The Middle Way

Zen Spot #217 - Mindfulness, meditation and my daily path of recovery January 1, 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 #219 - Mindfulness, meditation and the coolest suit in history December 3, 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 #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

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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 #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.

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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 #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.

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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 #208 — Mindfulness, meditation and a week of nothing but reading, drawing and Bebop September 8, 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.

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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 #209— Mindfulness, meditation and the simple pleasure of walking the dog August 1, 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 #203 — Mindfulness, meditation and writing poetry by hand July 14, 2018 00:00

Reaching into a swarm of flies

From nothingness comes a poem. Where no void existed, a hole is filled. For the writer, the experience can range from torsion to celebration. The singular act of trying to put one’s finger on a particular word, inside a particular phrase, with a particular rhythm, to draw a map to particular part of the soul, is one at which only the most gifted writers can succeed.

Temporary blueprint

While wrestling to express, words rarely find the whole of a poem without many starts, stops, detours and restarts. Along the way, where alphabetical characters fail to express a feeling in the moment, they can be replaced with scrawls, scribbles, symbols and erasure. What looks like failure is often the opposite.

The act of using a pencil is quite different than using a pen. Water is a different tool than a chisel. To use a keyboard is heresy.

A perfect gift of imperfection

I’ve never read a finished poem, transcribed in its final form on a fresh sheet of paper, the power of which equals that of the version built from scrawls, scribbles, symbols and erasure. To be sure, when a poet reads their work out loud, with their intended inflection, any scrawls, scribbles, symbols and erasure interrupt awfully. The written corrected word, like sheet music with notations and adjustments, holds a sublime purity. 

Whisper into nothing

One need not be a writer or artist to create a profound object on a single sheet of the most common lined composition paper. Along the way, read your work quietly to yourself. Try to articulate the sounds of the scrawls, scribbles, symbols and erasure.

Fill a composition book.

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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 #14 — Mindfulness, meditation and opening one’s heart with a different question July 9, 2018 00:00

A handout

The image above is common across religious traditions and other systems of belief. Perhaps manna is sought. Perhaps prostration is next. Perhaps a power greater than the believer is being recognized. In almost all cases — those listed here, and perhaps a million others — love has been chosen over whatever.

While the suggested position for meditation is legs folded with the back of one’s hands resting on one’s knees, with each index finger and thumb barely touching, raising one’s hands in the manner shown above provides an interesting alternative. To be sure, the traditional position is tried and true. It's to be expected that the feeling of raising one’s hands will feel curious— perhaps like a different question is being asked.

Try asking a different question, at least once.

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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 #180 — Mindfulness, meditation and water’s power of erasure July 4, 2018 00:00

Pilings

Perhaps the image above is indiscernible. Water, hopefully, can be seen, with its surface being broken by two wood pilings. Taken with an old smartphone, the image’s color and aversion to detail muffle a muffled story. Pursuant to making lemonade from lemons, I’ve chosen to embrace the questions posed by the photo.

Almost still water

Pounded into the silt at the bottom of a pocket of near-standing water only fifty meters from the main currents of the Delaware River, the pilings are likely remnants of a dock that would allow a boat with a five foot draft to rest. Surrounding docks — those within two or three hundred meters — could, at one time, welcome large container ships.

The dock is gone. Among the questions begged is the role of water’s and man’s erasure.

Elements

Without taking time to review the image above carefully, the bolts protruding from the left post are easily missed and, if so, the element’s influence on this little corner of the environment are also missed. The river’s attempt to erase thousands of stories told by the boats and people who embarked could be misunderstood as an inability to erase — and erasure is a story to behold. Not to be missed, the slow-motion parable of a structure being eaten, after having been torn down, is one of elegance and mystery.

The bolts appear to have secured a wood walkway, before its planks were twisted out like rotten teeth with pliers. The image of a bloody jaw and gums notwithstanding, the bent galvanized bolts and washers betray a force of will directed to erase. Perhaps more mystery than elegance is evident but the image of the natural world performing a slow seductive dance, calling her progeny home, offers a movement to behold. Eventually, each piling will fall, its decay expedited. The bolts will be absorbed by silt and covered by mud, found perhaps in a thousand years.

