Random Reflections on Becoming 50

Cool BradToday I turned fifty. Happy birthday to me! As my dad says, “It’s better than the alternative!” At least I don’t look fifty. Must be all that Zen.

This is a self-indulgent post. But it’s my birthday so y’all can just suck it!

Fifty is an annoying age to be. You’re not old enough to be considered wise but you’re old enough to be considered old. I’m too old to be a prodigy but too young to be venerable. Nobody cares what fifty year olds think.

I saw two Cadillac commercials during the Oscars — which I’m not even sure why I bothered watching — that offended me in different ways. One lauded the joys and wonders of copious materialism. That one got a lot of indignant press, which made even more people look at it and probably sold a few more Caddies. But it didn’t bother me very much because Cadillacs are made specifically for the kinds of douche-bags who go for conspicuous consumption. At least it was honest even if it was sickening.

The other bugged me more. It used Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio by The Ramones as its soundtrack. So now The Ramones are being used to sell Cadillacs. That’s what it’s come to. That one made me want to barf. But I suppose that’s what happens.

That song was the first track on the first Ramones album I ever bought, End of the Century. I bought that record without ever having heard anything by The Ramones. Radio in Northeast Ohio did not play The Ramones in them days. I must have read about them in Trouser Press magazine or something and liked the description. I loved the album and played it till the grooves were gone. It’s still my favorite Ramones record even though most fans rate it as one of their lesser efforts.

Maybe those ads bugged me because they’re distillations of what the powers-that-be in this country want people my age to think they should aspire to. And I don’t aspire to those things. I don’t want a Cadillac. I don’t want a swimming pool. I’m not the “crazy, driven, hard workin’ believer” the Cadillac commercial says I should be. I guess The Ramones are supposed to be the music of my generation. But that’s not how I remember things. I remember being  just about the only one in my school who liked The Ramones and then watching with a kind of incredulous fascination as many years later the same weasels who made fun of people like me for liking The Ramones pretended they’d been into them all along. Uh huh.

Which is not to say I’m a Zen monk who only owns a robe and a bowl to beg for food. I’m somewhere in the middle. Maybe slightly more toward the robe and begging bowl side than the Cadillac and pool side. I’ve never owned a house. I’ve never owned a car I couldn’t pay for outright. Which means all my cars have been kind of crummy. I do have a number of guitars because that’s what I buy whenever I come into any cash. And then when I’m strapped for cash I sell ‘em. I’ve gone through dozens that way. It’s fine.

Somehow, when I was young, I saw the folly of the things my peers believed were worth pursuing. The mass media was lying and that was plainly obvious. Whatever they said was valuable, I was sure was not. So I started looking for new kinds of value. I found it in meditation and in a philosophy that encouraged me to question deeply. I’m happy with that choice.

And I’ve never grown up. This annoys a lot of people I encounter. It’s one of the reasons most of my friends are 10, 20, sometimes even close to 30 years younger than me. People my age are often positively angry at me for not being an adult in the way they think I ought to. You can see a bit of this in the opening scenes in the documentary about me in which a fifty-something Zen master asks me, “Do you think that unresolved problems in your childhood might have something to do with your acting like a perpetual adolescent and refusing to become an adult?” I get emails all the time telling me, “You’re almost fifty” followed by a list of adult ways the writer thinks I should be behaving. Now they can remove the word “almost.” It still won’t work.

See, the fact is I’ve paid my own rent and my own taxes for thirty years. I’ve figured out how to travel around the world several times even though there is no way in holy heck I could afford it on the kind of money I make. I taught myself Japanese and managed to land a dream job in a company whose work I had admired since I was seven years old. I published five books and recorded five albums and I’ve been in a few movies. I even made a movie. I’ve done plenty to qualify as becoming an adult.

I’ve done most of the things I dreamed of doing when I was a kid. I am pleased as punch with the life I lead. Money is a problem and it probably always will be. But I look at that guy in the Cadillac commercial, who I assume represents our culture’s notion of the ideal fifty year old man, and he doesn’t seem to be living the kind of life that would make me very happy.

