Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘Choices’

Cowlture Clash

They say that a gallon of milk costs $15 US in Alaska.

People decry the cost of living so far north.

 

Inuits lived here for 25,000 years without ever seeing a dairy cow.

 

Use your head for something more than a hat rack.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Delusional

Who’s to say denial and delusion are anything but good for you?

Dreams, fantasy, fiction, acting, pretend, hope, “all the world but a stage”.

Consider the alternatives.

Of which course to follow,

Really, who is the fool?

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Power

Sunset & Starlings

 

You do have the power.

You can prevent this

Beautiful World

From finding you.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Life and Death and Pain and Compassion in My Cosmos

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

 

Zen in our Techno-Monetary society

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

Wonderlife

 

 

Unbridled

Unbridled

A life of

Wonderment

will not simply

Come to you and 

Adorn you like a ray of

Magic Sunshine.

It requires your 

Direct and Vigilant Participation.

You must believe it,

Believe it is and

You can make it so.

Herein lies the

Magic.

-Paz

Spirit Of Frosty

Our Holiday Greetings

Our Holiday Greetings

It occurred to me just how much I admire Frosty The Snowman, and his philosophy on life. Well, life as it is to an inanimate object, or in this case a fictional character who is also an inanimate object. This is personification at it’s best, I suppose.

If you’re not familiar with the children’s tale, here are the Cliff’s notes:

Kids build a snowman and find a silk top hat to put on his head. The top hat has some magic in it, and this animates the Snowman, whom the kids have named Frosty. He springs to life exclaiming “Happy Birthday!”. Yes, it’s a Christmas-season tale, but it is Frosty’s birthday, after all.

Frosty plays and has fun with the kids until he begins to melt. The story is based on the song, I think, and the animated cartoon special picks up the story where the lyrics left off.

In the song, Frosty waves goodbye as he melts, says “Don’t you cry!” to the kids, and “I’ll be back again someday.”.

In the TV special, one of the children is heartbroken at the thought of Frosty’s departure, and adventure ensues as the little girl tries to get a six-foot snowman to the North Pole before he melts.

In the song, the lyrics state “Frosty the snowman knew the sun was hot that day. So he said ‘Let’s run and have some fun now, before I melt away.'”

Now there’s the spirit I admire. Frosty has this little window of life, knows he’s terminal, and instead of spending all his time worrying about how he can be cured and prolong his life, he decides to enjoy it before it’s gone.

 

The cartoon special takes it further, as the little girl becomes obsessed with “rescuing” the snowman from his natural demise. He’s fine until the human tries to “save him”. Only when pitted against or seen from the human girl’s perspective does Frosty’s limited existence become viewed as problematic. They spend their last days together in agony. Problems getting transportation, a magician trailing them, trying to steal the hat, the girl starts suffering from hypothermia following the snowman into the arctic. Ultimately, circumstances conspire and the girl is forced to watch Frosty’s destruction before her very eyes. *

I’m adopting Frosty’s original spirit. Life will come and go whether it’s on a snowman’s timeline or a human man’s time line.

I say let’s run and have some fun!

Before I melt away.

Seek Peace,

 

Paz

 

* Calm down. The girl isn’t real, she’s in a cartoon. And Frosty is magic. Before the kid stops crying, a freezing wind blows Frosty back together and he comes back to life, exclaiming “Happy Birthday!” once again. Happy ending, although it does prove the fruitlessness of the child’s work and worry.

Brave New World

These days I seek to simplify. Like Thoreau at Walden, I’m not entirely removed from my local world, but surrounded by it.

I see people, the masses, by and large, hurling themselves daily through a Brave New World, in many ways unrecognizable from the world of my youth, a brief half-century ago.

Everyone must work now, it seems. There are few Moms these days. I mean old-fashioned Moms like June Cleaver, my mother, the Mom on Father Knows Best.

Not to begrudge women their opportunity to be a “whole” person unto themselves, capable of doing truly great things in our world. Discovery, Leadership, Industry, Medicine, Education. It appears, however, that most of this working is born of necessity. “We need the money. There’s no way we could do this without both of us working.” (The ultimate irony: complaints about the cost of daycare, which consumes much of the second check.)

I’m not sure I don’t hear some degree of selling out in these statements. Things were not “easier” back in the when. When Harold and Marie welcomed their boy into the Brave New World of 1959.

Moms were home when I was growing up. I wonder how many people, if any, realize the great and simple value in that. Moms were always there.

Whether it was my Mom, available at a moment’s notice to find another hat, serve an extra sandwich for a lunch guest, bandage a boo-boo or give us a quarter to take to the General Store at McMurray’s boat livery. Keith’s Mom was home at Keith’s house, and Randy’s Mom was home at Randy’s house. We didn’t even need to think about it. In the event of any calamity or emergency, large or small, someone’s Mom was standing by for rescue.

Nowadays it’s a complex mix of afternoons at the Youth Rec Center or Daycare Provider, (in the old days we called that “babysitting”), or an after-school program for latchkey kids. Moms arrive home with Dads at 5:30. When we raised our kids, Mom stayed home until they went to school. After that, Mom got a job that allowed her to put kids on the bus in the morning, then greet them as they disembarked in the afternoon.

