Archive for the ‘Zen’ Category

What is the sound of one slice toasting?

December 27, 2020

One loafer, no loaf.

The tenzo at the Juan Hand Clapping Memorial Zendo & Bicycle Warehouse wandered off the Path yesterday and forgot to bake a fresh loaf of bread.

Thus this morning’s Solomonic treatment of the one remaining slice from the old loaf. As Baba Ram Jimbo Harrison has taught us in “The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand,” the great cuisines of the world — and I would argue, the not-so-great as well — tend to arise from economies of scarcity.

“This calls for resourcefulness in the kitchen, or what the tenzo in a Zen monastery would call ‘skillful means,'” he wrote.

That, and a bread knife.

R.I.P., Steve Milligan

December 22, 2020

Our friend Steve went west last night.

We were on the trail past the high side of Comanche, waiting on the Great Conjunction, when I saw the owl.

It was just before sunset as he flew in from the south, spread his wings wide, and coasted to a landing atop a utility pole down the hill from our own perch.

“I bet that’s Steve come to say adios,” I thought.

We had spoken with his wife, Christina, earlier in the day. She told us Steve was near the end of his struggle against an aggressive cancer. And when I saw the owl, well. …

This morning I awakened with Tom Waits in my head, rasping, “Come On Up to the House.”

Come on up to the house

Come on up to the house

The world is not my home

I’m just a-passin’ through

You gotta come on up to the house.

And sure enough, as I creaked out of bed and began dressing to greet the day, Herself gave me the news: “Steve died.”

Steve and Christina were librarians, like Herself, who met Steve sometime in 2005 when they both worked for Pikes Peak Community College in Bibleburg. Christina did her bit at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Funny thing was, they lived just a couple blocks around the corner from our place in the Greater Patty Jewett Yacht & Gun Club Neighborhood. So we could’ve met them pretty much any old time. Small world.

Steve and Herself at PPCC.

Herself developed this notion that we might all get along, be “couples friends,” a social wall she has been banging her head against for more than 30 years. I’m a surly old dog wary of strangers at the gate.

In this instance, however, she was correct. Steve picked right up on my suspicions about any plan I had not personally devised and his nickname for me became “Mr. Three Words.” If there was something Christina wanted to do and Steve didn’t, he’d say, “I have three words for you: Patrick O’Grady.”

These are of course two words, and constitute a koan of sorts, I suppose. And no surprise, because Steve was a Zen Buddhist, a member of the Springs Mountain Sangha. We had something in common there; some years earlier I had met Joan Sutherland Roshi, who would go on to become the founding teacher of The Open Source network that includes the SMS.

Joan had worked with John Tarrant Roshi, director of the Pacific Zen Institute and Robert Aitken Roshi’s first dharma heir. And Steve and I both appreciated Tarrant’s book, “Bring Me the Rhinoceros,” a sampler of classic Zen koans and a Western approach to them.

All this is not intended to say that Steve and I were Han Shan and Shih Te. Steve and Christina and Herself and I were not itinerant locos who did a little casual day labor to keep rice in the bowl (well, Steve, Christina and Herself weren’t, anyway). We were simply friends, people of like mind who enjoyed books and movies, food and wine, chin music and a few yuks.

One of many dinners at the Blue Star.

They would cook for us, and we would cook for them. If we weren’t cooking, we were eating, at Blue Star, Springs Orleans, Tapateria, Pizza Rustica, or Vallejos. Taking in movies at Kimball’s Peak Three. Hanging out and shooting the shit.

After we moved down here in 2014 we saw them less often, but both Steve and Christina have relatives in New Mexico, so they’d pop down from time to time and we’d catch up. And whenever we were back in Bibleburg they were at the top of our list of people to see.

Steve was a big fella, like me a bearded baldo, but while I am prone to rant and rave like some stewbum on a sidewalk he was inclined to uncork a dry wit and serve it in a confidential tone, as though the State might be listening in. Whenever he had a bon mot to deliver he would take a step closer, right into your personal space, drop his volume to a conspiratorial level, and let fly.

Christina? More of a Buddha, less entranced by her own sermons, occasionally raising a flower. She speaks in measured tones with quiet amusement and nothing I do or say surprises her because she spent decades with her own bull-goose loony and knew all that honking and flapping was strictly ornamental.

There was less of that sort of thing as Steve’s disease progressed, Christina told me today as we three, once four, shared a long-distance cry. But at least Steve was in the nest, at home, in the care of his wife and son. And that was where he left them, and us, at age 73. Gasshō, bodhisattva.

We can’t say that human lives have a purpose, since a purpose would be smaller than we are. It’s true, though, that the impulse to give freely to the world seems to be at the bottom of the well of human intentions where the purest and cleanest water arises. To be able to offer back what the world has given you, but shaped a little by your touch — that makes a true life. Eventually we find our song and remember it and sing it. And we can never know who else will sing the song, or how the story will turn out in the end; its ripples widen beyond us and there is no end in sight. — John Tarrant, “Bring me the Rhinoceros”

Cat, sitting

April 5, 2020

Miss Mia Sopaipilla on the cushions.

We should

sit like a cat

and wait for the door

to open.

—”Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry,” by Ted Kooser and Jim Harrison

A sign of the tines

November 19, 2018

MARA the Tempter is always on the job. Though not necessarily with a rake.

