See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Morning


About 5:30 a.m., I realize it's time to get out of bed. I have my Human rogue over in Night Elf territory now, and I have time to check out a quest I didn't run across with the Night Elf warrior (who's been resting now for a couple of weeks), down in the Barrens, then it's off back to Stormwind and Ironforge. The game is calling me; it waits patiently, taking up 10.7 gigs on my C drive...

But damn, it's Tuesday. All realms are down for maintenance, like every other Tuesday, during these morning hours. No satisfaction for my addiction. What to do now?

I could sit extra zazen, but the NZC's Tuesday night meeting is tonight, and there's an hour of it there waiting for me. Zen is tricky around these holidays. Most of the Buddhists I know are really closet Christians, just waiting to turn the life of Buddha into the story of the Sweet Baby Jesus. They go softer and fuzzier now, even more than usual. I usually don't like to lead these meetings; all the talk seems cheap and just somehow wrong after I sit, it cranks the argumentative mind up, and there's never anything even close to the mark. But now I'm starting to see I need to, occasionally, if for nothing else other than provide a little beans, rice and hot sauce to counter all the sugar they'll get otherwise.

There are practices, you know, that can help you deal with life better. Zazen can give you whole new levels of awareness, if you let it. As strange as it seems to say, embedded as it is in a religion, Buddhism, which teaches the doctrine of no-self, it empowers you. Or just gives you access to a bigger you, which is more powerful. Zen, truly practiced, is not, as some say, the giving up of preferences. That just makes you a dweeb. It is the ability to truly choose among preferences. To realize they are preferences, and to embrace them as you will. To become a true individual, because the substrate truly is the one you make. Am I clear? No? See how words fail.

Because there are practices, you know, that are good for you. But religions, religions suck.

Religions are for people who need to be told a story because they are afraid to write their own. They need to think someone is in control. They need to be reassured. Whereas, in this day and age, that's the last thing you need, until and unless you're about to die and hell then, why not? But if you truly want to be able to have a life, to bear with its horrors in the coming, truly Apocalyptic age (see?), you really just need to be able to see the truth. Then you choose.

And of course these next few days, it's Christmas. Actually, I like Christmas. It's a holiday everywhere, in every culture; the fact that the various followers of the Desert God, like all other godlings, have named it after their own obsession, means nothing. The Solstice is the Solstice -- the darkness before the dawn. Even when the dawn comes bleary-eyed, tired and dying. Hell, it's still morning.

So have a good holiday. Forget about the coming madness for a few days; don't worry if there's no presents this year. If you're old enough to read this, you remember when mankind reached its peak. Take solace in your loved ones, if you have them. They'll be more important to you when all your shit is gone. Someday they'll be gone, too. And someday you come down to the raw bone of existence.

But take my advice; try not to do it today. It's Christmas. Read something good. Listen to your favorite music. Then get ready to tuck in your shirttails; the shit is about to hit the fan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Adoration of the Rufi


Everybody had a good year.
Everybody had a hard time.
Everybody had a wet dream.
Everybody saw the sun shine.

Everybody had a good year.
Everybody let their hair down.
Everybody pulled their socks up.
Everybody put their foot down.

- John Lennon, from "I've Got a Feeling"


















Ms. Johnson, we will always remember.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Between Worlds: The Waking Dream


Sometimes a dream is just a dream. Sometimes, as when I fought for sleep with a brain desperately trying to clear of toxins, just a couple of weeks ago, a dream is a bridge between worlds. On that night, I looked at a door in the wall above me, where my window should have been; I opened that door and stepped into a world more real than the one where I lay, conscious the whole time that I travelled between existences in the guise, the vehicle of a dream. In that place, the laws of physics were different, even the animals and the landscapes were different, but the people just as real, and they knew me better than anyone in the place I had left. On that night, I stepped back and forth through the door several times, and to this day I envy my other self who resides there even now.

Perhaps, as Neal Stephenson's characters in his latest and possibly best novel Anathem speculate, all philosophies are true and every existence which can or cannot be conceived is just as real and existent as the next; or perhaps each realm is the noumenon of the next, in an endless egg puzzle. Soldiers inside of soldiers inside of soldiers. Having seen the real nature of dreams and of the self, one sees that each mind flows into the next, and that with the barriers relaxed -- the limitations which designate and create our existence -- one mind becomes another, and all things do indeed become not only possible, but necessary and true.


And the problem of other beings is inherently solved; all beings exist because I think they do -- not in the delusion of solipsism, but in the arbitrary constructionism of the limiting mind, empowered by the disease of Logos. Did my mother indeed speak fluent German, or was that just a bleed-through from my father's separate reality? My own past speculations about the differences between the animals we eat and our pets, led me to the realization that all personalities, including the human ones, of ourselves and others, are ones we create for use in the moment. They need have no independent existence.

