Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Dharma Was Willing and the Creek Didn't Rise

. . . so I had to rise at the crack of dawn and drive from Atlanta down to Fort Valley, Georgia today for a 10:00 a.m. meeting that lasted until way past 5. It really wasn't so difficult, though, and the day was fairly interesting.

My co-worked George had it tougher - he had to drive from Charleston, South Carolina for the meeting - a much longer trip and a much earlier rising time.

I got home around 7:00 p.m. and saw by the gloaming's late light that all of my yardwork on Sunday, cleaning up after Hurricane Ivan, had been completely undone by Hurricane Jeanne.

At least I get to use my leafblower again this weekend . . .

Monday, September 27, 2004


"The act of acceptance, of acknowledging that change is a natural part of our interaction with others, can play a vital role in our relationships. These transitional periods can become pivotal points when true love can begin to mature and flower. We are now in a position to truly begin to know the other. To see the other as a separate individual, with faults and weaknesses perhaps, but a human being like ourselves. It is only at this point that we can make a genuine commitment, a commitment to the growth of another human being - an act of true love." - Howard Cutler

Jeanne arrived today. The hurricane that is. Once again, the wind was whipping the trees around, and rain was coming down in torrential buckets. Terry, the tenzo (cook) at our zendo, called and said that he was at the zendo tonight and not planning to go out anywhere, so if I didn't want to brave the elements and drive over to open the zendo up for Monday night service, he could cover for me. Since no one was likely to show up because of the weather anyway, I gladly took him up on the offer and took the night off. Besides, I have to drive the two hours or so it takes to get to Fort Valley, Georgia for a 10:00 meeting tomorrow morning, and have a lot of prep work to do tonight. And the electricity's still on, at least for now.

I emailed my ex-girlfriend L. earlier in the day, and told her that if her electricity went out, she was still welcome to come over here. She replied that she appreciated the offer, in fact was surprised that with all of the recent difficulties between us I was still willing to help her, but everything was working at her place, which she wisely had stocked with food for this storm.

I must admit that I still think fondly of the time she and I spent together, and feel that we both benefited tremendously from our association (I know I did). I think that one of the differences between her and I, though, relates to that whole half full/half empty conundrum. I think that in the past, I only focused on the positive, and didn't allow myself to face the negative - I just erased the difficult times from my mind. That's part of the reason that our March breakup (when she first became my "ex-girlfriend") was so difficult for me to accept. I simply hadn't allowed myself to see that there were problems. It's been difficult for me, but I think that I can see the downside better now, and am trying to maintain a balanced view, the middle way if you will, of seeing what the relationship really was, in both the good times and the not-so-good.

On the other hand, I often felt that she was working the half empty side of the glass, and focusing on the negative, the not-so-good times, and not realizing how positive the good times were - the love, the intimacy, the support. During our March-May hiatus, and to be honest, during much of our subsequent time together as well (when she became my "former ex-girlfriend"), I often mistakenly felt that if she would just come around to recognizing the good times, she'd see everything differently and then, boom!, everything would be all right. But I now realize that the balanced view alone won't change things. It only allows one to see things as they really are.

So I'm finally coming to accept this most recent change in our relationship, with her once again just my "ex-girlfriend," and am learning to let go of my attachment to L. This letting go is very difficult for me, and is not made any easier by the fact that I am not letting go out of anger or out of lost interest, but out of love and respect. I suspect that it'll take a lot of zazen, and I know that I'll also slip from time to time.

Like yesterday. As I was downloading the pictures of Saturday's hike from my camera, I found a picture of L. and I from Budapest that I had forgotten. My camera has two memory cards, one that I only use for backup - I must have accidentally pressed the switch button when I was taking the picture. Yesterday was the first time I switched over to the backup card, and there we were. Seeing her and I from happier times, even if the perception of "happier" was delusional, tugged at my heart and reinforced those attachments. Letting go is hard to do.

The electricity's still on. I've got a lot of work to do tonight for tomorrow's trip, and I have to get up early. So if the dharma's willing and the creek don't rise . . .

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Every Day's A Good Day

Yesterday morning, before I left the house to pick up K. for the hike to Jack's River, I got an email from my ex-girlfriend L. She had sent it at 11:30 the night before (Friday) and had titled it "Have a great time tomorrow!" "You'll have great weather & a great time.... sure wish I could be there... take care" she wrote.

So naturally, I thought about her a lot duing the hike . . .

Today, I went to the zendo for the usual Sunday morning service, as well as K.'s initiation ceremony. The ceremony went well, and I was glad for K. to formally enter Zen Buddhism, but the whole time my mind was still on L. She was there that morning, working in the kitchen to prepare the noontime meal for the sangha. She looked quite lovely - a black sleeveless top, her hair cut into cute bangs, the kitchen apron tied around her pretty waist. It broke my heart every time I looked at her, to the point where I couldn't stay any longer and walked out after the ceremony without sharing in the meal with K. and the rest of the sangha.

I spent the afternoon trying to quiet my mind with yardwork, my heart full of loneliness and longing, mindlessly leafblowing away the remains of Hurricane Ivan even as Hurricane Jeanne was approaching . . .

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Jacks River Redux

Today, I led the Zen Buddhists on a hiking trip to Jack's River Falls. I reconned the trip two weekends ago with my friend A., but today was the "official" trip.

I picked my friend K. up at her house a couple of blocks form mine, and we drove over to the Atlanta zendo. There we picked up two more guys, and then drove to the Starbucks in Kennesaw near I-75 and Barrett Parkway (near where the Rio Bravo used to be) and picked up Karl. From there, the five of us rode on up to the town of Cisco, Georgia in Karl's van.

Ninety minutes later, we got to Cisco and met the group from Chattanooga that was hiking with us, including my friend Arthur. After waiting around the general store in Cisco for a while for the last of the Chattanooga folks to arrive, we finally gave up on them at 10:30 and the now twelve of us headed toward the trailhead in three cars: Karl's van, an SUV and Arthur's jeep.

It turns out the recon that I did was for naught. About one mile into the seven miles of dirt roads to the trailhead, we hit a "Road Closed Ahead" sign. It seems that a bridge had been washed out by Hurricane Ivan in the time between my trip up with A. and this weekend. We figured out an alternate route with the help of Forest Service maps, a guidebook, and a local who just happened to have driven up at that moment. The detour involved driving all the way up past the Tennessee border and circling back, so we didn't get to the trailhead until about 11:30.

No matter though. It just shows how little value there is in planning. You can try to plan out every little detail, but there's no accounting for that banana peel (or wash out) that you slip on as you head out the door.

The hike from the trailhead to the falls was four miles long, and mostly downhill. I got concerned though, as some of the hikers started to lag significantly behind - if they were having trouble hiking in while walking downhill, how will they feel hiking out another four miles mostly uphill? So, I fell to the rear of the group to wait up for the lagging hikers and let the others go on ahead.

Not a good idea as it turned out. The lead group got to a fork in the trail by Jacks River, and instead of hiking downstream toward the falls, turned in the wrong direction and started upstream, away from the falls. By the time I got to the fork, I could not tell which way they had headed, so I led the laggards in the correct, downstream direction.

