Sunday, May 29, 2011

Diamond Light On Clear Water

A few days ago I was walking to the bench by the SoBe Marina. I had some time before meeting friends and I decided to review my prayer book, go through some mantras and meditation. The sun was beating down on a clear bay. I took out my camera phone and snapped some pictures.

I was drawn to the view. The light was piercing and spotless, shimmering off the folds of water. The title popped in my head: Diamond Light on Clear Water.

The diamond could be wisdom, perfect and ultimate. The clear water could be my mind. There's still a boat on water and it's not perfectly still. The light can't hold itself still. But it is reflected across the folds of  my mind.

Diamond is often the symbol of emptiness, totally pure, that indivisible object incorporated into all nature of phenomena, whether it be starting or stopping, coming or going, multiplying or subtracting. In all possible actions -and that list covers all of them whether it's birth or death- there is that emptiness which is unchanging. And by looking at and holding that matchless diamond, my mind is imbued with it. I become aware of my mind's emptiness.

I began meditating on this diamond light and imagining my mind as the clear water, trying to still it, less and less. And I felt this enormous ease.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Songs and Dreams

I drove my Dad to the blood doctor's office. I turned the radio to an oldies station and his eye lit up. 'Oh yeah!' I asked him if he recognized songs and prodded him to sing some of the lyrics to "Let the Sun Shine In," Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," and Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff."

I parked the car and wheeled him out into the sun. We were early so we circumabulated the doctor's coral pink office building. Then we went inside. The waiting room was completely empty. A nurse was reviewing a lunch order from a delivery man. I spun the wheelchair around and sat down next to my Dad.

We got an open room, but they were almost all open. I've never been in an doctor's office this empty of patients. I guess people don't like to have their blood taken on a Friday afternoon.

The nurse tried to withdraw blood from my Dad's left arm. I warned her that his blood doesn't flow easily. It's think and stubborn. His Polysythemiavera (red blood cell cancer) has made many nurses give up. The blood is like heavy, north sea crude oil. After two different nurses they left hopeful that the few drips they got were enough.

I took out my dharma homework and thought it would be a good test if I could explain what I'm trying to learn to my Dad. They say the best way to learn is to teach.

They say there are five heaps: stream of consciousness, other factors, discrimination, emotions/feelings, and physical body. I was reading last night that it really is a break down of the process of discernment and comprehension. The first thing we do is just consciousness or an awareness. The second thing the mind does is initiate with that awareness, moving toward or backward away from. Essentially it's a movement of the mind. The third step is perception, separating one object from another. The fourth step is feelings and having a like or dislike of the feeling. And the final thing is the form.

I tried to explain it to my Dad like the songs on the radio. There is a bunch of noise going on. I turn the radio to an oldies station. The mind is conscious of a noise. But there's numerous noises and sounds going on: the car engine, the static, the outside world, his breath, my breath. Second step is that the mind moves toward the sound. The third step is that it isolates the sound and recognizes it as a song. The fourth step is that it is pleasing to the ear and we begin to figure out what the song is exactly. The fifth step is to realize it's "I Shot the Sheriff." I told him that the mind is doing that all the time: being aware, moving, perceiving/isolating object, liking/disliking object, and putting it into a form or construct.

He nodded his head vigorously as if to suggest he understood. I went on to explain that each one of these steps is completely empty. Each step is dependent upon what I've loaded into it. The space that allows for 'the loading' is emptiness. The white screen on which the movie of my life plays on is emptiness. Each one of those steps is 100% empty. I compared it like Geshe Michael Roach has in the past to a stapler and the loading part where the staplers go. That emptiness is that loading space. It's always there but it doesn't grow or shrink. Once the object is destroyed then the emptiness goes out of existence. The songs that stop on the radio have their own emptiness. Each song is an aural constructed object. It's a series of sounds that the mind constructs as 'song.' Each song is empty and some people love the song while other hate, while still others don't even see it as a song. It's form is empty. A fly would just see it as noise and possibly a giant bee or bird buzzing nearby and run away. An angel would hear the pure nectar of a heart song. Once the song stops, the emptiness of that song just goes out of existence.

He appeared to respond to this and understood. Then I moved further and said that these functions are probably best noticed when going to sleep or waking up. When going to sleep the reverse process happens. The forms begin to melt, blend, the noises and shapes soften and smear together. The feeling is pleasant and my mind wants to stay there. If it's unpleasant then I shift around, plug my ears or do something to get into that 'softened' space. Next the pleasure of falling asleep, then the perceptions of 'falling' asleep begin to melt, the mind moves in from outerspace, then finally just a consciousness of light fading. Then darkness.

Of course, once asleep a whole new series of mental functions start. But when waking up, the mind starts with the first heap of consciousness. A small light or noise off in the distance. The light grows but I still don't know my name, my place, the universe. But I'm moving toward this sun rising which is the second heap. The perception of 'sleep' returns and I realize I've been asleep. I begin to wonder how long, and piece together my location in the smallest sense: I'm in a bed. The location expands, walls, floors, Miami. Home.

I feel the need -out of habit- to get up. I fight off the discomfort for the long-term pleasure and arise. I look around and take in my world and the millions of constructs. My glasses go on and I sit up. The five heaps have returned.

But if each of those heaps are empty then they can be manipulated. My Dad seemed to understand this really well. With his health 'appearing' to be in decline the last few years, one positive side effect is sleep. He used to have serious problems getting a few good hours of sleep. Now he closes his eyes and is falling into sleep within a few seconds. No one falls easier than him. His vision is limited, but in sleep I wonder what he sees? Surely his vision is 20/20, his body is restored to full health, he is reliving some wonderful dream or nightmare. But do the constructs still work in dreams?

A week ago my mom said "I wish I could know what he was thinking." I'd add an addendum to that: I wish I could know what he was dreaming.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Boston/Miami Game 4: Observations from a fair-weather Heat fan

I actually went to the gym to avoid  game 4 of the Boston/Heat playoffs. I get too emotional and these games ruins my whole day. When I got to the gym there it was on all the TV screens. Normally LA Fitness keeps its channels on MSNBC and E! TV no matter what. I was counting on that and the place being empty b/c everyone would be at home watching. But someone obviously found the channel changer and switched everything to the game. So I did, in fact, watch while on the elliptical machine and doing cardio. People gathered under the TVs. I caught the last 4 or 5 minutes of the nerve wracking game while going uphill on the elliptical.

Then I went to work the chest and said 'oh forget it' and walked back to the TV to catch the last few minutes. Once safely in the tank (Boston really gave up in OT. You could see it on their face at the start of the extra period. They did not want to be there) I returned to my workout.

Bosh was pretty good although I heard he was bad in the first half (which I missed). If Miami had 2 bench players who could chip in 10 ppg they would be unstoppable.

But from a purely objective pt of view I didn't think there was a lot to gloat over. As a basketball observer I saw one team play 60% smart (the HEAT) and another team that was beat-up, old, mentally tired play about 40% smart and make mental errors at the end. Especially Rondo missing a layup, Garnett not setting a pick at the end, and then in the OT period I believe they had 3 straight turnovers. As a Heat fan I was excited but also noting 'gee, Boston is really giving it away.' Now LeBron did step up in places but he still made stupid shots and turned the ball over in THE crucial last set in regulation.

Finally FINALLY Wade/LeBron wised up and realized they could get Bosh a few easy baskets b/c they were keeping the ball solely in their hands. They set him up off an easy pick and roll. Boston had completely forgotten about him and as a Heat fan I was nervous that the Heat had also. Bosh needs to demand at least 2-3 touches in the last few minutes. He really does. This from the wings iso-stuff is so agonizing to watch.

If the Heat actually set their offense and let Chalmers handle the ball in the last few minutes and run the offense they might have won in regulation. They're afraid of Chalmers turning the ball over but Wade and LeBron do that too. So why not let the point guard actually run the offense so Bosh can get the ball or the 3-point shooters can get into the flow?

The Heat won but they really REALLY need to get some points from other areas. I'm afraid this team wins and then throws basketball basics out the window. I hope that doesn't happen on Wednesday. And the 3-pt shooting was terrible as usual. Fortunately they dominated in rebounds (thank GM Danny Ainge. Where can I send your Miami HEAT MVP muffin basket?) Either way I'll be at the gym.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Life of Job

We expect compensation for inconvenience. That's what a job is all about. If it wasn't inconvenient then it wouldn't be called work. It would be called play. And it wouldn't be called a job. It would be a hobby. If you're on this planet long enough you'll have a job and expect payment for suffering. Whether it's mowing the lawn to get an allowance or running a software company, taking up a job is what unites almost all people.  In fact the concept of weighing time and energy vs. payment shapes and defines a life.

These thoughts ran through my head as I drove down I-95 toward South Beach for a lunch meeting. I have no idea what triggered a retrospective look at mankind and labor but as a freelance artists I think a lot about jobs. Before one is done there is something else that is set and ready to go. The previous night I finished a new play. 130 pages, 2 acts, an entire world completed. And now there were three webisodes, a musical, a rewrite of another play, articles due, and possibly more. Jobs, jobs, and more jobs.

I'm guessing the qualification of a good job would be proportionally favorable compensation in relation to inconvenience. And a dream job is substantially greater payment against the scale of suffering. I've had great jobs, good jobs, so-so jobs, and horrible jobs. If I actually added up all the random assignments, choirs for allowance, bartering trades, freelance projects, and salaried positions in my life so far it would probably be in the thousands.

I parked my car in the heavily towed lots on South Beach and let the engine idle for a moment as I continued thinking. I shuffled through some notecards for ACI homework and looked around. The steamy afternoon kept everyone indoors. A black BMW pulled up next to me and a lanky pale young man in black shorts and shirt sat in the tinted cocoon. I tried to guess his story. A rich kid? A car detailer whose working on some exec's car in a side lot?

He glanced at me for a moment and then looked around with pensive and slightly dissatisfied grimace. Like he wished he was elsewhere. His lanky pale frame and slight scowl gave him the look of a New York/New Jersey transplant who may have hoped for something better on South Beach. But who knows maybe he's just having a bad day.

Across from me was an older silver-haired man with his car door open and staring off into space. Then something happened that made everyone stop their thoughts for a moment. A tall, pot-bellied man in a boxer shorts, flip flops and denim bathrobe came waddling out of one of the high-rise office building/shopping center/condominium, bomb shelter chic complexes that are virally multiplying on South Beach. He had a slightly stained white t-shirt and leaned back as he walked forward. This was 'the dude' for The Big Lebowski. In fact, I have never seen anyone look more like 'the dude' than this dude. The dude walked the entire length of the parking lot and over to a Black Dodge Ram pick-up truck with the word "RESPECT" etched in silver on the rear tinted cabin windows. The dude hopped into his Dodge and peeled off, making a loop around the lot and then disappearing. Where was he off to dressed like that? Is it conceivable that 'the dude' was going to work in a denim bathrobe and boxer shorts? Or maybe a drive-in fast food joint?
After 'the dude' left, the lanky man went to the BMW's trunk and dragged out yards of blue chords. This was getting odd. He lasso'ed the chords around the left shoulder like a cowboy and walked over to the older gentleman. Lanky man began laying out the chords in different lengths and patterns on the bubbling black asphalt as the older man looked on. Occasionally their lips moved and they nodded, but for the most part this activity was done in silence. Was the job fishing, towing? The mystery, silence, and slightly odd set-up gave the whole operation a sinister feel. Several minutes passed and I had to leave my car to go to the lunch meeting.

I was hoping when I got back they would still be in their elaborate rope arrangement negotiations. But alas, two hours later there was no BMW, the silver-haired man, or the yards of blue chords. Another black car was parked next to mine. I got back in the Honda and cranked the air. The promise of another meeting from the meeting I just had. And if all goes well there will be a job at the end of that meeting.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


FABLE/Michael comes to palace in rags. Through luck, a well-placed uncle, and his mouth he tricks himself into a high position within the first day. Then becomes incredibly wealthy, betrothed, wearing jewels, and fine silk. And a wise man warns that he will lose everything. But he proceeds, he gains the ear of the king, people in the palace begin to fear and respect him. Then he hears that his parents are dying. The long road will mean they might be dead by the time he gets their. The short cut is filled with bandits and robbers. He takes the short-cut and is piece-by-piece stripped of his clothes, robbed, has his royal seal stolen, identity stolen. He arrives back home in rags. His parents are sick but manage to make a recovery. He's back to rags and trying to tell people how he lived but no one believes him. He's cleaning out the horse stalls, and throwing slop to the pigs. He's covered in mud and his wife comes to visit but doesn't believe it's him. No one from the palace believes its him and treats him like a peasant. No one knows except for the wise man.

The wise man laughs and shows through some special article of clothing the minister forgot to take off that it is him. And they try to welcome him back. He's back in the palace, his wife is by his side, the clothes are laid out for the day. His gems are on his finger. In the middle of the night, he slips out of the palace and walks back home. He gives his seal away to a village idiot who is shipped back to the palace.

And the man walks back home along the road.

MEMORY/A few Aunt Dolly she said a homeless came up to her on the street and said 'I know you.' And my aunt said 'I don't think so.' And the homeless man insisted 'yeah I do.' Well as it turns out they did. Back in the days when people used to ride train carts across the county there were halfway or safe spots like the underground railroad. My aunt's mother was one of those famous spots where hobos were told what to do: When the train pulled into the sleep rural Florida town they would jump from the front car and race down the street a few blocks. On the side kitchen door would be a tray of coffee and biscuits. You were told to drink the coffee and take a few biscuits and then race back to the tracks to hop back on the last car. And many people did this and this became sort of the ritual to do. My great grandmother was never robbed or beaten by any of these people. Quite the opposite, she was a brief spot. And on that particular morning that train rider ran up to the kitchen door, grabbed the coffee and was chewing on a biscuit when he saw my Aunt (as a little girl) eating her breakfast in the kitchen. And that's how they knew each other.

FAITH/Helping my Dad walk he's so paranoid when I tell him to reach back for the wheelchair b/c he's mostly blind and can't see. He's very scared of reaching back so he usually just flops backward which is very dangerous and how people get injured. So the last few days I've been refusing to let him sit unless he reaches back. I hold him with my hand while he protests 'no, no, no!!!' And I calmly try to whisper into his ear: why don't you trust me? There is a chair behind you. I am holding you. No one is going to let you fall. Just reach back.'

I try to pry his fingers from the walker as he yells 'no, no, NO!' and continue to tell him 'just reach back. Trust me.' I suppose I'm like that. Gripping on to the walker and the angels are screaming 'let go! JUST LET GO!!' and I'm saying 'no, no, no!!' like a child afraid to lose his blanket.

The Bin Laden Decade

Osama Bin Laden is dead and Happy Mother's Day. The comic book villain loomed larger-than-life in my childhood. I dreamed of commando raids on his compounds, a crack team of FBI investigators bursting in and stopping a terror cell, and me playing the hero in bringing this man to justice. For me, I lived in a decade of Bin Laden. But contrary to popular opinion, that decade was the 1990s.

I was a news junkie. Couldn't get enough of C-SPAN and CNN. Prior to the dawn of countless 24 hr cable news, sports, and financial channels, most of the 1990s was CNN, ESPN, and Headline News for me. When the first World Trade Center attack occured I was riveted to the TV. A blind sheik, a terror cell, an attempt to implode a fortress skyscrapper. The news quickly returned to Clinton's scandals and his losses in the mid-term elections. I couldn't figure out if I was living in an alternative reality. There was just a terror attack of the most exotic, comic-book villainy on American soil and it was old news after a week. Well, they weren't successful and only scared us awake for a minute. When a terror cell was busted in Kansas City -of all places- the following week of the WTC truck bombing, interests was only briefly re-awakened. But to me I lived in this fantasy world of secret terror cells.

From the mountains of Afghanistan came a decree: America needed to immediately leave the holy Land of Saudi Arabia. The threat garnered a few murmurs of attention shortly before the Khobar towers were bombed in Saudi Arabia. Once again the loss of human life wasn't epic and so the media's attention was quickly diverted back to White House interns and stained dresses. For me, I instantly thought of Regan withdrawing troops from Beirut after the massive car bomb killed 500. And around this time is when I heard his name for the first time: Osama Bin Laden. There might have been a special or two about the Khobar towers and this cave dwelling villain of America's nightmares. The name stuck with me so that when the USS Cole was hit with a suicide boat, I recalled immediately the Bin Laden promise: attacks would continue until America was off the Arabian penisula. It struck me as a bit absurd: this guy in the mountains with a few ragtag suicide bombers threatening to alter American military power through small, but media-savvy campaign using 'like a movie' style terror to capture our imagination. But Bin Laden already had my teenage imagination as it ran into over drive.

I came home from school and saw the Oklahoma City towers smoldering and ABC newscaster asking if this could have been Bin Laden. My instant reaction was 'why would he bomb something in Oklahoma? No it's someone else.'

Then there was the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the US attempts on his life via cruise missiles. And finally the 90s ended with the Millenium bomb threats and plots. The FBI busted up all potential prospects and America promptly fell back asleep into a nice cushy, post-lunch dooze.

The 90s were clearly the era of Bin Laden and the FBI was pursuing him on several different continents. Al Qaeda was extremely active and successful and catching countries unaware and slack-jawed.

When 9/11 happened, we were fully awake. The following years was less revealing and just rehashing old points. Yes, Bin Laden had declared war on US intentions in the 90s. Wahabism is radical, he comes from a rich and extremely large family. Michael Moore thoroughly examined the hypocrisy of the Bush family and its support of the Bin Laden estate.

And last week he was shot in his compound. A compound he had been living in for several years with his family and others. Abbotobad is now a historical landmark for Westerners and Americans. A suburban area run by the military that had the world's most famous terrorist hanging out with his kids for years.

What's more interesting is the information gathered during the Bin Laden raid. The news said laptops and discs were snatched on the way out. This has far wider implications to cutting down the Al Qaeda pipeline than Bin Laden passing on.

Ten years after 9/11 and over 15 years since I first heard his name, Osama Bin Laden is gone. The whole tapestry of life is ridiculous. I tell that to my Dad as he struggles to walk and do rehab. Michael Jackson is gone but you're still here. James Brown is gone in a freak dental accident but you're still here. Natasha Lyonne passed on from skiing but you're still here. Yasir Arafat was done in by ailments after surviving multiple assassination attempts. Osama Bin Laden is gone due to Navy SEALs but you're still here. And so am I. And yet he seemed so real. And now he's gone.

It's been a week and the buzz is dying down across the nation. Within a month he'll go back to being a pop cultural reference point. For the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks his name will be trotted out again. We'll wave flags and act patriotic and then he might just fade away. Dems will surely want a return of his name next year during re-elections. I'm a Dem but I'm not looking forward to that at all. I would rather just move forward and not linger or dance on the grave. It serves no purpose but to re-stir hatred.

Unlike comic villains there is no glorious ending with credits rolling afterward. There's only slow declines punctuated by short bursts of terror. For Osama Bin Laden, it looks like he had both in the last 10 years.