Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Look to this day...

Look to this day,
for it is life.
The very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
the realities & verities of existence;
the bliss of growth,
the splendor of action,
the glory of power -
for yesterday is but a dream,
and tomorrow is only a vision.
But today, well loved
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness..
.. and tomorrow a vision of hope.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Toru Kawamura

When I was a boy, in first and second grade, I had a friend who was from Japan, and who lived in the same apartment building as we did, and who also went to my school. He was a year ahead of me in school.

The first time I ever saw him, I was walking to school, and four or five of the older boys were beating him up. He held his own, but it wasn't a fair fight.

I was tiny as a kid, usually the smallest kid in any group, but my sense of outrage at this unfairness overcame my self-preservation instinct and I tried to intervene. I have to say at this point that I wasn't able to help poor Toru at all. One of the larger kids simply gave me a cuff in the head, grabbed me in a strangle hold, and lifted me off my feet until I stopped struggling, and then put my feet back on the ground and told me to be still or he would choke me to death.

So I had to stand there and watch this kid take a beating for no good reason.

The kids were calling him racial names and telling him to 'go back to Japan'.

I didn't understand why they were saying these things... the incident made me feel sick in my soul.

Afterwards, I picked up Toru's umbrella and put his torn and muddy books back into his book bag and went over to him. I asked him if he was okay... he was crying, and bruised, and bleeding. He took his umbrella and book bag, asked me to leave him alone, and headed back home.

I stood there, watching him limping slowly back towards the building where we lived.. muddy, wet, and hurt... I remember looking at the ground and seeing a crocus that had been flattened during the struggle.. it struck something in me; I felt terrible, and I started to cry... my throat felt as though I had swallowed an iron ball... my eyes were burning.. my lips trembling... and my knees shaking with feelings of anger, frustration, powerlessness, and and overwhelming sense of loss... at what, I don't know to this day.

Eventually, I headed into school for one of the most miserable days I had ever experienced in my life up to that day... not because of anything that was happening externally, but because of all of the thoughts and feelings that were raging inside of me. I had no idea what I was feeling, and no idea how to sort them out...

After school, I went home and got some cookies, wrapped them in a paper towel, and after scanning the doorbells for the name 'Kawamura' (I had seen it on his books, and on his book bag) I went and knocked on his door. I suppose I wanted to try to make him feel better... to tell him that *I* didn't want him to go back to Japan.. unless *he* wanted to... and probably to make myself feel better about the whole thing in some way... I stood there for what seemed like forever, but nobody answered the door.

Some days later, I knocked on the door again and it was answered by an attractive Japanese woman who, with extreme politeness, explained that Toru was in 'Manhattan' with his father. I had no earthly idea where 'Manhattan' was, and when I later asked my grandparents, they explained that although we called Manhattan 'New York City' or simply 'The City' - that all five boroughs were actually 'The City' and that 'Manhattan' was actually the correct term. I was very impressed by this degree of accuracy and specificity. I felt that I should have known this. I started to think that the thugs who had beaten this kid up were really off base... these folks even knew the proper names for things when I didn't!!

I finally knocked on the door when Toru was actually home. He came to the door and stared at me impassively for a long moment, and then, deciding that I posed no threat to him, I suppose, grabbed his jacket and came out to play. He told me about Japan, showed me how people wrote in Japan (I was absolutely captivated by this!), explained to me that the boys who had beaten him up were most likely angry because they had heard the stories that their parents and uncles and grandparents had told about the war with Japan (In retrospect, I am absolutely floored at the self-possession and insight of this little 6 or 7 year old boy.. he was an amazing kid!).

When I asked about the war, he explained that it had much to do with Japan needing steel and other natural resources because they had very little land and very little ability to derive natural resources from their homeland.

I sat there, open-mouthed, while he patiently explained all of this to me. I asked him how he learned all of this stuff.. and he told me that on Saturdays, he went to 'Japanese School'. I was flabbergasted at this!! School on SATURDAY!! It simply wasn't done!! What about cartoons?! What about playing outside!!

