Author Archives: Helmut

Somewhere there’s a…

For some reason this story has popped up for me about six or seven times in the last few months. It has a small relevancy to my daily life in Buddhist training and it’s just a good story, I’ve got lots of them, some of them a bit Truer than others but all of them true.
So, back in the mid-70’s I was standing on the sidewalk in front of a North Beach bar in San Francisco (The Columbus Cafe on Green Street), with three other guys because we were outside to have little more privacy in our conversation.
I was in my late twenties, two of the guys were in their forties and one in his 60’s. The guy in his sixties was named Johnny Fazano, he had been a boxer in the 1930’s and early 40’s and had about 80 Pro fights, and who knows how many “smokers” he may have boxed in. Smokers, are fights that can take place in a hotel room, a basement, some small arena in the country, or any place with room and no Professional sanctioning, usually for a purse that’s determined by how many guys are in the various fights and how much was put up by various backers for an array of cash prizes.
(Dean Martin was a boxer in his youth and made money boxing in smokers, before his singing career was being formed, he was the only real tough guy in the “Rat-pack”. I digress.)
Johnny was a feisty, angry, old school tough-guy who spent many hours in that bar and played a lot of cards at the back table, often arguing with somebody about something. Interestingly, in that bar there was another guy named Johnny Fazano, same name different part of Italy, who was the exact opposite in demeanor and behavior from this one. What are the odds? Super low that’s what!
Anyway, there’s the four of us out front, maybe 11:00 a.m., and a woman walks past us coming from Grant St. heading towards Columbus Ave. and she’s one of those people that you see maybe a dozen times in your life or the movies, she was stunningly beautiful in dress, carriage and looks. My head turned as she walked by and followed her path and my little Yearning Dream Engine was in high rpm’s.
Johnny Fazano’s raspy voice (He’d been punched in the throat many times in his boxing career and later too), came to my ear as he said, “Somewhere there’s a guy that’s tired of her!”, mildly caustic but not demeaning and I thought; Impossible!!
Here was a neighborhood guy talking to a No-show-Longshoreman who carried a .45, and the best thief/pick-pocket/bartender in North Beach, and me; Sharing some insight into several of the basic teachings of the Buddha and the Street. Everything changes.
My lifestyle/attitude in those days precluded my living as a Buddhist, but like everybody in North Beach I had read enough noise about Buddhism to be attracted to it, you know like a standard bar-stool intellectual. (Little did I know then, like now).
Johnny, in those days was spending time with a famous San Francisco personality who had made a name for herself in Roller Derby on a national level and he was for sure someone who had been around the block many times. It was actually a kindness this guy was doing when he made that observation. He was putting out some good basic observation/teaching about life and how to look at it in a bigger picture way, and that maybe one could actually suffer less by thinking things through, on the spot; not afterwards.
He of course, had many ways of increasing his own suffering and that of others through all the aspects of his anger and in some areas he obviously had some insight; whether he actually applied those insights to himself, was I presume, probably on a case-by-case basis, and it was a good teaching. I thought; “What the hell would you know about it, old man?”
Now that I’m older than Johnny was then, it’s fair for me to ask myself if I’ve learned anything from all the good teaching I got on the streets and later in the Sangha.
I’m certain I have and yet I still harbor a lot of the younger ‘me’ and apply what I’ve learned on a case-by-case basis, and that’s a sort of wisdom since all situations vary.
I still have unrequited yearnings arise, but I see the pattern and have a place for them. I still think, “what the hell do you know about it?” way too often and I occasionally wish there were some elegant way out of standing on the street, shooting the breeze and wishing I were “elsewhere”. Or, at least, There!

My ideas about this and

That are based on them,

Those, this and why and

When. Also how, should

Gonna and wish. I would,

Could, and then, I see;

Oh, yeah! A dream also

Forgetting. Now, I

Remember! It is never

Too late or too soon.

It just is as It is.

Gone, yesterday.

