Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘kindness’

Page Two

This is the second of a two-part journal entry. For the backstory leading to this, read the previous post “The birds, the bees, the cat, the possum and the people”. I realize both posts are quite lengthy, and apologize for that. I could have broken it into four posts, but wanted to maintain a good continuity.

Paz

Okay, so here’s this possum caught in a live-catch trap and it’s ten o’clock in the morning so the sun is beating down on the black plastic trash bag which covers the back half of the trap to camouflage and conceal it. I seriously doubt this possum is what the Market Manager was intent on catching. I think it wandered over here in the night, probably from the wild areas between here and the Hudson River. He had said they thought there were raccoons roosting in the Black Horse farm building.

Now, there are two more qualifiers that influence or explain my following actions. One is another part of my personal philosophy, made almost respectable by being a quote from Charles Dickens. In his story “A Christmas Carol”, the main character Ebenezer Scrooge has survived a night with the spirits compelling him to change his selfish ways and to open his heart to the world, particularly those less fortunate. When he awakens to find he has been granted the opportunity to live and pursue good works, he is overwhelmed with joy. And humility. Realizing the error of his ways, he breaks into a brief song to the tune of “All Around The Mulberry Bush”;

I don’t know anything.

I never did know anything.

But now I KNOW that I don’t know.

All on Christmas morning.

So that’s item one, where I admit I have no idea what it is that I don’t know. I bear this in mind always, along with a teaching from Richard Bach’s book “Illusions”: Everything you know could be wrong. I’m just doing the best I can with what I have.

The other qualifier may be difficult for me to describe. I know that seems odd coming from a wordy poet, but it’s a feeling deep in my soul that I must try to relate. I have this relationship with the Universe. The Great Cosmos I call it. If you’ve read anything of substance at ACZ, you’ll know I feel as insignificant as one could possibly be in a giant universe. Just a speck. Less than that. Not even a grain of sand on a beach, but a chip off a grain of sand in a limitless expanse of space. At the same time, I feel part of it all, like the grain of sand. Every grain of sand matters, and is needed to make a beach. No one grain of sand could be proved to be more important, more significant, more worthy than the next. Herein lies my value in my relationship with the Universe. I am equal. Equal to every grain of sand and every tree. Every human on the planet and every other animal from the blue whale to the black gnat. Equal to every planet and satellite, every comet and meteor. To every last bit of every last inch of an immeasurable Universe, I am part of it all. My solemn agreements, my silent prayers, if you will, are directly between me and the Universe. We have a close and inexorable bond. Therefore, I answer only to the Cosmos. As I describe what follows, there are a hundred optional actions and endings. Some people may vehemently espouse their versions of what is right, what is not. What is fair to wildlife, what is duty to humankind. What is callous and cruel, what is kindness and caring. Sorry folks, this is between me and my Cosmos.

My first step is to open the trap. Show the possum the door. Touch the ground as if she’s a trained dog. I speak softly in a sort of baby talk. “Come on. You can come out now.” In my best effort at Disneyesque fantasy, I anticipate the possum will walk out. Perhaps wink at me over its shoulder as it makes its escape. Well, that didn’t happen. I suppose possum has never seen “Bambi” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. In her cornered, trapped, fearful defensive place, possum sees a giant animal, twenty times her size, trying to dig her out to kill and eat her. Reality knocks on my brain’s door and says “As long as you hang around the trap, she’ll stay frozen in the rear corner under the trash bag. GO AWAY!” Liberation of the possum the primary goal, I heed this advice and disappear, foregoing the opportunity to bask in the glory of watching the culmination of my efforts, the gleeful trotting off of the former captive.

I give it a while but I’m fascinated with the possum and curious and impatient as the rings deep within my spirit that remain a ten-year-old boy. I check the trap, and she’s still huddled in the corner, waiting for darkness, probably. I tried tipping the trap up and dumping her out. Unceremonious but effective if it worked. It did not. She hung onto the trap as if it was her home. Okay, I go away again for a while. Half an hour later, she still hasn’t moved. Okay, I grab a short stick and have the stick prod her from the back part of the trap so she’ll move toward the door. No dice. She’s not afraid of a stick, and the corner under the trash bag feels like the safest safety available to her. If I was at home I’d carry the whole trap out into the woods, put the open door up against some dense cover, and walk away confidently, content the animal would eventually walk out of the trap. Here at the Market, I don’t want to get caught undoing the trapping, so I’m trying to be a little stealthy.