He said that one day his parents would have to return to Japan (his father had been posted in New York by his Company), and that he, Toru, would have to return with them... and if he didn't work hard in Japanese School, he would be behind all of the other children when he went back to school.

This was the first kid I had ever known who considered school to be important, and not just a nuisance that had to be dealt with. It was Toru who sparked the first interest in learning within me.

I continued to be impressed by Toru during the entire period of our friendship. Whatever anybody could do, Toru could do it better!! I made houses and things out of Lego blocks... Toru had built a huge commercial airliner that was amazing! I made a kite out of newspaper and sticks... Toru made a hand painted Dragon kite that had to be 15 or 20 feet long!!

Perhaps the most amazing thing was that he never 'one-upped' me.. when I showed him my kite, he 'oooohed' and 'aaaahed' over it, expressed his delight with a ready smile, and helped me to fly it. It was only weeks later when I spied the kite hanging in his bedroom and asked about it that I learned that he had made it by hand. When I blurted out that I felt like an idiot for being so proud of my stupid kite, he wrinkled his brow, put a small brown hand on my arm and said that I had no reason at all to feel that way... that my kite was beautiful.. and that my kite flew better than his did, anyway... I bought it at the time, but now realize that most likely wasn't true. Toru was protecting my feelings.

Just before Toru returned to Japan, the same kids who had beaten him up blocked our way as we were walking to school together. This time, they focused on me, and announced their intention to beat the crap out of me for being a 'traitor' by befriending Toru.

As one of them moved towards me, Toru stepped in front of me and quietly explained that they were being very impolite. He told them that he couldn't let them hurt me. He explained that I was his friend. And that I was very small.

The bully was laughing as he grabbed Toru by the lapels to toss him out of the way.

He stopped laughing when Toru tossed him onto his back on the sidewalk.

The other boys all rushed Toru - and were systematically thrown to the ground, punched, or kicked.

When they had had enough and ran away, I looked at Toru incredulously and demanded to know why on earth, if he was capable of fighting like that, had he let them beat him up so badly the last time?!?!?

He looked at me with that maddeningly calm way of his and answered, simply;
"I didn't want to hurt them."

I had never known anybody like this kid in my life...

I don't remember how long my friendship with Toru lasted, but it couldn't have been very long at all. What I do remember is that he was one of the most influential people in my life. He set an example that I have yet to emulate. He was a smart, kind, and insightful person.. at the age of 7 or possibly 8. He was patient, tranquil, focused, and had absolutely no ego whatsoever.

I often wonder what became of Toru, and how he is faring...

In any case, Toru, wherever you are, I hope that you are well, and that you are truly happy, and that you have managed to follow your dreams.. whatever they may be.

Domo Arigato Gozaimasu (ありがとう!あなたはとてもしんせつです。((ごめんなさい。私の日本語はへたです。)) )

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd:

Occasionally, I get puked upon by a friend or relative who has gotten their feelings stung by my failure to read, view and provide suitable feedback for a forwarded email message that they have sent to me. It usually goes like this;

"What'd ya think of that thing I sent ya?? Cute, wasn't it?!"

"I deleted it... sorry.."

"... ... You.. DELETED it!?"

"Yeah.. I don't really read 'forwards'... I just delete them."

At which point it is made clear to me either verbally, nonverbally, or by subsequent interaction with that person (or, more to the point, non-interaction with that person) that they don't agree with, support, or tolerate my position.

I must confess, however, that it is true. I don't read forwards. There are a few reasons for this, and some may even be valid. They happen to be valid reasons to me, though... and I don't read forwards.

Basically, if you forward something to me other than a link, a message from another person known to me, or something that pertains specifically to me personally, and this is made abundantly clear by the subject line or by the sender(meaning that it comes from a sender who generally doesn't send forwards as a general rule), I glance at the subject... and delete it.

The simplest reason is that I don't care what it is in a forwarded message. I'm not interested. I don't like them. They take up valuable bandwidth.

Usually, they are some stupid joke or chain letter that has been circulating around for 15 years. It wasn't cute or funny when it came around the first time... it isn't funny today.

