Yeah, I know I promised a rant about Obama's slap at cannabis legalization at his town-hall meeting last week. I'll get to it.

So this is a shot of my latest building project. My new flat is actually pretty spacious. However, that's said without a bed in the room. Seriously, a friggin' bed in the sitting space will really make it feel college dorm / crash-pad-like, and I really want to avoid that. So I was sitting in this space, and it occured to me that the utility closet (for a washer/dryer) is big enough for a twin-sized sleeping nook. I asked Mr Landlord (a finish carpenter himself) if he minded if I built a platform bed/sleeping nook in it. He immediately liked the idea himself. When I mentioned it to Mrs Landlord, she got a big smile on her face and said "That will be sooooo trick!" So the answer is "yes".

I'm going to build a platform that will acomodate storage below it (standard Robbermaid Tote sized bins). A 8" regular foam camping pad mattress on top, cut to fit. Then when I can afford it, I'll top that with 4" of memory foam, essentially making a custom memory-foam mattress. Put some IKEA tiny LED aimable lights un the undersides of those old cabinet things, some rope light, a nice paint job, and a heavy curtain over the front, and I should be styling.

Doing this will allow me to keep most of the rest of my furniature, including my corner PC workstation, which is good because a) it's good stuff, and b) I haven't been able to move it on craigslist, unless I want to get involved in a Nigerian fake check scam, apparently.

So anyway, here's some "before" pix. More as it happens.
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Douglas Adams famously wrote that all one need do in order to get the knack of flght is "[learn] how to throw yourself at the ground and miss....Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that provides the difficulties." Indeed. Adams later went on to explain that the missing of the ground is best achieved -via- distraction. The philosophical implications of this idea are stunningly thick.

In "real life" (whatever the hell that may be) flight works thusly: wings (airfoils) work by creating a difference in air-pressure due to their shape, providing their "lift" effect by essentially sucking the trailing edge of the wing up into the air (and pulling the plane attached to them in a direction generally perpendicular to the cross-plane of the airfoil).

In aviation science, the major problem to avoid while flying is the dreaded "stall". A stall is often misunderstood to be a lack of engine power. In actuality, a stall is (generally) when the angle of attack of the leading edge of an airfoil (the wing) increases beyond the ability of that airfoil to generate lift. This can happen when the engine (jet, prop, etc) is running. You can be tooling along at cruising speed, jerk the yoke back too far, and suddenly have buzzers and alerts going off. So, you can be running perfectly fine under power, make a few--relatively minor--bad choices, and suddenly start to fall out of the sky in a rather messy and uncontrolled manner. At this point, you can try and do one of two things to right the situation: 1) nose the plane downwards, thereby using your increase in forward airspeed combined with a flatter angle off attack on the wings in the hopes of reestablishing lift and flight control, or if that fails (or you're so inclined, who am I to say?) 2) simply miss the ground as you fall.

En lieu of better piloting skills, I must get the knack of one of these two methods.

Even when under power, I have a tendency to stall. And when I stall, I loose momentum and control. That's me: engine running, prop spinning, falling out of the sky in an ugly flat-spin. And I really and truly do hate this about myself and my personality.

My sensei talked with me last week in sanzen about this. He mentioned how we're all self-loathers, and how we primarily hate our bodies. I need to ask him about loathing the mind.

I think in this next phase of my life, for however long it lasts, I need to get a real handle on this. I need to get my mind to mesh with my body in a real true and tangible way. My sensei is constantly trying to get me to see that I am not my intellect. He's mentioned to me over and over again just how smart I am, what a powerful intellect I am, what a incredibly critical thinker I am, blahblahblah. It nearly feels patronizing--this incredibly smart and intellectually adept person whom I deeply respect regaling me with "you're so damn smart" admonishments--but I know for a fact that he would no more patronize me than hit me in the face with his hand-bell. I know that he's trying to pull or push me into a place that is about direct experience rather than mere intellectual analysis (aka "mental masturbation" in my book).

Sitting outside this morning, smoking my pipe (again, alas) as the drizzle came down, it all settled in on me once more. Gaining weight from stress eating. Smoking. Staring at my laptop endlessly, looking at IKEA's web-site at stuff I "need" but can't afford. I'm doing it again. I'm stalling.

