Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘understanding our childhood’


A reply to a young person’s post, looking ahead at their life. The idea is postulated that “age is in one’s mind”, and drew a reply including the statement “Age is simply not a significant number.”


Age is, indeed, a significant number.

It would be folly to deny this.

Can a newborn walk?

Can the eldest elder run like a child?

We must recognize and enjoy each year that comes to us. We must celebrate our energy and wonder and unbounded future of our youths.

We must stop and smell each and every rose during those wonder-filled years if one is blessed with children. Drink in every moment, tuck these memories into your heart.

We must be willing to relish the maturity of our age. To have a wondrous well of experiences and memories that add hue and tone to our every living moment.

To cherish those days remaining, knowing we are closer to the end of the trail than the beginning.

Age is a name for each book and chapter of your life. “Me, age 10”, “I go to School”, “Learning to Drive a Car”, “College Days”, “Time In Service”, “Marriage”, “My Children”, “Saying Goodbye to Mom”, “Life Filled with Wonder”, “Joy and Tears”, “Me, age 40”, “Me, age 50”.

Each volume is neatly stacked in the library of your mind.

What a fine and joyous thing it is to peruse my library.

To carefully select a volume, hold it in my hands, linger over the stories and illustrations.

One day, I shall fall off to sleep, reading…


Seek peace,



The Boy Within

Boy Me, ready for adventure

Boy Me, ready for adventure


You’ll never guess who I ran into this week. The boy within.

In Armchair Zen World, we follow a thought called Ring Theory. This says that as you grow, like a tree, your inner rings or younger years exist beneath the newer rings, the outer bark, your present age.

It’s sort of like that “inner child” thing that was popular philosophy in the 80’s and 90’s. I’m not sure what the pop philosophy was about, but I know I am the same person, within the same mind, as the me who was a boy long ago. I can still be as excited over a favorite toy or a rainbow or a shooting star or a fish on the line as I was then.

Boy Me suddenly popped into conscious reality one day recently. I suppose I may have conjured him up a bit as I posed the question “What would boy me think of now me?”.

Boy Me was very excited that we could drive a car, for instance. A dream of the future for a ten-year-old. Boy Me was astounded that we had so many wonderful grown-up toys we’d only imagined owning. A house, a car, a pickup truck, a fishing boat. More guitars than one person needs. And money! Money in my pocket, the freedom to spend it and the transportation to get to the store!

Grownup Me was a bit surprised. Grownup me had made the mistake of viewing his world from a rough patch of bark on the shadow side of the tree.

There are bills to pay. Work to be done, 60 hours a week dedicated to the prospect of bringing in enough money to pay the bills, hoping for no surprises. No end in sight to the treadmill, but a long upward climb to the end-phase, “retirement”. A future worry to worry about. Worry about how we’ll make money and spend money in a time that doesn’t even exist yet. A time whose conditions are entirely unknown, and could be better, worse, the same or non-existent by the time the human calendar and the endless clockworks arrive at that place.

There is rest to be had. Rest after work. Rest after dinner. Rest after resting. Rest up to go rest. There have been many years of working and mowing and painting and marrying-off children and burying friends and relatives. There have been decades of mortgage payments, nights in the emergency room, the decision to unplug life support. There have been cars stuck in the snow, stuck in the mud, stuck on the side of the road. There have been ruts in which I was stuck. Sometimes for years.

Boy Me was flabbergasted. Rest? Really? A house and land and money and a family and a car and a dog and so many wonderful things to be excited about, and all that can be imagined is rest? Are you kidding me?

Boy Me remembered being 10, 12, 15. Imagining someday. Someday had a house and land and a car and a family and a dog. Someday had money to spend, a fishing boat, a snowmobile, and time to enjoy them. Someday there would be grownup-ness, and I would be the decider. I would decide what time was bedtime, if there was to be any. I would decide what is good for me to eat or drink or how late I could have a snack or how many cookies were appropriate. I would decide if I would empty a candy dish in one sitting.

Imagined Someday would find me with the freedom to do as I please, within reason. To do as I see fit. To do, or not do if I so chose.

