Another True Tale from the Mysterious East

Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

LONG SON PAGODA, NHA TRANG, VIET NAM: The Long Son Pagoda’s huge white Buddha is visible throughout Nha Trang and beyond.  The pagoda is dedicated to the Buddhist monks who gave their lives or were killed protesting the repression of the Diem government. Thich Quang Duc Perhaps the memory of Thich Quang Doc’s self-immolation in 1963 played a part in my seeking out this place.  More likely not.  There was simply something compelling about the gigantic, utterly peaceful presence of the 79 foot tall Buddha that led me to taxi away from resting at our hotel and to the base of Trai Thuy Hill, to look up in awe and then begin the climb (120 or 152 steep steps, depending on which guidebook you believed) to the statue.

Half way up there was to be a great reclining Buddha created by a Thai sculptor.  I never saw it on my way to the top.  The only diversion from my climbing: a covered platform off to one side housing a great bell, a stone bench under it, attended by a monk who motioned me toward the bench.   Was I really ready to willingly break my momentum?  Apparently so, for I found myself going down steps to reach the platform then climbing up steps to take a seat on the bench.

Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the waist up I was within the bell surrounded by messages taped up by previous sitters: notes, poems, sections of sutras, wishes, thanks.  I began to feel myself to be part of a large, ancient and contemporary culture of gratitude.

Inside the Long Son bell, Nha Trang

My shoulders relaxed as did my belly and legs.  My breathing, stimulated by the climb and my fears that this was more than a 71 year old with my feet could handle slowed down into a warm and gentle rhythm.

The monk sounded the bell.  A deep, low, almost soundless vibration surrounded me like a loving embrace.  He began to chant softly.  Twice more he sounded the gong as the chant continued.  All the lunacies of the climb and of aging and of all the rest of the neurotic package I’d brought with me from home vanished.  Writing now, two months later, the ease of that moment remains with me.

The rest of the walk up felt both brief and easy.  The hilltop was filled on two sides by snack and souvenir vendors, some worshipers, some tourists and some folks just hanging out.  Both the “legitimate beggars” and the “scam artists” the guide books had warned against were absent or on a break.  Built into and around the hilltop were containers for the cremated remains of generations of monks and believers.

P1020067

Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

The statue itself rested atop a pedestal large enough to contain a shrine room where another monk assisted those wishing to light incense.  I removed my shoes, entered in silence  and bowed at the altar.  The vibration of the bell below was still inside me.

Inside the Buddha base, Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

Walking joyfully back down the steps I came upon–no surprise, right?–the enormous reclining Buddha.  Clearly the universe had known I wasn’t ready for it on the way up.  There were several folks admiring and interacting with it including honeymooners who were being photographed touching Buddha’s elbow for luck.

Couple touches the Buddha for luck, Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

I made a note to do that once the elbow was cleared and began photographing the enormous statue from various angles.  I moved in close for a tight shot of the Buddha’s face.  That was when it happened.  The right eye winked at me!  There’s no other way to say it, just as there is no way to explain it.  As I looked at the crystal clear image on the camera’s viewing screen, the right eye of the great stone reclining Buddha statue winked at me!  It did!  I looked directly at the statue.  No second wink.  Back at the screen.  No wink.  I switched to “memory,” but, of course, I’d not taken a picture.

Winking Buddha, Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

I virtually skipped down the remaining steps, My smile growing with each stride.  At the base of the hill, just outside the pagoda, I got into a singing, giggling goof with three Vietnamese souvenir-sellers, then rode back to the hotel on the back of a motorbike through what seemed to me to be remarkably calm and well directed Nha Trang rush hour traffic. There’s a picture of me with the cyclorickshaw driver, but that’s not what this is about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on March 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I am not “The Bicyclist”

Judy: Are you riding these days?  Interested in joining me tomorrow?

Goldberg: I won’t be available until 2.  Does that work for you? 

Judy: Probably not but I will let you know if that changes.

