Thursday, September 29, 2011


Peeking around the corner down the hall,
you see the fog building
beyond the glass.

Thank God
             you left the window open!

Even the air wants to slake
your thirst, to keep the clay of you moist.
You have to help.

Sitting still is how clay finds itself
as one thing— a jug, a sculpture—
and nothing else;

a mere surface,
most of its self trapped
in the middle-dark— useless.

Open the window more.
Walk barefoot and naked out the door
into the cloud-hidden.

You don’t need answers,
             you need wonder.
Bewilderment is the instinct of the spirit.
Be wilder still.

All the world is waiting
to shatter— mountain to sand, star to cinder,
bright bodies back to ash,

but the fog outside is thickening,
and the questions are waiting
for you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Inward to the Center

The number of man was said to be six, because man was created on the sixth day, after the whole physical world had been made; it is out of that world he was created. And any point in the physical world can be described by using the six directions: up, down, left, right, front, back. In mathematics they use the x, y, and z axes and it’s the same thing. But six is not the "final" or holy number, seven is; seven points towards God. The seventh is his day. But why? Because there is a seventh direction in addition to the six. For lack of a better term I call it “inward,” but you have to be careful here. if you walk into a room, inwards towards the center, you are still moving in one or more of the six directions, say, diagonally forward and a little to one side. What I’m talking about is something else, something, you might say, that is outside of three dimensional space.

Here is what I mean, a particularly fitting example. A doctor conducting brain surgery can look through his patient’s brain for a lifetime and never find a thought, never see an emotion. He can go up, down, left, right, backwards and forwards through all that brain tissue but he will always miss it. Often when surgeries like that are done, the patient is awake and aware, as they use only local anesthetics. This way they can prod around and get a response from the patient, and thus know what brain centers they’re prodding, and thus not cut the wrong part. Those reactions would seem to confirm the doctor’s prejudice, that all existence is contained in what I’m calling the six directions. That is, all that exists is the material, physical universe, and nothing else; he sees all behavior as caused mechanistically by the brain’s machinery, which he can himself affect by poking it.

Yet, if this were so, why can’t he find, in all that neural wiring, in all those electrochemical impulses, a single thought, a single bit of meaning? He has ignored the seventh direction, the inwards. Living is an inside job, you have to get into it. The doctor, of course, being alive and sentient, knows this at some level but has trained himself to not see it; he wears the self-imposed blinders of his scientific profession.

Is this really all there is to the mind?
It works as far as it goes, of course. Modern medicine can do things almost unimaginable a century or two ago; the same with science in general— its principles are for the most part sound. But there is a flaw in the scientific philosophy of materialism. The scientist, when he hears me say “get into it,” might assume I mean to keep analyzing, that is, “cutting apart.” He thinks that he can understand the mind via dissection, that by breaking a thing open, he will find the center. But all he is doing is following the six. You cannot get to the inside from the outside, so to speak; you cannot find the center by using the outer directions, because the center I’ve been discussing is not in the physical world as such. All one ever gets by cutting is more outsides.

You cannot dissect a brain and find a thought; all you will find is an electrical signal passing along a chain of neurons. I don’t deny that reality, but that is the “outwards” aspect of thought. We know that there is an “inwards” aspect to it as well, the meaning, the subjective experience. It seems to be a sort of duality, but I think it is only a duality when seen from outside, from the objective point of view, which is a fantasy.

Consider how unusual an idea objectivity is. Here are we, come from the same stuff as the rest of the universe—which is true whatever your philosophical camp: strict biblical creationism, a looser theistic or pantheistic creationism, or a purely scientific cosmology—here are we, clay of the earth, dust of the stars, totally dependent on the air, the earth, water, space, other living beings… and we claim to stand somehow apart, somehow neutral, somehow isolated from the rest of creation. Really, the only big leap in all of this is the line we’ve drawn between ourself and everything else; that is the hallucination.

The point is, if we first claim objectivity, then try to discover the secrets of the universe, we will be eluded, because we are trying to divorce ourselves from creation, and thus actually move away from truth. We are trying to be pure observers, forgetting we are pure participants; and that it is only because we are participants that we are even able to observe; the “observer” is there only because there is a living body that is totally connected with the greater universe. You see, subjectivity comes before objectivity; the center is the starting point for the six outward moves. Or more accurately, they occur or arise together-- you cant have one without the other.

Calm and clear in the center
When you are observing from the status of participant, you gain true understanding. Otherwise all the science in the world is just a catalog of facts that don’t really go together in a truly meaningful way. Trivia. If you want to know what a thing is, observation alone will suffice; but what really is the point of that? That just yields a sort of dictionary. No one wants to read a dictionary, you want to read an adventure, a romance, or even a self-help book. You have to participate in the creation to understand what it means. And what this all means is that the center, the “inwards” is not a place so much as a way of being.

