Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

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The Usual Suspects: Podcast Roundup #6

The usual suspects were heard on by drive this week. Due to some…just…lovely…construction on the highway, another hour was added to my drivetime once again. No problem for me! It just means another podcast episode. Yay!

Just in case anyone from CalTrans might be reading, though: There has got to be a better way to repair the one highway in and out of a small town. Like, what if we just used one side while you repaired the other, instead of one lane stopping and crawling while you move equipment in and out of the lane?

I get it. It does need repair, desperately, and I’m grateful it’s being done. But there are a lot of people in this town that work down the hill every day and for the next month or so, the construction is adding an hour to their one-hour commute. The tension is building. I seriously sat there trying to project peace into these poor people the whole time I sat there inching along. And then there’s the poor construction guys in the hot sun with all the angry around. Man, what a mess. All the technology in the world and we can’t find a better way to do this? I think figuring this out would be a better use of time and energy than space travel.

One more thing before I dive into the “Roundup.”

My trail cam photos are so much fun. I’m posting some of them on my page Desert Photos: Enjoy the view, but I had to share this one here because it was so funny.

the usual suspects
THREE jack rabbits at the water bowl!

That one watching in the background looks like he’s smirking. Like he did something to the water and is just about to tell them and they’ll spit it out. “What the hell, Joe?! What’s wrong with you!?” And he’ll be rolling on his back laughing at them.

If anyone knows an EASY way to make a video of a couple hundred photos (like a fast slideshow), I’d love to hear about it. Sometimes the progression of the pictures is the best part, and I can only post photos right now.

Let’s get on with the show!

Secular Buddhism – #107 Learning to be Silent

Can you guess why I picked this one? Silence is not my strong suit. I have a lot to say, people! But the takeaway for me today was when he said, “Have you ever judged a person by what you see or experience in one instance?” Made me think, “Yes, I have.”

That guy that cut me off. That mother in the store. That fast food worker. I could go on and on. People are not horrible in general. Let’s give each other a break.

Philosophy Bites – Kathleen Stock on What is a Woman?

Made me think on issues I didn’t even realize were there. What is the dividing line that makes one “woman”? And maybe we’re going about this gender thing the wrong way?

Interesting article, “Ignoring Differences Between Men and Women Is the Wrong Way to Address Gender Dysphoria” on Quillette, if you’d rather read her work instead of listen to an interview about it.

BBC Radio: Books and Authors – Making it new? Literature of the Twenties Special

We’ve been talking about the similarities between the 1910’s and the 2010’s for a while now. Will the 20’s continue in the same vein? I’m all for “roaring” but maybe we can avoid “depression” and “war.”             I already have “Ulysses” by James Joyce sitting on by TBR shelf. I’m inspired to conquer it once again.

CATO Daily Podcast – Will Onerous Regulations Stay Gone After COVID?

Takeaway: If you can suspend a regulation because of an emergency, did you need the regulation in the first place? Or were you using government to protect the status quo?

BBC Radio: In Our Time, Philosophy – Marcus Aurelius

I liked this but didn’t listen to the whole thing. The interviewer kept trying to get them to read quotes from “Meditations,” but they kept going back to explaining him and arguing whether or not his work was philosophy or self-help. And what’s the difference? Something I’ll be looking at in a future post.

BBC Radio: Bookclub – Lissa Evans – Old Baggage

Suffragettes and old women friends! Yes, please! This one is a comedy, too. Bonus. What do you do when you’ve accomplished your goals and now you must move on? My ears perked up when I heard the author say, “The character had been treading water since they got the vote for women and was still trying to find her new thing.” Hey! That’s a bit like me!

Book Added to the TBR List: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Conversations with Coleman – Critical Race Theory with Christopher Rufo

This links to YouTube but you can listen on any podcast platform. The more I hear about this, the more I don’t like it. It seems to be building walls between people instead of bringing people together. I like what Christopher Rufo says about building up on commonalities instead of separating by differences.

And there you go!

Yeah, it is the usual suspects. I have the same six shows I listen to the most, but they lead me in such interesting directions. I know there’s more conversation to listen to out there. Do you have a favorite podcast? Let me know in the comments. Hearing yours will help me expand my influential input!

Using Buddhism as a Practice

“No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners” is definitely a beginner’s book. Short and sweet, right to the point, and I loved it. It’s a wonderful start at using Buddhism as a practice. In the hopes of remembering more of it…insert eye-roll because I can’t believe I have such a hard time with this…I’m putting it on top of my current book from awhile and reading one page of it first thing and then moving on to the rest of my day.

using buddhism

That’s what’s awesome about this book. Each question or concept is covered in one or two pages, making it easy to take in, one step at a time. No, you’re not going to get the in-depth and detailed nuances and rich history of Buddhism, but you will get the big picture and be able to start using the ideas immediately. It’s the edge pieces of the puzzle I was talking about looking for in my last post on The Protestant Ethic.

