“For anyone who has lost weight to live, you have my respect. After dropping 60 lbs., I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be this hungry every hour of every day. I truly appreciate the compliments, but I appreciate food even more. I can tolerate the fat insults better than the hunger."
I don’t know this person’s experience and I am not minimizing it but reading this declaration/confession made me realize that anything worth achieving involves discomfort, little or large. Given the nature of life and of human nature, much of our life is discomfort. What do we do with that? How do we cope? How much discomfort can we stand or even put up with? Do we make it positive or negative? Do we indulge ourselves to make the discomfort go away? What does that lead to?
I have been dieting to lose weight, not to live but for vanity and for better health. The tweeter is correct: I feel hungry most of the time. Again I am not judging or comparing our experiences but I turn toward the discomfort. I enter it. I experience it - the sensation and my reaction to it.
In meditation practice, we sit with our discomfort. We need to know our pain before we can transform it. Then, we can move on and try to be of benefit to others.
Advice I Will Give My Grandson (2017)
My three-year-old grandson, Charlie, and I sat together in the shallow end of a swimming pool, early in the morning, before the house began to stir. A dragonfly flew back and forth over the length of the pool. When it buzzed us for the tenth time, another dragonfly joined it and they darted together.
Charlie watched them. "Do dragonflies have mouths?" he asked me.
"Yes. I'm sure they do," I said.
"Do they talk?"
"They might have a language only they understand," I said.
Charlie has the beginnings of a take on life. He is smart and aware of his surroundings. When he asks his Grampa for advice, I will offer my approach to living successfully as a male, and as a human being, in this complex and sacred world. I had my ups and downs growing up. I learned many things the hard way. If I have any words to offer, I might tell Charlie to practice six values.
Growing up, I blended myself into the opaque environment. I stayed quiet and well-behaved to garner favor from my distracted parents. Charlie, on the other hand, is a force of nature. He constantly moves outward, exploring and testing his surroundings and the people in it. While I was pliant and easy, searching for safety, Charlie might be considered by some a "handful." His parents let him be who he is (with boundaries). He has a solid base. He is secure and knows that he is valued. Because of his strong disposition, Charlie will hear the dos and don'ts, the shoulds and shouldn'ts. Once he understands who he is (through learning, self-discovery, and life experience), I will tell him to be himself.
Charlie will not want his words and actions to intentionally hurt people, but as long as he is truthful, caring, and conscientious, he also can't worry what people think about him. Their opinions and judgments are about them, not him. He is already a big personality. I will tell him what it took me half my life to realize: dream big, live big, be big. Some people are threatened by big. They will want him small. It is not an easy road. Don't (there it is!) go for easy. Charlie can use his beautiful spirit, his energy, strength, intelligence, and charisma to lead his own unique and precious life.
I grew up in a family of three males and my mom. I was introverted and self-conscious as a child. Basically, I was afraid of girls. Through hard experience, I discovered the type of woman that attracted me. The women I fell for happened to be smart, independent people. But I picked up and carried my share of ignorance, without reflection. I made a derogatory remark about the female gender in a group of friends when I was in my mid-twenties. My girlfriend at the time kept quiet. When we got into the car to leave that evening, she corrected my attitude for about an hour and a half in the parking lot. Life lesson and life transformed.
I will tell Charlie (who happens to have a sister and a strong, intelligent, and fiercely independent mother) to respect and honor women. We are all in this together. We complement each other. I will encourage him to explore his feminine side--be receptive, reflective, and emotional.
Find the humanity
Charlie is drawn to other children. He likes people. I will tell him to embrace the diversity and humanity around him. This practice requires tolerance and acceptance. If we are open and curious, we moved toward, and not away from, the world and all the different kinds of people in it. I went to, and taught in, public schools. I had over thirty jobs. On one job, the summer after high school, I worked in a sealants and adhesives factory. I stood for eight hours on the assembly line beside a man who been there for two decades. When I told him that I had decided to keep the job rather than start college in the fall, he strongly encouraged me to reconsider. "You do not want to be standing where I am when you're forty. Believe me." He was one of those angels that appears in your life when you open yourself to every possibility. Charlie's life will be richer when he accepts every person he encounters for who they are. Then he has the chance to be empowered and ennobled by any one of them.
Listen to your heart
Charlie developed a love of sports (he was playing soccer at two), and of trains, cars, and planes from the very beginning. He is a boy's boy. In his strong body and adventuresome spirit, I will encourage him to develop his mind and find his heart. It is all about heart. When we know who we are, we trust our heart, our intuition, that little voice that knows what is right for us. If we listen to our heart, we live a full, compassionate, and joyous life.
