Archives for posts with tag: Daily Musings

Daily Musings – 6/8/2010 – Go For It

There’s a Buddhist Saying –

“You are going to be afraid. It’s OK. Do it, anyway.”

Start that new project. Try that new job. Crack the spine on that intimidating book. Take that step towards your new life.

As bamboo grows resiliently, let yourself be resilient and fearless.

It grows up between the “rock and a hard place” and flourishes. So can we.

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A list of Taoist articles and Daily Musings published on my main blog can be found here:

http://plasticpumpkin.wordpress.com/category/tao/

and here:

http://plasticpumpkin.wordpress.com/category/daily-musings/

Feeding Fish, Botanical Gardens, Best Day in Albuquerque, Ever

Back from the Dead Zombie Show - The Last Show I Helped Coordinate at the Factory

Pants, Looking out the Door the Thieves Would Later Destroy

The photos in this post were taken by our now-gone Fuji Finepix s6000 camera.

Early this December, our home was broken into. Happens to millions of people. Happened to us, here in Albuquerque, though we’ve lived in rougher, nastier places. We are so grateful none of our kitties got outside to be killed in the street or the desert–and that none of them were hurt during the robbery. So grateful. So lucky.

Our little camera was not so lucky. At the time, we didn’t care about it being stolen. Still don’t, in comparison to the lives of creatures that depend on us. Now, however, seeing the empty camera bag, I spiral into philosophy. Maybe silliness and nostalgia. The reality of change. Knowing it could have been much worse, but still feeling a sting from losing something we relied on for business, fun, family. The fact that someone else decided to take the camera from us, without our permission, removing our own choice to give it away, smash it, sell it, or save it, forever, sits in the back of my mind. I suppose it does with anyone who’s had something stolen, even when we know material things don’t matter.

We saved up for our camera. Researched it. Planned it. Put money away a little at a time to afford what was then a huge purchase–a $400 camera, outside of our budget, but which would work well for photographing our artwork, sculpture and jewelry. Part of our livelihood. Replacing a little 4 megapixel Olympus we’d used for years.

We photographed artwork, kittens, shows, events, each other. The last photo of Loki was snapped with it, before he died. It was with us on some of our best days, and some of our worst days.

It was trusty. Nothing fancy. Good photos, hard working. I wonder how excited the thieves were when they discovered it. They cast away the camera bag and took it bare, I imagine leaping through the shattered sliding glass door to freedom with it. It looked more impressive and expensive than it was, and at most they might’ve gotten $20.00 for it, pawned. I wonder what it looked like when they found it, maybe cheering, taking it, running. Wondering if they tried to use it to photograph their own families, themselves, each other. Because even the thieves will go home to moms, dads, wives, brothers, children, friends. This Christmas, are they giving it as a gift to someone? Wondering if they kept it to use it, or immediately trekked to re-sell it (the most likely course).

Was it offered to a pawnbroker, who then turned it over in his hands, considering its value? Was it shucked in a Walgreen’s parking lot, along with jewelry and other oddities culled from other families’ homes?

I have come to the conclusion the camera was no longer meant to be ours. What if it was given to one of the theives’ family members, say a grandma on a fixed income, who can now use it to snap photos of her grandchildren? Now she has a camera, however ill-gotten, that is hers.

What if it ended up at a pawn shop, where a budding photographer will find it–a good camera at an obscenely low price. They will eagerly buy it, practicing shots with it every day. Building their portfolio with it, their experiences, their career. Had it never been removed from us, it might not have ever made its way into their hands, where it now blooms.

How do we know the loss of the camera was not a good thing?

I only wish the damned square for the tripod wasn’t still attached to the bottom of it.

There is a Taoist tale from the Lieh-Tzu about a man who loses and gains different things.

Among the people who lived close to the border, there was a man who led a righteous life. Without reason, his horse escaped, and fled into barbarian territory. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said : “what makes you think this is not a good thing?”

Several months later, his horse returned, accompanied by a superb barbarian stallion. Everyone congratulated him. But the old man said: “what makes you think this is cannot be a bad thing?”