Bill Gates is NOT going to send me any money.
My forwarding a chain letter isn't going to save the little girl that has been dying of the same ailment since 1989.

My feeling is that if someone wants to communicate with me, they can type out an email message addressed to ME, intended for ME, and not to 900 strangers, with me stuck on for good measure.

In an effort to make this easier, I am providing a sample message that can easily be cut and pasted into your email client if you wish to say 'hi'.

Select all text between the lines

Hi Bear,

Just wanted to say hi. hi.

Well. Guess that's all for now.


Regards, [BLANK] (insert name)

Type name in the space labeled 'BLANK'


Now nobody has a good reason to send me forwards.

I am not going to open them in any case. They get summarily deleted.

If you have a video, images, poems, heart-wrenching sob stories, or evangelical tracts that you wish me to read, write me a message, and paste a link to a page where I can view the material if and when I choose.

I am sure that I will still get crapped on for not opening forwards, and if anyone has heartburn with that, please write it all down, and forward it to me in an email.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Blank Canvas

Last night I worked a New Year's Eve party. There were perhaps 265 people attending the party. At some point, the DJ asked the assembled guests to 'make some noise' if they had a good 2007; You could've heard a pin drop. The room was completely, utterly and (at least to me...) significantly silent. After a few moments of unnatural quiet, he then asked whether anyone hoped to have a better year in 2008 than they did in 2007 and the noise from the jubilant crowd nearly brought the roof down!

Apparently, nobody found this past year to be all that much to scream about. It seems sort of weird that everybody had a hard time of it, though... you would think that some folks would've had a good year, and some folks would've had difficulties... but, judging from this response, plus the snippets of conversation that I have overheard all year; 2007 has kicked the living shit out of just about everyone.

2007 was a fairly difficult year for us, for our extended group of family and friends, and for just about everyone that we know. We are considerably fewer in number than we were a year ago.. those who are no longer with us have left a noticeable hole in the fabric of our lives that will take some time to mend. They have left us with happy memories, and a great sadness at their loss. While it is true that birth and death are always with us, and while I am comfortable with the idea that death is a natural part of life.. I still mourn the loss of the relationship with each of them. I can still love them, and I do. I can carry them in my heart and bring them forth whenever I like; But they can't answer me... they can't offer their physical presence... I can't hear their voices, or see their smiles any more. I miss them.

Financially, we got spanked throughout the entire year, to the point that we would go to sleep and wake up with fears of homelessness chilling our blood.

In hearing what other folks have had to contend with, however, it seems that we have been lucky. This past year has simply been a time of difficulty for everyone.

That isn't to say that there were no good times.. we had our laughs and our triumphs, but the overall picture has been one of austerity and tribulation.

I sit here this morning looking out of my window at a dreary, gloomy, grey day; one of those Long Island days where it never seems to get past 6AM judging by the quality of the light. Nevertheless, I am holding on fast to hopes for a kinder, gentler, happier and more joyful and prosperous year.

Like most folks, I tend to stop and take stock of life on New Year's Day... looking back at how things were, and comparing what I remember to how things are today. Some things never seem to change much, while in other instances the change is startling (and some times appalling!)

I would like to be able to say that I will be doing things differently this year, but, to be honest, I can't really think of all that much that we can do!! We sat down a few weeks ago to work out a household budget; the idea being that we would be able to identify some areas where we could cut back a bit in order to make it somewhat easier to get the bills paid. What we discovered was that we are so thrifty already that there simply wasn't anyplace left that we could cut back!! I was discussing this topic with my mom on the telephone a week or so ago, and mentioned that it suddenly became difficult to make ends meet, and she posited that the rising prices of food and oil have steadily crept up on us and have eaten away all of the 'extra' money that most of us had... and has begun to chip away at the funds that we need to survive. Working extra sounds like a good plan, except that most of the businesses that would usually provide this extra income are either drastically cutting back, and therefore are not hiring, or simply don't have a schedule that is possible for folks that already work a full-time job plus a part-time job. So what do you do there??