“Alright. If Guy from Market comes around now you’re as good as dead, so it’s time to go, like it or not.” I thought-transfer this to the possum to apologize in advance for the somewhat rough and rude action to follow. I grabbed a piece of threaded metal rod from the shop at work. In hindsight, I should have used the broom handle. I pushed the rod through the trash bag at the back of the trap to nudge her. This just made her redouble her defensive stance. So I broke down and pushed harder. “Come on.” I’m speaking out loud in my talking-to-animals-and-babies voice, “You gotta get out of there!” I pushed on her more. Re-positioned the rod. Prodded her again. Assertively, I pushed against her to literally shove her out of the trap and she finally moved. She needed another prod and then, yes, success! She saw the opening or decided it was less risk or discomfort, and she trotted out of the trap and across the gravelly ground, disappearing beneath a stack of pallets behind the buildings. I hurriedly reset the trap to appear nothing had sprung it.

I felt pretty good about my liberation of the trapped animal for about a minute or so. That’s when I saw the baby. Yep, baby possum. Almost naked, it was probably a week or so old. It looks like a newborn kitten in that first week when they can’t even walk but try to move in stumbling fashion. It was lying in the open in the direct sun, about a foot away from the closest part of the pallet pile. At first my brain thought it had crawled out of its nest, looking for mother while she was incarcerated. I looked beneath the pallets and metal carts for signs of traffic or a nest. Wait a minute. Brain catching up. Hey, opossums are marsupials. The baby would have been carried in Mother’s pouch. Oh no. She had dropped this one as she ran away in self defense. This thing was tiny. As small as any kitten I’ve seen born, and yet baby possums complete their development in the pouch. This one barely had half a coat of thin, fine fur, and was probably just about blind.

Then it made the tiniest noise. You might imagine a newborn kitten trying to meow for its mother. Sometimes their mouths open and no sound comes out. Sometimes a breathy squeak. Eventually, they learn to “mew”. Possums don’t meow. I don’t know what repertoire they have, but the only sound I’ve ever heard come from a possum is a hiss, like an angry cat. I guess that’s what baby possum was trying, but it came out as just the shortest burst. As if you were trying to demonstrate the sound a “K” makes without using your breathing, you know? Well I figured baby is calling Mom, so after placing baby out of the sun and beneath a cart, I too make K noises, hoping to attract mother’s attention to return for the foundling. After a minute, I go away to give her the opportunity to do so. The ten-year-old needs to check the situation every two minutes. The wildlife liberator knows you should give it twenty. It’s now midday, and the time of the hour at which I’d break for lunch. One last check on the orphan. Still there. Still bobbing its tiny head, moving its tiny feet almost ineffectively.  Still barking for Mother. “Let the Cosmos handle it.” I say, probably aloud, and I brush the sparrows off the Funbus and head out for lunch. Possum has a quiet spell to come back for her kid, and I can keep ten-year-old Me from obsessing over the orphan.

Lunch does not go so well. I can’t stop thinking of the orphan. I know I can’t save and raise a newborn possum, but I could probably make it feel warm and safe until its passing. I bail on lunch. I buy a pint of whole milk at the convenience store, and head for Rite-Aid to buy an eye dropper for feeding. Rite-Aid does not sell eye droppers, by the way. Maybe no one does any more. Everything like it is a graduated syringe so you can measure your baby’s liquid Tylenol and squirt it into their mouth. I search long and hard. I ask Jim The Employee to help. No eye dropper. Now I am looking for ear drops or Mercurochrome. Bottles with eye droppers. I’ll buy that and wash the dropper out. Nope. Nothing has a dropper any more. Finally, I purchase a syringe bulb, a nasal aspirator, thinking it’s at least soft-ish. So armed, I return to work. I’m ready to warm the milk and offer it to the orphan. I’m thinking I will put it in my shirt pocket. It’ll be warm and in a “pouch” and might even be fooled into a sense of normalcy, comfort, security for the matter of mere hours I expect the thing to live without its own mother.

