Thursday, March 31, 2011

Within this Structure, One is Free

And in that moment I understood that everything I had gone to Thailand to look for, to search for, I had it already in my singing — the calm, but alertness,the focus, but awareness, and being totally in the moment. When you're totally in the moment, when I'm totally in the moment, the vessel of expression is open. The emotions can flow from me to you and back. Extremely profound experience.

~ Claron McFadden, from “Singing is the Primal Mystery,” TEDxAmsterdam, November 2010

[Thanks, Kit!]

Infinitely Tiny Increments

Naked: A Gallery View from Eiko and Koma on Vimeo.

“A naked man and woman moving with glacial slowness on a mound of earth, feathers, sticks and vegetation doesn’t sound at all like an enthralling theatrical experience. But such is the almost inexplicable magic of ‘Naked: A Living Installation,’ by the Japanese-American duo Eiko and Koma, that watching two bodies inch toward and away from each other in infinitely tiny increments is an utterly absorbing, potent drama of time and space — endless in the moment, over before you know it.”

From “Poetry of Stillness, in a Moment Stretched to Infinity,” by Roslyn Sulcas, New York Times, March 30, 3011

Once Again Trees

March 30, 2011

“When you start on a long journey, trees are trees, water is water, and mountains are mountains. After you have gone some distance, trees are no longer trees, water no longer water, mountains no longer mountains. But after you have travelled a great distance, trees are once again trees, water is once again water, mountains are once again mountains.”

~ attributed to Ch'ing-yüan, from The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

People Perform Better When They Feel Committed and Engaged

Rich Fernandez, the Head of Learning and Organization Development at eBay, in conversation with Vince Horn, “Optimizing Awareness in Organizations,” Buddhist Geeks: Episode 211, March 14, 2011:

It’s almost as if with the evolution of technology and how we’ve optimized our machines, our software, our algorithms, our databases and data analysis capabilities. What comes next is optimizing our awareness and our consciousness and I think that’s increasingly something that is becoming paramount and evident in organizational life...

You know if we think about it, we all work from the age of 21 to the age of 67, 40 hours a week with a couple of weeks of vacation. That’s about 40% of our waking life spent at work -- ninety thousand hours spent at work and [during] that time we will spend most of our productive time, energy and attention.

And so cultivating the quality of the time and of the attention is increasingly paramount. That’s the case because it’s not only something that would be fulfilling for the worker or the member of the organization but it also is useful in terms of business outcomes.

Actually there’s a lot of data on this. In a workplace in which people feel committed, where they feel engaged, where they feel they’re able to really give the best of themselves and exhibit a lot of discretionary effort — when people have that level of commitment and a feeling of wellness they actually perform better.

Corporate Leadership Council and the Gallup Organization are studying hundreds of organizations and millions of employees. They’ve shown that people perform up to 20% better, for example, when they feel committed and engaged. And when they’re thriving they are 57% more productive and they are almost 90% less likely to leave organizations than others who don’t have that experience of well-being.

Well-being, mindfulness, living a sustainable work and outside life are actually differentiators in terms of how effective organizations are whether you’re mission be bottom-line driven, service driven or whatever it is that your organization is purposed for doing…

The consistent and dedicated exercise of mindfulness in the organization is kind of the underlying framework, if you will, that informs all these programs [at eBay]. Something that we’ve been doing at eBay is we’ve been bringing in mindfulness talks and [making] seminars available to employees as well as for some of our leaders and leadership teams…it’s impressive to see a room of 250 Internet employees, on at Thursday around 1:30 in the afternoon sitting in silence for 10 minutes.

See also:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Just Looking

(Thanks, But I’m) Just Looking
Peggy Levison Nolan
Dina Mitrani Gallery, March 10 — April 23, 2011

Untitled (bud) 2010

“Continuing her search for beauty and poetry in life’s ordinariness, Nolan exhibits various photographic formats illustrating her almost obsessive act of observing what is around her on a daily basis. She explores the concept of narrative in her series of photographs of the amaryllis flowers that grow in her backyard. This series, approximately thirty 8 x 8 inch prints, depicts her investigative way of looking, studying the everyday phenomenon of nature’s life cycles.”