By the time we got to the falls, it became apparent that the lead group wasn't there. However, the other Chattanooga folks, the ones that we had given up on while waiting at the general store in Cisco, were arriving at the falls just as I was. It turns out that they had skipped Cisco and headed directly for the trailhead, and since they were coming from Tennessee anyway, missed the washout we encountered on the Georgia side. However, it was apparent that I had to backtrack the half mile or so to the fork in the trail and try to catch up to the lead group that was headed the wrong way, but just as I headed out, Arthur also arrived at the falls leading the lost group. So coincidentally, we had all arrived at the falls at the same time, me and he laggards, Arthur and the errant leaders, and the abandoned Chattanoogans, despite our differing routes and despite all my attempts at trying to "lead" everyone.

We had lunch at the falls, and 30 minutes of sitting meditation. The hike back was pretty uneventful, and I learned to accept that different folks will hike at different rates, and to just accept their differences. The lead group got back to the trailhead at just about 5:00 like planned, and the last of the last was only about 15 minutes behind.

A good day overall - the weather was beautiful, the trail was open despite Ivan's wrath, the falls were flowing full, and we had the rocks over the falls to ourselves for most of the time - a rare event for Jack's River.

And I learned the futility of trying to plan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Ice Fields of Kilimanjaro

The ice fields on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania are expected to melt within the next three to four decades, despite having existed for hundreds of thousands of years. Sea levels will rise by 21 feet if the Greenland ice cap were to melt, and a further 360 feet if Antarctica melted. Cities like New York, New Orleans and London will be among the first to go as sea levels rise.

Temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula have risen 2.5 degrees over the last 50 years - five times the global average. Samples taken from Antarctic ice cores have shown carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere during glacial periods were approximately 200 parts per million (ppm) and increased to about 270 ppm in warm periods. Now levels have reached 379 ppm and are increasing at a rate of 3 ppm a year. These levels are probably not much lower than they were during the Eocene Epoch 55 million years ago, one of the warmest episodes in Earth’s history, when there was little or no polar ice on the planet.

In 2002, the Larsen B ice shelf, which was 650 feet thick and had a surface area of 2,000 square miles, broke apart in less than a month. Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey had predicted that several ice shelves around the peninsula were doomed because of rising temperatures in the region, but were shocked by the speed with which the Larsen B broke up.

However, the break up of the ice mass itself is not expected to raise sea levels because the ice was already floating. Sea levels would only be affected if the land ice behind it began to flow more rapidly into the nearby Weddell Sea. Movement of continental glaciers into the sea had been held in check by the ice shelf.

New data has demonstrated that the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf two years ago has in fact accelerated the flow of glaciers into the sea. Scientists using a variety of satellite data have tracked the speed of the glaciers before and after the collapse of Larsen B. Images taken by the Landsat 7 satellite between January 2000 and February 2003 reveal that four glaciers flowing into the now collapsed section of Larsen B increased in speed by between two and six times. Another study showed an eightfold increase in the speed of three glaciers between 2000 and 2003. Two other glaciers moved twice as quickly at the beginning of 2003 than they did in 2000, and nearly three times as fast by the end of the year.

How much the extra ice is raising the level of the oceans isn’t known. In other places around Antarctica, much larger glaciers are still held in check by existing ice shelves. Further warming could lead to much larger quantities of ice falling into the sea. But the picture generally in Antarctica is complicated, with temperatures in the interior actually falling over the same 50-year period. There is also some evidence that the retreat of the West Antarctic ice sheet, on the other side of the peninsula to the Larsen B shelf, has halted.

The world has barely begun to recognize the danger of setting off rapid and irreversible changes in some crucial natural systems. If these critical regions, which act like massive regulators of the Earth’s environment, are subjected to stress, they could trigger large-scale, rapid changes across the entire planet and have dramatic consequences for humans and other life forms. But not enough is known about them to be able to predict when the limits of tolerance are reached. Examples of crucial natural systems are the West Antarctic ice sheet, the Sahara desert, the forests of the Amazon basin, the Asian monsoon system and the Gulf Stream current in the North Atlantic, the ocean circulation pattern responsible for bringing warmer air to northern Europe, the collapse of which could lead to a very large regional climate shift.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Steal the Moon

When you meditate, invite yourself to feel the self-esteem, the dignity, and strong humility of the Buddha that you are." - Sogyal Rinpoche

Okay, so this thief is robbing a Buddhist monastery, and as he's in the Roshi's room looking for loot to take, the Master wakes up and sees the thief. "Here," the Master says, "Take my wallet and watch. They're right there on the dresser."

The thief nabs the wallet and watch and starts to head for the door, when the Master says "Wait!" The thief freezes, and the Master says, "Here. You forgot my robe and bowl. Please take these, too."

The thief accepts the bowl and robe and, completely non-plussed, heads out the door and into the night. The Master looks out the window and sees the moon, and says, "What a beautiful night! If only I could have given him the moon, too."

I think this story has many meanings. First of all, it is a demonstration of generosity and charity, the dana paramita. The Master, instead of repelling the thief (he could easily have just shouted "Freeze" and then waited for the monks to come haul the frozen thief away), he took pity on his need. Not having what you want is suffering, and the Master saw the thief's pain and had compassion for the thief. So in addition to the usual loot (wallet and watch), he also gave him a monk's most treasured possessions - the bowl and the robe. And as if that weren't enough, he wished he was also able to give him the very moon in the sky!

On another level, the story tells how it is impossible for a Master to "give" Zen enlightenment to his students. The thief is any monk, or you or I, or anyone seeking Zen enlightenment. The Master gives (instructs) what he can, but still the thief is not fulfilled and is wanting more. Giving the bowl and robes is symbolic of ordaining the disciple, the ceremony of tokudo. But even formally becoming a Monk, entering the stream, is not enlightenment. The Master only wishes he could give real illumination to his student, let him truly see the moon in the sky for what it really is, and not the concept of "moon in sky," but it is for the student (thief) to realize the true perception for himself.

Finally, the literal (absolute) and symbolic (relative) meanings merge - two arrows meeting in mid-air. There actually is a very real thief, robbing the monastery, and the Master recognizes his pain and his delusion (stealing will not give the thief what he truly wants). The Master gives the thief everything he can out of generosity and compassion, but only wishes he could give him enlightenment to see his errors and the karma that he is creating. If enlightened, the thief would see the actual, concrete moon, just as the Master does ("What a beautiful night!"), and realize that he already has the moon, the stars and the sky, and is lacking nothing - there is no need to steal! He already has everything! He is complete!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Stench

I ended the stench today.

The stench had started on Labor Day. I noticed it soon after L. had left to go shopping with her friend at Little Five Points (and had also exited my life, as I later discovered). But the stench was no symbolic or existential odor, but a very real, sharp, penetrating and unpleasant smell I noticed in the master bathroom soon after she had walked out.

