Beginner's Mind

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

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Off to be healed

Well, I am scheduled to go in-patient tomorrow at Dartmouth-Hitchcock for treatment of migraines. So, I won't be blogging for the next few days. If all goes well I should be home by mid-week.

I would appreciate it if you would spend some of the time you would normally use for reading my scratching to see if you can't help out a member of our military. The place to go would be Books for Soldiers. Maybe you have some books, CD's, or DVD's that someone serving our country would appreciate receiving. Or, perhaps you could take some time to write a letter or note to a soldier who doesn't get much mail. It appears that many of our servicemen/women are having their tours extended, which has got to be disappointing to say the least. And, of course, many of them will be away from family during Thanksgiving.

For the last couple of days (I was up until 1 AM last night) I've been perusing through some of the requests from soldiers. Many of the requests are for things like movies, games, and playing cards to help pass the time. And then, of course, there are requests for books and magazines. A good number of the requests are for entire units, so literature will get passed around quite a bit. And, you'll find that people are sending along snacks and personal items. A popular way to send things to our volunteers is via a flat-rate envelope you can get from the post-office, where the cost is the same for an ounce or a pound. People are getting pretty clever at stuffing these envelopes with goodies.

I now have a stack of letters, cards, books, and DVD's to send out tomorrow on my way to the hospital.

There are instructions on the site for how to send offerings. The letters and packages go to a US postal address, so you aren't paying for overseas postage. There's no need to send things priority mail, as all that will do is get them to the APO quickly; from there, they go via military transport (which could be a ship).

By helping the soldiers in this manner, you aren't sending a message that you support or oppose the war. Your largesse is a person-to-person statement of support to the people who have volunteered years of their lives to serve our country. You don't have to support the war in Iraq or wherever to support the troops, any more than you would have to support cancer to support a patient.

So, again, I would appreciate it if you could find time in your day to help out these great men and women. Knowing you will be supporting the troops in such a concrete way will provide me with peace of mind while doctors are poking holes in my spinal column.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Previous lives

Out of curiosity, I picked up a book entitled Past Life Channeling for Geniuses, hoping I might find some clue as to the cause of my migraines. This is a neat series of books, and I might try to find other books from this publisher. (Some of the interesting titles include Gene Splicing for Geniuses, Particle Acceleration for Geniuses, and VCR Programming for Geniuses.)

I wasn't aware of the dangers of channeling your own previous lives, but I guess the channeling can go to far. One horrific example was given in the book about a woman named Pacifica O. Apparently she channeled too far back into her past. She seemed to have disappeared until one of her neighbors called the police to report a "dead fish" smell emanating from her apartment. When police broke down her door, the found her body sprawled across her living room floor. Her face was a deep green color, while from the neck down her body was dark red. An autopsy was performed, and the medical examiner found her underwear filled with small, round, pink orbs. But the cause of death was determined to be suffocation.

Apparently, in one of her past lives, she was a female sockeye salmon.

So I went into this with a bit of trepidation. But, my curiosity got the better of me. I sat cross-legged on the carpet with an old wristwatch. After dousing myself with an oil that consisted of a few herbs mixed in with a cup-and-a-half of stale rootbeer, I wound the watch backwards while singing "Lady of Spain" in three-quarter time. After I'd gone through I don't know how many repeats of the song, suddenly the room around me turned foggy and terribly cold. The fog turned into a mist, and I found myself on a mountain plateau with thousands of bowling-ball sized grey rocks scattered all about. Between the rocks I could see a short alpine grass of some sort. Before me in the mist was a nearly completed stupa. The stupa was made from the rocks around it, as the rocks were cleared from the monument's immediate vicinity. I stood up, and found that I was dressed in brightly colored clothing which looked very familiar. It took me a minute to realize that I was dressed like a native Tibetan man. I was in Tibet!

Seeing that the stupa needed only the topmost stone to complete it, I walked around and found a nice grey rock with a strip of black crystal running through it. Carefully, I climbed the stupa to put it at the top. Suddenly, one the stones on which I was standing came loose, and I lost my footing. In desperation, I flung the stone I was holding into the sky and flailed in the air trying to regain my footing. I fell off the stupa and landed on my back, just barely in time to see the striped rock come down towards my head. Then, everything went black.

When I awoke, our dog Kane was licking the rootbeer off of my face. My left ankle felt twisted, and I had a terrible headache. Lying next to me was the old wristwatch; it was smashed into pieces.