Since I write books about Zen, Zen has sort of become my thing. Which is weird. Because in my own impressions of what I am, Zen seems to be a small thing. It’s a practice I took up in my late teens because it felt good and because the philosophy associated with it made real sense. I stuck with it and ended up being ordained and becoming a teacher, not because I actually desired to ordain and become a teacher but because my teacher thought I should and I trusted him. But I don’t read a lot of Zen books. I don’t hang out with Zen people most of the time. I don’t self-identify as a “spiritual person” and consume the lifestyle enhancing products spiritual people are supposed to consume.

I teach this Zen stuff because it’s been the key to happiness for me. It has surpassed anything else I’ve ever tried. It has taught me how to enjoy life thoroughly. It’s given me the ability to see the negativity we all encounter in life for what it really is, which is nothing.

The powers-that-be want you to believe that you can’t do the things you want to in this life. They’re lying. All you have to do is step back out of what you think of as “yourself” enough to see what it is you actually want rather than believing in the crap they’re trying to tell you that you want, like Cadillacs and pools.

I guess I’m sounding like one of those jerks who believe in The Secret here. But that’s not quite it. The Secret encourages you to envision your ideal life and try to psychically attract it to you. What I’ve found is a bit different. It’s that the life you’re living right now is already your ideal. Which doesn’t mean you can’t improve it. It also doesn’t mean things are always good in the ways that we usually define as “good.” It just means our ideas about what’s ideal are wrong. They’re created for us by people who wouldn’t know what true good was if it came up and sat on ‘em.

I’m fifty and I’m fine. I’m moving to Philadelphia in two days to be with the love of my life. I’ve done stuff I was told never to believe I could do and I’m planning to spend the next fifty years continuing in the same vein.

Go ahead, punk. Tell me to act my age.

*   *   *

My birthday is brought about through your kind donations. I cannot do it without you! Thank you!

Registration is now open for our Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center May 9-11, 2014

The events page is now updated! Take a look at where I’m gonna be!

You can see the documentary about me,  Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, at the following locations (I’ll be at all screenings except the one in Ithaca):

• March 11, 2014 Ithaca, NY

• March 15, 2014 Brooklyn, NY

• April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA

215 Responses

Page 3 of 3
  1. Andy
    Andy March 22, 2014 at 10:49 am | |

    Some sound reasoning from evidence there, once again, Cosmic.

    You clearly have no difficulties whatsoever.

    If you want stuff to stop, just stop. I have little interest in picking apart yet another laughably self-satirical post. (Jeez, have any of your ‘friends’, or fiance ever read one of them!?)

    Do you understand the term crypto-fascist?

    I have tried different ways to address you, some satirical, some stern, some sympathetic, as ways to explore what is going on with you. Finally, at the end of this last thread, I’ve engaged with you directly – with no expectation at all that you would change your behaviour – by focusing on your mental health. As I have already said, this was with one main objective: Memory.

    If you don’t want to play this game any more, just ignore me.

    Good luck to you – not your disorder.

    Andy (suddenly an American, yey!)

  2. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 22, 2014 at 11:23 am | |

    ComicBrainz,

    On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a cat.

  3. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz March 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm | |

    Keeps saying my comment is undergoing moderation, and I decide to post again hoping the last one can be posted?

  4. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz March 22, 2014 at 1:39 pm | |

    The tool walks in Whole Foods and sees a quiet man picking out kale and collard greens while reading the ALDI rating. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” says the tool. The quiet man stares at the tool, “Yes, it is.” The tool detects an accent in the quiet man and inquires, “Where are you from?” The quiet man takes a time to look into the tool’s eyes and responds, “My parents are from x, but I was born here.” The tool decides to give his political opinion on x, and the quiet man says, “OK,” while the tool talks to himself.

    The quiet man randomly starts thinking about all the unsustainable transportation costs, maintenance, and etc. that goes in to maintain the Whole Foods, and he wonders if buying from local farmers could help make society more self-sustainable. He begins ruminating on a recent article from NASA talking about unsustainability leading to society’s end and a recent article from UN addressing how small-scale farms are more advantageous in the long-run.