Millions of stories erased by water.

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About Michael DeSoi  

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 #195 — Mindfulness, meditation and a perfect gold circle June 19, 2018 00:00

Altar

A perfect gold circle hangs on the back wall of the altar in a nearby Buddhist temple. Measuring about six feet in diameter, the actual ring is approximately 18 inches wide. At once, it is simple, sublime and brilliant. Made of painted wood perhaps, it is as radiant as stained glass on the sunniest of days.

In contrast to other Philadelphia temples, very little ornament is enshrined throughout the building. Housed in what appears to be a former Christian church, little has been done to convert the holy plainness of the entirety of the sanctuary, making the circle all the more powerful as an ornament and a symbol.

Observing 

One must want to see beyond the materials and finish to experience the transcendent. This gold circle — and every other gold circle — is no exception. That said, one must only take a step or two forward, into the world of the visceral open mind, to know that there is something more to life than just passing time, if only to understand that, at the instant one decides to take the step, time stands still, unmistakably.

A circle is more than a circle.

Leaf and paint

In April of 2013, I began to draw Dharma Wheels. Attracted to the ornament and bright colors, I enjoyed the playfulness and geometry. I love its symmetry, versatility and meaning. It can be both a highly personal spiritual icon and a universally accessible image enjoyable for its simplicity, shape, color, materials, finish and presence. It offers endless visceral possibilities that can connect with any viewer. One need not be a Buddhist to appreciate the Dharma Wheel. It helps, however, to have an open searching heart.

Plain and simple

Having created hundreds of Dharma Wheel drawings, some good and some bad, the prospect of simplifying my work, especially in the context of starting to actually build the wheels, I've become attracted to making simple gold circles of all sizes, materials and textures, with the knowledge that, no matter what, each will be perfect. 

Like inventing the perfect word, instead of finding an existing word to complete a poem, each circle will bring a story into focus. Whatever is inside a viewer will be coaxed forth — good, bad, sad, happy — and, hopefully, it will be transcendental. I can’t wait to begin building them. 

I am expecting nothingness.

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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 #205— Mindfulness, meditation and every imperfect silly bloom June 14, 2018 11:48

One / Million

Perhaps the aspect of the Buddhist path I love most is its ability to host paradox and logic equally well. One voice is no different than one million voices. One mind is no different than one million minds. One mile is no different than one million miles.

One flower is no different than one million flowers.

Design

Somewhere, a blueprint exists for every specie of flower. Perhaps it’s not traditional, like that created to construct a building. But, at some point, a central design evolved, and an argument can be made that every flower — quintillions and quintillions — evolved from a single bloom.

A quintillion flowers

The sum total of every flower that ever bloomed, across all species, across all of time, is uncountable — somewhere less than an infinite number but somewhat more than any number countable. Assuredly, there have been a million flowers that could have been picked by every human being in history, with the knowledge that to do so would be impossible if done with care, one at a time.

A single flower

To carefully harvest one bloom, acknowledge it’s place in the soil, shape, aroma and beauty, is a sublime gift. To do so, is no different than to close one’s eyes and sit quietly for the same length of time in front of an infinite number of blooms. 

A billion petals

Perhaps counting the number of flowers that have bloomed across the entirety of history is a silly exercise. If so, it would naturally follow that counting the sum total of all petals is even sillier. Silliness, in this context, is more sublime because it often leads to a smile.

A single petal

Happiness and silliness are different. And, should one petal be truly silly, and lead to a smile, it might begin to explain why giving a single flower to a loved one can lead to a happiness that far exceeds the smile provided by the sum total of all silliness.

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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 #189 — Mindfulness, meditation and the patient tomato summer May 19, 2018 00:00

A grandfather’s backyard garden

Four rows, with thirty tomato plants each, were neatly aligned in my paternal grandfather’s backyard garden. Corn, too, and strawberries in season. His fruit introduced me to that unique specimen know as the Jersey Tomato. Insisting that a little salt was the only necessary addition to a quartered serving, he was mostly right. In a world where snacks were always sweet, this treat was sublime in a world having yet to introduce me to the sublime.

