The Middle Way

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 #178 — Mindfulness, meditation and the giant Zen kitchen March 28, 2018 00:00

Illusion

The orange sphere in the mural above is painted to appear three-dimensional. It is placed, strategically, into the corner of the brick wall so that, when the viewer stands twelve inches to the left or right of where I took this photo, the sphere flattens out. Perhaps the shapes in the rest of the mural would appear more dimensional if they weren’t bound by the top of the wall or the start of the sidewalk. The effect of the sphere is especially stunning — almost levitating.

Drawn into the corner, wanting to touch a sphere that doesn’t exist, I found myself standing in the corner in much the same way a mother might have disciplined a child in the past. I got close enough to the paint to touch it with bent elbows. A flashback to a punishment from my third year overcame me. I had crayoned the entirety of my bedroom’s hardwood floors — not the Sistine Chapel, but close enough. Caught while I was backing out of the doorway, having completed my masterpiece, my effort earned a trip to the corner of my mother’s kitchen.

The neighborhood where I found the mural, located near 2nd Street and Girard Avenue, in the City of Brotherly Love, became a giant kitchen.

A giant Zen kitchen.

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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 #37 — Mindfulness, meditation and the hieroglyphics of which culture February 25, 2018 00:05

Never minimize the silly

For some reason, my recent travels through daily life have spontaneously confronted me with several unique thresholds — literally. Doors — behind which lie homes and beings — have faded into my periphery before stopping me in my tracks. 

Perhaps the manner with which I discover the doors is relevant; the fading and the stopping. Perhaps not. Perhaps there is a life rhythm that will soon remove all doors from my way. Perhaps I am paying more attention to life or simply passing more doorways than usual; although that seems like a silly idea. 

The Dharma is a funny thing.

All art is hieroglyphic

Philadelphia has a vibrant street art culture — both legal and illegal. The formal occupy the same neighborhoods as the profane. The three-story exterior wall of a brownstone will bear an amazing mural standing twenty-five feet away from a stop sign plastered with underground art stickers, pasted to its shiny back side, trying to penetrate the psyche of passersby. Little exists in between the two. The art is either formal, with a price-tag attached, or its completely free, in every sense.

To be sure, both kinds tell a unique story. Both hope to be remembered. Both crave posterity.

The painting shown above decorates the doorway of a home near 5th and Bainbridge Streets in Philadelphia. Surrounded by both the funky and proper, the threshold sits above a one-step stoop. In a city where, on warm summer evenings, the most welcome relief to be found, with the possible exception of a corner seat in a corner tap-room, is firmly affixed to the concrete steps in front of a friend’s home, the stoop shown above is smaller than a tap stool.

We were well into fall when I found this doorway. Two nights removed from Halloween. 

Roadkill

As a child, I lived in a suburb that bordered very closely on farm country. Where cornfields ended, sprawling wooded areas exploded skyward, filled with all manner of wild things. As people sprawled, pavement was laid and animals were killed by cars. Rarely could I walk on the side of the road, because we had no sidewalks, without finding a dead possum, dear, fox or rabbit.

My imagination was vivid. Still is. And roadkill, with guts flying and rancid, seemed to have been planted, like a flower, by Dante Alighieri. Too, even back then, I seemed to believe in an afterlife.

As I walked by a carcass, then turned my back, I expected the animal to stand up, violently twister itself like a dog shaking water out of its fur after a swim, and start chasing me. A rabbit could easily morph into a hound from hell.

Walk toward the fire

My nephew recently visited. He is a young Republican who, for a summer internship, with plenty of choices, decided to spend three months teaching a course at UC Berkeley — a numbered circle of hell for those with conservative beliefs. When asked why he chose this campus, when he could have gone to Miami, Austin or Phoenix, he replied, “Uncle Michael, sometimes you just have to run toward the fire.”

Doorway as roadkill

I often lean backwards onto nearby walls to meditate when I find Zen spots. In this case, I couldn't lean back toward the door because the stoop was private property and, even if that was not the case, it could have flown open as I was leaning against it.

