Fannys on zafus in honorable poses;
Sit in the zendo and breathe through our noses.
Inos and doans. The large bronze bell rings.
These are a few of my favorite Zen things.

Sore, achy muscles from sitting through sesshin.
Avalokitishvara, Dogen and Kuan Yin.
All bodhisattvas throughout the world sing,
These are a few of my favorite Zen things.

When the tire's flat.
When I feel fat.
When I'm seething mad.
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then things don't look so bad.

Work in the green-house or samu in kitchen;
Wrestle the bramble into short-term submission.
Straighten your rakusu: the only zen bling.
These are a few of my favorite Zen things.

Chanting and kinhin and bowing to founders;
Sanzen with Hogen when my practice flounders.
Koans and parties with puppets that sing.
These are a few of my favorite Zen things.

When I'm freezing.
When I'm roasting.
When there is no breeze.
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I'm more at ease.

Red cape and cap because Jizo gets too cold.
Practice my dying--hopefully when I'm old.
Boat-loads of metta for all living beings.
These are a few of my favorite Zen things.

The gateway to freedom is zazen samadhi.
Be one with the moment: heart/mind and body.
For a great Heart of Wisdom: the moment's the thing.
These are a few of my favorite Zen things.

When I'm stressed-out.
What's this about?
Try to seek its source.
The Great Way is easy for those without
"favorite things" of course.

To what do I owe the pleasure?

To thee, of course.

To years of truth that cut like scalpels, knives and saws,
Leaving me bloody, but lighter.

To years of fire that burn away the underbrush, deadfall and chaff,
Setting the forest floor for growth anew.

To years of flood that have washed away all the loose, fetid rot of me,
Where my "good" and "bad" are not distinguished.

To the wind, ever-present, blowing hard from all directions;
Challenging me to stand in the face of it and howl back.

To all those energies that have come to manifest my life;
Each person, place, thing that has helped me become more verb-like.

The magic of banality, the wonder of boredom, the thrill of ennui;
Each sting of assumption and error a Zenji.

To sit
As a stone
In a field;
Immovable but by time,
Resolute through stasis,
Confident via gravity,
Stalwart by way of density.
Eternal on the small scale,
Insignificant to the large.
A solid, concrete illusion.
An æons-old, tenuous conglomeration.
Yet ever crumbling,
Out of time,
out of place,
out of form,
The Universe spreads her legs,
Noumena is born.
Looking upon this place
With blurry,
impossibly blue eyes;
Seeing that all is right with the world,
and greeting it with a awful, confused wail.

A Universal Recommendation of Zazen


The Way is originally perfect and all-pervading. What need is there for practice and realization?

The Dharma vehicle is rolling freely. Why should we exhaust our effort?

There is no speck of dust in the whole universe. How could we ever try to brush it clean?

Everything is manifest at this very place. Where are we supposed to direct the feet of our practice?

Now, if you make the slightest discrimination, you will create a gap like that between heaven and earth.

If you follow one thing while you resist the other, your mind will be shattered and lost.

Suppose you are confident in your understanding and rich in enlightenment, gaining the wisdom that knows at a glance, attaining the way and clarifying the mind, arousing an aspiration to reach for the heavens. Now your head is stuck in the entrance-way, while your body has no clue how to get out.

Although Shakyamuni was wise at birth, can't you see the traces of his six years of upright sitting? Bodhidharma transmitted the mind-seal from India. Can't you hear the echo of the nine years he sat facing a wall?

If even the ancient sages were like this, how can we today dispense with wholehearted practice? Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward.

Your body and mind will drop away of themselves, and your original face will manifest. If you want to get into touch with things as they are, you - right here and now - have to start being yourself, as you are.

For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs.

Don't think about "good" or "bad". Don't judge true or false. Your mind, intellect, and consciousness are spinning around - let them have rest. Give up measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a Buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down?

When you sit, spread a mat and put a cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, first place your right foot on your left thigh, then your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus position, simply place your left foot on your right thigh.

Tie your robes loosely and arrange them neatly. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left hand on your right palm, thumb-tips lightly touching.

Straighten your body and sit upright, leaning neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Rest the tip of your tongue against the front of the roof of your mouth, with teeth and lips together both shut. Always keep your eyes open, and breathe softly through your nose. Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting. Think of not thinking. Not thinking: What kind of thinking is that? Letting thoughts go (Nonthinking). This is the essential art of zazen.

Zazen is not a meditation technique. It is simply the Dharma gate of joyful ease, it is practicing the realization of the boundless Dharma way. Here, the open mystery manifests, and there are no more traps and snares for you to get caught in.

If you grasp the point, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains. For you must know that the true Dharma appears of itself, so that from the start dullness and distraction are struck aside.

When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Don't do it head over heels. Understand that those who transcended the mundane and sacred, and died while either sitting or standing, have all committed themselves entirely to this power.

In addition, turning the Dharma wheel with a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and realizing it with a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout - these cannot be understood by discriminative thinking. Much less can they be known through the practice of supernatural power. Your conduct must be beyond seeing forms and hearing sounds, it must be based on the order that is prior to knowledge and views. Don't worry about if you are more intelligent than the others, or not. Make no distinction between the dull and the sharp-witted. If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is wholeheartedly engaging the way. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Practicing the way means to live the present day.

In our world and others, in both India and China, all equally hold the buddha-seal. The wind of truth is blowing unhindered, so just give yourself to the sitting, be totally blocked in resolute stability.

Although they say that there are ten thousand distinctions and a thousand variations, just wholeheartedly engage the way in zazen. Why leave behind the seat in your own home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep you stumble past what is directly in front of you. You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not pass your days and nights in vain.

You met the Buddha way in this life - how could you waste your time delighting in sparks from a flint stone? Form and substance are like the dew on the grass, the fortunes of life like a dart of lightning - emptied in an instant, vanished in a flash.

Please, honored followers of Zen, long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not doubt the true dragon.

Devote your energies to the way that points directly to the real thing. Revere the one who has gone beyond learning and is free from effort.

Share the wisdom of Buddhas with Buddhas, transmit the samadhi of patriarchs to patriarchs. Continue to live in such a way, and you will be such a person. The treasure store will open of itself, it is up to you to use it freely.

-Dogen zenji


A monk asked, "Does a dog have a Buddha-nature or not?"

The master said, "Mu!"

The monk said, "Above to all the Buddhas, below to the crawling bugs, all have Buddha-nature. Why is it that the dog has not?"

The master said, "Because he has the nature of karmic delusions".
—The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, koan 132, translation by James Green

"Ku," "mu" or "sūnyatā" is the underlying true nature of all phenomena. Often translated (read: "dumbed-down") as "emptiness" or "void", it is the base level of reality in a Buddhist paradigm. And, (all too) often, this--to outside observers--is seen as being tinged with negativity. "What point is there to life if all things are empty? That sounds suspiciously like nihilism, and I don't like that!" More advanced or formal practitioners appreciate that this is not, in fact, a proper apprehension of the concept. They do, however, understand why so many misapprehend the concept of ku. Were it to be easy, we'd all have a handle on it by now, and render practice unnecessary.

Every practice, every step on the path--be it kinhin, a walk to the library, or a wiping of your ass--is a practice of ku. Every sneeze, burp, fart, back-rub, egg-scramble, oil-change, fapp, nose-pick, letter-opening, thrust, wince, hug, smile, frown... everything is empty and without form. A true apprehension leads one to experience that every sneeze, burp, fart, back-rub, egg-scramble, oil-change, fapp, nose-pick, letter-opening, thrust, wince, hug, smile, frown... everything is the entire Universe. Whole, total and complete, lacking nothing.

As I am off for a week of monastic retreat (or "sesshin") starting on Monday, I leave you with this:
In your life, in your daily experience of now, where do you touch "ku"? Have you? Do you? What has this experience done for you? Where/how does it manifest? Does it inform your life, or vice-versa?
May all beings achieve enlightenment, even before me...

I've been struggling the past few days.  After returning from the Mindful Eating retreat, I was on a bit of a high.  I felt empowered.  A tad more in control.  I dropped below 240lbs.  I had a job interview that went really well, and I look to be employed soon by a non-profit that I really believe in.  Our sangha has finally found a suitable building, and will pay a mere song for it, not a Wagnerian opera's worth.  I was feeling like...  I dunno.  Things felt good.

Somewhere between there and here, I've slid back into some old, unhelpful ways.  It's illustrated something to me:  No matter how "in control" one feels, it's an illusion.  A delusion, more rightly.  And it reinforces to me Sekito Kisen's admonition: "Do not waste your time by night or day!"[1]

It's so easy to lose sight of what's important, truly important.  It's almost as if we--as monkeys--are programmed to lose it.  I suppose in a way we are, or else practice would be unnecessary.

The weight has ticked back up on the scale a bit.  Not dangerously so, but not insignificantly either.  I feel a clinging arising in me lately.  A desire to fill voids.  A habit of seeing voids where there are none, or making them in my mind in order to feel gratified when they are filled, or by what I choose to stuff them full of.

This I believe is coming from anxiety.

I guess part stems from the initial tastes of S.A.D. 'Tis the season and all.  But I know that the lion's share is stemming from my going to my first full sesshin at the monastery.

The anxiety isn't as great as it has been in the past about this.  I don't feel panicked.  I know I'll be fine.  I have been needing to do this for quite a while, and I have the support of my teachers and my friends, both inside and outside the sangha.  I know I'm "ready" to do this.

I am just railing against the ideas of discomfort and dissatisfaction.  Fighting preconceived notions of a future that I think I may have an idea about.  How dumb.  Here I am, the guy that tells everyone to have no preconceptions, yet I'm busy being bitten in the ass by my own.

But that's just as it goes, innit?

I'm happy, though, in that I do now taste a difference on my palate regarding this anxiety.  It's less than it used to be.  I'm vastly more anxious about being away from my cat for a week, and her needs, than I am my own.  The worse that will happen to me is that I'm mildly uncomfortable and slightly annoyed for a week.  I've suffered worse.

I know this is a bit of a scatter-shot blog today.  Sorry.  Just spitting out a mouthful of what's on my tongue.  Maybe if I do it on a piece of white paper, we can have a pretty Rorschach to look at?

On this Veteran's Day, 2010, 92 years after the armistice, a letter from my great grandmother, Mary Logan-Grady, of Valders, WI. to my maternal grandfather, George Grady, a conscientious objector in WWI, who served as a corpsman and ordinance technician throughout France between 1916-1919.  This entire piece, including the parenthetical addendum, was printed in a local Manitowoc news paper in remembrance of Armistice Day (date unknown).

My Dear Son George:

I am more than bursting with joy this morning.  The glad news of peace arrived yesterday at half-past 2 o'clock.  What a relief and comfort to all mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and all sweethearts.

Every whistle and bell and bugle and horn was heard for miles around.  Yes, more than that, the roosters crew all night and Darkey howled and Sport barked and all the cows came bellowing to the barn and everything was at a standstill.

John just got through plowing as the whistles blew.  It was a real holiday.

And the night before, they had devotions in our church and blessed the service flag.  Sadie and Ella rang for the dedication and thanks to Almighty God and the Blessed Mother, there aren't any gold stars on it yet, if all be true which I hope it is.

Last night I dreamed I seen you coming up the road driving the gray team on an old buggie and you looked so small and thin.  The first time I ever dreamed of you.  We got all your letters and Johney's letter came a few days ago.

So, you seen General Pershing.

Well, George, I have no more paper and I want to write so bad.  Excuse this letter this time.

With love from your loving Mother.

P.S.  Schools and churches and everything was shut down the past five weeks.  Elmer (Barnes) had the flu so bad he died three times, but still lives and is feeling fine.

(James Mullins, formerly of Manitowoc, and now teaching at St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa, found this letter among his mother's keepsakes after her death several years ago.  He sent copies to other relatives, including Mrs. Justin Mullins, (formerly Mary Claire Barnes) who brought it to the newspaper office.  Mrs. Grady was her grandmother.

Mrs. Grady writer of the letter, was the former Mary Logan, and the family farm was on County Highway C, where it is still operated by Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Grady and Mrs. Ruth Grady.  Ruth's late husband was John Grady who is mentioned in the letter.)

On this Veteran's Day, 2010, 92 years after the armistice, a letter from my maternal grandfather, George Grady, a conscientious objector in WWI, who served as a corpsman and ordinance technician throughout France between 1916-1919, to my great grandmother, Mary Logan-Grady, of Valders, WI.

Charpentry, France
Jan 1st, 1919

Dearest Mother-

Well, another year has rolled around and in place of the grim and hideous spectacle which the last few years have found confronting them on taking their appointed place in the ages, it finds all mankind at peace.  I can well imagine with what a frenzied and momentous joy the wild bells ushered in this new year of nineteen hundred and nineteen.  God grant that all subsequent years finds the world more securely attached to peace and peaceful pursuits.

It would be too bad if this war has been fought in vain, unless the whole world stands as a unit and agrees to abolish compulsory military service and fails to uphold the fourteen points of President Wilson's plan, I am sure in a few years expect the same awful catastrophe to occur again and with more terrible and appalling results.  There is no way to judge the future but by the past.  My prayers now are for the peace counsil [sic] which is soon to sit.  I hope God be with them in their work so that their poor blind eyes be able to see their way clear and guide them aright.  On their heads rest the future of this turbulent sphere.  How well their work is done determines the safety of it.  Let us sincerely hope and pray for the best so that the sacrifices and heroic sufferings and efforts will bear fruit. 

-PVT George W. Grady
 Ordinance Detachment
 American Expeditionary Force

To go deeper than ever before
Presupposes a shallowness that may
or may not
be a delusion.

Can the ocean ever truly be shallow?
Can the sea ever be anything other than the sea?
Are there parts that are one thing,
but not the other?

I peak
as a wave
acting alone
but never truly

I crest
like a mountain
atop an ever moving

I crash
like diamonds
upon an eternal and endless

I recede
back into the depths
of the infinite potential of

I am
as you are.

But different.

An ango (安居), for those who don't know, is a period of more intensive practice in a zen sangha or monastery.  My sangha observes one every autumn.  For us, it's traditional to make an ango vow or commitment; some extra practice like bowing, chanting, memorizing a sutra, daily- or extra zazen, etc.   This year, I was having a hard time coming up with something that resonated with me.  Last year I committed to sit every time my sangha was at the dharma center (of 32 opportunities, I missed four.  Jes' sayin'...).  This year, I was thinking of trying to memorize the Shosai Myokichijo Dharani, which always renders me dumb and mum.  I may still.  I'll be chanting it daily for six days in about two weeks.

But this past weekend, I attended my teacher, Chozen Bays-roshi's Mindful Eating retreat at Great Vow Zen Monastery.  The retreat was a gift to me by my friend Bansho, but it was a bit extra significant for a few reasons.  I've dropped over fifty pounds this year, and I really wanted to attend this retreat.  He's been following my progress, and had purchased this retreat with the intent of making it a scholarship.  I suddenly couldn't come up with the finances to attend, and it all fell neatly into place.

I'll talk a bit more about the experience in a future post, but suffice it to say that I came up with my commitment tonight as I ate dinner half ōryōki-style.  I will eat at least one meal a day this way throughout all of ango.

Just got back from a weekend-long monastic retreat (focused on mindful eating: more on that in a following blog post) and can report that much zazen was energetically sat. At 4:30am yesterday morning, I was up, sitting zazen outside in the crisp cold of an early Oregon autumn, in the pitch dark with a stunningly bright half-moon hanging behind the translucent UV-blue clouds, and every star in the sky encouraging me to "wake up"! I sent out my intentions, and included all my Weirdness-following friends. One thing that came up for me (thanks in no small part to the aforementioned moon) was the issue of the waxing and waning of practice at times, and specifically the energy required to keep up a good daily zazen/shikantaza practice. My tip to you all: don't be discouraged if you fall off the zafu. Be gentle with yourself. Just get back on. Be it five minutes or a half-hour is no matter. As Dogen-zenji stated, "Do not waste your time by night or day."

Keep at it. Your practice is quite literally of the utmost importance to all beings throughout space and time...

-bows of gratitude-


And off to the races we go!

First off: Brad Warner has a new book out, called Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between.  No, I haven't read it yet.  I was sent an advanced promo for it of a few chapters by someone with a link to the publisher, but it was of a few of the "dryer" chapters.  Regardless, I'll read it soon.  Also regardless, buy the book, y'all.  Brad-san needs the dough, and I want him to have it.  Brad is one of the few contemporary Zen writers in America that's actually saying something relevant and interesting, and as aggravating as he is to me sometimes, I think that his approach is not only valuable, but inherently important to Zen in the West.  Props, Brad.  Actually, I'll probably post a review of the book once I've digested it, so stay tuned...

Let's begin at the beginning.

I am not average.

That is not a boast.  It is a statement of statistical observation.  I am a 42-year old male (that bit is average), queer (latently bisexual) ethically non-monogamous (read: "polyamorous") agnostic, former-vegan, leftist/socialist libertarian (minus the gun craziness, but with added crispy anarchistic tendencies) Zen Buddhist who believes in the inherent, constitutional right of gays to marry, is a pro-cannabis advocate and thinks most drugs should be legalized, as should prostitution.

So I confused the census guy a wee bit.  But he seemed really happy to see me the 2nd and 3rd time he was by here.  I was obviously a fun compare/contrast from the Jehova's next door.  And while he may have been a bit perplexed that my mailing address wasn't actually--in fact--Amsterdam, he understood why Portland seemed not so unbelievable.

I've been of the "alt" generation my entire adult life.  For a time in the late 80's, I was actually a safe sex educator to certain communities; a time when friends and loved ones started dying.  To say "I was on the front lines" of the HIV/AIDS fight is a bit of an over-statement that I'm not entirely comfortable with, but I will say proudly that I did my part to help educate gays, lesbians, and straight folks--both friends and strangers alike--so as to help keep them from becoming one more statistical data-point in a war with an increasingly growing body-count.

And yes, I lost people I loved.  Too many.

My fist "adult relationship" was when I was seventeen.  I don't really want to go too deeply into it, but it was more formative than I think I realized then.  And it was a non-monogamous one.  My first.  Not hers.  I'd heard about "swingers" in the likes of the Penthouse Forum and Xaviera Hollander's "Call Me Madam" column, but while that was titillating, it just didn't seem to fit my experience.  My partner at the time, (I'll call her "RDL") was a bit older, vastly more experienced and much wiser than I was at the time.  She was my first great teacher of love, sex, and of compassion.  Great Compassion.  She was a care-giver of the first order, an angel, a true Bodhisattva, I'm certain of that.  I'll never forget when we sat down to talk about "opening" our relationship.  "How can you love more than one person at a time?" I asked her in mild horror.

"Do you love your mother and your father?" she replied.

"Well, of course, but that's different!" I exclaimed.

"Really?  How?"

I waxed intensely on the topic, covering all the obvious points, including a detour down the predictable Freudian tangent.  When I was done having my emotional and intellectual grand mal, she sat there quietly, then said "Okay.  Now open your heart and tell me how it's really different."

I couldn't.

And I couldn't not because it wasn't different (because to some degrees it obviously is and I'm fine with admitting that) but because I suddenly allowed myself--for whatever reason--to truly wonder why it was, and then very quickly I was forced to ask myself if it was, in fact, all that different.  Was I simply tripping over a language issue?  I mean, the most complicated and nuanced words I knew at the time to try and differentiate one kind of love from another were words like αγάπη ("agape") or "trancendant, 'otherly' love", but no words seemed to work properly.  I told RDL that I'd have to think about this.  I left the discussion shaken, but oddly charged, and I didn't know why.

After a lot of soul-searching, I agreed that RDL and I would open our relationship.  In my mind, this was mostly a sexual thing, and I'll admit that I did it mostly to please her and at the same time hedge my bets against giving her any kind of reason to dump me.  But I did have her assurance that if at any time I felt uncomfortable or threatened by this path, I could hit the stop button.  Being that I trusted her both implicitly and explicitly, I felt that this was at least some kind of wild experiment that I had some manner of control over.

The following 18-or-so months was one of the weirdest, most wonderful and at times most painful periods of my life.  I never felt comfortable with telling even my closest friends about my life that they couldn't see.  Some of my friends were privy to my "sexual adventurousness", but none knew that this involved more than just me and a few people in bed together.  No one but my mother--my closest confidant--ever knew that it involved concurrent heart-based relationships with people.  I had a number of relationships with women in that period, with RDL being my overriding constant.

It was right about that time that we heard a new term.  Actually, I'd discovered it in a magazine.  It may have been Omni.  This word was "polyamory".  And while I--a growing word geek--bristled at the bastardization, it sure seemed to fit what we were doing in our lives.

But it seemed to be working.  And it seemed to fit me.  I had always been a big-hearted guy.  I'd always had much love to give.  And in that period of time when I walked away from RDL to "think about this", one thing popped into my mind over and over: I loved RDL, deeply and truly, and I wanted her, and "us" to be happy.  Forever.  But was I really ready to commit myself--my heart--to one person for the rest of my life?  Forsaking all others?  'Till death, etc?  Was it truly reasonable to think that, on a planet of billions of people, the one great love of my life just happened to be living one town over from me?  Was there really only one person on this Earth I could ever love this way, lest I diminish that love through feeling that way about another?  Would that even happen?  I mean, my parents had six kids.  None of us felt less loved than the others.

I suddenly started to get a handle on this issue, and the first thing that helped was to understand that a) I didn't know a damn thing about "love", and b) nobody else did, either.  I was in the first generation to have a 50% or greater divorce rate, and one of the first to deal with single-parent families (both through divorce, death and as a mindful life-choice).  It was becoming obvious to me that what society said about love was vastly different from what love's boots were like on the ground (or outside the door, or banging, or...  anyway.)

Sadly, my time with RDL was cut short.  We were there for each-other until the end.  I still miss her.  And yes, I still love her.  Deeply.  Every woman I've ever been with has been told of her, and I have told most of those later women that they own her a debt of thanks.  She is without question the main reason why I am the man I am today, and most likely the reason why they fell in love with me.  She was my greatest teacher, for she taught me that love is nothing like what is printed or put up on the silver screen.  It is so much more than that.  It is truly a Universal thing.  She was tapped into something huge, mighty and powerful.  Trans-formative.  Transmogrifying.  Transcendental.  I wanted to taste that.  She fed me.  Then she had to go.  The very last words she uttered to me were "Be honest with yourself, always, and know that I truly love you."

The following years were a morass of mistakes, tempests, fool's errands and other missteps.  After RDL, I tried monogamy, thinking that I could never experience what I had with RDL outside of the strong container of safety and encouragement that she provided.  My first was with a girl I'd went to high-school with, that had me making the mistake of proposing to her after only a week together, and which ended a month later after I wised-up to the fact that I was about to ruin both our lives.  The longest try at monogamy lasted nearly six years.  It ended less over the issue of monogamy -vs- polyamory than it did over a mismatch of personalities, ages and life-goals.  But I knew that when I left the Center Coast for the Left Coast that I wanted to be polyamorous again.

That I'd fallen in-love on-line with an amazing polyamorous woman in Portland, OR sort-of sealed that deal.  I've been here in Portland, and actively polyamorous, ever since.  That relationship was also very formative.  It was my first marriage.  It was my first divorce.  It put my daughter in my life.  It was a time of great growth, both personal and spiritual, and I owe her, too, a great debt of thanks.  And yes, I still love her.  Deeply.  Too.  But more in an agape way.  She's with the right person.  She's happier than I've ever seen her.  That's the promise I made to her on our wedding day: to do all that was in my power to make her happy.  That just also included asking her for a divorce when the time insisted upon it.

Polyamory developed quite a bit over the years.  It now has clubs, magazines, TV pieces featuring it and a whole raft of other trappings, institutions and eclectica, like shirts and buttons with pithy sayings (which we all know makes it relevant).  But what is it really, and how does it relate to my life, and to a life devoted to the Dharma?

Teh Wikipedia defines "polyamory" as "...the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved."  Now, this to me is a bit short-shrifted of an answer.  The above could also apply to swinging, which poly is most assuredly not.  "Intimate relationship"--were the term "intimate" to be used properly--would be okay, but the word typically carries too much mere sexual baggage.  I tend to use the terms "heart-centric" or "emotional" to reinforce the most pertinent point of polyamory for me: the heart.  For me, and for most long-term poly practitioners, polyamory is better defined as "...the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one concurrent emotionally intimate, heart-based or romantic relationship--with or without sex--with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved."

Secks.  About that.  Yes, I've been ENM (or "ethically non-monogamous") my entire adult life.  I have felt open to many interactions with many people over my lifetime.  Yes, more than many other people, but honestly, less than you might think, given my circumstances.  ENM/Poly has never been a vehicle for merely shagging anything I want at any time.  It's not that simple.  Nor is it that easy.  And as I have grown in the Dharma (having taken the first Five Precepts), I have come to view polyamory as a very special embodiment of the practice of the precepts.  Talk about a practice of non-attachment!  Oy!  So, let's look at those precepts, shall we?  As a matter of fact, let's look at the whole thing: how does the practice of polyamory and the dharma mesh in my life?
  • Polyamory is about ethics.  At least it is for me, or anyone truly operating within the original model.  This is not about "getting some on the side".  In true, open polyamory, not only does everyone know about one-another, everyone typically knows one another, at least in a formal--if not cordial--sense.  There are no secret lovers.  There's no sneaking around.  Of course, any model can be improperly or dishonestly implemented.  If, say, you were poly, found someone you fancied, and saw them--romantically or intimately--without letting other partners know about it, that would be cheating, just like in the monogamous world.  The interesting twist here is that, unlike monogamy, you are responsible to more people at the same time.  The potential to hurt more people with unskillful action is even greater.  Which leads us nicely to...
  • Polyamory is about karma.  Boy-howdy!  Again, as above, you are not just responsible to one person.  Your actions often have an immediate effect on numerous lives.  That is very swift karma, and the potential to harm people by heedlessness and selfish action is possibly higher than with monogamy.
  • Polyamory is about mindfulness.  You bet it is.  You will come to no good end if you don't remember where you should be and when, to say the least.  Double-booking, forgetfulness, kids and other associated partner's names, birthdays, anniversaries, etc are all challenges that people have with ONE "significant other".  Try it with more than one!  Being attentive to multiple partner's needs--emotional, physical or what-have-you--and being involved in their lives in any substantial way is a very demanding practice in mindfulness.  You cannot expect to be a fulfilled and fulfilling partner in a poly dynamic if you have a "phuq-all" attitude.  It, and you, will crash and burn before take-off.
  • Polyamory is about non-attachment.  <-- Understatement of the year.  What greater exercise in non-attachment is there than to give your heart to someone, and then not only allow--but support--that partner in a similar relationship with someone else?  We all want to feel special.  We all want to be the center of someone's world.  Yet at the same time, deep down inside, we all are insecure when it comes to love.  When our partner appears less interested than they once were, or admits to being interested in someone else, we immediately say to ourselves "I'm going to lose them..." as if they were a mere possession.  Yet at the same time, many--if not most--people like to say things like "love is infinite".  Well, if the latter is true, how can the former happen?  If there is no end to love's ability to feel, to express, and to expand and encompass all it needs to, then why do we so often allow our heart to "attach" itself?  Or, is it--in fact--the heart that's doing the attachment after all?  Could it be the ego--the "small self"--at work here?  Jealousy is often defined as the ego crying "this is MINE!" when the heart-mind--or the "greater or true self" is saying "this is Universal".  And make no mistake about it: poly people deal with jealousy all the time.  If anything, we just try and go about dealing with it differently.  Which leads us to...
  • Polyamory is about communication.  And frankly, it's vastly more about communication than sex.  By magnitudes.  There must be constant, open, and at times very intense communication with partners in order for polyamory to be healthy and happy.  There really is no place for biting one's tongue, burying feelings, sweeping things under the rug.  It will upset the apple-cart, that pea will disturb the princess, etc, and will likely do so in the most upsetting way possible and at the most inopportune time.  The only way to head-off problems before they happen is for everyone to communicate in an open and honest fashion at all times.  To say that it's challenging doesn't cover it.  At times it's completely Herculean, at others, it can feel down-right Sisyphean.  But it must, must, must be done in order for this life-choice to be ethical.  After all, lies of omission are still lies.
So, those are just some of the issues that are tangentially related to polyamory and a Dharma life.  But what did the Buddha say about any of this?  Well, frankly, not too damn much.  Honestly, the Buddha didn't actually say a whole lot about love and sex while he taught.  More than anything, he likely viewed romantic love in a slightly dim light, in the same way that inspired him to name his son Rāhula, or "fetter".  This is so often interpreted as a major negative.  "How could the Buddha, someone who professes love and compassion, name his only child 'ball and chain'?  How cold-hearted!  How could the Buddha look at love and romance as something so negative an influence on life?!"  Well, look at it this way...
  • Has love ever caused you to be heedless, or to make unskillful decisions?
  • Have you ever felt "intoxicated" by love?
  • Have you ever lied about your feelings for someone in order to protect yourself, or ingratiate yourself to someone in the hopes of gaining their affections?
  • Have you ever acted spitefully in order to lash out at someone who you feel has hurt you or your heart?  Worded differently: have you ever gone out of your way to kill someone's joy?
  • Have you ever passed up an opportunity for personal growth or betterment simply due to your desire to stay within the comfort-zone of an established relationship?
I'm sure it's becoming clear where I'm going with this.  I have to answer "yes" to all of the above at one point or another in my life, and I'm pretty sure you do, too.  In the case of someone who is working with renunciation--or mindful letting go of attachments--"love" most certainly can be a fetter.  That romantic "love", or even familial "love", is a connection that attaches one to a sense of comfort, placidity, and predictability.  When the Buddha named his son Rāhula, it was not an insult.  It was an admission of the truth of the Great Matter.  It was as if he was saying "I will love you, and my heart will bind to you, and no matter how hard I try, this, too, will cause suffering.  The problem is not that I don't love you, son.  The problem is that I do.  I must give up all fetters so that all human beings can free themselves from the ever-turning wheel of saṃsāra, and that includes you."  Now that's not to say that romantic or familial love is a pointless waste of time, or is in and of itself unskillful.  Far from it.  But allowing it to be blown out of proportion--as it so very often is--is where the fetter is created.  One can, and should, love, but it must always be with the acknowladgement of the Truth of the Great Matter.
All that is dear to me, and everyone I love, are of the nature of change; there is no way to escape being separated from them.1
This is the Truth of "love".   It will not last.  It is of dependent origin.  It is finite, and must be fit into a tiny lifetime.  But just because of that, it is not diminished in the least bit.  Because that "love" is--or at least can be--a manifestation of a much greater, and Universal "Love", in the same way that a single wave is an expression and manifestation of the entire ocean.  And just like that one wave, that one single peak of movement and water, it is finite, and it will disappear.  But even so, its transient nature does not in any way diminish the ocean.  Waves come and go, yet the ocean remains.

The ocean.  The vastness of "Love".  We always hear the term "unconditional love" bandied about.  It's verging on being over-used.  I've always found it sadly ironic that I hear it in wedding vows and ceremonies all the time, and then, right behind it are tagged (you guessed it) a list of conditions!  It's nearly like saying "I'll love you unconditionally, unless you do this, this or this, and you can't do this either.  You must promise me this, and in exchange for that, I'll promise you this."  Hmmm. All that's missing from that, to my mind, is the term "Party of the First Part", and all the rest of the legal mumbo-jumbo.  Talk about romance!

I could go on and on (and on...) about this, but as this is now the longest blog in my blogging history, I'm going to try and wrap this puppy up.  I guess I'll try and close this up like this:

In my life--my life, the only one I can actually do anything about--I know that to be genuine, I have to do as my heart dictates, and that those actions must be in accord with my ethics and the Precepts as I understand them.  My actions are always governed by ahiṃsā, or "non-harming" taking into account all those I love, including myself.  Physical, mental and emotional harm can only be prevented or mitigated by my actions, my deeds.  "My deeds are my closest companions.  I am the beneficiary of my deeds.  My deeds are the ground upon which I stand."1 Love is so vast, and I do not feel that I can be genuine, and fully embody my life here this time around, if I commit to something I do not truly and genuinely feel in my heart.  I believe--I truly believe--that I have an infinite capacity to love.  I also believe that my ability to love more than one person at a time in an emotionally--and at times physically--intimate way is in and of itself one more Dharma gate in an infinite and boundless realm of Dharma gates, and I have repeatedly taken a vow to enter them all.2  This, too, is a practice in compassion, deep listening, non-violent communication, openness, non-attachment, equanimity, selflessness, and above all else, ethical living.  It is not merely about sexual gratification, nor is it--nor can it be--about selfish sensory or emotional fulfilment and ego gratification, and I am always hyper-aware of my own motivations and sense of "self" through this life-choice.

In closing, I'd just like to say that I am one of the luckiest people on the planet.  I am in relationships with two unbelievable women, both of whom, in their own ways, help bring out the very best in me.  They challenge me to be the man that I want to be deep down.  They accept me unconditionally.  They care for me in ways that are very hard to explain, and it humbles me down to my very core.  Could I find that fulfillment, that challenge, that sense of connection in a monogamous relationship?  I'm sure the chances are good.  But were I to do so from anyplace other than an honest desire in my heart to do so, and not by some societal mandate, I would be being disingenuous, and I promised myself when I started pursuing the Dharma that I wouldn't allow myself to do that.  The Dharma is Truth, and to try and be anything other than who I really am is a disservice to both the Dharma and to myself, and thereby all beings.  And the Truth of the Great Matter is just as the Buddha said:
"Thousands of candles
can be lit from a single candle,
and the life of the candle
will not be shortened.
Love and happiness never decreases
by being shared."

— Sutta Nipata
That is what love is to me.  And I commit to following the path honestly, and with an open heart, through ethical adherence to the Precepts.

'Till death I do part.

Well, I've been putting this off for long enough... what's a bit more procrastination gonna hurt, eh?

Kidding.  I kid.  I'm a kidder.

There are going to be a few big bloggy things happening here soon that deal with some rather weighty topics, and particularly how they relate to the dharma and me.

Party on, Garth...

So, over the last three or four years, I've been experimenting.  I suppose one could look at it as a sort-of social/psychological experiment.  At least I do.  Field research and data-gathering have been going well, and I am ready to release some of my initial (and very preliminary) findings.  I've touched base with "the Journal 'Nature'" (at least that's how they always refer to it on NPR, so I figure that's how I should mention it.  You know... to sound all official-like) but they don't seem too interested in my research.  Elitists!  They pointed me towards two avenues: a thing called Tricycle (which I didn't understand, as it has nothing to do with cycling of any kind at all), or something called "Mimeograph" which is a journal, I think, although I've never heard of it.

Anyway, I'm not sure about how to go about presenting my findings, but as with all good science, I know it involves charts and graphs.  Far be it from me to fall on my face when it comes to scientific inquiry and analysis, so anyway, here we go.

Fig 1: Mean-average chance of something significant happening in my life.
As the chart clearly illustrates (aside from the fact that I can't properly spell "significant" with this little caffeine in me) the chances of something significant happening in my life at any given time is exactly 50% (that's %50, for my research colleges at Cambridge).  This is a pretty significant finding, and I was as stunned as Louis Leakey at a "Old bones no one's ever seen" convention.  This is ground-breaking (Leakey joke.  See what I just did there?  Anyway...)

Alright.  Let's get serious.  I guess.

I've been making a practice of having no real expectations of life for the past few years.  This stems--in part--from a conversation I had with my sensei Hogen Bays earlier this year in sanzen.

It was a wee little thing of an epiphany.  A weepiphany, if you will.  Totally kensho-lite.  But he nodded in a way that--to us students of his--says "Good.  You got that one.  Now go chop more wood."

When you think you know what's going to happen next, you're walking down the wrong path.  Assume anything--anything at all--and you're in for a surprise.  It may be a good surprise, or a nasty one, but you will, in fact, be surprised.  Why?

Because you don't know what-the-phuq you're talkin' bout, Willis.  Srsly.  You have no idea.  No, you really don't.  At least I don't, to be sure.  I've proven this to myself over and over again, and a few years back, I decided to finally take a clue.

I have spent the unfortunate majority of my life thinking I knew what was around the corner.  Where I was going.  What was going to happen in a sequence of events.  That style of living was a comfort of sorts.  "No one enjoys stumbling blind through life" I thought.  "Better get things sussed so's I don't stub mah toes!"  But through my 20's and early 30's, my feet saw more hard corners and errant Legos than I cared to admit.  Well, I don't care now.

That idea of comfort in a presumed understanding of the Universe is so deadly.  Whenever I think of a concept like that--an assumption that is held for its own sake in order to make you feel better about your complete and utter insignificance to the Universe--I think of two things, obviously related: Friedrich Nietzsche and Monty Python.

Comfort.  Contentment.  We believe that these things are important to our lives, our joy, our experience of happiness.  We tend to equate them with "happiness" in the same way that we equate "health" and "love" with happiness.  But they are truly illusions.  They are not the things-in-themselves.  We look at them as indicators.  Maybe they should be looked at more as symptoms.

Nietzsche, in Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen, stated this through the eponymous character:
In truth, man is a polluted river. One must be a sea to receive a polluted river without becoming defiled. I teach you the Overman! He is that sea; in him your great contempt can go under.

What is the greatest thing you can experience? It is the hour of your greatest contempt. The hour in which even your happiness becomes loathsome to you, and so also your reason and virtue.

The hour when you say: What good is my happiness? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment. But my happiness should justify existence itself!

The hour when you say: What good is my reason? Does it long for knowledge as the lion for his prey? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment!

The hour when you say: What good is my virtue? It has not yet driven me mad! How weary I am of my good and my evil! It is all poverty and filth and wretched contentment!

The hour when you say: What good is my justice? I do not see that I am filled with fire and burning coals. But the just are filled with fire and burning coals!

The hour when you say: What good is my pity? Is not pity the cross on which he is nailed who loves man? But my pity is no crucifixion!

Have you ever spoken like this? Have you ever cried like this? Ah! If only I had heard you cry this way!

It is not your sin -- it is your moderation that cries to heaven; your very sparingness in sin cries to heaven!

Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the madness with which you should be cleansed?

Behold, I teach you the Overman! He is that lightning, he is that madness!
You say "So what?"  Well, that's reasonable.  But when I read this sometime in high-school, it tingled me.  It sent a shiver through me like experiencing my first erection (and I'm not making that up).  And, like my first erection, I had no idea why it made me feel that tingle.  I had no idea why because I had no context for the experience.  Later in university, and after a (very) hard few post-high-school years, it hit me like a sack of wet, angry cats.

Wretched contentment.

The French (leave it to them) call it malaise.  To us Amerikaners, we tend to call it "complacency".  Kierkegaard called it (sorta wrongly) "despair".  It's that mild uneasiness that arises when you're stagnant, but okay with your own stagnation, because it's better than one of the alternatives.  Yet in accepting that stagnation, you rule out the other alternative.  Sorry.  I'm not trying to be obfuscative (and I'm digressing).  It's my blog.  Deal with it.

Back to the point.

This complacency we tend to drop into out of fear of being hurt by something that may or may-not happen in life--this attempt at homeostasis--touches this idea of assumptions.  We tend to think that we know what's coming.  We tend to WANT to know what's coming.  Hell, we even think we CAN know what's coming.




I told my teacher Hogen, in that sanzen conversation (is that a "sanzenversation"?) that "No enlightened being would ever assume anything about the future ever.  That must mean that nirvana is a constant state of complete and utter amazement at every single event, no matter its size.  It's like an eternal state of 'Holy shit! Really?'  I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.  But I'm pretty sure that that not-knowing is a good thing."

So my life has been a practice of not-knowing for the last few years.  In many places, it's been a practice of acceptance, of sorrow and tumult, of stress and of deep, deep pain.  At other times, great joy.  Utter amazement.  Wonder.  As a matter of fact, the latter seems to have outweighed the former, but by a percentage, not by a magnitude.  But the practice has allowed me to experience the wonder more often than I had previously anticipated.

This wonder has manifested itself all over the place.  Watching squirrels in trees and on phone-lines, watching snow fall, feeling rain, smelling the earth.  It's sorta obvious that I get it from nature.  But moreover, it manifests now more noticeably in my relationships.  This practice of "not knowing" and "not assuming" anything really fills my current relationships with a wonder that is really hard to describe.  It can really be heady at times.  Not being complacent about relationships is actually really challenging, because (even though we don't like to admit it) us monkeys really actually try very hard to shoot for homeostasis in our relationships.  The predictability makes for easier present-buying, I think.

But the more I've taken my hands off the modeling clay that is my love-life, the more I've been finding the rewards greater than I could possibly have envisioned.  And moreover, to stop envisioning or assuming what "love", "relationship", "sex", "gender", "partner", "love-life", etc, even mean is as fertile a ground as a freshly cut field in the shadow of an extinct volcano.

Can you have romantic love without sex?  Can you really experience the depth of connection that comes between two people without that slippery in-and-out friction?  Can spirits fall in love without the consent of the bodies?  Is there just "friends" and "lovers", or is there something between that that's not so base and tawdry as "FWB", but more than "just friends"?  Where does the idea of "partnership" go when boots are left outside the door, but not actively banging, yet those boots still like rubbing up against one another in a fashion?  Can you get through life without falling off the tightrope of the preconceived notions of the onlooking masses?

I don't know.

But I'm down with finding out.

Let's see what happens...

Oh, and by the way, the pie chart is slightly wrong, at least in a zen context.  The chances of something significant happening at any given moment in my life are, in fact, 100%.  My bad.

To be alone is a great burden. To be accompanied, a terrible one. To fear loneliness is to fear your true self. To want more than what already is is both ignorance and madness.

Embrace this day.

Embrace it now.

Then now.

Then now again.

Hold this day tight to you like a child once lost, now found and back in your arms again.

This, too, is your birthright.

Well, I'm sitting here at a lovely La Quinta Inn in Milwaukee, WI--my old stomping grounds.  It's been an extraordinarily interesting experience returning here after all these years.  About seven, actually, but in all honesty, it's been more like ten.  The last time back was for my father's memorial service.  That was a blurry whirlwind of a thing that, while very formative to the second act of my life, actually has had its volume knob turned down one notch due to the significance of this trip.

I moved to Oregon in December of 1999, just a few weeks before the millennium.  I was starting a new life in so many ways, and honestly, leaving an old life behind.  I guess I'll say that that old life had become outmoded, outdated, and frankly, I'd out grown it.  In a sense, I was running again.  Running from pain, uncertainty, and as Neil Young so succinctly, eloquently (and both specifically and metaphorically) stated, the needle and the damage done.  Addiction--both of mine and of others--had always been standing right beside me in that life.  It was my constant companion, like a shadow whose feet I was always stepping on.  Hmmm.  Maybe "whose shoes I was always walking in" is more appropriate.  Either/Or.  Regardless, it was time to grow.

I left both hopeful and bitter.  Wanting to heal old wounds, yet having taken great care to pack each wound carefully in order to take them with me.  Each one wrapped in a protective wodge of psychic newspaper, lest they be damaged before I was able to open them up in the beautiful rain-forest I now am privileged to call "home".  They made the trip fine, and were all in perfectly preserved shape upon arrival.  Mint condition.  As they were unpacked, each was dealt with in their own way, and in their own time, like nested dolls.  The big ones seem to have been dealt with first, then in succession with what appeared to be smaller ones inside of the larger one before it, until they were all laid out before me.  A nice little group of stuff to deal with.

"Home" became Oregon.  The dolls were being tended to.  Things were good.  Progress made.  There were bumps, and a few scratches and dings along the way, but over-all, the growth-spurt was successful, and the cutting took root (hell, everything can root successfully in Oregon).  I didn't really look back.  If anything, I waved to the "center coast" from the "left coast" and felt I'd made the right decision, no matter if I ran or not.  I never really felt that I'd left anything behind.

But anything you leave behind, it doesn't actually cease to be.  It's just simply out of your line of vision.  Like a tomato plant start that is plugged into the ground, then forgotten about behind the weeds you should have been dealing with the whole time, it still grows, drops fruit, dies, and volunteers itself again in the spring.  It does its thing whether you're watching or not.  Life goes on, irrespective of the gardener's intentions, motivations, or even skill.

My mother (definitely one of the larger dolls) turned 80 a few days ago, and was the reason for this visit.  Mom and I have had a hard, hard road over the years.  So many self-inflicted wounds.  Somehow, without much conscious effort, we got through it all.  My oldest, dearest and best friend.  My greatest confidant, my most ardent advocate, my most worthy enemy and my greatest pain.  The pain's gone now.  Like it so often is, there are scars, but no body gets through life without their share.  I'm okay with our scars.  In the truest sense, I wear them like war wounds that illustrate that we "have fought the good fight, have finished the race, have kept the faith"[1].  My mum has always had faith in me, and while mine may have wavered in her, for the years since my father passed, it has grown stronger than it's ever been.  "Home" is mom.

I made a major point of getting three-dee with a number of old friends while I was back this time.  I did mom's party on the day of my arrival, and gave myself three solid days to spend with friends.  I rented a car I couldn't really afford in order to be able to see people without being a double imposition by constantly needing rides.  This was a very good idea, but as is always the case, there's never really enough time, and people got missed.  If it was you, I'm sorry.  Know I'll be back.

I was able to have lunch with my old friend Ron.  Talk about a hard road.  He lost his beloved wife a few months ago.  It still shows in his face, but at the same time, he has the strength of his faith, his family, and his beautiful daughters, and that drowned out the sorrow that lingers.  We made good music together, he and I.  We grew next to each-other.  We helped each-other.  We learned together, and taught each-other.  We supported each-other in ways that only true friends do.  We sat next to each-other in a tavern, just like we once did, and the differences we have in our lives didn't make a damn bit of difference, just like it should be.  "Home" definitely has Ron in it.

Next: dinner and a show!  No trip to Wisconsin would be complete for me with out a hook up with the master of intellectual disaster, the fermentor of discord and dissent, the pied piper of suburban subversion, the man who puts the "Qi" in "Cheesehead" and the motleyest of cows, Doctor Mark.  Still (albeit ever-so slightly less) crazy after all these years.  Glad you got the wires hooked up to the right terminals again, boss.  MCEP and I have always had a very weird, very brotherly, and oddly (well, frankly, not-so-oddly) metaphysical connection.  We speak the same language in many places (if I had a dime for every time either one of us said "I know you're going to understand this" the other night), and while we are a generation apart, we have similar touch-stones.  He's always given me this really weird respect, even when I was a completely backwards, "you're doing it wrong" kinda intellectually loose canon.  More than anything, I think he knew that I was aimed in the right direction, but was still trying to figure out how to stop walking sideways.  He enjoys that.  Wind 'em up, let 'em go, and watch them do their thing.  It's all a grand experiment to Mark, and I--like he--resonate with both the lab coats and the lab rats.  We're both waiting patiently for the resulting peer-reviewed paper, so we can finally hear what the rats have discovered about us white-coated monkeys.  The best of fertilizers, Mark's good shit.  That, and he knows that one of the best song-writers and story-tellers in history is John Prine, followed closely by Doctor Seuss, so I've always known I can trust him.  Home has a decent dose of Doctor Mark.  And tea.  And shoes for industry.

On to my buddy Kevin's place.  Man, how we've changed, yet stayed totally the same, eh Kev?  Kevin is a great example of that whole "haven't talked in years, and picked it right back up like it was yesterday" dynamic.  Kevin and I partied together, but always had trouble with that whole "I'm just here for the _____" because we tend to care too much about people.  Yeah, what a failing, huh?  Out of all my friends, Kevin was the only one to attend my father's memorial service, and his being there was huge to me, even though I only got to hug him, shake his wife's hand, and then get whisked away to be consoled by 498 people I either didn't know or didn't remember.  To turn around and suddenly see one of my oldest and most trusted friends.  Kevin will always be a big part of home to me.  I gotta find me one of those chicken things, bro.

But one meet-up kinda surpassed them all.  24 years in the making.  There's too much to be said about this, really, but words (while my weapon of choice) are weak.  Interestingly, there's not much to report on.  What do you say about someone whom you haven't talked to in twenty-some years, yet has never really left your side?  It may have been my mom's birthday, but this is really why I went.  We chased some ghosts.  Trotted some demons out into the light.  Dished a wee bit of dirt.  Explained some things that got past both of us back then.  Kim, the look on your face when I turned down River Rd... sheer excitement and abject nervousness, combined with a dash of existential nausea, then shaken (not stirred).  You were right: I couldn't have done it with anyone but you there with me, either.  You taught me so damn much about myself, and never really stopped.  How you ever put up with my arrogant assholery back then, I don't know.  You have explained it to me now a few times, and I still don't really get it, but in the end, I'm just grateful that you saw through all the smoke and mirrors.  Kimberly, you have a big room in my home.  You're the room full of madness and anarchy, whims and muses, revolution and fearless compassion.  You are one of the most terrifying women I've ever met, and you are without question one of the most noble and true souls to ever be embodied in flesh.

All said and done, it was without question the best "home-coming" I've ever experienced.  No, you can't go home again, because "again" implies that at some point in time, you've been anywhere else but "home".

...for another dispatch from The Fat Man...

This is a cross-post from my weight-loss blog, Fat Man in the Bathtub. As of this writing, I'm down about 27lbs since July 1st or thereabouts.  But I needed to make a very hard decision regarding my diet and weight-loss.  I switched over to a low-carb diet recently, and it's helping.  But...

Well, no super weight-loss.  Sorta plateau'd, but I'm not concerned really.  Most of my clothes are starting to fall off, and belts are once again rather important.  I like that.

The change.  In one of my recent posts, I talked about strugling with the decission to eat animal flesh again, beyond fish.

Well, I am.  At least for now.

About a week or so ago, I tried turkey bacon.  I picked turkey bacon specifically so my girlfriend (who's an observant, reform Jew) could have some, too.  It was good.  I didn't faint from ecstasy or anything, but it was tasty.  Then this past Wednesday, I made the decission to open up the floodgates and let chicken and pork back in.  Pork was a less painful (for me) choice.  I got some good, smoked-cured pepper bacon.  Had it.  It was good.  Again, no spontaneous orgasm, but it tasted good.

There's been a ground-swell of a movement in the world--and here in Portland--regarding bacon.  It's nearly cult-like.  T-shirts, songs, festivals.  All about bacon.  There was that hideous KFC concoction, the "Big Infarction" (or whatever they called that monstrosity) that was nothing but fried chicken, bacon and cheese.  Hell, we even have a punk vegan bakery here in town that has perfected a vegan bacon doughnut (which is in and of itself a clone of another Portland icon: the VooDoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Bar).

The Cult of Bacon reaches in deep, grabs people by the chitlins, and apparently won't let go.  Personally, I blame Anthony Bourdain for this.  But even cynical über gastronomes like Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay wind up being affected by the reality of the meat-making process.  When you are faced with it personally, you can't not be.  This is a life, and it would much rather live in its environment than have one of its muscles land on your plate for dinner.  So it must be killed.

I have had some hard lessons over the years about food, animals, life and death.  I won't go into them here and now, but suffice it to say that I have killed many, many animals over my lifetime.  When I was a deer hunter, when I was a small-game hunter, when I fished.  And beyond.  Each and every death has affected me, and I carry the karma of those actions up to--and beyond--this very day.  I am mindful of it.  I will be for the rest of my life, be it a fat vegetarian life or a thinner meat-eating life.  Death is very important to me, in a number of ways, and I can't, and won't allow myself to ignore, or be desensitized to it.  Not for humans.  Not for animals.  This decision has been very hard for me.  I have literally agonized over it for weeks.  Some would say that's silly.

They can kiss my rump-roast.

I was chatting on-line with a close friend and dharma brother the other day, and I told him about my decision.
Me: Gotta say, eating meat again is really weird...

Dharma Brother: Yeah. It takes some getting used to. I know you're being conscious about it.
That acknowledgment took me by surprise, but I really, deeply appreciated it.  Someone whom I really care for, look up to and respect, without prompting told me that they recognize that I'm different in my approach to this situation than I once was.  That my heart is in the right place, and is engaged in the decision, and moreover, that this decision is hard for me.  I wasn't looking for a pat on the back.  I wasn't looking for consolation.  But the recognition of the fact of the moment was very helpful to my mind and spirit.  This comes as no surprise to a Zen practitioner.  That's what we do.  That's what we're all about: The recognition of the fact of the moment.

On that same bacon-fetching trip, I also bought some chicken sausages.  I had them over the weekend with my girlfriend as roll-ups on low-carb flat bread.  Again, good.  Again, no loss of control or flesh-eating Nirvana.

Yesterday, I took the big jump and purchased some frozen chicken meat.  Thighs and breasts.  I haven't eaten chicken meat in... six years.  I basted them in low-carb barbecue sauce (a southern mustard and vinegar "mopping" sauce) and did them over mesquite, pecan and cedar wood on my smoker, along with a Normandy mix of veggies.  I sat outside, looking at the thigh meat on my plate.  I said my meal prayer with a bit more solemnity than normal.  I looked at the meat before I cut it.  I looked at it after I cut it, on my fork, examining the sinew, the muscle, the tissues.  I prayed that the life this animal lived at least got it further down the path towards enlightenment.  I thanked it for its nutrition to my body, and acknowledged that it had died.  Not just died, but was raised and killed.  For ME.

Then I tasted it.

This tasted wonderful.  Better than the bacon.  Better than the sausage.  Very, very good.

I worked on processing the guilt I felt.  The niggling feeling of hypocrisy.  I was a happy vegetarian.  I was glad that I was reducing suffering in the world.

All suffering but my own.

I will be a vegetarian again.  It's important to me.  But right now, I need to take some drastic steps to bring my life back into balance.  I'm 42, disabled, and morbidly obese.  If I don't lose this weight--for real this time--I'll be dead far earlier than I should be.  I have just finally found a trajectory for my life.  I will not be able to follow this path to its fullest if I'm dead from a stroke at 54 or a heart attack at 56.

So I am asking the animals for help.  This time, though, there is a change.  A real change.  I am no longer willing to be numb to the grave importance of this Great Matter.  I refuse to blind myself to the truth of this very complex and nuanced issue.

I am okay with being looked at as a hypocrite right now.  In the end, this is about me.  It has to be.  I will always respect vegetarians and vegans.  It is without question the most compassionate and conscientious way to live and nourish yourself.  But it is the greatest demonstration of personal strength to admit when you need help.  I most certainly do.

The low carb diet is working.  I'm not dropping weight left and right, but I know I'm building muscle and converting fat.  I need that so desperately right now.  I haven't been able to walk as much as I was, yet I'm not only not putting weight on even though I'm eating more, but it's still trickling off.  This will be very helpful when winter comes and I can't go walking outside like I am now.  I need to re-arrange my apartment so I can get a stationary bike back in here.  I can't let circumstance or the environment stop this process.

Not until I'm done.

May all Beings be at ease, and may they forgive this dumb monkey for being so weak as to need their help again.

No, I haven't been blogging here lately.

Yes, I'll start again soon.

Peace out...

Seriously, Asian-based spammers, you will never get a post up here. My comments are moderated. Could you please knock it off?

Just a post of some working files that people want to hear.  Cary on...

I spent the past Sunday up at the monastery. Very happy day. Gorgeous weather. Kids running around being kids, filling the air of this re-purposed grade-school with old, familiar sounds. Mother's day. The Buddha's birthday. A celebration. I drove home leisurely, stopping in Longview for a bottle of water and a stretch, watching the classic, puffy white clouds as they appeared to scrape the top of the Lewis & Clark bridge. I started to think about joy and entropy for some reason. I don't know why. Maybe something to do with the apparent impermanence of clouds. Note the word "apparent".

When I got home, I took off my malas and set down my wagessa on my altar. I'd just sat down at my laptop to answer an email when my phone rang. It was one of our most senior students. She asked if I could get down to the dharma center double-time. Then the horror. One of our sangha members--someone who looked up to me at times and who I had been helping learn and grow confident in a service position--had very suddenly and tragically died. The specifics are not for me to go into here, but the sadness I felt is something I can talk about.

And sad doesn't cover it. I felt like I'd suddenly had fifty pounds put on each shoulder. I didn't know this person very well, but that had been changing recently, and I was actively enjoying getting to know her. To hear of this abject tragedy was such a blow, it felt a bit disproportionate to the personal connection that had been between the two of us, at least intellectually. Sad as it was, what made it sadder still was that there was something unsurprising about this as well. There are things tied in with Mother's Day that make it sadder yet. I grabbed up my wagessa and other things and headed to the zendo.

Shussho was there, looking like someone had just punched her in the face. I wanted to hug her immediately--she looked like a dam about to burst--but the hugs would start flying soon enough, and I wanted to support her efforts at noble stoicism by not punching a hole in her just then. Within ten minutes of arriving, about a dozen of us were gathered, including our two teachers. I found it interesting, and somewhat reassuring that even in their noble bearing and upekkhā, something was radiating a perturbation, as if a unanticipated wind has disturbed the perfect rake marks of the sand of a rock garden.

We sat.  We talked.  We cried.  We asked questions.  A friend with a strong Christian background offered up a song, and I allowed myself to just be present with it, letting its universality touch me.  Afterwords, we tried as best we could to simply go about the business of the night's service, which would be different than the regular sanzen because of the significance of the day.

The ceremony, a symbolic bathing of the baby Sidhartha with sweet tea under a bower of flowers, is always lovely, yet this time tinged with the sadness that someone who would typically be there that night, would not be pouring tea over the tiny statue with us, nor would she ever again.  It was harsh.

After I made my bows and poured the tea, my sensei silently motioned for me to go take the doan spot.  I often have this honor (and I do consider this an honor) because I have, as he has recently said to me, "a generally imperturbable nature in those roles", and the ability to 'wing it' rather well, which is helpful when a ceremony calls for something other than our boilerplate form.  I sat down on the cushion, and waited for cues from the ordained monastic.  But the perturbations were still ringing through time and space.  It was a bit bumpy on the way out of the ceremony, but we got through, as we always do.

On the way home, I was thinking about entropy again.  I stopped and thought about my lost friend in that light; how she was gone before she should have been, all because the Universe overwhelmed her.  I thought about the Dharma, and how it has made my life so much more manageable, and suddenly, I started feeling an anger welling up inside me.  If this worked so well for me, through my father's death, through my illness of mind and spirit, through the trauma of separation from my daughter, her return while in the throes of a serious addiction, my divorce after 9 years with someone... if the Dharma was so damn all-powerful, why couldn't it have changed this awful outcome for my friend and Dharma sister?

I sat a bit more when I got back.  It presented itself to me readily.  I posted it on my Facebook status, as is my practice after returning from the zendo, as a way to share that energy.  Typically it's a pithy or quirky inside reference to something said in a Dharma talk, or a little insight I may have had about practice.  But there was no pith here.  This felt like something solid.  Something carved in stone that I suddenly was faced with, as if I was walking a mountain path, turned a corner, and saw this carved into a giant edifice:

The Dharma cannot save you from pain and suffering. This is not because the Dharma is impotent; it is because 'to be saved from something' implies that there is someone to save, and something to be saved from. The distinction is subtle, but that distinction is true Dharma.
For the next few Thursdays, I will be taking over her service position, as a tribute to her.  I will do my very best to encourage her on as she goes through the bardos to whatever her karma has aimed her towards, but it will be with a somberness that I haven't felt in a long time.

She hugged me the night of my 5-precepts ceremony, just a few days ago.  It felt weird.  Now I know why.

Goodbye, Asia.  Move on.  And may your next life go well.