I recently got in touch on social media with my next-door neighbor growing up. He said that he remembered me kindly because I was one of the few kids on the block who did not pick on him. Despite the peer pressure, I knew it was wrong to hurt other people, and I wouldn't do it. I will tell Charlie to honor what his heart knows to be true.
When Charlie falls and hurts himself, he goes to his mother and father for solace and safety. He will face difficulties as he grows up and becomes a man. Some tribulations are too big to navigate alone. I will tell Charlie to get help when he needs it. It builds strength. It is a sign of wisdom and resourcefulness. Listen. Surrender. Be willing to give and take.
It wasn't until I was in college, after enduring my parents' drawn out, acrimonious divorce, that I sought counseling. A few years later, after a few partners left me, I realized that I was the common factor in my heartache. I went to therapy and eventually learned to take responsibility and care for myself. We get stronger, Charlie, when we use all our resources to help ourselves, and, in turn, those around us.
Learn to dance
A girl in my neighborhood, Valerie Stewart, invited me and my best friend to her house when we were all eight years old to learn to mambo to the song, "Patricia," by Perez Prado. It was a fun, friendly atmosphere, but I felt as alien and stiff as I did when we had to square dance on Fridays with the girls in our sixth-grade class. Because I felt awkward, I resisted dancing my entire young life. As I got older and went to parties, I wished I could dance well. It is self-expression. It is creativity. It is a gift. It is fun! And it is a life skill, as much as learning to make small talk at a party and knowing when to leave. I will tell Charlie something that he already knows: dancing makes you feel happy. Dance like Perez Prado, my dearest young grandson.
As Senior Editor of Adventure Travel Magazine, I might have been destined to spend time with James Dickey. Dickey wrote the adventure epic, Deliverance. The novel, Dickey’s first, told the story of four guys from the city who canoe a river in the Georgia wilderness, endure some horrific hillbilly hospitality, and emerge changed, or dead.
I interviewed Dickey, with other Adventure Travel’s editors, at the home of our publisher in Seattle. Dickey had a huge personality. He exuded Southern charm and joyous exuberance. He was a brilliant storyteller.
I would have been interested in meeting the author of Deliverance, but James Dickey also was a major American writer. He published two other novels, twenty-eight volumes of poetry, non-fiction, literary criticism, and screenplays. He won the National Book Award for Poetry, for Buckdancer’s Choice, recited his poem, “The Strength of Fields,” at President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration, and served as the U.S. Poet Laureate.
Jimbo, as he asked us to call him, talked about hunting with a bow and arrow, which brought a degree of fairness to hunting. He described feeling invincible when he wrote, fueled by whiskey. He talked about playing guitar. He said he had decided to stick with it for ten years. You stay with anything for ten years and you become pretty good. His advice stuck with me. I took piano lessons when I was in my mid-fifties. I stuck with it beyond ten years and enjoy it as a passion. Jimbo told how he sold his soul and worked for a while as a copyrighter at ad agencies. He told us that he came up with the famous slogan for Coke, “It’s the real thing.”
I had James Dickey’s company for one evening. He filled the room with bonhomie. He was a complicated human being and we had a rather shallow encounter, but I felt impressed and inspired. It has stayed with me.
A few years after my evening with James Dickey, I had a freelance magazine assignment to write an article profiling Poetry Northwest Magazine. I got the phone number of Joyce Carol Oates who had published early in PNM and called her. She wouldn’t talk to me. Her assistant said she was busy getting ready to leave on a trip. I framed the article around interviewing her and begged the assistant. Ms. Oates would not take the time. I was left hanging. I remembered that Jimbo had told us to call him any time. So, I phoned James Dickey, who also had published early in Poetry Northwest. He was friendly and accommodating. He filled in the history of his involvement with Poetry Northwest and provided context of the magazine in the world of poetry publishing. James Dickey saved my backside and I have been forever grateful.
... a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power and a life-enhancing return ... Van Gennep: Rites de Passage
Moth-force a small town always has,
Given the night.
What field-forms can be,
Outlying the small civic light-decisions over
A man walking near home?
Men are not where he is
Exactly now, but they are around him around him like the strength
Of fields. The solar system floats on
Above him in town-moths.
Tell me, train-sound,
With all your long-lost grief,
what I can give.
Dear Lord of all the fields
what am I going to do?
Street-lights, blue-force and frail
As the homes of men, tell me how to do it how
To withdraw how to penetrate and find the source
Of the power you always had
light as a moth, and rising
With the level and moonlit expansion
Of the fields around, and the sleep of hoping men.
You? I? What difference is there? We can all be saved
By a secret blooming. Now as I walk
The night and you walk with me we know simplicity
Is close to the source that sleeping men
Search for in their home-deep beds.
We know that the sun is away we know that the sun can be conquered
By moths, in blue home-town air.
