Noise

Over the course of the week, a persistent hacking cough had gotten steadily worse. Early Monday morning, I awoke at about 3 AM and realized I needed to get professional medical help, so reluctantly I drove myself down the local hospital Emergency Room. I was certainly having an emergency, and so things coincided perfectly in that respect.

Once the requisite tubes were attached and my medical insurance information reviewed to determine how the services were going to be paid for, an attending physician came in to discuss my condition. Apparently, my lungs were producing sounds comparable to milk over Rice Krispies, but amplified to the theater sound version. Furthermore, a check on my oxygen levels prompted the doctor to assume a rather stern expression. He leaned closer and told me that he had an important question to ask me. “My favorite kind,” I smiled back.

He solemnly inquired as to whether I had an “Advanced Health Care Directive”. The hospital wanted to know what to do with the body if it fell into a vegetative brain-dead coma. I indicated that I did not want to be rendered a vegetable, as much as I appreciated their place in the food chain. If not, he suggested that I had better submit the necessary paperwork. I had been informed about this on previous visits, but now, as I approach ever closer to that great awaiting compost bin, I decide to comply with the paperwork request and ask for the forms.

Without much further delay, I find myself being wheeled down several hallways towards the main hospital area, where I am finally situated in a room to participate in another adventure with my old lung friend, Bronchial Pneumonia. It had transitioned from viral to bacterial, and was now preparing to reveal further lessons about the nature of this fragile and transient embodiment for my ongoing edification.

Everyone here is very nice. We all have our jobs to do. Today, mine is to be a sick patient, while others get to be doctors and nurses. We mostly take our assumed roles seriously, as one would expect from seasoned actors. The nurses are especially wonderful, demonstrating that hospitals may be one of the last institutions in America where angels gather to ply their trade. Nevertheless, a lot of goodwill can be blown during the night by their thoughtless exchanges of noisy chit chat and personal gossip which echo down the ward corridors while patients are attempting to sleep. More on that later.

In the meantime, it seems to me that excessive amounts of my blood are being drawn, and before long my arms look like those of a heroin addict. The thought briefly crosses my mind that a portion of that blood is intended to feed the pale, long-toothed lab techs who labor, protected from the sun’s threatening rays, in windowless basement rooms. Clearly, I have watched too many horror movies in my time, but still . . .

Some visionaries report that souls from across the multiverse come here to enjoy the exotic experience of being humans on Earth during this momentous time. As midnight on my first night approached, I discovered that the person sharing the room with me may very well have originally hailed from Planet Tweak. The characterization of a Tweaker generally refers to someone who uses powerful stimulants like methamphetamines, and who can often be found absorbed in strange schizophrenic-like activities which they determinedly pursue 24/7 without pause for sleep or even nourishment.

On the other side of the separating curtain, my room-mate was busy making all sorts of noise. It seems that he was intent on deconstructing the hospital tray table. Eventually, I inquired as to his rationale for embarking on this venture in the middle of the night. He replied that he was trying to reduce the table’s size in order to fit it under his bed. He continued on with the racket until his attention was attracted by a small bedside fan. He first turned the fan on the lowest setting, then switched it to medium speed, and finally to high, whereupon he reveled in the whine of the loftier decibels for several minutes, before going back to the lowest speed and starting the progression again.

Just as my weakened detachment was about to completely evaporate, an elderly patient in an adjoining room begins screaming for help at the top of his voice. His outbursts go on for quite some time before an attendant arrives to sooth him. She assures him he is safe here in the hospital. “No!” he shouts back. “Help! Help!” Then he adds, as if to clarify, “It’s the noise, the noise!”

Now I am curious. It’s 2 AM, and it seems that sleep and I will continue to remain strangers. In order to further investigate, I fantasize a faux-telepathic link with the old fellow, allowing my own attention to merge with his in order to discover the actual nature of this fearsome noise. Earlier, I had overheard a nurse describing the typical effects of full moons on hospital patients, but I could tell that lunar variations were not the source of this current distress. Nor was the cause related to the incessant series of electronic beeps and whistles produced by the many medical devices scattered throughout the ward. As annoying as the staff’s loud chit chat in the corridor could be, it was not that either.