That said, I crossed my legs, exhaled, with my back to the doorway, and sat on the curb only several feet away. In this case, there was sidewalk between me and the roadkill — seven feet wide but, because I couldn’t run if it started to chase me, I was unsettled.

The perfect opportunity to run toward the fire.

Prevailing wisdom holds that meditation is best practiced in quiet, and I agree. However, the opportunity to breath while a beast from the Third Circle could come to life and attack, no matter how silly the belief, is an opportunity to practice mindfulness.

I closed my eyes for minutes, found peace and, surprisingly, it never attacked.

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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 #7 - Mindfulness, meditation and the Erased de Kooning February 24, 2018 00:05

Erased de Kooning

Erased de Kooning Drawing is a work created by Robert Rauschenberg. The final artwork appears to be an almost blank piece of paper. Created in 1953 by erasing a drawing he obtained from Willem de Kooning, the work is, at once, powerful and sublime, requiring an in-person viewing to fully experience its subtle brilliance. 

Grafitti in Philadelphia

Street art is proof that some voices refuse to be ignored. They will sing anywhere and at any time, like tree roots forcing their way through the joints of an underground pipe in search of water. Throughout Philadelphia, there is a group of unknown artists who leave artwork behind on street signs, in train stations, on park benches and, in some cases, simply leaning on a curb.

Some of the work is good. Time was taken to create a piece of durable substance. Other works are spontaneous, fleeting and fragile. Rain would nearly destroy them and…perhaps that’s the point. A third group is that of the accidental. All over the city, people leave behind beauty, weirdness and, ultimately, a wonderful little piece of themselves.

It’s hard to tell what the original large image above was (with the assumption that the image was painted over by the city as part of an anti-graffiti program). The work was pasted to an underpass just east of the corner of 5th and Callowhill Streets, in that unnamed section of Center City between Olde City and Northern Liberties.

Ripping-off Banksy

The work, and its technique, was clearly inspired by Banksy, the world famous and anonymous street artist. Usually I loathe direct rip-offs of any creative work; especially those that contain fear or tentativeness. I figure, if you’re going to steal, steal big. Use the nuclear option. The fact that this artwork was created elsewhere and pasted to the wall, instead of painting it directly on the wall, makes me cringe.

That said, the rolled beige paint used to camouflage the work is pure Dada. It’s benign, cheap and lazy. A bureaucrat initiated the program, a committee chose the color and a hourly laborer painted the wall with what was, apparently, little care.

Not all art means something and, when it does, it doesn’t always mean something important. This does.

Number 7

I love the correlation between the emergent concept on which Erased Dekooning was created and the destructive techniques used at both the beginning and middle of the latter’s life.

Because of its physical location, this Zen Spot can be loud at times but, for the most part, the noise is white — like the sound of the crowd in the background during a television baseball broadcast on a hot summer evening. It can, however, offer a cool respite from the summer sun.

Wait for August, find the spot and sit for a moment…or two.

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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 #49 — Mindfulness, meditation and the lives behind the brick behind the mural February 23, 2018 00:05

Discovering a mural during a walk

There is, often, a soloist who stands on a scaffolding of shoulders and wood and steel; but the gift is one of the collective, for the collective, requiring children, neighbors, homes, love, faith, collaboration, patience, dialog and passion. Each mural speaks a universal language, and expresses a singular truth, that is as personal and diverse as every person who walks by.

Souls rise with surprise; turning corners, looking up and being absorbed. For those who choose to stand closely, perhaps nose to brick, the full force and feeling of a building’s life becomes evident. One can know a machine shop or a family’s home resides behind the image. A school radiates, a hospital saves, a neighborhood transcends; grabbing the paint as surely and passionately as the paint grabs the building. The mural burns to the touch in direct August sunlight and its color can occupy the October darkness in altogether unexpected ways.