At the spot where I’d last seen the naked, wriggling baby, there was nothing. I spent quite some time on hands and knees, looking everywhere the wobbling, toddling tiny thing could have moved to. I made a few K noises, listened intently for the tiny whisper of a bark. Nothing.

And so my tale anticlimactically draws to a close. What happened to Baby Possum will forever remain a mystery. I’d like to think Mother retraced her steps, looking for the “missing one”. Or perhaps she heard the tiny thing’s tiny bark. Mothers are in-tuned to such things.

Down at the Hudson River, less than a quarter-mile from here, I’ll often see Bald Eagles. Majestic birds we almost lost with our penchant for killing things, in this case via DDT in pesticides. Eagles are scavengers. Here in my parking lot, crows abound. Grackles and Jays, too. Perhaps one of these had found a healthy meal.

That afternoon I stood on the back dock.  As I looked out, I saw Cat sitting under a car. Cat looked me in the eye, and I looked back. “Hi kitty.” I said, which hitherto had the immediate effect of making her run. She sat and looked at me. She looked away, then back again. She seemed relaxed. Now that winter is over, I can no longer fill the dish.

You see, we need to be vigilant about vermin here.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Kind Words versus Critical

Rerun: This post was originally published in 2011. – Paz

 

I was reading a thing recently about a crew demolishing a building. Someone asks the foreman how long it would take to knock the building down, and what sort of skills were required by the crew. To sum it up, the guy replies that they should be able to knock the whole thing down within a week, and aside from knowing how to work safely, no special skills were required. The observation concludes that it would take many weeks or months, maybe a year or more, to construct the building, and the construction would require many people with well-developed skills. Masons for foundations, welders for steel, electricians & plumbers, painters & roofers, and perhaps consultants for interior design.

In short, it takes longer and requires more skills to build something up than to tear it down.

This is also true of people, and the words we use with one another.

Like the unskilled demolition crew, anyone can speak words of criticism. Complaints, judgement, even derision. These words are pretty easy to come by in the human brain, especially when motivated by aggravation, frustration or anger.

By contrast, it requires greater effort to hold one’s tongue, keep one’s opinions to one’s self, to avoid getting on the band wagon with others complaining or condemning, and especially to keep hurtful things from spitting out of our mouths in the course of an argument, particularly an angry one.

So too, it requires a different and perhaps greater skill to look for the good in situations, to compliment people on the degree to which they got things right, not criticize them for the degree of wrong.

In the heat of battle or when someone is railing or ranting, the conversational side of the brain will feed you many thoughts that it wants you to speak. Maybe it’s the way you feel, or maybe you want to defend a position, or maybe you want to agree with a condemnation being offered.

The sage will understand the old adage “less said the better”. With concentrated effort, one can express that one understands or at least hears the other’s point of view without agreeing or arguing.

In any situation, look for the positive. With any person, look for the chance to share a kind word, and watch for those verbal grenades your automated-language-based brain tries to toss past your teeth.

We went to see an apartment into which someone had recently moved. The street was not well-to-do, or of the newest part of town. The houses were mostly multi-family rentals, and were generally well-worn. One could not describe the sidewalks or alleys as neat or clean. The apartment was at the top of a steep, narrow, windowless staircase. The windows could have used cleaning, and with some effort one could see above the dormers of the house next door, and catch a sliver of the sky and the city beyond. The kitchen floor was from the last century. It looked, in many places, exactly like what is was: a medium-sized second story apartment in an older house, whose tenants probably never stayed more than a year or two.  A few marks showed on the walls and woodwork, where families had probably raised rambunctious children, and the landlord probably repainted only when needed.

When asked, I described it thusly:

“It’s quite spacious, with good-sized rooms. It has a brand new carpet in the living room, and a brand new space heater, like the ones I have in my house. A Big kitchen! The windows are big. Tall, old-fashioned windows that let in the light. On sort of  a side street, where the traffic seemed pretty light. And cozy! Probably quite efficient to heat!”

