Thursday, March 27, 2014

parting thought

Group of mostly men in a room. (Rephrase that. It's not a gender assessment. No one is all man or all woman.) I noticed that of those who part their hair (I would part my hair if it were long enough), the men I observed tended to part their hair on the left side of the top of their scalp, right side if you are looking at the person. Why is that? Really, why is that?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Someone corrected another's posture. If it were a ballet class, I can see it. The pupils of dance want corrective measures. I suppose they do in the zendo too, but not in the same way. Imagine walking into church and being remonstrated for not making the sign of the cross "properly." Maybe it's just me. A problem with authority. But who likes to be "corrected"? Then again, one of my daughters has called me, an editor, Mister Corrective. Perhaps it boils down to how; it translates to tone. In a religious or spiritual setting, can you judge moral posture by physical posture? I tend to think not. And yet my morning zen reading spoke of body and mind being unified. So, yes, I understand the Eastern tradition's emphasis on form, such as during the tea ceremony. Perhaps that is why the master archer told Eugen Herrigel, in "Zen in the Art of Archery," you can miss every shot and still be a master archer. I must be a Westerner at heart. You might have a stance and a swing like Ted Williams, but you still need to get hits to be a good batter.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

messyanic vision

So, Saturday night, just before the commendable "Hamlet" at the Red House, I strolled on the sidewalk across the street along the so-called connective corridor. It seemed the only thing it was connected to was litter. Is litter too nice a word? Garbage. Crap. Detritus that makes things Detroit-us. Plastic bags (I wish we would ban them), cigarette boxes, paper, plastic, you-name-it. Who does this? Who are the litterati? And if I had more time and work gloves and some sort of trash container, I would have done more than bitch about it and would have stooped to conquer; would have picked some of it up. What an unappealing greeting to visitors or residents! It was as if the melted snow revealed the shame of an entire winter of cavalier disposal. Consumerist caches of junk tossed in the wind amid the shrubs. This is why I hate Earth Day. Earth Day is the salve upon one's social conscience, the balm of do-gooderism that pretends the other 364 days are just fine, environmentally and socially. Right.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I used to walk nearly every day. I don't mean: walk across the room or up the stairs to the bedroom or office or bathroom or walk to the car. I used to walk the dog every day, typically in the evening, in the park, by the same shrubs and pines and grass, by the same knoll, the same hill, through the seasons.

And now I do not walk every day. Only on occasion.

I miss it.

The dog misses it terribly.

She tells me so whenever I see her.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Naming the Cows

Continuing with yesterday's post on the Releasing Our Cows theme, I would like to note that Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say,

"One practice we can do is to take a piece of paper and write down the names of our cows. Then we can look deeply to see whether we're capable of releasing some of them. We may have thought these things were crucial to our well-being, but if we look deeply, we may realize that they are the obstacles to our true joy and happiness."

I cannot do this.


But I can pray for the willingness to be willing.

I know what some of the cows' names are (you share some of those traditional, "civilized," "normal" cow names, the hallmarks of sanity, probity, and stability, don't you?).

Notice that we are asked to see if we can release "some" of these cows of attachment. Not "all."

I know, might as well start somewhere.

As in here.

And now.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

till the cows come home, or don't

Today is the 79th day of the year.

Meditation Number 79 in Your True Home: the everyday wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh is titled "Releasing Our Cows." It relates a story of the Buddha. A farmer comes upon the Buddha and his followers sitting in the forest. The peasant inquires about some cows he has lost. The farmer is distressed. He can't find his cows.

"When the farmer had gone, the Buddha turned to his monks, smiled, and said, 'Dear friends, you should be veryhappy. You don't have any cows to lose.' "

This struck me. I struggle with this. As a matter of fact, I am missing some cherished items. I lost them a few weeks ago. I value them. It was (is?) driving me crazy. I've inquired at places where I had been, even though I know I neurotically check for my belongings upon leaving, say, a coffee shop. I've searched pockets and notebooks and my car and nooks and crannies and pants and shirts and coats and jackets and sheets and floors and bureaus and desks and bathrobe and pajamas and drawers and street and sidewalks and pockets and pockets and tables and chairs over and over and over again, and then did it again.

I can't find them.

I've lost my cows.

And this does not even talk about my real "cows."


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

the meat of the matter

A CSX train sat parked on the tracks. Some of the long freight train (may we / can we have a short freight train?) temporarily (of course it is "temporary"; if it were permanent, it would be a museum; a museum of what? industry? transportation? iron? or graphic arts?) resided on the rail overpass atop West Genesee Street, in Syracuse, just before Rosie's ("Gateway to Tipperary Hill") and the former residence of Denny's (how is it that a Denny's can't make it in that spot? presumably, too many post-bar-closing fracases, but it could also be mismanagement, lousy food, high prices, ennui). A black car, a tanker, sported white graffiti:


Each of the synonymous words was adorned with the same avatar, if you will, or icon, or branding: a pig's head (well done: simple, almost amusing, easily understood). (As I was driving by, and could not stop to take notes, though I suppose I could've pulled over on Erie Boulevard West [I do not remember my degree of manufactured hurriedness or perceived harriedness], I tried to remember the sequence of the three words. It might have been HAM PORK BACON, or any other three-card monte shift of those words you might want to entertain. Maybe, just maybe, the word PIG was posted, but I doubt it. That would not make sense and would spoil the poetic elegance and philosophical inquiry of our graffiti artist.)