From the time I was a small child, I knew where tomatoes came from, if not how they came.

A family farm co-op

When my children were between the ages of six and eighteen, their mother and I belonged to a farm co-op. In addition to providing fruits and vegetables — but mostly vegetables — we maintained our membership in order to introduce our children to the direct connection between the earth and the food they consumed at our dinner table. The experience taught me quite a bit. To my chagrin, tomatoes were rarely harvested. Instead, root vegetables were staples — and, for me, their consumption was as bad as eating staples.

Something about the way the skin rebounds

The way a Jersey tomato’s flesh and skin absorb the pressure of a human touch is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It yields perceptively and perhaps a thousandth of an inch. Slickness can be gripped easily. Similes, metaphors, analogies fail me.

The dirt

I remember a powdery gray texture in my grandfather’s garden, although I’m sure that rememberance is mostly wrong. Could be that I never got close enough to really know the color or texture. I don’t like dirt — on my hands, under my fingernails, on my skin. From the first time I slid into second base, despite loving the game of baseball, I hated the dirt.

Without dirt, tomatoes are just seeds.

Wanting to harvest

Among the list of my desired experiences before moving to the next life, was the ability to pick — and eat — a single tomato grown from a plant I nurtured. There is no substitution for the visceral. Words and pictures will never suffice.

The spot

Unlike the soil in Southern New Jersey, which is relatively easy to break up and crumble, dirt in Southeastern Pennsylvania contains a lot of red clay. The purchase of earth and fertilizer was required which, to me, felt very odd. The need to buy dirt seemed silly. Thusly, location was a matter of choice. 

I chose neither wisely nor unwisely.

The planting

In hindsight, the opportunity offered when choosing the location to plant the seeds provided as much chance to experience the transcendental as did covering the seeds with earth, fertilizer and its first eight ounces of water. Years passed before this revelation presented itself to me, or vice versa.

Having read a how-to, I opened the loosened soil a little bit with two fingers— dirt jamming underneath my fingernails — and gently placed the seeds as deep as directed. Covering them with a care I had, until then, reserved for baseball cards, vinyl albums, artwork and newborn babies, their disappearance brought panic, dread, awe and hope, balled up like a wad of clay. Six plants had found a home.

To wait.

The watering

It took every bit of restraint I possessed to not flood the seeds. The portion of my soul occupied by a ten-year old boy wanted to see the dark brown mud divots created with a hose nozzle focusing water like a laser beam. Restraint prevailed. I watered prudently, according to directions — supplementing periodic rain showers. 

I spent hours pondering the idea of supplementing rain.

The weeding

The compulsive speedster inside me looked for the green of a weed twenty times each day. Having grown up mowing my family’s lawn, I intimately understood the astonishing growth possibilities of dandelions. Where nothing existed at 8 a.m., an eight inch flower could stand by 5 p.m. 

My tomatoes need not worry.

The cage

All living things need help. Like children, which my crop was quickly becoming, the time to take the next step in their rearing is never perfectly defined. Intuition seemed to satisfy each fruit’s health, if not my desire to witness time-lapse growth and an unmistakable evidence of health. 

Too, a cage is a funny thing to introduce into a loving relationship, no matter how practical.

The waiting

Time moves too slow except when it moves too fast. Again with the compulsions and inner monologue of a ten year-old boy.

The decision

The fact that I was waiting for the fruit to burst contradicted my feelings and descriptions herein. Following weeks of care, and time standing still, I didn’t want to harvest. The entire experience changed me, in part because my perspective on time changed. 

I waited until a warm, luscious Friday evening — made more luscious and delicious by the harvest. 

The picking

There is an indescribable feeling that baseball players experience when they connect perfectly with a pitched ball. Instantaneously, one’s gut, butt, brains, legs and arms know that the ball is going to sail a mile. The connection of the bat to the ball makes an exterior sound entirely different than that experienced internally by the hitter. One becomes one.

The bud-snap of a tomato can be felt throughout one’s entire body.