The next time you have that sense of unreality, relax into the realization that the present moment is indeed unreal -- a bubble in the stream, as the Lotus Sutra tell us. Yet that unreality is just as real as any other possibility.


So it is that in a better world, though not in the one in which I write, I attended last week's Rohatsu sesshin in Atlanta, where all my favorite Zen people were. And perhaps my friends travelled between worlds in their icy zendo, as I did earlier in my bed of fever, and I was with them and also touched all things. And the Rufi with whom I spent my evenings typing, are just as real as those friends, and Ms. Johnson still critiques my writings after Gnu reads to her from The Cat Who Loved Christmas. And those two beautiful women in whose company I killed monsters play their own MMPORG in which the characters are accountants and bill collectors and mindless drones who fail to appreciate their own existence, and thus mine.

And in the endless zazen which is my job in Hell for now, I wait to re-enter the stream. And re-enter we must, for that, if nothing else, is the essential ground of existence: that all things are true, and real, and permeable, and to move between them without effort is to become God. And when one breathes, he is released.



Top to bottom: Kwanyin, level 25 Night Elf Warrior; Michael Elliston, Jonathon Sodos, Tim Goodson, Gareth Young; Gnu Rufus, Deuce Rufus and HR1, with pets; Hallgerd, level 12 Human Rogue, with baby blizzard bear.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Jim Lydecker Guest Blog: Recession and the Lessons of History


I'm gonna put up another of Jim's pieces this morning, since mine are serving mostly to draw fire from the Politically Correct, the humorless and the over-sensitive. This post is pretty calm and mainstream for Jim.

I have to start with an addendum. His opening quote is a variation of Santayana's "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I like Santayana. On a Buddhist (?)note, he also said "There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval." Oh, and "Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim."

But I'll shut up now. Enjoy the piece.



“If we do not remember history, then we are destined to repeat it.”

Everyone has heard this oft-repeated quote and it fits in perfectly with today’s state of the economy and the choice of our next president.

Let me explain.

Recently I’ve finished a book by Stephen Duncombe and Andrew Mattson (“The Bobbed Hair bandit”) about the 1920s from the post-war recession in 1920 to the 1929 collapse. Remembering we had a severe recession beginning in 1990 that began to turn around in 1993, you can interchange the ‘20s with ‘90s below:

“By the end of 1923, things were looking a bit better in the working-class neighborhood areas. Production increased which meant more jobs and products to spend wages on.Outstripping the advances of workers’ wages was the striking increase in their material aspirations. Americans were buying into ‘the good life.’ The creation of this market was helped by the expansion of easy credit allowing the working class to live like the middle class, the middle class to ape the upper, and the upper class to inhabit the stratosphere.”

Duncombe and Mattson then say:

“‘Just Charge It!’ advised advertisements as credit was available for the smallest to largest consumer items … ‘Has our country gone installment mad?’ wondered the New York Herald in 1924, arguing that ‘buying on credit has gripped every class in proportion to income.’ With easy credit, American consumers, corporations and financial institutions were building fantastic lives on mountains of debt.”

Of course, we know what happened as the Roaring Twenties became the Great Depression. The ease for people to live beyond their means with easy credit was a significant cause.

Sound familiar?

FDR swept into office with a mandate. He called for change and beat Herbert Hoover who represented more of the same. In this sense 1932 was a blueprint for 2008. The biggest issue in both elections was the economy.

In the ‘20s, both the stock markets and finance industries were unregulated. This is the reason most economists attribute to the collapse. In his first cabinet meeting, Roosevelt spoke of placing regulations on the very businesses that ran amok under greed without control. Such regulatory agencies as Securities and Exchange Commission were born, which made FDR the scourge of businesses, banks and corporations.

However, since Reagan those very regulations put in place to prevent another depression have been under assault and removed from one administration to the next. “Let the buyer/consumer beware!” has been the mantra as markets have been allowed to police themselves. This was like getting rid of the watchdog and allowing the foxes into the hen house.

Another similarity from then is the huge disparity of wealth. The only time more wealth was concentrated in the hands of the upper class as it was during the ‘20s has been from 1996 on. We know what happened in the 20s with the massive transference of wealth to the upper class. The middle class was wiped out and America walked off an economic cliff.

History tells us how we got back on track.FDR insisted, was getting money back into the hands of the middle class by transferring it from the upper class. This was done through taxes that ran as high as 90 percent on those who made more than $1.5 million annually. The result of this made FDR the enemy of the Mellons, Carnegies, Rockefellers and other old-wealth families who felt this taxation was nothing more than the theft of their money.

And this brings us back to the presidential election of 2008.