For those who, over the course of their lives, may only spend one hour in our city, looking up, with necks twisted behind windshields, admiring giants, they will leave with stories soon to be told — in Oslo, Sao Paolo, Dar es Salaam, Perth, Beijing and Chennai — about an inspiring neighborhood of neighborhoods where people work together with a common belief in the ability of art to transcend. Perhaps one traveler, upon returning home, will find a wall and a community that, fifty years from now, will look back at a city transformed.

Sometimes a Buddhist artist

There is no replacement for the joy of mashing a two-inch round brush, filled with a half a pound of cerulean blue paint, into a wall, until the conscious and the unconscious collide in a rendering of the sky. A dialog with a child, or an adult, about how to mix ideas and paint will, in fact, alter every door of perception. The world is our classroom.

And, while commerce sustains the economy that begets the mural’s creation, beliefs beget decisions that will sustain the voice until only dogs can hear the singing bell. I believe technology separates us more than art can connect us unless the voice behind the art demonstrates the unswerving belief that the medium, most certainly, is not the message.

This is my disclosure. I believe in the voice.

I believe in the connection of two people sitting together painting one picture. I believe in the ability of art to heal and transcend. I believe in symbols and handshakes and forgiveness and the choice to reach out when the prodigal son returns. I believe in lost sleep, found objects, fractured clay and art screaming to escape from a mosaic of sixty families, living in fifty row homes, on one block, spread across less than an acre of concrete. Alone together.

I believe in closing one’s eyes, legs folded, leaning against a mural painted on the outside of a home where a family might be sleeping, so that the sounds of its home lead me into silence.

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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 #105 — Mindfulness, meditation and the Skate Hog February 21, 2018 00:05

Voices

Street art is proof that some voices will not be ignored. They will sing anywhere, and at any time, like tree roots forcing their way through the joints of an underground pipe in search of water. Throughout Philadelphia, there is a group of unknown artists who leave artwork behind on street signs, in train stations, on park benches and, in some cases, simply leaning on a curb.

Much of the work is good. Time was taken to create a piece of durable substance. Other works are spontaneous, fleeting and fragile--rain would nearly destroy them. A third group is that of the accidental. All over the city, people leave behind beauty, weirdness and, ultimately, a wonderful little piece of themselves.

Bolted

I found the artwork above bolted to a street sign just east of the corner of 5th and Callowhill, in that unnamed section of Center City between Olde City and Northern Liberties. Perhaps this piece of anonymous art is appropriate to its anonymous neighborhood. The primary image — the long-haired warthog — was spray-painted through a template onto a piece of weathered wood. The red-orange icon below the hog is, at once, inconguent and completely perfect; skater culture meets the artist’s inner Oedipus.

The piece is more palpably odd than most street art I find. It occupies a small asphalt and concrete desert, next to a five lane super highway, with traffic lights at the end of every block. In comparison to other parts of Center City, people rarely walk down this street. They fly by in cars. I found the Hog on a weekday in August, around noon, when the sun was blistering. Having since driven by in the dead of winter, at 3 a.m., I'm sure the artwork is still hanging, alive and well. When sitting at a traffic light at night, once you know it's watching, it’s more creepy than the twenty-five closed circuit cameras mounted on buildings in the same block.

On a searing August afternoon next year, take a walk, take a socket wrench and take a pair of sunglasses. When finished, find a comfortable place on the sidewalk, facing south, and take a long cleansing breath.

Forget the hog. Forget yourself.

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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 #104 — Mindfulness, meditation and Tibet via North Philadelphia February 18, 2018 00:05

There’s no such thing as East Philadelphia

On the east side of Broad Street, in North Philadelphia, a spirit glides through the neighborhoods leaving hand-crafted directions to the home of the Dalai Lama. I discovered the street sign shown above, with the word “Tibet” improvised from metallic decals, near the corner of 5th and Spring Garden. Another smaller sign, hand-written in white paint on a rusty piece of iron, was tied to a bush in a small, shady, abandoned lot used as a summer respite by locals.

My gut tells me the signs are half art, half reminder and half hopeful introduction.

