Monday, 23 May 2011

Just Sitting

I'll be offline for the next 100 days, as I'm going into the woods to meditate.

I'll resume posting here when I come back out in September.

This is a world of compassion.

-- Robin

Today's top headline:
"Free-Range Buddhist Eaten By
Health-Conscious Cougar."

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Product Review: The Mobile Meditator Zafu

The Mobile Meditator
provides monastic-
quality support.
One of the drawbacks of writing a hermit blog is you don't get to write many product reviews. As a rule, hermits don't "do" products; products mean materialism, which means consumerism, which means buying things, which means having money, which means valuing money. Which we also don't do. (Forget ice to Eskimos; the real test of salesmanship is selling anything to a hermit.)

But just as it's nice to eat out every so often, it's also fun to to review something you didn't make, find, or receive as a gift. And this is a good one, as it's something hermits need, and we can't really make.

The Mobile Meditator Inflatable Meditation Cushion is exactly what it says it is. But does it work? The only other product out there that seems to fill this description is widely held to be a piece of, well, karma. Although I've never used one, sangha brothers and sisters tell me it's underwhelming. And many Internet reviewers agree. So I was cautious about gambling my grubstake on an inflatable. Can you really buy a truly portable zafu, small and lightweight enough to carry into the woods, but serious enough to support your back and backside during prolonged sitting? And can you be sure it won't fall apart at a rate that would offend Pema Chödrön?

Yeah. It's called the Mobile Meditator.

Folded up and stuffed in its pouch.
I won't go into specs here, since the manufacturer's website is precise, but this zafu is small when deflated, full-sized when inflated, and almost frighteningly light in both states. Three-chamber design makes it fully adjustable. You know how one thigh is always higher than the other in half lotus, queering your balance? Well, on this zafu, you can tune half to feel almost like full.

Three chambers also mean it takes longer to blow up, especially since the valves have to be pinched just right while blowing into them; that's to prevent the air from coming back out. It also makes the zafu harder to deflate, which you have to do pretty thoroughly to get it back in the included protective pouch. But those hardcore valves also guarantee surprise-free sitting, and better yet, they make it possible to adjust posture on the fly: just reach down and pinch the one on the offending chamber, and your body descends, elevator-style, into proper position.

Mine looks like a giant burnt crescent roll.
Feels like one, too.
The Mobile Meditator is crescent-shaped, which lends itself to Western-style, on-cushion positions. Those who prefer the "Japanese wedge" might get it by inflating the Mobile Meditator hard and using it backward; I don't sit that way, so I can't say. I was initially afraid it would soap-bar out from under me, being vinyl and all, but the flocked surface clings to me militantly. In fact, it clings to everything militantly, making it a magnet for all manner of filth. But it's a small price to pay for a tight seal with the planet. (A light touch with an old-fashioned, bristled clothing brush does adequate clean-up.)

I have heard Brand X users complain of feeling like they were sitting inside a Moon Walk, unable to settle firmly on their inflatable base, but thanks to its shape and design, the Mobile Meditator provides positive purchase. It's not as solid as my beloved buckwheat, but I quickly became accustomed to the slight difference.

The zafu on its back.
To date, I've only come up with two criticisms of this otherwise excellent product. First, it's sweaty; after a long sit, my Enlightenment Base is wet and greasy. This is uncomfortable, but in all honesty, I can't imagine a way to make an inflatable zafu that doesn't do this. So I just place a folded towel on it before I sit, and that solves most of the problem. On the other hand, the company could easily do something about its limited colour choice. Right now the Mobile Meditator comes in two flashy Las Vegas versions (Very Red! and Very Orange!), as well as black. I'm happy; I like black. But they really ought to add a conservative blue, and maybe an earthy green and brown. Just sayin'.

I sure can't complain about the price. At $24.95, a person could be forgiven for assuming it's cheap junk. But it's not; it's cheap quality.

I don't really know exactly how tough this thing is yet, as I've only just got it. However, in a few days I'm going into the woods to meditate for a hundred days, which is why I bought the Mobile Meditator in the first place. Of course I won't do anything stupid, like jump on it or use it directly on the ground or shove it into a bear's mouth to save my life. But I think we can safely assume that this summer will be the Mobile Meditator equivalent of a Timex commercial.

I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE, September 2011:

Not well, as it happens. The zafu popped on the third day out, and I ended up rolling up my closed-cell sleeping pad each day to serve as a cushion. I wouldn't read too much into this, though; the conditions were extremely challenging for anything inflatable. By way of comparison, my Thermarest pad, which I used as a zabuton, also developed a leak, and the Mobile Meditator is nowhere near as sturdy as that is.

So the Mobile Meditator is not great for exterior hermitry, at least not as-is. I suspect you could make a cover for it of leather or some artificial material (the stuff they make industrial hoses out of comes to mind), and that would probably keep it alive in abrasive conditions.

Before I leave this topic, let me also say that I cut the side chambers out (only the big middle one popped) and used one for my pillow at night and the other as knee support with the rolled-mat zafu. Both served throughout the ango with no further complications, and are still perfectly airtight. The knee support was particularly welcome, since the little cushion could be adjusted with a pinch, and sitting on that hard foam roll increased joint stress rather a lot. 

Friday, 13 May 2011


Night filled me with dread. That the world turned black, leaving windows like sheets of obsidian against which my little brother's face resembled something my reptilian cortex clearly remembered, was bad enough. Beyond lay strange noises, cries of marauding wolves and phantom babies that grown-ups dismissed as dogs and cats. But the worst was the bed. There I sat alone, and unarmed, swaddled in flannel and bound by bedclothes. In such a state, I was completely vulnerable. Anything might happen. I had no clear idea what, but it was awful, and certain.