Barack Obama made it an issue to bring back the regulatory agencies and the necessary regulations that were removed over the past 28 years. Obama will put teeth back in the watchdog. And while Obama campaigned promising to redistribute the wealth, John McCain promised to “not be that guy who is going to spread the wealth around.” My answer to McCain was always, who do you want to be? The guy who takes the remaining 20 percent controlled by the lower 90 percent of the population and transfers it to the upper 10 percent who now control 80 percent of the nation’s wealth? Do you want be the guy who continues to believe in trickle-down economics, a theory that most proponents now reject? The theory was first used in the ‘20s under Hoover and raised its head again under Reagan.

Our nation has always had a progressive tax structure and the rich need to pay more to help level the playing field. There are those who say the rich already pay over 50 percent of the taxes.

They should: They own much more than that of the nation’s wealth.

The wealthy will pay more taxes under Obama. This is definitely not the change they hoped for. What no one hopes for, however, is history to give us another Great Depression.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jukkai Ceremony, Nov. 15, 2008


To see all of Nat's slideshow: Go hither.

If you'd like to join us, let us know.















Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Begin Again, Every Moment


Yesterday was my 51st birthday; I've just begun my 52nd year of life. There's nothing that significant about 51; it's just another in a long line of anniversaries I never thought I'd see, when I was younger.

50, of course, was significant; last year, it was for me, a very relaxing event, the unexpected entry into a stage of life in which I'm much more comfortable in my own skin. Or maybe it was my Zen practice; that and my life are inseparable, at this point.

For those of you who have been following, I'm more comfortable in my new job, as of yesterday -- realizing that I may be in a better position than some, with the economy long gone South. So really for me, it's just time to relax, take a deep breath, and surf existence.

And thanks again, to the men and women of the Nashville Zen Center, and to Abbott Michael Elliston of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, for another redeeming weekend. When everything else seems to be falling apart, I now at last have a sangha to keep my energies up and my faith in myself renewed, which is something I never had before. And I'm proud of us; the NZC was a collapsing structure on a path with no heart when I walked into it four years ago. Now it's found direction, some much-needed new blood, and enough minds with a common focus to be something worth fighting for. What was one of many nest of Bullshit Buddhism has become (with some flaws and reversions, warts and all) a place and a resource for those who truly want to accept reality. I am at last able, with some degree of comfort, to direct those seeking a softer way, and an assurance that they will have eternal live in some eternal, compassionate, mindful Bodhisattva moment -- elsewhere.

No more Nashville Buddhist Festival bullshit. This is it. You've hit the wall, the final moment. No softly mumbling Teacher is gonna save you now. Grab your ass with both hands and hold on.

I am reassured by the national elections. Even if we go down the tubes, having saner hands at the controls, is better. It appears to me that Obama is a bit soft on the appeasement of traitors -- the Bush people need to be prosecuted, Joe Lieberman needs to be on the street. But we'll see. If this country ever needed a purge...

And I'm relaxing into aspects of myself that I never knew existed. Zen (and hence, life) is not about changing oneself into some idealized version. The teachers who will hold that carrot out to you are liars. Zen and life are about Zen and life -- right here, right now, as it is. Deal with it.

I've also managed to scrape some very shallow people off my shoe. Big loss. New flash: If someone who pretends to be your friend terminates your friendship because they don't share your opinions, they were never your friend. You were being used, for something. Let them go.

By the way, the pic above is of the ASZC Abbot, Michael Elliston, showing me how to wear a robe. Hmmmmm.....

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Brief Statement of Intent


In these brown days, I almost gave up these Ratzaz Diaries. As recently as yesterday morning, I thought about putting up a post that the Ratzaz Diaires were in remission indefinitely. Considering the reception that my "Saga" post of October 26 got, I suddenly wondered if it were indeed worthwhile exposing my thoughts to the world, as I so carelessly do here. And it's not just that; as the world spirals down toward the Greater Depression and I approach my fifty-first birthday, I feel more and more that I'm shouting into the Wilderness.

But then again, I need to worry less about this blog's impact on its few readers, and realize that I do it for myself. Here, if in few other places, I can expound things which are meaningful to me, and thereby try to keep myself a bit of sanity in a world which increasingly lacks it.

And yes, if you couldn't tell from the "Behind Enemy Lines" post, my day-to-day situation is not workable, barely tolerable. I really shouldn't have taken this stupid and pointless job. I have a feeling it'll end of its own accord, about which I'll have mixed feelings. I just realize how rare it is to be hired, period, in this day and age. But eight hours a day of living in a Kafka novel (or maybe Solzhenitsyn) does not contribute to my mood.