Untitled (bud2), 2010

Untitled (bud3), 2010

Untitled (dying bud) 2010

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Each Unhappy Family is Unique

The Hedgehog (France) was my favorite film of the eight we saw over the weekend at the 36th Cleveland International Film Festival. Other favorites were Special Treatment (France) and Illegal (Belgium). My favorite documentary was The Children of Chabannes.

See also:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Humans Together

Cleveland International Film Festival March 24 — April 3, 2011

"In a world where there are no longer books we have almost all of us read, the movies we have almost all of us seen are perhaps the richest cultural bond we have. They go on haunting us for years the way our dreams go on haunting us. In a way they are our dreams. The best of them remind us of human truths that would not seem as true without them. They help to remind us that we are all of us humans together."

~ Frederick Buechner, from Beyond Words

Kindness is Contagious

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Temporary Custodian of Beautiful Things

“I’ve been lucky all my life. Everything was handed to me. Looks, fame, wealth, honors, love. I rarely had to fight for anything. But I’ve paid for that luck with disasters. . .I’m like a living example of what people can go through and survive. I’m not like anyone. I’m me.”

~ Elizabeth Taylor, quoted in “A Lustrous Pinnacle of Hollywood Glamour,” New York Times, Mar. 23, 2011

And this from a recent interview for Harper’s Bazaar, “I never planned to acquire a lot of jewels or a lot of husbands. For me, life happened, just as it does for anyone else. I have been supremely lucky in my life in that I have known great love, and of course I am the temporary custodian of some incredible and beautiful things. But I have never felt more alive than when I watched my children delight in something, never more alive than when I have watched a great artist perform, and never richer than when I have scored a big check to fight AIDS. Follow your passion, follow your heart, and the things you need will come.”

Using Technology to Humanize the Classroom

“By removing the one size fits all lecture from the classroom and letting students have a self-paced lecture at home, and then when you go to the classroom, letting them do work, having the teacher walk around, having the peers actually be able to interact with each other, these teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom.”

~ Sal Khan, of Khan Academy

What’s Always Here

Excerpt from Natural Awareness: Guided Meditations and Teachings for Welcoming All Experience by Pema Chödrön:

There are various ways to say what we’re doing here. One of them is uncovering our natural wakefulness or open awareness. Not attaining it or achieving it, but relaxing enough to experience it—to tune into it. What’s always said is like tuning into what’s always here.

When you listen to sounds…

For just a moment, just listen.

Can you hear your heartbeat?

Or feel your heartbeat?

Can you hear your breath?

The idea is that your heart is hopefully always beating. You’re always breathing. But there’s no consciousness of it. In the same way, you’re not conscious of the sounds. We all know what it’s like to walk a city block or country street — or anywhere — and be so lost in thought that you don’t see anything that’s on that street — just enough to keep you from bumping into people or falling down. But you miss a lot.

So the practice is returning or tuning into this natural ability to be present and see and hear — to be conscious, really. You could call it a practice of being fully conscious as opposed to being unconscious. Which is a pretty typical state. Lost in thought. Wandering away.

The point I’m trying to make is it’s not about acquiring something, but uncovering or tuning into a natural wakefulness, a natural awareness, an open awareness that’s always been here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Experimenting with Forms

Japanese Garden, Dawes Arboretum (March 19, 2011)

“We are the miracle of force and matter making itself over into imagination and will. Incredible. The Life Force experimenting with forms. You for one. Me for another. The Universe has shouted itself alive. We are one of the shouts.”

~ Ray Bradbury

Monday, March 21, 2011

Listen to Your Life

Japanese Garden, Dawes Arboretum (March 19, 2011)

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and the pain of it no less than the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

~ Frederick Buechner, from Now and Then

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who Needs Them?

Religious Consolation
by John Updike, from Americana and Other Poems

Americana: and Other Poems by John UpdikeOne size fits all. The shape or coloration
of the god or high heaven matters less
than that there is one, somehow, somewhere, hearing
the hasty prayer and chalking up the mite
the widow brings to the temple. A child
alone with horrid verities cries out
for there to be a limit, a warm wall
whose stones give back an answer, however faint.

