Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A Child's View of Barkerville

When my daughter was here in August we wandered out to Barkerville for a day. These photos were taken by my young granddaughter Hailey. I have taken hundreds of photos of Barkerville. These are through a child's eye.


(Originally posted to Multiply September 5, 2008)

Where the Deer and the Antelope Roam

Daughter Christina had a BBQ for the entire family out on the 'farm.' My sister and her husband weren't able to go though. My mother was feeling well enough to come and that was a pleasure.

When Chris was little I had a hobby farm on 27 acres with pigs and chickens and geese and ducks and pigs. I am sure this is where she got it from.

The farm I had when Chris was a little girl was not as rough as this. I could not handle having as much on the go as they do.

But, they are happy. They are enjoying it. And that is all that counts.



(Originally posted to Multiply September 5, 2008)

Oh, Home on the Range

Daughter Amy and her family arrived for a visit in August. They stayed about a week. After we had stayed in town a bit we went out to my oldest daughter Christina's "ranch.."

It is in the middle of miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles and it is pretty rough but she and her family love it.



(Originally posted to Multiply September 5, 2008)

Book Review: The Wise Heart

Title: The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology
Genre:  Religion & Spirituality
Author: Jack Kornfield
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I have to admit that I really like Jack Kornfield. I love listening to his dharma talks. I love reading his books. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It may be his best. If I have a complaint, and it is a small one, it is this:

Kornfield, like many other Therevadian Buddhists in North America, was a student of the late, great Ajahn Chah who, arguably, may have been the greatest Buddhist teacher in the last thousand years. In recent years it seems as if anyone who ever sat at Chah's feet wishes to claim his mantle. Name dropping Ajahn Chah's name is as commonplace in Buddhist books as commas and periods. Kornfield has never done that. While a student of Chah he has seldom mentioned him in his books or in his talks. Until now. This book is filled with references to Luang Por Chah. There certainly is nothing wrong with that. Chah was a great teacher. I just find myself wondering why, after years of barely mentioning him, Kornfield now fills a book with his examples. Is this a case of using the great Ajahn to lend authority to his book? Jumping on a currently popular bandwagon? I don't know the answer to that but obviously it is a "shenpa" with me or it wouldn't have hooked me.

Regardless, however, this is a really, really good book and deserves a read. Kornfield has done as much, or more, than anyone to bring readily understandable Buddhist teachings to the west. His kind heart and gentle nature shine in everything he does.

From Amazon:

"Author, psychologist and pioneering Buddhist teacher Kornfield writes his best book yet (and his previous ones were pretty good). His newest uses the same sweet narrative voice, provides convincing and illustrative anecdotes and stories, and reaches into world traditions and literature as well as contemporary scientific research. This book offers a systematic and well-organized view of Buddhist psychology, complete with occasional diagrams. Concepts and practices are placed in a framework that explains and connects them. It's all done with an eye toward application; most chapters end with exercises. Kornfield has been practicing Buddhism for close to 40 years, a lasting discipline that has produced this masterful book and a seasoned view of life that acknowledges a lot of oopses. As a mediator and psychologist, he has also witnessed some serious angst, including his own, and draws on it for illustrative power. Not everything here is new, least of all the title, but then the Buddha isn't either. The best is left for last: joy you can seek for yourself and others. Just keep your meditative seat, and this book by your bed. Kornfield comes across as the therapist you wish you'd had."
(Originally posted to Multiply September 6, 2008)

Book Review: Getting Unstuck

Genre:  Religion & Spirituality
Author: Pema Chodron
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

While this is called an "audiobook" it is, correctly, simply a CD of dharma talks presented in six half hour sessions given by Pema Chodron. Many Buddhist teachers have dharma talks available on the Internet but Chodron's are tightly controlled and I have never seen one for free download. I got this through British Columbia's digital library downloads. I never thought I would do a review on an 'audiobook' but this has been an exceptional listen on the Tibetan teaching of "shenpa."

