Like a palate cleanser for your mind...

Although the comments do not reflect it, the previous photo made virtually everyone squirm. It didn't really bother me all that much, but I've heard from several of the Flock off-line, and they all agree that it's pretty gruesome. It's just so - REAL. Looking at it you can almost feel your own tendons popping... it really sticks with you. I suppose my time as a State Trooper, scraping up human roadkill hardened me to seeing physical trauma, and my own history of tweaked and twisted joints probably makes me less sypathetic as well. Just last night my right patella tried to get away... you can ask the kids from Flock Hall about that - it happens all the time.

At any rate, some of the Flock need brain bleach to clean away this image, so I have posted this photo:

There - a tub of puppies. Everybody likes puppies. Don't you feel better now?

Career Ending Moment

I hope he invested well, because I imagine his days as a soccer player are over...

Sunday Sermon

Johari and Nohari

In my Johari window, the most commonly chosen words were confident and witty. As for confidence, I am aware that I come off that way but it is, of course, an act. Putting it on is as much a part of my morning ritual as brushing my teeth or putting on cologne.

I do see myself as somewhat witty, but I tend to think of wit as a relatively useless social skill. I can fill the coffee shop with laughs, but I usually leave feeling like we could have spent those minutes better - that the space I take up in conversation may be amusing but it frequently doesn't enlighten or comfort. I'd rather be compassionate than witty, but words like giving, sympathetic, and warm do not appear in my Johari at all. Quite a wake up call for one who is supposed to be developing metta ("loving-kindness").

On the negative side, the most commonly chosen word was cynical. I was a bit surprised at that one - I think of myself as somewhat cynical but I didn't think everyone else did. It's interesting to note that I was ok with calling myself cynical, but as soon as friends agreed with me I became defensive. I wanted to say, "If you think I'm cynical, you should talk with so-and-so...", but I realized that I was just squirming under the honest scrutiny that I invited.

To me, the real point of the Johari/Nohari thing was to examine the illusion we each create. The illusions we create tell us about our faults, and indicate the areas where we have potential for growth. Even the positive traits that we put forth tell us about our fears and desires, while the negative traits might point out places where we are falling short of our potential. To use this input we have to be ready to let go of the illusion and just Be.

When I look at my illusion in this light, my confidence is just a way of covering my insecurities, my wit is a way of convincing everyone that I am intelligent (or at least, quick on my feet), and my cynicism is just a way of protecting myself from disappointment.

Am I ready to let go of witty and confident? Am I willing to be more hopeful, more optimistic? To stand before the world (and yourself) without your carefully crafted disguise is a daunting, but necessary task. Nothing is static; if we don't try to step away from our illusions then we are, in a sense, giving ourselves the ok to cling them even more fully.

If you put up a Johari and/or Nohari window, look at it again. Examine your illusion closely, and ask yourself if you are ready to let it go - and if the answer is "no" then ask yourself why.

Go in Peace.

Johari's Evil Twin

The Johari windows were a big hit; about 7 or 8 of my regular readers started windows of their own. It's all well and good, this mutual appreciation society we have going on here, but if you really want to know what your friends think of you, you might want to try the negative version - Nohari. It's the same process, but with negative descriptors. Have fun bashing me, then set yourself up for abuse!

"Dear Buddha..."

Please send me a pony and a plastic rocket... and one of these:

The long-awaited Serenity Game Master's Screen is finally available! It includes maps of Serenity and Aces and Eights, scaled for minatures... does that mean there will be a line of miniatures in the future?!

(Ordinarily, I'd preface a post like this with a few self-deprecating lines about how I'm a dork because I still play RPGs - but this is so cool I don't even feel the need. If you can't see how cool this is, it's probable that YOU are the dork...)

Also - if you still cling to the hope that a second season of Firefly will somehow be made, you can add your voice to the rest of us crying in the wilderness by going here. Joss says it's not going to happen, but we can dream, right?

Time Sink of the Day

Keep it up, then post your best score in comments.

Sunday Sermon


Sometimes, you don't feel what you think you should be feeling. You should be concerned, but you just can't seem to care, or you should be happy but you find that you're apathetic instead. It's particularly prevalent among the Flock when finals roll around - you expect to feel like you've accomplished something when a class or even a degree is completed, but in the back of your mind you know that all you've done is create more work for the future. (If you doubt this, check with those who graduated last year...)