So, that's my story. I wish I would have thought to look for some ID when I was channeling my Tibetan incarnation, so I'd at least have a name to go with the experience. Given the situation, that was probably not possible at that time in that mindframe. I'm not at all sure it really happened; sitting cross-legged does wicked things to my ankles, and of course I have headaches all the time. I looked in the mirror, but could find no bruises and felt no lumps on my head (that weren't already there). But, try as I might, I can't explain the smashed watch.

Music in my head: Lee's In Love, Ann Armstrong and Steve Hughes

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Another mental jukebox

Yesterday I finished reading Wes "Scoop" Nisker's book The Big Bang, the Buddha, and the Baby Boom. It's an interesting history of the spiritual paths taken by 1960's counterculture baby boomers. I ran across the following passage, which sounded oddly familiar:

What I found most disturbing, even embarrassing, especially during those first few meditation retreats, was that my mind so often insisted on singing to me. I would be sitting there meditating, and, suddenly, triggered by a random image or thought, a song would start up and begin playing over and over again inside my head. Other meditators have reported similar musical intrusions, which might be called "jukebox karma."

Often I could stay aware of my breath and yet still hear a song playing faintly in the background of my mind, as if some inner DJ was trying to offer me some music to medi­tate by. But instead of new age meditation music, I was get­ting pop songs, the ones with strong hooks, such as, "Rollin on a river ..." or "We all live in a yellow submarine...." I would try my hardest to turn off the songs, but, like an irri­tating drunk singing out in the street, my mind refused to stop.

Sometimes, mercifully, the song that arose in my head was one that appeared on an album side that was familiar to me. Then at least I would get some variety in my mental playlist—as my mind tracked through the rest of the songs on the album side! Sometimes it would even flip the album over and play through the second side. "Good day, sun­shine ..." These pop songs were little sutras about the per­sonal dramas of life, usually about losing, winning, or looking for love.

How about that?

Music in my head: I Hope You Dance, Lee Ann Womack

Monday, October 25, 2004

Another Vermont blogger

There's a new blog coming out of the Green Mountain State, Vermont Diary. The Karen that writes the blog is not the Karen to whom I am married.

Of what I have read so far, Vermont Diary is well written introspection and observation, and will be on my list of daily reading visits. Take a look and see if you agree.

Along with Vermont Diary, I have added a few more links to the sidebar on the right. I hope you find them interesting.

Music in my head: something from Liz Phair (where'd that come from?)

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Third time is a charm

Last week I received a check from IBM for a patent filing. This morning I did a search and found that my third patent had been accepted. You can read about it here.

Speaking of third times, last night I finished Larry McMurtry's novel Duane's Depressed. This is his third and probably final book of the characters that were introduced in The Last Picture Show (the second book was Texasville). In the third book Duane decides he doesn't want to spend any more time in a motorized vehicle. He parks his pick-up and walks and/or bicycles everywhere.

It's a charming book with a somewhat happy ending, unusual for a McMurtry book.

Music in my head: Are You Happy Now?, Richard Shindell (we have tickets to see him perform tonight)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

What the doctor ordered

A few people have asked how things went with my visit to Dartmouth and to a neurologist. Thank you to all who were concerned.

What is going to happen, should everything go as planned, is that I will be hospitalized for three days in November, during which I will be taken off medications that might be causing rebound headaches. I will be given IV medications (not sure just what), and a spinal tap/lumbar puncture will be performed to test fluid pressure. Depending on the results of that test, other treatment may be performed.

The doctor I saw gave me a lot of confidence. He had some ideas for medications that may prevent the headaches. He also said the three-day protocol he had planned was effective on 70% of his patients.

In other news, I've been getting out regularly and walking with a friend, though it's been put on hold for the last three days due to a very resilient migraine. The colors of fall are now past their peak, except for the maples that edge my back yard. I've promised to mail out some literature to a few folks (you know who you are, thanks for your patience), hopefully I can get that out this week.

Some friends of mine, the Iversons, are on temporary assignment to Japan. Mother Barbara is blogging the experience, so go have a look.

Music in my head: Northern Girl, Cheryl Wheeler

Monday, October 18, 2004

Playing With Time

There's a neat web site devoted to time-warp animations, called Playing With Time. There are some neat QuickTime videos there. My personal favorite is the slowed-down video of a bouncing water balloon.

Music in my head: Various Bach violin concerti

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Off to see a new doctor

Should be an interesting day. I have an appointment to see a neurologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock this afternoon about my migraines. It's about an hour and a half drive one way. I've got a few books-on-tape/CD to make the time go by (I know that's not a very mindful thing to do).