This is a must listen for any Buddhist practitioner. It is a must listen for anyone. This teaching shows how we get stuck in life. It shows us how to get unstuck, unhooked.

"This is a teaching on a Tibetan word: shenpa. The usual translation of the word shenpa is attachment. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition was attachment. But the word "attachment" absolutely doesn't get at what it is. Dzigar Kongtrul said not to use that translation because it's incomplete, and it doesn't touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.

If I were translating shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I'm going to give you a few. One word might be hooked. How we get hooked.
Another synonym for shenpa might be that sticky feeling. In terms of last night's analogy about having scabies, that itch that goes along with that and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and it's the urge to scratch. So, urge is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, the urge to have one more drink, or whatever it is where your addiction is.

Here is an everyday example of shenpa. Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens— that's the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we're talking about where it touches that sore place— that's a shenpa. Someone criticizes you—they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child— and, shenpa: almost co-arising.

At Gampo Abbey it's a small community. We're thirty monks and nuns there. You have a pretty intimate relationship there, living in community. People were finding that in the dining room, someone would come and sit down next to them and they could feel the shenpa just because this person sat down next to them, because they had some kind of thing going about this person. Then they feel this closing down and they're hooked......"
Do yourself a favor and get a copy of this wonderful teaching.

(Originally posted to Multiply September 5, 2008)



Arctic Mission

For many years my best friend was Ken Beichler. Ken was a missionary with Arctic Missions (now InterAct Ministries) and was the director of the Native Bible Center, a Christian High School for Native (First Nations) children. The Native Bible Center became the Native Bible Institute, a Bible college for Native men. Ken directed that also.  Eventually Arctic Missions redefined their mission and left this area. The property was sold to the Canadian Sunday School Mission who also ran a Bible School on this property.

My youngest daughter called Ken "Beeker."

So, Beeker, these photos are for you.


Recognize where you are at? Well, you probably wouldn't if you were driving the Nazko Highway. The Mountain Pine Beetle has devastated the area and it is all dead and dying trees. Millions and millions of acres of them. For a while, in the beginning, we laughed about out 'red' trees. No one laughs any longer. It is ugly and horrible. They have all turned an ugly black now. I'm sure someone has sent you pictures.


We're getting close. Remember this?

I took the ride out here this morning just to grab these photos for you, Ken. I haven't been out here in years. I have probably only been out here three times since you moved. The Tibbles Lake road is being widened out for some reason. Then again, maybe they are just removing all the dead trees. There are probably 200 logging truck loads stacked up on the sides of the road from the corner up to the bridge,

It was actually kind of sad to go out here.


Everything is so run down.


Apparently the Canadian Sunday School Mission sold this. I didn't know when I went there this morning. All the staff housing on this side of the creek has been turned into rental units I was told by some desperate looking fellow who looked as if he had stepped out of the set of the movie Deliverance. Indeed, this whole place reeks of the Ozarks. Very sad. This is probably all old news to you. Probably George B. or someone has already told you. I'm not up on the backwoods gossip.




I have no idea what they would be using the A-frame for if the rest of the houses are being used for rental units by a bunch of people who, seemingly, have one tooth per every four people. The man I spoke with, who was about as unfriendly as they come, claimed he was going to be buying the property very soon and continuing to rent it.


This was the best cabin left, I think. Probably 'cause that was the one I helped you on. Ha. (This is the little one behind he A-frame.)
Girls dorm or boys dorm?


Okay, Ken, that is the end of the tour. I hope it didn't sadden you as much as it did me.

I miss you, I think of you often. and I will answer your last email soon.

(Originally posted to Multiply September 3, 2008)

Zazen on a Woodpile #2

This morning and most of yesterday I was out at daughter Chris' place splitting the wood Scott and I had gotten sawn up.


Ace lent a hand and did pretty good for a man who really only has the use of one arm. Think about this the next time you feel sorry for yourself or think you cannot do something.


While Ace worked on one side of the pile I worked on the other. We had what was sawn up split in short order.