The “inwards” is like the still point around which a wheel or a planet turns, steady and unmoving and not even composed of the stuff of the world, not something you can hold in your hand; yet all the while absolutely integral for all movement, for all being. It is around this seeming emptiness that the whole thing revolves. It doesn't move, and so all movement is. And thus the metaphor: God rested on the seventh day.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Remember how I complained a bit on here about living in Texas last winter? Hey guess what, turns out, that's only because I forgot how evil a place Florida is. Worst state in the Union. The other day I was helping my uncle and another guy set up forms for some concrete to widen my uncle's driveway, a patio, and a walkway connecting the two. Lot of digging, lot of tossing dirt around to get the grade right, considering how high it was. We started kind of late, thanks to the inevitable Home Depot trip, so I didn't get working till around 10:30, and the sun, hereafter referred to as "scareball," was already high.

Did I mention the humidity? That saying about "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" is the truest thing you'll ever hear. I've worked and hiked in the Utah and California deserts, I'm qualified to compare. There, hard work is tolerable, because sweating is an effective temperature regulation strategy. Here-- where it's like breathing through a wet towel, a labor in itself, the air is so heavy-- sweating doesn't work. You just ruin your hydration and sodium balance, and get to keep all the heat to boot. There was hardly any wind, either, so what little evaporation you might have gotten was also nonexistent. Ask me, I'd say this is a dangerous climate to live and work in.

Within an hour I was drenched head to toe with sweat and feeling the early symptoms of heat exhaustion, my head throbbing, almost dizzy at times, and with a pervasive feeling of weakness. And it's the middle of September! Scareball is noticeably lower, but still smites you like a hammer.

I don't know why paradise is so often placed in the tropics. Nobody wants to live in this bullshit. Really, no one does. Most people who live here, don't live here; they live in air conditioning. Until that came around, no one wanted to live in the South. Not even Southerners. It's no wonder they ended up with an image of being lazy and dirty. It's too fucking hot to move! If it doesn't need to be done, it just doesn't get done; it's hard enough keeping up with the necessities. In this world of air conditioning, the slow Southern pace may be a traditional vestige, but it's obvious where it came from. Who wants to dispose of those old cars and all that garbage that's laying around when you're dying just trying to keep your crop growing under that relentless sun? Better to just sit on the porch in the shade, drink something cold, and just try to make it to evening. As James Taylor says, "way down here, you need a reason to move." And it better be a goddam good one, or I'm not getting off this porch, Yankee.

Anyways, I could pretty much do without the entire Southeast (save for Appalachia), but especially Southwest Florida. I like very little about the place. Palm trees? What an idiotic excuse for a tree; they look like a stick with a pom-pom on top. No freakin' shade value, that's for sure. I think I mentioned the heat and humidity. How about the lack of interesting terrain? Can we have a hill, please? The landfill doesn't count. Anyone my age, anywhere? No? Seasons would be nice. Beaches? Yeah, picture me voluntarily basking on a white-hot beach. Work? Mostly low wage service jobs, restaurant and tourist related; or construction. That's what I'm doing these days, for my uncle's company. I appreciate the job, the money isn't bad, and fortunately it's mostly remodelling work indoors, getting them fixed up for sale; meaning, there's air conditioning. Truly, if it was outside or the houses (all unoccupied) had no A/C, I'd pass on the job. I'm pretty much done with Florida out-of-doors.

Oh, and don't even ask me how the pour went. Besides that I had to haul the cement wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow all the way around the house, again starting towards noon, we couldn't even finish, some kind of permit issue, we were told to stop. My poor uncle had to eat half the cement he ordered, and as for me, half the work I did the day before was for nothing, and had to be filled back in. I hate gated communities, all the rules and regulations, and a bunch of power-drunk association board members playing mini-dictator.

But that's a whole other post. For now, just heed my advice: Florida may be nice for a vacation, but unless you like swimming in sweat, don't plan to live here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ideas About Enlightenment

There must be something wrong with our ideas of enlightenment if we think that it must mean an end to so much of the richness and pleasure of life. (Probably much of the problem is simply that we have ideas about enlightenment). As an old master once said:

“Thirty years ago, before I had studied Zen, I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. And then later, when I had more intimate knowledge, I came to see mountains not as mountains and rivers not as rivers. But now that I have attained the substance, I again see mountains just as mountains, and rivers just as rivers.”

Who could not love Zen, if only for little gems like these? One interpretation or understanding is this: at first, we see only our idea of mountains, a symbol or abstraction. As we study and learn, we realize our error, but it's a while before we actually get to the third phase, enlightenment: that mountains are mountains. Seeing the real itself, rather than the idea of it. Or, as Dogen cryptically puts it: “The meaning of these words is not that mountains are mountains, but that mountains are mountains.”