As I plunged down deeper through the layers, I came to the eventual recognition that the noise which was horrifying the old gent was none other than consciousness itself! Essentially, consciousness is not other than noise, noise is not other than consciousness. How about that. Within some of the mystical traditions which humans have devised to account for the inexplicable cosmos, there is the belief that God is consciousness, as if that is a good thing. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God.”

Apparently, the great silent void couldn’t help itself, so along came God, the original source of noise, and everything soon got very noisy after that. Galactic noise, solar noise, planetary noise, elemental noise, insect and animal noise, ambient environmental noise, all conspire and compound to produce a shattering cry from a hospital bed in the middle of the night, in the midst of an incomprehensible eternity.

Indeed, everything we imagine ourselves to be is composed of atomic fractals of vibrating noise. We are a noisy assemblage of transient frequencies which create the realistic illusion of a solid and enduring person, a self. If we were able to somehow empty ourselves of all of our preconceptions, judgments, and preferences to the point where we let this realization have its way with us, the whole reverberating mechanism would be convulsed in a nameless ecstasy at the mere contemplation of this miracle of the appearance of anything at all!

Alternately, the Buddha taught that consciousness — noise — is ultimately stressful. One of my more reliable teachers, Nisargadatta Maharaj, claimed that consciousness was like an itching rash, and even designated it as “a fraud”. Such reports clearly require closer examination. Tonight, it occurred to me that noise is not merely an auditory phenomena, any more than consciousness is a mere mental projection. There is gustatory noise, aromatic noise, tactile noise, visual noise, and certainly the noise of thought which chronically occupies our attention. We are immersed in noise, dwell within and as noise itself, and this noise can both enchant and horrify us.

There are certain accomplished yogis who can follow the subtle sound current emanating within the body-mind complex. It will lift and carry them to exquisite non-material realms of ravishing bliss and indescribable rapture. In the dream, the possibilities are limitless. Some say that God is the Dreamer, and we are but dream characters dancing in the heart-mind of God, unique holographic vehicles fashioned to explore the endless possibilities of experience from every angle.

That may be so, but here is another story which might be equally true: we are that which makes God possible, which grants reality to all of this crazy divine noise. In that sense, everything Is because we Are. Just as awareness is not separate from experience, noise is not separate from silence. There is only one thing. That one thing will leave us speechless.

Just so, how then should noise — consciousness — be regarded? To paraphrase the Buddha, any noise whatsoever — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every noise is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: “This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.” In other words, we are prior to noise, prior to any identification with it.

In such recognition, we may cease to be troubled by any temporarily appearing noise. No longer bothered, we become dispassionate. Through dispassion, we are released. By sharing in this consideration at the telepathic level, the noise which had heretofore disturbed the old man seemed to subside. In its subsidence, he grew quiet. As he grew quiet, the whole hospital ward was released from its burdensome noisiness. I heard the Tweaker in my room on the phone. He was telling somebody, “In my soul, I know that all is well.” Then he fell asleep. At last, I did too.

In my dream, there was a large gathering. Hundreds of thousands of people were massing along a central city boulevard. Some of the participants in the crowd held candles to illuminate the darkness, since the city was now without any electricity to power the lights. Something had happened, but it was not clear exactly what that was, except now a massive vigil was underway in the middle of the night. All of the faces of the people were somber. Nobody spoke a word.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Good Friday

It was 1958, and as I recall, it was an unseasonably warm day for San Francisco. The Bay Area was typically much cooler for that time of year. Our local parish Church, St. Thomas the Apostle, was packed for the Good Friday services, and since this was before the Second Vatican Council, the somber proceedings were conducted in Latin, which lent a timeless and mysterious air to the theater.

All of us from 1st through 8th Grade at the adjacent Catholic School, coincidentally named St. Thomas the Apostle, were forced to attend the 3-4 hour long holy ritual commemorating the passion and death of Jesus Christ. This involved squeezing into narrow pews, and then kneeling, standing up, then kneeling again repeatedly as the various droning litanies were recited and requisite prayers offered up to the invisible Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and the numerous saints and blessed ones.