Tomorrow it will be back to sawing up another great pile to be split later.  So far about a cord or a little less has been split and stacked. A cord is a stack of wood 4 ft by 4 ft. by 8 ft or 128 cubic foot.



I figure that they will need 8 cords at least to get them through the winter. That would be 8 times what we already have split and stacked above. You can see what I will be doing all fall.

While we worked ourselves into a sweat, Heiden took it easy.


(Originally posted to Multiply September 3, 2008)

Book Review: Breath By Breath

Genre:  Religion & Spirituality
Author: Larry Rosenberg
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Larry Rosenberg is the founder of Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and a guiding teacher at the Insight Meditation Society of Barre, Massachusetts. Based on the Anapanasati Sutra, this book is the best book on meditation I have ever read. This is an incredibly valuable resource for both the beginning meditator or the seasoned practitioner.

I had gotten this book from the library to save money but, having read it, now have to buy it as I will be returning to it time and again.

(Originally posted to Multiply August 31, 2008)

Falling Down Blue

"Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you,
It’s late September and I really should be back at school."
~ Rod Stewart, Maggie May

For the last several days it has rained in Biblical proportions here. Everything is wet and soggy and the deep heat of August has given way to a chilling damp that is more like mid to late September than the end of August. The damp smells like the rot of fall and not the dog days of August. Until the rains it has been quite dry and the Cottonwoods and Aspens had been dropping leaves in the heat. In the gray and damp those fallen leaves look more like autumn foliage now. The look of an early fall is in the air. Of course whether it come early or not, it is coming. Summer will soon dawn it's after Labor Day clothing of browns and reds and russets.

There was grammar school and then high school and then university. It was many years after I had children of my own who were going off to school after Labor Day before I stopped feeling I was supposed to go back to school myself. Each fall had me wandering around the University of Maine at Orono campus in my mind.

Growing up on the east coast of the United States autumn was my favourite time of year. Falls there are more gentle and last longer than here in western Canada. I loved autumn with a passion. I loved the sights and smells of the outdoors. The was an aurora of autumn, a mystique, that hovered over all of New England.

I still love fall but not so much now that I live in the northern part of western Canada. Autumn is short here and too soon gives way to the brutal, killing cold of winter. That dread of winter dampens any enthusiasm for autumn.

Of course that is all a mind state and I recognize it as such. In reality it is my unsettled mind that kills the joy of fall and sends me spiralling into a depression each year.

I have a mind state, I have a picture in my mind of how autumn is supposed to be and I cannot shake it and when it is not that way, as it has not been in many years now, it not only doesn't seem like fall, it also doesn't seem to be right at all.

Fall is for gathering wood to warm oneself in winter. I have no wood stove now and without one I feel naked and fearful against the oncoming onslaught of winter. Anyone who has ever had wood heat can tell you that there is nothing like it and it warms far better than any furnace ever has. But, it was more than that. Having a wood stove was always security against the brutal cold I hate so much. Let the power go out. With a wood stove it didn't matter. Plus, there is the warmth and coziness from wood that a furnace, even one with a guaranteed power supply, cannot match.
But it was more than that which I miss. I do not know how to explain because I hardly know what it is that I am missing.

It was family, perhaps. Having loved ones home and buzzing around the house on a rainy fall, weekend day while a soup was bubbling on the stove or a roast was in the oven.

That is it, I think. Autumn isn't autumn for me without a sense of 'home' and I have not felt like I have had a home in a long time now. My current living situation doesn't afford the luxury of feeling at 'home.' Neither does my current relationship. Time spent with Tess is all too often as cold as deepest winter. No warmth of home, no warmth of a family.

Things being the way they are I doubt I will ever have a 'home' again or even a sense of it. Most of the year I can live with that absence but come each autumn as the leaves drop I fall down blue and spend months shaking loose the grip that the noonday demon has on me.

I know I shouldn't feel so sorry for myself. There are many who have neither home nor hearth and who have it much worse than I. Self pity is a crime of selfishness yet I cannot shake it this time of year.