The stars splinter, pointed and wild. The dead lie under
The pastures. They look on and help. Tell me, freight-train,
When there is no one else
To hear. Tell me in a voice the sea
Would have, if it had not a better one: as it lifts,
Hundreds of miles away, its fumbling, deep-structured roar
Like the profound, unstoppable craving
Of nations for their wish.
Hunger, time and the moon:
The moon lying on the brain
as on the excited sea as on
The strength of fields. Lord, let me shake
With purpose. Wild hope can always spring
From tended strength. Everything is in that.
That and nothing but kindness. More kindness, dear Lord
Of the renewing green. That is where it all has to start:
With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less
Than save every sleeping one
And night-walking one
My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.
James Dickey talked about his process for writing the novel, Deliverance. Dickey worked as a master practitioner of poetry. He specialized in narrative poetry, tracking a story line in his poems. He won a prize with a long narrative poem about the mountains and rivers of North Georgia. An agent contacted him, asking if he had considered writing a novel with the same setting as the poem. He responded that he had not, but the thought persisted. Did he know enough about North Georgia and its people to write about it? If he took “a determined stand” to write a novel about it, what would he write about? Nothing came to mind. Then, something took hold of him. He thought, “What about the time?” He knew the whole story in five minutes. He knew who the characters were. He knew the sequence of events. He knew where it took place, the “rivers under the rapids.” He knew the equipment the characters used. And he knew how it came out. He knew everything about the story in five minutes. The novel, Deliverance, was published twelve years later.
Dickey said that for years the Deliverance manuscript was something lying around in a drawer. He wrote seven or eight books while working on the novel. He would “give it another kick” when he got around to it. Once it began to look like he could finish it, Dickey started pushing and got to the end. He said he never did know anything about writing novels (even though he wrote two more after Deliverance).
Deliverance is a novel about violence and man’s response in the thick of it and in its aftermath. All the aspects of the novel that dealt with bloodshed, murder and stalking Dickey devised through conjecture. As a novelist, he said, he had to think like a murderer.
The hardest part of the novel to write was getting the main protagonist to try to think like one of the antagonists, to outguess him and be one step ahead of him, while always filled with doubt, residing in the unknown.
Dickey said the transition to writing prose was not easy. He had to learn to work without the poetic line. He had relied in his poetry on the line, the way the human eye moves to the next line, what happens when you read a line of verse and the way it goes into the next line. He had to learn the conventions of working with the sentence and paragraph.
Originally, Dickey wrote heavily charged prose. But, he said, it was “too juicy.” It detracted from the narrative thrust, which is the force of the story. He spent two or three drafts excising that quality in the writing. He said he wanted “unobtrusively remarkable observation that didn’t call attention to itself.”
While Dickey took scenes, events, and circumstances from his previous poems and incorporated them into the narrative of Deliverance, he didn’t feel he reduced them by changing them from poetry to prose. He reconceived them in a new medium.
After Deliverance, Dickey wrote his two other novels, Alnilam and To the White Sea. He always felt, though, that writing poetry was “the center of his creative wheel.”
“…In the most high and palmy state of Rome, A little ere the mightiest Julius fell, The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets: As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood, Disasters in the sun; and the moist star Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse…”
--Horatio, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1
Along the Bosphorus
I have one regret that haunts my literary soul. I had George Plimpton all to myself one evening and I ghosted him.
"The most interesting man in the world” on television for a while was a New York actor named Jonathan Goldsmith: “Stay thirsty, my friends.” That was a hoax, a ruse, a commercial.
At the time I iced him, George Plimpton might well have actually been the most interesting man in the world. Some perspective. George Plimpton founded the Paris Review and edited the journal for fifty years. In its first five years, the Paris Reviewpublished works by Jack Kerouac, Philip Larkin, William Styron, V.S. Naipaul, Philip Roth, Terry Southern, Adrienne Rich, Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett, Nadine Gordimer, Jean Genet, and Robert Bly. The list goes on, to include the most accomplished and significant writers over the past six and a half decades.
The Paris Review did interviews with hundreds of writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Ralph Ellison, E.M. Forster, William Faulkner, Thornton Wilder, Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda, William Carlos Williams, and Vladimir Nabokov. A literary critic called this series of interviews, “one of the single most persistent acts of cultural conservation in the history of the world."
George Plimpton gained fame and literary success by leaping into the world of professional sports as a participant and reporting his experiences as an amateur. He wrote more than thirty books and basically invented participatory journalism.
He pitched at Yankee Stadium, boxed with Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson, quarterbacked for the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Colts, played goalie for the Boston Bruins, golfed on the PGA tour, played tournament bridge, and performed on the circus high wire. Plimpton even tried his hand at standup comedy at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
The reporting of his experiences in professional sports produced seven books, including Paper Lion, which was made into a movie starring Alan Alda.
