Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Good Song: Was It Ever Really Mine

I collect Authentic Christian Pop artists, that is, devout Christians whose lyrics centre on practical application of Christ's values, rather than skin-deep commercials. They're damn thin (so to speak) on the ground, but every one I've found so far is brilliant. Inspired by fundamental truth, their work has universal appeal, and practitioners of this tiny genre work mindfully to keep it that way. Is it an effective strategy? Well, Zen Buddhist hermits love their stuff. So you tell me.

Jon Troast is a great example. Check out, by way of appropriate Thanksgiving meditation, his Was It Ever Really Mine:

This charming footage was shot at one of Jon's famous living room concerts. (He travels the US, Basho-like, and performs for any private citizen who comes up with the pittance he charges. Yes, I'm serious: book him here.) The sound quality suffers from impromptu technology, but the album cut is crystal-clear and professionally mixed and can be streamed in the "Launch Music" device in the upper left corner of his website. Alternatively, you can GET THE ENTIRE ALBUM FREE simply by joining Jon's email list. (A $10 US value, by the way.) I have no idea how this guy stays in business, or why he's not on the charts, but perhaps we can contribute to both.

One way or another, it's one more thing to be thankful for.

By Jon Troast

I brought a dollar to the store today
Wanted to buy something new
I put the dollar in my front pocket
And brought it back home to you

‘Cause I don’t want to buy what I don’t need
And I don’t want to own what I can’t keep
And if I’m gonna have to leave it all behind
Was it ever really mine?

I made a dollar at my job today
I show up every week
I guess I really didn’t make it
They gave it to me

‘Cause I don’t want to buy what I don’t need
And I don’t want to own what I can’t keep
And if I’m gonna have to leave it all behind
Was it ever really mine?

There are mansions waiting in the sky
Where the rivers run but never run dry
There are highways of gold, room for this soul
I don’t think Jesus would lie

I put a dollar in the mail today
I hope it gets there in time
They look so hungry on my TV
I hope they’ll be alright

‘Cause the store’s full of things that I don’t need
And the world’s full of mouths that I can’t feed
And if I’m gonna have to leave it all behind
Was it ever really mine?

And I don’t want to buy what I don’t need
And I don’t want to own what I can’t keep
And if I’m gonna have to leave it all behind
Was it ever really mine?

WW: Nine meditation candles

Thursday, 20 November 2014


Neak Pean, Angkor, Camboya, 2013-08-17, DD 01

Zen is all about refuge. To this end, monastery monks daily intone the Three Refuge (or Three Jewel) Chant:

I take refuge in Buddha.
I take refuge in Dharma.
I take refuge in Sangha.

(In theory, the first and third "refuges" are only a means to the second, which is the ultimate point of Buddhist practice. As a famous Zen teaching advises, even the Buddha himself is only toilet paper: really valuable when used, really objectionable after.)

In my practice, I find that this issue of refuge – specifically, where I seek it – comes up every minute. Every experience I've ever had has led me to the conclusion that the Buddha's teaching – that the Dharma is the only shelter, and all else a trap – is scientific fact.

So I'm enlightened. Schedule me to address the UN; I'll straighten those people out.

On second thought, maybe you better hold off, just yet.

Turns out "knowing" is not the same as "doing". Even "learning over and over and over again", for some reason, is still not attaining.

I keep seeking refuge in other stuff. Especially people. People suck as refuge. That's not misanthropy; it's just that all of us are so busy screaming our lungs out in our pitch-dark cells that we're not reliable refuge for others. Even those who don't want to, are going to fail you. (And most aren't even trying.) I know this, but somehow I can't shake the notion that – for example – female companionship would make me happy. Reams of research have proven that well dry, and I've even stopped drilling there. (Is it just me, or did it suddenly get Freudian in here…) But still that voice whispers, "That's where it all went wrong. If you'd found a loving woman, you'd be fine."

No I wouldn't. I'd be fretting about something else. Like jobs. Yeah, I know this culture teaches that a "productive" life (which bears a remarkable resemblance to slavery) is the key to happiness, but my success at finding an enlightened, non-exploitative employer is a precise mirror of my love life. Score: zero.

