Wednesday, 31 January 2018

WW: 1970s time capsule

(Recently found this old school box of mine amongst my father's things; he'd stored loose hardware in it. I believe this dates to Grade 5 or 6; about '73 or '74. You can still see the old Pay'n'Save price tag, which establishment hasn't existed for 40 years now.

Never thought I'd say this, but I miss the bright, fun, outrageous aesthetics of that era. So what if everything was impractical? It made you happy to look at it.)

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Dangerous Path

The hermit path is dangerous. Much more than the teacher path. Because you are the deluder. That makes it hard even to see an error, let alone correct it.

You can leave a master. You can leave a monastery. But you're stuck with yourself.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Balázs and

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

WW: Pu'er tea

(A friend recently gave me this fine tea. To make it, the Chinese pack specially-fermented green leaves into a tangerine rind and let the whole dry hard. That gives the leaves a subtle orange flavour when brewed alone, or, for more direct tang, it can be brewed with bits of the dried rind. Interestingly, the dry product is said to get better with age.

Tea-wise it rates either a strong green or a light black, but either way it's good. As they often do, the Chinese infuse pu'er three times, with the second round considered best. In true Scottish fashion I steep it one good time, then add a drop of milk to the cup. And it stands up well, I must say.)

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Tyranny of Positive Thinking

My sister recently sent me a link to Morgan Mitchell's The 'Tyranny' Of Positive Thinking Can Threaten Your Health And Happiness, courtesy of

In it, Mitchell abstracts recent research suggesting that human denial has no effect on external phenomena, and that insisting it does might be an ineffective strategy for meeting challenges.

I know. You could have knocked me over with a feather. And it only took 70 years to confirm this basic principle of physics.

In fact, according to Actual Researchers, who were probably wearing lab coats at the time, not only are things that are outside of you, uh… outside of you, but systematic denial of that fact can harm your mind. And on an authentically positive note, contemplating dependent co-arising can improve outcomes.

Says Mitchell:
"The study [...] concluded that when people acknowledge and address negative emotions [...] it helps them adjust their behaviour and have more appropriate responses."
Gosh. Do you think that would work in offices, too? Or countries?

The scientists in question imply that forcing people to pretend everything is heavenly is an act of violence. Mitchell's article also sidles up to what that means on a societal level, but sadly doesn't mention that power routinely wields Positive Mental Attitude as a straight-up weapon, to beat underlings into silence or even deprive them of their livelihoods.

But its central thesis – that accepting unpleasant mind-states and ferreting out their external stimuli is healthy, and may lead to greater satisfaction for everyone concerned – is, to borrow Brad Warner's catchphrase, hardcore Zen.

Zen also teaches that suffering arises in the mind, but our prescription for it is diametrically opposed to PMA's: we say, "I am miserable." Then we explore every aspect of that misery. In fact, we analyse that mofo – the causes of the effects of the causes of the effects – till our mind is sorry it ever brought it up.

This is called "looking deeply".

Years ago I read another study that further implied individual human beings have personalities. (I know! You could have knocked me over again, with another feather!) It said cheery people tend to be cheery. If something makes them un-cheery, they tend to recover quickly and return to being cheery. By the same token, dour people are dour, and no matter how much good fortune they enjoy, they eventually return to their dour baseline.

As a student of human evolution I'm sensing a survival value in there, but I can't put my finger on it.

No wait; that was negative. Now I really can't put my finger on it, because I said I couldn't put my finger on it! Saying something makes it true!

Oh, no! By saying it to others I've prevented them from putting their fingers on it, too!

Oh, God! Now I've said nobody has their finger on it! I've made it impossible for my entire species to put its finger on it!

I broke the Internet! I'm worthless! WORTHLESS!!!



Let's keep our butts on the ground, brothers and sisters. That's the only place problems are solved.

(Photo of especially heavy feather courtesy of and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

WW: Fried-egg jellyfish

(Phacellophora camtschatica)

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Himalayan Hermits

Hidden monks of the himalayas

I recently came upon this photo on Wikimedia Commons. According to the uploader, one Pranav Kumar:
"If you leave the well worn path and wander off into the Himalayas, you will find monks practicing here and there, in very inaccessible places. Not that off-beaten after all. Wonder how they get their food though."
Sounds like another vast outdoor hermit monastery, like the Zhongnan Mountains. I would like to hike that ground and meet some of these brothers and sisters.

One gets the impression that eremitical practice isn't as unheard-of in modern Asia as some Western descendants would have us believe.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

WW: Winter night

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Happy Kerstboomverbranding!

As the holiday season softens into memory, we North Americans might pause to consider whether we've quite finished the job.

We're pretty good at initiating our great annual solstice commemoration: it starts cleanly on the first of December (American Thanksgiving weekend in the US). Then we slowly build through the darkest month, drumming on themes of fellowship and good will, revering the season's natural beauty and that of our decorations, celebrating family and childhood, and invoking Christmas past.

That's all excellent practice, as I've opined before. Christmas Eve and Day – one of the few moments in our cultures when quiet intimacy with family is upheld – crown these worthy preparations. Some engage in the equally hushed and moving ritual of Midnight Mass.

Then we wisely stand down for a week to digest, literally and figuratively. It also helps us rebuild strength for the final assault: our salute to the dying year and our survival of it, in a gay but determined vigil to the bitter end.

Whereupon Guy Lombardo sounds keisu, and Solstice Ango is over.

And that's always found me aching for closure next morning. For New Year's Eve is a lament for people, places, and conditions we can never see again. It's a very healthy reflection – especially for Americans, who oblige a kind of adolescent nihilism the rest of the year – but it's only half the truth.

The other half is the new people, places, and conditions that are evolving at the speed of life, and our lot and luck to carpe the crap out of that diem. Before it too passes and is mourned on another New Year's Eve.

Therefore, I advocate Kerstboomverbranding. That's the early January rite of Dutch and Belgian communities, who create an epic bonfire from the mass of their dessicated Christmas trees on which to cremate the bones of the past. Children jump up and down in the searing light while neighbours mill about, sharing New Year's wishes, leftover Christmas cookies, and warming libations.

It's a brief-enough party; dry conifers burn violently, and fast. The whole ritual takes about an hour of early seasonal darkness, leaving folks plenty of time to put the children to bed and sweep any residual needles out of the front room.

Similar things are already going on in a few places here; at Ballard's Golden Garden Park, for example, where participants are supposed, in theory, to burn their trees individually in picnic ground fire rings. But where's the fun in that? To the best of my knowledge, the City of Seattle has yet to shut down the spontaneous combustion that tends to result instead.

But wouldn't it be great if this sort of thing happened in neighbourhoods across the hemisphere: small local initiatives, informal and fleeting, to provide runway lights for the in-bound future. (And before the eco-puritans launch their Barney Fife schtick, no, this would not have an appreciable effect on the planet's health. Just one factory – one – pumps vastly more particulates and toxins into the air in an hour of operation. Or a mile of freeway. Or a jet airliner. Or a single forest fire. Scale, folks. Use it or lose it.)

Anyway, that would be awesome.

(Photo of Kerstboomverbranding in Berchem, Belgium, by a local photographer.)

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

WW: Beaver pond

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