Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘inner searching’

You can predict the future!

Winter menagerie

Winter menagerie

People say “you can’t predict the future”. I disagree.

Folks talk about living in the moment, but you can’t stop yourself from living in the future.

Think about it. Imagine if you just started walking and didn’t think about anything except that next step, truly living in the moment. Well, suppose the next step is right off a cliff? Before you pick your foot up you’re bound to predict a certain future here, and you know what? That’s good, or we’d all be dead.

The human brain is not thinking in the proverbial now, but always in the next.

Is there ground beneath me to support my feet?

If I stand will I strike my head on a ceiling?

If I breath in now I can avoid suffocation, things like that.

Animals predict the future, too, so don’t start with that Most Highly Developed species attitude.

Think about the constant and complex physics a bobcat is dealing with chasing a zig-zagging rabbit through the snow.

Imagine a bird of prey closing on a rodent moving through thick grass.

We flat-out count on a lot of presumptive predictions of the future. Maybe this seems obvious or even silly to some, but if you grasp this idea it helps us to understand the subconscious workings of our minds.

In “Think Not-Thinking” (ACZ Archive, 3/21/11) the process of meditation is examined. Meditation is intended to quiet the mind, to reduce stress or anxiety. When effective, it can allow you to turn down the subconscious future-telling.

This is important because your brain can’t stop living in the future, can’t stop checking the to-do list and planner. Even the Most Highly Developed Species can’t turn off the engines of instinct.

So don’t beat yourself up because you feel you can’t “live in the now” all the time. Your brain is looking out for you and those depending on you, even in your sleep, every minute of every day. It’s normal for your mind to be ruminating or mulling or planning all the time, and we’re glad about it.

Otherwise, we’d all freeze and starve.

If we didn’t walk off a cliff first.

Be at peace,


Maybe you’re not ready for this.

Trying to formulate a way to relate this concept: I wasn’t ready to truly experience Armchair Zen 20 years ago. Maybe I should say I thought I was trying to live a type of zen life, but it was more like boot camp. I was doing drills and following directions though I had no sub-conscious competence.  Still, my mind and focus were filled with and attached to  the material world, the manufactured society world, the looking-glass world humankind scurries around in.

Training wheels off.

My brain desired all the elements of ACZ. Coveted them. Fought for them. Judged those that would fail to desire them or stand in the way. Isn’t that ironic? To be in a fully realized state of Armchair Zen, one must put all selfish thoughts aside. One must never judge another existence in a Universe you neither control nor fully understand. Fighting is right out.


So, give me a break, and give yourself one, too, if you’re me of 20 years ago.

Controlling the money to get the thing was the myopic goal.

Forget things, and you’ll find they take a very comfortable place all around you, and you may enjoy one another without conflict.

“Keeping” “Someone” from interfering with my life, forcing me to do what I wanted not.

No one can really force you, now can they? Perhaps you may have to work to stay on your path. Perhaps you may have to abandon fear and need for control, control itself, power, worry, and predicting the future. Sure, humankind has taught you a lot, but learning to discern the subtleties between good lessons and bad is not easy.

If I do this and this and this it will equal three. Damn, why isn’t this working?

You didn’t finish primary education in a year, or college in a week or pregnancy in a day. Seeds planted yesterday just look like wet dirt. Life has a waiting game because it takes that long. Period. No reasoning, nothing deep. If you prefer to paraphrase it you could say “Because that’s how long it takes.”, or “It takes that long because it does.” or any number of catchy enlightened phrases.

The gentlest push

Listen, in spite of popular opinion, life, for the majority of us achieving the dubious distinction of an average one, is very long, punctuated with frequent and sometimes lengthy periods of boredom, life in the trenches. Call them ruts if you choose, but work is happening in trenches. Work that needs to be done, and somebody needs to step up and do it. Work that benefits many more people inhabiting the level ground above.

I equate this time with the several decades of marrying and raising children and working jobs and all the living, breathing moments tied up in the busy work required of living and breathing. Brains are only so large, and have a limited capacity, and when you overfill them, things spill out to make room for more. Just keep breathing.

