The Middle Way

Zen Spot #28 —Mindfulness, meditation and still life painting at 36 via Fondazza February 20, 2018 00:05

Italian interdependence

I recently returned from a trip to visit my son in Bologna Italy. The city is amazing — cozy, warm, delicious and friendly. His apartment was on the fifth floor of a wonderful building, with a kitchen window that overlooked the surrounding homes’ red clay roofs for what seemed like miles. The angles and juxtapositions of the roof lines — some over two hundred years old — opening up into private courtyards that only one’s imagination can fathom , were a dreamer's feast.

The painter next door

Bologna is not America. With the exception of established, high profile shopping districts, smaller stores and other addresses are not well marked. A hallmark of the city are the porticos that cover almost every sidewalk. It is possible, because of the porticos, to walk through most of the city, in pouring rain, and barely get wet. Sometimes the porticos make it impossible to find even well marked addresses. If you don’t walk by, while under a portico, you might miss something wonderful.

I did.

It wasn’t until the last day of my visit, as I was walking to meet my son, after just having descended five flights, that I noticed a small sign affixed to his building, six inches to the left of the next-door neighbor’s front door. The name Giorgio Morandi was etched.

A still life

Morandi was a modern master of the painted still life. He lived in Bologna, at 36 via Fondazza, from 1910 to 1964. His work is unmistakable. Instead trying to describe his work, other than to say that it is sublime and understated, yet powerful, I recommend you try to see an image in person. Photography can’t capture the nuance and texture, both of which are critical to understanding his mastery.

Among the most common of his still life subjects were clay pots, bottles, vases and cups arranged in very tight formations, sitting on a sparse table top.

The handle of a cup

Several years ago, I read The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. My memory of the reading is singular. In his explanation of interdependence, His Holiness describes how a cup and the handle of a cup come together to create the entirety of a useful object. Without both, the cup would not be the cup that it is. Morandi’s cups included.

A stiller life

When I found Morandi’s home, I started to contemplate the life he lived, with an emphasis on the idea of so many masterpieces having been created in a single place. The life of a painter is often quiet and, having lived and painted at a time when mass media hadn’t poisoned his personal culture, I image the quiet was profound.

I used my contemplation as a starting point for a brief meditation. Having sat on the sidewalk, with my back against the front of the building, my skin protected from the midday sun by a portico, I closed my eyes and took a breath.

It was wonderful.

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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 #45 — Mindfulness, meditation and the legend of Checkpoint Charlie February 07, 2018 00:05

I am child of the Cold War

I’ve learned not to tell my children about anything that once existed. Never discuss a building that covers a corn field from my youth. Refuse to remark of the fistfights found at the 700 level of Veterans Stadium in the 60s and 70s. Avoid tales of warlocks thundering into the center of West Chester while their brother was on trial. Refuse to compare the price of a candy bar between then and now.

Lobbing ICBMs

I recall listening to a radio documentary, in about 2005, that described an evening in the 1970s when warheads were close to being launched over the North Pole, on their way from Russia to the U.S. At the time, I was oblivious. As reported by the documentary, the rest of the population, even adults, was just as unknowing.

I forget why.

I was aware of a wall

It separated people in a funny way. On one side, life was lived in full color, with food and heat. On the other side, life was lived in black and white. Mostly black. Maybe dark grey. Cold. Tattered. People wanting to climb over.

My father, at one point, explained the need for desperate hungry beings to dig tunnels to escape. Like prison. He offered legends of people half-building improvised ramps to jump cars across, but had no proof. That said, how hard could a wall be to scale? Build a ladder, I thought.

He never explained No Man’s Land

It wasn’t until I opened a National Geographic and saw pictures of the eighty-yard gap between where the tangle of barbed-wire began on the eastern side, and the base of the wall jammed upward on the western side, that my opinion of No Man's Land was changed. With images of machine guns hovering, spotlights swiveling, voracious dogs waiting and land mines laid, I finally understood why people were trapped.

The story detailed death found by people with wire cutters and improvised ladders who were killed while trying to escape. Pictures, I think, showed fuzzy silhouettes running from bullets blasting dirt at their feet.

Idiot. Me.

Checkpoint Charlie

A funnel that withered down into a path across the death zone--just enough for a car to drive through, with snipers and barriers on either side--it was the only legal gateway to freedom. We could go in to the prison but they couldn’t come out. 

We and they.

Almost overnight, in 1989, when I was 27, the wall fell and the death zone died. East Berlin was gone. People danced on top of a wall that, just weeks before, would have dripped blood.

Charlie died of cancer.

Johns Hopkins

My son recently graduated from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C. It is a Masters college within Johns Hopkins University.

In a very small courtyard, in the front of the college’s main building, is a piece of the Berlin Wall. It is shown above. 