As a highlight to the ceremonies, Fr. Barron the Pastor (formerly an army chaplain) led the congregation through the Stations of the Cross –also known as the Way of Sorrows or Via Crucis — a consecutive series of painted images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion, as things went from bad to worse for him, culminating in his famous death.

There were 14 of these pictures lining the Church walls, and Fr. Barron, accompanied by a costumed retinue of altar boys and various clerical functionaries, stopped in front of each picture of Jesus for far too long, it seemed to us, in order to recite tedious and incoherent prayers, while an obnoxious incense was being waved back and forth by a smirking altar boy, nearly smoking out the people who happened to be in the adjacent pews as each station was attended by the formal crew.

The ordeal began at 12 Noon, and ran at least through 3PM, the time God was finally killed on the cross. I began the event feeling a lot of sympathy for the poor guy, but by the end of the production, I just wanted them to finish him off so I could get the hell out of that building. Is this what I had to go through every year, just to get some stupid Easter basket filled with a lot of fake colored grass and stale candy?

In any case, it must have been a combination of stinking incense, the endless moaning chants, the tragic story being played out at each station, the crush of kneeling bodies crammed together in the pews, and the exceedingly stuffy atmosphere, but at around Station #12, I fainted. I remember feeling increasingly dizzy, and then suddenly it was lights out.

Sometime later I was groggily coming to outside on the Church steps, and a nun was staring down at me with a mean look, accusing me of faking it. I assured her that was not the case, but she thought that she had me figured out, and so pulled me up by my sweater and marched me back inside. The rest of the assembled parishioners, including my classmates, were either appalled or amused, and I recall a blur of funny looks and whispers as I was summarily shoved back into my pew.

Fortunately, I had missed the actual crucifixion, so that was one upside to the debacle, and now I only had to sit through another hour of Mass and Communion in order to complete the ritual and finally get released. My initial religious sentiments had long since been replaced by some serious questions regarding the sanity of what I had been forced to endure, as well as the rationale behind the event. As I walked slowly down the hill and home that day, I had a lot to ponder.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My First Zen Sesshin

In order to fulfill my obligation as a designated Conscientious Objector (rather than going to Viet Nam and participating in that insanity), I was working as a Child Care Counselor at a residential youth facility in Ukiah, California. The year, if I recall correctly, was late 1969 or early 1970, and I had been studying Zen Buddhism for a number of months, since returning to San Francisco from the Sierras, where I had lived in a tent by the North Fork of the Yuba River. I had camped there to renew myself after dropping out of the Catholic Seminary in Mountain View (now Silicon Valley). It was there that I first read about Zen in a little book a friend had lent me, and where I had my first modest experience (or taste) of the awakening to which Zen pointed.

As I sat on a boulder by the river, contemplating what I had been reading, I was suddenly struck by the realization that everything was just appearing as itself, being itself, perfectly and completely. The trees were just treeing, the stream was streaming, I was selfing, and it was all connected in a most amazing way. There was nothing in need of fixing or manipulating — total freedom was always and already the case! There was nothing to search for, nothing in need of redemption, nothing to grasp or discard. I burst out laughing at the obviousness of it all, as shivers of ecstatic release coursed through my body. A big chunk of the Catholic conditioning program dissolved on the spot, and so I was determined to learn more about this Zen matter.

When I returned to the City, I found the San Francisco Zen Center in the phone book, under “Meditation”. I went over to their location, and met Suzuki Roshi, who had a book out called “Zen Mind Beginners Mind”. I was taught how to sit in the correct posture of Zazen, and immediately began the practice of counting, and then following, the breath. I devoured the book, almost to the point of memorization, and began to attend lectures. However, I was soon forced by my federal obligation to find qualified work, and so ended up a few hours north of the City, in Ukiah.

Nevertheless, I continued my sitting practice, and since I worked 3 days on and 3 days off, I took advantage of one of my “off” periods to participate in a Zen meditation retreat (Sesshin) at the Zen Center. Despite the increasing challenge of painful back and knees (unaccustomed to hour after hour sitting), I managed to get through the sittings. My position was situated facing a stippled, avocado-green wall, a view that became very familiar to me. I can still see it now. Oddly, a chief memory I recall is a wonderful slice of poppy seed cake and cup of green tea that was served during a break between sittings – it was the most delicious food I had ever eaten!

