Too Much Fucking Perspective

Portlan2014

I’m in Los Angeles now. Tomorrow we’re doing a half-day sitting at Dogen Sangha Los Angeles, which is meeting at the  Veteran’s Memorial Building 4117 Overland Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230 starting at 9:30 AM. All are welcome. Details are at the end of this post (scroll way down!).

I just spent the past four days in Portland visiting my friend Logan along with our mutual friend Laura. Many years ago, Logan, Laura and I lived in a rotting punk rock house in the North Hill section of Akron called The Clubhouse.

It was grungy and awful. But it was home. The people who lived there as well as the many who came to visit formed a kind of surrogate family and support group for each other. We were a kind of sangha, to put it in Buddhist terms.

Late last year Logan was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer. It’s one of those things that gives one what the members of Spinal Tap called, “too much fucking perspective.

I was really impressed at how Logan is handling this extreme amount of perspective. At one point we were watching a documentary about Bob Guccione, the founder and  editor of Penthouse magazine. The narrator said that Guccione died at age 79 of lung cancer. Logan joked, “That’s not cancer when you die at age 79!”

I’ll tell you one thing, though. Logan’s made me a believer in medical marijuana. He takes some kind of tincture* (a word I’d never heard before) that has staved off most of the pain people in his condition usually have to deal with as well as getting rid of the nausea of chemotherapy and giving him enough of an appetite to keep eating regularly. The folks who promote that stuff claim it cures cancer, which it has not. But it’s done him a lot of good.

Logan and I never had the kind of relationship where I’m gonna be able to take him aside and tell him my views about death and all that. We went to high school together and shared a punk rock house, for gosh sakes! He’s seen me have screaming fights with girlfriends. We’ve been stoned together watching bad science fiction movies and eating pizza. You’re not gonna talk about the Great Meaning of Life and Death with someone like that. What could someone you’ve hung out at the Daily Double with know about death? Except in terms of the kinds of bands who usually played that place…

So I’ll say what I have to say here and maybe he’ll read it.

A couple installments ago, I wrote about how Dogen did not “teach rebirth” or believe in a “post-mortem continuity.” That’s true.

On the other hand, you can’t delve deeply into a meditation practice for a long time and come away from it still fearing that death is the end of everything. After a while you start seeing through stuff enough to know it isn’t like that. You start to see that your existence as an individual human being is kind of like the tip of an iceberg. The larger part of who and what you are is hidden from view below the surface. Even if that tip gets hit by the Titanic and knocked into the ocean, the rest of the iceberg does not go away.

Naturally, this metaphor is limited, and ultimately misleading and wrong. But so is any other metaphor anyone has ever come up with. I like to keep my metaphors absurd enough that no one can take them too literally.

I was telling Amy, Logan’s wife, that I feel like if Logan keeps a good attitude he’ll be fine whatever happens. Dying is a major transition. But it’s one we all have to go through at some point. Cancer is a fucked up way to have to go. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Death, on the other hand, is just one door closing and another one opening.

People in general (not Logan specifically, we’ve never talked about this) want to know if there is life after death. They want a yes or no answer.

flasher-fruit-765The problem is that the question itself makes no sense. Asking if there is life after death is like asking, “Is a banana a good firehose?” One answer is “No.” But if someone comes to you with such a question, you know that there is a very deep misunderstanding going on. If you’re patient and a reasonably nice person, instead of just flatly saying “no,” you might want to try to explain why the question makes no sense.

The problem is that while you’re explaining the differences between firehoses and bananas, the person you’re talking to is usually standing there yawning and rolling his eyes, maybe going, “Yeah, yeah… but is it a good firehose or not?” Or else they walk away from you in disgust thinking you just don’t know the answer.

Then they find other people who also don’t know the difference between bananas and firehoses and ask them until they find someone who gives them the answer they wanted to hear in the first place, which was yes. They proceed to ask those know-nothings for explanations of how the banana is a good firehose and get their heads filled up with useless and damaging nonsense that makes them feel good because it’s what they wanted to hear.

This is why people in the Zen world generally steer clear of discussing this stuff. There are things one can know and verify through practice and there are things one cannot know or verify at all. For example, I don’t claim to know what happens after we die. But I do know that “after we die” is such an absurd designation as to be absolutely meaningless.

What happens after this moment is no longer this moment?

Nothing happens! Nothing can happen after this moment because it’s always this moment. Life is the moment when life happens. Death is the moment when death happens. Before and after are just things we imagine.

Anyway it was loads of fun seeing Logan and watching stupid movies with him. I’m looking forward to next time!

For now, I’ll leave you with a nice quote I’ve posted a few times already from Robyn Hitchcock about the nature of death.

“Given the existence of the universe, all the molecules in it have been here for billenia or something. They just keep juggling around. So you’ve got three of Shakespeare’s molecules and you’ve got two of Himmler’s or whatever it is, you know. Part of your fingernail was part of St. Joseph of Aramathea’s frontal lobe or something. And you know, large parts of you were once a daffodil in Nova Scotia or something. You know, your feet used to be Winston Churchill. The same things keep getting recycled. It could be that when we pass away our psyches dissolve into lots of sort of strips of feeling. All the things that comprised us that were held together by our bodies dissolve. You know, hence the line in the song When I Was Dead, ‘I wasn’t me to speak of just a thousand ancient feelings.’ Feelings that have been around since the beginning of human time.”

*Tincture? Didn’t even know her!

*   *   *

Visiting sick friends on the other side of the country is expensive! Your donations help a lot! Thank you!

*   *   *

My on-line retreat at Tricycle.com is still happening. Check it out!