I religiously search for a better paying job, for something part-time that is close enough so that I can actually manage to get to it in a timely fashion, or for some opportunity 'outside of the box' that may offer a bit of relief... but, so far I haven't had any luck at all.

At one point, we decided to start selling our belongings... only to find out that a). We aren't the only folks in the world, apparently, who are in the same position.. and they are selling the same type of crap as well... and b). Nobody seems to have the money to buy the stuff we are selling.

The only thing left to do is to keep 'driving on' and keep my eyes and ears open for a better opportunity.

I suppose that in the meantime, the best thing that I can do is to simply do the best that I can at using less... less food, less electricity, less gas, less everything.

There was a time when I could sell my artwork or craft-work to make whatever extra money that I needed when I was in a pinch - doing portraits, designing T-shirts, Tattoo Flash, embroidered emblems, and what have you... but, when everybody is being weighed down by the same burden, this is the sort of thing that gets pushed to the back burner; people just can't afford to spend money on 'extras'.

This past year has served to remind me, once again, that nothing is written in stone, and that any one of my friends or family can be ripped away from me without warning. This sobering thought simply solidifies my desire to live each day and each breath as though it were the last... and to treasure each and every moment that I have with those who share my life.

Although I don't have much in the way of material wealth, I am rich beyond measure... I have family and friends who love me, support me, and whose enduring presence bring me joy and happiness. I have a beautiful wife who loves me with all of her heart, and who I can count on to stand by my side in the face of anything that comes our way.. I am warm, fed, loved, and happy. I have more than most folks have, and considerably more than some poor souls will ever have in their lifetime.

I don't know what this year will have in store for me. Part of me looks forward in anticipation, while part of me shrinks back from what might be heading for me...

As for my hopes for 2008, I would like to;

  • Strengthen my body.
  • Deepen my spiritual practice.
  • Improve my financial circumstances.
  • Get my house in order - i.e. actually do many of the things that have been put off such as clean out the attic, and finish all of the unfinished projects that are laying around and collecting dust!
  • Pick up my chanter and my bagpipes once again, and practice! It has been so long since I have played them.. its kind of sad, actually.
  • Devote some time to artistic ventures - it has been so long since I have simply drawn, painted, or sculpted anything...
  • Spend more time wandering in the woods, along the beaches, and out under the sky!
  • Take photographs simply for the love of it!
  • Write - stories, poetry, what have you..

While I do enjoy the work at my job, it is becoming increasingly clearer to me that I cannot, most likely, manage to live on what I earn there. Not that I am being inundated with offers, but I am probably going to have to find some line of work that enable me to earn significantly more than I am earning now... or we are going to be in worse shape by the end of this year than we are today; I don't foresee the cost of living suddenly dropping.

It has been nearly a year since Myo-Shin (a nun in my monastic community) has passed away (it will be a year this coming February). Her husband is the Osho of our local Zen Center;

(Dictionary Tangent Begins Here)


(Japanese Zen term)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Look up 和尚 in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Oshō is the Japanese reading of the Chinese he shang (和尚), meaning a high-ranking Buddhist monk or highly virtuous Buddhist monk. It is also a respectful designation for Buddhist monks in general and may be used with the suffix -san. It is originally derived from the Sanskrit upadhyaya, meaning "master" in the sense of "teacher".

The two characters making up the word are actually pronounced oshō only in the Zen and Pure Land sects. For example, they are read kashō in the Tendai sect and wajō in the Shingon sect.

(Herendeth the Dictionary Tangent)

ANYway... it was in December of last year that he was ordained as an Osho, and it was upon his return from California (the headquarters of our Order in the U.S.) where he had gone to attend the Osho ordination ceremony that he learned that his wife was very ill. They had both gone to Los Angeles a week or so prior to the scheduled Ordination ceremony to attend a Monastic training retreat. When they returned to New York, Myo-Shin had what we all believed to be a cold or a flu. She was supposed to have accompanied him to attend the Ordination ceremony but elected not to go because she didn't feel up to it. What we did not know at the time was that she had less than two months left to live...

