Saturday, December 31, 2011

The only Zen

"The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there."
Robert M Pirsig

For those of us who never quite recovered from 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance':

Being in the driving seat

"In the middle ages, in England, when you met a very poor person, that person would be described as an unfortunate. Literally someone who has not been blessed by fortune, an unfortunate. Nowadays, particularly in the United States, if you meet someone at the bottom of the society, they may unkindly be described as a loser. There's a real difference between an unfortunate and a loser. That shows 400 years of evolution in society, and I believe, in who's responsible for our lives. It's no longer the gods, it's us. We're in the driving seat.

That's exhilarating if you are doing well, and very crushing if you're not. It leads in the worst cases, in the analysis of socilogists like Emile Durkheim, it leads to increased rates of suicide. There are more suicides in developed individualistic countries than in any other part of the world. And some of the reasons for that is the people take what happens to them extremely personally: they own their success, but they also own their failure.

Alain De Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

Confronted by Chrysanthemums

For his morning tea
A monk sits down in utter silence,
Confronted by chrysanthemums.


Photo: Buddhist temple, Nanjing

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Economic Localization, the need of the hour?

The Economics of Happiness: a documentary film about the worldwide movement for economic localization.


Facebook Page:

"The Economics of Happiness' describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, government and big business continue to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, all around the world people are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance—and, far from the old institutions of power, they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm – an economics of localization.

We hear from a chorus of voices from six continents, including Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, David Korten, Samdhong Rinpoche, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Michael Shuman, Zac Goldsmith and Keibo Oiwa. They tell us that climate change and peak oil give us little choice: we need to localize, to bring the economy home. The good news is that as we move in this direction we will begin not only to heal the earth but also to restore our own sense of well-being. 'The Economics of Happiness' challenges us to restore our faith in humanity, challenges us to believe that it is possible to build a better world."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love:

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love, dance me to the end of love

Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Oh dance me to the end of love, dance me to the end of love....

Leonard Cohen

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sumbody tutched me on the sholder


A teacher asked Paul
what he would remember
from third grade, and he sat
a long time before writing
'this year sumbody tutched me
on the sholder'
and turned his paper in.

Later she showed it to me
as an example of her wasted life.

The words he wrote were large
as houses in a landscape.
He wanted to go inside them
and live, he could fill in
the windows of 'o' and 'd'
and be safe while outside
birds building nests in drainpipes
knew nothing of the coming rain.

Tender Spot, Selected Poems, Naomi Shihab Nye

Asking for Directions

We could have been mistaken for a married couple
riding on the train from Manhattan to Chicago
that last time we were together. I remember
looking out the window and praising the beauty
of the ordinary: the in-between places, the world
with its back turned to us, the small neglected
stations of our history. I slept across your
chest and stomach without asking permission
because they were the last hours. There was
a smell to the sheepskin lining of your new
Chinese vest that I didn't recognize. I felt
it deliberately. I woke early and asked you
to come with me for coffee. You said, sleep more,
and I said we only had one hour and you came.

We didn't say much after that. In the station,
you took your things and handed me the vest,
then left as we had planned. So you would have
ten minutes to meet your family and leave.
I stood by the seat dazed by exhaustion
and the absoluteness of the end, so still I was
aware of myself breathing. I put on the vest
and my coat, got my bag and, turning, saw you
through the dirty window standing outside looking
up at me. We looked at each other without any
expression at all. Invisible, unnoticed, still.

That moment is what I will tell of as proof
that you loved me permanently. After that I was
a woman alone carrying her bag, asking a worker
which direction to walk to find a taxi.

Linda Gregg

Walking down the line

Boulevard of Broken Dreams, by Green Day:

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don't know where it goes
But it's only me, and I walk alone

I walk this empty street
On the boulevard of broken dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I'm the only one, and I walk alone

...I'm walking down the line
That divides me somewhere in my mind
On the border line of the edge
And where I walk alone

*Photo from Google Images


"I stood on the library steps holding my books and looking for a minute at the soft hinted green in the branches against the sky and wishing, as I always did, that I could walk home across the sky instead of through the village."

Shirly Jackson

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ludovico Einaudi

Blue Willow: Persephone Falling

“Depression is hidden knowledge.”
—James Hillman

You think it will never happen again.
Then one day in November it does, the narrow,
dusty boards of the trapdoor you fell through
twenty years before, cracking apart, a black grin
opening its toothless mouth, darkness seeping out
to fill the dead cornfields rattling around you.
That sound’s back in your head again—
like angry bees or static or rubber bands
breaking. And beneath it a distant hum
you remember being scared was voices
till the doctor explained it was your own brain,
working overtime to understand its disordered signals.

And meanwhile, every sadness on NPR is yours—
from the African country where 30% of the childbearing
women have AIDS, to the Appalachian mother
who sells her great-grandmother’s Blue Willow china
for fifty bucks to feed her kids, to your own
mother, who dies again every autumn, something
wrong when she didn’t come home for Thanksgiving
the way she promised, the torn-sheet dinner napkins
you’d embroidered—“M” for “Mommy”—with ordinary
thread, wrapped in tin foil under the bed, melancholy’s
blue index finger pressed into your forehead, choosing
you for its team. Where it seems you must play for life,

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Only Normal

"Nothing is more useful or fitting than to be a normal human being; but the very notion of a "normal human being" suggests a restriction to the average - as does also the concept of adaptation. It is only a man who, as things stand, already finds it difficult to come to terms with the everyday world who can see in this restriction a desirable improvement: a man, let us say whose neurosis unfits him for normal life.

To be "normal" is a splendid ideal for the unsuccessful, for all those who have not yet found an adaptation. But for whom it was never hard to gain successes and to accomplish their share of the world's work - for them restriction to the normal signifies the bed of Procrustes, unbearable boredom, infernal sterility and hopelessness.

As a consequence there are many people who become neurotic because they are only normal, as there are people who are neurotic because they cannot become normal. For the former the very thought that you want to educate them to normality is a nightmare; their deepest need is really to be able to lead "abnormal" lives."

Page 47, 'Modern Man in Search of a Soul',
Carl Gustav Jung

Friday, December 16, 2011

Can you understand?

Can you understand being alone so long
you would go out in the middle of the night
and put a bucket into the well
so you could feel something down there
tug at the other end of the rope?

Jack Gilbert, 'The Abandoned Valley'

Thursday, December 15, 2011


In Passing

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom:

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious

Lisel Mueller


"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."

Page 1, 'The Power of Myth', Joseph Campbell

The Ashaninka, A Threatened Way of Life

"The Ashaninka are one of the largest indigenous groups in South America, their ancestral homelands ranging from Brazil to Peru. Since colonial times, their existence has been difficult -- they have been enslaved, had their lands taken away or destroyed, and were caught up in the bloody internal conflict in Peru during the late 20th century.

Today, a large communal reserve set aside for the Ashaninka is under threat by the proposed Pakitzapango dam, which would displace some 10,000 Ashaninka. The dam is part of a large set of hydroelectric projects planned between the Brazilian and Peruvian governments - without any original consultation with the Ashaninka.

Bowing to recent pressure from indigenous groups, development one other dam in the project, the Tambo-40, has already been halted. The Pakitzapango dam on Peru's Ene River is currently on hold, though the project has not been withdrawn yet. Survival International has collected these images of the Ashaninka and their threatened homeland, and provided the text below, written by Jo Eede."


Monday, December 12, 2011


If, at your desk, you push aside your work,
take down a book, turn to this verse
and read that I kneel there, pressing
my ear where on your chest the muscles
arch as great books part, in seagull curves,
bridging the seasounds of your heart,

and that your hands run through my hair,
draw the wayward mass to strands
as flat as scarlet silk-thread bookmarks,
and stroke my cheeks as if smoothing
back the tissue leaves from chilly,
plated pages, and pull me near

to read my eyes alone, then you shall see,
silvered and monochrome, yourself,
sitting at your desk, taking down a book,
turning to this verse, and then, my love,
you shall not know which one of us is reading
now, which writing, and which written.

Kate Clanchy

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Paper Boats

“Noted philanthropist commits suicide, community stunned.” “His giving knew no bounds”.

But you don’t find it strange at all, it makes perfect sense to you. To be that kind, you must be extraordinarily sensitive. And when you are that sensitive, you needs must suffer, more than others. With extraordinary kindness, comes extraordinary pain.

“The Buddha when he was a small child of 7 or 8, was once taken to watch the annual Ploughing Festival, where his father, the King, ceremonially guided the bullocks in plowing the first furrow. At the end of the day, they find the little child seated upright in the same position they had left him, deeply disturbed by the plight of the tiny creatures who lost their homes and their lives in the plowing.”

Siddhartha had no choice but to go away. You cannot live with such sensitivity, a state of being-without-skin. You must either die, or go away, seeking detachment.

The other day, you notice a small green insect upside down, almost drowning in the bath water. You stop, lift him up gently with an old toothbrush, finish your bath quickly, and hasten to keep him on a potted plant in the balcony. You are in a hurry to leave for office, but you catch yourself going back to check whether he’s okay. Looking at the small green insect merging with the green leaves, a whole childhood of paper boats comes back to you.

Every monsoon season, you spent a lot of time rescuing small insects and bugs drowning in pools of rain water, in the hilly green area you lived. You walked around after the rain, looking out for them. And for those that could not be reached with twigs, you made small paper boats and pushed them in their direction. When they clambered on to the boat, you started breathing again. You died with each one that did not make it, that you could not save, across that wide open space full of rain water pools.

Going back yet again to check on the little green insect, you catch yourself. No, not again. The road to deliberate death is paved with paper boats.

* Photo from Google Images

Read to me....

In the Iranian film 'Blackboards' by Samira Makhmalbaf, the scene you remember the most is of an old Kurdish shepherd grazing his sheep high up in the mountains, stopping the teacher and asking him if he can read a letter for him. He slowly pulls out a carefully folded piece of paper from his pocket. His face opening up in a smile hearing that his son is doing well though he cannot visit him now. A face still smiling when the teacher continues on his way, suspecting the truth, that the son is perhpas in jail, like so many other young men from this region. (But kindness, more important than truth...)

You read about postmen in the Himalayas who walk long distances, climb up and down hills, cross rivers, to carry letters to remote villages. How they also serve as the reader and writer of letters to people there, and are much awaited, like family. A job you would’ve loved to do, a role you would’ve loved to play? Long moments of walking alone, and then connection and meaning, and words, and then a walking alone again. A pendulum of perfect balance.

The Reader’ was heartbreaking because it was all about reading and being read to. You walked around wounded for a long time after that.

So great was your need to read to someone once upon a time that you walk into an Old Age home one day, and ask the Mother Superior whether any of the old people there would like to be read to. She says yes, but then they try not to let them interact too much with young people because that would make them remember the children who abandoned them a long time ago, and the carefully constructed living-in-the-present would come apart in mindless, endless grief.

While you are talking to her, an old man comes in to ask if his son’s money order has come. His son hasn’t sent anything in years, nor bothered to come to see his father or call him or write to him. But this is a ritual the old man follows every day to retain what is left of his 'sanity', and the kind nuns indulge him.

You walk out, old, abandoned and bent, you do not walk around offering your reading anymore.

You remember the teachers in 'Blackboards', walking around with knowledge that no one wants to learn. What is worse, having riches that no one wants, or having nothing to give?

Friday, December 9, 2011

You cannot face it steadily

And a time to walk around clutching an old yellowing copy of Four Quartets, as if at the very last straw.

"You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,
That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.

When the train starts, and the passengers are settled
To fruit, periodicals and business letters
(And those who saw them off have left the platform)
Their faces relax from grief into relief,
To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours.

Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,

You shall not think 'the past is finished'
Or 'the future is before us'."

From 'The Dry Salvages', 'Four Quartets' by T.S.Eliot


"What did we ever own that hadn't
the quality of seasons
their numerous dyings?"

Brian Patten

Monday, December 5, 2011

This is the nectar off which I will feed...

"Her face is deeply mapped, her back slightly bent. Three years ago she made a pilgrimage to Mecca, became a Hajji. For a year afterward, she wore only white. Today she alters this slightly, wearing a long white dress embroidered with green, over black-and-white pajamas. It is cool here in the West Bank in late May; people think of the whole Middle East as a great hot desert, but here in this high, perched village the days feel light and breezy, the land a music of terraced hills.

Feelings crowd in on me; maybe this is what it means to be in your genetic home. That you will feel on fifty levels at once, the immediate as well as the level of blood, the level of uncles, of weeping in the pillow at night, weddings and graves, the babies who didn't make it, level of the secret and unseen.

Maybe this is heritage, that deep well that gives us more than we deserve. Each time I write or walk or think, I drop a bucket in. Staring at my grandmother, my Sitti, as she sits on the low bed, rocking back and forth in time with conversation, tapping her fingertips on her knees, I think, this is the nectar off which I will feed."

Page 50, 'One Village', from 'Never in a Hurry, Essays on People and Places' by Naomi Shihab Nye

The Second Half of Life

"...Wholly unprepared, they embark upon the second half of life. Or are there perhaps colleges for forty-year-olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world? No, thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still, we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto.

But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie. I have given psychological treatment to too many people of advancing years, and have looked too often into the secret chambers of their souls, not to be moved by this fundamental truth.

Ageing people should know that their lives are not mounting and unfolding, but that an inexorable inner process forces the contraction of life. For a young person it is almost a sin - and certainly a danger - to be too much occupied with himself; but for the ageing person it is a duty and a necessity to give serious attention to himself.

After having lavished its light upon the world, the sun withdraws its rays in order to illumine itself. Instead of doing likewise, many old people prefer to to be hypochondriacs, niggards, doctrinaires, applauders of the past or eternal adolescents - all lamentable substitutes for the illumination of the self, but inevitable consequences of the delusion that the second half of life must be governed by the principles of the first."

Page 108, 'The Stages of Life', from 'Modern Man in Search of a Soul',
Carl Gustav Jung

Who am I now?

"They [the Piraha tribe of the Amazon] frequently change their names, because they believe spirits regularly take them over and intrinsically change who they are."

from the article 'The Interpreter', John Colapinto

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