*   *   *   *   *

Now that I’m finally getting older, I’m beginning to actually realize it when life lessons get handed to me on an unmistakable platter.  In the past few months I’ve been simultaneously blessed and challenged and delighted and rocked with unmistakable insights into what’s real. This is another part of that story.

And this was how this started: a simple exchange of emails between me and a bike-riding partner since maybe 1986.  The unusuality of it:  I didn’t respond with my usual and unequivocal

“Yes, yes, o yes.  We can ride.  I must ride.  Whatever…whenever…oh yes, just say when and I don’t care where and I’ll be there because (ta dum!) I am The Bicyclist!

Already something was going on.  Only I didn’t know it.  I just figured,

Hey!  I’ve got something to do around noon.  Either she waits or she doesn’t.  Either way–with her or alone–I’ll  still ride, ’cause I am The Bicyclist.

OK, so wearing my non-bike-riding civvies, I get on my beaten, blue Ross commuter bike and spin slowly up Amsterdam Avenue to 96th Street and my meditation group.  I’d not been there for three weeks now because of a trip to Israel (more about that, you can be sure, later), the land where life got handed to me several times, and I   was truly looking forward to reuniting with some remarkable folks engaged in a remarkable practice.  Still, the back of mind was filled with images of me in my bicyclist suit, sitting astride my bright red Klein road bike (bright red) riding perhaps across the George Washington Bridge, onto the road we cyclists call (incorrectly) River Road and north.  Remember, I am The Bicyclist.

 I’m not going to give you all the  intermediary details.  I hate it when people do that to me–I’m a ‘Punch Line’ kinda guy–and even if you’re one of those folks who thrives on details, I ‘m willing to risk your wrath here.  The meditation starts.  It’s the Shaking Meditation in the tradition of Ratu Bagus

http://www.ratubagus.com/English/Bio+Energy+Meditation

that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.  Loud, rhythmic music, quiet individual mantra-chanting to bring the mind back to focus whenever it drifts off to things like being The Bicyclist, some groaning and laughter and, above all, rapid full-body shaking all dedicated to whatever I can conceive of that has vastly more power than I do.  In my case that’s God.

OK, so here I am shaking and mantrasizing and suddenly–out of absolute and proverbial Nowhere–the thought leaps into my head:

I am NOT “The Bicyclist!”

Huh?

     I’m not?

          I’m not!

               What?

                                     I’m really not.  I’m just a guy who, along with doing countless other things on a regular basis,  rides a bike.  It’s not who I am.  It’s–at most–just one thing I do.  It’s not my identity, and I am certainly not somehow more worthy and successful when I ride a bike and less worthy and a failure if I don’t.  I’m just someone who sometimes rides and sometimes doesn’t.  In fact, I’ve just put a halt to receiving far too frequent emails labeling me a “Legend of the New York Cycle Club” in an effort to get me to attend a club reunion for which I’d already bought my ticket a month ago.  I’m not  him.  I’m just me.

O, flippin’ wow!

This truth realized causes the root question to arise:

What identities do I subscribe to?  How much of  how I see myself is based on trying to live up to certain stereotypes or, for the psychoscholars among us, archetypes that have been planted in my head over the years?  How much joy, misery, frustration and self-congratulation arise from my living up to or failing to live up to these sets?

And, of course, me being me, I suspect I’m not alone in this, so I turn it to you:

What identities do you subscribe to?  Who do you tell yourself you are?  What does it cost/profit you to believe it?

*     *     *     *     *

Published in: on June 6, 2011 at 9:51 am  Comments (7)  
Tags: ,

Magic Eye!

IMG_2414

Gray Sunday morning in our living room:
I’m excited reading The Second Book of the Tao,
Bobbie, laughing, is excited by Eye Magic

(HOLD THE IMAGE CLOSE TO YOUR NOSE.

