Zen Spot #167— Mindfulness, meditation, hopeful builders, free books and love March 11, 2018 00:00


He is eighty-five years old. A mentor of sorts, he considers me to be his surrogate son. Very well read, very well dressed and very wry, he graduated from The University of Pennsylvania in 1955. Pursuant to his wryness, he refers to his alma mater as The University of West Philadelphia, downplaying the fact that he attended an Ivy League university.

Lovingly referring to me as a shit-heel when he needs to put in my place, he often asks if I am post-literate — part of the permanent zeitgeist that has left books behind, preferring video bites and a life hiding behind earphones. Thankfully, I remind him that I read more than he reads now.

Libraries and neighborhoods

There is something about being physically surrounded by books. The comfort of a womb, I hold the belief that knowledge provides safety — literally, intellectually, metaphorically. I further hold the belief that, within the walls of a library, agreement can be found between the most disparate of opinions and human beings. Perhaps the books offer hope. 


The Free Library of Philadelphia has over 50 branches, each offering sanctuary from whatever. No matter how poor the neighborhood, most branches ensure that knowledge is available to whomever seeks it, without search engines making decisions for the seeker. To be sure, The Free Library System provides excellent online access, but nobody has ever accused the internet of being safe, welcoming, warm and truly wonderful. Where books are friends, the internet is a tool.

Taking a page from the Free Library

Sprinkled throughout the city, ultra-mini, personal, local libraries can be found where one would never expect. Crafted and inventoried at individual expense, each gem offers insight into the builder’s mind and the neighborhood’s culture.

Each built like a home, if not always shaped like a house, passersby are encouraged to borrow and return — or never return. If a particular book elicits a powerful love, the community within which the tiny branch resides will understand the choice to adopt. Should the new owner return with another title, all the better. 

Unilaterally, the libraries are stocked when passed by. I’ve never seen an empty branch, a broken glass, an unhinged door, a looted interior or a spray-painted facade. In a world, and a city, where property is often held in contempt — and treated as such — jewels like the one shown above are protected more than the homes of the owners on whose property the libraries reside.


Books are cheap. Used book stores buy them by the pound, no matter the title, author or sum total of words between the covers. That said, the value of a book can never be determined by the weight of the book — providing a splendid absurdity worthy of any play by Samuel Beckett.

Too, the value of the tiny dwelling goes well beyond the love of the architect. Each little library took time to build — perhaps dozens of hours. Hopeful hours, born of a belief in the power of the printed word to reach far beyond a single reader.

The cynic would believe that these little libraries are always full because nobody ever gives or takes a title — and the cynic might be right. To be truthful, I’ve never seen anybody use a little library. Further, I have only given one book and taken one book — each from a different library. But, as anybody who has ever slammed into a deer while driving on a rural road will tell you, where there is one deer, there are fifteen deer — and  you can’t see the other fourteen. Thus, I know I am not alone and it’s fair to assume that, while my love is as true as the next member of the literati, there are dozens of more thoughtful citizens who give and take more thoughtfully.

Mt. Airy, Philadelphia

I found the library above less than half a mile from the childhood home of my mentor. He talks fondly of the days in the 1930s and 40s when he ran wildly through the morning streets and tore voraciously through library afternoons. Lamenting the loss of those days, as well as his belief in the loss of the printed word, the safety he felt as a child seems to have disappeared into electronic mediums that appear to provide little knowledge and encourage even less, leading to the post-literate world by which he is so horrified.

I emailed him a picture of the little library. He called me a day later to tell me I’m a shit-heel.


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?