Interesting now to think that I once feared the dark. As I grew, I came to prize the cover of night, the protection of a nocturnal forest, the kindness of a dark room. But at seven, that very darkness manured my nightmares. My lifeline, and the only power standing between me and destruction, was a paper-thin beam of light slicing in from the hall. The door was kept cracked for just this reason, so that a sliver of day would fence my bed from the darkest corner of the room.

As I was (and am) also an insomniac, bedtime was almost as stressful on my parents as it was on me. First came the operatic resistance, then the serial interruptions in television shows as they stalked back down the hall to threaten me with ill-defined but horrific harm if I didn't "go to sleep right now." As if sleep were a place to which I could simply walk, in my striped pyjamas.

One night my mother happened to glance through the narrow gap on the way to the bathroom and find me seated on the floor, reading Dr. Suess by that thin reed of light. The shout that followed sent the book flapping like a flustered chicken. I can only guess that she had parried one too many of my counter-recumbence tactics that night, and a vain hope of peace had been rudely extinguished.

Taking scarcely a terrestrial step I dove headlong into bed, vanishing deep beneath the covers before I'd even touched the mattress. Outside my mother continued raging, while I curled into a fetal posture and pinned my last wager on science.

For as any child knows, children's blankets are made of some advanced space-age stuff -- possibly Kevlar -- and are fully UL-rated against ghosts, prowlers, and middle-weight monsters. They may also be effective against parents, if, upon finding no head protruding from the bedclothes, these last conclude they must not have had children after all, and withdraw. No blanket is soundproof, however, and so I was able to determine that this hadn't worked this time.

At length my mother wound up with the observation that if I couldn't be trusted with an open door, she could damn well close it. Followed by a slam, and silence.

Here was bad news. I popped out, already terrified, and found the situation exact. The air was pitch-black, and opaque as cast iron. The door was closed.

It's hard to describe, or explain, the horror of that moment. It engulfed me like fire, scorching away all trace of reason. I only knew that whatever hid in the dark each night, waiting for just this opportunity, was in that very instant converging on my bed. It was big and vicious, able to shred a child's blanket with a single swipe of its nondescript paw. And it was horrible, too horrible to face. I screamed in the dark, begged for the door to be opened, hot tears pumping down a face that a second before had been dry. But there was no response.

For some reason it never occurred to me to get up and open the door myself. Being decapitated by a giant praying mantis was one thing; a spanking was quite another. But I was otherwise completely disabled by panic, chest heaving as I sobbed, quilt clutched to my sternum. A pounding heartbeat, maybe two, and whatever it was, would happen. And I'd be dead.

Not the dead you get playing army. Actual dead.

And then a strange thing happened. Something did surge out of the dark. It came from 'way down, 'way down to the first rung of a long, twisted staircase, from a place so black and estranged to light as if it had never been.

But this thing came not from my room. It came from me.

Something angry, arrogant, powerful, climbed my spine. Undaunted. Unafraid. Something...


"Rrrrright, then!" it snarled, in my voice. "So et's eatin' me ye're aboot?" Well, GET ON WI' IT, ye blatherskate!"

Even in the dark I could feel my eyes burn red, my teeth gnash each syllable.

"Come 'n' get me, ye gory great monsters!" I, or It, continued. "But I'll STICK IN YER THROAT on the way doon!"

I'm not entirely certain I was speaking English. It might have been Gaelic. It might have been whatever we spoke before Gaelic. But the words came from deep, down where the peaty black water laves the gates of creation, where things live that intellect denies. And the thing would retreat not an inch. Not so much as the breadth of one unearned blade of grass.

"Och," I cried, "STEP UP, ye pukin' milksops!"

No roar, no attack answered. Not a rustle. I sat bolt upright, quivering not from fear, now, but fury. My small fists clenched to hammers, and I was avid to ply them. To be sure, I was still aware of my tininess. I knew the big-scaries would probably just laugh and bite me in half. But this was no longer about winning. Or even survival. This was about giving as good as I got. This was about honour.

I scanned the shadows again, fixedly, panting, but no longer crying.

I cocked my head toward the murky space beneath the bed. Nothing afoot there, either. Nothing breathed in that room, seen or unseen, except me.

Since that night it's been harder to frighten me with darkness, harder to threaten me with solitude. Lurid tales no longer run me. Hysterical exhortations to strike a shadowy enemy before it strikes me. Imperious demands that I not look under the bed, "for my own good." Because I've learned a truth too true to be unlearned.

The monsters are pantywaists.

(From Growing Up Home, copyright RK Henderson.)

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Update: Ferns, Sticks, Trinity Tar

Here's some breaking news on subjects I've broached in the past, of no particular internal relevance and in no particular order.


In Hermitcraft: Fiddleheads I discussed the differences between Pteridium (bracken) shoots and those of other ferns, such as those pictured in the article. Here then is a photo of one such Pteridium shoot, for those who want to taste (or avoid) them. (Click to enlarge.) Where they occur, they typically occur en masse; one spring I took a walk during a 10 minute break in a community college course I was teaching, and came back with a mighty fistful of these.

Walking Stick

In A Brief History of the Stick I mentioned that I'd whipped the end of my walking stick and coated the cord with PVC cement. It didn't work, though it probably would have if I'd used urethane varnish. (The glue was an experiment.) I've since stripped off the whipping and replaced it with this brass plumbing fitting from the hardware store. The balance of the stick has changed a bit, but all in all it's working very nicely.

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