Beginner's Mind

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

Friday, July 30, 2004

Like I said recently, Karen and I returned from a week visiting my parents in Tennessee. Here's some highlights from the trip:

Tennessee is in The South, and The South is the land of the Bible. In more than a few yards I saw what appeared to be political signs in people's yards, but those signs reported the Ten Commandments. I wonder how they'd react to a sign of the Eightfold Path? Or the Four Noble Truths? Or the Precepts?

One of my favorite signs was a billboard that showed a group of people and, in big, bold letters, "Satan bite the dust!"

Another interesting sign was a T-shirt which showed the Confederate flag, with the caption, "If you're offended, you need a history lesson." Oh yeah?

But not all Southerners wear their spirituality on their sleeves. While in a bookstore in Cookeville, I had a conversation with a young woman who was apparently looking for something. She spent a lot of time in front of the Eastern Philosophy section. She asked me, "What is the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism?" So I gave her a quick rundown, and suggested one or two books on Buddhism. "I hope this works!" she said, but I didn't get a chance to find out what she meant. In any event, I hope she finds whatever it is she is seeking.

We spent two mornings playing golf with my parents. Now this golf thing is really something; my mother was always about as athletic as a Gucci purse, but has somehow become a golf fanatic. So now my parents have something in common, and they play four or five times a week. Even Karen played two rounds of nine holes. She seems to have some natural talent for the game, but I don't see her shopping for clubs anytime soon.

The afternoons mostly saw me with an ice pack around my head, so our exploring was kind of at a minimum.

On the trip back, Karen and I did a tour of Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello. Sadly, it was raining, so we didn't do a tour of the grounds. It was Karen's first time there; it was my third trip. At the museum shop I found a book by Daniel Boorstin, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson. Boorstin is my favorite historian, so this was an exciting find for me.

We decided to drive rather than fly. To make the time go by, we listened to The Teaching Company's course How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. We managed to finish the first four parts and started on the fifth part. This turned out to be an amazing course. I have been listening to classical music since my early years in college. Karen is just now getting into this music. The lecturer, Robert Greenberg Ph.D., breathes life into Western music, has some pretty strong opinions, and obviously loves the subject. I am learning a lot from these lectures, not only about musical forms and styles, but also about the composers themselves. I highly recommend this course if you have even the slightest interest in classical music.

So, that was our trip in a nutshell. Our dog Kane is miffed that we left him behind, so we are working to get back in his good graces. My father-in-law finished painting our deck, and repainted one of our bathrooms while we were gone (that was nice to discover when we got home).

My parents live just a stone's throw from the Kentucky border, so I will leave you with this joke:

The owner of a golf course in Kentucky was confused about paying an invoice, so he decided to ask his secretary for some mathematical help.

He called her into his office and said, "You graduated from the University of Kentucky and I need some help. If I were to give you $20,000, minus 14%, how much would you take off?"

The secretary thought a moment, then replied, "Everything but my earrings"

Music in my head: The fourth movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

It has taken me some time to get here, but I think I have reached the point where I want to develop an appreciation for my daily migraines.

I got the idea from HH the Dalai Lama, in his book How to Practice. The idea runs something like this: When things are going well and there are no obstacles, your practice is easy, but your growth has limits. It is through adversity that giant leaps are made. During difficult times, practice is hard, but growth can be limitless. As stated in the following, which I posted awhile back, quoting Beliefnet:

Assailed by afflictions, we discover Dharma
And find the way to liberation. Thank you, evil forces!

When sorrows invade the mind, we discover Dharma
And find lasting happiness. Thank you, sorrows!

Through harm caused by spirits we discover Dharma
And find fearlessness. Thank you, ghosts and demons!

Through people's hate we discover Dharma
And find benefits and happiness. Thank you, those who hate us!

Through cruel adversity, we discover Dharma
And find the unchanging way. Thank you, adversity!

Through being impelled to by others, we discover Dharma
And find the essential meaning. Thank you, all who drive us on!

