Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Sasha In The Wonder Woods

The Wonder Woods beckoned on this perfect September day, and Sasha and I agreed we should be in them.

A lovely walk ensued, up Nishan’s Road, through the Avenue of The Pines, east past the hilltop camp site, past Chuy’s Trail, and down to The Wonder Woods. Heading west on the home leg, I turned onto Thursday Trail, camera in hand, ready to try to capture the soul of this place. To try in vain to produce a two-dimensional image that will in some measure do justice to the overwhelming peacefulness and beauty of Nature’s World.

 

Not ten steps down Thursday Trail, I spotted a chipmunk, motionless, in the center of the footpath. If you spend much time outdoors, particularly wild places, it’s not unusual to approach an animal so quickly and silently that the napping or distracted creature is suddenly aware of your presence. I watched a squirrel a good long time one day afield, twenty feet in the air, napping. His head rested on folded forelegs, back legs dangling from the branch the way children hang their feet in a pool. I watched a long while wondering if the squirrel was not in fact dead. Never did know. An hour later, the animal hadn’t moved. Next day, of course, was gone. Did he awaken and return to his life, or did his corpse fall to the ground?

More than once I’ve found a dead mouse or mole, lying dead in the grass along a trail. I’ve wondered how they died, and why here? Things need to die on a daily basis, and must fall somewhere. I usually presumed it was a matter of time before a scavenger would come along. A recycling in Nature’s Way.

I returned my focus to the still chipmunk. Rustling and movement did not disturb it. It was not asleep. I pondered about that which may have befallen him. I mindlessly nudged the tiny animal with the toe of a shoe. The chipmunk rolled over a bit, and that’s when I discovered the cause of death. I’ve seen (and smelled) a lot of dead things in my time, but this was a first. The chipmunk’s abdomen was unusually distorted, and enlarged several times normal size.

The Still Chipmunk

At its softest underside, below the intestines, parasitic worms could be seen, their heads emerging from the white fur-covered flesh. This parasite grows to larval stage inside the host, then bores its way through the wall of flesh and to the outside world, to begin the cycle anew. This was a bit shocking and grotesque. The sudden, unexpected discovery, a phenomenon hitherto unwitnessed, and taking place at the expense of this adorable little rodent, whose species I like and admire.

Then the animal moved. Just a short stroke of two paws, barely a movement, followed again by stillness. Knowing what I do of these things and having an appreciation for the natural order, I understood that this must have been a painful course for this little mammal. The parasites literally eating the host alive as they grow and break out. Life and death in the same stroke.

I then entered into a dilemma, a personal conflict. I was almost immediately compelled to kill the chipmunk, to “euthanize” it, to end its suffering. As half of my mind raced through potential actions to dispatch the animal, the other half of my brain was arguing that I must not interfere. There were a number of tenets to prevent me from interfering with this natural occurrence.

First, there is the Armchair Zen Universalism, which regards all things in the universe to be natural and of equal significance. These things don’t always align with the over-thought and over-emotional human animals. The parasite worms have as much right to their natural course as anything else. Secondly, as a naturalist, photographer and sportsman, it’s a big no-no to interfere with whatever you are witnessing. I’m certain I don’t have the mettle or the stomach of the best wildlife photographers and cinematographers, who can cleave to this rule. Even as they watch a fox snatch a gosling from terrified parents, or see a baby gazelle grabbed by a crocodile, bleating and flailing as its mother watches helplessly, silence falling as the gazelle is dragged to its drowning.

The gazelles and geese of this world are cute and soft and sweet in those Disney-reinforced human perceptions. Still the fox and the crocodile and flesh-eating parasites have the same place in the cosmos as geese and gazelles, chipmunks, and me.

“Killing the chipmunk is judgement” I say to myself. “That would be deciding the chipmunk is more worthy than the worm.” What I feel is “Save the warm fuzzy mammal from suffering!”. What I can read is the rule: “DO NOT INTERFERE”.

I walk away conflicted, nearly sick to my stomach over the dichotomy of emotions. After the walk, I could not stop thinking of the chipmunk, in pain and dying, alone in the grass. As I started mowing I reassured myself that it is the natural order of things, and a scavenger has probably made a meal of the rodent, worms included. I could not let go of the obsession, the compulsion. As I mowed the Wonder Woods Trail, I turned into Thursday Trail, sure the animal would be gone.

