Morning Light and Chairs and the Shadows of my Breath

Photography, Edinburgh, Scotland, Color

Every morning, I wake up at 5:50 AM to meditate. The light is different every day, and I am learning to recognize the patterns played by the the rising sun. A month ago, the sun was rising an hour earlier, and it seemed like it never actually set. Recently, the sun has been rising later, and sometimes filters through the clouds differently. When there are no clouds, and it hits the objects in our living room, it can sometimes create magical patterns on the walls, as happened with these chairs.

In the presence of the final mystery

black and white, Color, Portrait, travel

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“Culture, in the deeper issues, is no smooth, placid, academic thing. It is no carefully arranged system of rules and theories. It is the passionate and imaginative instinct for things that are distinguished, heroic and rare. It is the subtilizing and deepening of the human spirit in the presence of the final mystery.” John Cowper Powys

Portobello Blues and The Dharma Bums

Color, Edinburgh, Life Philosophy, Photography, Scotland, travel
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Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland

I hated Hated HATED The Dharma Bums for the first seventy eight pages.  But then, on page 79, I realized that he was disenchanted with California Buddhism as much as anyone, and I suddenly realized that he was ridiculing ALL of society, both the people gladly caught up in conspicuous consumerist culture and the people who rail against that consumerist culture and then, as soon as they get $300 in 1955 dollars in their pockets, will spend an entire day spending it, exulting in what they are able to buy, and then write an entire chapter on it, un-self-consciously hypocritical.  Oh man, did I end up enjoying it.

According to Wikipedia, this was one of the reviews:

“Don’t read Kerouac when you’re too young. Read him as you join that long death march called steady employment. Then look back. Look back to all the people you knew, those people who went here and there, those people who knew odd patches of philosophy and poetry. They fucked. They doped and boozed in desperate self medication. Look back at yourself. Jack travels here and there. He knows people with Odd Knowledge. They have plumbed the breadth and depth of human existence. They get laid in the era before The Pill. They doped and boozed. They had the Knowledge. Read Kerouac and look back. And then it occurs to you. It’s all been done before. None of your old pals will ever be quite what he once was in your memory. And you’ll know Kerouac for what he was. And you know that amidst all the lies, he told the truth. The truth with a little ‘t’. He wanted to fool you, but he couldn’t. It wasn’t in him; he hadn’t the talent for it. He had only enough to tell you the way he had wanted it to be. How he wanted it to be when he looked back on it.”  John Suiter

I’m going to enjoy re-reading this regularly now that I’m no longer in my youth.  If anything, it’s making me far more sympathetic to people; I certainly realize how intolerant, how incomprehensibly and unacceptably intolerant, I have been, and how I need to change, and how so much of the time we have the same goals and just go about it from different angles, or, as Bob said, me, I’m still on the road, heading for another joint; we always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view, and

There was a wisdom in it all, as you’ll see if you take a walk some night on a suburban street and pass house after house on both sides of the street each with the lamplight of the living room, shining golden, and inside the little blue square of the television, each living family riveting its attention on probably one show; nobody talking; silence in the yards; dogs barking at you because you pass on human feet instead of on wheels.  You’ll see what I mean, when it begins to appear like everyone in the world is soon going to be thinking the same way and the Zen Lunatics have long joined dust, laughter on their dust lips.  Only one thing I’ll say for the people watching television, the millions and millions of the One Eye: they’re not hurting anyone while they’re sitting in front of that Eye.  But neither was Japhy…

My Children Are Going To Rule

Color, Life Philosophy, Photography, travel
  1. When I was little, and I had to divide something with my sister, our mom would tell one of us to split up whatever we were sharing; the other would get to choose which half they wanted.  The point was to teach us to be fair, and not to take advantage of the other party.  If the cutter cheated by making one part bigger, and the chooser picked that bigger half, it was the cutter’s own fault for not making the pieces even.  Basic life lesson, right?
  2. The Harvard Negotiation Project has a famous situation involving an orange.  Two teams have to negotiate over an orange; whichever team fulfils its objectives, as dictated by the instructor, wins (and both teams can win).  However, one team is told that they need the whole pulp of the orange in order to make juice; the other is told that they need the entire rind of the orange to get the zest for a cake.  When the teams go into the negotiation, though, they start out thinking that they need to get the whole orange because they don’t know what the other team wants, and they don’t know that each team can get 100% of their individual goals by working together.  The point of the exercise: it pays to know what the other side is going after, since you might get more of your goal by being uneven in some areas.
  3. If I ever have kids, and I have to teach them “one cuts, the other chooses,” I am going to teach them that they have to think about the other party and what he/she might want out of the situation.  In some instances, maybe they have to divide an orange evenly…which is fine, I guess.  But in others, maybe one kid gets the delicious, smooth icing and the other gets the dense, rich chocolate brownie; one gets the apple filling, the other gets the sugar-flecked crust; one gets the golden fried fish, the other gets the twice-cooked chips.  Call it “Cut/Choose 2.0”.  That’s the kind of life skill that rules the kindergarten playground.
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Children dividing something up on a tributary of the Tonlé Sap, Cambodia.

And death

Color, Edinburgh, Life Philosophy, travel

I was running on a trail this morning and came across this:

A moss-covered brick, with flowers and a small football boot, and a plastic memorial plaque.

It seemed an odd way to remember a son – why on the side of a trail?  Why a concrete brick?  What outpouring of pain could have prompted this tribute?  Perhaps this part of the park was where the son had died, or was somehow special to him.

And then I thought: a concrete brick isn’t that different than any other memorial.  Earlier on my run I’d passed this churchyard:

Who was I to determine what constitutes an acceptable memorial?  What kind of gravestone is appropriate?  What kind of worship?  And then I thought: worship.  That’s exactly what this is.  What are Gods but idealized visions of our ancestors?  This poor mother’s brick, and the porcelain bootie, and the flowers, are all symbols, just as the gravestones are symbols, of affection and love.  And that reminded me of India, and the roadside shrines that, while different in appearance, were not all that different in intent:

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And so for the rest of my run I thought about loss, and love, and how similar we all really are in our sacrifice.