I simply long for a warm home, it need not be large nor even special in any way. Truth be told a bit rustic would be preferred. A wood stove. Someone to share it with who doesn't yell and scream at me and constantly tell me I am stupid would be nice.  Time shared with someone else who likes to read away a rainy October day.

It is all so hard to explain.

The black dog is barking at my door.

(Originally posted to Multiply August 31, 2008)

Two Quotes

"It never hurts to think too highly of a person; often they become ennobled and act better because of it." (Nelson Mandela)

You are perfect just the way you are. And there is room for improvement." (Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki)

(Originally posted to Multiply August 31, 2008)

Forgetfulness

Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

~ Billy Collins

(Originally posted on Multiply August 31, 2008)

The Only Way To Fight A War

"American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

"The formation then flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks.

"The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again and made everything and everybody as good as new.

"When the bombers got back to their base, the steel containers were taken from their racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mostly women who did this work.

"The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again."
~~ Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

Wendell Berry wrote:

"It is the destruction of the world in our own lives that drives us half insane, and more than half. To destroy that which we were given in trust: how will we bear it? It is our own bodies that we give to be broken, our bodies existing before and after us in clod and cloud, worm and tree, that we, driving or driven, despise in our greed to live, our haste to die. To have lost, wantonly, the ancient forests, the vast grasslands is our madness, the presence in our very bodies of our grief."
What else is there left to say?

(Originally posted to Multiply August 29, 2008)

The Real Cost of Freedom

Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.
~~Buddha

Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground. Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down

~~Crosby Stills Nash and Young

A friend mentions something about their life and says, "I hope I can forgive some day." I hope they can too, for their own peace of mind, for their own health.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sing the haunting melody, "Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground."

It is popular, especially on Veteran's Day or on Memorial Day to wander the cemeteries placing, flags on graves, and toss off casual remarks about death being the cost of freedom. The Cenotaph commemorating the dead of WWI and WWII in this community reads, "To the Glorious Dead" forgetting entirely that there is nothing at all glorious about rotting in the ground, nothing nobel about lives cut short, nothing honorable about kill or be killed. Dying is only the cost of freedom in a very marginal sense and all the millions and millions of dead in thousands and thousands of wars has never brought about real peace. Like death and poverty, war and hatred are with us always and they will be with us always until we all learn a different way. The eternal truth is indeed "hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love."

Some years ago now three individuals set out to destroy my life. The story isn't important. The why's and how's aren't necessary to understanding what I wish to say. It is enough to know that at a time when I was very, very sick and utterly defenceless, they succeeded in that endeavor. My life as I knew it was completely trashed beyond any hope of getting back. It was a breath taking act of maliciousness and of the three, one individual struck the hardest and reviled not only in the destruction of my life but in my illness and my inability to defend myself.

It should come as no surprise that I came to hate this individual.
I do not use hate in it's casual sense here, although in reality hate is never casual. I am speaking of hate as an all consuming conflagration that consumed my mind. At one point I was hospitalized and heavily medicated to prevent me from actively seeking out and killing this individual and, truth be told, if that action had not been taken I may have done exactly that.

Even when medication and time had cooled the fires of hatred to where this person was safe to walk around in the dark, hatred for them still consumed me. While I no longer fantasized actively killing them I did fantasize scenarios where I was able to be a passive agent of their death.

In truth, as terrible and harsh as it is, fantasizing this person's death became the only way I could get to sleep at night and this at a time when I was on a cocktail of six different psychotropic drugs that should have kept me sleeping twenty three hours a day.

In truth, as ugly as it is, I looked forward to going to bed at night so I could run that fantasy if their death around in my head for two or three hours before I fell asleep and in those months I imagined countless scenarios of their destruction.  It became harder and harder to come up with new means through which they might die. The scenes in my mind became ever more elaborate and took more and more thought and time.

My hatred of this person was all consuming. It was eating me alive and for a very long time I didn't care. I did not care about the effect this was having on me as long as I could continue to enjoy this fantasy, this hope. In my hatred all reason was lost. It never dawned on me that even if they were dead my situation would be no different, that I would still be left living and left living with all I had lost.