SLOWLY MOVE IT AWAY…
AND SUDdENLY A HIDDEN 3D ILLUSION
WILL MAGICALLY APPEAR ! )

I put down the book and pick up the magic,
proud that I can let my eyes see the illusion.
I laugh.  She tells me she has to study.
She hopes to pass a quiz.
Encouraging thoughts fill me
As she walks away.
I start to speak but hear myself say,
“It doesn’t matter what I say.”  She stops…
Wiggles her ass at me!
Smiles over her shoulder
and continues toward her books.

Hey!  That’s why I married her!

IMG_2072

Happy Autumn to All!

Published in: on November 15, 2009 at 12:10 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags:

(Another) Revelation!

IMG_1966

WARNING: This is going to be one of those posts in which I’ll begin by being a little cute and ramble around until I eventually focus on something.  Since I keep dealing with the same things and since there’s really no reason to expect I’m about to try something new or different now, you might find yourself wondering why you’re bothering to read this in the first place.  You already know that somehow it will eventually come back to a moment of discovery, me gaining a new and brilliant understanding which, when all is said and done,  was obvious to anyone who was paying attention from the beginning.  And God forbid I should let it all end without some final cutitude.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

*   *   *

It’s been about a month since I’ve added anything to this space.  Not that there hasn’t been subject matter:

1. The lingering impact of a bike crash way back on Labor Day weekend.

2. Our block association’s annual White Elephant Sale.

3. A colonoscopy and an endoscopy (not done simultaneously.)

4. Joyfully reconnecting with folks from my past through Facebook.

5. My participation in a 5 day Western Zen Retreat up north (some of my readers will respond more to that geographic reference than will others).

6. A one day tour of wineries and farm stands on Long Island’s North Fork.

7. My computer which now takes a full 15 minutes to contact the internet.

8. Right now, when I’d ordinarily be sitting in meditation at Still Mind Zendo, but left after only a few minutes this morning when the pain in my knee (see #1 above) set off a round of suffering which made continued sitting impossible for me.

OK, forget the warning!  Let me just get right to it, the same “it” which runs through all 8 possibilities–especially when I realize that #1 and #8 are the same.

Anyhow, here come the revelations, beginning with #2:

THE WHITE ELEPHANT SALE

IMG_2186

Imagine me and Bobbie sitting out behind a table and in front of a schoolyard fence both covered with things we once loved or needed or–more likely–wanted on a beautiful Sunday morning and eventually afternoon.  Me thinking: I hate this.  This is the last place on earth–with the exception of active combat zones–that I want to be.  I want to be on my bicycle.  I’m only doing this out of marital obligation.  If I were single or if I loved Bobbie any less–but I’m neither of those, and I do love helping her–actually this helps us–and it’s kind of fun being out here in the sun,  meeting people and getting into conversations with folks I’ve never met before, even reminiscing behind some of the life artifacts up for sale.

Hey! When I focus on what I’m actually doing and not what I’m thinking,  I’m not suffering.

Hey hey!! Here I am out in the sunshine  having a great time and noticing that I choose to suffer or not by my perspective.  It all comes from how I see things, not from what I see.

Hey hey hey !!! (with apologies to Krusty the Klown)  This is good stuff.

Rereading what I’ve put down so far, it now occurs to me that my point’s been made.  No need to write about the retreat or leaving the zendo early or discovering that the 15 minutes it takes to get onto the internet makes for a built-in 15 minute meditation period.  Definitely no need to write about tubes being stuck into my digestive and ingestive systems.

‘Nuff said, I say!  although I really want to include this from the first email opened after the 15 minute wait:

…it is the perspective of the sufferer that determines whether a given experience perpetuates suffering or is a vehicle for awakening.

