Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Oh wow, check out the picture that a Google search revealed.

Just poking around, looking at weblogs, killing time 'til I have to go to the airport and pick up Karen. Her plane gets in at 9:20 PM, about twenty minutes past my bedtime.

So I've been playing the bachelor since Thursday. It didn't really change much, aside from the devastating loneliness and being able to sleep in the middle of the bed (where Karen usually sleeps). We talked on the phone around noon, her godmother's funeral went well and there were lots of people in attendance.

Cleaning up the bedroom, I ran across the most recent edition of Buddhadharma magazine, which has articles this time on Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, from which the name of this blog is taken. Last year was the centenary year for Suzuki Roshi. He founded the San Francisco Zen Center after coming to the US in 1959. The magazine has two of his lectures, and a rememberance of one of his students. His book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is one I pick up now and then and reread.

I have decided to send in the application for trial membership in the Vermont Zen Center (see link at left). I think I need the experience of practicing with a sangha. Because of the migraines, I have found it very hard to meditate, a practice I dearly miss. Hopefully the center can help me get around this. I attended a beginner's workshop in January, where I learned that my practice has been mostly "Dead Zen," according to the teacher there, Sensei Sunyana Graef. I read a lot, not retaining as near as much of it as I would like, but don't really practice as hard as I would like, which is really the point of Zen to begin with. By practicing with a group I hope to start "Living Zen."

What I have really been practicing is probably closer to "Zombie Zen." I've been meditating off and on since the late 1980's, and reading since then, too. But there is no substitute for practice.

Music in my head: some vague, original melody. Actually, it's pretty quiet up there this evening.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." -Thomas Jefferson

I just finished watching the Ken Burn's film about Thomas Jefferson. The quote above is written around the inside of the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. I was there in the summer of 1986, and the quote made a big impression on me. I changed my trip itinerary to go see Monticello, which is an amazing place. I started reading his letters.

The film reminded me that he was the author of a law for religious freedom for the state of Virginia. That takes on more importance for me as I do not belong to any of the various versions of Christianity, which makes me most likely unfit (in the eyes of the populous) for any major political office. I'm sure that there are many people in this country for whom religious freedom means that they are free to practice their way, but anyone who doesn't is destined for the bowels of hell. I myself have been told this more than once.

Like many Jefferson admirers, I am disappointed with his attitude towards slavery. He never freed any of his slaves. He believed that black people were inferior to whites, and could not be educated. But I do think he would be pleased with the modern evidence that he was wrong.

Another thing of which the film made me think is that, were I to be sucked back into Jefferson's time, I wouldn't be able to do very much. Most of my "advanced" knowledge has to do with the products of electricity. My computer knowledge would be mostly useless. Maybe tenuous knowledge of math might be of use somewhere, and of course I can read and write. But I don't have a lot of what could be termed knowledge useful for the beginning of the 19th century. I'm pretty fair at catching fish. I've grown gardens. My carpentry skills are pretty lousy, even with today's modern power tools. I can ride a horse.

I think if I were to have advanced notice of being sent back, I would try to learn such skills as surveying, working with chemicals, renew my understanding of basic electricity, perhaps learn to be an EMT, and get a better handle on world history. I would learn more about the natural world, and about blacksmithing.

One of the curious things I learned about Jefferson (not from the film) is that he enjoyed making nails.

In any event, the 3-hour film is very enjoyable, and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The insomnia continues...I may (unhappily) end up pulling an all-nighter...

I've been reading Stephen Dunn's Pulitzer Prize winning book of poems Different Hours. It reminds me that I used to write poetry from time to time; even got a few published. Anyway, I've been inspired...



A man in search of enlightenment writes
.his temporary truths on the walls of a
..train station that gets very little traffic.

Truth as impermanent as the timetables which
.change as new tracks and new trains are added,
..or the shape of mountains and sometimes moves slowly.

And there's few ways in
.and more ways out to
..places everyone's already been;
...clever stops, some, but mostly mundane
....sophistry for sleepy insomniacs.


ok, not so great, but what do you expect at 1 AM?

Music playing in my head: Dido singing stoned

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

It's 4:30 AM and I've been up for about an hour, though I tossed and turned awhile before getting up. The weather station says it is 6 degrees outside, and I believe it.

There's nothing like the wee hours of the morning for solitude.

Karen's godmother died yesterday, and she (Karen) spent most of the evening last night trying to figure out what to do. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was that she and her sister are flying to Islip Thursday morning...with our twin two-year-old nieces. Since the flight will most certainly involve taking turbo-props, I don't envy any of them.

