What’s Really Getting Trampled Here?

I’m not sure whether I was more amused or outraged by a story from BBC yesterday. Yes, yes, I know it’s strange to get your political news from the BBC, but since NPR seems to have taken several steps to the right, I’ve been getting more and more of my news from foreign sources. Just like I’ve watched more of the Olympics on the Canadian Broadcast System than on NBC.

Anyway, you need to take a look at this rather amusing article about why the Republican mayor of NY City decided that protests against the upcoming Republican Convention must be prevented.

Turns out that the Republicans are more concerned that the grass might get trampled than that people’s First Amendment Rights are being trampled.

How ironic that a party that has plundered the environment to benefit corporations should suddenly be so concerned about the quality of the grass in Central Park. Are they afraid that the grass won’t be able to counter the effects of acid rain from coal plants if it gets trampled on by thousands of protestors? Or is it simply that they know so little about the enviroment that they think the grass would be permanently damaged by environmental protestors?

Or, is this just another attempt by the Republicans to obscure their motives, to preserve their “good name” by once again calling a spade just an upside down heart. You’ve got to give them credit, the Conservatives have certainly mastered the fine art of shoveling it deep.

The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Book Two, Gathas

Red Pine’s note that the focus of Book Two:Gathas is “less personal and more instructional” probably helps to explain why I didn’t like the poems in this section quite as much as the poems in the first section. Still, there were a number of poems that I did like.

My favorite selection was actually a series of ten poems beginning with “Below High Cliffs.” Here’s my favorite from that series:

Below high cliffs
I don’t dress up my body
I eat roots and wear plants
my socks are hemp my shoes are sedge
dense bamboo shades my windows
thick moss covers the steps in front
desires die in the quiet
cares disappear it’s so still

The Chin River flows from Maoshan northwest into the Yangtze at Nanking and parallels the route between Nanking and Huchou. In number 68 of his Zen Talks, Stonehouse refers to Pinghu’a Fuytsan Temple as Lake Temple. Here, however, the reference must be to Huchou’s Wanshou Temple on Tao-changshan, where Storehouse lived for a time with his teacher, Chi-an. The last line recalls choangtzU: “Though he has a body, he doesn’t harm his mind” (6. 1 a).

Perhaps I like this poem even more than I normally would because I am feeling rather stressed at the moment. It’s a reminder that we can forget our cares if we work at simplifying our lives and quieting our desires.

Certainly much of the stress in our lives is self-made. We want so many things that we drive ourselves crazy longing for them as if they will somehow complete us, and once again make us whole. How strange when we actually get them we are no longer interested in them and find ourselves wishing for something new.

Another favorite poem in this section is:

11 Autumn on the Chin River Road

Everywhere the west wind rains down leaves
chance led me back to Lake Temple’s shelter
among those I knew how many remain
of a thousand worldly cares not one of them is real
all of life’s turmoil turns out to be a dream
clearly every harvest depends upon the seed
knowing this truth has helped make me free
I’ve never followed those who harm their minds

Obviously I haven’t mastered my mind nearly to the extent that Stonehouse has because, no matter how hard I try, I can’t convince my mind that “life’s turmoil turns out to be a dream,” though it often appears so when looking back at events.

However, I’m sure that my body would appreciate it if I were able to hold steady to this idea. I’m convinced that too often stress can defeat the very actions we try to take to resolve perceived “problems,” and at the very least makes it harder than it needs to be to address and solve problems.

Learning to Live with Who You Are

I’d like to think that now that I’m retired and have little to do in my life that I’ve managed to escape stress and its effects, but apparently I’d be wrong.

Lately I’ve been suffering from a rather painful case of
pompholyx, something I haven’t suffered from in nearly fifteen years.

I long suffered a mild case of pompholyx on my feet, an ailment aggravated by my fondness for long hikes. I simply learned to live with it, a small price to pay for how much I enjoyed the hikes.

It’s one thing to have heat blisters on your feet, it’s something quite different to have them on your hands. Having your hands break out in a rash can be nearly debilitating, making it nearly impossible to complete physical tasks.

Strangely, I vividly remember the first time I suffered an attack of pompholyx. It was a hot summer day and I was trying to tile a bathroom for the first time. I was having trouble getting numerous small tiles to line up with each other. In the middle of laying the floor I received a phone call from a union leader who told me that the superintendent of our school district was trying to fire a vice-principal who was a good friend of mine, the result of a long-term power struggle between administrators and teachers in the district.

