And on the other hand...

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Tao

(Another offering for Rambling Taoists, you can read it here first.)

I've been contemplating a New Year's resolution, to go eremetic, to stop ruminating, to stop reading,  to stop Facebooking, YouTube-ing, blogging, forum-ing, basically, turning inward to paint and make music, drink tea (and a little Nigori ) and contemplate clouds and rainbows from my lanai, with some qigong and meditation thrown in at appropriate times.  A basic quiet lay-Taoist lifestyle.  I was even ready to ask Trey to take me off the masthead here, saying "So long and thanks for all the fish."

Part of this is due to too much participation, too much red dust and noise, even though much of it has been Tao-talk-related.  Pose a simple question, raise a simple point, and you get arguments, sanctimony, tutelage and weird flavors of Tao (Advaita Tao, Zen Tao, socio-political Tao, quantum physics Tao, self-transformation Tao, self-negation Tao, TCM Tao, environmental, cultural , esoteric, orthodox, hippie, new-age goes on and on.)  In just the past week, not just on The Rambling Taoists, but in other forums, there have been deep and sometimes disturbing discussions and postings --some of which leave me feeling like I'm the receptionist in the waiting room of a mental health clinic-- about guilt, free will, karma, text translation and exegesis, authenticity of practice, Chinese vs. western, ancient vs. modern, Lao Tzu vs. Jesus.)  All of which suggests to me that the real truth in Taoism is the contradiction and paradoxes it allows.  So many Taoisms, so many Taoists.  (But just one Tao.)

Particularly perturbing to me is a notion expressed by Ta-Wan,  that  "We are little else than a sensitive spot in the universe."  Even if this is the case -- which I'm not sure it is -- why would you want to believe it? Why would you want to act as if that is true?   That we are no more than trigger hairs on a Venus fly trap, the responsive leaves of a mimosa tree?  This is a genuine question, not rhetorical astonishment. Even with quoting the masters (who are in fact, just some guys, like us, with something probably lost in translation), or with reference to direct experience (to which another cannot be a party), I cannot sign on that dotted line; it leaves too much out. 

We are more than amoeba…we are self-aware energy beings.
We are particle and wave.
We are matter and energy.
We are here, in space.
We are now, in eternity.
We are body, mind, and spirit.
We are human beings, feet on earth, head in heaven.
We are sentient and knowing.
We are cause and effect.
We think and feel.
We are the freedom in a deterministic universe.
We are poems that “be”  and stories that “mean.”
We are science and religion.
We are technology and art.
We are certain in our uncertainty; uncertain in our certainty.
We are born and die against our will, but while living, we exercise and express will.
This I believe, and this I act.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Yet Another Morning After

All that frenzy--which in my case was not really very frenetic--behind:  I am left to contemplate the curious stocking stuffers, red and green, that my personal Santa left.

The green tea mints I can understand, but I am a little leery of Fois Gras bubble gum, featuring "artificial liver flavor."  I would probably, to the dismay of pretty much everyone I know, savor a bit of real fois gras, but bubble gum?

More delightful is the BIG gift, a very nice electronic keyboard, way more than a piano, something I haven't had intimate access to for nearly 30 years.  When we embarked on this journey to the tropics, like missionaries, we left behind a junky old upright, probably a church basement castaway, that I enjoyed when we lived in the country and no one could hear me play. I used to tune it myself. (Frequently, in the way you might cut your own hair, a constant touching up.)  I have a tuning hammer, a very lovely crafted tool for which I now have absolutely no use. The upright was pretty much the same piece of furniture I grew up with, a player piano with the player guts removed and which my mother painted white in some fit of purity.  At some point in my disastrous childhood piano lesson trajectory, the piano, which I think was my grandmother's, was moved to the basement where I played/practiced so no one could hear me.  I was a terrible pianist.  I liked the playing part, but the practice baffled me.

