Thinking of the
Great Cosmic Game Clock.
Thinking of the
Great Cosmic Game Clock.
“Getting back to the roots” of Armchair Zen, so to speak. This post was originally published in May, 2011.The mighty oak from the tiny acorn grows.
This old adage seems to reflect a wonder and reverence for this amazing feat.
I love trees, I really do. I could easily personify them, impune them with human attributes, worship them as spirits. Something about a tree, standing firm and tall in the same place, day in, day out, year ’round…it brings a sense of stability, longevity, solidity, groundedness.
I like to subscribe to what I call Tree Philosophy, or Tree Attitude. So many things in our lives appear to be a conspiracy of circumstances, the times we live in, where we live, the way we live, with whom we live. Choices we made back in…when? Things we shoulda woulda or coulda done.
My grandfather always told me “Take shoulda, woulda and coulda in one hand, and a nickel in the other, and see which one will buy you a donut.”
Trees waste no time on such worries. A little tree seed plants its first tendrils into the soil—and is committed! From day one, that tree is going to live or die, stand or fall, right on that very same spot.
I like to imagine trees thinking about that. “I’m going to be the best tree I can right here, where I am, working with what I have.”
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from President Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” That is, after all, a description of our entire lives, really, isn’t it? We are where we are, there’s no denying that. We must work with what we have, be it employment, a dwelling, our people, money, transportation, brain power, energy or spirit. And doing the best we can within these parameters is all we can do.
For philosophers such as President Roosevelt and myself, this means we don’t throw in the towel just because the odds are stacked against us, the task is overwhelming, or we’re short on assets, even if tasked with great challenges or the seemingly impossible. It also means recognizing that there are limits to what we can do, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for being unable to do more.
I imagine a tree’s life is similar, but to the greatest extent. Tree doesn’t agonize over location. Perhaps prospects for success might be better elsewhere. Perhaps the climate is something humans would want to escape. Perhaps the very home of Tree is in a precarious place, on the side of a cliff, at the edge of an eroding riverbank, or at the last edge of the tree line, far up a tall mountain. Tree can’t move, but can only hang on and throw all of its efforts into the present.
Neither can Tree do anything about the changes in its life. Perhaps it’s struck by lightning, maybe loses a limb or suffers damage to its trunk. Perhaps humans come along and saw pieces off. Maybe its roots are immersed “knee-deep” in water during a flood season, or a drought season makes survival difficult.
If Tree is an evergreen, it will keep it’s needles as it goes into a dormant season. Granted, I have wished more than once that I could have a dormant season for myself, to rest and recuperate from the rigors of my own seasons, storms, lightning, chain saws, floods and blizzards. If Tree is deciduous, it will awaken, depending where Tree lives, sometime between February and May. As it stretches its limbs to the sky, it gets down to the business at hand: budding, developing and flowering. Sounds a bit like our lives again, doesn’t it? For its season, however long it may be (and without groaning that it is either too short or too long) Tree will produce thousands of leaves, each one a near-perfect copy of the others. For pines, tens of thousands, maybe millions of needles. Year one, year 50, year 200, Tree goes right on doing what it is born to do, producing those leaves or needles, growing when the conditions are right, and resting when it is necessary.
Tree will keep up the good fight, no matter what, and will try until defeat and death. As it is with all living things (and, in fact all things in the universe on its grand scale), eventually there is an end. I like to imagine Tree retiring. “I’m going to lay down, right here, next to the rest of you.” At that time, Tree is okay with this end, whether it is after 5 years or 500. Call it destiny, call it nature, call it the randomness of the universe, the circle of all things.
Saplings can be heard all around “Good job, Tree, and thank you for your silent service. You have been a fine example of patience and perseverance. A great neighbor in our community, shading the tender shoots and plants at your base, welcoming, with open limbs, the wildlife; squirrels, chipmunks, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, wasps, and anything else that came to you seeking refuge, a home, safety, security, something meaningful and solid that we can know and understand and rely on.”
Even after death, Tree remains an influence. Flora and fauna of certain types will flourish thanks to Tree’s legacy. The many generations growing around Tree will look on, seeking and seeing the testimony to its determination, learning and benefiting from the example, and the knowledge that Tree stood by them, and gave selflessly whenever called upon to do so.