After the third day’s events, I returned to my family’s house in San Francisco. They were all off somewhere, so I had the place to myself. I found a menu and ordered some Chinese food, while I sat and stared into an empty fireplace, listening over and over to a record, “Music for Zen Meditation”. As I smoked a few cigarettes and assessed the Sesshin experience, I felt like something profound had taken place, but what that amounted to was not at all clear to my thinking mind, so I just enjoyed the music and the chow mein, while the evening closed in, and the room grew dark.

About a year later, I found myself living in a Zen Monastery, and eventually attended over 20 Sesshin (the full 7 day experience) as a resident there, but experienced nothing much different than the first one I attended back in San Francisco. Certainly, I had a lot of interesting and seemingly profound experiences, but they are all mostly forgotten these days, as if it was all a kind of dream, and indeed, that is pretty much the size of it, as far as I can tell now — dreaming, dreaming, dreaming . . .

300zendo-Grayscale002-72res-400

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Waking Up in the Operating Room

A writer sits down before a screen and keyboard and attempts to re-arrange the Mystery with their particular fantasy of interpretation on memory and perception. The reason they are never ultimately satisfied with their literary lies is because their fantasy is always changing, as are their interpretations on whatever memory or concept first inspired them to write.

Show a writer their work, and they will always think of ways to re-write, edit, add, or subtract. Walt Whitman spent much of his life re-writing his famous “Leaves of Grass”. Really, if you want to see the final version of a piece of literature, wait till the author has passed on. Even then, some researcher may discover hidden notes of revisions to this or that novel, poem, or essay.

Just so, please consider the story which follows as just that: a fantasy of interpretation, based on a vantage point that even now has shifted far from the original events. Regardless, there is still a curious impulse to report on recent experiences in my life, knowing full well that what results will more than likely be merely another fractal of a living kaleidoscope, an angle of vision that points and paints, but can never itself be true. Really, there is no “truth”, only subjectivity (aka dreaming). If we are to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves, we can come to no other conclusion.

Health-wise, 2016 had gotten off to a difficult start. It began with a radical procedure to remove a cancerous prostate, which in turn required an extended period of healing on several levels. Just as I was beginning to return to some semblance of physical normality, I was awakened one night with intense abdominal pain. After enduring it for 14 hours, I eventually followed my wife’s advice and went to the local hospital’s Emergency Room. They performed a number of tests and finally decided to admit me to the hospital’s critical care unit. For the next 10 days I was given one diagnosis after another, one treatment regimen after another, and in the meanwhile contracted a wicked flu and even pneumonia.

As the days progressed, I only seemed to worsen, until a consulting surgeon indicated that the problem might be my gall bladder. I was subjected to a number of further tests, which eventually confirmed the diagnosis, but since so much time had elapsed since I was first admitted, I was told that it would be too dangerous to remove the offending organ immediately. Instead, a tube was surgically inserted directly into my gall bladder, dripping bile fluids into an attached plastic bag. I was to wear this contraption for the next two months, and only then would I be fit for the surgical removal of the organ.

Now, after two months, the date for surgery had finally arrived. Before taking the trip to the hospital, I chanced upon a helpful quote from a Tibetan adept, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche: “No matter what you do, no matter what situation you are in — whether walking, sitting, eating or lying down — always suspend your attention within the nature of nondual awareness. That’s it!”

This seemed like eminently practical advice, and I took it to heart as I was admitted into the pre-operative area at the hospital. Everything achieved a kind of equality as various experiences unfolded (including nearly a dozen failed attempts to insert an IV needle). Even when I was told that the operation was being pushed back a few hours, I was still able to rest as simple awareness, until an interesting recognition began to dawn.