    He sadly acknowledge he is contributing to the mess by shopping at a supermarket, and he looks at the lights wondering how much oil they burn up. Suddenly, the quiet man begins feeling anxious about classes, hoping to get accepted into M.S. program, and he starts conceptualizing all the various people that would mock him if he were to fail. Feels torn inside with all the various conflicting thoughts, but has a strength to persevere wherever there are tools who talk like they know – when in fact they don’t. Fiance looks at him realizing his mind has wondered to different terrain and hopes a new episode of [inc. good anime] has come out. The self-righteous tool notices the disinterest finally. “Anyways, nice talking to you bye.” Quiet man says, “Bye…” and thinks to himself:

    “Tool, never expanding your awareness to understand we are all contributing to this mess in numerous ways. You hold abstract standards like they are absolute, assuming oneself to be a beacon of light, when in reality you are nothing more than a tool who sets people in opposition to create a “Me” vs. “You” mentality. It is no individual country’s fault. It is the mentality of tools like you that ruin everything. I, too, used to be an tool like you, but something happened when I had my dreams for a boxing profession disintegrate that one day…”

    *Resent builds inside and dies immediately after penetrating dependent origination realizing the tool and quiet man are ultimately one. Continues his own activities.*

  5. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz March 22, 2014 at 1:41 pm | |

    typos:

    wondered = wandered

    in to maintain = into maintaining*

  6. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 22, 2014 at 2:25 pm | |

    The quiet man types much.

    1. CosmicBrainz
      CosmicBrainz March 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm | |

      “The quiet man types much.”

      From story:

      “*Resent builds inside and dies immediately after penetrating dependent origination realizing the tool and quiet man are ultimately one. Continues his own activities.*”

      The point of the story is no one is “innocent” per say. Everyone is contributing to the mass of suffering one way or another. The point is cultivate awareness of one’s causal consequences of one’s actions, and not to project limited moral judgments, that have root in moral Abrahamic responsibility. The only person you can ever truly know is yourself, meaning your judgments of others will always be partial, especially over the Internet.

      1. CosmicBrainz
        CosmicBrainz March 22, 2014 at 2:33 pm | |

        of the* causal*

  7. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 22, 2014 at 2:47 pm | |

    Last. For now…

  8. Andy
    Andy March 23, 2014 at 1:34 am | |

    So CosmicBrainz,

    I think, after your last unintentionally funny attempts, we can safely assert that Poetry and fiction writing are not your strong suit. But…

    Was that a post of yours explaining the ‘point’ of the story!?

    Yes. Yes it was.

    Dear Lord.

    And to think I thought you had a screw loose…

  9. zenfor1zenforall
    zenfor1zenforall March 23, 2014 at 7:42 am | |

    Congrats. May you have 50 more good ones :)

  10. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz March 23, 2014 at 7:48 am | |

    Andy, that wasn’t a fiction story. I was writing a response to your story of a “future me”. Also, I’m getting tired of your sly attacks.

    Also, here’s a good poem I wrote once:

    Smoking outside during the blizzard
    Everything cold, see a cat running, struggling
    Looked at cat, forget myself and the chatter subsides

    All of a sudden, 6 deer run
    with antlers
    An epiphany of Love
    Call my Beloved to come See
    A moment of seeing how existence is struggle, yet
    In the core of the Blizzard there is Light of Life

    The Deer Family run away to the deforested woods,
    Beloved goes inside,
    Moment of reflection –
    The stray cat runs to the bowl

    Pour him the rest of the Vital Essential Raw Food
    More happy for himself and the giving -
    than my own self

    Back to my own struggle with the books -
    This is my struggle, the cold
    But to be a beacon of light onto others,
    requires humility on my part, like Hui Neng who helped the fish*

    * “The title ‘Hui Neng frees the fish’ is when monks would go to small ponds that would dry during a drought, scoop up fish, bring them to the river and let them out….””

    Also, here’s a story I wrote about a dying bird:

    “Birds Fly while Humans Drown Themselves in Nonsense”

    While walking on the side-walk by the road, there was an injured bird. No one cared to notice while they walked immersed in their bullshit gadgets like Iphones. I kneeled to the bird while remaining cautious. I remembered the time I tried to help another injured young bird in front of my dad’s front yard, and other birds were encircling it and keeping predators away. In that instance, the birds keeping watch of the young one, kept me away, even swooping to attack me.