I’ve read a few books on Buddhism; Returning to Silence, The Art of Happiness, and The Story of Buddhism. All of them were wonderful, but this one has been the most useful. It’s more practical, less spiritual, of course, since Noah Rasheta does an amazing podcast called Secular Buddhism, where I found the book.

There is so much in this book to act on, that I can’t simply pull out a couple quotes to sum it up. That’s why I’m going to re-read it, much as I used to re-read and study my bible, one page at time, in the hopes of soaking up the information, digesting it and turn it into actions that make my life (and the lives of the people around me) just that much more peaceful.

There is one quote that I felt I needed to put down here:

“Buddhism can be practiced somewhat like yoga: as something you do, not something you are.”

This really got me. Years ago, I finally succumbed to pressure and started a meditation practice. At the beginning, I would go out to put the laundry in the washer and then sit beside it and practice for five minutes. That five minutes changed my life. Sounds crazy, but it is true. Nothing about my life changed though, it was only my awareness of my surroundings that changed, and my awareness that I could take a breath, pause, and then act. Something that had never occurred to me before.

That same year, I added yoga to my morning routine as an active meditation. And, wow, things really started to move around in my head. The process of learning to move and stretch my body as I breathe, putting all else aside for thirty minutes brought me peace that I took into the rest of my day.

Slowly but surely, I’m still learning more and more every day. I wish the process would speed up, or that I could go back in time and start earlier. Maybe I’d have made some better decisions in my life, or at least drove fewer people crazy with my reactionary habits. But that’s life. We live and learn. And because I started to learn these teachings as my sons entered their teens, I’ve been able to pass the ideas on to them early and it does look like they are using them. Another example of how we become immortal, passing a bit of ourselves into the future.

My practice today isn’t long and involved, but it is more consistent, and that means progress. A practice is something you do every day in the hopes of getting better and better. You never finish. You never arrive. You only practice until you die. Life is crazy like that.

So, yes, I enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it if you’re curious about the basics of Buddhism. Every page is useful. Every chapter is helpful.

Morning Meditation – A Break

I wasn’t going to write this morning, but the day started so unexpectedly beautiful that I had to use it all as a morning meditation and share it with you. No pictures. That would have ruined the mood.

This is the one day a week that I have to be up and out the door by a certain time. It’s my “day out,” visiting with friends and shopping for household goods I can’t find in my own small town. Let me rephrase that; I CAN find them, I just don’t want to. It adds value to my life to spend time “down the hill” in the city visiting friends, and why not shop at a few nicer stores while I’m there!

I don’t usually write this day. I have little time, and something has to give. But today something was different.

I woke up to a strange feeling. Cool.

It’s the middle of August, that time of year when I have just about had my fill of excessive heat warnings, blazing hot afternoons, and swamp cooler fans running on high all night long. And then the wind started to blow yesterday afternoon and it was 77 degrees at 8pm. I opened the windows and turned off the fans smiling. Would that break actually come like the weather report suggested?

When I awoke, there was a chill. I looked at the thermometer, 57 degrees. I took a deep breath and put on my favorite sweatshirt to sit and read, sip my coffee and watch the sunrise.

I thought to myself, “Screw the morning routine. I need to relish this.” But after an hour of reading “East of the Mountains” (which I haven’t blogged about yet, sorry), my habit mind insisted that it was workout time and I heeded its call. Thirty minutes of cardio. Twenty minutes of silent meditation. A bit of breakfast: oatmeal, raisins, and walnuts. And…

Water the yard before the sun gets too hot.

Nope! Not today! No need. I sat down to spend twenty minutes in my new book “No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners.” I found a new mantra there. “Every day is a good day.”

My son walked in from the trailer looking for coffee. He’s back at home for a few months, but that’s another story. I put my book away and went out to water the trees while he made his breakfast.

But my morning meditation continued.

In the yard that joyous feeling swelled up inside me. The sun had been up for an hour, a cool breeze was still blowing softly, the sky was that brilliant clear desert blue, and the sun was warm and friendly on my back.

The California Thrashers were signaling their territory…loudly. The quail were scratching about and chattering in the bushes. The hummingbirds, as usual, were there to get a taste of the water I was putting on my lilac bushes. It made me want to get out in the yard, get my trail cam back out and start recording my bird visitors again.