George Plimpton acted in twenty-eight movies himself, including Lawrence of Arabia, Nixon, and Good Will Hunting, and appeared on television twelve times, including on The Simpsons.
Plimpton drove a tank in Italy during the war and was an explosives expert. He set off fireworks at home, including the seven-hundred-pound Roman candle, called “The Fat Man,” which caused a thirty-five-foot wide by ten-foot-deep crater at one spot and blew out seven hundred windows at another. Plimpton competed in a fireworks festival at Monte Carlo and was the first American to win.
Plimpton wrote an article in Sports Illustrated as an April Fool’s joke. The article profiled a New York Mets rookie pitcher by the name of Siddhartha Finch. Sidd Finch could throw a one-hundred-and-sixty-mile-per-hour fastball, wore a heavy boot on one foot, and was a practicing Buddhist. So many magazine readers believed the prank in the magazine that Plimpton wore a book about Sidd Finch.
Plimpton came from an old American family. He attended Phillips Exeter, Harvard and Cambridge. He even got thrown out of Phillips Exeter!
I watched a video of Plimpton telling a story about touring with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Leonard Bernstein, playing the triangle. He was charming, funny, and articulate.
I had this man alone and I ignored him. He came to L.A. to a book convention. He was signing his recently released book, Mad Ducks and Bears. Walden Books sponsored his visit. I was the assistant manager of the Walden Books in Northridge, California. I was assigned to help out George Plimpton at the booth. I opened boxes and supplied him with books to sign. I made sure he was comfortable, had water to drink. I was twenty-seven-years-old; he was forty-six.
When I came to the booth that evening, I was anxious. My manager had made a big deal over this famous celebrity. I was afraid. I was intent on not showing how impressed, or intimated, I felt, so I gave him the silent treatment, the cold shoulder. He was cordial, but quiet. Not that many autograph seekers came over to our booth, so Plimpton and I sat at opposite ends, minding our own business. I did not have the wherewithal to introduce myself and ask him questions about his spectacular career and life. He met Hemingway and Faulkner, and all those brilliant writers. He had done remarkable things, was a remarkable man. I was a scared man/boy who distanced myself out of fear.
These are the obstacles. They are the moments from which we learn. They help us to come out of our fear and become the people we want to be.
Mary Shelley traveled the Rhine River in Germany when she was 17. She stopped in the town of Gernsheim, in the vicinity of Frankenstein Castle. Frankenstein means “stone of the Franks.” The castle was built before 1250, in the Oldenwald mountain range. The landscape of dark forests and narrow valleys gave rise to mystery and legend. The culture and traditions of the area are imbued with folk tales and myths centered around Frankenstein Castle.
An alchemist, Johann Dippel, was born and lived in Frankenstein Castle in the late seventeenth-early eighteenth centuries. Dippel taught the famous Swedish theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg. Breaking with Dippel, Swedenborg called his former teacher “most vile,” and accused him of “attempting wicked things.” Dippel was, Swedenborg alleged, “"bound to no principles, but was in general opposed to all, whoever they may be, of whatever principle or faith ... becoming angry with any one for contradicting him.”
It was rumored that Dippel exhumed and performed experiments on human bodies. A local clergyman notified his parish that Dippel created a monster and brought it to life with a bolt of lightning. Supposedly, this rumor was communicated to Mary Shelley’s stepmother by ethnologists, the brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. None of these claims are proven, nor is there reliable evidence showing that Mary Shelley modeled her famous fictional scientist, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, after Dippel. However, the conjecture is strong.
Two years after her visit to Gernsheim, when Mary Shelley was challenged by Lord Byron in Geneva, to write a horror story, she dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made.
Frankenstein, the novel, was published on New Year’s Day, 1818. While it has Gothic and Romantic elements, it is considered by some as the first science fiction novel. It has generated its own genre of horror stories, movies, and plays.
Shelley first wrote a short story and with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s encouragement, expanded it into a novel. She wrote the first four chapters after the suicide of her half-sister, Fanny. She was nursing her second child (her first died in infancy) during the writing of the novel. By the time of publication, that child, too, was dead.
The manuscripts for the novel now reside in the Bodelian Library at Oxford University.
Shelley published the book anonymously, with a preface written by her later-to-be husband, Percy. It came out in an edition of five hundred copies in three volumes, the standard format for 19th-century first editions. Mary Shelley put her name on the two-volume second edition four years later. In 1831, Shelley published a one-volume “popular edition,” heavily revised by the author. In 2008, a new edition of the novel was published under the title, The Original Frankenstein.
Reviews of the first 1818 edition called the novel, “very bold fiction.” The author, unrevealed at the time, was described having the power of both conception and language. Sir Walter Scott praised “the author’s original genius and happy power of expression.”
