prettyboy reservoir

Prettyboy Reservoir, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Clouds near Prettyboy Reservoir, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

respect everything

The other night in the zendo I felt movement on my leg. At first I thought it was just the fan blowing on me, but then the movement continued in a path up my leg. I tried to let it go from my mind, as I usually try to do with minor sensations that arise while sitting. Eventually the crawling stopped. But then about five or ten minutes later I felt it again on my arm, heading down toward my hand. Whatever it was must have circumnavigated my body. It reached my wrist, hesitated, turned around and began crawling back up my arm before finally moving off my skin, probably onto my clothes. I did not feel it again for the duration of the sitting period.

Afterwards we talked about sensations that arise during zazen and what to do about them, specifically what qualifies as something worth moving your body for, at the risk of becoming a distraction for the people sitting next to you. As someone pointed out, meditation is a good time to experiment with reactions one might not default to in everyday life.

In this case, clearly there was some type of insect crawling on my body and my first instinct in daily life would be to (a) look at it and/or (b) brush it off. The outcome of (a) would most likely determine whether reaction (b) manifests itself. If I saw that it was a mosquito or a large spider, I would no doubt immediately brush it off. I might even brush whatever it was off without first looking at it. The mere feeling of something crawling on me could provoke an action designed for instantaneous removal, at the risk of potential injury or even death to a living organism.

If last night I had jerked my arm when I felt the crawling sensation I would likely have disturbed the people sitting to my left and right. Knowing this I sat with the sensation and in turn experienced a curious response within myself. I felt connected to this insect of which I did not even have a visual image. All I had was the feeling of its legs as it moved in zigzag motions along my skin. I felt its uncertainty as it paused and turned back the way it had come. I felt a friendliness toward it growing as we momentarily shared the same space.

As Shunryu Suzuki once said:

When our life is based on respect and complete trust, it will be completely peaceful. Our relationship with nature should also be like this. We should respect everything, and we can practice respecting things in the way we relate with them.¹

¹Suzuki, Shunryu. Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen. Edited by Edward Espe Brown. New York: HarperCollins; 2003.

Moment death–
each day a thousandfold.
From atop the promontory:
Ahoy! The headwind wakes.

Connections cleave–
backwind pushes us.
I cannot stop it.
I cannot step into it.

Clinging tendrils,
even unthought-of,
gulliver us
to the not-now.

Tripartite refuge limps
on weakened limbs.
Ever-widening eyes
Astigmatized.

you and i have created it

What is the relationship between yourself and the misery, the confusion, in and around you? Surely this confusion, this misery, did not come into being by itself. You and I have created it, not a capitalist or a communist or a fascist society, but you and I have created it in our relationship with each other. What you are within has been projected without, on to the world; what you are, what you think and what you feel, what you do in your everyday existence is projected outwardly, and that constitutes the world. If we are miserable, confused, chaotic within, by projection that becomes the world, that becomes society, because the relationship between yourself and myself, between myself and another is society—society is the product of our relationship—and if our relationship is confused, egocentric, narrow, limited, national, we project that and bring chaos into the world.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, The First and Last Freedom, p 36

three friends

There were three friends
Discussing life.
One said:
“Can men live together
And know nothing of it?
Work together
And produce nothing?
Can they fly around in space
And forget to exist
World without end?”
The three friends looked at each other
And burst out laughing.
They had no explanation.
Thus they were better friends than before.

Then one friend died.
Confucius
Sent a disciple to help the other two
Chant his obsequies.

The disciple found that one friend
Had composed a song.
While the other played a lute,
They sang:

“Hey, Sung Hu!
Where’d you go?
Hey, Sung Hu!
Where’d you go?
You have gone
Where you really were.
And we are here—
Damn it! We are here!”

Then the disciple of Confucius burst in on them and
Exclaimed: “May I inquire where you find this in the
Rubrics for obsequies,
This frivolous carolling in the presence of the departed?”

The two friends looked at each other and laughed:
“Poor fellow,” they said, “he doesn’t know the new liturgy!”

—Thomas Merton. The Way of Chuang Tzu [vi. II.]. New York: New Directions, 1969.

fresh sourdough!

