Thursday, August 28, 2008


In Japan "oyaji" jokes are simple lame jokes made by old men. I'd like to find a book about them since I am so good at making them- my cleverest jokes are always unintentional.

I saw a video of Thich Nhat Hanh doing walking meditation with over a thousand people on the UCLA campus. Walking meditation, what a pompous sounding label, it's really just slow walking, like you were looking for a lost earing. But that's part of the whole idea- paying close attention not only to the environment around you but also the simple action of walking. You know walking is not only a great way to measure a distance (you've heard of pacing off a distance, right?) but it is also a great way to measure time.

Let me backtrack a little... A few years ago I tried sitting meditation for about a month then wrote it off as a waste of my time. For anyone who seriously tries to meditate, meditate alone that is, one of the challenges is to know when to stop meditating. You lose all sense of the passage of time during sitting meditation. So, I bought a vibrating alarm clock to, as unobtrusively as possible, let me know when I have finished meditating for the time I set aside to do it. This is why walking meditation is so much better- if you know your speed and distance, then you know how long you've been meditating, no clocks needed. So if you see me walking like a zombie or as if I had dropped my car keys somewhere, you'll know what I'm doing.

In humor research circles, it has been proposed that laughter is our response to the moment we understand an incongruity between a concept and the actual situation it relates to. (It's a good thing I don't have to explain this every time I try to make a joke.) In my job, I need to develop a rapport with my clients, and being funny is the method that works best with the majority of them. Some people really enjoy the attention that being funny gets them. Let me rephrase that, there are times when we all want attention, even if they are only few and far between. At my work, getting attention is the only way to coordinate a large group of people. Get ready to laugh, or groan, or a little of both.

I hate information. I eschew all forms of news. But no matter how I try it always breaches my defenses and I learn about the outside world. What's going on? I could care less. But when I am driving home after work for half an hour I need something to keep me awake. So I turn on the radio. Thank God for Clear Channel radio stations! Their mindlessly repetitive popular songs with no sense or actual resemblance to anything like music are completely devoid of intelligence. All I need to do is turn the volume up so loud that the speakers rattle and I am doze free the whole ride home.

I love my kids. They are wonderful. My daughter is so cute, she has no limits to her creativity. The other day we were listening to Afro-Pop on NPR and dancing in the living room. She picks up a plastic brontosaurus toy and moves it rhythmically to the music, then says through her pacifier "dinosaur dance!" Wow. I love the way those two everyday words sound together, she really brings them to life.

I don't like jokes. They are cheap, and like belly buttons, everyone's got one. But, and this is a big but, they are a better social lubricant than alcohol.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A speech by Kabat-Zinn

I tried to wrap my head around a few ideas that were once inspirational. This morning I watched an online video of Thich Nhat Hanh, then a related video of Jon Kabat-Zinn describing Mindfulness to a room full of Google employees. Hahn and Kabat-Zinn are easy targets for criticism, quite honestly, and I have a few points I'd like to level at them. But Jon Kabat-Zinn makes a good polished presentation and it is hard not to like the guy after hearing him. His speech is liberally laced with anecdotal references. At one point (15:45 in the video) he gives a humorous, though very illustrative, anecdote when he quotes an old teacher who while meditating says through broken English as he slowly exhales "Who am I?... Don't know..." And he is not afraid to use self depreciation to remove any defenses people put up in the face of strange ideas. At one point (36:24) he begins to speak about awareness in somewhat flowery language, then adds "and not in any grandiose new age bullshit kind of way". I was reminded of Janwillem Van de Wetering, who during an interview (6:00 in the audio recording) described the monks he stayed with while in Japan as a bunch of wise guys. He actually liked them quite a bit.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

contrasting perspectives

Faced with finite resources, what do you do? You hoard. Jump into action and get as much as you possibly can. This aspect of human nature has been demonstrated many times, and described as the concept of scarcity in economics.

Faced with unlimited possibility, what do you do? Nothing.

My reasoning may be imperfect, but it seems to me that Buddhists are leaning towards the side of infinite possibility. Thich Nhat Hanh on the subject, from a selection I originally posted in 2005-09-15:

The Third Door of Liberation is aimlessness, apranihita. There is nothing to do, nothing to realize, no program, no agenda. This is the Buddhist teaching about eschatology. Does the rose have to do something? No, the purpose of a rose is to be a rose. Your purpose is to be yourself. You don't have to run anywhere to become someone else... There is no need to put anything in front of us and run after it. We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become... Be yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. ...there is "nothing to attain." ...enlightenment is already in us. We don't have to search anywhere. We don't need a purpose or goal... We are at peace in the present moment, just seeing the sunlight streaming through our window or hearing the sound of the rain... Aimlessness and nirvana are one... The practice of apranihita, aimlessness, is the practice of freedom.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

dealing with discomfort

I came across this quote on a webpage a while back, and recalled it recently.
"The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there's no place for it in the endeavor of science."
-- Carl Sagan
So what should one do with them? If they are relevant to any discussion, talk about them. But what really made me remember the quote was when I thought about feelings (sensations), not ideas. The word mindfulness comes to mind, as a way to deal with changes in life that aren't always anticipated or welcomed. Life is a process of change, the better you are at working with it, the better your quality of life will be.