The master bath is also the master closet, and the stench at first smelled like an extremely nasty pair of smelly socks. I checked the laundry basket for the offenders, but found nothing. I then went around sniffing everything I could think of - bath towels, the toilet, the closets, even the shower drain. No luck. The source of the stench could not be found. In any event, I went ahead and ran everything I could think of through the laundry.

But, meanwhile, L. had a stench of her own. The rain from Hurricane Francis came leaking through her ceiling, which is odd because she doesn't live on the top floor of her apartment building, and had soaked her carpet. The maintenance folks repaired the leak, but on Saturday, when she and I went to dinner at Sotto Sotto, she thought that the cats had decided to start peeing on her carpet. Her whole apartment smelled like cat urine. Why the cats had chosen that time to stop using their kitty litter box was anybody's guess, but she applied some carpet cleaner and the smell soon abated.

When she came over Saturday, after my hike to Jack's River, she had noticed that the stench in my master bath was similar to that in her apartment. Since I have no cats, she concluded that something, say a mouse, must have died somewhere, say in the crawl space under my house. That didn't make much sense to me - why would the smell be so strong that it would come up through the floor, and yet could only be smelled in that one room? I checked in and behind all of the cabinets and drawers for a dead mouse anyway, but found nothing.

The stench hung in the air all through Hurricane Ivan. I was starting to despair - would it ever go away? Could I ever have company over without the embarrassment of them smelling the stench? Or was it a mold problem? Was the house I had just bought a lemon? An ammonia-scented, dead mouse-like, moldy old lemon?

Well, today, I found and disposed of the source. It was right there under my nose the whole time, or more accurately, right there under my feet. I should have realized it sooner after L.'s dilemma. It wasn't her cats, of course, but the wet carpet after the flood that had caused the smell in her apartment. I had placed a small throw rug outside of the shower to step on as one walked out. Although I had owned the throw rug for several years without problems, I hadn't kept it immediately outside of the shower, but in a drier location near the bathroom sink. Apparently, sometime over the long Labor Day weekend, when both L. and I had taken several showers, it went mildewey from some combination of constant moistness and dirty feet. I got down on my knees and after one sniff, I knew I had found the culprit. I immediately took it out to the trash and vigorously cleaned the floor with Lysol.

The stench is now gone. All is once again right with the world, and I can now have company over without embarrassment.

Little victories matter a lot sometimes.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Ecology of Yardwork

"Defoliating a victory garden sure can work up an appetite." - George Leroy Tirebiter

This morning, as I tried to make my coffee, I discovered that one of the kitchen outlets with a circuit interrupter had shut down, and I could not restart it. I pushed the Reset button over and over until it finally broke, exposing the metal springs (metal being one of those things you really don't want to see coming out of an electric outlet). So instead of brewing my own coffee, I hopped in the car, bought a Starbucks, and went over to Ace Hardware and bought a replacement GFCI.

Replacing the unit seemed easy enough, but even the replacement didn't want to reset. And when I started the microwave later that day, the circuit blew, and all of the lights in the kitchen went out. I gave up and called an electrician.

Not feeling very macho, I went out back to clean the patio of the leaves, branches, seeds and twigs left behind by Hurricane Ivan. As I started up the leafblower, I realized that there's nothing like pulling the cord on a gasoline engine to restore your masculinity. If only there were something to chainsaw . . .

I really got into the cleanup, and decided to trim back some of the ivy that had been covering the corners of the patio, snagging some of the leaves that were being blown. But once I snipped back a few strands, I saw more that needed pruning, then more and more and more, until there was soon more trimmed ivy on the patio than leaves, branches, seeds and twigs. I needed a push broom to move the pile around - it got far too heavy for the leafblower.

I was satisfied with the job, and had a few blisters on my hands to show for it. But as I looked at all the ivy on the ground, I got to wondering how many spiders and other bugs now no longer had a home, thanks to my aesthetic judgments on what looked "right." And as I bagged the trimmings, I wondered if it were really necessary to add this waste to the City's solid waste load. I inhaled the gasoline exhaust in the air from running the leafblower. What damage had I done to the atmosphere, depleting an admittedly small, but otherwise avoidable, amount of the Earth's fossil fuel reserves and adding to Atlanta's smog problem?

Worldwide, non-renewable resources are being gobbled up at obscene rates and, for the most part, being burned for energy recovery and converted into carbon dioxide, exacerbating the greenhouse effect. Toxic waste dumps, Superfund sites, defy cost effective cleanup technologies. Nuclear waste problems are off the scale in terms of both horror and cost. Even if we learn to store nuclear waste safely, what language should we use for safety instructions for people 20,000 years from now? No language on Earth is that old, none has survived that long - and plutonium is a 500,000 year problem.

Acid rain is killing whole forests in Central Europe and, along with industrial, agricultural and municipal pollution, poisoning lakes everywhere. Atmospheric ozone drifts from our cities to rural areas, adversely affecting crop yields and adding to the forests' distress - a major factor in determining whether China will be able to feed itself while industrializing. A China that cannot feed itself will be everybody's problem.

Grain production is in decline; on a per capita basis, it has been in decline since 1984. The worldwide per capita fish catch is also in decline. The collapse of the New England fish industry, in decline since 1987, is an up-close, immediate example. The fish catch in the Caspian Sea is down by 99 percent as it chokes to death from industrial pollution. Is this a microcosm of Earth's oceans in the centuries ahead? The decades?

One billion people are looking for work, but can't find jobs. Another billion people are already living in starving conditions. Another billion are on the fringe, hanging on by their fingernails. In all, half of Earth's people are distressed.

We cannot escape the consequences of such inequity. So many interrelated factors - population, food, jobs, industrial production, standards of living, toxic waste, pollution, global warming, habitat loss, species extinction - all interrelated in ways that, with present trends, point toward collapse of the human species.

The rainforests are disappearing at the rate of a football field every two seconds. Even while the Brazilian government says it's not so, the loss is documented by satellite photos. Millions of acres of Sumatra and Borneo's rainforests are being lost to fires. Of all of Earth's species, an estimated half lives in the rain forest, just seven percent of Earth's surface. Wetlands, the cradle of speciation, which provide nutrients for the beginning of the food chain, are also disappearing.

Greenhouse gases, global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion (increasing UV radiation, increasing incidents of skin cancer) and rising global temperatures are melting the polar ice caps. Temperatures around the ice cap are rising five times as fast as the global average, and grass has been seen growing along the edges of Antarctica. Sea levels will certainly rise in the 21st Century. The most likely amount, 20 inches, will be enough to put much of Florida under water. It is probably already too late to save parts of Florida and other low lying coastal plains. Some 9,000 square miles of the United States appear to be destined to be lost in just the next 100 years, absent massive dike construction. We would fight World War III before allowing a foreign aggressor to take 9,000 square miles of the United States. What will the 22nd Century bring, when atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide exceed two times pre-industrial revolution levels?

At night, I watched "American Splendor" on HBO.