The family was richer from a good horse, his son enjoyed riding it. He fell and broke his hip. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said: “what makes you think this is not a good thing!”

One year later, a large party of barbarians entered the border. All the valid men drew their bows and went to battle. From the people living around the border, nine out of ten died. But just because he was lame, the old man and his son were both spared.

Monday Morning–crisp, cold, refreshing.

When there are Mondays like this, where the grass and cottonwood leaves are encrusted in a crackling shell, you can’t imagine or remember that only a short time earlier, the weather was greasy-hot, permeating everything like the sticky black tar that liquifies in the cracks of parking lots. You can’t fathom that you were walking around, a few limp pieces of clothing clinging, in the hot-dread of late August. And yet, here it is–fresh, cold. Your breath materializes. You feel alive. The annuals are bowing down, returning to the ground. The perennials are buckling in for the ride. Your favorite tree emerges as a silent, hibernating skeleton. Arm-wave branches bear only a few little yellow medallions and the sky becomes San Francisco.

The progression of the seasons. The endless cycle of life. Before you know it, the icy ground will be giving way to shoots and spring crocus. People begin washing their cars in their driveways–it won’t be too cold to splash and foam. Home Dept will lay out flats of new plants. The gray sky will give slowly to a light warm which is cool at the edges.

And you’ll wonder where you will be that summer, that winter.

And you’ll wonder why you never told that secret high school crush that the thought of them made a candle light somewhere.

And you’ll wonder what you might do this year, next year, how much bigger that favorite tree will grow, and how your car–your trusty car–will eventually meet its end. How you might look, where your hairline will go.

And, you’ll find yourself having to find creative places to stash and stack your wardrobe from the previous season.

The day after tomorrow, and more days after tomorrow.

The same moon Lao Tzu, Julius Caesar, Livia, Rumi, Socrates, and Hatshepsut all saw, the same moon you see, we see, that poets and painters and writers have hailed and railed, will continue rising, moving closer, pulling farther away with each cycle, each rythm. A perfect dance.

Huang Shan Mountain, China

Huang Shan Mountain, China

Daily Musings 6/21/09 – Unity

There is a story in the Lieh-Tzu, a Taoist text from over 2,500 years ago, which goes (paraphrased) as follows:

An old man lived in a valley near a high mountain range. In order to do business with the cities on the other side, everyone from his village had to go completely around the mountains each time–which was dangerous.

He thought it would be helpful to everyone if they could move the mountains out of the way, to create a pathway from their small village to the places on the other side.

He told the idea to everyone in the village–but they all laughed. After all, he was a 90 year old man, weak and tired. How was he going to move the mountains, when he could barely lift one stone? The idea was flat-out stupid.

He told them that he wasn’t going to do it by himself–that his sons and grandsons would help, but the people still laughed at him. How could only a few people even hope to move a few rocks, much less the entire mountain?

The old man’s wife also thought it was a bad idea. When she asked him what he was going to do with all the pieces of the mountain that he moved, he said that they would take the rocks to one of the low places which flooded, to help build it up.

The next day, he went out to the mountains with his sons and grandsons. They stayed out there for months–removing the mountain one stone at a time. Slowly, the village began to realize what the old man had tried to say.

Something as large as a mountain can be moved, if everyone works together, taking away one stone at a time.

The gods of the valley noticed the old man’s determination. They also realized in a few generations, the slow-and-steady workers would completely change the landscape, and the mountains were where the spirit immortals lived. One night, the gods moved the mountains to a new location, and opened the space between the small village and the villages on the other side instantly, in honor of the old man’s tenacity in the face of dismissive negativity.

Tackle big projects one piece at a time, to chip away and accomplish things more efficiently. Consider the power of many hands, working toward one goal.

Always remember that teamwork, determination, and hard work can make things happen where they wouldn’t have seemed possible for a single person, or where they wouldn’t have even seemed possible at all.

I am reminded of this when I see big things getting done by many hands.

