The Middle Way

Zen Spot #161 — Mindfulness, meditation, the Beastie Boys, potato salad, the number 12 and a phone call from a Buddhist monk February 19, 2018 00:05


I married an African American woman. While dating, I was welcomed into her family and introduced to Black culture. And, for the politically correct in the audience, be assured that there is a black culture that is embraced and defended by the, well, black culture. Pursuant to full disclosure, I am white — bright white. My wife refers to my “tribe” — her words — as being comprised of “ish” people: Irish, English, Scottish, Swedish, Danish, etc. Further, I was not raised around many African Americans.

The learning curve wasn’t so much steep as it was broad. It was like having played baseball on a traditional field all my life and realizing that the field of all cultures is played with four pitchers, twelve bases and twelve outfields, in a 360 degree circle. That said, once you know the rules of the game, and can read the third base coach’s signs, sheer bliss is always nearby.

My black family and potato salad

If a friend of African descent invites you to a picnic, or a family gathering, and you want to have a little fun, remark about how the homemade potato salad tastes almost as good as the stuff you bought at the supermarket. I should have prefaced this suggestion by recommending that you dress like a baseball catcher, with a chest protector, shin guards, face mask and a protective cup, because stuff will go sideways quickly. 

Heads explode. Old women will throw whatever is close at hand — a ketchup bottle, soda cans, whole baked chickens. An eighty-six year old woman once grabbed a hot dog off a red-hot grill and whipped it at me. Grown men will shush you, trying to protect you from their relatives. You’d think you’d just mashed a sweet potato pie in their grandmother’s face.

Good times. Pun intended.

My black family and The Beastie Boys

A second suggestion, if you aren’t up to demands of a potato salad shit-storm, is to offer a lesson in the history of Hip Hop. In particular, stand firm on the observation that The Beastie Boys were the first true rap act. This observation doesn’t involve anyone’s mother or grandmother, so the reaction is different. Someone might actually throw a paper-plateful of potato salad residue at you, but they’ll probably just tell you you’re an idiot and walk away.

It’s fun, but make sure the group loves you and trusts you first. Besides, I’m an idiot.

Sponsors and the Twelve Steps

Alcoholics Anonymous recommends the use of a sponsor as a newcomer is introduced to the Twelve Steps. A sponsor acts like a guide through rough mountain terrain, offering directions, guidance, support and, where necessary, criticism. That said, there’s no perfect sponsor and their opinions vary widely. Some are hard core and unyielding. Others are analytical. Others are touchy-feely. It’s the hard core sponsors that are problematic and, that, most often, provide the best rationalization for a newcomer to start drinking again.

Power corrupts. Heads explode. Fingers fly. Potato salad all over again.

The night a Buddhist monk called me to disagree

I started drawing Dharma Wheels in 2013. Within twelve months, I had created over 600. Yes, 600. What some people think is compulsive, I think is focused. What others think is manic, I think of as energetic, knowing all the while that they are correct.

Some of the wheels were even good.

In 2014, I committed to posting one Dharma Wheel on Facebook each day for the entire year. Wanting people to know, I reached out to people across the globe via email to let them know about the project — monks, yoga instructors, practitioners, media people, etc.

One night, my phone rang and a monk in Detroit called to tell me that the Dharma Wheels were drawn incorrectly — that they should have twelve spokes, not eight. Now, while I may not listen to priests, I definitely listen to Buddhist monks. That said, throughout life, after I listen, I often respond. This case was no exception. Ask my sponsor.

I remarked about my research of the correlation between The Eightfold Path and the eight spokes of the Dharma Wheel. The monk wouldn’t accept my posit, as if I was questioning his potato salad recipe. Having made no progress, and after having listened respectfully, we politely hung up when he was finished. 

Fully believing he knew more than me, I was confused. 

I’m a simple dude

On January 1, 2014, I began to post my artwork daily and it was met with incredible approval, including from Buddhists of all backgrounds — and the approval was gratifying. Detroit’s finest never left my mind, not because I felt vindicated but because I felt true respect. He was the person who took the time to call and teach, and the lesson was hard. He’d gotten his metaphysical crowbar underneath my manhole cover because, for whatever reason, he cared, and because he would not compromise his viewpoint.

Over the course of writing my Zen Spot essays, their mission, motivation and inspiration have evolved. In particular, the process has introduced me to my own soul dirt. In comparison to what I read in other Buddhist blogs or what I witness when around other practitioners, my lack of commitment to a pure path can appear to border on filthy defiance. I’m not clean, small, quiet, flowery or calm. I get angry. Compassion comes hard. I loathe dogma.

Despite all these things, I know, in my heart, I’m moving in the right direction. — and I believe there are a million other people just like me, all trying to get to the light. This essay is for those people.

I believe in the Four Noble Truths. I practice the Noble Eightfold Path. I walk the Middle Way.

That’s it.


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

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?