This is just one more example of why--even with a few differences in approach and interpretation--I still really appreciate Brad-san's wisdom...

Couple of things in the news caught my eye. Last Friday the LA Times had a headline that said, "Some wars keep peace, Obama says." He is quoted as saying, "Part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary and war is at some level an expression of human beings."

I really liked that statement. Out here in Santa Monica it seems like every third car has a bumper sticker that says, "War is NOT the answer." But the sad fact is that those bumper stickers are not true. War is very often the best solution to complex human difficulties. That is the problem!

If you say that war is never the answer, you're just hiding from the facts. And hiding from the facts isn't going to solve anything. First start from the understanding that -- horrible as it is -- war is the answer many times, then try and figure out why that is and what can be done about it. After we come to truly understand why war works so damn well we can start to build a world where your bumper sticker is true. Wishing everyone could just join hands and sing Kumbaya won't fix a damned thing.

Too many people equate Buddhism with naive pacifism. Of course, Buddhism is all about trying to move humanity toward a more stable and peaceful situation. But it's also about facing the true facts as they are. War is bad. No doubt about it. But if you want to do something to end all war you need to acknowledge that, as things stand right now, wars are all too often necessary.

I wish war would go away too. But wishing ain't gonna cut it.


The other thing I've been looking at in the news is all this fuss about Tiger Woods. Twitter contributor Shit My Dad Says quotes his 73 year old dad saying, "I like See's candy. Put me in a See's store, I'm eating candy. The whole world is Tiger's See's store, and the candy is vagina."

The plain fact is that no matter what he did or who he fucked it's really none of our God damned business. He's a golfer, for Christ's sake! What does any of this have to do with golf?

Feh. People are so fuckin' dumb sometimes.
(From Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen blog: Dec 14th, 2009)


All that you touch
All that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
All that you love
All that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
All that you give
All that you deal
All that you buy
Beg, borrow or steal
All you create
All you destroy
All that you do
All that you say
All that you eat
Everyone you meet
All that you slight
Everyone you fight
All that is now
All that is gone
All that's to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

This is a short music mix for a sangha project called "Hero With A Thousand Faces". I'll speak more to it in another post. Meanwhile, enjoy.

My dharma brother and friend Bansho, working on a zabuton after the
ZCO Winter Zazenkai, December 5th, 2009.

The dharma, incomparably profound and
infinitely subtle, is rarely encountered, even in
hundreds of thousands of millions of ages.
As we see it, hear it, receive and maintain it,
may we completely realize the Thathagata's true

A good, cold morning. One of the first killing frosts here in SE Portland. People were in the PDC by the time I arrived at 7:05am. Everyone was greeted by Rinsan, Senryu and/or Bansho, all of whom were making final preparations for the days practice. By the time we were in place at 7:30, there were just about twenty of us.

Everyone settled in, and we began with the traditional morning service. At 8am, after chanting every name of our dharma linage, from the seven past Buddhas, up and through our Indian, Chinese, and Japanese ancestors, we settled into a quiet space, and began zazen.

This "quiet place" lasted approximately 3.72 minutes. The demolition project currently happening in (well, happening TO, I suppose) the parking-lot started promptly at 8am. Our ordained for the day, Ryushin, immediately reminded us to set aside any preconceptions of what this day should be, and mindfully practice experiencing what this day was becoming, moment by moment. I was interested and surprised that the sounds didn't seem to bother or distract me as much as I thought they would when I first heard the equipment start up. I attributed this indifference to being tired from lack of sleep.

The light in the zendo grew to make the windows glow, and warmed the space as we sat zazen. At 9am, I went downstairs to act as the assistant to the tenzo (cook) dharma-sister Shinju. She and I had worked together the previous days planning the menu and getting supplies and ingredients. It was the first time either of us had acted in this capacity (minus helping in the kitchen at Great Vow while doing work practice while on retreat) so we were both excited to begin our work. We lit the kitchen altar candles and presented incense, invoked the spirit of compassion and nurturing, bowed to each-other, and set to work in noble silence.

As noble as we'd intended to be, though, a very brief and blessedly minor comedy of "wherezit?" ensued. Where is the olive oil? Where is the can opener? Do we have X? This is less difficult to deal with when one can talk freely. We quickly understood that a bit of vocal communication was needed to get past this barrier. Shinju ran over to the Dharma Rain Dharma House to borrow oil and a can opener (a cache of which was found almost immediately upon her return), and I set to chopping root vegetables. Soon after, Shinju-san returned, and we started cooking in earnest. At one point, Shinju caught me staring very intently at a round orange-yellow disc I held in the sunlight. I smiled at her and very quietly whispered "I love the way a cut parsnip looks on the inside", bowed, and went back to making more lovely orange-yellow discs.

At 9:30, the first break period occurred, and people popped in and out of the kitchen to get tea cups and other items. Shinju-san and I continued on with the cooking, dancing about each-other in (mostly) silence as we each chopped, peeled, roasted, toasted and sautéed various root vegetables, beet tops, pecans, onions, turnips, rutabagas, and other ingredients.

At 10am, the day's work circle began. We began with a traditional chant and invocation while in circle, then each participant was assigned a work task. Many hands worked on the new (and lovely) zabutons in noble silence, while at the same time, the kitchen was assigned two assistants. Apparently, zen practice truly knows no rank, and dharma brother Fuho-san was gifted the chopping of the onions. My heart and eyes went out to him as I listened to him gasp and sniffle over his task. At 11am, zazen resumed, and Shinju-san and I were once again quietly orbiting around each-other in front of the stove. By 11:30, we were done, and headed back up into the zendo for a period of zazen ourselves before lunch.

Lunch was done buffet style due to the number of participants, but eaten communally and in silence at a long table set up in the lower zendo meeting area. After the meal-chant, we ate lunch: roasted winter vegetable stew, warm beet green salad with satsuma oranges, cranberry vinaigrette and toasted pecans and two kinds of bread. While we weren't eating oryoki, we did eat in noble silence. I just endeavored to experience this as oryoki-"lite", and appreciated the colors, flavors and textures as I slowly ate my food, trying to mindfully set down my spoon between each bite.

After we finished eating, Shinju and I were allowed to rest while the others cleared the dishes. Everyone was allowed a bit of a break between cleaning and more meditation. Some chose to walk outside in the cold-crispness of the late, sunny fall afternoon. At 1pm, we reconvened in the zendo, and began zazen again, sated, refreshed and grateful.

At 2pm, Ryushin gave a wonderful, heart-felt dharma talk and teaching, encouraging us all to truly value the precious nature of this practice and our participation in this zazenkai. Knowing that he would soon be leaving us for three months to participate in an ango intensive at a California monastery made his time with us seem a bit more precious and poignant. We have such a dharma champion in him! After the talk, more zazen, then we performed the Fusatsu ceremony, or the renewal of vows. In unison, we all chanted...
All evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
Because of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all.

Then after the roughly 30min ceremony, we gathered for a semi-formal tea and closing circle. A number of nice cheeses were set out, along with cut apples and pears, and a lovely (and decadent) pan-style cookie topped with white-chocolate frosting. Now allowed to speak, we each had an opportunity to share experiences. We all generally agreed that while the demolition noises were nearly constant throughout the day, they didn't really seem to interfere with zazen all that much. A number of us mentioned just how grateful we were to have this truly strong and vast vessel to rest in.

And if I got anything out of this zazenkai (and I most certainly did) it was that. How limitless this wonderful sangha is, how universal this dharma is, and how truly vast this Buddha-practice, this container, this vessel is. It held us all, with ease and in joy as we shared this day, and after a cleaning of the temple, it saw us trickle out into the moonlit darkness of the cold night, one by one, taking this wonderful energy out into the world, waiting quietly for each of us to return once more and be held in the warmth and comfort of this hearth.

I highly encourage anyone reading this to consider participation in the next zazenkai, especially if life circumstances may keep you from currently participating in sesshin at Great Vow Zen Monastery. It is a wonderful opportunity to put down that which you normally carry, and give yourself a place to rest in the dharma and strengthen your practice. And even if you do participate in sesshin, please consider coming to the next Heart of Wisdom / Zen Community of Oregon zazenkai currently scheduled for April 17 at St. David of Wales church and supporting all who attend with your energy and presence.