Next time you have a chance to describe something or someone, an apartment or even adversary, put your effort into the use of the skills of “craftsmen of the human spirit”, “masters of language”, developed by being practitioners and tradesmen in the arts of compassion and empathy, and build with the materials of positivity, hope, caring and dignity.

Be at peace,

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

Return to “Civilization”

Editor’s note: this is the third of a 3-part journal entry following “Sojourn” (ACZ Archive, August 2015), and “Shore Dinner DeLuxe” (ACZ Archive, September 2015). – Paz

DSCF3361

 

Three days is not enough time to spend at our favorite north woods spot, Forked Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. After a camping trip of perfect weather, a Shore Dinner DeLuxe, and a great gathering of friends (and mosquitoes), Sunday morning arrived on schedule, and it was time to strike camp.

Leaving the lake for another year is a dreaded moment. I break down the tent and pack the stove, the cast iron, the lanterns. We ask each other if we’ll do any fishing before we leave, but our inner drives compel us to keep moving forward, back to the world of clocks and calendars and schedules and work. We pack the boats and head for the launch.

The boat launch at Forked lake is of the most basic type. There’s a circular gravel drive, a ten by ten foot dock, and a shallow sandy area to put in watercraft. Mostly these are canoes and kayaks. The camp site has a number of aluminum Grumman canoes you can sign out, and some folks bring small power boats like the AquaMarie. This launch is not one of those fancy ones with a paved drive, ridged concrete to help you get traction, a solid surface in the water for your trailer wheels. No, this is as basic as it gets. The drive leads to the water and the rest is up to you. It’s a bit shallow, and has a couple of boulders in inconvenient spots, but if you get right next to the dock you can back your trailer in far enough to launch or retrieve your vessel.

Fast forward past all the neat outdoorsy stuff like loading the boat with the camp gear, motoring through the marked channel to the launch area. Up to the parking lot. Fetch the Funbus, move over one lot and hook up the boat trailer. Here we drive down the gravel road to the small “traffic circle” adjacent to the launch. It’s a busy weekend in the middle of July, and Sunday at 11 am is checkout time for everyone. Not exactly mobbed, but busy.

If you’ve ever driven (or backed) a trailer hooked up to a motor vehicle, you know it takes a little room. Maybe this is obvious to people who have never pulled a trailer, or maybe they’re oblivious to the concept. A sign near the dock says “Please Do Not Block The Launch Area”. As I reach the edge of the circle, I note two cars more or less parked on the left. I’ll need to wait for them to move out of the way before I can swing the Funbus and trailer around to position for backing into the water. I wait, idling, looking. Several young folks are milling about the cars, apparently packing to leave. Guy starts sort of rearranging the trunk so things will fit in. Two cars are behind me. Gal with guy comes up, she must be driving the other car, and they begin to converse. Probably talking about where we’ll get gas or stop for lunch or who will stop at Grandma’s to pick up the cat.

Along the waterfront, the dock area is essentially full. A couple folks pick up their kayaks and load them onto roof racks. A few others pull their Grumman canoes, marked with the name of their campsite home Forked Lake, Lewey Lake, Indian Lake, out of the water and move them to the rack. Forked lake is part of what’s called a chain of lakes, the outlet of one leading to the inlet of the next. In some places you can canoe from one to the next, at others you’ll need to portage your boat and gear, usually a fairly short distance.

I’m all about being considerate of others, and following the rules of civility that allow us to get along as happy neighbors. I wait patiently for the young people to finish talking and pack their trunk. The packing is done now, and they’re still conversing. There are three cars behind me now. In the friendliest tone I can muster, I call out “Can you move those cars out of there?”. They acknowledge positively. Perhaps they didn’t realize they were clogging up traffic. A guy from a car behind me walks up to my window. Clearly another follower of the rules of civility he asks “Do you mind if I go around you? I just have to pick up my kayak over there.”, he gestures to the far left. “Oh, of course,” I reply, “Sorry to hold you up.”.

Folks are not in any hurry to clear out, but then again we’re all on vacation, so why should we rush? I continue to wait as the parked-pair youngsters are finally able to actually get in their cars and move them out of the launch driveway. Our space to the right of the dock opens as a kayaker pulls out. As I wait for the parked pair to move, one of the cars behind me pulls around and drives to the water’s edge, backing up next to the shallow spot beside the dock. Just about where I need to put the trailer.