It was draining. It was killing me and one night I realized my hatred had become an addiction and like an addiction it required a greater and greater 'dose' to get me off. The hatred had to grow and grow to satisfy and, also like an addiction, in the end there was not enough hatred to satisfy my need.

Finally the light began to dawn. In the wee small hours one morning I realized that all this hate I bore this individual didn't hurt them one bit. They didn't know how many times or how many ways they had died in my fantasy. The deeper truth is that while I was consumed with them, I wasn't even an infrequent thought to them. Then another truth sunk home. I realized that no sane, healthy, well adjusted person could have done what they had done (just as no sane, healthy, well adjusted person would spend hours every day fantasizing someones death) and there was no value in hating someone who was as warped as this person clearly was.

And, in the end, I let it go. I had to. There was no where else to go, no where else to move. I had to let it go to save myself.

I know there are many who have been in the position I was in. I know there are many, like my friend, who are there still and who do not know how to let go.

I won't say it is easy. I won't say it is done overnight. But it can be done.

In Buddhism there is a form of consciousness called "store" consciousness and it's name also denotes it function. It "stores" seeds: seeds of love, compassion, kindness as well as seeds of anger and jealousy and hatred. These seeds pop into our main consciousness of their own accord. It us up to us whether they stay there and flourish however. Only the seeds that we water stay. If we stop watering the seeds of hatred and anger and rancour they stop growing and go back into storage. Likewise, if we water the seeds of love and compassion and forgiveness they grow and stay and become the foundation of who we are. It is our choice. It is up to us.

I chose forgiveness. It wasn't easy. It was hard to water that seed every day. Probably the hardest thing I have ever done.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness does not mean that we love the person who has harmed us. It does not mean they become our best friend or that we go golfing with them. Forgiveness does not mean that we give up discernment and put ourselves in a position to be hurt by the same person again. It does not mean anything like that. Forgiveness just means we forgive, we let go, we stop hating and when we can stop hating we will stop hurting.

The real cost of freedom is not buried in the ground. The real cost of freedom in found in forgiveness.

(Originally posted to Multiply August 27, 2008)

Three Months No Smoking. Yay For Me.

Today is a milestone I never thought I would reach. It has been three months since I quit smoking.  There were times previously when I wouldn't go three minutes between smoking, lighting one off another.

I have said before, I was not one of those candy ass smokers who bemoaned their addiction. I reveled in it. I loved smoking. I loved the rush, I loved the smell, I loved the taste, I loved the feel. I had no intentions of quitting. Ever. I knew the risks I was taking and I was prepared to take them as payment for the enjoyment I received.

The only reason I finally quit was cost. Cigarettes had just come too expensive here in Canada, over $9.00 a package, and I finally grew tired of the expense which was over $500 a month. I just couldn't justify that any longer no matter how much enjoyment I received.

So, it was off to the doctor for a prescription for Champix and the attempt to quit. It was, with the use of Champix, the easiest thing I have ever done. That drug should be given away free to anyone who wishes to quit because if you cannot quit smoking with Champix it is because you simply do not wish to quit.

In the three months since I have quit I have lost 37 pounds and walked over 1500 kilometers. I am healthier than I have been in 20 years. (Yesterday I spent eight hours with a chainsaw on a woodpile, a feat that would have killed me if I was still smoking.) I took up walking to help me with the craving for cigarettes and it has become something I have come too enjoy more than smoking and which I look forward to each day. I love the smells and sights I encounter whether walking the River Front Trail or hiking through the woods.

I will blog about it before summer is over but I can say with all certainty that this has been the best summer I have had since I was in my late teens.

Do I ever miss smoking? Hell, yea. I miss a smoke in the morning and after dinner at night. I miss a smoke sitting outside with a cup of coffee. If I pass someone on the street who has just lit up and the smell hits me, I want one. I just haven't wanted one badly enough to have one and I doubt I ever do. I suspect I will miss smoking the rest of my life but I have found things to replace it that seem to be so much better and which pay me instead of me having to pay.

