And on the other hand...

Click here for The Yin Side where the other half of me holds forth!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Becoming a Cabbage

Ornamental Cabbages
Portland, Oregon, Farmer's Market

During a moment of anger and self-doubt (yes, I have my share), I came across a poem in Shambhala Sun, one of the four free magazine subscriptions I got a few months back for filling out a marketing survey. I should say they weren't exactly free--they came with a $2-apiece shipping and handling charge, but still, eight bucks total for a year of Time, Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, and the aformentioned Buddhist review, not a bad deal really.

Shambhala Sun is probably the only subscription renewal I will likely accept...well maybe Atlantic, but it takes so long to read that one, and so much socio-politics.

Anyway, in one of those moments of synchronicity when it seems as if everything in the universe is converging on a particular place in your own mind or brain or skull, whatever, there came this poem that just spoke to just me. Synchronicity is just being open to everything that's all connected anyway. But in moments of stress, it does feel like the universe is talking to you, and you alone.

The Art of Disappearing
Naomi Shihab Nye

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.


Did I mention anger and self-doubt? Well, we all have moments like that, brought on by pressure or its opposite, whatever that is, (what is it? a sucking vacuum?) that undoes the glue of the things that hold our identities together, the things like marriage, career, health. (And no, my marriage is fine, my health is okay, my career...well, another story.)

In an earlier post about change, where I said how nice it would be to just have a reset command for the shuffle of our life, an issue not completely articulated has to do with free will and determinism. One of the big questions that comes up from time to time. In the Philosophy of Mind audio course I'm "taking" during my morning commute, this issue was nicely dealt with: we do have free will, in a deterministic universe. Kind of like my iPod analogy. We can make all those choices moment to moment, reshuffling, but still there is only a limited library of songs, a limited program, to shuffle.

In addition, we observe how our lives are like and unlike others'. We can identify, or not, with the tragic intellectual tortured by the peasant during the Cultural Revolution; we can relate, or not, to Lucia di Lammermoor, first of the suicidal victims in the opera of the same name, with its archaic Romeo and Juliette plot. (Pretty music though; Friday's performance was enjoyable, pre-Verdi, not so energetic and emotional, except for the madness scene.) Pretty extreme examples, but archetypical plots.

But right now, I think I just want to become a cabbage.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Success and/or Failure

Recently I was in a conference room where there was a plaque on the wall that said, "What would you do if you were guaranteed that you could not fail?" That's one of those ubiquitous quotes, like the serenity prayer, mantras that organizations use to express their wishful corporate philosophies, to stimulate (or possibly just simulate) positive thinking and achievement.

I was searching for the origin of the quote, and found another version:"...if you were guaranteed that you would succeed." Whatever, it's like asking is the devil or god in the details? (Actually, it's god, the devil quote is a derivation, but widely and more frequently used.)

Which got me to thinking, why must we frame everything we do in terms of success and failure? (Maybe Nike has it right: "Just do it.") I sometimes feel beset in a world seeking growth and improvement, feet held to the fire through processes and procedures, metrics and measurements, profit and loss, time and money. Good and evil, god and the devil. Right and wrong, rights and wronged. As if living was just a matter of applying an algorithm.

I would rather ask "What would you do if success or failure didn't matter, one way or the other?" I think that's the real question. Does a guarantee of a "successful outcome" matter? If not, those are likely the things you might really want to do.

I should go do some goal-less meditation now, but I need to get ready to "go to work," the extra-curricular thing I do to put my way through the lifelong-learning courses I have signed up for. Once I went to school to build a foundation for a career. Now I have a career that feels like something I do to put myself through school.

A word from the older but wiser to my younger readers: find and maintain work that isn't separate from what you love to do. And think about what you would do if you had all the time in the world. (Well, you do,'s probably money that holds you back, time and money being too often conflated. And there's the rub.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Wave

All day I was bothered, trying to recall something I thought of as I left home this morning that would make a postable piece...I was pretty clear about what I accomplished on the Yin side, but what was it I was thinking? Like a dream that vanishes on awakening; was it lost forever in the deepest recesses of my mind? I need a dictaphone in my car. Or I guess I could send myself voicemail; I have a friend who does that all the time.

Then coming back home, driving into my complex it came to me when a local guy who appears to be cultivating a Qing Dynasty queue walking his red dog with the funny ears waved at me. That was it. Handwaving. (Not the wave that was probably an element in the audience at the Superbowl.)

This morning, as I was leaving the complex, a series of neighbors, some walking dogs, one waiting in the parking lot on her scooter chair for a ride, all waved at me. I hadn't greeted so many people so sequentially ever. I felt like a beauty queen greeting her subjects, like Miss Hawaii (left) in the Chinatown Chinese New Year Parade. I can understand why that waving can cause tendinitis or tennis elbow.

But it left me with a positive feeling. I didn't need to TALK to any of these folks, just smiling and waving acknowledgment of a nice morning was sufficient communication. Maybe a little simple and primitive, but it conveyed all the good will in the world.

Which got me thinking about handwaving. I looked it up on Wikipedia, fingertip font of all knowledge, and found:
...handwaving is an informal term that describes either the debate technique of failing to rigorously address an argument in an attempt to bypass the argument altogether, or a deliberate gesture and admission that one is intentionally glossing over detail for the sake of time or clarity.
I certainly wasn't engaged in any debate, but "glossing over detail for the sake of time or clarity." Yes, I suppose that's it. And maybe just that loving-kindness thing.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Driving home from my Chinese painting class in the driving rain, thinking about the inevitability of change to come with the new Rabbit Year energy, changes I want, changes I might dread, this came up on my iPod. I didn't even know it was there...was it Wilson Pickett? Someone solo with Booker T. and the MGs? Sam and Dave? I couldn't even be sure of the decade. I repeated it about 10 times and finally recognized Taj Mahal...from 43 years ago.

I think the iPod on shuffle is a great metaphor for fate and destiny. When you hit that shuffle command, your fate is pretty much set. It looks random, but really there is an unknown but unchangable path set like fate through your music library. You can walk back through the shuffle and see the "random" selections frozen in time. But, reset it and you can change your destiny any time.

If only life had such an easy reset feature. In any case, "Everybody's Got to Change Sometime."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Welcome Year of Tu!

Kung hee fat choy/gung xi fa cai to everyone! Hope year of bunny brings benefits!

Thanks to my poetic friend for enhancing my little rabbit with an auspicious haiku.