The difference, it seems, is that the children I thought I grew up with apparently never grew up. Somehow, I’m the only one of my childhood contemporaries that has made the leap to full-on adulthood. You know, adulthood, where we take most seriously our duty and obligation to our families. The Adult-hood of my world is a direct result of observing the adult-hoods of the adults around me as I grew up.

Adults work hard and save their money. They save their money to buy a house one day (if that’s your preference). They bought Savings Bonds for babies that would mature when junior was ready for college (or a car and a job). They saved their money for two years for the family vacation. They vacationed at the cabin on the lake a hundred miles from home, or the Jersey shore, two hundred miles from home. They didn’t charge three thousand dollars to a credit card to fly the whole family to Florida to see Mr.Disney’s park. (Okay, so, Mr.Disney’s park was only in California in 1965, I think). They saved four hundred dollars to drive to Old Forge, New York, to Frontier Town. Or saved two hundred dollars which was enough for gas for the boat and food for two weeks of camping on Scout Island.

Adults handled their money responsibly. They didn’t spend three hundred dollars on a new iPhone while complaining the School Tax was too high. They didn’t run up credit debt equivalent to a year’s salary then call the debt consolidator. They kept the old car for another year, or bought another used one with the money they had. They didn’t run out every three years to roll over their lease on a brand new Jetta, all the while complaining that Town Taxes were too high.

Nowadays, it seems the adults just never grow up. They’re buying toys for themselves (as well as for their kids) as quickly as they can be released. While literally reliving their childhoods by purchasing every item for which the whim strikes them, they’re also apparently making up for their own less-than-perfect childhoods that did not include hundreds of dollars in the bank and thousands available on credit cards. Meanwhile, they vicariously re-live and repair their tainted, impoverished childhoods (a time when you didn’t have a TV in your room {GASP!}, when you waited for the first day of school or a birthday to get new clothes {those poor children}, or when you didn’t have your own phone and computer {what’s a computer?})

Our boys had friends in their class that lived not far away, brothers. They lived with their Dad, kids of divorce. For every birthday and Christmas, our boys would regale us with the tales of lavish gifts bestowed upon these kids. My guess is their parents were trying to relieve some guilt by spoiling the kids a little. Frankly, I’m for spoiling kids within reason. Remember how much we love them?

But these kids seemed to get everything all at once. Things our kids wanted but hadn’t received yet. A shelf stereo, a boombox, a Walkman, a Nintendo game, a mountain bike, a thirteen-inch color TV for their room. These things were “regulated” in our house. You could get a Walkman if you were over ten. You had to wait ’til thirteen for the shelf stereo or TV in your room. And a telephone extension in your room? My daughter counted the minutes until her fifteenth birthday when she could have one. (google “extension phone” to find out what it was. You may have to add the word “wired”. Or maybe “antique”.)

Partly it was money. We literally could not afford to go out and buy everything a child would ask for. Partly it was the simple life, and the simple concept of having something to look forward to. We reasoned that there would be no “big present” for Christmas at twelve, fourteen and sixteen if we gave them everything before their tenth birthday.

I blame the Simpsons. The mother and father are dolts, and Bart the insolent smart-mouth. I love the show and the humor and the laughs and even Bart, but it seems that show was the catalyst for change. Pre-Simpsons, children respected their parents and their parents’ authority more. Some out of fear, but many out of honor for their parents, traditions, civility. Kids were expected to be respectful of adults (and- brace yourself—polite!) Grandfather was the patriarch, the wise old man. Even if grandfather was fading into his twilight of life, he was respected for going to war for liberty, for building the American Industrial Machine, for being a part of The Greatest Generation, taking our country from the aftermath of the Civil War, Gold Rush expansionism, Teapot Dome, Seward’s Folly, the Great War and the depression to the height of free democracy and economics, all the way to the moon!

In a post-Simpsons’s world it seems nothing is sacred, no one is immune from biting sarcasm and harsh ridicule. Respect appears to be garnered only by the rich and famous and beautiful. Rappers, Sports Superstars, Super models, movie stars, dot-com billionaires, the Bill Gateses and Mark Zuckerbergs.

Sadly, this has become the life view of so many children, and now the grown children (I hesitate to use the term Adults), of the Simpsons’ generation.

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley takes us to the year 2540. The book, published in 1931, observes modern man and all he has become, and relates a sort of Tarzan tale of finding a primitive people that live the way they had centuries ago. The primitive man marvels at the Brave New World, but the modernistas also marvel at the primitive one, unveiling subtleties that may have been lost in the conversion to modernity. Primitive man finds the New World too fast, impersonal, cold, filled with rules that appear to have left the human touch behind.

Simultaneously, Modern Man in the story travels to the primitive place, an oasis that missed modernization, and discovers that people are closer to animals than machines. The things deemed important in the visceral primitive world are people, babies, community, fairness, solidarity, art, appreciation of nature and beauty, and other things long-forgotten in the twenty-sixth century.