Ken and I began The Wooden Cow Gallery and Art Space project over a year ago. Neither of us had the funds and time to carry the entire thing alone. We recruited others to help, and through the strength and determination of many hands–we went from nothing, literally, nothing, to a full-fledged gallery and art space in less than 7 months. Almost everyone in the group donated time and money, energy and ideas. We chipped away at the big investments a little bit at a time. Simple things like garage sales and art auctions generated sightly bigger chunks. Ideas were incubated, planned, launched. New things developed. Small seeds grew into a lush garden.

While I am no longer a part of The Wooden Cow, I am proud to see that it’s still alive and still growing. I believe the strength of teamwork made the entire venture possible and the power of many hands will keep it going.

With each person picking up a stone, we moved a mountain. If each person picked up a single stone, toward any project or idea that seemed too huge to complete, they would be one stone closer to completion.

Things like small donations to charities help. Charities for animals, children, health–you name it. Every dollar adds up and chips away at the high price tags on things they need.

Think of the Barack Obama campaign. Whether you’re politically aligned with him or not, think of the power of many in that frame of reference. As a candidate, he accepted small donations from ordinary people. Donating a dollar here and there made a big difference for the campaign. Millions of differneces.

In Taoism, we are reminded that being humble is beautiful. Ideal. Simple. That we are a grain of sand among millions on the beach–but that without each of us to complete the whole, there would be no beach at all.

Remember that the things you do, the actions you act upon, resonate outward from you and affect everything and everyone around you.

So, go ahead. Pick up that stone.

Start that project you’ve been putting off.

Complete it one pebble at a time… You can do it.

From the 4th floor Fine Arts Library, the southern part of the city spreads out like a brick and treetop blanket, dipping here and there, allowing apartments and powerlines and flapping laundry on balconies to peek through. As the sun is slipping low in the sky, the desert is wide and far. As if it has no end. The edge of the curving planet.

I can see the divet the Rio Grande has punched into the valley’s base through the side-front windows. Cottonwoods punctuate the red banks and mountains formed during volcanic disturbances arch and curve; a misty backdrop. The mist, likely dirt. Coyotes, road runners, prarie dogs, wind scorpions inhabit the flat gray-yellow of the desert farther beyond.

I can see onto the tops of buildings. Granulated roof-stuff, like granola and cinnamon sugar, decorate the flat, human-tended surfaces. You can imagine hopping from one rooftop to another, light-footed, so the inhabitants don’t even know you’re there, yet you might be able to catch the scent of simmering spaghetti from a cocked kitchen window if you leapt to the right spot.

Seeing the mix of human-made and nautral is eye-opening from this height. Many of these buildings and plants are new, erected only a decade or so ago. Some are much older, having seen entire generations pad past on sidewalks flecked and cracked. I think of how the trees and buildings and streets will grow, change, morph, evolve over time–how they have since they began, how they will continue after I’m gone, how they have always continued in some form. How the natural flow and flux is the most innate thing there is.

Like Shiprock, which will one day be eroded down to dust, all of these things will change–yet the process of change remains the same.

Albuquerque%20Bosque%20Skyline

Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert

Daily Musings – A Discovery – 7/30/09

I grew up in an old house, built in the late 1800s with add-ons from the 1950s.

It was located on the wild edge of a medium-sized city, in the Mojave Desert, just north of Los Angeles. The property was largely overgrown by trees and desert foliage.

My parents were never able to tame the foliage back (nor did they try very hard). It even had an old garage, built in the teens, that was designed for Model As (with a sunken floor upon which a mechanic could slide to get under the car). It was useless for modern vehicles.

It’s previous incarnation was a vineyard with a wagon stop for people passing across the Southern California desert. The only thing that remained from the vineyard days was a single, twisted, archaic green grape bush that stuck up out of the desert in a weird way. It produced bundles of grapes every year, without watering.

The yard was over an acre and my parents never did any landscaping, except for cactus and iris gardens near the entrance. The best thing about it was, as a kid, anything was possible amongst the wild plants and myriad of paths that wove through the tall brush. It took me years to explore every corner–finding everything from old iron soldiers and a stone and metal incinerator (filled with turn of the last century newspapers), to wild plants of every shape imaginable–clinging to some sort of underground water source, in contrast to the rest of the yellow, dry desert.