We dedicate our merit to you all, to repay your kindness.

and some wonderful things have happened as a result of chronic pain. My relationship with Karen has grown in ways it could not have otherwise. I have become reconciled with my parents, after some fifteen years of not speaking. I have battled through, and won, problems with addiction. Fears of being a parent are under control, and, for a while, we even had a baby started (and will again). I have found a sangha with which to practice. I have discovered old habits, coping strategies I continued to use even though the circumstances that required them no longer existed. In short, I've done an amazing amount of growing in a very short time. Even my shoes don't fit anymore!

So, I owe a lot to these headaches. Since they have not abated, I see the potential for even more growth.

But I'm not there yet; I still think of headaches as something bad, and I don't welcome them. In some ways, I think of them as an enemy, though I know that the enemy is myself, so I have this peculiar duality thing going with which I am not comfortable. Yet I have accepted them, and accepted the fact that I may live the rest of my life with pain. I have learned that acceptance does not mean surrender, and that I am not a victim.

Soon, though, I hope to develop an appreciation. Wouldn't it be wonderful to get to the point where I welcome the pain, rather than shrink from it? Maybe that sounds weird; it doesn't sound natural, and, I confess, it doesn't feel natural at this time. But then, acceptance didn't feel right, either, when I first worked on that. So I have hope, a hope based on experience, which is the best kind.

Music in my head: Smetena's Moldau

Saturday, July 24, 2004

A little more Milarepa, this one even non-Buddhists can appreciate:

In the eyrie of distinctive thought
is the eaglet of enlightenment.
If you can don the wings of knowledge and art
truly ye will fly in the heaven of omniscience.

Music in my head: Roller Derby Queen, Jim Croce

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Milarepa was a Buddhist's Type A. From The Quest of Milarepa:

When ye look at me I am an idle, idle man.
Since upon the plain of uncreated infinity
I am building, building the tower of ectasy,
I have no time for building houses.
Since upon the steppe of the void of truth
I am breaking, breaking the savage fetter of suffering,
I have no time for ploughing family land.
Since at the bourne of unity ineffable
I am subduing, subduing the demon-foe of self,
I have no time for subduing angry foe-men.

and so it goes, for lines and lines.

When Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi was asked by a follower, "What should I do in my spare time?" Roshi repeated, "Spare time?" and then laughed and laughed.

Music in my head: something I heard on the radio, but don't know the name of the song or the singer (sorry).

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Analyze. Think, think, think. When you do, you will recognize that our ordinary way of life is almost meaningless. Do not be discouraged. It would be very foolish to give up now. On those occasions when you feel most hopeless, you must make a powerful effort. We are so accustomed to faulty states of mind that it is difficult to change with just a little practice. Just a drop of something sweet cannot change a taste that is powerfully bitter. We must persist in the face of failure. HH the Dalai Lama, How to Practice

Music in my head:This LandWoody Guthrie

Friday, July 16, 2004

Oh geeze, Blogger has changed its interface. Again. What is all this stuff? Colors? Bullets?

Small wonder that the blogs I check every day have mostly gone quiet. Zenchick is completely off the air. Rhetoric and Rhythm is going on vacation. Vajrayana Practice has changed its name to "mole," though it's still interesting. What's up with you guys and gals?

The Arabic blogs I read have gone silent for weeks.


I guess I'll have to go read a book, or something (am actually in the middle of a good book, The Moon Bamboo by Thich Nhat Hanh, a collection of stories that are pretty neat).

Music in my head: nothing, just a soft hiss like an untuned radio

Update: Now blogger is reformatting my posts! Deeper sigh

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

This afternoon, while enjoying a particularly nasty migraine, I finished watching The Teaching Company's course Search for Intelligent Life in Space.

This course, which has a copyright year of 1999, describes issues and problems with finding and recognizing radio transmissions from extraterrestrial beings. It also covers concepts such as the technology involved in deep space travel, the biology of intelligent life, the search for planets around other stars, and even the current state of UFOlogy and why it is all bunk.

