Pasts Visit Us…

Memories seem to arise unbidden. A smell, a sight, an object, photo, artifact or music or a phrase or word can be the initiators of our minds then constructing a memory. Associations, real or imagined, old and dusty or sparkling new are then set into motion and we replay a fading copy of an old film, some are so old they’re in black and white and have no sound. We have memories from before we were born although we usually don’t see them as such.

Many pasts have been coming up for me in the form of memories that have scenes and stories and ‘stuff’ going on that relate to events that seemingly I experienced. What appears to be a new factor, or one I’m just now noticing is that the memories are distinctly tied in feelings.

Feelings that pertain in that they can still move or affect me right now, here in this time and place. A smile, a regret, a sorrow, a joy, etc; but now they seem to be the point of the memory. And, interestingly that is the basis of the word “Resentment”; Re-sentere, to feel again.

There are many judgements, false and real insights, opinions, beliefs, knowingness and complete or partial delusion that feed those feelings and the feelings feed all the above. A quite interesting cycle that is difficult to step out of and difficult to let go of. At least that is my observation and that is coupled with the fact that we can express ourselves without having to actually re-feel, the things we learned from.

Memories of loss and failure seem to be fewer just because the distance that old age gives our perspective, and memories of achievement and gain shrink to tiny specs because our current reality does not include a lot of hope or wishing, yet tends more to gratitude and acceptance.

Still I was completely twisted into huge confusion and anger recently and it felt like it had a life of its own and it seemed to be very difficult to see it as part of me and not something outside of me. That experience directed me into looking more closely at how the karma of the past is also the karma of the present, just a long string that has to play itself out. Somewhere, somehow.

If I participate and take responsibility for every thing I’ve ever set into motion and accept the fact that I am, as presently constituted, the result of every decision I have ever made in my life. Whether I knew I was making a decision or mistakenly thought I was being forced to be or to respond or react in a certain way, is not relevant.

I have to take full responsibility for all of my past, and here’s the good part. It’s not a burden, its an opportunity to let go.

Letting go is not unburdening, it is allowing things, all things, to come and go. To come. To go.

Responsibility starts with Right View, the first step of the Eighfold Noble Path. The only way I can change is to change how I do things and what I do. And, what I choose not to do, is equally important.

The doing of not doing is a

Way to see clearly in a murkey

Sea that some things need a

Little help and others a lot.

Get going and be still, is

My advice to me, for good.

North Beach Wisdom…

Late 70’s, North Beach area of San Francisco. I was a regular at a bar two door doors down from another bar that was very well known via the media as a North Beach joint with ‘atmosphere’ that was relatively safe during the daytime. The clientele were mostly locals who didn’t really get going ’til about 8:00 p.m. and then that place was less safe for non-regulars. The joint I’m talking about was safe after a fashion too but way more “gritty” in that most of the regulars there had streams of income that were not visible and the Montgomery Street crowd didn’t go there for color or the experience, they could tell it was not for ‘tourists’. It had no Decor, it was just a bar. One of the bartenders was a gifted pick-pocket, that we all loved to watch when he came out from behind the bar to check something out by the entrance and then steal some stockbrokers wallet as he made his way through the after-work crowd safely bunched close to the exit.

When that bartender returned to the bar (the whole routine took about a minute), he’d set up the house (buy drinks for everybody), so nobody would have to buy their next drink (or reach for their wallet). Live theater for the regulars and a free drink too.

I could go in there anytime between 6:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. or later, and never worry. I would put down my pack of Pall Malls on the bar and come and go throughout the day and a place would usually be open were I left my cigarettes, if not, out of courtesy they would be down at the business-end of the bar with my change and I could just get back to doing whatever it was that I was doing. It was not my second home. It was home. The bartenders and owner and any regulars there knew me but not necessarily what I did. Although for a few years I worked a couple of block away at the most famous bar and restaurant in San Francisco through the 70’s and 80’s, but that was a straight job, sort of.

