my life

Why Buddha Touched the Earth -- Zen Paganism for the 21st Century

Posted on: Mon, 03/23/2009 - 21:34 By: Tom Swiss

For several years I've been working on a book about the philosophy and spiritual path I call "Zen Paganism". I'm happy to say that the past few months have been very productive. I've now got over 50,000 words, and hope to have a complete first draft within the next six months.

I've placed drafts of several sample chapters (about two-thirds of the book) on-line. Take a look:

happy irish pride day

Posted on: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 23:36 By: Tom Swiss

Happy Irish Pride Day! I don't have much use for St. Pat, but as I understand the history, the American celebration started as a defiance of anti-Irish bigotry. I'm all for defying bigotry. (Sometimes I wonder if Gay Pride week will end up the same way, that gay or straight we'll all take a day to wear pink and drink cosmos...)

Ocean Beach

Posted on: Wed, 01/14/2009 - 00:57 By: Tom Swiss

Spent today in Ocean Beach - swam in the Pacific (very briefly!) for the first time. 79 degrees, though the water was cold. Still, as good a beach day as you could hope for in January in the Northern hemisphere. At the airport now, getting ready to take the red-eye back to the East Coast. Supposed to be around 15 degrees in Baltimore Friday. Damn.

Glad the airport bartender told me it's not always so nice and warm here in January - else I'd never leave!

strange auras, birthday reflections, my life as a valence electron

Posted on: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 00:08 By: Tom Swiss

I was sitting in a Baja Fresh burrito joint writing that last entry, when a young kid came up to me and started asking about my Zaurus (the little PDA that I write most of this stuff on). I ending up talking to his mother, starting innocently enough with the trouble her son (about 9 years old) sometimes got for having long hair, a topic near and dear to my heart - or scalp, perhaps. But then it was another instance where that weird aura of mine that attracts the bizarre and twisted people was shining bright...she went on about the kid's father who had just gotten out of jail, and how he was a crack addict, and she herself was an alcoholic. So that was interesting.

Had a good conference out here the past few days, good classes: Saturday cupping and auricular therapy (I volunteered to be the cupping demo dummy and now my back looks like I got amorous with a giant octopus, and I've got seeds taped to my right ear - I must have had a good time), abdominal massage yesterday, and this morning a great Thai massage class. But above and beyond that, just a great group of people sharing knowledge and a love of this craft of Asian Bodywork Therapy. I had a strong feeling of community, and I happened to stumble across an interview with John Robbins where he talked about the importance of strong community connections for healthy longevity, an important way of dealing with grief and loss in our lives. So I shared that at the closing circle today...only to find out afterward that one of the members had lost her husband to a car accident just two weeks before. Sometimes our words have far, far more resonance than we know.


Posted on: Thu, 01/08/2009 - 19:20 By: Tom Swiss

Took the Blue Line trolley all the way down to the border and walked around Tijuana for a few hours. It's a peculiar thing to walk over a national border - there's a little marker, but that's it. And there's no border control or customs check entering Mexico.

If you stayed right around the crossing, you might think that one out of five Mexican men play guitar. Apparently playing in the cafes right there is a booming business. And every store you walk by, there's a guy trying to get you to come in, hawking his wares. Silver bracelets. "Cuban" cigar (almost certainly not Cuban.) Ponchos - I guess at least these would be real ponchos and not Sears ponchos. The usual tourist crap t-shirts.

Tremendous number of dentists and pharmacies right over the border, catering to Americans who can't afford health care at home.

Walked the whole length of the Avenue de Revolucion, past where the tourist zone peters out. Down past the "Tijuana Swap Meet", where booths made out of hung tarps sell clothes and a ghetto third-world shotengai; down to a few blocks of car repair joints, where the cement is all cracked up.

San Diego; the most dangerous Olympic sport

Posted on: Wed, 01/07/2009 - 20:56 By: Tom Swiss

In San Diego...flew in this morning, an oh-my-god-it's-early flight. Managed to grab a few hours sleep between BWI and my plane change Las Vegas, otherwise I'd be unconscious by now. Took a cab to the hotel, got a good hot shower, and walked about two miles to the trolley stop (the local light rail service). Went down to the Maritime Museum, which has some interesting old ships docked in the harbor - from a mid 1800s sailing ship that took emigrees from Britain to New Zealand, to an 1950s Soviet sub. Walked around the "gaslight district", got dinner at a sushi place, now a beer at "Patrick's II", a place that bills itself "San Diego's only real blues joint." A vibe like Leadbetter's or The Cat's Eye - might hang out for the live music later if I'm not exhausted.