One summer I poked deeply into a stand of Chinese Elms at the far end of the property, where it met open desert. I had this strange feeling to push deeper through high yellow weeds to explore under the trees I’d never really gotten close to.

Underneath the biggest tree was a headless statue. It was seated calmly, back resting against the old trunk of the tree. It was whitish with a gray cast–a ceramic man in loose robes, with his chest exposed. His legs were crossed and his arms rested gently on his knees.

I remember jumping back for a second–startled to see a human form tucked under trees no one had been close to in years, especially since it had a gaping hollow neck where the head should be. Then curiosity and calm won out. I realized the head must be somewhere. Even as old and weathered as the ceramic statue looked, I just knew the head was nearby. It had to be. After all, why wouldn’t it be somewhere?

So, I scoured the desert. Outside of our property line, I crunched through dried bushes and stepped over the occasional rusted tin can. I walked in a straight line from the statue. Suddenly, I saw a soft, smooth face looking up at me from between two large bushes. It was the statue’s head, resting calmly on the ground with an amused smile.

I picked it up. It felt slightly chalky and was heavy for me (even though it was hollow). I gripped it like a heavy handball and brought it back to the statue.

The head had tight curls of hair like cake decorations all over it and it was slender and smiling. He had a dot in the middle of his forehead and the detail was smooth and simple. I crawled back through the bushes and placed the head back on the statue. It had broken off cleanly enough that it fit firmly.

The statue was complete.

I later showed it to my mom. I was excited about having put him back together and curious as to why he was tucked away so secretly. She had never seen the statue before and didn’t know how he had gotten there, but she was pretty sure he was a Buddha.

It most certainly was a Buddha. He was a Tibetan meditating Buddha (a Shakyamuni Buddha; not the chubby ones, but the slender, smiling Buddhas with a tightly rounded headpiece). How he ended up under that gnarled tree, overgrown by years of foliage, at the edge of open desert–I’ll never know.

Who put him there? He was almost life-sized and similar statues made with new materials are high priced. Why did someone choose that tree? That spot? In that place? Under that old elm, on the old vineyard, at the old wagon stop…

Perhaps he was just there to be found.

buddha-face-danny

When I graduated from UC Berkeley, there was a fellow student, then 89 years old, who was finishing her 6th Bachelor’s degree. She had studied a wide range of subjects–history, English, anthropology, art… and also had more than one Master’s. She was awarded a special certificate for honorable academic achievements. I like to think of it as an eternal student award. When she gave her speech, she was asked what she was going to do next.

Her answer? “Get another degree!”

She was a student of life. She formally received awards for her studies–but you don’t have to sign up for every degree program under the sun to keep your mind open. Your thoughts ready to receive. To keep that fire of learning inside.

I know you’ve met people who think they know everything. Either about one subject, as a book-thumping expert with rigid citations, or as someone who thinks they’ve learned everything about EVERY subject. They loudly assert themselves. Announce everything they think they now. Belittle others for seeming to know less. They might be co-workers, family members. We might even be like that ourselves sometimes. But you know the type of person I’m talking about.

In America, many high school students think they’ve “finished” once they graduate. That they are now equipped with everything they ever need to know (and everything YOU need to know), simply because they have a high school diploma.

In reality, they have only just begun.

Lao Tzu says that “one who talks doesn’t know. One who knows doesn’t talk.” This is not a 2,500 year old request for people to clam up and sit down. In reality, it’s a reminder that the loud, chest-thumping guy who tells you that you don’t know how to swing a golf club, or that you’re clearly stupid for never having done this or seen that, is the kind of guy who talks loudly, but doesn’t know. He talks right from the ego. Right from the idea that he knows all, sees all, and is better than all.

He is most definitely *not* an eternal student.