I really don't like to explain myself, but I'm going to a bit, with regard to that Oct. 26 post, and the last one. I thought I had laid down the preamble pretty well in the "Zen for the West" and "Blood" posts, but people just hear what they want to hear, read what they want to read.

A couple of readers, surely not most of you, took my posting of the first Saga video and my comments as some sort of statement of a Neo-Nazi ideology, which anyone who knows me, knows is ludicrous. What I meant should have been evident from the preceding posts. But let me just state this: I am not racist, in the normal sense of the word. Hey, I voted for Obama. I just think that all cultures, including mine, have a right to exist, and to preserve their own integrity. And if they want to blend, that's fine. But I think people ought to be able to preserve their own heritage, no matter what that is. And we live in a society in which the preservation of all cultures except that of Northern Europeans, is encouraged. I want to preserve mine, too, but not at the expense of others.

What I don't think is necessary is the compacting of all cultures together into a sort of hodge-podge in which no one has any cultural identity. When I sit down to eat a steak dinner, with a salad and a baked potato, a glass of tea and perhaps a slice of pie, I take a bite of each in turn, usually, savoring the individual flavors and the way they complement each other. I don't put them all in a blender first and hit "puree." For me, that would be less satisfying. If you want to eat that way, go ahead, just don't make me do it.

But our society, particularly in the U.S., has been conditioned by the disease of Political Correctness, not to see what exists, but to see the stereotype laid down by the PC creators, a fairly unconscious entity over a course of years. That conditioning is part of the educational system, especially at the upper levels, and then some people choose only peers who reinforce their own systemic point of view, so that they all think the same -- if you call that thinking!

But let me be more explicit: I am a lifelong Democrat. I preferred Hillary Clinton to Obama, because of her proven competence and the way she could have hit the ground running with Bill's people, and I am a huge fan of Bill Clinton. However, I voted for Barack Obama (what sane person could have done otherwise, in this year of all years?), and I am impressed with what I see so far. Because what we need in a President right now is competence, and Obama shows all signs of having that. I hope I'm right, because the next four years are going to be the bitch of all bitches.

As to other issues: I am not only not prejudiced against, but strongly in favor of, most of the peoples and cultures the Neo-Nazi's abhor. I think most (especially northern) Asians and Jews have a cultural background superior in most ways to mine. I think in many ways this makes them more "intelligent," in the functional sense. Likewise, gays; in fact, if everyone were gay, our world would be in a much better place. No doubt about that.

Because genetically, we're all about the same. All the differences are cultural. I like some cultures better than others; I think some have been better preserved than others, and the values of those cultures are going to help the people who share them, through hard times, far more than the homogenized non-culture of the American street. If that belief is a thoughtcrime, I'm guilty.

I note that most of the responses to the first Saga post were made not on the Blog, as truly courageous critics would have done, but were announced to my email list. Two of them, Tanya and Mark, are people who should've known better. I would never normally give the name of someone who responds to me personally about the blog, but these two decided to use their names in making their rabid announcements to my email list, and thus made themselves public. Tanya's more hurtful comments were made privately, but she did publicly ask to be removed from the list. Mark's public comments deserve a public rebuttal, which I don't want to take the space to do in this entry, which was supposed to be brief. But I will take the time, soon.

There were supporters. I'll quote one of the more perceptive ones, anonymously: A most unfortunate response from some of your readers, though you obviously expected some of this. What struck me was the two most visible responses were more about the perception of others of the individuals concerned than about anything to do with the subject matter – even though I don’t know them at all, and have no interest in their views.

Thanks. You would think, wouldn't you, that supposedly educated people would know what 'ad hominum' means.

And thanks to the others, particularly to the one old friend of mine who commented on the blog itself, albeit anonymously. I wish we lived in a world in which people were free to express unpopular, non-PC views, without fear of reprisals. Obviously, we don't. We do indeed live in a world in which "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." I'm doing my best to reverse that trend.

More later, for those of you who choose to continue on the journey with me.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

More Saga: "The Nation's Fate"

This is a positively wonderful album; I had to buy a copy from Sweden, because the U.S. is pc-censored. If you'd like one, contact me!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Behind Enemy Lines

Break down. Sweat.
Blacker than black.
Can't take it one more day.
I am a leader of no one into nothing;
Can't take it one more day.

I can't go back to that place even one more time,
But how do I buy you your cheese?
Go down to the ocean,
Let the sun bleach my bones dry,
But how do I buy you your cheese?

When nothing's worth saving, I try very hard to save nothing.
I do not believe in believing but believing is all.

Broken down, sweat-wrapt,
Coffin to live in.
Can't go to that place even one more time.
No one to talk with, no human crying,
Can't move one muscle, one bone.

Fear is a chemical, love an illusion.
But how do I buy you your cheese,
Without going out to the world I can't live in,
The place I can't go to even one more time?