I don’t need riches, recognition or immortality. If my life, and its own end, can be to any degree worthy of Tree’s example, I too will be able to lay down in peace, and return to the earth from which I came.
Be at peace.
You do have the power.
You can prevent this
From finding you.
June 28th is my birthday. Day 21,185 this year.
It’s so easy to let days slip past, one at a time, and before you know it, you’ve blown through your whole allotment of around 25,000 (based on an average life expectancy).
Living longer and adding days is an odd dichotomy, at least for me.
I look back through my treasured moments and find them invaluable.
And each day offers me more.
I look back on those black marks on some of those 21,000-plus days, and quickly dispel the thought of anticipating more.
Some things simply should not be thought of.
I’ve been in a bit of a slump for a while.
Work has been a grind. Life has been a challenge, squeezing in time for joy has become difficult.
The loss of my 15-year canine partner in this walk of life hit me hard, and I’m a little surprised that it still weighs on me so after 11 months.
Still, rarely a day goes by that I don’t remember something about him that makes me laugh out loud.
Theodore Geisel (known to most as Dr.Seuss) says, in OH! The Places You’ll Go!, “Unslumping oneself is not easily done.”
On balance, this life and this world are beautiful and precious. Moments are forged daily.
At times like this, it’s more important than ever to remain focused on seeking the joy in life’s simplest pleasures.
I’ll close with a poem which has appeared here before, but bears repeating.
It seems as though we’ve just watched
The last of the snow fade.
Now we count the growing grass,
Blade by blade.
We await hummingbirds, tanagers,
The peony’s first blooms.
We can open our windows (during the day, at least),
In our rooms.
Summer solstice brings promise,
Today the day is long.
We turn to see the rose’s bloom and…
June is gone.
Seek peace (and simple joys always),
This journal entry was originally posted in 2012.
It seemed worth repeating.
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,
It is a Sunday morning in July.
I look out the window through a gentle rain upon the green field.
A blackbird rummages about, bobbing its head.
This is what the bulk of our lives are made of.
Cherish every moment.
It is a Sunday morning in February.
I look out the window through snow falling silently upon fields of white.
A cardinal lights.
One of the greatest joys and comforts of life
Is to have someone you trust implicitly.
Hang on tight to them as long as you can.
Make it mutual.
– Chuy The Wonderdog
I’m going to invent and implement a new casual salutation.
Instead of “good afternoon”, “good night”, “good evening” (and especially replacing :Have A Nice Day!”) I’m going to say “Good Gift!”.
Each day is a gift. A magic moment in time. Each a thing of singular beauty and a work of art. Each one a finite resource.
This is hardly a new concept. It goes back at least as far as Horace’s famous “Carpe Diem”, or “seize the day”.
Really there’s more to it than just “seizing the day”. Great advice, but this puts the onus on You. You are charged with the responsibility to grab the opportunity to DO. You are admonished to “quam minimum credulo postero”, don’t count on the future or wait ’til tomorrow.
“Good Gift” simply reminds you to enjoy this day, this gift. To appreciate its rarity. It’s not necessary to be super-productive, take advantage of every moment, put minimum credence in tomorrow or even live in the now moment.
Enjoying The Gift relies on simple awareness. It can be as little and basic as seeing the sunset, remarking the morning star, or breathing deep and marveling at the smell of snow in the air.
Here on the Armchair Zen Tick Ranch, it often means taking the time to take those long walks with our ever-present Wonderdog Chuy (as often as not followed by Doone the Cat, who may think she’s a dog). Perhaps we’ll shoot a few photos of the trail.
Sometime’s it’s just taking notice of the simple wonderous treasures we encounter in our everyday lives.
The taste of fresh morning coffee. The thrill and chill of frost on the windshield.
The morning show, as the sun climbs its way over the horizon. Sometimes muted, overcast and gray. Sometimes blazing red, with spires shooting skyward for miles. Sometimes cool, clear, bright and blue, perhaps a few glistening flakes of snow.
There’s a load of little faces peering out the windows of the bright yellow school bus. Some are excited to get to their first grade holiday party or work on their Science Fair project. Others, older kids, are lost in thought, preparing for or worrying about the big test of the day.
