to throw my 2 cents in. Once upon a time I certainly did, but as I go back and read those posts I just shake my head and laugh and think how silly most of these situations really were. I just don’t have anything left to offer as far as Buddhist blogging is concerned.

As my life moves in a new direction, so too will my blogging.

I’ve started a new blog, Cascadia Nation. If you’re at all interested in checking it out, I’d advise reading the different “about” pages there. If you choose to follow, great! If it isn’t your cup of tea, no sweat! I’ve loaded up a couple of my previous posts there, but I have a new post up today about the Occupy movement. I’m also still posting photos and dharma tidbits at my tumblr site Dharma Snapshots. I’ll leave the posts here up just because I’ve had it requested.

Thanks for all the comments and discussion here. If you haven’t already, please check out some of the sites I’ve linked to over on the right.

 

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

PS: for those of you that might follow me on twitter, I’ve changed my handle there to @AdamInCascadia . I’ve been meaning to make it more personalized for awhile, so there.

 

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New Project

 

Recently my wife and I have started a photography business. She’s been doing all of the portraiture and other amazing photography for us, and I have put up some of my more artistic creations as well. It’s nice to be able to share  something like this, it is something that provides a creative outlet for Alex, and also helps to bring in some extra income as well. You can check out all of our work on our brand new website here.

 

And a grand ol’ tip of the hat to mister Anoki Casey for designing the logo and website for us. It was/is a great experience working with a pro like Anoki.

 

Cheers.

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Home, part 2 – Bodhidharma’s peace of mind

The following teisho comes from a podcast I frequently listen to from the Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji Rinzai temple in Seattle. I copied the koan online, and transcribed part of the dharma talk below. I only included a short bit of it, just the part that really struck a chord with me. I recommend this particular podcast but be forewarned that there is a bit of the Eido Shimano controversy involved there in the middle, as the teisho is given by one of his dharma heirs. However, this is really an excellent podcast/dharma talk and well worth your time to listen. I reccomend all of Genjo Osho’s dharma talks.

From the Gateless Gate (Mumonkan)

Case 41

Bodhidharma sat facing the stone wall. The Second Patriarch of Chinese C’han (Zen), Suika, stood long in the thick snow. Finally, he severed his own arm and presented it to Bodhidharma. He said, “Your student cannot pacify his mind. You, the First Patriarch, please, give me peace of mind!” The First Patriarch replied, “Bring that mind, I will calm it down!” The Second Patriarch said, “I search for it everywhere, but I cannot find it!” Bodhidharma replied, “I have already pacified it for you!”

Mumon’s Comment:

That toothless old chap from India proudly travelled ten thousand li over the ocean (to China). This was indeed as if he deliberately raised waves where there was no wave. At last, he got only one disciple, who was maimed by cutting off his own arm. Alas, he was a fool indeed.

The First Patriarch from India taught straight forward,
A series of all the troubles has initiated from him.
The one who disturbed the calm world,
Is Boddhidharma, you indeed!

From the teisho:

…that is a great insight, that we’re already whole, but never complete. We’re never perfect, but we’re already perfectly imperfect. From the beginning of Zen training, it’s always: not yet. There’s no end to it. Once you’ve begun, there’s no finish. And the insight is that that can be a life of great inquiry. And this great inquiry begins with Great Doubt. We, in order to begin this journey, feel as if something is missing, or lost. And we have some inkling that somebody’s got it somewhere, [said with a wink] maybe I should go find it. And we become seekers of the way. And we sense a kind of sick sense that we’re not home and we’re meant to be home, but somehow we haven’t found it. So we go on a quest, or a search; we begin a journey and examine different practices and teachers, communities, trying to find that method or teaching or path that will bring us home. Or help us find what’s missing.

I think this might start at birth. As we come into this life, and exit the womb, I think we feel expelled from “Eden”, if you will. And in a way I think we’re looking, at least initially when we start our search, I think we’re looking for a way home, back to the womb somehow. And a lot of times we take detours into something that gives us a womb-like experience. Whether it’s sexuality or an addiction, or some kind of comfort zone that hits a mark and we try that pathway of pure pleasure or comfort. But somehow that still doesn’t satisfy the itch. So we continue on our journey with the pendulum swinging the other way… somehow if we shed enough, maybe we’ll find what we lost. But that extreme doesn’t work either. We still have this itch that cannot be scratched, or this sense that we’re not home, we’re still not home. And this is this spiritual quest that is driven by this doubt, or a kind of knowing that something is missing. What is it?

First I’d like to start with the koan. I doubt very much that Suika literally cut his arm off! Instead this is intended to show the depth of his devotion to this great quest. And it makes me wonder how dedicated I really am. Would I be willing to cut off my arm saying “HERE! LOOK! THIS IS WHAT I AM WILLING TO DO TO PEER INTO THE DEPTHS AND FACE BUDDHA MIND!” Doubtful. If anything, this koan humbles me, and reminds me that at this point, I’m basically a tourist on the path. Not desperately seeking, but more casually trying to catch a glimpse of that buddha nature and develop focus so that one day I might have the courage to realize buddha nature fully. I find that getting through the days of work, family, and school often means putting any type of spiritual quest up on my shelf. This koan also makes me inquire: “do I face my wall? Or do I turn away from my wall?” – but the answer might be another post altogether…

What really hits home for me though, are the two paragraphs I transcribed from the teisho. This feeling of seeking “home”; these are the words I’ve been searching for to describe that spiritual itch I haven’t really been able to scratch. I think back to really understanding the second noble truth for the first time and I can see how right then, I identified that there was an itch, and I could at least start working to try to scratch it by taking up the Buddhist path. Fast forward a bit to me looking toward Zen, and I could see that it is this particular medicine that will best relieve me from my itch. Sometimes I see the Buddhist path phrased as “returning to the source” and I think this really strikes to the heart of what it is we’re searching for. That being separated from that source causes all kinds of strife, and if we can just get back there, and experience that source, we’ll feel home again.

When you’re searching for “home”, you’re never more than a tourist. Living and getting through each day becomes your routine. But living away from “home” starts to wear on you spiritually after a while. Pretty much everywhere you go, you feel like you aren’t really supposed to be there. The best way I can describe it is to provide an analogy, like when you get done with a shower, but you really don’t feel clean still even though you shampooed and soaped, and kind of want to take another one to see if you can get it right. Everything feels temporary and incomplete, like a house of cards on a shaky table.

I’m finding more and more that the physical influences the spiritual. A clean home just feels better. Sitting in meditation with proper posture feels better, and is more conductive of a better session (when I’m actually able to find the time…). Using right speech and being careful when choosing words makes the weight of the words you choose much heavier, and more conductive. Noticing those times when I use wrong speech, I can immediately look at myself and see my life condition lowered. Living somewhere that feels like “home” can be much more conductive to a sunnier disposition. Ritual and creating a sacred space aren’t necessary, but using them correctly can really help to get us to sort of… “tune in” to the station we’re looking for. When we find that station we’ll often get mostly static, but our dial is at least in a better position than it was before hand.

I know, I know; the Heart Sūtra. “Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form.” But I’m finding more and more that form can be conductive to finding non-form. That the physical can help manifest the metaphysical. That my search for home can help me find “home”. So I’m searching for home. That’s where I am now. That’s where I’ve been for a couple of decades now that I really look back. Don’t confuse the search with craving for “better”. “Better” is not really what I’m after. I’m after peace of mind, so that in due time, I can find peace of mind. I know that there is a place out there where I’m “supposed to” be (though I don’t believe in fate). And I know that I will find it. It has always been on the proverbial tip of my tounge. And I also know that somewhere out there is a “home” beyond touch that I’m meant to find. So for now I’ll keep searching.

Cheers.

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Home, part 1

Recently we drove down to Seattle so that my wife could do a photo shoot at a favorite old park of ours (it’s the one I proposed to her at…). It’s been 4 years since we lived in Seattle. The dozen or so times we’ve been back since moving away, it always feels like a piece of my heart was ripped out when we left, and that going back puts it all back together, if even for a moment.

The bench that I proposed to Alex on. On the ground there is a plaque there that reads: "A respite for those who see beauty in all things"

The particular neighborhood we were in was Queen Anne. It is a very wealthy, beautiful neighborhood just North of downtown. On the street we were on, I could almost smell the money along with the cherry blossoms and dogwoods that lined the sidewalks. I don’t know that any of those houses were worth less than $800,000; many of them were worth more than 5 million. Part of this comes from the view many of the homes there enjoy. The homes also enjoy relative security from passersby such as myself. Many of them had gates in front of the driveways, or even in front of the walkways that led up to their front doors. Some are on a steep enough incline that you wouldn’t even bother looking for a way in. The separation was plain as day. I was welcome to look, but not to touch.

Walking down this street with the kids in tow in their double stroller, I ran a gambit of emotions.

Anger that people could live like this, so secluded from the rest of the world.

Jealousy because a part of me wanted to know what that type of life would feel like, to not have to worry about finances, to be able to enjoy the finer things in life and send my kids to a nice safe little private school.

Despair that I’ll never be able to provide that type of life for our children.

And then I turned that stroller East up a hill and huffed and puffed the three of us to the top. All those churning emotions just kind of faded away. Corbin got to see a fire truck with it’s lights on parked on the street to provide support to an EMT team that had arrived in at some public gathering for a medical emergency. We sat there, eating PB&J and talking about the hoses and lights and everything else that made his face light up.

Then we headed back down toward the park as Alex was finishing up her shoot. This time though, I didn’t feel jealousy or anger. No resentment. I’d rather be there on the street, talking to the passersby about the flowers along the road, the weather, the kids in prom outfits walking around getting their pictures taken. I realized then that it wasn’t the houses and the economic situation that had made me upset. I didn’t want to live so isolated as these people seemed to.

What had really been bothering me was that I was homesick. Deeply, desperately homesick. If you’ve followed this little blog at all, you’ll know that I lived the first 20 years of my life in Michigan, then moved to Seattle where I met Alex and we lived for 5 years. When I say I’m homesick, it isn’t for Michigan, but for Seattle.

In Seattle I could walk down the street and breathe in the city. There is life there, but more than that is a feeling of being alive. Seattle fits like my favorite hoodie. Comfortable and warm, but loose with enough breathing room that I’m never really restricted. When we go back there to visit, it feels like I never left. Seattle feels like home. If home is where the heart is, I’ve been missing a piece of my heart for the last 4 years.

At the same time, I feel right at home out in the middle of nowhere. Places where the only sounds are from the birds chirping and cedars creaking. Places where bon fires are encouraged and where a babbling stream serves as a sink and shower.

These two places share one thing in common; when I’m there, I feel alive, I feel surrounded by life. Out here in the suburbs, I’ve only ever felt like I’m living in a way. There isn’t much magic to be had in the ‘burbs. And where there is magic and life, that is where home is. In finding “home”, I look to something other than a place. It is something ethereal that can’t be touched, yet I also find it linked inextricably to my environment. I’m starting to find more and more that this great spiritual quest has everything to do with finding “home”.

I’ll have part 2 up in the next week or so. It will examine a bit about a connection to “home” and Zen.

Cheers.

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No cushion; no Zen. No cushion; zen.

People come to Buddhism for all types of reasons, and apply the teachings in just as many ways. For some it serves a religious purpose, for some a “way of life”, others a philosophy and so on. Whatever it may be for you, it seems as if it would be quite useless if its only benefits were found in one location, one posture, one turn of a phrase. I too often see people talking about how “just sitting” is the path to enlightenment. Or that only the full lotus posture will do when sitting in zazen, or more importantly that zazen happens on a cushion.

While inching toward a full lotus posture and regular meditation schedule are invaluable tools on this crooked path of Zen, they will leave us out naked in the cold if we leave our practice there with them. I have no desire to take up a path that isn’t able to be carried everywhere I go. Zazen must be the manifestation of whole-hearted inquiry into that mind-stuff of Buddha nature, and Buddha nature is not trapped on my pillow.