Stare into darkness, no moving, no crying,
Maybe one little tear, make sure no one sees.
Because I'm the dark one, here behind enemy lines,
Who's just got to buy you your cheese.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lou Reed's Berlin


In 1973, Lou Reed released his masterpiece: Berlin, a concept album about the sadness, desolation, lust and ultimate loss of a doomed couple in Berlin. The album was a commercial failure, and he never performed it live until his neighbor, director Julian Schnabel, recently convinced him to perform it as a piece, live with an incredible backup band featuring some of the best musicians who have played with Lou over the last 35 years, in, of course, New York. With the addition of interpretive films of the work's heroine, Caroline, the film is a powerful performance piece demonstrating the true and deep nature of Reed's art.

I started getting serious in music about age 12, and by 15 or so was disgusted with the direction music had gone. Looking for more, I discovered David Bowie, and I bought Lou Reed's Transformer album because Bowie produced it. Now, as I'm sure I don't have to remind you, Reed was the main singer/songwriter of the pivotal Velvet Underground. What the Grateful Dead were to Bill Graham's Filmore, Owsley's acid tests of the Summer of Love in San Francisco, the Velvets were to Andy Warhol and the darker stuff of New York in 1969. They were hard, dirty and chaotic, and classics like "Heroin," "Waiting for the Man," and "Sweet Jane," grabbed the souls of the disillusioned and strung out. Where the Dead's drugs were acid and grass, the Velvets came on like speed and heroin.

Probably no one ever affected my songwriting like Lou Reed, even down to his unique phrasing. But by 1972, the Velvets had broken up, and Lou Reed was working in the office of his accountant father back in Brooklyn. Bowie, at the height of his powers just after Ziggy Stardust, resurrected the career of his idol and forebearer with Tranformer, but that album, featuring "Walk on the Wild Side," was a unique and unrepeatable event for Reed, inured in Bowie's glam rock presence. It is of course a beautiful album.

Berlin was Reed's next album. It had a new, orchestral, dark sound, and was produced by Bob Ezrin, Alice Cooper's producer. At 15 I was totally unprepared for its darkness and for most of the specific experiences in it; the speed addiction, the debasement of Caroline, her promiscuity, her loss of her children, her beatings at the lands of her frustrated lover Jim (Reed's narrator). But I was fascinated by it, and if there was one piece of art that left me longing to explore the darker sides of human life, as I was so inexorably drawn to do in later years. This was one of those records that could change your life, and did.

After Berlin, Lou Reed went on to record a couple of live albums, the most popular of which was Rock n Roll Animal, which even drew my high school classmates away from their Led Zeppelin or whatever, but which I found disappointingly mainstream live rock. Reed never recorded another Berlin, though he went on to record a series of albums with a reliable clique following, and the highest degree of artistic integrity. This last April he married Laurie Anderson, who mainstreamed performance art rock in the 1980's with Oh, Superman (watch the video).

Unfortunately, as a concept album performed as a live show, you do get distracted. It's best if you buy the album as a 15 or 16-year-old and listen to it every day with the printed lyrics, wondering what life would be like on the dark side. Then maybe some day you go on to find out.

If you do watch the movie and haven't heard the album, the three songs after "Sad Song" are a bonus encore, including the best version of "Sweet Jane" I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot!) as the credits closer. Watch for Steve Hunter, the lead guitarist of Reed's live Band from the Animal years, as the band leader.

I'm mad at myself now for censoring myself earlier this week. Lou Reed is another artist who proves that you don't make your friends or anyone else happy by following your muse, but you can always look at your own face in the mirror, with pride and respect.

This a video clip from the movie of Reed performing "Caroline Says II", Jim's soliloquy after his frustrated beating of Caroline. It's depressing, as life can be, but still haunting and beautiful.




Caroline says, as she gets up off the floor,
"Why is it that you beat me? It isn't any fun."
Caroline says, as she makes up her eye,

"You ought to learn more about yourself;
think more than just 'I'."

But she's not afraid to die.
All her friends call her 'Alaska'.

When she takes speed, they laugh and ask her
What is in her mind? What is in her mind?


Caroline says, as she gets up from the floor,
"You can hit me all you want to, but I don't love you anymore."
Caroline says, while biting her lip,
"Life is meant to be more than this, and this is a bum trip."


But she's not afraid to die.
All her friends call her 'Alaska'.
When she takes speed, they laugh and ask her
What is in her mind? what is in her mind?
She put her fist through the window pane;
It was such a funny feeling....
It's so cold in Alaska.

It's so cold in Alaska.....