    This time, however, there were no birds to help this one out. I still remained cautious hoping the bird will get better and fly away, but eventually, I picked him up. I noticed a teacher I knew, who is also a Zen Buddhist I used to meditate with, and I asked her to help. I had never held a bird before, and this one was sadly dying. I really wanted him or her to get better. At that point, I felt the bird’s life had more meaning than my own…

    She recommended me put the bird in shade. We chose an area where there was some plants growing by, away from walking people. I had to jump on top of the pavement to put the bird there. When I did that, I felt that wasn’t enough.

    My professor remarked she once took an injured bird home, and by tending to it, it got better. I decided I should try the same, as long as I keep my cats away from him or her. I requested her to get a box, and she walked to her office to get one.

    While she went to get the box, I heard the bird chirp, and I could feel that she had died. I started becoming anxious wondering “perhaps we put her in a bad spot because she can get caught up in the plants?” Finally, the professor came and gave me a box with bubble wrap for comfort. I jumped up the pavement in a hurried manner to find the bird. I became anxious again about the probability it may peck me but I didn’t fixate on such thoughts, and the professor was able to grab the bird before me.

    We both looked at it and realized he or she had died. My professor comforted me saying I did the best I can, but that didn’t really make me feel better. I felt remorse over my occasional bouts of caution, our decision to put the bird in that area, and many various number of things. All the while, no one seemed to care…

    Now, I am in a bullshit class enduring a painful class. My other professor keeps talking about the benefits of Tai Chi both mentally and physically. But no matter how erudite he is, why does any of this matter? Old age, sickness, and death can’t be intellectualized. I’m not interested in bullshit like words. People practice Tai Chi, but this doesn’t make them feel the suffering of sentient beings more or whatever…

    Sometimes I just want to die. Human beings are pitiful. This morning I saw something scribbled on a wall, “No matter how much in pain you are, as long as you put faith is JESUS, you are fine.” I understand now that the bird’s life is worth more than the majority of humans who create violent divisions in the form of religion, sects, and other cults.

    If you keep putting faith in “this” or “that”, keep holding onto your opinions like they really matter, keep getting lost in abstractions, then you can’t open your eyes fully to see the pervasive suffering all beings endure. We are all living in this life, we are no different from the bird, all beings are subject old age, death, and sickness. Stop treating yourself as special, furthering separation between oneself and the world, and look around… we’re all this…

    People like Andy are truly the ones that wreak havoc.*

  11. Mumbles
    Mumbles March 23, 2014 at 11:02 am | |

    Also, here’s a good poem I wrote just now:

    My dog ate a cat today!

    I’m not sorry it turned out that way:

    the cat, you see, had quite a lot to say

    about nothing in particular,

    but, anyway…

    He mewed and meowed and crowed and cowed

    like a coward he hid amidst nom de plumes

    for attention’s sake, he took on a Zen crowd

    mostly made up of Americans, he would assume,

    In this case, to “assume,” made an ass out of him,

    not so much out of “u” and “me,”

    all he proved was how his mind is incredibly dim,

    while he claimed ultimate superiority.

    It made poor Alain sad to see

    how this lame individual unspooled,

    at the careful hands of one intrepid Andy,

    the cat was proved to be sadly unschooled.

    Oh, my dog burped and farted and ultimately barfed

    up a huge hairball filled all with bone,

    then he turned and trotted off to sunbathe,

    leaving the cat remains cold, and utterly alone.

  12. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz March 23, 2014 at 11:54 am | |

    I bet if a Zen teacher were to read this, he would consider us all deluded.

    You guys don’t realize by making a scapegoat out of me and vehemently ostracizing me, you are making yourselves look stupider. I have tried countless times to make the conversation turn to a more civilized track, but your grudges prevent you from letting go of your previous conceptions of me.

    You act like I’m a loser but look at what you’re doing? You’re endlessly posting on a forum and diagnosing someone, with a differing opinion and poor approach, as mentally ill. If I were, supposedly, mentally ill, what does that make you because of the countless hours you waste on here responding to me in a very indignant, malicious way?

    Mumbles, Andy, and Alain I am ultimately sad for you guys because, ultimately, you are the only ones that care about this drama. You did not even take time to properly read my past criticisms of Soto Zen that I pain-stakingly spent time on. You want me to just drop the Internet, admit I’m wrong, seek help, and shit? You don’t know anything about me… The truth is, you are all projecting your own issues onto me.

