Abbot John and the Electronic Fairy

Abbot John
Abbot John

Good Morning Everyone,

In an effort to partially apologize while at the same time thoroughly explain my tardiness in writing, let me try to make an incredibly long story short, although that is generally an impossibility for me. During our entire time here in the Blue Ridge Mountains we have experienced very bad internet connection problems that border on the old Chinese torture method of death by a thousand cuts. So much so that in the last two months we have had the cable techs out here twice a week (on average) with no solution. Every piece of equipment has been replaced at least twice. Finally, during my last fit of exasperation my Zen sang froid boiled over and the old me returned as a kind of fume – one that made its presence felt at the local broadband HQ.

Only fools battle with ghostly presences, and they weren’t fools.  I won and they agreed to send me their “man” – the one who generally sits behind the curtain and is forced from his office of obscurity only under the most dire circumstance. My rant convinced them that this was one of those direst of circumstances. His name was Josh.  Josh arrived at our front door in an “unmarked car.” There was no Cable truck, no magnetic sign on his car door, and his uniform was nothing but blue jeans and a nice golf shirt.  Without making eye contact with me the first words out of his mouth were, “I don’t usually do this.”

I thought, “Oh boy, an idiot savant, our last chance at reconnecting to the world rest on these shoulders.”

This, despite what you may think, was a very positive expression, not negative as it may appear in isolation. I figured that every rational, reasonable solution had already been tried by the caravan of techs that had already been to our abode, and our salvation may indeed rely on more magical processes, processes this man may know better than most.

Josh was a commanding presence as he walked to the study where the modem, router and ingress lines feeding the house were installed. Josh said he had looked over all the tech reports and it was very strange. Our entire neighborhood showed on average one (1) data drop (his words) per month for the entire year with one exception. We were, of course, the exception. Our “data drops” were happening at an average rate of 677 per month and so far this month we had reached 315. If the average drop outs had been 11 less (666) I would have known there was a diabolical reason for it.

After showing us the data Josh took out his little meter and small tool set and began fiddling with every little wire and nut he could find. After finding absolutely nothing he looked up and said, “Electricity is a weird fairy like thing.” I gasped at the profundity of the thought.  I was still panting in anticipation of something or other, but then he walked outside. Dumbstruck I looked at my wife and was relieved to find that she was just as dumbstruck as I (a long marriage usually fosters this Mutual dumbstruction response) and we both just started laughing as we resigned ourselves to the fact that since most of our happiest days were in the 20th century, it wouldn’t be so bad going back in time and living there. A half hour later, just as we were approaching the Disco era, in walks Josh with a small connector and a small piece of wire in his hand.

“I think I’ve found the fairy weirdness,” Josh said as he brought us the evidence.

He showed me the very thin wire and said it was contaminated by what he thought were paint or insect droppings. I could barely see the wire so I took his word there was something contaminating it. Whatever it was he seemed thrilled to have found it, and he brightened up considerably. He replaced this and that and I could swear I heard him whistling while he worked. The story is getting long like I feared so I’ll cut to the chase.

Just as we were beginning the Lambada, we were jolted back into life among the virtual and, accordingly, were deluged with emails that had accumulated during the 21st Century . Be careful what you wish for…

At least we have been spared the plague. My god, that’s the first I’ve heard of that but as I’ve said, my “connection” to the world has been sporadic at best. So the Bubonic Plague is alive and well in the American Southwest.  The CDC or somebody like it says it would make a lousy bioterrorism weapon since it is so easily treated with penicillin.  Flagstaff had it, and Yosemite National Park had to close down a section where the dead animals with guilty fleas were located.

I will limit my hiking to the Appalachian Trail.

Speaking of life in the woods, and the Wabi Sabi existence that appeals to you of late,  I have often felt that the main stumbling block that Buddhists have to overcome in this country (and others in the West) is that lack of community that can act as a foundation of sorts when the spirit juices aren’t flowing as freely as we would like them to. It’s hard for a  Zen Buddhist to walk down the streets of his city or town in the grip of doubt or despair and not find himself propitiously standing by the entrance of a cathedral. Christianity is laid on thick, while the Zen community is spread so thin that is almost a veneer. It is doubly hard for us Western Buddhists since most of us came to Zen with some kind of suspicion about the ways we had been taught and indoctrinated in our youth. There is an almost innate wariness about the symbols and structures of the past that we rejected or redefined. Groups or loose confederations of Zen hermits or any kind of retreat from society requires us to build anew.  The question is how do we build anew, I suppose. Trust is the biggest issue.