I’ve mentioned that recently my life schedule has become more than full. As such, my practice must evolve if it is to survive. I have no wish to take up the path of Zen for the label alone, nor do I wish to take it up just for those 20 minutes I could sit on a pillow and stare at my bookcase. So right now what Adam’s Zen looks like is reading a sūtra a day, practicing the paramitas, and throwing myself into polynomial factoring-zazen.

I haven’t the time to meditate. It isn’t there. And even if I were to attempt it, I guarantee I would just fall asleep 30 seconds into it anyway. So I practice my zazen in Math class. I found that I was making silly, elementary mistakes with some of the problems that were coming up because I was rushing or not checking my work  or some other mindless reason. Now I make sure and breathe the problems in, and breathe the problems out. It is helping my studies, and further more it is helping me glimpse at my monkey mind and find the cause of its monkey-nature. It is something quite unexpected.

This is something new for me, being able to see my self for the monkey that it is. In the past I’ve found it is easy to let that monkey turn into a stubborn ape, and when that happens it can seem as though hope is lost. That you’ll never be able to penetrate deep inside the luminous cavern of Buddha nature as long as that damn dirty ape stands in the way. But I’m seeing that ape less and less these days.

So this is where I will take Zen, and where Zen will take me for now. Off to math class I go.

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10 from 2010

I thought I would do a quick ego fluffing year-in-review type post. Here it goes:

1. The biggest thing that happened this year was obviously the birth of my daughter Zoa. She is now 3 months old, and sassy as hell. It is still really weird for me to think that I’m the father of 2! children. A family of four. How the hell did that happen?!?!

2. For awhile there I thought my job and company was in jeopardy. We’ve weathered the storm and I remain gainfully employed at a company that I am proud to work for.

3. Next week I start school. I’ll be taking 3 classes, working full-time, and trying to spend as much time with my family as possible. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep up the 3 classes at a time thing, but the more I can, the sooner I’ll have my degree. And then the sooner we’ll be more financially secure and stable (at least, that’s the plan….) so hopefully I can last at that pace until summer of 2012.

4. This year I changed blogs, joined twitter, wrote for Elephant Journal and shifted the focus of my content here. I’ve been trying to be more aware of how I spend my time online, as well as how much time I spend here. So far the process is evolving nicely. I also started a photo blog which is sort of on hiatus at the moment until I have more time to snap some photos. But I am tied only very loosely to it, so it will just sit there for now. And I’m okay with that. I’m also okay with not posting here regularly. No pressure.

5. I decided to focus my dharma practice in a more Zen-centered path. I’m enjoying what I’m learning, and struggling to put it all into practice. I’m inching my way forward, but forward nonetheless.

6. Last year I made some resolutions. Let’s see how I did:

  • 1st – no more meat. Verdict: fail! So I don’t eat meat for any meal, whatsoever. I don’t order any meat when we eat out. But my son is a very picky eater. Some of the things he will eat are meaty. Sometimes he doesn’t finish his food. So I eat it. I’d rather it didn’t go to waste considering the manner in which it got to our dinner table. I don’t care if that makes me a non vegetarian or not. I didn’t make the choice about my diet in order to provide myself with a label or status.
  • 2nd – a more committed practice – verdict – fail! I wanted to chant daimoku twice daily and such, but I didn’t. In fact, I decided not to continue practicing strictly in the Nichiren tradition anymore. However I have found other ways to integrate other practices and study into my life. So whatever.
  • 3rd – incorporate meditation into my practice – WIN!!! Yeah, I’ve meditated a bit this year. Nothing strict or regular, but I have. And I’d like to find more time to do so, but not sure how that is going to work with work/school/kids/wife/need to shower and eat.

7. This year my only resolution is to be a better husband and father, and to do my best to be there for my family and balance all of my commitments.

8. The best book I read this year is probably The Eight Gates of Zen. Although I’m currently digesting The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing and it is really, really good.

9. Here are the 4 posts I wrote this year that I am most proud of:

Affirm life, Do not kill – it was a post around some of my thoughts/feelings on abortion.

My Personal Internet Usage Policy – this one got the most hits I’ve ever had on one day (400 something) and got really good reception. I even saw some people who said they printed it out and hung it by their computer!

Bringing us back to shore – no one else seemed to like this one, but I did damn it!!!

My Team – I wrote this on July 4th, and it actually has nothing to do with sports, though I think my metaphor got lost. Oh well, I dug it.

If you had a particular favorite that I didn’t mention, let me know in the comments.

10. I discovered that I am now that old guy that doesn’t enjoy any newfangled music! Seriously though, I’ve been able to find very little new music that I like anymore. Here are a few gems that I was able to find:

Chiddy Bang (my interest in hip hop in general is declining, but groups like this and a few other indie MCs out there are keeping my iPod fresh for the time being)

Alberta Cross – excellent Canadian band my friend turned me onto. A distinct Neil Young influence, something I don’t mind in the least.

 

Iron and Wine – amazingly talented music. So talented, you’ll likely never hear it on the radio.

Ray LaMontaingue – ‘soul’ is the first word that comes to mind when listening to Ray LaMontaingue as he plays with all of his and then some.

And the award to the catchiest damn song I heard all year (or was it last year? I don’t remember, I’ve just been unable to get it out of my head):

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Home

 

Here’s to 2011. I hope you all have a wonderful and safe New Years.

Cheers.

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A Slice of Life

Yesterday much to my surprise I found that this blog is a finalist for a “Best ‘Life’ Blog” Blogisattva award. I am very much in shock and extremely humbled by this. I am also really excited that I’ve been nominated along some of my favorite blogs:

  • Cheerio Road – Blogger: Karen Maezen Miller – Karen is an accomplished writer and speaks to the many of us that struggle with bringing Buddhist practice into our daily lives. (gee, wonder who is going to win this one?! lol)

 

  • Digital Zendo – Blogger: Jaye Seiho Morris – Jaye’s writing comes directly from his heart. He is lay-ordained in the Rinzai tradition, and I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with him through email and twitter, and I really enjoy his perspective. He defines Zen as “unification of heart-mind” which is something I profoundly appreciate.

 

  • Mind Deep – Blogger: Marguerite Manteau-Rao – Marguerite is another blogger writing from heart to heart on everything from her experience with death and hospice to bringing wonderful women teachers into a brighter light.

 

  • The Buddhist Blog – Blogger: James Ure – for me, Jame’s blog will always be my “gateway” blog. His was the first dharma-flavored blog I read and it was there that I found many of my other favorite blogs.

 

The title “life” blog got me thinking. Each one of these blogs I read just about each time they post. But to say that I know any of these people would be wrong view. I have no real idea who these people are, or anything about their “lives”. I only ever get just a slice. And you, reading this now, only ever get a tiny slice of my life here. You have no idea what my life is really like, but only what I want you to think about it, because it is all filtered in that way (consciously or not). There is so much more that never even gets mentioned. There are a few bloggers that I also keep up fairly regular email correspondence with, but to say that I know what it would be like to share a beer or argument or special moment face to face with any of those people would again be false.

But I don’t think it’s pointless or worthless or of no value to connect with these people. I think the category “life” is a perfect one to have up there. We may only get a slice here and there, but the experiences these people share when they’ve touched those slices can be of incredible importance. I can relate to each one of the above bloggers in one way or another, and for that connectedness I am grateful. I will never be as connected to them as I am my wife or children, but their accounts reach out to ensure all of us readers that mistakes can be met with success, but it doesn’t always end up that way (and that’s okay too sometimes). We also find through their writing that our experiences with the dharma are ever evolving and colored by our real-life experiences; which are then colored by our contact with the dharma.

I can honestly say that when the winners are announced tomorrow that I already consider myself a “winner” in some respect. Just the fact that I’ve been put up with such great company means to me that blogging about my practice, perspective and struggles can be of benefit to both others and myself. Recognition for that alone is wonderful, and for that I am grateful.

If you haven’t checked out the Blogisattva site yet, please do. As I’ve said before this award process is really about having some fun and discovering some new blogs. Many of the blogs that I regularly read were nominated or received honorable mentions, and I was also able to discover quite a few new blogs that I’ve added to my reader. Congrats to all those nominated, and thank you to all who continue to share your experiences with the world.

Cheers.

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Just Patience.

The Great Bodhisattva of Patience wields a fiery spoonful of pudding!

I’m finding more and more that I’ve reached a bit of a plateau when it comes to this blog and Buddhism in general. Part of the reason I started this blog was to openly explore the dharma as I started on the path. I am nowhere near any kind of expert, realized master, or authority or any such person when it comes to Buddhism. But I do feel like I have a grip on enough of the basics that I have little where else to go as far as the online world is concerned. I’m finding more and more that what I’m looking for isn’t here, but lies closer to where my feet are planted, and my fingers meet the keyboard.

After awhile the basics start to get boring. I can only read the same thing said a million different ways so many times before it becomes Geography class. Geography class was always required in middle and high school. But it was useless. Once you learned where Bolivia was, that was it. But we had to learn where Bolivia was and what their climate and chief exports and natural landmarks were year after year. But nothing changed. Most of the basic concepts of Buddhism are like this, at least on an intellectual level. And quite frankly, you can only do so much with text.

Also quite frankly, you can only do so much while sleep deprived. I haven’t had but maybe 4 good nights of sleep in the past 2 years or so. Kids can do this to you. My kids do this to me. My wife has it worse. So I haven’t been meditating, and I struggle to even read the past few weeks. For my son Corbin, it’s been a struggle to get him to go down for the night. Once he does, he’s been mostly sleeping through the night (finally, after almost 2 years) but wakes between 5-6am. This wouldn’t be too bad if our daughter Zoa would allow us to put her down to sleep at a decent hour, but she’s a bit of a night owl and frequently won’t lay down for the night until between 11pm-1am.

Needless to say, I’m running short on patience. Patience with my wife, children, situation, self, work, strangers, family, you name it. It manifests in many forms. Anger, rudeness, non-compassion are the usual ones, though cold distance is there at times as well.

Concepts are great, but they don’t mean shit off the paper.

Spiritual traditions are great, but they don’t mean shit if you can’t apply them to your life. They don’t mean shit if they can’t help you deal with your issues in a way that brings about real, actual change. And those changes don’t mean shit if you can’t use them to better deal with those you love the most and keep the closest.

So I’m dedicating my practice to the pursuit of patience.

Patience.

                 Patience.

Patience.

It really couldn’t be a better time to do so. Financially, we’re hoping to put ourselves in the house market by the end of 2011. This will take work, sacrifice, and a ton of patience and non-attachment. Starting in January, I’m going back to school to pursue a degree in Enviromental Policy and Planning. The A.A.S. part will hopefully be done by Summer 2012, but looking down the road this is going to be tough. I’m going to have to put in a lot of work for this, and working 40+ hours while trying to be a family man and go to school full-time is going to really test ability to remain patient, calm, and present.

Oh, and I have 2 kids! Wow! They are a daily test of patience. My son’s new favorite game is just to knock shit over. He walks up to a chair, and just knocks it over, bam! Vacuum? Bam! High Chair? Bam! Our neighbors below must love us…

So what I’m getting at here in this long “me me me” post is that what I really need to do is forget some of my loftier dreams of group meditation or kensho and just go for what matters most to my life right now: developing patience. My family will thank me for it. I will thank me for it. To me it is more beneficial than digging through Nagarjuna’s thoughts on Dharmadhatu, though I do hope to make it there someday as well. Right now my practice needs to meet the pavement where I commute daily, in hope that my passengers will benefit.

Cheers.

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On and off the shelf

It’s about 1am on Thursday night, and we’ve just got our 1 month old daughter, Zoa, to sleep. It’s been and on-and-off (mostly on) struggle to get her down at night. And then my son Corbin wakes up. I go in, try to comfort him, but nothing works. I’m not able to get him back to sleep until nearly 5am, and then have to wake up at 6:45 to head to work.

In this 4 hour period I go from rage to depression to fear to calm to half-asleep to happy. No where do I find my Buddhism. Why? Because it is in its usual resting place, the shelf.