Whenever I think I should be feeling something that I'm not, I am left with a vague sense that there is something wrong with me. It is yet another opportunity to doubt myself, to second guess this moment. "If I were a good Buddhist," I say to myself, "I'd let this feeling be, and move on." Self-doubt turns to self-reproach, and the real reason for the disconnect between your feelings and your expectations about your feelings is never explored.

As usual, stepping back and seeking a broader view is helpful. For example, in a certain situation in my life right now I'm not feeling as compassionate as I'd like. Rather than chastising myself for being cold-hearted (which I've done plenty of...) I should be relaxing my grip on the feelings. Stepping back from the feelings, I can just let them exist without making any decisions regarding them. By accepting that I feel the way I do without judgment, I can get past any feelings of disappointment in myself and possibly see the reasons behind the feelings. In this particular case, I have realized that I am not feeling compassionate because I am holding on to expectations of others. I have projected my beliefs and ethos onto others, so when they do something I wouldn't do, I'm upset. (That's right - I'm responsible for my own discomfort. Again.)

Once that trail of mental interactions became visible to me, I was able to look at the real issue - accepting these others as they are. Even though I am still cross with them, I can work on loving them just as they are. As I've pointed out here before, love is the guide. In order to love others as they are, you have to first accept and love yourself. Once I begin to accept my feelings (uncharitable as they sometimes are) I can begin to accept the actions of others (regardless of how lame I think they might be). I can be angry and still be compassionate; an improvement for everyone involved.

Acceptance is the atomic bomb of compassion. Hostile feelings are melted by it, apathy is eradicated by it, and love cannot help but be the fallout.

Go in Peace.

Sasquatch Found

Apparently, he speaks Russian...

Let's all get to know ourselves, shall we?

If you're a psych major, you've probably played with Johari before. You pick about 5 or 6 words that you think describe you, from a matrix of 55 adjectives. This automated version records them, and then your friends can go to the same list and pick words that they feel describe you. What emerges is a chart that shows the places where your self-perception and that of your friends differs.

The link above will take you to my Johari window - once you have chosen words about me, you can set up a window of your own. It's like group cyber therapy. Wait, that sounded bad. It's not therapy for people who cyber too much. Just do it, even if you don't need therapy (right, like any of my regular readers can claim they don't need therapy...).


Since iGod is all the rage, I thought I'd have a chat with it...

Me: Good Morning.
God: Hello and how are you this morning?
Me: I'm good.
God: Good in what sense?
Me: I have no personal complaints.
God: Would you like to have complaints?
Me: No.
God: Why not?
Me: Because I'm happy.
God: Good reason. What are you on?
Me: Nothing.
God: Not a thing?
Me: Not even caffeine.
God: You must be a man.
Me: Yes.
God: So?
Me: So what?
God: Maybe it doesn't make any difference.
Me: I don't think it should.
God: And why not?
Me: Because gender is spiritually irrelevant.
God: Interesting explanation. Are they exactly the same?
Me: I hope so.

And then it fell silent; I'm not impressed. I think I could write more convincing responses for god. If I were creating this kind of program, I would ask the user first what kind of god they wanted. A Calvinist god? A Catholic god? Maybe a Hindu god or a Jewish god... If you could get the theological constructs worked into the program correctly, people could actually "try out" different belief structures by posing the same questions to several different gods. It could be an excellent tool for finding the faith that speaks to you. If only I could write code...

Sunday Sermon

This is the reality check for all of my petty bitching about February.

I am not hungry - I have too much to eat.
I am not homeless - I sleep in a warm, dry place every night.
I am not impoverished - I have enough to live.
I am not blind, deaf, dumb, or crippled - I am physically whole.
I am not burdened with a fatal disease - I am relatively healthy.
I am not persecuted for my beliefs - I can think as I wish.
I am not trapped here - I have the right and means to travel.
I am not living in the third world - I have all the modern conveniences.
I am not alone - I have friends and family.
And yet, I am not happy - I must be quite the whiner.

Yes, February sucks, but so does my attitude. I (and everyone of like mind about the cruelest month) need to be reminded that we are the spoiled children on this rock. The vast majority of people would love to be where we are, to have the opportunities we have, to even have the luxury to bitch like we do. Just being able to view these words on a computer screen and having the ability to read them puts you ahead of something like 80% of the Earth's population.

The griping was fun. Entertaining, even. But let's keep things in perspective.

Go in Peace.

"...a big manky pile..."