Well, back to bed. I'm yawning so much my eyes are watery...

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Cheryl Wheeler's song Further and Further Away starts with the lines

I can see the place where I come from,
I can hear those sounds right now.

and it occurred to me that I don't remember all that many sounds from my youth. There is memory of things said, of songs heard, and gun fire. I remember what sounds were made by my first car. I remember the sounds the wind made as it blew across the roof of our house, and the sound of rain. I recall the sounds of birds; there are lots of different kinds of birds in South Texas, it is kind of a bird watcher's heaven.

And then there are sounds that I remember they were sounds, but don't recall how they sounded. For example, I know our dogs would bark when someone came to visit, but I don't remember the particular bark. There were sounds of the highway. There were the rumbles of watermelon trucks going by. We had cows that mooed and horses that neighed. Our neighbors had pigs that squealed. The rancher up the road had a call for his cattle when he called them in to feed. I know these sounds existed, but I don't remember the sounds themselves.

Our society is a very noisy one. We don't seem comfortable with silence. This is odd, because there are few places in the world where it is possible to really experience true silence. Sometimes I can experience it here in Vermont, when there is a heavy snowfall. About the only sound you can hear is the sound of the snowflakes hitting the that's quiet.

I remember cross-country skiing in Yellowstone National Park during a heavy snowfall and I kept hearing a deep pounding sound. It took me a few moments to realize it was the beating of my heart.

I think we should take some time every day to just stop and listen. Perhaps our grandchildren will want to know what silence was like, or what life sounded like when we were young. I would hope we wouldn't have to associate sound with events, but just be able to hear what life sounds like all around us.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Doing something I don't do very often; I am listening to music as I do something else, namely typing in today's entry. I am listening to Marsha Webb's CD Winding Roads (I seem to have misplaced my copy of White Rock). I think I'm inspired to play this CD after watching Keiko Matsui's DVD White Owl, which come as a bonus when you buy the CD. The concert just blew me away. More on her in a later post.

For a handful of years I have stopped trying to do multiple things at one time, but just concentrate on what I'm doing at the moment. This is my attempt at "being in the moment" and trying to be mindful. So, when I listen to music, I usually just listen to music, either with headphones or on a stereo player. I'm not all that fond of having music playing "in the background" as if silence is difficult to hear.

But, because music is on my mind, I'm breaking my own rule.

Sometimes I've been able to deal with headaches by listening to music. Marsha's music, particularly her solo piano work, can ease the pain somewhat. I have a cassette or two of her solo work that she recorded just while playing the piano (I've got to go look for those) that I used to play over and over.

Probably the musical work that helps with the pain most is Brahms' Fourth Symphony (I believe it is nicknamed "Tragic"). I can't explain why that is, but there is something cathartic about playing that piece, which also helps when I'm feeling a little down. Orchestral works by Rachmaninoff are big helps, too, particularly the Piano Concertos and the Second Symphony.

Other works can intensify a headache sometimes, I think because I get caught up in the emotion of the music. I noticed this evening that watching Matsui and listening to her concert that my head was beginning to hurt (It was worth it, though). If I closed my eyes and just let the music wash over me, it seemed to ease, but then, it's a DVD concert, so what's the point of keeping your eyes closed?

There's some good music available from Sounds True that I find very helpful. Their Anthology of Sacred World Music (I think there are two volumes of these) is very soothing. I've also become fond of the Tibetan flute music of Nawang Khechog.

There's something about singing that is more distracting than anything else. So much of the songs that I hear are more like poetry than song lyrics, which can be nice, but I like songs that have a sound. When I hear such songs, I have to hear the song maybe eight or ten times before I catch the words, because I get lost in the sound of the voice. But as for listening to songs during a headache, I just can't do it. Most of the time I can't just lay back and listen, it takes more effort of concentration that I can dedicate at such times.

There are some CD's that are supposed to help meditation, but that is strictly out for me. For zazen, I need silence, or maybe a nice white noise source.

Music is almost always playing in my head (except when I am listening to it), so I guess I've got a lot of music in me. It's nice that it has a therapeutic help.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Quote from HH the Dalai Lama: "We're definitely better off now than we were in the past, and I think the spirit of nonviolence, the spirit of reconciliation, is in the air."

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Looking at yesterday's post, I'm reminded of the Buddhist notion that attachments are a cause of suffering. I was really attached to the idea of a Dean presidency, and to the political change such an administration would bring.