Friday, September 17, 2004


Hurricane Ivan, the third or fourth hurricane to hit the south this season (depending on whether you call Bonnie and Charley, which arrived here virtually on top of one another, one storm or two), arrived in Atlanta Thursday afternoon.

The day started out dark and stormy and gradually went downhill from there. As I watched the trees whip around in the wind outside of my office window, I finally decided to leave work at 4:00 and head home.

The traffic was crawling, but moving, on Interstate 75. As I got off at my exit, the traffic lights were out, and when I got home I realized the power was out at the house as well. I had left a lighted location - the office - for an unlit location - home. I gathered together as many candles as I could find and lit them all up on the kitchen counter, and sat there in the kitchen just watching them burn.

What to do? I was hungry but couldn't cook - the gas stove uses an electric lighter and it didn't occur to me at that time to use the matches that I had lit the candles with to start the stove. The microwave, my first choice anyway, was definitely out. So was access to the computer and television and music, and despite the candles, it was too dark to read comfortably.

So I sat there alone in the gloom and wondered what to do. I thought about calling L. - she might still have electricity. She lives in Midtown, I reasoned, where there weren't nearly as many trees to down power lines as Collier Hills. But had we burned that bridge? Was it "appropriate" for me to call?

I broke down and dialed her number on my cell phone, but got her voice mail and hung up without leaving a message. However, she called me about a half hour later saying that she was without electricity, too. I suggested going out to dinner somewhere, but she told me that much of the whole city was dark, and that with the flooding and traffic lights out, it had taken her nearly an hour to drive from her office on 14th Street down to 10th Street. She had no interest in getting back in that traffic, and advised me not to try the same.

I did anyway, but I only got as far as Peachtree Street before I saw that L. was right - the traffic situation was totally gridlocked. So I turned around, went back home, and tried to read by the dim candlelight.

But at 7:00 p.m., the lights came back on. I called L. and told her that I had juice, and that she was welcome to come over if she wanted. I told her I wasn't being opportunistic - I'd have offered my home to anyone I knew who was without power. Besides, I have a guest room that she was welcome to. At first, she was reluctant due of the traffic, but after about an hour or so, she called back and said that she was still without power, but that the traffic seemed to have died down, so, if it were still all right, she would like to take me up on my offer, provided I was still willing, etc.

Of course I was still willing. It was good to see her and have her over, although the weight of our current situation hung over us like a wet blanket. The cable hadn't come back on, so we were without television or internet access (which is one of the reasons why there was no blog post for Thursday), and conversation, trying to avoid talking about the obvious, was labored.

Around 9:30, L. announced it was time for bed, and went off to the guest room. Desire and attachment got the better of me and I attempted to kiss her good night, and was disappointed by her stiffness and obvious discomfort at my advance. I stayed up and read until past eleven, meditated, and then went off to sleep myself.

The morning was still rainy, but the worst of the storm had obviously passed. I knocked on L.'s door to wake her up (she hadn't brought an alarm clock over with her), and I surprised her with a good-morning kiss on the lips. She smiled, and invited me to curl up on the bed with her. We lay there spooning for a few minutes until the whistle on the teapot announced that water was ready for coffee.

The distance between us was still there, but I felt that we were a little more comfortable around each other than we had been last night, even last weekend, for that matter. As L. left for work, I attempted a goodbye kiss, only to feel her stiffen with discomfort once again. "I don't have other friends that I kiss on the lips," she explained, and drove off.

"Friends," I thought. It appears that in my mind "former ex-girlfriend" had been reduced to "ex-girlfriend," but in her mind it had been reduced all the way down to just "friend."

The sun actually appeared for a while Friday afternoon. L. sent me an email in the morning thanking me for putting her up, and she called from her car later that day just to tell me that she was driving past Paces Landing on the Chattahoochee River, where we had taken walks during our first dates, and was reminded of me. That sentiment sounded very ex-g.f. to me.

"Thanks for having me over," she said, and I replied "no problem" - if not for luck, it might have been me asking to stay at her place. "You are welcome if you need a place for any reason," she answered.

I went to the zendo that night and had a nice, quiet sit.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Rock 'n' Roll

Johnny Ramone, the stone-faced guitarist of the punk band the Ramones, whose fast, buzzsaw blasts of noise laid the foundation for a school of rock guitar, died of prostate cancer on Wednesday afternoon at his home in Los Angeles. He was 55.

Mr. Ramone, born John Cummings, is the third member of the Ramones to die in three years, following Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman), the singer, who died of cancer in 2001, and Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin), the bassist, who died of an apparent drug overdose the following year. Of the original band, only Tommy Ramone (Tom Erdelyi), the drummer, survives.

By stripping rock guitar of its ornamentation and playing almost every note in a violent, accelerated downstroke, Mr. Ramone helped create the sound of punk. His style — fast, repetitive and aggressive, though always tuneful — influenced, directly or indirectly, almost every punk guitarist since, from the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones to Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and contemporary players like Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and Tom Delonge of Blink-182.

Though the members of the Ramones often cited as influences the hard rock of the Stooges and the primal power of MC5, as well as the 1960's girl-group productions of Phil Spector, as paragons of melody and brevity, the band's sound had scant precedent when its first album was released in 1976. The songs were head-spinningly short and fast — the shortest, "Judy Is a Punk," was just 1 minute 32 seconds — and yet had a raw elegance that has made many, like "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Beat on the Brat" and "I Wanna Be Sedated," punk-rock standards.

Mr. Ramone's guitar style was basically sui generis, though he did not use those words to describe it; it was "pure, white rock 'n' roll, with no blues influence," he once said. "I wanted our sound to be as original as possible. I stopped listening to everything."

Seldom lightening the scowl on his face, Mr. Ramone performed with a determination that mirrored his role in the band. Each member had a clearly defined role, musical and otherwise, and Johnny's was the taskmaster. He conducted the band's business affairs and led the group in details ranging from its sound to its mode of dress — in leather jackets, ripped jeans and scruffy sneakers, the band always presented a unified visual front of a punk army in uniform.

"He was the leader of the band," Danny Fields, the group's first manager, said. "He was the boss and you worked for him. He was very demanding but very right."

After years holding a construction job, Mr. Ramone formed the group in 1974 in Forest Hills, Queens, with Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy. He had played bass in a garage-rock band in the late 60's called the Tangerine Puppets, but switched instruments when he bought a $50 guitar on a trip to Manny's Music shop on West 48th Street in Manhattan.

The new group took its name from a pseudonym that Paul McCartney had used while on the road with the Beatles, and began playing regular gigs at a Bowery dive called CBGB. Their set rarely lasted more than 30 minutes, and the tunes were strung together in rapid succession. Their plan was to pause between songs only long enough for a member, usually Dee Dee, to shout "One-two-three-four!" But in the early days, the time was sometimes spent bickering onstage about which song to play.

Their experience was from the start a mixture of success and frustration. When the band first played in London, on July 4, 1976, they were met by adoring crowds, and were approached with fear and admiration by musicians who would later form the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Damned, all founding groups of the fruitful British punk scene. But when the group returned home to New York, they had trouble booking shows in Connecticut and New Jersey.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

A Hill of Beans

The 14th Dalai Lama once said, "It is the motivation behind an act that determines whether it is violent or non-violent. Non-violent behavior is a physical act or speech motivated by the wish to be useful or helpful."