February has come, in all of its grey tyranny. February has a way of beating me down, and it happens every year. I am cold, tired, depressed, and dissatisfied with my life - just like last year at this time.

A Zen teacher once said, "The mind is the terrain, while the mood is just clouds passing overhead." Ok - then it's the fucking monsoon season over my mind. There are dams breaking, houses floating downstream, looters, and FEMA isn't doing a goddamn thing.

February would borrow a thousand dollars from you and then fuck your partner behind your back.

I bought a full-spectrum lamp for Ajax and myself - it's supposed to brighten his tail feathers as well as my outlook. Of course, I sleep in the daytime, and if I leave it on I have these fucked up "sun" dreams. I'm dying in a white sand desert, or I'm blinded by reflections off the ocean. It's hard to wake up feeling rested when you've been unconciously squinting for five or six hours.

February was the gunman on the grassy knoll.

I had a full-scale mope yesterday. I put on my special moping boots and stomped in a big manky pile of my own stinky pitifulness for most of the afternoon and evening. It was a full-court press of self-pity. Seriously repellant. I stayed in bed for hours, hording the warmth under the covers like a python digesting a gazelle. Loathesome.

February eats a veal and whale blubber sandwhich at a joint meeting of PETA and GreenPeace.

I wrenched a muscle in my back this morning pulling my boots on, so I can't really stand up straight. Actually, that's ok though... it gives me an excuse to stumble about campus hunched over and talking to myself like Woody Allen - a big, angry, kilt-wearing Woody Allen.

February refused to give a kidney to a dying blood relative.

This is the long, dark, teatime of my soul. February is serving Earl Grey, and there's no fucking sugar on the table. It's virtually impossible to avoid saying to myself, "Why are you here? You finished your degree last semester, you fucking dumbass!" And I don't even like tea.

I once saw February forcefeed a diabetic a Pixie Stick.

This time of year makes my lab patrons even dumber. Some actual quotes: "Can you help me? I can't cut and paste." (Naturally, it was a PDF...) "The slot thingy ate my stuff..." (The drive was empty. Eventually, we found the disk - in her fucking backpack.) "It won't recognize my USB drive." (That's because you stuck it into the tower for the station next to you, doughass.)

February broke up the Beatles, and then framed Yoko for it.

When I don't sleep in my own bed...

...I have odd dreams. While house sitting for Big Gay Jim this past weekend, I had this one:

I was sitting in class, but I didn't recognize the prof, or any of my classmates. The class was on sibling relations and we had a guest lecturer, an expert in the field. He was about six feet tall and thin, with a shaved head and a beard. He drew a circle on the whiteboard and then went and stood in the back of the room with a handful of markers. He took the caps off and threw the markers at the whiteboard, trying to make them hit so that they made a mark. They were bouncing off the board and flying back at the students in the front row, making a terrible racket.

After he'd thrown all of the markers, he explained in his clipped accent that this had been a favorite game for him and his brothers growing up in England and Australia. They had stayed very close as they got older, and they had been very successful in their professional endeavors, winning awards and making a ton of money together. Finally, it hit me - the guest speaker was Barry Gibb.

Yes, the guy from the Bee Gees.

As if that wasn't odd enough, after class he took me to his home to show me around his aviary. He had dozens of parrots and softbills, but I recognized none of the species. The house was like a maze, with areas dedicated to Amazons, Cockatoos, Toucans, etc. Most were breeding pairs, and he was happy to talk about each set; where he got them, how endangered they were, and the like. He really knew his stuff; we talked about DNA sexing, nest boxes, gestation times, egg candling, gavage feeding vs syringe feeding - all the nerdy topics that bird people blather on about.

When I mentioned Ajax, he asked what kind of bird he was. I said, "He's an African Grey - Cameroon."
"Hmm, African Grey," he said. "I've never heard of that species..."

We spent quite a while talking birds, then I had to leave. He told me to return anytime, and to bring Ajax so he could see him. We had a "right jolly visit" as he put it.

It didn't seem that odd to me at the time. He was a pleasant enough fellow, and we had birds in common... I have no idea why he was there, why he was bald, why he had never heard of the African Grey, or why he threw markers at the board.

I woke up filled with regret that I didn't tell him exactly how much the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band movie had scarred me.

While searching for a picture to go with this post, I found this:

I fully expect my dream tonight to be about a bizarre attempt to cross the genes of Barry Gibb with those of a wookie... Can't you just see Chewbaca/Barry putting his own special spin on "Too Much Heaven"?