Clouds of Knowing…

It has been a very interesting period of time from Spring to Summer in my personal and spiritual life and I’m grateful for all the pain and confusion that has arisen. I knew, as it was all appearing that there was something moving internally and old karma was presenting itself for my consideration and help. As is usually the case the only real help I can give in these times is to try and stay within myself and not react in ways that create more karma.

Once again exploring, as if they were all new; old habits, attitudes, feelings and presumptions under a fresh light that seems to have just arrived to help me see more clearly. Not ‘way more’ clearly, just different and cleaner and renewed contextually.

Right, I’m not sure that explains anything but I’m still groping for descriptions and they may not be necessary at all or ever.

Anyway, here I sit experiencing a brightness that bodes well. It’s easier to accept this than some of the things that were “coming up” recently. The freshness includes an acceptance of the actual aging process and mental diminution that I was noticing and saw with worry, fear and a “nowhere-to-hide” type of resignation.

Something has changed and everything is still very familiar, but a little different. A new ease seems to be appearing. Some of my outlook changes have come through people entering my life and a reappraisal and understanding, on my part, of those already in it. Gratitude is what it appears as, and there may be more.

I am also more appreciative of this venue to just practice formulating very stray and diverse thinkings. I’m pretty sure no one is reading this, or ever will, but I am having a sort of organized conversation with myself and that’s a big improvement.

So, gratitude for a new and gentler caring, and allowing, having entered my life.

The things I Know often

Cloud the that, which

I don’t know, which

may be Good for

me to learn. i.e.

“As long as I don’t

Aim, I don’t miss.

Thank you once

Again, Ryokan.

Talking with friend…

In a conversation with a friend this morning I found myself in the usual position of offering my take on an observation about daily life, and realizing simultaneously, that I was actually talking to myself. I was saying something about the resolutions we all make to change some aspect of our life, in this case regarding an over-all plan for directional change; I realized what I was offering was advice that I would do well to apply to myself. And, the advice I was offering was eminently do-able.

Start by changing my big plan into a little plan that I can do now.

If I want to explore the potentials that my current ideas are pointing out to me, then why don’t I start by taking the time right now, to arrange a moment today, for me to sit down and compose myself and try to gather inward and be still enough to see, if I can state the situation, problem or hope in the form of a question. The simpler the better.

It seems paramount to first ask. Why? What is my motive?

That is a complex question and needs to be addressed as to why am I engaged in a process to make myself feel better? Isn’t all desire for change based on dissatisfaction with the current moment of state of affairs, health, wealth, etc?

In that frame of exploration I put into motion a process that tends more towards awareness than mere satisfaction, or the old standby of change-for-the sake-of-change. Just sitting still regularly gives us about all we can handle regarding the unrelenting and sometime torrential fact of everything changing, even when we least want it too.

Yes, we end up in deep territory when we openly explore our wanting something that’s better than what we have; and we can also end up in new territory where we can see further and clearer than ever before.

Not a bad spot to be in if we want to explore our future plans, hopes and designs from a more realistic and truer place.

So, slowing down and examining our present seems a sound foundation for looking towards the future, which we can’t examine as such, yet a sense of our truer place in the wider array of things seems helpful and somewhat practical and difficult.

Going carefully means also knowing where we’ve been and not being stuck there.

If I do not know where

I have been there is no

Way to know where I

Am going. Nor the

Reason why.

The path I am on

Does provide a clue,

Going slowly and

Seeing where I step,

A path is just a Way

With a Where and Why?

A process, not Event.

This. Here. Now…what?

An interesting couple of months for me with my time and how I choose to spend it.

A steady gathering in of various fragments of my self that seem to be the most persistent and need help and attentiveness that only I can give.

Care fully. Care less.

Care Fully. Caring less.

Carefully and careless are two words that could be used in the place of some other “opposites” that can be troublesome when seen through stand-alone observations about the basic natures of perception, being, doing and all activities that set things or processes into motion.

Some things are set into motion that result in largely good/positive outcomes and some other combinations of things may result in bad/negative outcomes. The original intention may not provide the desired effect.