The final lecture talked about what would happen in the event that such a signal were to be found. There's a set protocol to be followed in the event that a suspected intelligent signal were to be found. This involves steps to be taken to verify the signal, how information is to be disseminated and to whom it should be sent.

I found the speculation on the impact to our culture especially interesting. Since nearly half of Americans believe aliens have already visited our planet (and the government is covering it up), the lecturer felt fairly confident that there would be no mass panics.

One of the biggest possible impacts might be on religion. In the Judaic-Christian-Islamic religions, there might be a problem, as these sects believe that humans are the children of God, and suddenly our exclusive relationship with God would no longer be exclusive. However, should the alien signal transmit the alien's religious beliefs, he predicted that there would be a huge conversion to the alien's religion. It would be thought that the religion of a superior, more advanced race would be better than anything we offer on Earth. He drew an analogy with the populations of the Pacific islands, who shortly after contact with Europeans, mostly converted to Christianity.

I don't think there would be a major change to Buddhism (unless the aliens were to send down a shortcut to enlightenment). I have read where the Buddhist desire to end the suffering of all people extends to any beings which might be discovered on other planets. And, as has been shown by the way Buddhism is practiced in the West, the religion has proven to be remarkably flexible.

Likewise, I doubt discovery of alien intelligence would mean the end of Christianity. Parts of the Bible would be dragged out to show that, indeed, E.T.'s are predicted by various passages and prophets. Indeed, there are some who believe the wheel of Ezekiel is actually a flying saucer. For the indigenous peoples of Central America, the local gods were turned into saints of the Catholic Church. It, too, seems pretty malleable.

Would there be a government cover-up? There was one signal discovered (I believe in the late 1990's) that had researchers thinking they may have found an E.T. signal. It passed many of the tests which are conducted on suspect signals. For about 24 hours, astronomers were pretty excited. During that time, the government made no appearance at all. (It turned out that the signal was from the SOHO observatory satellite.)

Anyway, at the time of the course there were four projects underway searching for intelligent life. This includes Project Phoenix, SERENDIP, and Projects META and BETA.

Part of the SERENDIP project is the project SETI@Home. This program collects data via the radio telescope in Aricebo, Puerto Rico, and divides the data up into chunks that can be analyzed by a screen saver program that runs on volunteers' PC's, using unused computer bandwidth. Anyone can participate in this program (see the link above); if your computer stays on most of the time, you can use the idle time of your computer looking for E.T. signals. The results are downloaded via the internet to a server at Berkeley (if you access the internet via modem, the program waits until you log in to transfer its results). Each workunit is small, so transferring the data doesn't take long, even by a modem. If you are on a broadband connection (DSL or Cable modem) the program can upload results and download workunits as it needs. The project keeps track of your contributions (see mine here). However, broadband is not necessary. So far, some interesting signals have been found, and verification is underway.

"Are we alone in the universe?" With the universe as vast as it is, it seems unlikely. Perhaps in our lifetime we will get a definitive answer.

Music in my head: The first movement of Beethoven's 6th Symphony.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Eight years ago today, the greatest thing to happen to me since birth occurred on a boat on Lake Champlain.

Karen Loretta Neill gave her hand to me in marriage, agreeing to love, honor, but not obey.

Thanks, Karen, for eight great years.

Monday, July 12, 2004

The sleep counselor says I am now sleeping too much (I went to her because I was only getting about four hours of sleep). Ten to twelve hours is excessive, she says. What are you going to do about it?

Get up earlier, I guess.

We get a week of rain according to the forecast. Karen has been painting the deck and the front porch, looks like she won't finish it this week. My parents will be returning from their trip to Australia this week. We've gotten postcards.

I'm still not used to the idea of Karen not being pregnant. Today she asked me if she thought we would ever go to Australia. When she got pregnant, all thoughts and plans of world travel were put on hold, at least for a few years and probably until our children were grown. It's what we would do when we retired, maybe.

