Archive for the ‘Zen’ Category

Be here when?

April 10, 2022

The Cuisinart bread warmer/scorcher.

On Saturday I was making breakfast and mulling over Ken Layne’s latest Desert Oracle podcast when I smelled something burning.

The Wirecutter boyos say you can’t buy a proper toaster anymore, whether you spend a lot or a little, and I believe them. If I don’t keep an eye on and make adjustments to this cheapo Cuisinart what I wind up with is either lightly dried bread or a blackened slab that looks like a smoking shake shingle from a lightning-fried cabin.

A little thing, to be sure. Hardly the foundation for a thumbsucker The New Yorker might buy. And never mind writing about it — simply thinking about it may be a red flag, or so posits the Desert Oracle:

If you don’t have any sense of mission or destiny, or religious faith, or really any sort of sustainable lifetime philosophy, then the small stuff is all you can think about. Because no matter where you are in life, at one time or another you are going to have all the usual problems: health, money, sorrow, disgust, anger, gum disease, athlete’s foot, too much house or none at all. Your dog either up and died or it’s neurotic and full of hate and will outlive you by decades. Everybody’s out to get you or nobody pays any attention at all. The entirety of modern technological society has brushed away and marginalized the personal practice of philosophy. So we lose the plot while we’re in it. It’s like one of those Disney “Star Wars” movies.

I’ve had all of these problems, except being outlived by dogs. And that rough beast is bound to come slouching around one of these days, because Herself wants one, even more than she wants properly toasted bread in the mornings, slathered with Irish butter and French spread.

Maybe I should relocate to one of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville-branded “active-living communities,” a paradise for Parrotheads, which is a philosophy of sorts, maybe even a religion.

I had a brief Buffett period, and still enjoy his early works, like “He Went to Paris,” “Cuban Crime of Passion,” and “Death of an Unpopular Poet.” He may have foreshadowed his future as a geezer miner with the lyrics to “I Have Found Me a Home”:

And I have found me a home

Yes, I have found me a home

And you can have the rest of everything I own

’Cause I have found me a home.

I think we’re all bohos on this bus.

That song and the rest of my best-of-Buffett list are from his 1973 breakout album, “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean,” which features, among others, Steve Goodman on acoustic lead guitar, Vassar Clements on fiddle, and Thomas McGuane on liner notes (“We are beset by the quack minstrels of a non-existent America, bayed at by the children of retired orthodontists about ‘hard times’ and just generally depleted by all the clown biographies and ersatz subject matter of the drugs-and-country insurgence that is replacing an earlier song mafia,” and if that isn’t vintage Captain Berserko I’m a Daytona Beach Realtor.).

The folks who live in Buffett’s beach-bum burgs out there in Disney country certainly seem to have a philosophy that works for them. In his New Yorker piece Nick Paumgarten quotes Stuart Schultz, Latitude Margaritaville’s head of residential community relations (and a former summer-camp director), as saying that living in a Margaritaville property is “like being in college, but with money and without having to study. You have a great dorm room, you never have to go to class, and there’s always a party.”

Hm. I dunno. An earlier version of me never went to class but took in many a party, so I feel like I’ve done my time in that dorm room. And like the toast from my Cuisinart I have the scorch marks to show for it.

It’d probably be smarter to stay put. Get a philosophy. And maybe a dog.

Gassho, Thich Nhat Hanh

January 21, 2022

Thich Nhat Hanh, via Upaya Zen Center.

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has gone. He was 95.

A champion of mindfulness, compassion, and peace, he departed from the Tu Hieu Temple in his homeland, where once — as an opponent of the Vietnam War — he was not welcome.

He returned twice to teach, publish, and lead retreats and ceremonies before finally going home for good in 2018, following a stroke four years earlier.

In his book “At Home in the World,” published in 2016, Nhat Hanh addressed his inevitable leaving. He wrote:

This body of mine will disintegrate, but my actions will continue me. If you think I am only this body, then you have not truly seen me. When you look at my friends, you see my continuation. When you see someone walking with mindfulness and compassion, you know he is my continuation. I don’t see why we have to say “I will die,” because I can already see myself in you, in other people, and in future generations.

Even when the cloud is not there, it continues as snow or rain. It is impossible for the cloud to die. It can become rain or ice, but it cannot become nothing. The cloud does not need to have a soul in order to continue. There’s no beginning and no end. I will never die. There will be a dissolution of this body, but that does not mean my death.

I will continue, always.

The Upaya Zen Center of Santa Fe will offer a memorial service via YouTube at 5:30 p.m. Mountain time today. The Zen center he co-founded, Plum Village, plans an extended remembrance beginning tomorrow. You can read more about Thich Nhat Hanh at Lion’s Roar.

Take it to the bridge

January 21, 2022

Sonny Rollins doesn’t play anymore because he can’t.

But there was a time when he stepped out of the jazz spotlight voluntarily, because he felt he wasn’t living up to his own musical expectations.

Rollins spent the next two years playing to the sky from the Williamsburg Bridge, spanning the East River in New York City. And 60 years ago this month, he returned to the studio for a session that led to his comeback album, “The Bridge.”

“What made me withdraw and go to the bridge was how I felt about my own playing,” says Rollins, now 91. “I knew I was dissatisfied.”

John Fordham of The Guardian has the story here.

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.