January 21, 2007

Tea, Zen and snow

Ok, I'm a (somewhat) happy camper this evening. Drove up to Baltimore today to finally check out a tea shop that I found through, of all places, MySpace: Teavolve. Coffee shops are cool spots but, as a non-coffee drinker, I find the alternative offerings sometimes a bit lacking. So, now I have a great tea spot for my wanderings to the west (Sharazade's in Shep'town) and a great tea spot for my wanderings to the east (Teavolve in B'more). That makes me happy.

I'm close to the end of Zen...Motor Maint. Anyone watching my facial expressions as I was reading in the tea shop this afternoon probably thought I was nuts but, man, this book just keeps astonishing me. Near the end of his quest to explain Quality, Phaedrus (Yeah, it's a weird name. Want an explanation? You have to read the book.) goes back to pre-Aristotelian/Platonic/Socratic Greek philosophy for a study of the Cosmologists and Sophists. I recall passing references to all of the above in Intro to Philosophy, but then I got hooked on the Stoics (who bear more than a passing resemblance to Buddhists) and never explored any of the others. I think it's time, especially in the case of the Sophists. Phaedrus' revelation was my own this afternoon, on discovering the concept of arete:

Phaedrus is fascinated too by the description of the motive of "duty towards self" which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes described as the "one" of the Hindus. Can the dharma of the Hindus and the "virtue" of the Greeks be identical?
That which we translate 'virtue' but is in Greek 'excellence.'"
Quality! Virtue! Dharma! That
is what the Sophists were teaching. Not ethical relativism. Not pristine "virtue". But arete. Excellence. Dharma!...

implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency ---or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself."

Now, I consider myself something of an efficiency expert. I'm organized, detail-oriented and, usually, very focused. It's what makes me good at my job. In many ways, my job is great. It's very well suited to my natural aptitudes, and I've been allowed a lot of flexibility in tailoring it to be that way. For the most part, the people I work with are thoughtful and intelligent. And the pay don't suck. But as I've learned more about myself in recent years, I've realized that this job is diametrically opposed to many of the principles I've formed. I'm the inventory manager for a high-end jewelry store. Everything I do in my position is for the encourgagement of conspicuous consumption. The cost (not the retail price, the cost) of a single diamond could buy at least one new car, or feed half the homeless people in the city for who knows how long. And then there are the issues with child labor in Indian diamond cutting facilities, and "blood" diamonds in Sierra Leone (Supposedly all of the stones we sell have been certified conflict-free according to the Kimberly Process. I guess I believe that.). Normally, I try to squelch these thoughts and focus on what I do in a more abstract sense, looking at the inventory as a big puzzle to be solved rather than a bunch of over-priced baubles no one needs. I realize what a freaking hypocrite this makes me, but the damned job pays for me to have a nice home and indulge in things like books, vacations, a bicycle and a kayak. And, as I said, the work environment is great, and the company donates a fair amount of money and merchandise to charitable organizations (with an advertising tag, though. Of course.).

Plus, the fact that I have a purely retail background and only a handful of college-level classes on my resume would make it damned hard to find anything else to do that wouldn't require starting from scratch with at least a 50% reduction in pay. What would you do? Seriously. If anyone reading this would give up a comfortable lifestyle working in the only industry they know purely for the sake of principle, then I'll nominate you for Buddhahood. (And please don't message me that you would. I've been making myself depressed enough over this lately.)

So, how to deal with it? How to incorporate the career path I've been walking with the new dharma path I'm attempting to walk? Is striving for arete enough? If I can acheive that higher idea of efficiency, that excellence, in some departments of life, is that enough? Or am I just fooling myself?