Sourdough bread

Just baked this morning, despite the brutal heat (with assistance from AC-D2, the new air con robot on wheels)

remora as object lesson

At 3 PM each day a digest of quarantined spam arrives. Fred Pryor continues to implore me to register for one year of unlimited training. Only $199. Also I continue to spam myself, which is always vaguely unsettling to see.

Listening to trigger music when of course the pin strikes the primer and sets off the charge. On the back side of today what builds upwhere does it gothis effluvia of life. Not dissolving like powdered lemonade. Sitting herebeing hereand not going there. A simple concept in theory.

Eschew the habits of the remora and be free of suffering. Enjoy without attachment. Sit.

These moments continue to pass by regardless of our presence in them.

luxuriant leprosy of the vegetable kingdom

Soon began the glorious days of autumn particularly unmistakable in the melancholy curve that the sun, already noticeable lower over the horizon, drew across the sky in whose calm expanses, as though constantly swept by a wonderfully pure wind, its golden trace seemed to linger like a magnificent ship’s wake, and hardly had it turned its course toward the horizon than the moon, as though suspended to the beam of a celestial balance, appeared against the blue light of day with the ghostly glow of an unexpected star, whose malignant influence would now, of itself alone, explain the sudden, strange, and half-metallic alterations of the leaves of the forest whose surprising red and yellow brilliance burst out everywhere with the irrepressible vigour, the fulminating contagion of a luxuriant leprosy of the vegetable kingdom.

Julien Gracq, The Castle of Argol (a most curious book, and one filled with what would become Gracq’s signature lush descriptions of Nature as a possibly supernatural force. In particular he seems to have a thing for forests…reading his forested prose turns hypnotic after a time. See also: A Balcony in the Forest.)

[Review here.]

virginia woolf’s summer madness

The only thing in this world is music–music and books and one or two pictures. I am going to found a colony where there shall be no marrying–unless you happen to fall in love with a symphony of Beethoven–no human element at all, except what comes through Art–nothing but ideal peace and endless meditation. The whole of human beings grows too complicated, my only wonder is that we don’t fill more madhouses: the insane view of life has much to be said for it–perhaps its the sane one after all: and we, the sad sober respectable citizens really rave every moment of our lives and deserve to be shut up perpetually. My spring melancholy is developing these hot days into summer madness.

Source: The Letters of Virginia Woolf Volume 1: 1888-1912 (from a letter dated April 23, 1901 to Emma Vaughan)

(thanks: lost fun zone)

this is the title

This is the process of describing a thrice-daily perambulation along a specific grid-like configuration of streets and alleyways. It’s the beginning and the end all at once with the middle excised for brevity’s sake. Words are fit together to form a compelling narrative designed to exaggerate the significance of this chain of events. Through the use of a complex algorithm, details from thousands of similar perambulations have been extracted and connected to form a generic description suitable to represent the ongoing series.

Turning a corner there appears a panoramic view of downtown. One day there will be two more buildings on this block instead of a field, obscuring the view and evicting the red-winged blackbirds whose raucous calls now punctuate this observation. No more will the barn swallows arc with precision above the grass, soaring overhead and below knees. The city is a gaping mouth fitted with concrete teeth and asphalt tongue. All open space is in flux, available for negotiation by any wealthy interested parties.

Navigate another leftward right angle turn to complete the rectangular route. Arrive at the correct set of concrete steps leading up. Note the foul mess at the nest box opening left by the fledged house wren brood. Ants move in to investigate. In the garden coneflower blooms open. On the arched trellis coral honeysuckle buds battle to stay ahead of the aphids. Manual removal of the latter seems to be aiding the fight. Along the second level railing the gold dust plant exhibits the lush results of another vigorous growth spurt. Looking around, all appears to be in the usual foliar disarray. Now climb the steps, open the door, shut and lock it.

This is the conclusion of what was begun in the first paragraph. It serves to tie up any loose ends and bring the narrative to a satisfactory close. No new information is introduced so as to avoid confusing the reader, thus preventing any lingering uncertainty as to the nature of what has been heretofore presented. Thus, to be accurate, the true ending occurred with the period following the phrase ‘lock it,’ meaning one could actually stop reading there and not suffer any ill effects.

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