my life

Radicals for Moderate Discourse

Tomorrow, I'll be heading for the Rally to Restore Sanity in D.C.

Now, this is being billed as a "million moderate march"...and while I fit neatly into no one's system of political boxes, a moderate I am not. I'm the small-government liberal, the gun-owning pacifist, the free-market socialist. If a Green Party member and a big-L Libertarian had a baby who was raised by gorillas, you might come out with something like my views on Practical Zenarchy and what to do until Universal Enlightenment makes the state redundant.

And while this event is intended to draw lots of people who've never been to a protest or demonstration before, I won't be one of them.

Hell, this is supposed to be a "pro-reasonableness" event, and you can see the name of this blog.

But while I think vigorous debate, and even a certain about of unreasonableness, is important, I strongly agree with Jon Stewart's call to "turn it down a notch for America." And it's not just the birthers, tea baggers, and people who think mild health insurance reform is an insidious sleeper Soviet plot (the USSR faked its death, don't you know). It's also the deep-conspiracy 9/11 truthers who think that the civil engineers at NIST are part of a convoluted "false flag" operation set up by Bush and his cronies; it's the anti-war protestors carrying Che Guevara posters; it's the self-proclaimed "anarchists" -- with no idea of what anarchy actually is -- who think that breaking windows is going to bring about political change.

So, count me as a Radical for Moderate Discourse. I say yes to vigorous debate, and no to hostile and asinine behavior. Let's argue, sure, but let's do it over a beer, not over waving guns or overturned dumpsters.

And when you hear somebody talking about refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants, tell 'em to take it down a notch. For America.

And if you see somebody about to step on somebody's head, for chrissake, step up and stop 'em. Thanks.

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Zelda's Inferno exercise: near-death experience

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write about a near-death experience

I suppose the closest I've come to death is about 18 inches. That's my guess at the distance I avoided the head-on collision at highway speed.

Driving to work one morning, I-70 west, suddenly crashing spinning through the bushy median another car, coming right toward me. Swung to the right, lucky there was no car there, brain too full of not dying to realize I how close to dying I was at the moment, strangely calm.

Having dodged disaster by a foot and a half, I pulled over, now worried about the other driver -- what had happened to him? How had he gone from commuter to deadly projectile? Passed out at the wheel? Heart attack, stroke? No, I saw, as I ran back toward his car, he was stepping out, fully conscious. "Are you ok?" I yelled.

"Yeah, fine."

"What happened?"

"Oh, I just lost control," he said, got back in his car, and drove off...leaving my Toyota stuck in the mud, where a few minutes later a state cop came by and harassed me, until a guy with a pickup truck stopped and pulled me out. Which is, I suppose, a different story, not one about the nearness and casualness of death.

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Zelda's Inferno exercise: moments like raindrops on a window

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write about something that you intended to or should have told someone, but never did.

Imagine a raindrop on a window. If you are in the right place, it may reflect some ray of light brilliantly at you, sparkling like a gem; but someone standing right next to you my not be in the path, and just see through the translucent drop to what's behind it.

So it is with moments in time. We share them with friends, family, lovers, teacher, students, but a moment that shines for me may be ordinary for the one with whom I shared it.

Twenty years or so ago, in the car with my father, headed back home after some errand...on North Point Road, if memory serves. Around the edges of the memory is a tinge or resentment -- had we been arguing? Perhaps. An inevitable part of the mitosis by which we separate from the parents to become ourselves.

The radio tuned to the oldies station. Chuck Berry. Perhaps it is impossible to hold on to resentment in the face of Johnny B. Goode. My father and I both start, softly, singing. And now there is a new tinge in the film of memory. No single word for it, that I know -- call it a recognition of humanity. The same color that tinges the memory of sitting in a ancient zendo in Japan, a temple founded by Dogen himself, and hearing the footsteps of the monk walking on the tatami behind me -- he too is "just like this", Kerouac's "equally a coming Buddha", Vonnegut's unwavering band of light.

Or perhaps that's all to abstract and literary-referencey for just knowing, in that moment, not just father-and-son, but two men.