I am no prima donna here. Like friend Scott, who quit 18 months ago when he had a heart attack, if I was ever told I had a fatal illness, I would probably return to smoking immediately! Why not?

I am also not a "reformed smoker." I don't care if other people smoke and I don't care where they do it. I simply say to anyone who wishes to quit and who has never been able to do so, see your doctor and get a prescription for Champix (Chantix in the United States). It makes short work of quitting.

(Originally posted to Multiply August 20, 2008)

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours, I heard the announcement: If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.
    
Well -- one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there. An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she did this.
    
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly. Shu dow-a, shu-biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick, sho bit se-wee?   The minute she heard any words she knew -- however poorly used - she stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely. She neededto be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the following day. I said no, no, we're fine, you'll get there, just late, who is picking youup? Let's call him and tell him.
    

We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
    
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her -- Southwest.
    
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours. She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering questions.
    
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies -- little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts -- out of her bag -- and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament.

The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California, the lovely woman from Laredo -- we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.
    
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers -- non-alcoholic -- and the two little girls for our flight, one African-American, one Mexican-American -- ran around serving us all apple juice and lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar, too.
    
And I noticed my new best friend -- by now we were holding hands -- had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
    
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in this gate -- once the crying of confusion stopped -- has seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too. This can still happen, anywhere.
    
Not everything is lost.
Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal, by Naomi Shihab Nye

(Originally posted to Multiply August 19, 2008)

Book Review: When Things Fall Apart

Genre:  Religion & Spirituality
Author: Pema Chodron
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

"Suppose there were a place we could go to learn the art of peace, a sort of boot camp for spiritual warriors. Instead of spending hours and hours disciplining ourselves to defeat the enemy, we could spend hours and hours dissolving the causes of war." (Pema Chodron)
I used to be smart enough to read a book once and retain it. Now I sometimes have to read them two or three times to make them 'stick.' (Old age is a bitch.) Other books I fins myself reading twice just because they are so very good. This is one of those that is just so very good it was worth reading twice.

Pema Chodron is not an easy read. I find there is something about her writing style that sometimes makes it hard for me to follow her but then I confess I often have this problem when the writer is from Tibetan Buddhism tradition.
Nonetheless, this book is worth reading and reading again.

(Originally posted to Multiply August 19, 2008)

Book Review: Better Off: Flipping the Switch On Technology

Genre:  Biographies & Memoirs
Author: Eric Brende
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Two People.
One Year.
Zero Watts.

"About a decade ago, Brende was pursuing a graduate degree at MIT by studying technology's influence on society, and he reached conclusions that disturbed both him and his faculty mentors. A chance encounter with a "black-hatted man" prompted Brende and his new wife to move to a religious, "Mennonite-type" community that in many respects makes the Amish seem worldly, where he hoped to pare his environment down to "a baseline of minimal machinery" that could sustain human comfort while allowing him to stay off the power grid. (Details about the community, which Brende dubs the "Minimites" in recognition of their austerity, are left intentionally vague so as to preserve their privacy.) The pervasive back-to-basics sentiment will surprise few familiar with others who work this vein, like Bill McKibben and Kirkpatrick Sale, but Brende's nostalgia for a simpler way of life is far from rabid. His rough prose honestly addresses how neighbors in his new community could graciously offer help yet warily view Brende as an intruder; Brende himself was particularly sensitive to perceived slights, and the radical lifestyle shift created a unique set of strains on his new marriage. Though the ending feels a bit rushed, his gentle case for simple living will easily resonate with the converted and may inspire skeptics to grapple more intimately with the issue." (Amazon)
(Originally posted to Multiply August 15, 2008)

Book Review: Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet

Genre: History
Author: Xinran Xue
Rating 1 out of 5 Stars

First the synopsis.

