The Middle Way

Zen Spot #217 - Mindfulness, meditation and my daily path of recovery January 01, 2019 00:02

Sixteen years

As of this morning, it has been 5,968 days since my last drink. During that time, there have been from significant ups and downs. And, while this essay is designed to elicit hope from those starting the road to recovery — and their family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances — it will not offer details from before making the choice to stop drinking. Instead, in addition to a few observations, I will offer a short list of the actions I take every day to live a stable life will be provided.

I wonder what I don’t know — one year and five years

I recently witnessed two people in recovery, with one and five years respectively, offer strong direction to a group of people new to the path. In both instances, I was startled by how little they had grown and how little they knew. To be sure, growth has limits of several dimensions, but it was clear that those offering the guidance had not taken responsibility for their choices.

My single take-away from each experience was my need to question how little I know right now. It’s not my job to judge other people, except to learn from their behavior. How little do I know?

Don’t look back except to decide to do the next right thing

The past is the past. People will either forgive you or they won’t. Those that haven’t may do so in the future. If you harbor guilt and shame, let it go as soon as possible. Holding on to either can eventually become compulsive. Erosion of the soul can follow. If you can’t let go, work with a therapist. 

If, in the present, you are faced with a hard decision — perhaps a decision that was solved by a substance in the past — look back for context and learning.

Discomfort recedes

As time passes, the compulsion to act in an unhealthy manner grows smaller until it is almost gone. For me, it has never gone away completely, and presents itself more strongly in times of stress. The regimen below minimizes stress.

 

The regimen

_____________________________

Step and repeat

My daily regimen is tight. Repetition is the key. Sometimes it gets boring, but it keeps me as healthy and focused as possible and, in the context of Einstein’s choice to wear the same outfit every day, frees my mind to be creative in areas outside my regimen.

1. Sleep

I listen to my body. Some people require six hours sleep. Others require ten hours. I do whatever is necessary to get the amount of sleep required to keep myself healthy, alert and able to make good decisions. If you can’t sleep, see a doctor.

2. Protein

I make myself eat a hard-boiled egg for every sweet I eat. Protein builds muscle. Study the role of protein in living a healthy life and having a healthy body. Many of those in recovery rely on carbohydrates to fill the void left behind by a substance or behavior (I count myself among this group). Carbs turn into sugar and sugar, ultimately, is a bad thing. 

3. Exercise

I exercise at least four times each week for one hour each time. If your physician allows, exercise to the limits permitted. In particular, extended periods of aerobic exercise — walking, running, biking, stair-climbing, cross-country skiing — can result in the body releasing endorphins into the brain, resulting in an amazing sense of well being.

4. Limit the sugar, if you can

I love cookies. Like many people in recovery, my early reliance on sugary treats to replace the sugar in alcohol has not fully receded — and I have chosen not to eliminate its presence in my diet. Instead, I limit when I can eat sugar. Specifically, I do not allow treats inside my home. During my daily activities, I allow myself to eat what I want but my home is bereft of cookies, cake, pies and candy.

5. Water

Hydration is important. Drink plenty of water. Nuf said.

6. Media

This part of my daily regimen is new and has been driven by the amount of wasted emotion I’ve devoted to the polarizing aspects of the 24 hour news cycle. In response to the increasing anxiety and confusion I experience from the current state of reporting, I limit my exposure to television and the more divisive social media interactions. To be sure, it’s important to stay informed about the surrounding world but, instead of watching a video report, I read good current events reporting. Also, I read books.

7. Family / community

Get involved. Isolation is a notable contributing factor to relapse--and I am an animal prone to solitude.

If you have a family, make art, play games, be silly, learn, teach and be together. In the event that your children are older, stay in touch and, as appropriate, help them raise their children. I am going to be an incredible grandfather.

Make some of your private time public time — volunteer, attend the service of your chosen spiritual path, join an interest group, take a class — build strong healthy relationships with diverse people. I try do all of the above.

8. Avoid excess

The Middle Way is a Buddhist philosophy that suggests that too much of anything is unhealthy — including activities that appear to be healthy, inclusive of each of the items on this list. Everything in moderation and, where necessary, according to a doctor’s recommendation.

9. Meditation

I take fifteen minutes every day to clear my mind and try to become nothing.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #293 - Mindfulness, meditation and the abandoned harmonica December 24, 2018 12:44

Harmonica

I sat on this barn’s thick wood floor one time, during the first week of winter in 1976. Almost lost, I had been unable to keep up with my teammates on an eight mile run. Brisk solitude accompanied me. With no window panes or cows or chickens, a stiff wind harmonicas through the rectangles that perhaps never held glass. The sun, hanging both south and west, near the rainbow horizon, blasted through the structure’s west facing slats and portals. Not abandoned, the building seemed unattended on a rich man’s fifty acre property — and able to withstand the elements resolutely.

It held a soul.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #228 - Mindfulness, meditation and the sugary fire December 17, 2018 00:00

Fashion plate

Between the ages of 4 and 8, my daughter owned a truly funky fashion sense. Wearing a dress and pants together, with mismatched socks, a bandana and miles of plastic jewelry, her internal joy was worn on her sleeves. When an outfit was finished, she had this habit of jumping one inch off the floor, keeping her legs straight when she landed, sending a mini jolt through her little body that indicated she’d completed her sculpture.

Grounded in truth, the jump was. 

Carrying prayers

Having been raised in the Roman Catholic church, I was fascinated by the lighting of incense during special services. I called it the sugary fire. Never able to get close enough to the altar to see what was actually happening, except to see the thurible being filled with a spoonful of incense, I thought the practice was similar to sugar being added to tea. To this day, I’ve never been closer than 100 feet to the process, so my imagination plays a greater role than knowledge. The acrid aroma is unmistakable, though. It haunts and spirals and swirls.

When I, as an eight year-old, asked my father about the smell, he told me that the smoke helped carry our prayers toward heaven.

Sugary fire

During the same time frame described above, I was with my daughter when she smelled incense for the first time. Her nose wrinkle furiously, followed by the same instinctive and instructive hop.