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saga



Okay, I put this on as a teaser overnight the other day and took it off because I thought (knew) it would offend people. But I keep pulling this video up on YouTube and watching it, so I'm gonna prepare myself for the hate mail and post; it's just too good.


No, I haven't gone insane. Friends, I wish the world was big enough, and was going to last long enough, for all of its independent cultures and sub-cultures to last forever. I really do. The Libertarian ideal is just that. But there just ain't enough room! Such is idealism. .

So. I think this is a really beautiful video and song. So yes, I don't like it that the culture that made this country is about to become a minority, within it. I remember when the world was big enough for every culture to have its own space. They deserve it, and so does mine. And if I hear one more rap or hip-hop song, I'm gonna puke, or worse.

Yes, this is beautiful. And there will be more, on this theme. So if you want to be taken off my list, just let me know. I understand.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blood


I'm not much on jewelry, but I've seen this process in others; Grandma left a piece of jewelry with a really nice stone, a stone with clarity and history and value, but the setting was wrong. Either it was out of style, or damaged, or ruined by age, or just not appropriate to the style of its wearer or its new intended method of display; so that the stone's new owner, after much debate and decision, finds a new setting which preserves the beauty and the meaning of the stone, and obtains for himself (or herself) an item of deep meaning and power, which is both a reminder of Grandma and the re-embodied essence of her, and also a part of the new owner, part of a new self.

With my practice of zazen, the deep shining beauty of the essential practice is and will always be there, but at times the setting has become awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassing. As long as the ritual is silent, it is true, but once the mouths begin to flap, the meaning is lost. So I find myself seeking intuitive comfort, and a setting with more shine and natural-ness.

Sunday morning, after I posted my last blog entry, I went to a meeting with some Theravadan Buddhists, who practice Vipassana meditation. This group also has some resolute members, and they have a monk, a starved-looking American who has gone through the rigours and is quite authentic, in the meaning of the trade; I wanted to hear words which were true and qualified and deeply meant, as a setting for my meditation. It seems that Vipassana meditation is a lot like Zen, except that one takes the training wheels of Zen, the focus on the attention, on the wandering mind, and turns it into the whole practice. I think ultimately that has to fall away, and one is left with the same practice; how could you justify running on training wheels for fifty years? But with this monk, with some of these people, I felt that the practice was true, and I felt somewhat comforted.

Sunday afternoon I went to a healing circle for my friend Tanya; not the kind of event I would usually attend, but I wanted to be supportive, and this event featured a guy doing a Lakota healing ceremony of sorts, involving wrapping prayers in tobacco, then wrapping the tobacco in little flags, and then burning them. Joe didn't look like an Indian, but I guess he was; I guess I'm used to Southwestern Indians, where the blood is stronger. He was not the only one there; there was a woman there from whom I felt the real genuine nature of the American Indian, as I haven't since I left New Mexico in the early 'nineties. There was some other ritual enacted, some Reiki and some quiche; but I'd had the little taste of authenticity I'd come for. And hopefully it helped prepare my friend for the great unknown of the next few days or weeks.

The New Age in American has grown weaker as the times grow tougher and I know why. Most of today's New Agers have their roots in the affluence and experimentation of the 'sixties, and for the younger ones, its legacy. Between about 1965 and 1983 (when AIDS rang the death knell of a culture), as the world opened wide and people had the means to explore it, all sorts of rituals and guises of spirituality flowed into America and the West. Some of it was brought by true teachers -- the Zen masters like Suzuki in San Francisco; Soyu Matsuoka, the teacher of my teacher in Zen; Nishijima who stayed in Japan, but sent his disciples around the world, all teachers who were attempting to purify the Zen practice which has grown stagnant and false in the lands of its gestation and needed rebirth in the untainted (by Buddhism!) beings of the West.
Most of what came was fake, and false: those who taught enlightenment by drugs, which could kick the door open but provide no context, and left so many staring into the abyss for all time; proselytizer of every cult and delusion that had run out of naive Eastern minds, and found a new market here.

For the New Age was for the most part an age of sham. It flourished in a culture detached from its roots, desperately seeking meaning in an age of unprecedented materialism. And the worst part was, the culture of the West had always been a false culture, as had the culture of Western Europe for a thousand years before. For a thousand years, Western Man has been ground beneath the dogma of the Desert Religions, the unholy trinity of Judaism, Christianity and Islam., which are not natural to him or to his culture. When I look at the history of a thousand years of darkness, I see the real soul of Western man striving to break free. Within Christianity alone, which has ground more under its cloven hooves than any other, I've seen the attempts at freedom which were suppressed as heresies by the Church and its inquisitions, I've seen the striving for direct knowledge for God which resulted in the Christianity of the Grail, after Pope Nicholas in the ninth century denied the reality of the individual human Spirit; and the latter day attempts at Reformation, which lacking context, resulted in more suppression, this time of each man by himself.

