Beginner's Mind

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

Thursday, June 30, 2005

On to the Volunteer state

I arrived in Tennessee and my parent's house the next day, late. Going from the Eastern to the Central time zone gave me an extra hour (which I lost coming back, but that's for a later post). Somehow I remembered how to get there, my folks living on an obscure back-road that is part of a labyrinth of roads out in the boonies.

It had been nice and cool in Vermont, but down south it was much hotter. On Monday we played golf, something my parents do a lot. They belong to a club with a nice nine-hole course with no water or sand traps, but lots of trees. I hadn't played in a year, since the last time I had visited them. I played OK considering; at least, I enjoyed myself, which I think in the main thing.

Tuesday we went to visit a friend, a patient who was at Spaulding my last week there. Sadly, he is having a rough time, and the stay didn't do him much good. Still, it was great to see him and to visit. After that we went into Nashville, where I searched for a couple of books by Camus I had heard about in a course on existentialism (I found them). We did some more poking around, then headed back home. On the way we had some great Mexican food in Cookeville (something hard to find way up here), and I snagged a huge bag of Niger seed for a great price.

The rest of the trip was more golf (I had a few pars, that was nice), visiting more relatives, and bringing stuff home from my parents. On Friday I headed back north.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Charm City adventures

First of a group of postings on a recent trip

The plan was to arrive in Baltimore on Saturday afternoon in order to catch a ball game in the famous Camden Yards, with Zenchick and Zenfan. As I dropped into downtown, scanning the radio dial, I hit WSMJ and knew I was going to like this city.

As I went to park my car after checking in to the hotel, I was approached by a very thin, kind-of short man missing a few teeth. He told me he had just gotten out of the hospital and could not get back home, and he was very hungry and had not eaten. I don't always give money to panhandlers, but something about this guy struck me as very sincere, so I gave him enough money for a few meals. He thanked me and even hugged me, and said he would pray for me.

I think I got my money's worth.

Zenchick and Zenfan met me in the hotel lobby, just a few blocks away from the stadium. As we walked to the park, I noticed I was getting some odd looks. At first I thought, Does it show that I'm a Yankee fan? But then I remembered where I had seen those looks before. They are the looks of men trying to figure out which of the two gorgeous women I was "with", also known as the "Lucky Bastard Look."

Ah well, I could deal with it.

Outside the stadium were sidewalk vendors selling drinks and food. Unlike other parks in which I have been, you are allowed to bring in outside food, and the street offerings are much cheaper than the same products in the stadium. That's a pretty neat deal.

Zenfan is a big Orioles fan, and knows all about the team and players and history and such. She gave the nickel tour of the stadium, pointing out the medallions embedded in the sidewalk that mark the landing spot of home runs knocked out of the stadium, who hit them and when, and the distance.

It turned out our seats were on the "club" level, where the luxury boxes are. It was pretty swanky; wood molding, top-notch food, comfortable seats. Hard to go wrong there.

Zenchick sat in the middle, to separate the Yankee fan from the Oriole fan. For readers of her blog, I will confirm that she is a presence. We talked throughout the game, and I kinda wish now we had been somewhere more conducive to conversation. She has a handful of jobs, all of which are of service to others. If there is anyone on the Path of the Bodhisattva, she is one.

It was a good game, the Orioles won, a few homers were hit, and we all had a good time.

After the game the ladies took me on a tour of the Inner Harbor. There was live music, and people selling things, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. It was during this tour that the only dark think happened on the entire trip. In an indoor market area was one of those businesses that make fudge on those huge marble tables. There were three Black workers at the booth. One had a long mass of fudge he was cutting up into one pound pieces. He was tall, with a kind of braided hair under a cap, and he was using a very big knife. A White Guy, about my age, maybe younger, approached the man and asked, "Hey boy! Where is the..." something or other.

I couldn't believe it. Did this guy really say "Hey Boy!" to this fully grown, knife-wielding man? The fudge man took it in stride with the best example of grace I have ever witnessed, and without flinching told the guy what he wanted to know. White Guy then headed off in the given direction, without a thanks.

Now I feel bad about it; I should have said something, but I was so shocked to hear this, I was speechless.

Something that seems to be popping up in cities across the USA (and elsewhere, I believe) is a series of statuary art all on a theme. In Baltimore, around the downtown area are statues of crabs. They all have the same shape, but are colored differently, and sponsored by various people and businesses (on a trip to Corpus Christi last spring there were dolphins; in the Manchester, Vermont area they are horses).

I was up very late the next morning and on my way to visit my parents in Tennessee. I listened to WSMJ until it faded (somewhere between Baltimore and D.C.), then settled in for the long drive. I got only the smallest taste of Baltimore and good company, both of which I hope to experience more of some day soon.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Don't rub my belly!

Karen had another ultrasound this week. This was done in the OB/GYN office by yet a different doctor who confirmed that we are going to have a boy. But, in the spirit of continual surprise, it turns out that, size-wise, he is at week 30 of development, though this is only week 28. So, at this point, he is big for his age. Oh boy!

Because I've done this myself, I understand the urge, or, at least, having the urge; when people see or meet a pregnant woman, they want to put their hands on pregnant woman's tummy. Karen says people do this all the time, even complete strangers. Some stop themselves just prior to contact, others do a full two-handed belly grope. Now Karen is a hugging person, but the tummy touch is getting to be too much.