Oscar-winning film director, Guillermo del Toro called Frankenstein the quintessential teenage book: "You don't belong. You were brought to this world by people that don't care for you and you are thrown into a world of pain and suffering, and tears and hunger. It's an amazing book written by a teenage girl. It's mind-blowing."
Everyone from Boris Karloff to Lon Chaney, Jr. to Fred Gwynne to Benedict Cumberbatch have played the monster on the screen and stage since 1823.
Is there a monster creation that has more heavily influenced Western culture over the past two hundred years than Frankenstein? Well done, Mary Shelley!
What more can be said about Richard Feynman? He was a brilliant, complicated human being. His work in theoretical physics, including quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics, garnered him the Nobel Prize.
When I saw the above quote by Feynman on Twitter, under @ProfFeynman (with nearly 1,400 tweets and 620,000 followers), I wondered about the source of Feynman's words. Did Feynman have a spiritual practice that promoted kindness and compassion? The closest I found to a cosmic perspective was in his PhD thesis at Princeton:
“We are then led to the possibility that the spontaneous radiation of an atom in quantum mechanics also, may not be spontaneous at all, but induced by the interaction with other atoms, and that all of the apparent quantum properties of light and the existence of photons may be nothing more than the result of matter interacting with matter directly, and according to quantum mechanical laws.”
Nothing in the research I did revealed a spiritual practice (outside of theoretical physics), but it did portray Feynman as a person with a great sense of humility, humor and playfulness. He had a deep sense of intuition.
Feynman was a teacher. His connection to his students was paramount to him. Many of the quotes tweeted on @ProfFeynman might come from his interaction with students, and from his books and lectures. Whatever the source, Feynman's words at @ProfFeynman are worth exploring on a regular basis:
If you are interested in the particulars of Richard Feynman's work in theoretical physics, click here to read his Nobel Lecture.
Town Market, South of France
[A Narrative Fragment]
Kerry sat next to Becca on a bench made of twigs and twisted limbs. They faced a wide grass meadow, sloping down into a canyon filled with treetops, beneath an azure sky at Forever Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley.
“Today is my dad’s forty-sixth birthday,” Becca said. “That’s why I wanted to come to this cemetery.”
“Isn’t he buried out near Yosemite?” Kerry watched a young boy crawl on a plank extended over the top of an open, empty grave. A woman crouched on the ground, behind the child, with her arms extended in front of her, motioning frantically as if trying to lure him back from the abyss.
“He is. I think this is where he would rather be.”
“Is he near the mountain he fell off of?”
Becca blinked her eyes and swept her hand in front of her. “This is a totally green cemetery. It’s like a certified wild habitat. They don’t allow the graves to be lined or even allow the corpses to be embalmed. One hundred percent natural.”
“It is the prettiest cemetery we have been to.” Whenever Kerry told her father she was going to a movie or shopping, she joined Becca at some Bay Area cemetery. Becca’s mother was always traveling with her job, so Becca had no one to answer to. They strolled and talked and inspected the grave markers.
“I think my mother would like it here, too,” Kerry said. “There are so many flowers and beautiful boulders, and wooden steps, carved in the hillsides, and little statues of Buddha.”
“I guess they are both going to have to stay where they are. For all eternity.” Becca said. She stood, feeling ready to move. Kerry walked beside her on the path.
Kerry’s eye caught movement. “Look, a fox,” she said, pointing.
They watched the sleek red animal bound across a path and up the sloping grass, into the woods.
“Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be dead,” Becca said. “We’re all going to die sometime. The suspense is killing me. “
“Figuratively. I’m not planning to off myself.”
“That’s a relief to hear,” Kerry said.
“I’m just curious what’s on the other side. Your mom and my dad have found out. You know, the anxiety of a lifetime is over for them. I mean, it’s sad, but in a way, I envy them. Maybe they're there waiting for us.”
“Yeah, I don’t know.” Kerry slipped on a stick and bumped Becca, who put her arm out to catch her.
“Just imagine,” Becca said. "We came out of nothingness into this awesome world. I mean, literally, awe-some. We were delivered here. No one has ever, in the 300,000-year-history of humans come back to tell us where we are delivered next, after we die. We don’t have a clue. We might drop into a world, life, existence just as awesome as this one, maybe even more so. Who knows? Imagine!"
“I kind of think that we go back into oblivion, that nothingness you talked about, which we came out of.”
“How do you know?” Becca said.
“What do you remember before you were born?”
“Exactly. That’s all I’m saying. We come out of an eternity of nothing and we go back into nothing. That eternal silence and peace.”
