Saturday, December 26, 2009

Practice Helps

I had a laid back Christmas with just a couple friends and the little bit of family I have left. Most of my family is dead or might as well be. It's the cycle of life. For me many of the endings have come in December or January, so it's not a season I celebrate anymore. But I do like an excuse to have a simple dinner with people I love.

I had planned to use my oven which was fine the last time I used it a few weeks ago. I turned it on to preheat while a friend and I were preparing veggies for roasting. On some subconscious level I realized I wasn't hearing the pops of the warming metal as the oven heated, nor was there any sound or smell of ignition. There was also no gas smell so that was good. My oven was stone cold and I had stuff ready to go in. I got a lighter and flashlight and looked for where the pilot should be, tried lighting it, no luck. Got a man in to look at it, no luck. Ok. Stovetop was fine, and my friend set about having to dice the potatoes smaller while I did the garlic and onions. Part of me was remembering a Christmas past where my mother's stove had pulled the same stunt. A little universal humor at work, and it was kind of funny. Except that I also wondered if my mother had put a curse on me, since she was always the vengeful sort. I dismissed it until I went to microwave some butter for garlic toast, and the microwave was also on the fritz! Ok, pull out a small sauce pan. Dinner was fine, a little late but it was extremely informal and so what, it all tasted great, ribeyes and home fries and grilled asparagus and mushrooms with garlic toast, and even experimentally roasted garlic off the grill.

After dinner we all watched the Poodle open presents, which was hilarious, because he knew exactly how to open his gifts with enthusiasm and help with a few other people's wrapping paper. I wanted to get the camera but didn't want to miss the joy of watching a little "kid" opening presents at Christmas. It's really not as silly as it sounds.

So at evening's end my friend commented on how well I handled the appliance outage, just rolling with it and not even getting upset. I was a bit puzzled because all I could think was what good would it have done me to get upset about it? Then I realized how easily something like this would have upset me in the past, and saw that my practice has really helped change my attitude about a lot of things, and how I have awareness that I can choose to handle things differently. It doesn't mean I don't still have to practice my dharma teachings and my recovery until I die (and maybe after), but it's nice to see it working in real life situations. I'm a little bummed about the microwave, it was $100 and only lasted nine months, which is one of the things so frustrating about everything being built in China these days, the quality is appalling. But there's nothing I can do about that either.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Be Careful What You Ask For

because the universe has a perverse sense of humor!

I had been mourning the lack of bees and expressing how tough it was going to be if our crops had to be hand pollinated. We are incredibly dependent on bees.

When I was first trying to get back into painting after a long time away I painted that little bee. So in my general lament over the loss of bees while having to hand pollinate my zucchini I think I may have unintentionally manifested bees in abundance.

I'm very glad I had just let my pup back into the house one early Friday afternoon, because about a minute later I heard the strangest sound, and had to get back up from my work to investigate. It didn't quite sound like an engine, a mower, or a power tool, but had some aspect of all of those, though it was a buzzy whine I hadn't heard before. I looked out the back door and moving into the center of my patio was a small whirlwind full of tiny dark objects. It took a few seconds for those objects to register as BEES! LOTS of bees! All I could think was "Oh holy crap, please keep going!" Well apparently that's not what bees do. These guys started peeling off the tornado and landing on my stack of moving boxes which we had intended to donate. Then they started disappearing. They were crawling into one of the boxes! I spent the rest of the day learning all about bees.

This is the time of year that hives split up. The swarms are a set of workers protecting a queen who has decided due to the birth of a younger queen to move along. The swarm will alight and rest when it is tired as it is searching. It may land in a tree and stay for a few days while scouts search for a good area near a food source to build the next hive. There had been bees in a tree a few streets down and over where we walk. I don't know if it was this hive or another. It didn't matter, I didn't want them! I had wanted more bees, true, but this was ridiculous. I had a swarm living next to my back gate, and six feet away from where we like to sit at night, and right in front of my motorcycle! How would I let my dog out? How would I get my bike out? How would I get into my garage? It was all about me.

So I spoke to a lot of bee people in between Googling bees. I was able to get from a quote of $200.00 eventually to free from the city to remove them. The city wanted to wait a week or so though. The blessing was that these weren't Africanized bees; supposedly we do have them in Southern California but most of the bee people I spoke to said no we really didn't in L.A., that they were just our usual honeybees. These were actually very non aggressive bees, especially since they did not yet have a hive to protect, so they were still vagabonds. They may have been resting or they may have had scouts come tell them all about the really cool boxes next to the zucchini and tomato plants, plus our lemons were in full flower, so it was a great location, c'mon, follow us! Anyway, they settled. I didn't want to be deprived of my patio etc. for a week or so while they possibly got completely entrenched, so I used a long rake and knocked all the boxes down one or two at a time, carefully retreating as deemed necessary until I could pull their box free and open it up. I was hoping they would get the hint that it was no longer a great place to park. I also found out they go to sleep at night. This is what they looked like later when they were sleeping.

If you click on the pic you can just get an idea of what a cantaloupe size ball of bees looks like in a book/record box. Aren't they just adorable? They were hanging from the inside "ceiling" of the box, and they were making a soft rustling vibration sound. They were also chewing on the box; they'd been chewing on it all day, and I think they were getting into adding wax to it before they went to sleep. I was actually getting pretty fond of them, but eventually they were encouraged to move on. I wished them well.

Now about the car I asked for. I got two, a month apart. One has a failing clutch but great cold air and a super CD sound system and drives like a rocket. The other has a crappy radio and a leaky manifold and a bad tire but it can haul a truckload of stuff, and the air works, so it's great for me because I have to move big things sometimes. Plus it was mine once before, so we have an understanding, this car and me. He "waves" hello at me with his wipers.

What I should have made clear when I asked for a car was one great car with everything working properly would be sufficient. Because I wasn't super happy with the first but was very grateful for wheels, I got a much better one but it needs a bit of work. But now I'm stuck with the first one too. But I'm still exceedingly grateful for the abundance!

Now I'm asking for financial gain from painting again. I'm doing my best to be careful with that request, that it be answered in the best possible way. There will be some work posted shortly, so check back every now and then. Then it will be more of "still painting", but even if it's daily I'm not committing myself to that movement. At this point with 3 PT jobs and looking for another, once a week is good. See you next time.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Why Does Google Hate Me?

Just kidding, I ADORE GOOGLE! I can hardly remember how we even managed B.G., before Google. But I'm using it as an example of how humans tend to take things personally from the perspective of the ego self. I love to read a few specific blogs everyday, you can find them in my blogroll. But it seems like I have to do word verification twice, at the minimum, to get Blogger to accept a comment. Then when I want to follow a blog, half the time it tells me that I don't have an account or that my pw is incorrect. I'm sure it's not my typing! But just that little inconvenience can stir up a tiny feeling of exclusion, because it tickles my ego in its "I'm Not Worthy" spot.

I'm just posting today because I see that I have missed June, uh, July entirely, and don't want to do that two months in a row. I'm all wrapped up in manifesting, which is going extremely well, and I wanted to stop by and tell all three of you that the key to manifesting is having tremendous gratitude for everything you already HAVE. Even the hard stuff, the lessons, the grief. That practice of gratitude opens one's heart and the Universe then instantly replys "Oh! You're ready for more gratitude!" because it tends to give you more of what you focus on. There's a saying "What you resist, persists.", which is also true, it's just manifesting from a negative perspective. A positive perspective and belief also brings more of the same, which translates as abundance.

I am not impressed with "The Secret" because it is a badly rehashed, dumbed down version of the laws of manifesting. Manifesting is not about getting parking spaces and stuff. It is about filling one's life with grace and peace. Stuff is just the world of form, while peace of mind and grace are what make life worth living. I'm currently manifesting a good job, and it takes energy, positive energy. I'm confident it will show up when it is supposed to, the accoutrements required are already coming together. In the meantime I'm holding those good thoughts, and saying thank you a LOT.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Flowers For Algernon and Charly

I'm fascinated by craigslist, and find the most amazing things, it's a slice of the society we live in, cross sectioned by material goods categories, relationship want ads, services, and nostalgia. (And ukes, I got 3 of them off cl!).

But first let me slip off on a tangent. When I was in high school I read a book titled "Flowers For Algernon" by Daniel Keyes, it is truly a classic exploration of the concept of self and the effect of intellect on that self awareness. When I read it I didn't realize that it was adapted from the author's original short novella which won a Hugo Award. The novel won a Nebula award. The book was adapted into a movie with the wonderful Cliff Robertson in the title role as Charly, the character the novel tracks through his experience as a janitor with an I.Q. of 68 through his intellectual growth via an experimental brain procedure. Later it was a stage play with Michael Crawford, who went on to do Barnum and then Phantom of the Opera and later EFX in Las Vegas. Crawford broke his arm doing a stunt in Flowers For Algernon. (Crawford used to own one of my bronzes, I used to own one of his jackets. Long story.)

Here's a quote from the book from the Amazon review:

Following his doctor's instructions, engaging simpleton Charlie Gordon tells his own story in semi-literate "progris riports." He dimly wants to better himself, but with an IQ of 68 can't even beat the laboratory mouse Algernon at maze-solving:

I dint feel bad because I watched Algernon and I lernd how to finish the amaze even if it takes me along time.

I dint know mice were so smart.

From this excerpt at the beginning of the experiment, Charly's I.Q. grows to genius level and far beyond; to where he is, upon finding himself at the other end of the intelligence scale, again isolated from his fellows by the gap in ability to understand, except now the lack is that of the scientists. Then Algernon starts to lose his brilliance, which does not bode well for Charly.

So point being, Flowers For Algernon is a classic, and without completely revealing the ending of that story I wanted to share the joy I felt when whilst browsing through craigslist looking for furniture for my new patio, I found that Charly is alive and well in L.A. County. Here's the ad vebatim:

I cut up a big tree in my backyark ,use it to built a picknic table, to sit on them around a bomb fire,make a hole in the midle and use it as a pot for a flower, you can get as much as you want for free! i can help you load up your truck, call for more info. The tree is located in the city of (note: I edited the location for privacy).

Oh Charly, thank YOU for taking me back to that wonderful, heartbreaking and yet uplifting story about a simple man who wanted to be the best he could be. You seem to be a hard worker, generous of spirit, and kind. You are a gem. Thanks for making me smile. God bless you!

Monday, January 19, 2009

UAS Itch and Happy New Year!

I used to be a collector, it was part of the antiques and collectible dealer acquisition mindset. I've put that mostly behind me, thanks to some hard life lessons taught me by the thieves and nutcases I've crossed paths with over many years. I learned that for as many decent and kind and ethical people there are in this world, there are also many who are users and losers, and some who prey on people as a matter of course. They take as much as they can, on whatever pretext they can get unsuspecting and trusting people to swallow. Then they blame the victim and run off to find the next target, leaving a swath of destruction in their wake. I found while researching this and hearing other people's stories that this is really more common than the average person would ever suspect. I've read some excellent literature about psychopaths, and now I finally understand something of how they work. They have no conscience and no soul. It explains a lot of behavior I never understood before in several people I had the misfortune to know and to trust, and my new knowledge makes me believe there is a welcome place for eugenics in human society expressly for weeding out vicious criminal behavior. I recently read a novel about an alternate universe in a book titles "Hominids" by Robert J. Sawyer in which an advanced Neanderthal society neutered proven criminals as well as some of their relatives, and thus reduced the incidence of aggression over generations within the species genetically. In times of tribalism in our world this was also done to some extent; people who exhibited this kind of defect were taken along on a hunting expedition, and the hunting party made sure that individual never came back.

Buddhism will say that everything is dharma and karma, and shit happens, that life is basically suffering (and it teaches the tools for minimizing suffering, and those tools are the Eightfold Path). One of the most important precepts is the injunction against taking life. But it also says that sometimes to save someone, say a murderer, from the effects of bad karma that person would be taking on by killing a group of people on purpose, another person making the choice to kill that potential murderer to save the lives of those he would kill is actually ok, because it saves that person from accumulating the resulting tremendously bad karma, which would take multiple lifetimes to burn. So the hunting party was doing a good thing for everyone involved. It was weeding the garden.

So I digress as usual, but over the years of reluctantly relinquishing things, along with ego, I learned how deeply that acquisition comes from ego, which made de-acquisitioning easier and easier. I learned way back I'm not my stuff. But it took a lot longer to realize I'm also not what I do for a living. Other people aren't their stuff either, or what they do. So now I'm amazed now at how many people think they are, and define themselves by who they know, what they do, what they have, what they wear, where they eat, and what kind of car they drive. It's a tribalism defined by ego, and it's enlightening and terrifying at the same time. It's what lets kids kill other kids for their shoes. Or let the doctor who tried to kill two cyclists with his car because they were on "his" road somehow think he had that right. We are not what we have, what we do, how we look. What we really are is how we conduct ourselves within the context of our life day to day over its full course, and how much we are able to have compassion and gratitude, and what we give back.

People who are trying to "find out who they really are" don't quite understand this. They are searching for the "real self" within the context of the false self of EGO. Christianity explains this in the verse about how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy man to enter heaven. It doesn't mean he doesn't go to God in the end, it means that his life in the phyisical world is ruled by his concern for his wealth, which is often a sort of Hell. I know a rich man for whom all he owns is not enough, he constantly lusts after more, and he makes his living ripping off estates. He actually had to track me to my door on Christmas eve a couple years ago to demand from me funds from a small account that was mine after the joint account holder died. It was black and white, funds automatically become the property of the other account holder. But this guy got out of his big new Mercedes and calmly asked me if I really needed the money that badly (my own money) that I would refuse to hand it over to him, because the other account holder was his relative. This man carries a $25K diamond and a rare $10K coin in his wallet for emergency funds when traveling. Me, I carry a credit card... but he's insane with the disease of acquisition. He's also short, so maybe he's compensating. Point being, he can't be satisfied with what he has, and heaven (or happiness, peace of mind, gratitude and humility) eludes him.

Stephen Hawking
is one of my heroes. He doesn't look like much of a hero type; his cruel disease has wrenched his body into an ethereal and spare shell of the man he was in his youth, and according to medical science he shouldn't even have been alive for the last 25 years, and yet he has the world's most amazing and brilliant scientific mind and by his own and God's grace is still alive today. Some asked him something to the effect of did his disability ever disillusion him, and his reply was essentially "What more could I ask for?". To me he is a perfect example of a Bodhisattva, a being who had attained enlightenment, but who chose to reincarnate out of compassion for the beings still stuck in worldly suffering, and to teach us how to become free. I think he lives on gratitude, and with an amazing amount of courage and heart. He took what the universe gave him and soared. So when I look for role model for how to live my life, I look to human beings like Stephen Hawking. Knowing I can't come close but trying anyway.

So what does psychopathy and quantum physics have to do with the ukulele? Not much, but ukes are certainly an antidote to despair caused by the human condition and man's inhumanity to man; and like atomic particles ukuleles tiny size belies their power!

So back to acquisition, which is where ego comes into play; how many ukes is enough? One, really. But there is a so called disease know colloquially as Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome, and for most sufferers a cure is not actually desired and they are not actually suffering. In spite of my continuing de-acquisition phase I fell under the spell of this little instrument and have now ended up with one of each size; soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. Well, almost, I don't have a sopranino but that may be going too far. And the bari lives with my Mom. There are also hybrids; sopranos with concert necks, concerts with tenor necks, and a whole subset made from antique cigar boxes that sound amazing, plus maybe others I don't know about yet. But no matter the size, what a kick in the pants they are! You want something that will put a smile on your face, get a ukulele! Two strings less than a guitar, one for each finger and the thumb free to play bass or even pick out notes. Go to YouTube and listen to some ukers play everything from George Formby (not my cup 'o' tea and what actually kept me from the instrument for years) to Led Zeppelin as played by Jake Shimabukuro. The Beatles rock on uke, and did you know that three of them played it, most notably George who took it very seriously and John, who played his mom's uke when he was a teen? George's music really sings on the ukulele in competent hands.
Clapton is a joy too. It's amazing!

I used to be really frustrated with guitar until I picked up a classical, even then I never got beyond a few malaguenas and practicing arpeggios and smooth chord changes on all my different six strings. And I could read the treble clef music. That's just very basic noodling. Then I broke my right hand over ten years ago when a horse stepped on it, and my left ring finger when I bailed off my own horse nine years ago. I eventually ended up selling the guitars one by one and figured my days of noodling with a stringed instrument were over. I tried a digeridoo for awhile, but they leave me breathless. ;) Drums are fun but I had to put them in storage. Then I found out my Mom had a baritone ukulele and it was a Martin! Score! It was like a four string tenor guitar, and it made me realize how much I'd missed them. So I borrowed it and it was a joyous thing, but I couldn't find much music for baritone, and they really sound more guitar-ish. But it led me to standard or soprano ukes so I could try my hand at the traditional music and tuning, and I got a sweet little vintage mahogany piece of my own off of eBay, and it rings like a bell! And I began discovering all the uke resources online. But the soprano is tough on my stiff fingers because the fret spacing is so tight. I soon found out that many of the top players are using tenors, so I manifested a sweet Pono solid koa tenor, one of the last of the Hawaiian koas made by Pono which is a branch of the exellent Ko'olau company of Hawaii. I love it, it's very mellow since I restrung it with Worth Browns. But by then I had discovered the low versus high g debate, and I put low Gs on the Pono, which left me "needing" a traditional high g tuned instrument that was larger than my soprano. I decided a concert would fill that spot nicely, and I also had a hankering for a cigar box. See how the disease progresses, how innocuously it involves ego in presenting justification? There is actually a valid reason for having two different instruments with the two main different tunings, but one could carry that into several different high and low g tunings as well as take that justification and add in variables of size and maker and tone wood and on and on. But I have manifested the concert size in the form of a cigar box (how cool is that, a twofer!) and am well satisfied with having a traveling uke in that one, a traditional in the soprano which is too sweet to re-sell, and the tenor which stays home because it is too nice to travel and koa cracks easily. It came back from an extended stay in Palm Springs with two fine and harmless finish cracks in the back, even with a humidifier, so I decided to let it stay at the beach. I think the cigar box (a Po Mahina made from a 50 year old cedar cigar box) should be tougher. So I tell myself I'm done with the three that replaced my last three guitars in more compact form (everything going around coming back again), but there is this awesome cigar box tenor I just found... hmm. (This isn't it, but they sound similar, and wow Tom does nice work!).

I have to say that there is something clean and soothing and honest about the little uke. I like clean and honest, it feels to me like it is the only way to live a life of inner peace even as the world rages all around me. So yes, I feel I'm feeding my ego and as I'm fully aware of that, I have made an "informed" choice. Which means that I am consciously enjoying and playing with the world of form. And it's ok to live in and enjoy what Buddhism calls the world of form (others call it "reality", which is always subjective); the trick is to keep one's ego out of it and embrace humility, and that is exactly why I practice. It grounds my perspective and it brings me peace. My new year's resolution is to remember that life is all about gratitude, humility and practice. And, well, to not scratch the itch...

Happy New Year, and may it bring you much joy and much gratitude, and remember to practice!