When I left home and my basement piano, I went through a self-taught ukelele and guitar phase. My college roommate sat on my uke, (perhaps a foreshadowing of my destiny in Hawaii)  and no longer could I play All My Loving, all cute and Paul McCartney, like a primitive and talentless Jake Shimabukuro.  The guitar saw me through a few more folky/hippie years, but really, my first love was the piano.  I had a teacher whose name actually was Ludwig, who allowed us access to his fabulous upright Steinway; I imagined if I had THAT piano at home, instead of the lobotomized player, I would have been more accomplished.  Today I am distressed now that I cannot find my copy of Sonata Pathetique, the most advanced I ever got under Ludwig's tutelage and vague sexual abuse. (The old shaggy white-haired German liked to stroke our backs as we worked through the Sonatas.)  Not that I played it very well. (Although I just found that I can download the score; it looks really scary.  I need to practice.)  Then the old country upright saw me through a free phase, where I discovered that I didn't have to play what was written, I could play what I wanted.  No practice, no sticky stars on the pages of my piano lesson books, I could just play.  It was liberating. (But I sorta missed Ludwig.)

So now, the electronic keyboard.  What I locate for music are my old Methodist and Episcopal Hymnals from 1939 and 1940:  Christmas music to break in the keyboard.  Not just a piano. An organ setting!  A strings setting!  A guitar setting!  Automatic salsa rhythm! What fun!  Like any number of great R&B legends, I start with that good old gospel music. (Although some of it is Handel and Bach.)  I have three volumes of Hours with the Masters (which my friend and I called "Hours with the Monsters") stored somewhere...most of which is dreadful except for the notation for Fur Elise.  It is possible that the Wizard has discarded them somewhere (he finds Mozart too "tinkly" and Beethoven too...piano teacher-ish. Ah, how I miss Herr Ludwig.).   The Wizard urges me to play themes from Scheherazade, for which I can find some beginner-accessible sheet music.  And it is lovely.

So far, though, I am only performing with the earphones, not quite ready to inflict my unpracticed fingering (including my permanently dislocated left pinky) on a listener other than myself.  Still, to me, it sounds pretty good.   I am much less concerned with playing the RIGHT written notes....just notes that sound pretty and expressive.  It's a little like my Chinese painting.  It's all about the doing, not the done.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Really Reliable, Really Ripe

Just days ago, this bud was like a green grain of rice stuck on the end of the leaf.  I can feel the energy gathering to bring it to blossom. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Morning After

Beginning to inhale, the Winter Solstice moment has passed. Yang is rising.  I was restless all day yesterday, maybe too much yin. Couldn't work in my office because some ADA-required modification to the building is underway and it is unsafe to walk through the corridor.  How ironic.  I should have taken the free time to do some shopping, but that was just too dreary and depressing.  

At home, after monitoring business email, I succeeded in a technological challenge. I managed to hack the settings of my new alleged all-region DVD player which came ready to read only U.S. region DVDs.  But I watch and acquire a lot of Asian media.  How to correct this is not documented in the manual or officially on-line.   But, you can find anything on the Internet,  and in less than a minute, I discovered instructions on how to accomplish this.  Well, five different methods for the Coby 514; eventually one of them worked.  I am so proud of myself (and grateful to the video geeks who posted the information).  This should probably be a topic for the yin Tao 61, but the activity seemed so yang.  I will not review here the truly awful movie that I used to test the modified region setting.  (How can Andy Lau stoop so low?)

My old Christmas cactus is clearly ready to bloom, the miracle that re-occurs without my intervention, despite my neglect.  I would post a photo of the delicate new buds, but my camera connector is in my office.  I am disabled.

The kolea are busy in the yard and patrolling the street looking confident and at home.   They are not concerned with the discussions I have been over-preoccupied with on several Taoist forums; they are simply Tao manifest.  I watch them the way Zhang San Feng observed the snake and crane.  How can I be more like them, and the cactus, and my cats?

And we honored properly, our solstice wedding anniversary, a true celebration of yin and yang.  Our favorite table, at our favorite neighborhood restaurant, a crisp Bombay martini,  a table-side-constructed Caesar salad, a perfect glass of Cabernet, osso buco, shrimp and scallops, linguine, zabaglione.  But the restaurant was very busy, very crowded, very noisy, waiters were rushed. And the inevitable heartburn at 3 a.m.

But today, the morning after, all is well.  Except I still must go to shop, plunge into the Christmas frenzy.  Why didn't I do more on-line?  If only it was as easy and natural as the kolea snagging bugs in the grass.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Head in the Heavens, Feet on the Earth

(Another post I expect to offer to Rambling Taoists, but you can read it here first.)

I've been thinking, yes, about a little remark Ta-Wan made earlier:

"I live life as it appears to be and I die. My life is full as no time was spent attempting to know what can't be known. I live. I don't think about living."

Which on the surface seems to be very Taoist, very spontaneous and in the moment.  I feel this way whenever I enjoy a maitai under the big banyan tree on the beach in Waikiki, gazing at Diamond Head, watching the surf, hearing the joy of children and laughter of lovers on the sand.  This is about as close to Paradise as I can imagine, but I don't get there as often as I would like.  (Getting to Waikiki is a nuisance.  I can do maitais on my own lanai.)

But in the context of our talk of "philosophical" Taoism, I wonder...philosophy is about asking questions (with no expectation of answers), but still the asking of questions, pondering arguments, seems like a worthwhile pursuit to me.  Or maybe I'm too Socratic.  My feet are on the ground, but my head is in the clouds.

Years ago, maybe 1967, I asked a friend, "Why are you experimenting with all these drugs?"  Experimenting was the term of the time; now people just "do" them, I guess.  Experimentation appealed to me.  It suggested research, discovery and proof. Hypotheses and their testing.  But his answer to my question was, perhaps the most honest thing anyone's ever said to me, "Because it's fun."

And now, I find, decades on, the drugs and alcohol are no longer fun, and if anything they were just fiddling with the fine tuning of the so-called cognitive shen--the sense faculties.  A useful exercise, but it's no wonder we talk about burn-out and flashbacks and distortion.  Like a little kid with a remote and a screwdriver, fool around with the controls too much and you may break the set. And in this case, you can't go to Best Buy and get a replacement.

But I'm not really talking about psychoactive substances here: I'm talking about thinking.  It's fun to think about living, doing logical exercises to test hypotheses about the meaning of life, causality, God, memory, consciousness.  Not expecting answers.  Just filling in some blanks, considering new possibilities.  One is never done.  You don't burn out from thinking. I think.

Which brings me to the real purpose of this post.  Trey asked us if we might suggest ideas for holiday giving, for those inclined to do so in spite of  materialism, the economy and the competitive shopping season, (an issue I leave to others to debate). As a big proponent of lifelong learning and thinking, I direct attention to The Great Courses, products of The Teaching Company.  I am in no way a rep for the organization, although I've certainly earned some frequent thinker miles on my account.  No matter what a person is interested in, there's a top quality lecture series just for them.  "Them" is probably a demographic of reasonably affluent, already well educated people who have been out of school for a long time and who might want to revisit that course, or pick up one that was never offered in their major. Anyone who is a commuter and a thinker, an explorer, would appreciate these on long freeway drives.  I don't like audio books, but lectures are meant to be listened to.  No need to spend the money for DVDs; the audio CDs are compelling, and you can always look up any visuals later on the web.  One caveat: don't spend the "full price"...eventually, everything goes on sale.

And if you don't want to spend that much money, here are some other ideas:  I often give Deng Ming-Dao's 365 Dao as a gift that can keep on giving, year after year, even. (To me, since 1992.)  But this year, a special recommendation: former NPR reporter Eric Weiner's Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine, just out, about the author's exploration of several faith traditions, seeking something he can use.  I think it might appeal to readers of this blog. A self-described gastronomical Jew, he visits Sufis, Buddhists, Taoists, Franciscans, Kabbalahists, Wiccans, Shamanists and Raelians. It's funny, it's serious, it is even more entertaining and thought-provoking than his previous Geography of Bliss.  The fact that I have a minor speaking part in Chapter 5 might be enough to intrigue you.

So those are the under $100, and under $20 categories. If you don't want to spend money, give something from your hand, your  heart or your head.  Homemade jam. Knit a bookmark.  I'm making little brush paintings.

I think it's good to give.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bei Luotuo!

I have more or less confirmed from two completely independent sources, a Chinese friend in Hawaii, and a Norwegian teacher of Cantonese in Hong Kong, that "Bei luotuo" could mean "prepare the camel," in the same sense that the Chinese protagonists in the dramas I like to watch often order their servants, "Bei ma!" (Prepare the horse.)  And don't I want to. 

This is from a festival in Inner Mongolia, which is just where I want to escape to from a Hawaii winter!  All that Butterfly Living....