Monday, February 28, 2011

The Non-Sentient Gives Voice To The Dharma

I opened the Shobogenzo of Dogen at random today and my finger landed on the phrase “the non-sentient gives voice to the Dharma” in a section that told of a student who had been awakened by the sound of a stream after having heard his teacher tell a koan of the non-sentient giving voice to the Dharma. To often, when we seek to be awakened, we seek wisdom – perhaps the wisdom of teachers, perhaps the wisdom of scholars, perhaps the wonders of science, perhaps the beauty of nature. But, the voice of the Dharma is in all things.

Stop and think about that for a moment. The voice of the Dharma is in all non-sentient things. Your computer. Your keyboard. Your desk. Your chair. Your floor. Your roof. All of them are the voice of Dharma. Are you listening? Am I listening?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Piranha Eating Wonder Woman

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The Dragon Years

Last week I finished my last visit with the counselor for stress. I will have to say she was very good, well worth the time and money, and after six months of visits I am far better than I was before I began the process. As I've mentioned a time or two, I had been under a considerable amount of stress - some of which I wrote about here, some of which was private enough that I didn't write about it here. I believe in sharing, that is part of what writing a blog is about, but I can also be a very private person, a jealous gaurdian of my own privacy and the privacy of the people I love.

As part of that last counseling session we talked about the power of giving things names - one of the things I had given name to was "The Project That Nearly Broke Me". The high stress I found myself under had arisen from the rapid succession of that event, followed by the amputation of my toe. It was a wicked double wallop of life stress. The counselor suggested that I rename that time period when I refer to it and I've toyed around with a variety of names, but I have come to the conclusion (subject to change at any given moment) that the best way to refer to that time, for me - is to call it "The Dragon Years".

One of the things I relearned in stress counseling was how to wear my armor properly (to visualize it as armor to protect myself from stress causing events, to allow my resilience to rebuild). For me, it was a highly effective visualization. I would often pull my car into the parking lot at work and don my armor to start the day.

At the end of the whole process, at the end of the passage of time that marked "The Dragon Years", I have found myself - changed, different, but still alive, still thriving. Both I and my armor took quite a battering, that is for sure - but I, like my armor, can be repaired and returned to full service, and like armor, when repaired, I may be even stronger than I was before.

So, here I sit at the end of the Dragon Years, battered, knocked around, scarred, with a new limp and a few new sensibilities and sensitivities - but ready to enter the stream of life again, ready to cross through the stillness and the rapids and all the places that run in between.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Left Side of the Brain

It is about 2:30 p.m. Pacific time and I am just slowly coming out of the left side of my brain. I went very deep into the left brain while trouble-shooting a technical problem today. I am not sure I have the right answer, but I do seem to have pointers in the right direction.

However, this entry isn’t intended to be about that problem, but rather about the way I feel right now.

I feel very unimaginative. I feel as if my imagination fell into a very deep sleep and it is, grudgingly, waking up due to persistent poking on my part.

I am kind of curious to see what is going to wake up. I am equally curious to see which method of right-brain-nudging works best for waking it up. There might be some longer term insights in there for me.

While I was deep in my left brain I got to thinking about writers block. Since I re-adopted the habit of writing regularly in a small journal, I have felt my desire to write more slowly reawakening.

With that reawakening I’ve also started to turn out better, and slightly more prolific, bits of poetry and prose. Perhaps the sleep was deeper than I realized.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In Your Time

Today I was caught up in the observation of the multiple universes we live in. I've often said there are two things that truly stagger my mind.

If you take a dark night and an area without artificial light and lay on your back and gaze up at the stars and contemplate the vastness of space/time, I often find myself at the very edge of what my mind can comprehend and it induces a tremendous state of smallness and awe.

The second observation is more prosiac but no less awesome. Sometimes, when I am walking through a quiet neighborhood, I will look at all the living spaces I walk by and realize that, in each of those living spaces there are people whose web of life is as wide, diverse, and complex an interweave as mine. Invisible lines of connection reaching out to touch hundreds of people, who in turn touch hundreds of people, get the picture. It is a totally awe inspiring sensation.

I am, by profession, an analyst. I count things and I try to figure out what the meaning of those numbers and relationships. I always run the risk of being totally drawn into an analytical task, of total surrender to the elegant beauty of the underlying universe of experience that each individual moves through.

So, that kind of describes the “chart of the territory” the next observation is laid upon. We’re already seven week s into 2011. January and most of February have already flown by, here, in California, in a gray and rainy winter with a few incidental days of sunlight. Spring, though still distant, is coming rapidly enough. The first day of spring is March 20th, a little under four weeks away (twenty six days).

