Beginner's Mind

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

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Shunryu Suzuki, as quoted by David Chadwick in Crooked Cucumber:

Buddha is always helping you. But usually we refuse Buddha's offer. For instance, sometimes you ask for something special. This means you are refusing to accept the treasures you already have. You are like a pig. When I was young, as my father was very poor, he raised many pigs. I noticed that when I gave the pigs a bucket of food, they would eat it after I went away. As long as I was there, they wouldn't eat it, expecting me to give them more food. I had to be very careful. If I moved too quickly they would kick the bucket over. I think that is what you are doing. Just to cause yourself more problems, you seek for something. But there is no need for you to seek for anything. You have plenty, and you have just enough problems. This is a mysterious thing, you know, the mystery of life. We have just enough problems, not too many or too few.

Music in myhead:The silly background music from the Propolene commercial. What is that stuff, anyway? I watch too much TV.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

I just finished reading today Pain:The Science of Suffering by Patrick Wall. I will be passing this book onto my pain specialist doctor, in hopes that maybe another of her patients will find it useful.

One of the first things I discovered is that reading about pain when you are in pain brings no relief from the pain. In fact, it starts to concentrate your attention on pain, rather than serve as a distraction.

Much of what the book had to say I had already experienced. There was one chapter on the biology of pain, which I don't have enough neurology knowledge to understand. Another thing that was a surprise to me is that, although pain is the #1 complaint from patients, there is little study being done on pain itself. It is considered more of a symptom, and modern medicine is more interested in finding root causes rather than treat symptoms. One exception to the lack of study is in the field of headache and migraine.

Having said that, there aren't a lot of organizations dedicated to the research of headaches. What there is isn't all that well known, unlike for other areas for which The American Lung Association, March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, and the American Heart Association are examples.

The organization with which I am somewhat familiar is American Council for Headache Education or ACHE. They publish a newsletter and are organizers of headache support groups. ACHE was created by another organization called The American Headache Society or AHS. The ACHE website says that they are a member of the World Headache Alliance, another headache organization.

For the benefit of new readers, I'll restate that I suffer from chronic, daily migraines.

Getting back to the book, it seems that I have gone through many of the associated mental states that come from chronic pain. To make a long story short, I've gotten past the point of expecting some doctor or specialist to solve my pain for me. I have seen individuals in that stage, and can offer little help. I have learned that you must take an active role in dealing with your own pain. It is very easy to crawl up in a ball and play the part of the victim, but the mental states that go along with that only serve to make your pain worse.

It took some time, but I have stopped hanging my hat on the prospect of a cure. I have not lost hope that I will someday be cured, but I'm not depending on it. I've come to learn that, even if there is a cure, it won't happen today and I must learn to cope with it now. I'm a long way from that - but at least now I know it and also believe it is possible. Only on very bad days do I allow myself to wonder Why is this happening to me? I accept that I may never know.

Perhaps it is karma, for the pain I have caused others in this or a former life; but that is a topic for another day.

No music in my head today, just a dull throb.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Spent the afternoon reading, rather than watch another anemic performance of the Yankees as they sputtered through another loss to the Red Sox. I love baseball, and the Yankees, but they are hard to watch when they play so poorly. Hopefully things will turn around for them.

The book that kept me occupied this afternoon was Walking to Vermont by former New York Times correspondent Christopher S. Wren. Upon retiring from the Times, Wren decided he would walk from New York to his retirement in central Vermont. Mostly he hiked the Appalachian trail, except for when he walked from Times Square to the trail.

I really, really like this book and recommend it. I developed a taste for travel literature when I was young and convinced, as many teenagers are, that where I lived was awful and everywhere else was more interesting. That desire to roam died when I moved to Vermont. In the first several years I lived here, I would spend summer weekends hiking, and winter weekends cross-country skiing Vermont backcountry. Wren, at the age of 65, has traveled all over the globe, and, along with stories of his hike, he tells stories of interviews he did with drug lords and heads of state from Moscow to Yemen to Iran. He also tells stories of outdoor adventures during the Vietnam war. But the bulk of the book is about his retirement hike. His memories of the trip remind me of my hiking days, which I hope someday to get into again. That he did this in his sixties, and carried a 50 pound pack on his back, is encouraging to me. I've not run out of time to do it myself.