Publishers weekly said:

"Inspired by a brief 1994 interview with an aged Chinese woman named Shu Wen, Beijing-born, London-based journalist Xinran (The Good Women of China) offers a delicately wrought account of Wen's 30-year search for her husband in Tibet, where he disappeared in 1958. After less than 100 days of marriage, Wen's husband, Kejun, a doctor in the People's Liberation Army, is posted to Tibet and two months later is reported killed. Stunned and disbelieving, 26-year-old Wen is determined to find Kejun herself; a doctor also, she gets herself posted to the isolated Tibetan area where Kejun had been. There, as one of the few women in the Chinese army, she endures much hardship and rescues a Tibetan noblewoman named Zhuoma. After being separated from her fellow soldiers in the wake of an ambush by Tibetan rebels, Wen, accompanied by Zhuoma, sets off on a trek through the harsh landscape. Years later, after going native with a tribe of yak herders, Wen learns the circumstances of Kejun's death and understands that her husband was caught in a fatal misunderstanding between two vastly different cultures. Woven through with fascinating details of Tibetan culture and Buddhism, Xinran's story portrays a poignant, beautiful attempt at reconciliation."
The New Yorker offered:

"In China these days, Tibet is all the rage: Beijing hipsters lounge in bars festooned with yak horns, pop divas sing ballads about Lhasa, and tourists mob the rooftop of the world. This novel, by a Beijing journalist now living in London, plays into the fantasy of the region as a Wild West populated by noble savages, with much to teach the cosmopolitan Chinese. Purporting to be a fictionalized account of a true story, it tells of a Chinese woman whose husband dies while on an Army expedition in Tibet, in 1958. She heads out west to learn the truth about his death, and winds up living with nomads for three decades, conveniently missing out on the Cultural Revolution. For American readers, the urge to mythologize the frontier will be familiar; but here there are no bad guys, only misunderstandings."
I say:

 BULLSHIT. The entire book screams bullshit. It is unbelievable. It is fantastical. It reeks of crap.
I cannot believe that the People's Army would allow Shu Wen to join the Army primarily to search for her husband. I do no believe the Chinese Army had so little information on his death. I refuse to accept the accounts of the Chinese Army suffering defeat after defeat at the hand of the Tibetans when known facts are otherwise. It strains credulity to think this woman could have wandered with the nomads in Tibet for 30 years and never found her way back to China.

This is a badly written book. It would be a badly written novel but it purports to be true.

As The New Yorker said, "In China these days Tibet is all the rage." Yes, and China seems to want to rewrite the history to show how terribly they suffered 'liberating' the Tibetans.

If any part of this book is based on actual fact, if any if it is more than the mad ravings of the author's fevered imagination, I will eat my hat.

(Originally posted to Multiply on August 15, 2008)

When Did Lemons Learn the Same Creed As the Sun?

Why, with these red fires, are the rubies ready to burst into flame?

Why is the heart of the topaz
yellow with honeycombs?

Why is it the rose's vagary
to change the color of its dreams?

Why did the emerald freeze
like a drowned submarine?

And why does the sky pale
in the starlight of June?

Where does the lizard buy
fresh paint for its tail?

Where is the subterranean fire
that revives the carnations?

Where does the salt get
that look of transparency?

Where did the coal sleep
before it woke to its darkness?

And where, where does the tiger buy
the stripes of its mourning, its markings of gold?

When did the honeysuckle first
sense its own perfume?

When did the pine take account
of its fragrant conclusion?

When did the lemons learn
the same creed as the sun?

When did smoke learn how to fly?

When do the roots talk with each other?

How do stars get their water?

Why is the scorpion venomous
and the elephant benign?

What are the tortoise's thoughts?
To which point do the shadows withdraw?
What is the song of the rain's repetitions?
Where do birds go to die?
And why are leaves green?

What we know comes to so little,
what we presume is so much,
what we learn, so laborious,
we can only ask questions and die.
Better save all our pride
for the city of the dead
and the day of the carrion:
there, when the wind shifts
through the hollows of your skull
it will show you all manner of
enigmatical things, whispering truths in the
void where your ears used to be.