It was not.

Surely its suffering must be over, surely it must be dead by now.

It was not.

I spent quite a few minutes determining it was not. At first I thought what I’d mistaken for respiration was simply the undulating worms moving beneath and with the animal. As I watched, hopes were dashed as I discerned a rhythm of shallow breaths.

“That’s enough!” my human brain said. This thing doesn’t need to remain alive. The parasites have matured and odds are they would not be harmed. I thought, even looked around a bit, for a rock and a sturdy limb to crush its skull. Another thought, perhaps drive over it with the mower. But that wouldn’t guarantee a kill and would also destroy the worms. I thought of returning to the house and fetching a twenty-two rifle to dispatch the thing.

I stopped and took a deep breath of zen. “Let the cosmos handle it.” I said aloud. I can’t understand everything that goes on in the cosmos. I left the tiny microcosm, that finite piece of the universe where this natural order will be left to itself. I could not shake the scenario from my head or heart, and it’s three days hence now.

The Circle

The same day, I talked to my neighbor, Betsy. Last week, the Cosmos and natural order came to call on her. As she reached down into some vegetation in her landscaping, a mink leaped up and bit her, sinking its teeth into the soft web of flesh between the thumb and forefinger. Panicked, the animal would not let go. Betsy ran next door to Tom & Lynn’s, banging on the door, bloody, yelling “Help! Help!”.

A minor chaos ensued, Tom donned gloves and grabbed tools. Nothing would get the mink to release its grip, and in fact it adjusted and re-sank its teeth for a firmer hold. Finally, Tom wedged its jaws apart with a screwdriver, and ultimately dispatched the animal with a hammer blow. Now, a week later, Betsy shows me the teeth marks in her hand, relates to me the news that the animal was tested, and was not rabid. We speculated as to why, then, the mink would not loose its hold and run away.

Betsy brought my cosmic dilemma full circle. After being attacked by a wild animal, bitten, in pain, bearing fear of rabies. After a chaotic story of noisy panic, trying to pry the animal off of her.

“It had to be tested for rabies,” Betsy concluded. “Still, I felt bad that we had to kill it.”

Southbound

Seek peace,

And balance of life and death and pain and compassion, here in this wondrous cosmos.

 

Paz

 

Kinship

 

Thistle Down Shower

Today I feel enmeshed with The World.

As if The Earth’s blood flows through my veins.

As if all these living things are part of me, my kin, and I am responsible for their care when in their midst.

It is a wondrous, warm, comforting feeling of belonging, the likes of which I have not known before.

Difficult to put into words.

Sleep, Little One

An overwhelming peace.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Teachers

 

Sumac Sunrise

Trees

Trees are my Teachers.

They have no choice in their birth, as do I.

Tree cannot move nearer to water, to a spot with better sun.

Tree cannot migrate south for the winter, or move over to give another crown some space.

Tree stands and grows mightily in the very spot where it was born.

Year in and year out, Tree is the best it can be, right where it is.

Tree is at peace with this.

Hello Down There!

Fish

Fish are my Teachers.

Trapped beneath the waters in their own beautiful world, they can never witness my own.

Most are trapped also in some impoundment. A lake, a pond. They can go nowhere.

If the water is low, the PH too high, Fish toughs it out.

Unable to get out and walk, or take to the air, Fish enjoys the beauty of his own world, and makes the best of what is before him.

In fact, he may revel in the fact that most of us will never see his world from his perspective.

Fish is at peace with this.

Sparrow Boy

Birds

Birds are my Teachers.

Each sings his own song. Not because he has an opinion, but because he has a song to sing.

Bird ignores critics and all others, and sings mightily as best he knows how, for the love of singing.

Bird will often return to the same nest site year after year.

Bird flies. Bird could fly anywhere, yet stays right here and makes a home.

Comfort and familiarity, Bird declares “This is my home, and I will sing proudly of it.”

Bird is at peace with this.

Life’s a Piece of Cake

Children

Children are my Teachers.

With children, everything old is new again.

Children love boldly. Plant wet kisses right on your lips.

Stretch tiny arms around my neck and cling mightily.

Children laugh readily. When they see something funny.