There's nothing wrong in having hopes, but having attachment to them can have negative consequences. I've always been someone who spent a lot of time looking forward in time; I am still trying to learn how to spend my time in the present.

Living in the present does not mean that one does not have hopes and dreams for the future. What it does mean is that one concentrates one's effort in the here and now. What can I be doing now that can make the future possible?

Having said that, out my window right now there is a gentle snowfall, and the sky is a cotton candy pink. Already there is a thin white layer on the outer branches of the white pine trees, like the icing on a cinnamon roll. I have a migraine already this morning, and the inside of my head feels like a balloon that is dangerously too full of hot air. The hot air analogy seems particularly appropriate this morning.
That sky is just amazing. There is a tall paper birch tree outside my window, and it, too, has a pinkish color to it. Pink is supposed to be a calming color; it sure seems to be working this morning.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Well, it looks like my support for a candidate in the primary races is still the kiss of death. Howard Dean dropped out of the race today, and with him the last hope for a principled, competent president. So far I have yet to pick a candidate in the primaries; they've all been gunned down.

I don't know where this Kerry character comes from, politically. I do know that he supported Bush in the latter's personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein and the people of Iraq (and the Muslim world in general). During Bush's regime, we as a military power have invaded and removed the sovereign government of two independent nations without so much as a declaration of war from our piss-poor excuse of a Congress. During the first Gulf War, we liberated Kuwait, and Kerry did not support that action. He did, however, support last year's invasion. I don't know what he uses for principles; whatever they are, I don't agree with them.

It is situations like this that make people in the country hate politics. There are no more "Candidates of the People" like Dean, and John McCain in 2000. There are no defining principles for either party, beyond "Win, at all costs." And costs are just what we are getting. We are headed for a record deficit, and it is simplistic to put the blame on the office of President, as all spending and budgets come from, and are the responsibility, of Congress. We have entered a new era of civil rights for gay people in this country, and, as usual, our so-called "leaders" are making little murmurs of concern for the "sanctity of marriage." I don't see or hear Senator Kerry taking a leadership role in civil rights beyond what is politically fashionable. Finally, once it became clear that Kerry was the front-runner, the special interests came out with their endorsements (hurray for Organized the way, what other group is labelled with "Organized"...Crime, maybe?). Kerry, like so many of his predecessors, is being bought by special interests.

Sad to say, this will probably be the year I do not vote for President. I will vote in the local races, where there is (at least in Vermont, anyway) still some semblence of integrity. But I am sick and tired of voting against a candidate or a party. And lets face it, this is what we do. We didn't vote for George Bush; we voted against Al Gore. We didn't vote for Al Gore; we voted against George Bush. And we are left this year with equal distaste. In all honesty, I don't think voting for a third party candidate is "throwing away" our vote. We've been throwing good votes out with bad in every Presidential election in which I have participated.

I suppose we are getting the government we deserve.

Rant mode off. I'll go back to talking about innocuous things like headaches, enlightenment (and lack thereof) and hope for the best. At least I haven't reached the point of building bunkers and arming myself to the teeth.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Hello, back muscles!

Last night I had the first of eight classes in Svaroopa yoga. This is a gentle yoga, where you are propped up for most of the poses. We used a chair for two of the poses, and lay on the floor for two of the poses, and were on our knees for the lunge. This type of yoga works the back muscles, primarily the muscles along the spine.

Karen and I did a workshop prior to committing to the class, and we did a lot of poses. In the class last night we did only four (plus a marker pose), and we did each of them twice.

I should start by saying that I am fat; about 50 pounds overweight. So, when it came time to do a lunge (a pose kinda similar to that of a sprinter in starting blocks) the excess baggage around my waist compressed into my rib cage and I found it very difficult to breath. You're supposed to be relaxed when you do these poses, but based on the amount I was sweating, and no doubt by the color changes in my face, I wasn't very relaxed. I was nearly suffocating!

Months of relatively little activity has made me into a tight, fat ball of lazy muscles. There are just certain ways my body refuses to fold or bend. Pat, our instructor, is very tolerant of this and shows me alternative ways to do some of the poses. She told me that I wasn't the tightest person she has ever taught (pun intended, I guess).

We'll see how this plays out.

Friday, February 06, 2004

These are the dark days of the year. There's no baseball.

It's snowing like crazy and its right at 20 degrees outside. Football is over, and there's hockey and basketball. Football doesn't really fill the void of no baseball, but college football at least gives me something to watch on Saturdays (this whole thing about national champions of football is silly and someday I'll explain why I think so).