Sometimes I think about mentioning this moment to him, asking if he recalls it, all these years later. But I suspect it is like those droplets of rain, a moment that glittered just for me, that trying to speak of it would be like reaching out to grab that drop on the window as if it were a gem and not a reflection, a temporary aggregate of circumstance, the radio and sound waves reflecting off of our relationship and into my own perception, with the man sitting next to me seeing a different reflection.

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Mt. Sumeru; Baltimore Zen Center; all true paths lead through mountains

A few months ago, I went to see Brad Warner speak at the Baltimore Zen Center. My good friend Mike Gurklis had been recommending Warner's work to me for a few years; I ended up quoting him twice in Why Buddha Touched the Earth, and had I finally got around to reading his book Hardcore Zen, so I thought it would be worthwhile to see him in person.

And it was. But more than that, I found that my old friend and former English teacher Alan Reese was a member of the BZC sangha. Also, when Brad was late (due to car trouble), the resident teacher, JB "MuSsang" Jaeger, gave a little talk -- and he started off talking about Ikkyu.

If you've been to my "Zen in the Art of Love" workshop, or read any of the drafts of my book, you know that Ikkyu Sojun is my favorite Zen lunatic. It's not just his "Red Thread" concept of Zen with it's explict acceptance and appreciation of sexuality, but the very human person who comes through in his poetry. Like "I like my anger / my grouchy furious love" -- right up my alley.

So between Alan's presence and JB's invocation of one of my favorite spiritual dudes, I thought, "Hmm. This group is worth revisiting."

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Zelda's Inferno exercise: interesting people

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write a poem about an interesting person you have met (or can imagine meeting)

I do enjoy my life. I get to meet such interesting people.

The guy wearing bunny ears and a bikini top who turned out to be a nuclear disarmament expert
The Zen teacher who works as a bouncer
The Broadway stage manager who became a nurse
The English teacher who had a side job as a Mark Twain impersonator
The punk rock drummer turned monk turned elementary school principal
The 60-something karate master who married a woman thirty years younger and became the father of twins
The M-to-F transgendered multiple-personalitied poet
The political activist who used to be a crazy homeless guy who used to be a brilliant computer programmer who used run an internet company in the Brazilian jungle
The bartender who used to be a cop on a SWAT team, and has fostered a whole bunch of kids

Walk down the street any afternoon
and you would pass any of them by
never know their stories

every person you pass --
every every every one --
a story
unlike any other story

is it strange to say that each person is as precious as a book?

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please don't act stupidly enough to make me call the cops

Being of an anarchic -- or Zenarchic -- disposition, I really hate to call the cops. I'd rather, to the extent possible, have people talk out their problems as a community of equals, rather than throwing "authority", with its dangers into the mix.

But when I see two young idiots racing their go-karts on the rainy street, presenting a hazard to navigation and raising the potential for traffic accidents, my choices are 1) let it go, and if an accident is caused, ah well; 2) try to chase them down on foot and, if I catch them, give them a stern talking-to; 3) try to chase them down on foot and, if I catch them, take more direct action, like pulling a wire out of their noisy little engines, or 4) call it in to the BCPD, knowing that not much is likely to come of it but at least I've done what I could.

Please, folks: don't behave in such a stupid manner that I have to make decisions like this. Thanks.

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easier to climb up than get down

If you've ever climbed a tree, you may have learned that sometimes it's easier to get up than to get back down. Ringo apparently learned this lesson this evening; I came back from my karate class to find him on top of this deck box/bench on the back patio. (Click on the thumbnails for larger versions of the photos.)

It was apparently within his capability to jump up on top of it; but when I called him to get down, he balked. I finally had to lift him up and place him back on the ground. I don't know what got him up there in the first place -- somehow I'm reminded of old cartoons where fear of a mouse sends a 1950s housewife jumping up on to a table, but I can't see that being the case here.

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the hook for the book

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently competed the second draft of Why Buddha Touched the Earth, and I've now started to send queries out to literary agents.