The desire to bring mindfulness into daily life arises out of wanting to be truly useful and helpful for the benefit of all other beings. In this compassion, all forms of anger and hatred must melt away, from, in the words of Matthieu Ricard, the simple fact of not liking someone to the revulsion felt towards murderers.

Yet all around us, the selfish acts of the noncompassionate are doing violence to our world. Often, quite literally, to the Earth. To use some examples cited by Ray Anderson in his book Mid-Course Correction:

All over the world, aquifers are being dehydrated or, worse, polluted. The Ogallala Aquifer, that great reservoir under the American Midwest, is being rapidly depleted, with the implication of famine right here in our own country.

25 billion tons of topsoil are lost worldwide every year, an amount equivalent to all the wheat fields of Australia, with a hungry world population increasing by 90 million a year.

A disproportionate share of the Net Primary Production, the usable product of photosynthesis, is being usurped by the human population - one species among millions taking nearly half for itself - and pushing the ecosystem toward overshoot and collapse for thousands, maybe millions, of species.

The rate of species extinction has risen at an alarming rate to now between 1,000 and 10,000 times that average rate since the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. As many as a quarter of all species of plants, animals, and microcosms on Earth - millions of species - are likely to be lost within a few decades; as many as three quarters face extinction in the 21st Century.

Vast areas of natural forests are cut in Brazil, a critical lobe of Earth's lungs, to clear land to raise soybeans to feed cows in Germany to produce surplus butter and cheese that piles up in warehouses, while a million displaced forest people live in squalor in the ghettos of Rio de Janeiro.

Illnesses from pesticide poisoning number in the millions each year, resulting in uncounted deaths.

As Bogart said to Bergman in Casablanca, "The problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." However, he probably wasn't thinking that a hill of beans would be a blessing for millions of people in the world . . .

Monday, September 13, 2004


Monday felt very lonely and quiet without any phone calls or email from L. Finally, that afternoon, I couldn't retrain myself any longer, and sent her an email forwarding the Times' review of last night's episode of Six Feet Under. Not that the show was that important to me, but I just needed any excuse as a pretext to send an email. She replied, in kind, confirming that she had watched the show, and that she had found it bizarre and sad. I wanted to reply "just like real life," but I restrained myself.

I opened the zendo that evening, and went to the unfortunately named "ThaiCoon" afterwords with my friends Arthur and Bob.

Sunday, September 12, 2004


Most of us have spent our lives caught up in plans, expectations, ambitions for the future, in regrets, guilt or shame about the past. To come into the present is to stop the war.

- Jack Kornfield

I spent Sunday alone, mostly doing yardwork (leaf blowing) and a little food shopping. That night, I watched the season finale of "Six Feet Under."

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Whole Point of No Return

As John E. said in his email from a few days ago "mindfulness in daily living is . . . the point where my personal spiritual practice touches the social realm, the world of others." I'm conscious and aware of "the others" who may be reading this blog - a few friends and sangha members, my family, a curious few who want to know more about me, even my former ex-, etc. This is the "social realm" I touch with this blog, and I am attempting to bring mindfulness to this particular contact.

So let me say that on the morning of September 11, the third anniversary of that tragic day, I met my friend A. at the Starbucks in Kennesaw, near where the Rio Bravo used to be, to go hike Beech Bottom Trail in the Cohutta Mountains. A.'s husband, N., couldn't make it, so it was just the two of us.

I had also made plans to meet L. that night, so A. and I drove straight on up to the trailhead without delay. However, since we didn't get on the road until about 10:30 and the drive took 2 1/2 hours, we didn't get to the trailhead until about 1:00 p.m. We hiked straight in - four miles - without significant stops, and got to Jack's Creek Falls at around 3:00.

Jack's Creek Falls is a beautiful waterfall consisting of two drops with a deep plunge pool at the bottom. At the falls, we finally rested and ate bagels. There were about a dozen or so people at the falls, some sunning at the top of the falls and others swimming in the plunge pool at the bottom. I asked a passing hiker to take a picture of A. and I, and as we posed, I joked to A., "We better not touch each other. There's no telling who'll see these pictures." "Oh, yeah?," she replied with a grin, and wrapped her arms around me in a big mock hug . . . just as the picture got snapped. "A little jealousy's a good thing," she joked.

We headed back to the car at 3:30. I hated to rush us and be such a strict taskmaster, but I did want to get back to Atlanta for my date with L. The hike back took two hours, just like the hike in, and we didn't get back to the paved roads, and into cell phone coverage, until 6:00 p.m.

I called L. to tell her we were on our way back, but that given the driving time, I wasn't going to be back until 7:30 or 8:00.

"Would you like me to bring some dinner over and meet you at the house?," L. asked.

"Well, I didn't want to ask, but that would be great," I said. "I'd love that. I'm going to be exhausted by the time I get home."

"Or, would you rather go out to dinner? We could go to Nuevo Laredo for some Mexican. I'm worried you won't get enough food if all you eat is what I could bring over," L. said.

I told her that I was going to be pretty tired, but could always muster enough energy to go to Nuevo Laredo, so I'll leave it up to her - either eat in or eat out. "Do you want me to call you when I get closer and give you a better idea of exactly what time I'll be back?," I asked.

"No," she replied, "I'll be over at 8:00 either with food or ready to go out."

I got home at 7:30 and took a quick shower. L. called at 8:00 to ask where I was. I told her that I had been home for a half hour, and she said "great," she'll go pick up some salads and meet me at my place.

I figured, then, that I had at least a half hour before she was going to be over, so I watched the last quarter of the Georgia-South Carolina football game (the Bulldogs came from behind to win). But L. didn't make it over until 9:00, and in an obviously pissed-off mood.

She was disappointed that I was so late in getting back, that the Saturday evening was virtually wasted for her. I told her that I did the best that I could, but it was a longer drive up and back than I had thought, as well as a longer hike. We hustled all day as best we could, and took very few rests, but 7:30 was the earliest I could make it back. During the week, I had told her that I had thought I could be back around 6:00 or 7:00, and she said that although she appreciated my call from the road that I was running behind, if she had known I was going to be so late, she would have made other plans.

I asked if the real reason that she was mad was because I had gone off hiking alone with A. I had tried to call her that morning to let her know that N. had backed out, but only got her voicemail. She said that wasn't the issue - she was surprised I even had brought it up - she just felt that the evening was a waste.

We ate our salads pretty much in silence, and shortly after, she said that it was time for her to go home.

"Well, where does this leave us?," I asked, meaning her and I as a couple.

"This is the way we drift apart," she said. "You agreed last week that it was better just to let the separation occur naturally, without a dramatic 'breakup.' and this is how it starts."

"You had said that you didn't want to spend the Labor Day weekend alone, and neither did I," she continued. "But now that's over and it's time for us to start to separate."