When you tickle them. When they feel like laughing.

Children cry at the drop of a hat. Hearts are tender organs, after all.

As we age and harden our hearts against the cruel world, we reserve crying for only the “most important” occasions.

Children cry when they feel like crying, and just as quickly, they recover.

Children are at peace with this.

 

Doe & Fawn

And the circle continues.

 

Seek Peace,

 

Paz

 

Lightkeeper

Lake Light

I am the Lightkeeper.

I claim no special skill or training.

I did not build the lighthouse, or the light.

It is my duty, my responsibility, to keep the lamp lit

For those whom I have not met and may never meet.

 

I am not a sailor.

Don’t know how to hoist the mainsail or tack to the west.

 

I am not a whaler.

Have never thrown the harpoon, know nothing of the harvest of oil.

 

I am not a shipwright.

Can’t calculate her draft or build a transom.

 

I am not the Captain.

Cannot plot our course or stare down the dangers.

 

I know only darkness pierced by the beacon.

I know this craggy point like the lines on my face.

I know the high and low tides, the summer storms, winter’s fury.

I know the cries of the shipwrecked, calling into the night.

 

I know of rocky shores and the ocean’s rage.

I know of smashed and abandoned skeletons

Of ships piloted by

Those that did not see.

 

Did not see the shore.

Did not see the waves crashing and foaming at the bluff.

Did not see the light.

 

“Here! Here is the light!” I shout at the

Top of my lungs only to have my calls

Drowned out by the roaring surf.

 

I am only the lightkeeper.

Despite my bellowing and tears

I cannot save those

That will not see the light.

 

I cry at the dawn, as I douse the light,

For those that will never see it.

 

——————————————————–

Couldn’t we shine?

I’m rolling all my Golden Moments into one.

Gonna shine like the sun,

One last summer day.

Shine like the lighthouse,

One last summer night.

See me 

Flashing On,

Flashing Off,

Fading away.

 

“Lighthouse” – James Taylor

 

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Fugitives

Fugitive Sun

Together

We shall 

Light the World with our

Fugitive Light.

Suffer unto us your 

Darkest Days,

And

We shall 

Illuminate them.

 

Seek Peace,

 

Paz

Day 21,187

June 28th is my birthday. Day 21,185 this year.

It’s so easy to let days slip past, one at a time, and before you know it, you’ve blown through your whole allotment of around 25,000 (based on an average life expectancy).

Living longer and adding days is an odd dichotomy, at least for me.

I look back through my treasured moments and find them invaluable.

And each day offers me more.

I look back on those black marks on some of those 21,000-plus days, and quickly dispel the thought of anticipating more.

Some things simply should not be thought of.

I’ve been in a bit of a slump for a while.

Work has been a grind. Life has been a challenge, squeezing in time for joy has become difficult.

The loss of my 15-year canine partner in this walk of life hit me hard, and I’m a little surprised that it still weighs on me so after 11 months.

Still, rarely a day goes by that I don’t remember something about him that makes me laugh out loud.

Theodore Geisel (known to most as Dr.Seuss) says, in OH! The Places You’ll Go!, “Unslumping oneself is not easily done.”

On balance, this life and this world are beautiful and precious. Moments are forged daily.

At times like this, it’s more important than ever to remain focused on seeking the joy in life’s simplest pleasures.

I’ll close with a poem which has appeared here before, but bears repeating.

June Piece

It seems as though we’ve just watched

The last of the snow fade.

Now we count the growing grass,

Blade by blade.

We await hummingbirds, tanagers, 

The peony’s first blooms.

We can open our windows (during the day, at least),

In our rooms.

Summer solstice brings promise,

Today the day is long.

We turn to see the rose’s bloom and…

June is gone.

 

Evening In The Garden

 

Seek peace (and simple joys always),

 

Paz

Beautiful Yesterday

Ordinary Folk

I saw my Beautiful Yesterdays in the passing strangers.

Perhaps I should refer to them as “The Unacquainted”, as they are far from strangers.

Now, at 57, and having raised five children, they are almost a flashback.

They are walking in the park, these four, this pack. Two in the prime of their youthful adulthood, the four-year-old toddles along behind him, and she is pushing the stroller with the littler one.