The Literal Shelf:

I haven’t meditated since before my daughter was born, which was a month ago. My son has been sleeping less at night, sometimes waking up for 4-5 hours, sometimes 30 minutes at a time 3-4 times a night. Or sometimes he sleeps right through. My daughter hasn’t been going to sleep well either. I used to do my meditation routine at night, right after everyone was in bed. Meditate, or sleep… meditate, or sleep…. not really a hard choice on my part now. Setting up the altar and meditating in the morning isn’t really an option, as I wake up with my son (anywhere from 4:30am-7am) and there is no chance in hell I can sit staring at the floor with him running around loose.

So right now, my Buddhism sits on the shelf, in the form of a book usually. I’ve decided that for now, study shall suffice, at least until we can get some kind of regular night-time and sleep routine going. I realize that meditation is only a tiny part of Buddhist and Zen practice, I do. I realize that really living the path means bringing the teachings with you into the mud of life. But I’m having enough difficulty just remembering to take out the damn trash, let alone to do it “mindfully”. I have no teacher, no formal sangha. My knowledge is a lacking, and my insights are few and rare. Right now study isn’t just a way to practice while being convienent, but is a necessary and important part of my practice for today and tomorrow. I simply wish I had the time, capacity, and patience to bring “it” off the shelf more often. Which brings me to-

The Figurative Shelf:

I notice more and more that the times when I’m “being a Buddhist”, come short and fast, and they are gone. I can remember to breathe from the hara, but then it’s gone as soon as my breath leaves. And when I remember again a few minutes later, I kick myself when I look at all the crap I filled my head up with in between.

But much of my life is no different from this. Those feelings I had late the other night, they came and went faster than I would have admitted at the time. I’m finding most of my life resides on the shelf. Little stories I have of “me” to be taken down and checked out when convenient. Some of them barely get out of their usual space before they come right back, while others are near impossible to put back once taken.

 

Anger in its many forms is one of these. Stress, rage, loneliness, burden. This story I call “Only my self and the fire” is an old and familiar one. One too familiar, and not old enough. I know how harmful it can be, yet its pages suck me in and keep me there longer than I’d like. But eventually a chapter or two in, and I realize how many times I have read this one, and how it always ends the same. As time passes I’m finding that it goes back on the shelf a little easier each time, and that it takes me a page or two less each time to get it there. Progress.

There is another, one titled “Riding on Cloud 9 in Fantasy Land”. This story sits on my shelf more often than not, but when I pick it up, I am transported. Taken away to a place where nothing can harm me. No bill collectors are allowed here and everyone has a perfect credit score. People don’t fight. Kids sleep through the night. Cats scoop their own litter box. Cars repair themselves for free. Everything works out in the end here. This book isn’t just hard to put back on the shelf, it’s impossible. The only way to get it back on the shelf is if another one of my stories knocks it out of my hand. I don’t like it when that happens. I really enjoy that story.

And this goes on and on and on. These novels and short stories that I’ve created for me and about me, are constantly going from hand to shelf, hand to shelf. The speed at which must be quite dizzying to onlookers, as I know it wears me out. And to top it off, there are times at which the books and stories I’m grabbing seem to have no real rhyme or reason, other than to grab them and hold on.

I’ve done this for years and my shelf is in disarray. Unfortunately, I’ve been viewing Buddhism and spirituality as just another story, to take on and off the shelf. If I had the presence of mind, I’d open up the pages, and realize that they aren’t things to be taken off the shelf and put back on at a whim. No, these are much more powerful. They are a Dewey Decimal system to keep these books organized. Help me clean them up and put them where they go. Separate the fiction from non-fiction. Buddhism and spirituality are there for when it’s time to let some of these books go, and reduce some of my inventory.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to do this type research needed into these very special ‘books’. They are there at home now, sitting on that damned shelf. Too often I leave them on that shelf, ignored until they are to be picked up when convienent.

In a flurry, on and off they go.

But they are an empty shelf!

Just hear without the noise.

Unite heart and mind.

Cheers.

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The 2nd noble truth: my journey into Buddhism (part 1 of 2)

If this sticky, uncouth craving overcomes you in the world,

your sorrows grow like wild grass after rain.

If, in the world,

you overcome this uncouth craving,

hard to escape,

sorrows roll off you, like water beads off a lotus.

— from the Dhammapada

My journey into Buddhism began long before I knew anything about the dharma. Lately during meditation, some memories that I had previously not paid much attention to have begun to surface. Memories of times when I was deeply interested in mind, the process of mind, and the nature of mind. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, somewhere between 8-13 though. I can remember moments where I became obsessed with mind. How is it that I could watch my mind, and the inner dialogue I was having? Were there two of me? And if I noticed that I was able to watch my inner dialogue, was that then a 3rd person/mind/self present? These issues bugged the absolute crap out of me at times, but as a child with ADHD soon I found something else to fixate upon and pass the time.

I also distinctly remember moments of timelessness. Where my concentration was so focused it wasn’t, where time was infinite and minute and neither of these, where the things around me didn’t exist with labels. But I remember them only as fading moments. Desperately I would try to get back to that state of concentration where the inner dialogue (which was always going at 100 MPH) was shut off. After awhile of this and the times spent contemplating my mind, I remember deciding that these things were impossible to figure out, and that if I spent my time attempting to, I’d probably end up in a padded cell. I never really gave these times too much thought the rest of my youth. Occasionally I’d do some quiet contemplation, but nothing formal or serious or anything really worth mentioning. I don’t want to label these moments as I fear that I’d be putting them through a filter that wasn’t there at the time.

I’ve spoken about my religious upbringing enough on this blog, so I won’t bore you with that again. I’ll flash forward to 3-4 years ago. After adopting some of my wife’s pagan beliefs and embracing a more pantheistic world-view, I still somehow felt that my true spiritual calling was still out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered. After we settled in to our new apartment in Bellingham, we decided to have a look around town, and it happened that there was an SGI center just a couple of blocks away from where we were living. I had no idea what SGI was, and my wife informed me that she used to practice with them. I knew she had chanted and practiced some kind of Buddhism as a youth, but never really dug into it. Well, considering the close proximity of the center, I decided to check out the whole Buddhist thing. I started by going to SGI’s main website, but that didn’t do much for my investigative mind. So I started at wiki, and searched around a bit at urban dharma and I found the Four Noble Truths.

Whoa.

This, to me was it. Life is unsatisfactory. There is a root cause for why life is in an unsatisfactory state. There is a way to make escape this unsatisfactory existence, and the way to do that is the Noble Eightfold Path.

What really hooked me was the 2nd noble truth. Yes, craving and desire and clinging and attachment are bad. But that isn’t all. Craving is so bad because what we crave is an illusion. Our whole lives are illusionary. Our eyes are liars. Our ears are liars. Our mind is the ultimate trickster.

For me this struck at the core of the problem of mind I experienced as a youth as well as some other unanswered questions I carried with me into adulthood. It was learning about the Buddha’s diagnosis of why we were sick and that he had a prescription that sold me instantly. So I began to read, investigate, listen to podcasts, and try to figure out a way to ‘be a Buddhist’.

For me it is still about the 2nd Noble truth more than the others (though I understand they all work in conjunction). My primary focus on this path lies in discovering the delusional self, exposing it for what it is. Quenching craving. Starving desire. Caging my monkey mind. Peering into the unknown.

I haven’t been doing much of that lately though! Too busy! Also I’ve been mostly reading, studying, thinking, questioning. I have yet to decide on a particular school of Buddhism and lately as far as my practice is concerned that’s where I’ve been focused. Part 2 of this post will deal with that in more detail as I didn’t want to post another TLDR. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 5 day old baby girl to take care of!

Cheers.

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Happy Birth-Day

Welcome to the world Zoa Lilith Reed. You came into my life at 4:17pm on September 29th. You weighed 10lbs 6oz and were 22 inches long with a full head of hair.

I haven’t stopped loving you since, nor will I ever.

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Life!

Life has had me very busy these past few weeks. We had been planning on having a c-section scheduled for our daughter that is due to arrive in the next couple of weeks. Turns out that is no longer necessary, which is a huge relief. But that still means that lots of preparations have to be made, and a lot of my deadlines have been moved up at work. I have a few posts in the works, but my internet use has been fairly sporadic.

Speaking of internet use, I’ve created a little tumblr account. Photography is something I’ve always been mildly interested in but never really pursued. Lately I’ve had the bug to take more photos and focus on it a bit more. To showcase some of those photos (as well as force me to take some so I’ll have something to post) I created Dharma Snapshots. Nothing fancy. Just some photos that I’ve taken and liked, as well as some teeny tiny dharma tidbits I find and enjoy. Feel free to look around there. I’ve added a link up at the top of this blog that will take you directly there.

Cheers.

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My personal Internet Usage Policy

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A few people posted some replies and discussions based in part on my recent post on race. I’d just like to clarify that it’s not that I don’t feel that race isn’t an important issue, or one worth taking up. It’s just that for me, I want to avoid it the topic when blogging and on the internet in general. There are some other things I try to steer clear from as well (most notably partisan politics). This got me thinking a bit about how I want to and should be spending my time online, and how my interactions truly reflect the person typing these words as well as the part of me that is trying to embrace wisdom, compassion, and kind-heartedness. This is something I’ve been examining and dwelling on for some time now.

So I’ve created my own personal Internet Usage Policy. These are some rules, guidelines, and reminders about how I spend my time online. I’d like to clarify now that this is MY list, and I don’t feel like anyone should have to adopt any of the following positions. However, it might be a worthwhile effort to create your own IUP, and see what you can do to stick with it.

1. Debate proves nothing other than who the best debater is. Debate exists solely to prop up a ‘right’ version of ‘me’. Therefore, I will avoid debate at all costs. Instead I will look toward discussion when engaging others, as discussion is a means to foster “us” rather than “I”. In a similar light, I should be mindful that my posts are responses to, rather than reactions from whatever their inspiration might be.

2. Regarding blog rolls, commenting, following on Twitter, and feeling “obligated”:

  1. I put up on my blog “roll” blogs that I read regularly, and would like to suggest to others to check out. That is why they are there. I don’t put up blogs simply because they have listed mine in their blog roll somewhere. If I didn’t include your blog, it should not come as an insult. I sometimes get overwhelmed by the number of items in my Google Reader, and can’t keep up with everyone on a regular basis. Also sometimes blogs just aren’t my cup of tea.
  2. I don’t often comment. That doesn’t mean I didn’t read your post, it just means that I didn’t feel compelled to say “nice post” or engage in discussion. Maybe it wasn’t warranted. Plenty of people do the same here. It’s okay. It was probably a great post, and I appreciate the effort you put into it. But this isn’t Little League, and we don’t all need a participation trophy every time we get up to bat.
  3. Regarding Twitter, I have the same policy as mentioned in (1). I follow people because I am interested in what they are tweeting. I don’t feel any obligation to follow anyone because they follow me, nor should you feel obligated to follow me because I follow you. I’m not on Twitter to have the most followers. I’m there to share information and listen to different points of view. If I don’t follow you back, don’t consider it an insult. Some people like mint chocolate chip, other people like pistachio. No biggie.

3. I won’t use the internet as a means simply to promote myself or to become more popular. In blogging the lines between self promotion and discussion/sharing certainly do get blurred at times, but there are boundaries one can adhere to, and I should remain mindful that I do so. When I post my blog or other blogs to reddit or twitter or other sharing services, it isn’t to get more views (I don’t have ads here, so what good do more views get me?) but to drive traffic in order to foster discussion. Understandably, not everyone will have an opinion on everything I write, so I should be okay with that. And when someone agrees with what I’ve written there is no need to comment saying “yup, I agree”. More or fewer comments should not affect my ego and I should be careful to notice when they do (because they will).

4. I will be careful not to get caught up in generalizations. For example, simply because I disagree with most of the GOP’s agenda does not mean I support the Democratic Party’s positions de facto. I should do well to remember the same for the rest of the world when it comes to such dualistic thought. My world is not black and white, I should not expect other’s to be so either.

