Thursday, 25 April 2019


Aaron Burden 2017-01-02 (Unsplash YILmPSsn3T4) Travelling so far so long in isolated country produces a kind of elation. The muttering millions bugger off, leaving you in boundless creation, under a sympathetic God.

(Adapted from Rough Around the Edges: A Journey Around Washington's Borderlands, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Anthony Burden and Wikimedia Commons.)

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

WW: Spring stirfry

(The giving season. Morels [Morchela conica] and fresh asparagus.)

Thursday, 18 April 2019


Radio experimenters guide 1923
Me at my station. Note how state-of-the-art it
looks now that I've replaced all the knobs
with rotary encoders.
Last year, after a prodigal decade, I got back into ham radio. Digging out my old gear and catching up with the new had a Rip Van Winkle quality; like all things tech, radio evolves at astounding speed.

There were also the inevitable jargon shifts. It's a universal human phenomenon – constantly adjusting our codes to confirm insiders and bar outsiders. Tech fields, with their giddy rate of material change, are especially given to it.

So it was that I spent weeks working out what a "rotary encoder" was. Something to do with Arduinos? (This after looking up "Arduino", which clarified but little. Now, having read some more and watched a few YouTube videos, I own one. And someday I hope to get it to do something.)

But "rotary encoders" appear on Arduino-less equipment, too. I soldiered on through the blizzard of rotary encoder references, till at last I cornered this majestic creature for close and thorough inspection. And lo I was enlightened.

It's a knob. You know: the round plastic thing you twist to turn up the volume, or change the frequency.

Apparently, in my absence, the rest of you figured out what a knob is, so we had to upgrade that terminology before you began to suspect we aren't as great as our game.

And that's why, starting tomorrow, I'm refitting all my doors with rotary encoders. Because I insist on cutting edge. I won't actually have to do anything; just call all my doorknobs "rotary encoders" from here on in. And I'll be miles ahead of you other dweebs.

Which meditation puts me in mind of a broader trend in my life these days. To wit, all of my religious and political opinions have dwindled and melded into one single iron principle:

Show me results or sod right the hell off.

As I age, I've quite lost patience with shell games. I'm not the least bit interested in thrice-busted cons (capitalism, Marxism, any scheme to sum up all human aspiration in a single sentence) and pseudo-science (economics foremost, along with a great steaming chunk of the other social sciences, yea though that's my academic preparation).

Nor do I retain any faith in religious eschatology. Try to sell me some Nigerian scam whereby I tolerate or cause suffering in this world in exchange for a pay-off in the next, and you'll see my veil of courtesy slip. Same with attempts to shame me into collusion. "You think too much of yourself. You can't possibly grasp the genius of God/guru/gospel."

Listen, O Knowing One: show me results or piss off. Validate your success. I want unspun stats, discrepant data, objective evaluation, adult-level honesty, sensitivity, and complexity. I don't care whether or not your approach is consistent with my religion, culture, or assumptions. If you've fixed something, I'll muck in.

If not, I won't let you finish your sentence.

This is the sword of Zen, as I've lived it. In my experience, "don't know mind" is both the essence and the action of this practice. When I fail at that, I fail at other things as well. When I succeed, I tend to reap results.

It's difficult not to get bogged in the quagmire of "knowing 'don't-know mind'". Humans are wired to "find" things, and then to conclude that others' troubles come from not having found them. (Or even from wickedly obscuring them.)

So not-knowing is a constant chore. Putting down the stuff I know, which I pick up every day, is a goal I'll ultimately never attain. But reaching gets results, so I keep doing it.

In the end, I guess the best advice I can give to myself or others is, respectfully:

Don't be a rotary encoder.

(Graphic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the Newark Sunday Call.)

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

WW: Korean ritual

(My mother's neighbour is Korean, and every spring I see her in her front yard, drying great quantities of bracken fiddleheads. I once tried to strike up a conversation with her while she worked, but lack of common language limited us to smiles and nods. Still, I believe my gestures and tone of voice communicated my approval of her good sense. If nothing else, her yearly ritual brings some badly-needed earthiness to my mom's tightly-ordered retirement community.)

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Good Video: Nathaniel Drew Meditates

Lots of videos on the old blog lately. Down no doubt to the fact that much of my audio-visual consumption comes from YouTube these days.

This week I watched Nathaniel Drew's 19-minute account of a week spent meditating twice a day. And it's not bad.

First off, Nathaniel never set out to sit zazen, so I'm not going to do that annoying religious thing and pick at another's practice from imaginary higher ground. Meditation is common to many religions, and also to nonreligious individuals and movements. For me to complain about Nathaniel's Zen would trigger Karma's infamous So-What response, and that's trouble I don't need.

However, he does say he's looking for mindfulness and clarity, so as a sangha mate that entitles me to an opinion. (And no more.)

From the outset, Nathaniel seems to have mixed intent. On the one hand, he wants a settled, nonreactive mind; on the other, worldly rewards. That's true of all of us, if we're honest; doubly so of beginners. But I do believe he got off on the wrong foot by buying (literally) into something called the Headspace app. Those folks are selling meditation, and I have no faith in commercial gurus.

(By contrast, the "meditation" apps I recently reviewed are just timers, and importantly, non-profit.)

But Nathaniel survives this fairly serious initial stumble. From the outset he's commendably firm, requiring of himself two sits a day, whether it's fun or not. That tempers some of his initial getitude and yields true results. He also adapts his practice to his life and environment, making changes where indicated. In this he bests some Zenners I know.

But the single great weakness in his technique is that he's meditating 'way too long. An hour sit is gruelling, even for experienced meditators. (By comparison, cloistered Zen monks normally sit 40 minutes, give or take.)

Fact is, the most effective way to time meditation is to sit till you're done. Evaluating your practice by minutes earned is slave-think.

When I started, I was typically done by around 15-odd minutes. That slowly stretched (on average; not every time) to about an hour. But I still sit less than half an hour sometimes, and others – rarely – as much as two.

So if a session can be open-ended, sit till you're done.

Some of Nathaniel's stated goals awaken the hectoring religioso in me, so I'll spare everybody that ugly prospect. Instead I'll encourage him to keep meditating, while continuing to avoid, actively and attentively, spiritual and physical materialism. As a Buddhist, I know that's all the task requires.

I'm also intrigued by his interest in Stoic philosophy, aka "Roman Zen". I wasn't aware that was a thing among young people these days. They could do worse. A Zen – Stoic dialogue would be most productive; we could use that kind of kyôsaku.

For the rest, I smiled when Nathaniel apologised for not having life-changing visions, and lamented he'd only attained "surface level".

That's all there is, young brother. If visions happen, put them down before they mess you up.

Anyway, have a look. The guy's asking the right questions, and taking the right measures.

(Readers interested in Zen approaches to meditation will find one here.)

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

WW: Spring feast

(Lady fern [Athyrium filix-femina] shoots. Blessing of the season.)

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The Easter Effect

Rurikoji temple pagoda in Spring

spring breeze...
packed with people
the mountain temple


(Photo courtesy of Maria Yamaguchi and Wikimedia Commons.)

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