There must be some sort of evolutionary explanation for this behavior. Maybe somebody with a knowledge of evolutionary psychology can provide one.

And she does look pregnant now. She's got those longed-for iron abs, but they are far from flat. Her innie belly-button is an outie now. Also, there's a LOT of activity, rolls, kicks, punches, some of them quite severe, causing her to exclaim pleasantries at unexpected times. This is good stuff, though, an indication that things are going well. I can often feel these movements, though so far I haven't seen them (that should happen before the summer is over).

Music in my head: Something I heard twice on the radio this week by a group I think is called Smash Mouth, the song being something I used to like before it played in a endless loop in my brain.

Sorry for not posting more this week, it's been kinda busy, same for responding to comments. And it's only going to get worse, so don't expect any new postings next week, even though Vermont has become a rain forest and thus working in the garden is a bit problematic.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On being ordinary

I read the following quote by Anne Bancroft (who died Monday), about playing the part of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate:

Film critics said I gave a voice to the fear we all have: that we'll reach a certain point in our lives, look around and realize that all the things we said we'd do and become will never come to be - and that we're ordinary.

It's a kind of paradox, really. We are all unique, and yet, most of us are just a face in a crowd. Perhaps we dream of becoming a face recognized by many, because of something we've done or become. As children we have visions of our adulthood being that of our heroes: pitch for the Yankees; being President; finding a cure for an insidious disease; singing or acting our way to fame.

If we all were able to live up to those ideals, then of course everyone would be famous and none of us would. It's the rarity of fame that makes it special.

But there's even another level that is more personal. Maybe we wanted to be a doctor, an explorer, a novelist, a songwriter. We wanted to learn how to paint, visit Europe, master a foreign language. At this level we yearned for personal achievement, like climbing and reaching the peak of a metaphorical (or literal) mountain.

And who knows? Until you breath your last breath, you can still take on these challenges.

At some point, though, life redirects your energies towards the mundane. There are the responsibilities of home and kin. A crises can derail your plans, and the less grandiose have the highest priorities. The path to the exceptional becomes steeper and overgrown, and those level side trails become very inviting.

So you become just another face in the crowd.

Our western culture puts great emphasis on the individual. I think that sets us up for disappointment. At that point Bancroft mentions, we wonder what we did with our life, and how we've become so...ordinary. We were going to be a great X! But we've ended up being merely a y.

It's because of that focus on rugged individualism that we overlook the benefits and joys of being ordinary. I'm not talking about avoiding the problems of the rich and famous (but you can throw that into the mix, if you like). What I mean here is that, though you are one in over six billion, you are a part of something really big, and that is being one in over six billion. You have a part to play, and that part helps move humanity along.

One of my favorite analogies is that of the snowflake. One snowflake alone isn't all that significant. But, look what happens when it gets together with others! Blizzards, drifts, glaciers!

Somewhere along the line in my study of Buddhism, I came across the notion of the individual as illusion. The concept is called emptiness, roughly stated that all phenomena are empty of independent creation. There is a web of causes and actions which have led up to this moment of your life. Just think; if just one of the causes that led up to you being you did not occur, you would not be you. Without some actions you wouldn't exist at all!

If you look at everything that has happened in your life (and to your parents, and their parents, and so on down the line) that has gone into the making of you, almost all of the actions that occurred were ordinary, by ordinary people.

I think there's a lot to be said about being ordinary.

Music in my head: Brahm's Symphony No. 4

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Reader participation

Because I don't have enough to do, I've convinced the talented Keri to write a joint project with me. This is going to be an ongoing work of fiction. It will probably take the form of a blog. We will take turns writing "chapters", and one will take up the story where the other left off.

There's some prep work to do, which is OK because she is busy with the very worthy cause of the Relay for Life. (Oh, you haven't pledged yet? Well, go ahead, do it now, you will be engulfed in feelings of goodness and worth, and will have played a part in finding a cure for cancer. Then come back here. Yes, I know you are busy, so I thank you now.) these early stages we are asking our pair of readers to suggest a setting for our fiction. Please leave a comment with a suggestion. If you aren't one of the two regular readers, go ahead and leave a suggestion anyway. We will pool the ideas and pick one or two.

When we win the Pulitzer Prize, we will acknowledge your contribution in our acceptance speech.

Thank you.

Music in my head: Verdi arias.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Our friend Yogi the bear has been back, though I've only seen him one more time. Last week I was putting bird feeders back outside, and went to fill one of them and discovered - hey! - the seed bins were gone. These are air-tight bins with lids that screw on and are quite critter proof.

One I found out in the garden patch, muddy but intact. The other one took me a little longer to find; it was in the woods wedged in between two trees and had been chewed, but not enough to get to the goodies inside.

The next evening just after sundown I caught him on the deck railing about to attack a feeder. He ran off when I yelled to the edge of the yard, stood on a log, and watched me. I brought in the feeders, and he huffed, snorted, and wandered off into the trees.


I've started working with a different yogi, a teacher of Svaroopa yoga. She has just completed training in yoga therapy for people with pain. I'm also doing a class once a week. On Friday I had a session of "embodiment" and it was really something. Very relaxing. Yesterday I had training in the "Magic 4" poses, which I now have to add to my exercises.

Such spiritual mornings I have...

Music in my head: You Know What It's Like, Roberta Flack