Yet there was a gnawing sense that there must have been some reason to erect a communal palace on the pillars of the Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha. For a long time I believed two out of three ain’t bad. I could maintain some balance as long as I didn’t try to save the world.

In the end the only thing missing from our “usual” practice is the celebrations. And deep spiritual enlightenment is, if nothing else, highly celebratory. But celebration does imply celebrants doesn’t it? Yet even today, if we were to celebrate the Zen High Mass, I’d find it harder to imagine myself on the Lion’s throne than being the man in the corner smiling in a knowing sort of way (ha ha). In that sense I miss the Sangha and wish there was a way we could foster it. It is a laudable goal I agree.

The Sangha is where the stories are told, I suppose. Obviously the case with Buddha, inarguably the case with Jesus where Paul had the most successful blog of all time going on. I don’t know enough about Islam to say what happened with Mohammed and his boys but I rather suspect it to be the same.

I competed in a member tournament this weekend in which my partner and I won low net. During the two day event one of our competitors started talking about this Buddha guy (my reputation has a way of leaking out). One of our foursome was a retired army guy. He spoke up and said he put a statue of Buddha in his garden but his wife demanded that he get rid of it. I asked him why and he said because she told that the Buddha was this fat lazy guy who just rubbed his tummy and told everybody not to worry about anything. He asked me if that was true or not. I just laughed and said I suppose one could look at it that way but I thought it was a bit more nuanced.

I guess the moral of that story is…I wouldn’t even know where to start.

I don’t even know what a blog is for example.

Let me know what flesh is on the bones…

Abbot John

 

My honor is called loyalty

Abbot John
Author: Abbot John

I am not one to complain.  Confess!  Ming, have you ever heard me complain?  No.  I suppose that in a way I’ve been saving it up for the War with our Social Security Dictatorship. I have just endured the longest most drawn-out and somewhat subversive interchange with them. It is a story nearly impossible to tell because, this being The Union Undivided, everyone I’ve talked to has something similar in his memory vaults and none of them wants to revisit those memories and dredge up those feelings of complete and total helplessness. And who can blame them?

 

Let me give you the short version, and suffice it to say that I am still free, though for how long I cannot be sure.

 

I had to make 4, let me spell that for you, four, separate trips to the local SS office…  This is not some coincidentally odd set of initials.  They didn’t come by Schutzstaffel by chance.  Of course we must acknowledge that there is absolutely no similarity between the absolute efficiency and eagerness to serve of one, and the total lack of even indifference of the other.

 

My online application and “profile”  had to be deleted and re-entered – at the request of the SS agent I might add – and then due to the adding and deleting of the activity I was subsequently barred from accessing any information at their website and instructed to go the local office ——four (4) times— — where and when my identity was checked and verified and a print out of ALL online activity was displayed and then the all important and stupefying question of “Why did you delete your profile so many times?” Were they asking me what I was trying to hide?
I giggled, thinking I was letting them know I was aware and in on the joke. What the hell do I have to hide?  But the SS officer wasn’t in the mood to laugh.  He stared back at me and I realized he was actually anticipating an answer. I sat up straight in my chair and as calmly as I could, said, “You, or one just like you, told me to delete it, due to the problem of your site locking me out every time I tried to access my records.”
I could go on and on like this but I’ll just jump to the defining moment. Between the third and fourth visit I had a long and somewhat disturbing conversation with an SS agent on the phone in which my patience was finally exhausted. My Buddhist training was insufficient for the task at hand. Despite being thoroughly drilled in the idea that we are all sentient beings… you know, that Bodhisattva thing…  I was in the midst of absolute evidence to the contrary. I reverted to my Longshoreman training convinced that this language was more appropriate for the remainder of this particular conversation than anything sweetly intoned in a chant. I knew one thing: this SS guy was no Buddha.  After my short but colorful tirade, he had the audacity to say, “Sir, if you don’t stop using that language I’m afraid this conversation is over.”
“Sir, this English is the only fucking language I know.”

 

Click.