So you’re learning. You’re working towards something. You’re discovering something. (Ready or not. Discoveries can come at the most surprising and sometimes inopportune times.) You’re gardening in your head and caring for all the little sprouts and trying to deduce which are weeds and which are glorious flowers.

How will you know when you’re ready? Well, I think different areas will be ready at different times.

One year you’ll be ready to fully realize the relation of possessions to our lives. Valuable, but fleeting and not truly important.

One year you’ll let yourself be lost in the magical inebriation that is great wonder. Once it starts, it grows increasingly more encompassing, like a ringlet on water.

One year you’ll fully realize forgiveness when you catch yourself being forgiving.

First you will understand how to forgive everyone else.

Ultimately you’ll realize that without judgement, there is nothing to be forgiven, and that goes for you, too.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.

Off you go, little one

In the meantime, cut yourself some slack. You weren’t expected to do algebra in kindergarten, were you?

Okay, okay. You’re not required to live a peaceful life in harmony with the buzz of the cosmos.

You’re welcome to hang on to all that strife and worry as long as you want. Liberty. It’s your life.

Whenever you’re ready.


Be at peace, (or study for it),



I see angels

Living, breathing angel

The boy fell to his knees, his face dropped to his hands.

What was I to do, being just a mortal man?

I said “You’re at the end of your rope, son, not the end of your road.”

Sometimes we need to help a broken angel with their load.


I see angels all around me. Angels you can see.

Living, breathing angels right where they ought to be.

This whole world’s full of angels, from sea to shining sea.

It’s a world full of angels waiting for us to let them be.


A man clutched my hands as tears welled in his eyes.

I said “There are no words. We’re never ready to say goodbye.”

Most folks don’t know that sometimes angels need a hand.

He said “No one knows my pain. No one understands.”


I told him “There are angels all around you, angels you can see.

Living, breathing angels, right where they need to be.

It’s a world full of angels, from sea to shining sea,

A world full of angels waiting for you, and me.”


I see that little baby, sleeping in her bed.

See the days and weeks and months and years that lay ahead.

Her mother and her brother, and all her kith and kin,

This whole great wide world around her, all the same beneath the skin.


I see angels all around me. Angels you can see.

Living, breathing angels right where they want to be.

It’s a world full of angels, from sea to shining sea.

A world full of angels waiting for us

To set them free.

Zen in our Techno-Monetary society

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,


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,



Day 19,359

Solstice Moon

The world recognizes yesterday as my birthday. The date on which I first breathed the air of this planet. I couldn’t help but think I am actually 3/4’s of a year older than that. My “creation date” would be around September.
What do you think the universe did to keep track of important events in the past?
How did the cosmos ever keep it all straight before humans came along and gave labels to everything, from the stars to the sea, and measured all activities in “moons”, with sundials, marking the dates of the seasons and solstices?
From here my life seems big.
Before long, in a cosmic sense, it will be as the flash of the death of a star or birth of a galaxy. As unremarkable as the events of a billion years ago.
It brings me such peace to know that all my “worries”, all my errors and shortcomings, don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy cosmos.

Be at peace.


Always and Forever

My Hero

This is the premise, the basic promise for long-term relationships, such as traditional marriages.

“Forever” is a solemn promise, and typical quotes from marriage ceremonies in this society include dedication to be true through “better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health”.

These are the big dramatic parts of a promise ceremony, yet at the outset of a young marriage they are more like a list of tests the wedded couple will face one day. The results will vary widely from couples that endure all unto their deaths, and other cases where the least bit of stress or inconvenience can lead to dissolution of the bond.

“Forever” is the most important aspect of this promise, and that only becomes truly understood as one draws nearer to the “end of Forever”, our mortal life. It’s a lofty goal when one is young, but as one ages it becomes a foundation, something to be relied upon without question or doubt.

When we really begin looking down the barrel of aging, life’s trials, the events that befall us, we reach for the assurance that the promise of “Forever” will be kept.