Becca stopped and put the toe of her shoe in front of a small, heart-shaped rock, embedded in the dirt at the edge of a grave site. “Do you like to think of your mother lost in nothingness forever?”
“Of course not, Becca. I like to think of her without her brain riddled with cancer.”
“Okay, Ker Bear. But it seems too simplistic to me. If Homo Sapiens appeared 300,000 years ago, quick math, that’s about nine thousand generations, give or take. Think about that: nine thousand generations. Your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great, great grandparents, going back about nine thousand greats. Have you done any genealogy?”
Kerry had to watch the edge of the path not to stumble off on to someone’s plot. “No,” she said.
“I’ve done some. I’ve gone back to my great, great grandparents. So that’s both sets of great, great grandparents, on my mother’s and father’s sides. My great, great grandparents on my father’s side had ten children. On my mother’s side, six children. My grandparents on both sides had a total of ten children. My parents had four children. When I find out all these peoples’ names, where they lived, where they worked, and I think about them raising those thirty children, and all those peoples’ lives, and their children. I think about the time spent, all the joy and sorrow, the effort they all made and the attention and energy they put out day after day, year to year, for decades, to live as full and meaningful lives as they could with the time, conditions, and circumstances they had, and then the deaths of all those people. That’s just four generations of my family alone. Think about over nine thousand generations of billions of people all over the planet. It’s hard for me to think that all that life force over all that space and time just came from nothing and then disappeared into nothing. Bam! I don’t know. Maybe it does. No one knows. But it seems to add up to something more than nothingness.”
“You make a good argument.”
“Another thing. We came from our parents’ bodies, and they from theirs, all the way up the line. So, in some way, we were there in the bodies of our ancestors going back nine thousand generations, even though we can’t remember it, and it seems like darkness and oblivion. Right?”
Kerry lifted her hand and swept her hair off her face. “Let me ask you this: where are those billions upon billions of people who lived all those human lives right this moment?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I’m dying to find out. But, not literally,” Becca said. “Let’s walk up to the old Jewish cemetery.”
“You can read the Hebrew on the headstones.”
“Po nikbar Yehudi Menuhin.”
They both laughed.
Becca linked arms with Kerry, and they skipped up the path along the grassy hillside singing, “Po nikbar Yehudi Menuhin. Po nikbar Yehudi Menuhin. Yehudi Menuhin! Yehudi Menuuuuhiiiiiiin!”
The next time Kerry told her father that she was going to...
Rinzai Gigen Zenji - d. 866
I came up in the House of Rinzai. What I mean is that when I started practicing Zen meditation in Seattle in the mid-1970s, I was sent to see a Zen teacher at the University of Washington. Asian Art History Professor, Dr. Glenn Webb, is an ordained Rinzai Zen Priest. He led a weekly meditation group at the University’s Art Department Building. Webb Sensei offered me a taste of Rinzai Zen.
I next practiced with a Rinzai Zen monk from Japan, Genki Takabayashi Roshi. I trained with Genki Roshi for twelve years. I was ordained a Rinzai Zen Priest, initially (novitiate-ly) in 1984, with final vows in 1990.
The ninth-century originator of the Rinzai School of Zen in eastern China, Linji Yixuan (Rinzai Gigen Zenji in Japanese) trained as a Zen monk and led his own temple.
Rinzai Zenji’s collected teachings are available online. In my research, I copied lines from the publication,The Record of Linji
Here are teachings from Rinzai Zenji:
What I want to make clear to you is that you must not accept the deluded views of others. If you want to act, then act. Don’t hesitate.
Lack of faith in yourself is what ails you. If you lack faith in yourself, you’ll keep on tumbling along, following in bewilderment after all kinds of circumstances and being taken by them through transformation after transformation without ever attaining freedom.
Bring to rest the thoughts of the ceaselessly seeking mind.
Because you students lack faith in yourselves, you run around seeking something outside. Even if, through your seeking, you did find something, that Something would be nothing more than fancy descriptions in written words.
…person who has nothing further to seek.
…then just do not look for anything outside.
…the one here before your very eyes, brilliantly clear and shining without any form
Ceaselessly she is right here, conspicuously present.
There is nothing that is not profound, nothing that is not deliverance.
There are none who are not of the utmost profundity, none who aren’t emancipated
Conforming with circumstances as they are, [he] exhausts his past karma; accepting things as they are, he puts on his clothes; when he wants to walk, he walks, when he wants to sit, he sits; he never has a single thought of seeking Buddhahood.
Just be ordinary. Don’t put on airs.
[She who has] nothing to do is the noble one. Simply don’t strive — just be ordinary
‘Dharma’ is the dharma of mind. Mind is without form; it pervades the ten directions and is manifesting its activity right before your very eyes.
