Day 91 Supplemental: The Man and the Tuesday Tipple

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Cheers! October 4 is National Vodka Day!

To be perfectly honest I’m a gin, bourbon, or scotch man myself but I would never pass on a good sip of vodka. Today there should be plenty of those going around as we celebrate National Vodka Day.

Vodka is so much more than just orange juice’s best friend. It is a versatile spirit with some incredible qualities and characteristics that make it great not only for mixed drinks but straight drinking as well. It is also currently the number 1 selling spirit in the United States, outpacing bourbon.

What I appreciate about good vodka is the agreeability of it as a drink. Good quality vodka really should taste of nothing, regardless of whether it was distilled from potato, wheat, or whatever else. It should be clean and crisp with little to no after-taste and no burn. (I repeat, this is the quality of good vodka.) The ethanol, gas-like taste that so many people associate with vodka is actually a sign of poor quality. Real vodka should not be so.

Because of its neutrality vodka is also a prime spirit for infusing flavors. If you think flavored vodkas is a modern invention made popular by sickeningly sweet cheap vodkas, you would be mistaken. Vodka has been infused and flavored for centuries. It is so easy for you to do this at home also. I personally carry a good quality lemon infused vodka in my home bar and when needed I will make personal small batches infused with things like cucumber, rosemary, or clove.

If you’re tired of martinis and screwdrivers, here are a few of my favorite vodka recipes to try either the next time you’re mixing drinks at home or at your next happy hour.

The Moscow Mule

Moscow Mule.jpgIt is very hard to mess up this drink so long as you follow two very important rules. 1. Be sure to use plenty of crushed ice and 2. find yourself a copper mug to serve it in.

2 oz vodka

Ginger beer

Lime (for juice and garnish)

Add vodka to the glass you’ll be drinking from and squeeze juice of half a lime. Fill partly with crushed ice and pour ginger beer. Top with more crushed ice and lime wheel.

The Lemon Drop

Lemon Drop.jpgWelcome to the grown up version of your favorite childhood candy. In a drink! Tart and sweet with a punch.

2 oz vodka

.5 oz triple sec

1 oz simpe syrup

1 oz fresh lemon juice

Sugar (for rimming)

Rub a lemon wedge along the rim of half of your glass. Dip and spin into the sugar and set aside to let the sugar set and dry. Add the remaining ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into glass.

The Floral

Floral.jpgThis utilizes vodka’s ability to incorporate herbal notes without being overpowering.

1 sprig rosemary

2 sprigs thyme (plus one for garnish)

2 cucumber slices (plus one for garnish)

.75 oz lime juice

.75 oz simple syrup

                                                                               1.5 oz vodka

In a shaker muddle the rosemary, thyme, and cucumber with the simple syrup. Add the rest of the ingredients with ice and shake. Strain into glass and garnish with cucumber slice and thyme.

Most importantly while you enjoy your vodka don’t forget to cheer with the people you drink with. As Russia, Poland, and Sweden can convincingly claim to have invented vodka, cheer in all three!

In Russian

It is a common misconception that Russians cheer with ‘Nostrovia’. This is actually a mispronunciation of ‘Na Zdrovie’ which is used to thank someone for a meal or a drink. So let’s cheer properly. ‘Vashe zrodovye’ [vashee zda-ro-vye] is a more common phrase that means ‘your health’.

In Polish

‘Sto lat’ literally means ‘one hundred years’ and is used to toast to longevity and good fortune.

In Swedish

‘Skål’ is a Scandinavian word for ‘cheers’ but really originally meant ‘bowl’. As in, back when everyone would drink from the same vessel everyone would be calling out ‘skål’ for their turn to drink! Get in touch with your own viking roots today with this powerful drinking cheer.

And in the words of my ancestors, ‘mabuhay’! (To life)

Day 85 Supplemental: The Man and the Unhappy Righteousness, or the Wrong Happiness; ‘Disagree’

Colbert Told You.gifI used to love being able to say ‘I told you so’. On the playground it was the equivalent of ruling by divine will. Affirmation was absolution. ‘I told you so’ made me right and it made me happy. In my self-centered universe the most important thing was my own opinion and perspective and every action revolved around the pursuit of proving myself in every way.

I didn’t like growing up. The unbearable weight of maturity came with the burden of realizing that the universe did not in fact revolve around only me. Suddenly I had to take into consideration other people’s ‘feelings’ and ‘perspectives’. I had to be ‘courteous’ and ‘considerate’. I had to stop talking to people with ‘air quotes’ because it was ‘condescending’. Now I live in a world where ‘I told you so’ is only said by children and smug know-it-alls. It’s taboo and uncouth. Suddenly, I was faced with a decision that separated two things I once thought were the same.

I could be happy…or I could be right.

When we learn to see beyond our own perspective we realize the ‘duality’ of things. Whereas before it was simply enough to be happy and right, now we have to consider that in order to be ‘happy’ someone must have to be ‘unhappy’ and to be ‘right’ someone must have to be ‘wrong’. As we learn to care for others and include other people in our lives, this realization complicates our relationships and often times presents obstacles and stumbling blocks.

Relationships are complicated and in the vast jungle of human interaction there are Happy or Right.jpgtwists, dead-ends, and u-turns. It is no longer a straight one-way street as we learn to ‘see’ others along the way. It isn’t as satisfying to be as staunch in our stances but at the same time it’s so difficult to yield.

I get it, it isn’t fair that we have to choose to be happy or be right. If only we could have both. But the only way to do that is to give up on our relationships altogether. No one wants to be wrong, but no one wants to be unhappy either. Someone is going to have to be one or the other though.