While up at the monastery for the Beginner's Mind retreat, I had a realization that alot of my weight issues can be looked at as a kind of self-harm, not unlike people who cut themselves as a physical manifestation of their interior pain and self-hatred. I don't have all the dots connected on this one yet; I'm saving it up for my therapist. But it occurs to me that this stalling of mine may also be hooked into this as well. My avoidance of beginning things. My refusal to complete things. My life is a series of over-enthusiastic starts and lack of follow-throughs that have left me forty-something years old with very little to show for myself.

But I am starting to understand a few things about myself and my life now--or at least perceive things differently--thanks in no small part to my Zen practice. I can't honestly look at myself that way. I can't look at my life as unfinished, unfulfilled and without accomplishment. As my teacher said to me a few weeks ago; "Every single action you've ever taken in your entire life has been intergal to you being here before me today. What part of it do you want to describe as a 'failure' or 'mistake'? Are you a failure in being right here, right now?"

The thing they don't tell you about formal Zen teacher/student practice is that it is irritatingly simple. Honestly, it's as easy as flying a kite. All you need is someone better at seeing the reality of the moment than you are, showing you that you are--in fact--as capable of it as they are, right there, right then. All you need is someone who can ground you. Kites don't stay aloft unless someone is down on the ground holding the string and pulling it back into the wind. Once you have that; once you have that connection to the ground, flitting about up in the sky is easy-peasy. In that way, Zen is very much like kite-flying.

But, as with kite flying, that flight is not all that useful. You zip about in the air with little control. It's very pretty and rather entertaining at first, but on the whole, it's not all that productive, unlike airplane flight. In a plane, you don't have the safety of that string tethering you to the ground. You have a much greater level of freedom, but you also have inherently more risk. If you're willing to take the risk, you can combine training with art and flight will be yours. But you need to have the will to suffer the consequences of failure. You do that as the pilot, and frankly you do that as a passenger when you buy a ticket on a MD-80. The dirty truth of flying, be it a kite or a big-assed plane, is that no matter what, it's all nothing more than a controlled fall back down to earth.

Well, that thing-that-shall-not-be-mentioned doesn't look like it's gonna happen. It was the cutest house in the whole wide earth, but a combo of my très limited finances, plus some miscommunication on the part of the current tenant to/with the owners have apparently rendered the whole thing moot. I know I shouldn't have gotten my hopes (and the hopes of a friend) up about this. Don't get me wrong: I'm not all despondent about it. I was trying really hard to be real about the whole thing. At this stage in my life, I don't have the luxury to fantasize about anything. I have an inquiry about the property directly to the owners, but in my heart, I'm already writing it off. I have to.

However, I DO have a guaranteed place to move into that will be cheaper, and they were willing to wait on me figuring this other place out. It's actually on Hawthorne Ave, which admittedly will be convienient as all hell. I can live my entire life on just Hawthorne Ave if I had to, especially with the New Seasons taking over the old Daily Grind (but I still miss them). If I don't hear back on the house thing with something reasonable, I'm just going to go with the Hawthorne flat. It's small, but much more spacious than any actual apartment I'd looked at for the same price, and all major utils are covered, plus free basic cable and internets (although she'd be willing to look into upgrading to DSL/Dish if I split the costs). The couple that live upstairs are very cool folks, and are fully accepting and supportive of my medical needs. Honestly, it's probably a better situation over-all, money-wise, locale, responsibility level, etc. I sould just take it and STHU. I can live there for a year or so, get onto the housing assistance program here in Portland (earliest applications are gonna be taken in 2010) and aim to find someplace else a year or so from now.

But the other place, the house? I'm gonna HOUND these folks. This is where I want to live, no question...

This's a shot of the water garden/creek that runs through the front of the property. The house is really tiny (think 500sqft) but is as big as I'd ever need, with a huge yard and a little studio/shop out back. The price is reasonable, but not for my budget, alas. Maybe in the future. Seriously, I want to keep in touch with these people. If this place ever comes up again, I want a crack at it. If I get myself past November when I can reconfigure my withholding on my disability income, and then get rent assistance, I could pull this off and still be able to eat. But the mother-in-law flat will be a perfectly workable solution for now, and with good people. That really does count for something. My want or desire for something else doesn't. But I'll tell you this: that picture above is what my home will look like one day. Mark my words...

Well, here we are. Another Pleasant Valley Sunday...