And even when I do (usually quickly) realize we lost the baby, I still believe it won't be long until she is pregnant again. So it's been hard to think in the old, pre-pregnant days way, when everything was possible and just a matter of time and money.

Still, it isn't all hard, or bad. We are doing more things together than we did before, and are closer. Today we ordered an audio course on classical music that we will be taking together.

It made Karen wonder if we are snobs, because we like nice things. I don't think so; we are more likely to eat at the village grill than at any fancy restaurant. I guess if a taste for jazz and classical music, books and TV murder mysteries, good food and conversation makes one a snob, then we are guilty as charged and happy because of it.

Music in my head:Photographs and Memories, Jim Croce

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Just watched Woody Allen's Sleeper this evening to cheer me up. It worked. This is the movie, you may recall, where Allen explains that the brain is "my second favorite organ."

At the end of the film, Luna (Diane Keaton) says to Miles (Allen), "You don't believe in science, you don't believe in politics, and you don't believe in God. What do you believe in?"

He replies, "Sex and death, which come only once in a lifetime."

Music in my head:All kinds of New Orleans jazz riffs.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., has this observation in his book Full Catastrophe Living:

Our schools do not emphasize being. We are left to sort that one out by ourselves. It is
doing that is the currency of modern education. Sadly, though, it is a fragmented doing for the most part, divorced as it is from any emphasis on who is doing the doing and from what we might learn in the domain of being. So often the doing is under the pressure of time, as if we were being pushed through our lives by the pace of the world, without the luxury of stopping and taking our bearings, of knowing who is doing the doing. Awareness itself is not highly valued, nor are we taught the richness of it and how to nurture and use it.

It might have helped us considerably to have been shown, perhaps through some simple exercises in elementary school, that we are not our thoughts, that we can watch them come and go and learn not to cling to them or run after them. Even if we didn't understand it at the time, it would have been helpful just to hear it.

Music in my head: California Dreamin', The Mamas and The Papas

Friday, July 09, 2004

Went this afternoon to a movie, something we don't do often, as it usually triggers a nasty migraine. I wish I had the home theater Keri has, I'd charge the neighbors and never leave home.

For the last three years we have gone to the movies to see either Lord of the Rings or one of the Harry Potter films - that's it. It was the latter we went to see today.

We have speculated on what it is that causes these headaches after a film. We have guessed getting it from the salt in the popcorn, the flashing of light into the eyes, or the loudness of the sound. So, to test, I watched the movie wearing earplugs. I also had my sunglasses in case my eyes started hurting, but I didn't use them. We had lunch before going to the film, so no popcorn.

I'm happy to announce that I got through the movie without pain! (It didn't last - I got hit about an hour later, but that might have happened anyway...I was due.) So, maybe I can venture into a theater again.

I found that I enjoyed the movie very much. You could tell that this Potter film had a different director, the film just looked different, and had a different feel to it. Oddly, I found that I liked the movie more than the book, which rarely ever happens to me when books are turned into movies.

Daniel Radcliff (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Emma Watson (Hermione) are growing up fast, you could tell there was more than just three months of new growth on them. It will be interesting to see how they look as the last four films are made.

By the way, does anyone know which character was played by Emma Thompson? I'm guessing it was Trelawny.

While we were at the theater, I was saddened to see that Isaac Asimov's book I, Robot has sort of been turned into a movie. According to the movie poster, the movie was "suggested" by Asimov. And if that weren't bad enough, the film was not made from Harlan Ellison's screenplay (or he used another name, doubtful - the author's name was not Cordwainer Bird).

It also looks like the movie meme for this summer is ancient historical figures, with the movies Troy, King Arthur, and Alexander. What, no Charlemane? Or Hannibal?

Anyway, maybe a whole new world (such as it is) has been reopened for me...I love movies.

(Oh yeah, while on the subject, Karen and I watched Love, Actually, which also has Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson - and a whole boatload of others - and really enjoyed it! A very clever movie with several different story lines all bundled together, all with a common theme, which was, not surprisingly, love. I recommend it!)