–Mark Epstein

IMG_2114

Published in: on October 24, 2009 at 12:53 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags:

Some thoughts on the year past

Don’t get me wrong.  I was born a Jew and I’ll not only die one but it’s a sure thing–Buddhist meditation, love of Jesus, devotion to Krishna, the Tao Te Ching and the wisdom of the Koran notwithstanding–I’ll still spend all the time between those two events being a Jew.  This isn’t about that.  It’s about making use of Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish new year, and it’s companion, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.  This is the time of year when we traditionally take account of the past year to identify and atone for our sins.  Another way to see this is that this is the time when we clear away the trash of the past, the ego-based guilts and sadnesses of the past twelve months, to clear space for God’s grace in the coming year.

Those of you who’ve been following this blog pretty much know of my bigger blunders, those conflicts ultimately based on my (at the time) sincere belief that I was right and someone else was wrong.  I’ve tried to write about them in ways that indicate that, at least in hindsight, I was no longer being taken in by my own sense of superiority, righteous indignation, hope or fear.  I hope that came through.

There’s been another attempt to escape from egocentricity.  Simply put: a reaching out to make this blog a bit more about us and not about just me.    Frequently I’ve included in my email announcements the hope that you’d contribute comments.  There was a request that you write about your work or submit a six word autobiography or supply a caption for a photo.  Recently I posted Goldie Silverman’s Rosh Hashonah poem, Tashlik 2000.

I found an unexpected ally in in this pursuit, Facebook, using it to reconnect with several of the folks I knew and in some cases undoubtedly offended (or at least irritated) as an angry, moody,  drug-propelled film editor or an equally arrogant student or club bike rider or even family member.   I identified presenting myself as open to take the shit accumulated in the past  as a form of atonement: to be ready for and willing to accept that a significant part of the world wasn’t waiting for me with bouquets of fresh picked chrysanthemums and gracious welcoming smiles.  Each time I sent out one of those Friend requests my mouse finger trembled.  Blissfully, several responded warmly to my befriending requests.  In a few cases there have been actual reunions with the expressed intention of maintaining contact in the future.  In other cases there have been no responses.

All that said, in the Facebook words of Fredric D. Rosenberg, who’s said it so well and will probably not hurt me for quoting him without permission,

This is going to sound strange, but if I hurt you in any way in the last year and have not apologized and made amends before now, I am sorry. I will try to do better in the future. Let the fast begin.

IMG_1966

Published in: on September 27, 2009 at 9:46 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: ,

A Brush with Divine Intervention

This may be the silliest post yet.  Maybe not…

The title, of course, is a reference to two posts ago, a little story about cracking out of my little world of “shoulds” into the much bigger universe of “is.”  This time, if I have it right, it’s about leaving the world of “coincidence” in favor of the cosmos of “OmyGod!”

The picture below is of a fully inflated bicycle tube hanging in a closet.  IMG_1599And here’s the chain of events which led to my spending  time and effort to create the basically mundane image now at the left.  It all began Monday morning.  The time was about 8:45, the temperature was already in the upper 80’s with nowhere to go but up, and I, filled with rationalizations and good intentions was about to mount my bike and ride four laps (25 miles) in Central Park before riding the 8 miles to work.  Remember, boyhood has long passed me by–or I it–and my heart has a history of attacking me.

Just as I am about to  pass through the apartment door on my rush to ego gratification, I notice my back tire’s flat.  On closer inspection I also note that several sections of the tire have worn so thin that the kevlar belt under the rubber’s surface has actually replaced the rubber.  Clearly it is time for a patch and a new tire.

I set to work.  Patching tubes is something I’ve had a great deal of experience with lately.  One block from visiting friends Annie and Mahanta at the beach at Rockaway Park I flatted on my commuter bike.  It was the first time in maybe four years that such a thing has happened to my city bike tires, those warriors of urban trash and treachery, those conquerors of both The Bronx and Brooklyn.  Then there was the ultimately polite delight ride with newly met friend Marilyn on the Hudson River Greenway and the flat she somehow brought with her from home.  Our only spare tube (mine) was two inches less in diameter than her tire and wheel.  Still, with patience and perseverance it was done.