One morning around ten o’clock, I was standing outside with Dino and Johnny just talking. Dino was a fixture, an old school North Beach guy maybe fifteen years older than me and Johnny went all the way back to the 30’s. He was pro-boxer in the late 30′ and 40’s. A real live character and touchy tough guy whose girlfriend was a famous Roller Derby Queen. Johnny had a very raspy voice from being punched in the throat when he was a pro-boxer and probably a few times out of the ring too. Anyway, as we’re standing there yacking I watched walking towards us one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen anywhere, movies or real life. She was stunning.

As she walked past us (3 guys standing in front of a bar at 10 a.m. with no visible means of support), I couldn’t help but turn my head and follow her progress in admiration and yearning. Then I heard Johnny’s voice croaking next to me saying “Somewhere there’s a guy that’s tired of her”.

I thought that’s just not possible; I was not yet 30 and still leaning into being a great fool, so I couldn’t appreciate the worldly though not cynical truth that Johnny was expressing. He was just being a natural teacher, because that’s how things are done in certain settings, neighborhoods and cultures.

I’ve got lots of stories about this and that and hope to start telling them in a more organized way and that’s just one about Johnny; most of the other ones I know about him I can’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t, so I probably won’t.

But I have seen and been part of a lot of different things and as I get old(er), I appreciate many aspects of having been a fool who was very lucky and still likes to yack to pass the time. That bar was full of really interesting people and I drank my way down into the gutter from there and then, stumbled into a new way of life. That’s another bunch of stories.

Oh, there were lots of poets, writers, directors,

Actors and singers and publishers and real-life

Philosophers sprinkled through the hustlers and

Whores and thieves and hijackers and bookies;

Cops, snitches, stand-up guys, and

Often one person would be two or three of the above.

It just depended on the day and what time it was.

twelve years ago…

Below is a blog post from 12 years ago and am experiencing similar currents passing through me and the same solution applies. Sometimes I just forget that; moment by moment, month by month and year by year, etc.

SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2009

It seems that the past is coming up in patterns that I didn’t expect at all. I get blindsided by my karma at times.

Some things that drove me into emotional despair as a younger man have reappeared and are jerking me around emotionally as much as they did when I was young.

What is particularly interesting is that even though I can filter these new/old feelings through meditation, as well as experience and see them for what they are; I can’t just wish them away. They have a tenacity that is startling.

So, the practice laid out in front of me is to go very carefully in exploring these feelings, letting them come and letting them go; to be still when they arise so that I don’t do or say anything that will cause discomfort to others. Sounds easy enough but so far has been rather painful to adhere to. Painful in the sense that there is suffering when not getting what one would like to have and generally thinking that the world is, all in all, rather unfair in springing youthful inclinations on me at this late-ish stage of my life.

Luckily I’ve had these experiences before. Just about the time I think that I’ve got a good grip an some aspect of my life that I’ve found troublesome in the past it crops up in a slightly different form. Nevertheless, the same.

That in fact is, I suspect, the basic teaching that may be arising here.

It’s taken a really long time for this collection of habits to have arrived at this particular time and place in this particular body, they can’t be just brushed off or ignored. They are asking for help (yet again), and seemingly the only help I can truly give is to be still and have the faith that stillness is sufficient to help move this from the problem realm into the solution realm. Consequently having more freedom to move forward from this very spot which, just moments ago, seemed so fixed and permanent.

P.S. May10, 2021 The three major aspects and causes of suffering that Buddhism points too, are Greed, Aversion and Delusion.

Yay! For us…

A common phrase I use and have heard many others use and seems ubiquitous in many conversations within ourselves or with others, friends or strangers. It’s often an attempt to describe the condition of not being able to understand some concept, activity, situation or personal hopes and fears and their mingling.

“I’m crazy.” is a rather bold statement to make and is often a bit over-the-top in relation to what’s really going on, but in general I see it as an assertion that something in my personal world (which includes all of The World), is making me uncomfortable, creating confusion, fear, doubt, worry or a dream-like quality in my life that seems apart from my usual understandings.