*   *   *

Here’s my upcoming touring schedule:

Aug. 2 9:30 AM – 3:00 PM Half Day Zazen at Dogen Sangha Los Angeles in the Veteran’s Memorial Building 4117 Overland Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230

Aug. 16 9:30 AM – Noon at Dogen Sangha Los Angeles in the Veteran’s Memorial Building 4117 Overland Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230

Sept. 6 Houston Zen Center All Day Zazen

Sept. 9 Austin Zen Center

Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland- Movie screening

Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland – Lecture Event

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18-19 Retreat in Bonn, Germany

Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany

Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands  at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00  (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)

Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1,  Utrecht)

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU

Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 9: Noon – 5pm  Manchester, UK

13 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. A beginner in Texas
    A beginner in Texas August 1, 2014 at 10:08 am | |

    In the previous post I had mentioned the comments from S. Suzuki so I won’t repeat that here.

    It’s hard to be with someone who is staring the end in the face, especially when you knew them back when you were both indestructible, or so it seemed. I’m glad that your friend has the means to help with his pain and nausea to keep his strength up and to still see humor.

    And I’m glad to keep reading the words of a man who steps forward for a friend when there are all sorts of excuses to keep you from being there for him.

  2. daophos
    daophos August 1, 2014 at 11:01 am | |

    I have to admit it: I come here mostly for the puns. :-)

    Tincture! Ha!

  3. Daniel
    Daniel August 1, 2014 at 1:45 pm | |

    “Life is the moment when life happens. Death is the moment when death happens. Before and after are just things we imagine.”

    yes but why do you seem to miss to point out that not only before and after but also “now” is just something we imagine?

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence August 2, 2014 at 10:09 am | |

      When you are reading these words, are they real or not?

  4. Jinzang
    Jinzang August 1, 2014 at 6:05 pm | |

    Many herbal medicines are best given as tinctures. The active part of the plant is chopped up and soaked in ethyl alcohol for several days. The solution is then strained, yielding the tincture. The advantage of using tinctures is that oxidation often reduces the potency of the active ingredient in the herbal medicine, the tincture will keep its potency for much longer.

    Interesting how cannabis is the one herbal medicine that has gained wide acceptance by the medical establishment. It use is not new, it was also widely used in the 19th century, mostly for pain relief as an alternative to opium.

  5. Mumbles
    Mumbles August 2, 2014 at 7:02 am | |

    Appendix I of my book Al-Kimia “An Operation of Ancient Al-Kimia: The Tingere and Al-Aksir” explains in clear terms how to produce a Tincture of any plant in your kitchen with simple tools.

    Further, the next step in the refinement of the plant is explained, how to produce an Elixir.

    Both of these steps are pathways in classic Alchemy toward what is commonly known (and misunderstood) as the Philosopher’s Stone

    http://www.amazon.com/Al-Kimia-Mystical-Islamic-Essence-Alchemy/dp/0900588489

  6. Mumbles
    Mumbles August 2, 2014 at 7:06 am | |

    This singer apprenticed with an amazing old wizard I also knew well, Stanley Messenger of Glastonbury, R.I.P…..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrsq1werkfs

  7. Mumbles
    Mumbles August 2, 2014 at 7:34 am | |

    Ways of Talking
    by Ha Jin

    We used to like talking about grief
    Our journals and letters were packed
    with losses, complaints, and sorrows.
    Even if there was no grief
    we wouldn’t stop lamenting
    as though longing for the charm
    of a distressed face.

    Then we couldn’t help expressing grief
    So many things descended without warning:
    labor wasted, loves lost, houses gone,
    marriages broken, friends estranged,
    ambitions worn away by immediate needs.
    Words lined up in our throats
    for a good whining.
    Grief seemed like an endless river—
    the only immortal flow of life.

    After losing a land and then giving up a tongue,
    we stopped talking of grief
    Smiles began to brighten our faces.
    We laugh a lot, at our own mess.
    Things become beautiful,
    even hailstones in the strawberry fields.

    Ha Jin, “Ways of Talking” from Facing Shadows. Copyright © 1996 by Ha Jin.

  8. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon August 2, 2014 at 7:49 am | |

    “I die” one million times every day and “I am born” one million and one times every day. All of the evidence seems to indicate that some day “I will be born” one less time than “I die.”
    A phenomenon (or illusion) that occurs due to causes and conditions ceases to occur when the causes and conditions are no longer present or in close enough proximity. When a fire is deprived of fuel, oxygen, or an ignition source it stops burning. You can then start another fire, but it will not be the same fire.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot August 2, 2014 at 8:27 pm | |

      In philosophy class long ago, the professor said that one of Heraclitus’s disciples thought to go the old man one better: “You can’t step into the same river even once!”

      1. SamsaricHelicoid
        SamsaricHelicoid August 3, 2014 at 12:33 pm | |

        Is there any stepping or river then?

  9. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 3, 2014 at 10:41 am | |

    A friend of mine has a sister in a mental rehabilitation facility. Not sure what the diagnosis is, but through many visits it became clear to me that any hint of anxiety or negativity would send the sister into the unreal world, where perhaps next week the sister would be out of the facility with a driver’s license and her old job back.

    My take-away is that some brains or some brains as a result of genetics and environmental factors are left with a coping mechanism that is positive imagination, a positive alternative reality that can be jobbed in whenever the actual circumstance has a negative vibe.

    I bring this up as a way of explaining why some one would persist in seeking a “yes” answer to the question of whether a banana makes a good firehose. Yes, I am saying that many folks believe something that is actually totally irrational because it allows them a positive retreat when the world is too painful to their imagination, and the only catch is that such an unreal positive retreat can come at a price when it is too out of step with the actuality or not held in common in a community.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.