So went my days with the SS.
I wish all sentient beings may be saved from this official branch of Maras, but I regret that this is one eschatological task will have to be accomplished without my help.  As we used to say, “Adios, MF, YOYO.  The YOYO stands for You’re on your own.
It’s not entirely surprising that I spend most of my days talking to myself, and only to myself. It has only become worrisome in the last few months when I noticed that I’m beginning to laugh at my own jokes or to remind myself that I already told that one before, as well as question the validity of some of the stories I’m telling myself.
As I mentioned way back in April I’m about half way through the busiest part of my retirement year so far. We have been to Durham, where we visited my brother and took in a Dylan concert. The opening golf tournament has been completed. My sons both came down here for a week’s visit and together we went and have just returned from the first (never to be annual) Puetz reunion in Indiana.

 

In the past we have gotten together on rare occasions, a funeral or wedding or some other emergency, usually to alleviate the pain of one or the other…mostly to remind ourselves we are family or have been shamed into thinking we are. I have been discussing this with myself for weeks now.
I have a couple more short trips to the coast and one more trip to New Jersey coming up and then I can settle down and try and remember who I am. I will try to write something for our website. I have to admit I’m getting that old bug again… that feeling of sharing my wisdom with the world.  The way things are going (especially at the SS office) I think I’ve got to about November or thereabouts to be one of the still breathing wretched refuse crawling up our teeming shore.
I’ve taken my mind off world events lately. I’m sure a weekly read of the NY Times, a few magazines and a quick look at the nightly news will bring it all back home. Some fodder for the mental mill so to speak.  Oh! I forgot to mention. When we were back in Indiana I was surprised to hear that my mother, 87 and counting, has rejoined the Catholic church. There’s a bit of a story there, in an odd sort of way. My mother was raised in a very – and I mean very – lax Southern Baptist family, and when she married my dad she converted to Catholicism.

 

Religion was different back then.  Princess Margaret couldn’t marry a divorced guy.  People tended to regard marriage as some sort of sacrament.  There was no such thing as “My baby’s Mama.”  You get the picture. In order for my mother to marry into my dad’s family she had to convert to his faith;  and that was a more stringent process back then.  Today I believe the main requirement is that you have the payment for the facilities paid a week before the event.
When she divorced him she was excommunicated (at least that’s her story). She remarried and divorced and married again and divorced. The last one died, and then dad died, and I seem to be missing one… but nevertheless there she was, as they say, stranded without love. She felt terribly alone. This is small town America and it can get pretty lonely there. Dad’s brother, a Catholic priest, Father Richard, began communicating with her. I believe he’s 90 this year. One thing led to another and he got her into a small group of women that have lunch on certain days and see each other at Mass on Sunday. According to her, Father Richard “smoothed things over” as far as the powers that be in the Church were concerned; and she is proudly back in the fold. Her life now revolves around those small lunches and Sundays and is extremely grateful and happy for it.

 

In talking to her I began thinking about the purpose those “organized” religions can or could be. I must be mellowing in my own dotage. What people can and do believe has always intrigued me, as you well know, sometimes even to my own sad disadvantage. We were visiting the gravesite where dad is buried (his ashes in any case) and she said the strangest thing to me. “Johnny, promise me that when they bury me they make sure my eyes are pointing to the east.” I asked her why that was necessary and she said, “Because Jesus will come again and he will come from the east. He will come to restore my body with all his angels and I want to make sure I can see it when they come.”
I was taken aback. No matter what you may think of my ironic mindset, I assure you it did not come from my mother. She was dead serious, not an ounce of humor emanated out of her at that moment. Lord, the things we think about when the inevitable is but a short time away. I was very glad to hear that she was finding purpose and pleasure in her lunches and her renewed faith… and then this!   But, all in all, what did this matter? I suppose the atheists would decry this slippery slope and would advise a stern rebuff to set that woman straight!  But I just nodded and muttered something underneath my breath and started to walk away. She tugged my arm so I turned around and she had the hardest look in her eye and said, “Promise me”. So I did. Weird huh?
Your description of cleaning out years of photos and papers caused me to look around. I don’t have any…if you except all those damn IRS folders I’m forced to keep for ten years. It seems a little odd, maybe even strange. There is a lot of largely symbolic things around the house…Buddhas, gongs, paintings etc., but very few overtly personal items. Maybe I’m a serial killer or some weird psychopath. I hear they don’t have too many personal items. I’m also reminded of the old story of the footprints birds don’t leave in the sky.
I just completed a little survey and discovered we do have a few pictures. Besides my family including my grandson you are the only non-relative image in the house. If I were you I would either feel slightly honored or slightly scared. Take care of yourself.
The word “anyway” just popped into my brain so I guess that means I’m nearing the end of this little note.