I came back in the house to my son watching some tv show in German while he ate. That’s why his German is so good. He watches German language shows with the subtitles on in German. Long term homeschool win, again.

And my morning meditation continued.

As I’m writing this, I hear more cars on the paved road half a mile away, hammers from the beautiful new house they’re building at the end of the street. My dog is at my feet wondering why we’re typing in my office and not on the couch today. My cat keeps walking over my desk to inspect the house plants that I moved onto it yesterday so they had more space to grow. These are some happy plants.

And now I just thought of a picture I do want to share with you!

morning meditation

This was a beautiful break. I didn’t get to read as much as usual, but I got to write to you. It turns out you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners: New Read

How do I even begin to tell you, to explain what goes on in my head? You’ll think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. It’s true. I have a very hard time remembering things. How does that relate to the book No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners? You’ll see.

no-nonsense buddhism for beginners

I write things down a lot, lists of things I need to do, people I need to talk to. I make lists in retrospect as well, so that tomorrow I can look back and remember that I did that thing. I take screen shots of conversations and save them so that I don’t forget that someone loves me deeply. Playing cards with me is easy. You don’t ever need to worry about me seeing your cards. The moment I can’t see them anymore, I forget. Playing pinochle with my family was always hilarious because I have to put all my focus on remembering how many cards have been played. But that’s not really a big deal, right?

I know I’ve probably brought this up before but, there is a lot that I don’t remember about the books I’ve read shortly after I put them back on the shelf. I know I did read them because I wrote in the book. And there are some books that have stuck with me. I’ve read that I’m not alone there. Most people, when asked if they’ve read a certain book, can tell you yes or no, but then not be able to give the details about it. They just remember that they liked it or not. One of the reasons I write here is to put conscious effort into putting my thoughts in order and then keeping them to look back on. I remember more of what I talk about and/or explain than what I read.

What does that have to do with No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners?

I’ve been listening to Noah Rasheta’s podcast, Secular Buddhism, for several months. I like what he has to say. I feel like he explains the concepts in ways that are useful to me. But, in day-to-day interaction, I forget what I meant to remember. I keep trying to rewire the way I react to the world, remember that everything is connected, to take a breath and respond instead of reacting, to listen and watch the world around me, but I fail more often than not. It’s frustrating.

I bought his book because I thought having a physical book to flip through every day, instead of just listening once a week, would help cement the concepts into my mind so that I can use them. My goal is to read through it all once, and then go back and re-read each piece once a day, like a meditation practice.

Buddhist principles have helped my mental health tremendously this past year. I wish I had found it earlier in my life. It may have saved me a lot of heartache. This line is what keeps me on the path, “To be enlightened is to be liberated from our habitual reactivity, freed from our perceptions and ideas in order to see reality as it is without wanting it to be different.” That’s it! That’s what I want.

I’m a highly habitual person. I build up habits to keep order in my mind and make the world around me safe. Sometimes the habits aren’t helpful. I try to reassess my habits on a regular basis. I sit down with my notebook and write out my day, the things I do, and ask myself, “Is this serving me?” That’s easy to do with things like housework, exercise, and learning. But emotional habits are a whole other ballgame. Those are well engrained, and I’ve had a rough time changing them, no matter how badly I want to.

It’s like learning new eating habits. I start a new diet, get into it, really feel like I’m getting somewhere, and then BAM, a bad day, a party, a holiday, and I’m right back on the track of a poor diet filled with empty calories, loads of carbs, and plenty of alcohol. My body thanks me by feeling terrible, which makes me crave more “comfort” food, and I spiral down into “you suck” mode.

I have some pretty piss-poor relational habits that need to be resolved if I’m going to live well the next forty years. I’m trying so hard to change those habits in positive ways, but I keep forgetting the damn principles. Just like the game, when the cards are hidden from view, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I need reminders.

A few weeks ago, I was getting gas in town and across the island I saw a guy with a Buddhist mala prayer bead bracelet on. A light went on. The prayer beads are a reminder, each bead connects to the other to make a whole, just like we each connect to each other. They can also be a focus, moving along the chain and taking a breath, saying a mantra, or thinking a name, until you come back to the beginning.

Today, I ordered a set of wooden prayer beads. I’m hoping they’ll serve as a physical reminder that I’m changing. When I see them, I’ll remember my meditation, and (hopefully) pause to think a bit.

I’m about halfway through No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners already. I think keeping it close-by and ready for me to meditate on a page or two will help me build up these new habits. I’ll keep the beads with me as well and maybe, over time, my brain will connect the peace of what I read, my mediation, and the beads will serve to bring me back when I start to get lost.