Being wrong hurts because it makes us feel insecure and embarrassed. It is an attack on our pride and our egos. Worst of all, it puts us in a compromised state in front of someone whose opinion, most likely, matters to us. It’s such a twisted irony that the biggest struggles between being ‘happy’ and ‘right’ that cause the most friction and frustration are often with the people we care about the most. These issues are so much simpler and easier with people who mean nothing to us but when it is someone important we become much more likely to ‘defend’ ourselves.

Being unhappy isn’t much of an alternative. The source of our unhappiness is the knowledge that we are right paired with the frustration of trying to assert that knowledge on others. We take up causes we believe in (why would we waste our time on things we don’t, after all) and it is our cross to bear. We are the heralds of our truth and much like all the visionaries of past, we are unwanted or ignored, or worse yet, challenged.

I think to help us make this decision we need to reimagine these two concepts. ‘Happiness’ could be considered ‘reward’ and ‘rightness’ could be considered ‘struggle’. If the struggle is worth more than the reward, we stick to our guns and continue to pursue being ‘right’. But if the reward outweighs the struggle, we should yield at the cost of our conviction for the greater good.

Let’s take domestic bliss for example. You and your partner are living together and you toilet-couplecannot count anymore how many times you’ve had to remind your partner to replace the toilet paper roll. You consider it a sign of common courtesy and respect. They just don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Your otherwise happy union is constantly marred by this…(pardon the pun) dirty streak. You could continue this crusade. Bring it up over and over. You might seriously believe that this is some indicator of a larger lack of respect or awareness in your relationship. But if you are truly happy, isn’t a moment’s inconvenience a small price to pay? When our partners constantly come to us to complain about their day, should we point out all the things they clearly did wrong that we warned them not to do that we had the foresight to predict, or should we simply nod along and offer sympathy and understanding?

I read an article last month about a woman whose crusade to prove the IRS owed her money cost her ten years of her life living homeless on the streets of Washington DC where most people considered her insane. For more than a decade she hopped from homeless shelter to street with her only belongings being three suitcases full of documents and checks from the IRS that she refused to check because she was sure they were in the wrong amount and that she was owed more than they were giving. She could have cashed these checks and taken the amount that the IRS had issued her. She didn’t have to move to DC to prove her point. She didn’t have to chase after the IRS for ten years. But if she had cashed those checks, the ‘reward’, who would have ever believed that she was right? This story has a happy ending, by the way. After a social worker finally agreed to listen to her case and review her documents they realized she was telling the truth all along and the IRS issued her $99,999. According to her lawyer she may be owed even more.

I’ve been so used to chasing being right. I live in an environment that thrives on that. Being the older brother and being the oldest person in my group of friends I am used to taking a leadership position and taking for granted that I would be right without much opposition. The only time I’ve ever really encountered some resistance has been in my relationships. In hindsight I realize now that while it wouldn’t have ultimately saved any of them, I must have surrendered so many opportunities and possibilities for happiness because I stubbornly insisted on fighting.

When we rephrase these concepts as struggle and reward, it’s interesting how almost none of us would ever freely choose to struggle, when the reward is right there in our grasp. But our pride and our ego and our vanity sometimes get in the way. Sometimes it’s just that we have so little experience taking into consideration other people’s perspectives. We’re not bad people. We’ve just been dealing with bad definitions of happiness and rightness. We’ve been dealing with bad perceptions of how relationships work. No one wants to struggle. We have to choose this. When we do for the right reasons it lends nobility and courage to our actions. But when we let the struggle choose us, we invite chaos and hurt and suffering.

So the next time you and a person disagree, don’t think ‘do you want to be happy or do you want to be right’, think ‘is this struggle worth more or less than the reward?’

Day 76 Supplemental: The Man and the Forest for the Trees; ‘Hike’

hiker-silhouette

What’s more important.

The journey or the destination?

I was on one of Beautiful’s hikes when I asked her this. Partly because I wanted to know if she was happier to be with me or to end up with me. Partly because I loved hearing her voice. Partly because I needed her to stop so I could catch my breath for the first time.

‘The journey.’

She told me about how much hiking had helped her in life. How the self-direction helped her take some control; she could dictate how far to go and when to stop and where. She
would often get so lost in appreciating interesting plants and tall trees that her hiking companions would leave her behind and have to wait for her further up ahead. She took her time with slow, deliberate steps, always appreciating the forest for the trees. Her friends wanted to get to their marker and settle as quickly as possible.

If you would have asked me then, which was more important the journey or the Sunlight Trees.gifdestination, I would have said the destination. I am a guided ballistic missile. When I decide I want something, I go forward at full throttle. I’ve bulldozed my way through many decisions. I only applied to one college. I only focused on one career. I spent four years missing only one girl. I crashed through the forest and when I got back to Beautiful, I stopped. I wonder if I’d have learned more, learned to avoid the pitfalls, or learned to recognize the warning signs if I had slowed down just a bit.

I can’t tell you which is better. I can’t tell you whose life is full of more promise. I can tell you there’s a danger in putting one step in front of the other and not knowing where to go and that there is equal danger in forcing your way through your objectives and missing everything along the way.

There is a very heavy part of me that has come to realize I was just a pretty stone along her path. When she looked at me she wasn’t looking for a destination. I was a fascinating momentary distraction to a beautiful wanderer. It is not for me to say what she’s hoping to find at the end of her path, but I know it’s not me. And I’m okay with that, mind you.

Because I realize, she is not my objective. She was another obstacle that I needed to crash into and through. I just got hit a lot harder than I thought I would. It’s like running and hitting a wall. Your vision gets blurry. You lose your orientation. You spin around a bit and forget where you came from and where you’re going.

