Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘choosing’

Earthbound Angels

Evan Defies Gravity

Evan Defies Gravity

I read this great piece, I think it was from The Desert Fathers, where a man was dreaming he was a butterfly.

When he awoke he was unsure if he was truly a man, or perhaps now a butterfly dreaming he is a man.

Then it occurred to me, last week.

What if I am an angel?

Suppose I am an angel and don’t know it?

Gosh, how embarrassing.

I mean, I like to think I’m a nice guy, but I certainly have never behaved as an angel should.

What if I’m disappointing a lot of people, shirking angel duties?

I better straighten up.

Man, I have a lot of work to do.

What if, at the end of this thing, I need to answer for my behavior?

“Ignorance of being an angel is no excuse.”, the High Court may say.

“Hasn’t the way and the light been spelled out for you,

repeated over thousands of years by every

prophet and poet in the land?”

Okay.

I gotta go.

Got a lot of restitution to get to.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

 

Reach

Zen lesson while fishing with son Ryan.

Bass, Corporation Pond, and Ryan

Bass, Corporation Pond, Ryan on the Far Shore

My grandfather set a pretty high bar.

It’s been my driving force, my goal throughout my adult life, to reach that high.

Make no mistake, it’s not my grandfather’s bar for which I reach, and neither shall you.

That bar is a hard-earned badge of honor, a talisman that he will take with him into future lives.

Dominic Trimarco’s legacy was not to leave us an arbitrary list of criteria by which a man shall be judged.

His gift to us, across the generations, is much more enduring.

He taught us, by silent living example, that those altruists enlightened to these ideals will seize this opportunity.

That we have a right, a near-sacred duty, to determine,

each of us,

how high we shall set the bar for ourselves.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

 

My Cosmos

The Corner Star

The Corner Star

When I take the time to remember that this is My Cosmos, relief washes over me.

The world of this creature on this green rock is downright bizarre compared to the consistent, predictable, unhurried pace of the universe.

No need to run to the Corner Star before it closes because it burns always, with enough fuel to run four billion more years or so.

By then, it’ll be of no concern to me or my kin.

In spite of the seemingly-fantastic speeds, vast expanses measured, unfathomable numbers expressed using the mechanical and mathematical terms of the species trapped on a single tiny planet, the cosmos will not be rushed.

You and I cannot compel it to finish the Quasar before our vacation. We can’t postpone or reschedule the meteor shower due to cloud cover over North America. We can’t call in and skip the crash of our galaxy into the next as we hurtle through space at six hundred kilometers per second on a collision course.

And so, with relief, I said aloud to the sky, “Well, this is My Cosmos. I’ll do whatever I want with it.” I may seize the day or let it pass. I can fritter away the minuscule ration of hours afforded me. Trapped here inside this mind, on this planet, in this wondrous thing called life and time, complete and total freedom awaits me.

“The world is your exercise book.” roughly paraphrasing Richard Bach in Illusions.

You’re free to write your reps, or write lies, or scribble, or tear out the pages.

Go ahead. It’s Your Cosmos.

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

The Gentleman May Be Excused

I don’t claim to have multiple personality disorder, but there seems to be several of me inside my head. In ACZ, we talk about You and You2.

You is the outward conscious person we all know, and You2 is the other side of your brain. Call it the Id, call it subconscious, call it Spongebob Squarepants if you want, we all have this inner and instinctive self. You2 interprets things based on the data stored in memory banks, typically personal experience.

Your conscious and active brain deals regularly with You2. In fact, the decision-making process in your brain is actually a debate between You and You2. How is a decision made? Why don’t we just do the thing we’re thinking, the thing we want to do? What makes us stop and assess?

When you get an idea to do something, there’s an instinct in your brain that makes You2 play devil’s advocate. You2 squares off with You like two barristers in court. You2 will start thinking and generating all the reasons you should not do this thing. The rest is a natural process of your brain saying “Yeah, I’m pretty sure this is what we want.”, and You2 saying “Well, did you consider [fill the blank]?”. This sparring will take place on a scale equivalent to the importance and gravity of the decision. This is why we may agonize for hours, days or weeks over some decisions, while others seem to get processed quickly.