Thank you to all who participated, and supported me in my own practice with your energy.

Yours in dharma,

-Andrew Montgomery

I do not desire to be relevant. I desire to be free...

...with being who I am. It's taken me years to be able to say that, and at times I still question weather I actually believe myself when I say it, but deep down, I do. Today's FB status...

The Zen.Trixter has had a very challenging day. He looks at the neon schmear of the sunset over the West hills, and suddenly hears words in his head. "Just cold gems set in memory..."

I have lived a very rich life. I've been able to go places and do things that many people dream about. Honestly, though, none of that actually matters as to who I "am". For a big chunk of my past, my motivations were very selfish. People were hurt by my actions, me included. I still bear that karma.

In this Buddhist practice, we have a concept/saying called "drop the story". It's a way of acknowledging that the past is the past, and the future's a fiction. That doesn't mean that the past are lies, or the future is a crazy delusion. All it is is a recognition that trying to deal with things that aren't right now is impossible.

I have often been stuck in the past or the future. Residing in the "now"--comfortably or otherwise--is something relatively new to me. And it sure is taking practice. Letting go of this idea that I am the sum-total of my past experiences is rather tricky. Aren't we all that we have done? To learn that the answer is "nope" is off-putting at first. It gets easier over time. I hope.

But if I've learned one thing, it's that I'm not truly anything other than what I am right now. This very moment. I owe no one a proof or explanation of the past, or a prognostication of the future. I simply owe this Universe my honesty, my compassion, and my attention. Everything good flows from that, and it is all I want from life.

Note to non-practitioners: The below is a brief write-up required of all those who ask to take the first Five Precepts from the Zen Community of Oregon (my sangha).  I posted this here because it's a Buddhist blog, but also because this understanding of the Precepts traditionally should be publicly illustrated.

Thoughts on the first Five Precepts

In the Abhisandha Sutta, the Buddha said that the commitment to live by the precepts is a gift to oneself and all others:
... This is the ... gift, the ... great gift — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that is not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and is unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives and priests. This is the ... reward of merit, reward of skillfulness, nourishment of happiness, celestial, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, leading to what is desirable, pleasurable and appealing; to welfare and to happiness.
I find this a very useful way to look at the first five precepts. I believe it was [my sensei] Hogen [Bays] who said that if each person were to undertake and live by just the first five precepts, the world would never know war, crime, rape or addiction. The universal begins with the personal, and the idea that this undertaking is a gift to the world—to the Universe and all beings in it—is a very powerful one. We all at times feel helpless and ineffectual, and remembering that you are able to do something to help the entire universe by virtue of the way you live your very life can help anchor you when you feel at the mercy of this existence.

I look at these principles and how they apply to my life in the following ways:

  1. Do not kill: This seems so obvious, yet people do this every moment of every day. Bugs, mites, and all manner of tiny things end their existences every time I breathe, walk, shower, and eat. We tend to think only of the overt idea of killing (that is, taking of a human life) because that to us is the most obvious limit that humans should abide by. Many of us, however, take that practice to a greater degree. I am (primarily) a vegetarian. I have been for five years. I was a strict vegan for three. I decided that after thirty-some years of eating mostly animal products that I should no longer contribute to the suffering of animals simply because I like the way they taste. That decision made an immediate impact upon the world in which I live in a number of ways, not the least of which is that animals are no longer dying in my name. But it also changed who I am directly by making me more aware of suffering in general. The learning of the idea of ahimsa—of non-harming—directly manifested a growth of it in my life, and in many directions. I notice now that I am as aware of the killing of the experience of joy, or the killing of a person's spirit as I am that of a living being. I value this awareness very much. When I kill something, part of the Universe dies, and that is as much damage to myself and my own progress as it is the thing that has died, because the truth is, there is no difference.

  2. Do not steal: I am always moved by the rephrasing “Be satisfied with what I have”. The drive to have, to posses, to acquire; these are all like essential nutrients to the weed that is “desire”. At times in the past, I have fallen into this. “To want what isn't” is what is needed to incite someone to steal. The practice of the acceptance of what is is the medicine the Buddha gave to heal the wound that is this desire. Choosing to steal only creates negative consequences that last long after the initial satisfaction or gratification of possession are gone. The karma of stealing will always outlast the mere thing that has been stolen. Acceptance and true appreciation of what one has will only foster positive things into the Universe, and help us all.

  3. Do not misuse sexual energy: For many, this means to not stray from the bonds of marriage. To some, this means to be celibate. For me, the most important aspect of this precept is that of respect. “Encountering all creations with respect and dignity, this is the precept of Chaste Conduct” encapsulates this very well for me. Not only should we live in a way that shows respect for all the people we encounter and have relations with throughout our lives, but we should remember to include ourselves in that number. Constantly doing whatever it takes to satisfy sexual urges—be it allowing ourselves to stay in unhealthy or dysfunctional relationships, enticing someone romantically simply to satisfy a desire for sex, or withholding our sexual energy as a way to punish someone for some perceived wrong—is also damaging. Allowing yourself to be a slave to your sexual desires is possibly the greatest misuse of sexual energy, and is most certainly the cause of any other damaging sexual misconduct. If one understands that sexual energy must always be rooted in right action, then all sexual conduct that follows will always be in accord with the precepts.

  4. Do not lie: Again; simple on the surface, but more nuanced than first appears. Obviously, lying is bad, and generates negative karma. One should always observe right speech. I tend to turn this precept back upon myself, as I have a tendency to lie to myself. When things aren't going as I'd like, I will tell myself that they are, instead of working with the idea “Why am I dissatisfied?” or “Who is it that feels this way?” When I inadvertently hurt someone by word or deed, I may say “They didn't notice” or “It's not important” when I know full well that they did or it, in fact, is important. These kinds of lies are just as damaging as bold-faced lies to the public, because they kill off the truth from inside, and allow a self-delusion to persist. Accepting lies in one's life is not acting as a Bodhisattva, no matter where the lie occurs or how “big” it is. As we often interpret it, “Listening and speaking from the heart” is the medicine to keep lies from further damaging the world.

  5. Do not be intoxicated: Ah, the sticky one. For me, this is all about motivation. As I am openly and legitimately on the Medical Marijuana program here in Oregon, many would think that I come at this precept from a slightly more challenging position, but I do not see it as such. I am anything but intoxicated while using cannabis. In fact, I am ever mindful of its effects on both my body and my mind. I use just enough to alleviate my physical symptoms. In this way, I am probably more mindful of its presence in my life than, say, someone given a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication, or a narcotic pain-killer. For me, intoxication has less to do with a given substance than it does the desire for mind-states that are not the state one's mind is currently in. In that way, anything can be an intoxicant, and I personally believe that to be true. It would be of wrong motivation to tell someone not to take an opiate pain-killer if they legitimately needed one merely because one of its side-effects is a distortion of perception or a feeling of euphoria. In the same way, it would be wrong to take said pain-killer merely to experience the side-effects because one is bored, lonely or otherwise unsatisfied with their current connection to the present moment. In that way, constantly watching TV, playing video games, or eating when not hungry are as intoxicating as any drug or alcohol. It is the desire to distract oneself from the direct experience of the current moment that is of poor and unhelpful motivation. “Cultivate a mind that sees clearly” is something I've used while volunteering and helping the terminally ill many times, as these people are very often heavily sedated. One can most certainly still practice “seeing clearly” when one is experiencing the side-effects of a given substance. One can never see clearly when they are willfully distracting themselves from reality merely as a cure for boredom or to escape what they see as a negative experience or circumstance. With the former, one is striving for a connection to the now, while the latter is trying to escape. As with all actions, karma is generated. The former will always generate merit, even if one fails; the latter can never do so, no matter what comes of the experience. For me, there will always be a distinction between use and misuse, and while that mindfulness is not something I have always had, I now value it greatly.

(Re)Spotted on the excellent Monkey-Mind blog of UU Minister James Ford.

What more is there to be said of this without dropping down into self-righteous snark?

