Wednesday, 31 May 2017

WW: Hawthorn blossoms

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Facing the Wall

Sitting area by office (Tassajara).jpg
My brother Fletcher – formerly an ordained Zen monk, now an ongoing seeker after insight on another path – recently described to me his initiation as a novice at Tassajara. (That would be the largest Soto monastery in the States – possibly largest in the whole West – and a dependent house of San Francisco Zen Center.)

His story was typical: the ranking monks shut him in a room with other boots and made them meditate for five days straight. Is that OK? Maybe. Maybe not. Feel free to undertake the koan.

But the part of Fletcher's tale that most seized me was his coping strategy: he began chanting "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" in his head, and continued doing so throughout the ordeal. In fact, he says, "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" remained a go-to mantra through the course of his considerable monastic career.

I like this on several levels. First, as juvenile as its lyrics may sound, "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" is basically what the Ancestors instructed us to do when we sit. My technique is theirs: I count my breaths from 1 to 10, then start again, until I'm done. All Fletcher changed was the number of reps.

His approach is also refreshingly free of twee chinoiserie. You know what else is free of twee chinoiserie? Zen. Or it was, until it acquired "Ancestors". Once upon a time we were famous – scorned, actually – for our coarse working-class pragmatism, and also our impatience with Confucian obsequium. "Get it done," Bodhidharma said (more or less).

And Fletcher did. By his account, the old summer camp ditty (was this ever a real drinking song? don't drinking songs end every so often so the singers can drink?) got the job done: it kept his discursive mind occupied so it couldn't stuff every silence with worry, regret, and drama, and it afforded the rest of his consciousness an opening to engage the Great Matter.

Sounds like enlightenment practice to me.


(Photograph of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

WW: Homemade composter


(My mom needed a compact composter at her new house, where she doesn't have room for the sort of full-service compost bin system I built her 20 years ago. I looked into the storebought versions, and found they cost 75+ dollars. This offended my sensibilities, so I searched a bit online and found that people were making substantially the same article out of simple trash bins.

This one cost $25 and an hour's work. There are smaller holes in the bottom for drainage.)

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Hermit Practice Kyôsaku

Walking on rail tracks



"There is no escape from the nature of your suffering in this practice. When you walk, you are constantly confronted with your self, your attachments, your resistance. You are confronted with what you cling to for the illusion of security."

Claude AnShin Thomas









(Photo courtesy of Leah Love and Wikimedia Commons.)

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Don't Know Mind

A Couple Stars From the Hood (15181691902) As you get older, you call every change in your views and attitudes an improvement. But it only is if it is; change can be growth or decay. And "experience" is a lazy man's plea: "My experience has cultured and corrected me!"

Fact is, shallow logic is contagious. Chances are, if you're appealing to your past for justification, you caught some along the way.

So many of my friends from the day espouse facile extremism, now that we're old. Right wing, for the most part, though some went the other way.

What we all have in common is that none of us have lived long enough to pull that off.



(Photo of an Earthling pondering one tiny arm of our small, unremarkable galaxy courtesy of Zach Dischner and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

WW: Иконостас

Thursday, 4 May 2017

How To Be Perfectly Unhappy


This week I'm deferring to Matthew Inman, the Seattle bodhisattva who stands against evil and pointless suffering under the nom de guerre The Oatmeal. You may remember him from our 2014 nod, Happy Las Casas Day!

In How To Be Perfectly Unhappy, Inman takes on the Happiness Mafia, and he does so brilliantly and analytically, as is his MO. No Zen master (that is, no shingle-hanging Zen master) ever laid it out more cogently and succinctly.

At any rate, not more entertainingly.

Therefore, as part of my on-going outreach to fellow depression sufferers – and to our non-depressed brothers and sisters, who are equally responsible for it – this time around I'm directing you off-site to Matthew's nefarious lair.

Nefarious, I say, because once you step inside you'll never get out again. Clear your calendars, Zen droogies. I'm convinced it's called The Oatmeal because it's gluey and inescapable and "Quicksand" or "Spider Web" or "Satan's House of Infernal Temptation" would have been too on-the-nose.

You'll find the current example at How To Be Perfectly Unhappy.

And happy reading. (See what I did there?)

(Cartoon panel from The Oatmeal teaching linked above. Because the first hit's free.)

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

WW: Busy beavers

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