Against the background of the swift passage of time I was listening to “Bob Seger’s Greatest Hits” during the morning commute and one of the song on the album in “In Your Time”. Perhaps at a later window I will add the entirety of the lyrics as an entry here, but right now I wanted to capture just that part that struck my imagination and has also been riding with me for the last couple of days.

In Your Time
by Bob Seger

Feel the wind
and set yourself the bolder course
keep your heart
as open as a shrine
you’ll sail the perfect line
and after all
the dead ends and the lessons learned
after all
the stars have turned to stone
there’ll be peace
across the great unbroken void
all benign
in your time
you’ll be fine
in your time.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wet Stones

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

About The Winter Sun

I snapped the previous picture this morning, sitting on the Leigh Avenue, looking toward the south-east. The sun was a diffuse whiteness against the stormy winter sky and I snapped the photo with my Blackberry. It turned out well I think. A lot of times photographs are like that - the subject is only there for a fleeting moment and if you don't have your camera, all that remains is the memory. Memory is, I think, the perfect photograph. All other photography is a pale imitation of memory.

It was a nice day. I started the day with T.R., then went from there to breakfast with my friends T. and B. at the Hickory Pit. My breakfast was a green chile omelet and an almond danish. (Actually, I ate half of the almond danish at breakfast.) After breakfast, we drove down to Summit Uniform on Meridian so T. could replace his work boots, then from there, over to AMC 14 in Saratoga to see "I Am Number Four".

The movie was enjoyable, if a little heavy on the teen angst for me, but it was well done and entertaining. It was a beautifully shot movie, so kudos to the directory of photography. After the movie I went to a shoe store and then a sporting good store looking for a pair of urban hiking boots. My old pair of boots was about a half a size too small for my foot, with the insert. Neither store had my size - 11 Wide. I may try another store, but then I may just resort to ordering a pair via the web.

Following that, I came home and settled in for a lazy and rainy afternoon. I watched an episode of Dateline, I watched an episode of Fringe, and now I am watching an episode of Bones as I write this. Lunch was chicken noodle soup and a ham sandwich and dinner was a cup of Greek God's yogurt and the second half of the almond danish.

Oh, I almost forgot the long hot bath that occupied part of the afternoon. It was excellent. Today was a good day, the very quiet afternoon was exactly what I needed and sliding into the very quiet evening is also very much desired and enjoyed.

Winter Sun

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Way is Mysterious

In a world of shouting, God whispers. If we sit in silence long enough, if we still all of the external and internal voices, there is God, whispering. When I woke up this morning I ran over a pair of speed bumps that threatened to take the day off course rather quickly. I have found that if the day starts good and goes bad, it still has the possibility of ending as a good day.

But, if the day starts bad, too often there is nothing I seem to be able to do except ride it out and start the next day.

So, this morning, when I bounced over those two speed bumps, I decided to immediately reset the day. I told myself what became my mantra for the day, that I am carrying with me even now, here in the afternoon, as the day winds toward its end. “Slow. Slow. Slow.” I have spent the entire day consciously and deliberately slowing down every time I felt myself speeding up.

Just stopping.

Taking a deep breath.

And going “slow, slow, slow”.

Now it is close to three PM and all in all, it has been both a good and productive day. I’ve weaved my way through a series of meetings. I’ve resolved some sticky issues. I’ve handled some customer requests. I had a nice lunch.

I am sliding into the evening with a brief plan. I want to stop and get a fresh salad for dinner and I need to stop at the accountant and sign some papers. Since I am going to be next to a Coin Star location I am going to run my bowl of spare change through the machine and then crackle with glee as I count my riches.

Well, okay, I made the cackle with glee part up. Odds are that won’t happen.

I have been thinking today, pretty much all day, about the mysterious nature of the universe. It was the thought that was on my mind when I woke this morning (well, immediately after the thoughts that involved nakedness).

My friend Tony is in a transitional stage right now. He is at a fork in the road and over the next couple of days will be choosing a path or not making a choice and letting the choice be made for him. Either way, there is a path that diverges and he is at the fork.

As human beings our path is always forward, down the inexorable arrow of time. We can’t do anything about that, we can’t turn around and go back, we can’t reverse that particular journey. We can wiggle around a bit. We can make choices that are basic and simple, choices about a little more of this, choices about a little less of that. The more complex choices are largely made by what I like to refer to as the process of incidents and accidents. Things happen. Other things happen. Some of them we are active participants in. Others we are passive participants in. Either way the journey continues.

The great mystery closes one door.

The great mystery opens another door.

We strive, imperfectly, to follow the Way.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Four Boxes

A short while ago, when there was a break between soft sheets of rain, I ran four boxes of "stuff" out to the dumpsters. Three of the boxes of stuff ended up in the recycle bin (most paper) and one in waste bin (mostly plastics that could not be recycled). These were the four boxes that I hung up over on the weekend for no apparent reason.