Actually, I feel sorry for the girl. Digital karma gonna get you...

-le' sigh-

As I was walking to and from the bus today while running a few errands, I saw and navigated lots of mud puddles from yesterday's mondo rain-o. All the puddles made me think of one of my very favorite Zen parables, and in remembering that parable, I realized that I have been dealing with this very topic a lot the past few months. But by "dealing with it," I'm happy to say that that infers more success than failure. For some reason, things are easier to let go of now. Don't know if it's my practice or just my age. Either way, it's just one more thing to be grateful for.

One day two traveling monks reached a town and saw a young noblewoman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. There were deep, muddy puddles and she couldn’t step across without getting mud on her silk robes. She impatiently scolded her attendants, who were burdened with heavy packages.

The younger monk walked by the young woman without speaking. But the older monk stopped and picked her up on his back, carrying her across the mud. Not only did she not thank the monk, she shoved him out of her way when he put her down and scurried by him haughtily.

As the two monks continued on their way, the younger monk was brooding. After a long time, he finally spoke out. “That woman was so rude but you picked her up and carried her! She didn’t even thank you.”

“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk responded. “Why are you still carrying her?”

It's really interesting when you stumble through old (or even recent but forgotten) writing and see what you discover.

Look at me with eyes that wish to see the truth.
Look at me with eyes that will see me for who I truly am.
Look at me with the desire for honesty and compassion.
Look at me with the longing for connection.

Look at me as the man I am,
And I will look at you, always and forever,
As someone I can trust.

I'm really happy that I'm okay with who I am in my life now. There is no substitute for honesty, especially about oneself.

The wagessa passed on first inspection.

Jasmine is turning into a rather playful kitty. We have developed a nice routine.

I am having a ridiculously large 1080p DLP TV delivered today.

...the day after my sensei suggested that I renounce watching television.

I'm beginning to understand why one of the oldest traditions in Zen Buddhism is for the abbot of a monastery to scream "Go AWAY!!!" at anyone who stands outside the gate asking to be allowed in for refuge and training...


Well, The Precepts Ceremony was a month ago. As I said, I dropped the ball in that regard, mostly due to my not getting my wagessa finished. Well, it's finished now. At least I think it is. It now goes to our "head of precepts" director for approval, and if it's approved, she holds it until such time that I am allowed to take the first five precepts, most likely this time next year.

It's really interesting to me: I had such a hard time with this, but honestly not for any true physical issue. Admittedly, I had to sew it with limited use of my right hand, but that really didn't affect me all that much, even though I may have said so, and even believed so. I know now that I was blocked mentally and emotionally, which is quite a bit trickier than merely not being able to sew in a straight line.

When I first began pursuing Zen, I was married. I had flirted with Buddhism off and on (mostly off, actually) for the better part of twenty years before then, but always kept myself at a safe distance for some reason (a reason I am now more aware of, and will speak to in a moment). She jumped right in, head first. I was really very pleased to see this, and was happy for her. I knew it was a very genuine thing for her, that it truly resonated with her, and I would support her pursuit of a deeper connection with it without any kind of problem.

However, a problem of sorts did arise. Eventually, my pursuit of Buddhism--or more specifically, the speed at which I pursued it--started getting some scrutiny. She questioned why I wasn't taking to participation in the sangha and zazen. I tried to explain that at that time, I didn't feel it in me, and encouraged her to just keep on with her own path. That was met with a bit of disappointment, but it was left at that.

I later tried to explain that I knew deep inside that this was actually a momentous quantum change in my life, and that I needed to be sure in my heart that it was what I wanted. Up until that time, I was a returned-to-the-fold practicing Catholic (a rather devout one) and had just written off that faith after the scandals. I was now an adrift agnostic.

In my life up until that point, I had at various times been a Catholic, an Evangelical, a Unitarian, a Christian Fellow, a pagan, a Thelemite, and still to that point (and to this day) somewhat of a shamanic practitioner as well as a Taoist. Read differently: I'd always been a spiritual seeker.

But there was always something about Buddhism that on one hand deeply resonated with me, but sort of disturbed me at the same time. It felt sticky in a way that unnerved me, not unlike how one may have felt as a kid getting caught in a fib. "Uh-oh. The Truth. You can't talk your way outta this one."

When my father died in 2004, I had a very powerful experience. I had just started pursuing Buddhism in a bit of a non-sectarian fashion shortly before he died, and when he left, I felt something inside me that said "This is the moment." Buddhism got me through that experience, and what came out on the other side was a very different person.

Yet still, I was hesitant. We began pursuing and studying Zen. I had always been attracted to Vajrayana Buddhism, and had done quite a bit of study on Tantra. Zen was really very foreign to me. Not only foreign, but actually unappealing to me in a number of ways. It seemed (on the surface) rather dull, boring, and actually sort of depressing and nihilistic. Yet there was something there that began to pop up above the surface of my misconception.

But I just wasn't sure. I tried to explain that, for me, each person was on their own path, and that you cannot walk that path for anyone else. Up to that point, I'd been a believer in the idea that you could walk a spiritual path hand-in-hand with somebody, and that is something that I still to this day believe in, but the base truth is, you are on your path by yourself, alone. There are times when paths run parallel, and may even cross over, but in truth, they never truly converge. You have your path. You walk it. But you cannot walk at any speed other than your own. If you try and walk faster or slower, or alter directions in response to anyone other than yourself, you're making an error that will impede your progress.

Please don't think that I am angry about any of this. I'm not saying that she pushed, or that any harm was done. If anything, her forging on set a great example for me, and encouraged me to do the same. But it took me a while to decide, and that was something I had to insist upon for myself. I was not about to pursue Zen out of any kind of "must do" motivation other than my own internal compass telling me to walk that way. I had so many questions; frankly I still do. I knew though that I had to think and feel my way through to a place of clarity.

I took a year off from sangha-based zen practice. I sat at home. I still paid membership dues to the sangha that entire time and still considered myself a member of the sangha, but at the same time, I kept myself outside the actually practice body. I needed to know that this was where I needed to be. I needed to know that this is what I was supposed to do, and where I was supposed to go. I would not take up another spiritual practice unless I knew deep down that I should be there. I needed to know.

In 2008, my marriage started to wind down. My beloved elder cat passed away after a painful decline. There was quite a bit of trauma and tumult to that year, but the call to Zen began to ring inside me. That sounds so ethereal and mystical, but it's not. It's less like a soul-peeling strike of lightning and more like a persistent itch that you can't quite reach (zen practitioners all know about itching). It was just something that nagged me from the inside. It was The Truth, I knew that it was, and it had me pinned to the wall.

And that really was it. I've tried to explain this to people a number of different times, but typically wind up with the same anemic wording.

Q: Do you "like" zazen?
A: Not particularly. Many times I find it irritating, but mostly just boring.

Q: Do you get a deep sense of peace, satori, kensho, or feel more connected to the Universe?
A: Not anymore than I have at other times through other means.

Q: Do you find that Buddhism is what makes you a better person these days?
A: Probably, but I'm sure I could be a good person without it.

Q: Then if this is all a series of non-pluses, and you can take it or leave it, then why do it?
A: Because every time I "do it", no matter what may happen during the "doing it", when done, I feel measurably better than were I to not have "done it", and there's nothing in my life up to this point that I can say that consistently of.

So, I'm sort-of a defacto Zen practitioner. I pursue Zen in the same way that a physicist pursues the Higgs boson: I tend to be after facts and truths, and want to know things about life. I want to be intimately connected to what's real. I've spent a not-insignificant chunk of my life distracting myself from the truth because it wasn't how I wanted it to be (read: "death and taxes") or Existentially mollifying myself via Sartre's self-deception because the truth made me feel bad about myself or the world around me. But as I've grown older, my desire for a genuine life has only grown. It's grown beyond the life of relationships, careers, loved-ones, homes and all other manner of measure. It's grown in ways that I find upsetting but at the same time affirming. I want the Truth.

Ahhh. The Truth. Knowing the Truth.

That is what finally kicked me in the existential nuts. At about the same time as I started seriously pursuing Zen, a sangha friend started using as a tag-line a zen answer from something I had just read on my own.