I'm reeling (that's a tad overwrought) from the implications and questions posed by our anonymous poster, our unnamed herald, our silent partner or co-conspirator. Namely, are you telling me that it's all the same shit, the same stuff -- no matter the word, no matter how it is "branded," you anarchic quasi-commie? (I apologize if that is unwarranted; I admit "commie" is going to grow in harshness, what with the return of the Cold War, or the advent of the Chilly War.) Do you celebrate meat? Is meat a triumph of will and protean power and rugged foodist individualism? Or is this some sort of freighted (I can't help it, can I?) vegan diatribe, railing (there I go again) against meat and the purveyors of slaughter (with perhaps the added editorial on toxicity, because the tank car was carrying God knows what; not just air, right?).

Finally, where did you go? Was this a one-off you spray-painted by hand in Gary, Indiana, down the road from the home of be-LOVE-d Robert Indiana, and his eight-cent stamp of approval? Or is it part of your brand, repeated, exactly alike or as variations on a theme, in train yards from Oakland (California) to Newark (New Jersey)?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

ashes dust zen et cetera

Is there any day more than Ash Wednesday that Buddhism and Christianity are closer in medium and message?

Christians receive ashes, as a sign of mortality and repentance. As for the mortality aspect, is it not akin to the impermanence that Zen Buddhists practice?

Various Christian denominations impose ashes on the forehead with these words spoken, or some variation of them, from Genesis 3:19:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

And then many walk around the rest of the day with ashes on the forehead, sometimes in the shape of a cross.

For me, it typically raises a quandary: wash them off or not? In other words, am I "bragging" about some sort of piety that I do not possess? Jesus warned against such strutting. But eventually the ashes need to get washed off, lest one's pillow become all ashy.

Is this a bleak day, a somber reminder of our mortality? I posit it should not be. I further suggest that Buddhists among us (sometimes I strut and pretend I am one, though "practice" is the only membership card, is it not?) would smile. They would not have to say anything.

A mindful Ash Wednesday (or Ash Monday, Ash Tuesday, Ash Thursday, Ash Friday, Ash Saturday, or Ash Sunday) would be occasion enough to smile.

Monday, March 03, 2014

whither goest men?

I strolled into church late, which is not unusual. I came in during the reading of the Gospel, about the Transfiguration. It is a story that resonates with me, because it corresponds in my reflection to a personal transformation, in 1979.

I stood in back, not yet sitting, during the reading, in deference to the presiding priest and in respect of the Word. After the reading, I walked down the left side (why do we all tend to sit in the same places, anyway?) of the church and sat down in back of a member I know. (Had dinner with the family last Sunday evening, after a very Christian, post-worship invitation.) Once I removed my coat and placed it on the pew, I looked around and was almost instantly struck by this observation: the congregation is almost all women, at least at this service. I counted five men, including myself and the master of ceremonies assisting at the altar, in the pews. There were 20 to 25 women. Up in the choir loft were nine men and four women. I counted them when they came to the Communion rail. (I will set aside for now the more troubling age-related demographics. Quite simply, 60 years old tended to be the younger outlier of those attending.) (As an aside, I just discovered that a Rolling Stone review of James Brown's 1966 song "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" offered that he made its "biblically chauvinistic" lyrics "sound genuinely humane.")

This invited questions as my mind wandered during worship, as it sometimes does. I like to gaze out into the Memorial Garden, in this season sporting serene, snow-draped branches of crabapple. This is likely my final "resting place," if ashes rest. My mind entertained questions like these, none of them precisely formulated and none snarky or sour, though they might erroneously seem that way here, lost in translation:

  • Is American Christianity culturally feminized, not offering men a masculine alternative? (I am reminded of the provocative essay I read in The Atlantic magazine, in July/August 2010: "The End of Men" by Hanna Rosin.)
  • Have rank-and-file men themselves abdicated their place in the worship community (even though men prevail in the leadership ranks)?
  • What if the situation were reversed: would women mount a campaign to rectify this? (see bullet immediately above about abdication)
  • Does this female-to-male ratio prevail in the same proportion in the following circumstances: urban churches (as opposed to this suburban one), other Christian denominations, other religious traditions in America, poorer vs. richer congregations? What about Europe? The rest of the world?
  • Does any of this matter, even to men?
  • Should it matter (to men or women)?
  • If it does matter, what are we to conclude, if anything?
  • And finally, if it matters, what is to be done, if anything?