5. I will always use my real name when applicable and reasonable. I will attempt to use a real photo of myself as well. This helps others to remember that those using the internet are human beings, not just words on a screen.

6. I will always remain skeptical of claims made on the internet, especially those without sources to back them up. Likewise I will only use Wiki as a jumping off point to find more information, never to be relied completely upon. Using just one source of information as a basis for my opinions will leave me more ignorant than if I had never read the source in the first place. Because at that point, I’ve become a parrot.

7. I will examine my motivations for writing a blog post, tweet, or comment at least 3 times before I click “submit”. I will examine the content at least the same number of times.

8. I will avoid commenting anywhere unless I feel that it will really further the discussion, or set some facts straight. However when pursuing the latter, I will do so in a manner that does not result in ad hominem, but only provides information, to foster a greater understanding.

9. I should not assume that a comment or blog post will change people’s minds. I should take into consideration the fact that presenting negative opposing views rather than positive alternative views will probably only entrench the other party more firmly into their view, and me into mine. Mother Theresa said it best:

I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.

10. I will use the internet to engage others, to seek information, and further my understanding. When it becomes a burden, obligation, or addiction, I will shut it off.

11. If I find myself getting angry or upset over what someone has written, I will not comment or respond for at least 24 hours. Then I will invoke #7.

12. At times I will undoubtedly fail to adhere to this list. When I do so, I should examine why, and attempt to clarify or rectify any wrong that I have done. With the vicarious nature of the internet, apologies should come more easily than they do.

I’m sure there are some other things I’m missing here, what do you think? Is a personal IUP worthwhile?

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Blogging about race

*Warning: this post does contain some hateful language, but it is presented in a fact-finding way, and it should be clear that there is no intention of hate on my part when using these words. I felt that using the words in this context was important to deliver the overall message.

 

Recently, a fellow blogger Kyle wrote a bit about race and privilege and then there was quite a discussion in the comments. Check it out if you want, though you won’t see any comments by me.

That’s because I don’t want to talk about race. I know that it is an important issue. I know that issues about race are bound to come up when dealing with Buddhism, bloggers, and inflated egos on the internet. Some of these discussions are very important. But I don’t want any part of them. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m white. I’ve simply had it with issues of race. (and yes, I understand the irony of this post)

I grew up in Saginaw, MI. My whole life, Saginaw has been in the top 10 most segregated cities/areas in the country. For a long time it has been Black on the East side of the river, and White on the West side (and Latinos close to the water on the West side). Saginaw is a town much like Flint, Detroit, or Gary, Indiana. Back after WW2, African-Americans were actually able to find work in these Northern industrial towns, and they were paid well. Well, this scared the shit out of the white folks in Saginaw, so they all started moving farther West of the river, where the land had been previously used for farm or was vacant forest. Many of the homes that the white folks abandoned were left vacant and property values dropped as houses sat unsold and began to deteriorate. If you’ve ever seen a Micheal Moore film, he’ll usually show a bunch of abandoned houses somewhere in Flint. It’s not the same street that he shows over and over. It’s common place to find such conditions in many areas there, and in recent years that’s become the norm in areas in Saginaw as well.

On top of white flight, GM once employed over 30,000 people at a factory once called simply “GM Steering Gear”. That’s where my Father (luckily) continues to work today. Of course now he does the job that 3 salaried plant managers and a secretary once did. Oh, and he only has about 4,500 co-workers now. There were other manufacturing business that depended on sales to Steering Gear that now sit empty as well. Ask many today, and they’ll blame the lazy Black man. Never mind that it was GM’s poor management, shitty cars, and the UAW asking for unreasonable demands that were the real culprit (there are plenty of other reasons as well, but those are the most direct). It was just easy to blame it on low production due to lazy black people.

So that’s a short history of the city I grew up in. And obviously only a tiny fraction of it. But I felt it important to include. It might help you understand why I grew up hearing African-Americans called niggers and negroes and colored people (“hey, if the NAACP can use it, so can I!” – something I heard on more than one occasion) instead of African-American or Black (I’m not a fan of either of these terms either).

A lot of times growing up I would hear racial slurs, but always with the addendum that “well, I don’t hate Black people, just niggers.” (don’t worry, I also heard about stupid Polloks, wetbacks, camel jockeys, towel heads and “Indian givers”) Oh, well, that makes sense! There are good “x” people, and then there are the “other x” people. It isn’t a surprise that I ended up parroting those sentiments later in life (much to my present dismay). My grandfather, uncles, father all repeated this message for most of my life, never believing themselves to be racist, of course.

Understandably I was confused as a youth when my mother (my parents divorced when I was 7) began dating one of “those people”. When we headed to the other side of town for that first time, I was terrified. The image of the scary black man had been firmly implanted in my head. But I never met him. What I did meet was a bunch of really nice people who ate some really good food (and some really weird food) and liked to invite us over for cookouts in the summer time. It turned out that they were people too.

Of course even more confusion set in when I wasn’t allowed to talk to my grandparents about mom’s new boyfriend. (On a side note, my mother did date an African-American cop for a month or so and I remember him referring to his baton as a “nigger beater”. Yet another mixed signal to send to a 9-year-old). I didn’t want to tell anyone about my new friends on the other side of the river for fear that I would be punished or ostracized in some way. I was yelled at for championing Malcolm X, and told that I should have looked up to Dr. King, because he was one of “the good ones”. Hip-hop or, “nigger music” wasn’t allowed in my house either.

Clearly, confusion about race was an ever-present factor in my childhood.

Flash-forward a few years to when I was 16-17. I went to visit my friends Del and Steve to play some basketball quite a bit in the summer. They were on an AAU team with my friend Troy that I lived near and became close friends with. Twice I was pulled over for “driving while white”. Never heard of it? I know, mostly you’ve heard of “driving while black” and people getting harassed in that way. Getting pulled over for DWW is when a white person gets pulled over in a black neighborhood because they suspect you of being there to purchase drugs. After all, what other possible reason could a white person have for making his way over to the black part of town?

It was at this point too, that I started to notice that being white came with baggage I never knew about. While I did make a few friends over on “that” side of the river, I made just as many enemies. Steve’s sister was especially critical, asking why he needed to have a “fucking white boy” in the house. “Fuck you white boy” was something I heard quite a bit just walking down the god damned street on my way to the corner party store. Of course Del frequently told me I was “at least a 1/4 black” furthering the blurry line in my head regarding race/culture. How the hell was I supposed to feel and react to all of this?

Now let’s head over to history class. American History apparently starts in 1492 with Columbus “discovering” the West Indies (isn’t that kind of like discovering my neighbor’s back yard?). Then nothing happens for over a hundred years until Jamestown, and then the pilgrims and a big happy feast at Thanksgiving! Then the French and Indian war, American revolution, early American politics, if you’re lucky you might get a chapter about the wars with the Native tribes and a mention of Sitting Bull, then it’s the civil war, depression, the 2 world wars, civil rights, yadda yadda yadda you know the story.

Hmmm…. something is missing here. Weren’t there already people here, before Columbus? Didn’t they have any history? Culture? Art? Well, not if you read the history books they don’t. To find out about my ancestors, I had to search out some college girl’s thesis paper. If you do happen to take the time to browse through it, you’ll see there is an extremely rich history there. And one of my ancestors was a Native woman (one of many), who was Michigan’s first real business woman, a widow in her 20’s that was successful enough to send her children away to a Canadian private school. She was hugely influential in her time and place and never once did I hear her name during my Michigan History class. All that was ever mentioned were the wars between the Michigan settlers and the native savages. Never mind the fact that the French fur trappers and Natives were extremely cooperative and came to rely on one another and marry each other and take up each other’s religions up there on Mackinaw Island. Nah. Let’s just skip over that and learn about the rich timber barons and Henry Ford. I only happened upon her when doing some research into my family’s history. A couple of generations of a family and an important part of Michigan’s history reduced to an obscure PDF.

So by now you might be wondering, why is he talking about all this? To score racial sympathy points? Why does this white guy have a bug up his ass? I included this bit of personal history because I felt that it was relevant. Relevant to show that issues of race affect all people, including myself. I revealed all of this to show that I’ve had it up to my ears when dealing with issues of race. Racism abounds in this world, this is true. And it comes from people of all colors, and it reaches out to people of all colors. I find it disgusting that we use skin color as the basis for dividing a people. I find it equally disgusting that we use race to keep communities insular and homogenous. “If everyone looks like me, I’m safe! If someone looks different, lock your doors and grab your gun!”

I’ve seen my family literally torn apart because of it (my mom finally decided to bring her boyfriend to meet my grandfather – on his deathbed). I’ve seen the city I loved growing up in destroyed in part because of it. There is no way to escape issues of race, and I have no desire to ignore it (nor could I if I wanted to); instead I’m just not going to confront it, especially not here on this blog. Call me a coward, blame it on my “white privilege”, I don’t give a shit. But don’t tell me that I don’t have to deal with those issues simply because I’m ‘white’. We all deal with issues of race whether we choose to acknowledge them or not, and we all deal with them differently.

Furthermore, I don’t feel that confronting issues of race tend to do anything to change anyone’s mind (there are some obvious exceptions), especially on a blog that no one reads anyway. Instead I feel that hitting at some of the underlying issues of racism (ignorance, culture, hate/fear) are way more worth my time if I ever felt like “combatting” racism. But I don’t. Let someone else do it. Because I’m sick of it. So sick of it all.

Cheers.

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Filed under Personal, Political

Intentions and raccoons

Friday evening there was a knock on our door. An old man, out of breath from climbing our stairs was at our door, flashlight in hand. He was looking for his cat that had escaped. He informed us that she had never been outside in the 5 years that she lived with him, and was probably frightened. He gave us a description of the cat, her name, and went continued on to a neighbor’s house. Knowing cats, there was a good chance that she bolted and probably got lost and scared and hid somewhere.

It was a good thing he knocked on our door. We kept checking out of our living room window for the cat, and at about 10pm we saw her. Not wanting to scare her off, I went to the old man’s house, and got him to come to where she was. His front door was cracked and he was waiting in his armchair, hoping that she would remember the way back home. As soon as she heard his familiar gasping, she perked up. “Molly!” is all he had to say. He picked her up and held her close as he caught his breath. He got her home safely that night.

We’ve been taking care of 2 of the stray cats in our neighborhood by putting some food and water outside for them. One of them (we call her Fluffy Kitty) we brought inside a few nights last winter when the weather went down below zero at night. She was dumped in our neighborhood, and was loosing weight. The other (we call him just Stray Kitty) is still thin, but improving greatly. We’ll be catching him to have him spayed and get some shots at a local animal shelter that does that type of thing for feral cats. Without the food we put out, I don’t think Stray Kitty would still be alive.

It’s about 10:30pm on Saturday as I’m writing this, and we’ve just had another visitor(s) from the animal kingdom. We’ve had a female raccoon stopping out front of our apartment about twice a week for a few months now. Once I left the garbage sit outside, and woke up to a huge mess (okay, it happened twice!). She comes to find whatever scraps she can, and then moves on. But tonight she brought 3 baby raccoons with her to munch on the remains of the cat food we had left out. Usually, the cat food is all gone by nightfall, but occasionally there are still a few scraps for her. I’ve never intentionally left food out for the raccoon, as I know that feeding wild animals will only end in their harm.

Tonight we came face to face with that harm. We noticed a bit of blood on the steps a few days ago, but thought maybe one of the resident cats got into a fight. Turns out it was the mother raccoon. I’m thinking she was hit by a car. She was dragging her left rear leg as she walked. It looked shattered or dislocated. My best guess is that she was hit by a car and somehow survived. It didn’t look like she had been attacked by another animal. She was barely hobbling along, leading her children to where she knew there might be a free meal. Maybe she knew this might be one of the last opportunities she has to prepare them for the harsh world they’re about to face.