Strange, the extravagance of it—who needs
those eighteen-armed black Kalis, those musty saints
whose bones and bleeding wounds appall good taste,
those joss sticks, houris, gilded Buddhas, books
Moroni etched in tedious detail?
We do; we need more worlds. This one will fail.

* * * * *
See also: Updike's 'This I Believe' Essay
[Thanks, Suzanne!]

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Philosophy of the Present

From “In Search of the Present,” by Octavio Paz (translated by Anthony Stanton), Nobel Lecture, October 8, 1990:

Reflecting on the now does not imply relinquishing the future or forgetting the past: the present is the meeting place for the three directions of time. Neither can it be confused with facile hedonism. The tree of pleasure does not grow in the past or in  the future but at this very moment. Yet death is also a fruit of The death mask of Sir Isaac Newton.the present. It cannot be rejected, for it is part of life. Living well implies dying well. We have to learn how to look death in the face. The present is alternatively luminous and somber, like a sphere that unites the two halves of action and contemplation. Thus, just as we have had philosophies of the past and of the future, of eternity and of the void, tomorrow we shall have a philosophy of the present. The poetic experience could be one of its foundations. What do we know about the present? Nothing or almost nothing. Yet the poets do know one thing: the present is the source of presences.

In this pilgrimage in search of modernity I lost my way at many points only to find myself again. I returned to the source and discovered that modernity is not outside but within us. It is today and the most ancient antiquity; it is tomorrow and the beginning of the world; it is a thousand years old and yet newborn. It speaks in Nahuatl, draws Chinese ideograms from the 9th century, and appears on the television screen. This intact present, recently unearthed, shakes off the dust of centuries, smiles and suddenly starts to fly, disappearing Venus of Willendorf through the window. A simultaneous plurality of time and presence: modernity breaks with the immediate past only to recover an age-old past and transform a tiny fertility figure from the Neolithic into our contemporary. We pursue modernity in her incessant metamorphoses yet we never manage to trap her. She always escapes: each encounter ends in flight. We embrace her and she disappears immediately: it was just a little air. It is the instant, that bird that is everywhere and nowhere. We want to trap it alive but it flaps its wings and vanishes in the form of a handful of syllables. We are left empty-handed. Then the doors of perception open slightly and the other time appears, the real one we were searching for without knowing it: the present, the presence.

[Thanks, Whiskey River!]


The Word That Is a Prayer
by Ellery Akers, from American Life in Poetry: Column 321

One thing you know when you say it:
all over the earth people are saying it with you;
a child blurting it out as the seizures take her,
a woman reciting it on a cot in a hospital.
What if you take a cab through the Tenderloin:
at a street light, a man in a wool cap,
yarn unraveling across his face, knocks at the window;
he says, Please.
By the time you hear what he’s saying,
the light changes, the cab pulls away,
and you don’t go back, though you know
someone just prayed to you the way you pray.
Please: a word so short
it could get lost in the air
as it floats up to God like the feather it is,
knocking and knocking, and finally
falling back to earth as rain,
as pellets of ice, soaking a black branch,
collecting in drains, leaching into the ground,
and you walk in that weather every day.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Listening to Pi on 3-14

See also:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Surprising Interplay of Basic Forces

A collection of direct quotes from reading today.

Found Poem March 13, 2011

I hold the cigarette in my mouth the entire time,
and with the feather boa involved,
there's a sense of danger.

Architects all want to be
philosophers or artists now.
I think they love to hate me.

It was an emotional catastrophe at the time,
being conceived from the inside out,
the fashion industry's disdain for
the great, unwashed masses,
enabling clients to buy shadows of shadows,
sixteen shades of gray.

Over and over complexity from the simplest of rules,
beauty from the surprising interplay of basic forces.
Those are the kinds of patterns that catch my attention.
That turned out to be a fatal miscalculation.

Why are you suddenly awake?

The kind of conversations that
I want to be having
occur best in daytime,
This is a little more challenging —   
and a lot better.

Seeing with Sound

Excerpts from “Blindness No Obstacle To Those With Sharp Ears,” All Things Considered, March 13, 2011:

Meet Daniel Kish. He's a man of many talents. He likes to hike, make music and write. He enjoys children and loves nature. He's an avid biker.

He's also completely blind.