First off, sorry for taking the week off. This is actually one of those “too much to say: don’t know where to start” sort of abstentions, so it’s not for lack of topic. Honestly, it’s actually more due to superstition. I admit that I abhor the idea of jinxing things. So, we won’t. Right? Everybody keep whatever it is you cross crossed for me, and I’ll tell you all about it by the middle of the coming week.

Actually, Friday the 13th was a great day (minus the window falling out of my truck while I cleaned it. BUT it didn’t hit the ground and shatter, so I was able to glue it back in place. So there F13!) Last Friday is the reason for the jinx fear. We shan’t talk of it again (wraps on the underside of the table while biting his tongue).

Right then. So my window is glued back into place. I had to wedge a 2x4 between the house and the window to keep it pressed in while it dried, but I drove it extensively yesterday, and it’s still attached. This is kinda important, because the truck will be intergal to the whole what-happened-on-Friday thing, and... damnit! (auf Holz klopfen! Toi, toi, toi!)

So let’s find something safe to talk about.

How about names and persona?

I get called many things (most of them printable, and about 80% mentionable in polite company!) “Andrew” and “Andy”, mostly. Back in high-school, to my stoner buddies, I was “Dee”, “Drew” (making a comeback lately) or the very wasted, two bowl--two beer variant “Drewski”. In the mid-late 80’s, when I became involved with computers and the beginning of the on-line world full of nom-de-plumes, persona and user-names, I was a whole raft of silly things. But for the last near decade, I’ve been one of two handles: “Mr Bad Example” (taken from the Warren Zevon song of the same name) or Zen.Trixter.

“Mr.Bad.Example” is an ode to the old me, if I am willing to cop to it; a musical memoir to a life lived in pursuit of all the wrong things, and at the expense of everyone else. It is, of course, one of my favorite Zevon songs...

In about 2005, after I'd started teaching for a 501 NPO (focusing on harm reduction, of all things) I decided that the name didn't fit the level of credibility I thought I needed, so I retired it. The name I took next is one that generally suits me better anyhow, and it named not only me, but this very blog.

I spent years working in the music industry as a roadie, tech, and sound & light man. From 80's hair metal though to rave and psy-trance shows, I've worked with names both big and small. I've had the privilege of hanging with some extraordinarily cool and talented musicians--true road warriors. And there's no greater group of travelers and road family than The Grateful Dead and the culture--both musical and social--that swirled around it and emanated from it for these past forty-odd years; what's now typically referred to as the "jam band" scene, including the likes of Phish, moe, String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic, Govt. Mule, et al. I spent the vast majority of my 20's working for bands like these when they played outdoor shows in the Midwest, or out on tour in the summer. One of those off-shoot groups, the Zen Tricksters, is a long-standing Dead tribute act, and I've had the privilege to have seen them on numerous occasions. Great musicians. I always liked seeing them. They play here in Portland frequently. Go see them, support them, and buy a shirt or disc. I also, always liked the band name (BTW, Shaking off the Weirdness as a title to the blog is taken directly from the Zen Tricksters album of the same name. Tip of the hat to ya, boys).

Having spent a pretty generous amount of time studying anthropology, psychology and sociology in college, one of my favorite mythological and historical archetypes was that of "the fool" and its close cousin (often its second face) the "trickster".

In the book Mythical Trickster Figures (1993) authors Hynes and Doty state that every trickster archetype or example has several of the following six traits:[1]

  1. fundamentally ambiguous and anomalous
  2. deceiver and trick-player
  3. shape-shifter
  4. situation-inverter
  5. messenger and imitator of the gods
  6. sacred and lewd bricoleur
...and I'll have to say that those things all make a number of my Jungian circuits buzz. The fool and the trickster both have at their core something that has always resonated deeply with me, and that is the knowledge and acceptance of the fact that this existence--this human experience we call "life" and all the intricacies it offers and/or entails--is absolutely absurd. There is so much of our experience that, when one really accesses it on a truly honest level, just completely and utterly boggles the rational mind, or flummoxes the heart, that taking it seriously would rip you to bits at best, and crush you into nothing at worst (or flip them 'round if you choose). The mere fact that the Universe we currently experience is roughly 14 billion years old, and yet of that, you get 75-80 years (if you're lucky) to figure it all out is patently absurd. After my first existential crisis at age ten, I quickly became aware that it's true, Jim; no one here gets out alive. I'd better get right with this madness, or else I'm going to spend my whole life freaking out over just how small and insignificant I am.

So I started finding people who had a better handle on this weird paradigm than I did, and better environments that didn't pretend that this Universal craziness didn't actually matter. The whole idlyic, bucolic ideas of living in the later 20th century just didn't cut it for me. But Mardi Gras? Carnivale? The Long, Strange Trip? These things at least nodded at what I knew was true experientially. Old hippie hold-over teachers. Drop-outs in the NorCal hills. Professors who ate peanut-butter and mayo sandwiches. Off-gridders in the Nicolet National Forrest and folks living in North Chicago industrial-park warehouses welding together things they called "Sunrise over Moscow" from bailing wire and kitchen pans. Glowy UV ravers and neo-shamans trying to bring about an archaic revival. These people were able to teach me more about reality than anything or anyone before, and for the most part, since.

One thing I noticed very early on was that often these lessons came in forms I couldn't perceive at first. These teachers would very often use some subtle (or often not so subtle) slight of hand in order to get me past myself, which was very interesting to me because typically I wouldn't have noticed myself getting in the way of myself in the first place, which--of course--is a) the point, b) almost always the way it goes, innit, and c) very Zen, now that I look at it. The more you think you "know" the less you're able to "learn". This really has informed my teaching style as I've taken on the roll in the past. Get people to want to know and teaching them will be easy.

The menagerie of spirit animals that have attached themselves to me over the course of my shamanic life and practice reflects my trickster nature; rabbits, cats, coyotes, owls and monkeys--things more clever than overtly powerful. The thing I enjoy most about all my animal aspects is that they all have a naturally curious nature, which is very "me". Essentially, they're all very good "beginners' mind" critters. I aspire to that aspect of their personalities.

And that of course brings us back to Buddhism and to Zen.

To me, the trickster is one of the most important archetypes in all of mythology, and Zen Buddhism is ripe with stories, lessons and koans of very smart people getting duped into enlightenment. I simply love that about our spiritual heritage. The very first enlightenment experience aside from the Buddha is that of Mahākāśyapa. The Buddha had been trying to get people to comprehend suchness. He held up the flower. Mahākāśyapa laughed out loud.

Enlightenment, with a smile. Only a fool would believe it was possible...

Well, a number of folks have been asking “how’d it go?” with regards to my first “mini” seshin @ GVZM, I’m going to take the weak tack and post it all here to facilitate central access, and help me to avoid having to type variations on a theme (thank you to the many friends who have already said “a blog post will be enough”.)

Preface I: Before leaving (literally about an hour before hand) I’d happened upon an interesting listing on Craigslist regarding a housing option down in West Linn. A buddhist lady offering a studio attached to her home for a very reasonable price, with the caveat that she wanted someone who would respect her environment and her practice. Rent deduction if you took care of her cat when she was gone. I fired off a quick inquiry about it.

Preface II: For those not “in the know” (read: not sangha members), a bit of a brief description of things. Our Buddhist sangha holds retreats multiple times every month on a variety of different things, from art to eating and other helpful pursuits. Once a month, there is also a longer seshin (5 to 10 day intensive) retreat, often done in noble silence. Retreat practice is an essential part of our sangha. Even a short one can be very emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and physically intense.

Having said that...

I caught a ride with a sangha member/friend as well as two other people up to the monastery. Nice chatting as we went up. I took it upon myself to ask if everyone had an idea what we were “in for”. A bit of a discussion was had regarding the specifics, as best as I could provide them. I was at least able to give a bit of context as to why this would be done in silence, and why we would be eating this way (Ōryōki), but I was keenly aware that this would be very different from any retreat I myself had ever done in the past. I’ve spent weeks in silence, but that was long ago. I was effectively a very different person from who I am now. Feeling a bit of worry and apprehension over that, I calmed myself by dropping into the internal process that I have developed to start opening myself up to something new, and reminded myself--yet again--that preconceived notions are one of the greatest poisons to practice.

We arrived in a rather timely manner (considering we’d gotten a bit of a late start due to the collection of our cohort of riders, then the typical Friday afternoon I-5 northbound rush). The driver and I had a slightly special need to speak to the registrar above and beyond the signing in and balance payments, so we took care of our practicalities, stuck our bags in the dorm, and got back to the office to talk with Kojun about our Precepts paperwork and wagesa kits. An informal dinner was had, with everyone in good spirits. Hogen made a brief and late appearance, saying hello and welcoming me as I finished plating my dinner. I told him I was happy to finally be doing this retreat, having had three false starts in the last two years. The food was great, as always. I had an opportunity to start practicing hard-core mindfulness right away as they set out the cheese plate. A brief tour was had that I went on (again), mostly to enjoy a touch of conversation with all the strangers before everything went silent. As far as I could tell, there were only four PDX-ZCO members in attendance, so the rest of the attendees were all relatively new to both ZCO and GVZM, as well as Zen specifically, and for a few, Buddhism in general. That meant that at least twenty people were in for a much “newer” experience than even I was. I tried to be mindful of that.

We met in the meditation hall, found our assigned places, and were greeted by Hogen-sensei as the opening ceremony officially kicked the retreat off. A few groans and gasps were heard when DT read the schedule. I was a bit surprised by this: who on earth didn’t read the schedule before they singed up for something like this? We received initial instructions on zazen, focusing on pranayama and posture. Everything was essentially boilerplate. We performed the evening ceremony, and headed off to our respective beds.

Sleep for most of us was fitful to say the least. For me, it was nearly absent. I--like most--always have a hard time sleeping in a new space the first night; doubly so because it’s a dorm environment. I haven’t slept in a dorm set-up since I last slept in a hostel in 1990, so it had really been a while. The accommodations, however sparsely appointed, weren’t the issue at all. It was a combination of my mind and my body. I was truly thankful that I’d thought (at the very last minute) to bring my beat-up old sleep mask. If I hadn’t, I’m rather certain I’d not have slept at all. As it stands, I think I got about two hours of actual sleep before the waking bell sounded at Dark O’Clock. About two dozen extraordinarily tired people sat in the meditation hall. The exhaustion was nearly palpable. I blew out a bit of metta for us all, knowing that at that very moment, we were all standing at the bottom of the hill, looking up, with over ten hours of zazen to come. I made sure to keep in mind that I needed that metta, too. This was going to be hard.

To keep this from turning into a needless writing exercise, I’m going to cut to the important bits and skip the blow-by-blow.

The physical toll on me was pretty extensive. For many people, not so, but because I have allowed myself to gain weight these past months, combined with my disability, it was far worse than I anticipated; the exhaustion, of course, making this so much worse. I may have actually started experiencing angina again because of my blood-pressure, which I imagine was back up to “terrible”. The chest pain may also have been muscle problems (pecs) due to holding my hands in mudra for so long (and to all friends, please know that I’m watching the chest-pain issue with due seriousness, so don’t fret). It also may have been exacerbated by a bit of RSI from breaking down ten pounds of broccoli during work practice. After lunch, my BP was probably up to dangerous levels. I had a massive, throbbing headache, was shorter of breath than I normally am, and was--in general--abjectly miserable. I started doing what many folks do at this point in the game: think about bailing out. This bothered me because I wasn’t phased by the zazen per se. I was being hammered by own body due almost entirely to my own negligence. I considered shooting a TXT off to my house partner to see if she’d be willing to come get me. I thought about telling Hogen about my physical state. I thought about telling my driver. Finally, during the rest period, I just told myself what was most obvious: Dude, you’re way out of shape again, you’re exhausted, everything’s all amped up and set to “11”. Just relax into it. You’ll actually sleep tonight, if only due to exhaustion, and it’ll be better tomorrow. That was of course exactly the case.

Everyone had a better Sunday. We sat for only one period of zazen before morning service. After that, and a final ōryōki breakfast, we gathered in the guest area for closing circle. Everyone was expected to discuss their experiences. I tried to keep my comments brief; still half-submerged in the noble silence of the 24-or-so hours prior. When it came my “turn”, I said what was on my mind. It was hard. Very hard. I had made it that way. I was stunned at how much I talk to myself, internally and externally. I had come to understand a number of things about my life during the retreat that I was having trouble putting to words, and admitted that I may not ever find the words. Nothing as lofty as kensho, but at the same time, nothing merely as banal as “You need to lose weight, fat ass”. When I had said “realization”, Hogen asked me to name one of the most notable realizations I’d had, and I said “That I shouldn’t do a residency right now...” Both he and Kojun gave me slightly surprised looks (as surprised as they get, I suppose).

About halfway through the 2nd evening period zazen on Saturday, it just occurred to me that even if the circumstances of my life (mariage/housing/finances/etc) make residency attractive, I was just simply not feeling it. It made absolute, perfect sense to me in my head, but in my "heart" it was still lacking the fire that made me feel like it was the right thing for me right now. I realized that there are still so many things that I want to get straightened out in my life, and while yes, I could do them at the monastery, it may not be the best place to do so. I think I would actually feel like I was short-changing the monastic experience, and frankly short-changing myself and my sangha in the process. No joy there.

Also, I feel like I will serve both myself and my sangha better in a very practical sense if I stay here in PDX metro. I want very much to be active in the establishment of Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple, and living up at the monastery will really make that tricky. I am not unaware that some of this may possibly be selfish, but I’m allowing for that. I want to see HoWZEN succeed, and I want to be a part of that. I suddenly realized just how important that has become for me. To ignore that would be--essentially--lying to myself. I’m really trying to be done with that in my life.

The physical aspect of residency and monastic living, while not the main motivator of my choice, cannot go unmentioned. In short: this would have been a lot easier 40 pounds ago. But this experience has brought up a number of serious questions in me regarding physical limitations and abilities as they pertain to not only residency, but seshin participation, the offering of jukai, and our desire as a sangha to facilitate people’s dharma lives, meet an uphold our statement of inclusitivity while at the same time preserving the strong foundation of our Zen tradition and upholding the traditions of our lineage. In short: I think we’ll need to examine disability as a concept in our sangha and how we chose to work with it, and sooner rather than later.

In closing, while this Beginner's Mind retreat was at times very difficult for me (and for others), I am extraordinarily glad that I did it, and that I had the experience(s) I had. I think were it not to have gone down the way it did, I would not be in the clear space that I’m in now.

I’ll have more reflections on a few specifics as time rolls on.

Thank you to all my friends who asked after me and were concerned with how it went. I’m sure we’ll all get to talk more about it together soon.



So my teacher took me aside yesterday after zazen and voiced some concern regarding my physical ability to handle life at the monastery. I think many here would have gotten upset by being told that they may not be able to physically cut it. I've been disabled since I was 15--not being "able to physically cut it" is old hat for me. Besides, he's absolutely right. I may not. I appreciated his candor when he said "Your disability won't be taken into account". Yes, on one hand that hurt. Of course it did. But on the other hand, I wouldn't physically cut it as a fireman or a surgeon, either. You can't always expect the world to "treat you fairly". Some things just require physical abilities that some don't have. I know it sounds a bit odd that living in a monastery is one of them, but the physical aspect of the monastery--the hard rigorous schedule and physical labor--is part of the whole deep-practice process. I value what that level of practice does for people in my sangha; I wouldn't want it dumbed down just so I could be there.

But he is most concerned that we just don't know how I'd do, and he'd rather not have a failure happen for a number of good reasons. I told him that I was okay with failure if it happens. He smiled and said "But I'm not". I mentioned that a failure wouldn't affect my desire or determination to keep practicing, and he understood and accepted that. What he's offering me is to come up for a solid week and see how it goes. Sort-of a try-before-you-buy approach, which I think has real merit to it.

But on the other hand, I've been really thinking about if this is what I want. Yes, it's a good time to do it, but at the same time, a few thoughts have bubbled up for me this past week--mostly in zazen--and ignoring them would not be wise.

I want a space of my own. I've never ever had that my whole life. Ever. I am beginning to understand that that very thing may be important to me, or at least my psyche. Also, I really want to be here in Portland to help with the establishment of our city Zen center. I really believe in that mission, and I want to be a part of it. I will not be able to do as much in that regard if I'm living 70 miles away.

Part of me is worried that I may be trying to run away to the monastery. That's a poor motivation. There is no question that I have a desire to serve my sangha, but at the same time, I may not be serving its best interests by attempting residency. That may just be the simple truth of the matter. And more than anything, at this time in my life, I'm about the truth.

So we're a bit more back up in the air about things again. I'm okay with that. "Up in the air" isn't "laying shattered to pieces on the floor", is it?

Well, whether I live at the monastery or not, the first test starts in a few hours when I head up there to do a Beginner's Mind retreat for the weekend. This will be the first time I stay there over night. The schedule's lighter than regular daily monastic life, but it's a taste. We'll see how it goes. In the truest Zen fashion, that's the best anyone can do...

...but this is about as accurate and true a statement about living today as can be had. I feel a bit weird about being at that age where you can look back and chide a whole different generation of people for being babies about how it is now -vs- how it used to be "back in my day". But truth is truth...

