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Random Thoughts on a Summer Day

I haven’t posted anything in more than a week. It’s another beautiful July day, and since there’s a lull in the action I’m just going to write whatever pops into my head!

The weather has been wonderful since the middle of May. I just wish we would get some rain! The earth is pretty dry (didn’t think I’d be saying that a couple of months ago). Our little vegetable garden is growing nicely, thanks to the kids and I watering the plants every couple of days. Nurturing is my favorite part of gardening. Little tomatoes are swelling and pepper plants have blossomed and the broccoli is getting big. And there are a bunch of sunflowers reaching skyward around the bird feeder.  I love watching vegetables grow!

The kids have some nice activities planned for this month and August. Fiona is taking several dance classes with her (our) favorite dance teacher Elizabeth Clark. We’re going to do a few outings with the local Day Care Center to Darien Lake State Park, Genesee Country Museum and a visit to the Genesee County Fair, among others. Arthur will also be doing a week-long tennis camp. We’ve been having fun playing tennis when we get the chance.

Gosh, I love summer! Bike riding and swimming and sitting in the shade of the back yard reading a book.  Exercise and laziness. Clambakes and water parks. Blueberry picking and fishing at Grandpa’s. Life doesn’t get any better. It’d sure be nice if it lasted about 3 months longer, though. The older I get, the faster the weeks seem to fly by!

Speaking of reading; a friend of ours let us borrow the first three books in George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ saga. And all I can say is “WOW!” Stephanie and I are reading the first volume, ‘A Game of Thrones’. It is utterly fabulous!! G. R. R. Martin is an excellent writer. I absolutely love the first season of the HBO series of ‘Game of Thrones’, (which follows the book very closely), but of course the book is so well written and fills in so much more detail about the kingdoms and characters of Westeros that anyone who watched the TV series must read the books. HERE is an article about Book Five, ‘A Dance of Dragons’ that just came out. But if you haven’t read the previous books, watch out for spoilers! Since the second season of ‘Game of Thrones’ won’t be out till NEXT Spring, I’m definitely going to be reading the other books in the series for the rest of the summer.  This is just the best fiction I’ve read in a long time! Even if you’re not into ‘Fantasy’ literature, this series is incredibly realistic and combines many genres. It’s just great literature; intelligently, exquisitely written. Go! BUY IT right now!

Well, time’s flown by again. We need to leave to meet some homeschool friends at a park. So I’ll leave you with these lyrics of a lovely song for a summer day. Bye.

See the curtains hangin’ in the window, in the evenin’ on a Friday night.
A little light a-shinin’ through the window, lets me know everything is alright.

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.

See the paper layin’ in the sidewalk, a little music from the house next door.
So I walked on up to the doorstep, through the screen and across the floor.

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom. July is dressed up and playing her tune.
And I come home from a hard day’s work, and you’re waiting there, not a care in the world.
See the smile a-waitin’ in the kitchen, food cookin’ and the plates for two.
See the arms that reach out to hold me, in the evening when the day is through.

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind

-written by JIMMY SEALS, DARRELL CROFTS

Web Links

I just popped in to share a few links.

First we have some Linux-related links, starting with a nice comparison of Windows 7 and the Linux distro Zorin OS. Anyone interested in painlessly switching from Windows to Linux may find this quite interesting. And I think this guy does a great job with his videos! Windows vs. Linux: the Desktop Comparison

Then we have an overview of the current shook-up state of desktop managers in the Linux world: The Linux Desktop Circus; an interesting video review of a distro that’s a cross between Fedora and Ubuntu: Fuduntu 14 Review – Linux Distro Reviews; and another OS reviewer who I just discovered on Youtube: Total OS Today.

Moving along to sites of general interest are: The Truth About How Suntanning Causes Cancer, and this one which just touches the tip of the iceberg: The need for an Alternative to Facebook.

Here’s an article I found a while back by Roseanne Barr. She’s a wickedly entertaining writer! This is why I love Roseanne: And I Should Know.