To be careful is a deliberate act (or refraining) that partakes of intention, will, willingness and effort to accomplish helpful tending towards the good, but not necessarily so, results.

To be careless is to be generally unaware or un-concerned as to results of activities or intentions tending towards obstacle creation, intention sidetracked or needful things undone; but not necessarily so.

‘Good’ can be readily associated with being careful and ‘Not-So-Good’ can readily be seen as the result of being careless.

What I prefer in this way of looking at Good and Not-Good is that both ways of stating these outcomes, or conditions, tend to describe the results of action, doing or setting into motion, i.e. choices made before acting.

Karma is also the word used for setting anything into motion. Whatever the intention, the results may vary, and those results may leave vestiges, residues, a fragrance, or stink, behind that will be felt, seen, smelled, incorporated or appear later elsewhere; as feelings or tendencies in other beings, situations or forms (lives).

So, being careful has far reaching consequences from a spiritual and practical point of view, and conversely being careless is a main contributor to all the variety of feelings and situations we experience as humans. We do have choices, although we may not be aware of them and don’t even know we are being careless.

I’ve become more aware of these choices as part of my aging process and have reconstituted a simple method of bringing myself to awareness during the day or night, as needed or just when I remember to do it, It’s never out of place or time. These are the four words I’m currently finding vey helpful.

This! As I sit or want to collect myself a bit I say (inwardly usually) this word to remind me of my body, my mind, my ability to look and see myself and to increase my awareness of my place in the world of things.

Here! The place or situation of where This is and the setting and feelings and availability of choices that This has.

Now! A sense of being in the ever-changing flow of space and time, and that the flow of it all is the only thing that matters. This, can’t stay Here, or Now.

What? Is this activity. What is good to know. What is good to do.

I am willing

Please help

Me to see

That there Is

A way at my

Feet in all


a strategic withdrawal…

I yelled at some poor dithering and confused old coot to ‘Shut the fuck up and sit down!”, at a noon meeting I go to. He was interrupting my flow of wisdom as I was sharing on a topic which I can’t remember, but was probably something like “Peace and Ease Within”. It didn’t feel good to do something like that to someone else who is trying to stay sober and has long-term sobriety and is just another old guy at the meetings who is starting to unravel a bit at the ends. Like certain parties of the first part.

So, I needed some spiritual belt-tightening; I’ve had other signs of that need in the previously, yet decided I could coast my way through; i.e. neglect the basics and presume achievement. Yay! Verily what mortal Schnooks and Schmoes we be!

So, I went to the Monastery where I took my ordination as a lay Buddhist thirty years ago and the Sangha within which I’d been training in Soto Zen for a bit longer than that.

Refuge. The Three Refuges of The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha.

12 Steps and Zen, a combination I’ve been practicing in tandem and am deeply grateful for. Still, I forget. I misplace, neglect and presume, and then, I suffer and cause others discomfort and suffering. At some point, usually sooner than later, I get back to the basics and find my real way back again. To the person that wants to change for the benefit of all beings, that wants to help, not improve, rather than hinder or bind.

I drove through the gates and joined the community of Monks for two weeks as a visitor and worked, ate, slept and meditated and participated in all activities according to the daily schedule. Reciting and doing the ceremonies and recitations that go back 2,500 years to the time of the Buddha. Watching the monks, many of whom have been training there for 30, 40 even 50 years; day in and day out doing the quiet difficult work of transforming their lives and ways of being for them selves and for all others.

The principles of Buddhism and 12-Step recovery are based on doing and participating in learning how to “be” different, not think different, but change how one does things, and over time the thinking changes. In both setting one learns how to live one’s way into another way of being, rather trying to just think one’s way into another way of living.

As my memory and mind are starting to make mistakes in perception and “…where the hell was I going?”, some things remain familiar. I can sit quietly, and I can participate in practicing these principles in all my affairs (as a goal:).

I can be still within

Turbulence and discomfort.

I can put my hands

Together; look up and

Ask for guidance.

May I Know what is good to know.

May I Do what is good to do.

Please help!