The neighborhood is poor, but changing quickly, surrounded to the south and east by gentrified blocks. Perhaps the artwork is designed to offer inspiration to neighbors faced with the need to move because their homes are no longer affordable. The large sign actually faces east. The inset faces west. I believe this represents a choice on behalf of the ghost to let people know that it really doesn’t matter which direction they choose so long as they choose to embrace compassion and mindfulness. My inner cynic, the one that struggles with compassion and mindfulness, wonders if I’m seeing ingenious guerrilla marketing for a hip-hop music label or a hipster bar. I live with a semi-permanent side-eye. Enlightenment appears to be several light-years away.

The cynic, however, can’t hinder the romantic, the searcher, the voyeur — the imperfect Buddhist. I’m curious if the word “Tibet” has been scrawled inside that pair of old sneakers hanging from the telephone wire. Or, has it been scribbled in wet cement on a block I never walk down? Is there graffiti? Has it been carved in a tree? Was it written on sheet music that’s been crumpled and thrown in municipal trash cans all over the city?

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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 #106 — Mindfulness, meditation and Cyclops at night February 18, 2018 00:05

A cool October evening

Night had fallen about 90 minutes earlier and just a sliver of moon helped the tail lights and headlights crossing the nearby Benjamin Franklin Bridge. A street lamp, hanging 30 feet in the air and 100 feet away, was the only ambient light available when I photographed the street art shown above with my flip phone.

The original image is black and white. Painted on a large piece of plywood that was bolted to the doorway of an abandoned brick building, I wasn’t expecting the phone to capture anything but darkness and, looking back, I have no idea why I tried to take the picture. The delete button was almost a knee-jerk.

I never questioned the magenta hue, it just appeared and I loved it. Who knew such powerful color was walking around in the darkness?

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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 #110 — Mindfulness, meditation and my feet hanging off the sides of a surfboard February 17, 2018 00:05

Knowing there’s a language

The way graffiti artists shape the language with their choice of words has always fascinated me. Often, the words are cryptic, with characters rendered so abstractly as to reflect the words of a tribe whose language I will never understand. Without doubt, something of substance is being conveyed, if only the chosen identity of another human being. 

A language within my language, without my language, is cradled in the collective mind, with a velvet rope holding back the great unwashed — of which I am one.

Inventing a language

Words come from somewhere, and each had to be invented. At some point in time, a dog went from having no identifying sound to having a group of people agree that a certain set of sounds would identify their furry, four-legged friend. One day, the sun rose and a human being made a choice as to how to refer to a dog. Before that day, the dog was not a dog.

The same can be said for the words rendered by graffiti artists. The Dead Sea Scrolls have nothing on the language spray-painted on the wall in the photo above. The writer plainly understood the word when it was written.

Inventing the poet

Choice and care are the hallmark of a poet. Consideration for both the meaning and the elocution of a word is valued. It is easy, however, for a poet to erase a word on paper — or throw the paper away altogether. 

Paint on a cinder block is less forgiving.

Waiting for the wave

It is impossible for me to look at the spray-painted word and not try to read it. The value I place on language and ideas compels me. My core reaches out, expecting meaning to divulge itself like a forty-foot wave instantly and expectantly rising from the glassy ocean behind me.

But the wave never arrives.

Feet hanging off 

Sitting up on my surfboard, two hundred yards from the beach, in ten feet of water, waiting for sharks and jelly fish to attack, it dawns on me that I will never be able to read the word and the sharks will never come. If a book exists for the language on the wall and it holds the secrets of the universe, the secret will never be available to me.

Not today.

Letting go of the language

The freedom of knowing that I will never understand is surprisingly warm. The pressure of the intellect to bulldoze, when abandoned, is replaced with the bosomy giggle of a teenager on ego-pilot, with the benefit of 55 years of living to ground the adolescent electricity. 

Walking away while remaining precisely in place. Bi-location of the pedestrian wise man. 

Being

Not chasing. Not seeking. Not studying. Not adjusting. Not squinting. Not rationalizing. Not reading. 

