Category Archives: random thoughts

At the show

I feel like I’m falling apart,
repercussions from life’s incidents
causing constant stress,

My mouth, neck and throat, speaking a language
I don’t understand.

When I’m smacked upside the head.

“Who do you think you are?
You, who can think, and talk, and operate independently.”

Startled I reply,

I am me. I’m supposed to be fully-functioning, in perfect physical health, not subjected to such discomfort.

Who are you?

I am slapped again.

“I am life and you are in the show.
When I let you in there were no guarantees.

Your small discomforts the price of admission.

So don’t fret, your performance will be over soon.
And the show will go on.

Best you enjoy your scenes,
contribute to making them better, if you can.

Focus on me, life as it is.
Sure, try and improve me,
but without but expectations.

And be glad you were given a part.”

Retirement part 2

April 13, 2019

It must have been sometime during the 3rd organic coffee colonic, on the paradise-like island of Koh Pha Gnan in southern Thailand, that the idea of retirement hit me.  Again.

It was my birthday, and I was three days into a nine-day detox retreat. My sister Susan reminded me, by text, of something our mother told us when we were kids: your birthday is not about celebrating your age, but rather your birth. 

Birth, I mused, and the cycle of life was indeed worth celebrating every step of the way.

So why  was the idea of retirement nagging me?  Did it mean to cease being productive?  True, it’s been about a year since I’ve done anything measurably productive. But then again, the last year hasn’t been without appreciable change.

Early this year, GV and I permanently moved out of NYC, our home for 17 years.  We had our household goods packed into a small, 16-foot container awaiting our next destination as we split to Asia for a few months.

We traded cold and noisy NYC for equally crowded and hot Bangkok (as a base) where we scheduled several back-to-back getaways in hopes of perspective widening.

Following a couple of weeks choking on Bangkok’s not-so-pristine air, and a week on a relatively secluded Indonesian beach, we kicked-off our quasi-metaphysical journey by scheduling a 12-day silent meditation retreat at a southern Thailand monastery.  We wanted to see if we could pinprick the murky world of enlightenment. One hundred and twenty-five other foreigners were doing the same thing at the same place and time. And it was damn hard. (The silence wasn’t hard, nor was it hard sleeping on a concrete slab with a wooden pillow. It wasn’t hard waking up daily at 4 am, and it wasn’t hard eating two vegetarian meals within five hours and fasting 19 hours per day.  It wasn’t hard sleeping with giant spiders or the occasional snake. The hard part was indeed trying to meditate 11 hours daily. But I guess that was the point. Time slowed to a standstill as I cheered forward each day.)

After a one-week interlude back in Bangkok, doing everything we dreamed of doing while on the silent retreat, we headed to China for a two-week moving meditation course, located outside Guilin. In a small, but popular local village, we dove into the principles of Tai Chi and Qigong at a traditional Tai Chi school. My head spun, realizing how much of a time investment it would be to (pretend to) master even the basics.

The third two-week stint took us to this resort called The Sanctuary, in southern Thailand, an island accessible only by boat, where we were participating in a nine-day detox fast.

As I lay on the enema table in a blissful, tropical environment with a tube in my ass, the reminder to celebrate birth, and the gift of life, poked me in the abdomen, while the notion of retirement kept pestering me.

If retirement meant being non-productive, i.e., not working, then I wanted no part of it. There was evidence of plenty (westerners) who had retired to this island and many like it. Indeed, we were thinking of making our new home in a retirement mecca known as Palm Springs, CA. On the outside, retired life seemed like a luxury.  But how could I do so little, for any longer than a blip of time?

Sure, retirement may be a relief if it means not having to slog eight hours a day to pay rent.  But there’s got to be more of a productive purpose to our entire arc of life.

I felt profoundly grateful for these rich and rewarding retreats. I was, after all, celebrating birth, wasn’t I?

So as the coffee-filled tube was finishing its job, I vowed that I’d find a new purpose. Retirement, while a worthy and even enviably phase of life, didn’t seem to be calling my name. With that thought, I abruptly yanked out the hose, vowing to soldier into a new realm of productivity — anything except retirement.

TBC

Las semillas

Hay unas semillas creciendo
     Y hay otras muriendo
Hay unas que durarán largo tiempo
     Y otras que vivirán solo para el momento.
Hay unas semillas que serán unas flores
     Y otras que no tendrán colores
Hay unas con buena alimentación
     Y otras clamando atención
Hay unas que saben la dirección hacia arriba
     Y otras completamente perdidas.
Así estamos, en el mismo jardín
     Luchando para existir
Sin saber, cuando vamos a partir.
Freddie Spaghetti, March 11, 2007

A painting party

It was GV’s idea.  Suddenly on our list of things to do one sweltering day last month in Bangkok was finding a paint store.  “Let’s keep it simple,” she said.

I had six rectangular pieces of cardboard I was saving for a practical application.  So we picked up one tube each of three colors and a painting knife.  At the mall where we bought the paint, we sampled a Nespresso and they let us keep the plastic cup.  We were set with all the paraphernalia necessary.