Every time I smell incense, a little jolt goes through my body — taught by the sweetest little mentor I’ve ever met.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #223 - Mindfulness, meditation and walking by the voodoo you do December 10, 2018 00:00

Chicken bones

I don’t believe in Voodoo, but I’m always careful around its practitioners and their property — which means I probably do believe in Voodoo. Too, I have felt bad Juju during odd experiences with people, believing that every human being has also felt bad Juju. Perhaps the feeling is the palpable reaction to an unambiguous karmic infraction in one’s presence. Or, the breaking of a Commandment.

I do believe in art, especially art created with common objects — hubcaps, staplers, wine bottles, bicycle wheels, beach balls, taxidermy, pearls and a thousand other things. That said, having seen chicken bones wrapped in plastic pearls, or something to that effect, hanging off the front door of a house, in a neighborhood off the beaten path in New Orleans, made me careful.

Voodoo and Juju

Both belief systems are different, but each has roots in Africa. Buddhism is eastern. Christianity is primarily western. The remainder of most religious traditions fall into one of these categories, and each has a designated set of transgressions that can be felt in the twisted air surrounding the transgressor’s choice to act.

I am an expert in nothing, with an emphasis on the entirety of all religious traditions. Often walking by the home where the mask above hangs, a sublime, slightly dark feeling is palpable. Requiring no expertise, though, the eyes of the mask appear to follow passersby along the entire length of street in front of its building — despite their beliefs. Ironically, it reminds me to practice the Noble Eightfold Path while holding the followers of all traditions in high regard.

The need for compassion can be found at the core of each.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #219 - Mindfulness, meditation and the coolest suit in history December 03, 2018 00:00

Hand grenades

My maternal grandfather was a great guy. In contrast to his paternal counterpart, who had twenty-five grandchildren, my brother and I were his alone. He treated us like princes, leaving behind two-dozen stories of his simple and creative indulgences bestowed on the duo he loved profoundly. Said tales will never be told — except to say that fire, ice, giant fish, bikes, baseballs, fan belts, lead pipes and pilfered stickers made the twisted list of tools used to create shared experiences that would otherwise require hand grenades.

Decades

For seventy years, he slept with a cedar chest at the foot of his bed. Holding and protecting his finest clothes, of which he had few due to the limited earning potential of a man with an eighth-grade education, the aroma of cedar was a contrast to the memorable dent made by his Viceroy cigarettes. The opportunity to open the chest following his death was both welcomed and feared. The story told by a man’s few possessions, the most valuable of which were collected and protected inside the cedar, could go in any direction.

He was buried in charcoal threads with a red tie. His remaining suit, when unfolded and held up by the shoulders, brought a smile.

Eulogy

He was five foot seven. I am six foot four. Perhaps I could have worn his suit when I was in seventh grade. Perhaps not. Not having the option allowed my imagination to run wild. I knew intuitively, however, that he would want he to make a hand grenade. 

Metaphorically. Happily. Creatively.

Blueprints for a hand grenade

It’s been thirty-one years since his death and I haven’t built the device. I’m not ready to part with the garment, but I will. Eventually. Along the way, during construction, I will take pictures and notes.

Step 1: Find a tailor’s mannequin worthy of the project
Step 2: Hang the suit on the mannequin and paint it with brilliant, thick, red acrylic pain that hardens into a stiff facade
Step 3: Glue five giant boxes of crayons all over the suit
Step 4: Nail-punch dozens of spoons into the mannequin
Step 5: Wrap the entire suite with hundreds of Christmas lights
Step 6: Build a 10” x 10" x 3" cedar box, with a hinged top, and cut an inset for the box to sit in inside the suit and tailor’s mannequin
Step 7: Paint a fluorescent yellow moon on the front of the box
Step 8: Gently place the box into the inset 
Step 9: Place a handwritten note, from me to my grandfather, inside the box
Step 10: Lock the box forever
Step 11: Build a massive pair of wooden wings, paint them white and affix them to the back of the sculpture
Step 12: Forget about gravity and set the entire contraption on top of the single fork of a single bicycle tire
Step 13: Write a children’s book about how the sculpture was made, dedicated to a very cool guy named William Alfred Kay — the man who made two little dents in the universe
Step 14: Throw away the key

Some place on the planet is waiting for the suit to arrive — clearly a Zen Spot on stand by. 

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #213 - Mindfulness, meditation and watching the sky dance November 26, 2018 00:00

Drive north

I’ve never seen the Aurora Borealis. Most assuredly, however, the experience of laying on the ground, looking up at the sky, while the interference of electric urban light is nowhere to be found, while the sky dances, is on the bucket list. Despite cold air or hardened ground, my eyes will be affixed upward.

Research revealed that, in the most northern part of Scotland, the Northern Lights can be seen at the right time of year. Expecting to kiss the ground of my ancestors shortly following disembarking the airliner that ferried me across the Atlantic, I hope I can experience the dancing sky during my visit. It surprised me to find out that Scotland’s geography crossed a parallel high enough to offer the possibility. Further research revealed the respective parallel is shared with the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador — at a point so far north that Google maps does not have the ability to provide driving directions from Philadelphia.

Apparently, I can’t get driving directions to the Aurora Borealis in North America. Silly. Funny. Silly.

Listening

Perhaps I’ll need a sub-zero sleeping bag to have the experience described above. Perhaps the experience is impossible due to cold, wind or grizzly bears —  with the more informed readers familiar to the the outdoor life above the parallels laughing uncontrollably at my ignorance. Be assured, I am laughing with you, not knowing if you have found humor.

Too, I wonder if the Lights are silent. I wonder how quickly they move. Do they speak? Are they as common and unremarkable to those people who live with the Lights outside their front door as The U.S. Constitution has become to me — the awesome power of each reaching unspeakable heights.

I suspect mindfulness is possible. Meditation, not so much.

We’ll see, someday.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 Michael has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

 What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 

 


Zen Spot #266 - Mindfulness, meditation and the back of a stop sign November 20, 2018 00:00

Live from New York

Stuart Smalley, the benign, lovable, tied-sweater chum played by Al Franken during his stint on Saturday Night Live, more than thirty years ago, introduced me to the world of affirmations — the habit of self encouragement and visualization. Smalley, during his skits, became famous for looking into the mirror every morning and saying: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and gosh darnit, people like me.” Franken’s particular comedic timing made for two minutes of uncomfortable laughter for those in the audience who experience a chronic crisis of confidence.