The bartender, talking with the patron next to me, remarks that the most dangerous sport in the 2008 Olympics was horse jumping - people going for higher or fancier jumps, only to have the horse fall over on them. Notable fact that will have to find its way into a poem or story sometime.

running into the New Year; wind as metaphor

Posted on: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 14:04 By: Tom Swiss

A supremely windy New Year's Eve (winds 25 to 35 mph with gusts up to 60, according to the weather service), bringing to mind all the metaphors of "winds of change". And also a Wednesday, the day I usually go running. So I headed out, and right at the start as soon as I turned on to Edmondson Avenue, bam! Into a headwind which was like a hand holding me back. Fortunately that was just for a short bit, once I got into the woods on the Trolly Trail I was screened from the wind by the trees and the lay of the land.

But after a while, I turned around and came back; and so at the end of my run, from the same wind I got a tailwind, speeding me along.

And I'll let you judge what sort of portent or metaphor that is. In any event, Happy New Year!

peanut butter and jelly sandwichs for the homeless

Posted on: Fri, 12/26/2008 - 16:26 By: Tom Swiss

For many years, at the headquarters of our karate school in New York, students near the holidays do a "walking mediation" where they take food to homeless people on the street.

I've always thought that was a neat idea, but never did anything abou it until now. Christmas Eve I made up a bunch of bag lunches - each with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a Clif bar, a little piece of chocolate, and a small bottle of water - and yesterday I stopped off in the area around the stadiums, Conway Street between Howard and Light Streets, where there are always panhandlers and homeless people out, and gave out a few.

A few of the guys (I saw all men, no women, there) were pretty spaced out. Definitely not all there. I don't know if that's why they ended up on the streets, or if it's a product of their time there. But most were nice, thanked me, said "God bless you". Which actually made me feel more powerless than anything, that such a small act would be so responded to.

Merry Yule: on Santa Claus and pantheism

Posted on: Thu, 12/25/2008 - 12:04 By: Tom Swiss

When I was a wee bitty lad, I - like most of my peers - believed in Santa Claus. I literally believed that there was a guy who lived at the North Pole, and had supernatural abilities, and showed up at our house (through the door, we having no chimney - I can remember asking my parents about this), and ate the cookies we left out, and left my brother and me a bunch of loot under the plastic tree.

Of course, I - like most of my peers - got over that. By the time I was seven or eight, certainly by age 10, I knew that of course there was no Santa. It was our parents! Liars who got their jollies by fooling little kids. A sad, even offensive, state of affairs.

But as I truly grew up, I saw that there was a still something to the "Christmas Spirit". Sure, there wasn't a magic guy with a flying sleigh, etcetera, but there was an aspect of the human experience, a generosity, that we could sensibly personify as the chubby fellow in red. Santa didn't live at North Pole, but in the human heart. Yes, Santa was our parents - humans incarnating a mythological role, each becoming for a moment here and there the avatar of that Christmas Spirit.

Now, when I was a wee bitty lad, I - like most of my peers - believed in God, specifically in the Catholic Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I literally believed that there was a magic guy (well, three guys, sort of, but really one) who lived outside the Universe in Heaven, that he/they had made the world, that he/they had come down and been born as a human 2,000 years ago, the works.

Of course, I - unlike most of my peers - got over that. By the time I was 13 I had rejected Catholic doctrine as a bunch of bunk, and by age 20 I called myself an atheist. Of course there were no gods.

But now, having grown up at least a little bit more, even though I will call myself an atheist in some contexts, I will call myself a pantheist in others. Just as I don't believe in a supernatural being at the North Pole who makes toys, I don't believe in supernatural beings in "Heaven" who made the Universe. But, just as I see a sort of "Christmas Spirit" in human experience and sometimes find it useful to hang the image of Old Saint Nick on that, so I know the mystical experience, and find it useful to hang the image of Pan or Dainichi Buddha or Aphrodite or Shiva or Eris (All hail Discordia!), or even once in a while that poor old carpenter Jeshua ben Joseph, on it. The gods and goddesses live not in some heavenly realm, but in our hearts and minds, in every aspect of human experience.

So, Merry Yule to all. I hope you get a nice chance to be Santa this year - and a nice chance to be god(dess) all the time.

Thanksgiving and old girlfriends

Posted on: Thu, 11/27/2008 - 23:44 By: Tom Swiss

Thanksgiving and old girlfriends - this morning I checked Facebook and saw that a former paramour had broken up with her beau...this evening I met up with another who told me how she (finally!) had dumped her loser boyfriend. So is this a pattern, dump your lover now before you have to buy them a Christmas present? Could be a subject for someone's doctoral dissertation in socioeconomics....

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