Anyway, even if you are not a hiker, I think you will find the book interesting.

Music in my head: sadly, it hasn't changed from this morning.

I saw our first pair of evening grosbeaks this morning. Karen tells me she has seen them for a couple of days now. Now, I'm the kind of person to wake her up from a nap to see the first redpoll of the year. Oh well, not everyone gets excited about birds.

All we need now are the rose-breasted grosbeaks and we can declare it to be summer! A cold summer, for sure!

Some sort of nighttime critter is robbing the bird feeders. One night I caught a raccoon doing it, so that's my suspect for the moment. Somehow the thief is able to lower the squirrel baffle and stand on it to get to the sunflower seeds. On another pole, something else is doing the same and I suspect a bear. I just can't see how a raccoon can drop that baffle all the way to the ground.

In any event, looks like I'm gonna have to bring the feeders in at night.

In further signs of spring, we have daffodils blooming, and hyacinth as well. A couple of weeks ago we pulled the driveway stakes at the Zen center. But still, it's been uncomfortably cold. Yesterday Karen and I took Kane (our dog) for a walk after a heartbreaker of a ballgame which saw the Red Sox take yet another game from the Yankees. It was bright and clear, and the wind-chill must have been below freezing. Kinda takes the fun out of it. The red maples have little red buds up and down the limbs, and the beginning of buds are showing on the apple trees. With all these signs of spring, I wish the temperatures would get with the program!

Music in my head:Everybody's Workin' For the Weekend, Loverboy (damn TV commercials!)

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Sounds like we should be watching "America's Most Wanted" tonight. If you're wondering why, check out Keri's 500-mile Run to Nowhere. If that link doesn't work, try this one.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

From Not Always So by Sunryu Suzuki:

Sometimes people who call themselves "spiritual" ignore the objective side of the truth. That is also a mistake, but to be caught by the objective side of the truth and rely on it with an idle attitude will not help. Even though we can go to the moon, it doesn't help so much. As long as we rely on objective, scientific truth, it doesn't help. Only when each one of us feels the truth, appreciates, accepts, and is ready to follow the truth, will it work. When someone puts himself outside of the truth in order to study the truth, he won't know what to do when something happens to him.

In an ancient Chinese story, there was a person who liked dragons very much. He talked about dragons, he painted dragons, and he bought various kinds of dragons. So there was a dragon who thought, "If a real dragon like me visited him, he would be very happy." One day the real dragon sneaked into his room, and the man didn't know what to do!
Whaaah! He could not even run away. He could not even stand up. For a long time we have been like the man who admired dragons, but we should not just be the dragon's friend or admirer; we should be the dragon itself. Then we will not be afraid of any dragon.

Music in my head: Hand Jive, Eric Clapton

Monday, April 19, 2004

A warm day today, we were able to open up the house and let in some fresh air. That first open house day is very special, and it came early enough that we weren't plagued with bugs.

I was playing with some map software today, and it reminded me of a story. It seems that some years back some New York state government folks went to visit an old farmer. "Mr. Farmer, for years there has been a mistake in the boundary between New York and Vermont. With the correction, we find that your farm is no longer in Vermont, but is now in New York. What do you think of that?" they asked.

The farmer thought for a moment, and then said, "Well, I'm glad of it. I don't think I could take another of those Vermont winters!"

Because I am from Texas, I hear this story a lot. One day a Texan was driving in Vermont when he saw a farmer working in his field. The Texan stopped his car and walked up to the old timer. "Tell me, Old Man," the Texan said to the farmer, "how big is your farm?"