He (and toddler) string out ahead a bit, pause, wait for the other two. They catch up. He looks up from his phone to address her. (I cannot hear their words, if any, at this considerable distance.)

She is saying “Put up his hood, it looks like rain.” or “Do you have three dollars?”

He is saying “Do you want to get lunch?” or “What time will your mother be over?”.

Their clothes are ordinary. Not old or worn, nor necessarily new or fancy. Perhaps they’ve bought these things, perhaps some were gifts. A winter coat from Grandma. A new shirt from sister. Fuzzy lounge pants from a sweetheart.

They’re walking and pushing a stroller because they have no car. Maybe they are saving for one, hopeful for this summer. That he may reach out for that better job across the river, so she can bring groceries home in a trunk, not a stroller laden with bags and bundles. So that they may drive to the lake on a Sunday afternoon and have a picnic while the children play in the cool water.

Maybe they are city folks, and have no need for the expense and burden of a car. Buses take them to work, to the barber, to Cub Scouts. They will almost never use a taxi. Cab fare that could be spent elsewhere. Two suppers. Formula. Diapers.

The apartment is small, in Woodbine Square, known to be…affordable. Perhaps they dream of moving to the Gramercy Apartments. Tall windows, Victorian stairs. Maybe this year.

The challenges laid before them come at a steady and manageable pace. They appear not as mountains or even boulders in their path, but rises in the road ahead.

She wants to take up knitting. Has a few needles and things from Mom. She parts grudgingly with the six dollars for a skein of yarn. She knows she will have three warm and pretty scarves to give to her little family when her labors are through, but still feels a slight twinge of guilt spending this money which could be milk and eggs, apple juice, bus fare. Still, she must have this small comfort. The price of one small beauty in this world surely will not break the budget.

He is saving his money. He thought he was saving for a new pair of waders for himself, just in time for Trout Season.

But then, next month is Mother’s Day, and his savings are three-quarters the price of the Mother’s Day ring she admired in an advertisement. Perhaps waders will wait.

Each day they bring the energy and spirit gifted to the young and the young at heart. He rises with the sun and goes off to work, to return twelve hours later, a little richer, a little older, and a little tired.

She follows a different clock, independent of the sun and Earth and the world spinning around her. The slightest coo in the crib that shares the master bedroom, and her “mother alarm” sits her bolt upright.

“Hey little girl” in hushed tones, heard only by these tiny ears, quiet, so as not to disturb the others, “Is it time to get up?”. A beaming smile greets the child.

Life is far from care-free. Fortunate enough to have a decent job in the richest country in the world, they are taking care of themselves, independent, paying their own way. Some bills may need to be put off a week, and there are few extravagances. Yet there is comfort, and simple joys.

There will be a few arguments. There will be some heated debate about topics which are very important to those in this stage of life. Sometimes it’s about money. Their goals and desires, the someday place we want to be. Sometimes the money is a tyrant, lording over them mercilessly. Slaves to monetary society. Sometimes it feels like the money is so finite, we fear our little tribe will go under. We think this last thought in silence, in the darkness of night, the solitude of rational fear.

Sometimes the argument is centered on symbols. Behind the argument is a ponderous pile of memories and imaginings. Childhood dreams she feels are slipping away. A dream of the person he imagined for himself, before he vanishes into the “Mr” of “Mr & Mrs & Family”.

Underlying the sentiments are fear and uncertainties. health and success for ourselves and our children. The not-knowing of the future. How can we be sure we’ll “Be okay” as dad says? Will you really stick by me? Like the old song about old people, written by a man at the ripe old age of perhaps twenty-five, “Will you still need me when I’m sixty-four?”

The little family walks on, down the path and turning left into the apartment complex.

And I see in them the beauties of untold tomorrows. It’s not necessary to make a morbid account of those (we pray few) Black Days which seem to visit most lives. I see in them all the beauty of my own beautiful yesterdays.

Lunch in the park over, I must return to work now.

You see, I’m saving my money…

Earthbound Angels

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Joy In Motion

 

By Land, Sea or Air,

I wish to live my life

To leave no trace 

But the tracks of 

Wonder and Adventure.

A vapor trail of laughter.

A wake of smiles.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

This journal entry was originally posted in 2012.