And eventually not wanting. Just being, next to the 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 #114 — Mindfulness, meditation and the birdhouse with a sunny door February 17, 2018 00:05

Philadelphia is full of murals

One can’t turn a corner without coming upon a giant — they reach out with a message of history, hope, culture or empathy. From the richest to the poorest, it seems that every neighborhood is blessed.

Giant scaffolds, giant brushes and giant gestures

No matter how detailed the image, painting a mural, in parts, requires broad gestures of bold color. Rendering a flower might extend the artist’s arms as far as they can possibly go while standing on tippy-toes. From the landing of a scaffold, raised five stories in the air, looking down can wither a painter in a way that standing in front of a canvas, at home, never would.

Life can’t reside in a mural

Rarely can truth be found in a painting. Parables and icons come with a viewpoint that is often incomplete or polished. Landscapes and city-scapes represent an ideal devoid of blood. 

In the mural shown above, the artist affixed a birdhouse — a real and precious home — to the rendering of a tree. Time was taken to build or buy, then paint, a place for a living thing to be warm. 

A doorway to the sun

The bird for whom the house will become home will always enter through a circular door painted to look like the sun. Parables await. In a city of neighborhoods, on a tree that doesn’t exist, a real bird hops through a symbolic sun to enter the warmth of its actual home.

Mindful and grateful

I didn’t notice the birdhouse when I took the photograph. It wasn’t until afterward, while cropping the image for placement in this blog, that I realized art was imitating life, telling a story more powerful than any giant, requiring a giant for the story to be told at all.

I am a bird. I am a giant. I am not a bird. I am not a giant.

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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 #137 — Mindfulness, meditation and the leaning tower of whimsy February 15, 2018 00:05

A child’s observation

A mother, with two children, strolled by as I stood next to the piling shown above. An infant was quietly snoozing in a stroller and a four year-old girl, with curly blond hair, in a blue dress, was holding her mother’s hand. With bouncing locks, and a sly smile, she walked up to the piling and said, “I thought it was going to be a lot bigger.”

Cause and effect

A truck must have backed into the piling. Made of thick steel conduit, and filled with cement, the pipe is bent in the opposite direction of the one-way street on which it sits. Ipso facto, the accident must have happened in slow motion as a truck was beeping and backing up.

Capriccioso and f=ma

There is something odd and wonderful about the power required to bend the pipe. A canvas was crafted from a mistake. The beeping noise of a larger box truck backing up, combined with the screeching of a hardened steel bumper warping an obdurate boom, was as random and predictable as a jazz improvisation. The echo of a human yawping from the driver’s blind spot, pleading to reverse the reverse, was the last stitch placed by the loom.

There is something profound about an artist finding the canvas and finding inspiration — perhaps in slow motion. Humor. Creation. Vision. Math. Simplicity. Complexity. 

Obdurate.

Without doubt, when finished painting the tower, the artist leaned back, smiled, closed her eyes and took a breath. 

I did the same and, after opening my eyes, I chose to smile at every passerby. And every smile was returned.

Lunchtime.

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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 #123 — Mindfulness, meditation and imagining the family February 15, 2018 00:05

The image

The photograph above is, by far, the most popular image that I post on Twitter. The home, I believe, looks hopeful and warm and interesting. One’s imagination is stirred. A story is evoked.

The story

A one hundred six year-old woman has lived in the home since 1920. With eight children, twenty-one grandchildren, six great grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren, her genes have dispersed to western Europe, Morrocco, Japan and eleven states. 

Built in 1906, in one of the first neighborhoods on the west side of the Schuykill River, the home has three bedrooms and one bath. Essentially two shotgun shacks, one sitting atop the other, coal was shoveled through a street-level window in the front of the structure, to heat the home, until 1952.

Her name is Dorothea. For sixty years, she cleaned offices in Center City Philadelphia. Otherwise, she stayed at home, cooking for her family and, when she had time, painted pictures of her neighborhood.

I’ve never spoken with her.