I am one of them. 

Jack

The phenomenon of distress and sadness felt by social media users who compare their personal status to the over-the-top joy and success enjoyed by online friends can be profound. The misery or mediocrity spun into gold by those friends is nothing short of magical. On the other side of the see-saw, my own children have cultivated a perception of bliss that borders on pathological lying. Born of comparison, the slightest twinge of inferiority in one’s psyche can become a beanstalk launched from a handful of parabolic seeds traded for a cow. Too, a perception of a permanent state of joy can be born of the intense engagement, speedy thumbs and beaten mice most closely associated with social media use.

I am one of them.

It ain’t over 

Among a list of affirmations with which I’ve become familiar is the following: “In the end, everything is going to be alright. If it ain’t alright, it’ ain’t the end.” Corny, but helpful, it brings comfort to people in times of struggle.

I am one of them.

Practice

When I leave my home, I always bring one handwritten love note to a human being. Any human being. Genderless. Genuine. Unknown. Thoughtful. Empathetic. Compassionate. Real. I usually leave it in a book at the library or tape it to the back of a stop sign. Perhaps people read them.

I am one of them.

Stop sign

In August, I began to parallel park, on a small street down which I’d never driven, near 10th and Spring Garden in Philadelphia. Unusual, because there are few streets with which I am not familiar in Center City, I twisted the steering wheel and fit my car perfectly between two junks, underneath an abandoned train bridge. Getting out, looking over at the two-story concrete foundation of the bridge, I was confronted. The poster shown above was paper-plastered.

An affirmation. A love note. A library book. The back of a stop sign. A wonderful place to sit, breath and let go.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #218- Mindfulness, meditation and life slowing down to let you take a look November 12, 2018 00:00

Recycled percussion

Hobbling away from a street fair in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, I was immersed in the personal culture’s of many individual neighbors. Spontaneous garage sales sprung up in postage stamp front yards. Kielbasa was grilled within inches of several homes’ brink facades. Friends of all ages gave each other sidewalk dance lessons — with rhythm and without. Tattooed hipsters strolled with lawful plastic cups half-filled with Headless Flying-Angel Renegade IPA. A carnival was in full rage.

In particular, a young adult taught a five year-old how to drum on multiple upturned plastic five gallon buckets. Lacking rhythm, like some of the neighbors described above, the child was mesmerized when seated in front the plastic heads. Too, the teacher was gleeful. Taking place in a small tree-covered neighborhood park the size of a single rowhouse, the power of community was distilled into a single relationship.

Transport

A stop-sign brought most traffic to a complete standstill at the southwest corner of the park, at the end of a one-lane street. With the drum lesson taking place within fifty feet, looking down the street, I saw and heard an unusual vehicle at the other end. A whining red frog from a distance, I’d never seen anything like it and was stopped dead in my tracks, knowing I had no choice but to wait for it to ride by.

The closer it got, the weirder the experience felt. Time changed by slowing down noticeably, at the same rate the car sped up, until the driver saw the fascination in my face. Between the drumming, the engine stipple-staccato, the driver’s attention to my curiosity and the humidity, his allowing the vehicle to slow down slowed down everything around me.

Standing still, watching, listening, waiting, I was reminded to stop and look around without trying to stop time completely with meditation.

Fun. Cool.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 Michael has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

 What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #216 - Mindfulness, meditation and the transcendental joy of hugging a teddy bear November 06, 2018 00:00

Reflection

A long time ago, upon the news that my wife was pregnant, I went out to buy a teddy bear for my unborn child. A cliche perhaps, but it made me feel good that, when my child was born, and I couldn’t be with them, they’d always have a friend right by their side. 

The choice of a bear is complex and sublime. It must smell nice, and feel good, and have a wonderful face. Impossible to pick a bear out on Amazon, considering the company hadn’t been founded until my son was eight years-old, the purchase required a trip to a toy store — an experience, perhaps, that millions of Millennials may never experience.

Comfort

Following the purchase, I occasionally slept with the bear until my son was born. In addition to wanting my scent to rub off on his companion, that he might be warmed by a safe, familiar scent, I found the comfort of the bear to be profoundly safe.

Caring for someone besides oneself

In addition to the additional comfort provided to my son by the bear, I hoped that it would remain in his life long enough that he learn to care for a companion, and find the ability to feel compassion through imagination.

He did, and he has carried the ability through his life. Given the fact that a toddler mashing his fingers into a birthday cake only to mash the cake into their face is perhaps the greatest example of everyday Zen, it’s not a stretch that carrying a teddy bear offers the same experience.

I have one .

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #212 - Mindfulness, meditation and struggling with compassion October 30, 2018 00:00

People and animals

I struggle with compassion. Where some people naturally feel concern for the misfortunes of other sentient beings, I sometimes cannot. 

Check that. I have tremendous empathy for children and animals. My witnessing suffering inflicted on either, by anybody, is unbearable. Where intervention is possible, I intervene.

Choice

Now, when confronted with situations where empathy is a natural, kind and appropriate response to the suffering of others, I’ve learned to choose to act with compassion. It took decades for me to realize that compassion was not my natural reaction in a situations where it is appropriate. A visceral difference was always obvious, I just didn’t know what was happening — or should have been happening. 

How does one look for that which one does not know exists?

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #211 — Mindfulness, meditation and being tangled up in blue October 24, 2018 00:00

Blood On The Tracks

Perhaps more than any other song, the lyrics to Tangled Up In Blue, speak to my soul. Specifically, a good portion of the stories told by the song dovetail nicely with chapters from my life story. I emphasize the word “stories” because I hear more than one told. I have no idea if Dylan intended the story of a single life, in multiple chapters, or multiple stories about many lives — and I don’t care, in part, because both ideas work.

While none of the stories are exactly mine, their fiction intertwines like fingers intertwined in two hands praying--regardless of spiritual tradition. I am sure I'm not alone.