I’ve written about my Buddhism journey many times before. Check out Zen Blogging: Writing to Learn? It’s one of my favorites. It’s also one that I have recently went back to and thought, “Wait…what? I’ve had this thought before?!” …sigh…

Travel Anxiety Ended: Podcast Roundup #3

Oh, my goodness, you guys! Another Podcast Review is here already! Are you excited? I am. I have successfully ended my trouble with travel anxiety through technology.

I have a lot to share, but this time I’ll do it slightly different. It took some effort to get the computer out and get started today. I’m tired after yesterday’s adventure. It was worth it though! Breakfast on the pier with a friend and then a walk around Balboa Park and a fancy lunch with my son. Not to mention, the six hours of podcasts I got to listen to. Bonus!

Let’s see…getting out the playlist on my phone…

This time, since I heard I’m going to write ONE sentence about each of the nine episodes I listened to, but there was so much more.

Practicing Human – Simplify This Moment

You can’t see the whole movie at once, only one frame at a time through until the end.

Secular Buddhism – 142 – Wisdom and Fear

The point isn’t to be fearless, it’s to be brave.

Rationally Speaking – Understanding Moral Disagreements with Jonathan Haidt

You CAN understand other people’s ways and needs without accepting them as right for you.

Practicing Human – Energetic Discharge

After a traumatic experience (physical or emotional) we all must rest, and then move.

EconTalk – Don Boudreaux on the Pandemic

The science doesn’t tell you what to do, it simply gives you data (risk assessments) that humans must use to make decisions and judgements.

People I (Mostly) Admire – 35 – David Epstein Knows Something About Everything

Shortcuts that show us instant visible progress hamper our long-term development.

Side Note: As I sat in 15mph traffic, I saw a sign that said “60mph Zone Will Be Enforced” and laughed out loud at the image of someone panicking, attempting to get around people and stay at 60mph to avoid a ticket. Those comical signs are all over the freeways, as I drive ten miles an hour over every week while people angrily blaze around me. How exactly are they doing this “enforcement”? It’s not trivial. I may write a whole post about just that in the future.

Practicing Human – Growth, Death, and Birth

Death makes room for birth, both of which are uncomfortable.

The Creative Nonfiction Podcast with Brendan O’Meara – Episode 266: The Expansive Nothing You Have to Fill with Kristen Radtke

Do the bad work to get to your good work.

No Stupid Questions – 59 – Do Dreams Actually Mean Anything?

It’s the feelings that we continually dream about that we should be concerned about, not the objects and people we see in our dreams.

I did it! I didn’t think I could for all of them. There were a few that I started to apologize about and just write two or three sentences, but I sat back and thought again. It was possible to put it into one, concise sentence. The cooler part is that there was a lot more to those episodes that I took notes on and might write about in the future. And I found at least three new books to add to my TBR list!

Yes, I went back and added up the hours/minutes of each episode. And, yes, it was hard because I’m not that bright when it comes to numbers. It totaled up to almost six hours, give or take few minutes. I spent a lot of time in the car and not a minute was agonized over.

Technology has ended my travel anxiety and made driving much more peaceful in so many ways, but that is another post my friends. Have a great day and go listen to some podcasts while you get where you’re going. You won’t regret it!

Want to read more about the podcasts I’ve heard? Go back to the beginning and check out my first Podcast Roundup #1. At the bottom, you’ll find links to more.

Letting Go of Expectations and Results

Letting go of expectations means there doesn’t need to be a destination picked out to have a great life filled the happiness and peace. We can simply pick a direction and see what happens.

Listening to Secular Buddhism on the way to have breakfast with a friend yesterday, I learned about The Three Doors of Liberation. He used these three quotes to describe the three doors:

“This is because that is.”
No self. Or emptiness.

“The symbol of the thing is not the same as the thing itself.”
Signlessness.

“Having no destination, I am never lost.”
Aimlessness.

My favorite was the last. “Having no destination, I am never lost.” I smiled as drove down the highway. It’s a sense of a lack of attachment to the result of anything I do, and it feels like freedom. I’m not letting go of the wheel and letting life take me anywhere, I’m heading in a direction and experiencing whatever happens along the way.

Letting go of expectations is something you can apply to any aspect of your life.

From a project to a career, even a relationship, we can release the expectations and simply experience what is happening in the moment. That doesn’t mean that we don’t direct our lives. Letting go means we make choices, take risks, see where things go and then make adjustments. Where we end up exactly doesn’t matter as much as the journey.