We each had three pieces of blank cardboard. GV’s are on the top.

Continue reading

Embracing Life Maintenance

You know,…those occupations we perform that keep life flowing.  Those (mostly) self-imposed duties that keep us from real living.  The perpetual actions that don’t contribute to noticeable forward progress.  The errands we execute that may even be termed drudgery.

When I lived in San Francisco some time ago, a good friend of mine commented upon retiring at 40, that he noticed personal maintenance constituted about 20% of his non-sleep time.  He had a small home and lived alone so he was talking about routine chores like laundry, cleaning, personal care, preparing meals, washing up the kitchen, etc., — all the small jobs that come with independently keeping a healthy home and body.

Thankfully, not many of my clothes need handwashing.

Housewives and homemakers with kids peg the maintenance percent much higher, closer to the inverse of my friend, 80% or above.  We all conduct maintenance, whether brushing teeth, going to the gym, or filling the car’s gas tank. Continue reading

The right amount of speak

Kind of like the right amount to eat — the ideal portion size and the mix of nutrients may or may not be regularly appraised.  We tend to speak on autopilot, whether to ourselves, our significant other, strangers, family members, work colleagues, yadda yadda.

It takes the right amount of verbalizing for the listener to digest well.

I’m not referring to our new form of exchange — texting made easy, otherwise known as genetically modified speak, although the right amount certainly applies to all types of talk.  I’m thinking of the sincere dialogues we have when sound is made from our vocal cords. Continue reading

A new pesky pet

It greeted me New Year’s day, 2018, by nagging me non-stop.

At the garment factory I frequent, a couple of Indian boys visit periodically at the request of their employer (our customer) to perform random quality inspections.  With them, they bring their own eating utensils, including plates.  They are strict vegetarians and won’t eat off of dishes that have ever served dead animal, even if the remnants have been thoroughly washed off.  They also lightly sweep in front of them as they walk so as not to kill any insects.  It’s part of their religious culture and belief. Continue reading

Selflessly Selfie

Rare is the request these days from the errant traveling couple “can you please take our photo?”  We’ve become a world of accomplished selfie takers.  Taylor Swift reportedly commented recently that no one asks for her autograph anymore.  A selfie request is the new signature.

To say that snapping selfies is a new phenomenon is like saying handheld devices are popular.  Yes sure, we’ve taken photographs of ourselves since cameras were invented and self-portraits painted for thousands of years.  But in just the last few, we are witnessing a self-image revolution. Continue reading

Why Buddhism is True — a review

Disclaimer:  I am not a Buddhist.  And by admission, neither is the author.

The main title, Why Buddhism is True, is a bit misleading.  Throughout most of the book, the author threads interesting, up-to-date, and digestible logic as to the (potentially huge) benefits of practicing mindful meditation.  As a beginning meditator, Wright’s reasoning was compelling enough to have me hooked from the start.

If only we could all start young with this practice.

But you don’t need to be attracted to meditation to be captivated by the book.  In fairness, Wright does provide an abundance of thought-provoking (no pun) data not only from science, but also from modern psychology which seems to coincide with basic Buddhists concepts of not-self/emptiness, liberation from delusion (how we see ourselves is largely an illusion), and our thinking mind’s “default mode network.”

If anyone is, (shouldn’t we all be), interested in understanding the mechanics behind how feelings shape thoughts, behaviors, and perceptions, and how, through practice, we can become aware of “things in our environment that affect those feelings,” than the book is well worth the investment.  Some feelings, he says “are good guiding lights,” while others can “push us around.”  He provides first-hand examples of how we might successfully manipulate the feelings that may not be benefiting us.

Even Newark’s airport has a meditation room.

Wright speckles the book with his own experiences, mainly with dry, relatable, yet subtlely perky humor.  I found myself laughing out loud several times throughout the book.

The value of meditation, he says, is its use as a fundamental tool, one that enables us to see the stories we build and how we can more clearly separate illusion from truth.  In other words, he says, mindfulness meditation helps us change our perception of the world, even with potentially simple annoyances like crabgrass, the buzzsaw of construction noise, or the impulse to respond to a pricky email.  He also describes the benefit of continued meditation as an evolving capacity of “seeing things with higher resolution.”

The key, he says, through daily practices of mindful meditation, is becoming more aware of “what causes what,” (causality).  But, he explains, the fruits of meditation is more than just awareness.  It’s active learning how to change negative into positive.

The crux of the book and Wright’s principal argument for our feelings, he outlines, is the  “conditioning” of natural selection, which is built into our core from millions of years of evolution.  But many “natural tendencies” which served our species well over time may also be working against us (in our relatively recent, densely populated global community).  He describes, through meditation, how we can “subvert the programming of (the undesirable aspects of) natural selection,” to achieve a measurable, positive impact in our lives and of those around us.  In effect, he is saying that Darwin confirmed the truth behind Buddhism.

After listening to his book (twice) it’s hard not to believe him.