Lyrics

Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wondrin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like 
Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bank book wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes 
Heading out for the east coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues
Gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue

She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out west
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
We’ll meet again some day
On the avenue
Tangled up in blue

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the axe just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind
And I just grew
Tangled up in blue

She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ under my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces
Of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
I thought you’d never say hello, she said
You look like the silent type
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And everyone of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul
From me to you
Tangled up in blue

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafes at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on
Like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point
Of view
Tangled up in blue

>

About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #38 — Mindfulness, meditation and 4 a.m. on Via Fondazza October 17, 2018 00:00

When today is still yesterday

A new day doesn’t begin at 12 a.m. While natural, and accepted, as that time when a page in the calendar is turned, for those of us who are alive and well beyond midnight, the new morning doesn’t begin until 4 a.m. Until such time, despite the world believing it is today, I believe it is still yesterday.

I’ve written often, over the last year, about a life changing trip to Europe in April of 2016. Over the course of eleven days, I was immersed in several cultures by setting foot in many new homes and apartments — cooking meals, washing dirty clothes, drawing and learning.

Being driven through the Italian Alps changed me. Hobbling through the streets of a German village taught me, and frightened me. Having the wake spray in my face, while loving my wooden bench at the back of a water taxi on the Grand Canal, on my way to a barrier island near Venice, was sublime.

Twice during the trip, time stopped and the universe spoke in a way that I know will cross my mind in the final moments while I lay dying. The first happened while I was pumping gas at an Alpine service station. Yes, pumping gas. 

Despite its location at six thousand feet elevation, the service station sat between two pastured rocky giants that rose another six thousand feet on either side. I was small — but that point was almost irrelevant. Too, the landscape was a combination of Hollywood epic and a turbo-charged memory of the Pennsylvania coal country. Perhaps it was my ignorance, but the visceral ignorance of coal country was absent. Instead, there was a palpable observation of their hometown by its citizens.

As I clicked the handle to pump the gas, time froze wonderfully. My mind stopped thinking. The sun shone warmly and commonly on my face. I have no words for the sky. Life and time stopped to wait for me — and I knew it.

In the moment, I knew it.

Ten days later

Bologna Italy is a powerful and private city. Walls and porticos obstruct one's vision everywhere except on the major arteries. One’s choice to look up at the sky and the buildings while navigating a smaller street is almost the only choice, other than to look straight ahead. Courtyards, gardens and properties are often protected by porticos. In addition to providing cover from the weather as citizens walk through the city, the porticos protect storefronts and front doors in a peculiar way--they make it hard to find anything unless you are standing right next to it. In particular, they block signage and addresses. 

Despite this fact, I love the city, especially at night. Especially well after midnight. From my son’s fourth floor apartment, long before bed and shortly before morning, the quiet of the blackness outside his window will put almost anyone in touch with their inner quiet.

By contrast, I am used to my love of the screeching of Manhattan, where walls also rise up to protect whatever is behind them. Among the most common of the screeching are the horns of taxi cabs. If one is Caucasian, it’s east to step slightly off the curb, raise your hand, have a cab fly up, have a door fly open, and get a ride that will begin a trip to anywhere on the planet. 

By contrast, one must walk to cab stands in Bologna, some of which can be blocks away. Doors almost never fly open in front of you. Despite eleven days in and around Bologna, this fact escaped me until the final morning. Until my very last moments on Via Fondazza, I expected to experience New York. On any of the Vias, you can call a cab company and schedule a pick up but, well, they don’t always show up.

My flight was scheduled to leave Bologna at 6:30 a.m. The morning was cool and quiet and, as my son sipped an espresso four floors above me, I sat under the portico in front of his flat, leaning against the wall as I am apt to do, and was given the gift of another moment in time.

As I rested, having delightfully been up all night, I took the time to take a photo of the building across the street from his home. Find it above, with all the unsteadiness of trying to shutter an image in darkness. The street lamps cast yellow everywhere and the silence was unbelievable in contrast to, well, New York City. 

The time for my pick up came and went — and went and went — until we realized that we would need to carry my belongs five blocks away, with the hope that a cab would be sitting at the cab stand. It was, thankfully.

I was surprised, during my ride to the airport or, perhaps more accurately, after arriving at the airport, how quickly and completely I left death behind in possession of two moments in time that will arrive again.

As I fade away.

>

About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #179 — Mindfulness, meditation and the post-literate generation October 06, 2018 00:00

A question of literacy

He is eighty-five years old. A mentor of sorts, he considers me to be his surrogate son. Very well read, very well dressed and very wry, he graduated from The University of Pennsylvania in 1955. Pursuant to his wryness, he refers to his alma mater as The University of West Philadelphia, downplaying the fact that he attended an Ivy League university.

Lovingly referring to me as a shit-heel when he needs to put me into place, he often asks if I am post-literate — part of the permanent zeitgeist that has left books behind, preferring video bites and a life hiding behind earphones. Thankfully and, as if only pointed out to prove him wrong, I remind him that I read more than he reads now.

He describes a morning ritual of toast, coffee, maple bacon and eggs eaten over a print copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer. And, while he doesn’t consider the act of perusing the local news to be reading, his daily constitutional represents a dying habit.

Hemingway

I never understood his fame. Having read both For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises, I found both novels to be nice. Nice. Faulkner? Pretty much the same. Updike? A little better. Steinbeck? Love his stories but his prose is plain. Wallace Stegner? Not bad. Salinger? He quit while he was ahead.

Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man were awful. The former, for me, literally impossible to read. Finegan’s Wake? Pretty good. Twain was awesome and plain too, but almost everybody loves Twain.

Bukowski? He’s my guy. Especially his early career. I’ve lived a similar life. 

I am less enamored of very late Twentieth Century fiction, especially anything published after 1982. The emphasis of marketing over substance is evident in many choices to publish. Pursuant to full disclosure, I went to high school with a mildly well-known early twenty-first century writer who has published both a memoir and a novel, both to wide acclaim, the latter of which was made into a movie. Read her books. She will remain anonymous. 