Truth

Dorothea doesn’t exist. Never did. I fabricated her soul because that’s who I want to live in the home. Could be an artist lives there — or an electrician, a vandal, a trash truck driver, a nurse or a secret billionaire.

Show me a home and I’ll tell you a story that always ends with a question and about an existence that doesn't exist.

>

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 #121 — Mindfulness, meditation and the sanctity of a temple, a church, a synagogue or an artist’s studio February 12, 2018 00:00

Inside

Artist’s studios are usually and necessarily spartan and chaotic, at the same time. White walls, grey floors, and plenty of storage. Tools organized and disorganized. Smells and aromas. Tables on wheels, work benches and places to splatter stuff. Light, sometimes natural and sometimes not, but bright, that the nuances of mixed colors may ascertained.

Splatter and light

Holy places, as it were, are often the opposite of spartan and chaotic. Ornament adorns, with an accompanying iconography of visual language, that assigns parabolic meaning to single letters in an alphabet. Where, in English, a three-lettered word like “cat” refers to a single four-legged animal, in the language of myriad dogmas, the word “cat” can be assigned a meaning so complex that armies can be launched if its meaning is maligned.

Usually, the complexity of meaning refers to either darkness or light, in the most absolute sense of each word.

This studio, temple, church or synagogue

Just north of University City, in Philadelphia, the building in the photo above sits on perhaps a three acre plot. And, while University City — home to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University — most assuredly sits in West Philadelphia, this brilliant building does not sit in University City. 

I came upon this dwelling while taking a shortcut, trying to avoid traffic. Thinking that I knew where much of the best public art could be found within William Penn’s grand experiment, I was blown away. It captures the mind. 

Having a bag of baby carrots and a bottle of lemonade with me, after taking the pictures, I leaned against the painted brick, underneath the screaming mask, just to the right of the garage door, and gave thanks.

>

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 #148 — Mindfulness, meditation and the night Max wore his wolf suit February 1, 2018 00:05

Accordion doors 

I entered kindergarten at the age of four — a full year before my peers. When the teacher would ask the class to hold their hands above their head and signal how old we were by holding up five fingers, I would quizzically hold up four. In hindsight, my early entrance into public education was less a statement of my brilliance than of my mother’s desire to get me out of the house. The following twelve years were full of mediocre grades despite being able to read before entering kindergarten. 

Lazy and flaky, I guess. Ego unabashed. Even at four. 

In the rear of the classroom, along the entirety of the back wall, was a closet with a hook for each child’s coat, and a cubby for lunchboxes. A long set of two accordion doors, each of which met in the middle of the front of the closet, could be closed to hide our coats, cubbies and books, at the discretion of the teacher. Above the hooks, out of our reach, were two shelves that ran the length of the closet. On those shelves, picture books were displayed so that, while seated, if we turned around, the golden treasure of story time could be seen and craved.

It can’t be overstated, though, that we needed to be physically seated, or standing in the middle of the classroom, in order to see the the display. The books were invisible while we were hanging our coats because, while doing so, we'd be looking straight up at the bottom of the shelf that held the treasure.

Mrs. Vanden Hegel knew something about managing the herd, especially with the accordion doors. Putting them to their full use by closing the doors brought the desired quiet of twenty active children into full effect.

Max

To be sure, my mind wasn’t fully formed at the age of four. That said, a fully formed mind becomes narrowed, semi-logical, and able to discard whatever thoughts its culture deems discardable — even if other cultures fully embrace the same. One man’s trash, as they say. 

The unformed mind, in my opinion, is able to see and feel things that its culture doesn’t want it to see. In this context, science can prove that colors exist on a much wider spectrum than is visible to the human eye. Now, I’m not suggesting that, as children, we were able to see those colors or that our culture has trained the ability out of our minds but, as a kindergartener, on the shelves I described, I saw a book glow with gold while it sat on the closet shelf.

It became my favorite book — ever.

Where The Wild Things Are

This essay assumes that you’ve read the book and fully understand the fear and excitement that the “Wild Rumpus” can engender in a four year-old. That a bedroom could transform into a forest, and Wild Things could be coaxed forth to dance and gnash, drew me in like a fly ball to an outfielder’s mitt. 