Back to multiple personalities. Maybe that’s not the right term. Maybe “many voices”, but that sounds a little like auditory hallucination. Maybe there’s some “inner self” and “looking-glass self” terminology that fits. To me, it seems like “the many me’s”. Perhaps it’s moods, perhaps everyone does the same thing.

Sometimes,  a member of the cast of characters pops right into my head. There’s the bristly old guy most likely to be worried. About money, about work. About repairs and chores and things that go unfinished. There’s the Armchair Zen Master, able to breathe deeply and transit troubles with philosophy, inner peace. There’s the cranky old bastard that still jumps out now and then to proclaim annoyance with a driver that doesn’t follow the rules.

Lately I’ve been training myself to recognize these voices, these me’s, these You2’s. First I started to try to bar the undesired ones. Change the subject. Cognitive behavioral therapy. When the worst would try to sneak through, I’d say “Don’t bring that guy.”.

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Then along came a post on dhamma footsteps (dhammafootsteps.wordpress.com) where the author, tiramit, explains metta.  In Loving Kindness for the Critical Mind, and Loving-kindness For The Unloved, the concept of thinking and expressing loving kindness, acceptance and forgiveness for one’s faulted inner self is conveyed. It never occurred to me to use my own armchair zen on You2 and the Many Me’s. Since then, I’ve tried to “see them” as being equally deserving of the compassion and understanding that would be extended to others.

The battle continued in my cognitive behavioral therapy. Now, instead of “Don’t bring that guy!”, as if in court, I’d say “The Gentleman may be excused.”.

This worked okay for a little while, until I heard myself repeating “The gentleman may be excused!”, often out loud. It seemed that it would be a long, long haul, working constantly on the conditioned response, expelling the inner voice only to have it return. This particular “voice”, this component of the Many Me’s inside my head, is a remnant of young adulthood. It is the memory and guilt associated with shameful behaviors of the time. Still, it was me. We’ll call him MOB (for miserable old bastard).

This kept up for a considerable time. Expelling MOB, his return, repeated expulsion, finally rising to “The witness is expelled! Barred from the proceedings!” Now that would work in the physical world, but since MOB lives inside my head, where could he go? I thought more about metta, and tiramit’s examples and observations of extending loving-kindness to the unloved, and the unlovable. Poor old bastard, he has no where else to go. He’s done his time for his sins, and has a regular life now. Why does he still wear his prison stripes and hang his head? Sure, he was guilty. Admitted guilt when called out. Done all the right things since then. Has he no one to love him? If he can’t go anywhere, don’t we need to learn how to tolerate and understand him?

Then, the imaginary voice in the imaginary courtroom inside my cognitive behavioral workshop decreed (I swear I don’t know where it came from—well, yeah, I do, it came from deep within You2. A place and person that is in some ways much wiser than myself) He is a ward of the court.”

For a moment I was nearly speechless. Stunned. Dramatic, yes, but also so simple, and in fact, the real truth. I can’t silence MOB, nor can I ban him from my mind. I can, however, understand that I am responsible for “him”. There is no where else to go and the past can’t be changed. “We” simply need to figure out how to accommodate MOB moving forward.

Well, maybe I am a little unmoored in this area. Imagining a court in which the Many Me’s may be judged, or bring witness against those that must be. And the judge? Demanding and grueling on the bench in spite of flaws in “his” personal life. Straightest arrow we can get.

Like writing a screenplay, the scene plays out. In remanding custody of MOB, the court has drawn the 30-year case to a close. MOB suddenly has a home and a resolution of the accusations repeatedly flung. No more trial. No more sentencing. The gentleman may be excused, but is not required to leave the court room.

MOB sits in a chair off to the side, between the bailiff and the jury box. For a moment, his countenance displays a sudden confusion. “What just happened? It’s over? And someone is willing to take me, accept me as I am, as I have come to be?”

The gavel raps. Bang, bang. “Court dismissed!”.

MOB hangs “his” head and cries.

“I” place a hand on “his” shoulder.

We retire from the courtroom together.