Grownup me was a little hesitant. A little grumpy. A little achy. A little tired. Worried about the weather for Sunday’s Leaf Pile Party. Worried about the approaching heating season. Buying gas, buying pellets. What if the combustion blower needs to be replaced this year?  There’s too much tired and worry and work and winter to be concerned with. Perhaps this is not a good time for childish thoughts.

Boy Me laughed. You grownups. You just don’t know when you’ve got it good, do you? From the perspective of the age of ten, I’d say you’ve achieved a place similar to a god, or perhaps a king. No one to tell you what to do but yourself. Thankfully, you still have all the functions you had as 10-year-old you. Arms and legs and eyes and lungs to go forth into the world, to read books, to select satellite channels, to buy gas for the mower, to haul in a smallmouth bass, to have lunch whenever and wherever you want.

Power tools and model airplanes and you don’t need anyone’s permission to use them!

It's good to be the king.

It’s good to be the king.

Sure, the whole having things and money and toys goes against the grain of eschewing wordly possessions, I suppose. Then again, this is Armchair Zen, not a temple.

Boy Me: What? You even have your own blog site and your own brand of philosophy?

Grownup Me: Well, yeah. It’s pretty easy when you’re a grownup.

Boy Me: But isn’t this exactly what we wished for as a child? To be able to have and do all these things? What are you waiting for? Let’s go play!!

Grownup Me: I, um. I thought there was something that prevented me from acting like a child…

Boy Me: Race you to the car!

Grownup Me: Bet I can be there first!


Be at peace,




Wonders in the Woods

To the Woods!

To the Woods!

Headed out into the Magic on this New Year’s Day with two of my favorite beings.

Of course my canine companion Chuy was the catalyst, and my grandson Max joined us in the 28-degree air. In my super-eager, always-ready grownup fashion, we were striding past the barn before I realized Max hadn’t any gloves, and was rather underdressed for an hour or two of outdoor play. Back to the house, and he donned my spare “jumpsuit”, some gloves, hat & scarf. Now we were ready. We headed up the runway to the rifle range, and at the crest of the hill Chuy crossed through the hedgerow to “The Widowmaker”, a big hayfield which has seen many radio-controlled airplane crashes, and has claimed the scale pretend lives of many scale pretend pilots.

“Can we go to the woods?” Max asked.

Inside my forced-order grownup brain, the responses line up:”Well, your dad is on the way over to pick up you and your sister. He might be here soon, and we don’t want to keep him waiting. It’s a bit of a hike over the hill, and I hadn’t planned on it. And it’s pretty cold.”

What came out of my mouth: “Sure we can!

As we walked the treeline atop the Widowmaker, a sudden thunder exploded nearby on our left. In a flurry of wingbeats, a ruffed grouse made its escape, placing trees and distance between it and us. “Partridge!”, Max declared. “Never saw him.”, I replied.  As we entered the hardwood stand, the ground before us was free of snow, a blanket of tan, brown and bleached leaves carpeted the forest floor, ankle-deep and noisy.

“Which do you like better, winter or summer?” Max inquired.

This was met with a lengthy response about all the things there are to love about summer, followed by all the things to love about winter, a circling and recircling diatribe that ended where we started, without a real direct answer to the direct question. The summary was a vague “there are so many things to enjoy in both seasons, one precluded from the other, resulting in sort of a tie.”

As we walked through the woods, the ground seemed to crumble beneath our feet often. The sensation was one of walking on foot-deep piles of saltine crackers. A crunching sound followed by our boots sinking 3 or four inches into the humus. We stooped for a closer look. Upon examination, we found most of the ground to yield crystal structures rising six inches out of the soil.

“Crystals.”, I marveled, to which my companion replied “Are they valuable?”

Crystals of the Forest

Crystals of the Forest

This lead to a dissertation about the definition of crystals, crystalline structures, common types of crystals, and their definitions as common, semi-precious and precious gems. I theorized about the formation of these dirty glass ice crystal structures. We had a warm spell, and some rain, followed by a dip into temperatures well below freezing. Water evaporating from the ground met freezing air, and the crystals formed.

Dirt Diamonds

Dirt Diamonds

“Can we go look at the creek?” was Max’s next request.