The other thing I wondered about this afternoon is the amount of time I've been spending in tea and coffee shops lately, instead of outdoors. My "thing" is spending my days off outside, hiking, pedaling, paddling, exploring... It's not like this winter's been a rough one, what with the bizarrely warm temperatures the east coast had up until this week. I was heavily into cycling until the first or second weekend in December, at which time I thought I'd head back into the woods for hiking. But I haven't felt compelled to. Part of the past few weeks has been dedicated to retail/family/general holiday stuff, but there've been days in between when all I've wanted to get out of the house for was a good meal and a good book. Plus, there's been this MySpace thing and my new obsession with communicating with strangers. As with so many other things, I realize it's not going to be this intense an obsession for too long, so I'm calling this my "intellectual, analytical phase" and letting it go at that. The woods will still be there when I come out of it (if the damned developers haven't paid the governor of Maryland to let them pave over every tree in the state by then).

It began to snow lightly while I was in B'more. As I headed out of town, there was probably, maybe, a quarter of an inch of snow on the roads. It took twice as long to drive home than usual because of four (4) serious accidents I passed on the way. Give me a dry road and I'll put my lead foot on the gas and fly. But I learned at a young age that when the road's wet, snowy, or icy, you slow the hell down to a reasonable speed. People who can't learn that make me want to get a bazooka. And the Buddha's probably now rolling in whatever entity he currently resides in (Get it? He can't roll in his grave because his spirit would have moved on to a new incarnation... Yeah, well, I've never claimed to be a comedian.).


January 11, 2007

One point of difference between Eastern philosophies and the "Big 3"

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

"...the doctrinal differences among Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism are not anywhere near as important as doctrinal differences among Christianity and Islam and Judaism. Holy wars are not fought over them because verbalized statements about reality are never presumed to be reality itself."

Interesting point. When you're not dead-set (no pun intended) on proving that your view of reality's the "right" one, there's a lot less to fight about.

January 8, 2007

On hatred

    To regard with extreme dislike and hostility: abhor, abominate, despise, detest, execrate, loathe. See love/hatred.
  1. Extreme hostility and dislike: abhorrence, abomination, antipathy, aversion, detestation, hatred, horror, loathing, repellence, repellency, repugnance, repugnancy, repulsion, revulsion. See love/hatred.
  2. An object of extreme dislike: abhorrence, abomination, anathema, aversion, bĂȘte noire, bugbear, detestation, execration. Informal horror. See love/hatred.

I read a lot about inter-personal relationships and dealing with other people. It comes with the territory for any aspiring Buddhist. One of the keys to the Way is learning to think of others with something called "loving-kindness", and a boddhisatva is someone who has achieved enlightenment but put off nirvana in favor of helping others find relief from suffering. I don't see any of that in my future anytime soon. It'll be hard enough for me to just learn patience in this lifetime.

I've also seen a few profiles and blog posts over at MySpace that touch on this subject. There are people who say that hatred has no place in their life. There are others who strive to be the best person they can. There're a lot of this type out there in the world. Sometimes it seems, though, that they're outnumbered by the haters. I hear that bunch all the time, and see their bumper stickers. "I hate this person, she's so..." "I hate (insert religious/political/etc group here)." "I hate Bush." What I find myself wondering when I think about all of this is: Do the haters really feel that strongly? Or has that word just become that commonplace? Isn't it possible that these people just need a good thesaurus?

Take George Bush, for example. A whole lotta people are hatin' on Dubya these days. I can't find it in me to say I hate him. Really, I mean it. I could easily say that I hate his policies and his smug manner, but a more accurate description of what I feel regarding Bush himself would be... apprehension. Or even fear. Or sorrow. But I couldn't honestly say I despise the man as a person.

Now, as for the whole "loving-kindness" thing, I have issues with that as well. I'm just not that cheerful and perky, and I'm not sure that I want to be. There are too many ignorant people out there. Oh, I know that they're the ones I should be sending the most lovingkindness to, and hoping that they'll someday get a figurative smack upside the head and find enlightenment but, in reality, they just plain get on my nerves. I don't hate them for it, but I don't go out of my way to be friendly towards them, either. What I try to do is to treat them with neutrality. I respect their right to act like a doofus, but I've got to also be allowed my right to not want to deal with them.