Again, I am amazed at the level of attachment to "stuff" that I had neither seen nor used in over one year, all do to the perception of potential value. It took T.R.'s pep talk and encouragement, but I was able to do it - simply throw the stuff away. Then, I added another box and a bag of trash into the mix just because I was moving along nicely.

Now, I have one more box sitting out here beside my chair and my plan is to go through the box and see what is all in it and then get rid of it. The box is labeled "personal papers" and mostly contains old notebooks of a variety of sizes. Most of them, I suspect, are training or education related, but I do want to carefully flip through them, since I suspect there will be some hidden gems of creative writing nestled down inside of them - and that creative writing I do not particularly want to lose.

Though, again, since I haven't read the material in the boxes in over a year (or much longer), who knows what the heck is in them. All I know is that at one time I thought they were important enough to keep, but then, I often held onto things for no other reason than I had the space and I always promised myself that I would look at them later. Well, for this box next, that later has arrived.

Being so close to the one year anniversary of the "Great Purge" of 2010, I am confident in my review that the things in the boxes (and in the other boxes that remain in the spare bedroom closet) can go if there isn't a specific reason I am hanging onto them. My plan with the creative writing is that I am going to separate it out and then either transcribe it into the computer (I've done that with a couple of notebooks I've already sorted through) or scan it in (if I think there is some reason I want to hang onto it as a physical representation of an idea). Depending on the creative density there is also the possibility that some of the notebooks will have actual sentimental value attached to the physical notebook. In that case, I will keep them as mementos.

With each item I discard I manage to feel effect T.R. had mentioned and that I can certainly attest to. So, wish me luck and I am off into the contents of the box.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Junk and Charitable Donations

I was re-reading the previous entry and realized I have asterisked a comment with the intention to add a footnote, then I forgot to add the footnote. I wanted to comment on the types of things that we donate to charity. Most charities will either turn around and sell the items (so they can apply the cash where they need to apply it) or allow people to take the donated items for free.

Having worked with charitable donations before one of the things I always recommend is the simple question “If the item was free, would you take it” and “how much would you pay for the item”. The reason I recommend this is charities often get a volume of stuff that they simply cannot move on – they can’t sell it and they can’t give it away. In those cases, where you don’t really see any value in the item, I would recommend you throw the item away, even though it may be in good shape – it may simply have no value. Often, when a charity receives donations, the first step of the donation process is sorting and evaluating the items – and sometimes they go straight from the donation bin to the dumpster.

The footnote I wanted to leave was simple – just use a little discretion and don’t use charities to get rid of your junk. If it is junk, just throw it away.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Things That Anchor Us In Place

I woke this morning from inside of a dream about moving into an empty house and having no possessions. The first thing I intended to get was a pot and pan set and groceries. Yesterday, for the first time in quite a while I made a set of strides in my move toward minimalist possessions. I managed to throw out two bags of stuff - mostly old software and software manuals. I also managed to get rid of a box of books, freeing up a shelf on my bookcase.

I love reading so I have a tendency to acquire books, both in regular book form and on my Kindle. I am trying to move more and more of my library over to the Kindle, both for convenience and for space. I've resolved to try and keep my book collection down to a single bookcase (with five shelves) and it keep threatening to spill over.

I am generally keeping books that fall into a handful of categories - poetry collections, books on writing, philosophy/religion, reference books, and art books. Most of the other books, fiction and non-fiction, I tend to read once and than just hang onto. There is really no need to hang onto them since most of them I am never going to re-read.

When I went through my great purge a year ago, I ended up with about a dozen boxes in the spare bedroom closet. Now I am working my way through them and unfortunately, they had been proving more difficult to sort through and more difficult to actually dispose of. I pulled out four of the boxes to look at them yesterday - they contained mostly miscellaneous "stuff". Two of the boxes contained unused office and academic products - binders, folders, tablets, noteboks, etc. Two of the boxes contained older reference manuals. The stuff is basically worthless - of no particular value. Most of it is old. It is not in particular good shape - but my brain keeps telling me it is potentially valuable and I shouldn't through it away - even though I know it is of little to no value, even to a charity.*

But, I could not part with those boxes yesterday. I went back and forth inside that part of my mind where these items remained attached. I managed to move them out into the living room - and then one at a time I moved them back into the closet. Then, I stopped myself and pulled them out into the living room. They are sitting over against the wall, waiting for the recycle bin to be emptied Monday morning, so I can cart them out and drop them off.