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

Lesson from a Pooka

In the movie Harvey, James Stewart tells an acquaintance “You can be ‘oh-so-smart’, or ‘oh-so-nice’. I choose ‘oh-so-nice’.”

It’s a great and simple lesson if you can hear it.

Think of the people you love and admire.

How many are “oh-so-nice”?

While we may admire many smart and successful people, when it comes to those we would want to spend time with, don’t we choose “nice”?

In Armchairzen world this means accepting others as they are.

Not being the person that has a comment or opinion or advice (unless you ask for it), but the person who sits and listens.

Not being the person that starts most sentences with “I, me or my”, but the person who talks about you and “us”.

Not being the person to ask “why?”, but being the person that says “why not?”.

In Stewart’s role as Elwood P. Dowd in the film Harvey, the Pooka is a 6-foot rabbit named Harvey, a sort of spirit companion, that only Stewart can see.

It never bothers him that others think he’s crazy. He knows he sees and speaks to Harvey, and easily understands and forgives others for not seeing him.

His sister, concerned for her brother’s mental health, is convinced to commit Elwood to a psychiatric hospital.

In this Pulitzer-winning drama by Mary Chase, when Elwood finds out that his committal is his sister’s desire, he readily submits, simply to please her.

Ultimately, Elwood’s sister realizes that his craziness is just the thing we need in this world. Not someone all wrapped up in themselves, their career, their success.

Without the Elwoods of the world, who would pursue beauty and kindness, forsaking selfishness, meanness and short-sightedness?

You must see the play or the movie sometime to experience the niceness of Elwood P. Dowd. It’s infectious.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received in my life comes from a fictional character described as insane, talking to a six-foot invisible spirit rabbit.

Crazy or not, I  too choose “oh-so-nice”.

 

Elwood P. Dowd

Elwood P. Dowd

 

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

Just a minute

Weaver Lake Morning

Weaver Lake Morning

As part of my appreciation of nature, my Armchair Zen philosophy of observing the natural wonders of this world, I shoot a lot of photographs. I travel around the state and sometimes into surrounding states for work, and there are beautiful, fascinating, captivating photo opportunities on every corner.

Southbound

Southbound

Driving by Weaver lake one morning, I stopped for just a minute, and shot these frames of Canada geese. There were a few other shots from the same spot the same morning. The geese taking off from the water would be what I call the Shot-of-the day. 

Driving along, the sights of this amazing world mesmerize and call to me, and I’ll stop to take a couple shots when I can.

Sometimes, however, I get stuck in a gotta-get-there mode. No time to stop. Like the engineer on the train in The Polar Express,  I’m watching the clock, “We’re gonna be late.”.

For someone practicing a Universal Zen, where our timeline stretches fourteen-and-a-half billion years from the big bang to today, I am still sometimes distracted and fixated on that clock.

Sometimes it’s just the baggage of this crazy unnatural world we’re forced to live in. Folks at work, at meetings, expect you to be mindful of the clock. Folks at home need to plan after-work activities or dinner, and expect you to be consistent on your arrival time. (Sadly, I’m very predictable in this area. Far from the free-wheeling universe-exploring freebody I’d prefer to be.)

Decker's babies

Decker’s babies

Too many times I drive right past a great shot-of-the-day because I’m obsessed with that clock.

On better days, I can grab my zen by the horns and tell myself “It’ll be just a minute.”

How better to spend that minute? Why not “stop to smell the roses”, or at least take a snapshot of them! How many more minutes will be filled with the joy of observing the image, and within that simple observation is the recollection of that moment in time when the photo was taken. Sometimes there’s a story of how I got there or how many times I’d driven past the same thing without noticing, without stopping.

Black Horse mums

Black Horse mums

Take the time to take time. Take the time to say “just a minute”. Slow down. Break free from the clock whenever you can and go seek your photo, your fish, your mountaintop, your vista, your friend, your meeting place. Your shot-of-the-day may be a handshake, a minute together, a laugh, a good cup of coffee or a lousy hot dog under an umbrella-covered cart.

Take your shot-of-the-day when it inspires you. Don’t be distracted by that clock, racing you to the finish line. Slow and steady won the race for the tortoise, after all.