    I have my own problems, but they’re completely different from what you construe me to have. My issues are more towards lethargy and procrastination…

  13. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 23, 2014 at 12:31 pm | |

    “Stop treating yourself as special, furthering separation between oneself and the world, and look around… we’re all this…

    People like Andy are truly the ones that wreak havoc.”

    CosmicBrainz, do you see any conflict between these two statements?

    If not, you really, really, really need to look harder.*

    I’ll end this note trying to make somewhat sensible response to your criticism of Soto zen. It’s tinged with some anger, but that’s my problem.

    First, it’s a shame that your teacher didn’t tell you to watch out for knee pain. Both of the teachers I have studied with warn to avoid serious pain, especially in the knee.

    Discomfort should be tolerated, but pain means you need to readjust your sitting.

    I believe it was Katagiri Roshi who once showed up late to a sitting and loudly proclaimed “What a stupid thing to be doing” and then proceeded to sit down and shut up. In my experience it really is a stupid practice.

    Nobody should waste their time trying to convince you that sitting zazen is a good thing to do. And why you think anyone on a Soto Zen website should care about your dislike of Soto Zen escapes me.

    Maybe you should make an informal study, go to a Christian website and tell everyone that Christ didn’t have to die for our sins. Or go secular and try out a poetry site and complain that Emily Dickinson’s rhymes kind of suck.

    Compare and contrast the reactions you get…

    * Really.

  14. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz March 23, 2014 at 12:38 pm | |

    Well, I agree with you. I’m still going to sit, I guess. I really don’t care anymore about anything but getting through school.

    Seriously, I probably just have a lesion-induced brain from school/societal stress. I’m going to take Adderall because next year is going to be tough for me.

    I can email you my schedule if you’re interested…

  15. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm | |

    CosmicBrainz,

    I’ll take a pass on the schedule.

    I’m pretty sure if I read it I would have a return to my long left behind “back to school” nightmares. I don’t want to revisit them.

    As far as school, my most vivid memory is my “I’m so tired of this but I have one more semester to go” last days at school. I wanted to be out so bad….

    Your call, but Adderall is a crap drug.

    It’s another symptom a society gone crazy, the message that we must, at all cost, succeed, succeed, succeed. Even the definition of success is screwed up…

    1. CosmicBrainz
      CosmicBrainz March 23, 2014 at 1:37 pm | |

      Alain, you are the only person who understands…

      All these nightmares are really starting to get to me…

      I am losing my mind, but I can do it…

      I’ll get my B.S. in Neuroscience in Spring 2014, but it’s not sufficient for landing decent jobs. I am going an extra year for minors in Math and Physics. That’ll then help me get accepted into a BME program. BME has good job opportunities. I also got accepted into a new research lab, and I have to work hard at it too hoping to get published and improve my resume.

      I’m definitely going to be taking an insane amount of Adderall and running.I also have a couple of Coursera classes I’m taking.

      I’m not sure if I have to get loans for next semester yet… So far I am loan free.

  16. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 23, 2014 at 2:58 pm | |

    I can in no meaningful way understand you.

    As you have pointed out many times, the internet isn’t a very complete way of interacting.

    Thinking you are losing you mind isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. In my experience, sharing the thoughts with a friend (fiance?) shouldn’t be a bad thing.

    Do more running than Adderall, if nothing else you don’t need a prescription for running.

    I once put off a depression for nearly a year by bicycling. It caught up with me in the end, but as a coping mechanism it was a lot better than some of the traditional methods…

  17. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz March 23, 2014 at 3:21 pm | |

    I’m just taking an extremely tough load next year, so I will get the adderall.

    The economy is breaking apart and many people are going back to school, as an example. I know people who graduated with a B.S. in Math and work at Target. It is not pleasant.

    The point of my story was to say how people should cultivate awareness and break their language from sociocultural conditioning. That way they can be aware of how “fair” and “unfair” are ultimately provisional, and there are just those who are exploited versus not exploited. The whole infrastructure of post-Industrial Capitalism functions on exploiting the unfortunate.

  18. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 23, 2014 at 3:43 pm | |

    I fear spending my golden years years working either at Home Despot or as a Walmart greeter.

    However, when I get these sorts of thoughts I try to remember how bad I am at predicting the future and set those thought down and back away slowly.

    As far as breaking away from my sociocultural awareness, I’m afraid that’s pretty hopeless in my case.

    I’m that metaphorical fish who doesn’t know what water is.

  19. Mumbles
    Mumbles March 23, 2014 at 3:48 pm | |

    V. Sufi of you Alan! You might enjoy Attar’s* book…

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Conference-Birds-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140444343

    *He was thus called because he sold perfumery…

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer March 23, 2014 at 4:43 pm | |

      Mumbles,

      Since I know virtually nothing about Sufism other than the cliche, I’m afraid any sufi tendencies I may have are a complete accident.

      If you are referring to the water reference, it’s by way of David Foster Wallace and his Kenyon College address. I read it every few months.

      I miss him so much.

  20. Mumbles
    Mumbles March 23, 2014 at 4:09 pm | |

    Sepehr, Do not take any more prescription drugs. Seriously. They are NOT working. Maybe try alcohol? Or you may not be old enough yet to drink, so wait till 21, okay?

    Do some pushups. Go for a jog. Clear your head, get away from the computer and all of us who do not understand or care why you don’t like zazen, suffer so much to get a college education, love Emily Dickenson, Rumi, cats, get cranky over nothing special, etc.

    Alan, if you DO “understand” Sepehr, please explain (briefly, please) whatever it is he’s doing here other than trying desperately, sadly, to draw attention to himself.

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer March 23, 2014 at 4:36 pm | |

      Mumbles,

      I don’t know anything significant about Cosmic, but I do know that he doesn’t like his name published here.

      Your call at this point…

  21. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz March 23, 2014 at 4:26 pm | |

    I don’t take prescription drugs. I said I’m going to start to do it for next semester because I have to remain more concentrated. I’m just stressed out from school and stuff.

    My fiance is studying for the CPA exam. It’s a 14 hr exam. She has failed several portions more than 3 times.

    Stress, stress, stress. Zazen, walking outside, cats, etc. nothing seems to help. Just pushing through the pain, waking up some mornings completely dissociated from who I am and everything, but I’m just gonna keep pushig. Going to get harder at this point.

  22. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz March 23, 2014 at 4:29 pm | |

    Mumbles, please stop using my name.

  23. Mumbles
    Mumbles March 23, 2014 at 5:09 pm | |

    Okay, but what’s wrong with your name? It’s kind of cool. Besides, it would be a good thing for everyone to be more transparent, IMHO. You know my name, first and last, its no secret, Alan’s, too. Maybe we’re making progress here?

    I really mean you no harm, I bet if Alan’s memory is as good as mine he will recall I came on pretty strong when I first landed here in 2008, I think. He asked me something about why was I so critical of Brad when I admitted I’d not read his books. It was a valid point, and I toned down my vitriol (well, for the time being I did ;). But bless him, Alan, he tries to help, and he does. I just come here to mess around, be entertained and hopefully entertain, although often it seems I am only entertaining myself!

    You seem to be very serious about becoming successful someday. That’s great. I was like that, too. It worked out pretty well for me, I hope it does for you, too.

    As Andy pointed out as well, I, too, enjoy a lot of the same things you have mentioned appreciating, like film (Stalker, by Tarkovsky, is a fave) -I was film coordinator for a v. prestigious old theatre for several years; literature -I am a published poet, essayist, and writer of fiction and non-fiction; and other things, probably too many to list here, but you get my point.

    Although I was formally initiated into a Sufi lineage many years ago, I have dabbled in many kinds of meditation, mysticism, and world religions inc. Zen, but currently do not label whatever I am doing as one thing or another. A few years ago Buddhist Geeks published a few of my essays (they are not online anymore, they got rid of their archives), inc. one titled “The Shotgun Effect” in which I described my meandering “path.” In my case it has been important to do as the Buddha suggested and investigate all of it (the many paths to explore) on my own, not taking anyone’s word for anything. That has also worked out well for me and I hope a version of this approach works for you if you choose to go in that or another direction.

    Don’t despair. Maybe just writing on this blog and getting your yah yahs out helps. Whatever you can do to alleviate the stress, go there & do it.