The resolve to finally do it, to finally dispose of them, came in large part from T.R., my frequent touchstone on the road to a simplified lifestyle. In conversation I mentioned my struggle and she responded that such things become anchors that hold us in place, I liked that analogy - in the case of the stuff in these four boxes, it is very true. This stuff has no value. It's just stuff. I am not using it. It's been sitting in boxes for over a year. And yet, like an anchor, I could not bring myself to throw it over the side of the boat, simply because I thought at some point I might need it. The reality is, if I need it, I can replace it. But I am not going to need it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Simple Choices

I was feeling a little harried today and I decided to do something about it. As I slipped into the weekend, I have a half a dozen or more rather complex errands that I need to resolve. There is no pressing need on them, nothing urgent, nothing life altering, but I would like to get them done. Since I work full time, on a normal weekend, the weekend is generally split half and half between things I want to do and things I have to do. Errands like these, which I would call errands of middle importance, tend to get shuffled to the side - over and over. Some of them have been riding along in my "to do" list for a couple of months. So, rather then let myself feel a little harried because of the things I needed to do - I just opted out of some of the things I could. I simplified by letting them go.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thoughts on Death

I’ve had cause over the last year or so to think on questions of our mortality, questions of life and death. I don’t have any answers, certainly no magic answers. Pretty much all I have are a lot of questions, a few observations, and the abiding power of my faith. Ultimately such answers are very intimate and may not be relevant to other people at all. But, perhaps, they can serve as a point of inspiration or a moment of reflection or a spark for contemplation, so I thought I would write them down today.

Many of my friends (myself included) are dealing with questions of mortality as they relate to aging parents. My father died 26 years ago and his death remains, for me, one of the defining sources of my experiences with natural death, regardless of how short the span of his life might have been. (He was only a few years older than I am now when he died, meaning he was, relatively, a young man.)

Recently, someone very dear to me experienced that journey, the journey that ends in the death of a beloved parent. My heart is filled with love and concern, with hoped for grace and faith and all those other things that are the brighter side of death, the whole scope of the natural journey that begins with birth and proceeds, inexorably, to the end of this life. That journey and the lives that populated that journey is not my story to tell, so I only mention it in the barest of details.

My prayers, my thoughts, my meditations, my contemplations – they’ve all been turned in that direction. It is a journey we all take, or have taken, in one form or another. Contemplating such things is not a negative in anyway. I would go so far as to say, in general, as a society, we here in America don’t give death it’s due. Too often both the death and the process of dying get shunted aside and removed from view.

We, as a society, are very much a society of life. Death is a feared and ignored specter we prefer to relegate to the horror movie genre, or popcorn films where it is always dramatic. Death is, in itself, a very simple thing – it is a step on an eternal journey. For me, as a matter of faith, death is a great reunion with our true family, with God, with the great Mystery that is. In that manner, it is not something to be dreaded or feared or shunted aside. It is simply a step on this glorious journey of life.

So, for my beloved and for her loss, I would simply like to write down a quote from St. Paul that I always think of when it comes to death and dying and what lies beyond and to express my sincerest and deepest condolences.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but I shall know, even as I am also known.” (1 Corinthians 12)

We dream, we imagine, we hope for and we pray for the Grace of God. For those we loved who have died, they know. It is a small comfort in the night of our grieving, but a vast comfort in the lives in we live.

Thoughts on Happiness

I’ve spent the better part of the last year in a period of extended observation, carefully and deliberately examining the world around me. I’ve noticed one thing that I thought I would share today. Society, through the media, is hell-bent on convincing you that you are not happy and that you can find happiness if only you take these steps, which, inevitably, involve purchasing and using some sort of product. It is pretty astounding.

This observation speaks to the value and importance of turning off the influences of mass media, or, if you are not up to turning them off, carefully and deliberately choose which influences you allow in your life. Today, as I took a brief break and read the latest issue of a magazine (which magazine doesn’t really matter), I noticed how many of the articles were “selling products disguised as happiness”. It’s pretty impressive.

Happiness, depending on how you define it, is rarely available for purchase. Yes, you can purchase things that shape the environment you are moving through, but those things rarely, in themselves, bring you happiness. There might be some exceptions to that – for example, a quality bed can definitely lead to a good night’s sleep, which can be a major component of happiness. (I definitely worship at the temple of sleep.) Many of the things that society urges you to purchase or acquire though are rarely associated with happiness, which is, primarily, an inner feeling, a sense of contentment and meaning.

The bit of wisdom I would pull from this is something that T.R. frequently reminds me of…be careful of what you let into your mind, because it all takes root there, in one form or another.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wednesday's Lunch

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Tale of the Flu

Today, my analyst B. called off sick with the flu. Every single person who works for me has gotten the flu now and lost multiple work days, largely because one worker who had the flu kept coming to work and wouldn't take the time off because they'd been informally counseled by upper management not to take to many sick days. Dumb and irritating. For want of one or two sick days, it cost the department over twenty sick days. "Excuse me, was the our foot we just shot because of bureaucratic stupidity? Yes, but it was only a flesh wound."
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