Grasp and use, but never name — this is called the ‘mysterious principle’
As to buddhadharma (the Buddha Way), no effort is necessary. You have only to be ordinary, with nothing to do — defecating, urinating, wearing clothes, eating food, and lying down when tired.
If you realize that the ten thousand dharmas never come into being, that mind is like a phantom, that not a speck of dust nor a single thing exists, that there is no place that is not clean and pure — this is Buddha.
In my view there is no Buddha, no sentient beings, no past, no present. Anything attained was already attained—no time is needed. There is nothing to practice, nothing to realize, nothing to gain, nothing to lose. Throughout all time, there is no other dharma than this. If one claims there’s a dharma surpassing this, I say that it’s like a dream, like a phantasm. This is all I have to teach.
Awaken to non-dependence, then there is no Buddha to be obtained. Insight such as this is true insight.
Everywhere is pure, light illumines the ten directions, and all dharmas are a single suchness.
If you want to be free to live or to die, to go or to stay, as you would put on or take off clothes, then right now recognize the one listening to my discourse, the one who has no form, no characteristics, no root, no source, no dwelling place, and yet is bright and vigorous.
Of all his various responsive activities, none leaves any traces. Thus, the more you chase him, the farther away he goes, and the more you seek him, the more he turns away; this is called the ‘Mystery.’
Value every second.
The you who right now is listening to my discourse is not the four elements; this you makes use of the four elements.
Your activity right now, never changing, nowhere faltering—this is the living Mañjuśrī (Bodhisattva of Wisdom). Your single thought’s non-differentiating light — this indeed is the true Samantabhadra (Bodhisattva of Practice and Meditation). Your single thought that frees itself from bondage and brings emancipation everywhere — this is the Avalokiteśvara (Bodhisattva of Compassion) samādhi. Since these three alternately take the position of master and attendants, when they appear, they appear at one and the same time, one in three, three in one.
Just desist from thinking, and never seek outside. If something should come, illumine it. Have faith in your activity revealed now — there isn’t a thing to do.
Buddhas and patriarchs are people with nothing to do. Therefore, for them, activity and the defiling passions and also non-activity and “passionlessness” are ‘pure’ karma.
What is lacking in your present activity? What still needs to be patched up?
Ordinary mind is the Way.
If you engage in any seeking, it will all be pain. Much better to do nothing.
All dharmas are empty forms — when transformation takes place, they are existent, when transformation does not take place, they are nonexistent. The three realms are mind-only, the ten thousand dharmas are consciousness-only. Hence, illusory dreams, flowers in the sky. Why trouble to grasp at them?!
There are no dharmas to be disliked.
If you want insight into dharma as it is, just don’t be taken in by the deluded views of others. Whatever you encounter, either within or without, slay it at once. On meeting a buddha slay the buddha, on meeting a patriarch slay the patriarch, on meeting an arhat slay the arhat, on meeting your parents, slay your parents, on meeting your kinsman, slay your kinsman, and you attain emancipation. By not cleaving to things, you freely pass through.
I haven’t a single dharma to give to people. All I can do is to cure illnesses and untie bonds. Try coming before me without being dependent upon things. I would confer with you.
There is no buddha, no dharma, nothing to practice, nothing to enlighten to. Just what are you seeking in the highways and byways?
What do you yourselves lack? Your own present activities do not differ from those of the Buddhas. You just don’t believe this and keep on seeking outside. Make no mistake! Outside there is no dharma; inside, there is nothing to be obtained. Better than grasp at the words from my mouth, take it easy and do nothing. Don’t continue thoughts that have already arisen and don’t let those that haven’t yet arisen be aroused. Just this will be worth far more to you than a ten years’ pilgrimage.
There isn’t so much to do. Just be ordinary — put on your clothes, eat your food, and pass the time doing nothing. You who come from here and there all have a mind to seek Buddha, to seek Dharma, to seek emancipation, to seek escape from the three realms.
Do you want to know the three realms? They are not separate from the mind-ground of you who right now are listening to my discourse. Your single covetous thought is the realm of desire; your single angry thought is the realm of form; your single delusive thought is the realm of formlessness. These are the furnishings within your own house. Right now, vividly illumining all things and taking the measure of the world, you give the names to the three realms.
The place where your one thought comes to rest is called the bodhi tree; the place where your one thought cannot come to rest is called the avidyā tree. Avidyā has no dwelling place; avidyā has no beginning and no end. If your successive thoughts cannot come to rest, you go up the avidyā tree; you enter the six paths of existence and the four modes of birth, wear fur on your body and horns on your head. If your successive thoughts can come to rest, then this very body is the pure body
When not a single thought arises in your mind, then you go up the bodhi tree: you supernaturally transform yourself in the three realms and change your bodily form at will. You rejoice in the Dharma and delight in samādhi, and the radiance of your body shines forth of itself.