Studies of memory suggest that a specific memory is the memory of the last time the memory was accessed by the computer of the mind. That, in fact, the gold glow I witnessed was created by a creative mind run amok, and repeatedly reinforced every time the book was lent to me by the library of my mind.

At some point, the truth doesn’t matter. I can never prove it happened and even the most ardent scientist can’t prove it didn’t. The book, itself, remains magical — something I look forward to sharing with grandchildren, if the time comes. 

Know this — something glows for every child in the same way that Where The Wild Things Are glowed for me. I submit that, within the glow, the seeds of mindfulness can be found.

>

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 #10 — Mindfulness, meditation and The Noble Eightfold Path reborn every morning December 5, 2017 22:50

That idea

I read an author who that asserts that we are each reborn every time we awaken — that this life ends when we close our eyes and the next life begins when the morning arrives. Direct and simple, the idea makes complete sense to me because, at the very least, it eliminates dogma, and does so with respect.

That next life

There is a sense of awe and wonder that washes over me when there is a eventful difference between each day and, if the idea described above applies, between each lifetime. Most differences, however, are unnoticeable--yet we move from life to life.

That spot

Every day, I drive by a building that has been undergoing a restoration for a very long time. The building’s five stories occupy an entire North Philadelphia city block and were probably finished in the 1920s to house a factory. Surprisingly, however, I can’t remember the last time a construction crew was on-site. 

The perimeter is lined with temporary chain-link fence upheld by three-inch stainless steel conduit impaled into crumbling cinder blocks. Where a sidewalk would normally reside, an overgrowth of bloom and weeds spawns from between the concrete sidewalk slabs. Where the masonry of the side of the building meets each slab, vines crawl and spew. Pavement destroyed by time and the elements has been piled into rubble. Dirt and shale sit in broken mounds. 

The image above is painted on the back wall of an alcove on the first floor of the south side of the building. Sitting about six feet off the ground, and thirty feet out of reach from the top of the chain-link fence, the alcove invites visitors. A traffic light stands close enough to cast multiple nighttime colors on the back wall.

That image

Yesterday, I drove by and the image above appeared in the distance. Visible from three hundred meters away, the details weren’t obvious, but it was clear the building was different — noticeably and powerfully— than it was just 24 hours earlier.

The previous night, a ghost climbed the fence, scaled the alcove and took the time to paint a safe, nurturing angel. Oddly, there was no evidence of a human having been present. Most notably, there were no trampled weeds or footprints left in the dirt or overgrowth. It appeared that the artist floated over the fence and onto the alcove without ever touching the ground.

In the life that was yesterday.

>

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 #11 — Mindfulness, meditation and a street art zoetrope June 27, 2016 18:01

Nude descending a staircase

An urban park, the kind that embraces a full city block, holding a massive green field home to baseball in the summer, sits across the street from this small mural. The female figure stands about two and a half feet tall.

Among my first thoughts, after having stumbled on this artwork, was a question as to the gender of the artist. I don’t know why. 

The rendering is gentle and lithe, as is the subject. It borders on the erotic with an emphasis on the bare female bottom that could just as easily have been covered by a skirt. Did a female paint this figure based on an appreciation for the gift of the figure's shape or to express an ideal her body can’t achieve? Was she crafting a myth or illustrating a children’s story by blending Duchamp’s Futurism with a crude whimsy?

If painted by a man, why? Why the grace? Why the hair? Why the features? Why strand her in the dark as the sun goes down every afternoon? Why paint her in the dark as he almost certainly had to do?

This image is quiet, gesturing in a manner as though preparing to dance, waiting for that first bar of music. Its quiet, though, is visceral as well. As if the figure knows the artist never intended for the music to begin. 

The image brought me an interesting perspective on the physical movement we each take just before — and after — we sit to meditate. There is that process of slowing down, then preparing our minds to become still--and then   the stillness. The process, in my mind’s eye, takes on a stop-action quality until a single frame freezes into a mindful position.

