Retreat

With the Angel City Zen Center retreat beginning tomorrow, I’m feeling the need to reset, not because things are bad. On the contrary, I can’t complain about much. Resets could also be needed when things are good. I’m in need of a reset to bring me back to the present. When life veers toward nostalgia (reminiscing the past) or hopefulness (expectations for an imagined future), then I need a reminder to shake off the mind fuzz. Three days of silence and yoga will be like an ice cube on sunburned skin. No phone, internet, computers, TV, radios, cars, traffic, sidewalks, driveways, and freeways. No politics, elections, mail bombs, CNN, Fox News, and Saudi Arabian coverups. No bills, jobs, presentations, invoices, homework, projects, and networking. No worries. Three days of “being” without premeditated behaving, experiencing without contriving, and living without planning. I’ve been looking forward to this retreat for a long time.

Yet, my anticipation has come without the typical impatiences that normally accompany these kinds of urges. I think oftentimes my desires have a time component in them, which creates an illusion of urgency. My relationship with time has changed. I understand that time is an effect of movement. Stillness will penetrate that illusion of urgency. Ceasing reactions will bring about clarity because when kinetic energy is tempered you could discern the particle from the wave.

Movement is often equated with life, as is progress and growth. Movement has its place in life, but life is also everything else. Life is movement and stillness and energy and decay. It is everything we label as good and everything we think of as bad. It is not, one and not the other. There are no fractions in reality. Life is whole, undivided, and complete. There is a beginning and an end, and everything in between comprises the whole. When you truly look at things, you realize everything is complete—even emotions. It’s not half of one and a quarter of another. Or when we apply ourselves at something—we don’t just give part of ourselves. It’s all of ourself, at that moment. (Whether it’s enough is another matter.) When we think of life in partial terms, that’s when we create problems.

Home

A house is not a home
But home is the focus
Everything felt red
When you peddle absolutes
Get out of the darkness by
Stepping backwards
And flow between hilarious and grim
Nostalgia in the present tense
Is when you’re in the 90s and not know it
Like the sheets are on just right
Like a staccato delivery that’s breezy and easy
This is how relationships work in interaction
It’s sciency
It’s a call to clench
It’s a new leaf every morning
Home is here.

(Found poem, from Angel City Zen Center writing workshop, October 20, 2018.)

Shining a Light

There is a saying: “Man stands in the shadows and wonders why it is so dark.” This saying implies that man even knows he is standing in darkness. Humankind has lived a relatively short time. We have achieved remarkable things: engineering, medicine, computers, rockets… there are many things to celebrate, for sure. However, I wonder if we are still living in darkness. All the outward achievements and human progress do not equate to a light shining onto the question that truly matters: What is our purpose? Science, medicine, computing, space exploration… these are examples of the spotlight pointing away, as though the answers are out there, somewhere. To be fair, we have not ignored the queries pointing inwards. But those queries seem to be less frequent, ironically, as we become more connected globally via technology. It’s like we have become less interested about ourselves because we know more people. What do we do? Well, we can’t stop “progress.” Whatever progress means, I wonder if it even needs us. Maybe humanity has a shelf life, like the dinosaurs. What was the purpose of the dinosaurs?

(From the free-write at Angel City Zen Center writing workshop, October 20, 2018.)

Standardization

People love to standardize everything. There are practical reasons, and good ones for that matter, when it benefits humanity. However, when standardization is used politically or as ways to exert power, then it should be protested against. Moreover, how do you standardize something that defies it? Zen is one such thing that could not and should not be confined to a set of protocols or even best-practiced procedures. The Buddha didn’t create rules and ceremonies. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that when he became enlightened, he thought about keeping it to himself because he didn’t think anyone would listen him. Eventually he decided to share what he discovered, but he had always advocated that people should discover reality for themselves. That there are now organizations and institutions that say what is right and wrong and how things should be goes against Gautama’s intentions. I think I’ve always been wary of codification and bureaucracy. Brad Warner wrote a blog post about the standardization of Zen and vowed to fight it to the end. On this I support him one hundred percent.