~~Flies Enter a Closed Mouth, by Pablo Neruda

(Originally posted to Multiply August 15, 2008)

Accmulation As Religion

John Gatto, New York City teacher of the year when he received his award castigated the school board and the mayor for the soul murder of one million black and latino children in the school system. He said, "Think of the things that are killing us as a nation: dugs, brainless competition, recreational sex, the pornography of violence and racism, gambling, alcohol, and the worst pornography of all - lives devoted to buying things, accumulation as a religion."

What does this do to our children?

(Originally posted to Multiply August 15, 2008)

Moishe and the Pope

About a century or two ago, the Pope decided that all the Jewish people had to leave Rome. Naturally, there was a big uproar from the Jewish community.

So, the Pope made a deal. He would have a religious debate with a member of the Jewish community. If the representative won, the Jews could stay. If the Pope won, the Jews would leave. The Jews realized that they had no choice. They looked around for a champion who could defend their faith, but no one wanted to volunteer. It was too risky. So, in desperation, they finally picked an old man named Moishe, who spent his life sweeping up after people, to represent them. Being old and poor, he had less to lose, so he agreed. He asked only for one condition to the debate. Not being used to saying very much as he cleaned up around the settlement, he asked that neither side be allowed to talk. The Pope agreed.
 
The day of the great debate came. Moishe and the Pope sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Moishe looked back at him and raised his index finger. The Pope waved his hand in a circle around his head. Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope pulled out a communion wafer and a glass of wine. Moishe pulled out an apple.
 
The Pope stood up and announced, "I give up. This man is too good. The Jews may stay.'
 
An hour later, the cardinals were all around the Pope asking him what happened. The Pope said, "First, I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions. Then, I waved my hand around me to show him that God above was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground, showing that God was also right here with us, in our midst. I offered the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us from our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?"
 
Meanwhile, the Jewish community had crowded around Moishe, amazed that this old, somewhat feeble man had done what all their scholars had insisted was impossible! "What happened?", they asked. "Well," said Moishe, "first he said to me that the Jews had three days to get out of the city. I told him that not one of us was leaving. Then, he told me that this whole city must be cleared of Jews! I let him know that we were staying right here." "And then?" asked a woman. "I really don't know," said Moishe. "He took out his lunch, so I took out mine."

So what is the moral of this story? There is their story. There is our story. There is the real story. They are seldom the same stories.  We simply shouldn't believe everything we think.

(Originally posted to Multiply August 14, 2008)

I Did Better When There Was Clapping

A young child and her mother were sitting in the parish playground. The girl held a jump rope in her hand.

The priest walked by and asked her why she wasn't skipping rope and she told him she didn't know how. The priest took the rope from her and began to jump, faster and faster, putting on a remarkable display. Then he gave the rope back to the young girl and told her to try.

She tried and tried and kept stepping in the rope but with much encouragement from the priest and her mother she could eventually skip the rope from time to time and then more often. With each success he mother and the priest would clap for her. Soon, her confidence built, she was skipping rope like a pro and her mom and the priest continued to clap.

After while the child wandered off with her rope and the priest and the mother sat and talked for a while until they looked up to see the little girl returning dragging her rope behind her.

"What's wrong?" her mother asked?

"I think I did better when there was clapping," she replied.

Wouldn't it be nice if we clapped more often for our children? Why did we stop? They still need it at any age. Truth be told, we all need it, even at our age. Wouldn't it feel good if someone clapped for you right now? If someone let you know you were doing a good job?

What a difference that would make in the lives of all of us.

(Originally posted to Multiply August 12, 2008)

Then You're Probably A Dog

Sometimes I pity myself and all the while I am being carried by great winds across the sky.
~~Ojibway Proverb

Most of the time I don't have much fun. The rest of the time I have no fun at all.

~~Woody Allen
 


If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills,
If you can be cheerful ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can overlook when people take things out on you through no fault of your own,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can relax without liquor and sleep without the aid of drugs,
Then you're probably a dog.

(Originally posted to Multiply August 9, 2008)