The silhouette of my destination is slowly but surely becoming sharper and more visible. I am beginning to get my bearings once more. But as I grip around in the fuzzy blur, I’m beginning to appreciate the feel of the ground beneath my feet. I grip onto the moss on the tree and feel its soft grittiness in my hands. As I slowly regain my balance I can smell the pine needles and my ears pick up the stream that runs through the forest. If I hadn’t stumbled, I wouldn’t be writing to you today.

We can only hope that when the opportunity comes to learn something from our struggles that we are humble and wise and open enough to accept the lesson.

I am not prepared to say that I prefer the journey over the destination. But I’ve learned the value in both. I have the knowledge to navigate my way through the forest to get to my goal and I am confident enough in that knowledge to put down the map, to stop worrying about my pace, to trust my direction, and afford myself the little bit of extra time to stop and see the forest for the trees.

Whether you think it’s the journey or the destination is up to you. They promise different rewards and assign different obstacles. Maybe you’ll need someone who is your opposite to keep you on track or maybe you need a similar soul to appreciate at the same pace as you everything the forest has to offer. The most important thing is to simply have the courage to take a hike.

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Day 75 Supplemental: The Man and the Careful Diction of Gratitude; ‘Passionate’

Lest I incur the pernicious disparagement of the prolific poster Phil, I will be extra careful in how I use today’s prompt to discuss something very important to me:

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I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to this community for helping me hit not one but TWO major milestones in the same day.

100 Follows.pngBefore I started this blog I had a concrete idea of what I wanted to do. Write though the pain, tell some stories, investigate, and reflect. Rinse and repeat. What I didn’t know was if I’d ever have anyone who wanted to listen. I told myself I was content enough to simply write and that I wasn’t doing it for the audience or for the attention. But if I’m honest with you, as I have been, the truth is I think all creative people want an audience. I thought if after a year I had 100 people who were listening I’d be amazed. The fact that I hit that number on just 75 days in is…flabbergasting. I am so honored and so grateful for every single person who has said to me ‘your story is worth reading and I want to read it’. Every notification of a new follower still brings up emotions of excitement and gratitude. Not going to lie, now that it’s started, I want it to keep going. I’m giddy. I want to see us grow even larger! I guess I better start writing things more worth it huh? Hahah.

Shout out to J. Cosby for being Subscriber Number 1 and to Cathy for being Subscriber Number 100!

The follows were always a big 1000 Likes.pngsurprise. So were the likes. I’m glad people enjoy my writing. The likes to me carry significance because each one tells me that I’ve made a connection. Something I’ve said has resonated with another human being who may be on the other side of the world. That connection is one of the reasons why I write. I’ve missed that, not being in a relationship. I’m so used to thinking that tragically naive and romantic idea that ‘oh, woe is me, there is only one who can understand a soul like mine’. Hahah. I’ve come to realize that so many of us are experiencing life in much the same way as others have. There is a kinship of shared experiences and there is an affirmation when you see that others have seen what you see, thought what you’re thinking, been where you are. I am comforted when people tell me they feel similarly and excited when they say I’ve shown them something new.

Shout out to Insidious Temptation for the 1000th like!

I can’t say why people follow my writing. I can’t say why people like it. I am inspired and motivated by the encouragement, but I can say that I’ve never let it control who I am or what I write. I always start with the understanding to write from the heart. It got me this far. I won’t change to chase more; if anything, as encouraging as it has been, I feel brave enough to go even deeper and be even more honest. I may not write with a passion. At times the words struggle to come up. Other times it bubbles to the surface like a well about to burst. But I always write on the things I am passionate about.

I am tremendously appreciative of everything and everyone along this journey. Today was a pretty great day. I’ll keep writing about the things I love and I’ll always be grateful every time it resonates with even just one person. I know the things I wake up for and the things that keep me up at night and I’ll keep sharing. Victory or defeat. But always with heart. Always with enthusiasm. Always with passion.

 

Day 73 Supplemental: The Lover’s Guide to Swedish Furniture Making; ‘Fragile’

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Call me crazy, but there’s something about a bellyful of crawfish and the smell of balsa wood that get the romantic juices flowing. Hahah. So let your friendly neighborhood Man share with you some of his secret insider tips to successful romantic dates at your IKEA.

First off, I want to make this very clear, I was doing this waaay before the movie (500) Days of Summer used IKEA as the setting for one of the sweetest movie date scenes I’ve ever seen. The movie came out in 2009. I saw it for the first time on DVD, though we’ll assume it was released on DVD the same year. I was 19 at the time. I was already dating and driving when I was 18. So you know…just saying. I didn’t copy nobody! This is all genuine, 100% Man. But (500) definitely nailed it too. Just watch:

I will always promote IKEA as an excellent date option that is creative, unique, romantic, and very personal. I wouldn’t make this the first date (unless there’s some sort of established inside joke or connection or you know, you met there) but it is definitely a great date to get to know the person and harmlessly imagine the future. It’s a no-risk, high-reward, low-pressure situation. So let’s call that oh I don’t know…date 5 or 6?

Crawfish Sign.jpgFirst, let’s grab dinner at the Cafe. Did you all know that IKEA has a cafe that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Great food, incredible cost. Very DIY. Grab a tray for you and your date and get in line. I recommend the standard meatballs, mashed potatoes, gravy, and lingonberry sauce. Perhaps the two of you can also share a smoked salmon plate. And, trust me on this, IKEA has some of the best fries ever. Very much like Belgian frites, the fries at IKEA are thick cut but twice-fried for a super crispy crunchy outside and a light, fluffy, warm inside. There are some very nice desserts but please, take my advice, pass on it for now and save it for a little afternoon coffee date. Dessert comes later!