I’ve only visited the campus twice and, during my first visit, I walked by The Wall without notice. During my second pass, I noticed and was surprised that I hadn’t felt its presence like a soul buzz--like Radio Free Europe broadcast into my dopamine. The visceral feeling of home I expect to experience when I kiss the ground in Ireland for the first time was notably absent. The light I felt radiating from Where The Wild Things Are as a five year old was elsewhere, if anywhere. 

No. I just walked by a wall. No. I walked by the Wall. The Wall on one side of which many people died, and I couldn’t tell which side I was on. I wanted to cry. I was in awe. Sad. Happy. Confused. Focused.

I wanted to tell my son what we were standing in front of, but he already knew; he’d been walking by it every day for a full year. I wanted to implore him to understand the ICBMs and machine guns and dead people and misunderstanding and grey lives and cheap candy bars and open fields, all motivated by a desire to let him know that both nature and nurture contribute to a life.

Breathing in front of the wall

Mindfulness was nowhere to be found. Controlled breathing was elusive. My mind raced and, pursuant to a full color description, within an impossible irony, my son informed me that the former East German embassy lies just across the street from the college. I was disgusted and perplexed. On a windy day, I could have spit.

It’s awful, but I wish I had asked my son to go for a fifteen minute walk by himself that I might sit with my back against the wall, like I’ve done with so many other walls when I pursue mindfulness.

I don’t think I will ever be able to use the image in my mind’s eye as a departure point. That said, the image in my mind's eye is not a wall.

Or perhaps it is.

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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 #40 — Mindfulness, meditation and a small, happy street far away February 01, 2018 00:05

Somewhere in Western Europe

I am sentimental to a point. Some friends consider me schmaltzy when it comes to music. That said, I do not respond to sentimental, schmaltzy artwork. 

I do, however, respond to an artist’s personal choice of iconography and certain kinds of technical ability. In particular, I am stunned by an artist’s ability to make a true spontaneous mark — without planning. 

Improvisation within a valued structure.

Graffiti

The image above was found on a building, on a small street, in a Western European city. Love and whimsy, tattooed to a building. Hearts tugged by destruction of property. 

Street art is all too often created by men. There is no way to tell the gender of this artist. The image belies a feeling not often associated with the daring, alpha-defiance of a painter who will need to sprint for a mile to outrun the cops if caught branding.

I hope it was a woman. I hope it was a man. The icon took me to a place where I had to evaluate my hope — and be 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 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 #48— Mindfulness, meditation and opposing impossible mirrors with my son walking away January 31, 2018 00:05

The mirror when I shave

I don’t use the mirror on the medicine cabinet when I shave. A much bigger mirror hangs over the bathroom sink in front of me. The medicine cabinet is perpendicular, to my right, and is hard to use anyway. When it opens widely enough, and the mirrors are opposite each other, the reflection of both mirrors appears to go on infinitely, as opposing mirrors are wont to do.

We’ve all observed the phenomenon and are, perhaps, a little disappointed and frustrated when the reflection veers away from what would be billions and billions of repetitions because we can never get the opposing forces to square off perfectly.

Matthew

He is my first born. With that, for him, came the awesome responsibility of raising me. At the time of his arrival I wasn’t fully formed and, while no human being ever is, my unready, unsteady soul — and mind — could have served him better. Perhaps most new parents feel this way. Perhaps not. Perhaps comparison is a waste of time.

As with all first children, each milestone — the milestones that will serve as mile markers for the children who follow — presents a new and sometimes frightening experience.

He had curly hair — white blonde locks that spun like I fully expect an angel’s hair spins. Little old ladies would touch it in the grocery store. Middle-aged women remarked about how much they pay to obtain such elusive beauty. The sun, itself, was almost as bright.

The son ventures

Matthew was about 18 months old and our extended family was sitting in my parents’ back yard having a picnic. The next-door neighbors had four children, each of whom, believe it or not, was within in twelve months of Matthew’s age. At the time, we lived in a home twenty miles away, but Matthew was familiar with my parents’ back yard. We played with him often in the grass but, until that day, he’d never ventured away from us toward other children.

That day, the four brothers and sisters came into our yard to bounce around together. They neither welcomed Mathew or ignored him. They were following butterflies that didn’t exist and swirled in the usual proximal orbit that brothers and sisters always do.

Matthew looked over at his mother asking silently if he could go play with the other children. He was excited and scared. The unknown beckoned.

We let his hand go and he ventured out into the world.

Veering

Matthew and I were in Bologna Italy when we found the hallway shown above. For the first time in my life, the veering from reflecting mirrors was alive and in front of me. See the picture. I was fascinated. 

Matthew was living in the neighborhood and passed the hallway everyday. It had disappeared. The experience was pedestrian because, for him, it was truly pedestrian.

To me, it was very special. Silly glimpses into the infinite are wonderful. My camera raised and I took the picture as he was walking away. He was venturing into the world as I considered a place to sit and breathe. 

That day, I didn’t. And I’m not sure where the hallway is located or I would offer an address. The photo will have to suffice.

Close your eyes and breathe.

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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?