This time, in the comfort of my own home, a most curious phenomenon: I was unable to spot the leak in the tube. I inflated it and moved my hand slowly along it’s surface…nothing.  I ran it along my ever-so-tender cheek, past my keen hearing ear.  No blow.  No hiss.  I filled the sink with water and immersed the tube.  No telltale bubbles.  Especially close attention to the valve and the one patch from a previous flat yielded the same nothingness.  Out of curiosity and, I suspect, some disbelief, I hung the inflated tube as you see it depicted, fully expecting to find it flat upon returning from work late that evening.

Focusing back on the bike: I just happened to have in that selfsame closet both a new tube and a new tire, perhaps the stiffest tire ever made.  With great and prolonged effort I managed first to wrangle the tube into the tire and then the pair of them almost onto the bike’s back wheel.  “Almost,” here, is the operative word.  For what felt like the better part of a decade I struggled to mount them to the wheel without success.  Then I remembered: back in my day we’d first put the tire half on the wheel, then insert the tube, then bring the other side of the tire into place.  I tried it and, yes, old fashioned worked.

OK and I’m ready to ride.  A quick look at the clock and it becomes immediately and incontrovertibly clear that there is no way either here or in hell that I’ll have time to ride my four go-rounds in the park, come home, shower, dress and ride to work.  O well, perhaps changing the tire and tube were exercise enough.  Out of my nifty bike rider suit and into my commuter stuff and off I go.  A quick stop at the library to return four CD’s (Brubeck’s Take Five, the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Million Dollar Quartet’s Million Dollar Quartet and Clifton Chenier Live Somewhere in 1981) and then onto the bike path along the Hudson to head for The Bronx and the job.

By now the temperature’s pretty close to ninety  and probably the humidity as well.  Despite the 10 or so miles per hour breeze created by my  riding I find myself utterly wet with sweat.  The air is  just short of being a beverage rather than a gas.  Struggling along on perfectly flat pavement, I  hear it:

“OmyGod!,” that interior voice much smarter than my own blurts out.  “If you’d gone to the park to ride laps, you’d probably be dead by now.”

“OmyGod,” I agree.  “I agree!”

Slowing down to the speed of a respectable senior fastwalker and drinking much water, stopping periodically to rest, I make my way uphill from sea level along the Hudson over the spine of Washington Heights to the Highbridge section of The Bronx and the job.  Now, I’ve already got some interpretive ideas regarding what I’ve been describing here, the kind of fuzzy spiritual things you’ve come to expect of me, but I just leave those out when telling co-worker Martha about the morning’s events.  She knows of my heart history and doesn’t mince words.

“Hmmfff,” she sort of snorts.  “Divine intervention,” and walks away.

Divine intervention…nice idea…but no.  The tire was flat.  It is flat, I think to myself.  When I get home tonight it will be limp as an old man’s (sigh) step.

All day long, through client interviews (I work with men and women in treatment for addictions to drugs, alcohol, street life, pain and money) and group facilitations, I can’t stop thinking about that damned tube.  At 8:45 pm, 12 hours exactly after all this began, I phoned home and asked Bobbie, now my wife of 11 years, to walk the phone to the closet and describe the tube to me.

Yes, it was still firm with air!  No it hadn’t again flattened.

When I got home an hour later it was still firm.  I took it down, forced the air out and rolled it up.  The next day (today) I decided to write up this bit of mystery and re-inflated the tube to photograph, then deflated and rerolled it, realized the picture wouldn’t orient properly, unrolled the tube and rephotographed it.  Each time it held air with no leakage.  Each time I heard Martha’s observation.

I think she’s onto something…I don’t know…Do you?

IMG_0520

Here’s Martha (with Edgar)

Published in: on August 21, 2009 at 12:28 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

Slow Tweet…

Vacation Day

Wake up in the arms of my beloved

Breakfast of summer fruits and banana bread.  Coffee.

Wash the dishes–new Fiestaware, deep colors beneath white suds.

