Monday, June 27, 2011

Weird Thoughts

Had a weird thought while eating dinner tonight. It popped up out of nowhere and i wonder if the onions or green or red peppers (or maybe the tofu) was bad in the stir-fry i made?

Anyhow, if i do pedal my bike to the west coast this summer, which is looking pretty certain, a look online says that both flying or Greyhound will cost just over $200 to get me back to Chicago from Portland. Likewise for Amtrack.

But...... what i noticed is that i can get an Amtrak US Pass that is valid for 15 days and 8 "sections" for $389, about $170 more.

Amtrack from Portland to Vancouver.
Vancouver back to Seattle.
Across the northern US border with Seattle to Boston.
Down the east coast with Boston to New Orleans.
Across the southern border with New Orleans to Los Angeles.
Up the west coast with LA to Sacramento.
Through the mountains and the heartland with Sacramento to Chicago.

I don't know if that's 8 sections or 80, but it should be close, i would think. All for a measly $170 more than a simple plane ride directly home in a few hours!

Plan the schedules well enough and i sleep most nights on the train. An occasional sleep in a train station so i can walk around town for a day before getting back on the train. Or, get off in the morning, walk around, and get back on a late train that night. Once or twice in a cheap hotel just to get a shower and a shave. Or skip both and wash up in the bathroom on the train. Homemade PB&J sandwiches twice a day, one real meal at dinner or lunch.

What, a total of $170 + $200, or $370 extra dollars??? Is that possible?


Always Never

I am of two minds today.

Part of me agrees with George Bernard Shaw when he says "Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself." No, not just 'agrees,' but completely, unequivocally accepts as gospel truth. Life on the grandest scale, as in who you are and what you should do with your life, isn't something that you will "find;" it is something you decide on, something you create, something you build with hard work and persistence, based on preferences, likes and dislikes, circumstances, personality, and a whole slew of other inputs.

Part of me agrees with someone else who said "Our lives are shaped by our expectations, not by our accomplishments." Absolutely true. Our lives are defined by what we expect of them; don't expect much and you won't have much of a life, expect the universe and your life will be full and fulfilling.

You have to be careful, though, about having unrealistic expectations. As Tony Robbins says, unhappiness in life comes when our Life Conditions don't match our Blueprint, our view of how the world is supposed to work. When these match we are happy and content with our lives. When they don't match we are unhappy, the more so the higher the mismatch between the two. To go even further, unhappiness turns into suffering when our life conditions don't match our blueprint AND we feel completely powerless to change one or the other to bring them back into balance.

Then again, another part of me agrees with Dōgen when he told us not to look for who we are on the outside. In his Genjokoan he said:

"To learn the Buddhist Way is to learn about oneself. To learn about oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to perceive oneself as all things. To realize this is to cast off the body and mind of self and others. When you have reached this stage you will be detached even from enlightenment but will practice it continually without thinking about it."

I know that's not the way most of you have read that quote, it comes from a version that most people bad-mouth, but i like it. For me these words are very clear, very direct and to the point — you have to see, intuitively and directly, that "oneself" and "all things" are not distinct. That "enlightenment" and "daily life" are one and the same. That the key isn't to 'learn' something, but to 'forget' something. Everything. And when you do that.... nothing changes, your life continues, no extra efforts are demanded. Nothing changes even though everything changed.

On one side, life is what you make it. On the other, life is what was never made, never created, ever present, never added to, never subtracted from, never pure, never impure, never destroyed, never born. One side pays the material bills and gives you stuff. The other side pays the karmic bills and gives you life.

I don't see these two minds as contradictory, but on the surface it sure sounds confusing. Funny thing, though, is it's not.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New Garage... Sort of

When i hired myself out as a guide and translator on Shikoku this spring i told the guy i walked with that i get to keep none of the money i was earning. The house desperately needs some maintenance so that's where all the money is going.

Spent a little of the money on landscaping to build a new flower garden around a new maple tree i planted last fall (my sister found it on sale for $15 and at that price i had to buy it) and will use a little more for a second garden in the next few weeks. I bought a small Japanese garden lantern so will build something to showcase that, moving some hostas, lilies, and wild grass from the back yard over to that new garden. Shouldn't cost all that much.

In addition to that i put new gutters on the whole house and am now painting both the house and the garage. The painters came out yesterday and power washed the entire garage.

Today they came out and painted it, in effect giving me a new garage. They'll be back in a week or two to do the house as well. I'll post pictures then.

Now i just need to find someone else to hire me for next spring so i can do some work on the house foundation.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Cost of Ideas

Although rarely repeated, this is one of my favorite concepts in Napolean Hill's book Think & Grow Rich. There is so much that could be written about this book (and it all has been countless times), but you rarely see this, even though it is where everything starts. There is no cost for ideas, but the price people will pay for the good one's can be astronomical.

"There is no standard price on ideas. The creator of ideas makes his own price, and, if he is smart, gets it."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

No More

Life is and no more
What you bring is what you find
Look deeply and see

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

No Murderous Intent

I'll go to my grave wondering how it happened. I never saw him and don't know if i ran over him because i wasn't careful enough or if he walked in front of me and there was nothing i could have done in any case. In the end, though, it doesn't really matter any more because he's dead. They say it's "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" and that couldn't be any more true than after today.

Once i heard the horrifying crunch i immediately looked up and realized there were pieces of his body everywhere. Everyone knows i'm not a Christian, but for some reason my unthinking reaction was to kneel on the spot and recite the little i could remember of the Lord's Prayer:

This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

That's from Matthew, Chapter 6, but don't ask me why i remember that, or the text either, for that matter. But i do remember it. One reason i have always liked that quote is that it is short and to the point, and that the bible says that's what you're supposed to be when praying. More specifically, just before the prayer it reminds you: "[W]hen you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Then again, if He already knows what i need before i ask, why didn't he know i didn't need to run anybody over just before lunch today? But this is sort of off topic, so i'll leave it there.