All dead and all hopeless, because the raising of a desert tribal god into monolithic, megalomaniac monotheism, had infested the Western world and part of the East like a deadly virus. How different would the World have been without Constantine? We'll never know.

The World Culture has failed, and as times get hard, each of us looks naturally to his roots. For many of us it's family. As the World overpopulates itself to death, the West has been outdone; most of the earth's babies are being born in the places and to the people least able to feed and support them, much less provide them with a level of culture adequate to give their lives meaning. I'm not much for children, and until recently I'd looked on the attempts of even those in modern society whom I'd call my friends, to keep spewing out children in the face of certain disaster, as naive and selfish. I don't think those children will have good lives, in the way that their parents did. But now, as the cultures break down, as the tide of affluence recedes, I can see the production of those children as a means of self-defense in a World which is eating Western man alive.

If you don't see it for yourself, let me just tell you: things are getting harder, and they're going to get worse. As they do, people are going to withdraw into their tribes. Those who see the apparently unavoidable election of Barack Obama as some sort of victory of polyculture will be disappointed; he is, I think, the last gasp of the same, and its high-water mark. The United States, which was in my childhood a largely heterogeneous culture, has become a cultural mix; we all know that. Sadly, most of the alternative cultures which have taken root here are cheapened, demented and depraved versions of more hearty cultures elsewhere. It was always known, in my youth, that to know Mexico, you had to go a lot further south than Tijuana, unless you wanted to see a people at its most tawdry. It is the latter which has made itself at home in our streets. The culture of the American Black, which in its blending of its African roots with the bounty of America, both the land and its heritage, gave us jazz and rock and roll and so many other great things, now has fallen into the hands of vultures and gives us rap (music for those who hate music) and violence. It reminds me of what I saw in the Southwest in places where the Native American culture had been destroyed and replaced with nothing -- nothing left but the saddest, lowest remnants of the conquering culture, with only the lowest elements assimilated.

Sadly, in modern America, it is the remnant culture, the debased version of the cultures which held proud sway in other places and times, that has become dominant. Appropriate I guess, in the End Times, but not so if one would survive, or at least go down with pride.

The hope, here? The setting for the stone. I can only answer for myself. I do believe at this point, that there is culture in the blood, if one looks for it. At the Lakota ritual, I could feel the vague twinging of my own, thin strain of Cherokee blood; I think I am about one-sixteenth, not enough to really count -- I had one Cherokee great-great-grandmother, I'm told. How much stronger now, is the calling of my true blood, the dominant blood, which is German and English, with a bit of Scotch-Irish --all Germanic and Celtic.

And the Germanic tribes did have a culture, a legacy, of their own. Modern propaganda, fostered by the adherents of the Desert Religions, will tell you that Western Man has no culture and pride of his own, but they are wrong. There were religions and cultures in Northern Europe long before the fanatics came. By the ninth century, the warriors of Rome and of the legacy of Charlemagne all but destroyed the native cultures of the northern lands, and planted there the unnatural crop of Christianity. The Cross all but buried the Hammer. But the Hammer has been reborn.

It seems to me at this point that the true legacy of Germanic man, the heirs of the Teutonic tribes and the Aryans, has been entrusted to the "new" faith of Asatru. More on that later. I am just learning of my own native culture, but each thing I learn comes with a new feeling of relief, a realization of ancestral memory. I have been a Zen Buddhist and I still am, but its style never fitted my personality; I can see myself in the behaviors of the Norse gods much more than I ever could in the meek and ego-denying traditions of the East. Those traditions are very true, for those people, and the traditions of my people are very true for me.

I've been attempting to reconcile elements of my self for my whole life, the more so since I found this practice of zazen, which enables me to see everything clearly. Now at long last, I can say that before the end I've recovered my identity, my ancestral true nature. Not emptiness, but fullness, of a kind that's been denied.

I am just beginning this new phase of my journey. It seems quite likely that I will keep you informed. Be patient, I am learning, too. The only advice I can offer is this: find what's true for you, and people whose goals are true to yours. For all the false alliances of comfort, all the superficial associations are breaking down. There will no longer be one nation here, but many -- there may be one totalitarian government for as long as it lasts, when and if the strongman comes; that I can't foresee, and don't want to, that endless boot stamping on the human face. But I do know that the cultures, the real nations, soon will be fragmented and many.

The New Age is over, and the New Order is here. Choose your tribe carefully.

It's in the blood.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Full Circle: Zen for the West, Part One


Where to begin? Last evening I had one of those "Ah-hah!" moments which are all too rare, when disparate elements that've been trying to resolve themselves into a coherent whole, click together for me. So, where to begin?