Next we have a link to a science fiction book I bought years ago but just started reading because it’s quite popular and I heard it’s going to be made into a movie. It’s called ‘Hyperion’ by Dan Simmons, and is the beginning of the four-volume Hyperion Cantos. Check out the book at Amazon HERE, and info on the proposed film HERE.

And finally for your musical pleasure I give you THIS LINK to an 82 minute concert by a great band from Britain called ‘Florence and the Machine‘. Florence is a goddess!

Enjoy your weekend

The Zen of Zen

March 16, 2011 1 comment

This past Saturday I went to a workshop at the Rochester Zen Center. I had attended another introductory workshop there about twelve years ago, (I can’t believe it was that long ago!) and found it a very enjoyable experience. A week ago my nephew who lives nearby emailed me to say he was going to a Zen workshop and wondered if I or Stephanie might be interested in going. It was a delightful surprise! Something I wouldn’t have thought of, but sounded like just what I could use at the moment.

I’ve loved Zen Buddhism for a very long time. After my parents died I went through many changes. My Catholic upbringing just didn’t jive with my experience of reality. And I began questioning and learning how much I hadn’t been exposed to in school. When I was in my late teens I started reading a lot about Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. I still have the first copy of the ‘Tao Te Ching‘ I bought back in 1974, with photos by Jane English. It’s my favorite translation! That’s when I taught myself to meditate, which I soon realized I’d been doing naturally and spontaneously most of my life. I started with the original ‘Transcendental Meditation’ book by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and I  read other books on yoga meditation, astral projection and other fun things (which is another story altogether); but the ones I enjoyed most were the books about Zen.

Just the whole philosophy of Zen Buddhism was so refreshing. It was like a combination of the Tao and Buddhism, cutting to the heart of what the Buddha taught. Zen is a Japanese word derived from the Chinese word ch’an, which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna: meditation. Zen follows Buddhist teaching, but is primarily concerned not with doctrine or any particular belief system. It’s only focus is realizing our Buddha nature (Enlightenment) through sitting. Quieting the mind, letting go of our countless thoughts and worries and attachments by focusing on counting your breaths. It’s about direct experience; not thinking but being. It’s incredible simple in theory but not so easy in practice. Our minds are pretty chaotic and scattered, especially these days! But from that state of pure awareness comes tremendous tranquility, clarity of thought and general health and well-being. Jeez, I’m sounding like some kind of handbook for ‘Meditation 101′!

I was especially fortunate to have spent a great deal of time in the woods and meadows as a kid, and much more so when my parents moved out to Bergen when I was thirteen. I absolutely loved spending hours all alone, wandering far and wide through the wild places near our house. I would sit on a rock in the forest and close my eyes, emptying my mind of everything except the sounds and smells around me, the sensation of the spring breeze, my own breathing; merging into the living presence of nature until the distinction between ‘me’ and ‘forest’, inner and outer, melted away.

And at the same time this was going on, I was learning that unlike Western religions, Eastern religions didn’t think about ‘God’ or Divinity as being separate from It’s creation. ‘God’ is not something ‘up there’ or out there, but the very essence of the dance of energy that is the atoms and molecules of our universe. I liked the concept that the material world was not so much a vast and complex machine, but more like a vast and complex thought (someone famous said that a long time ago, but I can’t remember who at the moment). From meditation I realized that my mind was a part of that Mind. The distinctions we perceive between matter and energy, light and dark, you and the world outside of you, are illusions of our limited senses. And the more I quieted my thoughts and experienced that Still Mind that is a part of everything else, the more I could relate to the philosophy of Hinduism and Buddhism.

I had instinctually known this all my life. As little children, before our conception of ‘Self’ becomes fully formed (conditioned?) this is how we perceive the world. In a way a baby is a perfectly Enlightened being. Babies don’t think much about past or wonder about the future. They exist completely in every moment. The goal of meditation (Zen) is to recreate that basic state of equilibrium, that Pure Mind where you aren’t totally imprisoned by thoughts and desires, regrets about the past and fears about the future. Meditation of any kind is to get the mind back to being in the Now, instead of living in your head.