Anyway, I’ll be in touch. Maybe with something printable, in the only language I know.

 

Recovering from a Vacation

Abbot John
Abbot John

 

I am still convalescing from my recent pleasure cruise. Everything outside my window is frostbitten.  I refuse to add my person to the scene, and since I cannot muster the will or the strength to crawl under the house to see if any pipes burst during the recent cold wave, I will wait and either get a whopping bill from the water company or my house may start to float away – with more ease than the cruise ship did.

As I sit here cogitating in my usual manner, I am stricken – if that is not too strong a word – by the lies we travelers tell ourselves.. We toss off such fabrications as, “I flew from Atlanta to Los Angeles,” and think that we have encapsulated the modern era’s efficiency.  Nobody confesses to the medieval problems experienced by getting to the Atlanta airport or what happens to the human soul after it touches down at LAX.

To give you a better idea of the route, let’s just say that as a North Carolinian starting a journey at Asheville, North Carolina did not seem a stretch. A straight line flight of 130 miles would take us to Charlotte, North Carolina, whence we would take another 1500 mile flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then transfer to a cruise ship.  With uncommon confidence  I prepared my shipboard togs… bathing suits and dinner jackets… the usual raiment for  a Zen Buddhist ex-abbot who is traveling in mufti. The good wife had already conjured up “outfits” that Mythbusters lacks the guts to challenge.

As to the sea cruise, the less I have to say about it the more I can protect my illusion of being a social being.  Let me simply confine myself to a few irresistible things about the easy lie of flying from one airport to another as if that had anything whatsoever to do with traveling.

The first little flight from Asheville to Charlotte was canceled due to bad weather, a fact about which we were notified during the night which meant that at 4 a.m. to make our Charlotte connection we had to drive a rented car over terrain that was too dangerous to fly over.  Think about it. Mountains, black ice, and other disconcerting things that go bump in the night.  A benign providence interceded, and the flight from Charlotte was delayed two hours so our struggle with the roads was not in vain.

Until I am more rested, I will not divulge details of the cruise.  Sticking to my topic – a difficult thing these days – I must reveal that the trip back was even more harrowing. Our flight from San Juan to Charlotte was delayed for so long that we were certain to miss our connection to the flight in Charlotte that would bring us back to Asheville.  By the grace of God (or the incompetence of airlines – however you want to look at it) the Charlotte flight had also been delayed which gave us an outside chance of making that connection.

When we finally arrived in Charlotte, we bolted off the plane to find that the plane to Asheville was on the exact other side of the airport (A to E to be exact) and if we ran we could possibly make it. Running has never been my most cherished activity and running with a 60 plus year old woman with Parkinson’s hardly even counts as a running activity. Nonetheless, there we were and off we went. About half way through our slow motion race, my good wife Nanci looked at me and said, “Go!  You can stop the plane for me. Just be yourself when you get there and they won’t leave me behind.” That was all the imprimatur I needed and off I went.

I reached terminal E gate 6 as they were just ending their calls and beginning to add stand-by passengers. I went to the little pulpit where they all stand and give out the orders about when you can get on board the plane to heaven and handed Saint Peter my ticket and began my slow explanation that we would have to wait another 5 minutes or so for my wife who would be right there as soon as the EMT’s got the oxygen mask off her.  This was the easy part.

Then another officious assistant to the keeper of the  Gates, hinted strongly that I was not entirely sane – not because of what I was saying but because his little goddam computer showed that my reservation was for the next day – not the present one. My boarding pass and my ticket itinerary showed otherwise, but he was resolute and told me to stand aside. Since Nanci had not yet arrived I did so pleasantly enough. She soon joined me off to the side of the bimah (switched nouns in deference to Nanci’s faith – for soon faith would be needed).

Nanci looked at me and noticed that something was not right: I wasn’t my usual jovial self. When she asked I shook my head and said “This attendant seems to think our tickets are for tomorrow’s flight.  We are asked to wait.” You can try to imagine what kind of thoughts were going through her head at that moment. She had just pushed and shoved and dragged her right leg through an entire airport only to arrive 24 hours early (according to the demon gate keeper). She started crying. That action, of course, aroused in me my latent Knight Lancelot – my chivalrous persona, my mission as a protector of innocents, and also a few of those rather well honed instincts developed from living on the streets for a certain period in my life. That last part took over.