The slicing

The patience exercised for weeks had been exhausted. Unlike the self-discipline shown by other growers and buyers and cookers, it was impossible not to run to the kitchen, grab my big knife and slice. Given my excitement, the precision of the cut captured a sublime silence.

A little salt added. Wonderful.

The dying

The remainder of the crop was harvested over the course of the next week. Each fruit was a gold ingot. Too, the remainder of the plants were valuable — and respected. The green of the chlorophyll faded and the stalks withered. 

In a past life, having been sated by the fruit, I would have rough-raked the stalks and dirt, wanting to invest nothing. Somewhere along the way, however, I learned that, without the entirety of the plant, the fruit could not exist. As such, a little reverence was appropriate. And so it was.

The reverence was more delicious than the fruit.

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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 #35 — Mindfulness, meditation, wandering and wondering  in the dark May 14, 2018 00:00

Different street, different night

It was an early Friday evening in November in the Olde City section of Philadelphia. The streets were alive with gallery openings, street musicians, open-air discourse and playoff baseball being broadcast into the night through the open doors of taprooms 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 walked down a specific shadowed side street, a woman walked quickly toward me on the opposite sidewalk, until reaching a doorway which she immediately opened, slammed and locked. I am a giant. In the dark, if one is a woman, I suppose I would have protected myself, too.

The door was set into an old wood garage door that, if opened, would reveal the interior of a bright cavernous carriage house, from which, in the early twentieth-century, horse-drawn carts would leave daily to carry ice or vegetables or home goods throughout Philadelphia. On this evening, light blast through the grid of hundreds of panes of glass that coupled together into the two stories of windows that hung above the doorway. A chiaroscuro between the light and the dark was created .

The amazing architectural skeleton I could see inside — the wheels and chains and girders and brick — intrigued me. Perhaps more importantly, it brought my ego and emotional innards to the surface. I felt outside. Truly outside. Like I could never — that no matter what I did, no matter how successful I became — experience the beauty inside. That was for other people.

It occurred to me, the next day, that the beauty I couldn’t experience was the beauty inside myself. Then, I realized that beauty, itself, is an illusion.

It doesn’t exist.

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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 #193 — Mindfulness, meditation, earth, water and wine April 27, 2018 00:00

Excitement and joy

The choice to become a potter is instinctive for some people. The idea of throwing a pot on a wheel, with the clay spinning through wet hands, molding the shape as if it is alive, coaxes forth a natural creative mindfulness and joy. Playful, honest, inquisitive joy.

Building before throwing

For those who take a pottery class, the knowledge required of clay, with an emphasis on building a pot before throwing a pot, is a detour to joy. Preparation places happiness just out of reach of hands that desire dirt and slurry. Manipulating flat clay walls, constructing joints and firing finished structures can provide a frustrating detour to the destination of throwing.

Heavy wheel turning

There is something profoundly special about bending over a potter’s wheel and pushing the stone with the ball of one’s feet to create entropy — and the joy that never disappears, no matter how many pots are thrown. Over the course of a lifetime, the visceral response that reaches down into one's gut, providing an unspeakable connection to the earth, can always be counted on to arrive.

Lust and interdependence

My first encounter with the definition of interdependence used the example of the structure of a simple clay cup with a handle. The Dalai Lama, in his book The Art of Happiness, explained that, without the handle, the cup is not the cup that it is without the interdependent nature of all the elements that comprise to make up the cup, including the air that fills the cup. The air, while appearing empty, defines the cup as much as the clay from which the cup is made. In particular, the role of the air filling the cup has, since my first reading, provoked an evolving understanding of the world.

Among the techniques used to shape a pot is reaching down with one’s hands into the spinning interior while placing the corresponding hand in the exact same place on the exterior, applying a near-equal force that allows one to shape the clay. In doing so, the process of creation can become almost erotic, accentuating an uncommon lust, love and satisfaction.

Wonderful failure

Throwing is an exercise in giving away complete control. The wheel doesn’t stop spinning on command. Requiring instant, intuitive decisions, some of which will throw the object off center, the method can lead to ruin. Sometimes the unfinished pot caves in. Sometimes centrifugal forces splatter chunks. 