I missed the first three innings of the Yankees-Red Sox game last night looking over the volunteer listings for the local United Way. Found about five interesting possibilities. In addition, I finally reached the principal of the Richmond elementary school. So, things are moving along pretty well on that front. A pain management group will be starting in the middle of November, so I will be volunteering there if everything goes right.

According to the official report we are at peak color for the season. I went walking with a friend yesterday on the bike path in Burlington; the Champlain Valley is still mostly green, as it is usually the last to change in the state. But around our house the reds and golds of the hardwoods mix with the greens of the pines. You know those calendars which show New England's autumn trees and landscapes? Those pictures are really easy to take; all you have to do is find someplace where you can stand back and point your camera in any direction. You'll get a winner every time. I can understand why, for some people, this is their favorite season. It's a time to pick apples, and harvest the squash you will put up for the winter. There are pumpkins everywhere; the real enthusiasts are showing off their 800-900 pounders. Where before there were corn fields, there are now just rows and rows of little brown sticks pointing every which-way into the heavens. The goldfinches are getting their winter plumage, and the juncos have come down from the mountains and are exploring the ground for food. Late at night you can hear the geese conversing in goose-speak as they make their way south through clouded skies. Jackets have come out of the closet, where you can find treasure of various sorts when you reach into a pocket: a hankerchief, a folded dollar or maybe a quarter, a receipt for hot chocolate, a spare headlamp battery, a rumpled glove, directions to a sugar-on-show party written on the back of a fuel bill envelope, a few chips of bark off an arm-load of firewood.

Music in my head: What Am I To You, Norah Jones

Monday, October 11, 2004

Chop wood, carry water

It's been in the 40's all day today. This morning I revved up the energy to get a fire going.

I wonder if this is true with anybody else. After getting the fire started, I stop and stare at it as it gets going. Time just seems to stand still. Sometimes I sit on the floor in front of it and sometimes and stand back a few steps to watch it go. Maybe I developed the habit as a kid, when we burned our trash and had to watch it to make sure it didn't jump from the barrels onto dry grass.

The house seems so much warmer with wood heat, even if the temperature is the same. It's said that wood heats you twice, but I get more times out of it than that.

The times it warms me up are as follows (once each step):

Cutting it
Splitting it
Stacking it
Moving it from the shed to the garage
Making kindling to get a fire started
Hauling it up into the house
Burning it

That makes seven times.

Do I remember this story right? A Zen master was asked, "How do you gain enlightenment?" He replied, "Chop wood, carry water." He was then asked, "What happens after enlightenment?" Again, the master replied, "Chop wood, carry water."

Music in my head: Can't Cry Anymore, Sheryl Crow

Saturday, October 09, 2004

A fine Saturday afternoon

Karen and I spent the afternoon with a group of friends watching the Middlebury College Panthers play football against the Amherst Lord Jeffs. It was the first live game I had seen since watching the Dallas Cowboys lose to Minnesota back in the late '80's at Texas Stadium.

The Panthers play in Alumni Stadium with the stands facing out towards the Green Mountains, which right now are aflame with the colors of autumn. Aside from a powerful south wind, the weather was perfect. Sadly, the Panthers lost to a superior Amherst squad but they were in the game at the end and driving for the win when their efforts were stopped by interceptions.

I managed to get several friends who mostly did not know each other to come down for the game. Middlebury does not charge to watch the games, so it is inexpensive entertainment. Even the concession stand prices were low.

I guess when these small Division III schools play each other, they bring all their athletes. Aside from the football game, there were men's and women's soccer games, plus women's field hockey, all between Middlebury and Amherst. This was Parent's Weekend and Homecoming.

The crowd, such as it was, at the football game was fairly laid back. There were plenty of good seats, and a number of people brought their dogs to the game. The field sits in a kind of grass-sided bowl, and though there were plenty of available seats in the stands, folks also sat on blankets on the grass to watch the game. There was no band playing, no cheerleaders, no big suit mascots. Just two teams playing football.

Most of our group plans to go back in two weeks to watch the next home game. It was fun watching a live game, but it was even better being with a group of friends.

Music in my head: Classical guitar music composed by Joaquin Rodrigo

Friday, October 08, 2004

Observations from the hole

It was a comment Zenchick made a few weeks ago in response to one of my tirades about my problems with migraines. It didn't make sense until this afternoon; or, rather, it made sense but I just didn't understand fully.

Today was a beautiful day, with a high in the mid 70's with high thin clouds and a comfortable breeze. I stretched out in a lawn lounge chair on the back deck and read the middle chapters of Pema Chodron's The Places That Scare You. The book has several practices that help turn uncomfortable feelings and settings into opportunities for growth.