In the discussion on my previous post, it seems we're all seeing mountains as mountains, or, mountains as idea-mountains, word-mountains. We get in our own way, like having a cataract: you don't see the world, you see your own eye. We don't know enlightenment or true clarity of mind, so we theorize about it. Ignorance.

We don't really know what it's like to encounter the world free of that ignorance. Or, if we do, it's mainly in tiny glimpses, soon overcome by mind and ideas, thought about, commented on, and analyzed back into ignorance. So though I don't know what it would be like living as an enlightened man, and though this is just more ignorance talking, I just can't believe that enlightenment (or whatever you want to call it) means getting rid of all the ups and downs. The Eagles sang about it in "Desperado," when they sang, "you're losin' all your highs and lows, ain't it funny how the feeling goes away..." And it's a tragic song; this is not something to be sought. No one wants that kind of numbness.

So, I'm wary when all this talk about ending desire and suffering, about detachment and dispassionate awareness comes up. I am beginning to think of that as metaphorical language, or as meaning something I can't quite grasp. I consider such notions, embraced literally, as confused and wrong, even if I can offer no alternative. Call this itself ignorant faith, but bland serenity being the highest attainment, simply doesn't ring true. It's not human. And not inhuman as in, not Homo sapiens, but as in... there's no heart.

I think what I was trying to say in the last post was that there's something somehow beautiful about getting wrapped up and absorbed in something, be it football, political activism, a TV show, a love relationship, a job, a hobby, anything. I sometimes think that a serene, detached viewpoint would turn the world into a sort of dictionary. But what we all want is a story, man... drama. A romance, an adventure, a mystery; hell, for some of us, even a self-help book will do, a way of editing of our own story. We all choose sides somewhere, and any enlightenment worth my time must play to that as well. Balance and moderation in all things, including balance and moderation, eh?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Attachment vs Enlightenment

Cym over at Effortless Flow wrote a post just recently about how it seems wrong to her, all this Eastern religion and its insistence on detachment from the world, on being dispassionate and finding the non-dual. I don't have an answer, just some musings.

My whole family is fanatical about college football. My dad, mom, my sister, her husband, and most of my uncles are all crazy about University of Michigan. My dad and sister especially, I'm pretty sure, would bleed maize and blue if cut. They are totally into it, watching interviews of the coaches and players as the week goes on, reading all the articles and hype, finally Saturday comes and there's the pregame show, and at last, kickoff! Afterwards there are replays, analysis, and the beginning of hype for the next game. Somehow, I missed the boat; I'm at best a very tepid fan, but am more generally ambivalent about it, and rarely watch the games.

It's interesting to think about, though. On the one hand, I can sit back and watch the madness, and note how silly it all is. None of my family even went to the damn school; my parents knew some people who did; my mom went to high school with a former quarterback (Johnny Wangler), and my dad knew some other players from back then as well. So there's that. But in a way it's just arbitrary, a line drawn that lets them say "we won" and somehow include themselves in it. I really don't get it.

Yet they do seem to have a lot of fun. There's a lot of excitement and energy and pleasure in the game and the trappings of being a fan: the stats, the strategies and plays, the new draft picks, the t-shirts, the team flag out on the porch, the fight song, the little rituals every fan has... Of course, there's also the anxiety of the uncertain outcome, the anger over the missed tackle, the dropped pass, the bad call by a dumbfuck ref; and of course, the agony of the losses. Anyone who knows my family knows not to call after Michigan loses a game. Seriously. The let-down, the depression is very real and fills the house; we lose when the team loses. That arbitrary line works both ways.

So there seems to be a choice involved. Either you are involved deeply in the world, in its ups and downs, wins and losses, or else you aren't. You are either a fan of Michigan, or of Ohio State, but to say you are a fan of both is to say you are no fan at all-- you aren't involved in the game. To be above such dualities is to not care ("he who stands for everything stands for nothing"), and to not care means not to have compassion. Compassion meaning "to suffer with."

But I wonder if there really is a choice. The Buddha says that to end suffering, we must end desire, no longer be attached to outcomes, because attachment to outcomes creates karma, and good or bad, karma glues us to the wheel of joy and sorrow, life and death. I'm speaking near the edge of my understanding, because I don't know what it would mean to be free of such attachment. I'm not convinced it means compassion must cease. If, after all, the axiom thou art that is true, then even to be enlightened and serene in mind and spirit, pain anywhere is pain to you, and thus, you'd naturally care and suffer with those who suffer, love with those who love, in a word, be at one with the passions of the world, yet somehow not owned by them.

