Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thoughts on Art

There is no work of art in the world that moves me more than Michaelangelo's Pieta sculpture. I saw it in person once, on a vacation to Italy, and even now the memory is enough to raise the hairs on my neck.

The sculpture, located near the entry to St. Peter's Cathedral at the Vatican, is of course an iconic Christian symbol, but its power for me has nothing to do with religion, but comes because the sculpture crystalizes for me the essential human desire and also the central human horror. There are ways I might argue that this is one of the most significant art works of all time.

The sculpture to me is a depiction of the interplay of human life and death, and moreover it is purely, entirely about human love. When I look at the statue, I am instantly aware of both an intense, archetypal human desire to be loved, but I'm also aware of the horror of love—the annhilation of self, the symbolic death, that genuine love entails.

I instantly see myself in both the faces of Jesus of Nazareth as well as his sorrowful mother, and it shows me hard lessons about myself. For to love someone is to open yourself to the truth of their mortality. It is to be Mary, in this example. And to be loved is to surrender yourself, utterly and unequivocally, to sacrifice self in order to merge with other.

This isn't something to be entered into lightly, and I'm painfully aware that I've a long way to go, both at the giving and accepting of love. Loving hurts, because it means accepting the pain of another as if it is your own. And being loved, wonderful though this is, also means the death of the small self, the sacrifice of what is familiar and known.

It's possible that I feel this pull a little more strongly than most people—perhaps even with a little residual neuroticism—for I can still a remember a time when the mother I loved also posed a genuine threat of anhilation to her young sons. To this day, when someone loves me I am gratified and enormously touched on the one hand, but slightly panicky on the other.

But it's possible that even this personal history of mine is really just the playing out of a larger archetypal drama. It's a somewhat universal, archetypal neuroticism. Because when I look around, I see that almost everyone struggles with love. Desiring it with fierce intensity on the one hand, yet constantly thwarting it on the other.

Much as we want to love, and want to be loved, much of our behavior seems to have the opposite motive. We fear love almost as much as we desire it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mercurious is an Odd Fellow

Years and years and years ago now, there was a long while when I had a really tough time of things. Frankly, I was a mess, in the kind of way that leads a lot of people to sleep under highway overpasses, and causes them to mutter to themselves while pushing shopping carts full of their belongings down city streets. That could have been my future, and to this day, I'm not exactly sure what pulled me back from the edge of that abyss.

During that time, I began to use a coping mechanism that was a bit odd. At the time, though, it offered me just about the only way possible way of existing in the world without blowing apart at the seams. In fact, it may well have been the thing that kept me in the world.

I began to suspect that "myself" was actually a collection of various “selves.” I began to see that “I” changed roles quite a lot, and that there were many, many times when my deep personal unhappiness came about because my “selves” disagreed with one another, and even flat-out hated each other. This recognition came as a powerful relief to me, because it made a lot of things understandable.

This habit of mine never really qualified as the classic split-personality, psychosis thing. I did research it, though, because I knew that it was a rather peculiar thing I was doing. What I found, though, was that in the classic multiple personality, the different “personalities” trade ownership of the body, and they don’t really know that the other personalities exist—at least not until a hell of a lot of therapy is completed.

In my own case, this recognition was present all the time. My various selves knew full well that the others existed. They just didn’t like one another very much. In fact, they actively tried to destroy one another for awhile.

Today, though, most people would see me as rather well adjusted, and would be deeply surprised by this quirk of mine. When I once described it to a new friend who happened to be in the business of understanding human behavior, he nodded wisely, and congratulated me on having overcome it, of having fully integrated my various selves into this present model of mental health.

What he didn’t understand, though, is that my current mental health wasn’t a matter of overcoming my diverse selves. Not only did I not get over it; I pursued it then and continue to pursue it now. In fact, I’m really really good at it these days.