    And don’t beat yourself up for being who you are and acting the way you do. As Jean Cocteau said it so well, “What others criticize you for, cultivate, for that is you.”

    Finally, one of the best novels I read in 2013 was by Tao Lin entitled “Tai Pei”. He claimed he wrote the whole thing while on Adderall. You know what’s best for you, not me. I don’t use any drugs, other than the occasional Old Fashioned to settle the nerves. But that’s my thing. You are free to do your own thing. And I sincerely wish you peace. -John

  24. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 23, 2014 at 5:10 pm | |

    Sounds like the stress is coming from all directions.

    I wish I had some useful advice. I handle stress very badly so my life has been one long attempt to minimize stress.

    This technique worked to some extent, but I manged to find a wonderful way of creating my own stress.

    Getting back to zen.

    Brad writes (and I completely agree) that zazen is a terrible short term method of dealing with stress.

    It’s initial effect was to show me how stressed out I really was, so I actually felt worse on some days.

    I’ve never taken Adderall but I read that it is a stimulant. It will allow you to power through work but will obviously increase physical stress on the body.

    According to zen dogma (which I have not experienced personally) there is no separation between mind and body. So if this is true, I’d expect it to also stress out your mind. Could be grim.

    Good luck.

  25. Andy
    Andy March 24, 2014 at 2:49 am | |

    CosmicBrainz,

    Andy, that wasn’t a fiction story. I was writing a response to your story of a “future me”.

    Why write a fictional response and then pretend that it is not fiction? Your ‘tool’ story might contain non-fictional elements, but it was a fictional reconfiguring of what you want to express.

    I don’t know what you are referring to when you say that I’ve written a story about a “future me”. (me me or you me?)

    Cosmic, I’ve taught writing classes, and have looked at thousands of rookie poems and stories. In terms of quality of writing, all the stories and poems you have presented on this site are rookie attempts. They are pretty similar to many undergraduate efforts, especially those by non arts students who have taken an interest in writing.

    Over estimating ones early attempts are what everyone does in one form or another. Over-esteeming is a danger that more experienced writers become used to, but learn to use to their advantage and cope with by having skillful readers they can fall back on to help them get a perspective.

    However, there are often those people, like yourself, who show some promise, but get too locked in to that feeling that their efforts are better than they are, when those efforts are really steps along the way to them finding their voice. They foreclose on one of the most valuable aspects of writing: exploring who you are and what it is that really wants to find a voice and express itself in language.

    Quite often what we think we want to write is merely a status-bound overlay and inhibitor to what wants to out itself. Coleridge, for example, had a very philosophical bent, and produced some great writing in this area. Most of his poetry was of a high quality, but it was formally and symbolically conventional in a way that didn’t tap into his ‘true’ inner voice. This inner voice was connected to and inhibited by how he apprehended it: as a radically unchristian part of his psyche. It was only during a period in which he stayed with Wordsworth and (his sister, Dorothy, I think?), and where he felt very secure, that he felt able to open up to this part of his psyche for long enough to write poetry of quite a different order. This short-lived opening produced a voice that had a symbolic and rhythmic power that tapped not only into his deepest intuitions but the very pulse and tap root of the Anglo-Saxon song as it had (and still does) dream itself through the ages of linguistic change and convention.

    I think all writers, but especially those with a yearning for ‘spiritual’ truth, can take a lot from this. It can take a huge amount of work (and pain), before we are able to make ourselves accident prone to what wants to find a voice through us, and even then, only through our efforts (and failures) to acquire the essential technical skills can we hope to catch that golden fish – in the nets we have taken the time to knot together with enough care and integrity and which we have learned to cast well, at the right time and in the right place.

    But if we seek to take short cuts, and react to the inevitable insecurities incumbent upon such attempts and ambitions with the mind that wishes to protect and assert our sense of self-worth and authority, this narcissitic impulse (which can never be completely eradicated – and shouldn’t be in its quieter functioning) will only provide us with commodities of superfice and status that are at odds with our deeper and more enriching yearnings and needs to connect with others and ourselves.