So let’s get back to my visit to the Rochester Zen Center last week. It’s a beautiful place! A huge old brick mansion that’s been extended over the years. It was founded in 1966 by Roshi Philip Kapleau, who wrote ‘The Three Pillars of Zen‘. It was only one of two Zen centers in this country at the time, the other being in San Francisco.

I won’t go into a lot of history. The workshops that they give once a month start at 9:30 am and last till about 4:00 or 5:00 pm. The abbot of the Center, Roshi Kjolhede, gives a nice introductory talk about the origins of Buddhism and Zen; what Zen is, what Zen isn’t. There’s a question and answer period, and then after a break everyone goes into the zendo (meditation hall) for some detailed instruction in sitting postures. There are specific types of cushions and sitting benches, depending on the most comfortable position for the individual. Instead of sitting cross-legged in the partial lotus, which I’ve done all my life, I chose to use a kneeling posture with the aid of a cushioned bench. I’m not quite as flexible as I used to be, so that worked out really well.

There follow two twenty-minute rounds of sitting. Counting the in-breath and the out-breath up to ten, then starting over at one, without moving, until the bell sounds. That’s it! If thoughts come (when they come) you let them go and focus completely on the breath and the count. Since I’ve done this a lot, it wasn’t too difficult, even with the sounds of revelers from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade a half a block away. (It’s not often you hear distant bagpipe music while meditating!) The time flew by!

After that is a wonderful vegetarian lunch, some nice conversation (about 40 people attended) and then back to the zendo for yoga stretching instruction. Then another round of sitting (slightly more difficult with food in the stomach) and the day finishes with a discussion with the Roshi.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Saturday. Interesting people, a good meal and a clear head! Now if I could manage to sit every day…

In closing, there is a book I’ve had for over thirty years that I’d also like to recommend. It is my favorite book concerning Zen. This book is a wondrous gem of wisdom and humor, the essential insight into the spirit of Zen Buddhism. It’s called Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.

I’ll also throw a few more links and quotes your way to enlighten and delight:

101 Zen Stories –   Zen Sayings –    Rochester Zen Center

“We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.”

“Zen is a finger pointing at the moon.”

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.”

Categories: Books, Spirituality Tags: ,

As Above, So Below

Last night I finished reading a recent novel by Rudy Rucker called ‘As Above, So Below‘, a fictional account of the life of 16th century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel The Elder. I absolutely love this novel! It was an amazing story that I can’t get out of my soul. Rucker, who is known for wild and wacky science fiction (and one of the fathers of Cyberpunk), has done an incredible job of bringing Bruegel and his milieu to life. This novel is nothing like his previous works. It’s a detailed look into the culture and daily life of the peasants of the Low Lands. And it’s about food, fashion, farmers, nobles, businessmen and artists, politics and religion, the horror of the Spanish Inquisition, life under foreign occupation, and ultimately about the resilience of the human spirit. It’s amazingly inspirational the way the people in this story can still take joy in the little pleasures of life in a time of horrific uncertainty and fear.

This is the story of an artist and the way his perception of the Divine within all of nature fired his passionate obsession to paint, following Pieter Bruegel through the joys and disappointments, longings and triumph of his relatively brief life. He’s portrayed as a flawed being, sometimes rude and manipulative, but also humorous, intelligent, and filled with wonder at the intricacy and beauty of God’s creation. And the numerous other characters and relationships that were part of Bruegel’s life are wonderfully fleshed-out as well. The way he writes the story is so well-rounded! It’s like Bruegel’s paintings come to life in words. And each chapter deals with a particular painting and the life experience that inspired and shaped it.

I always liked Bruegel’s paintings we studied back in Art History, but this book has given me a whole new appreciation of the social, political and philosophical allegories that are expressed through his art, and of what a bizarre time and place he lived in.

When I finished the book last night I cried! The ending was so profoundly sad and beautifully eloquent. It evoked all the fullness of creativity and family, passion and mortality; a story of a spirit that encompassed all of the human condition, really. I won’t soon (ever?) forget it!

Categories: Books Tags: ,
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