Anger Makes Strange Bedfellows, And We Have To Move Past It

love-hateSo, the photo on top, shot by me, is from right here in Bellingham, Washington, the other photo is from all the way across the country in Wellsville, New York, both of them post-election reactions to the outcome.

Do I really need to point out the cognitive dissonance?

Meanwhile, my Facebook feed, and by extension the interwebs in general, are filled with anger and finger-pointing and argument.

Take a step back from it all, view it from a distance, and it’s not really surprising. It’s a microcosm of our divided country.

But, as President Obama said in his first post-election remarks:

That’s the way politics works sometimes. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right and then people vote. And then if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection, we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena, we go at it. We try even harder the next time.

In a similar vein, when asked about this topic, Zen Buddhist teacher Norman Fischer says:

It’s OK to freak out, grieve, and vent for a while. Hold each others’ hands. Then we can get back to work, as always, for the good.

Think of what the Dalai Lama has gone through in his lifetime. He maintains daily practice, he maintains kindness for everyone, though he has lost his country and his culture at the hands of a brutal regime. Yet he doesn’t hate the Chinese and finds redeeming features in them. He maintains his sense of humor. He has turned his tragedy into a teaching for the world.

Lets do the same.

It’s not useful and it’s needlessly dismissive to deny anyone’s right to be angry.

But it IS useful and even critical for liberals/progressives to be told gently that it’s best to channel the energy from that anger into determined, assertive, sustained non-violent action.

We’ve freaked out. That’s ok.

Now, let’s get to work!

Belated R.I.P.s: Leonard & Leon

leonard_leonIf all you did was compare the musical styles of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, both of whom, this past week, sadly departed this world, you might not see all that much in common between the two.

But delve just beneath surface and you find two prolific songwriters acclaimed for their lyrics as much as their music, two songwriters who had long-lasting and wide-ranging influence on other musicians, the latter resulting in their songs having been performed by an astonishing list of their peers.

Just two examples:

Leonard’s Hallelujah: Bob Dylan, John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, k.d. lang, Brandi Carlile, Regina Spektor, Willie Nelson, Susan Boyle, Bono

Leon’s A Song For You: Billy Eckstine, The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson, Helen Reddy, Whitney Houston, Elkie Brooks, Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, Christina Aguilera

Additionally, both Leonard and Leon went through fairly dramatic transformations over the course of their careers:

Leon, from one of the originators of the Tulsa Sound; to a member of the legendary group of Los Angeles session musicians collectively known as the Wrecking Crew, who recorded pop hits by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra and Sonny & Cher to The Monkeys and The Beach Boys; to hippie soul man bandleader, piano and guitar player on Joe Cocker’s epic Mad Dogs & Englishman tour, the album from which I happen to consider the best Rock & Roll live recording ever, and my deep love of which I mention in the obit I wrote upon Joe Cocker’s passing.

Leonard, from published poet and novelist; to folk music singer-songwriter; to elegant elder statesman of sophisticated literary pop music; to Zen monk.

But, of all the things they had in common, my absolute favorite was Leonard’s song Bird on the Wire, the greatest version of which, in my opinion and no surprise given what I said above, comes from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, on which you can hear Leon’s gorgeous, dare I say Liberace-esque, piano playing.

So, thanks Leonard and Leon for all you shared with the world. May all drunks in midnight choirs rejoice in your work!

Admiring vs. Inhabiting Modern Minimalism

I credit Apple, Inc., for turning me on to minimalist design, an aesthetic that I became enamored of and nearly obsessed with …

… that is, until I inhabited it.

But, let’s start from the beginning, with the iMac G4, a mindblowing — to me anyway — reinvention of the personal computer:

imac-g4

Yes, previous Apple products had been rather minimalist, but this is the one that got me.

Now, let’s be clear, Apple did not, in any way, invent Minimalism, which, as a modern art form, dates all the way back to the early 1900s, AND has ancient roots in the Japanese Zen aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi.

But my eyes were opened, and eventually I would find myself attracted to minimalist art, architecture, and interior design.

I found the images and objects soothing in their simplicity. They seemed a welcome, refreshing contrast to the chaos, clutter, and decay in the world, and in some ways it all felt therapeutic to me, like meditation.