The Vermont farmer pointed to a line of trees. "Well, it goes down to the creek by the trees, over there just on the other side of the house, then to the road where you are parked, and finally over there to the stone wall."

The Texan puffed himself up, and said, "If you wanted to drive the extent of my ranch, you'd hop in my truck and drive all day to the north, then drive the next day to the west, then spend the next day driving south, and then spend the fourth day driving back east where you started."

"Yup," replied the Vermonter, "I used to have a truck like that."

Music in my head: Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Hey! Time for a little celebration! I've crossed the 1000 visits threshold on my weblog!

Thanks to everyone who stops by and reads!

Friday, April 16, 2004

Having mostly disappeared during the winter, we have a flock of juncos hanging around now.

These little creatures look like they are wearing a black cape with a hood that covers the throat with a white breast and underparts. They also have a streak of white in their feathers. They seem to be ground feeders, rarely getting onto the feeders, so when they are around I scatter some seed on the ground and onto the deck for them.

I don't exactly know why I like them so much, but I'm always glad to see them around. A few winters ago we had a sizeable flock, though it seems that they are mostly around in the spring and fall.

A few years ago I was hiking up the side of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's highest mountain, with friends Dave and Dean. Dave and I are "flatlanders," people who moved here from somewhere else, but Dean is several generations Vermonter. Anyway, as we were climbing we noticed a junco hopping about the rocks. "A junco, right?" I asked Dave, who is an expert on these things. "Right," said Dave. I guess we had been identifying different species all the way up, and Dean had had enough. "It's just a damned bird!" he explained. We all laughed.

Well, maybe you had to be there.

Music in my head: I Can't Wait, Stevie Nicks

Thursday, April 15, 2004

For those of you who do not read Macroscopic World (and you should) I quote this quote:

"The dissenter is every human being at those moments of his life when he resigns momentarily from the herd and thinks for himself."

--Archibald Macleish

Music in my head: Some ditty from a TV commercial I only partially heard

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Quoted in The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham:

The Rabbi of Lelov said to his Hasidim:
"A man cannot be redeemed until he recognizes the flaws in his soul and tries to mend them. A nation cannot be redeemed until it recognizes the flaws in its soul and tries to mend them. Whoever permits no recognition of his flaws, be it man or nation, permits no redemption. We can be redeemed to the extent to which we recognize ourselves."

Music in my head:Infatuation (Rod Stewart?)

Monday, April 12, 2004

Finally, some blossoms!

I've been watching Karen's garden, and watching the various bulbs with their sprouts, and finally, today, the crocuses have bloomed! I'm sure southerners have already had flowers, and in the north there have been early flowers, but these are the first in our yard.

Out in the garden patch, the garlic has sprouted, too. I will be digging those up soon. First harvest from the garden!

Music in my head: Landslide, Fleetwood Mac

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Sometimes the music in my head is a mental response to external events or internal emotions.

We all know that music can be mood altering. I think that some major and minor keys can play a big role in changing emotions.

For instance, Brahms' Fourth Symphony helps me process frustration. Beethoven's fourth movement of his 9th symphony can bolster a feeling of joy. His Sixth Symphony can evoke calm moods, like sitting on the edge of a forest. I used to listen to Rachmaninoff when I was sad.

But it isn't just classical music. I can be in a sour mood and listen to Chuck Pyle and feel elevated. Stevie Nicks can get me to toe tapping and head bobbing (she has The Voice). Bob James and Keiko Matsui can also boost my morale.

So, what music do you use to alter your mood? What music helps you process feelings, or thoughts? I'd like to read your comments, everybody! Maybe I'll find something to add to my music library.

Music In My Head: Bridges That Hold, by Bernice Lewis

Friday, April 09, 2004

Hope y'all don't think I've abandoned my blog; I've had a blind date with a headache. Or maybe, it's something/someone who has come to the party and won't leave. Whatever the case, it has pummeled my muse to a bruised and battered something or other. Stay tuned.