It tore my wife and I up to see her like that. I can’t stand to see animals suffer, and it was even more painful with the knowledge that she was taking care of those 3 young raccoons . In the morning I’ll call a local animal rescue to see what they recommend. Maybe there is still some hope left for her, and her family.

I’m sure there is some greater lesson about animals and humans and habitats and what not here. But right now, I’m feeling a little guilty.

I can’t help but blame myself a bit for leaving that food out there. Maybe it was my actions that led to this. Maybe she was on her way here when she got attacked. It was my garbage and cat food that helped to keep her coming back into the city.

And yet, if we hadn’t feed those stray cats and paid attention to which cats came and went and became invested in their health and well-being, there’s a good chance that old man’s cat wouldn’t have decided to hunker down where it did. It ended up sitting out on the sidewalk next to one of the stray cats. They seemed to be momentary friends, which is odd for cats to do. Maybe the stray knew that Molly was lost and scared and decided to sit with her so that she didn’t feel alone. If she hadn’t of sat there next to Fluffy Kitty, I probably wouldn’t have seen her.

Our intentions start out simply. They lead to actions, and those actions then have consequences in real life. That’s the only lesson here. Intentions.

Cheers.

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I’m a big teary-eyed moose

 

As many of my readers know, my wife is pregnant. In about a month, we’ll be welcoming our daughter into the world. And I can’t stop crying.

There is a term for this, couvade syndrome, it’s when a man who lives with a pregnant woman suffers from some of the same physical and emotional symptoms that his partner does. With my wife’s first pregnancy, it was food cravings. I gained about 15 lbs during my son’s gestation. But this time around, I’m just a big teary-eyed moose.

I can’t help it. Anything remotely emotional makes me well up. I get all sappy and the waterworks start flowing at least half a dozen times a day. We watched the movie “The Unborn” (terrible, terrible scary movie) the other night, and I started to cry because I thought about how the demon boy wouldn’t be able to play with other little kids his age, on account of being possessed by a demon and all. Today it was leaving for work, and having to say goodbye to my son. I started to cry a bit in the car.

It is really silly, and I can’t control it. I wish it would have been the food thing again.

It’s happening right now, for no good goddamned reason.

I’d like to say this has given me some profound insight into something. But it hasn’t. It’s mostly just made me cry a lot for no good reason. I suppose it could be worse. Some men gain up to 30 lbs, experience vomiting, and sometimes breast augmentation or hardening of the nipples.

Those poor men. Makes me wanna cry.

 

 

Cheers.

 

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Bringing us back to shore

Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.

~Shunryu Suzuki

 

The waves will bring us all back to shore. What form we return in depends on how we deal with the currents we face when out to sea.

When the waves come crashing do we try to navigate around them? Do we let them take us where they will? Or do we crash head first into them, waiting with heavy breath for the next one to do its worst, mocking the waves as they come rolling in?

When the sea has calmed, do we float majestically staring at the gulls passing overhead? Or is there a part of us that misses the torrent, so we flail about creating waves where there were none before?

Maybe we make it to the other shore. Shake ourselves off a bit. Take a look around. The ocean behind us, we have only to explore the new experience and the new shore. We may find that this shore is a lot like the one we left a long time ago, the time before the ocean. But our time spent swimming and struggling has changed how we view this new beach. The sand under feet feels the same, yet isn’t. The salty air tastes the same, but doesn’t.

Or maybe we never make it out of the ocean. Maybe we end up like this fish here. Our bodies left on the rocks waiting to feed those about to take the plunge and navigate the stormy waters. Their actions once out there will determine if they will taste the fresh air, or rot in the sun. Our actions become food for the next generation, or their inspiration.

Cheers.

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In a fog

Oregon Coast

 

Fog rolling in thick, endless beyond sight

A steady ebb

A steady flow of water eroding away the rocks one by one

Nature taking its course without the approval of the rocks

They only want to feel the warmth of the sun.

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My baptism: growing up in a spiritual community

My childhood church - Ascension Lutheran Church, Saginaw, MI

Recently my dad sent me some of my stuff that he had been holding on to. A copy of my birth certificate and immunization record. My handprints. And a certificate from my baptism, along with that Sunday’s church bulletin.

I was baptized in a Lutheran church about two months after I was born. The prayer for the day upon entering the church was

Almighty Lord, you are aware of our problems. When troubles thicken, you do not desert us. We need to be reminded of your presence, your willingness to remain with us, even through suffering and pain. Help us to remember; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, within our world today. Amen

The memories I have of that church are mostly all fond. Sure, when I was real little I hated putting on those stupid itchy clothes, but I can always remember finding something to enjoy when we were there. Most of the time it was the children’s sermon, a time during the service where the pastor would call all the children up to the front of the church and he would tell a story for them. I always liked that.

On that particular Sunday, a few hymns were sung. A few verses were read. The theme of the sermon that day was ” Faithful Examples”. The choir sang. Then my baptism. Obviously, I don’t remember it. But I do remember attending a few later on in life. They were fairly simple ceremonies. My parents would have stood there with me, and I’m sure an Aunt and Uncle and my Grandparents were there as well. The pastor would have said a few words, splashed my head with a little water, then dried me off with a baptismal cloth (which my dad also sent along). The concept of god-parents is present in the Lutheran faith, but we didn’t put as much stock in it as the Catholic tradition tends to. After that, another song or two, and service was over.

There is some more information included in the bulletin. That week, Mr. Landskroener was serving in the nursery, and Mr. and Mrs. Colpean donated that week’s flowers. You see, in my church, there was a strong sense of community. In the back of the church there was the “cry room” where mothers could take crying babies to quiet them or nurse them and still listen to the service through a speaker (there was  a large window there for them to watch as well). The nursery was there for kids that couldn’t sit still (toddlers mostly) so that parents could attend service and not have to worry about a sitter. Every week near the altar there were was a fresh arrangement of flowers donated by someone in the church.

Later in the bulletin the week’s events were listed. Tuesday was 7th and 8th grade catechism class. Wednesday youth choir (which I was later a part of) practiced. Friday the Luther-League mini-retreat began, and it ended sometime on Saturday in time for adult volleyball at the middle school gym. That next Sunday in March there was a couple’s home bible study at the Sanders’ house.

This is the church I grew up in. There was a strong sense of community, albeit relaxed. For the most part, no one was really pressured to attend or made to feel worse for missing a week or not attending bible study. Of course there were a few busy-bodies that fueled the stereotypical church-gossip, but they were in the minority and easy to ignore. Never once did I hear a fire a brimstone style sermon. They were always inspirational (though many times boring to an 8-year-old) and meaningful. I have an extremely hard time relating to the fundamental Christians I see carrying signs that say “God hates Fags” and the ones found on internet discussions condemning all non-believers to Hell. I never knew that.

My dad rarely went to church growing up, preferring instead to stay home and work on the yard, fix the house, all those dad type things that dads have to do. But when he did go and get involved, it always seemed to me like he was doing it out of obligation to the community, rather than service to God. My church community consisted of families. Families that knew each other and their children. People you would stop and talk to if you saw them in the grocery store. So it may come as no surprise that when I decided to no longer tread the Christian path that I wasn’t rebelling against the church. I never had a problem with church. My problem was with the belief system.. It just never really ever made sense to me, and never really spoke to me.

This idea of a spiritual community is something that my wife Alex and I have been searching out for some time, and have yet to really find one. I hope to find such an environment for my children to grow up in. One that fosters their spirituality and sense of community. I feel that it’s important for my children (and my self and wife) to experience something like that. It might not end up being a Buddhist community, as we both hold other spiritual beliefs as well. But being a part of something that shows them how to be in service to something greater to themselves (the community) and fulfills their spiritual needs is an experience I think they should experience.

Cheers.

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The path of least resistance

Scott River, CA

It’s always about what’s easy. Simple.

The path of least resistance allows us to glide, duck, and doge our way through life.

Never touching those things that are most important.

It’s easy talking to a stranger online. It’s easy to rip apart their beliefs or way of thinking.

It’s more difficult to touch deeply the ones we love.

Being cruel, distant, shut off. These things are easy.

They require no thought, no attention.

They are easy because the path leads outward toward others, but never inward towards ourselves.

Inside is the resistance. Obstacles.

Roadblocks waiting to be tore up.

Tear them up! Be brave! Breathe deeply! A voice calls out.

But it calls to us from the resistance, the loud static noise of our inner-selves. It’s noisy there.

Go have a cookie. A beer. Go watch TV. Forget about your worries. Rebuke him! Another voice calls out.

That voice is clear. It has a smell. A taste. Pleasure over pain.

Satisfying results. The voice is appeased.

The path of least resistance.

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A practice I can call my own

The Backside of Mt. Baker as seen from Highway 9 near Van Zandt, WA

So I’m currently shaping a daily routine for practice. As you may or may not know, I used to do the whole SGI thing, but left that behind. Now, I am attempting to set up something meaningful and unique that also fits within the scope of the rest of my life. I’ve been trying this out for the past few days (I missed a couple due to time issues coupled with exhaustion) and here is what I have so far:

First, a little stretch. I am probably the least flexible human being on this planet. Even thinking about sitting in full-lotus caused my groin to scream. My hips, legs, back are all in need of a good workout. I found this little routine on Tricycle blog that is supposed to help work/stretch the muscles needed to sit full-lotus. So I start with this. I try to hold each posture (an extremely modified version of each one) for 1 minute, then move on to the next. Next week, i’ll up it to 2 minutes, the week after that, 3 minutes. I’ll try to hold each one for 3 minutes for a while, and see where that takes me.

I’m thinking about adding in a bit of exercise here. Sit-ups, push-ups, yoga, getting on my elliptical. Something, but I don’t know what yet. I just know that my body is out of shape, and I need to do something about it. Sitting for 8+ hours a day at work is taking a toll on my body, and it needs to end.

Next, I chant. I still have all my materials from SGI, so I just chant a couple of chapters of the Lotus Sutra, and then dive into some diamoku. Now, when genuine Nichiren practitioners chant, there is meaning and purpose behind it. For me, I’m trying to use it as simply a meditative tool. Also I still struggle with the Japanese, so that adds a little humility to my practice. Maybe in the future I’ll try chanting something else. We’ll see.

At the end of chanting diamoku, SGI members typically offer 3 prayers that have been written down. Not one of them ever really spoke to me. They all have to deal with the organization and beliefs held within Nichiren Buddhism. Usually I would just try to clear my mind, or offer a prayer for the well-being of my family during that time. I decided that this needed a more personal approach, and so the other night I wrote out the following two “prayers” that I think I will use from now on:

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

All evil karma ever created by me since of old
On account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my conduct, speech and thought,
Now I atone for it all.

The first one is the Five Remembrances. They are a reminder that life is short, it is not to be wasted. They are a reminder that life is temporary and frail. They are a reminder that we must love and love now, for there may not be a tomorrow. They are a reminder that our destructive acts in this life have profound consequences in this life. They are a reminder that compassionate acts in this life have profound consequences in this life.

The second one is The Gatha of Atonement, something the Zennies apparently recite frequently. I first saw it on John’s blog, and thought then how I would like to use this in some way. It kind of speaks for itself I think. It is a way to reflect on how much strife I’ve caused in my life. Upon examination, I can come to see how unskillful that behavior was, and in the future abandon such behavior. And sometimes it helps to say I’m sorry, even if no one is listening.

If anyone has a suggestion for a third one, I’m all ears.

Next, I meditate. I’ve just been doing 10 minutes at a time. Nothing too grandiose. Just spending some time connecting with my breath, which proves to be quite a challenge. I can usually make it until 3 breaths before my mind kicks in with all kinds of nonsense.

At some point in the day, I study. Even if it is just 15 minutes. Right now I’m working my way through The Wings to Awakening (check the footer).

This is how my practice looks right here, right now.

It is not perfect. It doesn’t include a real life sangha. It doesn’t include a real life teacher. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll live closer to a dharma center, and those will be both possible and practical.