It was unfortunate that during the pleasurable Labor Day weekend, I was able to forget our agreement that afterwards we were supposed to let our relationship just naturally dissolve. The discriminating mind, which seeks after what is pleasurable and avoids that which is unpleasant, had attachment to our relationship, and was not facing the reality of the situation.

So, I wonder, how can I bringing mindfulness to my daily living and into the social realm, when I still am not mindful of what is going on in my heart? Am I ignoring the unpleasant, and living in delusion?

L. was obviously no longer my "former ex-girlfriend," but now, once again, just my "ex-girlfriend" (or "ex-former ex-girlfrined?"). But still, the attachment remains, as irrational as it is.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Dinner and an Email

L. and I went out to dinner at Sotto Sotto with another couple I know from work. Although Sotto Sotto is one of our favorite restaurants, it was not an entirely comfortable evening for me since it was my first time seeing L. since she left my house Labor Day morning, and I felt that a distance had grown between us that I couldn't quite bridge.

When I got home that night (alone), I had the following email from my friend A.:

From: A. ______
Subject: Re: New Addresses

Hey S.,

Just me and you tomorrow. How about 10:15 (going to a gym class first)? I will just see you then at Starbucks unless I hear from you. If you need to call me, my cell number is 404.555.1212.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Epistolary Blog Continues . . .

From: A. ______
Subject: Re: New Addresses


We have not been hiking for a while, (too busy helping with housebuilding...we'll tell you all about it). Looking forward to it. It's a good time of the year to get out.

When and where would you like to meet? If it is north, we could meet either at our house or park somewhere in Kennesaw. Should we bring anything in particular?


To: A. ______
Subject: Re: New Addresses

Great! Why don't we meet at the Starbucks in Kennesaw over by where the Rio Bravo used to be (Barrett at 75)? Say 10:00?

We can grab a lunch to pack and some water there, or we can stop on the way up. Bring any sort of knapsack and pack it with a raincoat and a sweater or fleece in case the weather turns on us. Comfy shoes. That's about it.

It's about 90 minutes up and a round-trip hike of 8 miles, but it's a pretty easy walking trail. The falls are really neat too.

Glad for the company. Let me know if these arrangements work for you.

- S.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

More Email

Here's a couple of more emails I've sent and received, one to my friend A. and her husband N., and the other from my former ex-girlfriend, etc., L., who was busily off to meetings in D.C. and elsewhere:

To: A.____ and N._____
Subject: New Address

Hi, y'all . . . .Thanks for the note - it's been a while since we've chatted.

Any interest in going for a hike this Saturday? I'm leading a trip for the Zen Center up to Jack's River Falls in the Cohutta Wilderness (near theGA/TN border) later this month, but need to do a recon hike first. This Saturday is the only day I have between now and then to go, and I'm looking for company to tag along. We'll be back before dark.

If you're interested, let me know. If not, that's cool, but let's get together some time soon. I was planning an open house at one time, but am starting to cool off on the idea as things get busy and as I settle in. But y'all are welcome any time!


From: L.
Subject: Happy Wednesday

Going to din-din with the Divas...I'm wearing one of my new sweaters from Little 5 Points - looks neat.

Look forward to seeing you Friday.

Wanna hang out Saturday night?


Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Reflections on Right Concentration

Now that Hurricane Frances is finally kicking in, I finally found the time to read the following email today. It's actually a couple of days old, but well worth sharing:

From: John E.
Subject: Reflections on right concentration

Greetings all!

I have been so bold as to actually post something on the disciples discussion board at the ASZC interactive site - http://aszc.workports.com/aszc/DesktopDefault.aspx - so I thought I'd explain my motives. I began writing this piece - "refection on right concentration" - in an effort to sort thru my own experiences following the talk by Liz Hulsizer at the July sesshin, and it sort of grew into this article. I have gotten some feedback on my thoughts from my friend and fellow disciple Claire H., but thought I'd like to get further response from you, so asked Sensei about posting it. He seemed to think it was a good idea, so I tried it. The discussion board apparently is not intended for such long discussion, so I had to break the piece up into parts, but it's simple to navigate thro them using the arrows at the top, as I tried to explain in response frames.

I'd love to hear from you, either in response thru the message board or in direct e-mail comments! I'm also working on another piece, which is probably too long for the discussion board, based on my conversations with Sensei about the practice of teaching as Zen..."School is Zen". If anyone is interested in reading and commenting on this, I could e-mail it. I have been working toward this as a possible magazine article and eventual book which would be published to support Sensei's Matsuoka book project. I'd love to have comment and suggestions on it as well.

=Hoyama John E.

Reflections on Right Concentration

What is true practice?

Buddhist practices are many and varied. In Zen we consider sitting to be primary, but include walking and chanting as secondary practices, along with minor use of other practices, such as bowing. In other sects there is more emphasis on chanting and prostration. Mindfulness is much emphasized in the Theravada sects, and may be considered a separate practice, or may be seen as the aim or fruit of all the practices.

As I search for true practice for myself, I realize more and more that whatever my spiritual aspirations and personal practices may be, mindfulness in daily living is an essential aspect of the lived experience of Buddhism. It is the point where my personal spiritual practice touches the social realm, the world of others. In light of the Buddha's emphasis on compassion, how I live my life must be of concern. Although we avoid the gaining idea of practicing for self-improvement, if our practice is not making us better spouses, siblings, friends, co-workers, citizens, and world-dwellers, then something is probably wrong with the practice. If my hour of sitting is an hour of enlightenment, then my interaction with the others of the world will show it. If my morning vows are heartfelt and genuine, they will influence how I act as I go through my day.

So, it seems one measure of a true practice is that it would make things better for others as well as for me. Certainly it must be one that could be universally applied; i.e., it must be a practice which, if followed by all, would bring the social realm into greater harmony. Our practice is not about the kind of "living well" that seems to be the moral compass for most of those around us - a compass that points only to the good for me, regardless of the cost to others less fortunate, less aggressive, less cunning. As Buddhists, as humans, we must realize that there are no individual solutions.

As I look for teachings that will help me actualize my practice in daily life, things that will help me follow through on my morning vows to pursue compassion and put others before self, I find several sources that point to awareness of arising thought/emotions as primary - what Buddhists text translations usually refer to as "mental formations." As I understand the term, a mental formation is roughly what we might refer to as an emotion, and is probably best described as a thought that has feelings attached. You can think about your shopping list or what to wear to work today without too much emotional involvement, but many thoughts come with the extra baggage of anxiety or anticipation that connects them to a feeling state, essentially chemical responses of the body to expectations of pleasure or pain. These kinds of thoughts are what Buddhism refers to as "mental formations."

Mental formations are quite normal, natural and useful. In fact they could be regarded as just as essential to our survival as the higher intellectual processes. They are also what cause us most of our problems in dealing with other human beings. Thus, they become a focus of practice that will help us bring our practice and its aspirations into the flow of everyday life.