I like grabbing a meal from the IKEA Cafe for a couple reasons. Yes, the food is actually surprisingly good. And yes, the cost is incredibly economical. It was a godsend for a piss-poor college student. But it is exactly that college dining mentality I wanted to recreate. The fine dining and gourmet restaurants are all good and fun. First couple of dates, you want to bring out the best. In everything. Your personality. Your interests and hobbies. Your mannerisms. And of course, the food. But life isn’t always about the best. The best is easy to get used to. You want to know that the two of you are going to be okay with…the medium. Not bad. Not the best. But medium. That’s why I like to take a date here. It’s nice to date someone who knows how to appreciate a fine meal. But it’s equally nice to date someone who can still appreciate meatballs at a furniture store. It’s a…’can we be comfortable with each other’ kind of thing. Who doesn’t want someone who can rock the LBD at Le Grand and a plaid polo and jeans at IKEA? I don’t think I could date someone who only wanted one or the other.

Alright you’re full, you’re happy, you need something to do. Time to explore! IKEA is literally a playground for adults. There are the scattered apartment configurations (780,Ikea Showroom.jpg
550, 400, even 280 sq foot models!) and then there are all the model offices, bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens. I love walking through all of them. You get a real feel for the personality of a person during these visits. Their style, their preferences, and their priorities. You sit in the model kitchens and you see how the two of you could work together. How do you orchestrate your movements in those tiny kitchens. I go to the fridge. She goes to the stove. For a brief moment we are only inches away from each other. We could get closer…we could touch…get lost…ah! But don’t spill the sauce. Don’t burn the roast. And we need to get the ice from the freezer. So we keep dancing around each other. In the offices, we talk priorities. Whose office are we in. What do we do in this office. Who do we do it for. What are we dreaming of. I see past, present, and future. In no certain terms, with no judgements or conclusions, we talk about where we see ourselves. I admire a woman with direction. In the bedrooms words are picked carefully. This bed is comfy. Why don’t you try it. How do you sleep. Which side of the bed. Check out this killer walk-in closet. It even has a viewing mirror and a chair. So for example…maybe I sit here…and you say something like…’I need help picking an outfit for this meeting’ or ‘what should I wear to tonight’s party’ or ‘what do you think of this I picked up today’. What do you think of that arrangement. Play house for a little bit. Have fun. Pretend and let the fantasy live in IKEA. No one has to bring it out, no one has to assemble it just yet. Let me pretend to cook for you at the kitchen island. Let’s entertain guests in our tiny-ass apartment. Let’s check out the plates and silverware.

ikea-sundaeAlright! You’ve successfully navigated the maze of the IKEA showroom. I mean come on…the metaphors practically jump off the screen at you by this point, no? Let’s get our just desserts for walking together all this time (hitting you over the head yet). Right after the registers is the IKEA snack bar. Dollar hot dogs, cinnamon buns, please don’t ever get their abomination of a pizza, and of course, frozen yogurt sundaes and cones. Dollar dollar billikea-cone y’all. I personally prefer the cone. Your date may want a sundae. Strawberry or chocolate sauce with that?

You just had an incredible time at the same place you bought your dorm room furniture. Who knows. You may have to return one day to pick up furniture for your apartment. Or just go back because it’s fun and it’s playful and the showroom changes all the time to showcase the new designs.

Just remember. Be careful. Like our hearts, the furniture may be ömtålig. (Check the Daily Prompt to figure out what that one says in Swedish.)

 

Day 71 Supplemental: The Man and the Size of the Glass; ‘Perplexed’

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I gotta say…

Between ‘stump’, ‘radical’, and now ‘perplexed‘…it’s like the Daily Prompt people wanted me to finish this series on Zen Koan.

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I’m certainly not one to question the infinite wisdom of the prompt-givers so I must conclude this series with my own reflections on the very koan I proposed to you all.

Now before I write my own reflections, there are four very important things I want you to remember.

  1. I hope you all had a chance to at least sit with one of these koan for some time, or if not, I continue to implore you to experience what it is like to simply sit with a question and not worry about the answer. It will be a revelatory experience on what is important to your self at this moment and it will be great exercise for you when you are posed with serious, substantial questions that require careful thought and consideration.
  2. These are only my own reflections of these koan. These are only my own reflections at this time. Remember that since there is no real answer, the koan is like water. It flows without cease. The direction may be apparent, and there may be some direction that these questions are meant to flow us towards, but rivers branch off all the time, tides rise and fall, and currents always change. I do not claim to have the right answers. I only know I have the answers for myself.
  3. Beware anyone who tries to convince you of a finite point in your koan study. Do not be tempted by the promise of totality and finality. It can become frustrating to work at something with seemingly no end or logical conclusion. Enjoy the process. Walk through the forest for the sound of leaves crunching and sun peering through branches, not for the end of the trail.
  4. When you come to a conclusion that suits you and satisfies you, pass no judgement on yourself. Pass no judgement on yourself during the process either. If you are frustrated, that’s just your foot getting caught on a tree root. You don’t question your ability to walk when you trip. Do not question your ability to answer when you stumble.

Okay.

Dizang asked Xiushan, “Where do you come from?”
Xiushan said, “From the South.”
Dizang said, “How is Buddhism in the South these days?”
Xiushan said, “There is extensive discussion””
Dizang said, “How can that compare to me here planting the fields and making rice to eat?”
Xiushan said, “What can you do about the world?”
Dizang said, “What do you call the world?”

We don’t care who Dizang or Xiushan is in this koan. I could have written Larry, Moe, and Curly for argument’s sake. What we have are two students, two Buddhist monks, who are spending their day working in the fields. One (Dizang) concerns himself with where the other is from and what they are discussing back home. The other (Xiushan) questions why he concerns himself with the world. Dizang responds by asking Xiushan to define what he thinks is the world.