After the phone call, I went back to tiling since there was little I could do right then to solve the problem, and, besides, the cement mix was rapidly setting up. When I finally finished the job hours later and peeled off the heavy duty rubber gloves, my hands were covered with a mass of small “heat blisters” that itched and oozed a clear liquid when I was foolish enough to scratch them. A few days later the skin over the blisters started peeling off, exposing a raw mass of nerves.

It took a cortisone shot and two weeks of treatment with a steroid cream before I was able to function semi-normally, and the rash reoccurred with a frightening regularity for many years afterward. I really don’t remember when the rash finally disappeared long enough that I could forget that I had ever suffered from it. I suspect it was a while after that superintendent had been dismissed, my ex-wife had moved to Bellevue, and my stress levels had fallen to those of a normal high school teacher.

Perhaps, then it’s not entirely coincidental that this rash should suddenly reappear in the middle of the summer while working on this house. I tend to be a “perfectionist” while still wanting things done quickly, not necessarily a good combination.

I’ve been living in this house a year now and as long as I wasn’t responsible for the way things looked, I’ve been able to live with the house as it is, barely. Once I started working on it, though, all the things I’ve disliked about it became painfully obvious.

When you know how things “should be done” and you want things to be done “the way they should be done,” it’s stressful when you realize how poorly they’ve been done even in a relatively “expensive” house. It’s frustrating when you realize contractors have cut corners to save a dollar here and a dollar there, only to end up costing you thousands of dollars later when you try to fix them after the fact.

The point, of course, isn’t that contractors are too often con-artists who use cheap, inferior products to give the appearance of quality, but, rather, how does one keep one’s expectations from causing unnecessary and debilitating stress? How can apparently positive characteristics that make others admire your work turn on you so easily and undermine your very health?

After all the years of reading and meditating, why is it so easy to give in to life-long traits that are so counter productive and are guaranteed to create greater problems than the problems that they confront?

Time’s Tyranny

Despite being retired and relatively free to do whatever I want to do, once again I find that Time’s demands cannot entirely be ignored, perhaps proof that old habits die hard.

Lately, between Leslie’s urgings and my own feeling that I should get more done, I’ve felt the need to finally get started on some long-standing projects around the house.

I suspect that for me the real motivation is the “end-of-summer” syndrome, a feeling that overwhelmed me for nearly thirty years of teaching. This syndrome, in turn, was probably an extension of a far older rhythm, that of the procrastinator, a personality that operates more effectively under the pressure of deadlines, real or imaginary, than in open-ended schedules where little seems to get done.

Without deadlines, I’m generally a “dabbler,” far more interested in the process of what I’m doing than in actually completing something. I have far too many former “projects” lying around than I’d ever care to admit, particularly since I also pride myself on being frugal and self-reliant.

Our current project is to re-paint and, perhaps, re-furnish our bedroom, though I’m more interested in the repainting than the refinishing. If I hadn’t spent most of my time in the bedroom sleeping with my eyes closed, the room would have been refinished long before now. The former owners painted most of the room a sickly pink, except for one wall poorly covered in rose-filled wallpaper that was lifting at the edges.

We knew when we moved in that we couldn’t live with that room, but we had other priorities, particularly solving storage problems so that I could actually get at my tools buried in the garage. Unfortunatelly, the garage is still mainly a storage area, not a working shop, but as our one-year anniversary in our home approached and summer drew to a close, we felt an increasing urgency to refinish the room. We moved furniture out of the room and finally started steaming wall paper off the walls last weekend. As of today, we’ve nearly finished the room, and all that’s left to do is to touch up the line dividing the walls from the ceiling, a little more than an hour of work.

We still have to buy new shades and decide whether or not we will replace the bed with a king or queen size bed. Personally, I’d prefer to stick with the old bed, but that’s probably because I made it nearly fifteen years ago from some beautiful walnut lumber I had and from old flooring that I salvaged from a gym floor. It supports the futon that I bought after my first divorce and slept on on the floor until my daughter complained, thus motivating me to make three beds that summer.

After sleeping in a king-size bed while on vacation, I realized that my long-standing arguments against buying a bigger bed were probably unfounded. It turned out that both Leslie and I slept sounder in the larger bed. Go figure. Though I’m not willing to spend my money on a new bed, I guess I’d be willing to throw away the old bed if Leslie wants to replace it.