Thing is, people can't handle that. I'm totally baffled by a woman I work with who is flat out afraid of me. I don't recall ever yelling at her (though I have been impatient and abrupt a few times), and I've even said nice things to her now and again. Mostly I'm just neutral in my dealings with her. She apparently must perceive my neutrality as something threatening, though, because I've seen her hands shake when she's had to ask me a question. Another colleague has told me that I should give people more compliments. Why? Is that the only way that people can think of you as a decent person? If I'm not all warm'n'fuzzy and telling people how pretty their hair is, then I must apparently hate them? Why does my approval of them matter so much anyway? Surely the fact that I think they act like a doofus shouldn't have any impact on how they live their life.
But now back to those people who use the "H" word so freely. I'd be willing to bet that hatred is not what they really feel in most instances. I'd also bet that if they took a realistic look at the subject in question, and then added a few more words to their vocabulary, that they'd probably express themselves much less vehemently. In reality, what they "hate" is probably not the person they're dealing with, but that person's behavior. Unfortunately, many people don't seem able to step back and look at things objectively enough to see the difference. We're a bunch of knee-jerk reactionists driven by a genetic need to defend ourselves against what's "other", and we respond with excessive emotion and poor choice of words.

So there you have it. My answer to world peace is for us all to take a deep breath and pull out the thesaurus.

January 7, 2007

Total freedom

Today has been one of those days. Got my butt out of bed and moving at a decent time for a change. Weather forecast for partly sunny skies but a chance of rain later. So, I headed out to Shepherdstown to my favorite tea shop, Shaharazade's. I had a feeling as I got onto Route 340 at Frederick that things were gonna be good. Since it was still fairly early (8:30-9:00 am-ish), most everyone else was either still at home or at church, which left the roads nice and clear. I flew through the rolling piedmont hills of Maryland, Virginia, and then West Virginia on the way to Shep'town, with a new Chris Cornell mix cd playing at full volume and a mouthful of bubblegum. Pulled up in front of Sharazade's and went in to find my favorite table empty and waiting for me. Ordered the excellent fritatta and a pot of Keemun Imperial and slouched down to read some Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

After breakfast, I couldn't resist a stroll through Shep'town and headed through the historic district up to a little park that sits on a cliff next to the Potomac River. The highlight of the park, aside from the view, is a surprisingly impressive monument to James Rumsey, the inventor of the steamship. So there I ended up, sitting below the Rumsey Monument, overlooking a sweeping curve of the Potomac and feeling completely, totally at peace. I keep thinking about how the only times I ever feel this way are when I'm alone. It was that realization that led me to cut ties with my last group of friends a year or so ago. Sitting in a place like this, feeling this way and thinking deeply, a part of me wishes I had someone with whom to share it, savor it, and discuss it. The rest of me, though, knows from past experience that it rarely ever works out the way I imagine it. It's only when I'm alone that I can relax enough to drop the self-consciousness and really be myself. When I'm around other people, no matter how close the friendship, the persona switches on and I find myself re-playing things later and wondering how much was me and how much the act my persona puts on to be accepted. Also, there's the reality of other people. In any given scenario, no matter how well you know a person, you can't script what they're going to say or how they're going to act. You run the risk of them saying or doing something that can totally spoil the mood. I want to share the things and places that are special to me, but I don't want them to be demeaned if the person I'm sharing them with doesn't appreciate them in the way I do. I've found it better to just have these great moments on my own and get the most out of them. Kind of bittersweet that way, but so far the sweet outweighs the bitter.

Walking back from the park, I remembered a young girl who stood in line in front of me at an A Perfect Circle concert a few years ago. Waiting to get in for the show, I listened to her talking to her friend, going on and on about how she perceived of herself as being weird and alone and how she despaired of finding someone who would accept her and relate to her. She interspersed this personal stuff with various comments about how she thought Maynard James Keenan is God. I came so close to laughing out loud. Not at her. Well, not entirely at her. I had two thoughts that night, based on her ramblings:

1) The lyrics he writes indicate to me that MJK is way too aware of his own humanity to perceive of himself as any kind of a god.