There are often times in our lives where we feel insignificant compared to the rest of the world. We question the efficacy of our efforts when we are just one drop in a vast ocean. We feel like blowing our breath in one direction does nothing compared to the tornado that wants to whisk us off our feet. I feel like sometimes I have not done enough to make my mark on the world. I feel disconnected and it can discourage me from continuing on my path because the magnitude of the world is overbearing and I’d much rather surrender to obscurity than to beat down at the door. But as Dizang says, ‘what do you call the world’. Perhaps I have missed my aim, or at the very least lacked focus. If my world were my friends and family, I could certainly say I’ve made my mark. But I could then succumb to ego and sit back, feeling accomplished. So I open it up just a tiny bit. How do I affect the people I work with. How can I affect the people who read my writing. How can I affect the man next to me. And then perhaps the man next to him. I can always define my world, and therefore define the scope of my actions. My world is never too small that I can touch the borders, but it is never too large that I cannot see the horizon. Right now, what I can do is live an honest and open life of reflection and sharing and inspiration. My world is those I care about, friends and family, and those who I can reach through my writing. I do not have to feel insignificant and my efforts can be effective in scope.

“What are you doing,” asked the professor.
“Programming a computer to play randomly,” said the student.
The professor said, “what does it mean to program the computer randomly?”
The student said, “I do not want it to have preconceived notions of how to play.”
The teacher then closed his eyes.
“Why do you close your eyes?’ asked the student.
The teacher replied, “So that the room will be empty.”

What is the student’s goal? To create a computer with no preconceived notions. Why does the teacher close his eyes? So that the room will be empty. How is this related? Just because the teacher does not see what is in the room does not mean there is nothing in it. The room exists independent of the teacher and therefore the things in it are independent of his sight. So we extend this to the computer. The computer has preconceived notions. It has programs and algorithms and, to the extent of ‘does a dog have Buddha nature’, perhaps we can even say the computer has its own awareness. So just because the student programs his perception of ‘randomness’, the computer will have its own patterns. This for me is a perfect metaphor for my relationships. Perhaps the reason why none have succeeded so far is that we approached each other with our own expectations and we closed our eyes to pretend that the other person didn’t have any outside of what we wanted. I must realize that no matter how I feel or what I convince myself of, I have no control or power over the other person. So therefor the pressure to ‘make someone love me’ is also relieved. Because the best I can do is to be me openly and honestly and to love them openly and honestly. I can’t force anything of the other person. That’s a big burden off my shoulders. I used to think I had to find the girl, then convince her of my worth, then make her love me. The truth it, I have to do things of worth, do things that someone would love, and let that person come. I cannot change the room, I can only choose to perceive it.

When you meet the Buddha, kill him.

Ooh this is a big one. Why would such a peaceful philosophy promote such violence? And why against such a revered figure? So one thing you might not know about Buddhism is that Buddha is not a god. Buddha is a state of being, total enlightenment that removes the soul from the cycle of reincarnation and suffering. It is complete enlightenment and universality. So literally, if you meet anything that claims to be Buddha, it is a lie. But I take this to mean something internally. That if I ever feel to be that way, I need to kill dangerous thoughts and dangerous ego. If I try to assign ‘Buddha’-hood to something, I am perceiving and judging. I need to let go. I need to let go of thoughts of ego and of loss and of fear and of insecurity. Enlightenment, confidence, awareness perhaps more applicably, is delicate and light. It is like trying to catch dandelion pollen in the air. You have to remain still, no anticipation, no judgement, and let it land on your hand. Judgements, like your fingers, are slow and heavy. They crash into the air with such force that the pollen will always be blown away. You don’t ‘catch’ these things, much like you can’t ‘catch’ the attention or affections of others or ‘catch’ true self-confidence. It comes naturally. The Buddha is supposed to come from within. You can’t meet your confidence. You can’t meet the one who claims to give it to you or have the secret to unlock it. It’s yours only. Be wary of anything else you meet.

Well, those are the thoughts that came to me after all this time. This is what the koan have given me after serious reflection and thinking about the circumstances of my life right now. I hope this helps and I hope what I have learned I will be able to carry into my life. And if it helps you along the way too, then that’s just a little ray of sunshine!

Day 70 Supplemental: The Man and the Koan Bone; ‘Radical’

zen-koan

On Sunday I wrote about the origin, use, and variety of koan, a tool in Zen Buddhism to aid in meditation and increase awareness. Tomorrow I would like to discuss my own interpretation of the koan presented in my post, and the reason why I’ve wanted to delay it is to allow readers to sit with the koan themselves and come to their own understandings without the influence or bias of my own interpretations. Today however I would like to discuss a matter very important to understanding koan and avoiding the pitfalls that many who are discovering this concept for the first time or who have not really had much opportunity to investigate koan may fall into.

Remember that koan first began as written records of conversations between teachers and their students. They were exchanges that revealed some insight for the students to interpret. Over time they evolved into what we now can consider ‘Zen riddles’, meaning that they have been boiled down to the essence of these conversations; mainly reducing koan to the very basic questions of understanding that students would have posed or that teachers would have asked in order to test our progress through meditation. The process zen-unsurewould often be that the student would be assigned a koan by their teacher. The student would then spend their time ‘sitting with’ the koan, using meditation to actively and passively gain an insight and understanding. When the student felt ready, the student would return to approach the teacher and present the result. One word, a sentence, an entire treatise, the length of the response and indeed even the content of the response did not actually matter to the teacher. If the teacher was unsure, the teacher could ask the student further questions to test the depth and extent of the student’s understanding. Consider this practice much like the Socratic Method, investigating truth through questioning. If the teacher was satisfied with the student’s understanding (again, notice I did not say response but understanding), the teacher would give the student another koan to meditate on. If the teacher was unsatisfied, the student would be instructed to repeat the process with the same koan. This process of posing a question, sitting with it, responding, and investigating can very loosely and misleadingly be considered koan study.