Music in my head: First movement to Brahm's Fourth Symphony (frequent theme music to my migraines)

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Got my new toy yesterday, and have been playing with it. This thing has more modes and buttons than a control panel for a nuclear power plant.

I've been fascinated with GPS ever since it first became available. My first GPS was a Magellan 315 unit. It worked very well (still does, as a matter of fact), even under trees in the woods, something you would not expect. This unit didn't have maps or color or voice, but it did provide a trace feature that could tell you where you'd been and where you were in relation to waypoints. When I bought Vivian (my Pathfinder - she was already named when I bought her) I acquired through eBay a Garmin GPS III Plus. This version had mapping capability, including topo maps, routes and so on. It had limited memory capability, so you couldn't load a lot of map detail into it.

The iQue unit has 32 MB memory built in, plus it takes SD cards for an additional 256 MB. It comes with a car navigation kit (you can get it without the kit) which includes a vehicle mount and a speaker. This unit can give you verbal directions as you are driving. It, too, takes downloaded maps, and even topo maps.

In addition, the unit is a Palm Pilot and an MP3 player!

Now I know, material things can't bring you to Nirvana. But, new toys are awfully fun to play with.

Music in my head: Wild Horses

Monday, April 05, 2004

Several inches of snow and highs in the lower twenties today, I can safely say I wasn't expecting that. A little snow, maybe, but not this return to winter weather!

Before the snow and the cold, we'd been in mud season weather in Vermont. All around us, but particularly out back in the woods there has been a strong smell of wet spring. It's a mixture of the odor of fresh mud, with a strong earthy, humus smell from the damp covering of previous years' leaves. Usually there is the sweet scent of pine, especially in the summer. Because we are around it so much, we don't notice it unless we've been away. It takes a visitor to remind of us of it. But early spring is mud and wet and compost. Another spring Vermont smell comes when the farmers spread manure on the fields. It's rather pungent, and even people living in the middle of town can smell it. If that odor was a fog, there be little visibility in the entire state.

In early spring it is still cold, and on clear days you can detect the smoke coming from fireplaces and woodstoves. My favorite comes from burning white birch (although yellow birch has it too, though not as strong). It's a sweet smell indeed.

A treat is when the weather turns warm enough to open the windows. There's a cool green smell that comes wafting into the house. Later, the scent of the lilacs come blowing in with the breeze.

Music in my head: Thank You (Dido)

Saturday, April 03, 2004

I went to the Zen Center Thursday night to sit, to learn that there was to be a funeral and the sitting was to be one round only. I decided to stay and help out with the setting up and to attend the service, which was for an 11 year old boy who I did not know. However, everyone was requested to stay and help with the chanting.

We set up chairs and mats in the zendo. There was a pretty large crowd growing in the front room. I decided that I would sit on a mat, to allow others to use the chairs.

Now, first of all, when I sit I do so in the seiza fashion, using a bench. I can't get into the lotus, or even half-lotus, position. When I sit on a zafu, I just have my legs crossed in front of me, with my knees up off of the mat. The zafus in the center have that compressed state that is common with zafus which get a lot of use. Anyway, I didn't get a bench, or even another cushion, but just sat on the zafu cross legged.

It took awhile for the service to begin. Apparently we were waiting for some very important people, so the sitting was prolonged. Finally, everyone was there and the service began. I won't go into the details of the service, except to say that at one point we all had to stand up.

By this time, I had lost all feeling in my legs. But, I figured if I could keep my center of gravity over my feet I would be fine. So, I tried to stand.

I fell flat on my ass.

I tried to get up and do it again, but again I busted my rear bumper. Someone came over and told me to stay seated and rub my feet until I could get feeling back in them, which I did.

I guess I should have been mortified, or even embarrassed, but all I could do was laugh at myself. I mean, here we were, in a very serious ritual, and I was down on the floor like some drunkard. But, people were nice, and a few told me that the same had happened to them. Of course, they had big smiles when they told me this.

Music in my head: Angel of the Morning