How can Kish bike if he can't see? The method is called echolocation — Kish calls it "flash sonar." As he speeds along on his bike, he makes clicking sounds. As the clicks bounce back to him, he creates a mental image of the space around him. He's kind of like a human bat.

"It is literally a process of seeing with sound," he says.

"It is literally a process of seeing with sound." ~ Daniel Kish
Daniel Kish leads All Things Considered weekend host Guy Raz on a bike ride in Culver City, Los Angeles, Ca.

“I think that children are incredibly adaptable and intuitive. We know this. I work a lot with children, especially very young children. What I often tell parents when children lose their sight is — warn and support parents — to try and get themselves out of the way of the adaptation process, become more an asset to it than a liability. Because children will adapt if given support to do so and given space to do so.

…It’s the overall process of being willing to reach out into the environment and discover what is around them. If that discovery process is broken by introducing a situation that is not natural, such as keeping the blind child in a playpen or a crib or in the corner, or such as always guiding their hands around their environment or guiding their bodies around their environment — [you really just have to let them figure it out. Getting hurt] is part of it for any child…It is tough, but there’s still a kind of a priori difference. When a sighted child gets hurt we consider it to be unfortunate; when a blind child gets hurt we consider it to be tragic…We really need to divest ourselves of that double standard.

[At World Access for the Blind] our main focus is supporting individuals to access their environment better…It is about a philosophy that we call No Limits Philosophy which challenges us to challenge what we think we know. To challenge every boundary, every box, every limitation that we’ve either put up ourselves or allowed ourselves to be conditioned to accept.

… Conventional wisdom doesn’t favor blindness. Conventional wisdom basically favors the perpetuation of convention. Blindness is not conventional — it’s anything and everything but conventional. So we tend to challenge conventional wisdom to expand itself and accept that there are situations, circumstances which are not conventional yet which still warrant accommodation, consideration, acceptance, awareness.   


National Geographic: Seven Billion

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Let the Love Begin

Happy is the heart that still feels pain
Darkness drains and light will come in again
Swing open your chest and let it in
Just let the love, love, love begin

~ Ingrid Michaelson

The Best Fashion Show is on the Street

Friday, March 11, 2011

Be Alive if You Can

March 2011

"You are seeing everything for the last time, and everything you see is gilded with goodbyes — the child's hand like a starfish on the pillow, your hand on the doorknob, the dachshund's lurching off the forbidden couch when you come through the door. . .

You are seeing everything for the last time — the room where for years Christmases have happened, snow falling so thick by the windows that sometimes it starts to snow in the room, Christmas brightness falling on tables, books, chairs. . .

You are seeing everything for the last time — the gaudy tree in the corner, the family sitting there snowbound, snow-blind to the crazy passing of what they think will never pass. . .

And now, today, everything will pass, because it is the last day. For the last time you are seeing the rain fall and, in your mind, that snow, the child asleep, the dog making sheepishly for his pillow by the radiator. . .

For the last time you are hearing the house come alive, because you who are part of this life have come alive to it. . .

All the unkept promises, if they are ever to be kept, have to be kept today.

All the unspoken words, if you do not speak them today, will never be spoken.

The people, the ones you love and the ones who bore you to death, all the life you have in you to live with them, if you do not live it with them today, will never be lived.

It is the first day, because it has never been before, and it is the last day, because it will never be again. Be alive, if you can, through today, this day of your life. Follow your feet. Put on the coffee. Start the orange juice, the bacon, the toast. Then go wake your children and think about the work of your hands. . ."

~ Frederick Buechner, from Listening to Your Life

See also: A PBS Profile of Frederick Buechner

Losing Our Tolerance for Vulnerability

“In our anxious world, we often protect ourselves by closing off parts of our lives that leave us feeling most vulnerable. Yet invulnerability has a price. When we knowingly or unknowingly numb ourselves to what we sense threatens us, we sacrifice an essential tool for navigating uncertain times — joy. This talk [explores] how and why fear and collective scarcity has profoundly dangerous consequences on how we live, love, parent, work and engage in relationships — and how simple acts can restore our sense of purpose and meaning.”