It seems that writing a query letter is an art unto itself. Some of the advice I found applied more to novels or to narrative non-fiction than to a historical and philosophical inquiry into religion, but the basic idea of describing your work in a few tight paragraphs, starting off with a one or two sentence "hook", seems pretty sound.

So here's what I came up with. I know in trying to explain this darn thing to some of you before, I've ended up going off on tangents or tripping over my tongue -- hopefully this is clearer! I will be continuing to polish both it and the manuscript itself.

Shortly before his death, John Lennon called himself a "Zen Pagan." With this he gave an excellent name to a religious trend that goes back at least as far as Henry David Thoreau, who wrote of his love and respect for both the ancient nature god Pan and the Buddha.

The connection between Buddhism and nature spirituality is ancient. According to legends of the Buddha's enlightenment, in his hour of need he asked the Earth to bear him witness, rather than appealing to a heavenly deity. Over the centuries Buddhism influenced and was influenced by nature religions like Taoism and Shintō, and its introduction to the West came partly by the work of spiritual nature writers like Thoreau and Gary Snyder. Occultists like Aleister Crowley and H.P. Blavatsky played key roles in both Buddhist and Pagan history.

Why Buddha Touched the Earth: Zen Paganism for the 21st Century investigates these connections. It combines rigorous historical research with lively and practical discussions of mysticism, magic, meditation, ethics, and the future of religion.

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presenting at Primal Arts Festival and Fires of Venus

Hi friends. I wanted to let you know about upcoming workshops I'll be presenting, at two different events in September -- conveniently located at the same place, Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, MD:

First, at the first ever Primal Arts Festival, I'll be presenting "Self-Defense as a Spiritual Practice", "Moxibustion for Sensation Play", and my famous workshop "How *Not* to Flirt With a Goddess". Primal Arts is September 3-6.

Then at Fires Of Venus, I'll be presenting some very special Erisian programming:

Kallisti: For the Prettiest One

Ok, Venus/Aphrodite is very nice and all, but have you ever had the feeling that a somewhat more...dynamic...goddess was running your love life? Have you ever tried so hard to prove how attractive and worthy of love you are, that you ended up causing all kinds of trouble? Do you feel that by taking yourself too seriously, you might be getting in your own way? Or do you just want in on the joke when people yell "Hail Eris!"?

Discordianism is a satirical (or perhaps in this context, satyr-ical) religion invented in the 1950s that has been very influential in the NeoPagan movement. We'll discuss its history, literature, and philosophy, and how a greater openness to divine chaos might (or might not!) enhance our romantic lives.

(I may be doing one or two other classes at FoV as well.) FoV is September 23-26.

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I love wallowing in my melancholy loneliness

Late summer funk settling into my head now, and a day when I'm reminded of lost loves...and so it's only a question of whether I'll stay home and drink and probably play melancholy music on my guitar, or go out somewhere and drink and listen to someone else play melancholy music on a guitar. So I find myself at the Judge's Bench with a bottle of Sierra Nevada Torpedo in my hand, as a woman covers "Dirty Old Town."

Yeah, if I was an enlightened fellow I'd sit home in the lotus position instead, and if I were a good spiritual bullshit artist -- infinitely more common -- I'd either pretend I wasn't out here tonight, or I'd make up some lie about it, pretend that I was drinking in some special enlightened fashion. But in situations like this I try to emulate my favorite Zen lunatic, Ikkyu, and try to embrace the humanity of it. "I love my grouchy furious anger," ol' Crazy Crow Ikkyu once wrote, and tonight I might write "I love wallowing in my melancholy loneliness."

Past the halfway point between solstice and equinox now, the days noticeably shorter, that probably a factor in the funk. (Time to bring out the heavy artillery now, Scapa, single-malt Scotch...) That, and the rain, the grey skies the past few days...all on top of that "summer is running out, time is fleeting" feeling. And that on top of the "what am I doing with my life?" feeling that's been around the past few months.

But here we are, whiskey and music (guy covering "Ramble On" now) in a semi-venerable semi-old pub, next best place to a Zen garden to sit with big questions about life. And these lonesome blues are part of the way things are, as undeniable as the moon and the stars and the clouds, and to say that they shouldn't be here is to deny reality.

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