IMG_1585

On the bike: 4 turns around Central Park past happy chattering knots of visiting Frenchmen and Italians and from-sure-enough-Spain Spaniards,   noting the backs of all those cyclists who pass me.

A hot shower

A cold iced tea

A man on tv tells me how to care for my mind.

Bike to the library: return the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, pick up King Sunny Ade.

IMG_1580

*********************************************

And now, right now

Sitting in the shade, the late afternoon breeze

Between the Hudson River and the West Side Highway (a candy bar in my pocket!)

Writing to you…

IMG_0762

How am I doing?

‘Couldn’t be better!

Published in: on August 8, 2009 at 2:01 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags:

Another brush with enlightenment

IMG_1342

A few Saturdays ago I bicycled from home on Manhattan’s well-publicised Upper West Side across the 59th Street Bridge (the one people in Queens call the Queensboro Bridge,) along the southern edge of Long Island City, through Woodside and up 37th Avenue into Jackson Heights’ dynamic Indian/Bangladeshi community.  Carnegie Hall sponsors a series of Neighborhood Concerts, free musical events held throughout the boroughs, featuring extraordinary musicians from essentially everywhere.  Samita Sinha, a multilingual (Hindi, Urdu, Chinese, English…) singer, accompanied by congas, tablas and keyboard was to perform at the Jackson Heights branch of the Queens Public Library.  Never having heard or heard of her, I was ready.

The library’s meeting room was filled to capacity.  At 3:15, a polite 15 minutes after the posted starting time the City Council member responsible for funding the event spoke briefly as did representatives of both the library and the concert series.  Ms. Sinha lives 3 blocks from the library, she told us when she took the stage.  She was at home and wanted us to feel the same way.  Hmm…Queens quaint, I thought.

Others, however, took her words more seriously.  Two women, appearing to be in their 80’s, sat behind me.  Their pre-program conversation had been no more to me than undistinguished sounds in the general and appropriate din.  Things became different, however, when the music started and they showed no inclination to stop.  Both were hard of hearing and eager to let everyone know that.  One flipped loudly through the newspaper insert for a local market.  The other developed a catch phrase, “I don’t like this music!” and repeated it with metronome-like regularity.  Thus provoked and eager to establish silence, I turned to them and glared wordlessly for a beat before returning my attention to the stage.  As I turned  back and before I could congratulate myself on silencing them, I heard one say to the other, “What’s he looking at?”  to which the other responded, “I don’t like this music!”

Their page-flipping and conversation continued as did my anger.  Being a good Manhattanite and respecter of performers and,  Hey, dammit!   I’m a registered senior citizen and don’t appreciate anyone in my age demographic misrepresenting the rest of us!  I fell to grimacing and twitching, silently selecting and rehearsing the devastating comments I’d make to them when the current tune ended.  Pissed was hardly the word for it.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.  The man sitting next to me, a man in his perhaps 40’s, looking like he might be from the Subcontinent, turned in my direction and smiled.  Clearly he was hearing all I was hearing, clearly he was aware of my feelings–yeah, like I’m trying to disguise them– yet he smiled.   And get this, it was a real smile.  No irony, no sympathy, no meaning.  Just a smile.   He smiled and, just so,  my hostility vanished!  As if that weren’t enough, I was then somehow  propelled through an instant of embarrassment–me demanding that two old friends at a neighborhood event in their neighborhood in their library act as I  wanted them to act–puleeze!–and just as quickly  back to the wonder of the music with all of  the foregoing forgotten.

Midway through the music the women stood and grumbled their way out of the room.  Another smile from the man to my left.  I smiled back–just a smile, no more than that.

Life lessons, I suspect, abound in Jackson Heights.

IMG_1344

Published in: on July 15, 2009 at 9:47 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags:

Diamonds and Dollar Signs

img_0451.jpg
Spectator at Pathmark Gospel Choir competition

Sometimes you just get lucky. You don’t have to figure anything out, because people before you did that and got it right. Let me tell you what I’ve got in mind.

