Thursday, 29 May 2014

Getting To The Point



Like most Western Zenners, I come to this practice from a life of emotional trauma. More than once, I've stood at that point where you realise, after a long, desperate march, that the cause is lost; there's no going back, or even holding on. You can only let go, and let karma happen.

What comes next, if you practice attentively, is insight and growth, but that instant of acceptance, when you see it's all been delusion, is sacred. (If only in hindsight.)

ELO's Getting To The Point expresses that state perfectly. Founder Jeff Lynne's goal for his appropriately-named Electric Light Orchestra was to bring classical music sensibilities to pop – which is why the execution here is so reminiscent of Beethoven. His song texts, tolerated largely to carry the melody, were correspondingly fatuous for the most part. But this one reads like Japanese poetry, riding a dramatic score to devastating effect. Throw in a masterful flourish of wailing sax, so emblematic of the power balladeers (Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Mark Knopfler, Gerry Rafferty, Don Henley) of the late 70s and 80s, and you've got ELO's most moving song.

Which is either ironic or prescient, given that, in eerie echo of another revolutionary British band, it was also the last single they ever released. Sadly, an untimely distribution glitch prevented most people from hearing it, leaving one of pop music's most seminal groups to slip unmemorialised over the horizon.

Until today. Give it a spin.


GETTING TO THE POINT
by Jeff Lynne

It's out of control
Out of control
And there's nothing I can do now
Out of control
Out of control
Spinning softly through the blue now
And look beyond these walls
As the meaning starts to dawn
It's getting to the point
Getting to the point

It's out of control
Nothing I can do
Like a fire that keeps on burning
And nobody knows
What I'm going through
And the thoughts just keep returning
And all you had to say
Was that you were gonna stay
It's getting to the point
Getting to the point
It's getting to the point

It's getting to the point
Where nobody can stop it now
It's getting to the point
Of no return
And all that I can do
Is stand and watch it now
Watch it burn, burn, burn

It's getting to the point
Where reasons are forgotten
It's getting to the point
Where no one knows
And all that I can do
Is say I'm sorry
But that's the way it goes
Getting to the point

Forever is a long way
Forever takes your breath away
I'd like to talk about it
Try to understand
It's getting to the point
Getting to the point
Getting to the point

It's getting to the point
Where nobody can stop it now
It's getting to the point
Of no return
And all that I can do
Is stand and watch it now
Watch it burn, burn, burn

It's getting to the point
Where reasons are forgotten
It's getting to the point
Where no one knows
And all that I can do
Is say I'm sorry
That's the way it goes

It's getting to the point
Getting to the point




Wednesday, 28 May 2014

WW: Wires


(Cell phone artist Dannon Raith strikes again.).

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Shipbuilding

Los Angeles, California. Constructive Hobby Recreation - NARA - 532247 I was about nine when my dad took me to visit a friend who was building a large wooden steamboat. It was all framed in, and really impressive. Giant ribs, each pair cut to unique curvatures, fitted into the keel at precise tolerances; each structural member crafted out of a specific wood for that part of the ship. It was a true work of art.

I asked my dad how they did that, and he said, "They study all their lives. Just learning how to read the plans is a significant accomplishment." And then he said something that's stuck with me: "Imagine: it took these guys a lifetime to learn how to build boats, and a year to get this far on this one, but you and I could pick up an axe and a sledge hammer and completely destroy it in minutes with no training at all."

I think about that when people admire military prowess, or consider torture an "art", or are proud of their ability to shoot holes in others' theories. It's a very cheap skill.

Show me what you've built.


(Photo courtesy of Rondal Partridge, Federal Security Agency - National Youth Administration, and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

WW: Swedish breakfast


Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Seeds of Peace

A U.S. Special Operations Marine assists with security as fellow Special Operations Marines and Afghan National Army special forces soldiers talk with potential Afghan Local Police candidates in Helmand 130404-M-BO337-008 Claude AnShin Thomas, Zen priest and Vietnam combat veteran, specialises in walking ango. In the course of these "peace pilgrimages" he's crisscrossed Europe and the US, and trekked from Auschwitz to Vietnam. Along the road he is often confronted by security personnel professing concern for his safety. Do you need anything? they ask.