This is my practice. I think it will work for me for now. It is organic, home-grown, and provides me with goals and challenges. I know I will fail and stumble along the way, but I believe that if I can stick to a routine like this, I can keep picking myself up when I fall down.

Cheers.

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Welcome!

Thank you for checking out my new blog, Fly Like a Crow.

First, what’s up with the name?

Check out the ‘About’ page at the top for more info on that. And take a moment to explore the other pages as well. They’re short and sweet, I promise.

So what is this blog about?

Beyond what you read on the about page, it will be a place to write and blog on a myriad of topics. Primarily, I’ll be focusing on Buddhism, and my family/being a father. I actually see these two things as being parallel lines on the same track of “me”. They are both an evolving practice where I work towards perfection. Every day brings a new challenge, struggle, and usually some success.

I might just try my hand at some more poetry here. It’s something I’ve only dabbled in before, and has been a long time since I’ve really written any.

I’m going to toss in some politics from time to time. Nothing hateful, no right vs. left narratives. There are plenty of those to go around.

I’ll continue to review books here, whether they get sent to me by authors or publishers, or ones that I just happen to purchase myself.

And there’s a slight possibility that I might get philosophical from time to time. I also might throw in some sutra study that I’ve been working on.

And sometimes, I’ll just throw up a picture or two. I’m also going to try to include a picture with more of my posts in general, and I’m going to try to only use ones that I’ve taken.

Whatever happens, it will flow naturally. Like my previous blogging endeavours, I have no ambitions to blog daily. Once, twice a week is about all I can muster given work and family responsibilities (and enjoying time with my family).

So, take a look around. You’ll notice all of my old posts from the past, minus a few I wasn’t proud of at all. Feel free to subscribe via RSS or email (head to the footer) and feel free to add this blog to your blog roll if you feel so inclined. Thank you for stopping by.

Cheers.

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Filed under Book Review, Buddhism, Home Brewing, Other, Parenting, Personal, Political

No Direction Home…….

The other day, Nathan had a post over on Dangerous Harvests about “what “right action” is when it comes to interacting with people begging on the streets”. I started a reply there, and realized that my story would serve better as a post than as a comment.

I spent quite a few months homeless in Seattle when I first arrived on the West Coast about 7 years ago. The reasons for this were many, but I’ll just say that it was my choice, and that I wasn’t running from the law. It was a truly eye-opening experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Seattle, and what to do when I got there. I tried finding jobs, and even tried joining the military (they wouldn’t take me – ADHD) but when my money ran out, I was left to figure shit out for myself. It was a tough experience. Luckily, I was in Seattle, where there is a good system in place for helping out those less fortunate.

I had no idea what to expect from the other homeless on the streets and in the homeless “system”. Would they be welcoming? Stab me in the back the first chance they got?

Their reasons for being there were about as varied as you could imagine. Of those that I met and was around, I’d guess that around 60% or so suffered from some form of mental illness, some more pronounced than others. For some, they arrived on the streets this way. For others, the streets simply magnified what was already there. There were those that simply fell on hard times, and a few people I met were part of the dotcom boom/crash that were trying their best to make it back into the workforce and afford a place to live. Some were criminals on the run, a few had warrants for petty crimes and had gone into hiding, and a few were here illegally. Many that I met were on some form of assistance, whether it was food stamps or Social Security.

In Seattle, it was possible to eat 3-5 times a day for free, find a place to take a real shower, do your laundry, and find a place to sleep during the night (usually in a church). The only people who went hungry were the ones that were banned from certain hand-out areas because they had been violent there, or those whose mental illness was so bad that they couldn’t function well enough to find assistance. And there were plenty of both. The violent ones were generally suffering from some mental illness, and of course not being allowed to get food at a soup-kitchen or church only made things worse for them.

At the shelter that I stayed at, everyone was pretty healthy mentally, and generally got along really well. Some of us hung out during daylight hours, and helped each other out. But the one thing that no one prepares you for is the boredom. It is excruciating. Imaging having nothing to do all day, every day, and not being able to look forward to anything, ever. Wake up, clean shelter. Take bus downtown. Do laundry, take shower, find food. Wander aimlessly for 4 hours. Find food. Wander aimlessly for another 2-4 hours. Get on bus, head to shelter, sleep. Try not to pay attention to those around you going about their lives, buying clothes, seeing movies, spending holidays with family. Repeat for the rest of your life. Repeat in your mind for the rest of your life.

Is it any wonder people turn to drugs and alcohol? For those that go down that path, it breaks up the monotonous nothingness of your existence. It is something to do. It is something to feel other than depression. Even though I really shouldn’t have been spending money on smokes, I did. They were terrible, 2$ a pack smokes from a res somewhere, and they got me through the day.

I never went down the drug path. My goal was to start a new life in a new place, without destroying myself in the process (though I dare say quite a bit of my “self” was destroyed…..). So regaining a meaningful life became my only thought. I had to find a job. I needed to find transitional housing so that I had a stable place to sleep and bathe and do my laundry so that I could show up to my job and not be a…… bum. When I asked my shelter-buddies about starting on this path, they all knew exactly how to help. But my question was then, “why aren’t you doing this?”

For some reason, many of them simply didn’t want that life. Maybe it had to do with the relative comfort in which many of them lived. As I said before, most had some type of income (SS), everyone had access to a shower, laundry, and at least 3 meals a day. Living that life, one could easily get by without much effort. It wasn’t the best life, but there was no boss to listen to. No responsibility. No struggle.

Some simply didn’t want to be a part of the society that had turned it’s back on them. Which was understandable given many of their stories. And for some, I just couldn’t understand. They had all the makings of someone with a successful station in life and for whatever reason they just didn’t try. Maybe life had beaten them down so low that they became satisfied with the homeless lifestyle. I still have no answers for many of the questions that confronted me during that time.

So back to Nathan’s question. What is “right action” when dealing with these people? First, see them as people. Some of them have chosen their position and others have had it thrust upon them. Regardless of circumstance, they are human beings just as you are. No better, no worse. They reflect the same potential we all have. They are experiencing the human condition in a radically different way than we are. Not completely a part of our society, though not completely apart from it either. Should you offer them food? Money if they ask? A cigarette if you have one? It’s really up to you. No dollar-in-the-guitar-box is going to put them over the edge for that down-payment on a condo. No one meal will stave off the hunger forever. One cigarette will burn away and the craving will return ever so shortly. These things are all band-aids for a more serious condition, though none of them do much harm. If your wish is to practice generosity, then practice generosity. You can’t save them all, and you should never feel like your efforts are going unnoticed or aren’t making a difference. Be generous when you can, but don’t feel obligated to hand out your change to everyone that asks it of you.

Besides the epic emptiness of life that comes with being homeless, there is one more crippling ailment. It is the isolation. You can’t help but feel like the stereotypical Dicken’s street urchin outside of a bakery window salivating over the freshly made cherry pie on the counter. Only the whole world is that bakery. Society as we know it is that pie, and it would bring such joyous comfort if it was even just a taste. When you walk down the street, you know you are not a part of their society. That bakery window is always there in front of you. When you get on the bus, it is there. When you come out of the bathroom at the library, it is there. It’s the look in their eye. Or rather, it’s the non-look in their eye. I can’t forget that. Ever. The fact that someone would cast me away simply because of the contents of my wallet was the most dehumanizing thing I have ever experienced. With the simplest of looks, I was negated. I didn’t exist to them.

So what is “right action” when dealing with those who call the street their home? Look them in the eye. Acknowledge their presence. Acknowledge that they too, are humans. Acknowledge that they deserve a “good afternoon” just as much as anyone else. Not only do they deserve it, they are probably in need of it more than anyone. A simple human connection goes a long way.

Cheers.

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Thoughts on blogging

I had this nice little post ready about peace. After I read it, the words were hollow. So I deleted it. This blog is hollow. Writing makes sense. Blogging doesn’t make any sense anymore. Am I writing, or addressing? The purpose of this blog was to get me to write more often. It was supposed to be the vehicle that helped me to master my craft. But almost a year later and the writing has not improved. I would even wager to say that my writing has gotten worse over the years.

Yet, I kind of enjoy the engagement of blogging. But I’m wondering what purpose it now serves. Maybe I need a change in approach. A change in subject matter. Maybe it’s just a matter of connecting my inner voice to my fingertips. I usually find that what ends up on this page isn’t what I really intended. And I’m not really sure what the root cause of that is, nor what the solution is.

I’m kind of in a similar place with my practice. I’m not sure if Nichiren is the right vehicle for me. I haven’t been chanting much at all lately. Some of that is due to pure laziness. But part of me is dissatisfied with SGI and Nichiren Buddhism in general. Not a hate or dislike, there is just something that really doesn’t speak to me. For me it’s hard to find a connection there.

Oh, and we’re having another baby. So yeah, that’s kind of been on my mind lately.

Cheers.

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A life of impermanence/embarassment

Today is my birthday. I am 27 years old. I don’t need to meditate on a dying corpse to see the truth of impermanence. I can see it in my own life, in my constant death and rebirth. I am lucky to have lived 27 years and I am thankful for each day.
 
For the past 10 years or so, I’ve had a series of (mostly)extremely uneventful birthdays. I’m usually broke (as our my friends/family) and have managed to move residences a bunch of times right around my birthday. Who moves in January? So my birthdays have become less of a day of celebration, and more of a day of nostalgia. A day for me to look back to the past, remembering some of the good times over the years (of which I have had plenty).
 
For fun, I figured I would show you all a little history of the “me”s that have come and gone over these 27 years. They have all since died, but a part of them continues on always. So have fun sharing in my nostalgia/embarassment!

Just a couple of weeks ago when it snowed here.

A week or so after my son was born.

A week or so after my son was born.

My wife and I before the baby. I kind of hate myself here. He looks all rested and full of energy. Jerk.

Enter the Gut (and yes, I was hammerd here)

My best Bill Brasky impersonation after a dozen or so drinks. No, I don't remember college.

oh to be 18 again. I'm sure my father's hairline wishes he was 18 again too.

I was about 16 here. On a tractor, clearing our 4 acres to make a go-kart track.

Puberty was a cruel bitch.

Oh the Nostalgia! I'm the one on the right.

No comment.

I've been a little bit metal my whole life.

Hope you enjoyed. Cheers. 

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A new year, a new diet, and some thank you’s.

First, let me look back on 2009. No top ten lists here, (though I feel it’s worth mentioning that Full Sail’s Session Black was the best new beer I had this year) just some quick reflection. My son was born on Christmas Eve 2008, so this year has been all about not sleeping and the baby. My home brewing was a wash this year (2 great batches, and 2 that became infected). I took a vacation and just stayed home to spend time with my family. I helped raise some money for charity in November. I started a blog in March, and….. oh yeah, became a Buddhist. I can’t complain about 2009, and even if I did, what’s the point? It’s all in the past now. While nothing monumental happened, my son hit so many milestones and kept surprising me and challenging me that to call this past year boring would be a flat-out lie. I’ve had a great year, it’s been mostly focused around my family, sharing in our love, and for that I am thankful.

So what’s next in 2010? Normally I’m of the “New Year’s resolutions are retarded” crowd. This year however, I find that it’s a great time to make some commitments, goals, and life changes.

1st: No more meat. Yup, after today I’m going “veg”. A few people have asked me why, and I haven’t come up with a great reason for them. I suppose it’s simply that I don’t want to kill animals anymore. I like them. There are plenty of healthy alternatives, and it’s better for the enviroment to eat a diet that doesn’t involve meat. James from The Buddhist Blog posted this video awhile back that I think has a great message (without being one of those gross PETA videos).

So I have many personal reasons (moral, ethical, enviromental) to not eat meat, and the only reason I can find to continue to eat it is that “bacon is tasty” (which it is. I’v previously stated that I would walk across broken glass like Bruce Willis in Die Hard for bacon). So, I will miss steak, and beef jerky, and bacon, and burgers, but I think I will be getting much more in return. Also, I’m not going to push my vegetarianism on anyone else. Really, I’m not here to judge your diet. Eat what you want, but please do think about where it came from.

