The Middle Way

Zen Spot #36 — Mindfulness, meditation, autopilot and the internal gyroscope February 20, 2018 00:05

Auto-pilot and gyroscopes

It happens, from time to time, that a memory returns from an alcohol-fueled blackout. There’s no telling what will jar the memory loose. Sometimes, it’s like walking into a wall. At other times, the memory fades in slowly, over the course of a minute. Even after fifteen years of sobriety, it still happens once in a while.

At its worst, while still drinking, I would end up passed-out on a park bench, in a nice business suit. It happened in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Miami, Washington D.C and other cities. Perhaps my physical size was the only thing that kept me safe. Predators must have moved on to easier targets. The police ignored me as well.

It is a time I never want to revisit and, as of this writing, it has been 5414 days.

Washington Square, PHL

Walking from corner to corner, at about 9 pm on a recent Friday night, on my way to an art gallery, my memory opened up. This rarely happens in Philadelphia. My auto-pilot and internal gyroscope could always help me find my way through my home town.

This time was different. 

I don’t shuffle, but my foot speed is noticeably slower than in the life I have since forgotten. That night, I was taking my time, too. It was a beautiful evening. As I passed a particular park bench, my memory faded into a time having crawled across the sidewalk puzzle of rectangular flagstone, until I could pull myself onto the bench. To the best of my estimation, the year was 1998. I had probably been at Dirty Franks, a bar about twelve blocks away, which falls in line with my modus operandi of walkabouts while living in oblivion. No recollection of the stroll has returned.

The bench

As the flashback fully returned, I stood looking down at the bench for a full minute. Shaking my head, I closed my eyes and swayed back and forth on unsteady feet. Shame accompanies these experiences no matter how much time has passed.

I chose to sit. Sobriety, and clarity, provide the option to choose. I further chose to take a breath, with my hands on my knees, in the dark, and make peace with the memory. The quiet was full of distant sirens, plates being cleared by waiters in a nearby restaurant and the sound of rubber tires turning on asphalt.

I imagined a space ship having departed some 5000 days before, disappearing into the blackness, only to return, unannounced, just minutes before. A guy about my size got out, sat down next to me and disappeared into 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 #161 — Mindfulness, meditation, the Beastie Boys, potato salad, the number 12 and a phone call from a Buddhist monk February 19, 2018 00:05

Interracial

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.

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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 #143— Mindfulness, meditation and the intersection of Broad and Vine February 10, 2018 00:05

The intersection

Traveling west on Vine Street, I ran a red light at the corner of Broad at about 9 p.m. on a Thursday night. Halfway through the intersection, I knew I was in trouble. The terror of such a mistake, in the moment, before an impact, is hard to describe. Time slows down and speeds up simultaneously. The impact is expected — only there wasn’t an impact.

I sailed to the other side of Broad unscathed. Cars going north and south narrowly missed me. Pursuant to my description of my choice’s effect on time, the vehicles never slammed on their brakes or honked their horns. It all happened too quickly — everybody was safe without any input or time to react. 

Before I made it to the other side, I knew I had a problem with alcohol. In fact, I’d suspected for about six months. My suspicions were confirmed as I crossed the double line on Broad Street. 

I’d had two drinks, so I wasn’t blind. One’s accountability, however, is the same whether one drink or one fifth is involved. Drinking and driving had never been a problem in the past — it just wasn’t my thing. Doesn’t matter.

The needle had been threaded.

Grace, karma, luck, coincidence, nothing or ferried by an angel

For the previous seven years, and perhaps more, I’d done little to earn a favor from the universe — taking more than giving. And, while I understand that the idea of karma is much more than cause and effect, I believe in cause and effect as a fundamental part of life, especially since the negative effect caused by a negative action can bring considerable suffering. Simplistic, I know, but it works for me.

Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t kill somebody or myself. We were saved by inches and physics. What were the karma profiles of everybody involved? Those driving north and south? The pedestrians?

I threaded the needle. Grace, karma, luck, coincidence, nothing or ferried by an angel?

When the eye of a needle is a threshold

I committed to change. It took me another year to stop drinking but I never got behind the wheel of a car again. With the help of an acquaintance I stopped altogether and, as of the essay, it’s been 5873 days.

When the eye of a needle is a tunnel

Things got harder for a long time. The metaphor of the light at the end of the tunnel being a train ended up being true. It took time to learn, though, that I’d been in the tunnel long before the needle was threaded. 

