Archive for the “life wisdom” Category
Somebody sent me an email that warned me that muslin was out to get me, well not me in particular, us Americans. Now hold on a minute, I thought to myself.
I know muslin’s not really nice material like silk or anything, but I can’t see that that’s any reason to intend the people of this country harm. I suppose it could be upset that it never gets to go to the prom, or for that matter, get dressed up for any reason. But really, I just find this hard to believe. Muslin is such a nice, serviceable cloth; I’ve always liked it. Some of it is really soft and comfortable.
The email said that muslin wanted to kill Christians who didn’t convert, and as a formerly Christian country that obviously isn’t converting fast enough, we should all be afraid. I tried to see a connection, but all I could come up with was this: I don’t know about Protestants, but Catholic priests wear a lot of shiny satiny stuff when they get dressed up for church. Muslin must think we’ve gotten too uppity.
Well, before I got too freaked out, I thought I’d do a little investigating, so I went to dictionary.com to see what I could find out about this new enemy of ours, and I discovered something interesting. Way back when, muslin was actually a luxurious cloth. It originated in a city called Mosul in northern Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq. It used to mean cloth of silk and gold. It got its more modern meaning, “everyday cotton fabric,” from the US back in 1872.
OK, that sheds a little light. Maybe muslin is mad because the US didn’t recognize its true worth and value. Maybe it feels belittled. I feel kind of sorry for it.
Now I don’t know what to do. It’s a crazy world out there. Maybe I’d better go check my closets. I like cotton stuff, but there might be a shirt in there right now, plotting an attack.
Hey, we were friends once. Maybe I could put it on and we could go out for a drink—something that wouldn’t stain, of course. I wouldn’t want to be totally insensitive.
No Comments »
Is our government too big? I don’t mean in terms of programs, budget, sheer numbers of people, etc. I mean in terms of being able to see the whole picture, in terms of keeping the welfare of the entire country front and center in its mind (if government can be said to have a mind, but you know what I mean).
Call me myopic, but I think the major problem with our government (and not coincidentally with our educational system, our health ‘care’ system, our banking and insurance system, many of our large corporations, etc.) is that they are too big. In government, our representatives have lost the ability to see and the will to work for what is best for the country as a whole. In education, schools are turning out students who can’t think creatively or critically but who can pass the state tests (and don’t get me started on why graduating seniors have to be able to pass an exam that that tests only to the level of 9th grade). In health care, drug companies can’t afford to develop much needed medications because the ROI is too low or too risky in the first place. Do I really need to say anything about our banking and insurance systems? In those businesses and others, our leaders have allowed themselves to be committed to next quarter’s growth at the expense of long-term viability.
Why do we have all these problems? Because people are no longer part of the equation. When people disappear from view, all sorts of aberrations become rationally justifiable. And people disappear from view when things get too big.
Buddhists say everyone has been our mother and our father. How would we treat each other if we could see each other that way?
No Comments »
The nail on my left index finger keeps splitting vertically. I don’t know why. Some soothsayer might read the sign of a deep internal flaw in my psyche, trying to get my attention.
The pattern on the carpet runs diagonally from where I sit. But if I turn my head, it becomes vertical. Just a slight adjustment of my view. And if I glance into the narrow space between the book displays, there is chaos for a moment before the pattern appears.
The mind loves patterns. It thinks it understands something when it sees them. Never mind that the whole thing is a fabrication. The truth is neither chaos nor pattern.
This morning a gray curtain of rain fell continually outside my windows on the world. The house was dark, even at 11 a.m. I fancied I felt the force of gravity pulling the rain drops fiercely down, or was it? My mind tells me the rain is falling down, but what if it were falling up? Am I sure it’s not? I see what I expect to see. What do I miss?
The other day on a whim, I decide to recycle some bags of plastic bags. I grabbed them and took them upstairs. It was lunch time and I was thinking how much I’d like a sweet potato, but I didn’t have any. I dropped the bags on the floor in the mudroom and one went thunk! Bags don’t thunk, I thought. I investigated and what did I find? A sweet potato!
I wonder how often a gift waits for me to discover it. I wonder how often I don’t know where I’m going until I get there.
Does the split in my index fingernail warn me I can’t keep it together, no matter how hard I try? Or is it the universe laughing at me for excavating meaning out of nothingness.
Well, that’s what we human beings do. And now I’ll file my nail, solve the problem, and forget about it, while the mystery beneath persists and waits for another chance to catch my eye—or my sleeve, which is how I got started on this in the first place.
No Comments »
I’ve been thinking a lot about barriers and boundaries recently. For a while, I thought they were the same, but then I came to realize that they were quite different. And actually now, I’m toying with the idea that barriers might not exist at all.
I got started on this particular exploration because I felt like I kept running into barriers. You know them—rules, bureaucracies, laws of physics, etc. I didn’t like being prevented from doing whatever it was I wanted to do. I experienced the barrier as an obstacle to be gotten around somehow or—particularly when I was in a ferocious mood—demolished.
One day, however, a revolutionary thought popped into my head: what if I stopped trying to circumvent or push through the barrier and instead investigated it.
Now I’m in many ways a visual person, so in my mind I immediately saw a wall, and in my mind, I approached the wall with the intention of discovering as much as I could about it. Imagine my surprise when, as I got closer, I began to see that the wall was not a solid monolith. It had cracks and spaces. And it wasn’t a thin, hard thing; it was wide and porous.
And then a really curious thing happened. I began to see the barrier as a very dynamic place, a place where energy is being exchanged all the time. Far from being static, it was always in flux.
I could see particles of energy moving in this wide band, leaving, joining, traveling within the borders, which were themselves more like those clouds I see in the sky, fraying at the edges. It reminded me of a crowd of people, and suddenly, I knew how I could cross it.
All I needed to do was cooperate with it. It was the most natural thing in the world!
I mean, if I want to get through a crowd, I could just throw myself at the edges of it. I would probably be bounced backwards, maybe even fall down and hurt myself. A better strategy would be to move into an opening, any opening I see, and then find my way, small space by small space, through the mass until I reach the other side. And so what if my path is not a straight line? Nothing in nature is a straight line!
And here’s something even more exciting. As I feel my way through the crowd, the crowd itself, the flow of its very energy, can help me get through!
I bet you can see now why I’m thinking that there might not even be any barriers in life, just—let’s call them boundaries. Because, after all, a boundary is just a border area where something ends and something else begins. And if I want to get to the other side, it’s just up to me to find my way, step by step.
No Comments »
The email was sprung on me, an unexpected, unpleasant surprise. It was from my brother. His ex-boss, whom he considered also a friend – good man, devoted to his family, always upbeat and in good spirits – had died in a scuba accident. He had retired 11 weeks ago.
I sat back in my chair, my heart hurting, tears coming.
My reaction surprised me. Yes, the death was tragic. And yes, it was clearly sudden. And yes, my brother had ended his email by saying the news was affecting him more than he thought it would, and he asked for prayers.
But why was I sobbing. Why did I get up from my computer and start wandering through my house, wiping my hands across my face, massaging my forehead with my fingertips?
I heard myself speaking aloud, asking a question: What are we doing? We being Eddie and me. What we are doing being delaying his retirement. What if that happened to him?
I could hear the faint voice of my Buddhist training. We live in the eternal present. The length of time is irrelevant. Every now moment is infinite, boundless. 11 minutes, 11 weeks, 11 years, 11 decades—it makes no difference in the eternal present.
I believe this.
And yet I feel grief-stricken.
What if Eddie’s eternal present never gets to retirement? What if mine doesn’t?
What if I spend my life preparing, lining things up, fulfilling requirements that I made up in my mind and then took to be existentially true?
Ah, this is an old argument. In “Advice to My Son,” poet Peter Meinke says the trick is to live each day as if it is your last and yet plan for the future. Plant flowers—and vegetables. Serve bread with the wine. But, he ends:
“… son, / always serve wine.” (li 22, 23)
Every so often, I must be reminded of the fiction of long life. So I can practice—in Buddhist terminology—as if my hair were on fire.
Serving the wine. And drinking it. And maybe sometimes pouring it on my head. And grieving.
Meinke, Peter. “Advice to My Son.” Literature: The Human Experience. 9th ed. Eds. Peter Abcarian and Marvin Klotz. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins. 2006. 174-75.
No Comments »