Now I’ve been parked and waiting for what seems like about ten minutes, so I tell myself it’s probably five. I’m a bit annoyed at the person that drove around me, as if I was sitting still because I wanted to or something. Why else would I be waiting in the queue with an empty trailer, pointing at the dock? Seems obvious to me, but it doesn’t take too many letters to get from “obvious” to “oblivious”, which apparently these folks were.

Well, I can’t sit here all day, so as the parked-pair finally move out, I swing the Funbus around to position to back the trailer in. Another considerate person calls out “You need to get in here?”. Rhetorical, maybe, but considerate. He pulls his car away from the dock area, leaving just enough room to fit the trailer in the space. I begin to back the trailer delicately into the narrow opening between the dock and the inconsiderate driver and mate that end-ran me. It may crowd them a bit, but I can put this in there. Like threading a needle, I carefully inched back, considerate even of the inconsiderate, I certainly didn’t want to hit their car with the trailer!

Then, lady from inconsiderate land (the mate in the end-run car) gets out and calls to me in protest “We need to load out of here.”

Without thinking, my minor frustration boils up a bit and I ask her “Do you have a trailer?”, trying to overstate the obvious. Don’t you think I need to load out, too? Didn’t you notice the eighteen-foot long empty trailer behind me? Why do you think I was sitting there waiting for all these other cars? They’re driving a tiny car, so they could have only a canoe or kayak which they need to lift to the roof anyway. Couldn’t they carry it six more feet, and move over, and let me in? I was here first.

With that, lady end-run moves over and stands next to their car, behind my trailer, so I can’t continue to back in next to them.

Herein lies my Armchair Zen lesson for this trip. After all my study, after all my meditation and self-talk, after three peaceful days in one of the quietest places in the state, it took just one incident in the first half-hour of my return to civilization for me to feel frustration, aggravation.  For me to speak out in a somewhat inconsiderate tone.

So there I sit. Perhaps fumes could be seen coming from my ears. Perhaps my wrinkled old face bore a scornful look. I may even have been talking to myself.

Up to my driver’s window saunters Old Guy. I’m kinda old guy myself, of course, but this guy was a little older, and perhaps wiser. Perhaps further on the zen path than me.

“Please don’t block the launch area.” he says, in a sort of mild tone. I begin to respond with the tale of denied water access, and before I can get too worked up, I realize his statement was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I think he said it just loud enough and in the direction of the End-Run couple. Then he launched into a tale of how he’d been coming here for 30 years. Wasn’t this crowded when he started coming here. There were bear poles instead of bear safes (a 12-foot pole with a pulley, up which you would hoist your food at night to keep it from the bears). His friend would travel around the lake to the campsites with coolers of food, delivering to people who wanted to keep food (and bears) in the camp to a minimum. His voice was soft and smooth as he spoke. His reverence for the lake, the campsite, his joy at being here 30 years later, nearly beamed from his face. He kept me engaged and distracted as the End-Run gang ploddingly loaded their little car with belongings. I was waiting for him to reach out and place his hand on my forearm, as friends do, and was forced by circumstance and civility and a little awe-struck wonder to listen to the old man. To respond to his observations. “Really?” “Wow.” “No kiddin’?”

Just as Old Man is offering warm regards and taking his leave, the End-Run gang finishes their packing and adds the final insult. Leaving the car parked at the waterfront, they walk over and pick up a Forked Lake aluminum Grumman canoe, and carry it up to the rack. They didn’t even need to pick up a boat!

For hours afterward, the inconsiderate actions of the End-Run gang kept milling about in my head. Nearly ruined my ride home, one of my favorite parts of the trip. Driving through The Adirondack Park, hauling a boat, feeling and looking like the All-American sportsmen camper. I stopped at the Blue Mountain Lake Store to pick up a souvenir, a token gift for my wife, staying comfortably at home, and willing to tolerate my trips to childlike adventure with the boys in the woods.