    As we get older, we fortify the assumption that we don’t need to be beginners. In the realm of language, especially, because we are already wonderfully proficient at it, by the very fact of our usual speaking and writing, we can find it harder, the older we get to admit that we might not have the literacy to match our ambitions, and is why mature students can be the most articulately stubborn in diverting attention from what they need to learn and the most conducive, playful attitude to that learning. But this can also happen with younger students, especially with those who feel their competency in one area of leaning should translate to other areas and activities. This open, playful, beginners attitude also, sadly, gets ‘combed out’ of many of us during formal education and sometimes through the crookedness of other ‘authorities’ in our lives (inc. parents) that have also misconstrued the value of such things and wish to replicate their own misguided attitudes.

    In the gap between insecurity and claims to authority, the world is waiting to talk through you.

    On great poet to learn from (for prose and poetry) is Elizabeth Bishop, even if one’s main reading interest lies elsewhere.

    http://www.staging.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182896

    And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name

    By John Ashbery

    You can’t say it that way any more.
    Bothered about beauty you have to
    Come out into the open, into a clearing,
    And rest. Certainly whatever funny happens to you
    Is OK. To demand more than this would be strange
    Of you, you who have so many lovers,
    People who look up to you and are willing
    To do things for you, but you think
    It’s not right, that if they really knew you . . .
    So much for self-analysis. Now,
    About what to put in your poem-painting:
    Flowers are always nice, particularly delphinium.
    Names of boys you once knew and their sleds,
    Skyrockets are good—do they still exist?
    There are a lot of other things of the same quality
    As those I’ve mentioned. Now one must
    Find a few important words, and a lot of low-keyed,
    Dull-sounding ones. She approached me
    About buying her desk. Suddenly the street was
    Bananas and the clangor of Japanese instruments.
    Humdrum testaments were scattered around. His head
    Locked into mine. We were a seesaw. Something
    Ought to be written about how this affects
    You when you write poetry:
    The extreme austerity of an almost empty mind
    Colliding with the lush, Rousseau-like foliage of its desire to communicate
    Something between breaths, if only for the sake
    Of others and their desire to understand you and desert you
    For other centers of communication, so that understanding
    May begin, and in doing so be undone.

    Nobody here, including me, wishes harm upon you, CosmicBrainz. Even if the various ways we have engaged with you has hurt at times. You are going through difficult times and your posts from the beginning have revealed and often stated as much. I doubt that you’ll present your view of my own intentions as anything other than how you have presented them before. And as I’ve said before, this is something I expected.

    You might be wrong.

    Good luck

  26. Mumbles
    Mumbles March 24, 2014 at 4:58 am | |

    Ha Ha! Well done, Andy! V. good advice top to bottom.

    I laughed at first at what you said last because I just laid hands on Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker-The Complete Correspondence for v. cheap via Daedalus Books…they also have her col. letters to [and from] Lowell, both books in hc, $6.98 each [American$]!

    I’d read excerpts from the New Yorker correspondence in Harpers, I think it was, when the book came out in 2011, so was v. happy to run across it again…

    I would suggest as well Mary Oliver:

    Wild Geese

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

    So Andy, what you are saying is -pretty much what we all should understand- that Suzuki meant to return (and return and return…) to beginner’s mind in all aspects and in all stages and ages of life regardless of what path or paths we choose to explore.

    “Look, I am making everything new”… whoever it was that said that caught it exactly. Seung Sahn’s “I don’t know,” and Ramana Maharshi’s “Who am I?” And of course almost everything Nisargadatta Maharaj said have also all served me well in this respect.

  27. Andy
    Andy March 24, 2014 at 6:33 am | |

    Yes. I think it’s all too easy, when talking about notions like ‘beginners mind’, to relate it only back to the place where one first encountered it and to shrug it off with our “beginners mind” ‘expertise’. Other ongoing situations and interests where we have discovered those truths through effort tend to refresh them and keep them alive. Or, in my case, when I first read Suzuki’s book, it was the other way round: I found similar notions to those I’d discovered through my struggles with such things as writing, and which refreshed and deepened my perspective on what I’d gleaned for myself.

    And as to struggles: it often comes back to unlearning what we have been schooled in; and after that realizing some of the precious things we gained from our more formal education.

    I sooo want to go over my allotted daily prose time on this poetry etc stuff, but I’m going to be a good boy this time and not speed write myself and my expressions into dullness!

    Write like a Zen freak; sit like a poet. Perhaps.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.