Music in my head: John Williams' movie theme from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

I found this prayer on, thought I would share it with you:

Assailed by afflictions, we discover Dharma
And find the way to liberation. Thank you, evil forces!

When sorrows invade the mind, we discover Dharma
And find lasting happiness. Thank you, sorrows!

Through harm caused by spirits we discover Dharma
And find fearlessness. Thank you, ghosts and demons!

Through people's hate we discover Dharma
And find benefits and happiness. Thank you, those who hate us!

Through cruel adversity, we discover Dharma
And find the unchanging way. Thank you, adversity!

Through being impelled to by others, we discover Dharma
And find the essential meaning. Thank you, all who drive us on!

We dedicate our merit to you all, to repay your kindness.

Music in my head: So Long Ago , Nanci Griffith

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Y'all may have already seen this...check out Beneath Buddha's Eyes. What a great post.

(My browser shows this as a mess, if your's does too check the July 5th post here.)

Reflections in d minor has a link to a terrific site the Internet Sacred Text Archive. This is a wonderful site, with texts of religious, folklore, and literary subjects. See her post for her source.

(I don't know why I'm awake at 3:30 AM, go figure.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

My lovely wife went with a friend to a well-known clothing shop an hour or so away, and inexplicably left her car parked in front of the garage, so I can't get out, and she took the key to her car. I wonder if she's trying to tell me something.

Even so, it hasn't been all that bad. I was looking to leave to distract myself (run an errand or two) but instead found myself face-to-face to with just myself and the present moment and nowhere to go. Funny how a sought-after practice was just forced on me.

After all, you really have no place to are already where you need to be. Maybe sometime in the future you may need to be somewhere else, but that's in the future, which may be a minute, an hour, a day, or years away. But right here, right now, this is where you need to be, and it can take a mighty effort to just be where you are. This is fundamental Buddhist practice of being in the present moment.

And I've been lots of places, but not where I was, so I'm thankful for the chance to be here. I hope you are too.

Music in my head:Stop Running Away, Brenda Russell.

Monday, July 05, 2004

As I finished the cleaning of our abode, it occurred to me that I am a sucker for regional clothing that isn't very practical or comfortable.

When I was growing up in Texas, I wore cowboy boots everywhere. I didn't own a pair of dress shoes (still don't), but a special pair of dress boots for formal occasions. I would sometimes wear those canvas black-and-white track shoes (I must have worn a few dozen pair of those), but mostly it was boots.

This was Texas. Cowboy boots were what you wore. Yes, I did some working with cattle, and under those circumstances they were great. And there isn't anything better for boot-scootin' two-stepping than a good pair of Justins. But for the rest of the time, they were a ridiculous thing to wear.

I didn't think so at the time. My relatives in Tennessee, when I went to visit them, gave me no end of grief about my boots. They were clumsy to climb in, and slippery, er, well..., to boot. Sure, if you were riding horses, they might be good for that, they conceded. Working cattle, or herd animals, sure. But for every day getting around? You gotta be kidding.

When I first moved to Vermont, I wore dress boots at customer sites and discovered that they were miserable in the snow. They were slippery, and seemed to trap the cold. Everyone up here wore some kind of hiking boot (boots again) or winter pacs and changed into regular leather shoes at work.

So I don't wear cowboy boots much anymore, just on the occasions of going dancing, which I don't do near as often as I should.

No, the thing that has tripped me up in Vermont has got to be Carhart bib overalls.

They are a big hit with the farmers, though I can't really tell why. Maybe I just have a body shape that just doesn't lend itself to bibs, I don't know. But it seems that the inseams are always too long, and the distance from crotch to shoulder is too short. No matter how much I extend those shoulder straps, I can't seem to stop giving myself the occasional wedgy.

They sure are rugged, those bibs. I wish some of it would rub off on me.