The reason why I say this can be misleading and why I am hesitant to define the process as such is because the word study carries such a heavy implication to most of us. When we ‘study’ something we want there to be an eventual ultimate ‘understanding’. We want to become ‘experts’ or at the very least, receive some recognition for the extent of our work. Whether it is a publication to our credit, a degree, or the recognition of our peers, when we ‘study’ it is almost always with the assumption that there is an end. We ‘studied’ this or that in college or we ‘studied’ that in wheelEurope or I read a ‘study’ of that topic on the plane and now let me show you how much more I know than you. There is, fortunately and unfortunately, no end to koan study. It is a continued process that is both temporary and permanent. The sense of enlightenment and awareness we cultivate through it is something that we will be able to carry with us for the rest of our lives. It will aid our decision making and our ability to handle disappointment. But our understanding is very often a reflection of our very temporary place in time. The same question, posed to the same person, but at different times and stages in that person’s life, could yield very different responses. Are either of these responses more or less valid? Do we judge the content of the response? No. We understand that the act of understanding is the ultimate goal itself. We recognize that we seek different things in life and koan are an opportunity to discover what that is for us at that very moment.

Consider the common scenario many teachers give us to explain the duality of personalities. A glass is presented to the class with a certain amount of water contained within. The teacher will ask ‘is the glass half empty or half full?’ We understand that the objective of this exercise is to determine those of us who are optimists and see the glass as half full and those of us who are pessimists who see the glass as half empty. We will all have an answer. But the answer could change the next day if you find you just won the lottery or if your significant other has left you for the plumber. It doesn’t make the response of yesterday more or less correct. And there may be a time when you are so weary of the world and so tired of black and white and have seen the rise and fall of fortune and fame that when posed this question you realize ‘the glass is too big to hold the water’. Or, and this’ll really bake your noodle, ‘the water is not in the right glass’.

What I commonly see happen to people who are introduced to the concept of koan is they try too hard to seek ‘the answer’. They approach the koan not as the act and reward of understanding itself, but as an obstacle to enlightenment. They must conquer the koan. Beat it to the ground. Finish them. There are from all the ancient texts still in current circulation, more than 400 koan. If you were to read each one and come to a conclusion Zen Joke.jpgwith each, would you be so much more enlightened and aware than anyone who had never read them to begin with? While doing some research for Sunday’s post I came across a website that boiled my blood much more than I thought it would. It was a site supposedly dedicated to the art and practice of Zen Buddhism and Zen meditation but it purportedly advertised that the site ‘held the secrets to Zen Buddhism enlightenment’. I was certainly intrigued. It framed koan as riddles that teachers used to stump and confuse students to keep them in the dark. They were tolls to be paid along the path to enlightenment. The writer called them ‘purposefully confusing’ but ‘ultimately easy to answer’. Masters knew the meaning of each and every koan and kept them secret but that this site knew how to ‘decode’ each one. Using the ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping’ example, the site says

‘The answer is quite simple. How do you clap with both your hands? Try this movement again, but with one arm and one hand only. That’s it. That’s the sound of one hand clapping.’

Oh my! How simple! Who knew the secret to enlightenment was so deceptive? Who knew if you simply paid this website you could get their series of ebooks on how to ‘deal with koan’. Here, it says, these are the answers to all the koan that you can now present to overwhelm your teacher. Understanding and awareness for only $19.95.

The koan have never been about the answer. They have always been about the question. These are the few absolutes we can say with certainty when it comes to meditation. They have been about allowing us the opportunity to have something to sit with long enough without judgement or frustration to learn something fundamental about ourselves. The koan is not the meat, it is the bone with which we sharpen our teeth. So many of the Ylvis.gifquestions we face do in fact have ultimate answers. We can go through our lives answering the questions and never think to question our answers. We always ask ourselves, ‘what will make me happy’. And we think we know the answer. We have careers to fulfill professional ambition. We purchase material things to comfort us. We seek love to surround us. But these things can crumble. They may not. We might be able to have these things for our entire lives. But if we don’t, and we are still unhappy, and we lose our way, can we answer…’what is happiness?’ That’s the fun of it all. That’s the exciting freeing realization that ‘I do not have to answer everything’. There is no expectation. There is no judgement. There is just us and the world and our understanding of it so by God, we should have the best damn understanding of at least ourselves. I throw you a koan, I throw you a bone, it’s not about what meat is left in it. It’s not about finding the right spot or some secret little bit or scrap of meat to be extracted. It’s just about sharpening your teeth. Now, is that concept really so radical?

Day 68 Supplemental: The Man and the Grasshopper; ‘Stump’

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Regular readers will know that a few weeks ago I wrote a series of posts on some tips on and benefits of meditation in the form of yin yoga. Two days ago I wrote a post about the philosophical conundrum of ‘what makes a sandwich a sandwich’. While these two topics might seem completely unrelated, you’ll find that they are both actually very important in Zen Buddhism. ‘What makes a sandwich a sandwich’, being a question that really has no true definitive answer, is a critical tool in meditation through Zen. This could actually be considered a modern, 21st century version of what the Japanese call koan, the Chinese call gong’an, and what the Western world calls Zen riddles. You may have come across a few of these already without realizing their connection to Zen Buddhism. For example, you may have posed the question or been asked yourself, ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’ Another of course, is ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ Now to be fair not all koan are sound related. But this is perhaps the best gateway into the more intricate and involved koan and certainly in Western culture, the most popular.

The word koan is actually derived from the Chinese gong’an, which means ‘public record’. The gong’an were stylized, abbreviated, purposefully written renditions of ‘conversations’ between Buddhist teachers and their disciples. Someone somewhere along the line began Monk.pngto realize that perhaps recording the wise sayings of their masters would benefit generations to come, so these gong’an were in fact available to the general masses to use and reflect and further develop their own understanding. Think Socrates’s Dialogues mixed with Aesop’s Fables. Aside from posterity, the act of writing down these hyper-stylized and edited encounter-dialogues of masters and disciples also helped Chinese Buddhism spread to Japan. Through the study of these texts the Chinese and Japanese were able to learn much of each other’s language and translate their works for each other. The Japanese monks wanted to be able to capture these ‘flashes of enlightenment’ in much the same way as their Chinese counterparts so they used the structure of the gong’an to create their own koan which have remained relevant to this day.

Koan are of course now much more than ancient translation guides or low-tech Twitter feeds. I want you to completely trash and disregard the Western misnomer of ‘Zen riddle‘ because it sets up a very false expectation and understanding. The koan are questions, yes, and they are often very vague, inscrutable, and seemingly paradoxical and unanswerable. But you must understand that while a ‘riddle’ implies a deceptive question with a clever answer, the koan are not meant to be answered. At least, not completely. The objective tacherwhen a Zen teacher gives a student a koan is not to have the student ‘find the answer’. We do not ‘answer’ koan. We sit with them. We quiet our minds, we let go of judgement and preconception, we breathe, we let go of judgement, and we allow ourselves to move with the koan in our mind to where it takes us. See if we become too attached to the act of ‘answering’, we lose the benefit and practice of meditation. We are not tasked with answering the question. We are tasked with using it to guide our reflection and understanding. After enough time has passed, the teacher will ask us where we ended up. Our ‘answer’, so to speak. What we actually say is not as important as how well we understand it. How deeply we went into our own understanding of our reality in order to come up with whatever it is we came up with. There could be further questions asked and posed to test our conviction and understanding but ultimately, any answer goes so far as we can prove we have truly reflected on it. If the teacher is satisfied that we have stripped off the burden of answering and judgement, we are given another koan. If not, we return, unflustered, unmoved, unconcerned, and start again. A good example of this separation of the relationship between question and answer is the example of the koan ‘what is the nature of Buddha?’ asked to the Zen master Shouchou. His response was ‘three pounds of flax’. (This is a reflection of the nature of Buddha, and that if we can find it in anything, we can find it in everything.)

There are many collections of koan available today. The Gateless GateThe Book of Equanimity, The Blue Cliff Record, and Mana Shogobenzo were all compiled in the early 1000s but are still available in modern translation. These compilations hold hundreds of koan to ponder but if you do not want to spring for some ancient wisdom, let me share a few pearls for free.

As stated before, we have ‘what is the sound of two hands clapping’ and ‘if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound’. You may also consider ‘does a dog have Buddha nature (and to translate further, you can extend it to ‘does a dog have a soul’). Not all koan are questions. For example, your head could totally wrestle with the violent and prophetic ‘when you meet the Buddha, kill him’. As mentioned before, most originated as conversations. For example:

Dizang asked Xiushan, “Where do you come from?”
Xiushan said, “From the South.”
Dizang said, “How is Buddhism in the South these days?”
Xiushan said, “There is extensive discussion””
Dizang said, “How can that compare to me here planting the fields and making rice to eat?”
Xiushan said, “What can you do about the world?”
Dizang said, “What do you call the world?”

Even the modern world can provide us with enlightenment.

“What are you doing,” asked the professor.
“Programming a computer to play randomly,” said the student.
The professor said, “what does it mean to program the computer randomly?”
The student said, “I do not want it to have preconceived notions of how to play.”
The teacher then closed his eyes.
“Why do you close your eyes?’ asked the student.
The teacher replied, “So that the room will be empty.”

The koan itself is not as important as the lesson we learn from sitting with it for long enough. I would like to give these writings at least a day or two for people to have a chance to read them and sit with them for a while before I write my own reflections and thoughts. I would like for you all to give it an honest attempt to sit with these and try to reflect and ‘answer’ what it is the koan appears to ask of you. I do not want to write my own too soon because I do not want it to influence your own process. It is okay that these lack context or detail. It is for you to decide what understanding to establish and where to take it.

I will write my own reflections from much time spent sitting with these koan in two days.

I want to give you these koan because I think, at least I know for myself personally, I have been too attached to ‘answering questions’ these past few days. I think we all have. wheelSometimes the burden of the writer is to believe we are tasked with questions we must answer. We speak for our minds, our hearts, and sometimes some of us speak for generations. We have the words and the phrases and the ability so we put it on ourselves to answer so much. Some questions don’t need to be answered, just understood for why we ask. I don’t need to know why Beautiful left me. But if I can sit with that question without distress or sadness or frustration, what wonderful revelations about love and relationships and my worth and my desires await! If I am not afraid to ask myself ‘why am I so lonely’ I could perhaps get to the nature of loneliness and instead understand what companionship truly is. And if I don’t find the answer, I shouldn’t be so upset or frustrated. I should not judge that at this point in my life I do not yet have the understanding of full enlightenment.

In our every day lives we are so caught up with thinking of questions as obstacles to our understanding. Things that must be reconciled. We confuse ourselves to think that a life of no questions is one of success. Every day we have a set of questions that we must answer in order to sleep well at night. But some questions don’t need answers. Just the honesty to acknowledge they remain. Just the awareness to know what they are. And the bravery not to answer them. The courage to remain stumped.