I have lived most of my life the same way my husband and I have traveled. We decide to do something and then see what happens. There are no hard and fast plans, there are no reservations, no tickets bought. There is only a full tank of gas and a direction. We usually have the first destination picked out. We want to drive so many miles that day and get to this area before dark, but other than that, things just play out the way they do. And we’ve had some amazing adventures.

How can letting go of expectations relate to relationships?

By not setting expectations for people. And by “relationship” I mean any kind: friendships, familial, romantic. I should not expect anyone to act, behave, or respond in a specific way. I simply relate to them and see what happens. That doesn’t mean that I let go of being respected or treated fairly. It means I put my effort in and see what they do. If I am enjoying that response, I continue. If I am not, I communicate with that person and/or try something else.

Letting go of the destination, means wherever I am, I’m not lost. I am simply where I am. That lets me experience the place more fully. I’m sitting in my car looking the map, feeling like a failure. I’m looking out the window, stopping the car, and going for a walk in the place I find myself. If it turns out that it’s not to my liking, I move on. No judgement. No failure. No destination. Just peace and experience.

The best part about all of it is that anyone can start right where they are. Put the map down, look around you, and immerse yourself in the experience.

Podcast Review #2: Buddhism, Stats, and Grammar

I have neglected this gem of a recurring post, haven’t I? If memory serves, and yes, I can go back and look but it’s far more fun to rely on memory, I only did a podcast review only once. Holy…I did go look it up. It’s been longer than I thought! I posted Podcast Roundup #1 all the way back in April. Why? I loved writing it and I love podcasts. I have plenty of notes from my listening time every week. Hm…consistency isn’t my strong suit. But here we are again, so let’s jump in!

Podcast review driving notes.

Each week I spend a total of about four hours alone in the car driving down to the city to visit with friends. I decided a few years ago that it would be time well spent if I made a playlist of my favorite podcasts to listen to and it has been a wealth of greatness. On my last road trip with my husband, I introduced him to a few of my favorite economics and political podcasts and we had a blast listening, pausing, and heatedly discussing what was being said. Far more fun than simply listening to our favorite albums, especially since we have diverging musical interests.

This week’s podcast review includs Buddhism, statistics, an author interview, and some funny grammar.

First on my playlist was Secular Buddhism #8 – Problems with Terminology & Symbols.

The “symbols” part is what leapt out at me. Symbols are something I’ve seen people battle over and I never understood why. I still don’t really. It’s just a flag. It’s just a ring. It’s just a piece of bread. Symbols are used to remind us of something important, not to replace or represent an idea, person, or thing.

My wedding ring is not my marriage. It’s there to remind me of my promise. If I take it off and forget to put it on, if I lose it, I have not forgotten or lost my marriage. If I take it off and give it back, or throw it away, I’m using it as a symbol that the marriage is over. It’s the intent, not the action that tells the story. It’s the same with any symbol. Symbols are not sacred, they are reminders.

He went over some specific Buddhist symbols, so I made a note to look them up when I had some time. My favorite symbol is the meditation beads, many individual pieces connected to make a whole. I found an interesting site that explains some others at buddhistsymbols.com.

Next up was my first experience with Rationally Speaking. I heard the host, Julia Galef, interviewed on EconTalk last week and was so impressed with her that I wanted to hear more. This episode was an interview with Tim Harford about his book “The Data Detective.”

Yes, I’ve added The Data Detective to my TBR list, and used my new book tracking notecard file to record where I heard about it and why I want to read it! More about that in another post because I know you want to hear about it and try it.

In fact, I think we all should add that book to our TBR pile. It seems we could all use some help in that area so that the stats are less likely to be used scare us all into submission.

The thing he said that struck me was the question he hears so often is, “How do I get my dumb friend to stop being so dumb?” We’ve all thought that. Right? He says it’s strange that it seems no one wants to fix their own reasoning. Their reasoning is fine, just like their driving. It’s everyone else that’s a maniac.

This interview went right along with the ideas I’m reading in “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt, who I saw she also has interviewed. Weird the connections that keep coming up.

One more thing from that interview. He said, “We think in stories not numbers.” I agree, most of us do think in stories that’s why it’s so easy for someone to look at the statistics, create a story to explain them, and then use it to get people to do what they want them to do. We all need to be aware of that if we are going to be better at thinking rationally.

Side note: I wrote “Bring Your Cup” in my notebook. Maybe I’ll remember next time, but I bought the most awesome travel mug at Target a few months ago and I keep forgetting to bring it to Panera! I bought it so that I could use my own cup when I went out for breakfast with friends and then be able to take a last cup for the road and not have it get cold in ten minutes. Bring your cup you silly girl, sheesh!