AnShin answers: "Would you remove your hand from your sidearm?"


(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Sgt Pete Thibodeau and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

WW: Ducks catch a bus


(You're know you're in Seattle now.)

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Hermits Wanted

Katskhi Pillar

We need hermits. OK, it's a self-serving point. But trust me: leave it to the priests and temples alone, and they'll botch this thing.

Corporate religion always warps the founder's teachings, which invariably urge individual atonement and transcendence, into a trophy-collecting expedition. Hence the uniform, the command structure, and the litmus.

That last conjures enemies. Collective religion needs these, and it needs them everywhere.

That's why we always live on the brink of Revolution, the great cosmic victory, prophesied of old, that will literally change the universe. (And will somehow be brought about by us microbes, through our thunderous obedience.) Every generation, in all ages, lives in the End Times.

At least our Zen jihad is usually a personal one. We've resisted second-comings and arhats, and at least in the West, our politics are generally not diametrically opposed to the Buddha's. But dungeons and dragons lurk even here. In Zen centres I've heard praise of "relics" (including "relics of the Buddha", a phrase my hermit tongue cannot pronounce), and breathless accounts of what must honestly be called sainthood, attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh, Seung Sahn, Suzuki-roshi, and any number of local gurus. These teachers would, I am heartened to think, quash such talk, yet the craving for deities remains. Can charisma be far behind?

The danger is real. One has only to consider Christianity, now so buried in augury, Bible-babble, and gothic conspiracy that Christ himself has lost all credibility in the larger culture. In such times a Christian hermit, churched by the Spirit alone, might preach at risk of his life.

Thankfully we Zenners do little scripturalising. We seldom declaim verses on one another, even when we work violence on one another, and since World War II have not lawyered obscure sutras into cynical stratagems.

But we do live constantly on the verge of "enlightenment", which state we could immediately reach if only we would submit more completely to another person's will. We kick others for eating meat, for having sex, for breaching the latest liberal shibboleth. We kick ourselves, too: for not sitting enough, or right; for losing our temper, or our faith; for giving – or bearing – too little. And most wretched of all: for honouring our own nature over ordained authority. And in that we are precisely identical to every other church on this blue planet: turning away from our liberating practice, and embracing comfortable conventions.

And so we need hermits – a sunburned dervish, a naked fakir, a hemp-haired Hebrew prophet – to remind us what practice really is, and the true nature of enlightenment. Therefore (one sec while I pull on some sackcloth…) say I unto ye:

Hear me, O Zion! It happens when it happens. You can't make it happen, you can't predict when it happens, and you probably won't even know when it happens. But happen it will. On its own and by its own, with you or without you, because of you and in spite of you, whether it vindicates you or shows you for a fool.

And let's cut the crap: it's gonna show you for a fool.


All peace and success to the Nation of Seekers.


(Photo of Katskhi Pillar courtesy of ლევან ნიორაძე and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

WW: Star magnolia


(Magnolia stellata)

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Escape From Lotus Land

South Eastern Washington State

From birth, a great wall screens the Greensider from an uncomfortable reality. We live with our backs to it, like riverboat gamblers, indifferent to the white sawtooth peaks that scrape the clouds from the sky. Everything we love – the grey air, the cold jungle, the wet asphalt – the Cascades steal for us from the rest of the state. We are like mandarins in a sea of suffering, boreals milk-fed on austral pillage. Beyond the ridge: rattlesnakes, black widows, right-wingers. The knowledge terrifies us.

Thus the passes, fabled portals hanging somewhere above our ceiling of vision, disturb our dreams. All winter long the radio intones their names: White Pass, Stevens Pass, Blewitt, Snoqualmie. When the alpine snow seals them up, we are caged in our cloying lotus land. It's a frightening thought.

I had to get over those mountains, to find refuge in reality; a real world cure for my real world pain. Now at last I was climbing east, and out. How better to shake Green Side grief than to lose it on the North Cascades Highway, whose high twin passes disappear each autumn, and stay gone, till the mountains give them back.

(Adapted from Rough Around the Edges: A Journey Around Washington's Borderlands, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of the Walla Walla country courtesy of Jeffrey G. Katz and Wikimedia Commons.)
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