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that can cure you of depression better than getting out and accomplishing something. And I am proud to say that, out in front of my house, is 15 cubic yards (that's pretty close to 15 cubic meters, maybe 14) of junk that used to be in my house, basement, and yard. That dumpster is full to the top, and we have finished the clean-out. I am dead-dog tired, my arms and legs are aching, I'm dirty, sweaty, and sticky (isn't reading stuff like this why you read blogs?) and generally all-around pooped.

And what was playing around in my head the whole time? Bobby Vinton singing Blue Velvet. Why? Because in cleaning out the garage I found nearly ten full gallon bottles of blue windshield washer fluid. Gosh, but I'm easily influenced. :)

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Nighttime falls. The ever-present frogs in the pond begin calling out to one another. It cools down. Tomorrow is America's birthday.

Did a lot of laying around today, woke with head pain and just one dose of pain medicine left, gotta save that for the 4th. Watched TV. Saw some interesting things:

Saw a report on the Kennewick man, a 9000 year old skeleton found in the Columbia River. Before more tests could be run, the US government confiscates the remains; the local Native Americans claim Kennewick Man is an ancestor and should be reburied. Lawsuits fly. The program ends there, but there is more info available.

Yankees lose second straight to Mets.

Nearby Mt. Washington designated as having the 3rd worse weather in the world, behind the peak of Mt. Everest, and the coastal southeastern US during a hurricane.

There is a search for the "First Dog", remnants of canine species that predate domestication by man. Studies of Carolina Yaller Dogs (or dawgs), Dingoes, India's Pariah dogs, and a search for what may the last remaining wild population of "Singing Dogs." (All these dogs looked eerily similar to me.)

And to top off the day, images of Colin Powell performing (and dressed) as one of the Village People doing YMCA.

Music in my head:Kiss Me With The Wind, Brenda Russell.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Something I recently realized about myself is that I'm not very good at things I have to work at.

(Beware, this is another of those self confessional entries.)

I've been blessed with a modicum of talent that makes me able to do a lot of things with very little effort. I think I have an overdeveloped left side of the brain which enables me to see many things that are abstract to most folks as concrete to me. One example is that, in college, I was very good at electromagnetics. What makes EM theory so difficult is that everything that happens occurs in four dimensions: there's the magnetic field, the electric field, the direction of travel, and there's a time dimension. Now, I can't see four dimensions; however, I seem pretty good at translating things into three dimensions (much like a drawing of a cube is a translation of three dimensions into two).

This is just one example...I can just see things that other folks can't.

In addition, I was raised on the notion that anything worth doing is worth doing well. OK, well and good. However, at some point in college I ran into my limits, and concluded that I should not try to do anything I can't do well. Nothing short of 100% (really, 120%) was acceptable, so I just didn't do it.

What has evolved from such thinking is that things which take a lot of effort are things on which I give up early, or don't do at all.

Even worse are things for which there is no measure; I have problems with things for which I can't mark progress. If I can't tell how well I am doing something, I have a hard time doing it.

Oddly, this wasn't always the case, or, at least, I used to have exceptions. For example, I used to do a lot of hiking and back-country skiing. For those activities, I didn't really enjoy the climbing or the skiing, but I had a goal to accomplish, namely, getting to the top of the mountain, or getting into and out of the back country alive.

Somehow I've never really learned the joy of just doing something. For awhile I was doing a lot of sketching. I was never very good at it, but it was something that was quick to do and the end result, such as it was, was a drawing. I told myself that this was something that I should keep doing, even though I didn't do it well, simply because it proved I could do something less than perfect and nothing bad happened.

I need to have the attitude of Chuck Pyle's song Slow Time Kid:

Now I'm not doing nothin' just to get it done.
There's a measure of joy in every step I run.
All this time I've been lookin' the treasure was hid
Back there in the heart of my slow time kid.

It was a long time from morning til night
My step was strong and my body was light.
There was day full of time, for everything I did.
Shiny as a dime I was a slow time kid.

(that, by the way, is the Music in my head)