I'm was so happy to note that the artist took the time to copyright - don't want someone else taking credit for this beauty...

Sunday Sermon

Superbowl Sunday!

The day on which our country celebrates teamwork, strength, agility, and athleticism by becoming completely inert in our recliners for about four hours. We also recognize the player's physical sacrifices - the years of chalky protein shakes and lumpy power bars - by enjoying chips, nachos, and beer. And those little barbeque sausages with the cheese inside them; I used to love those...

Setting aside the irony of the fattest nation on the planet coming together to watch the lean and healthy minority crush one another, it is interesting to think about the estimated one billion people worldwide who are simultaneously staring at the spectacle.

In the pre-game show Stevie Wonder appeared with several other MoTown performers. Toward the end of their last song he spoke about how we should all work toward peace. I wish I could quote him directly, but the line that stuck with me was "It's not about the religion, it's about the relationship... come together before we are annihilated."

It could be that he meant that your relationship with another person is more important than the religion of either one of you... or he could have meant that your relationship with the Divine is more important than the religion in which you experience it. Either way, he has a point.

The Superbowl seems miraculous because at this moment, a billion humans are sharing a moment. We have a tenuous relationship, a shared experience with all of those in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and anywhere else they can get a satellite signal, and this seems like a modern marvel to us. In a similar way, the relationship that some people appear to have with the Divine seems miraculous to us as well. To have a relationship with the root of all this seems too good to be true.

I'd like to suggest to you that neither is really remarkable. We have always had a connection with all other living beings, and it is not technology that allows us to experience it. So many spiritual teachers have said it over the centuries - we are all one, and we need only strenuously seek that union to see it clearly. From the Divine root of all existence down to the littlest protozoan, we are all of one essence.

In football, each player knows himself to be a part of a team. Some guys might even realize that they are connected to the other team as well, and together they are part of "the game." Most of us know that we are a part of something as well, but we don't see it all. What are you a part of? The population of your school, city, state? Maybe a part of the US? Possibly you are a pinko hippy like me and you try to see yourself as a citizen of the world, but even that is not enough. We must awake to ourselves as part of existence, as existence itself.

Seeing this makes all divisions fall away - the labels that cling to me like male, white, Saints fan (as sad as that is - we finished dead last in the NFC with a 3-13 record for the season. At least we get a good draft pick...), Liberal, Buddhist, Anti-war, American, and any other boxes you can stow me in become irrelevant. I am integral to everything, as are you and the chair you are sitting on as you read this. All of it is you, and you are all of it. Without you it isn't.

OK. That was very much like something I channelled from Seth, or maybe Yoda - perhaps the big game has gone to my head a bit too much. Enjoy it, and cheer for your team. Or try cheering for all of us...

Go in Peace.

Orthodoxy Gone Wrong

Oy vey...


We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

These are the first verses of the Dhammapada, The Sayings of the Buddha. In the foreword of this version, Baba Ram Dass advises us that the words come to us in purity and divine simplicity, and must be received with the same. He tells us "that which feeds only the intellect entraps, while that which feeds the soul liberates," and that the Buddha's words come from the soul, and must be heard by the soul.

That is simply not my way.

I am trained in close reading, as are most of us who pursue the liberal arts. Whenever I read an ancient text, I am constantly comparing the different translations, seeking the nuances of word choice, and investigating the translator's motives. I have been taught to believe that there is no such thing as a "direct" translation, and every scholar or translator has an agenda. The suggestion of Ram Dass seems quaint, naive even - how can I put aside discernment and just let the words enter as they will? I am lost without my intellectual tools.

This version of the Dhammapada came out in 1976, and I have been reading it off and on since about 1986. In those years I have occasionally had a flash of understanding in which a few verses suddenly come rushing to mind and make perfect sense for a few moments, or rarely, a few days. Regardless of my efforts to hang onto these snatches of clarity, with time they always fade, sinking again below the waves in my mind. I am compelled now to accept that I am a slow learner - not only because I still can only dimly grasp the meaning of the text, but also because it has taken me about twenty years to realize that I must be doing something wrong...

It is a choice to read a text in simplicity. By the same token, it is a choice to refuse to let go of your intellect. It's an anchor to some of us, especially we academic types. It is the hard point that secures us in this world and helps us stay upright. Of course, the Buddha never promised you that you'd stay upright - just that you'd see clearly.

So, heres to a simple reading of the Dhammapada, and may the English Major in me sit this one out...

... ?