Again, my brain tickled through a file of grownup reasons why we might not, followed by the exclamation “Sure!”.On the way we saw some interesting tree-ear formations, and I stopped to take a photo.

“They look more like tree noses.” said Max, and I agreed.

Tree Noses

Tree Noses

At the Little Beaver Creek, ice rimmed both sides of the frigid, flowing water. We stepped on the ice at the bank and it crunched underfoot. Then we had to throw rocks onto the ice on the opposite shore, trying to break through. The rocks were frozen into the ground on the creek banks, and we had to kick them to free them from their resting places. Three million years it took that rock to get there, and suddenly in one day it moves 20 feet. Changing the course of geological history, we pelted the ice to no avail.

Max vs. Ice

Max vs. Ice

Along the North Loop trail we came across a shotshell wad, and Max narrated last weekend’s rabbit hunting.

“I was here,” he began, taking his position and holding his arms in shotgun-wielding formation, “and Pierce was over there.” Max gestured to the other side of a tangle of brush. “He called ‘Are you ready, Max?’, and kicked the brush. The rabbit went right through here,” a sweeping arc of the arm, indicating the bunnies course, “and BAM! BAM! I shot twice, but missed him.”

Conservation of angular momentum is the cosmic force brought to bear on objects circling other objects in space, the push & pull, the yin and yan of gravity versus centrifugal force resulting in an orbit. Some orbits are close, such as that of our moon. Some orbits are millions and millions of miles long, often ellipses, hanging a tight turn around their gravitational anchor, then sling-shotting off into the far reaches of solar systems and galaxies. Objects moving through space are affected by the pull of the objects they pass. Sometimes ever-so-slightly altering their course by degrees over millennia. In other cases, objects are drawn close, and the cosmic dance begins between host and satellite, and the once-free and boundless travelers become residents, orbiting moons or rings of debris.

My days and times with my grandchildren affect me in similar ways. I am pulled from the ultra-ordered, prepared-for-retirement, insured-for-everything, time-honored traditions of middle-aged American patriarchs, and drawn back into the world of wonder, the endless hours of childhood. To walk almost aimlessly, to stop and identify every type of scat. To play at edges from which grownups recoil. Throwing rocks onto ice, skirting the near-freezing water without cares, without worries of “what would happen if…?”

What would happen if we fell into the swiftly-moving current, plunging muscles and lungs into 34-degree water wearing 10 pounds of clothes?

“It would be a bad thing if Chuy went into the creek and couldn’t get back out.” Max observed, as the old dog approached the banks of the Little Beaver Creek. It was a parallel of too-grownup thought, the same things I am thinking about the boy. The boy on the brink of becoming a man. Let’s not hurry that, okay? Let’s have another year, another winter, another walk in the woods, where you are a child of Neverland, and worries are unwelcome. A place and time before you set out on that endless highway of adulthood. Before you fall into the traps, reading the road signs “What would happen if…?

“He’ll be fine.” I answer casually, carefully concealing the legitimacy of his concern. “Not likely to happen.”

Max the meteor streaks past Grandfather planet. I am pulled toward him by the unseen forces, trying to hold him.

He pulls back, as a glorious tail stretches out across the cosmos, hurtling by me at phenomenal speed.

My orbit affected, I reach out with my own unseen force, and try to grab that tail.

Max Meteor

Max Meteor

Be at peace,






It’s not for everybody

Wonder years


We are each products of our upbringing. Our lives to this point, mostly shaped during our early childhood and wonder years, and continually built upon each day until now. (see “Ring Theory”, ACZ Archives, February 2011)

 In my line of work, that day job I have to support my life in this Techno-Monetary society, to pay for things like this blog site, we deal with a number of skills. Our jobs are half technical, half construction, half art and half people-business (sort of paraphrasing Yogi Berra). Some of the folks that try just don’t make the cut, and I tell them “it’s not for everybody”. It takes a unique set of skills and the ability to handle some difficult aspects of the job, such as frequent overnight travel.

