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Thoughts on “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki

This is one of those books that I have been wanting to read for a while, since it was often referred to in other spiritual books and articles which I have read. The beauty of this text is its simplicity. As humans, we excel at complicating things, especially when it comes to religion and spirituality. With this in mind, Suzuki reminds us that sometimes we just need to stop talking and thinking, and just be in the present moment.

“We have had enough discussion, so let’s have a cup of tea!”

(p. 39)

In addition to simplicity and being in the present, the spiritual principle of acceptance is emphasized, especially in relation to the transiency of all existence.

The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transiency, or change. That everything changes is the basic truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth, and all the teaching of Buddhism is condensed within it. This is the teaching for all of us. Wherever we go this teaching is true. This teaching is also understood as the teaching of selflessness. Because each existence is in constant change, there is no abiding self. In fact, the self-nature of each existence is nothing but change itself, the self-nature of all existence. There is no special, separate self-nature for each existence. This is also called the teaching of Nirvana. When we realize the everlasting truth of “everything changes” and find our composure in it, we find ourselves in Nirvana.

(p. 91)

I found this book very inspiring, and suspect I will read it again at some point. I don’t feel there is anything else I need to say about this book at this point. I’ll just encourage you to have a cup of tea.

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Thoughts on “Woolgathering” by Patti Smith

So I need to start this post by saying that, in my humble opinion, Patti Smith is as brilliant a writer as she is a musical performer. Her music has a rich literary quality, and her writing flows with musical cadence.

OK, I was recently in a local indie bookstore and happened upon this book while wandering the aisles. I didn’t even have to convince myself to buy it; I just picked it up and made my way to the counter (I also picked up Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, but that is for another day). Upon arriving home, the book took its spot at the top of the “to-be-read” stack, yet did not remain there long.

This book is a very quick read: under 100 pages which include some beautiful black-and-white photographs. Basically, I read it in a day. The book is a collection of memories from Patti’s childhood, which I can only classify as prose poetry. While the vignettes are definitely prose, they have a poetic rhythm to the language that is very evocative.

She opens the book by explaining that she had always imagined herself writing a book.

I always imagined I would write a book, if only a small one, that would carry one away, into a realm that could not be measured or even remembered.

(p. 3)

And this is exactly what Smith’s book does. Reading her words transported me back to my childhood, a magical time that now seems like a distant dream. I think the following brief excerpt is the most poignant example of how beautifully Smith captures the essence of childhood and contrasts it with the longing one feels in later years.

The air was carnival, responsive. I opened the screen door and stepped out. I could feel the grass crackle. I could feel life—a burning coal tossed on a valentine of hay. I covered my head. I would gladly have covered my arms, face. I stood and watched the children play and something in the atmosphere—the filtered light, the scent of things—carried me back…

How happy we are as children. How the light is dimmed by the voice of reason. We wander through life—a setting without a stone. Until one day we take a turn and there it lies on the ground before us, a drop of faceted blood, more real than a ghost, glowing. If we stir it may disappear. If we fail to act nothing will be reclaimed. There is a way in this little riddle. To utter one’s own prayer. In what manner it doesn’t matter. For when it is over that person shall possess the only jewel worth keeping. The only grain worth giving away.

(p. 75)

I hope you found this post inspiring, and if you did, I hope you will read Ms. Smith’s book. It is one of those literary gems that I feel offers something to every reader. Thanks for stopping by and keep reading interesting stuff.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 70” by Lao Tzu

My words are very easy to understand, and very easy to practise:
But the world cannot understand them, nor practise them.

My words have an Ancestor.
My deeds have a Lord.
The people have no knowledge of this.
Therefore, they have no knowledge of me.

The fewer persons know me,
The nobler are they that follow me.
Therefore, the Sage wears coarse clothes,
While keeping the jade in his bosom.

Although the translation of this text states that Lao Tzu’s teachings are “very easy,” I suspect that what is meant is that the teachings are “simple,” yet the understanding and application of those teachings are more challenging. I am very aware that the simplest lessons in life are often the most difficult. Then, to make matters worse, we often beat ourselves up for failing to grasp what is basic and obvious, telling ourselves “We should know better.” But growth and change are never easy, which is why it is important to be gentle with ourselves.

Something else that I gleaned from this passage is that individuals often approach teachings with preconceived ideas, and that these preconceived ideas often distort what is being conveyed. Additionally, we may have impressions about the teacher which may distort our understanding of the teachings. I was taught many years ago to “focus on the message, not on the messenger.” That is sound advice and I try to keep that in mind.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day.

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Thoughts on “The Illustrated Man” by Ray Bradbury

As part of my quest to work through some of the books that have been on my selves for many years, I decided to read this one. I purchased it a long time ago through one of those book-of-the-month clubs and it has occupied shelf space ever since.

The book is a collection of short stories, most of which are science fiction, but there are a couple which could be classified as magical/fantasy tales.

For me, I see the Illustrated Man as a symbol for how humanity is shaped by the stories we share. Each story creates an image upon our being. They paint pictures inside us, and those inner pictures manifest themselves upon our physical existence.

How can I explain about his Illustrations? If El Greco had painted miniatures in his prime, no bigger than your hand, infinitely detailed, with all the sulphurous color, elongation, and anatomy, perhaps he might have used this man’s body for his art. The colors burned in three dimensions. They were windows looking in upon fiery reality. Here, gathered on one wall, were all the finest scenes in the universe, the man was a walking treasure gallery. This wasn’t the work of a cheap carnival tattoo man with three colors and whiskey on his breath. This was the accomplishment of a living genius, vibrant, clear, and beautiful.

(p. 3)

One of the short stories in the collection, “The Exiles,” deals with the subject of book burning and censorship. This tale echoes the importance of stories and how they are part of our very existence.

“God rest him. Nothing of him left now. For what are we but books, and when those are gone, nothing’s to be seen.”

(p. 132)

All the stories in this book are excellent and worth reading. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share in my musings. I hope you are reading something good today; “For what are we but books?”

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Thoughts on “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut

This is a book that has been on my list for a while, and I finally got around to reading it. Considering the state of things in the world right now, one might think that an apocalyptic tale might be a little too depressing, but that was not the case. The abundance of wit and satire which Vonnegut brings to this tale forces the reader to chuckle at the abundant idiocy that permeates our modern culture.

There is a lot in this text that I could discuss, but since brevity is the soul of wit, I’ll keep this post short and focus on just two passages. The first, which is a little long, is a discussion about what would happen if the writers of the world decided to stop writing, and how that might affect humanity.

“I’m thinking of calling a general strike of all writers until mankind finally comes to its senses. Would you support it?”

“Do writers have a right to strike? That would be like the police or the firemen walking out.”

“Or the college professors.”

“Or the college professors,” I agreed. I shook my head. “No, I don’t think my conscience would let me support a strike like that. When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.”

“I just can’t help thinking what a real shaking up it would give people if, all of a sudden, there were no new books, new plays, new histories, new poems . . .”

“And how proud would you be when people started dying like flies?” I demanded.

“They’d die more like mad dogs, I think—snarling and snapping at each other and biting their own tails.”

I turned to Castle the elder. “Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolations of literature?”

“In one of two ways,” he said, “petrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”

“Neither one very pleasant, I expect,” I suggested.

“No,” said Castle the elder. “For the love of God, both of you, please keep writing!”

(pp. 231 – 232)

I am a firm believer that artistic expression is what defines our collective humanity. Books are important. Music is important. Visual arts are important. Without these our society becomes sterile and diseased. A healthy and vibrant artistic community has a direct correlation to the well-being of a community. As Vonnegut states, when an individual is deprived of literature, or any of the other arts, that person’s heart will petrify and turn to stone. The ability to empathize and connect with other human beings will fade, and that would be a symbolic death of all that is human within someone.

The other passage that stood out for me, because it is something I often think about, deals with what hope there is for humanity at this stage.

“What hope can there be for mankind,” I thought, “when there are such men as Felix Hoenikker to give such playthings as ice-nine to such short-sighted children as almost all men and women are?”

And I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?”

It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period.

This is it:

“Nothing.”

(p. 245)

While this may appear to be just a cynical and pessimistic view, I don’t see it that way. But there is definite irony. If one considers ice-nine to be a symbol of a technology which humanity is not yet ready for, then what Vonnegut is implying is that as long as humanity remains on its present trajectory, striving after technological advancement while neglecting to advance the arts and that part of us which defines our humanity, then there is no hope for us. But, if we can shift our collective focus and turn away from the latest and greatest gadgets designed to ensnare our attention, then new horizons become possible.

Thanks for taking the time to share in my thoughts. I hope you have an inspired day.

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Thoughts on “When I Grow Up” by Ken Krimstein

My wife purchased this book, since we had both read and enjoyed Krimstein’s previous book, The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt. This book, like his previous one, is a graphic nonfiction book. Essentially, the author/artist employs the graphic novel format to tell the stories of six Yiddish teenagers living in Lithuania prior to the onset of WWII. The stories are based upon essays that were submitted as a part of a contest. When the Nazis invaded Lithuania, the documents were hidden to prevent their destruction. They were eventually lost, and then rediscovered not long ago.

In the introduction, Krimstein describes how YIVO (the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut) came up with the idea to gather anonymous essays from Yiddish youth to get a better understanding of the Jewish experience.

The plan? An ethnographic study in the guise of a meagerly funded autobiography contest. The grand prize: 150 zlotys (roughly a thousand U.S. dollars in 2021 money) for the best entry. Meaning the most TRUTHFUL entry. (Because what good would the autobiographies be if in the stories the “youth” submitted, they didn’t spill the beans on what was going on—not just the truth, but even more to the point, their unvarnished version of the truth as they lived it?)

(p. 3)

Because the submissions needed to be anonymous, the youth were able to express themselves honestly, without fear. The result is a collection of compelling, insightful tales which resonate with truth.

In the Afterward section of the book (which I strongly urge you to read but will leave out the spoiler), Krimstein describes his impression upon first examining the memoirs.

In some sense, these were ordinary student notebooks. But each had details that made it seem to come alive. One, with delicate pages and tiny, precise letters in green between black, faux-leather covers. Another, with sloppy pencil scrawling outside the lines of a baby blue notebook, a map of Poland circa 1936 on its cover. Another, tight black lettering and intricate drawings, almost a graphic memoir.

And then I got it. What I was seeing and feeling weren’t notebooks at all. They were voices, garments, smiles, tears, laughter—each one a distinct individual, a survivor rescued (in a sense) by his or her own words from the lost nation of Yiddishuania, a person.

(p. 226)

This is a really fascinating and quick read. I highly recommend it to all readers. I personally enjoyed it immensely.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 69” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

The strategists have a saying:
I dare not be a host, but rather a guest;
I dare not advance an inch, but rather retreat a foot.

This is called marching without moving,
Rolling up one’s sleeves without baring one’s arms,
Capturing the enemy without confronting him,
Holding a weapon that is invisible.

There is no greater calamity than to under-estimate the strength of your enemy.
For to under-estimate the strength of your enemy is to lose your treasure.

Therefore, when opposing troops meet in battle, victory belongs to the grieving side.

I must confess, when I first read this, I was not sure I would have much to say about it. Military strategy is not really my thing. But I thought a little about the principles expressed through the passage, and I realized it is applicable to our broader society.

There is a socio-political trend right now which is to oppose anything that is contrary to one’s beliefs, and to staunchly refuse to compromise or give in on anything, regardless of how trivial it is or whether the opposing viewpoint has merit. This is a problem, and it is contributing to the stark divide in our society. No matter what the issue is, both sides seem poised to dig in and not give an inch. A society cannot function in this way, nor can a government. There has to be compromise, and compromise needs to be on both sides, not the version of “compromise” where we demand the other party change their views to align with ours.

Eventually, things will have to change. We will either learn to work together with respect and consideration, or our social structure will collapse. I personally am hopeful for the first option.

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“Daily Medicine” by Wayne William Snellgrove

A while back, I shared about A Man’s Book of the Spirit by Bill Alexander, a daily meditation book that I had used for many years as a part of my morning ritual. Last year, I figured it was time to find a new daily meditation book, just for some different perspectives. I searched online and found this one, Daily Medicine, which seemed to be something I could connect with.

Snellgrove is a Native American and the short meditative quotes draw on his tradition. The blurb on the back of the book describes it as follows: “Daily Medicine, a spiritual prayer book, contains 366 meditations focused on Indigenous healing and spirituality.”

I’ve used this book for the later half of 2021, and plan on using it for this year too. I’ve found the meditations inspiring and thought-provoking. There is not much else to say, but I do want to provide a few examples to give a sense of the type of meditations included in the book.

“It is in the presence of our own humility that we are able [to] usher in miracles.”

“In Mother Nature, so much is packed into small things. So small we often overlook them. Every pine needle, every drop of dew, every snowflake, every leaf, every sunset and sunrise.”

“Our spiritual healing is only as equal as our honesty.”

I hope you found this inspiring. If you have a favorite daily meditation book that you use, I’d love to hear about it. I’m always looking for other sources of inspiration.

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“Sonnet 43: When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see” by William Shakespeare

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And, darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so?
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

This is an interesting sonnet for me, because it appears that Shakespeare is contemplating the nature of reality as it pertains to one’s state of consciousness. On the surface, he is praising the beauty of his beloved as it appears to him while dreaming and compares that to his beloved’s appearance in waking reality. But what strikes me about this sonnet is the repeated mention of words like “shadow” and “form.” I get the sense that Shakespeare is alluding to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, that what we perceive as real is more like a shadow of the divine form cast upon the wall of a cave. Was Shakespeare likening the fair youth to an archetypal form of supreme beauty that we cannot fully comprehend in our normal state of consciousness? I don’t know, but it is definitely something worth considering when reading this text.

That’s all I wanted to say about this poem. Comments will be open for two weeks after post date, so if you have any thoughts you would like to share about this poem, feel free to do so.

Cheers!

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Stranger Things: Tomb of Ybwen

This is a short arc of four issues. I decided to wait until all four were published so I could read them all in a single sitting. I’m glad I did, because it was nice to read the entire tale from beginning to end.

As is often the case with Stranger Things, this arc incorporates themes of friendship, adventure, and nerdiness. In fact, there is a bit of dialog in the first issue that about being a nerd that I want to share.

“Have no fear, my man! We too will shine in our time!”

“Really?”

“Yeah, we’re nerds… the older we get, the cooler we get.”

I really agree with this. Growing up, I felt I was an outcast because my interests were just not cool, and try as I did to fit in, I was just faking and always felt like an outsider. But as I got older, I started meeting people who shared my interests and passions, and they became my lifelong friends. I can get on the phone with people and talk about art and music and books and mysticism. I can get together with friends and play board games. All the things I loved growing up that made me feel like I didn’t quite fit in are now the things that serve as bonds with my closest friends. I suppose that is why I am so much happier now than I was in my younger years.

Anyway, not a whole lot else to talk about regarding these comics. They were fun to read, and sometimes I just want to read something light and fun and happy. This falls into that category.

Thanks for stopping by, and embrace who you are.

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