In a recent dharma talk, Buddhist teacher Liz Hulsizer, of A Single Thread Zen Center, spoke about Dogen Zenji’s teachings on Right Concentration. Dogen, she said, taught that Right Concentration is focusing without distraction on the teachings. If the slightest amount of like or dislike arises, Dogen says, one becomes unstable. The phrase "slightest amount of like or dislike" has stuck in my mind like a mantra, and as I go about my daily life it pops up with its remarkably clarifying perspective on mental formations: "If the slightest amount or like or dislike arises, I become unstable." There are worlds of wisdom in that deceptively simple statement.

Its depth and power become evident over time as I see its application to various situations that arise. For example: my wife asks what we want for lunch, offering the choice between a Caesar wrap and fruit with yogurt, and my daughter says, "I want a wrap." If my preference inclines me toward the fruit, the situation becomes unstable. If I can remember "the slightest amount of like or dislike," it helps me be aware of the dynamics of the situation. If I am attached to my preference for fruit - which means I allow it to influence my actions - I lose concentration on the teachings and become part of a conflict. If I can release my preference, the situation stays fluid and soft, and lunch goes smoothly.

Each time some situation arises and I view it from Dogen's perspective, I learn more of how my preferences make me likely to tip one way or another and unbalance things, increasing potential for conflict. Thus the principle of "the slightest like or dislike" illuminates both the personal and the social. Especially in more intense circumstances where issues of power and control come into play and the emotions are more powerful, the degree of awareness of one's own likes and dislikes can make the difference between war and peace. Let's look at how this works.

The process of this practice - for it can be seen as a practice in itself - is to be aware of each emotional attachment that arises, following the emotion as it develops, seeing clearly the preferences that form around it, the thoughts that begin to stream through the mind connected to the emotion, and then releasing that attachment, not allowing those emotions, preferences and thoughts to control our actions. A simple, but very dense, formulation. Let's break it down into steps.

First, I must notice that I am having an emotional response to something that is happening or something someone is saying. This noticing is often in the form of awareness of bodily changes: the breath, muscle tension, blood pressure, skin sensations and temperature. Then I must see the preferences, the "I like/don't like" behind the emotion, the selfish thoughts and wants that are making me feel upset, or perhaps just leading me to take a rigid position on something. If I can identify and label or categorize those preferences, and at the same time be aware of the physical manifestations in my body and focus on them, that will help me to uncouple from the emotions so they have no power over my actions, words, or direction of thought. Then I can allow those emotions to dissolve like whipped cream on hot coffee.

In the teachings of Ajahn Chah, this is made explicit: "Most people still don't know the essence of meditation practice," he says. "They think that walking meditation, sitting meditation, and listening to Dhamma talks are the practice. That's true, too, but these are only the outer forms of practice. The real practice takes place when the mind encounters a sense object. That's the place to practice, where sense contact occurs. When people say things we don't like, there is a resentment; if they say things we like, we experience pleasure. Now this is the place to practice. How are we going to practice with these things? This is the crucial point. If we just run around chasing after happiness and running away from suffering, we can practice until the day we die and never see the Dhamma. When pleasure and pain arise how are we going to use the Dhamma to be free of them? This is the point of practice" (from Food for the Heart, p. 53).

I don't think it can be made much clearer than that: practice with your likes and dislikes. Ajahn Chah further describes practice: "The practice of Dhamma isn't something you have to go running around for or exhaust yourself over. Just look at the feelings that arise in your mind. When the eye sees forms, ear hears sounds, nose smells odors, and so on, they all come to this one mind: the one who knows. Now when the mind perceives these things, what happens? If we like that object we experience pleasure; if we dislike it we experience displeasure. That's all there is to it."

His instructions as to how to think of these mental events are simple: "If we know the truth about them, we reflect, 'Oh there's nothing to this feeling of liking here.' It's just a feeling that arises and passes away. Dislike too is just a feeling that arises and passes away. Why make anything out of them?" In this way, he says, "you can practice the Dhamma every minute of the day."

The key to this practice, which is not so simple, is in Ajahn Chah's conditional: "If we know the truth about them." How do we come to know the truth about these feelings and thoughts, this mind? This is truly the heart of the Buddha's teachings, the "pure and spotless Dhamma-eye" of the Tathagata's first sermon: "Whatsoever is an arising thing, all that is a ceasing thing."

Though we may begin with an intellectual assent or some faith in the Buddha's words, it is in silent meditation that one may come to direct awareness of this truth. Being told that it is the truth is not sufficient for most of us. In silent meditation, we quiet the distracting activity of the mind long enough for insight into its essential nature to arise. From those insights, those "seeing directly" experiences, it becomes clear to us that all these feelings, and the mind that experiences them, are impermanent, transitory, and empty of independent existence. As Johanna Macy says, what the Buddha awoke to was pattica samupada, the dependent co-arising of all phenomena - oneness. When we awaken to that truth for ourselves, then our practice is to apply it consistently to every mental formation as it arises in the course of our daily lives.

Another Theravadan teaching, the Anapanasati - the ancient sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing - speaks of the practitioner observing thoughts and emotions, "clearly understanding his state, gone beyond all attachments and aversions to this life, with unwavering, steadfast, imperturbable meditative stability" as part of the process of coming to a perfect mindfulness which leads to "true understanding and complete liberation."

In his book on this sutra, Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (whose sutra translations I have quoted above) writes, "As soon as any psychological phenomenon (a mental formation, cittasamskara) arises, we should breath in and out and identify it. As we continue to observe it, we can see its connection with the whole of our mind." He describes the mind as a "river of psychological phenomena," and suggests that identifying these phenomena as they arise is part of meditation practice. "Once our mind is able to identify what is happening, we will be able to see clearly our mental formation and make it calm. Just that will bring us peace, joy, and stillness."

We humans seem to feel that our preferences define us and give us our distinctive personality, so we often exaggerate them and propound them enthusiastically to others. Hanging out with high school and college students for any extended period of time will make this achingly clear. In truth, our preferences set us up for disappointment, frustration, and anger. Getting over them, getting beyond our "attachments and aversions" is liberating because we can then accept what is actually happening to us without such resistance to problems or such grasping of pleasure - or dangerous suppression of either.

This is the middle way of the Buddha. Right Concentration, true practice. In the long run, by whatever spiritual path we arrive at these truths, it is the only way to live our lives peacefully and happily. And a world of people living their lives in this way is likely the only way to universal peace and harmony.

- John E., Sept. 2004

Monday, September 06, 2004


"Not getting what you want is suffering," said the Buddha, and letting go of attachments is an essential part of practice. On Labor Day Monday, I had to let go of my attachment to having L. around. My preference is to be with her, to have her around, and when I get my way, I am happy. When I don't get my way, in this case, when she's gone or more particularly when she's gone and not coming back, I suffer. But L. had made plans to go shopping with a girlfriend that day, so I decided to just let go of my attachment to being around her and to take on some of the yard work that I had been ignoring all week.