Fayan was going on pilgrimage.

Dizang said, "Where are you going?"
Fayan said, "Around on pilgrimage."
Dizang said, "What is the purpose of pilgrimage?"
Fayan said: "I don't know."

Dizang said, "Not knowing is most intimate."

"Not knowing is most intimate." This really was the thing that slapped me right in the face. And to relate this back to the physicist and the Higgs boson, just because you're searching for "the truth" doesn't mean you can't do so with a sense of wonder. We tend to dumb things down as far as the physical and metaphysical realaties of existence goes. What's so different about someone sitting zazen staring at a white wall versus someone at the LHC staring at reams of data? I finally understood--or comprehended--that there really is no difference.

And there it was. There is no difference. There is no separation between the scientific and the metaphysical. There is no difference between the truth and The Truth. There is no difference between knowing and not knowing. All differences are illusions.

I'll probably tidy this thought thread up later. The kid needs coffee...

See? There's The Truth.

Boil water. Make coffee.

Welcome to the deep mystery that is Zen.

Fall always seems so brief here in the Pacific Northwest. We seem to go from summer nearly instantly to winter, with only a scant few days of "fall". A week of colorful foliage, then a hard rain quickly stripping the "color" off the trees, plugging up the storm-drains and causing lower Hawthorne Blvd to flood, leaving the world a palate of wet browns and shiny grays. Not that that's "ugly"; As Ray Stevens reminded us in the 70's, "everything is beautiful in its own way". Very true, Ray.

Ms. Jasmine is growing more and more comfortable in her new digs. I'm very happy about that. She is so much more social than she was last week. Every day I get greeted now with little soft paws on my leg. She hops up to be with me now, on my desk or at times in bed, which was quite a surprise. Still not much of a snuggler, but what I do get is nice.

I was supposed to be headed to Great Vow next week for a Generosity Sesshin, but this cold I've had the past week has developed into a respiratory infection (but NOT pneumonia--I was rather smart enough to have gotten vaccinated for that about 6 weeks ago) and while it's not contagious, I am still hacking and coughing, and I really don't want to bring that level of distraction to the monastery for my first major sesshin. I am actually really annoyed that this happened now. I took great care to make sure that I got all my vaccinations this fall (seasonal flu, pneumonia and H1N1) as early as I could, and I still wound up getting sick! Not only that, but I really need to start doing sesshin practice. I think I'll go up in December to the Beginner's Mind retreat again to dip my toe back in, then go to the Life Vows Sesshin in January. I was asked to transcribe a recorded talk by Hogen from last years' LVS, and it was very powerful. I took the Portland-based weekend class he taught a few years ago, and found it very enriching.

I still get nervous about sesshin practice. I've spent many weeks at a time alone and by myself in silence, but there are a few outstanding issues regarding my participation in this very important practice that I want Hogen-sensei to address before I commit myself to it.

On other fronts, though, I have made great progress on my wagessa! The entire body has been sewn, and I even took a swipe at the invisible ladder stitch used to close it up, with some non-ugly level of success! It's rather odd: this gave me so much trouble at first (even taking two attempts) but once I realized that my problem wasn't so much the physical sewing of the wagessa with the limited motor skills of my right hand, but a mental block I've been having regarding my practice and this past year, it suddenly came together in less than a week. I'd take it with me, and work on it at the laundromat, or simply sitting here with the cat in her bed on my desk, and some music playing while I recited the Verse of the Kesa to myself. Well, I suppose Jasmine would say I was chanting it to her. But it felt very good to work on this time.

I didn't feel the pressure to "get it done," "that stitch is messy," "you're running out of time," and the ever-present inner-critic chart-topping hit "YOU SUCK". None of that was there this time. It was already "too late". I'd already "screwed it up" three times. I was finally aware that I was only doing this for me. On one hand, yes, certain people were looking at me to get this done, not for any reason other than they want to see me walk this path further; My teachers, my sangha leaders, my fellow dharma brothers and sisters want this for me, that's true, but nobody was drumming their fingers waiting for me to get this done. The expectation was there that I would because these people know how deeply this practice resonates with me. These people just want to see me happy. They know what I've gone through this past year, and all they want for me is peace, and progress on my path. It feels like dozens of people reaching out to hold my hand when I need it the most. "Humbling" is so anemic when it comes to describing how this makes me feel.

All that from a silly blue cotton ribbon. A Zen Blue Ribbon, I suppose.

Truly vast is this robe of liberation...

Jasmine is starting to settle in. She is still very skittish and spends most of her days behind the sofa. We've blocked off her ability to get deep under the bed as well as under the reclining portion of the sofa, and that seems to have helped a bit. I think part of it is also her simply learning that we're not half bad animals. She gets fed every day twice a day, her box is always clean, and this little flat is about 250 times as large as her space at the shelter. Things are looking up to her apparently.

I get the majority of her social attention right when I get up. She is very nocturnal, and spends her "day" creeping around the flat in the dark of night. When I get up in the morning and start making coffee, she's just winding down, and will creep over to me and demand to be petted. She was declawed (fronts only) by a previous owner, so her paws are very, very soft, but she still has the pad and knead desire and reflex. It's actually very cute. I'll sit down at my desk, and within a few minutes I'll feel my butt being kneaded, and she'll be there standing on her hid legs, demanding my attention. We have pets for about 10min, then she gets rather bored of me and my monkey ways. But it's nice to have something that comes and says hello to me every day. I am certain now that I won't be returning her. Even if she's never a snuggle kitty, she's a good little Buddha and deserves a stable home. I have that, and she's welcome to share it with me.

I actually still feel a bit guilty for wanting to give up on her so quickly. What would have happened in my life if that were people's attitudes towards me? "Sticking with it and seeing it through" has been a life-long learning experience for me; a practice that I still to this day struggle with. Whenever it doesn't fit the idea I have in my head, I go "this isn't what I wanted!" and go for the wholesale change way of dealing with things. I have been getting better lately of simply being with what is. Still a lot of practice to do there, but I am beginning to see that it, and it alone is the only way to find peace.


Well, I awoke to a different cat this morning. Still skittish, but is currently near my feet under my desk. We have had pets, and haven't jetted off into the dark distance after being picked up either.

I will have to give her more time. Yes, I still think I made a bit of a mistake by picking an all-black female cat, but whose fault is that? Not hers. She still needs a forever home. She's still a well-tempered animal. If I want a snuggler, I may just have to get another cat in the future. Meanwhile, I made a commitment that I would do everything I could to make this relationship work. I have 30 days to return her, and I was ready to give up after four because she wasn't being the cat I wanted. No, she's not. She's being just what she is. Isn't that what I spend hours practicing every flippin' week?

And the education goes on...

This has been a very interesting few days, and what it has revealed to me.

So I'm technically not supposed to have pets in my apartment. Right when I moved in, I asked after this to my land-lord, a dog lover. I told him that I suffered from depression, at times severely, and that I was hoping to have a cat at some point (at that time hoping I could take one of my then-current cats with me: specifically, the one that I rescued and named). I told him that me without a cat would be like him without his dog, to whit he replied "That bad, huh?" He assured me that I could have a cat if I really wanted one.

It was decided that the cat I had in mind wouldn't be able to come live with me. I understated or under-appreciated just how much this hurt me at the time. She was one of the few sources of joy and emotional support that I had while going through the deep pain of my divorce; something I did essentially by myself while at the same time having to keep a brave face while being an emotional protector and recovery aide to my step-daughter. The cat was always there, always wanting me to hold her, snuggle her and be near her. Most importantly, she was my constant companion through what felt like countless cold and lonely nights, always hopping into bed shortly before or after I did, ready to snuggle down with me under the covers as the winter wind howled, and I ached inside.

When I had to leave her behind, I knew it would hurt. I told myself it was for the best, and on one level that was true. But on another, I didn't care. I was giving up so much, and to add insult to injury, I had to give up the cat I brought in off the street and named myself. The one who bonded with me. The one who seemed to always love me when everything else seemed to be going to hell. The one I loved so much.