In previous reports, I have mentioned experiences of attention being suspended from the body-mind matrix, the most dramatic of which occurred in 1984, during an automobile accident. It was during that “no-time” that I was shown the illusionary nature of existence itself – its utter transparency. Nevertheless, when attention returned to the bio-vehicle, phenomena once again resumed a kind of solidity, as if the objective world was indeed “real”.

Now, however, it suddenly became apparent that I was literally occupying the body identity in the same way an actor occupies a theatrical role. This was not a mere intellectual acknowledgement, but a palpable realization, as if one were to find themselves in a clown suit and yet realize full well that they are not the clown, but only wearing the temporary costume. Somehow, we forget who and what we really are, and mistake ourselves for these flimsy but rather ingenious identities, complete with feelings, sensations, thoughts, memories, and a corresponding stage on which to perform our little life dances.

I was greatly amused, along with the accompanying recognition that this was all a show, a creative play that I was somehow participating in as the actor. This vision confirmed my prior realizations, and yet was even more vivid than I can possibly relate. I was being given a rare peek behind the curtain, so to speak, at the mechanics of this life-drama, and it was utterly plain to see that, no matter what transpires, everything is OK – nothing real is ever threatened, it is a virtual reality all along!

Finally, I was wheeled into the operating arena, and I couldn’t help smiling widely, as several technicians went about their business of prepping the body, asking me the usual questions, and redundantly informing me of what was about to happen. The surgeon, a very nice Christian gentleman, came over and chatted for a while. I wished him good luck during the procedure, by way of encouragement. He said he didn’t believe in luck, but rather in God’s grace, and then asked if I minded if he prayed over me. I said, “By all means, please feel free!” He began by providing God with a detailed report of what I had been going through, just to get God up-to-date with the situation. Then he opened his heart in a quite lovely and intimate way to the Divine, and I felt the light pouring forth in shards of bliss.

Then another nurse came over and informed me that she was going to put a little “happy juice” into my IV tube to relax me. I was already feeling quite relaxed, but in the next instant I noticed some discordant rock music playing near me, and two unfamiliar female voices discussing some disappointing romantic incident in their lives, and reaching the conclusion that men are no good. Then one of those very men, dressed in a hospital gown and mask, was suddenly leaning over me, asking me if I knew what had happened, and where I was.

The body felt horrible, consciousness itself felt horrible. Something about this new reality was very twisted, as if I had been instantly shifted into a strange “Twilight Zone” world. I tried to say something, but I felt like the effort was akin to futilely grasping through quicksand at a sinking man’s arm.

The only thing that helped was remembering the admonition from Tulku Urgyen, to suspend my attention as simple awareness no matter what appeared. Somehow, I had entered a kind of hell realm, people seemed wrong, everything seemed wrong. I fought back a fear that I had suffered some kind of brain damage, and the signs were not looking good. Somebody else was now peering down at me, and informing me that the surgery had been successful.

That was the least of my concerns, however. I managed to mumble out my wife’s name, and was told that she had been informed. I felt so much love for her that the sun seemed to break through the gloom, the sun of love, and things eventually began to transmute into the normal consciousness, as the anesthesia gradually wore off. I was able to request that they switch the station they had on the radio, as I drifted in and out of consciousness.

Finally, my step-daughter arrived to pick me up – I was so grateful to see her — and I was eventually released to go home. For the next week, however, I found myself despairing about the world in general, and humans in particular. Even amidst the fresh beauty of a mountain Spring season dawning, this realm seemed like a primitive, harsh environment, fraught with ceaseless turmoil. Humans, racing to extinction with their casual cruelty and self-absorption, seemed nearly unredeemable. I wanted nothing more to do with any of this drama, I was weary of it all – with consciousness even.

It was only while watching a televised program (Skinwalkers: The Navajo Mysteries) that I began to snap out of my heavy gloom. At a critical moment, the wise wife of a troubled Navajo detective turned to him and said something to the effect that, “you can see the world as filled with hate, or you can see it as filled with love. It’s a matter of perspective.” That simple reminder was what I needed too. I am not only the actor, but also the co-creator and producer. Reality is arising co-dependently, and mind can make it either a heaven or a hell. There is always a choice – we are after all directing the show, whether we are aware of it or not.

Another image comes to mind, that of the little girl in the brilliant red dress, wandering through the otherwise black and white scenes of the holocaust in the movie “Schindler’s List”. She was not there to save anybody, but just to be present. I saw that love does not dissolve negative phenomena, or somehow neutralize the ugly and evil. It is just here, present, right in the midst of the horror, right alongside the calamity, not offering an escape, but merely a shift in the focal point of attention — another choice, or option of perception.

Beyond that, there is awareness. Awareness is the platform for the alternating play of light and dark that we take to be reality, and yet just as the screen is not affected by what transpires on it — the good movie or the bad — so too are we that fundamental basis, the Source of all the holographic universes and their virtual realities. Again, this was not an intellectual conclusion, but was made abundantly apparent throughout the ordeal. Consciousness is what we dream, and like all dreams, it comes and goes, but only awareness remains.

girl in red

(from the film “Schindler’s List”)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

And So It Is Christmas

Spent Christmas Eve morning at the doctor’s. Possible pneumonia, so prescribed a heavy-duty antibiotic. The Doctor’s waiting room is a zendo, and today the sermon was a Disney Christmas movie playing on the corner wall TV, beaming down artificial cheer from actors pretending to be the characters in the contrived plot.

Somehow, this year seems a bit more transparent. Maybe it’s just me (still immersed in complications from the recent cancer surgery), but doesn’t the whole Holiday Spirit thing seem a bit more subdued this season, a bit more of an effort to celebrate, like going through the obligatory motions, but more of a perfunctory ritual, empty of any inherent pizazz? Anyway, just another thought.

Here now, all of us in the waiting room are pretending to be various persons with a variety of bodily complications. Most ignore the Disney movie beaming down from the wall, choosing instead to thumb their electronic devices, and generally ignoring the people they came in with, even though they are sitting right next to them.

How many different dimensions are being currently occupied just by the people in this room? The intricacies of this tiny slice of consciousness are beyond the comprehension of the human intellect. The mind cannot go there, it falls silent. In that silence, we are all sitting, unaware of the vast implications of being anywhere at all — just taking it all for granted. Amazing!

In the midst of this unspeakable wonder, the staff behind the desk are all talking with each other about their Holiday plans, as if all of this was undeniably real. I go along with the merry charade, tacitly confirming the solidity of the collective perception — that we are in a literal place, that something is happening, that we are all separate, and that this is a special time in the midst of timelessness, a magical time in which we grant a consensus significance to the celebration of a mythical story about a divine baby who incarnated in the Middle East millennia ago to redeem the dream world from its sins. I’ve heard that God can do things like that!

Now I notice the arising movement of mind on contact with phenomena, and how it instantly creates and confirms a whole vibrating scenario. So this is delusion! I also see how even the slightest effort to mentally modify it in any form of strategic method merely adds to the complication. Even the movement to just observe has an artificial quality, so another layer down, and that effort is let go. The teacher said: “Do not try to have good thoughts, do not try to keep away bad thoughts, do not try to stop thoughts, and do not try to go after them. Rather, rest in a state of being aware . . .”

Soon, there is nothing but the appearance, the sound of the TV, the chatter of the staff, and then that too gradually fades, as if attention is submerging in a kind of void, and within this void, a subtle intuition seems just about to reveal itself, when in the far distance a voice is calling my name, the word that I offered to them to represent myself. “Robert, Robert . . .”

My head raises up, I blink my eyes, I am in a waiting room at the Doctor’s office. I am surrounded by fellow beings. It takes a while to get my bearings. Yes, my name. I stand up and hobble over to the door. I am admitted to the inner part of the office, where my body is weighed. It seems that it has lost some weight, which is noted in the device the nurse thumbs.

Then I am led to a small room to wait for the Doctor. I am asked if I can say my last name and birth date. With no effort at all, I am able to provide the requested information. Then the blood pressure in my arm is checked. The nurse says a number, as if I am going to approve or not. I just Thank her for the number.

Now, I am ready to see the Doctor. I am told the Doctor will be right along. The nurse remembers something as she is going out the door. She turns slightly in my direction, and says “Merry Christmas.” When I return the saying, she seems satisfied that the proper ritual has been observed, and closes the door.