Grammar Girl is always a fun listen. The cadence of her voice is sing-songy and I can’t listen to it for long, but her episodes are short, usually pretty funny and filled with interesting tidbits. This episode was about particles and prepositions. Formal grammar is not my strong suit. I’ve tried to learn the rules and be able to sort out the how’s and why’s but it’s just not in me. My sons are brilliant at it, and they do it for fun. Nerds!

She went over the origin of a few words and the difference between “I was run over by the car” and “The car ran over me.” But my favorite was this line, “This is the kind of pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put.” It just struck me as hilarious, and I had to write it down.

And last, but certainly not least, I listened to CNF, the Creative Non-Fiction Podcast with Brendan O’Meara on the way home. I love this guy! Just about every week I listen to him interview an author and I find things to connect with, be inspired by, and things I never would have guessed would be interesting. Episode #264 Rachel Monroe Talks About the Things Writers Don’t Tweet About was an inspiring one.

My takeaway was, once again, I’m in the same boat as every other writer. “How do I have any authority to write anything?!” is a question we all ask ourselves. I’m not perfect. I’m not the master of anything. I’ve never completed a degree or have some certificate that says I know what I’m talking about. Who do I think I am?

I’m me. And I am the master of my own perspective. I have every right to share my experience the best way I know how. Right now, that means blogging here with you. The more I learn, the more I want to share. The more I share, the more I learn. It’s as simple as that. I’ll keep writing.

One more thing before I go! Do you support anyone on Patreon? I have in the past. I find it to be a great way to support individual creators for what they give the world for free. This week I finally (sorry it took so long Brendan!) went over and added Brendan O’Meara to my support list. I’ve listened to his podcast every week for years and never been disappointed. It’s time I gave something back. I hope it helps keep you on the air, man. You’re awesome.

There you are my friends, a second glorious podcast review! Do you listen to podcasts? When do you find time to listen? Do you have any favorites to share? Shoot me a comment and let me know. I’d love to try them out!

I making a solemn vow to do this podcast review more often, but I doubt it will come every week. Would every month do? I think so!

Zen Blogging? Writing To Learn

Is there such a thing as “Zen Blogging?” I googled it and found lots of blogs about Zen, but I’m thinking of something different. Can it be a Zen practice to blog about books and experiences? After reading this book, I have a new mindset about what I do here and I know that was not the intent of the author.

Zen blogging
Returning to Silence book cover

Returning to Silence took me nearly 8 hours to read and it’s only 175 pages long. I took copious notes, nearly 8 large pages, and I learned a lot but…

I don’t think I’d recommend this book to someone who simply wants to know a little more about Zen Buddhism. Maybe it’s my western mind, but it feels too “woo-woo” to me, too “out there.” I need something more concrete and precise, simplified at the beginning.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. There was a lot in here to glean, especially since I’m listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast. That helped me put some of what he was writing about into personal context.

Zen blogging
Proof of my efforts to learn.

I read only about twenty minutes at a time. Each time I read, once I felt I gained an idea, I stopped and tried to write it down in my own words. It sounds tedious, but it didn’t feel so. Going thru my notes now, I’ll share my favorite gems that I have mined over the last month of reading.

Peace: Accepting What Is

Not a popular opinion but it feels right. If I fight for or against something, I’m still fighting. Like a fish caught in a net, the best thing we can do is relax and let the situation chill a bit. Once we find the peace, it’s much easier to assess our surroundings and make the best choices going forward.

Suffering: Human life is limited by conditions

Where we are born, and when, our physical and mental capabilities, etc., these are not up to us. We can’t ignore or escape them. “It means that as best we can, we should create better conditions from moment to moment,” by releasing our attachment to these conditions.

Express Only Peace

Yes, things are irritating and wrong sometimes, but the more we protest, hold signs, make statements, and change our profile frame on social media, the less peace we have, the more stress we put out into the world. That doesn’t mean you aren’t angry. It doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer at a homeless shelter or vote in the next election to change a law, or create a business that makes something better for the world.

Emptiness: Pure Activity

Just do it. Simply plan and then get busy. One thing at a time, one project, one task: if we put our focus into that thing, we not only achieve our goals, but we also get the added benefit of mental rest.

We’re all someone’s hero AND someone’s enemy at the same time, in everything we do.

My mere presence on this earth irritates someone and elates another. It is unavoidable. Live your life and leave others alone.

Ignorance Is Thirsting Desire

Thirsting desire to please oneself continuously, to insist on the continuation of one’s existence, to have and maintain power and prosperity. We can’t extinguish these desires, only acknowledge their existence and try to use it in positive ways. We can plant a tree to create shade and beautify our world, but we can’t have a fit if it dies. We can go to Disneyland and entertain our hearts, but we can’t lose our shit when the lines are long and the cost is high.