There’s a flock of geese flying parallel to the highway. We can clock their amazing airspeed: 55 miles an hour. We can wonder where they’ve come from, where they’re going. Perhaps Hudson Bay on Sunday, The St. Lawrence on Wednesday, fly over Engleville Friday on the way to the Chesapeake Bay and beyond to Mexico.
There are small triumphs: Making it to payday with the coin jar money. Not smoking cigarettes for another day. Not getting agitated by traffic. Remembering to value the gift. Updating my blog. Accepting whatever the day brings with an Armchair Zen calm. A small kindness, given or received.
There’s the Chipping Sparrow, a tiny delicate glimpse of nature’s beauty, hopping around the stack of skids and the dumpsters at work.
There’s the hole in the sky, bringing a bright yet brief spotlight of sun into the middle of a dull, overcast, gray day.
There’s the taste of lunch. A smile from a friend. A handshake hello or thank you. There’s the voice of your loved ones on the phone.
The chance to send a surprise gift to someone. Laughter.
Feeding the cat. Loading the woodstove. Dinner. My comfy chair. A warm home.
A place and time where I feel content and loved. A soft bed.
And before I know it, another Gift is done. Another wonderous day of seizing and seeing. Another one-of-a-kind work of art, the likes of which the world will never see again.
“Thanks for the great Gift!” we say to the cosmos. I lay me down to sleep with the excitedness of a child on Christmas Eve.
I can’t wait to open tomorrow’s gift!
Good Gift to all!
And for those following the Julian calendar, Happy New Year!
Along the south end of our property, where the nature trail begins, there is a little respite I call The Grotto. It’s a little crook off the trail, beneath the shade of a forty-five foot sugar maple, surrounded by Concord grape vines, vetch, hops and bridal veil vines. To the south, the Grotto is open to the treeline between our house and the next. A rivulet lazily drains the area, though it remains moist and swampy most of the year. In the summer, the evaporation of the rivulet cools the air, which settles and gathers in the Grotto, a natural air conditioner.
Within there is a little seat, a bench made of two lengths of chimney-liner. It is here that I’ll sit briefly and drink in the nature’s bounty all around, or in the winter, imagine the days of summer when the cool Grotto air will be a welcome relief at the end of a hot and humid day afield. The floor is presently covered with last year’s leaf-fall. Typically it would be mowed, once required by the growing season. This year, we’re watching to see how long this humus-enriching layer will take to decay. In the meantime, it makes a nifty carpet, with the crunchy sounds of fall.
When we bought the ranch 30 years ago, I remember looking at that little maple tree, located at the far edge of the property, an island in a field tilled for corn. It was probably not more than fifteen or twenty feet tall. Maybe aged as many years. “One day that will be a big majestic maple, like the aged ones along the road frontage.” I recall saying.
For the first ten or fifteen years I hardly noticed the growth. A long process that stretched out into my future, one of those “someday” things. From time to time, while mowing or walking the trail, I’d stop to admire the tree. Like the Johnny Goldsboro song, it was getting big.
Here it is, it’s “someday” now. The tree towers over the corner of the ranch, a spread of 30 or 40 feet, shading the cool Grotto and inundating it with autumn leaves in their many colors. With no less than five main trunks, it has grown into a beautiful and admirable specimen.
It’s fascinating and humbling to think of our maples. The ones along the road frontage are huge, 60-footers, with trunks so big it takes more than two people to stretch arms around them. One was brutally trimmed by the power company, but is otherwise healthy. Several more form the treeline, and I must imagine when Lowe’s were building this house, they selected a few saplings that were in the right place and said “These can stay.”.
I imagine the new home owners (in 1906), looking out those round-top windows and saying “That little maple sapling will be a fine specimen one day.”
The Lowe’s are long dead, and I now love and revere the trees they left for me. I look at the Grotto maple and realize that indeed today is my “someday”, and here this gorgeous tree stands just as I had imagined thirty years ago.
It’s a comforting thought, within the circle of life, that I may watch this tree grow and enjoy it, then leave it behind for others that follow.
Sort of a “hand across time” to the future, tied irrevocably to the past.
And those huge 125-year-olds out front?
I suspect they’ll be here long after me as well, to look after the next family that moves in, to provide shade, maple sap, autumn leaf piles.
And they will spy a little sapling…
This is the first in a 3-part journal entry, followed by The Storm Approaches and culminating with The Storm Strikes. -Paz
Forked Lake, Adirondack Mountains.