When we lose a good job or position, regardless of the reason. When we lose our teeth and are fitted with dentures. When we are stricken with the debts of our years and become weakened, even hobbled, by the diseases and conditions of our bodies.

Are you really going to stick by me when I lose use of a leg? When my speech becomes impaired? How about if my brain is stricken, and I become, essentially, a different person than the one you made that promise to? Perhaps there’s a tipping point…15 years, 20 years, 30…40, when one no longer doubts the promise. Perhaps for some there is never any doubt.

Perhaps for others, the doubt is never fully quelled. Perhaps for some, they stick with it simply because of the promise. That’s “Forever” in a nutshell.

“Always” is the hard part. Always means ALL ways, ALL the time. To love someone “Forever and Always” means every day, through everyday trials and tribulations, through the ordinary and extraordinary millions of hours that will comprise our lives together.

Not only when you’re sick with the flu, but when you’re sick from drinking Pepsi & vodka.

Not just when you’re down because your dog died, but when you are unreachable and inconsolable over much greater loss.

When you’re smiling and complimenting me, as well as when you are angry and vilifying me.

When you’re all dressed up and smelling like a rose as well as when you’ve been through the wringer and smell like…what is that awful smell?

“Always” is the day you got the big raise, the day you bought a boat without even asking me, and the day your company moved to Guam and kicked you (and our finances) to the curb.

“Always” includes that touching, perfect gift only you could bring, and then again the time you showed up empty-handed on our anniversary.

Stress is relative, and young relationships are more prone to stress from short-sighted goals and egocentricity. My time for my buddies, the things you did before we were married, the friend who has been with you since first grade and thinks he can still be your fishing pal. The amount of time you spend with me, the number of things you do that rub me the wrong way, your attitude toward this big decision, this giant step, and whether you’re serious about “Forever”.

Even the Zen Master can find it difficult, while maintaining a solid commitment to “Forever”, to navigate the pop-up skirmishes of our “Always”.

Next time you get to an “Always” you think you need to address, just try to remember what’s in the best interest of “Forever”.

You can “always” say something, but do you want it to be on record “forever”?

Be at peace,


I just don’t want to argue with you any more

Into the fray

Please show me the way to make peace with your heart.

How do I stop this thing? How do I don’t let it start?

How do I know what to say? How do I know what I said?

When do I shut my mouth and keep it all in my head?

I just don’t want to argue with you any more.

I just don’t want to quarrel with you any more.

I just don’t want to fight with you any more.

I just don’t want to argue with you any more.

Can’t see my light, can’t plot a course.

Can’t navigate through the regret and remorse.

I’m trying to rise to find a better way

but it all gets entangled in all that we say.

What if I don’t argue about it any more?

Chilled to the bone, burned from the heat.

Cold as a stone, I’m dead on my feet.

Do I laugh like a fool? Do I break down and cry?

Do I fall to my knees? Do I lay down and die?

I’m just not going to argue with you any more.

Just not going to quarrel with you any more.

No, I’m not going to fight with you any more.

I’m just not going to argue about it any more.

Just not going to argue with you any more.

I just don’t want to argue with you any more.

Take Time to Wonder

Walking the road in wonderment.

We’re all on the same road. Cradle to the grave. Beneath our skin, regardless of color, we all want to be loved, and to give love in return.  Whether we think and dream in Spanish or Russian, English or Cantonese, we all have the same dreams.

We get so busy going down the road that we forget to stop and see the beauty in the everyday world around us. To reach out and touch one another and say “These, these are the days we will remember.”

We have a little plaque on the windowsill that reads:

We don’t remember the days, we remember the moments.”

Looking back along the road, it’s easy to see the truth of this simple statement. The time when I was just a child, when I sat still long enough for a chickadee to land on my hand to take a bit of bread. That afternoon when my son was born, putting him under the heat lamp like an order of french fries. That night in the emergency room when they pinned my other son’s spiral fracture of his arm.

How many moments do you remember? When you think of the moment, it seems the rest of the world and the day fade away into the background.

We don’t need special events to “make” these moments. We simply need to open our eyes to see these moments in every day. Like the old adage of stopping to smell the roses. We don’t even have to stop, we simply need to awaken.

