Tuesday, June 30, 2009

from The Wisdom of No Escape

by Pema Chodron

In Taoism there's a famous saying that goes, "The Tao that can be spoken is not the ultimate Tao." Another way you could say that, although I've never seen it translated this way, is, "As soon as you begin to believe in something, then you can no longer see anything else." The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.

Holding on to beliefs limits our experiences of life. That doesn't mean that beliefs or ideas or thinking is a problem; the stubborn attitude of having to have things be a particular way, grasping on to our beliefs and thoughts, all these cause the problems. To put it simply, using your belief system this way creates a situation in which you choose to be blind instead of being able to see, to be deaf instead of being able to hear, to be dead rather than alive, asleep rather than awake.

"When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha" means that when you see that you're grasping or clinging to anything, whether conventionally it's called good or bad, make friends with that. Look into it. Get to know it completely and utterly. In that way it will let go of itself.

Seeing when you justify yourself and when you blame others is not a reason to criticize yourself, but actually an opportunity to recognize what all people do and how it imprisons us in a very limited perspective of this world. It's a chance to see that you're holding on to your interpretation of reality; it allows you to reflect that that's all it is--nothing more, nothing less: just your interpretation of reality.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


by Michael Palmer

Beneath the writing on the wall
is the writing it was designed

to obscure. The two together
form a third kind

There is no writing
on the wall's other side

Perhaps this lack
constitutes a fourth kind

Some of the writing on the wall
will be designated as truth

some as art

It is said to represent a mirror
of everyday life in its time

"Fabius Naso
talks through his asshole
and shits out his mouth"
for example

"Foute les Arabes"
for example

Certain words and images
or parts of images

have been chipped away
These often turn up for sale

at sidewalk stalls
before the walls

of other cities

I too have an image for sale
It's the image of a poem

and is to be found
on the reverse of this sheet

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

from The Wisdom of No Escape

by Pema Chodron

Our life's work is to use what we have been given to wake up. If there were two people who were exactly the same--same body, same speech, same mind, same mother, same father, same house, same food, everything the same--one of them could use what he has to wake up and the other could use it to become more resentful, bitter, and sour. It doesn't matter what you're given, whether it's physical deformity or enormous wealth or poverty, beauty or ugliness, mental stability or mental instability, life in the middle of a madhouse or life in the middle of a peaceful, silent desert. Whatever you're given can wake you up or put you to sleep. That's the challenge of now: What are you going to do with what you have already--your body, your speech, your mind?

Here's something that's very helpful to know about now. The biggest obstacle to taking a bigger perspective on life is that our emotions capture and blind us. The more sensitive we become to this, the more we realize that when we start getting angry or denigrating ourselves or craving things in a way that makes us feel miserable, we begin to shut down, shut out, as if we were sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon but we had put a big black bag over our heads.

Life's work is to wake up, to let the things that enter into the circle wake you up rather than put you to sleep. The only way to do this is to open, be curious, and develop some sense of sympathy for everything that comes along, to get to know its nature and let it teach you what it will. It's going to stick around until you learn your lesson, at any rate. You can leave your marriage, you can quit your job, you can only go where people are going to praise you, you can manipulate your world until you're blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as friendly, warmhearted companions on the path.


by Michael Palmer

The limit of the song is this
prelude to a journey to
the outer islands, the generative
sentence, waltz project, forms,
qualities, suns, moons, rings,
an inside-outside then
an outside-inside shaped
with her colored clays. The days
yet propose themselves
as self-evident, everything there
everything here
and you are reading
in a way natural to theatre
a set of instructions
that alters itself automatically
as you proceed west
from death to friendliness, the two
topics upon which you are allowed
to meditate
under the first broad drops
of rain. The planes
will be piloted by ancestors
who have come back to life.
Why the delay.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thinking about Socrates

"Perhaps someone might say, “Socrates, can you not go away from us and live quietly, without talking?” Now this is the hardest thing to make some of you believe. For if I say that such conduct would be disobedience to the god and that therefore I cannot keep quiet, you will think I am jesting and will not believe me; and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. This is as I say, gentlemen, but it is not easy to convince you."

Apology: The Examined Life

Because of his political associations with an earlier regime, the Athenian democracy put Socrates on trial, charging him with undermining state religion and corrupting young people. The speech he offered in his own defense, as reported in Plato's Apologhma (Apology), provides us with many reminders of the central features of Socrates's approach to philosophy and its relation to practical life.

Ironic Modesty:
Explaining his mission as a philosopher, Socrates reports an oracular message telling him that "No one is wiser than you." (Apology 21a) He then proceeds through a series of ironic descriptions of his efforts to disprove the oracle by conversing with notable Athenians who must surely be wiser. In each case, however, Socrates concludes that he has a kind of wisdom that each of them lacks: namely, an open awareness of his own ignorance.

Questioning Habit:
The goal of Socratic interrogation, then, is to help individuals to achieve genuine self-knowledge, even if it often turns out to be negative in character. As his cross-examination of Meletus shows, Socrates means to turn the methods of the Sophists inside-out, using logical nit-picking to expose (rather than to create) illusions about reality. If the method rarely succeeds with interlocutors, it can nevertheless be effectively internalized as a dialectical mode of reasoning in an effort to understand everything.

Devotion to Truth:
Even after he has been convicted by the jury, Socrates declines to abandon his pursuit of the truth in all matters. Refusing to accept exile from Athens or a commitment to silence as his penalty, he maintains that public discussion of the great issues of life and virtue is a necessary part of any valuable human life. "The unexamined life is not worth living." (Apology 38a) Socrates would rather die than give up philosophy, and the jury seems happy to grant him that wish.

Dispassionate Reason:
Even when the jury has sentenced him to death, Socrates calmly delivers his final public words, a speculation about what the future holds. Disclaiming any certainty about the fate of a human being after death, he nevertheless expresses a continued confidence in the power of reason, which he has exhibited (while the jury has not). Who really wins will remain unclear.

Plato's dramatic picture of a man willing to face death rather than abandoning his commitment to philosophical inquiry offers up Socrates as a model for all future philosophers. Perhaps few of us are presented with the same stark choice between philosophy and death, but all of us are daily faced with opportunities to decide between convenient conventionality and our devotion to truth and reason. How we choose determines whether we, like Socrates, deserve to call our lives philosophical.

from philosophypages.com

Sunday, June 14, 2009

more Pema Chodron

from When Things Fall Apart

Having read this on more than one occasion, still, one always learns again and anew, upon going back, listening, reading again, about oneself, about the world, about presence.


What makes maitri (loving-kindness) such a different approach is that we are not trying to solve a problem. We are not striving to make pain go away or to become a better person. In fact, we are giving up control altogether and letting concepts and ideals fall apart.

The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves. Yet it's never too late or too early to practice loving-kindness. It's as if we had a terminal disease but might live for quite a while. Not knowing how much time we have left, we might begin to think it was important to make friends with ourselves and others in the remaining hours, months, or years.
It is said that we can't attain enlightenment, let alone feel contentment and joy, without seeing who we are and what we do, without seeing our patterns and our habits. This is called maitri--developing loving-kindness and an unconditional friendship with ourselves.

Our personal demons come in many guises. We experience them as shame, as jealousy, as abandonment, as rage. They are anything that makes us so uncomfortable that we continually run away.
We do the big escape: we act out, say something, slam a door, hit someone, or throw a pot as a way of not facing what's happening in our hearts. Or we shove the feelings under and somehow deaden the pain. We can spend our whole lives escaping from the monsters of our minds.

All over the world, people are so caught in running that they forget to take advantage of the beauty around them. We become so accustomed to speeding ahead that we rob ourselves of joy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

from When Things Fall Apart

by Pema Chodron

In the teachings of Buddhism, we hear about egolessness. It sounds difficult to grasp: what are they talking about, anyway? When the teachings are about neurosis, however, we feel right at home. That's something we really understand. But egolessness? When we reach our limit, if we aspire to know that place fully--which is to say that we aspire to neither indulge nor repress--a hardness in us will dissolve. We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises--the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear. When it's not solidified in one direction or another, that very energy pierces us to the heart, and it opens us. This is the discovery of egolessness. It's when all our usual schemes fall apart. Reaching our limit is like finding a doorway to sanity and the unconditional goodness of humanity, rather than meeting an obstacle or a punishment.

We might think, as we become more open, that it's going to take bigger catastrophes for us to reach our limit. The interesting thing is that, as we open more and more, it's the big ones that wake us up and the little things that catch us off guard. However, no matter what the size, color, or shape is, the point is still to lean toward the discomfort of life and see it clearly rather than to protect ourselves from it.

"This very moment is the perfect teacher, and it's always with us" is really a most profound instruction. Just seeing what's going on--that's the teaching right there. We can be with what's happening and not dissociate.

Awakeness is found in our pleasure and our pain, our confusion and our wisdom, available in each moment of our weird, unfathomable, ordinary everyday lives.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

berlin wall 2009

history spaced across moments suspended
or a movement of color
shading every emotion
lines drawn across
tie together the complications
how one human can hurt another
how many destroy millions
sontag says this is what humans are capable of
and we see it, study the images
of brutality

transformed here
a material space both of history
and a living present, changing

away from popular tourist destinations
just this structure
along the water
next to a bridge

new artists paint over history
never forget
keep moving in every direction

this is what humans are capable of
new lines drawn
in color
paint a composition of chords

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Music in Berlin

She was playing in the plaza outside the national library, and near the memorial to the nazi book burning that happened in 1933. The memorial is basically a window on the ground, that you can walk on, and through which you can look down and see a room full of empty bookshelves.