I grew up in “The Park”, and after living 50 miles south of it for 30 years, it still feels like home. The Adirondack Park is so big you could put Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Glacier National Parks inside it, and have 800,000 acres left over! Of the remaining large, intact tracts of land areas, the Adirondacks ranks among the top three globally.
Two hours on the main road, a couple miles on the secondary road, another mile on the dirt road and we’re at the lake. Then we load our boat, The AquaMarie, with camping and fishing gear, and ply the waters to reach our camp site.
There’s no road to the camp, not even a logging road. On the south shore of the lake, there’s a foot trail that leads to camp sites on that side. Around the north shore, where Joe & Bowin camped, there isn’t even a foot trail. Like the original Adirondack frontiersmen, French Louie & Trapper John, if you can’t cross this lake you’re bushwhacking over a mountain to get out of here.
And leave the cell phone in the car. The High Peaks Region is one of those rare remaining respites from cell towers and signal. We are truly off the grid now.
As a kid, my dad would pack us all (our dog Buddy included) into his boat, The Honey Doll, and we’d pitch camp on Scout Island on the Sacandaga Lake for a couple of weeks in August.
Camping on an island was great fun as a kid and teen. Like Robinson Crusoe, but with tents and outboard motors. Now here I am, four decades later, boating to our camp site with my son, Ryan. This place is so much more remote. The lake is an ancient vestige of the last ice age, its water is clear as glass, and it is bound by rocky shores. There are no sandy beaches. While it reaches depths of 40 feet at its deepest, there are boulders strewn about in the water. No water-skiing, big power boats or jet skis here. The boat launch can barely handle our little fourteen-foot Magnum fishing boat.
We started this annual thing, Joe & I, as a “Camporee”, inviting folks from work to join us for an off-site get together. The first year we had a good turnout, a half-dozen campers and some day visitors on Saturday, enjoying a wood fire and grilled foodstuffs. That was when we held the Camporee at Moffitt’s Beach, where you can drive your air-conditioned SUV right up to the “driveway” of your camp site. You can “rough it” in a tent, pitched alongside the pop-ups, travel trailers and RV’s.
Since moving the Camporee to the remote and desolate Forked Lake, it’s been down to the true core of adventure-seeking wilderness lovers; Joe & his son Bowin, Me and my son Ryan, and our dear friend Sparky. It’s become something of an intimate affair, all the more special because the experience is shared by just the few of us.
We’ve lived, however briefly, like a little tribe out in the piney woods. We caught fish to feed the clan. We visited each other’s camps for dinners and breakfasts. Joe & Bowin fishing from their Tracker, Ryan & I on The AquaMarie, we’d catch up to and pass one another during the day, sharing fish hot spots and sporting our catches.
During the day, it’s outdoor sporting at its best. Boats and fishing. A contest for first, largest and most fish. One appreciates the lack of phones ringing, televisions playing, lawnmowers running, cars & trucks passing. It takes a little while for the brain to adjust. There are chores at camp, but few real responsibilities. No gardens to water, no houses to paint, no stairs to build, no dog to feed.
As the day draws to a close, we make dinner plans. Tonight at Joe’s camp, tomorrow at ours. Joe is serving up loose meat sandwiches, cooked over a wood fire in a cast iron Dutch oven. It’s a mix of venison, some pork, and a ground-up leftover hamburger from lunch. Is it the air, the activity, or the lack of a fridge and pantry to raid that makes all food taste so much better when camping? Served simply on rolled bread, your hand as the plate, it was the best thing I’d tasted all day.
After dinner it was probably around nine o’clock (I have no time piece with me. We tell time by the position of the sun when we’re in the bush!). Ryan and I boarded the AquaMarie and turned on the running lights, and made our way across the lake under a full moon.
Back at our camp, Ryan and I found that Sparky had arrived late (hitherto he was MIA, and we wondered if he’d make it this year). Following our best homo habilis manners, we started a roaring fire and commenced to stare at it for several hours. Loons on the lake let out their calls between dives. Across the water, the sounds carry from other camps. As the moon raced across the sky, the sounds and the visible camp fires dwindled until all fell silent.
Bed time, and tomorrow is a full day in camp.
It would be the best rest of this year.
Next chapter: The Storm Approaches
Be at peace,