The eternal student finds that there’s something to learn in every situation. Everywhere. At the movies. At a friend’s house. Stuck on a bus downtown. Watching bugs on a branch. The eternal student can find delight in opening a college catalog, wanting to take every class in the entire thing. Only wishing there were enough time. The eternal student learns from their mistakes, too. From when they lose a game of chess. Burn an egg. Hit their finger with a hammer.

They are like an empty cup–ready to be filled with anything. There’s room for plenty more. New ideas. New hobbies. New concepts. They tackle each day as an expedition. They explore the world around them and are never afraid to admit when they don’t know something.

By admitting they don’t know everything, they instantly understand a whole lot more.

The Tao Teh Ching reads:

47

Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.

If learning can be so fulfilling–why is Lao Tzu saying that the more you learn, the less you understand? Isn’t that bad? Like an uphill climb you can’t win?

Don’t think of it as better or worse, win or lose.

Lao Tzu says this because it’s true. The more you read and learn, the more you realize there’s so much more to learn and experience. You think you’ve mastered Photoshop–then you grab a new book and find new techniques you’ve never heard of. More to learn. A few new paths to explore. The more you think you’ve mastered about cooking, the more you find there are spices you’ve never tried. Dishes you’ve never heard of.

And this is not a bad thing.

The eternal student would most definitely find that the more they study, the more doors open which contain things they haven’t even begun to learn.

Finding that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know keeps you energized as an eternal student. When you realize that “not knowing” is NOT bad, a million doors open.

And when you remember to keep ego in check and remind yourself that in the end, learning doesn’t make you better or worse than anyone else, you won’t become the guy who brags about his golf skills to bored people in line at Wal-Mart.

As the eternal student, you also realize that books don’t take the place of learning through experience. You can read all about riding a horse, but you won’t know how to do it until you physically try it. You have all the answers inside you, yet the questions that are out there are equally fascinating.

I try to be an eternal student in everything I do. There’s always something I can learn. I will never tire of taking classes and listening and watching. I also won’t forget that there are some things which can be learned by looking inward, but with the same open mind I apply to studying things on the outside.

Zhuge LiangDaily Musings -7/3/09 – “Honorable People”

Zhuge Liang, a brilliant strategist, philosopher, artist, musician, inventor, and prime minister of the Three Kingdoms era in China (he was born about 180 C.E. {AD}) was a student of Taoism and studied the Tao Teh Ching, the Art of War, and the I Ching heavily.

Known for his idealistic attempts to cause as little harm in war as possible, he wrote many scrolls on leadership, crisis management, and personal cultivation–some of which have been lost to antiquity. We are lucky to have some of his writings preserved even now, millenia later. Thomas Cleary offers a commendable translation of his timeless thoughts.

Zhuge Liang’s personal motto was:

“Opportunistic relationships can hardly be kept constant.

The acquaintance of honorable people, even at a distance, does not add flowers in times of warmth and does not change its leaves in times of cold: it continues unfading through the four seasons, becomes increasingly stable as it passes through ease and danger.”

Sounds like a warning against fairweather friends, tenuous networking, and social-ladder-climbers who would use you in times of success and abandon you in times of distress? You’re absolutely correct. Zhuge Liang warned that many are treacherous, appearing to be warm and friendly, while keeping an eye out for what they can get, how they can gain more, who they can entrap and connect with, and how they can use others. This reminder to be mindfully aware and cautious permeates his “Way of the General” scroll. When you are surrounded by honorable people, they won’t add a feather to your cap in times of success–and they also won’t flee when you’re in trouble. They are there, all the time. Unfading. Permanent. Reliable. Trustworthy.

No–this isn’t entreating an X-Files-like sense of paranoia, that everyone is out to get everyone else, and that they’re all plotting against one another. Rather, it’s a gentle reminder to keep your eyes and ears open for both the honorable AND the dishonorable. In every situation. Just be aware. Receive life, but always be open.

It seems silly that we would need to remind ourselves to surround ourselves with people who are true and forthright, but it’s a concept easily forgotten in the modern world. Especially when people are fradulently nice and no one could ever see them as anything otherwise.

