my life

new book chapter: It's All In Your Mind

I've put up a rough draft of a new chapter for Why Buddha Touched The Earth. Here's an excerpt:

For believers in the paranormal, all these coincidences and visions and unexplained events are evidence of some sort of supernatural entities or powers. To the skeptical, they are the operation of random chance given meaning by the overeager pattern-recognition circuits of the brain, or illusions or delusions or hallucinations, malfunctions of the sensory nervous system.

From a Zen Pagan perspective, neither of these explanations is satisfactory. The true believer's approach makes claims about the objective universe that don't hold up to controlled experiment and observation. The skeptic's neurological reductionism neglects the fact that most events in the universe occur outside of laboratory controls, and ignores the person to whom the experience is happening. The subjective dimension is flattened out.

When we practice ritual, or engage in meditation, or seek otherwise to alter our consciousness, we expect to see and experience strange and unusual things. To encounter "spirits" or to have some other sort of transpersonal experience after staying up all night dancing or drumming around a bonfire, or fasting for days, or sitting unmoving in mediation for hours at a time, or ingesting strange herbs, or working yourself into a ritual frenzy, is not odd. To the practitioner, these experience are the goal of the work.

Dismissing the experience as "mere delusion" is like calling a performance of Bach fugue a "mere disturbance of air". It is technically correct, and even captures important information - understanding that disturbance of air allows for the proper acoustic design of concert halls, after all. But it misses the aesthetic dimension that makes the whole thing worthwhile.

In the same way, calling a shaman's vision a "hallucination" may be accurate, even useful in certain contexts. (If someone was going to risk their life or well-being on information that came to them in a vision, for example, it would be good to point out that such information is not a reliable guide to objective reality.) But it misses the mystical element, the deep emotional content, of the experience.

Can you tell me how to get to where I am?

Heading for Kate's party last night, I was headed west on Edmondson Avenue, about to turn left on Old Frederick Road. A car coming the other way got into the right lane, pulled out into the intersection, stopped, put his left blinker on, and just stood there. WTF? As I tried to go around him, I saw the driver waving at me. Guess he was lost.

I rolled down my window.

"Excuse me," he yelled, "can you tell me how to get to Edmondson Avenue, back in the the city?" (For those who don't know, I'm a short way out into the suburbs of Baltimore, just a few miles from the city line.)

"Well, this is Edmondson."

"You're kidding!"

"Nope. Just keep going the way you're going and it'll take you into the city."

"Thanks!" And we each went on our way.

This is certainly a metaphor for something, isn't it?

Tom's Post-Election Reflections: 2008

Tom's Post-Election Reflections: 2008

My friends,

Four years ago, I sent out a little screed about the disappointment of the 2004 elections (http://www.infamous.net/election2004msg.html). It seems fitting, after recent events, to send out a follow-up.

So. Wow. This is a new experience. For the first time in my life - all the way back to that "Weekly Reader" mock election in 1976 - the Presidential candidate for whom I voted, has won. (Yes, I voted for Ford when I was six. Ah, the folly of youth.)

Last October, I wrote that Obama and Kucinich were my favorites among the major party candidates, and praised Obama's commonsense take on nuclear disarmament, diplomacy with rival nations, and the demonstration of patriotism by action rather than by jewelry.

Given my history with Presidential candidates, I figured that my positive reaction meant that his campaign was doomed.

As it turned out, somehow this time was different.

Yes, I was disappointed along the way: Obama's backpedaling on marijuana decriminalization, his reversal on FISA, his softening stance on getting us the hell out of Iraq, and his failure to stand up for full legal equality for gay and lesbian couples, saddened me.

I thought about giving my vote to Cynthia McKinney (the Green Party candidate) or Ralph Nader. But in the end, when I marked my ballot next to the name Barack Obama, I felt good. I felt proud.

And on Tuesday I left Maryland and joined thousands of other volunteers in Virginia. I got partnered up with a Navy veteran (a gay submarine veteran, no less!) and we walked around Reston, knocking on doors and reminding Obama supporters to vote. And we helped get the state that at one time held the capital of the Confederate States of America, to cast its electoral votes for the first black President.