And I've been blessed with a pretty good family, when I look around at what others drew, but that's no source of enduring happiness either. I also have excellent friends, but they have their own lives, worries, and issues.

In sum, no-one I've ever met is any more perfect than me. And boy, is that bad news.

I've tried other things, too. Pretty much all of them, in fact: nationalism, religion, ideology, advocacy of this and that, marketing my skills and talents, competing, coöperating, obeying, rebelling, serving others, serving myself. None of it is worth a crock of warm spit.

The only thing that works is the Dharma. I call it keeping your eyes on the horizon. When things get really bad, I literally lift my eyes to the sky. It's big. Bigger than me. Bigger than you. Bigger than big, in fact.

According to Zen, "don't know mind" is the road to that refuge, and all my research to date endorses that. How else you gonna learn what you already know? One way or the other, it's crucial to remember that time is long, space is big, and people are stupid. Don't get attached to being one. This is only temporary.

May we all find a warm and lasting refuge.

(Photo courtesy of Diego Delso and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

WW: Mystery of the footless shoes

(These shoes -- and accompanying child's thongs -- remained at the foot of the beach path for several weeks. Footwear left briefly in this place is not unusual; that it never be recovered is unheard-of.

What happened to the beachwalkers?)

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Street Level Zen: Putting It Down


"You can't spend your life crying. It annoys people in the movies."

Neil Simon

(Photo courtesy of Fernando de Sousa and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

WW: Protective custody

(Or: How To Get a Catnap With a Puppy Around.)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Hermitcraft: Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

Shaggy manes (Coprinus comatus) are ubiquitous now where I live. These very common and almost globally-available wild mushrooms are a favourite of mine, because in spite of their omnipresence, and the breathtaking quantities you can sometimes pick, they have an extremely narrow field-to-table window. Basically, they begin liquefying into black goo the instant they're cut. Which means two things:

1). Unlike chanterelles, oysters, and certain boletes, they haven't been commercialised, and so are only available to foragers. And...

2) They're a blessing you have to take advantage of the instant you see them, and so are an excuse to lay other things aside and celebrate.

Because of their ephemeral nature, I have many more memories of having to pass up brilliant sets of shaggy manes due to bad timing, than I have of delicious shaggy mane feasts. But when the stars were aligned, fabulous lunches and dinners have suddenly replaced the humdrum dish I'd planned.

Growing in profusion along trails, sidewalks, and roadsides, in parks and yards, and even in dirt-floored buildings, this savoury delicacy is harder to avoid than to find. And with its frilly, delicate torpedo cap, splitting easily when pinched and bruising pink; its hollow, brittle white stem; and the frequent presence of gooey overripe individuals nearby (see photo right), it's hard to misidentify. Any confusion is likely to be with other coprines (such as C. sterquilinus) that are edible and delicious in their own right.

The trick to mushrooms of this genus is to keep them cold and cook as soon as possible. Really fresh ones, refrigerated immediately after picking, may keep 24 hours with only minimal blackening around the gills; any longer, and you've got a bitter, sticky mess. For best results, eat your collections as soon as you get them home, even if it's just in an omelette. (It'll be an omelette you won't soon forget.)

If you can't use your shaggy manes immediately, cook them quickly and freeze (or refrigerate to use in a few days). Some steam them in a saucepan with a little water, but I prefer to rinse them first, then slice the caps and stems coarsely and pop the pieces into a skillet with just the water that's left on them. I add a bit of cracked pepper, chopped onion, and minced garlic, cover tightly, and mijote over low heat till the alliums are translucent. This way the mushrooms produce their own liquor, concentrating flavour and resulting in a meaty-smelling mixture (see photo below) that can be added to other recipes or used by itself as a sauce base. The whole process takes only a few minutes.

So keep a sharp eye to the margins this autumn, and you may end up with a year's supply of choice, unbuyable mushrooms, one panful at a time.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

WW: Earthstars

(Geastrum saccatum; looks remarkably like a green olive
toothpicked to a small roll, but it's really a mushroom.)

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