The summer/fall has been one of great tumult, to say the least. Great emotional highs and lows. Things are leveling off, and I feel better to a degree, but I know that with winter comes S.A.D for me, and this year may be harder than before for a number of reasons, but mostly due to the fact that I have no car of my own right now, and will be stuck in my apartment quite a bit of the time. So while on a recent run-about project with my landlord, I asked agan about getting a cat. The issue has never been him; it's been his wife. She hates cats. But he says "Well, it seems that my name is on the house, and she got that name from me, so if I say you can have a cat, just get one. If we get caught, I'll deal with it."

So with money I didn't have, I went down to the Cat Adoption Team shelter in Sherwood last Friday. I'd seen an all-black cat (a soft-spot of mine) on their site that was listed as very friendly once she warmed up if given a quiet space. Well, my flat is pretty much the epitome of that, and since she'd been declawed by a previous owner, I figured the furniture and carpet was safe. So I picked up Jasmine last Friday afternoon.

I was so looking forward to having cat energy back in my life. To say that I'm a "cat person" is like saying "I like music" about me. Dramatic understatement. One of my greatest joys in life the past ten years was moving out here and living with someone who loved cats as much as I did. I'd only had cats as a child, and they were farm cats: indoor/outdoor mousers to whom tragedy would almost always befall. I'd not had a cat of my own since about age 10 or so. I had a wonderful dog for many years, and had recently tried life with a dog again that went terribly (just the wrong dog at the wrong time--I did find him a great home) so I was keen to have a cat again to fill the void left in my life by having to let go of my kitties from my marriage.

The short form is: this ain't working, and is actually making me feel worse.

Jasmine has been here since Friday afternoon. She refuses to socialize at all. She'd much rather hide in the darkness. She will never come out of her hiding-places, even though she seems to like being petted. She doesn't like being held. She doesn't like to be near people, and only barely tolerates people approaching her. She is eating and using the box fine, but aside from that, has very little use for me or my daughter. This feels more like tennancy in a sub-let situation. It's actually rather upsetting.

I didn't anticipate this at all, but I see it clear as day now why this is so upsetting to me. I'm well aware that rescue cats often take time to warm up and establish a report with new owners--even those that are true-blue cat people. I've been fortunate enough to have helped save a number of cats from the street over the past 10 years--and have been blessed to have grow close to two of them. And therein lies the rub. Jasmine is the spitting image of my former black-cat snuggle partner. I made the mistake of adopting a kitty that looks JUST like my old cat that I miss so much. Obviously, I did this as a subconscious expression of my missing and wanting my old kitty back so much. But this is like the cloning paradox: you may be able to have the physicality of something again, but the personality is something wholly and totally different.

This cat hurts me to be around. It looks so much like my old cat, yet wants nothing whatsoever to do with me apart from keeping the food dish managed. It doesn't hate me, or hiss at me or anything overt, but at the same time its manner and want of attention is so drastically different that it makes me feel like my old cat that I miss so much is back in my life, but wants nothing to do with me anymore. This is like a strange cat-lover's nightmare, except that Rod Serling never shows up to give some twisted explanation.

I have made arrangements to return Jasmine to the shelter tomorrow. I know that part of me is sad for her: I am a very tolerant, understanding and accepting cat person, and there's part of me that knows that if a cat doesn't respond to me (seriously, all cats seem to love me) the chances are slim that she will be well suited to anyone else. At the same time, though, I have faith in the C.A.T. and know if Jasmine has any kind of chance to find happiness, it'll be through them.

It has been an odd and upsetting, but powerful and over-all positive practice lesson regarding preconceptions and attachments, and I bow to the Bodhisattva that is Jasmine for teaching me that you can't go home again, and that being steered there via emotional auto-pilot is something to be ever wary of.

Dev says I should go orange. We'll see...

It's interesting to me that I have a blog, yet there are more and more things I can't talk about here. Hmmm...

I'd write a poem, but all I'd be doing is steal words that already float through the air. Everything's either borrowed (if you're righteous and kind) or simply stolen in this world. I chose to borrow.

"Postcards From Cambodia"
By: Bruce Cockburn
From: You've Never Seen Everything (2003)

Abe Lincoln once turned to somebody and said,
"Do you ever find yourself talking with the dead?"

There are three tiny deaths heads carved out of mammoth tusk
on the ledge in my bathroom
They grin at me in the morning when I'm taking a leak,
but they say very little.

Outside Phnom Penh there's a tower, glass paneled,
maybe ten meters high
filled with skulls from the killing fields
Most of them lack the lower jaw
so they don't exactly grin
but they whisper, as if from a great distance,
of pain, and of pain left far behind

Eighteen thousand empty eyeholes peering out at the four directions

Electric fly buzz, green moist breeze
Bone-colored Brahma bull grazes wet-eyed,
hobbled in hollow of mass grave
In the neighboring field a small herd
of young boys plays soccer,
their laughter swallowed in expanding silence

This is too big for anger,
it’s too big for blame.
We stumble through history so
humanly lame
So I bow down my head
Say a prayer for us all
That we don’t fear the spirit
when it comes to call

The sun will soon slide down into the far end of the ancient reservoir.
Orange ball merging with its water-borne twin
below air-brushed edges of cloud.
But first, it spreads itself,

a golden scrim behind fractal sweep of swooping fly catchers.
Silhouetted dark green trees,
blue horizon

The rains are late this year.
The sky has no more tears to shed.
But from the air Cambodia remains
a disc of wet green, bordered by bright haze.
Water-filled bomb craters, sun streaked gleam
stitched in strings across patchwork land and
march west toward the far hills of Thailand.
Macro analog of Ankor Wat’s temple walls
intricate bas-relief of thousand-year-old battles
pitted with AK rounds

And under the sign of the seven headed cobra
the naga who sees in all directions
seven million landmines lie in terraced grass, in paddy, in bush
(Call it a minescape now)

Sally holds the beggar's hand and cries
at his scarred up face and absent eyes
and right leg gone from above the knee

Tears spot the dust on the worn stone causeway
whose sculpted guardians row on row
Half frown, half smile, mysterious, mute.

And this is too big for anger.
It’s too big for blame
We stumble through history so
humanly lame.
So I bow down my head,
say a prayer for us all.
That we don’t fear the spirit when it comes to call.

For those who don't know, I also have a weightloss blog called "Fat Man in the Bathtub". This is a cross-post from that blog because it involves some zen things that I think may be pertinent here. If I've learned anything about my life and my desire to become healthier, it's that my "practice" (read: "my Buddhist path") and my weight-loss path are inextricably linked. The word "inextricable" often has a negative connotation to it (as in "a morass of confusing connections one can never hope to figure out") but for me, this isn't the case, at least not in this sense. For me, "inextricably" means "apparently very complicated and nuanced". I am starting to understand that while it may appear that way to me at times, it is more likely that it is less complicated that it really is. There is a dramatic difference between "complicated" and "complex". Anyway...


The changes I've been making are once again working. It's always the two things: diet and exercise. Always. I have been riding the exercycle almost every day. 20min sessions. Typically at least two sessions, but my stamina is back up, so often it's three, so that's 60min on the bike. It's beginning to make a few funny sounds and some grinding, so I think maintenance is in order. The last thing I need is for that thing to "grind to a halt". The rains are here now, and soon it will be really hard for me to get out of this flat, so that bike will be an indoor life-line to exercise when I can't get out and walk.

I'm back to having more energy, which is nice. It's amazing what that 15lbs feels like on me now and what it does to me. I'm really looking forward to getting back into the 250's again. My "goal" is the same: 250 by the new year. That's actually pretty reasonable (again). If it's so damn reasonable, then why haven't I ever made it? Hmmm?

The 266 may or may not be real, but at least is appearing to be for the past few days. I've had a few "cheese parties" the past three days or so, but at the same time, I've been very conscious of what I've had, and make sure to do 60min bike totals the days after. Fortunately, the cheese is now gone... ;)

Interestingly, my sensei hit me with something this past Sunday while doing my sanzen interview. I'd told him that I was doing okay, and wanted to ask him if I could start practicing with a koan. He said "I understand why you want to, but right now, I think the best thing for you to do is start being mindful of food." This really struck me, because I had actually begun that very practice about a week before-hand. "If you want to couch it in a koan form, ask yourself this: 'Who is it that craves? Who is it that hungers?' Explore that..."