Wow.

Now what?

It puts a man in a contemplative mood

I fell in love again last night. This time it was the girl at the tollbooth at the Fort McHenry tunnel. She was blond, hair bobbed just above the shoulders, a navy blue watch cap contrasting nicely with her orange safety vest. I could see this job wasn't her life ambition, she was working it for a greater purpose, and I wanted to know what it was, help her toward it. As she gave me my change from my $20 bill I saw a small tattoo on her forearm above her glove, I wanted to ask her about it, get a better look, but there were cars behind me...and so I moved on...

Friday, I went to the "Evening With an Angel on a Jazz Note" event for the Allison Fisher Memorial Fund. Allison was a middle school and high scholl classmate, who (I learned last year at our 20th reunion) died of breast cancer a decade ago. Also there were Alan Reese, our middle school English teacher, and old classmates Melissa Buis and Scott Winneki and Carol Gilpen. I'd seen Melissa and Carol last year at the reunion, and I see Alan around the Baltimore poetry scene, but I hadn't seen Scott since eighth grade...he's now a pediatrician! And Melissa, a professor. So we had a little mini-reunion...Alan brought some old photos, and Scott brought old yearbooks. And we reminisced about Allison.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: ancestry

Tonight's exercise: write about ancestry, both genealogical and metaphorical, and how it shapes your opinion/understanding of art.

Statistically, I'm sure that
somewhere in my great-great-great-umpity-great grandparents was a painter or sculptor
someone whose eyes and hands were connected to record their visions.

That gene didn't make it down to me.

a few poems on death

The Memento Mori poetry reading tomorrow. Going through a old notebook to find pieces to read, found two that could be salvaged to make a something:

1. I look down at you, unconscious, dying, slipping away from this life
And I don't know what to feel

I don't know who you were

Angelic bastard, why'd you have to be complicated?
Why couldn't you give me the clarity
of only loving or only hating?

I don't know if you can hear me
I hold your hand and say goodbye

I speak only of the good things
That's how I would want it if it were my time

We are all angelic bastards

being one of the most interesting people someone has met

Sometimes its a burden being one of the most interesting people someone has met...I just want to have a beer and write and hear some tunes, and somebody sits down and asks what I'm writing about, and then wants to talk all about far-out ideas, because they don't have anyone else to discuss them with...

A bit cynical perhaps, but an honest thought sometimes.

I keep running, trusting to the alchemy of motion

I do this run once a week but today I feel like I am running away from something. But as I run I don't feel I'm getting away from anything.

Yesterday my acupuncturist told me that my allergies are due to a confusion in my body between the internal and the external.

I guess you can't run away from what's internal, that's the difference. But if they are confused, then am I carrying what's outside, inside?

A monk had come to visit a master and spent some time studying Zen. When he was preparing to leave, the master asked, "See that boulder? Is it inside our outside your mind?" The monk has learned the Buddha's doctrine that everything is a creation of the mind, so he said, "Inside my mind." "Well then," said the master, "I don't envy you on your journey, carrying that big rock in your head!"

I keep running, trusting to the alchemy of motion.

"I'm not here to defend the bookmobile."

George Carlin's death has been in the news all week. Rightly so - as Jon Stewart said, I'm tired of people we need leaving us.

I remember when I was 16 or 17 and had my wisdom teeth out, my mom brought me home a couple of Carlin videotapes (remember those?) to help take my mind off the pain. (My mom, I should note, rules - a very nice lady who would never use the sort of language Carlin was famous for, but is still hip enough to get his stuff.) I had seen his stuff on Saturday Night Live reruns, but this was the first time I'd seen him all uncensored. Maybe it was the pain drugs, but gods, it was funny.

A few weks ago - a few days before FSG - I was sitting zazen one night before going to bed. Pretty tired, I was almost nodding off, then catching myself to stay awake. And in one moment, just as I started to fall asleep and caught myself, I heard the weirdest phrase inside my head:

"I'm not here to defend the bookmobile."

I have no idea what that means. I hadn't seen or thought about a bookmobile in ages. And why would one need defending? Against whom or what?

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