Friday, July 18, 2014

The Yin and Yang of Us All

It's a gorgeous July day here, lilies frolicking everywhere in my neighborhood.  Still not too hot after a welcome two days of autumn weather with the visit of a polar vortex.  Turn around, it will be winter.  Sunset is already coming earlier every night. I've been thinking things like that lately, thinking about darkness and light.

Today my thoughts began with an ordinary conversation with Karen, my lymphedema therapist.  (Lymphedema is the dark side of surviving breast cancer.) She asked about my kidney transplant.
~ Going on four years now. Not likely to fail. I may very well die of something else.

Karen has an aunt my age who had a lung transplant a year and a half ago.  It's been tough since, of course.  She aspirated a little something and got pneumonia, and the immune-suppressing drugs you have to take after a transplant (they think, today) made that hard. Yesterday the aunt went to the gym - she had polio as a child, and one leg and hip are a little weak, she shouldn't work out vigorously.  But she did, and she fell.  She is so stubborn, you can't tell her a thing.  On the other hand, that stubbornness is what's kept her alive through all this.

It is probably a truth that your every characteristic has its other side.  Or many other sides, like a bouquet in which some flowers shine with fresh beauty and some glow toxic.  I was interested to come across a writing prompt on the Poets and Writers site:
We've all heard the advice "write what you know," which encourages us to write characters like ourselves or people who are close to us. This week, write from the perspective of a character that is your complete opposite. First, make a list of all the qualities you identify with yourself, and then make a list of qualities on the other end of the spectrum. For example, if you are a woman who lives in the country, write from the point of view of a man who lives in the city. Try to avoid using stereotypes to describe this character's actions or ideas, and instead try to embody this character—climb inside his or her head and live there a while.
Sent this to a writer friend, who replied that it doesn't sound like fun.  I had already avoided it.  It isn't as simple as imagining yourself a big city chick of eighteen, whom you could make rather like yourself, only younger.  The challenge would be to imagine yourself being, oh, athletic, arrogant and anti-intellectual, a triple-A man, the kind of guy you avoided in high school.  And having empathy for that guy, who wants happiness just as much as you.  Hmm.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

It takes all kinds of Buddhas

I've been enjoying the website of Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery.  The photos are especially beautiful, and express the serenity of a place where people live quietly and cultivate compassion.

Here is one photo of a statue on their grounds. Hotei is a good image for American Buddhists who choose the lay life and its tangled vine of obstacles.  Below is the description of Hotei on the website.

Hotei (The Japanese name for C: Pu-tai) “He Who is the Cloth Bag of a Monk,” also known as “The Laughing Buddha.” Hotei was a wandering Chinese monk of the T’ang Dynasty, known for carrying a hemp sack on his back, roaming the countryside, spreading joy and goodwill, especially to children. The sack contained endless treasures which he gave freely, characterizing his virtue of selfless giving. He is revered in China as a manifestation of the future Buddha, Maitreya.

The hemp sack seems particularly fitting in these days, when one state after another is legalizing the use of its close cousin, marijuana, in America for the purpose of temporarily evading one's suffering. Zen works on that, too. Zen students will recognize how Hotei calls to mind the image of the last stage of the spiritual journey, from Ten Bulls, a text you could call iconic (except that I've grown to hate that word - what in the world did we used to say?)  In that, uh, important work, the spiritual journey is completed when the Zen student re-enters the marketplace with a wineskin over her shoulder, that is, relaxed and re-creating.

Just saying. (And who doesn't hate that phrase by now?  Just kidding.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Need Demotivated? I Can Help You

Yes, you read that right.  I think it's time for Grandma to share some of her own tips for constantly demotivating herself.  Not sure how funny this is going to be, though I started with an idea of parodying yet another of those about 8,790,000 online articles about how to get yourself to do something you ought to do when everything in you cries out No! Or at least, most of you does, and hey, it's July.

But what about demotivating yourself?  A mere 59,000 entries about something all of us do most every day.  You can see this is a field crying for more content.  Meanwhile, exploring this got to be fun right away.  I took the quiz on, whose motto is, "If you're happy and you know it, find another site."  Their other motto is,

 Life sucks, give up.  
The quiz told me I am ~
On your way to true demotivation You are headed on the right path, just pick up a few bottles of vodka, wait til your dog dies and you will begin to finally feel how worthless your existence really is!
It's interesting to a demotivator to look up images for "Life sucks."  On one hand, you quickly get sidetracked into things like Cheezburger, which collects "epic fails," the best of which involve trucks whose drivers were probably both stoned and working above their pay grade.

At least half of what comes up on Google about demotivation is trying to motivate you in a sickening sweet way.  Now, I don't blame the people who make those posters, and sometimes put them on Facebook.  I know lovely people who do that now and then.  They are just trying to feel better.  I blame the society for making us all want to BE SOMEONE, and telling us that you can do anything if you try.  Especially when it tells you you can feel better if you try.

(Parenthetically, you really can't make yourself feel better, take it from an expert.  What you feel, you feel, including long bad moods that are profoundly karmic in nature.  But you're not allowed to be depressed and listless, are you?  It makes your friends nervous.  Actually, moods - energies - are catching, that's been studied, too. It feels good to be around a hypomanic, for a while.  Same is true of a depressive, except backwards.
[Even more parenthetically, I had the perhaps unique experience of being yelled at in a psych ward by another depressive for being depressing.  Specifically, I was playing Barb'ry Allen on the piano, which is not nearly so bad as cracking gum loudly and glaring at someone who is playing a sad song.  Psych wards are full of passive-aggressives, of course, the resident doctors being the worst.])  
Okay, where was I?
I wanted to be a little Zennish for a moment. I wanted to say that, while demotivation from outside can work, unfortunately, motivation from outside does. not. You can find learned articles about experiments that demonstrate that, if you are a scholarly type.  If not, allow me to summarize:  a sign on your wall, a post-it on your computer, people telling you to cheer up (don't you hate that?), these things do. not. work.  I know I am annoying you with my feeble cliched attempts to emphasize the point, so I'll make the point and run:  to be sustained in an effort, your motivation has to be internal.

Nor is internal motivation always good.  For example, you may have internalized at a very young age that if you were only good enough, your father would love you.  At least respect you.  And actually, painful life things like the delusion that you can make rejecting parents notice you often lead people to work hard and do good things.  Though mental constructions like that (if you only work hard enough . . . ) are often proven to be incorrect (are delusions, in Buddhist terms) with disastrous results.

And this post is long enough, so click here for a poster that is funny, true, and demotivating.  That's hard to do all at once, though kitties and puppies make it look easy.  That's because they have little tiny brains not capable of hanging onto elaborate mental constructions.  Bless them.  Well, bless us all.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Music and words and work and . . .

No, not this kind of carpenter ant.  THIS kind . . . 

Words. I have always loved words, as art, making word art (poetry, fiction), escape, words and puzzles, which have something in common:  both mental constructions.

If you have to have words, you can take them into the body with sound.  One way I have healed as a person, I guess I could put it that way, is that now music enters my body and my body expresses it.  Not just toe-tapping.  Chair-dancing.  Better to do it standing up.  Then you can move your feet and it's just dancing.

Saw The Carpenter Ants Sunday at Natalie's Pizza here in town, right here in Columbus, Ohio, which was a cow town when I moved here and is now a pretty cool place.  So is Natalie's.  The Rev. Bush, above, commented during their show that when you walk into a place and there's the owner to greet you, you know you're going to get good food.

If you want a Buddhist lesson, there is an important one in that.  Natalie owns it, designed it, it expresses her, it is her work and that work gives something of value to the world.  That makes her a very lucky person - she has found what she has to give.

I am dis-couraged about that myself.  Giving poetry is hard; most people don't want poetry in this, what my students would call "today's modern contemporary world."  (I still laugh a little when I write that. Bless their little hearts.)  And I guess it is hard to separate yourself from the desire to suck-cede, I mean succeed, to Be Someone, to Matter, to imprint the world, so as not to totally die and disappear.  Why should I bother with a poem or, of course, with this blog?  So one day some lonely adolescent behind a locked door, some elder who's not very mobile anymore, will feel connected, might feel connected to me?  That's what I got from poetry when I needed it.

That would have to be the motivation, because there ain't no money in poetry, and many people competing for it.  And because poems come to me, so it's something I do, weird and archaic as it's become.  I like words on paper more than words in the datastream.  I actually rediscovered recently the pleasure of writing with a wooden pencil.  I'd forgotten.

So that, and getting used to Being Ordinary.  I wonder how many other people get the edged gift at birth of a mother who is sure you're going to Be Someone Special, though she never was?  It seems to propel some people, though not into poetry. Not that being Special is the road to happiness; I'm sure it's not.*

And gosh, I almost left out how hard it is to be old, energy depleting, and on top of that cursed with a cycling depression.  At least the damn thing cycles up the hill as well as down.

Music is good for you.  I recommend it.  I vow to listen to it and to make it, if only by tapping a spoon on a glass and a wooden table.

*I just used that semicolon with defiant pleasure, because Kurt Vonnegut taught never to use them.  I don't have to listen to other people on these things anymore.  At least not in this blog.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A thought to take to work tomorrow

Since things are perfect and complete
just as they are,
beyond good and bad,
without adopting and rejecting,
one just bursts out laughing!
Longchepa (1308-1364)