So, Orwell’s 1984 has come and gone. Lost In Space, set in 1997, is retro in reruns. Strange Days, a futuristic story of the millenium, is 16 years old now.

We have a long way to go to get to 2540 (if we do).  Let’s all re-read the book now, and see if we don’t want to pause and think of the things we’re discarding.

Put away your credit card, snuggle in with your kids, and have a good old-fashioned read. Let’s see if we can’t shape a better Brave New World.

 

Seek Peace,

 

Paz

Dangling Thread

So, this is the way it will end for us?

Amid anger and resentment, bitterness and judgement?

Not between you and me, but by some imposed and imposing imposition.

Slamming metaphorical doors.

Wielding swords of words, shields of insult, fear and anguish.

Not between you and me. We agreed long ago to forget the past.

Deny the past, shun the past, pretend the past did not exist.

Pretend the past was just a play about someone else’s life.

Someone Else let loose the line that bound us, and sailed off into the sunset.

Someone Else built a life on tangled webs and veils of secrecy, codes and cryptics.

Now we have no more time to survive this. We have no time to let this blow over and add it as another act to the play.

Marvel at the heartbreak, the karma of it all, the two sides to every story, the be-careful-what-you-ask-for.

So this will be the play’s final act, because the clock tolls, time will not wait for us again.

It will be a wild tale that swings from ecstasy to admonition, from heartswell to heartbreak, with adventure and drama and music.

But you are on the stage. You are Someone Else. You are the star, streaking across the atmosphere, bright and recognizable.

These three seconds are all the time we have. We know what happens to shooting stars.

I am in the front row, and behind the proscenium I see stagehands with their hands on the fly, ready to ring down the final curtain.

I am awestruck and dumbstruck. It is a beautiful tragedy.

The hero, or whatever you want to call him, dies.

And I cry.

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

Barns

Carlisle barn

Carlisle barn

Old-fashioned barns are going the way of old-fashioned farms. Going the way of so many things that have been outpaced by time. New farms are often large, commercial enterprises, the new barns are often steel. This is good for farmers which means it’s good for us all. Where would we be without farmers?

Still, I dislike seeing anything old lost from the world. It’s inevitable, and often it’s the right thing, but it always makes me feel we’re losing something we can never get back. Well, that’s often true, of course.

Long view

Long view

Barns are huge and built in hundreds of different styles. Some farmyards are complexes with multiple barns, sheds, silos and other outbuildings. Sometimes you can see where a barn has had addition after addition added to it. For something so purposeful and work-oriented, barns are often ornate.

Red Hen's place

Red Hen’s place

In fact, so many things were more ornate in the old days. Filigree on house porches, round-top windows, shutters and all manner of adornments were borne by buildings of the past, including barns. Somehow, today’s energy-efficient, LEEDS-certified structures seem to lack personality.

We’re fortunate to have a barn at home. It was built not long after the Civil War. It’s made of hand-hewn beams (there were few power tools, operated by water, horse or good old muscle), you can see the adze marks on them.

Mortise & tenon

Old style

Our barn is of mortise & tenon construction. A hole is bored in one beam, into which a protrusion of the mating beam is inserted. Then, those craftsmen of yesteryear, would pull out a square stick and hammer it into the hole, the four corners peeling back as the stick is driven home, making a secure and perfect fit. As you can see, these have lasted more than 150 years.

Oh yeah, and a “square peg in a round hole”? That actually refers to something that fits snugly and correctly. How many did not know that?

Barn at sunrise

Barn at sunrise

Our barn is not long for this world. I love the old thing (as I love all old things), but she’s starting to come undone. We don’t have any farm animals or store hay. We’ve used the barn to store the pool, the boat and the lawn tractor in the winter. My kids played in the barn as they grew. Of course, back then it was alive when Mr.Edwards would bring a load of hay and his elevator, and fill the hay loft with sweet-smelling bales. I can feel the baling twine between my fingers, smell the hay dust building up in the nostrils. (That part’s always romanticized in memories!)

I can’t afford to put the money into fixing the barn to stand another hundred years. I wish I could. I feel badly, I feel as though I personally let the barn down. Let down those craftsmen who put their hearts for weeks or months into building this beautiful, huge structure. I could just cry at the thought of seeing it go.

Backside

Backside

The addition on the back has collapsed. The mighty winds of Engleville have torn the steel roofing from its moorings. The foundation is settling into the ground around front. Yet she remains a beautiful thing, even in her demise.

Perhaps I feel a kinship with some of these old things. Breaking down, wearing out, past the period of maximum usefulness. Aged.

Not long after these things are gone, so too shall I be.

Only then will I finally be at peace with letting old things go.

Most folks just throw old stuff away.

Maybe I’m just a square peg in a round hole?

Mortise & tenon joint

Mortise & tenon joint

Yes, I think that’s it. Yes I am. I’m a square peg.

I’d like to stay and lament, but the smell of old wood and hay is calling me.

 

Take care and keep in touch.

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

 

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