It is not a condemnation, rather an understanding that much of the time my view of the world does not comport with reality across a broad spectrum of potentials. Recently, I’ve come to an understanding with those words that has turned them into the beginnings of an actionable clarity. To see that the statement is the beginning of an ultimate compassionate diagnosis that my mind is often slightly askew; hence “I’m crazy.”

Gently whispered, not yelled.

I have the tools to look at things more clearly and assess the “problem” and see where help is needed or called for or if things should just be left alone. Most troubles of the mind heal by leaving them alone. Not discarding or dismissing but setting them gently down, not in anybodies way, and then letting them be.

After some time, our view about them changes, and that changes them.

For the last few weeks I’ve become somewhat overly concerned about the seeming rapidity of a cognitive diminuendo I’ve observed within my daily activities. That, coupled with a lot of old habits in thinking from when I was young, angry, fearful and prone to misunderstanding all of life returned with a vigor that was troubling because I had thought for some time now I was past all “that”, and had become a mellow Buddhisty kind of guy. Yet, there it was all coming back and I was troubled and thought, “I’m going crazy!” (a trifle loudly), and left it at that in an attempt at resignation in place of examination.

Then, a couple of days ago I got a message from a good friend asking me for some help/advice and perhaps zoom-time to discuss some real on-going health (physical and emotional) concerns, within the context of our Zen practice. I’m no teacher by a long shot, but I feel comfortable enough to talk about solutions that have worked for me, in the same way that I can talk to a recovering alcoholic about practical ways to approach that difficult process of actualizing (making real), change within one’s habits and world outlook. In both instances the answers are almost always practical things we can set into motion to put us into a better position to see the problem /issue more realistically.

I’ve been sober almost 38 years after having ended up in the gutter begging for 85 cents for a bottle of wine (Short-dog of Thunderbird), and with help I was able to access more help and then participate in myrecovery. Alcoholism, like most issues in life is a spiritual problem as well as a habit/addiction, and just the tip-of-the-iceberg once we get serious in matters spiritual and life-affirming.

What I realized, once again, as I was talking and texting/e-mailing with my friend that I was having a problem that would be helped with the same advice or thoughts that I was offering. I was actually talking to myself also and a clarity was glimmering as a sense of hope and it was all actionable.

In other words, I could move from the stuckness in Wrong View to seeing how I could actively participate and transform that slowly but surely, over the ensuing period of time, into Right View.

Nothing fancy, no big concepts. Just being aware of how the body and mind are reacting to the same feelings, thoughts, emotions and memories (some completely false), that used to move me into discomfort and trouble- resulting behaviors, responses and reactions to daily life when I was young and ‘out amongst em’. As a young man I’m the one who excluded me, cast me out, made me feel the outsider.

Nobody did that too me. If they did it was a response to my own choices/actions, not the Universe having me as little being to bat around with Its Paws just for fun.

So, it was just a re-hash of my old (younger)self that was re-appearing for more consideration to allow a deeper cleansing to take place, when I participate; and allowing (allow, allow, allow) things to find their own peace within my effort to not be moved but rather remain calm within unfolding of old karma.

It turns out that is my purpose in life. Not to sit around and ask why me? But to investigate why not me? I’m not special, nor is anyone else. Yes, we all have an opportunity to learn, re-learn and re-re- how to change by trying to be more still than not, and allow a natural process of continuous Good to arise within us at all times. The inherent willingness we all have to help others is intertwined with an innate ability to help ourselves simultaneously, maybe not even knowing we had needed or gotten help; probably an aspect of synchronicity etc.

Yay for Us, we’re not born to

Be condemned from the

Start. We come to

Life to learn How to Be

Kind, first to our selves

Then to others and All

Living things. All of

Them, and we are Part

Of that Too.

Yay! For Us.