They say that a gallon of milk costs $15 US in Alaska.
People decry the cost of living so far north.
Inuits lived here for 25,000 years without ever seeing a dairy cow.
Use your head for something more than a hat rack.
They say that a gallon of milk costs $15 US in Alaska.
People decry the cost of living so far north.
Inuits lived here for 25,000 years without ever seeing a dairy cow.
Use your head for something more than a hat rack.
“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 benefitting 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.
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,
I am the Lightkeeper.
I claim no special skill or training.
I did not build the lighthouse, or the light.
It is my duty, my responsibility, to keep the lamp lit
For those whom I have not met and may never meet.
I am not a sailor.
Don’t know how to hoist the mainsail or tack to the west.
I am not a whaler.
Have never thrown the harpoon, know nothing of the harvest of oil.
I am not a shipwright.
Can’t calculate her draft or build a transom.
I am not the Captain.
Cannot plot our course or stare down the dangers.
I know only darkness pierced by the beacon.
I know this craggy point like the lines on my face.
I know the high and low tides, the summer storms, winter’s fury.
I know the cries of the shipwrecked, calling into the night.
I know of rocky shores and the ocean’s rage.
I know of smashed and abandoned skeletons
Of ships piloted by
Those that did not see.
Did not see the shore.
Did not see the waves crashing and foaming at the bluff.
Did not see the light.
“Here! Here is the light!” I shout at the
Top of my lungs only to have my calls
Drowned out by the roaring surf.
I am only the lightkeeper.
Despite my bellowing and tears
I cannot save those
That will not see the light.
I cry at the dawn, as I douse the light,
For those that will never see it.
Couldn’t we shine?
I’m rolling all my Golden Moments into one.
Gonna shine like the sun,
One last summer day.
Shine like the lighthouse,
One last summer night.
“Lighthouse” – James Taylor
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,
How Exciting! Dan and Fiona of 360exposure have nominated ACZ for a Sunshine Blogger Award!
Thanks Dan & Fiona, your gesture is genuinely appreciated.
Rules of the Sunshine Blogger Award:
Dan & Fiona’s questions:
What made you start blogging?
I’ve always enjoyed writing; poetry, songs, radio comedy. I’ve also written journals for many years, sort of a diary. A blog seemed like a logical next step. Like many, at first I thought I was framing up a book, but then the blog community stole my heart.
If money was no object, what would you do?
I’d spend much of my time in service to others. Refugees of war-torn countries, VISTA stuff, Veterans, the blind and illiterate, and animals.
What do you prefer Marine or Terrestrial environments?
As a terrestrial mammal raised on Terra Firma, I like dry land. I love water’s beauty and value, but I’m a little uncomfortable in an environment where I can’t see things that are big enough to eat me.
If you were kind and you knew then what you know now. Would you have chosen a different profession and what would it be?
As dichotomous as it sounds, if I could do it again I’d probably be a monk or a drill sergeant.
Do you prefer sweet or savory?
Sweet all the way.
If you could save one animal on the planet which animal would it be?
Dogs. Selfish, I know, but it’s my answer. Don’t get me started on dogs…
Favourite music genre and/or band?
Not sure what you’d call it, but it would be Rickie Lee Jones.
If you could earn a salary from blogging, would you do it?
For legitimate publishing, yes. Not as a vendor or tech support or anything.
What are your views and thoughts on global population numbers.
This question may be too big for me. There are a lot of people and there must be a limit of some kind. Quite honestly, in my true Armchair Zen heart I don’t think humans are the best thing for this planet. Maybe it sounds a little crazy, but frankly the planet would be better off without them (or perhaps a total world population of a million or two). My eye to the cosmos says our little globe will be glad when they’re gone.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to a foreign country where would you go to?
I live in New York State, the northeast United States, not far from the confluence of two famous rivers; the Hudson, named for Hendrick who landed here in 1609, and the Mohawk, made famous by the tales of James Fennimore Cooper. If I was forced to move I’d go to Canada, but then our neighbors and our countries are quite similar. Otherwise, in a total fantasy answer, maybe Australia.
When was the last time you spent the entire day without your cellphone and/or iPad?
Every year I have the great privilege of camping at Forked Lake in the wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains. There are no cell towers in the High Peaks region, and therefore I have a perfect excuse to leave the phone in the car. It is the most peaceful time of my entire year.