Here’s a tasty one…

We tend to label and define everything we see and experience according to our teaching, our feelings and perceptions, culture, etc. Then we judge the world accordingly. But it is not the reality of things that we are railing against.

We say to ourselves, “That is the moon!” as we point to it and tell stories about it, creating a new version of the moon. Each person on earth, each culture, each generation, does this. But there is only one actual moon, the one we physically experience and are connected to. The deeper our mythology, our stories, the further we are from reality.

There is no “us” and “them,” only “we.”

Each of us could be the other at any given time or circumstance. Like a droplet, when it drops into a still body of water, creates ripples that circle out and away and peter out. That drop had a different circumstance, it effected the body, and then became one with it. That’s us. Create the smallest ripples you can.

The Tortoise and The Hare

The tortoise won the race…or not…doesn’t matter. The point is that we make every possible effort to keep moving, give quality to the effort, instead of expecting the result of the effort. Dory is right, “Just keep swimming.”

The next two are what brought the idea of Zen blogging to mind, so I’ll keep them together and finish here.

“Most people want to teach only after mastering something completely.”
And
“Making something is really the practice of giving.”

I’m not the master of anything, except maybe sorting Legos or cleaning. But I do love to read, especially non-fiction. I love history, philosophy, economics, government, religion, everything. The more I read, the more I realize how little I know, but I still want to share what I’ve found. That’s why I write this blog.

So maybe Zen blogging is a thing. Reviewing, writing out my thinking, and connecting things I read to my experiences, helps me process what I’ve read. I’m explaining what I’ve found to you, to help myself think more clearly and retain what I’ve learned. A byproduct of that process is that you get to read those thoughts. I’m making these posts, for no other purpose than to share it.

There are times, every damn week, that I think to myself, “What’s the point of any of this?” I could write these things in a journal and walk away. I don’t need to make it pretty, add pictures and headlines, and post it online. But books like this remind me that a candle burning under a box only starts a fire that destroys things. By writing and posting, I’m lighting my candle and setting it in the window. It lights my room and allows others to find me, to read by it, or to use it to guide them on their journey elsewhere. It’s up to you. I cannot be attached to the outcome of my creation. That would not be Zen blogging at all.

Read more about the book in my first post about it, “New Read: Returning to Silence.”

Peace in The Motion of the Waves

Peace in the motion of the waves.
Photo by Derek Story on Unsplash

Peace comes and goes, like the waves, I guess. Maybe I’m just watching for stories in the clouds, but it seems that things just come together in impossible ways if you just sit back and wait a bit.

This photo is in honor of my youngest son, whose wave is building up again. May he ride it well, accept the break, and rise again with tide.

So may we all.

“At the first bend he lost sight of the sea with its labouring waves for ever rising, sinking, and vanishing to rise again – the very image of struggling mankind – and faced the immovable forests rooted deep in the soil, soaring towards the sunshine, everlasting in the shadowy might of their tradition, like life itself.”

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Did you find peace in that quote the way I did?

We think mankind is always moving forward, but in reality, over the thousands of years our kind has been on this planet, we rise, sink, vanish, over and over again. Individuals, families, clans, and civilizations, nations all have come and gone, only to build up and rise again. The next time I see the waves, I’ll think of that.

There’s no need to lose our minds over the state of society. We do what we can to enjoy the time we have here, to leave our space a little bit nicer than how we found it, if we can. And then we’re gone.

The only thing that continues is life itself, that immovable forest. People talk about humans destroying the earth, but really, we can only destroy the environment to the extent that we finally go extinct. And if humans are gone, the earth remains, life goes on as it always has since the beginning of time.

No one person’s life is that important in the grand scheme of things. It reminds me where to put my own focus. The place any of us can make the biggest impact is right at home. It starts with our relationship with ourselves, moves into that of our family and friends, and into our co-workers (or in my case, those people I see at the grocery store, or you).

If we all spent our days making our immediate surroundings more pleasant, wouldn’t the whole world be a bit more pleasant? What if we stopped fighting the crashing of our waves on the shore and enjoyed the ride, found peace in the cycle? Life will go on no matter what you choose to do.

If you want to read more posts based on quotes from “Lord Jim”, you’ll find a list of them at the bottom of my first post, “Joseph Conrad is my Next Read: Lord Jim”

Connection and the use of Rituals

I had one of those “ah-ha” moments while reading “Returning to Silence” this morning. These two ideas on connection are going to change my way of thinking and my life, forever. The first was, “There is only us.” And the other was about the significance of ritual.