One of the many things I learned from 100_2865.jpgAb, my guide in Morocco is that, being a gift from Allah, Moroccans did not criticize the weather. By implication they understand everything that we think of as delivered by fate, luck or the indifference of nature to actually be a gift of God and therefore unassailable and undoubtedly for us. Further, they see it as their job (and, or course, ours) to figure out not so much why they’d been given that particular blessing as how best to use it. Not an easy task sometimes — holocausts , child molestation, tsunamis, insomnia and rain on weekends come to mind–but our job nonetheless.

Had I not somehow lucked into meeting Ab and subsequently reading out of the mainstream and into the mystics, this beautiful attitude and I might never have crossed paths. The mainstream religious understanding most of us grew up with often depicts the reverse, urging us instead to lobby God to do what we want.

“Dear God, please do what I want. If You do, I’ll be real good…amen.”

That said, recently I’ve been struggling with a couple of those gifts. The result: I found myself saving up a bunch of rants (Remember that word. It pays off later on) to dump in this space. The first of which began:

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. For that matter, if you meet anyone who writes poetry, kill them too. Yes, I’m going through something. It began yesterday at the Rubin Museum of (Himalayan) Art, a Buddhist poetry reading. See, I don’t understand poetry. In fact it generally drives me and my self esteem into the same hole most of America’s mortgages are in right now. But rather than put it on me, I choose to hate poets.

Then there the actual Buddhists. img_0477.jpg I have a picture of the Dalai Lama on my desk and, yes, I do feel like he’s actually looking at me with the most incredible combination of warmth, understanding and encouragement. And yes, I’ve read a bunch of stuff and I meditate daily and go on week-long meditation retreats, but when it comes to all the basics of Buddhist thought, for me it’s like being back with the poets. I think I’m closing in on things when I retranslate the basic concept of “no self” as no ego, but, if that’s right, why the hell don’t they just say No Ego?

Then there’s the part about life being suffering. The truth be told, I’ve been having a ball the last bunch of years. I live indoors (with heat in the winter) and am madly in love with my wife and, in an admittedly different way, most people I meet. My job is fantastic, my health is remarkable (when I’m not crashing my bike into things or being crashed into by them. And I’m far enough removed from that first bunch of years that they don’t hurt any more.

Furthermore, I’m convinced that brief pleasures damned well do satisfy and delight for their little minute. When I remember I’m only here for a little minute, that seems sufficient. Only if I expect or demand or require more of them–and only then–do I suffer. So I don’t do that. So, no suffering.

So why am I carrying on like this? I love ee cummings and Ryokan and some of William Carlos Williams and I even write some (although I deny it) poetry and I hate poetry. I meditate and read the Buddha and img_0481.jpgPema Chodron and anybody named Suzuki and I can’t stay meditatively focused beyond two breaths. I only get pissed about that once in a while, and I can’t follow a dharma talk (a Buddhist non-sermon) all the way to the end. Sometimes I want to blame it on the concussion (May 5th, bike crash, blah blah blah…) but all this predates that, so I’m really stuck with that being me.

Then there’s the mystery of the blog. Just as I didn’t know why I was involved with poetry or Buddhist thought and practice, I didn’t know why I’d taken to putting my brain product onto the internet. I thought I’d found the answer in “The Gentle Rant” on Matt Munisteri’s web page.

img_0482.jpg http://www.mattmunisteri.com/index.html

Mr. Munisteri plays great guitar and writes songs you just want to keep hearing. Writing about song writing he said:

One great thing about a song is that it doesn’t have to be fair or definitive. It doesn’t have to be researched or objective. Usually its only job is to take its subject – perhaps even one examined many times before – and hold it up at that particular angle where only one side, in a particular light, can be seen, and then purport that one side as the only one that matters or contains even a shred of truth. Then, for a couple of minutes, it is definitive. If we’re lucky a song’s bridge (release) will tip its hand, and then we’re really in delicious territory. Sometimes its subject is love.

Reading The Gentle Rant I discovered this: I write this stuff because I just want to. “This is what it looks like to old Goldberg.” As long as no one writes back to the contrary (there is a Comments section, but no one uses it for real comments) my stuff reigns. Whoopee!

But once again, dear reader, I was wrong. The words I post for you never really represent the thoughts I’d begun with–the thoughts that carry the “right” label. It’s actually the act of writing that I love! By putting thoughts into words I discover things I didn’t know when I started writing. Often I end up writing contrary to what I’d originally intended. Look at what you’ve just read! Not to mention the one which was to be at the heart of this posting.

Go back to the picture at the top: The title and the guy wearing a hoodie covered with diamonds and dollar signs at the Pathmark Gospel Choir fest. Given the usual set of stereotypes–the old material v. spiritual dichotomy–this would seem like irony, like a deliberate set-up on my part to undercut the spiritual nature of what was being presented on stage. The truth be told, that was my initial reaction. The process of writing, however, has moved me along to a truer truth:

The man was there listening to gospel music.

My initial reaction was an ego creation, an interpretation, the result of a collection of historically conditioned and not particularly joyful neurotransmitters banging into each other under the self-superior direction of yours truly. On the other hand, the simple reality of sitting with a man listening to gospel music and a whole Winter Garden filled with people listening to gospel music…

img_0448.jpg

Thanks, God.

Published in: on February 21, 2008 at 10:50 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,

Maybe the end of it.

The concussion thing is finally running thin.  Physical therapy has me walking without wobbling, no mysterious pains in the chest and I think I can go back to sandwiches on rolls–no longer depending on the thinness of bread–and not experience jaw ache.  Periods of depression and anger are also back to pre-concussion frequency levels, and I’m not saying as many outright stupid things as during the last 6 weeks.  And, yes (sigh), I’m working and riding the bike.

Thanks to all who wrote in concern.  There is a “comments” tab at the end of this entry.  Should you want to comment and want it accessable to others beside me, feel free to use it.  So much of what I’ve received privately really deserved to be shared, but, as always, it’s your choice.

Here are some poems that appeared during the recovery period.

POST-CONCUSSION WRITING

Life so rich

so joyful,

pain and anger

sadness so deep:

why do I still

look for clues

in words?

* * *

Smooth and easy

this post-concussion world

Depression, my friend and teacher

wears a flowered summer dress

and smiles softly.

* * *

Why do I hurry?

Like spring or midnight or even death

I cannot be late.

* * *

This great time of healing continues

family, friends, work, the train

strange body, strange mind

even depression smells of love.

Yesterday the richness of rain

of work, friendship and strangers–

even a sandwich I’d never tasted before.

This morning my first ever drug dream.

* * *

Plastic teeth and lenses

metal stents and aches wherever,

too many memories to recall

and grandchildren!

Still old age avoids me.

* * *

Wherever I am

it’s me.

My curiosity

my discomfort

my lust

my peace

my foolishness

my anger

my taste in shirts

in music

in companions

my list of accomplishments

my list of regrets

my transience.

But sometimes

in my quiet

I disappear

Then (and only then)

I emerge.

* * *

When I take off my clothes

you see my body

When I drop my bullshit

you see my self.

Naked each night

I nestle in the arms of my beloved

No longer me

But us.

* * *

How do I escape this me

I’ve so carefully, completely constructed?

How do I free myself

from my very own (so real, so true)

beliefs, wants and fears?

This grace, this blessing

It only happens without my wish or my work

An instant beyond awareness

Known only in retrospect–

Otherwise it would-again-be just me.

* * *

In meditation (sometimes)

I give up being me (sort of,

for a minute, kind of)

to observe me.

Sometimes it works.

* * *

6/14/07



Published in: on June 14, 2007 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,