For a Zen Monk, Ordination as an Osho comes with two very difficult and important responsibilities; The first is to found a Temple. The second is to produce an 'heir' or protegé to whom the Osho can pass on his Zen Lineage (we trace our lineage of Teacher to student transmission all the way back to the historical Buddha - Shakyamuni Buddha; Siddhartha Gotama. ((My teacher is the 82nd in line counting from the Buddha through each of his successive disciples in this particular lineage, down to the present day.)) )

Due to the sudden and unexpected death of his wife, to whom he was married for 54 years, these responsibilities were set aside for the period of a year in order for him to mourn her passing, and so that he would be able to regain his center and re-establish some balance in his life. It was not deemed appropriate for him to make any major decisions or undertake any new ventures during this time period, so he spent the year traveling with his teacher and strengthening his practice and his understanding of Zen.

It is likely that once this period of mourning has passed, he will likely turn his attention towards establishing a temple here on Long Island. (Our Zendo is a room in his house, which he owns. A temple cannot be privately owned, but must be owned by the Rinzai Order). I am not sure what he will decide to do.. (i.e., leave things as they are, sell the house to the Rinzai Order, raise funds to purchase a property for the purpose of establishing a temple, or some other avenue...) but, whatever he decides to do, the bulk of the actual work will be done by his monks. If this comes to pass, we will definitely have our hands full!

He is nearly 70 years old, so I don't know whether this is something that he will be willing to tackle at this point. I suppose I will have to just wait and see.

In any case, I look forward to opportunities to alleviate some of our financial worries, to gatherings of our clan throughout the year; gatherings full of love and laughter! I look forward to thousands and thousands of hugs and kisses from by beautiful wife, to warm silky cats purring in my arms, to sunny spring mornings and to welcoming each new flower that wakes from its winter slumber... I look forward to hours of meditative silence, warm summer days, and many, many delicious meals that I will cook both for my wife, and for my order (I am the Tenzo - the Zen Gardener & Cook, whose responsibility it is to prepare delicious and nutritious meals for the monastic community and for our guests and lay practitioners). I look forward to all of the books that I will read, and all of the new things that I will learn. I look forward to each and every success and triumph - my own, and those of my family, my friends, and all of my acquaintances. I look forward to the feeling of freshness and possibility that each morning will bring... and to laying down at the end of a long day of work with my wife and holding her close to me as we drop off to sleep. I look forward to the laughter that we will share, and to connecting to people each day; reaffirming our shared humanity, and rejoicing in one another's presence.

A human life is a fleeting thing... it is like writing on the surface of water with a stick.. both coming into being and being destroyed simultaneously.. I want to be there, completely and unreservedly; for every single moment of my life; whatever it brings.

This year I hope to make each step that I take a soft, tranquil, loving kiss upon the earth, rather than running around planting strife and disquiet in a useless attempt to control everything that is happening around me... I want to reign in my mind's propensity to attach to everything that is whirling around me.. I want this year to be a year of calm joy in life.. I want to learn to be a better observer, and above all, a better listener.

Today is the first day of a whole new year. We have a blank canvas upon which we can paint whatever we desire.

Happy New Year everyone... I sincerely hope that this year will bring each and every one of you happiness, prosperity, joy and success.

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog, for reading what I put down here, and for touching my life, and allowing me to touch yours.

I feel as though many of you have become my friends. I haven't met any of you, but I have developed a great deal of affection for you; We may not share the same space, but we share what is in our minds and what is within our hearts. This seems to me to be the very measure of friendship - we see directly into one another, without being swayed or deluded by judgments based upon personal appearance, social status, or any of the other illusory barriers that we humans erect between ourselves and others. I enjoy reading your blogs, and when you write of your high points and your low points, I feel them with you. Many of you have made it a point to be supportive of me when I was having a rough time, and many of you have given me cause to laugh until my stomach hurt and tears were streaming down my face. Some of you have given me reason to cry when you have written of your pain. All of you have shared your lives with me in some way.

Thanks guys.. it makes me happy to know that you are out there, somewhere.. I hope we have a great 2008!