My nominees for the Sunshine Blogger Award are as follows:
Rabbit Patch Diary (rabbitpatchdiary.com)
Brian and Lily (lilyandardberg.wordpress.com)
By India Blue (indiablue.co.uk)
Whippet Wisdom (whippetwisdom.com)
Mrs. Twinkle (mrs-twinkle.com)
Cancer Killing Recipe (cancerkillingrecipe.me)
My Zen City (myzencity.com)
Dhamma Footsteps (dhammafootsteps.com)
Catwoods Porch Party (catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com)
Fun Wunderlust (funwunderlust.wordpress.com)
My questions for the nominees:
How do you come to be a blogger?
Tell us a bit about where you live.
What other creative talents or outlets do you have, besides your blog?
If you could send a text to everyone in the world simultaneously, what would you say?
How would you describe humankind to an alien that knows nothing of humans?
What, in your opinion, is the most important or valuable invention of modern man?
What attributes of your favorite season do you most admire?
What is your earliest childhood memory?
In what ways do you now differ from the person you thought you’d be when you were a teenager?
Who has been an inspiration or hero in your life?
If you could be a different species, what would it be?
Thanks again to Dan & Fiona at 360exposure. This has been an honor, and a lot of fun!
The wisdom of Chuy The Wonderdog
To have a Friend,
You must first be one.
We build these castles of sand
With those we love,
With our favorite companions,
Though we know our constructs are to be
Reclaimed by the eternal tides,
The joyful feet of passing children,
The loyal paws of joggers’ dogs.
The joy is in the building.
Several lives ago,
drenched in myself,
wrapped in myself like an onion,
I followed the dark clouds,
And built a life on lies.
Lies are not sustainable,
and the construct collapsed
in on me
and those I love.
When the clouds cleared,
I was naked before the universe,
dowsed in sin.
This would be my drive
for thirty years
to sponge away this mark,
Time passes and
three lives later
I am not
The Same Man.
Those born since
and those walking alongside
and those that “know me”
do not know
or may not remember.
But from behind these eyes
there is hardly ever a day
I don’t look out through
stains and scars,
shading my vision.
You look and see me.
As I look in the mirror
I may as well have
a red “L” tattooed
on my forehead.
Someday, when I die,
there may be those that do not know,
and there may be some who will cry.
Sweet ones, do not cry.
The world has not lost,
but has expunged
Getting a haircut at the Schuyler Barber Shop. Mia has been here the last couple of years, and we have that familiarity one develops with their barber.
“So, any New Year’s resolutions?” Mia asked. “Mine is losing weight. I packed on a few pounds this year.”
“Not really any New Year’s resolutions.” I replied. “I started a long time ago to just add one thing each year. Practice it and keep it. Things like shaking hands. Reaching out and shaking hands “hello”, “goodbye” or “thank you”. Like looking folks in the eye when we’re conversing. Deciding to be the person that always lets the other go ahead, in traffic, in the checkout line, at entrances and exits.”
“That’s a cool idea.” Mia commented. Then I stopped talking to listen to her. Another “resolution” of years past. She talked of her engagement, of her daughter’s absentee father, whatever else was current and interesting.
“You know how everyone says “Why can’t every day be like Christmas?”, and “Why can’t we be as thankful as we are on Thanksgiving, throughout the year?”, I asked, rhetorically.
“That’s me.” I stated. “I try to live every day like Thanksgiving and Christmas in one. To see beauty in the everyday world around us. To remember the only really important things in this life are the people we cherish. To give whenever possible and take as little as needed. To remember that each day is a gift with something wonderful in it, if you’ll just open your eyes to truly see.”
As it turns out, every day can be like Christmas, and for me it is.
I realized only recently that I have achieved a certain plateau. Perhaps I climbed right past the summit? (an old MST3K joke)
I found myself driving home in congested traffic after a long day at work, smiling like the proverbial village idiot, for no reason other than being happy to be here.
In each exchange of every day, I found my “me2” subconscious coaching me. What’s the best outcome for all parties? What is the honorable, noble, kind-hearted way to approach the situation? What’s the most caring toward the people involved? What would Buddha do? How would Jesus handle this? What would a cowboy do?
I am following all the “cowboy rules”: Cowboys don’t drink, smoke or swear (still need to be vigilant on the last one!).
Cowboys are kind to children, the aged, and animals.
Cowboys don’t shirk the hard stuff. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” When you stand up, to speak for those that can’t speak for themselves, when you stand your ground on ethics, morals, forgiveness and loving-kindness, when you stand beside those who have fallen, you may find you stand alone.
With right mind, an inner peace, a sense of belonging in the cosmos, speaking truth, I will stand my watch until the time comes for me to return to the earth from which I was made.
In the meantime, it’s a beautiful ride through a wondrous world, and I am drinking in every moment.
May peace and good fortune follow you each day through this New Year, and each new year after.
An old Irish saying: May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.