To this day, at any given moment, I’m aware that there are lots of different selves operating in me. I know all of them pretty intimately, in fact. I’m not kidding in the least when I tell you that this is the sole reason why I am never, ever bored in life, no matter how bland the real-world circumstances are. If I am stuck in a slow-moving line for hours at a time, I am perfectly happy because there is always an exceedingly interesting inner drama playing out in me, one I can eavesdrop on any time I choose.

Moreover, I now have a strong hunch that the same thing holds true of everyone else. Unless I somehow have gone through life meeting only oddballs like myself, when I look around I see that everybody changes from moment to moment. Although I never, ever try to convince other people that they should see themselves in the same way that I see myself, it does allow me to view other people a good deal more sympathetically.

When people snarl at the world, they are almost always snarling at some other aspect of themselves. And the beast on the freeway may well become a docile lamb once he's had his dinner and a nice back rub. It's not me he's angry at; it's some inner creature he's projected onto me, the poor fellow.

The spriritual benefit in this for me is this: because “I” change moment to moment, based on complex matrix of situation and chemistry and memory and chance, there is no reason to ever take my “self” very seriously. Within the span of a few moments, I’m aware that I am by turns a father, a husband, a friend, a brother, a boss, an underling, a democrat, a Minnesotan, a devil, an angel. And each of these selves is very different from the other, with an entirely different character. There is no single, eternal “I” at all.

The difference between the crazy Mercurious of years ago and the crazy present model is a very simple one.

I used to hate some of my selves, largely because I didn’t’ know them very well. Now, I know them quite well, and invite them over to dinner regularly.

Their table manners have improved dramatically, a change which began as soon as I welcomed them to the table.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

To Eckhart or not to Eckhart

I genuinely don't know what to think about Eckhart Tolle. (On the offhand chance that some of you don't know about this wildly successful new age spiritualist, you can find a bit of background in this article. )

On the one hand, it would be easy enough to dismiss Eckhart as just another Oprah-promoted phenomenon. Him most recent book, A New Beginning, has sold 2.5 million copies year-to-date, and he has become a cottage industry in his own right. He is now making scads of money, and the whole movement is beginning to feel a little bit like a form of scientology.

But not quite; and therein lies my uncertainty.

Years ago I read Tolle's first book, The Power of Now, and found it to be a moderately helpful common-sense book. Anything that causes people to think about their spiritual growth is a pretty good thing, in my estimation. The only real quarrel I had with that earlier book was that it was very clearly derived from classic Buddhist and Hindu thought, yet didn't really acknowledge that debt. This was a small quarrel, though, since truth is truth, no matter how it's presented.

Moreover, at the time Tolle seemed to be a relatively unassuming fellow, not particularly in love with himself. In fact, he was something of a recluse, and initially didn't seem particularly interested is being seen as a saviour.

There were enough things that smacked true about his story for me to give him the benefit of the doubt. His life-turning moment came out of deep personal trouble (I know something about how this kind of thing works myself). And much of what he said has the ring of truth to anyone who has legitimately tried to pursue a spiritual path. Good for him, I thought to my self, for speaking this kind of truth in a way that people can understand.

Now, though, the thing has taken on a life of its own, and I fear that any genuine message Tolle has is now being lost in the media frenzy and the lemming-like march of the followers who think they can be enlightened by joining a club. People now imagine that they have achieved enlightenment simply because they have purchased and liked the new book. They wear their membership in the Tolle fan club as a badge, proving that they are better (more enlightened) than other people. All this now feels like a phenomenon that is sometimes called "spiritual materialism"—the wearing of one's spiritual practice as a support garment for your ego.

The maddening thing, though, is that a great many interviewers, even those who are skeptics, come away from interviewing Tolle with a sense that the man is relatively genuine and well meaning. Those who most severely ridicule him seem to be operating from resentment or jealousy rather than a well-researched foundation.

I've not yet seen anything to indicate how Tolle himself feels about this phenomenon. Is he disturbed by it, like John Lennon was when he ruefully observed that the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus? Or is Tolle gratified by his prestige and power over the masses? To me, this would be a clear sign for skepticism and concern.