If I can just get through February, there will be spring training games to access over the internet. Maybe ESPN classics will show a game here and there. Looks like they show a "This Week in Baseball" from time to time, a little baseball teaser.

I grew up an Astros fan, and remember when Nolan Ryan toyed with a no-hitter until he finally got one with them. Later he did it again with the Texas Rangers.

But I was also a Dodgers fan, because my Little League team was the Dodgers. I pitched and played first base. We won one game my last and only Little League year, and I didn't pitch it. In other words, I'm a miserably poor player, and couldn't hit (and still can't), but I love the game all the same.

When the season starts in April, it's as if all is right with the world. Now living in New England, the weather starts to warm up (though there can be some wicked heavy snows), the sap may have finished it's run, and trout season starts the second Saturday. But it is the return of baseball that gladdens my heart.

I don't listen to every game during the season, but I try to catch as many as I can. Radio is a good medium for broadcasting games, because it is really a cerebral sport and it doesn't take much imagination to follow the action (football kinda works, basketball and hockey over the radio is hopeless). I'll have the game on when stacking wood, or working in the garden, and always when going somewhere in the car. Sometimes, when the game is on TV, I'll turn on the radio and turn the TV sound off. I've tried this with internet broadcasts, but the delay is too long; the play is over on the TV before it starts on the computer.

Poor Karen becomes a baseball widow. She's tried watching games with me, and gets through several innings, and even remembers some of the players. But she's not a sports fan, and there is no getting around that.

We have a local single-A team, the Vermont Expos. They play at Centennial Field on the University of Vermont campus. This is summer ball, and development baseball. Few of the players make the team two years in a row; they move up, or move on. Still, it is our hometown team and so we try to catch a game now and then.

Right now the field is under a few feet of snow, and summer seems a long, cold way away.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Don't go to the movies much, though I really enjoy them. We have DISH network, so we get a lot of our movies pay-per-view. We also buy DVD's on occasion. We just watched The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and loved it, although I guess this isn't a universal sentiment.

I'm sorry to say that though I recognized the works from which the characters are taken (with the exception of Randy Skinner, which I understand was made up for the comic) I have not read any of them. This is a kind of sad story on my part, because I love to read so much, and always have one or two books I am reading at any given time. Mostly, over the last year or two, I have been reading books on Buddhism.

So I dug through my collection of classical literature and discovered I do have some of the books, and will try to get the others. I first read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a shorter novel (or lonnger short story). Next is Allan Quatermain, which I have just started. I also found a copy of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (I used to read a lot of science fiction, but have somehow drifted away from it). I'm pretty sure I have a copy of Dracula around somewhere.

So, it looks like I'll be having some fun for the next few months.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

I just read this morning about the MyDoom worm and how it is running rampant. Don't get me started on the stupidity and incompetence of Microsoft; if they were not a monopoly, they would be out of business. It seems so odd that a company which distributes such a defective product is not innundated with lawsuits. If they were building autos, the carnage would be unspeakable.

No, I noticed myself laughing when I read that "hundreds of thousands of computer users" have clicked on the attachment that comes with the e-mail that spreads the worm. By now, there can't seriously be any person who owns a computer that is hooked to the Internet that doesn't know about viruses and worms. I mean, how stupid can people be? A simple rule of thumb, people; if you don't know what the attachment does, don't open it! Maybe we have reached the point where we need to license computer users, and to own one you have to pass a competency test. (It can't and shouldn't happen - I don't think Bill Gates himself could explain the basis behind the idiotic human factors nightmare that is Windows).

The rest of us need to protect ourselves. Unless a miracle happens, and Windows becomes as secure as Unix or OS X, we have to bear the burden and expense of keeping our computers safe. This means: (1) Buy, and keep updated, virus protection software; (2) buy, and keep updated, a firewall (I know they can be a pain in the butt, but there is really no substitute); and, here's one most people don't follow, (3) make sure your computer is physically safe. Don't store passwords on your system for anything you don't want other people to discover. This means don't use MS Passport (there must be hundreds of thousands of people using this...we know there's that many stupid computer users), don't let your browser save info filled into forms, don't let your password be saved by the browser, don't store your credit card numbers on your system, don't let someone break into your home and use your computer for identity theft. It might be a good idea to use a boot-up or login password. Think of it this way; if your computer is stolen, what will the thief be able to find out?

Alright, end of rant. I'll go back to talking about benign things once again.