The actions of the Old Man became clearer as I rode. He must have been an Armchair Zen master himself, no doubt. Clearly he could see I was frustrated or offended, he could see that animosity was brewing. He knew there was little point in addressing the End-Run gang. Maybe they’re not a lost cause, but certainly they would not accept commentary or criticism with a zen mind. More likely they might be confrontational, defensive. At any rate, they were not in a good place to learn a zen lesson, perhaps.

It’s my hope that Old Forked Lake Man could see. Perhaps he could see the light of my enlightenedness even when I was blind to it. Perhaps he could see that here is a person that may be able to benefit from a little redirection, and a moment to allow enlightened thought to re-enter my brain. Here is someone ready for a zen lesson.

He was right. I learned that I am but a child at the beginning of my zen walk. While I think of myself as far down the path of the way, I’m really still a construct of my life before the path. Before the age of 50 or so, before it occurred to me there was another way to view the cosmos and all that is in it. The lessons are obvious in hindsight.

Anger and judgment have no place on the path. So they were inconsiderate? Isn’t that judgement? So I was made to wait. Is anger the right response?

A place at peace

A place at peace

I will think of the End-Run Gang incident, and of the Old Man of Forked Lake often.

A peaceful place should be filled with peaceful people.

And don’t we ultimately want the whole world, the entire cosmos, to be a peaceful place?

Peace is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.

Thank you, Old Man.

I will study your lesson well, and hold it close to my heart.

 

Seek Peace,

 

Paz

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

Thanksgiving is under-rated

Thanksgiving doesn’t get the recognition it should.

Songs and greeting cards posit the unanswerable question: “Why can’t every day be like Christmas?”

The sentiment here is that folks observing the season of holidays act differently when they’re fulfilling Christmas wishes, following Hanukkah customs, or celebrating Ramadan.

“We’re more like the people we want to be.” is one way it’s put.

I say “Why can’t every day be like Thanksgiving?”

Why must we wait for once-a-year tidings to assess our tiny worlds and appreciate what we have?

Nearly every day is Thanksgiving for me. More, even, than Christmas.

While Christmas and other observances of the season are religious, there’s another side to the holidays. A side for those less zealous, or those whose beliefs do not follow those prescribed paths. It is a holiday of sharing joy, gifting others as a gesture of love or esteem.

“We’re all a little kinder, a little more patient.” come the descriptions. “We smile a little easier, we hold the door for someone, we say thank you more.”

For Thanksgiving, we gather together. We give ourselves and appreciate one another.

We may bring a pie, a jug of cider, or perhaps nothing more than greetings and smiles.

No cards needed. No gifts necessary. No tree in the house or symbolic candelabra.

At a traditional Thanksgiving, all gathered will sit still together. One, many, or all will recount that for which they are thankful. Sure, some kids will say “I’m thankful I made the football team.” or “I’m thankful I got an iPod.”

Most adults will (finally, after a long year) inventory those most precious things in our lives, and list them accordingly.

Our health. You, me, him & her. The number gathered this year. A table of food, if one is fortunate.

Some may even take the moment to notice that there are so many people in this world less fortunate. (Frankly, that’s putting it mildly & politely)

If you like movies of the season and a good laugh along with a heartfelt message, watch Bill Murray in Scrooged.

It’s a modern romp through Dickens’ famous tale of visitation by spirits upon a miserly curmudgeon without compassion.

In it, after Murray’s revelation, he tries to relate the elation of the season, and the compassion.

After observing how we act more like the people we want to be, he describes it as a miracle, and follows with a plea for action.

“Some people may be having trouble making their miracle happen.” We are admonished to reach out and help someone, feed someone, touch someone in a meaningful way.

———————–

All of these things are the things I chase every day, throughout my year. They are not relegated to holidays.

No, I’m not a saint. There are days when I forget to look for someone to help make their miracle happen. There are times when I forget what a beautiful world is spinning about me in an infinite beautiful universe. There are days when I inadvertently elevate myself and my tiny troubles to the status of important.

Thankfully, these days are fewer and fewer with each passing year.

A note to Elvis Presley, Gene Autry, Bobby Helms,  and so many others with the question on their lips:

Living, Breathing Angels

Living, Breathing Angels

Yes, every day can be like Christmas.

Better yet, every day can be like Thanksgiving.

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

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,

Paz

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,

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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