Many of the practices have seven stages, where you direct loving-kindness or compassion to yourself, someone very close, a friend, a neutral person, a difficult or offensive person, all five of the previous at once, and finally toward all beings throughout the universe. By practicing in this way, you will soften the barriers and hard feelings you have towards others, particularly people you can't stand.

It got me thinking about how I felt after my appointment last week with my pain management doctor. We had a particularly useful session where I was able to unburden the baggage I had left over from Karen's miscarriage. As I left her office I had this feeling of being much lighter, much brighter, and more alive than I had been all summer. Pain wasn't so bad. I could look at people around me and see their pain, and happiness, and confusion. I had a nicely overwhelming feeling of equanimity.

But, by this week, it was just a memory.

Until this afternoon.

I'm kinda slow, but I think now I understand what Zenchick meant when she said my problems with pain are very "me-centered." Through so much of this summer I've been living in a dark hole, licking my wounds and afraid of the light outside. I haven't left the house much, just rattled around wondering what to do with myself. I've been (and felt) withdrawn, venturing out occasionally (and, oddly as it seems now, enjoying it) to be with friends and family, but always crawling back into my hole.

I've let chronic pain make too many decisions for me. I need to get out and make contact with people. I have a lot of time and a modest set of skills I can dedicate to my community that I have let go to waste. Having pain myself allows me to understand, to some extent, the pain that others experience and with which they struggle. I feel that I want to use my experiences to benefit others, though I'm not all that sure in what form that can take.

I made another call to the local elementary school to see if they need volunteers. I also understand that United Way can act as a clearing house for volunteers. The future seems ripe with possibility.

It's time to get out of this hole. Thanks ZC. I owe you one.

Music in my head: My Favorite Mistake, Sheryl Crow

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Music and dance

I've been listening to an audio program of Alan Watts. Something he said on the program hit home, and while I don't remember word for word what he said, I will try to paraphrase it here.

The purpose of music is not to get to the end. If that were the case, the greatest conductors would be those who conducted the fastest. Composers would only write finales. Likewise, the point of dance is not to end up at a particular spot on the floor.

Life is like music and dance. It's not about getting to the end (where you die), it's about living and enjoying life and being in it.

Music in my head: Carnival Town, Norah Jones

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Feeling low

Feeling low today.

So low I'd have to stand on tip-toe to tickle a snake's belly.

So low I could trip an ant.

So low I'm covered in autumn leaves, but don't make a bump in the yard.

So low with my ear to the ground I can hear someone speaking Chinese.

So low I could drown in a puddle.

So low I can imagine voting Republican.

(OK, maybe not that low)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Now I've gone and done it

It was something that Keri posted, so I went and had a look. This is the site that explains it.

I figured, what the heck? I've been wanting to do this anyway, now I have the motivation.

Come the end of November, I hope to be able to add "novelist" to my resume.

Music in my head: When Fall Comes to New England, Cheryl Wheeler

(Oh yeah, we got colors!)

Sunday, October 03, 2004

The season is over

It was with a bit of sadness that I watched the last baseball games of the regular season this afternoon. I got to see Edgar Martinez of the Seattle Mariners hit in his last game after spending 18 years with the same team (how rare is that?). I saw one of the teams of my childhood, the Houston Astros, make it to the postseason. The other team of my youth, the Dodgers, is going to the playoffs as well.

I think I watched more baseball this season than in any other in my life, due mostly to a package available for the first time from Dish network. I remember how excited I was when the season began, and even watching spring training games.

It was a few years after I moved to Vermont before I started following baseball. For various reasons I became a Yankee fan; most of New England roots for the Red Sox. But the fans were awful, bad-mouthing the team at every opportunity, and generally having a bad attitude which just turned me off. One thing I will say for Red Sox fans, they seem to have redirected their ire from their team to the Yankees. Well, they have always hated the Yankees, but they now have a more positive attitude toward the BoSox.

This year we saw a player come from across the Pacific and knock off the single season hits record which had stood since 1920; that player was Ichiro Suzuki (or just Ichiro). We had another player added to the 700 homers club; Barry Bonds became only its third member. At forty, he became the oldest player to win a batting title. We also witnessed one of the all-time pitching greats, Randy Johnson, win a perfect game.

And so we move into the playoffs, which makes every game seem so much more special. These are the days when I don't get to bed until very late, and probably don't get to sleep until much, much later. Since we moved the TV out of the bedroom, at least my whoo-hoos! and hollars! won't wake Karen.

Music in my head: Sweet Words, Norah Jones