I prefer autobiographies and historical documentaries. More to be learned.

Cranky

While I am vehemently non-post-literate, I understand that many people don’t read books . The phenomenon is not new. Throughout history, most people have gone through life not reading for pleasure or knowledge. I get it.

However, my feelings about the consumption of words and content through an electronic screen mimics my mentor’s opinion about the print word. For the most part, I don’t consider any activity in front of an electronic screen to be reading. Two highly literate peers will vehemently disagree, but two examples do not a significant demographic make. I believe my peers are the exception. No matter. I wrote this paragraph to irritate them because I am an imperfect, cranky Buddhist — and self knowledge goes a long way in the pursuit of mindfulness. Smartphones are evil and insidious, if not for their content, for their delivery mechanism. Few great ideas can be communicated in so little time. If printed romance novels are the tar built up in lungs over decades of smoking cigarettes, smartphone screens are the instant rush of mainlining heroin. Good books aren’t smoking. 

Take a moment to take in the entirety of the irony.

Purpose

I began writing the Zen Spot series in support of the business interest of SilkDharma.com. Committed to writing thoughtfully, along the way I realized that I couldn’t write with an emphasis on being found in a Google search. The requirements, though financially productive at times, make for dreadful writing. The kind I could never read. Ironically, like a wonderful book sitting on a bottom shelf, in the back of a bookstore, these essays will be hard to find. 

I’d rather write well than get found, with an emphasis on Google finding me. That said, I’ve identified other ways through which my stories might rise from obscurity. Loyal readers and patrons will follow, I believe.

Write well and business will take care of itself. Too, I find joy in finding myself through the writing.

F-Bombs

I am profane in so many ways, the least of which can be found in my choice of language. That said, I believe, as a culture, we’ve come full circle in the realm of a Cold War conundrum. Where the Soviets had Pravda, we have social media, the reading of which passes for reading. That trolls can react to the ideas presented in real time passes the ostensible smell test for the leading edge of democracy and free speech. For the pundits of the theocracy of commerce — F-bombs, as free speech, pursuing theocracy are a perfect example.

This essay is no exception, but enough with social commentary. Self knowledge goes a long way in the pursuit of mindfulness.

Good books, bad books and the Zen of time

Despite having to put Ulysses down in frustration, the feeling wasn’t grounded in wasted time. Three hours gone, the time was not gone. Emerging into the daylight at that he end of that particular tunnel, I knew myself better, I knew the world better and the endorphins were flowing. Rigorous exercise over an extended time has that effect.

Dreams are vivid. Calmness thrives. Mindfulness is easier.

Time with Hemingway? Not wasted. The endorphins flooded. The same for every other author mentioned, no matter my judgement. 

Enter the tunnel, meditate in the darkness, emerge from the tunnel — even if you are not aware of the meditation. Consider, too, that a visit to a used bookstore is a mindful experience.

Books. Time taken. Literate and mindful.

>

About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #207 — Mindfulness, meditation and the life of a single tree September 28, 2018 00:00

Gone

The tree that was planted on my birthday, 55 years ago, was cut down yesterday. It wasn’t my tree. It was my tree. My grandfather planted it as a gift for my mother for when she returned home from the hospital.

The image above is a stock photo. I never took a picture of my tree and wasn't there when it was destroyed. To know the precise day a tree was planted, and to know that, any day I wanted, I could pass by and say hello, is a weird loss that I will never write about again.

Goodbye, my friend.

>

About DharmaMechanic 

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 Michael has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

 What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 


Zen Spot #215 - Mindfulness, meditation and a quiet, active, balanced silence September 22, 2018 00:00

Disbelief

Like most children, I was fascinated by a spinning top’s ability to balance beautiful bulk on the head of a pin. Introduced when I was three or four years of age, I would invest whatever energy and inventiveness necessary to get the toy to orbit splendidly — over and over again — for an hour or more. Sometimes twisting its handle between my thumb and fingers was enough to achieve launch. At other times, the toy had a built-in plunger that required a little butter churn’in. 

Life offers few more engaging opportunities to live in the moment than while watching a top spin. One’s mind can become almost blank — nothingly blank. The disbelief of its movement and balance almost always remains in the back of one’s mind, but recedes enough to become a rhythm section supporting the top’s harmony and melody. Too, the anticipation of the toy scrambling when it loses momentum, then watching it scramble, are sublime and abrupt transitions from one state to another.

Nothingly — fifteen seconds at a time.

Gyroscope

Not quite a toy, but still a toy, the anticipation that comes from wrapping the string around the axle of a metal gyroscope, knowing that the top can spin quietly for minutes when the strong is pulled, is a doorway. And, while meditation is, in my opinion, best practiced in increments exceeding fifteen minutes, to close one’s eyes and listen to the subtle buzz of air and friction, after sending a gyroscope’s wheel on its way, can be transcendental.

I’m going to spin mine right now.

>

About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #210 — Mindfulness, meditation and teaching my children to read September 15, 2018 00:00

Oddly enough

The life achievement of which I am most proud, is having taught each of my children to read. Before beginning kindergarten, their minds were prepared to open a book and understand a simple story. 

In particular, I remember sitting on a worn blue/grey recliner, during a hot summer, with my arm around my oldest son, with him perched between the chair's arm and me, sounding out letters every evening at seven o’clock. Despite the home having central air conditioning, we practiced and we sweated. Our hands stuck to the paper on which he was drawing the letters or droplets of sweat fell onto the pages of the book we shared.

Perhaps it’s morbid, but every day I consider the fact that, at sometime in the future, I will be laying on a bed, my body failing, knowing that death is just moments away. At that point, if my mind permits, I will look back in evaluation of how my time was spent — and if I was wise. If I’m lucky, my children will be there to send me off to the next place. Having lived a life, as of this writing, of great ups and downs, there will be much to consider but I suspect, and hope, that sounding out letters will be the thing I did best.

The recliner was lost to time, taking with it a special destination where three children learned to read. I wish to return, put my feet up, close my eyes and breath.

I’ll be right back.