~ TEDxKC, August 2010

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work where she has spent the past 10 years studying courage, shame and authenticity. She is the Behavioral Health Scholar-in-Residence at the Council on Alcohol and Drugs and has written several books on her research.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Whether We Know It or Not

Lumpini Park, Bankgok (2004)

On Bowing at Strange Altars
from ScurrilousMonk

Whether we know it or not,
All altars are created out of the same need.

Whether we know it or not,
All altars express the same desire.

Whether we know it or not,
All altars ask the same question.

Whether we know it or not,
All altars honor the same mystery.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

To Be Swallowed Up

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

~ Louise Erdrich, from The Painted Drum


Help for the Chirpy

Monday, March 07, 2011

Planned Thrills

Excerpt from Timeline by Michael Crichton:

In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated. But in our century, they want to be entertained. The great fear is not of disease or death, but of boredom. A sense of time on our hands, a sense of nothing to do. A sense that we are not amused.

But where will this mania for entertainment end? What will people do when they get tired of television? When they get tired of movies? We already know the answer — they go into participatory activities: sports, theme parks, amusement rides, roller coasters. Structured fun, planned thrills. And what will they tire of theme parks and planned thrills? Sooner or later, the artifice becomes too noticeable. They begin to realize that an amusement park is really a kind of jail in which you pay to be an inmate.

"natural looking artificial flowers and plants" This artifice will drive them to seek authenticity. Authenticity will be the buzzword of the twenty-first century. And what is authentic? Anything that is not devised and structured to make a profit. Anything that is not controlled by corporations. Anything that exists for its own sake, that assumes its own shape. But of course, nothing in the modern world is allowed to assume its own shape. The modern world is the corporate equivalent of a formal garden, where everything is planted and arranged for effect. Where nothing is untouched, where nothing is authentic.

Where then will people turn for the rare and desirable experience of authenticity? They will turn to the past.

*     *     *     *     *

See also: Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want by James Gilmore and Joseph Pine

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Today You, Tomorrow Me

The Tire Iron and the Tamale
by Justin Horner
New York Times Sunday Magazine
March 6, 2011

flat-tire During this past year I’ve had three instances of car trouble: a blowout on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out-of-gas situation. They all happened while I was driving other people’s cars, which for some reason makes it worse on an emotional level. And on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my own car, and know enough not to park on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.

Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted with the way people didn’t bother to help. I was stuck on the side of the freeway hoping my friend’s roadside service would show, just watching tow trucks cruise past me. The people at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t lend them out “for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a really crappy one-gallon can, with no cap, for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” which I actually said.

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke any English.

One of those guys stopped to help me with the blowout even though he had his whole family of four in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend’s big Jeep. I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, “NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing. Right as I was about to give up and start hitching, a van pulled over, and the guy bounded out.

He sized up the situation and called for his daughter, who spoke English. He conveyed through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to brace it. Then he got a saw from the van and cut a section out of a big log on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top and we were in business.

I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn’t careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn.

No worries: he ran to the van and handed it to his wife, and she was gone in a flash down the road to buy a new tire iron. She was back in 15 minutes. We finished the job with a little sweat and cussing (the log started to give), and I was a very happy man.

The two of us were filthy and sweaty. His wife produced a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it, so instead I went up to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I’d send them a gift for being so awesome. She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks. Then they were going to pick peaches, then go back home.

After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale.

This family, undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks were just passing him by.

tamale But we weren’t done yet. I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran to the van and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and just started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, “Por favor, por favor, por favor,” with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: “Today you, tomorrow me.”

Then he rolled up his window and drove away, with his daughter waving to me from the back. I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t handle it.

In the several months since then I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank.

One Single Kōan

Enso by Hakuin

“True meditation is making everything—coughing, swallowing, waving, movement and stillness, speaking and acting, good and evil, fame and shame, loss and gain, right and wrong—into one single kōan.”

~ Hakuin (1685 - 1768)

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Steadied by the Darkness

Northern Lights over Fairbanks, Alaska (Stormscape Photography / Michael Phelps)

In the Sleep of Reason
by John Haines (1924 – 2011), from The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer: Collected Poems

And so I closed that book,
laid down the pen
and closed my eyes.

What had I thought to find,
reading by the light of cyphers,
abstract and piercing
in their constellations?