I justify what happened next as simply a result of the cowardice of the chivalrous parts of my personality. Chivalry ran for cover when all hell broke loose. The entire frustrating week, from that first flight cancelation, to spending a week on water in what amounts to a huge shopping mall with a casino attached to it, to this final insult of technological insanity of having tickets and boarding passes printed from the same airline for a date that the same airline misprinted on the manifest.   After trying to speak rationally to the attendant who was barring us from boarding our flight, I decided on another tactic and challenged him to a duel. Risking airport security I put my dukes up.  Naturally I knew that it was obvious that I was a gentleman of social security age and that behind me, backing me up like Patton’s 3rd Army was a crippled Jewish-American Princess weeping piteously.  Contest?  There was no contest.  Ask Rommel.   The enemy threw down his paper weapon and handed us new boarding passes as we ran over him.  We chugged down the jetway, triumphant.  My peacock demeanor would have lasted all the way to Asheville had it not been for the strange sight that awaited me when I entered the plane.  Only half the seats were taken.  Sure… Nanci’s seat was fourteen rows behind mine… after all we were together.  But when the plane’s doors were shut, I was the only one sitting in my row.  And she was the only one sitting in hers.  This puzzled me. What was the point of that whole encounter with the Gate Keeper when there were plenty of seats available. What was the goddam point of all this?  What had I missed?   And then my victory over Satan’s minion soured during that short flight.  I had not won at all.  Our luggage was not on the plane.

There is a lesson in this, but as yet I have not discerned it.  When I do, I’ll let you know.  As it is I am immobilized by a subtle existential sadness that hovers over such situations.  My nerves are jangled and tightly strung.  No music is coming from the strings of my lute.

Maybe later..

Surrender to Retirement

Abbot John
Author: Abbot John

Retirement has not lived up to its billing.

I had said, “And if there’s anything you really need me for, just call,” thinking that nobody expects such a remark to be taken seriously. I was mulling this over as I drove north up the East Coast just before the great blizzard. I was still mulling on the way back from Jersey when I decided to switch trains of thought and began to formulate a magnificent essay on the problem of atheism, hubris, and arrogance. Its foundation swirled around Kant’s pure and practical reason with a splash of Karl Jaspers in the mix. After four hours of driving and fine tuning I hit the cloud cover and lost my train of thought. I’ve been trying to get it back for the last three days but alas I fear I’ve lost another opportunity to drive the sword of discrimination into the heart of the opaque. That’s how it goes here in the mountains. I spend a week or two in and around NYC and the cauldron begins to boil and bubble but by the time I hit the mists of the mountains I can’t get a fix on what the trouble was.

While I was in Jersey I managed to escape being volunteered to go to Louisiana where I once lived for a year or two. Maybe more. Time kind of gets away from you down there. I think it was the one time and place in my life I could have mutated into a serial killer, had I cared enough about anything to actually kill it. God it was hot and muggy down there. I do recall thinking that I had fallen madly in love. Being out on one of the ever-present balconies sets you up for that kind of thing. It’s kind of like losing track of your three year old in the mall. A kind of tunnel vision sets in and you get real focused real fast. So I recall the infatuation but not much else except the sweat.

At least my timing had been good for the Jersey trip. I got back on a Saturday night without incident. Every winter trip before this one has usually found me stuck on the top of some mountain ridge in a soup of watery foggy elements, reducing visibility to a minus 5 feet. This time I made it home with only one short delay at the Tennessee border where I hit the cloud cover and had a small wait to collect a bit of courage before proceeding. A little reflection, thinking about what a great life I’ve had, found me deciding that I’ve lived longer than I ever thought I would. This thought bolstered me and with a strong tightening of the sphincter muscle, off I went into the great white ocean of fog feeling a bit like Ahab except that I, of course, was trying to avoid the whale.

All of this cogitation made it necessary that I play golf in Myrtle Beach with a group of aging men and their unravelling dreams. Between the warp and woof I had time to return to the topic of atheism which invariably exasperates me. I don’t know how or why this recent vitriol about The UnBelievers has gotten so much attention. I suspect, though I haven’t verified, that it is a result of our post 9-11 phase where fundamentalist religious views are seen to be existential threats. I remember a time (maybe the early 80s or 90s) when the newest scientific theories were abundant with references to eastern metaphysical thinking. The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters come to mind. The authors spent a lot of time trying to explain the newest quantum mechanical theories using metaphors rife with age-old Hindu cosmologies. Suddenly those explanations fell out of favor only to be replaced by fundamentalist theories the tone of which was very angry. Everybody had an opinion.

Yes, it is true. A quantitative expansion results in a qualitative contraction. My cynicism bears witness to every media platform’s assertion: “Content is King.” Alas there is no content to the content. We deep thinkers are being driven underground by the avalanche of nothing and buried in the detritus. It used to be that originality always contained a hint of refinement, a certain distillation of that which came before. Nothing now but noise, the louder the noise the more originality is claimed for it. Is it even possible now to sit quietly in a room and let the vapors fall, as we play with the incredible aloneness the universe bestows for free. We are now all Borg.

Thoughts such as this are the inevitable result of driving through Jersey in the winter. It often reminds me of springtime in Berlin.

This brings me to the penultimate assault on my senses and the fallacy of retirement. In one way or another business traps the retiree. I was happy mulling things when I received some bankruptcy papers from an old client along with the request that I read them and either accept or decline the plan to pay off his debts to the company. Ninety pages of the most impossible slog that ca be imagined… what a talent these lawyers have for obfuscation, inveigling, and denial. Words, words, and more words… all these words and nothing was said. As a lawyer I would have been a natural.

In the midst of this I was asked by a brother in the Dharma to help him give a Dharma name to one of his new disciples. I didn’t know what to say. I’m more of a Shakespearean “what’s in a name” kind of guy. I don’t have much truck with names. Starting with my Roman Catholic system, from confirmation to seminary, through my Shaivistic and Zen lives I’ve collected a string of names like European royalty. I’m going to have to go for cremation or spend a lot of money for a big headstone to contain my moniker. If I remember correctly I’m now known as John Edmund Patrick Gavin Satya Das Yin Din Puetz. Ex-Abbot. The Chinese names are supposed to reveal something about a disciple’s personality or occupation. “What does the guy do?” I asked, and I was told that he was “an emotional and passionate lawyer.” Uh, oh. I shuffled the bankruptcy papers and suggested, “Howling Wind.” That didn’t go over too well so I digressed and asked, “Wasn’t some Zen sage called ‘Cold Mountain’ or was that a movie? Cold Iron Bound was a Dylan song.” As you can tell I had begun to free associate and ramble.

This led me into my last foray with the reality of retirement. I am certain now that my way is doomed to be Carlito’s Way. “Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in!”

In such a mood as this I tried to fill out all the paperwork regarding Social Security eligibility. More indecipherable legalese. I succeed in getting knocked off the government website twice and had government clerks hang up on me four different times. In my last call, after an hour of meaningless drek I was told by the clerk to change my language. I tried to tell her that English was the only fucking language I knew… but that didn’t fucking help. She disconnected the call and I am left having to go to the local government agency office in person and, while being on my best behavior, to make another attempt.

As I postscript I will add that one of the reasons I moved down here to retire was the great golf course that is situated nearby. It appears that the owner is losing money and wants to close it down so he can develop the land into condos etc. – unless we can come up with a plan to keep it open. What is meant by “a plan” is “come up with more money.” A meeting was scheduled and I was volunteered to attend as the members’ representative. The one who volunteered me obviously thought that being the reigning club champion I would actually care enough to do something about it. However, this gentleman failed to take into consideration my narcissistic view of history. What better thing than to be known as the last and forever reigning champion of High Vistas (ha ha). All conditional things are impermanent and all things are conditional things. This should be quite a meeting.

Gotta go. My wife is out in the garage screaming. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Abbot John

And after golf? Then what?

Abbot John
Abbot John

Salvation is in the air. We are going to make Zen relevant again. I’m all for it, although I do have a few nagging caveats when it comes to renewals. I’m not the man I was when I was twenty-five… but neither am I anybody else.

I look at Zen consuming itself in the fires of internet irrelevance and want to ask myself, “Would it be too much to ask that while Rome burns we just let Nero fiddle. Let him play his mediocre tunes with his fiddlesticks? And I answer, “Yes, it would.” I guess you could say that I didn’t come to praise Nero, but to bury him. (And if these aren’t fightin’ words, I don’t know what are.)

I’ve been fighting other religious battles, too. I would have responded sooner to our ZBOHY Call To Arms, but I just got back from a golf tournament (what else) in which we played for the Soul of North Carolina… I lost. At a crucial moment I was struck from behind by someone’s personal lord and savior. As a result, we watched par recede into infidel numbers.

But I did win my club’s championship and I cannot tell you how wonderful is it to have that assortment of North Carolinian Baptists now gather round the first tee to hear me chant: “Om namah Shiva yer, Om namah Sheev-eye.” Naturally, for my own protection, I play “drunken master” at the clubhouse.. It allows those I have offended to pass me off as either insane, at best, or drunk, at worst. I seem to have a better affect on the women than the men…save for one… and I married her.

It does appear that the world has gone to hell in a hand basket, but then again when doesn’t it appear that way? Some part of the world is always burning as religious zealots run around with torches, seeing what is flammable and what isn’t.

This retirement thing is an odd way to live. I’m not sure I would advise it as a lifestyle for everyone. I thought I would just sit back, play my guitar and watch that river flow. I quickly became surprised at how few songs I knew and to my great disappointment the river never flowed upstream. Having once been “out of time” and in no place I’m having a hard time resolving my “once upon a time” world to the one I now see.

The existential problem is different this time. There is no greater doubt than overcoming doubt, no greater faith than having none. I always remember that the Buddha once said he taught only The Path to the end of suffering, yet I constantly feel we gather in small rooms and talk a bit too bravely about the approaching storms. Winter is the horizon. Here in the mountains the trees do a lot creaking and even the dogs howl at the closeness of the moon. My finger may point at it and the dog’s tongue wag at it but there is no mistaking it. There is a grand forever out there yet we can’t seem to get out of the shit-house except in single file… it’ll take awhile to form a united front.

I have been keeping my focus sharp. There’s a pond just outside my window. I can encompass the entire surface without turning my head. There are thousands (if not millions) of midges, gnats, and bugs so small you can’t make out that they are there except they constantly hit the smooth surface and cause a three ripple wave. The pond is in constant motion as if being replenished with a gentle spring rain. I love that kind of rain, and when I first noticed it I walked outside to be cleansed by it. It was a surprise to learn there was no rain… just feeding time on the pond. On occasion a minnow or some bigger beast snatches one and causes a bigger splash. It disturbs the symmetry.

But there are always lessons I suppose, and it’s easy to understand that the bigger beasts are under the surface. Occasionally the midges have their revenge when the Blue Herron comes. She swoops in from out of nowhere and lands on the edges of that pond’s civilization. She stands completely still with eyes down as midges fall all around her then…with fantastic suddenness… her dagger beak thrusts straight through the surface into the nether world. And then her beak rises and points straight up. Something wiggles its way down to her gullet, and she turns like a slow motion ballerina and walks into the shade. Then the midges snicker as they keep falling like rain. For a little while there will be no more bigger splashes.

By now you can understand why I don’t write much about religious themes anymore. I lose track of things. My worlds get mixed up. My Maitreya Buddha is a Blue Herron standing in the shadows. And if Mike were still here he would be more supportive of my golfing expertise…after all he, comme moi, was not to the manor born, and it has been nothing but “the practice.” The Links as Temple; the White Cup as the Holy Grail.

And talking about Viagra… Nanci was cleaning out my golf bag the other day and found an elliptical blue pill in one of the pockets. She came into the kitchen with fierce eyes and hammered out; “What the hell are you doing with this? Don’t tell me you’re out there golfing all this time.”

I laughed and she got more furious, until I reached into the medicine cabinet and broke out my “almost full” bottle of 200mg Aleve, the “all day” medication for pain. Which I must say does look surprisingly like a Viagra pill (or so I’m told). She immediately mellowed out and her emotions went into an entirely different direction. I am constantly amazed at how similar anger, vengeance, and sex seem to be.

And lastly it is very, very good to hear from you all again. But where’s my Kenny? Has the world finally caught him despite all suggestions to the contrary? And the Serpent King Jeff and the Southern Tiger Je…ah what a motley crew. Life is a long and winding road.

Keep me in the loop with this new enterprise we’re forming. I may have a little left (with proper editing of course). Let’s talk about it. But beware, my perspective may have changed a bit. Bob Dylan in his 20s was not the same man in his late 60s but neither was he anybody else. Perhaps this little chorus illustrates it best:

“People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked up tight, I’m outta range
I used to care, but things have changed.”