And that is a very powerful practice, and one that I have wrestled with my whole life. It will be interesting to see where it leads me. I have an intellectual answer that jumps to the front of my mind, but as is typically the case, it's almost always the "not right" answer.

I am signed up for a week-long seshin the 3rd week of November. It's a "generosity seshin", and everything eaten is donated. I plan on making 48 seitan sausages (both links and patties) to contribute, along with dry goods.

I am looking forward to the ōryōki meals again. It's so nice to eat this way. Eating as a team. Eating as one hunger, with all needs met by your dharma brothers or sisters handing you everything you need, and you passing it on. All you have to do is focus on the sensations and flavors, and rest in the support that the sangha provides. Talk about gratitude.

This kind of generosity is more humbling than I can possibly describe....but know I deserve. That's because we all deserve this.

How sad that we have allowed ourselves to forget what is truly our birthright: Health, happiness, peace, joy and the support of family/sangha. I won't lie and say that I'm not looking for the weightloss aid that a week at the monastery will help out with, but honestly, as nervous as I may be about my first week-long seshin, what I look forward to the most is simply being held in that great vessel--that safe place--where, no matter what, I will be with those who love and care for me, and support me simply for who I am, and my willingness to be there as part of something greater than any of us alone. Everything you need is there, and in just the right amount. Truly. "Just enough..."

Four birds on a wire
Three facing due west, one east
In showering skies

It's really interesting to me now that I look at it. I was told this was all about karma. MY karma. I didn't really see it then, but I sure do now.

I've lived my life in various states of denial and acceptance. There was a time in the late 80's where I was so in denial that I actually tried to run from everyone and everything. I took a number of huge risks with my life, and was nearly killed as a result, not once but twice. I was out on my own, doing "what I wanted to do", but it was mostly just to try and distract myself because of a deep loss I'd suffered a few years before, losing two people I deeply loved. Now I see that those choices' ripples are catching up with me in very interesting ways. It's starting to teach me how karma works. It's not nearly as simplistic and obvious as as everyone thinks. It's far more subtle than that. And vastly less predictable.

Fayan was going on pilgrimage.

Dizang said, "Where are you going?"

Fayan said, "Around on pilgrimage."

Dizang said, "What is the purpose of pilgrimage?"

Fayan said: "I don't know."

Dizang said, "Not knowing is most intimate."

In the end it doesn't really matter about who believes you. The only thing that matters is telling the truth. Belief is something you can't control...

Well, back again with this.  I could blather on about it--either in abstraction or in detail--but there's no real point.  I know that sounds nihilistic; honestly I don't mean it that way.  What I mean is that there's no point in me enumerating the whys and wherefores.  The main point is, I got my hopes up.  I really and truly felt that my life was being blessed.  That something wonderful fell in it, and that more wonderful things were going to happen as a result, but it didn't work out that way.  I suppose I could chalk this pain up to "not being in the moment", but frankly, that's for roshis, and I'm about as far away from roshidom as I am from the moon.  Make that Mars.  The moon's only a quarter-million miles from here.

The thing that hurts me the most about the whole thing is that I was really trying.

Actually, no.  What really hurts is the fact that the way I felt was real.  I'm more sure of it than I've ever been.  But that doesn't really matter when you can't see the other side of the equation.  My side may be a "1", but if I don't know the definition of "x", it stays a variable, and it's damn hard to have a working relationship with a variable.  Ask any equal sign.  They'll testify.

The other hard thing is that there was a time when part of it I was scared of.  It took a lot of hard thinking and meditation, but I saw that fear for what it was.  Just fear.  Merely fear.  Once I got past that, I was really surprised to find not only acceptance on the other side, but anticipation, hell even excitement over the thing I'd been fearing.  Then to have it all taken away in an instant just sort-of knocked the wind out of me.  But that's what happens when the rug gets pulled out from under your feet I suppose.  I don't believe it was done maliciously.  I really don't.  But its suddenness and unilateral-ness (no, I'm not sure that's a word, but I didn't think "unilaterality" was either) really has knocked me back.  And it hurts.  And it saddens me.  It is VERY challenging practice to be with this feeling.  Practice makes... well, frankly, it just makes for more practice.  That's not bad.  It's just what it is.  Frankly, practice is all I have.  It's all any of us have.  Sometimes I (allow myself to) forget that.

Sorry for not making much sense right now folks, at least to most of you.  I'll be okay.  I know I will.  But right now the hurt is louder than the music.  But you dance anyway.  As Shiva teaches, you either dance or you die...

Oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ...

There's no greater pain

Than feeling loved and wanted

Then feeling that void



From what?

Here's a new comment to keep people from thinking a) I'm dead, b) I've been abducted, c) still scared of change. Well, one of those things is still true.

I make decisions -via- a long and complicated process that involves the entrails of wombats and a complicated system of wheels and pulleys. But when I say "I've made up my mind" it actually means I've come to a decision. That doesn't mean to etch the answer in stone--no decision is ever final and unchanging for all time--but you can at least count on the fact that I've thought long and hard, weighed the scales, checked the ledger, done the math, and come to some kind of actual answer that I'm comfortable with.

And yes, I do take fear into account when making up my mind about things. Quite honestly, you can't not take your fears into account when making large life decisions, and people who say they don't are full of it. Quite often, fear is a healthy thing. Ask any snack-shaped animal what they think about fear, and they'll say "Love it! (See ya!)" and live to answer more questions another day from a far and safe distance.

But fear can't be the only factor when making up one's mind, or even the majority of it for us monkeys with the ability to look off into the future, and sometimes, you simply have to have faith that you grabbed the parachute and not the nap-sack when you jump. And jump you often must, lest life become "as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean".

I made a decision a few weeks ago. I let myself look into the future and visualize something that really warmed my heart and made me excited. I allowed myself to feel something I had sworn off for years. In the end, I know that all I got out of it was the truth of who I am, no matter what does actually happen in the future, and that is never a bad thing. Is it what I actually was visualizing? No. Then again, nothing ever is, and the misconception that you will ever have life happen exactly as envisioned is the greatest thorn dukka has on its spiny branch.

The here-and-now has less spikey bits on it that the future or the past, or so it seems. I still marvel at how hard it is to be at peace with the ground of our existence, but I do know that it's a helluva lot easier than anguishing over the past or trying to shape or predict the future.

Thanks to all my friends for checking in with me. Sorry for the spacey and philosophical tone of this post. We now return you to your regularly scheduled weirdness, already in progress...

...I haven't been this confused and upset in a long time. To my friends all over, please don't send me the thoughtful "dude, wuzup?/hang in there bro" inquiries. I love you all, but it'll only muddy the waters for me. It'll all be spelled out in time, I suppose. Or not. I just needed to voice this to the Universe because frankly, I don't have anybody else to talk to right now...

I hate fear... an odd way. More endings and beginnings. The woman I've been seeing and I have decided to not see each-other anymore. This time, it's a more bilateral decision. She is a really wonderful woman, and I feel blessed to have had that relationship with her, but we have different wants and desires for the future, and it simply makes our lives incompatible in a number of really important ways. So we've decided to dial it back to a friendship. I'm thankful that we're going to try and foster a friendship after all is said and done: she's a person I want in my life.

I really need to focus on myself right now. I know that sounds selfish, but honestly, I won't be very attractive to anyone (myself included) if I don't get my crap in a pile. I have a lose goal of having my B.A. by 2012, and my M.A. by 2014, so I can get twenty solid years of teaching and writing in before I retire. I think it's do-able. I have more credits than I thought that transfer, so I think by the time I get my maths & sciences out of the way, I should only have about a term's worth of 300-400-level work to do before I get my degree.

Part of that degree will hopefully be a certification in E.S.L. (English as a Second Language) teaching. I haven't pitched the dream of mine that I've had for a long time to go teach abroad in someplace like Vietnam, Thailand or India. We'll see what the world has in store.

But all that said, I now know that school needs to be put off until the winter '10 term due to finances. I have about $5k in grants available to me every year, but I started too late in the year to get financing in place, so if I went this term, I'd have to pay for it out of pocket, which I simply can't do. So I'll just wait and hit the ground running in Jan/Feb '10.