It seemed worth repeating.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Sunset Moon

It wasn’t easy choosing a name for the blog Armchair Zen, though that’s how I’ve referred to my personal philosophy for some time. Names like “Zen in the modern world” and “Everyday Zen” and the like seemed to be taken. I guess everyone has the same idea.

Mostly the idea of ACZ is to share thoughts and philosophy with those that want to seek enlightenment, peace in their daily lives, harmony with the world, nature, the cosmos and life itself. It’s not about achieving perfection or some higher plane or a place in the next life or eternity. It’s about understanding our capabilities and limitations in this life, it’s about acceptance, understanding, compassion, forgiving and letting go.

As it says in About, these things are nothing new. Applying them to today’s world is not always that easy. We live in a world I term a Techno-Monetary society. We’re surrounded by wonderful technologies from life-saving medicine, global communications, electronic entertainment, space exploration and productivity greater than mankind has ever known, bolstered by the machines and artificial intelligences of our modern world.

In ancient times and old days, individuals and whole communities were isolated, and did not have the benefit of the vast volumes of knowledge mankind has compiled since. Their lives were filled with strife, at the mercy of the elements, filled with superstitions, fears, and lack of understanding of things that seem simple to us today. The sun, the solar system, what makes rain, thunder, tornadoes. They had more time, and perhaps a greater need, to seek peace within their lives.

We are also slaves to the monetary system. In all the developed countries (probably 90% of the globe), we need to work at something to earn money for rent, taxes, clothing, food, transportation, and the list goes on. This is really not new, nor does it strictly apply to developed countries or societies. Go back a couple thousand years and we find people did not live the simple agrarian lives we might imagine. Subsistence farmers & ranchers, mountain-men and even minimalist communities of today need to barter goods or trade cash for the things they can’t make. Cooking kettles, sewing needles, broadcloth, tack supplies, sugar, salt, bacon.

Finding our personal zen and peace within our lives seems like a considerable challenge after negotiating traffic, signing in at work, talking to customers, clients or co-workers that are not seeking enlightened ways, and any number of non-zen, non-nature, non-peace-encouraging things we must do.

Still, I find my ACZ to be pervasive. It hasn’t always been that way. I was “Two Jakes” for many years, seeking solace in nature and creative expression during my precious evenings and weekends, and turning off the peace machine when going to battle with the world. After some years of concentration, practice and informal self-cognitive behavioral therapy, the zen has spread to all hours of the day.

Nowadays there are few interactions with others wherein the conscious-competence of ACZ does not rule. Filter-monitoring, managing emotions & reactions, thinking forgiveness & acceptance, seeking to navigate all situations for the best outcome of all under the guidance of enlightened thought & behavior. Spread loving compassion by being loving and compassionate. Spread forgiveness and acceptance by being forgiving and accepting. Appreciate the beauty of the world around us by opening our eyes and minds and truly seeing. It’s not always easy, but it’s always simple!

That’s really all for this post. Perhaps it’s not a lot of meat, but an encouragement to those that may be seeking the path to peace. Sure, it takes a little time and concentration, but it can be done without extensive training or effort or money or social status or massive brain power.

You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to be beautiful, you don’t have to be perfect. Everyone is welcome.

The cosmos, and I, love each and every thing without judgement.

That includes you!

Be at peace,

Paz

Constant of Joy

Sunset Moonrise

Someone asked about happiness.

“Can you be truly happy if you are alone?”

I replied as follows:

For me, there is peace. It’s not so much about happy or sad, really. Life is a long, long road for most, and it is bound to be pock-marked with tragedy, sadness, loss and boredom as well as elation, excitement, gains and triumphs.

Having come to understand my place in the cosmos, my perspective has become one of simple reality. Like so many other beings on this planet, my existence is but a flash in the context of the universe. This existence, by its very nature, will be visited by laughter, joy, pain and sorrow in varying measures, until my light goes out. It is the knowing that all things here are transient that brings peace. Cherish the highs and endure the lows, and it’s gone before we know it.

I feel I am never alone. Wherever I go the Great Cosmos is all around me. I am a part of it as a grain of sand is a part of the beach. I feel comforted, secure. In constant company. And it is this that brings me joy (happiness) always.

Any place, any time, the Cosmos assures me, “I’m right here.”.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

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