Nothing that night and the wind
could not have told me,
had I raised my head,
dimmed my lamp, and listened—

I, a thoughtful man, prone
to the dust of bindings,
coughing in the dry sequence
of verse and chapter
(for I had reasons).

And while I was sleeping,
came a small beak at my heart,
like a thorn, insistently
probing . . .

And I in terror awoke,
to know in that room
a tread ceaseless and pacing.

As if from within my being
came this upwelling,
of brute and shouldering forms:

heavy and beastlike, buoyant
and birdlike, but nothing
I could name, they moved
at ease, about and within me . . .

creatures of the starlight,
but also of the mind,
harbor to wolf and warlock.

So much do I remember now:
the pulse of obedient hearts,
hot tongues licking
the night; and I heard,

like a dry wind over leaves,
the scaly rustling of reptiles
coiling and resting . . .
All turned in the lamplight

eyes that never turned from mine
in their bright interrogation
(for I could see them,
and yet they were not there).

And I would speak, my hand
upheld to shield me,
when the shutter clapped
and my lamp blew out—

(was it a natural wind,
or a spirit-breath
lifting the leaves
of heavy trees in the night?)

And all subsided in the hush
that followed, in the calm
of great wings folding
and shadowy forms lying down.

I rose and left that room,
the house of my grief
and my bondage, my book
never again to be opened.

To see as once I saw,
steadied by the darkness
in which I walked
and would make my way.

See also: “John Haines, a Poet of the Wild, Dies at 86,” by Douglas Marin, New York Times, Mar. 5, 2011

Natural Rhythm

“We already know how to let go—we do it every night when we go to sleep, and that letting go, like a good night's sleep, is delicious. Opening in this way, we can live in the reality of our wholeness. A little letting go brings us a little peace, a greater letting go brings us a greater peace. Entering the gateless gate, we begin to treasure the moments of wholeness. We begin to trust the natural rhythm of the world, just as we trust our own sleep and how our own breath breathes itself.”

~ Jack Kornfield, from After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path

At Home in Both

Excerpt from “Just One Breath: The Practice of Poetry and Meditation,” by Gary Snyder, Tricycle Magazine, Fall 1991:

In this world of onrushing events the act of meditation—even just a "one-breath" meditation—straightening the back, clearing the mind for a moment—is a refreshing island in the stream. Although the term meditation has mystical and religious connotations for many people, it is a simple and plain activity. Attention: deliberate stillness and silence. As anyone who has practiced sitting knows, the quieted mind has many paths, most of them tedious and ordinary. Then, right in the midst of meditation, totally unexpected images or feelings may sometimes erupt, and there is a way into a vivid transparency. But whatever comes up, sitting is always instructive. There is ample testimony that a practice of meditation pursued over months and years brings some degree of self-understanding, serenity, focus, and self-confidence to the person who stays with it. There is also a deep gratitude that one comes to feel for this world of beings, teachers, and teachings.

No one—guru or roshi or priest—can program for long what a person might think or feel in private reflection. We learn that we cannot in any literal sense control our mind. Meditation cannot serve an ideology. A meditation teacher can only help a student understand the phenomena that rise from his or her own inner world—after the fact—and give tips on directions to go. A meditation teacher can be a check or guide for the wayfarer to measure herself against, and like any experienced guide can give good warning of brushy paths and dead-end canyons from personal experience. The teacher provides questions, not answers. Within a traditional Buddhist framework of ethical values and psychological insight, the mind essentially reveals itself.

Meditation is not just a rest or retreat from the turmoil of the stream or the impurity of the world. It is a way of being the stream, so that one can be at home in both the white water and the eddies. Meditation may take one out of the world, but it also puts one totally into it. Poems are a bit like this too. The experience of a poem gives both distance and involvement: one is closer and farther at the same time.

Read the entire essay…


The Range of Human Imagination

Analogies prove nothing, but they can make one feel more at home.