Then, about four years ago, my wife, son, and I moved out of the 100-year old Craftsman home we’d been living in for 20 years, and moved into a brand new, VERY modern house, which we decked out with modern furniture and decor, surrounded with minimalist landscaping, and then, slowly but surely …

… we found that inhabiting minimalism changed EVERYTHING.

What had been soothing and tidy from a distance became sterile and cold when it surrounded us day in, day out.

Rather than serving as a peaceful contrast to the disorder of the outside world, our house came to symbolize, to me, humanity’s ancient, foolhardy pursuit of permanence in an impermanent world.

Nature is, by nature, very messy, and yet we erect meticulously clean structures and adorn them with manicured lawns and landscaping that require near constant weeding and mowing and edging and pruning. Given the massive financial investment a house represents, some maintenance is, of course, necessary and wise, but bending nature to our will, to make it look the way we want it to, to allow it to exist only where we want it to exist, seems rather like hubris.

Additionally, modern minimalist homes and furniture do not age gracefully, as opposed to old Craftsman or farmhouse style homes, on which wear and tear adds a charming patina.

Starting with the very first scratch on our dark bamboo laminate flooring, one ding or scratch after another proved unavoidable, standing out like open wounds, and even a healthy scar left by a decent repair made things that had originally been designed to be pristine appear shabby.

Of course, this is all very subjective. I’m sure that many modern home dwellers are quite content, and I regret if anything said above comes across as judgment. For some, I suppose, the efforts to keep a clean, minimalist home clean and minimalist could be a meditative experience, and maintaining beauty and order a spiritual practice.

There clearly is no right or wrong here.

For us, the search is now on for our next home. It’ll be back to an older-style structure with older materials, where we can be our naturally cluttered and worn selves, where we’ll be made comforted and cozy by nature in all it’s messy glory.

nature-reclaiming-abandoned-places-5

Awareness vs. Self-Preservation

burying-ones-head-in-the-sand

“It’s good to be exposed to politics and what’s going down here, but it does damage to me. Too much of it can cripple me. And if I really let myself think about it — –the violence, the sickness, all of it — –I think I’d flip out.”

–Joni Mitchell, from Rolling Stone Magazine, 1969

I think about this ALL the time!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I was choosing to face some gloom, because not doing so would be contributing to the problem rather than the solution, and the toll it took on me was considerable, I just about flipped out.

See, I feel like, if I’m going to be helpful I need to be well-informed. But man, getting informed, reading as much as I can on issues, reading more than one source, reading competing ideas, it all adds up to a lot of exposure to ugly details, terrible injustices, radically horrible attitudes and ignorant ideologies.

And yet, even if you bury your head in the sand, your ass is still sticking up in the air and vulnerable to getting mightily kicked.

I do believe that spirituality can help, I keep doing my meditation and yoga in hopes that being more firmly grounded in the present moment and less susceptible to regret and fear will help, but I still can’t avoid becoming overwhelmed by the unforgiving harshness in the world.

So, what’s the solution?

How do people like career activists and humanitarian aid providers do it, day in and day out in some of the most desperate situations?

Any ideas?

 

Tweet of the Day: @RainnWilson

meditation-flipboardI’ve mentioned numerous times here at Fish & Bicycles that I dabble in Buddhism (one example), and I’ve tried to sustain a regular meditation practice off and on for many years, so it’s fair to assume that I think very highly of the process.

And yet, Buddhism and meditation are highly susceptible to suffering at the hands of New Age pretension, and meditation has notoriously been stripped of its religious and spiritual origins as of late, and co-opted as a productivity tools for businesses.

I use and mostly enjoy the iOS app Flipboard on my iPhone, and like other news aggregators, when you first setup the app you enter general topics you are interested in so that Flipboard knows what kind of content to push to you. Sadly, however, the vast majority of articles I see on Buddhism, meditation, or spirituality look like the one in the screenshot provided here.

Well, all that’s to say, as much as I continue to aspire to living a more spiritual life and to sustaining a daily meditation practice, there are days when the spirituality industry gets to me, it’s been getting to me quite a bit lately, and so when I came across today’s Tweet of the Day installment, posted by one of the funniest guys around, Rainn Wilson, it just totally hit the spot.

Rainn tweeted the following video titled F*ck That: A Guided Meditation by Jason Headly, whose short film titled It’s Not About The Nail is one of the funniest-whilst-insightful comedy bits on couples I’ve ever seen.

(Disclaimer: F*ck That: A Guided Meditation is laced with profanity, and may therefore be offensive to some and/or NSFW for others.)