Anyways, a brief update from the field. Watching the Packers play the Bears while getting ready to go do Sunday Sanzen service. Nice and cool tonight.

I love Fall...

Not sure where I am at the moment. Motivated, yet demotivated. Anxious, yet at ease with where things are going. Wanting to start yet being nervous about things all over again. Man, I wish I could get a handle on things. This is definitely not ennui. Feels more like angst. Good old fear of change, and fear of changing.

I leave in about three hours to go talk to an admissions counselor at the school I've been accepted to, then take some admissions tests. I thought about brushing up on math stuff, but frankly, that seems a bit stupid. I'd rather know where I really am right now. I know I'll need to start out in pre-algebra at best, if only to knock the rust off the chain as I get back on the bike. I'm okay with that; low and slow to start out is fine by me. I only want to start classes part-time right now.

Frankly, though, I think that maybe full-time may be better. Just throw myself back in up to my neck. It worked really well last time. Made me focus. Helped me excel (at least in the things I enjoyed). And quite honestly, the clock is ticking. I have 67 credits from my old college and a 2.9 GPA. I need to get my degree done and completed by 44 at the latest so I can start teaching before I'm 45. Even if I go over-seas to teach, I need to get a good 20 years in in order to have any kind of decent retirement, so it behooves me to get my ass crackin' and take as many credits as I'm comfortable with.

The "comfort"'s the thing, though. I'm just nervous, especially because I need to concentrate on classes and subjects that I wasn't very good at last time around. Admittedly, I "wasn't good at them" because I found them boring. Now my motivations are different. I'm out on my own. I have no back-up or support like I did back in my 20's. I need to make this work. Moreover: I think I want this to work in ways that I didn't want before.

Urgency is its own Prime Mover.

It's all about health-care lately. Who pays for what. Where you can go. Who gets to "off" grandma and so forth. For the record, I'm a complete socialist in this fight. But enough about them. Let's talk about me, shall we?

After my divorce back in Feb/Mar, I needed to get health-care arranged for myself. I've been disabled since I was 15, and on Medicare since 1993, although I've never once used the benefit. I've always been covered by near-full-boat health insurance--either someone elses' or my own through an employer--so there was never really a need.

I remember going to the doctor as a kid, and never having to pay for anything out-of-pocket. I didn't know what a co-pay was until the 90's. My father's insurance was very comprehensive (being a supervisor in a massive Midwestern factory that had lots of work from the auto industry) . Oddly enough, a few months ago, a family member sent me an envelope full of all the bills and insurance paperwork from my diving accident and resulting hospitalization/recovery/therapy. In 1983/84, this bill was approximately $120,000 all said and done. Of that, it appears that my father paid roughly $2200 out of pocket. Today, using the Consumer Price Index, the bill would be roughly $260,000, with (an assumed minimum) doubling of out-of-pocket expenses equaling roughly $4400 or so. I'm certian that in this day and age of HMO cost-cutting and buck-passing, the out-of-pocket number would actually be much higher. Were we to have been under-insured like so many today, it could have easily destroyed our family financially. Thankfully, that wasn't the case.

Back to the now.

I don't have too many lingering health issues with regards to my disability. It'll be a limiting factor the rest of my life--true--but it's not like it requires much by way of medication or treatment. The chronic conditions I do need to be treated for are, unfortunately, of my own making. High blood pressure from being obese, arthritis and tendinitis aggravated by the same. The things I really need are simple maintenance and preventatives like any guy my age. Prostate check, annual physical, vaccinations, etc. Really boilerplate stuff. That and access to my psychotherapist. So I just didn't see the big whoop about starting out using my Medicare.

Man, was I wrong.

I started out trying to see my psychotherapist. She was helpful in suggesting that we do a "dry run" billing to see if Medicare would accept it, then if they did, I'd just come in and use the time already approved. Well, that very quickly failed. She was told that there was no ability to authorize me because I wasn't "in the system". I was a bit dumbfounded by this because the little card in my wallet said I'd been "in the system" since 1993. Many calls later, my level of frustration was at an apex. I was getting nowhere, and ran up a $60 overage on my cell-phone bill by sitting on hold talking to no one! I decided to go to a local volunteer organization that aids seniors and the disabled by helping them navigate Medicare and other social services. The following is an excerpt from the email I sent my therapist:

I met with a SHIBA representative yesterday, and while he was extraordinarily UNHELPFUL (the guy knew less than I did, and seems inordinately preoccupied with breathing through his mouth), he did have a secret number to a red phone somewhere in the Medicare bunker that got me to the friend of an uncle of a Medicare person who quickly explained that I needed to inform a small gnome hidden under the basement stairs of the annex of a derilect building Medicare no longer uses in a box marked "BEWARE OF PUMA" that I was no longer covered by [my former insurance plan]. It now looks like Medicare should cover at least 50% of the cost. They said wait 14 days from the call, so after the 1st should work. Let me know what the bastards say...
And we have yet to hear back. Seriously, I've gone through every stitch of literature that I could find--both in print and on-line--on starting this coverage, and nowhere does it say that you have to inform them that your old coverage is gone. I asked the representative referenced above about it, and they said "Oh, it's probably not available to you. It's just our policy..."

What the Effin' F?

Seriously. This level of bureaucracy just stuns me. You're expected to comply with some rule you've never heard of from an agency that won't tell you about it until you call a secret number that isn't actually listed anywhere?

Anyway, the short form of this is, it looks like my primary coverage by Medicare is actually starting up. I will still be paying for Medicaid (Supplemental Insurance) out of pocket, but that has hoops to be gone through. Actually, while writing this blog, I tried to apply for Medicaid and Oregon Health Plan, but two iterations of application attempts and botched PDF submissions later, their on-line system failed me, so I just called to have a hard-copy application mailed to me. Meanwhile, the decission on school is also in process, and will have its own blog post shortly...

Sorry for leaving this all hanging here. Just a brief blurb to say that things here are much better. She and I worked a lot of it out, and are trying again, this time with much more understanding of what each of us did that contributed to make such small issues appear so huge. It never ceases to amaze me just how much you miss when you stop listening and just react.

There is a great misconception regarding Zen and things like action. Everybody knows the beat-to-death addage of the Zen master, the chopsticks and the fly. First off, I call bull-sh!t Secondly, nearly no-one ever gets this story right. C) Whatever. Point is, people have this idea that by "being all 'zen' n' stuff" you can simply react as if there is no thought needed, as if instinct alone will guide your body (or your mouth).

Uh. No.

We are constantly thinking. Constantly. Even when us Zen-types are trying our damnedest not to, the gears are grinding away between the ears, trying like hell to keep the machine going. Part of this is a good thing. Stopping all thought tends to lead to things like a permanent case of "death". But when strife or tumult happens--say, an argument--what happens with the brain and reaction?

When you stop listening, everything crashes. Every time. You start reacting from your own place of fear and insecurity. Why? Because you're no longer dealing with the other person. You've purposefully disconnected from them, and ergo, from the whole dynamic. You now have no ability to understand any further, because you don't know what's actually being said, and from that point on, you are acting unilaterally. You may think you're picking flies out of the air with chopsticks--reacting effortlessly from "instinct"--but in actuality, what you're doing is setting yourself up for much more grief than you'd have by being wholly present and dealing with the person by listening to what they're saying, even if you don't agree with them.

One of the key techniques/practices of Zen is "inquiry". Here's a tip: you can't "not think" and "inquire" at the same time. Apparently, thinking is important after all. Being able to inquire of yourself while strife and stress are happening in real time is damn handy. And it would have been really handy were I to have actually done any of it while dealing with this issue with my partner. Inquiries like "Who is feeling this frustration?" "Who is reacting?" "Where is the fear?" "What is my body feeling?" etc, can actually keep you more present, and defuse a lot of the "instinct" to react, because honestly, the human instinct in situations like that is almost always sure to be good-old "fight or flight". That is human instinct. And that is never helpful when it comes to understanding.

By the bye, in the chopstick story? The monk gets decapitated.




And by all means, keep your head.

