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?

Why We Love, And Even Need, Photos & Videos Of Interspecies Animal Friends

dog-jerryFrom 1984’s comedy classic, Ghostbusters (my emphasis added in bold in the last line of dialogue):

Peter Venkman: Well, you can believe Mr. Pecker…
Walter Peck: My name is “Peck.”
Venkman: Or you could accept the fact that this city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, “biblical”?
Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff!
Venkman: Exactly.
Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes!
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Venkman: Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

That the idea of cats and dogs living together in peace should be included in a list of biblical-scale events works as the punchline of this joke, because it’s so tame compared to the other items listed. And yet, it speaks to the endurance of the stereotype that cats and dogs are natural enemies.

cat-dogMeanwhile, anyone who spends nearly any amount of time on the interwebs or watches any number of home video TV shows is familiar with the near-ubiquitous photos and videos featuring animals from different species — in some cases species known to have a predator-prey relationship in the wild, or would likely be enemies if they shared the same habitat — interacting playfully, or even, though some might call it anthropomorphizing, lovingly.

I have to admit, while I’m a true lover of animals, I’m not someone who goes all gushy over them, regularly browsing cute animal photos and videos on the web, using puppy or kitten photos as the desktop background on my computer, etc.

And yet, the videos that feature friendly interspecies interactions do grab my attention and move something deep inside me, and I suspect the same thing happens for millions of people, even, perhaps, some hardcore cynics. I’m sure there are some who would rather suggest that these are nothing more than the result of artificial domestication, but I suspect that this is a slim minority, judging by how often these videos go viral.

Given that we live in a world perpetually wrought with human conflict, often horrific and deadly human conflict, it’s easy to despair, to conclude that there will never be lasting peace.

tiger-pigUnder these conditions, how can we not be moved when we see a cat and a dog peacefully snuggled together, as in the above photo, or, let’s say, a tiger and a piglet doing the same? And even if the two species interacting aren’t known or likely enemies, many of the pairings appear surprising and unlikely and serve as powerful symbols of harmony and hope in the face of differences.

Given that we live in a world perpetually wrought with human conflict, we are drawn to, and I’d even say we need, these images of animal harmony and hope, to keep us from despair. In fact, our biochemistry helps us benefit from these images. Human brains produce a hormone called oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”, because it’s released when we experience love and joy, and it’s been proven that we produce oxytocin when we observe baby humans and cute animals.

I could go on and on with this topic, perhaps by bringing the spiritual component to the topic, for instance how Buddhism, which I dabble with, teaches the value of cultivating harmony with all living things, but I think you get the point.

So, even if you think these interspecies friendship videos are a bit cheeseball, try to let go of your initial resistance, allow yourself to notice the sweetness, to consider the far-reaching implications of the fact that our brains allow us to experience feelings akin to love when we see such sweetness, try to extrapolate how this sweetness could possibly melt away human-to-human and human-to-animal conflicts.

Start now, watch this brief yet powerful video of a monkey affectionately interacting with a litter of puppies, notice how gentle the monkey is with these fragile, practically newborn pups, notice the monkey’s fingers lightly stroking the puppies, truly caring regardless of the fact that these creatures must seem incredibly different and strange.

Enjoy.

Willie & Trigger & Me: ‘As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.’

triggerI came across a wonderful short documentary film today at Rolling Stone about Willie Nelson and his legendary Martin N-20 guitar (shown here), nicknamed Trigger. And, as I watched the video, it triggered a very vivid memory of mine.

About 15 years ago, I attended a weekend retreat, held at one of those camps where they have boy and girl scout events most of the time, a scenic lakeside property, dotted with towering Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and a mixture of little cabins, barrack-style dormitories, and larger lodges, and as I was walking between two buildings with an acoustic guitar strapped on, I played as I strolled, probably some well-worn and well-loved Dylan or Neil Young song. It was an old, cheap guitar that I’d had for years, bought for $200, brand new, including a hard-shell case, but it had a surprisingly decent tone, especially by then, because I played it as often and as hard as I possibly could, which ‘opened up‘ the guitar significantly. And, I was strolling along with a friend who happened to be a guitar player as well, although a very different type of player, a performing classical guitarist, who played a guitar that probably cost him ten times as much as mine, and all of a sudden my guitar’s strap came loose from the guitar, and the guitar fell to the ground, onto a course gravel trail, the guitar suffered two significant dings, one on the headstock and the other on the upper bout, so deep that they penetrated the high-gloss finish down to the bare wood, and…

Me: Oops! Ha, ha, ha. (Picking up the guitar, barely missing a step, strapping it back on, and starting to play again.)

My Friend: Dude! Your guitar!

Me: No biggie. Gives it character!

I remember, later on, feeling conflicted about that incident. On one hand, for millions and millions of people, a guitar, any guitar, even a “cheap” $200 guitar, would be a treasured luxury item. And so, it was an embarrassing display of economic privilege for me to have acted like a $200 instrument was practically a disposable item that could be replaced with ease.

j-guitarOn the other hand, I work hard at my Buddhist non-attachment, a guitar is just a material object, and it’s a tool not a museum piece, it’s meant to be handled and used vigorously, doing so causes wear, and I happen to love this wear, what some guitarists refer to as mojo. I think Willie Nelson’s Trigger, Joe Strummer’s road-worn Telecaster, and Neil Young’s Old Black are beautiful, because they symbolize passion over pretense.

My son has now inherited my old guitar (shown here, with damaged headstock), and it gives me great pleasure that he plays it and appreciates it despite the damage. Meanwhile, I moved on to my own Martin, a 000-15s (shown here in a photo I snapped 4 years ago), now replete with all kinds of scratches and a few dings and just about the loveliest tone you can image, a tone that seems to contain all of the accumulated notes and chords I’ve played over the past 10 years, a tone so dear to me that I feel as Willie does, when he says about Trigger:

As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.

Anyway, check out this great short doc on Trigger.