Lizzy-be-little

Lizzy-be-little

The tide waits for no one. The tide has never heard of “time”, can’t comprehend it, and would laugh at us if it could. The little girl above is my granddaughter Elizabeth. She just keeps growing no matter how I wish she’d slow down. She no longer has the parted baby teeth of the jack-o-lantern in costume. If I didn’t take the minute back then, I wouldn’t have this photo, which bears with it the memory of that fall day, the reminder of that sweet “baby” smile.

Kerry's garden

Kerry’s garden

This little girl has her shirt filled with cherry tomatoes. My daughter Kerry. She’s now an “Agricultural Entrepreneur”, as I like to call her. A farmer. Here she is barely five years old, with the same gap-toothed smile as her grandniece. She’s twenty-nine now, and runs a successful farm growing vegetables and flowers.

Glad I didn’t miss that moment, that photograph. Glad I took the time to snap that. A memory of time past.

In the larger scheme of my life, it was indeed “just a minute”.

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

 

 

 

 

Paleontology Proves Peoples’ Penchant for Possessions!

Such a relief to know it’s not just me.

One thing about zen teachings, or perhaps Neo-Confucianism, is to detach from material things “of the world”.

Now, I’m writing this from the United States, so perhaps folks in other countries may not see this subject the same way.

In this country, most folks are downright obsessed with possessions, to the extent we even have a TV show about hoarders. I can speak on the subject a bit because a recent revelation (the TV show) enlightened me to the fact that I have some of the same compulsions to hang on to things. I mean no disrespect, some people have a bit of disorder, to use the term loosely, and it’s not that they don’t care or they are slobs, it’s an emotional/mental thing. I have a touch myself.

I could never sojourn to Tibet and be a good monk. This I know. I like my coffee maker and my car, and the list could go on about the number of comfort and entertainment objects I would prefer not to do without. Some folks in this country are so enthralled by their “things” that there is a boom in “self-storage” facilities. These are rows of garages or whole buildings with garage-like rooms in which you can store your stuff if you have way too much to fit into your house. Okay, there is some legitimate purpose to self-storage. Perhaps you’re moving, between cities or houses or jobs, and you’re living in a small-but-adequate rental property, and you have some nice furnishings and other gear that needs to be stored until you get into permanent digs. Or maybe you live in an apartment but you’re fortunate enough to own a jet-ski or snowmobile or antique car or what-have-you, and legitimately need some storage space.

On the other hand…

The newest TV show is called Storage Wars, and in this one we watch folks buy abandoned lockers full of stuff.  Sometimes the things that are left behind and abandoned are mind-boggling.  Sure, in some cases people have passed away (a euphemism for died), or maybe they went to prison or for some other reason have been spit out of the universe like a watermelon seed, but in many cases it’s just that people can’t keep everything and can’t even afford to keep paying for the storage locker.

I’m fortunate (perhaps?) to have a large house in which we raised five kids. Now they’re grown, but we love the old ark and stay on here. That’s part of the problem. Sure, it can’t hurt to keep that [fill in the blank] in case someone needs it, we have plenty of room. Then again, it seems somewhat doubtful that anyone we know will eventually need a cobbler’s last or an 8-track tape player or a manual typewriter or a “perfectly good” picture frame measuring 40 by 30 inches, with just the slightest chip on one corner.

So, for the last couple of years I’ve been vigilant to avoid picking up anything, ANYTHING, we don’t actually need. And, slowly but surely we’re getting rid of the old Mixmaster (that just needs a plug), the one mismatched chair (that just needs one leg glued) and the “Swamp Thing” in the barn (sans engine), the forerunner of the ATV. (If you ever saw H.R. Puffenstuff on TV, it’s those six-wheeled things they drove around on).

Okay, here comes the paleontology part. An article in Smithsonian Magazine (or was it National Geographic?) states that over in Germany, in a cave, they found the oldest artifact of human creation, dating back 40,000 years. It was a little statue, hand-carved from Mammoth ivory.