 The same can be said of Armchair Zen, or perhaps any number or all manner of philosophies, behaviors or outlooks. Someone wrote to me once and said something to the effect of “I don’t need to practice a certain belief to feel at peace, you just get there.” Well, I won’t argue with that, because that’s their belief, but I know in my case it took many years and a lot of introspection and self-imposed amateur cognitive behavioral therapy, and I’m still not done, I’m sure. If it wasn’t for a number of triggers and some writings of sages, I may never have tried to seek the path of peace.

 Still, just like sushi or football, it’s not for everybody. It seems some people are comfortable in their anger or hostility towards the world, or they feel helpless and overwhelmed, drowning in their negativity. I can’t understand some of it, but it almost appears that they like being angry or bummed-out or suffering all the time.

 Much of that could be considered attention-seeking behavior, and some of it is clearly defensive. It seems some people like or need to be at the center of things, and they draw attention with their tales of woe, worry and angst. It seems some people have a hard, often aggressive and verbally defensive exterior, and I can’t help but think it’s a lot of hooey covering up a great deal of insecurity.

 Many times I have tried to work with someone in one of these states, pouring buckets of Armchair Zen over their heads, hoping to save them from their worries, save them from themselves, essentially. I’ve noted how often there is no suggestion that can help them, no way out of their dilemma. That’s when I say “Clearly you don’t want to consider any other options here, as it would interfere with your suffering.

 In his book Illusions, author Richard Bach wrote a bit that I have adopted and used for the past 35 years or so, to wit: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they are yours.”

 So I’m partial to introspective philosophy, self-scrutiny, and all the rest that makes up Armchair Zen. It doesn’t mean I have to move to Tibet and give away all my worldly possessions. (Though strangely I see monks with cell phones on TV…hmm) It just seems to me that CHOOSING to think in certain ways, KNOWING why we think or feel certain things, QUESTIONING if this is the me I’d imagined for myself, and PRACTICING that which I think is in harmony with the cosmos is a smarter way to go.

 But, you know, it’s not for everybody.

 Be at peace,


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.


The Long Path vs. The Daily Grind

Finding our place in the universe, in nature, helps us to feel the transitory nature of all things. We get so concerned with the societal and cultural elements in our lives that it’s difficult to remember that for most of us, whatever we did here will make little or no difference in a hundred years.

It can really be liberating to get to a place, literally sometimes, where we can feel how tiny and alone we are in the universe.

Day-to-day we must go to work, wash our clothes, feed our families. We become entrenched in the stage play that is our modern world, and that often makes us think in small ways. Today, tomorrow, the next ten minutes,dealing with this pain or paying that bill are real stressors in our lives, and it takes considerable amounts of concentration to get these things into perspective.

When I lose sight of the path, the long road, the universe as it existed before I lived and will exist long after I’m gone, my thoughts and emotions become short-sighted, immediate.

It’s only when I think of the long road that I can reign in this accursed brain. That I can stop to think that there are others worse off, with greater stresses, immediate dangers, fear, hunger, pain. Being five minutes late for work, being broke until payday, having a headache— when I let these things occupy my mind’s space like shiny trinkets I can’t take my eyes from, life suddenly becomes shorter, more complicated, sometimes downright annoying.

When I stop to truly see, I realize that these passing moments will be meaningless before I know it. What is more meaningful?

Being kind to my wife, children, co-workers, not allowing these transient annoyances to make me short-tempered or intolerant of them, to remember that these are among the greatest beauties in my life.

Seeking the solemnity and beauty of natural places, the walk after work or even envisioneering, where I visualize these inspiring places and moments. These places help me to see that the world, the universe, is entirely unaffected by the things in my tiny life, and I am indeed a part of this universe. If I was spit out of the universe right now, it would carry on without missing a beat.

Remembering that I live on a rock that is hurtling through space at a rate of 130 miles a second. Every moment is good fortune.

Remembering to be the me I imagine myself to be. One that is kind, compassionate, serving and sympathetic, because I feel in my heart that these are the highest callings for the use of this brain and this time on the planet.

We face these choices every moment of every day. To be agitated or accepting. To be judgemental or forgiving. To be a taker or a giver. In a way, the path is a selfish one, in that I seek understanding and enlightenment so that I may be at peace.

In another way, by example or action, it is a selfless path, as I seek my own peace by wishing peace for others, by sharing the bottomless well of love.

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.


%d bloggers like this: