November 28, 2006

Wrong Bus

The other day, I got on the wrong bus. I know very well every bus in Lincoln does a loop around the downtown and past the state capitol, except for two, Number 1 and Number 24. All other busses make this loop, so I felt comfortable hopping on the Number 11 as I passed the bus stop, to let it take me the few blocks to home. Instead, it immediately turned onto the interstate and started heading in the exact opposite direction. “Oh well,” I shrugged, they all make a circle eventually.

I often wonder if I am riding the wrong bus. What Buddhism teaches often seems at odds with my goals. I spend my time working towards the future, always the future, always planning and scheming and hoping things will be better. I am certainly not in the present moment. Buddhism teaches that nirvana is now and that right now we truly have everything we need to be happy. I believe that, but sometimes it seems that if I were truly happy I would not be seeking change so ardently.

I think perhaps I am overcomplicating things. (A talent of mine.) Being happy with the present moment doesn’t mean I should do nothing. Pursuing my goals is part of my present moment. Surely I can do both, but the balance is precarious. It is not always easy to check my daydreams in favor of my real moments and sometimes I am so lost in now, usually when now is unpleasant and dispiriting, that I loose sight of the larger picture.

I have two choices in front of me and both seem to lead to the same future. I can stay with my job at the University and become a graduate assistant next summer, working on the same program all summer, transitioning into a leadership role, and taking the project in the direction I think it should go. The financial benefits are considerable and there is a high degree of certainty. Alternatively, I can leave this job in order to work on a project with Shambhala Mountain Center which will become my thesis (terminal project) and allow me to do exactly the in-depth research I really want to. The financial benefits are practically non-existent and the level of uncertainty is high.

Before the Shambhala design project, I would have felt that option number one was exactly what I wanted. Now, opportunities have presented themselves to bring together all the aspects of my education I felt were irreconcilable. I can fold Buddhism into my architecture and practice planning with social theory. I can explore everything I’ve wanted to. At least, I think I can.

The other day, I sat on the bus as it went its merry way wondering to myself if it really was going to end up where I thought it was. It was late, and there was a chance this was the last bus and it was heading back to the barn. Then I would have to call a cab to take me home, and that would cost money. No matter what choice I make, there is a chance it will take me places I didn’t plan on going and that it will cost more than I ever reckoned it would.

The other day, I sat on the bus and surely enough it took me exactly where I needed to be, even if the ride was long and traveled through unfamiliar territory.

November 20, 2006

Surreal Life

For a brief moment, everything around you which was previously familiar and comfortable seems new and unknown. It’s like flipping into the middle of a television show which you’ve never seen before. Or walking into someone else’s home for the first time. Except this is your home. It is a rare moment of clarity and curiosity when you see things without the baggage behind them. You see the furniture and the art without knowing where it came from, the colors without knowing why they were chosen, and the books on the shelves without knowing the reviews. And then the feeling is gone.

Yesterday, I went to see a movie sponsored by Nebraska Emerging Green Builders and the Flatwater Chapter U.S. Green Building Council. It was called “The End of Suburbia,” a documentary commentary on the error of American suburban lifestyle in the face of dwindling energy supplies. Without a doubt, it is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. Even if overly pessimistic, which I am not too sure it is, it paints a bleak picture. It makes me realize how artificial our lifestyle, my lifestyle, really is.

artificial – false – fake – mock – reproduction – non-natural – synthetic – simulated – imitation – man-made – pretend – insincere – contrived – feigned – hollow – surreal

The buildings in which we live are built in layers. The solid brick wall isn’t solid at all. It’s brick veneer with an air space behind it, flashing, concrete block, studs, insulation, drywall, and paint. That wall doesn’t even support the structure, which is depending on an invisible steel frame to hold up the floors and the roof. We never see the things which really make our buildings work, the structure, the ducts, the pipes. We cover them up and hide them.

In our homes we surround ourselves with things to keep us busy, so we can sit on our couches. I have a television, but just in case nothing good is showing, I have a VCR and a DVD player. I have a stereo so I can listen to the radio and a CD player when the music I want to listen to isn’t on the air. I have a computer with more music, dozens of different programs, and internet access. One of the most used functions of this powerful machine is solitaire. I have shelves full of books, novels, architecture, philosophy, mythology, history, city planning, interior design, cookbooks, and home reference. Some of them I haven’t even read, but I’m always looking for more when I’m at the book store. I have a telephone so I can call someone to chat if I’m bored.

There are so many options, so many choices, so many things. Human beings have built all of them. Beyond the objects are the games we play in our minds. Everything is so simple, but we insist on making it complex, only to help us realize it really is just that simple. Even the most complicated philosophy or religion can be summed up in a few sentences. Ironically, those sentences all tend to say the same things. Yet, thousands of years of discussion and writings have been done over and over again to help us ‘get it.’

Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream.

Life is but a dream.

November 14, 2006


Very early into my study of Buddhism, my friend found a book for me written by a woman named Geri Larkin who was a Zen priest. I enjoyed it. It was funny and thoughtful, but it didn’t really teach me much about the fundamentals of Buddhism. She spoke of mindfulness more than anything else. One of the mindfulness practices she engaged in was driving without the radio, keeping her mind fully engaged with the act of driving. I tried this and for about a year the radio in my car stayed off.

I’m not entirely sure if I was any more mindful in my driving, but when I finally turned the radio back on, I was much more mindful of the music. Since I don’t have the money to purchase CD’s or download music, my car radio is about my only source or new music. I realized how much I had missed this simple source of beauty in my life. I rarely drive my car, but when I do it is often to go to Omaha, about 50 miles away. I don’t mind the long drive hardly at all because I get to look forward to the beauty of the music.

The presence beauty is a strong motivation to be mindful; the trick is to see the beauty in everything.

November 09, 2006

Truth in Advertising

However inadvertently, American Express has just tickled me with one of their latest adds. They’ve been using Ellen Degeneress as their spokesperson and her adds are awfully funny, but the one that really gets me is the meditation one.

Picture Ellen sitting quietly by herself in some exotic location (which is actually a famous house in Hollywood) on a simple black meditation cushion. “Ahhh. Clear the mind. Mind clear………..I still can’t figure out how I got charges twice for those socks. That didn’t make sense. They would have to be pretty good socks to be individually priced. Although, they were argyle.”

And that’s about how it really works. You sit down with the best of intentions and clear your mind, silencing the constant mental monologue (usually by talking yourself into being quiet) and then two seconds later it’s back with nary a struggle. We hardly even notice it’s become so normal.

Someone at the American Express ad agency has obvious had conversations with the cushion.

November 07, 2006

Young Buddhists Unite

I am reading an anthology called “Buddha’s Apprentices.” Apparently, it is the second of its kind, following “Blue Jean Buddha.” It is really good. It is a collection of essays by young Buddhists, teenagers, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, and masters reflecting on their own youth. It includes writings from first and second generation Asian immigrants to America, children of western Buddhist parents, children of traditional Christian parents, minority American Buddhists, etc. It is really diverse but the one thing that seems universal in almost all the articles is the emphasis on human relationships – whether it is by the kid who started an online teenage Sangha or the woman who wanted to ordain as a Zen priest and have a baby at the same time or the immigrant Vietnamese monk who works with inner city youth. I highly recommend it to all Buddhists, old and young alike.
The similarities I find between myself and the authors are almost as important as the differences.