~ Sigmund Freud, from Introduction to Psychoanalysis

Excerpt from Once Before Time: A Whole Story of the Universe by Martin Bojowold:

Once theory pushes forward to a possible understanding of the big bang and the remaining universe, the temptation to explain the emergence of the universe itself becomes overwhelming. Interpretations of theories and their mathematical solutions concerning entire worldviews indeed offer a high degree of fascination. But in too direct and supposedly generally valid an interpretation there lies, especially in this case, a great danger—not least because theories relevant for such questions will for all foreseeable time remain in their infancy. Physics is, after all, even if we disregard its big sister philosophy, not alone in this business. And yet a comparison of different worldviews offers a certain charm, and certainly some knowledge, too.

One should not underestimate myths and what they can teach us about ourselves and the progress we have made. Take the Summer Palace in modern Beijing, a beautiful sprawling park built as the summer retreat of Empress Dowager Cixi. On a small island in a man-made lake, facing the Tower of Buddhist Incense and the Sea of Wisdom Temple on the slope of Longevity Hill which rises from the shore, stand the Hall of Embracing the Universe. It is a small, humble building in the style of its time, the fringes of its roof rising optimistically upward to aim at the sky. The Hall of Embracing the Universe tells us everything there is to know about humanity and the world: It was initially called the Hall of Watching the Moon Toad to honor its role in observing the moonrise; nowadays, the Hall of Embracing the Universe is a souvenir shop.

Hall of Embracing the Universe, completed in Emperor Qianlong's reign (1736-1795)

Surprisingly often, one can find parallels between ideas stemming from the most diverse traditions, an observation probably not hinting at an ember of truth but rather traceable back to the fact that the range of human imagination is despite its excesses, actually quite small.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Nothing Cannot Be Thought

Bust of the great Greek philosopher, Plato. SOCRATES: He then who sees some one thing, sees something which is?


SOCRATES: And he who hears anything, hears some one thing, and hears that which is?


SOCRATES: And he who touches anything, touches something which is one and therefore is?

THEAETETUS: That again is true.

SOCRATES: And does not he who thinks, think some one thing?

THEAETETUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And does not he who thinks some one thing, think something which is?


SOCRATES: Then he who thinks of that which is not, thinks of nothing?


SOCRATES: And he who thinks of nothing, does not think at all?

THEAETETUS: Obviously.

SOCRATES: Then no one can think that which is not, either as a self-existent substance or as a predicate of something else?

~ Plato, from Theaetetus

Thursday, March 03, 2011

People Love Narrative


“It’s hard to define the human experience. We constantly try to understand it. That’s why people love narrative: There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

~ Julianne Moore, from InStyle Magazine, March 2011

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Sing and Dance While the Music Plays

A short animated clip made by Trey Parker & Matt Stone featuring Alan Watts, from Do You Do It, or Does It Do You?


[Thanks, Alex!]

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Giving Ourselves a Break

Excerpt from “Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges,” by Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times, Feb. 28, 2011:

Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?

Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind That simple question is the basis for a burgeoning new area of psychological research called self-compassion — how kindly people view themselves. People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.

The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic. Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.

This idea does seem at odds with the advice dispensed by many doctors and self-help books, which suggest that willpower and self-discipline are the keys to better health. But Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field, says self-compassion is not to be confused with self-indulgence or lower standards.

“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” said Dr. Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin. “They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

Read the entire post…


See also: Rekindle Warmth Toward Yourself and Others


[Thanks, Matt!]

If You Take the Time

"In the course of the play, what I learn — and it's why I view it as a Zen play — is that if you take the time, which often old age and disease forces you to do, you slow down and take the time, you begin to see things differently. Things that might on the surface look mediocre, but that in fact, when you pierce them and delve down into them, are beautiful."

~ Jane Fonda, discussing 33 Variations with Susan Stamberg, Morning Edition, Mar. 1, 2011

Absorbing America, Absorbed by America

“So my grandfather told me when I was a little girl, ‘If you say a word often enough, it becomes you.’ And having grown up in a segregated city, Baltimore, Maryland, I sort of use that idea to go around America with a tape recorder — thank God for technology — to interview people, thinking that if I walked in their words—which is also why I don't wear shoes when I perform — if I walked in their words, that I could sort of absorb America. I was also inspired by Walt Whitman, who wanted to absorb America and have it absorb him.”

~ Anna Deavere Smith, from “Four American Characters,” TED Talks, Feb. 2005


See also: “What has happened to the human voice?Studs Terkel, from a 2005 interview.