Never coming out on the other side of the tunnel

Metaphors are sometimes inappropriate or ineffective. This is one of those times.

Coming out on the other side of the tunnel

It was grace, karma, luck, coincidence, nothing and being ferried by an angel — because they’re all the same thing. Every time I cross that intersection I’m grateful.

With gratitude comes compassion. With compassion, anything is possible.

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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 #155 — Mindfulness, meditation and letting sleeping dogs lie February 7, 2018 00:05

Hammurabi

Apologies can have an almost otherworldly power. To reach out, after having committed an error, recognizing that your behavior caused pain, can bring about a rare intimacy. Too, reaching out can result in Hammurabi chewing off an equal portion of whatever. The unpredictability is excruciating. Walk into an apology with your face or loins covered and your sincerity can be questioned. Arrive defenseless and the bleeding could be profuse and extended.

Nine

Among the rationale for making amends during AA’s ninth step, as far as I am concerned, is the humbling pain one must endure as forgiveness is requested. If done correctly and thoughtfully, with the desire to do whatever is necessary to make amends at the forefront, the executor’s desire to never repeat the process can be a resource from which to pull the strength not to indulge when the opportunity presents itself.

That said, every person whose forgiveness I requested acted with an astonishing grace. My loins were sincerely exposed. None punted. 

Abscesses and my memory

I’ve written of blackouts. Weeks of blackouts. Time given away, and taken back spontaneously, years after, when a memory flashes back, bringing with it remorse that I thought was gone. 

Flashbacks bring reflexive facial contortions. The taste of an abscess bubble bursting on my gums is less bitter. Sometimes my head shakes back and forth spontaneously and automatically even before the memory arrives.

Abscesses and other people’s memories

The problem with a fearless and thorough accounting of one’s behavior is that many of the aggrieved don’t remember the grievance and, when approached, offer only a quizzical look. That said, in my case, almost everybody possessed a memory deserving of an apology for which I had no corresponding flashback. No matter.

The dogs

The latest boomerang to fly out of the dark and land at my feet concerned a client from twenty years ago. The indiscretion will go unnamed, but the compulsion to appropriately debit and credit the metaphysical balance sheet became overwhelming. An email was drafted. A phone call was pondered. Neither was executed.

I knew he wouldn’t remember and I knew he would forgive me. Of these two facts, I am absolutely sure. 

Forgiveness for the things I can’t remember found at the heart of the things I can remember. As the boomerangs continue to land at my feet, with this man in particular, my certainty in his grace allows me to forgive myself.

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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 #8 — Mindfulness, meditation and a Soho doorway where a policeman knew my name January 27, 2018 00:05

My mind’s eye is black and white in this memory

There is something to be said for returning to the scene of a crime, especially in the context of a personal recovery that is built on a commitment to mindfulness.

The crime? A spate of drunken blackouts to which I gave away weeks of my life. Over a drinking career that spanned 16 years, I’ve forgotten the number of times I’ve forgotten chunks of time. And, given the fact that I believe in personal accountability, my actions most certainly can be considered crimes that cost my family and friends a great deal. At times, laws may have been broken. 

The scene

In particular, there is a bar in Center City Philadelphia within which lies a booth I often entered stone sober and left, some time later, on ego-pilot.

The bar was a dive. It smelled of stale beer and was broken — literally and metaphorically. A clown car of working class neighbors from twenty blocks south, art students, iron workers, prissy Ivy co-eds and everything in between, its' occupants often spilled into the street on warm summer nights. The bartenders were tremendously rude until they got to know you and, the last time I was there, the northern side of the actual bar was falling over. Gashed linoleum, peeling away from a concrete floor, like fingernails accidentally bent backwards, snapped shut on shreds of branded tobacco fallen from the end of thousands of fresh cigarettes. 

The exterior was painted flat gray. Camouflage is anonymity. It was an inexplicable amalgam of pretense and pragmatism.

The air

The noise inside wasn’t overwhelming. Music filled the background but not so much that one couldn’t understand the cacophony of discourse and drunkenness. Noise, in louder moderation, especially that form of white-ish noise that every crowd creates, never posed a problem for my practice. I didn’t need silence.

Left behind 

I’ve not gone inside since 2001. but have been told the bar has been fixed. No matter, I’ll never go back. I don’t need to return. I will, however, sit outside, cross my legs, lean against the southern wall and breathe until a cop or a drunk or a friend or a neighbor or the sun rousts me.

Just like I would have interrupted a mindful practitioner 16 years ago.

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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?