2nd: A more committed practice. The idea is to chant twice a day, though I’ve been failing at this miserably. I seem to always find some sort of excuse to not chant. So with the New Year, I’m going to make a stronger mental effort to chant twice daily. The only crappy part about this is the fact that I will sleep/rest less. My son currently wakes up about 5 times a night, and finally gets up around 6:30am. I try and just sit with him for a half hour or so to let my wife gain a little bit of sleep, but now I’ll just have to take him into the living room with me so we can chant together. I suppose I can sleep when I’m dead.

3rd: Add meditation to my practice. This isn’t going to be something that I will start Jan 1. This is something that may not happen for a few months, but it is something I feel the need to add. I’m reading up on different approaches and techniques now, and will try to figure out what works best for me.

That’s it. Those are my concrete goals and affirmations for 2010. Am I a perfect father/husband/employee/friend? Hell no! But I’m already working on those things all the time, and I don’t feel the need to make a new resolution to just make myself feel good. The three things I listed are things I want to do, feel I can accomplish, and I feel like the time is right to make them all happen.

I’d like to take just a moment to thank all of my readers that have stuck with me from some of my first posts on Blogger all the way to now. Likewise, thanks to those of you that have joined as of late, have commented, and have supported and challenged me. Also, thank you to my fellow bloggers that I’ve met and have been willing to discuss everything from the 5th precept to squirrel nuts to the culture and politics of Buddhism in the West and beyond (including Buddhist Purgatory). And last, thank you to my beautiful wife for putting up with my sometimes excessive interweb use. I love you.

Have a happy (and safe) New Year’s everyone.

Cheers.

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A few of my “-isms” and “-ists”

So, I’m finally feeling comfortable enough to call myself a Buddhist when asked by others what religion I am/belong to. It is a little weird at first, and even saying “I’m a Buddhist” shifts my awareness to a place I’d rather be. But Buddhism doesn’t define my entire belief system, and I thought I’d explore that a little bit here. So here are a few other beliefs that I hold:

1st “-ist”: Pantheist

As far as a deity is concerned, I consider myself a non-traditional pantheist. Pantheism has many definitions and people apply it to beliefs that range from strict atheistic-naturalism to new-age conscious-energy to a concept of a pantheistic Christian God. None of those really fly for me personally. For me, I realize (not fully, obviously….) the inter-connectedness of all beings, as well as all non-living matter. We are all star dust. The fact that the Universe is conscious of itself and is able to observe itself is astounding and profound, and I believe worthy of some sort of reverence or respect. Not necessarily worshiping existence, but respecting it, because it means respecting ourselves. Likewise when we respect ourselves, we respect all beings.

I also tend to believe in a bit of the supernatural. However, my scientific side throws a bit of a monkey wrench into this line of thinking. What I’ve come to terms with is that not too long ago, we thought that women menstruated because of their karma or that a woman ate an apple 6,000 years ago, thereby making childbirth painful as well. (on a side note, if Eve never ate that apple, how would childbirth have NOT been painful? what kind of physics would be involved in that one?) We’ve since learned otherwise, and realize that the supernatural explanation we once had is outdated and a scientific explanation based on facts and evidence has replaced it. I realize that someday, my supernatural beliefs may not be so supernatural, and I’m okay with that.

I 100% believe in ghosts. I’ve witnessed them, seen my glasses fly across the room in front of me, and witnessed their presence in the company of others. Now what they are exactly, I have no idea. Are they trapped souls? Probably not. Maybe something so traumatic happened and a fragment of that person’s conciousness somehow became stuck in the collective Universal conciousness? Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t even know if there is such a thing. Knowing how truly interconnected we are, coupled with new findings in the field of quantum physics has me thinking there might be. Maybe science will have a better explanation for it someday, maybe not.

There are a few other “supernatural” things I believe in, such as the power of attraction, though I don’t know if it works quite the way in which those people on The Secret DVD™ sell it as. Again, there might be a rational explanation for these things, and I honestly try not to cling to them too much, but they are there heckling me in the audience that makes up my mind. I belive certain minerals and gemstones have certain properties. Maybe it’s due to their vibration aligning with ours in some way, I don’t know. There are a few other pagan (thanks to my beautiful wife) beliefs I hold as well.  Again I don’t rely on these things to get me through the day, rather they are passive beliefs that intrigue me and keep me searching for answers in life, which I love. I think it is in the struggle and the challenges we face within ourselves, that’s where we find who we really are, and find a path to betterment. In my life now, Buddhism is the engine that drives those struggles and challenges. I’m forced to examine myself, my thoughts, and my actions more closely; though usually it comes after the fact. I fail at this constantly, but at least I’m able to realize it. But I digress.

I also belive that there might be some underlying force, will, or universal energy that connects us all as well. There is so much in the Universe that remains to be seen and observed, I simply can’t discard such an idea, knowing how profound our interconnectedness is. I liken this to something like the Tao in Taoism or Om in Hinduism or the World Tree/Tree of Life in certain Native American religions. A unifying force or energy that connects all things in this world (and possibly the next).

Okay, next “-ist”: Ignostic

Basically, I think most of our definitions of God suck. None have been updated to include present knowledge (except for the really crazy cult-like ones) and instead rely on old, outdated mythology that was written for a specific set of people. I personally find it ridiculous to cling to these outdated models and myths, though I do see the point in the beautiful symbology present in just about all religious texts, but only when treated as metaphor used as a literary device to convey a deeper message.

Final “-ist”: Apatheist

As far as a creator-type personified deity is concerned, I’m an apatheist. Though my scientific side tells me to embrace atheism, I don’t want to be defined by what I don’t believe in. Also, I don’t wish to polarize myself any more than I already have. Instead, I embrace the idea that whether or not a god exists doesn’t really matter. If it was proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that one did exist, that god is obviously not concerned with the welfare of humanity. Because if one does exist, and it doesn’t do anything about the suffering, disease, and poverty in the world, it isn’t worth my time to worship it. And if there isn’t a god, I’m still going to go to work in the morning and do my best to be a good human being. It really doesn’t affect my life in the here and now, so I really don’t care to focus on it.

So for now, that’s a little about my -isms and -ists. I’ll be posting one more on New Year’s Day. A bunch of the Buddhist Bloggers out there are going to be posting a New Year’s resolution type post on the 1st, and I have something planned for the next year that I’ll talk about more there. And I’ll be posting my thoughts on karma and rebirth eventually, as soon as I’m able to catch up with samsara.

Also, you should know that my point in posting this is simply to share what I believe, and why I believe it. If you believe something else, great! Variety is the spice of life. Just don’t knock on my door and try to get me to buy into your view, be mindful to keep it out of my (and all of our) schools and government, and I promise to do the same.

Cheers.

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A new (old) ritual

This Picture doesn't do the tree justice. If anyone cares to donate an SLR camera so that I might take better pictures, feel free to email me 😉

This past week I received the 3rd best Christmas present of my life (the first being my son who was born last year on Christmas eve and the 2nd being the iPod my wife got me 2 years ago – I heart gadgets) when my Father sent me my Christmas ornaments. I’ve been without them for 9 years, and this is the first time in as many years that I’ve really gotten into the spirit of things.

For me, Christmas has always been about the tree. But first you need a stand for your tree. I think my family has the coolest one ever. My Great-Grandfather built a house in my hometown of Saginaw, MI. It was one of the original neighborhood houses on the East-side, then a center for the manufacturing industries. Eventually, he decided to make a scale replica of the house and make it into a Christmas Tree stand. It’s a really cool stand, that looks exactly like the house. There are spots for lights to light up the house, and he even drilled little holes in it, so we could stick tree sprigs in them to replicate trees.  The house is still standing to this day, and my Father currently has the tree stand. This is the one item that stands out above all from my childhood, and it is the only thing besides my last name and male pattern baldness that has been passed down from generation to generation in my family.

Next on the tree come the ornaments. Yes, I am completely attached to my ornaments. And I am fine with that. I have had my own ornaments since I was born, and I’ve been collecting them every year since. My whole family would make the annual trip to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland to pick out our ornaments for the year. Bronner’s is literally the world’s largest Christmas store. It is Christmas there year-round, and it will absolutely overwhelm you when you walk in the doors. They have pretty much every kind of decoration and Christmas themed item you could ever imagine, and then some. Their ornaments though are a notch above everyone else’s. They are imported from Germany, Poland, Italy and Czechoslovakia and most of them are quite beautiful hand-blown glass replicas of just about anything you can think of. So we’d make the half hour trip over there, pick out our ornaments, and then head home to hang them on the tree. Everyone had their own ornaments, and even their own box to keep them in. And every year, it was a little bit like Christmas came early when I opened up my ornament box and “discovered” ornaments from years past that I forgot I had.

For me, it was this ritual that marked the beginning of the holiday season. I wasn’t really in the “Christmas Spirit” until we decorated the tree. And afterward, everything was about Christmas until the morning of the 25th when it all culminated in the usual gift-giving celebration, followed by food and family get-togethers. This year, I was able to start this tradition with my own family. My wife and I decorated the tree with the ornaments my Father sent me, along with some others ones that we have collected over the years and just haven’t used yet. The next morning when my son Corbin woke up, his face lit up brighter than the tree he was staring at.

So, I suppose the reason for this post was to examine ritual and tradition a little bit. When I started thinking about hanging my ornaments, I realized that this was the act that got me in the “Christmas spirit”. While it certainly isn’t necessary, it helps. This is how I view the various rituals that the many sects and schools of Buddhism perform on a regular basis. Whether it is using  juzu beads, prostrations, bowing, turning prayer wheels or whatever your particular cup of tea (which could also be a ritual).

These rituals aren’t the means by which you realize enlightenment. Big shock, I know. So what is their purpose if not practical? I think it all just has to do with the intention behind the act. If you intend to bow deeply to world out of respect, and repeat this action again and again, and are genuine in your action, how does that not carry over into the rest of your life? If you immerse yourself in loving-kindness practice, this is how you will react to the world. The same thing if all you listen to is Rage Against the Machine (which I love). Eventually, you’re going to hate the government (and white people too I think?). We’ve built up so much of the delusion, greed, and hunger in our lives that sometimes it takes 100 prostrations or 300 nam myoho renge kyo-s to break ourselves out of that mode of thought and being.

But it’s not just some kind of brainwashing exercise. Lighting candles and incense, chanting, offering food and water, these things create the right environment for earnest practice. They are the same as hanging the ornaments on my tree, or watching It’s a Beautiful Life. Those things are not the Christmas Spirit in and of themselves, likewise my offering a pear on my Butsudan alter isn’t going to bring me enlightenment. But it helps me. I understand the symbolism, and how it should reflect in my life.

Of course, there is also the flip side. I’m sure I have neighbors that have put up their lights out of some sort of obligation. I’m sure there are plenty of Buddhists in the world that light incense with no intention behind it. This can be found in all the world’s religions, as well as in social interaction itself. People just going through the motions for whatever reason. And I’m sure that there are some that don’t see the ritual items as physical symbology, interpret everything literally, and hope to bow their way to enlightenment. But I think that most practitioners are aware that many of the rituals they perform are symbolic, and are there to aid their practice, not be their practice.

So it kind of bugs me when people like Sam Harris say things like “While it may be true enough to say (as many Buddhist practitioners allege) that “Buddhism is not a religion,” most Buddhists worldwide practice it as such, in many of the naive, petitionary, and superstitious ways in which all religions are practiced.” [emphasis mine]

I’ll just say that I fully believe Buddhism to be a religion, though whatever way you choose to practice it is up to you. But I don’t think that looking down your nose at the world-wide sangha is helping you to develop loving-kindness or compassion Sam Harris. I could just as easily say that treating Buddhism as anything but a religion, and practicing it as a mere philosophy with only personal gain in mind is futile and selfish. And reducing it to the “Science of Mind” that many propose misses the entire point of Buddhism altogether. But that’s just an opinion. It’s divisive speech, and it makes the claim that I somehow own Buddhism and propose to know the true and “right” version of it to practice; when in fact this would be far from the truth. Rather than attempt to create more division, why not just embrace what it is that you choose to practice, without degrading others?