So there i was, just coming around the corner, with a bush, that i planted last year, unfortunately, right in my line of sight so i couldn't see anything. As i started the turn around the bush... Crunch, Smash,... Oh Shit, what was that? Oh, man, oh man, oh man, what did i just do?????

Then i noticed the pieces everywhere and my heart sank. Some were under the bush, others were spread out across the yard amongst many of the other bushes. Apparently he had been made of cement because there was cement-like dust everywhere, and when i looked, the bottom of the lawn mower was covered in it — white, chalky, covering everything.

He had been a faithful garden squirrel for many, many years; almost since i first bought the house 11 years ago. Why, oh why did he have to get in front of the mower now? Was it intentional — looking for an easy way to end a long, long life confined to sitting in the yard, all year, all seasons, all conditions? A life of monotonous, repetitive, nothingness? A life of gradual decline as the plaster on the right side of its body deteriorated and fell off (forcing me to force him to always sit with that side facing the inside of the bush)?

Or had it been my fault? Had i been careless in his death? I didn't know then, as i knelt and prayed, and i'll probably never know... unless he comes back again as another cheap garden statue in our local Walmart, at which point i'll promise to be more aware as i mow in the future as i bring him back home.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fire Ceremony

Three pictures of the Goma (Fire) Ceremony we participated in on the second day of our walk this spring. It took place at Bangai Temple #1. Taisan-ji.

Click on the picture for an enlarged view:

The fire as it was getting started:

One of the temple's monks walking across:

Me walking across:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Shikoku Is Fun

Of all the things that can be written about the henro trail, i should point out that it is just a fun place to be.

Have you ever seen a piranha feeding frenzy? Believe it or not, you can see them quite frequently on Shikoku. As you're walking along the trail, stop by any elementary school when the kids are out in the playground during a break. Stop at the fence and greet one of the kids. Ask her if she's a high school student, and when she says "Huh????" apologize, say you got it wrong, and ask if she's a junior high school student. Before you know it, there will be a few dozen other kids swarming the fence to hear what you're saying, all talking at the same time, all laughing, all trying to communicate with this strange foreigner that showed up at the gate. It's fun at its best.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to put on a rain suit and walk through your local car wash? Admittedly the vast majority of rain storms on Shikoku don't come up to that level, but it seems like i get one each time i go over. The rains come down horizontally, the winds are so strong that your umbrella snaps in half, as you walk you don't look for somewhere to hide because you can't believe you're eyes and that you're actually walking in the equivalent of your car wash, and by the time it's over your (waterproof) boots are full of water. It's a shock as the weather starts to worsen, but it's fun at its best once you throw in the towel, stop fighting it, and just enjoy the experience.

Want to test your personal limits? On the first day of my walk this year, quite by chance we were invited to come back the next day to watch a fire ceremony at one of the mountain temples. When we accepted, someone drove down to our lodging, picked us up, and drove us back to the temple. Then, not only did we get to watch and take pictures of the whole ceremony, but we were allowed to walk across the once burning logs as well. Part of my brain still asks "how can you walk barefoot across logs that just seconds ago were engulfed in flames?" while the other part of my brain just smiles and says "of course you can, you can do anything you set your mind to." What an amazing experience.

Do you like games? Try the new game 'Name That Fish.' I don't care how much fish you eat at home, or how well you think you know your fish, when on Shikoku you will be served fish that you've never seen before, or prepared in ways that you didn't think of before. If you stay in the minshuku and ryokan along the trail, fish plays a major role in the dinners and breakfasts that you are served each day. They come in all varieties, all sizes, and are prepared in so many varied ways that i wonder if they just make up new methods to play with the foreigner's head. They are boiled, broiled, sauteed, fried, deep fried, raw, diced, sliced, chunked, whole, headless, headed, headed with the eyeballs angled so that they are staring at you, big, huge, small, minuscule, fat, skinny, medium, white meat, dark meat, in soy sauce, thick dark syrupy sauce, white sauce, clear sauce, vinegary sauce, sweet sauce, raw, right out of the water, and pickled for days. And on and on ... I don't think it is possible to say you've "seen it all."

As i said, Shikoku is just a fun place to spend your spring.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Polished Spit

A few days ago i posted this quote on my Facebook page because it seemed so very appropriate given that i have just returned from Shikoku.

"What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our methods of questioning."

Werner Heisenberg

This afternoon i found the cousin to that quote. Comes from the same parental stock, just delivered of a different person.

"Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it. Whoever has polished it more sees more — more unseen forms become manifest to him."


What we see on the henro trail, what we experience, the answers we receive, all depend on the nature of our questioning. And that, almost completely depends on how polished your heart is. Polish it more often, polish it more consistently, over longer periods of time, and the experiences and answers deepen. Do no, or minimal, work and what you get is the Lonely Planet version of the walk.

Polish well enough, however, and an amazing thing will happen. Over time you come to notice that there are no experiences to be had, no answers to be heard, and you won't even walk the trail. Polish well enough and you may go to Shikoku but you'll never go home.

If you polish all day, every day, you disappear. There are no experiences because there is no experiencer. There are no answers because there are no questions, no one to ask them, and no one to ask them to. Polish diligently enough and there is no one to go home and nowhere that isn't home.

That's the nature of the henro trail. It eats you and spits out One, it eats doing and spits out being, it eats duality and spits out reality. The trail eats people and spits out henro.

All you have to do is approach it with a better nature of questioning and be willing to walk into it's mouth.