Change

The air is getting cool, especially in the evening and early morning. The seasons are changing, which has always energized me. Maybe intuitively I’ve appreciated change and look forward to it. But, change is something you take account of after the fact. It is not noticeable in the moment. Actually, change is really an effect of comparisons. Change doesn’t happen in real time. A snapshot of reality reveals something as it is in that moment. Only after we compare it to the past do we know it’s different. Still, the effect seems so real and we talk about it as thought it is a tangible thing. People like to say that the only constant in life is change. I don’t think we are giving reality enough credit, at least not enough attention. Change is an illusion, reality’s sleight of hand. Now you see it, now you don’t. It’s really just a distraction, as all illusions are. If you keep your eyes on the ball, you’re not concerned with where it’s been, only where it’s at. Let historians, bloggers, and detractors worry about the past. Give all of that to them. You, happily, will take a slice of now, which is eternity.

Attachment to Words

Don’t be attached to your intentions for your own words, for they come with a sliver of suffering. Whether you intended for them to be very abstract or hyper specific, they are like paper mâché. They will bend and bounce and break, and might even get vengeful over time.

At the same time, don’t think they are not important. Like time, they can’t be wasted. They are the best tools we have to offset the fear of today and the worship of tomorrow. They give us humor and paper duck. They prod us with obtuse philosophical questions and cautionary tales. They breakup with us with tender instructions. They give us a sense of justice and delineate right and wrong. They are the language of dogs, if dogs didn’t bark, because they are loyal like monks on mountains.

Just remember to not give two fucks and a moon about them.

(Found poem from Angel City Zen Center writing workshop, September 15, 2018.)

The Virtue of Silence

Silence does not mean acquiescence, nor empathy, nor aloofness, nor resignation. Silence is simply observation. It means to accept what is, to not turn away or reject reality.

Silence doesn’t equal quiet either. Silence is actually listening, truly and uninhibited. Silence is filtering out the excess, the superfluous, the obstructions, the distractions, and the delusions. It is golden. It is relief. It is truth. It is power. It is resetting to equilibrium, to clarity. We need it as much as we need air and water. In this age of always-on, constant stimuli, digital addiction, we might need silence more than ever.

Silence also means space, to have that buffer where cessation of sensory input could be possible. To have silence on a regular basis is luxurious, but once tasted it you will want more. The more we are connected externally—via internet, social media, digital devices—the less we are truly connected in fundamental ways of reality. In fact, those tools of external connection build walls of isolation and division. The way back to true human connection is through silence.

Satisfaction in the Incomplete

There is satisfaction in incompleteness. There can be joy in not finishing, contentment in being unfulfilled, and liberation in not attaining. What’s the point of achieving a goal and feeling that fleeting, tangent, ephemeral state of accomplishment only to experience emptiness, letdown, and restlessness shortly afterward? When you crave for a type of food and then gorge until you are filled to the brim, doesn’t that feel uncomfortable? Better to stop the moment before satiety, to savor the taste, but leave wanting. That way the fantasy is preserved. There is nothing more dejecting than to have the construct of your fantasy break down by achieving it.

Even Space Isn’t Safe from Fake News

There is a photo making the social media rounds that shows an image purported to be the final photo taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere, as part of its end-of-life self-destruct choreography after a 13-year mission. This image depicts a breathtaking view of the Saturn cloudscape backdropped by the planet’s majestic rings running vertical to the horizon. It really is a jaw dropping image.

When I first saw the image on Twitter, I had in mind to share it. So I saved it for later. Something told me, though, to make sure it’s the real deal. A quick Google search validated my caution. It turns out that the image, which first surfaced on Facebook, is an artist’s concept (most likely a digital painting).

Only after the image had gone viral did the truth come out. The impulse to share on social media overrode any thought to verify. Even after seeing what the image actually was, some people were commenting that it was a better image than the actual one—meaning they preferred the made-up fantasy over reality.

For the record, the actual photo Cassini took shows a blurry image of Saturn taken in visible light using a wide-angle camera at a distance of 394,000 miles from the planet surface. Cassini was entering Saturn’s upper atmosphere from the night side of the planet. The light it managed to capture came from the light from the sun reflecting off the rings. Despite the awesome rendition of the artist’s concept, IMHO, the real image depicts a reality that is far more interesting and amazing—because it actually happened.