Day 66 Supplemental: The Man and the Annoying Dinner Conversation; ‘Sandwich’

This is one of those moments where I wish there was a faster and easier method of delivering my thoughts to you than typing. My mind races and my fingers stumble and there is only coherence and order and structure in the infinitesimally brief electric jolts of my brain. The whole of what I wish to say flashes in my mind at the speed of thought but disappears by the time I can think of the first letter to type.

And what praytell, you may ask, is causing such a frenzy of thought and inspiration that I Idiot Sandwich.gifshould want to share with you so immediately? It is this:

What is a sandwich? When is a sandwich not a sandwich and what makes a sandwich so?

The conversation begins innocently enough. The ‘sandwich’ is something so intrinsic to our very existence. It is so common in our vocabulary that the assumption is that if we are asked to define what a sandwich is, it would be so easy to capture its essence.

You can use the dictionary if you’d like. It really would be not much more help. The dictionary is lazy and timid. It must remain neutral. So you receive the simplest and lowest common denominator of ‘sandwich-ness’. It is by no means a satisfying enough portrayal of what we think we know of sandwiches.

I propose to you the following items: the taco, the hot dog, the lobster roll, the Reuben, the grilled cheese, and the argument-inducingly named ‘open-faced sandwich’.

options

Are these all examples of sandwiches? Why or why not?

I assume many of you have considered at first thought that surely that which makes up a sandwich is ‘some filling encased in an edible container’. That would certainly allow for all six, yes? Now how do you feel about the hot dog or the lobster roll? Tempted to say it has to be two pieces? What about the open-faced sandwich. And what if the hot dog bun splits in half.

There are a lot of layers of understanding and interpretation behind this seemingly simple question.

There are matters of intent. Can you say the pitmaster who spends all day making pulled pork, which is then served on bread, was really just making sandwiches all day?

And what about of efficiency. If we have a more specific and particular name for something, we tend to use that over anything less specific. We call a hot dog a hot dog because it is more specific, though a hot dog could still be called a sandwich. We call benches benches and not chairs though they are certainly equivalent.

And what about of context. Certainly most of us would recognize a sandwich as usually being two pieces of bread. But in Scandinvaian countries they have open-faced sandwiches. Can we apply imperial rule to dictate that what they have created must be categorized as completely different entities?

Did you know that New York has a sandwich tax? As such in order to profit as much as possible the New York state legislature has legally broadened the definition of sandwiches to include burritos, gyros, wraps, and pitas? Certainly if it is of legal benefit or discredit, we are going to be more or less generous with our definition.

Sandwich.gifThis is a fascinating conundrum. One that threatens many friendships and will certainly be a part of heated discussion tomorrow with my friends. I think ultimately though what this humorous and hopefully lighthearted conversation will convey is that…it is really impossible to know anything completely and absolutely objectively. We will always offer our own shades of meaning because we cannot know everything about what is without really discussing what isn’t. So a sandwich becomes difficult to define to capture all of its iterations without ending up discussing what a sandwich isn’t. And that’s why we disagree. It’s because we see the shadow of a sandwich from different angles and different light sources.

If we can’t agree on something as fundamentally simple as a sandwich, what about the real matters of life? Of justice, of truth, of morals and ethics. It becomes so…lost in translation. The best we can do is understand that definitions change based on perspective. And what do we do with that. Well we can’t keep at each other’s throats over hot dogs, that’s for sure. We’ve all seen and processed the shadows on the walls from our own vantage points.

Such then must be our understanding and expectation of relationships as well. Of love. We all know it intrinsically within ourselves what love should be and feel like. But we often times cannot agree on love without discussing what love isn’t, and thus we fight and fall out of love again because we are not the same.

My mind is exhausted and yet still racing. Sandwiches, who would have thought? Hahah. A lesson to be learned of love and expectations and definitions. A warning to be wary of context and application. What makes a sandwich to you?

 

Day 65 Supplemental: The Man and Challenge Answered; ‘Elegant’

For today’s prompt I decided to stretch out of my comfort zone to honor the efforts and an agreement made between two parties. Please pardon the interruption to your regular broadcast as I attempt something I am very much not good at. Oh and don’t worry, I’m still flying high. This is not meant to be for any particular person.


Unanswered Unnoticed Elegance

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My words are oft large, clunky, heavy phrases

but you are soft and light.

So how can one as unrefined as I

capture the beauty in my sight?

If I could I would wrap you in miles of dedicated words

but your beauty is one that will not wait.

And so, my love, while I have you here

it is the wild tempest of my head whose thoughts I must abate.

How does one who knows so little of these things

frame the luxuriousness of your hair?

How do I distill in words to tell you plainly

of a love, unrequited, pure, an admiration unaware?

I must find the way to speak, sophisticatedly

to match the feeling of your presence.

I have to shed the formalities, the grandiose

to speak truly to your essence.

Your face is a reflection of starlight

I am absorbed in its beauty.

I have no power when I am in your gaze

your eyes take me to infinity.

You hold yourself with such grace and poise

your slender arms reach out with tenderness.

I see in you a rest, a repose

a cure to a wandering soul’s loneliness.

Your spirit is curious and unrestrained

your words are lifted lightly on gentle fairy’s wings.

I hang on every word you say

of hopes and dreams and wishes and other secret things.

Have I even slightly triumphed to capture your wit or strength or humor

can my superficial words come close to your elegance?

Or am I simply crippled by your touch

or struck dumb by my arrogance?

Of all the things I am most sure

Death, taxes, the setting sun, and the rising sea.

There is none as sure as this:

that you will never notice me.

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