Thursday, 30 May 2019

Concentration Camp


Zen monastery.

Wait for it.

(Photo of Rinsaiji courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

WW: Vanilla leaf

(Achlys triphylla.)

Thursday, 23 May 2019

I Want, I Fear, I Surrender

I learned this meditation from AJ Smith of Restoration Church, an urban Evangelical congregation in Philadelphia featured on Gimlet's Startup podcast. In a moment of self-doubt and uncertainty, AJ engages this mantra, which I gather is fairly common to seekers on his path.

"I want, I fear, I surrender" has a definite Insight ring, don't you think?

If "surrender" seems a little New Age-y, we can always substitute "accept". That formula you could easily sell as straight from the Ancestors, and none would be the wiser. (Hey, wouldn't be the first time.)

Anyway, I think this is a powerful meditation for those moments when you're paralysed by anxiety. Or just as a technique for confronting the koan of anatta.

(Photo courtesy of Nagesh Jayaraman and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

WW: Wanton destruction

(Excepting humans, vandalism is rare on this planet. Which is why I find beavers fascinating. The animal that felled this tree wasn't after food. [They only eat the bark.] Nor had he earmarked this trunk for construction. [Too big, too far from the water.] He was just obeying some maladaptive inner compulsion.

Because it burns massive amounts of time, exposure, and calories, while scoring not a single survival point, evolution normally frowns on such aimless violence. A glaring exception are the rodents, of which the beaver is the most imposing example, in every sense.)

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Street Level Zen: Authority

"Most good poetry is written by people whose fathers told them to shut up."

Nelson Bentley

(Photo of Matsuo Basho's The Rough Sea graffitied on a wall courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

WW: Camas

(Camas [Camassia quamash] is the clarion of spring where I grew up. Back in the day it covered hundreds of miles of open prairie, and its marble-sized, onion-shaped starchy bulbs were a pillar, along with salmon and salal, of the North Coast aboriginal diet. I used to gather it myself, until they put a shopping centre on top of my camas ground.

Thus I've been accustomed to view camas in a mostly utilitarian light, but lately I'm noting how beautiful a flower it is. Must've been something to see those vast prairies, rippling purple in the new-made sun, to the horizon.)

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Invisible Monk

I normally turn to one of several online public-domain graphics services to illustrate these posts. But figure this: on most or all of them, if you search for "monk", virtually every image will be Buddhist.

Some are Hindu, a decided few are Jain or Taoist, but almost none are Christian.

Take Unsplash. Its very generously free photographs are of such Condé-Nast quality that I rarely use them myself, this being a dirt-floored hermit blog, but click on that hyperlink. See how many of its monks are Christian.

And Unsplash is not an egregious case. Though the most widely-used service – Wikimedia Commons – does somewhat better, if you subtract historical depictions you'll find that its Christian orders still score well behind those of Asian origin.

Which renders me thoughtful. What's at work here? Is it the natural ambivalence of people in Christian-dominated societies to the Church? Or do we view Christian monastics as anachronistic – as indeed many Asians view their Buddhist counterparts? Or is it the common delusion that Asian religions are less hypocritical than Abrahamic ones?

It might simply be that Asian travel is hipper among trendy young Westerners, so the photos they take tend to depict Asian subjects.

Or maybe it's those flaming orange, red, and yellow vestments most Buddhist monks wear. Perhaps they're just more photogenic than the typical earth-toned Christian habit. 'Course that wouldn't explain why snapshots of Zenners, in their black, brown, or grey okesa, outnumber those of Catholics.

One way or the other, I think this is related to the Buddhist statuary often encountered in Western gardens and sitting rooms. But it's not just exoticism; Christian monks have become almost as novel to us in these times, particularly since they rarely go abroad in uniform these days.

Yet somehow they don't command the same mystique. When you consider all the old-school Christian cœnobites still afoot in the Mediterranean countries and Eastern Europe and Latin America, it's astonishing how few make it into our stock photos.

I'm convinced that somewhere in there is a fundamental misconception about the nature and reality of Buddhist monasticism.

Because the fact is, life and practice in Christian and Buddhist monasteries is astonishingly similar.

(Photo of Zen master Seung Sahn uncharacteristically outnumbered by the brothers of Our Lady of Gethsemani courtesy of ZM Dae Gak [Robert Genther] and Wikimedia Commons.)

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

This article has saved countless lives.

In Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning, Mario Vittone makes some timely points about how people drown. And how many die each year because everyone thinks a drowning person says, "If you please, good sir, I believe I am drowning," like they do on Gilligan's Island.

I'm acutely aware of this quandary, because when I was in high school I saved a child's life. Several families had convened on the waterfront for a late-summer get-together, and the kids were all splashing around in the water. I – the oldest – went snorkeling some distance away.

I'd circled back to the swimming area and had just stood up in the shallows, when I saw a that three-year-old boy had edged himself out too deep. In the space of that glance, he tilted his head backward in an effort to breathe, and as he opened his mouth, it immediately filled with water. I'm not talking about a slosh; I mean a wave sucked him, open-mouthed, completely underwater.

I screamed and ripped off my mask and snorkel, stomping across the rocky bottom in my annoying big diving fins, throwing younger bathers right and left as I floundered toward him.

I made quite a scene.

I also reached the sinking child in seconds, whereupon I jerked him clean out by the armpits and hauled him, at the same thrashing, half-stumbling pace, back to land.

Afterward I sat down on the bank, trembling, my flippered feet still in the water. Everybody stared. The kid was crying. "He was drowning," I panted.

Awkward silence.

"Oh, uh... thanks," said his mother. She was about ten feet from where her son would likely have died, or at least required full-on resuscitation, if I hadn't happened by the dumbest of luck to see him go under. No-one had noticed him out there, or what was happening to him. As Vittone points out, the kid hadn't made so much as a peep at any point.

I wasn't perturbed by the lack of fanfare. Like most rescuers I was as traumatised by the event as the victim. I was exasperated by the attitude of the grups, and that some seemed irked that I'd upset the little guy, as they believed, by randomly snatching him out of the water.

Which is why I'm sharing Vittone's article. His precise description of what drowning looks like took me right back to that place, over 40 years ago, where a child nearly died just feet from half a dozen cavorting others, and a few feet more from another half-dozen adults drinking and kibitzing.

The victim didn't gesticulate or shout. He didn't splash or flog around.

He just… sank.

Water season is upon us up here in the Northern Hemisphere. Let us read up in readiness.

Oh, and a secondary point: if a bay boy says somebody's drowning, somebody's drowning.

(Photo from the article linked above.)

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

WW: On the road

(I don't know why I like this one so much;
somehow it just looks like me.)

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