I hurt someone the other day. Badly. I tried my best to minimize the pain, but as is often the case, it didn't work out that way. What happens when you just realize that it's not right? What do you do?

When my marriage was struggling, I tried very hard to allow for the fact that what I was reacting to was the fear of change. I wanted very badly for things to stay the way they were. But I saw that the special person I loved so much needed to be allowed to change into who they needed to be. She needed to be authentic, and I needed to allow that. As painful as it was (and at times still is), it really was for the best. I tried to simply be with the change and accept it as one more turn in the wheel inside the machine that is the Universe. At least we still talk.

The person I hurt a few days ago is also a very special person. She is many things I wanted to be with, but in the end, I suddenly realized that--for a number of reasons--it wasn't right. A number of these reasons were about me and what I was either bringing, or not bringing, to the relationship. But unfortunately, I blind-sided her with my decision. I truly wish I could have done things differently, but it suddenly burst from me. I feel terrible about it. She lashed out with some very venomous word-attacks, and no matter how much they hurt me, I simply let them hit me. I had to. She has a right to feel that hurt.

My teacher says that when this happens, the karma is mostly decided by the intent behind the action. That's no real comfort to me right now. This woman has been openly criticizing me as a Buddhist, and the path in general. I can't really do anything about that, but it still bothers me. I know that I would not have been able to fulfill her needs, nor she mine. I want her to find the person that can be wholly and totally what she needs, and sooner rather than later. I didn't want to be wasting her time anymore. Not that my time with her was a waste (contrary to what she accused me of) but at the same time, working on something you know won't work is by definition a waste of time, and she deserves better than that.

Me? I think being alone is what I need right now. Not in that pathetic sort-of way. More along the lines of "chop wood, carry water".

I just wish I hadn't cut someone in the process...

...I am the biggest asshole on earth. This is what it feels like to implode; I remember it well. But I shouldn't be hurting someone else when this happens. This is heavy karma, and it blew right up into my face.

As it should...

So, by my math, for the price of one F-22 Raptor aircraft, you could buy about 15,360-some Toyota Priuses, or roughly 25,037 or so Smart Cars...

Just a thought...

What if you woke up one morning to the following headlines:

I'd say that it would be a pretty good news day for science, wouldn't you? The fact is, these headlines have been published. All you need do is click on the links and see their source.

So I awoke this morning to a bit of an annoyance...

Now obviously, this isn't much by way of hard news. NPR ran this as a piece on their public news blog, "The Two-Way" which is a place for a lighter and more interactive take on the news. Fine and dandy.

But did we have to have this again? Seriously, is there no way a news organization can discuss cannabis--medical or otherwise--without stooping down to "pot jokes"? My comment on their Facebook page was this:
Actually, why don't we do something crazy and treat a medical marijuana story seriously for a change? Find out the impact this fire has on the sick? See if there were any serious long-term effects on the fire-fighters? You know... "reporting"?

I listen to NPR because it takes my issues seriously. Well, most of them, apparently. Kinda sad, actually. It would have made for an interesting story...
Which I'm rather proud of in a restraint sort-of way, frankly. 600+ comments on this, and every lame joke in the book. I just don't get it.

I guess it's always easiest to joke about the things that make us nervous. But I guess my point is, why does this still make us nervous?

You can waltz into your doctor's office and ask for any number of really deadly and terribly addictive things to "help" a given condition. You learn of these "helpful" medications (and often the condition as well) through overt and laser-like-targeted advertising by pharmaceutical companies with revenues larger than a number of countries GNP's. These are medical compounds approved by the FDA whose side-effect list is long and ugly, and can cause great physical harm and ultimately death, even if used as prescribed. But you can walk in and most-likely get any of a number of them simply by asking your doctor. Not only that, but your first treatment course of any of a number of these medications is often free of charge because the prescribing physician will give you samples provided by a regularly-visiting representative of said pharmaceutical behemoth who leaves piles of the drugs in question at your doctor's clinic for expressly this purpose.

Once you've tried these wonder-drugs, you often find that they don't work well for you, so you need to stop using them. Often in the case of pan medication, you begin to feel worse than you did when you started the medication (because the medication in question blocked pain signals in the brain). At other times, you learn (often after the fact) that the medication had some theretofore unknown (to the manufacturer, and thereby the FDA) toxicity that has now permanently damaged your liver, kidneys or heart. Your consolation prize: At least you get to be part of a class-action suit. Sometimes, in the case of psychotropic medication, you may suddenly feel unhinged and disconnected. Your doctor assures you that that's perfectly normal, and gives you an anti-anxiety medication to help with that feeling. But the perturbation doesn't seem to go away, and it's now four months later.

And on.

And on.

And on...

Yes, I'm digressing a bit. Here's the nut:

I use medical cannabis.
I have for years. It helps me greatly.
I wish more people understood it better.
It has helped a number of close people in my life live with more functionality and less pain, and has helped me directly help a number of those people die with less suffering and more dignity.
I wish our government would wise up and allow legitimate scientific study of cannabis and cannabinoids.

Can cannabis be abused? Absolutely. Can it create a dependency? Again, yes. But in my opinion (and I say this as nothing less than a near- medical cannabis expert) the dangers of both cannabis abuse and dependency are vastly overstated by the government drug-war propaganda machine, and are vastly less dangerous than anything you can get from your doctor. Here's a simple list of facts:

Tobacco 435,0001
Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity 365,0001
Alcohol 85,000 1
Microbial Agents 75,0001
Toxic Agents 55,0001
Motor Vehicle Crashes 26,3471
Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs 32,0002
Suicide 30,6223
Incidents Involving Firearms 29,0001
Homicide 20,3084
Sexual Behaviors 20,0001
All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and Indirect 17,0001, 5
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such As Aspirin 7,6006
Marijuana 07

So, we're talking about something that has no direct attributable deaths, and causes less physical harm than ASPIRIN. To frame this issue in a slightly different manner, let's look at something cheery, like fatalities.

Fatal doses are listed in science by a metric called the LD50, which represents the dosage at which 50% of the test subjects (read: "animals") die. Here are a few LD50's for a few famous (and infamous) compounds:
Como say wha? The average body mass of the average lab rat (The Norway rat or laboratory rat rattus norvegicus) is about 385g. You mean to tell me that a rat would have to consume 481.25g of pure THC (NOT cannabis itself, just the most famous active compound in the plant matter) in one concentrated dose in order to be close to the mean of lethality? That's 125% of it's own body mass! Now take into consideration that even if we take the most powerful cannabis you can get a hold of, with THC concentrations on the order of 20% THC (which is on the generous side of things, to say the least), that means the rat would have to consume 625% of its body weight in properly dried and cured cannabis bud plant matter to be close to death. Extrapolated further (and using the above math), for an average 170 lb human, that means that human would have to ingest 1062.5lbs in one sitting! That, my friends, is not only patently absurd, but it's medically, practically and physically impossible.

Look, what I'm saying is this: the hysteria surrounding cannabis needs to end. We are wasting precious time, money and resources fighting a war that need not be fought, let alone one that claims so many lives. The only deaths that have ever resulted from direct involvement with cannabis come from its prohibition and criminalization. Cannabis abuse is a real concern, but MUST be viewed in light of the facts and the cost/benefit ratio that can be studied, but we can't do that until legitimate unbiased science can study it! Our legal drugs cost our society more in pain, suffering, addiction and death than all cannabis consumption combined throughout the course of human history, yet we refuse to address these legitimate issues ON BOTH SIDES of the argument because we have been lead to believe that this simple plant somehow has a morality inherent to it. We treat cannabis like we treat sex; we like to giggle about it publicly, but we don't like to say good things about it openly, or even appear to have an opinion one way or the other.

We have rightly elevated the discussion of so many things in the past year or so, including gay marriage, AIDS, suicidal behavior of our veterans and a host of other topics. We must do so with regards to cannabis. It is an imperative to our country that we do so. If we cannot, or simply refuse to in order to make our lives easier by being able to go for the lay-up of a joke instead of saying something substantive, that is a very sad comment on many things, not the least of which is the character of our society and the collective intellect of both our nation, its leaders and our scientific community.