>

About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #208 — Mindfulness, meditation and a week of nothing but reading, drawing and Bebop September 08, 2018 00:00

Disconnect with pleasure I

It took seventeen months, but I’d become completely saturated by the twenty-four hour news cycle. And, while the citizen demanding justice is alive and well, the rational man and voyeur within had died. So, for one week, I disconnected. For seven days, I wrote, read a book, drew and listened to jazz.

I’m listening right now.

Sugar I

I eat too many cookies and, somehow, I don’t gain weight. Too, too much sweet tea is processed by my pancreas. Given the fact that I am in my seventeenth year of recovery, I allow myself this indulgence. Having tried multiple times to quit, I don’t. 

Not can’t. Don’t.

Meaningless 

As a child of the 70s, I’d spent much of my time listening to 70’s pop music. That said, as all radio Pop becomes rote, the lyrics come to mean nothing and the message, whatever it is at the time, penetrates like an awful jingle. Brands prevail.

This observation might explain why I can never listen to Pop while I write.

Drawing

When I sprawl to draw, my mind goes wherever my internal rhythm takes it — mindless and mindful at the same time. I feel neither joy nor sadness but I do respond to music. Bebop enhances the personal creative experience. And, while I would likely end up in the same place, with the same finished drawing, the journey is more something.

Reading I

I consume news by reading — online. Videos take too long and are rarely as comprehensive as the written word. And, while I don’t believe the Right’s belief in fake news, I do believe news has become a brand — a brand designed to incite. Truth, in many ways, has been processed into refined white sugar.

Cookies.

Reading II

I re-read The Sun Also Rises. More than most novels, the prose fades in from nowhere and fades out similarly, with a story set in a time where time was passed differently — without news, and with art with a capital “A”. 

Disconnect with pleasure II

The first day without news was tough. Out of disgust, I’d been using Facebook sparingly since the 2016 election — so ignorance was easy. Television was easier. As an avid Twitter user — the preferred communication method of our president — quitting was hard. The experience, however, made me realize that news is everywhere and one must make a choice to ignore it or be consumed by it. But, after 24 hours — one news cycle — my pancreas began to thank me.

Bebop

I don’t know anything about jazz, except to say that I don’t have the words to describe how profoundly it has enhanced the experience of drawing. In particular, I listen to a channel called Calm Radio — Bebop at Radionomy.com.

Try it. 

Of course, food

Because I’m retired, control of my schedule and pace is easy. Little else, except cooking and errands, was done during my experiment. I was reminded of the priorities I once held dear and of which, somehow, I had slowly let go. My simple dream of a life of art, reading and meditation had been given away. Too, I realized how dramatically, despite my best efforts, my attempt to lead a mindful life was effected by a consistently high news-blood sugar level.

I’ll revisit the old world as necessary but, from now on, life will be art, reading, music, meditation and mindfulness.

Particularly Bebop.

>

About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #206 - Mindfulness, meditation and searching for another brother's voice September 02, 2018 00:00

Not eidetic

My greatest gift is my ability to listen. I remember oral discussions vividly. Forty years after the fact, I can remember the exact words used in specific conversations. My visual memory is far above average but not nearly as sharp as my ability to bank the exact language used in a conversation. That said, my ability to fail in recalling the written word borders on the absurd.

Ironically, my reputation for having an awful memory in matters of the mundane is well deserved. The disparity? I have to be listening to a conversation to remember the language used — and often I don’t listen. I listen when listening counts.

Time and geometry

If one is blessed, one’s life trajectory intersects with the life trajectory of brothers and sisters with whom one does not share a mother. Sometimes decades pass with regular contact. At other times, the brotherhood is fleeting, but a brotherhood nonetheless.

I have been blessed many times.

A brother’s voice

To have a brother is to have someone with whom to wrestle — physically, psychically, metaphorically, meta-physically and intellectually. Because of my memory and ability to listen, it can be like they are standing right next to me long after they have departed my presence. In two cases, decades have passed since I last stood in their shadow, or they in mine, but their respective voices are as present as the laptop on which I am writing this essay. 

Michael

He showed up at a low point, having been at the same low point twenty years before. Contorting a mixture of compassion and blunt wisdom, he may have saved my life. Perhaps the wisest thing said: “Sometimes you need to just lay on the sidewalk and bleed for a little while.” Where the Buddha’s voice is light as a feather, Michael’s is a cop’s nightstick kneading pound cake dough. Think a peppered Patrick Warburton combined with an exasperated Clancy Brown.

Ricky

My internal monologue is often not my own. Ricky’s is the voice of my conscience. Sometimes we discuss and debate issues, but he always wins. It helps that his humor never fails to make me smile — I guess that means that the ability to make myself smile always resides within. His voice is equal parts David Byrne, Warren Buffet and Bugs Bunny.

Bob

I made him laugh. My madness was a weird elixir. Not sure what he taught me, which means that his voice probably wrapped my soul in a warm blanket. Imagine Herman Munster’s laugh launching from Brad Pitt’s face.

Jimmy 

While my friends, in one way or another, may have bestowed the title of enigma on me, Jimmy owns the pathology. Exuding an understated charisma, he half-chews under-grunted monotone marbles of wisdom. His love is limited and unlimited at the same time. I can hear him telling me I should let someone else write this essay, making sure I get three quotes, then playing the contractors against each other.

Patrick

My oldest friend, having known him since I was fourteen, we could not be more different. When standing next to him, I look like the drunken sailor that I no longer am, but will always be. My secrets are safe with him. He is steady in every conceivable manner. He is Clint Eastwood combined with Frank Sinatra.

Mark

He build things. Blood runs uphill sometimes. A finer man than me, despite having read from the same dog-eared, grease-stained instruction manual for the first eighteen years of our lives. A brother’s love lasts, changes and twists like a helix. It is a phoenix rising, a B-52 crashing, a cake baking, a dog chasing a runner and two toddlers hugging.

More than the sound of his voice, his aura makes an almost imperceptible noise that can only be heard when he stands still — and the sound comes from his hands. Akin to two conductors standing in front of the same orchestra, their physical structure identical, he and I could render the same music from the musicians whether standing next to each other or 1000 miles apart — mostly because of our knuckles. Yes, our knuckles. 