Then, with a final breath, life begins again. The mind awakens, moves forward and the day provides.

>

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 #4 -- Mindfulness, meditation and weathering out of existence March 5, 2015 10:49

Forgotten or weathered out of existence?

While walking in a neighborhood close to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I found this image above pasted to a brick wall, on a small side street, in an abandoned lot. I've forgotten precisely where the image is and, unless I go back to search for it--which is unlikely--it may as well no longer exist. In fact, since the spot can only be identified by a paper poster, it's likely that the natural elements have destroyed the marker. It has been several years.

When I found the image, I only stayed long enough to take a picture with my flip phone. I knew instantly and instinctively that I wanted to forget its location. I knew I wanted a place to visit in my mind more than I wanted an alternative.

I am intrigued by the image. It is the offspring of a Soviet-era social poster, an Arabic or Eastern language (or visual gibberish) and a still image from The Wizard of Oz

Don't try to find it. Perhaps, instead, try to remember the first time you watched The Wizard of Oz. The Scarecrow might be a Buddha.

>

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 #3 -- Mindfulness, meditation and art below the above-ground subway March 1, 2015 16:02

August in Philadelphia can be brutal

At noon, in direct sunlight, the skin can sear quickly. Squinting angrily to keep the sweat and glare out of one's eyes is required. 

While I was walking, at lunchtime, during my last several months working for a small public television station, I found the artwork above. Despite very fair skin, I was drawn to long walks after a small midday meal. The neighborhood through which I would wander is called Northern Liberties. On the eastern side of this neighborhood, the elevated portion of the subway cuts a loud rumbling shadow on the asphalt below. 

On a very particular street corner, a bar resides where live music is played nightly. The venue is the nearest thing that Philadelphia has ever had to CBGB. Its' exterior brick walls are painted with Scharfian characters. An adjacent empty lot, with a chain-link fence that covers most of the front of the property, faces the street underneath the elevated rails. The goofy face above is wood-screwed into a 4' x 8 plywood panel that's rivet-glued to the fence. 

The mural started with the pure intent that drives every artist. At some point after it was finished, graffiti and handbills were stapled and glued like weeds growing between cracks in the sidewalk. Life erupts.

Where life erupts, mindfulness can erupt as well.

>

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 #151 - Mindfulness, meditation and the Skate Hog January 25, 2015 14:56

Roots bursting water pipes

Street art is proof that some voices will not be ignored. They will sing anywhere and at any time; like tree roots forcing their way through the joints of an underground water pipe in search of water. Throughout Philadelphia, there is a group of unknown artists who leave artwork behind--on street signs, in train stations, on park benches and, in some cases, simply leaning on a curb.

Some of the work is good; time was taken to create a piece of durable substance. Other works are spontaneous, fleeting and fragile; rain would nearly destroy them, and perhaps that's the point. A third group is that of the accidental. All over the city, people leave behind beauty, weirdness and, ultimately, a wonderful little piece of themselves.

I found the artwork above bolted to a street sign just east of the corner of 5th and Callowhill, in that unnamed section of Center City between Olde City and Northern Liberties. Perhaps this piece of anonymous art is appropriate to its anonymous neighborhood.  The primary image - the long-haired warthog -- was spray-painted through a template onto a piece of weathered wood. The red-orange icon below the hog is, at once inconguent and completely perfect; skater culture meets the artist's inner Oedipus. 

The piece is more palpably odd than most street art I find. It occupies a small asphalt and concrete desert, next to a five lane super highway, with traffic lights at the end of every block. In comparison to other parts of Center City, people rarely walk down this street; they fly by in cars. I found it on a weekday in August, around noon, when the sun was blistering. I've since driven by in the dead of winter, at 3 a.m., and the artwork is still hanging, alive and well. When you're sitting at a traffic light at night, and you know the warthog is watching, it's more creepy than the twenty-five closed circuit cameras mounted on buildings in the same block.

Take a walk, take a socket wrench.

>

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?