After the visit, I walk out into the chill air, and light is falling everywhere. I am that same light, moving within itself, remembering and forgetting and then remembering itself again and again. There is a wordless recognition, and it is enough. It has always been enough. Later tonight, they say we may get snow.

“As long as you, like most people, fail to recognize the true value of human existence you will just fritter your life away in futile activity and distraction. When life comes all too soon to its inevitable end, you will not have achieved anything worthwhile at all. But once you really see the unique opportunity that human life can bring, you will definitely direct all your energy into reaping its true worth by putting the Dharma into practice.”

~ H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Spam

As a young child growing up in the early 50’s, I was fed a pretty basic diet, often consisting of Spam and canned vegetables for dinner. Both my parents worked long hours, and so those were easy-to-fix convenient foods of the day, which now would probably translate into microwaveable dinners from the frozen foods section. Back then, frozen foods consisted mainly of of frozen orange juice, fish sticks (which we got on Fridays, being Catholic) and ice cream.

In any case, there were just so many Del Monte canned peas and carrots I could gag down (not to mention the salty Spam that I imagined came from a square-shaped animal). I would often be left staring forlornly at my plate, until my Mother would chime in with her classic suggestion that I think of all the starving children in India or China.

As much as I tried to picture such scenes, I didn’t really know what life was like in those places, although growing up in San Francisco, I had seen Chinese people and they didn’t appear to be starving. Nevertheless, I understood her point, and I wished that those starving children could somehow take these cooling overcooked vegetables from my plate to relieve their hunger, since I had no further use for them, and it was a sin, I was told, to waste food.

Even now, I make a concerted effort to eat everything on my plate, since by doing so I might be doing my part to stave off world hunger. Plus, Mazie’s cooking is really good! Lately, however, I have been stopping when I feel full, even if there is still food on the plate. I just save the left-overs for the next day. I still believe that wasting food is not right, given all the starving people in Africa.

Perhaps my Mother is standing over me from the Spirit World, approving my dining behavior. Even though I haven’t touched Spam in decades, I do understand that it is considered quite a treat in Hawaii. Maybe my parents will be re-born there some day, to enjoy that canned delicacy once again, and clean their plates to prevent world hunger!

spam

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Spit In Your Shoe

I had recently turned 10, as I recall, and it was a lazy San Francisco Summer Saturday in the late 1950’s. By that age, I had mostly lost interest in the televised Saturday morning cartoon programs that had once amused and captivated me. Instead, I had been sulking around most of the day, becoming increasingly frustrated with the apparent options of experience, as if I had already sampled everything life had to offer, and none of it seemed to have any enduring power to attract me.

This darkening mood was unusual. Previously, I could usually find absorbing stuff with which to happily occupy myself, even if it entailed just lying out in the backyard, watching the white clouds drifting through blue sky. That day, however, the world seemed devoid of interest, and I felt no joy or passion for any of it.

The existential angst of my situation finally came to a head, and I decided to seek out some wisdom from the best source available. I went into the kitchen to find my father, who was enjoying one of his favorite snacks — canned sardines on soda crackers. I proceeded to confront him, complaining that I was bored. I whined that there was “nothing to do”, to which he smiled, focused his gaze intently on me, and exclaimed with gleeful enthusiasm, “Nothing do? Spit in your shoe!”

My jaw dropped open. The nonsense phrase seemed so astounding and unexpected that my mind simply couldn’t process it, and so fell silent. A vast universe of potentialities rippled out before me, beyond any sense of boundary or personal limitation. There was the tacit recognition that reality was not at all the fixed proposition which I had assumed it to be, but instead was tantalizingly opened-ended, and even delightfully absurd. Moreover, rather than being merely a localized and confined matrix of perception, I intuited that I was so much more – inconceivably more — and that behind the superficial facade of boredom, I was happiness itself, now and always.

I burst out laughing, and from that day forward, I was never really bored again. I will remain forever grateful to my Dad for inspiring that first “Zen” kensho (glimpse of true nature), though I must say that I never actually spat in my shoe.

 

bored kid

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments