Weekend and first bit of Zen.

That was a good weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday were mini patio reunions courtesy of two birthdays. I got to see people I never see and even on the sacred patio itself, which I never touch now. Plus, Zen.

On Sunday I went to an introductory Zen workshop at the Zen Center of Orange County. I recommend it for anyone local who’s interested. It was a four hour event with a break, and included an introductory lecture and discussion, some guided and unguided meditation, a mindfulness exercise of sorts, and a lot of information about possible next steps.

I found the meditation much easier than I had expected. Part of the reason I went at all was that after a year of neurofeedback, EMDR, and some other somatic therapies my brain is a lot calmer. I’d always been the guy with the constantly ringing phone in his head. A few times in my life I had tried meditation with varying amounts of dedication and knowledge, and always failed or at least felt like a failure. I could do the “Relaxation Response” in which you just relax every part of your body starting with the toes and then do it again, etc., and get some kind of detached or floaty state, but that was clearly not what any of the meditative traditions were doing. It was either a way to get to sleep or a way to relax when I couldn’t.

Most of the reason I went to this workshop was to get direction and instruction on zazen (sitting meditation) and they were very helpful. Posture is very important and it’s great to have someone looking at you and helping you with what you can’t see about the way you’re holding yourself. When I got the posture close to “right” it was much more comfortable than I thought. Some of the muscles complained about their new roles but I could do the short 15 minute sessions we had yesterday. The most difficult part was the eyes, which in this particular tradition are half-closed and unfocused, looking down at a 45 degree angle. My eyes wanted to be open or closed, not anything in between.

Part of the deal when you do the workshop, which is $60, is that you get a free month of sessions at the Center. I’m going to follow their suggested schedule of home meditation and visiting the Center this month to keep this fresh and see how it goes. I will probably continue to visit there if things work out well.

Maybe the best benefit of the year of Hell doing neurofeedback will be a brain that can handle zazen.

Chop wood, carry water, stem chipotles, seed anchos

If you’re looking for a mindfulness exercise, I recommend working with dried chili peppers.

Food preparation is the closest I come to meditative exercise anyway. Preparing the chiles means removing the stems and seeds manually, which requires attention to detail. It’s absorbing and keeps me in the moment. And if I lose my mindful presence with the task, I’ll inevitably touch my eye or nose or some tender spot with a hand covered in dust and seeds from very hot peppers. This is as good as a Zen monk hitting me in the face with a stick. Instantly, I am back in the moment.

Mindfulness, focus, attention, process, an absence of distraction, and finally: chili paste. So even if I am not a step closer to enlightenment, the next few dinners are greatly improved.

Wild and Wooly Semiautomatic Truck Bomb

I went to Kéan today to get more coffee beans. They have the La Lucie, meaning the real La Lucie the way it used to be. Recommend you pick some up if you’re local and like that dark roast Zimbabwean thing.

Neurofeedback today. Brainwaves are getting better (higher beta, lower theta, less gap between).

I thought for two hours that I had lost my “check card” VISA. I hadn’t. It was caught in a snag in a jacket pocket, having fallen out of my wallet.

I read most of the rest of Hardcore Zen today. It’s a damned good book. Thanks, hweimei for the recommendation!

At the angle I can see her, my sleeping cat currently looks like a fuzzy spheroid without features.

I repost this a couple of times a year.

Partly because it’s amusing, and partly because it sums up my feelings about impending doom of all kinds, from personal death to universal apocalypse. The topic of “we’re all screwed, and what’s to do?” has come up a lot lately. So here’s R.L. Stevenson, as quoted in Blyth’s Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, once again.

THE SINKING SHIP

By Robert Louis Stevenson, from Fables II

“SIR,” said the first lieutenant, bursting into the Captain’s cabin, “the ship is going down.”

“Very well, Mr. Spoker,” said the Captain; “but that is no reason for going about half-shaved. Exercise your mind a moment, Mr. Spoker, and you will see that to the philosophic eye there is nothing new in our position: the ship (if she is to go down at all) may be said to have been going down since she was launched.”

“She is settling fast,” said the first lieutenant, as he returned from shaving.

“Fast, Mr. Spoker?” asked the Captain. “The expression is a strange one, for time (if you will think of it) is only relative.”

“Sir,” said the lieutenant, “I think it is scarcely worth while to embark in such a discussion when we shall all be in Davy Jones’s Locker in ten minutes.”

“By parity of reasoning,” returned the Captain gently, “it would never be worth while to begin any inquiry of importance; the odds are always overwhelming that we must die before we shall have brought it to an end. You have not considered, Mr. Spoker, the situation of man,” said the Captain, smiling, and shaking his head.

“I am much more engaged in considering the position of the ship,” said Mr. Spoker.

“Spoken like a good officer,” replied the Captain, laying his hand on the lieutenant’s shoulder.

On deck they found the men had broken into the spirit-room, and were fast getting drunk.

“My men,” said the Captain, “there is no sense in this. The ship is going down, you will tell me, in ten minutes: well, and what then? To the philosophic eye, there is nothing new in our position. All our lives long, we may have been about to break a blood-vessel or to be struck by lightning, not merely in ten minutes, but in ten seconds; and that has not prevented us from eating dinner, no, nor from putting money in the Savings Bank. I assure you, with my hand on my heart, I fail to comprehend your attitude.”

The men were already too far gone to pay much heed.

“This is a very painful sight, Mr. Spoker,” said the Captain.

“And yet to the philosophic eye, or whatever it is,” replied the first lieutenant, “they may be said to have been getting drunk since they came aboard.”

“I do not know if you always follow my thought, Mr. Spoker,” returned the Captain gently. “But let us proceed.”

In the powder magazine they found an old salt smoking his pipe.

“Good God,” cried the Captain, “what are you about?”

“Well, sir,” said the old salt, apologetically, “they told me as she were going down.”

“And suppose she were?” said the Captain. “To the philosophic eye, there would be nothing new in our position. Life, my old shipmate, life, at any moment and in any view, is as dangerous as a sinking ship; and yet it is man’s handsome fashion to carry umbrellas, to wear indiarubber over-shoes, to begin vast works, and to conduct himself in every way as if he might hope to be eternal. And for my own poor part I should despise the man who, even on board a sinking ship, should omit to take a pill or to wind up his watch. That, my friend, would not be the human attitude.”

“I beg pardon, sir,” said Mr. Spoker. “But what is precisely the difference between shaving in a sinking ship and smoking in a powder magazine?”

“Or doing anything at all in any conceivable circumstances?” cried the Captain. “Perfectly conclusive; give me a cigar!”

Two minutes afterwards the ship blew up with a glorious detonation.