But as I was out leaf-blowing the remnants of Hurricane Charley (not too wisely as Hurricane Frances was approaching), L. called me for directions (she and her girlfriend got lost while driving around downtown Atlanta, and wanted to know how to get to Little Five Points). She also called later that day telling me about all of the great clothes she was finding in the funky L5P boutiques, and to say she was saving their business cards so that she and I could go back there later to get some cool things for me as well. I even got a third call from L. that evening after she got home, describing all of her purchases from that day and some of the things she saw thay I might like to get.

Well, I wasn't suffering. Even though she was away, we were still talking with each other. Even though she had said earlier that week that she couldn't see a future for us together as a couple, in that moment I was getting what I wanted - contact and the implication of future companionship - and I could overlook her statement. I was even able forget our agreement that after spending the weekend together, we would let our union just naturally dissolve.

So even though I felt like I was letting go, the attachment was still there. And the discriminating mind, which seeks after what is pleasurable and avoids that which is unpleasant, was not facing the reality of the situation.

Monday is my night to open the zendo, so after our third conversation, I drove over there and unlocked the door and lit the incense and candles. But no one showed up, probably because it was Labor Day, so I sat alone and reflected on delusion.

Sunday, September 05, 2004


On Sunday, L. was feeling much better and had a brilliant idea: she called The Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown, and was told that for a one-day entry fee of $10, we could enter their health club, including access to their swimming pool, workout room, locker room and sunning patio. So after morning coffee and the Sunday New York Times, we headed the five or so miles to the hotel.

The manager of the Health Club was very gracious and polite, even as he told us that we weren't in fact welcome - we apparently had been misinformed; the $10/day rate is for guests of the hotel only - it was not open to the public. "You know, for security reasons," he told us. Undaunted, L. held to her story and explained that we had acted on what we were told, and surprisingly, after a few minutes, the manager agreed that since we had come all the way over, he would let us in "just this one time."

We moved out to the patio, where it was sunny and warm, despite the imminent presence of Hurricane Frances. The hotel was full of Floridians escaping the storm. We lounged on the chaises, soaked in the sun and read our books - me, my Ray Anderson and L., her Joyce Carol Oates. We swam in the pool, took in the sauna and wore the terrycloth robes provided in the locker rooms. We trod the treadmill, exercised the weight circuit and even jacuzzied. It was easy to forget we were only five minutes from home. It truly felt like a vacation destination.

So to recap: I began the Labor Day weekend sad and depressed, but then sat at the zendo Friday night until I had let go of my misery, happily played caretaker to an ailing L. on Saturday, and found an unexpected resort setting practically in my own backyard on Sunday.

That night, we curled up on my sofa and watched Ry Cooder and a bunch of beautiful Cubans in Win Wenders' "Buena Vista Social Club"

Things just keep on getting better.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Satori a Deux

Saturday morning, L. got up early to go about her usual Saturday morning chores. I had errands to run as well. Neither of us felt like going back to the zendo to attend the on-going sesshin. Our plans were for L. to pick up the cats later that day and bring them over, and for her and the kitties and I to spend the rest of the Labor Day weekend in our own private satori a deux.

Unfortunately, the cat rodeo didn't go much better for her than it did for me (Cf. blog entry of July 29 for a description of what kind of hell that could be). When Joshu, the timid one, hid under the bed and wouldn't come out even when prodded with a broom, L. lost the stomach for trying to catch him, which at that point felt more like tormenting him, and left them both at her place with full bowls of food and water.

However, I got a call from her early that afternoon. It seems that while she was out running her errands, she couldn't remember whether or not the other cat was still free, or if she had left it in the carrier case. I volunteered to go over to her apartment and check it out, for her peace of mind. She also said that she wasn't feeling well, and as long as I was going over there anyway, asked me to pick up some of her meds.

No problem. After buying fluorescent light bulbs, water-meter keys and groceries, I headed to L's apartment to find the cats both free, if somewhat skittish. Their food and water were both well stocked. I picked up the meds and later met L. back at my house.

She was definitely feeling under the weather, and so spent much of the late afternoon napping. I used the time to watch the Georgia Bulldogs beat Georgia Southern. Later that night, however, L. was feeling a little better, and we went to the movies ("We Don't Live Here Anymore" - not necessarily a film I would recommend) and had chicken panang at Surin's in Buckhead.

But why am I recounting these banal details of a rather typical and domestic day?, you may ask. My purpose is to merely continue to contrast the Labor Day with the Memorial Day weekend, when I spent each successive day more and more withdrawn, moping about the house alone and feeling that I'd lost my way. On Labor Day weekend, I was definitely happier, had company, and felt optimistic about life in general.

Friday, September 03, 2004


Summer is the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day. What you did with your summer can be defined as what you did on those twin three-day weekends, and all the time in between.

Last Memorial Day started off good enough. Although I was still feeling somewhat "lost," having been separated from my former ex-girlfriend L. for some three months, I was starting to find my own - for example, I had a contract on the Collier Hills house - and decided to start the holiday weekend off at the zendo. Cf. blog entry of May 31 for a real-time description of the weekend start. Also note that there're no entries for the next several days, as the weekend, off to such a good start, slowly dissolved into loneliness and despair.

But don't mourn for your narrator. During the summer months following Memorial Day, I got back together, in a sense, with L., moved into the Collier Hills house, spent weekends on Sea Island/Saint Simons Island, traveled to Budapest of all places, spent yet another weekend in NYC, had my Mom down for several days, and in general had a blast.

I only bring up Memorial Day now in order to examine how Labor Day weekend, the other bookend of summer, was almost the mirror image of its mate. The Wednesday before, as the Republican National Convention was winding down, L. came over to inform me that, in fact, there was no future for us as a couple, and breaking up was only a matter of time. We could just part ways now, or we could let things wind down naturally. Since I was in no rush to break up, I opted for the latter, and further said that I didn't really want to spend Labor Day weekend alone, so perhaps we could spend time together for just a few more days and see what happens. She agreed, and said that she too would prefer not to spend the weekend alone.

So, unlike Memorial Day, when I entered the weekend upbeat and finished it down, I entered the Labor Day weekend feeling pretty low. But Friday evening, L. stopped by after work, and after a brief exchange of affections, we went to the zendo together.

Friday was the first night of the monthly sesshin, so a relatively large sangha was present. Sesshin is an extended period of meditation, in this case, a weekend, and an opportunity to deepen your practice. "Sesshin" literally translated, means to "unify one's mind."

L. and I rode to the zendo together and walked in holding hands. We sat facing the wall side by side. A rolldown on the gong indicated the start of the service. We all rose in unison and chanted the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra. Prostration bows preceded the first period of zazen.

After 45 minutes, the gong rang out indicating time for kinhin, walking meditation. Arms folded across our chests, we all slowly circled the room, still in deep silence, still in meditation. Kinhin was followed by a second 45-minute period of zazen, and then the chanting of the Four Vows ("Beings are numberless, I vow to save them . . . ").

L. and I left feeling very calm and centered. I offered to drop her at home, but she preferred to spend the night with me. My anxieties from Wednesday were fading fast. So, unlike Memorial Day weekend, which started well and ended poorly, Labor Day weekend was looking like it was going to end well after a poor start.

But only time will tell.