Disappointment follows, especially if one's anticipation was growing and the embrace of love was within reach. That said, if the shape of the failed pot can be seen with an eye to interdependence — and without the need for it to nurture earth, water or wine — the potter can redefine themselves.

Throw a pot. Feel the slurry. Consider the earth, water and wine. Succeed. Fail. Repeat.

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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 #181 — Mindfulness, meditation and the red grandmama dress April 21, 2018 00:00

It takes a village

Painted on the side of a small building in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, when I first saw this mural I instantaneously searched for a doorway that would allow me walk into the building of the dress. To be clear, I wasn’t looking for the front door of the structure on which the mural was painted. My mind wanted to become part of the parable told by the painting, I suppose. 
The rendering left me begging for a kitchen, parlor, bedrooms, windows, a spiral staircase and the warmth of a home inside the dress. I wasn’t expecting the cheap thrill of cartoon legs or a set of clicking ruby slippers. No, my mind’s eye sought a portal to the village outside of the home inside the dress.

A housecoat and sweet, hot tea

My maternal grandmother lived with an apron cinched over one of seven housecoats, each worn for a particular day of the week. The style was common across her sisters, cousins and neighbors. Omnipresent, the apron never seemed to get dirty when making meals. Instead, it seemed to take the place of the pearls she would never be able to afford. Live inside that idea for a second — a world where jewels are replaced by utilitarian fashion that never gets dirty. 

My brother and I rarely stayed at her home overnight. Among the breakfast treats, when we did, was hot tea filled with as much milk and sugar as desired. Toast, jelly, eggs, bacon and lots of tea. 

Her home, in my mind, tastes like hot tea with sugar and milk

A truck driver bought that housecoat and dress

My grandparents went dancing every Saturday night at a local social club and, for four hours every week, my grandmother wore a red dress with a faux-embroidered floral pattern. Perhaps she had a black dress for funerals and weddings, but the red dress meant joy and fun. While my grandfather saw it every week, its existence, for me, took only the form of Polaroid pictures. He drove a truck so she could have that dress and have that fun.

He never cooked a meal, but loved hot tea with sugar and milk.

Grandmother

In the mural, I never noticed the blue infant in the basket just below the woman’s forearm until I began to describe my desire to find a doorway. And, from the instant I first saw the female figure I perceived the woman to be a grandmother. The figure’s curiosity belies youth, however. Her examination of the house — and the houses — portends a search for safety, and a place for a child to play. 

Too, I believe she is looking for the doorway — imagining a kitchen, parlor, bedrooms, windows, a spiral staircase and the warmth of a home in the circle of life. 

I'll bet she makes hot tea with sugar and milk.

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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 #192 — Mindfulness, meditation and the simple bliss of chocolate chip cookies April 17, 2018 00:00

Desire

I love chocolate chip cookies. No other dessert or treat comes close. Dozens dream of sliding down my gullet on the way to their demise based on their singular purpose for existence — my pleasure. I am not a benevolent king.

Growing up, my mother bought cookies in a bag — Oreos, Nutter Butter and Chips Ahoy!. My metabolism was so fast, and I was exercising so much, that I could eat a mixing bowl full of vegetables for dinner and chase it with two glasses of milk and an entire bag — easily.

Mining for gold

To my chagrin, profound desire drives my enjoyment. And, while desire clearly leads to suffering, as described by the The Four Noble Truths, I intend to do little to resolve my desire. In fact, I will vigorously embrace it — and probably never let go.

The embrace

I want more chips. Lots more. In most cases, the amount suggested in a recipe should be doubled — and sometimes tripled. Chocolate should delight with every bite. Balance and caution should be thrown to the wind. The Middle Way should be ignored.

Love your cookies. Embrace the desire. Be mindful while baking. The recipe doesn’t matter. Just double the chocolate — or more.

It is possible to find joy and peace.