So, it’s not just me! Apparently, humans have desired objects of possession since the last Ice Age! Imagine, in a world where there were no houses, public transportation, L.L. Beans, sailboats or vacation tours, someone took the time to carve a statue. At a time before Clovis people invented arrowheads, and folks hunted in groups with sharpened sticks, when the main focus of twenty hours a day was finding enough food to feed the cave clan, somebody sat on a rock and carved a statue!

This could also be treated as a premise for an article on creativity or beauty, art, sculpture, culture, or a number of topics, but in this case we’re focusing on objects of possession. Notice it wasn’t a knife handle, a pestle, a fish-hook, a shield, a horn or anything else that could be considered useful. (Well, it’s possible it may have held some magic powers, but let’s not get more lost than we already are.)

When you think about it, though, humans are not alone. There’s some bird somewhere that decorates its nest with all kind of found objects to attract a mate. There’s the phrase “shiny things to put in my nest”. Apparently “trade rats” are known to collect all manner of unusual things, though I’m not sure why.

None of that helps me, of course. These things don’t have 4,000-square-foot nests.

Then again, a cave can be pretty big…

I came into this life with nothing and will leave it with nothing. In between birth and death, I believe the most important things we have are: A) Each other, and B) Our inner light, our relationship with the cosmos.

Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac,

gangsta whitewalls, TV antennas in the back.

You may not have a car at all,

But remember, brothers and sisters,

You can still stand tall.

Just be thankful for what you got.

(William DeVaughn, 1974, Roxbury Records)

I hope some of you will share your stories about possessions, or battles with them.

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

On the passing of Andy Griffith

The full tree

I won’t waste anyone’s time trying to describe the career of the man or the way his work and collaboration has touched people.  I’m so fortunate to live in a tiny town which we for years have often referred to as Mayberry, to the extent I even got to say “Good morning, Sheriff.” not long ago in the village. (Yes, it really was the Sheriff, a neighbor whose son dated my daughter in school.)

Just wanted to share an outline of an episode that touched my heart and soul, helped to shape my Armchair Zen, and to this day brings tears to my eyes. Andy Griffith’s career included much more than his character of Sheriff Taylor in two TV series’, but it is this character for which he is best known and loved. He had a lot of influence on the show’s production, including the location of the fictional Mayberry, not far from his home, which I believe was Mount Airy.

In this episode, his young son Opie (Ron Howard, now a Hollywood legend in his own right, who describes working on the show as a wonderful life-building experience, and Mr.Griffith as everything we see in Andy Taylor) has a BB gun, and shoots a songbird in the tree beside his bedroom window. While Andy is a sportsman, he is deeply disappointed and angry with Opie that he would shoot a songbird, an unsportsmanlike act. In addition, the bird has a nest of fledglings, now orphaned. In scolding his son, he opens the bedroom window as Opie is put to bed, and tells the child to listen to those babies calling for their mother who is never coming home, to drive home the impact of Opie’s actions.

Subsequently, Opie decides to redeem himself by taking the birds in, putting them in a cage, feeding and raising them as restitution for his crime against nature. Mr.Taylor is pleased that his son is learning about his impact, and has taken a proactive step to remedy his wrongdoing.

Before long, the little fledglings are grown enough to leave the nest. The child has become attached to the creatures as pets, and the father admonishes him that the right thing to do is set them free to return to the wild. This is a difficult and agonizing thing for a child of perhaps six years of age, but ultimately he follows through with his father’s wishes and advice, and the birds are released to fly off.

In the last scene, Opie is a bit forlorn that the fun and excitement, the gratification of having the birds in his room, is over. Pouting, he looks at the vacant birdcage as his father stands at the bedroom window from which the tale began.

“Gee, pa, that cage sure looks empty.”, the lad says longingly.

“Yes.”, Andy says, as he turns to the window and gazes out with a half-smile and a glad heart.

“But don’t the trees look nice and full.”

Be at peace

Paz

The quiet mind

Pine Point

The quiet mind is a peaceful place.

It’s easy to get your mind filled with noise, especially during the distractions of the day that occupy our senses.

Work, getting kids to school, balancing the checkbook, visiting the sick uncle.