Grasp and use, but never name — this is called the ‘mysterious principle.’
The view of the Chan (Zen) school is that the sequence of death and life is orderly. The student of Chan must examine this most carefully.
Motion and motionlessness both are without self-nature. If you try to seize it within motion, it takes a position within motionlessness. If you try to seize it within motionlessness, it takes a position within motion - Like a fish hidden in a pool, smacking the waves as it leaps from the water.
For the [person] who understands, it’s always right here before his/her eyes.
With respect to my own activity today — true creation and destruction — I play with miraculous transformations, enter into all kinds of circumstances, yet nowhere have I anything to do. Circumstances cannot change me.
Because of mental activities, thoughts arise, but these are all just robes.
Much better, do nothing.
What are you seeking as you go around hither and yon, walking until the soles of your feet are flat? There is no Buddha to seek, no Way to complete, no Dharma to attain. If you seek outside for a Buddha having form, you won’t find him to resemble you; If you know your own original mind, it’s neither united with, nor apart from, him.
With the true person of the Way, from moment-to-moment, mind is not interrupted
When at these words, you turn your own light in upon yourselves and never seek elsewhere, then you’ll know that your body and mind are not different from those of the Buddhas, and on the instant, have nothing to do—this is called ‘obtaining the Dharma.’
It is better to have nothing to do, better to be plain and simple.
The person of the Way who is now listening to my discourse leaves no trace of her activity.
The master said, "The Buddha of Supreme Penetration and Surpassing Wisdom sat for ten kalpas in a place of practice, but the buddhadharma did not manifest itself to him. And he did not attain the Buddha-way."
“I don’t understand the meaning of this," the student said. "Would the master kindly explain?”
The master said, “‘Supreme Penetration’ means that one personally penetrates everywhere into the 'naturelessness' and formlessness of the ten thousand Dharmas. ‘Surpassing Wisdom’ means to have no doubts anywhere and to not obtain a single Dharma. ‘Buddha’ means pureness of the mind whose radiance pervades the entire Dharma realm. ‘Sat for ten kalpas in a place of practice’ refers to the practice of the ten pāramitās. 'The Buddhadharma did not manifest’ means that Buddha is in essence birthless and Dharma in essence unextinguished. Why should it manifest itself? ‘He did not attain the Buddha-way’ - a Buddha can’t become a Buddha again."
A man of old said, "Buddha is always present in the world, but is not stained by worldly Dharmas." If you want to become a Buddha, don’t go along with the ten thousand things. When mind arises, all kinds of Dharmas arise; When mind is extinguished, all kinds of Dharmas are extinguished.
All Dharmas are only empty forms, and thus have no attachment anywhere.
When in the midst of the pure Dharma realm, you haven’t in your mind a single reasoning thought, and thus pitch blackness pervades everywhere.
When a single thought in your mind truly realizes that the bonds and enticements of the passions are like space with nothing upon which to depend…
When you see that causal relations are empty, that mind is empty, and that Dharmas are empty, and thus your single thought is decisively cut off and, transcendent, you’ve nothing to do.
A single thought in your mind is doing nothing but conceiving an empty fist or a pointing finger to be real; senselessly conjuring up apparitions from among the Dharmas of the sense-fields.
It is not that I understood from the moment I was born of my mother, but after exhaustive investigation and grinding practice, in one instant, I knew for myself.
In place of scriptural study, Chan (Zen) Buddhism emphasized the integration of dhyana (meditation) and the moment-to-moment activities of everyday life.
…To which Linji responded with a roaring shout, which from that time on, was associated with his name and style of Chan. After this, he resumed his place in [his teacher] Huangbo’s assembly.
[Linji possessed] a compassionate urgency to convince his listeners of the necessity of their finding within themselves the “true man of no rank.”
After training for 12 years with a Japanese Rinzai Zen monk, I spent the next 9 years with an American woman Rinzai-Obaku Zen roshi (https://www.dianerizzetto.com/).
Before I could begin training with Diane, I had to bring in a list of my three top core beliefs. Topping my list was “I will be abandoned.” We began our Zen work together with that revelation.
Aligned with that intimate and healing awareness work, and with 20 years of Zen practice in the interim, I now find social worker/researcher/storyteller Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability, courage, shame, and empathy to be essential practice, not only for a fulfilled, happy and beneficial life, but also for the continued well-being of life on our planet.
My heart cracks open when I listen to Brené’s TED talks: The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame. (The two presentations have garnered nearly 70 million combined views.)
In the spirit of compassion and wisdom, I offer the YouTube videos of The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame. They are about 20 minutes each.
For the loving sake of everything we care about, please consider giving them your attention.
Molly Bloom: “…the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”