I've no doubt that many of you are quite familiar with Tolle's work. If you have any opinions on it, I'd love to hear them.

Sacrilege on the Eve of Memorial Day

One of the heroes of my youth was Kurt Vonnegut, whose ability to spot falseness in society has never been equaled. One of his best novels was Cat's Cradle, which was a pretty scathing indictment of everything that is false about religion and science and politics. Here is a passage from Wilkepedia about Vonnegut and the novel:

A granfalloon, in the fictional religion of Bokononism (created by Kurt Vonnegut in his 1963 novel Cat's Cradle), is defined as a "false karass" (imagined community). That is, it is a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless. The most common granfalloons are associations and societies based on a shared but ultimately fabricated premise. As examples, Vonnegut cites: "the Communist Party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows—and any nation, anytime, anywhere." A more general and oft-cited quote defines a granfalloon as "a proud and meaningless association of human beings." Another granfalloon example illustrated in the book was Hoosiers, of which the narrator (and Vonnegut himself) was a member.

At age 13, when I first read the book, I knew that Vonnegut had exactly depicted the peculiar and irrational human habit of joining together into false clubs. In the 40 years since, I've seen nothing to tell me that Vonnegut was wrong.

In that spirit, and flying in the face of the Memorial Day spirit, I'd like to state for the record that I think patriotism (defined as loyalty to an entity called "nation") is a completely irrational and dangerous practice.

I am all for loyalty to family, to friends, to principles, to basic humanist values. But loyalty to a nation makes no sense at all to me, because I see the concept of "nation" as the most contrived and artificial of all concepts.

This morning on the bus-ride to work, we passed an SUV with three tattered flags flying from window-mounted plastic flag staffs: one was a Kiwanas flag, one was a Green-Bay Packers flag, and one was a grimy and tattered American Flag.

Folks, this is pretty much the essence of patriotism these days. Whenever I see an American flag decal on a bumper or automobile window, I know the chances are good that I'm looking at a car owner who has deliberately chosen to turn off his or her brain and automatically follow a herd mentality, going wherever some shrewd and conniving politicians have decided to push them.

The recently passed and comically named "patriot act," for example, doesn't even make a pretense about it goal of violating the basic principles of liberty and human rights, simply because it is in "America's" best interests. How very calculating it is to give such legislation the name "patriot act." After all, how could one disagree with such a thing?

The national Republican Presidential Convention is being held here in Minneapolis this fall, and already we're being told where and when we might be allowed to quietly express our disagreement with current national policy. Free speech is no longer our right, except in a 1-block radius as defined by politicians. This, in case you don't know it, is one provision made possible by the so-called Patriot Act.

In a nearby small town, several students were expelled because they refused to recite the pledge of allegiance. They believed that "one nation under God" was an inaccurate statement of patriotism, considering that the school included Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim and Native American students as well as Christians, but they were expelled for this free expression of their own beliefs.

In the name of "patriotism," citizens by the droves are seeking to close our borders to anyone whose last name strikes them as somehow foreign. The irony of this hovers on the tragic, since I've heard people argue this case who have last names like Schmidt (German), Olson (Norwegian), and McClellan (Scottish)—people with grandparents who immigrated to this continent less than 100 years ago.

If I were king of the world, I'd abolish the concept of "nation" altogether, since the idea that you can restrict the movement of human beings around the planet makes about as much sense as thinking you can control birds migrating, or plant seeds blowing on the winds. How in the world can we really suggest that there is such a thing as ownership of ground beneath our feet? Borrowed use, stewardship, perhaps. Maybe even legal rental of land. Ownership? No.

My belief is this: loyalty to ideals is a supreme virtual. Defend your family, your friends. Pledge allegiance to truth, to compassion. But loyalty to a company or religion or organization or nation (patriotism) is logical only to the extent that it reflects the principles for which you stand. If you haven't demanded that your nation do so, you are doing an evil and unconscious thing by waving its flag.

On Memorial Day, I will silently salute those soldiers who have fought and died in the clear-headed goal of protecting human freedom. And I will feel sorrow and pity for all of those who were killed or maimed when they went to war simply because their nation told them to.

Monday, May 19, 2008

This morning I just couldn't get all the dirt out from under my fingernails. Look closely, and you'll still see some dark smudges at the corners.

I'll keep my sleeves rolled down today, as my arms are badly scratched with angry welts.

My lower back is so sore and stiff that the fellow sitting next to me on the bus this morning took my arm and hoisted me upright when he saw me wince when trying to stand. The arches of my feet are also exceedingly tender.

And I couldn't be happier. I'm positively glowing with pleasure.

All day Sunday was spent in a fertile farm valley, in the woods and on the hilltops of the rural area of southern Minnesota, just a few miles from where I was raised. I spent the day with Steve, my oldest friend. We've been pals since we were three years old. Steve is now the county attorney in Red Wing, Minnesota, but he's a country boy like me, and his weekends are spent gardening a huge vegetable garden on land on which his family once farmed feed crops for a dairy herd. On Sunday, while our wives had coffee and planned an upcoming girls' adventure at the house over near the Mississippi River, Steve and I drove out to Hay Creek and Stegve's old farmstead, where we gardened and hiked and had a generally fine time. We were joined by Steve's golden retriever, Haddie, who bears a striking resemblance to one of the retrievers I owned as a boy.

We began the day by planting 400 hills of potatoes, which explains the sore back. There is some irony in the fact that I enjoyed this so much. Growing up, my dad was a prodigeous gardener himself, and until I went away to college, two hours or so of every summer day was spend weeding pumpkins and sweet corn and okra and peas and lettuce and squash in the hot sun. When I left home, I vowed that I'd never again grow vegetables. It was too much dammed work, considering that vegetables are so cheap to purchase. I've surely got the gardening bug, but for the most part I grow only ornamental plants and the occasional tomato vine and raspberry patch.

But here I was again, sweating in the sun planting potatoes, but this time happy as a clam.

After the potatoes, we drove up to the old farmstead, which is now beginning to decay in vegetation. The last building still more or less intact is the farmhouse itself, but you can see that it won't be long before nature reclaims it, too. The foundations now have caved-in at a couple of spots, and the yard is beginning to sprout trees. Behind the house, though, a couple of peony bushes still grow, and in a shady patch there is a healthy patch of ajuga. When I pointed it out to Steve, he then recalled that his grandmother had brought it from Connecticut in the 1950s.

Up the steep hillside, we scoured the woods for morel mushrooms, which favor the moist areas around the base of dead elm trees, for some reason. It's been a cold spring here, though, and we found only a couple of small handfuls of mushrooms. We did find deer, though, and wild turkeys, and columbine (which we know here as honeysuckle). And deep in the woods there were jack in the pulpit beginning to grow, and meadow rue, and trillium. Near the top of the hill, some wild apple trees were in full bloom. And there was plenty of prickly ash, which explains the angry scratches on my arms. We meandered the woods and hillsides for hours.

Out on the point of the hill there was a large patch of sumac just beginning to leaf out. The valley beyond meandered west, toward where my own boyhood home was located. We were late getting back to the house that night, and I'm sore as hell today. And I couldn't be happier.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Occasionally somebody who remembers that I was raised a white-bread Christian Lutheran will ask me, 'how in the world did you ever come to think of yourself as a Buddhist?'

The answer is pretty simple. Years ago, at a time in my life when I really, really needed a system of spiritual pursuit, I found that Buddhism offered an exceedingly logical and practical method. The fact that it was logical and practical, and moreover that it actually made me happier, was in striking contrast to Lutheranism's complete inability to help of guide me in any way. Christian philosophy simply made me steadily more unhappy.

It would have been crazy for me to stay there.

To newcomers, Buddhism can sometimes seem bewilderingly complex, full of numbered truths and numbered paths, and numbered virtues and numbered vices. But at heart, it is the most amazingly simple of philosophies. Its basis is that it seeks plain, old fashioned, genuine happiness, for each and every person.

Starting onto the Buddhist path really could not be simpler. It is summed up by four ideas that are usually called the Four Noble Truths. You can be a perfectly good Buddhist if you do nothing but think about these concepts on a regular basis.

#1: The truth of suffering.

This is the truth that sometimes earns Buddhism a reputation for pessimism. In truth, though, the Sanskrit word "dukka," which is usually translated as "suffering," is more accurately translated as "unsatisfying."

What this means, in other words, is that a genuine spiritual path can begin when you recognize that there is something inherently less than ideal about our normal way of existing in the world. It's not that we're constantly exposed to the agony of fire and brimstone, but that an honest self-evaluation shows us that we've lived a somewhat hollow life.

We find ourselves motivated to change, finally, so an awareness of dukka can, and should, be celebrated. A corporate executive that suddenly recognizes that he'd rather play with grandkids than take over yet another business is an ideal candidate for Buddhism.

#2: The causes of suffering.

Buddhism doesn't actually dictate to you what these causes are, but it does encourage you to nakedly examine your dukka, the unsatisfactory nature of your life, and study the causes.

The basis of this examination is the recognition of cause-and-effect. Karma, in other words. The understanding that all things happen in response to causes. As an example, the momentary euphoria of an alcohol-fueled celebration is, for most people, followed by quite unpleasant aftereffects. In a spiritual life, we look nakedly at the actual effects that follow from our actions; and we obey when common sense suggests that we should perhaps stop it.

After a long, long time studying in this way, my own experience is that the ultimate causes of suffering turn out to be very much what the Buddhist mystics say it is. Attachment to outcome, desire and aversion, the defense of a solid self in the face of ever-changing reality....these are the trends that underly most everything that has caused me grief over the years.

But Buddhism doesn't insist that you believe any certain way. It says that you should merely look at your experience openly and follow common sense.

#3: Suffering ends.

Magically, sometimes, we become aware that all our restlessness, our dissatisfaction, can simply vanish and be replaced by peace and contentment. The fact that we have all experienced these moments makes up the promise that relief is indeed possible. There would be no path at all if life was all suffering. Sometimes it's not, though, and that is the rainbow, the promise. The path is largely about simply recognizing these moments, looking for the causes, and nurturing them. The lack of suffering is known as "sukka," and a person who has left dukka for good is regarded as an enlightened one who has achieved nirvahna.

#4: The path to the end of suffering.

Once we've acknowledged our dukka, glimpsed a bit about the causes, recognized that there are moments when our suffering ends, we now simply look at the things that cause suffering, the things that cause peace ("sukka"). We then systematically choose not to feed the first, and to cultivate the second. And if we can help others do the same, so much the better.

Most of the Buddhist canon is nothing more than a series of exercises and practices aimed at reducing the grip of suffering while nurturing contentment. Its many "rules" aren't commandments for being somehow worthy of goodness. They are merely various different practices and calisthenics that you might find useful for being a happier person. It's this aspect of Buddhism that makes it quite unlike many other philosophies. It doesn't judge; it just tries to help.

The elegant simplicity of this approach is why I'm a Buddhist.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Riders on the Storm

Just a few months ago now, a long-time colleague left our place of employment, having exhausted her tolerance for corporate life after a long tenure. Ann wasn’t a close friend, but we were cordial colleagues for a decade. She had an ironic view of life that is much like my own, and we might have been better friends if circumstances had allowed more than sporadic interaction. A good gal, all around.

In one of the those strange and cruel quirks of fate, it was just three weeks after leaving the company that Ann went in for a routine annual physical exam, which, having turned 50, included her first ever colonoscopy.

That exam, 12 weeks ago, was abruptly halted midway through the colonoscopy, and before Ann left the office that day, the follow-up meeting with an oncologist was already scheduled. It turned out that Ann’s colon cancer was already well-advanced—the estimate was that the disease had already been festering for 6 years— by the time it was spotted. Until that precise moment, she had no idea she was ill.

Immediate surgery followed, but with cancer already entrenched in the liver and lungs, the prognosis wasn’t good.

On Saturday, just weeks after diagnosis, Ann died. She was at her home in the care of family members and hospice workers. She was two years younger than I am today. Ann had never married, and had no children. It was almost like something in her know that her life wouldn’t be a long one and prevented her from establishing bonds that would be painful to break.

Ann had no pronounced unhealthy habits to speak of. She wasn’t a heavy smoker or drinker. She wasn’t overweight, and you wouldn’t have looked at her and thought to yourself that here was a woman who deserved whatever health problems befell her. This is a fate that fell out of the sky, completely unexpected.

Which is the nature of things, I guess. Although we all like to imagine we’re in control of our own fate, the very definition of fate is that it just happens to us without really listening to our wishes. Cars have accidents, genes mutate and cells go wild, trees fall in storms, levees collapse.

A sober mood has settled over me today. Having recently heard that Ann was fading quickly, there is some part of me that is relieved her suffering is already over. But I’m also somewhat selfishly thinking of my own life, and wondering what fate has in store for me and my family members.

There are also a number of ‘why’ questions I ask myself. Why, knowing that certain things are unhealthy, do I routinely grab a bagel or a slice of pie or a cheeseburger at lunch? At my routine colonoscopy two years ago, two or three precancerous polyps were spotted and removed, yet this wasn’t enough to make me give up all those tasty yet deadly foods. Like most every American, I very routinely eat things that I’m fully aware are bad for me. You don’t have to be all that perceptive to see something of a death wish in the behavior of the species. We all tempt fate, knowingly.

And why, knowing that life is so very short, do I sometimes choose to fill it with suffering? Why do I sometimes still entertain myself with worry and greed and hostility and anxiety? Is life so long, with so much free time, that I’ve nothing better to do than fill it with this kind of waste?

I’m a good deal better about this than I used to be, but still, when you get right down to it I have to acknowledge that my moments of unhappiness are the products of my own imagination and ego. Unhappiness isn’t a condition of the world. It’s something we each construct for ourselves, to fill the space we're afraid to confront.

Why do we do this? I suppose it's because we don't want to hear the ticking of the clock. That's the appeal of unhappiness, I think: you can't hear much else.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It Takes Just a Moment

This moment—the one before us right here, right now—is a perfect moment.

We forget this sometimes.

We overlook the perfection of each individual moment because of a human delusion. The delusion is this: We think that a perfect moment must be one that satisfies our wishes and meets our expectations. If it doesn’t do those things, then we take it to mean that the moment is imperfect, flawed.

But the truth is that this moment can be nothing but perfect. It is perfect because this moment is the only possible effect resulting from staggering number of interweaving, interconnecting causes leading up to it. This outcome has been ripening and taking shape for a long, long time. Just because we dislike the moment doesn’t mean that it’s not a perfect one.

To use a cartoon-like example: to be crushed by a grand piano falling from an apartment building is an utterly perfect moment, because it follows a relentless and impersonal logic: if you are beneath a heavy, plummeting weight when it crashes to earth, you will certainly be crushed.

The genuinely frightening world would be the one where such immutable laws did not apply.

The truth is this: a lot of perfect moments will displease us enormously. This doesn’t detract from their perfection. A loved one who grows sick due to a mixture of flawed genes, suspect living habits, and environmental factors will make us quite unhappy, but there is still perfection in the fact that sickness grows out of this mixture of circumstances.

It is the inherent unpleasantness of many perfect situations that leads to change, in fact. Disgust with a polluted environment, unhappiness with disease, is what leads to cleaning up the environment and improving our living habits and caring for the ill, and so what could be more perfect than this?

A pretty startling thing happens if we can at any moment set aside our wishes and desires and acknowledge that one moment, any moment, is an utterly perfect one.

The moment you glimpse the inherent perfection of the moment, an enormous amount of tension is released, and an equally enormous amount of energy becomes available to us. You find yourself no longer fighting with the world, no longer disagreeing with it, but simply responding to it. Wanting and hating are replaced by simple clarity. There are no longer any problems, simply situations to which we respond, automatically and intelligently.

There is no starting line for such a quest, no particular path to seek. You can start whenever, wherever you are. You can even start with a moment of hatred or envious desire, because these things, too, are logical and perfect outcomes of myriad causes and preconceptions that have proceeded. And when you stop fighting even these things, they are suddenly exposed for their hollowness. Since they have already happened, they vanish, leaving you only with the next moment waiting for your response.

And if you can simply respond to a perfect moment—any perfect moment—you then may find yourself meeting the next perfect moment, and the next one after that. And the nature of that next moment may be much altered, since it will now be a consequence of a previous moment of understanding and intelligent response.

For those of you who are interested in such things, this train of thought is the essence of tantric philosophy, although the more studied among you will surely recognize that I have greatly simplified a complex system. In one school of Tibetan Buddhism, Dzogchen, this belief is sometimes known as “the Great Perfection.” The premise here is not so much that enlightenment can be achieved through highly disciplined and long-term effort, but rather that enlightenment in inherent is each moment, and our path is simply one of realizing what is already present.

We start, then, with whatever is present, including the experience of suffering. It takes some time to get used to the idea that an unpleasant moment, even a painful moment, may still be a perfect one, but there you have it. If this moment presents us with pain, who are we to say no?

We suffer not because we experience pain, but because we disagree with the nature of things. Another name for this is insanity, the cultivation of delusion.

Awakening isn’t an escape from pain, but developing the willingness to respond to each perfect moment rather than hide from it.

All it takes is a moment.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Future Beckons

Every so often, I get a glimpse of the near future, and it's not aways such a bad thing. Yeah, I'm now at that stage where riding an old man bike is acceptable to me. And a good long walk now passes for legitimate exercise. I'd no more imagine running a marathon than I'd plan on shifting careers and becoming a doctor or professional basketball player. Pushing 53 years of age, my life options have narrowed considerably, it's true.

But on other levels, I begin to feel new freedom opening up, too. Late last week, on the spur of the moment, my wife and I decided to take a couple of days off and drive to Ann Arbor Michigan to watch the Big Ten Rowing championships—in particular, we were interested in Girl's participation in this event, since she is serving as one of the coxwains for the team.

Time was that any sort of trip of this kind involved a lot of planning, but now that the progeny are more or less grown and self-sufficient, we find it pretty easy to take off at a moment's notice. This freedom should only get more pronounced in the next few years.

Ann Arbor is only a couple hundred miles further south than Minneapolis, but the few degrees difference in latitude makes a huge difference in the timing of Spring. Here in Minneapolis, the trees are just beginning to bud, and the tulips are still just hinting at blooms. On the way back from Ann Arbor, we stopped for a day in Chicago, where we visited museums, walked through parks, and did pretty much whatever we damned well pleased. At various times, we smiled at young couples pushing baby carriages, but the truth is that we've been there, done that; and as great as it's been raising kids, we're now quite ready for a breather in preparation for the coming days when we'll be borrowing grandkids to spoil them rotten. We're in that enviable phase now of having raised healthy, happy kids to adulthood, and can now occasionally do pretty much what we want.

We went to the movies the other night on a $20 bill, for example. Wasn't all that long ago that taking a family to the movies involved spending a C-note, easy.

In a couple of weeks, there's another rowing event in Tennessee. I'm told that Tennessee in the Spring is quite nice, too. Have Mazda, will travel.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Five years ago today the Current Occupant of the White House gave a speech aboard an air craft carrier in the Persian Gulf, in which he announced that we had won the war.

Today, five years and 4,057 American deaths later, he said that he was talking about the "aircraft carrier's mission," not the war itself. The comments have embarrassed almost everyone, except for John McCain.

We're going to have a crucial choice next November. If we're not careful, we'll be guaranteed at least four more years of bloody combat in the mideast.