But I have to say I do agree with Cym in one respect at least. If what I said in the above paragraph is false, that to be enlightened or one with the Tao is to not have compassion, then fuck being enlightened. I wouldn't wish my family to not have the fun of fandom, I know their lives would be in some way diminished without that. Sure, it's just football, we all know that, but it's fun. If the enlightened life is a flatline of emotion somehow, it's not anything we want. But I really doubt that is the truth of the matter, it doesn't feel right. If anything, such a state might be the mystic's ecstacy, but is not a truly enlightened state, it's not all the way there.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Walking Through the Woods

The old elm has a hole right through it,
big enough, I squeeze in
and out the other side,
like being born.

Branches, still green above,
sway mildly in the breeze;
they will thrash against the storms
when they come.

I know this shall be its ruin,
this hollow heart, this rigid stand,
but the tree will never know.

It does not see this gaping cut
slashed through its crumbling heartwood;
nor see the piled corpses
cast about all about, brethren of the wood,
long collapsed, to the dirt, the worms.
It does not see its certain doom.

But I crawl through just the same,
together with summer breeze and sun;
like being born.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On Getting, And Missing, The Message

Sorry for the gap in the posting; just haven't felt much like writing lately. But finally, here is this:

I mentioned a couple posts ago that I'd written an essay on atheism that I might post in the future. I've decided not to. In it I basically describe my total lack of belief in a theistic god, such as is laid out in the Bible, the kind that is a disembodied "person" somewhere, that loves and watches over us. I was going to use it as a sort of example of coming to one's own senses when the echoes die. It was in fact the main reason I started thinking about these echoes; I'd had the notion about the echoes before, but this really prompted it in my mind again, helped me really sort the ideas out.

See, when I was hiking along one day I realized, almost with a shock, that I guess I really don't believe in God, that it wasn't some mere intellectualization but a more deeply felt personal truth. I'd just climbed several thousand feet, had a good rhythm going and felt relaxed and cleansed by my exertions and sweat and the cool clean air. I was looking out over the stunning view of California's snowcapped San Jacinto Mountains when it hit me. I'd just mentioned to my hiking partner, walking just ahead of me, that his pace was perfect, and was marvelling to myself that I was able to climb so steadily, given my heart condition; I was just steaming right along. And it occurred to me then that though in the past I might have prayed for strength or endurance, to do so was foolish. In actuallity, I either keep hiking, or I sit down and die. I'm out there and I have to keep going. It's survival instinct; or at the least, it's that my urge for my goal is stronger than my fatigue (since to return to the town we'd left that morning was in truth all downhill). A simple instance, but that was how it hit me just then. I've never had any experience of God granting me anything, it's been my own will all along, given that even when things go wrong, we either deal with it, or kill ourselves-- we may not even deal with it well, we may gripe and fight the situation all the way, but because time invariably passes, we get through even the worst times so long as we don't die. Anyway, it became crystal clear that I had no basis whatsoever for a belief in god, no experience of my own, just words from others.

This was before my dad's accident, which only served to lay some strong and admittedly confused emotions on that realization. I realized then that on some level I'm angry as hell at a God I don't believe in, and have been for years. Later, in the hospital, I found myself wanting to pray for my dad to be healed, while at the same time realizing I'd be praying to nothing. Which is an example of why I feel robbed of my mind: so surrounded am I by the forms of belief that I think in those forms against my own belief or will. Is this proof of a natural inclination towards god, or is it proof of indoctrination, ideas foisted upon me from without?

So though I still stand by what I wrote in the essay, the truth is, all of this that I've been going on about has so far been but a partial examination. The real issue is what I mentioned before, that I feel I've been robbed of my mind. I was given a language with definite boundaries (words) and rules (grammar), raised up with ideologies and indoctrination, namely, that of Western Culture (specifically, American Culture) and, though it didn't quite take, Roman Catholicism. Therefore, even to think about this issue as I have been is an exercise in confusion. The issue is framed in the way it is because I approach it with this corrupted mind; the discussion occurs within parameters I haven't set and can hardly even see.

The only way out of this morass is satori of some sort, somehow seeing through all the bullshit, to break through somehow to something pure and basic. I felt I had such a satori in the mountains, that day, and others, when I'd look at the mountains and see simple rock: not evidence for a Creator, nor even for a billion year geologic history: after all, history exists nowhere but in the mind. The mountains, as I said before, are simply themselves, they stand for nothing, they are just piles of rock. But, because since birth all my experiences have been understood and interpreted through ideas, forms and patterns that were surimposed upon me by the people and the media around me, how do I really even know what "rock" is, what "mountains" are?

Truly those mountains-- standing for nothing, simply themselves-- are a goddamn mystery. My materialist viewpoint isn't somehow a reality just because I've seen through one set of illusions; that viewpoint has been given to me as well, and I'm still not really seeing the mountain. Mother Culture educates us so well, does it not? So my concern is, how can I know or be able to trust in satori? The message may be recieved, but if all our lives we've been taught how to interpret it according to certain forms and patterns, then how can the message be experienced at all? As soon as we percieve it we distort it.

When truth knocks, how can you even know it's truth?