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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 #194 — Mindfulness, meditation and one hour sleeping next to a cow meadow April 14, 2018 00:00

Most cows won’t eat your face

I am not a camper. While most of my lifelong friends earned the rank of Eagle Scout decades ago, and enjoy camping, I was neither a Boy Scout or a fan of sleeping on dirt. At the very least, I need an air mattress. Too, I am afraid of Bigfoot eating my face in the middle of the night. 

The image above is painted on an clapboard fence that encloses a small side yard in one of Philadelphia’s trendier hipster neighborhoods. The technique is awesome, as is the color scheme. An admirable attempt to bring a pasture to a decidedly urban block was made — and succeeded. It’s notable, however, that the nearest real cow is about thirty-five miles away. And, while I prefer cement to dirt, I would no sooner sleep on the adjacent sidewalk than I would sleep face down in the mud.

Dirt nap

I’ve made the aforementioned thirty-five mile trek many times and, usually, the trip began in a driveway next to the specific pasture. A friend owns the farmhouse that sits on the twenty acres perused by the bovine.

The pasture’s grade moves north to south with a twenty-five foot increase above sea-level over the length of four acres. For reasons I don’t understand the cows usually face due north, unless they are wandering. While standing, an imperceptible sway from side to side seems to take place. It’s like they are trying not to fall off the planet. It can’t bee seen but it can be felt.

Hundred year-old oak trees line the field. At three o’clock on any searing August afternoon, the relief offered by their shade is wonderful. Beading sweat on forearms with a t-shirt clinging is poetic. 

While I could never bring myself to lay down in the grass, leaning my back against a tree trunk while dozing is sublime. If sleep can be put off, and meditation embraced, the sound of the atmosphere — the quiet — provides a wonderful doorway through which to step.

Find such a field. The cows will probably not eat your face.

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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 #183— Mindfulness, meditation and my first cup of Tibetan butter tea April 13, 2018 00:00

Po Cha: Tibetan Butter Tea © YoWangdu.com https://www.yowangdu.com/tibetan-food/po-cha.html

Danish visitor

Rune was a seventeen year-old high school exchange student from Denmark. His visit to our home provided a check-mark on my life’s bucket list where no action item had existed. For ten days, in 2003, he welcomed our family as warmly has we welcomed him.

Speaking six languages, his brilliance was matched by his charisma. Among a group of twenty Danish exchange students who visited my eldest son’s high school, Rune was the best. To be sure, no contest existed. But, his laughter and joy was infectious, attracting everybody with whom he came in contact.

Rune food

My son’s mother is an incredible cook — truly outstanding. In addition to a remarkable talent for cooking healthy gourmet meals, her talent for baking is astounding — cakes, cookies, pies and more. Equally talented with an ability to transform both tofu and brown sugar into delightful meals and treats, her efforts are designed to please the American pallet.

During Rune’s visit, he struggled with American food. In particular, sugary treats drew facial contortions. What we considered mildly sweet seemed to burn his tongue. Perhaps prepared for his experience, he brought confections from Copenhagen. Salty confections, the likes of which brought facial contortions to my family.

Culture is a funny thing.

Reading about the Himilayas

I’ve come to the conclusion that, in my practice, submission to a tradition is not necessary. At times, however, it is welcomed. Immersion offers knowledge unavailable elsewhere — and it can take many forms. I make the point about submission in the context of my comparing myself to other practitioners, especially those who dress and practice traditionally. Among my avenues for learning is extensive reading — online and offline. 

In reading about Lhasa, the topic of butter tea came up repeatedly. And, since I like both butter and tea, my curiosity was piqued.

Salt, sugar, yak butter

Using the recipe below, I prepared my first taste. With Rune’s spirit standing beside me, I took a sip and my face contorted. So as not to put off others from trying the recipe, I will refrain from describing the taste. Had I taken on the same experiment when I was younger, my response would have translated to a disqualification for further pursuit of the path.

Tradition holds that, when butter tea is served, a guest’s cup should always be filled to the brim. Thankfully, when I brewed my drink, I was alone. Despite my dislike for the drink, and my view of traditional practice, I admit that I felt closer to something in the collective practice of mindfulness. 

Make the tea. See what you think.