Solo

More time is spent alone as the years pass. Each brother is alive and well but our trajectories have changed, with each brother’s orbit still waiting to reach it furthest point from the sun. The silence can be deafening but offers the perfect opportunity to sit and embrace the quiet.

In a very good way. Ah, to be blessed.

>

About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #204 — Mindfulness, meditation and playing chess in the dark August 26, 2018 00:00

An echo’s circus 

Washington Square, in Greenwich Village, is never silent. It echoes whatever voice is dropped inside and absorbs a little piece of every soul that crosses from corner to corner. On brilliant afternoons, musicians, artists, parents, kids, athletes, poets and truants come together as citizens of a small nation. Were lions, tigers and bears to appear beneath a flying trapeze, few of the villagers would be surprised. At night, hours after a good rain, when the puddles are gone, the echoes are noticeably different — perhaps because there are fewer human beings to absorb the sound.

Moving pieces in the afternoon

To know, and accept, that one will never possess the talent of the worst chess player on the square, is unusually freeing. Walking between the tables while competitors consider a move, and consider a move, one can be met with smiles, scowls and instruction. Some speak in tongues. Others become black holes. Their culture is palpably intense, sublime and impenetrable.

Perhaps it’s the daylight.

Every piece is the same

On a recent March evening, welcoming the opportunity to cross from corner to corner, I found chessboards being scorched. With eyes without glasses, on unsteady feet, close to folding tables that had been set up under a streetlight, I couldn’t identify individual pieces as they flew around. The entirety of each board became abstract. Despite the light, kings became queens. Rooks became royalty. 

Purpose had been eliminated. Still, the movement of each piece was true, absorbing all the city’s ambient noise while creating an imperceptible echo — somewhere in the neighborhood of nothingness.

>

About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #196 — Mindfulness, meditation and the size of any wave August 20, 2018 00:00

Excitement and joy

I’ve always found joy in wrestling water — diving, flipping, body surfing, racing, treading and wondering. At the beach, in the summer, in my youth, I would race toward the waves with reckless abandon, hoping I could dip my shoulder, at full speed, and slam into a wave at the precise moment its full force broke. Exploding through the wall was a near-spiritual experience, as was being splattered to the sand when the water had its way. Despite being skinny and possessing very little physical strength, I was fearless in the face of a wall of nature’s rhythm.

Too, water elicits primal fear from me. In particular, deep open water terrifies, especially if I can’t see the bottom. My mind’s eye fill with predators. 

Eating and getting eaten

In the face of the abstract, with an emphasis on one’s view of expectations of the other human beings, I believe that one is what one believes other people are. If one believes humanity is cruel, it is because the believer is cruel. If one believes humanity is kind, it is because the believer is kind. To expect predators to arrive as soon as I am vulnerable says something about me. The truth, I know, lies somewhere in the middle, but the fear — and belief — is instinctive.

Banzai pipeline

Much to the chagrin of archaeologists roving the planet with back hoes and dust brushes, the north shore of Oahu is the resting place of the Holy Grail. Perfect waves break. Ten feet high at least. In January, they can be three times ten. 

An adolescent’s shoulder, however, could never blast through to the other side. The water itself is a predator. Pipeline drops houses on surfers. Blood and bone are extracted at will. Its rhythm can sometimes cough up bodies. Apparently, though, life inside the tube, for twenty seconds, transcends all else. Those with skill, and guts, can get to the other side.

Ankle deep

Standing in the shallowest of water, while the sand and water around one’s feet races underneath the next small breaking wave, offer a cool sublime pleasure. Contemplating the horizon, eyes open and arms spread out, almost expecting to fly, can be as immersive as a cannonball off the deck of a sloop. Eyes closed, it can feel as though it’s possible to fall into eternity.

Any size wave can open the door.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #34 - Mindfulness, meditation and a pending interruption August 10, 2018 00:00

A short cut

It was an early October Friday evening in Olde City section of Philadelphia. The streets were alive with gallery openings, street musicians, open-air discourse and playoff baseball being broadcast into the air, through the open doors of tap rooms on every corner.

The streets in Olde City are either extraordinarily well lit or weirdly dark. The latter are usually paved with pre-revolutionary cobblestones. I prefer the dark, after enough time in the light, and chose cobblestones to carry me back to my car.

As I found my way, I came upon the street light and alarm bell shown above. The scene was noticeable because, above the light, a blue glow cast against the bricks. It was coming from the top of the same light. I decided to photograph the oddness. When I got close, the alarm intrigued me more that the blue.

I considered the possibility that the alarm could go off at any time. I hadn’t done anything to trip the alarm and there was no reason to think it might happen. The possibility was existential, not real.

It was night, but I was safe. The light — and the alarm — hovered four feet above my head as I sat with with my back against the bricks, and closed my eyes, wondering if, as I tried to lose myself, the alarm would go off for the first time in one hundred years.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 Michael has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

 What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 

 


Zen Spot #170 — Mindfulness, meditation and finding your voice as an artist August 06, 2018 00:00

It began with a black cloth-covered book in the library

Tyler had a small library in 1980. Tyler School of Art, that is. Full of big cool art books, the library offered a quiet respite between classes. I’m not sure what drew me to the black book. It was small and beaten up, with fraying edges. Perhaps it was the fact that it was beaten up, worn from use and love.

It was dedicated to Willem de Kooning’s Women series. I’d never seen anything like the work that called the book home. As a realist artist, to that point in life, abstract art was of no interest — until de Kooning.

By cracking the book, a door had been opened.

An insecure realist

Their names were Vincent and Ken. Both lost to time, I will forego giving their last names. Exquisite realist painters. Demonstrating a technical ability far exceeding my own, to spend time in art classes with them in close proximity was excruciating. Confronting the limits of one’s talent often is— offering the question of precisely what kind of artist I wanted to be.

Until meeting Vincent and Ken, I never realized that I didn’t want to paint still life pictures or posed human figures. That said, I don’t care about light or modeling or technical proficiency — in fact, it bored me to tears. I was much too sloppy and profane and immediate than I knew to that point in my life. By embracing the profanity, in particular, I was freed.

