Zen Spot #179 — Mindfulness, meditation and the post-literate generation October 6, 2018 00:00

A question of literacy

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 me into 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 and, as if only pointed out to prove him wrong, I remind him that I read more than he reads now.

He describes a morning ritual of toast, coffee, maple bacon and eggs eaten over a print copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer. And, while he doesn’t consider the act of perusing the local news to be reading, his daily constitutional represents a dying habit.


I never understood his fame. Having read both For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises, I found both novels to be nice. Nice. Faulkner? Pretty much the same. Updike? A little better. Steinbeck? Love his stories but his prose is plain. Wallace Stegner? Not bad. Salinger? He quit while he was ahead.

Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man were awful. The former, for me, literally impossible to read. Finegan’s Wake? Pretty good. Twain was awesome and plain too, but almost everybody loves Twain.

Bukowski? He’s my guy. Especially his early career. I’ve lived a similar life. 

I am less enamored of very late Twentieth Century fiction, especially anything published after 1982. The emphasis of marketing over substance is evident in many choices to publish. Pursuant to full disclosure, I went to high school with a mildly well-known early twenty-first century writer who has published both a memoir and a novel, both to wide acclaim, the latter of which was made into a movie. Read her books. She will remain anonymous. 

I prefer autobiographies and historical documentaries. More to be learned.


While I am vehemently non-post-literate, I understand that many people don’t read books . The phenomenon is not new. Throughout history, most people have gone through life not reading for pleasure or knowledge. I get it.

However, my feelings about the consumption of words and content through an electronic screen mimics my mentor’s opinion about the print word. For the most part, I don’t consider any activity in front of an electronic screen to be reading. Two highly literate peers will vehemently disagree, but two examples do not a significant demographic make. I believe my peers are the exception. No matter. I wrote this paragraph to irritate them because I am an imperfect, cranky Buddhist — and self knowledge goes a long way in the pursuit of mindfulness. Smartphones are evil and insidious, if not for their content, for their delivery mechanism. Few great ideas can be communicated in so little time. If printed romance novels are the tar built up in lungs over decades of smoking cigarettes, smartphone screens are the instant rush of mainlining heroin. Good books aren’t smoking. 

Take a moment to take in the entirety of the irony.


I began writing the Zen Spot series in support of the business interest of SilkDharma.com. Committed to writing thoughtfully, along the way I realized that I couldn’t write with an emphasis on being found in a Google search. The requirements, though financially productive at times, make for dreadful writing. The kind I could never read. Ironically, like a wonderful book sitting on a bottom shelf, in the back of a bookstore, these essays will be hard to find. 

I’d rather write well than get found, with an emphasis on Google finding me. That said, I’ve identified other ways through which my stories might rise from obscurity. Loyal readers and patrons will follow, I believe.

Write well and business will take care of itself. Too, I find joy in finding myself through the writing.


I am profane in so many ways, the least of which can be found in my choice of language. That said, I believe, as a culture, we’ve come full circle in the realm of a Cold War conundrum. Where the Soviets had Pravda, we have social media, the reading of which passes for reading. That trolls can react to the ideas presented in real time passes the ostensible smell test for the leading edge of democracy and free speech. For the pundits of the theocracy of commerce — F-bombs, as free speech, pursuing theocracy are a perfect example.

This essay is no exception, but enough with social commentary. Self knowledge goes a long way in the pursuit of mindfulness.

Good books, bad books and the Zen of time

Despite having to put Ulysses down in frustration, the feeling wasn’t grounded in wasted time. Three hours gone, the time was not gone. Emerging into the daylight at that he end of that particular tunnel, I knew myself better, I knew the world better and the endorphins were flowing. Rigorous exercise over an extended time has that effect.

Dreams are vivid. Calmness thrives. Mindfulness is easier.

Time with Hemingway? Not wasted. The endorphins flooded. The same for every other author mentioned, no matter my judgement. 

Enter the tunnel, meditate in the darkness, emerge from the tunnel — even if you are not aware of the meditation. Consider, too, that a visit to a used bookstore is a mindful experience.

Books. Time taken. Literate and mindful.


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?