Friday, October 2, 2015

PayPal In The Afterlife

I sent some money to someone through PayPal this morning, and on the summary page after the transaction was complete noticed this message:

“The recipient has a lifetime limit to send, spend or withdraw. Upon reaching this limit, the recipient must take certain actions to lift the limit.”

PayPal’s computers must know more about the afterlife or rebirth than I do to be so absolutely certain that they need to clarify this on their web site. Am i allowed to claim Dave’s left-over money in my next life, no matter who I might be? And if i can, what would those "certain actions" entail???

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: Fighting Monks & Burning Mountains

"Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains"
Paul Barach

Paul sent me a copy of his book so long ago that by now he's probably completely forgotten that i promised to read it and write a review. But read it i did, and let me tell you, it was a delight and pleasure. Paul has written a wonderful accounting of his 2010 walk around Shikoku's henro trail. Before i actually review anything, though, let me make two points that really have no bearing on the actual content itself:
1) As you will see as you read the book, walking in summer can be an absolutely miserable experience. Yes, i understand that some people have no choice—it's either walk in summer or don't walk at all—but if there is any way around it, any way at all, don't choose summer to do your walk. And if it is necessary, carry LOTS of water at all times.

2) At one point in the book, Paul writes: "Along the wide canal leading from T31, coruscations of black dragonflies claim the warming air above me." 'Coruscations?' Who uses that word? Who knows what it means without looking it up, like i had to do? If Paul and i ever meet, he's going to have to use that word in a completely different sentence and a completely different context to prove to me he really uses it himself in normal conversations. :-)

OK, now that that's off my chest, on to the actual content of his book. First of all, i found this to be a delightful book. I loved it. While i have never nojuku'ed (slept outdoors every night of the walk instead of staying in paid lodging) when on the henro trail, i can't imagine being surprised by any unforeseen circumstances if i choose to do so sometime in the future. Paul has painted a very clear picture of what the experience is like, pointing out the good and the bad experiences. Or, to say that a little better, pointing out the happy and the not so happy, or even slightly painful, experiences...and the majority of tedious ones in between.

While i always tell people that every henro will have their own unique experience while on the trail, that no two people can ever have identical experiences, nojuku'ing is on a different level, a completely different experience from staying in paid lodging every night. If you plan to nojuku, i'd say this is the book to read. There's not a subject that isn't addressed, from lodging to food, to bathrooms, to language, name it.

Nojuku'ing aside, one of the common threads i hear about from a lot of walking henro is dealing with boredom and long solitary days spent walking on the side of one road or another. We all deal with this issue in different ways, and it seems that those that are affected the least by boredom are those who can live in the moment, those who are able to stay focused on where you are, what is around you, what you are experiencing, each step of the way. Those who can't, whose minds wander with each step to the past or future, to where they could be or what they could be doing if they weren't walking the trail, are the one's who seem to suffer the most.

Paul honestly depicts, throughout the book, his constant struggle with boredom and the hard work of walking in summer; the constant tug between two opposites: trying to forget he's still there, on the side of yet another road, in miserable conditions, and trying to focus on being there, on that road, focusing on present moment experiences and not on going home. As he enters Ehime Prefecture, he says:

“While fighting to be in the moment, I must also accept that while I’m hot, tired, and enduring another drudging hour of nothing on a concrete ribbon, the moment kind sucks.”

And in a beautiful moment he goes on to say:

“And over the hours of this balancing act, I finally come to peace with it. The battle for focus through the dulling monotony. Enduring the sharp strike of the road into my soles. The days laboring up mountains as my legs strain to birth new muscles. These are my offerings to the next temple. Compared to such alms, my osamefuda, my coins, and my chanted prayers come cheap.”

Beautiful. Something we all need to memorize and keep in mind as we walk the trail.