- and -

2) That I would have loved the opportunity to have this little girl read some of the journals I wrote back when I was her age. Some of what she was spouting was almost verbatim what I wrote way back then. She wasn't so different and alone as she thought, she just wasn't well-read enough or experienced enough to know any better. And neither was I at that age. Hell, I'm still writing that kind of stuff.

Only a few things get to me like a beautiful ribbon of pavement rolling out in front of me, up and over hills and curling around curves... At one point on the drive back from Shep'town, I found myself singing along at the top of my lungs to Audioslave's "Wide Awake" with the biggest fool-ass grin on my face. Now, "Wide Awake" is not a happy song. Cornell wrote it in response to Dubya Bush and the Hurricane Katrina situation. But at that moment, the words weren't what was moving me. I was freaking high on fast speed and a good road, sunshine, and the fact that I was consistently able to stay on-key with Chris Cornell. While I've often considered experimenting with drugs, at moments like that I really wonder if any drug could top the euphoria I felt.

Unfortunately, being under the influence of that euphoria prompted me to stop at the bicycle shop on the way home and shell out $100 on new gear for my pony. Ah well, it's all good. The pony induces its own high.

January 4, 2007

T00l's "Prison Sex"

It took so long to remember just what happened.
I was so young and vestal then,
you know it hurt me.
But I'm breathing so I guess I'm still alive
even if signs seem to tell me otherwise.
I've got my hands bound,
my head down, my eyes closed,
and my throat wide open.

Do unto others what has been done to you x2

I'm treading water,
I need to sleep a while.
My lamb and martyr, you look so precious.
Won't you come a bit closer,
close enough so I can smell you.
I need you to feel this,
I can't stand to burn too long.
Released in this sodomy.
For one sweet moment I am whole.

Do unto you now what has been done to me x2

You're breathing so I guess you're still alive
even if signs seem to tell me otherwise.
Won't you come just a bit closer,
close enough so I can smell you.
I need you to feel this.
I need this to make me whole.
There's release in this sodomy.
For I am your witness that
blood and flesh can be trusted.
And only this one holy medium brings me piece of mind.

Got your hands bound, your head down,
your eyes closed.
You look so precious now.

I have found some kind of temporary sanity in this
shit, blood and cum on my hands.

I've come round full circle.
My lamb and martyr, this will be over soon.
You look so precious.

Just let it sink in. Pretty ugly song, huh? From what I've read around the 'net, most folks seem to think Maynard James Keenan (henceforth to be referred to as 'MJK') wrote it about his own experiences with sexual child abuse. That may or may not be (MJK's apparently never really said that), but I believe that to take the lyrics as being literally about child abuse is a mistake. MJK seems to be a pretty deep guy. There's probably way more to this song than I'm getting but, personally, I think it's a really fascinating psychological portrayal of somebody who's pretty f'd up.

On the surface of it, yeah, it's about a guy who's been abused and grew up to be an abuser. But if you look beyond the act described, what MJK's really presenting here is what's going on in the guy's mind. This dude knows that what he's doing is disgustingly heinous, he loathes himself for it, yet at the same time he's compelled to do it. He needs the release that comes from this warped act. He finds a bizarre sense of peace in debasing another child/himself/his abuser in this way. The "prison" of the song title is his own mind, thanks to this perpetual cycle from which he can't break free.

What's really freaky and makes the song so much more powerful is that T00L set these awfully disturbing lyrics to one of the most toe-tapping, finger-snapping, downright perky tunes you could ever want to hear. Pure genius.

January 3, 2007

Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky"

I've read Shakespeare and Wordsworth and bunches of others, but this is still one of my all-time favorite poems (from Through the Looking Glass):

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Ya just gotta love Carroll...