This kind of talk is common. Many people here in the West believe that Buddhism has too much ritual and metaphor and if we just rid it of these, and it’s cultural baggage, it would be better off.  If that’s what you want, practice that. But there’s no need to go stripping Buddhism of it’s rich culture, tradition, and history. Personally, I’m choosing to learn from the diverse cultures that have developed Buddhism over the past 2500 years or so. I don’t see it as “baggage”, even though there is plenty of it that doesn’t speak to me on a personal level. What do I then do with this cultural “baggage”? I try and understand it. I try and understand it’s purpose and meaning. I take what I can from it, and then move on. I like the metaphors and symbolism, but I understand that is what they are, and nothing more. Calling the culture that has intertwined itself with Buddhism “baggage” is disrespectful on so many counts, but I’ll let Arun talk more about that (that’s kind of Arun’s niche).

So far, all of the ornaments have survived the wrath of Mr. Grab-Hands

Back to the topic at hand. I think that ritual has it’s place in Buddhist practice. One shouldn’t get lost in it, nor do I think one should have a strict aversion to it. I enjoy ritual. It helps me. It helps to bring focus to my practice. While not necessary, it’s a tool that I can use that has it’s roots deep in Buddhist tradition and culture. When I find my mind wandering while chanting, I use my Juzu beads to bring my focus back where it should be. They also help provide that feeling that what I’m doing in the present moment is focused practice, which it then becomes. So what’s wrong with that? Why strip me of that? I like my ornaments on my tree. They certainly aren’t getting in the way of anything. They’re pretty, they make me happy, and it just plain feels like Christmas with our tree now.

I’ll leave you with this. Awhile back, Jack from Zen Dirt, Zen Dust wrote a post called “The Stripping of Buddhism“. One of his readers Lee left the following comment, which I think sums this all up nicely: “I never thought I’d like ritual..but first time I spent time with monks and bowed I found the purpose in my training for bowing…full bowing…chanting…having services..lighting candles…all the symbolic bringing together of the mind in action and letting go self in the process… For some I suppose it’s helpful…but no one should mistake it for some old idea .. not necessary… and somehow unworthy… to bow deeply to the universe is good to do… Gashho!”

Cheers.

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Giving Thanks

I’m thankful for my wife and son, who are my world. I’m thankful that in this economy, I have a stable job. I’m thankful that I have reliable transportation, clean drinking water, and food on my table. I’m thankful for all of those that have helped me on my Buddhist path in this last year.

And I’m thankful for the marinaded turkey that I’m about to cook up. It will be my last, as starting with the New Year, I’ll be going full-vegetarian. The turkey is going to be awesome, and here’s the recipe for the marinade, from  beercook.com. (I used a malty brown ale. Not that hoppy, just the right amount of malty sweetness).

Have a great Thanksgiving, and be safe.

Cheers.

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Like Father Like………..Father?

So it’s a little more than halfway through my mustache growing adventure. My wife Alex pointed out the other day that I’m starting to look like my dad. I’ve always more closely resembled my Mother’s side of the family, but now that I have the Dad-stache, I’m starting to see the patriarchal resemblance.

Halfway through Movember, and I've got half-a-'stache

Consequently this has all stirred up a bunch of weird feelings about fatherhood. I’m monitoring myself more closely with my son now. Am I acting like my dad did? Am I going to be the same type of parent that he was/is? Am I instilling the same values as he did? Do I still hold those same values? Am I just a product of my father’s influence?

Ugh. All this because of a silly mustache. Cheers.

There is still time to donate to our cause. For all the info check here. To donate to our cause, head here.

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Eating Glass

I stayed home from work Thursday and Friday. I’ve felt like crap. Actually, I’ve felt like I ate glass, and it’s refusing to make its way through my digestive system. These pains come and go, but are most intense when I stand. Seems like an odd thing to share with the world, and most unusual for me to post as well. But it’s how I’ve been dealing with it that I’d like to share.

Sometimes, it gets the best of me, and I wince. I cry out or grunt a little. But what I’ve been focusing on doing is when the pain comes, to just let it be pain, and then pass. I’ve been mildly successful in doing this, but when I am able to let the pain just be pain, I’ve found that I can continue on with what I was working on, and then not dwell on it.

For me, this is an important step in my new Buddhist “process”. I’m able to notice when I form attachments, and I’m able to attempt to let phenomenon just happen in the moment. I’m becoming more mindful of myself and my enviroment.

That’s all. Sometimes, I just post to hear myself type. Cheers.

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Stuck Fermentation

 

 I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately. No reason that I can find. Mostly the subject material has escaped me. Then I realized that in itself was a subject worthy of print. I started this blog a few months ago with the hope that it would simply inspire me to write and explore my own mind and understanding. It has done just that. I’m not hoping to get anything on this blog published at any point, ever. This isn’t the subject material that I’d really enjoy writing an entire novel about. I don’t know how I’d make it last that long. But the subject of “writers block” made me curious. Can I approach it the same way I approach any other type of “block” in my life? Why is writer’s block seen as so much more impossible to overcome than say a mechanic’s block, or a architect’s block? We don’t ever hear of bus driver’s block. Is there a potter’s block? More importantly (and pertinent to this blog) is home brewer’s block.

 Sometimes, you’ll finish brewing a batch, pitch the yeast, wake up the next morning and……..nothing. No bubbles in the airlock. You wait another day. No activity. No fermentation. All that time/energy/money you spent looks like it’s circling the toilet right about now. Shitty. You’ve encountered what Pirsig would refer to as a “value trap”. If you don’t approach this trap in the correct way, you just made 5 gallons of terrible drain cleaner. So we need to look at the causes of “stuck fermentation.”

 First, your wort sucks. The environment that the yeast is in is inhospitable. You may have added too many adjuncts or sugar (rice syrup comes to mind here – people use that to make American Light Lagers. piss water. don’t waste your time). So the yeast doesn’t have enough nutrients to survive. You’ll need to feed the yeast if this is the case. Add some sterile wort to the mix. This will give it a kick in the right direction, and dilute all those adjuncts you’ve added.

 In life, this happens frequently. We have a particular goal in mind, but in getting there, we accumulate so much “baggage” and attachments that we end up too weighed down to reach that goal. In writing, we get too many ideas about what the end result should be. Or we get to reading another author and think “I’ll add that in”. Or we get caught up in another task or project. Or we become obsessive compulsive about using the thesaurus for every third word we use. If you want to write, you need to write. Just focus, and do it. No distractions. Set aside a time to write if you need to and stick to it.

This doesn’t apply to writing only. Any goal you have in life, it’s easy to get bogged down by all the non-nutritious crap you’ve added to your life. You want to have a great, prosperous life, filled with joy and ease. But what do you do instead? You leave the TV running. You let your friends drain you emotionally day after day. You eat shit for lunch and dinner (because chances are, you aren’t eating breakfast). Your home is cluttered. Your finances are a mess. In short, you’ve made a bad environment for yourself. It’s at this point where you need to get rid of all the adjuncts in your life that are getting in the way of you living your truth. You can’t even begin to see your truth, let alone live it, if your life has become a cornucopia of poisons. Get rid of them. Have a garage sale. Quit smoking. Take your phone off the hook for awhile. Find some alone time. Take up insight meditation. Unplug and minimize. Then you can start to take a look at who you are, without all the excess flotsam and jetsam that have clogged the river of you.

 Sometimes, your yeast sucks. For whatever reason, it’s become apathetic about making beer in your fermenter. Maybe it’s old. Maybe the temperature wasnt’ right. Maybe it just doesn’t like what you’ve given it to eat. Maybe it was damaged in transportation. There’s a lot of reasons. But what you should do here is feed it. Yeast nutrients work well, and this is an easy fix. This will give your yeast life, and remind it that it’s purpose is to make beer.

 In life it’s difficult; no, damn near impossible to see what the problem with ourselves is. Hell, all of our family and friends will clue us in, but we just don’t see it. We don’t want to see it. We love being perfect just as we are. Our misery has become our comfort blanket. Because sometimes, we become walking zombies. You wake up. Get dressed. Commute to work. Work. Lunch. More work. Commute home. Dinner. Conan. Bed. Rinse Lather Repeat. Enter apathy, followed shortly by indifference. Next comes depression. And it doesn’t usually hit you at once. It’s gradual. It’s also enveloping. So much so that you don’t see that it’s happened until way too late. So then we take pills to make us not feel the depression. But it’s still there. The pills just cover it up. In fact they feed the lethargy. It’s like putting a towel around your fermenter and thinking that will solve your stuck fermentation. Buzzz. Wrong answer.

 What do you need to do? I already told you. It’s an easy fix. You need a soul nutrient. Something that will make you feel alive again. Try Yoga, home brewing, archery, karaoke, whatever. Anything that feeds your soul, and not the routine that got you into this mess. The problem with most of us is that once we start down the path of monotony or depression we just keep feeding it and feeding it. We either become apathetic about the situation, or we deny it, or more commonly we add fuel to the fire. What you need to do is see the fire for what it is. It is a destructive force that will decimate who you are physically and mentally. You must extinguish this fire by jumping in the lake. You can’t stop drop and roll depression. You can’t end the flatness with subtlety. Drastic measures are in order. But they are easy. It takes only a new hobby. A new friend. An old lover. Go see a show. Anything. But you must act fast. Your soul has a short window of availability for you to reignite the process. Too long, and you’ll have been your own vampire. Drained yourself of all signs of energy, life, essence. You won’t be able to see yourself in the mirror anymore. You’ll only see a package. A package that you used to be able to open to see something extraordinary inside. Now, only a package.

 There are other ways to get stuck. I won’t list them all. You’ll need to figure them out. I’m still trying to figure this all out myself. I get stuck often. The biggest problem is realizing that you are stuck. That life isn’t supposed to be this way. It’s hard, but it’s the first step, and you’ve gotta do it. You have to be honest with yourself. Too often our mind and ego have told us how great we are and how everything is stupendous and the future looks bright and bla bla bla bla…. so why is it that something doesn’t feel right? If everything is going according to plan, why is that panic light flashing in the background?

 It’s because we’ve settled. Rather than explore the world of home brewing, we’ve decided to settle on whoever sponsers the Super Bowl this year. It’s easy. That’ll be the go-to favorite. Always. Sure, everytime you go to the store and buy a six-pack, in the back of your mind you’re thinking “hmmm… I wonder what that Amber Lager tastes like….” but you decide not to risk it. What if you didn’t like it? Then you’d be disappointed. And we can’t have that. Let’s just grab our usual and our expectations will be met. I say no more. I say from now on, listen to that voice in your head. Grab the Amber Lager. See the Indie Documentary you read about in the weekly. Bike to work tomorrow. That voice that tells you to do these things? That’s you. The voice of your soul crying out for nourishment. You’ve just been locked up in the basement by your ego and your mind. They are formidable advisaries. But you must stand up to them.

 Embrace that which feeds your soul. I guarantee you’ll find disappointment. You’ll start to write a blog and have some really great ideas, and then bam. You’ll just stare at your screen and not know what to write. You’ll brew a batch of beer and it will taste like piss. You’ll ask out that clerk at the grocery store, and you’ll get turned down. Big deal. It was your result-oriented/future-mindset that got you into that mode of depression and stuckness in the first place. Life isn’t a result. Life is getting the result, getting to your destination, not arriving at it. Because when you arrive, then what? If you can find that which feeds your soul, and enjoy that process for what it is, and the joy it brings you, you’ll never have to worry about stuck fermentation for too long.

 So for now, this blog is my nutrient. It’s what is feeding my writer’s soul, and freeing my writer’s block. I’m not concerned with the end result, but the process of writing itself. If I get too caught up in the goal, I’ll get stuck and miss out on the entire process. Cheers.

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