Video Fridays: Father’s Day Weekend Edition

Me & Julian, Father's Day, 2013
Me & Julian, Father’s Day, 2013
Since I likely won’t be able to post anything on Father’s Day this Sunday, and since my son, Julian, is now 17-1/2 years old and his days in the nest are painfully dwindling away, I thought I would dedicate today’s Video Fridays installment to him, for I wouldn’t be a father if he hadn’t come along.

Today’s video, Ben FoldsStill Fighting It, featuring touching homemade-movie-esque footage of Ben and his son Louis, and lyrics about the experience of fatherhood, on one hand, and growing up, on the other, never fails to choke me up.

The song was released in 2001, when my son was about the same age as Louis, and as much as I’ve loved and cherished some aspect of every age Julian has attained, there was something particularly special about that age, when walking wasn’t so new and treacherous, when verbal communication was beginning to get easier thanks to a growing vocabulary, when the innocence and infinite sense of wonder of childhood was in full bloom, when playing was so much damned fun, and when simply holding hands as we strolled in public felt like I had an umbilical cord connecting me to an infinite pool of love.

Being a parent is an experience of extremes. There’s the infinite pool of love and the unbridled joy of play, but there’s also the anxiety concerning the future, the fear of terrible things happening to your child, the frustration when your child has the gall (wink) to remind you that they are an actual person, with the right to self-determination, the pain you feel when they feel pain, the excruciating guilt you feel for the mistakes you’ve made raising them, particularly when they pick up any bad habits that you have been unintentionally modeling for them, and the emptiness at the thought of them one day flying the coop.

Ben Folds captures this all so perfectly:

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It’s so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We’re still fighting it, we’re still fighting it
And you’re so much like me
I’m sorry…

It was pain
Sunny days and rain
I knew you’d feel the same things…

You’ll try and try and one day you’ll fly
Away from me

Somebody get me a hanky, stat!

Anyway, it might seem that that list I wrote above, of the goods and the not-so-goods, suggests that the not-so-goods far outweigh the goods, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When you love someone as deeply as you love your child, you never, EVER see it that way, you would NEVER prefer the alternative — losing your child, or not ever having had a child. You just hope that the Buddhists are right, that if we practice mindfulness awareness we can be totally present for them despite our fears, and if we practice non-attachment we can celebrate their departure when they come of age, feeling satisfied and sustained by all of the years of glorious memories, and excitement for the possibilities that life will present to them.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Of Guitars, Celebrity, And Spiritualilty

lennon-gibsonThis, in the photo here, is a guitar once owned by John Lennon.

  • This gorgeous Gibson J-160E was bought by Lennon in September 1962, co-signed by Bealtes manager Brian Epstein and paid off in full after a year, and then disappeared at a Christmas show in December 1963.
  • No one knows exactly where the guitar was from 1963 to sometime in the 1970s, when it was bought for a “couple hundred dollars” in San Diego by someone who did not learn of its origins until last year, when a friend noticed it looked a lot like a guitar he saw in a book of Beatles memorabilia.
  • A brand new Gibson Gibson J-160E today costs about $2,700.00.
  • Lennon’s briefly-owned J-160E is now expected to sell for between $600,000.00 to $800,000.00 at auction in November 2015.
  • Wow.

This story raises a lot of questions for me: as a music lover, and more specifically a HUGE Beatles fan; as a musician, and more specifically a guitarist; and as an aspiring Buddhist, and more specifically an aspiring Buddhist who, while somewhat successful at non-attachment in many areas of life, is NOT so successful when it comes to music gear.

  • Should a guitar purchased new for about $250 in 1962, and owned by a Beatle for only 15 months, now be worth 280 times that or more?
  • If I had mountains of disposable income, would I buy this particular guitar if I could? (Answer: Yes!!!)
  • How long would I feel good about the purchase? i.e. How long would it take me to get sick of hearing myself tell people that the guitar once belonged to John Lennon?
  • Would I actually play — thereby adding wear and tear — such a precious instrument?
  • If not, what’s the point of owning a guitar that never gets played?
  • How much does coveting this guitar set me back in my pursuit of Buddhist presentmomentness? i.e. Will I be reincarnated as a $250 guitar that, rather than being sold to the next John Lennon and destined for protection and veneration, is bought by some Pete Townshend disciple?