So, on a board that I (used to) moderate, a question came up that generally went like this:

New to Buddhism and am curious on what Buddhism says about our futures. Are things preordained or is it all left to fate?
Generally, Buddhism spends more time thinking about the "now". There's little use in thinking about any other time, because those "other times" are never accessible to you in an experiential fashion, and in Buddhism, that's about all that counts.

In Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism, there is a school of study called Kalachakra Tantra (Kalachakra Laghutantra) that does deal a bit with the future. "Kala" means "time" and "chakra" is translated as "cycle", so "time cycles" works. This school is best known for its development of the Tibetan astrological calendars, but even though it is astrology at work, it deals less with the future and more about the now, using the position of the planets to describe the state of the body (the old "as above, so below" ideology).

Finally, there is the Buddhist eschatological prophesy of Maitreya Buddha, or "the Buddha of the Coming Age". This prophesy is found in a number of sutras, as well as the Pali cannon. It states that after the buddha of our age (Gautama Buddha) and his dharma is forgotten, a new buddha will come again, and teach all humanity how to finally live in a Pure Land...

"Maitreya is predicted to attain Bodhi in seven days (which is the minimum period), by virtue of his many lives of preparation for Buddha-hood (similar to those reported in the Jataka stories of Shakyamuni Buddha).

"Maitreya's coming is characterized by a number of physical events. The oceans are predicted to decrease in size, allowing Maitreya to traverse them freely. The event will also allow the unveiling of the "true" dharma to the people, in turn allowing the construction of a new world. The coming also signifies the end of the middle time in which humans currently reside (characterized as a low point of human existence between the Gautama Buddha and Maitreya.)"1
But again, in the most practical sense, we tend to focus our attention on the here-and-now. The future is only shapeable through karma, and only knowable through experience. Constantly focusing on things that aren't here yet, or knowable, is in many Buddhist scholars' eyes as a waste of precious time.

Going a bit further, your question is only tangentially one regarding "the future". It's more about the question of "do we have free will". In the Buddhist philosophy, we do have free will. Nothing is truly "destined to happen" beyond the continuing manifestation of "the future" moment by moment into "the now", then continually disintegrating into "the past". We as people have choices we make, but as with all phenomena, those choices are affected by the actions we took in the past. Past states always affect the future, and all future phenomena are established by the past (presuming linear time, which we will, since it's the consensus observation). In essence, were there to be no consciousness in the Universe, there would be very little to no chance at something like free will (yeah, I know that sounds rather dumb, but just take it at face value for the sake of argument). All physical phenomena (as there would be only physical phenomena in existence) could be predicted mathematically in accordance with the laws of physics, because all you'd be dealing with is matter bumping into other matter over aeons until everything was so far away from everything else that the Universe would just go dark and die a rather paltry and thermal dynamic death. However, since there is consciousness in the Universe, there are certain bunches of atoms that are grouped together for very brief periods of time (read: "us monkeys") that behave in generally unpredictable ways. As a direct result of this, there is a true randomness to the Universe, and ergo, there can be nothing that is preordained or fated, because there will always be the chance that some unpredictable actor will change things. I can't remember where I heard this quote from, but it's something to the effect of "whenever there are two or more people alive, no king is safe".

With regards to karma; remember, karma isn't "good" or "bad". Karma means "action". It is simply you acting as a player in this reality. You making choices. You doing one thing, -vs- another. So, in this Universe, you take the action, and the effects of that action, from micro to macro, ripple out into the Universe across time and space. You cannot toss a pebble--no matter how small--into a pond without causing a ripple. You can take no action in this Universe without generating changes of state. You fart, and it will affect a star thousands of light years away eventually. That is how physics--and reality--work. That is how they HAVE to work. Now, as far as the thought of "what would happen if I didn't kick Jethro in the ball-sack that night?" or "if I'd just have worn a condom" etc type stuff, Buddhism does allow for other realities and other universes, so in that regard, it can dovetail nicely into the new theoretical paradigms of parallel universes and all of reality being a "multiverse". Essentially, even the actions you don't take are taken into account in the totality of Reality. But as entertaining as it may be to think of such things, it's best to leave that stuff to the likes of String- and M-theorists. I mention it only as a way to see that certain Buddhist ideas can nestle nicely into contemporary theoretical cosmological models.