And on the other hand...

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

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tranquility Touch Stone

After enduring all the new-agey nonsense surrounding the perfectly routine solstice (despite its very nice numerological rhythm, 12/21/12), I am vowing to hold tranquility in my hands, my heart, and mind in 2013.
Tranquil as a stone.
I picked up this nice little water-polished stone at Cannon Beach, Or., in November.  It felt so good in my hand, has a nice heft, fills the palm like a ball of qi, and has a little depression even where my thumb can rest. I thought it might make a nice paperweight, but I think it is better as a meditational object.  I put the characters for tranquility on it but they will probably wear off over the coming year.  (It's a nice way to make a treasure out of a chunk of non-descript mineral.)
Rock-polishing beach
Being of a numerological bent, I also note that 12/21/12 is my 44th wedding anniversary.  "44" seemed equally non-descript as a number, but apparently it is not.  In  some circles it's considered a "master number," like 11, 22, 33) and has some positive significance. According to this new-agey  site, "The Master Number 44 is the most powerful vibration of materialization. It’s known as the master of creating “Heaven on Earth”. The “44″ grounds and motivates people to awaken and manifest their hearts desire and to be influential in their lives and the world."  (I should probably inscribe "44" on the stone as well.)

That sounds like  a good thing, because I was more concerned about the negative association of "4" in Chinese (si, sounds like death).  But if you add 4+4 you get 8, and that sounds like ba, (fortune or wealth), and since there's two of us, we could make it 88, which is the double happiness symbol, which has more to do with the 88 visually resembling "shuang xi" (囍) than the sound of ba ba.  I didn't really know that before.  So, I have willfully turned what might have been a negative meaning into a positive one.   Not new-agey nonsense, just old-timey superstition!

In any case, since 44 is not one of the traditional anniversary gift years (next year it's sapphires!) I have given myself just a little stone reminder of 44 years of tranquility and many more, I hope to come.

Son, DIL, Wizard, at Cannon Beach. Rock group album cover? The Tranquil Stones?
My Wizard of 44 years!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Winding down, again

This morning I woke up, having slept late, which as one ages is not as late as it used to be.  I swam up through my dream state, peeked out from under the little black cloth I use to cover my eyes and pineal gland, and ventured to guess what time it was.

I estimated 8:42 a.m.  I rolled over to squint at the digital clock, which read 8:41. Close, and by the time I actually put feet to floor, it was 8:42.  Why even have a clock?  I never use it as an alarm; my body clock seems to work just fine.

What I was thinking about, before I rose, was that this year has been a deja vu.  Details different, but same travel, same project deadlines, same routines as the previous 12 months. Even the news has a repetitive quality... another election, another school shooting, another mid-east military conflict.  Some people like that routine and focus on world events, despite their relentless sameness.  It makes me itchy.  (Need to start planning next China pilgrimage, which I missed in 2012.  Wanderlust calls.)  Much as I worship cycles, I like a little variety.

Nothing special happened (except that I became officially eligible for Medicare) at my birthday, which was touted as some magical planetary alignment over the pyramids of Giza. Thinking of the pyramids made me feel not that old.  Then nothing special happened on 12/12/12.  (Except perhaps for the children born at that moment who may if they live long enough and assuming nothing happens on 12/21/12, unlike the rest of us, see that date sequence repeat.  (Imagine a 100th birthday on 12/12/2112).

The binary sequences of 12/12/12 made me think of hexagrams, and I decided to interpret the date as #63, water over fire, not a bad one, and perhaps suggesting preparation for the next big date, 12/21/12, at which I expect nothing special to happen (except that it is my wedding anniversary.)  If seen as a hexagram, this is #17, the joyous lake over the arousing thunder.  Also an interesting hexagram, which suggests rest after exertion, a  perfect symbol of the winter solstice, and a lot more encouraging than Mayan calendar hysteria.

This is all completely bogus I-ching-ing, but maybe not.  Why not?  I haven't seen anyone else make these observations.  They kind of work for me.  (I-ching as My-ching.)  Anyway, all these numbers on clocks and calendars mean nothing really, they are just tosses of the coins or yarrow stalks, just putting us at places in the flow of our own time, and reminding us of the cycles, winding up, winding down, with no end in sight.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Le morte d'oncle Zhou

An impromptu Thanksgiving journey, on the heels of my D.C./Portland escapade which included visits with friends and family, has left me a little exhausted, but glad to be alive.  We flew out of HNL on Tuesday night, on a flight that was pushed back several times, leaving us anxious about our tight connection out of Chicago.  Bad enough to have that long haul in cattle class, but our worries were pointless: the connection was delayed five hours.  And when it was finally announced, the gate changed six times.It was like a remake of Airplane.  Thank god for the frequent flyer lounge with its free booze and snacks, civilized and comfortable surroundings and wifi.

Thanksgiving was as it is supposed to be--a lovely meal (the vegetarian Sister-in-Law even cooked a turkey for the rest of us), catching up and laughing by a wood fire, dogs and cats cuddling up with us, and tryptophan helping to overcome (or possibly complicating) jet lag. It was my first time back there in over 20 years (what a lot of gray hair has sprouted).  The fire was essential; it was as cold as I have been in 20 years, too.

The next day I eagerly abandoned the stubborness and exasperation that was abundant while the Wizard attempted yet again to solve the Father-in-Law's issues with Mac file hierarchies and MSW style problems.  The 92-year-old deserves much credit for writing romance/spy novels, but self-publishing paperback-sized volumes (including printing and binding) with a word processor and scanner is a recipe for disaster. Before I could say Pagemaker (which dates me as well as the FIL),  I was on my way 30 miles west to my own hometown, where I thought I might be filially pious in my own way and visit my mother's grave. Despite my aversion to ancestor worship and grave maintenance, it seemed like the thing to so, since it was her birthday and I'd only been there twice before: once when the grave was filled in 1970, and another unpleasantly emotional weepy visit with my father maybe 30 years ago.

To decorate the plot I bought a poinsettia plant (knowing full well it wouldn't survive the night outside) and drove about on a tour of the cemetery. No sexton was on duty, but I expected to remember the landmarks, or that some unknown force would deliver me to the right spot.  Up this road, down that one, past that war memorial and the utility no avail.  In retrospect, I think I knew exactly where it was, but failed in reluctance to get out of the car and search about. So as cold rain began and the brown leaves from the naked trees began to swirl about, I gave up, decided to take the poinsettia back to the FIL, and took a side road out, through an older section where the headstones were weathered and a bit askew. The area looked like the sleepers had rolled over a few times, leaving the bed disheveled.

But what was this I spied?  There, a  huge marker with my maternal grandmother's family name: a family plot.  But I knew Mom wasn't there.  Still I got out and discovered none other than Hiram, my great-grandfather and his wife Emma.  Hiram was a bit of a legend in the family as a GAR veteran and a longtime locomotive engineer with the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Actually I have in my possession 30 years' worth of railroad passes good for him and his wife after he retired, and his GAR badge.  Very elegant and interesting artifacts.
Such beautiful boarding passes, from 1894 to 1925.
 As I wandered about the area, I also noticed a couple of stones with my mother's maiden name and another of her best girlhood friend.  It was a neighborhood of dead people!  How folks stuck together way back when even after!

I contemplated Hiram's stone while clearing away the leaves that obscured the inscription that certified him as a Private in Company E of the 20th Regiment in the Pennsylvania Cavalry.  Although I had other proof at home:

He answered the call in so many ways.

I was about to leave when I literally stumbled on a small flat headstone at Hiram's feet.  It was my mother's brother, who died a year before she was born. Baby Dean succumbed to some epidemic, as did one of his cousins, same age, at about the same time. It was too late I think for it to have been Spanish flu (to which able-bodied young men were more susceptible anyway), more likely a disease no one gets anymore, like whooping cough or diphtheria. Nobody ever talked about it.

So this was Uncle Dean, whose name my mother had rearranged to use as a nom de plume for some stories and a novel she was working on (but which she insisted my father burn when she was dying). Lot of unpublished writers in this extended family.  I left the poinsettia for this child, for whom no one but me is left to remember anymore anyway, and whom I felt I was directed to find.  I know my mother, her spirit is not in the grave I couldn't find, but Older Baby Brother Dean?  Did Mom send me there?

He would have been my only maternal uncle; Mom was, for all practical purposes, an only child like myself.  Since then I have been imagining what life --particularly mine, in a kind of Wonderful Life way-- might have been like had he lived. If still alive, he would be a year older than the FIL struggling away with Microsoft Word, fantasizing his own memories in romantic spy fiction. Perhaps Uncle Dean would have become a business man, left his fortune to me, his only heir, (assuming he had no children of his own.) Perhaps he would have been killed in the Second World War, becoming another legend like his grandfather at whose feet he now rests.  Or perhaps he would have fathered some cousins to whom I would be no closer than the somewhat estranged (from themselves and myself) cousins I have on my father's side.  Like the Chinese story of Uncle Zhou and his horse, speculation can go both ways...maybe good, maybe  bad.   It's like doing genealogy in hopes of finding illustrious ancestors, more likely very ordinary people, or possibly scoundrels.  That's what my mother found when she did some of that sort of research, probably for her novel.  I am somehow related it turns out (probably through Hiram), to the so-called Robin Hood of Pennsylvania, known in part for having robbed John Jacob Astor's wife (whose portrait I just saw in the Smithsonian American Art Gallery in D.C.).  Legend has it the ancestor hid some treasure in a cave in the Pennsylvania countryside.  We visited state parks when I was a kid, partly in hopes of locating the goods, more likely just to feed the family fantasy (and the novel).

In any case, it's all moot.  When I finally left the cemetery, this caught my attention, winking at me in  a "duh, get real" sort of way.
Though not relatives, Alfred and Zelma put an ironic Terry Pratchett-esque twist on the end of my day. I capped it off with a visit to a favorite hot dog stand I used to visit as a kid: "Texas Hot Dogs", a tradition since 1918. Baby Uncle Dean never had one, I suspect, but maybe it could have killed him, eventually. The two-fer chili dogs with grated onion in steamed buns weren't anywhere as good as I remembered. But on the other hand, I am still alive.
Oddly enough, my rental car had a Texas license plate.

Friday, November 16, 2012

November Oregon Holiday

Like Hawaii, but different.
Felt like the Big Island, except it was 41 degrees and the mauka side was pine forest and snow.

One of the several off-shore rocks.

Crowded beach.

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach

Seals take sanctuary here.

Our lodging with koi pond and peculiar bronze Indian statue.

From our balcony, the Indian appeared to be peeing into the stream.

We did NOT eat here.

Carousel of wondrous creatures in Seaside.  We did see a deer in someone's yard in the middle of Astoria.  I thought it was a statue until it ran across the street.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Persistence Leads to Wu Wei

I was missing Charlotte, hadn't seen her on the web (her web, not this one) for several days, but I've been a little preoccupied with my own tangled webs, complicated projects and deadlines and difficult people and, I should say too, some extraordinary people.  We make a lot of fuss about teamwork, and when the right people come together, it can be wu wei.

So at the end of the tunnel, a clear sky, trade winds, no vog, head cold subsiding, new month calendar pages, and a debugged spreadsheet as delicate and perfect as a spider's who's off the drugs. And when a spreadsheet works, that's a wu wei. But it took hairpulling persistence and effort to get it to that point. Well, at least for me: word processors, page layout and image processing programs are my interest (and therefore, expertise). Excel is not.
Spider pointing to the moon. Or is the moon pointing to the spider?
And Charlotte is back, having apparently renovated her own little spreadsheet, spinning silk and now resting on it.  Could she feel as exhilarated as I do, finishing a difficult task?  Well, she gets to stay put and gaze at the moon, while I'm looking forward to a trip back both coasts really.  I'll be in DC on election day, then return with a stop on the Oregon coast.  The vision of Cannon Beach, likely in the cold and damp rain (a nice change from Hawaii), has been keeping me inspired and moving forward.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Looks a little like Guilin, but at the edge of the Pacific.  In a couple of weeks, I hope to have some nice photos of the area of my own to put up here.  Persistence pays off.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Week 3 of Batty Observations

For more than three weeks I've been watching Charlotte in her web.  I concluded that it is "Charlotte" because the Wizard observed, "It's probably female...males are tiny, and she's probably eaten her mate by now."
Charlotte, decorating for the season.
The seemingly fragile rigging she inhabits is still well intact.  I knew the silk was strong, but it really does have a tensile strength equal to steel.  When I searched for this info, of course I found all manner of Halloween costume ideas based on spiders and their webs. So in a way, I consider my lanai decorated for the holiday.  If I add a real pumpkin, I can consider it a totally natural decor. All I need is a bat to complete the look.  I wasn't sure there were bats in Hawaii, but indeed there are.  This one looks like a leaf.
Hawaiian Hoary Bat
More than 30 years ago, my son's first Halloween costume request was to "be a bat." It was a cute costume, created with wicker ribs and the black plastic you use in gardens.  (Next year, he wanted to be a flying squirrel. It seemed unimaginative and repetitive, if inspired, and I expected him to grow up to be a glider pilot. Which he didn't.) It was with some delight that I enjoyed a humanoid bat flying around in the upper reaches of the stage at Die Fledermaus, which we went to see a couple Fridays ago.  The Wizard thought it was tacky, but it took me back to a time when helping a small child pretend to be a bat was the greatest joy of my life.

In the meantime, Charlotte can continue to enjoy the view from her place on my balcony.  Gives a whole new meaning to hanging out and enjoying the sunset.

Monday, October 15, 2012

New Moon Fever

At least twice today I have received messages about tonight's new perfectly astronomical announcement on Public Radio about rising and falling and what stars will be visible and the upcoming Orionids meteor shower, but also, courtesy of Deng Ming-dao, more poetically, that "Today is the first day of the ninth lunar month—called the Chrysanthemum Moon—and the beginning of the seventeenth solar term, Cold Dew. The God of the Southern Pole Star (Shouxing), descends to earth for a day. The Double Nine Festival takes place on the ninth day of this month."

I hope he doesn't mind my sharing his commentary that "Tang poet, Bai Juyi (772–846), wrote this poem, "Song of Sunset on the River" for the first three days of this moon. "
The sun sets straight away into the water.
Half the river trembles; half the river turns red.
How we cherish the first three nights of the ninth moon:
the dew like pearls, the moon like a bow.
It seems like I ought to post moon stuff on my Yin blog, but as the new moon is the beginning of a yang increase, moon-wise, I share this here.

Maybe I'll look for that new moon and stars tonight, while sharing the lanai space with my new pet:

I am caught in a web of intrigue by this creature...Charlotte or Charles...who has been a constant presence for some time now, its well-rigged net securely attached like the cables of a suspension bridge to the fairy lights on my lanai.  It is getting bigger, which suggests to me that it is a Charlotte -- and since it is not a cane spider, big guys who live free of nets and like to invade cars and closets, I am more tolerant.  It seems to know its territory.  And it is very sensitive.  I was observing it closely, patterns on its body, stripes on its legs, and I sighed.  It must have been like a gale force wind; the spider ran to the edge of its web.  Sometimes I don't see it when the sun is bright; it must seek shade among my houseplants.  But then it's back every morning, just waiting for what flys into its web.   

If I can figure out the macro settings on my camera, maybe I can get a good closeup.  This has been an exercise in tolerance and overcoming aversion.  I never thought I might miss a spider.  And what a pleasure is a pet that feeds itself, makes no messes, needs no walking, and provides a useful pest-control service.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hanging In There

The harvest moon of a few days ago was quite perfect; I did manage to view it at around 3 a.m. as it sailed like a grand glowing pearl against the luminous brocade of a mackerel sky.  I did not have the presence of mind or patience to photograph it, although in the morning I did capture it, along with the near horizon and the industrious spider that has staked out some serious arachnid acreage on my balcony.  That was one of the reasons I didn't gaze too long in the middle of the night.  Where was this tenant?  I'm not fond of spiders, but I am trying to tolerate the efforts of this guy as he maintains a square yard of web.
Depth of field is hard to control with a point-and-shoot
when you're trying to capture the moon while avoiding the spider in your face.
He has been growing.  I noticed him a couple of weeks ago, just a little speck, but over the course of half a moon, he has increased in size greatly.  I'm not fond of spiders, but as Deng Ming-dao has pointed out, they are the perfect creatures of Tao. 
Mind in the center
Radiates to eight legs,
Creating a supreme web
A spider is a perfect creature of Tao. Its body is an elegant
expression of its mind: It spins beautiful threads, and its legs are
exactly suited to create and walk its web. From its center, a spider
radiates its world out with a spare economy.

A spider's posture in regard to Tao is to set up a pattern. Its
mind determines this pattern. It realizes the flow of Tao and does
nothing to interfere with it. It simply creates its pattern and waits
for Tao to bring it sustenance. That which comes to it, it accepts. That
which does not come to it is not its concern.

Once its web is established, a spider does not think of expanding
unnaturally. It does not make war upon its neighbors, it does not go for
adventures in other countries, it does not try to fly to the moon, it
does not build factories, it does not try to enslave others, it does not
try to be intellectual. It is simply who it is and is content with that.

365 Tao: Daily Meditations
Deng Ming-Dao
ISBN 0-06-250223-9
So I'm trying to tolerate him (or her, who knows).  The last time I actively tried to address my distaste for spiders, I wound up befriending a black widow. But at some point, I think it will be just too much. I am hoping a strong wind will carry him off to the trees or the noisy neighbor's lanai.

A lot of bloggers and FB friends have been posting pictures of spiders lately: tarantulas and dinner-plate sized tree-dwellers of Hong Kong.  This is my contribution to the trend.  Nothing special, but he is interesting to watch; not as sweet as the kolea, but nontheless, nature in action.
Eight-legged tight-rope stalker.
On my morning coummute a couple weeks ago, when I still had a radio, I was attracted to the low hanging Chinese-style misty clouds on the mauka side of the freeway.  I once had an idea that I might try painting traditional Chinese ink style of contemporary scenes.  But you know, I don't think the cars and power poles add much to the scene.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mooning at Mid-Autumn

The period between the recent autumnal equinox and today has been oddly full of unexpected and sometimes unwelcome happenings.

The garbage disposal failed. The ice maker failed. A toilet began to leak. A faucet connection began to leak.  Was some demon at work in my plumbing?  None of these were related, but how peculiar?  Is there some warranty heaven where everything breaks down at the same time?  In the case of the ice maker, we noted that the fridge was purchased three years ago.  "Did you buy the extended warranty?"  No, but if we had, it probably would have been the same price as the cost of the repair. (An astonishing $400.)  It's quite possible that I broke the ice maker assembly through carelessness, but it was poorly constructed.

None of these failures was very important, and all have been easily corrected. (Toilet fix: $150. The Wizard probably could have done that one himself, but time is money. And he DID do the garbage disposal and faucet replacement, noting, with some intermittent cursing, that there is a reason plumbers charge what they do. He's more of a wiring guy; plumbing is yucky.)  But, I wonder, was there bad feng shui in our plumbing system?  Was there some blockage in the meridians of my condo?  We needed acu-plumbing treatment.

Once all these annoyances were dealt with, I discovered my car was broken into and, for the fifth time, the radio was ripped out by the roots.  Where do all these stolen radios go?  Is there a weird underground economy where people whose radios are stolen go to buy stolen radios?  Various suggestions were entertained: the swap meet; they are sent overseas (but why ship the JVC unit back to Japan?); they are score keeping for gang members; they are incentives for car-alarm companies.

It wasn't even that great a radio.  And I didn't even use it for listening to broadcasts, only for playing Teaching Company CDs, so I can learn something during my commute. (After the last theft, I enjoyed a two-year silence-in-the-car practice, but I am done with that lesson:  I can easily tolerate the silence until my next order from Crutchfield arrives.  I should just have a default account there. When the radio is stolen, an automatic re-order could be sent.)

It is with some irony I note that the thieves also took three of the four volumes of "The Renaissance, the Reformation and the Rise of Nations."  (But they left behind the actual user manual and warranty for the radio.)  I told the police that if they find a suspect, and they know anything about Thomas Cromwell, they should behead him.   I enjoy thinking about the encounter with the fence: "That's a nice JVC radio/CD player but WTF is the English Reformation?  Are these game CDs"?

Alas, the thief did not take my Lee Holden CDs which talk you through the Inner Smile, Six Healing Sounds and Microcosmic Orbit.  I quickly learned that these are not useful while driving, if they are useful at all. (I am not a big fan of Mantak Chia and his various proteges.) But they might have helped the crack-addled car burglar. Yeah, in my dreams.

I recovered from all that plumbing and theft nonsense, only to be disturbed two unrelated area power outages that left us without electricity for more than 12 hours.  In the morning I made a cup of tea with residual hot tap water but I didn't really wake up until I had, uncharacteristically, a double cappuccino from the campus snack bar and later, custom-made espresso in a colleague's office.  I don't know why a power outage left me craving caffeine.

But a change may come with the mid-Autumn Festival, peaking tomorrow.  Last night I observed the almost-full moon sailing through a mackerel-clouded sky, like a grand pearl on luminous silk brocade.  I had attended a funeral mass earlier in the day, of a beloved colleague who I learned to my surprise was actually several years younger than myself.  (That always gives one pause.) It was a Catholic rite with Hawaiian accents.  Incense and the Eucharist, black garb and flower lei,  oli and hula (which was really the best part.)  I must say the Hawaiian chanting outshone the Roman ritual, but that may just have to do with talent.  I have never attended a funeral mass with ukulele.  Post-Vatican II ritual is infamous for guitar liturgy, but this was way beyond that.  It also struck me odd to hear Amazing Grace in a Catholic service, to say nothing of something to the tune of "Danny Boy."  It was all very ecumenical and multi-cultural.  And there was a lot of laughing during the eulogies.  

I came home, entertained myself with the 13th episode of Da Ren Wu, then slept well, until the moon gently woke me and reminded me that I was alive.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Equinoxed Up

'Tis the beginning of fall, marked by the autumnal equinox, a moment of balance or synchrony with the sun, and a time when yin begins to dominate, to reach its fullest at the winter solstice.  I have been anticipating this day since the new (haircut) moon, when the Wizard reported his energy was unusually high.  And just as well it was.  What odd coincidence that the garbage disposal and the ice-maker failed just as his toilet started to leak.  (Was some triple-threat demon at work?  If you could apply TCM to household appliances, I suppose some channel was clearly blocked. I need a feng shui plumber.)  All is repaired now, and I have also recovered from recent unpleasant efforts at my job.  Sometimes I am burdened by uncontrollable deadlines and an excess of paperwork.  I am not a numbers person and  spreadsheets and schedules result in serious MEGO.

Fortunately my eyes were not beyond appreciating the latest technological acquisition the Wizard surprised me with.  I am not an early adopter (and may or may not jump on the iPhone bandwagon by Christmas) so it will seem dull that I am impressed with the Blu-ray player that arrived. The Wizard bought it just to watch Robert Downey Jr.'s latest Sherlock Holmes film. (Industrial Age London looks even grittier in high definition.) And it was impressive, although the movie left me a little cold. (Though the Wizard, a Holmes aficionado, says it was true to the spirit, if not the letter.) I am too prejudiced by my wuxia preferences, though Holmes certainly had some MA background, and Downey's moves weren't too bad.  Still, now I crave seeing Vincent Zhao and Song Il-guk in such perfection.

I quickly switched my Netflix account to accommodate the new player (which sits alongside my all-region player for Asian releases meant mainly for Malaysia and Taiwan.)  My first netflix Blu-ray DVD: Puss In Boots, a peculiar conflation of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, in animation that makes Studio Ghibli seem a little primitive. (I must find Totoro in Blu-ray!)  But why did I think Puss In Boots was Johnny Depp?  (It's Antonio Banderas.)  The pirate boots and flair for haberdashery, especially the products of hatters, I guess.  And a strange leftover sensation from last fall when the Peeping Tom kept me up half the night in a hotel room at LAX.
View out the window from my hotel bed.  LA. is a truly strange place.
I suppose this post really belongs on Tao 61, where I talk about movies and yinny things, but being the equinox, it hardly matters, no difference.  I'll post something there about another interesting acquisition, as the earth hangs for a moment in perfect balance before leaning the other way.  Next on the agenda: gotta get some mooncakes.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Tao of Death

I am not fond of "Tao of " interpretations of wisdom that has already been well expressed from well before the Tao Te Ching through the classics of the Taoist canon. And there are so many annoying modern "Tao of's": new age spiritual, post-positivist philosophical, Jungian psychological, holographic metaphysical, quantum mechanical, holistic health maintenance, biofeedback stress management,  ecological-economic, MBO leadership, Pooh and Yoda and Lebowski Dudeism.  On and on.  Well, Tao is everywhere (and nowhere).  We all claim it and no one owns it.

But a recent discussion about death and Tao and some Taoists' approaches to (or apprehensions about) this crucial transformation, specifically via classic Quanzhen neidan practices,  compels me to quote something here from William Martin's "The Sage's Tao Te Ching.  It's a Tao of Aging (or sage-ing, which is hard to distinguish from sagging, especially when I look in the 10X magnifying mirror).  I have mixed feelings about it.  Billed as "Ancient Advice for the Second Half of Life," it is endorsed by none other than second-wave Taoist Chungliang Al Huang, so I suppose it has some degree of credibility.

Death is Our Companion

Death is the companion of every sage,
a friend who shares our path with us
and who provides a welcome
at our journey's end.

This friendship seems unnatural to many,
but it is a source of great wisdom.
Cultivating this friendship requires courage,
honesty, and openness.
We must visit the dark regions of our mind,
the places where our unnamed fears reside.
There we must wait until these fears dissolve.
Then we will return with a light 
that will illumine the rest of our path. 

Befriending death is not morbid.
It is not depressing.
It is not giving up on living.
It is merely accepting the natural boundary
given to life for our benefit.
It is up to you to shine a light
upon the path of life
so those who follow you
might walk without fear.

This is an interpretive twist of TTC 16,  of which Li Jung comments (in Red Pine's TTC), "Sages enjoy life without limits."   One of the limits is death, or at least, the anxiety about it.  Taoists take measures to   not be limited in life by death.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sighting Off the Port Bow

Like a good omen, and as predictable as the upcoming Blue Moon, I spied a kolea off to the left this morning as we drove out of the wooded and grassy residential area where they, and I, like to make our homes.  She may have been there the past few days, but it's been rainy and my morning schedule a little disruptive, not conducive to birdwatching.

It lifted my lethargic dog-days spirit a bit to see the returned bird, whose arrival I had expected to herald the final preparations for a trip I'm now not going to take. I suspect the economy and election year anxieties were responsible for my trip planner not being able to sign up enough bodies to make the trip worthwhile.  I could have done it on my own, but planning Plan B became more complicated than the trip itself.  I have been plagued with dreams the past couple weeks of travel, of confused packing, of ambiguous ticketing and conveyances.  Perhaps now they will cease and I can just get back to a normal, post-Labor Day, post full-moon routine existence of work, classes, painting, reading, writing, and the ongoing entertainment of Korean historical drama (a welcome diversion from the election-year yammering).  Somehow the politics would be more interesting if it involved swordplay and not just the yammering.

Vincent Zhao in "The Great Wudang." I'd vote for him.
I've been thinking about "yammering" a lot lately, its meaning being something like what wolves and coyotes do at night, calling to each other or the moon.  A lot of it on forums and blogs, about the meaning of life, morality, purpose, God, gods, wu wei, dao, qi, yammer yammer.  Meditation, by definition, is an escape from the yammering. (Well, so is Korean Drama and travel to foreign places.) The more we talk the less we know; the less we know the more we talk.  I so want to emulate the quiet kolea, coming and going as she will, with sufficient strength and wingspan to escape the howling dogs and prowling cats. 

But everyone wants to talk politics...why the president need/need not be a military man, why abortion is/is not a woman's health issue, why Monsanto is killing us while feeding us, why Islam is/is not a threat, why there are no jobs, why I can't expect to live on social security, why gun control will cause/prevent theatre/school shootings, why Bradley Manning is a traitor/patriot.  Yammer yammer.

I wish I could vote twice; then I could do my civic duty while also cancelling out my own vote. Voting as yammering.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Stuck in Neutral

After the milestone of TAO 61 making 225,000 miles, everything else in August seemed anti-climactic.  But not, really.  I have been exhausted after hectic business travel to Washington, D.C., returning home with a bad summer cold (though made bearable on the long return trip by the fortuitous upgrades to first class--real kind, with full reclining seats and elbow room and custom-made ice cream sundaes and free booze and real cutlery and dishes for real hot food. I don't quite know what I did to deserve it.)

Then an all-day program/presentation in which I had to teach faculty about research grants.  At first I approached that task in utter fear and not a little loathing, but it turned out to be a cat-herding exercise. And now people know me and what I do for them. 

The real pleasure of the month, counter-balancing the disappointment in the collapse of my September China trip plans, has been my Chinese painting class, with an extraordinary teacher who has taken my studies up yet another level.  I was painting images of my Taoist hermit, which kept coming out sad, despite his reputation for cheer, probably channeling my frustration at not being able to visit him and make obeisance in his little cave temple.  But finally, I laid in a sketch in ink, which only needed to be intensified with some color.  My teacher helped with that, so the final result is a true collaboration.  Not yet properly mounted, or signed, I share it here in its wrinkled state.  I don't want to mount it without laoshi's assistance. But I want to share it.
Jia Ye, by Laoshi and Me
Any morning now I should notice the returned kolea; my Chinese haiku-writing friend saw one a few days ago and penned this:
on my neighbor's roof
sighting of first kolea
autumn closing in

I should get brush, ink and paper together to illustrate it.  If I can't fly to Jia Ye, the kolea at least can come to me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Moon Mission Milestone

My little Taoist immortal is closer than ever to going the distance to the moon--especially since I just learned that I was wrong; the moon is NOT 286,000 miles away, but ONLY between 221,600 and 252,000 miles (so maybe I already made it), with the average being about 238,000 miles. Was 286K a childhood myth?  I think some ancient Greek astronomer's calculation. 

So, based on the 238K average,  a virtual moon landing is achievable maybe in the next 18 months.  The personal milestone of 225,000 was reached this morning, pretty awesome I think for my vintage 1990 Mazda Miata, well and lovingly maintained.  I stopped on the freeway to photograph the odometer.  (Oil pressure looks low, but that's typical for hot idling...especially at her age.)  In any case, TAO 61 is a metaphor for Taoist cultivation:
  • practice good maintenance (like qigong and diet)
  • apply the ancient texts and wisdom, in this case the shop manual
  • and have a good mechanic, like a good shifu or priest to keep up with oil changes and prevent bad driving habits.  (In fact, you can call a mechanic a shifu; I am fortunate to have one who deserves this honorific.)

Perhaps the moon distance will be achieved on the mid-autumn festival, 2013; that would be auspicious!  Whatever the odometer reading, that would be a good time to celebrate.

That's 225,000 miles.
On the road.

Safe at home,.

Recent timing belt replacement; even more important than no-fault insurance.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Change of Perspective

When confronted with annoying change, sometimes the thing to do is simple: change your own perspective.

Over the past couple years, I have been fighting disappointment and anger over the callous action of my condo association which is just a little too chainsaw-happy.  When they cut down two huge albizias,  (allegedly some sort of threat), whose treetop-level flowering I always enjoyed from my tenth-floor lanai, I was devastated and angry.  My night-time meditation practice, my morning coffee, my afternoon reading, was disrupted, ruined even. Now I had a glorious view of...the parking lot! These majestic trees, I often said, were what made me love my otherwise very ordinary apartment, the asset that spoke to my soul.  I began to retreat inside, and nursed the wound as if my own trunk had been sliced just at the root.

Only just recently I discovered all I had to do was move myself, my chair, my cushion, to the other side of the lanai.  Moving some potted plants around to block the view of the parking lot, and reorienting my view from the northwest to the southwest, et voila, I have a peaceful natural space again.  I still miss those trees, the way I miss my parents, my aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends who have passed on.  When I meditate, I can still feel their presence.  But just by shifting my position, I find all is well.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Licensed to Blog

I took this snapshot a couple weeks ago when I needed to get updated tags for the license.  Someone unofficial in my condo, channelling Cultural Revolution neighborhood nannies, reported obliquely that my registration and inspection appeared to be out of date. She couldn't just put a friendly reminder note on my windshield?

And never mind the broken-down beige Dodge Roadrunner on the other side of the lot that has NO plates or tags and has been sitting there for months and months dripping oil.  I take that back. It does have a Rainbow State plate: it says ALOHA, attached to the exposed front end of the car, the kind of thing you buy in souvenir shops. If anyone would have a vanity plate that said ALOHA, one would think it might be the Governor. Or the head of OHA.) 

I was happy to be reminded about the overdue inspection, but, as the image indicates, someone had apparently ripped off the annual tags, down to the level of 2008. I do have all appropriate registration paperwork, up-to-date.  I took the picture as evidence to assure the DMV of anything they might want to know.  But how easy it was to replace. A fifty-cent charge for a new tag.  I find it strange that someone would steal the tag which also carried the TAO 61 plate number.  I find it strange that my "neighbor" would care.  I find it strange that we make of life so much red tape, which just generates more. 

There's a Tao lesson here, even in TTC 61, about, on the one hand, regarding people who point out your own faults as being benevolent teachers, and on the other, not meddling in the affairs of other people.  The Cultural Revolution can be understood as too much Mao, not enough Tao.  At least in my condo, there is no sloganeering and no way would we put big character posters on the walls!  Although lately, a lot of things like reminders not to let your dog pee in the elevator (oh, I forgot) and "important community events" notices have been popping up.  Generation of red tape and rules just makes people want to circumvent them. Oh, how I long for a cave of my own.

POSTSCRIPT:  Evidence that our recollection is not always correct, I note on arriving home tonight that my comment about the leaky Dodge is not quite accurate.  The license plate does not read ALOHA, but HANG LOOSE.  I'm pretty sure the gov would not have that on the Rainbow State limo.  Although...considering how he used to campaign, driving around in an old New York Checker taxi cab, and stand along the roadside on a milk carton to wave at passing drivers (the standard Hawaii campaign strategy), maybe not so far-fetched.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Flowering of Yin

It was strange that it took a stranger (a Facebook friend)  to remind me of something I usually am very aware of: yesterday's summer solstice, the zenith of yang about to give way to the gathering of yin.  I probably didn't notice the cresting and crashing of this wave because I've been fighting tooth and nail the past week, literally, overcoming an ill-fitting molar crown and an ingrown toenail.

No wonder classic torture involves drilling of teeth sans anesthetic and ripping out of nails.  I was seriously considering the idea of declawing myself, (something I would never do to the bloodthirsty Yellow Emperor who sometimes attacks me in tooth-and-nail kitty kung fu sparring).  And by far the most harrowing scene in Tom Hanks's Castaway is not the plane crash, but knocking out his own tooth with the help of an ice skate blade.  I wonder if he used it to trim his nails.  Eric Weiner says, in Man Seeks God, that he had trouble meditating in Kathmandu because he kept thinking of nail clippers and his possible lack of them. I can relate.

But all that is behind me now, the angry nail is filed, the disturbed tooth is settling,alleviating two of the most annoying and relentless kinds of pain.   So I can now better concentrate on my latest Chinese painting class assignments.  It is a blessing that my teacher returned for a session (even though she is going away again, but leaving us in the talented hands of a Chinese man who does landscape and portraits).

I was pleased to have produced for her a flower or two.  A couple of years ago she (the bird and flower painter teaching me the techniques of landscape painting) said, "Maybe in two years you paint a flower."  And over the past few months, I have been doing that.  My peonies, partly inspired by peonies I photographed a year ago in Beijing, passed muster, although I think the leaves leave something to be desired.

My Pretty Little Peony
Then Laoshi taught us another flower.  Another student had attempted a large flowering tree from a small reproduction, but it was hard to tell just what it was.  Was the profusion of yellow and red a representation of plum blossoms? Peach blossoms? Cherry blossoms?  Bougainvillea?

The note on the reproduction was "Ceiba pentandra" but no one knew what that was.  As I consulted my handy iPad, Laoshi started spontaneously painting a small group of the individual flowers for a sample for the student.

"It's kapok," I announced to the class. A tropical tree, which I always have pronounced, I think correctly, 'kay-pock', it is also known as silk cotton, with which I was familiar from life vests and flotation cushions in my boating childhood. The fluffy stuff from the kapok's seed pods is water resistant and buoyant and used to be the standard filling for such things. (Now a synthetic material is used.)
Like cotton from a tree
"Ah, kah-poke," all the Chinese speakers of the class said as they looked at the Google images of the trees and flowers.  All the while, my teacher was completing her xie yi interpretation of the kapok flowers. Without reference to any photo, she perfectly captured the cup-like blossoms of what I found, on searching, was the flower of the kapok tree.

Laoshi's Kapok Flower
No matter the pronunciation, never mind the images, we still had never seen the real flower.  Names are names and only point to the images, which only represent the real thing.

Kapok, the eponymous city flower of Panzhihua, Sichuan Province, China
"The name that can be named is not the eternal name"...the image that can be painted or photographed is not the eternal image.  I may never see a real kapok tree (although according to the Wikipedia entry there is at least one in Hawaii) but I "know" it now. (And through research, that it is the city flower of a prefecture-level city in southwest China.)  It existed before I knew its name, before I saw its picture.  The kapok's flowers will bloom and fall, its seed material will float away on the wind or stream, possibly saving the life of a bug or a sailor caught in a torrent of water. It doesn't know itself as kaypock or kahpoke, and certainly not Ceiba pentandra. (But perhaps panzhihua.)

Reference to verse 1 of the Dao De Jing is probably appropriate on this first day after the summer solstice, a moment that calls attention to the drama of the cycle of yang and yin, flowering and going to seed.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

To Change, Not To Correct

This morning during our commute together, I listened in on the one-sided cellphone conversation between the Wizard and his 92-year-old father, on the East Coast, struggling with Microsoft Word to do some complicated formatting of his latest self-published novel. (I should be writing novels at 92, but hopefully with better, easier technology.)

Dad wanted to "correct" the document, which has clearly gotten out of control.  There really should be a senior citizen or beginner version of Word. (I would like that.) But he's using it to do things that would be better accomplished with a layout program.  (MSWord can do these things, but at a great price to one's sanity.)

The filial tech support guru advised: "Change all the words to text, then copy and paste them into a clean document that you know works, and then you can change the font and whatever."  It appears that some style was inadvertently set, and along with Word's other random, inexplicable, and hidden and undocumented features and mandatory defaults, it has completely screwed up the writing/editing/production task.

"But why is this program doing this," Dad asked. The Wizard said, sometimes it's better not to try to figure out why, and just fix the problem. Just change it. Start fresh. No correction.

" 'Change', not 'correct"," the Wizard told the nonagenarian.  From a Taoist perspective, Dad has pretty much achieved immortality in the longevity sense. But an old Taoist would certainly know the difference between changing and correcting, fixing and controlling.

This seemed profound to me, especially coming out of the mouth of the more or less Confucian Wizard.  How often we long to correct things...other people, society, ourselves, when all that is required is to change and let go of the problem, to be open to change, not try to control.  Which flexibility MSWord is not designed to facilitate. (Someone once told me that to use MSWord efficiently, you have to "learn to think like Microsoft.")  Although anyone knows that when computers or software do things, they usually do it because you did something. But it can always be fixed...and provided you have backups, nothing is lost.

When we focus on "correction" we waste a lot of time.  Sometimes just changing course is all that is required.  Let go of the problem and move on.

That's what I'm working on. (Never mind that I just popped back in here to correct a typo!)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hey Venus, Oh Venus**

This afternoon, I got to see the "most exciting, transformative rare celestial happening ever" (or at least since the super moon and various eclipses of the past month) through a convenient 11-inch telescope available on campus.  Through it I got to observe (but was unable to photograph) the rare Venus Transit which I will now forever and fondly remember as a black Sharpie pen dot on the skin of a very ripe and radioactive tangerine.  That's exactly what the view through the scope looked like.  Much better images than I could have photographed are available here and compliments of NASA, the best animation and false-color agency in the world.

According to a lot of buzz on the more astrological and supernatural parts of the web, the transit is associated with the return of the Divine Feminine and Aphrodite, Goddess of Love (who according to the lectures I'm listening to right now is not EXACTLY the goddess of love, but more the sexual rapture part of the equation;the Venus Transit is thus a kind of New Age Rapture).  How some people will attribute legendary significance to this bit of synchronized clockwork in the sky.

Mark Your Calendar!

Curiously, at about noon, just before the transit started, my own current dreary mood suddenly abated. I had an uplifting chat with a colleague, a professor of history, about decay and death and global warming and zoo pandas and our insignificant place in the universe, although my mood was probably elevated because I had just completed a difficult draft of a document that has an imminent deadline (with drop dead dates and all that.) After a little lunch, I was more than prepared to watch a tiny uninhabitable planet get in the way of our own direct view of the sun.

Never mind that the transit looked nothing like the image above.  We stood in line in blazing heat for a chance to peer at our nearest neighbor's day in the sun.  And then returned to our air-conditioned offices to look at on-line images, which were much more dramatic.  Still, I can say I was there for something that won't occur again for another 105 years. 
Lining up for the alignment.

Better than a pinhole camera or special glasses

Pretty much what I saw through the scope.(From 2004 transit.)
So, nothing else much on the horizon until my birthday when another big celestial alignment is set to occur.  I hope it doesn't mean I'm to be sacrificed or something!
Giza, Dec. 3, 2012.
**And now, in honor of Venus, something else that won't come around again for a long time:

"Hey, Venus
Oh, Venus...
...Venus, make her fair
A lovely girl with sunlight in her hair
And take the brightest stars up in the skies
And place them in her eyes for me
Venus, goddess of love that you are
Surely the things I ask
Can't be too great a task."

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eclipse? Earthquake?

I felt nothing. Is it awareness, through CNN or the Internet, that makes us" notice" these disturbances in the force?  Being a moon watcher, I was all gaga over the supermoon last month,  but I pretty much ignored the eclipse because it wouldn't be visible on my little island in the middle of the Pacific. Despite people here saying they felt "agitated," my own sense at that time was lethargy.  If it hadn't been in the news, I wonder if anyone would have reported any sensations at all.

But yesterday someone was talking to me about "the earthquake," about which I knew nothing. I acted embarrassed, said, "Maybe I should follow the news more."  Now, the tsunami of last year from Japan...yes, that in fact had impact, if minimal, here, but the earthquake on the other side of the planet...I'm totally oblivious.  I had been aware of the 2008 earthquake in Chengdu, because it disrupted travel plans, but a quake in Italy a couple days ago was as remote to me in time and space as Pompeii. (Although on reflection, I realize that was a volcano, but Hawaii we're kind of sensitive to those too.  Tsunami, earthquake, volcanos, hurricanes, all natural convulsions of Mother Earth.)

My friend, the Italian quake watcher, had lived in Italy, knew the town, so understandably was concerned.  And now I certainly have a compassionate, if futile, feeling for the victims...all 17 of them, so far. If the Red Cross asks, I'll probably contribute.

But earthquakes happen, like a mattress is disturbed when your partner rolls over: maybe you wake up with snoring in your ear, maybe the covers have been yanked away. Maybe you fall out of bed.  But if it's the mattress in the apartment on the other side of the building, down a few floors...meaningless, except to say to your neighbor in the elevator, "Wow, you look like you didn't get much sleep last night."  Assuming you actually talk to your neighbors in the elevator.

The world is full of uncertainty and tragedy. And now I'm thinking of ancient folks who suddenly might be struck by an eclipse and an earthquake, maybe a storm and a volcanic eruption...all at the same time. I might try to find meaning in such things myself.   But as a modern person, does it matter if I don't know about things I can't control?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Something Fishy

In the midst of all the hoopla over the "Supermoon," some of it quite ridiculous, like this thing that was circulating on the net:
Were you transformed? There's still time! There's always time.
the Wizard returned from a business trip to Chuuk (Truk), one of the watery atolls of the Federated States of Micronesia.  I had asked him to bring me a storyboard, a traditional woodcarving on which legends of the islands are depicted.  In some sort of timely irony, the one he gave me is of three guys who want to capture the moon.  They fashion a long pole with tree branches and something like forceps at the end, but are unable to grab the orb.  (The person who sold the storyboard confided that maybe her ancestors weren't very bright.)

But the legend, which is not too unlike fingers pointing to the moon, was appropriate to the weekend.  I was struggling in the middle of the night with my camera, trying to take some photos of that big bright moon.  I couldn't find my glasses, and I have never quite mastered the wide range of settings and controls for exposure and flash on my little Panasonic.  Still I got some photos of the moon, but of course I never could really capture it.

But I did my best.
About 5 minutes from setting in the west.