I, personally, don't deal with these issues when i'm walking the trail, but wonder if part of the reason is that, as Paul makes clear, nojuku'ing entails a lot of long, long days. Staying in paid lodging always means a relatively early stop each night because that's what's expected by the lodging owners. When you nojuku, though, each and every night you have to figure out where you are going to sleep, and that usually means finding somewhere off the trail, off the road you've been walking all day long. And sometimes, getting there means you have to walk well past sunset, and then get up at the crack of dawn because the locals are getting up and starting their day, ignoring the fact that you are in your tent trying to sleep.

Another issue that some walking henro have to deal with is solitude and Paul does a very good job of describing, without actually using specific words, how lonely this walk can be at times. While the people on Shikoku definitely watch out for walking henro, and go out of their way to offer help when it appears a henro needs it, the vast majority of a walker's time is spent alone.

There may be people all around you as you walk throughout the day, but all those people are either in their cars, on public transportation, or simply going about their lives. They usually don’t stop you just to chat unless you initiate the conversation. This means that a walking henro can go days without actually having a conversation with another person, especially if you don’t speak Japanese very well.

At one point in the book, Paul stumbles across someone who speaks English and had the time to just sit and talk with him. The great pleasure this brought him is evident, and at one point in his journey, he comments:

“Eyes shut, I mumble thanks to Monju for granting my prayers today for a break. After a free meal, a hot shower, some conversation, and a small glimpse of a deeper connection, I’m ready to continue on.”

A couple of other things that Paul gives a good glimpse of as he describes his walk:
1) We walkers receive a lot of settai, from a lot of people. Gifts of food, money, lodging, and a lot more. This generosity can seem overwhelming at first, but over time you learn to accept it as you also learn that giving back is part of the exchange; whether that return gift is an osamefuda, a smile, a laugh, or just hands in gassho and a small bow.

2) Paul had to deal with medical issues. You will read the details in the book so i won’t go into that, but it is something all walkers have to think about. Either bring a little extra money to deal with this unwanted and unexpected situation if it occurs, or be sure to have medical insurance. Especially if you walk in summer where heat exhaustion is a very, very real possibility.

As an aside, to give you an idea of just how brave Paul is during his walk, how many of us have the courage to get in a fight with a monk? Not an argument, a real fistfight. Not even a fistfight, a martial arts fight, with fists and feet flying everywhere. Is it even legal to fight a monk? Isn’t that bad for your karma or something?

While i truly loved Paul’s comments on his efforts being his offering to the temples, one of the best things Paul wrote, in my opinion, was about his realization that “It' not strength that's required, but dedication.” This is not a walk in the park; it's hard work and strength alone will only take you so far. You can’t get any closer to my view of what it takes to make it around the trail than these two ideas: offering your efforts and understanding that this is a mental walk more than a physical walk.

Paul has a great sense of humor. And it shines brightly throughout the book. I highly recommend it and think it is well worth reading by anyone thinking of walking the henro trail. Especially if you are going to nokjuku in summer months (even though that’s a bad idea).

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Relinquishing What's Not Yours

From Anthony de Mello's book Song of The Bird:

The Diamond
When the sannyasi reached the outskirts of the village and settled under a tree for the night, a villager came running up to him and said, "The stone! The stone! Give me the precious stone!"

"What stone?" asked the sannyasi.

"Last night Lord Shiva told me in a dream that if I went to the outskirts of the village at dusk a sannyasi would give me a stone that would make me rich forever."

The sannyasi rummaged in his sack and, pulling out a stone, he said, "He probably meant this one. I found it in the forest yesterday. Here, it’s yours if you want it."

The man gazed at the stone in wonder. It was the largest diamond in the world — the size of a man’s head. All night he tossed about in bed. At the break of day he woke the sannyasi and said, "Give me the wealth that makes it possible for you to give this stone away."

Found myself today holding onto the stone, and although it was only worth a little less than $50, it took me the entire day before i could open my hand and relinquish it. Why? I'm actually shocked, and a little saddened. While certainly not a sanyasi, i thought i lived to higher standards than this. I, too, want the wealth, not the stone.