Drawing

Since I was a child, I’ve always sat on the floor and drawn with graphite. Over decades, I gained facility. The experience taught me enough about light and modeling, which is all that realist painting is, that I could keep up with all but the best realist artists. It helped, too, that I never had to think about color. Drawing — my drawing — required no consideration of color. 

Simple, immediate, sharp — drawing is still my medium of choice.

Figures and improvisations

I rely on the human female figure. Not knowing where I’m going when I begin a drawing is a sublime experience. Usually a drawing takes about four hours, spread over two days. Despite having no ascertainable connection to real life, I need to live — and to sleep at least once — between when I begin and end a drawing. 

Often, when I set a drawing aside for the night, an accompanying angst arises from not knowing if the piece will capture my voice or capture a dumpster fire. The angst, too, is sublime.

Failing stings. Time wasted. Materials wasted. A futile journey and, while I love to watch a dumpster fire, I don’t want to watch my dumpster fire.

22 by 33

Every drawing is done on a smooth, vertical, bright white sheet of 22 x 33 inch paper. I never deviate. It is the five bars of a musical staff on which every musician must express their voice. Within the limits chosen, my voice is most easily found.

Duck hunting and giant paintings

My former business hunter was a duck hunter. In season, he would sit for hours in a duck blind, before dawn, smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee chased with a little whiskey. By his side was a shotgun, waiting. 

I’ve never been a hunter, and never fired a shotgun. That said, it’s one of those things at which I'd be very good, if I chose to pick up a weapon. Having shared this opinion with a man who has missed more ducks than he clipped, he found my belief aggravating — especially since there was no way to disprove my belief. 

The same can be said for beginning a series of giant paintings that are soon to come. My profanity informs me. My technique will be great. The next step in finding another octave of voice will begin.

I have complete profane confidence.

True profanity

I pushed my boundaries by accepting my limitations a long time ago. By abandoning a certain technical competence, I began to find myself. Perhaps most importantly — and this is the secret if you are looking for the secret — I embraced the idea of not caring what anybody thinks about my artwork.

Within this embrace, I was completely free to be spontaneous. Too, I was able to be profane, literally. I have no fear of offending a dissenting critic by unkindly reminding them that they are free to find other things to look at —white walls, neckties, light switches. 

I am profane. In these moments, I lack compassion and fail miserably in my walking the Middle Way.

True profanity in the moment

The profanity, not surprisingly, manifests solitude. Within the solitude, using predictable materials, in a predictable format, with complete spontaneity, I find myself and my voice — in a moment where I am completely present.

Find your profanity. Be completely present. 

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Another paradox

I am a multidisciplinary artist. The same man who creates the Dharma Wheels shown below created the series of drawing available here. Each represents a different octave, as does my desire to write essays — just like this one.

Buy a drawing. Buy a Dharma Wheel. Read a free story. Or, just pass through.

I hope I helped. Be well my friend.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #209— Mindfulness, meditation and the simple pleasure of walking the dog August 01, 2018 00:00

Whistlehissing and bouncing

My wife rescued a seven year-old Boston Terrier. Now eleven, Mayze has nuzzled into our lives nicely or, perhaps, we’ve nuzzled into hers. I know little about the breed, but Mayze doesn’t really bark unless she’s frustrated that we’re not sufficiently focused on playing. The bark, itself, is more of a round loud clown-purr than a traditional bark. Most of the time, when she wants attention, especially when she wants to go for a walk, she whistlehisses through her nose or bounces like the puppy she no longer is — despite being walked an hour before and not having to answer nature’s call.

It’s as if she is calling me to a session of walking meditation.

Ten minutes, three times a day

Most dog owners know the wonderful respite offered by slowly strolling with one’s companion. One’s gait is adjusted. Smaller steps are taken. More weight spends more time on one’s heels. In the moment, very little exists but the animal and you.

Rain or shine

At times, the opportunity to walk in the rain with one’s dog should be embraced. To be sure, Mayze loathes walking in the rain and will stop instantaneously just outside our back door to relieve herself so as not to get more wet than necessary, but sometimes she can be coaxed further. The difference between a walking meditation in sunshine and a light rain must be experienced.

A different route

Most practitioners have a single, sensible, quiet, safe place in which to sit in the moment. Walking meditation requires adaptation and delivers a different experience. To be sure, clearing one’s mind completely is hard, but the opportunity to take a different route at different times acts as a splendid departure point.

In the moment

One must choose to be in the moment with the intent of connecting with one’s companion’s spirit. When connection is achieved, the experience is sublime and wonderful. Take the time to disconnect from the world and connect with another sentient being.

You’ll be glad you did.

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About DharmaMechanic 

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 Michael has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

 What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 


Zen Spot #199 - Mindfulness, meditation and the sublime visceral experience of Tibetan prayer beads July 31, 2018 02:00

The departure point

Having been raised Roman Catholic, the idea of praying to Mary for divine intercession with God is as natural as breathing. My foxhole prayer is the Rosary despite the fact that I no longer practice Catholicism. I am at complete peace with this paradox, in part because I kind of believe Mary is a Buddha, despite the belief's diametric opposition to my current path. Long ago, I gave up the need to explain my spirituality and its place among traditional dogma.

Praying without

The experience of kneeling to pray without holding onto a steering wheel can almost never be understood until one grabs the wheel. Whether it be a Rosary or the beads of a Buddhist mala, which I recently moved to in pursuit of growth, the experience is wonderful.

Imperfect circle

Whereas a Dharma Wheel is most often a hard edged circle--predictable and reliable--mala beads dangle imperfectly, grabbed by gravity. Swinging, as each prayer is counted, the crackle of beads shifting renders complete silence impossible. That said, if one is deep enough into one’s practice, periods of silence can be found. Wonderful, full, transcendental silence.

Twisting two beads

In particular, the action of holding the string, with one bead between the thumb and index finger of each hand, while rolling the little spheres, is quieting . A paradox of taking physical action that creates noise, while also creating quiet, takes place.

Count your prayers without counting. Take action while creating quiet. Use the quiet.

Step through the circle of beads.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 Michael has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

 What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?