The Tao Teh Ching reminds us that:
“True words aren’t beautiful. Beautiful words aren’t true.”

(sometimes translated as sweet/nice words). The sickeningly sweet layer of falsity that so often conceals mal intent was a problem over a thousand years ago. It’s still troubling today.

Hold onto the center. Trust your intuition. Be true and compassionate toward yourself. Be true and compassionate toward others. The honorable will rise to the surface. They are the ones who will be there for you, whether you’ve brushed your hair, failed that big test, lost everything, won everything, given everything up. They have got your back, even when they don’t seem to know where you are. Trust is everything.

And always remember the other side of the coin:

“To lose trust by trying to gain an advantage is a mistake made by men of old.” – Zhuge Liang.

Daily Musings

Daily Musings

This month, several living beings that have been part of my life have moved on–and one more, I feel, is about to.

This Daily Musing is not about death as “loss.” Instead, it’s about that window of time, just before and just after–and the gentle ripple of effect that rolls out and touches those who allow themselves to be aware (and how it seems to bounce off those who are unaware). The window all living beings will one day experience–and its connection to illusion.

A family friend, best friend of my stepfather, died last week. Lung cancer. Within a few days, my mother and stepfather’s dog, a best friend for over 20 years, also died. It was just the kind of thing that has to happen. When it’s time to move along your journey, it’s just a matter of finishing the final chapter in one book and starting the next. As Chuang-Tzu reminds us, it’s like a butterfly emerging from a coccoon. There was a time before you existed, and there will be a time after you exist (the way you do now). Holding onto transient things only drains you.

As some out there in the world are closing the cover and picking up the next volume of existence, there are others who are just beginning new chapters. Opening the cover for the first time. Friends whom I’ve known for years are brimming with life. Children. New things to work on. Projects. Pets. Picnics. Life. The cycle is always at a different place for each person, for each set of people, for each living creature–turning for everyone, always rolling along without judgment or expectation. It’s fascinating, thrilling, engaging to see this.

As my former boss (a gigantic private investigator who used to play football for the Oakland Raiders) used to say – “It is what it is.” It’s what his coach always said. It’s been deemed a meaningless statement by the media, yet it’s really very Tao in depth. Why does it happen? Because it happens.

A lady I have known for 4 years is finishing her book very soon. She is 98 years old. I have this feeling she’s close to complete, that her Jing is nearly gone. It’s not bad or good. It just is.

The same day I found out about her situation–the silliness of the unimportant world pops in.

A friend’s 18-year old son verbally scolds her for being 45 minutes late to pick him up from class, when her lunch and doctor visit take longer than expected. The same boy is ungrateful for a brand new car his parents bought just for him–because he thinks it’s a “chick car.” While he broods over whether vehicles are “girly,” another friend is now facing huge damages to their only car, because someone was careless and drove recklessly, without insurance, without anything–and rammed into the side of them. Their only form of transportation, now crippled, is held onto with respect and care, while some who are given cars and access and money are simply annoyed at the brand they’ve been “stuck” with. Still another friend is concerned about not being able to purchase an (unnecessary for daily survival) $8,000 item as fast as she wants, while other friends can barely pay their electric bills.

I am struck by the strangeness of what Taoism calls the “illusionary world.” The world of things which don’t really matter–like Starbucks and desks, 9 to 5 days, brand names, identitiy labels. We live with them all the time, yet many people cling to them like they matter more than anything else. While some living things are going through transformations, others are mired in the illusion, almost without (or perhaps ignoring) compassion for others.

And yet–illusion and reality are both part of the same big ball. Neither is better or worse. They are just tied together. Balancing yourself between both worlds (being able to exist in both, while letting neither side control everything) is key.

Be happy with what you have. Consider how your actions impact those around us. Dammit, enjoy Starbucks and a good video game when you can–but don’t be fooled into thinking that owning all the latest games and guzzling 5 gallons a day is the way to true happiness and balance.

Excerpts from the Tao Teh Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell:

10

Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?

Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.

16

Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

Can you step back from you own mind and thus understand all things?