We drive down the road without looking out the window. We’re watching the road and traffic, watching the clock, thinking of getting to work or the show or home. How many moments are we missing? A bird flying past, the shape of a cloud, the warmth of the sun on our face.

There’s a beauty in nature if we will only take the moment to see it. If we can develop our senses to appreciate the natural order of things, the power or solemnity of nature, we can find beauty in the tiniest things, even things that may not be considered beautiful in a traditional sense. It sounds kind of corny, but there is beauty in a blade of grass, in droplets of dew, in the busy work of ants on the ground, in the silent circles of birds in the sky.

I remember a moment, sitting on the ground on an early summer morning. I noticed the drops of dew on the grass, and realized each one acted as a prism, emitting rainbow colors. By moving ever-so-slightly, the color of the droplet would vary from red to blue to green. I realized that even under the bright direct sun, the light emitted from the dew drops was as bright as the sun, and white as starlight. Of course! They’re refracting the rays of the sun! What wonder filled me when I realized that there, in the tiny drop of water, was light as powerful as the sun! A rainbow, a star, the sun. Huge celestial objects, all in one, all in a tiny drop of water just a foot away!

There’s a little scroll on the wall, given to me by my late mother, I don’t know how many years ago. It’s a storybook picture of an elf, in awe observing a butterfly. I have adopted the phrase on this scroll as a way of reminding myself to seek those “moments we remember”, and if you repeat it to yourself and embrace it, perhaps it will enable you to see that beauty in everyday things, to live in the now, to make those moments. It reads:

Take time to wonder. Without wonder, life is merely existence.”

Be at peace.


Ring Theory

People speak of growing and maturing. People speak of childhood, their “inner child”, and childish behavior.

We grow as a tree grows, each year adding atop all of the previous years. Just as a tree, even a hundred or more years old, bears all of its life and history in its rings, so too, do people. A tree doesn’t outgrow its rings, nor does it seek to forget them, if a tree could do such things. (And how do we know it cannot?)

Those innermost rings, year one, year two, that great year and that bad one, they remain intact for the life of the tree. In fact, even after life has left the tree.

People are similar. You don’t need to work at “getting in touch with your inner child” any more than a tree has to work at keeping its rings in order. Those rings are there, they have grown, and will always be a part of you. When you see something you loved as a child, isn’t that love still real, isn’t it rekindled in the moment? It’s a feeling inside you, not a conscious effort.

Can’t we still like the taste of creamsicles and be afraid of loud noises? Can we really “outgrow” these things?

Spend time with children, and you will see that “everything old is new again” for you. Why is the sky blue? How many stars are there? Can I really dig a hole through the earth and come out in China? Do aliens have pets?

The greatest beauty of childhood is the sense that all the world is NOW.

Seek to realize that those rings are still there. They’re safely protected and as green and vibrant as when they were new.

Just as they do for a tree, those inner rings shape the person we are now, and provide a core. We can not escape that core any more than a tree can disavow its inner rings.

What rings do you live in? Which have you carried forward to this day? Your love of cats? Or Rollercoasters? Hot dogs? The Andy Griffith Show? Your fear of trains or falling trees or mean dogs?

Look for the rings you have left behind unwillingly. Those things that someone told you- or you told yourself- you had to outgrow.

Sometimes when something seems to pull at your heartstrings, it is pulling on your inner rings.

Just as a tree, we can’t always wantonly expose our inner rings, or they could be damaged. Some of them may be much too tender to expose to the harsh world.

Seek to see them, though, and to see how they affect the way we think and feel and act in our present day.

Let this help you to understand and be comfortable with the person you have become, or to change that person to be more like the one you’d imagined for yourself.

Deep in the recesses of your heart and mind, these rings are stored, good and bad. But the now of this world is your outer bark. Your rings are inescapable, but they are entirely within your control to reveal, to conceal, to befriend or to shun. 

Remember too, as you meet others, that we are each bolstered and burdened by the inner rings of our lives.

Beneath the bark, we are all the same.


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