Or “A Rake’s Progress.”

• A tip of the bracero’s sombrero for the news nugget goes out to Merrill “M-Dogg” Oliver, a Noo Yawkah turned Californicator who is something of a rake in his own right.

The stone mind

January 6, 2018

Way down there somewhere is the Duke City.

My Bicycle Retailer and Industry News column may be a thing of the past, but I still have deadlines, and Lord, how them sumbitches can fill a feller’s dance card.

I’ve been burning daylight over the Giant ToughRoad SLR 1, exchanging emails with former VeloNews comrade Andrew Juskaitis, now senior global product marketing manager for the Big G, and after an extended stretch of demonstrating my profound ignorance I decided yesterday that it was time to ride one of my own damn’ bikes for a change.

It had to be steel, of course, with drop bars, rim brakes, and tires with inner tubes. And with the weekend promising congestion on the trails I thought it might be nice to get a quick off-road ride while the gettin’ was good.

When is a rock not a rock? When it’s a Buddha.

So the Voodoo Nakisi and I set off for the usual casual loops around the Elena Gallegos Open Space.

Well, almost the usual.

Our local trail network is well marked with signs for people who like to follow maps (Trail 365, 305, etc.) and for those who don’t (Trail Closed for Rehabilitation). But there’s the occasional unmarked stretch that makes you go “Hmmmm.. …”

On a whim, I followed a couple of those yesterday, just to see where they went, and one of them meandered upward until it became frankly unrideable (by me, anyway). So I got off and wandered around for a bit, assuming I was more or less up against the wilderness boundary, taking snaps with the iPhone and just enjoying being away from the office.

I looked down at the Duke City, and snap, and then looked up at the ridgeline, and … holy shit! Check out that rock formation. It looks like a Buddha sitting zazen with his back to all of this.

Well, it does to anyone with an overactive imagination, anyway. It seemed too heavy a stone to carry around in my head, though, so I bowed to it, left it where it was, and got back about the business of avoiding business.

• Editor’s note: Further bows to “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings,” compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki.

Does a cat have the Buddha-nature?

January 2, 2018

Meow.

The Bravo Foxtrot Hotel

October 12, 2017

Every day a little less green and a little more gold.

Thursday has its roots in the Old Norse for “Thor’s Day” (thōrsdagr), and it was definitely hammer time round El Rancho Pendejo today.

I burned a bunch of daylight polishing the penultimate “Mad Dog Unleashed” screed of 2017 for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, then scribbled a “Shop Talk” cartoon for the same outfit. No work, no eating, as the Zen master Hyakujo has taught us.

This shot makes the Elena Gallegos Open Space look a lot less active than it was.

Then it was 90 minutes on the Voodoo Nakisi, chasing myself around the dusty trails of the Elena Gallegos Open Space. Next to nobody in there yesterday and today it looked like the Big Eye at rush hour. Go figure. Are there no prisons? No workhouses?

The Boo requires a variety of medications and we were short one, so off to the vet I did go, flushing still more dinero down the medical loo that is our smelly little one-eyed pee-weasel.

And I checked in with friends in Santa Rosa to gauge the state of affairs out there. Not good, as you probably already know. Nearly 3,000 homes destroyed, 29 people dead, and both numbers expected to rise.

Among the houses incinerated was one belonging to the late Charles M. Schulz, creator of the fabled “Peanuts” strip.

My man Merrill is planning another cross-country run before settling into his new life on the Left Coast and hopes to pass through the Duke City this time around, so I’ll get a full report sometime next week from a former New York Times man. Right now he’s couch-surfing at the mayor’s digs and resting up for the final push.

And my old buddy Miz Lo is hiding from the smoke down Petaluma way but hopes to return to the Pink Palace soon. She knows many people who won’t be so fortunate.

The first Noble Truth

April 14, 2017

Another good sit. Not on the cushions, mind you, but still.

All life is suffering.

Gassho, Peter Matthiessen

April 5, 2014

Author, naturalist and Zen teacher Peter Matthiessen has gone west.

Jeff Himmelman recently wrote a piece on Matthiessen for The New York Times Magazine — I just read it last night, and a good read it is — and today an obit followed in the news columns.

Zen is a tough nut to crack, but I think Matthiessen did a pretty fair job of it while arranging what seems to have been a graceful departure given his circumstances (more than a year spent battling leukemia). Discussing radical experimental measures that might have helped keep him around a while longer, he said,  “I don’t want to hang on to life quite that hard. It’s part of my Zen training. … The Buddha says that all suffering comes from clinging. I don’t want to cling. I’ve had a good life, you know. Lots of adventures. It’s had some dark parts, too, but mainly I’ve had a pretty good run of it, and I don’t want to cling too hard. I have no complaints.”

Speaking with The Guardian newspaper in 2002, he said that Zen “is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake.”

“We tend to daydream all the time, speculating about the future and dwelling on the past,” he continued. “Zen practice is about appreciating your life in this moment. If you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well. We are beset by both the future and the past, and there is no reality apart from the here and now.”

In the here and now, Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday.

It’s New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2013

Sit like a cat

We should

sit like a cat

and wait for the door

to open.

—From “Braided Creek: A Conversation In Poetry,” by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser. This one’s for Chris and Theresa Elizabeth Coursey.