It’s like your mind is a big factory, all the machines running, trucks driving in & out, people moving everywhere, the lunch whistle, the fire whistle.

Good to get away from it. Think “Not-Thinking”. Seek refuge whether in the woods, on the water, or within one’s own mind.

A little diddy about escaping the madness. You may note it’s a bit dated, from the 90’s. (Last century).

A Moment’s Peace

 

What I seek is solace, just a moment’s peace.

Need I sail to Aruba? Need I fly to Greece?

The home phone, car phone, answering machine,

Pager, email, voice mail…What does it all mean?

 

Does it mean I am IMPORTANT? Does it mean I “MUST BE REACHED!”?

If I cannot respond instantly, will some agreement be breached?

Will the U.N. go to war? Will the President sit & wait?

Will Saint Peter need to confirm with me before opening the gate?

 

I am going fishing now, with worms in a cup.

Don’t bother trying to call me.

The machine will pick up.

Happy Independence day tomorrow, for all you fellow Americans, and a belated Happy Independence day to all our Canadian neighbors to the north.

Take the time to make yourself independent from the noise of our modern world, the chatter and distraction, the hustle & bustle, the go-go-go that is most of our society.

Break yourself free from the TV and the phone and your laptop/tablet/mobile device/PDA, and all that constant manufactured connectivity.

Liberate your mind and soul to a natural state, whether it’s in the park, on the roof or in your head.

Take the time to let your mind clear, and engage in the simple wonderments of the world around us.

Connect with something real and infinitely more precious than all the rest.

Connect yourself with Real You.

Be at peace,

Paz

Life is not a highway

Ride

Funny thing about driving on the highway, and that’s people going as fast as they can. Now I don’t mean folks are holding their foot to the floor and going 120 miles an hour down Chestnut Street. Well, maybe once when I was younger…

Folks will go as fast as they’re allowed to. Somewhere just slightly over the speed limit. Most will change lanes or make for toll booths with the shortest lines. On city streets it’s the same, folks trying to go as fast as they’re allowed, tailgating others, honking horns, passing on the right.
Okay, so this isn’t a traffic safety session. Folks seem to do a number of these things “as fast as they can”. Fast food for lunch, looking for the shortest line at the checkout, googling stuff.
In my Armchair Zen world, I try to go at the pace I choose. I go as fast as I want to, not as fast as possible. Sure, power walking for cardio is good for your cardio, but for sightseeing, it’s not the same.
Do we realize how the relaxed-pace sightseeing walk can lower our blood pressure (especially if accompanied by an endearing dog).
Do we realize that we’re getting stressed (and increasing our blood pressure) by fretting over waiting in a longer line at the checkout or toll booth? Do we realize we’re stressing over seconds? Most of these things rarely will amount to as much as a minute, and extremely rare is the case where you can count more than a couple of minutes.
I’m setting my pace to that which suits me. It’s a peaceful pace, and relaxing. It’s not slow. Most folks describe my walking pace as quick, and there are lots of things I like to do quickly (a throwback to commercial kitchen work). I can zoom through a grocery store and have just what I came in for in three minutes and be in the checkout line.
What do you do once you’re in the line, or a traffic jam, or the line of cars at the toll booth or the line of traffic trying to exit the fireworks display all at the same time?
These are great places to practice simple patience. Moreover, actively decide you won’t be stressed out over these things. What can be done about it? How much time will you gain by jumping lines or weaving through traffic? Five seconds, ten?
There’s a reason retailers place a whole rasher of stuff at the checkouts. It’s called “impulse merchandise”, but I use it as entertainment and distraction. Read all the magazine titles. Look at the nifty gadgets or the newest SuperSized candy bar. The same can be done on the road. Look at the clouds (well, not while driving too much, eh?) There are birds and trees in most places, and there are always cars, trucks, boats, all kinds of things to look at.
And when moving, YOU decide the speed you want to travel. Not the speed limit or the highway traffic or that guy tailgating you.
There are times when I need to hustle, and do, without compromising driving safety or courtesy.
The rest of the time, I set my own pace.

I call it “the speed of Zen”.

Be at peace.

Paz

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