A small side note first, I’ve been listening to the podcast, “Secular Buddhism with Noah Rasheta” the past couple of weeks and it is helping me put Dainin Katagiri’s words into context. The book was recommended as a classic introduction to Buddhism, but I’m finding it a little too spiritual and “out there” to understand on its own. I’m constantly looking up what words mean because he uses Buddhist practices as given information. That’s not a bad thing. I’m learning a lot. It’s just a tad tedious in addition to the flowery and repetitive style he uses.

The positive is that it slows me down and gives me the chance to think about what is written and fish out what I need to know.

What does, “There is only us.” mean?

“We tend to define enlightenment as an experience that creates a difference between us and others.”

Returning to silence by dainin katagiri

Human connection is everywhere in this world. Have you ever seen rock climbers? I live near Joshua Tree National Park, one of the meccas of the rock-climbing world. I’m not a climber myself. I’ve always been a bit of klutz, tripping over my own feet or twisting my ankle on a pebble in the path. It’s best if I keep close to the ground. But I enjoy watching them from below.

A group of climbers are connected to the rocks and each other by rope. A lead climber gets up first, creates a new, or connects to an existing, pick point and latches on. The other climbers follow. The climbers above and below you can help you find a handhold you can’t see from your vantage point, encourage you to keep going, and limit your fall if you miss a step or lose your grip on the rocks. And at the top, the accomplishment is sweeter when you have someone to celebrate with.

The whole world is this way if we can see it. There is no me and you. There is not us and them. There is just the world, and we are all connected to each other. We can help or hinder each other by our actions, but we cannot disengage from the whole.

What is the significance of connection through ritual?

Ritual is everything we do. We have morning and evening rituals: making coffee, brushing our teeth, journaling, reading, meditation, waking up, driving to work. Weekly rituals of cleaning our house, taking care of our things. Monthly rituals of lunch dates with friends or a night out with a loved one. We know the rituals related to holidays, graduations, weddings, births and deaths.

Human connection through the magic of coffee.
Photo by Ben Weber on Unsplash

What is the significance though? Each ritual, if we bring our conscious thought to it, can ground us in the here and now, the magic of the moment we are in. Even making a cup of coffee in the morning can be made a ritual, from the most complicated (grinding beans, boiling water, and pouring it yourself) to the simplest (picking it up at the drive-thru on your way to work). When we bring our conscious thought to it, we ground ourselves. This is this time of day. This makes my heart happy. This is something I share with millions of people that are also doing this, or the human connection of the millions of people that brought this delicious bean juice to me to today.

By the way, there are so many gorgeous pictures of coffee on Unsplash, an infinite variety of styles and how and … just beautiful, like coffee itself. I chose this one because it reminded me of the magic of coffee and the ritual it can be.

Every ritual reminds us of our connection with this world, the other climbers ahead and behind us, the rock beneath us, the sky above us, the creators of the equipment, the experience of those that have gone before, the excitement of those we bring along and teach, and those that stand on the ground and wonder at our achievement.

It makes me think of that feeling of disconnect that comes over me often these days. Do have a country? A culture? A family? Am a part of something bigger than myself? Buddhism has reminded me that yes, I am. I can’t escape it. I can only notice it and accept it.

It doesn’t matter if I subscribe to the religion or not, every holiday my country celebrates connects me to the people that live here if I consciously choose to acknowledge that in positive way.

Every time I walk into a Target for cleaning supplies, order something from Amazon to be delivered, or buy one of those glorious chicken avocado burritos at El Pollo Loco, I can choose to be reminded of my connection to the culture I grew up in.

And my family? We’ve had a rough go of it the past ten years or so. But recently I realized, as I began a sewing project, how connected I am to my grandmothers, mom, aunt, and cousins. We all have our sewing rooms. We all create with fabric in some way. Quilts, bags, toys, and clothes, we all have our specialties.

My aunt and I have grown apart over the years. That has been my fault. As I started a sewing project this past weekend, I thought of her and sent her a picture of it. I opened a door and my heart felt grounded again. I did this unconsciously, before reading about rituals and connection in a Buddhist context.

Now I see how I can personally create these connections and why I need to continue to do so. It takes no law, no social media campaign, no reciprocation, no feedback, to start. All it takes is my own conscious thought. Human connection is the reality of this world. I only need to acknowledge the rituals that bring that connection to my consciousness.

I’m really enjoying reading “Returning to Silence.” If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on this book, go back to my post “New Read: Returning to Silence” to start from the beginning. Other posts are linked at the bottom of that one.

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