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Butter tea recipe

I found the recipe below at Tastemade.com. Take a peek. See what you think and let me know.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 clumps of traditional Pu-erh tea (can also be found as one large brick)
  • 2 -3 tablespoons Cow Butter (in lieu of yak butter)
  • 2 teaspoons himalayan salt (or salt to taste)
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2/3 cup half and half or light cream

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium sauce pan bring 4 cups of water to a boil
  2. Add 3–4 bricks of tea, and bring down to a simmer
  3. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes (can be simmered longer if desired to create a concentrate called Chaku)
  4. Stir in creamer and salt and bring back to a boil
  5. Place butter in bottom of French Press
  6. Strain Hot tea mixture into French Press through a fine sieve
  7. Churn tea in French Press for at least 2 minutes
  8. Pour into teapot and serve in tea bowl
The recipe above was found at: 
https://www.tastemade.com/shows/thirsty-for/tibetan-butter-tea

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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 #184 — Mindfulness, meditation and Sonny Rollins standing on the bridge in Giverny April 9, 2018 00:00

Monet

A case can be made that Claude Monet invented Impressionism. He painted an inspiring series of water lilies in his gardens in Giverny France. Familiar to most art believers, the painting shown above is an exceptional example of his greatest works. In particular, the bridge is a well-known icon. 

That said, when viewed in-person, paintings from the Giverny series are among the best examples of abstract expression I’ve ever seen. Stand within three feet of an individual water lily and it disappears completely — and becomes a brushstroke of pure color exclusive of story, composition and context.

While the central images of his extensive Giverny series don’t seem to be metaphorical, they do tell a powerful visceral story of serenity and calm. The bridge is singular despite inspiring a different myth for each viewer. I believed the bridge to span 400 meters despite my understanding of the average size of a water lily.

I want the bridge to span 2500 meters. I want the bridge to descend into chaos on both sides. I want a mindful calmness too.

Sonny Rollins

Despite both sides of the Williamsburg Bridge descending into chaos, neighbors in both New York City boroughs frown on the volume of certain types of noise. Control is a funny and unpredictable thing. In the early 1960s, later in the evening, when he needed a place to practice his saxophone, myth holds that he would walk the span perfecting his instrument’s voice.

I’d love to hear him playing while standing on the bridge in Giverny--improvising mindfully, even if he chose silence as his statement.

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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 #172 — Mindfulness, meditation and a cat’s mantra April 6, 2018 00:00

Youth

Three cats lived in my childhood home: Kimba, Daisy and Mozart. Each named by my brother, one of which he brought home as a stray, they added an air of dignity to the flow of the home. The dwelling was small and there was no place for anybody — or any animal — to hide. It felt as if each cat was always within arm’s length. As such, the comfort of fur was always at one’s fingertips.

I am a dog person.

Quiet

At times, if a cat lives in a home, the purr can seem to be heard a mile away. A timpani that repeats, when it breaks the quiet, it offers the same comfort as the being's fur. That said, more comfort can be found in complete silence, with the knowledge that the animal is somewhere in one’s home. They appear to meditate — slowly — unless starved for attention.

For those who love cats, my observations are not new. For those yet to have spent time with a feline, spend time watching a cat, even if you are a dog person. Rarely does quiet surround a dog, which is why I love them. When a dog is quiet, the nature of its silence can be profoundly different than that of a cat.

Balance

Cats are gymnasts. Everything is a balance beam. There seems to be a method to every decision to move, with each movement designed to serve the cat. Where dogs are egos run amok, cats appear to plan — gracefully.

Render

The nature of most cats, in my observation, is that they make you come to them, both physically and emotionally. While, yes, they will nuzzle spontaneously and seek the touch of the underside of your hand, it is almost always on their terms. A cat renders forth a very particular energy from those with whom they surround themselves.

Smiles are rendered. Quiet is rendered. Words are rendered. Some recognized. Some unrecognized but visceral.

Perhaps the purring is a mantra. Perhaps they are connected to something. Perhaps I should rescue a cat that the cat might rescue me, change my home and provide an even better place to practice mindfulness.

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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?