Let me first introduce the new logo of the Nashville Zen Center. This has its own story. For several years now, I've been wanting our little Zen group in Nashville to have its own distinctive, representative design. I won't repeat the NZC's history again here, but readers of this blog knows that we've finally, in the last year, recreated ourselves into an authentic Soto Zen school. Zen Buddhism, by definition, needs a teacher and a lineage, which we accomplished by association with the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and its teacher and founder, Taiun Michael Elliston, Sensei. This, with our newly formalized protocols and the lay ordination of Nat and myself as ASZC disciples this summer, puts us into stark contrast with the old NZC, which was loosely organized and self-taught.

If you still want Buddhism 101 in the form of anything-goes ecumenism, Nashville still has groups to fill that roll. My deepening perception that the NZC had moved beyond this came to a head as I was dragged kicking and screaming this past year into a repeat performance of last year's Nashville Buddhist Festival. The NZC never has, to my knowledge nor that of anyone I know, gained one single member from the NBF, which is at best a soft retreat for Buddhist dilettantes, as it was this year, and at its largest, as last year, a street bizarre for New Age looky-lou's.

The bottom line is, this is the End Time for our current culture, a few years past the unacknowledged end of the American Century. I come to Zen as the only means I've found to deal with the impending years of horror. Those who come to Zen, as I did, are all self-motivated, self-driven, spiritual questers of the first order, and they can't be placated with the treacle of a watered practice which purports to be the distilled essence of the East and West. They can't be found by advertising or lured by vague and inoffensive teaching. They want the real thing and in this town, there's nowhere else they can go. Needless to say, we're not the largest group in town to call itself Zen, but we're the most authentic, and we have the most to offer by way of connection to a transmitted teacher who is not himself the product of a diluted practice. So.

The emblems of Nashville's other Zen-like or Zen-affiliated practices are all flowery and feminine, being based upon the excellent art of the founder of at least one of those groups and ex-President of the NZC. I truly do enjoy and appreciate Lisa's painting of lotuses, but the Zen I was looking for and eventually found was a hard thing, a strong and striking thing which stood in stark contrast to the alternatives to be found here. Luckily, the ASZC includes in its emblem the most standard Zen symbol, the enso. Nat had the idea to use the enso as our group's emblem a couple of years ago, but the proposed t-shirts were part of an idea which was (and still is) not executed. Within the last few months the design for the present logo came to me, and was wonderfully executed by Ana King, our resident artist. Hence what I consider to be a strong and striking logo.

Ana appreciated the irony of my coming to one of our few female members for the execution of what I honestly consider a strong, masculine symbol. Because it occurs to me now that we are in fact, the yang to the yin of the alternatives, and it is precisely the "yin" flavor of Nashville's alternatives, and to much of what I consider to be New Age Zen, that had me frustrated. But let me come at this from another angle.

It has long been my opinion that mankind has been the beneficiary of a number of religions which are helpful, supportive of their cultures, and intuitively if not literally true; and that concurrently, it has been the victim of three or so harmful, parasitic and essentially false and deceitful ones, the latter being the Desert Religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is a strong opinion, and it is not likely to find any favor in the New Age mind, which is the mind of much of what passes for Buddhism. Nonetheless, I have intuitively known it to be true since I was no older than ten.

I don't have the space here to argue comparative religions; suffice it to say, that for me and for most of those who seek long and hard enough, Zen comes at the end of the road, as Nat is wont to say. That is, by the time you get to Zen, you've eschewed your way (pun intended) through all the bullshit and come to the essence of "spiritual" practice; direct confrontation with reality. There are no frills needed at this point.

No frills, but there is, I find, the need of a framework. I recently came across a comment somewhere by Jundo Cohen, founder of the Treeleaf Zendo, brother monk of Brad Warner, his fellow disciple of Gudo Nishijima, to the effect that Nishijima's disciples had fallen into disarray because of Nishijima's minimal reliance on the Precepts. The truth (or not) of that is beyond my present scope, but it did ring very true to me that zazen, although the jewel at the center of Zen practice, needs the setting of Zen itself to shine, and not to be obscured. As I said before, the Zen student needs a teacher to keep him from getting caught on the ledge on his way in, or down.

The framework of Soto Zen works very well for me; it involves ritual but minimized teaching. And yet it often occurs to me that Japanese culture is a very strange fit for modern Western man. This perception has certainly not been lost on the numerous Zen (and otherwise Buddhist) teachers who have attempted to purify their homeland's (usually Japan's) corrupted traditions in the fire of the new forge which has been American since the 1960's. It was brought home to me recently by, of all things, an article on how Western social networking sites fail among the Japanese, who are loath to even give out their names online, much less their pictures.

So: if Zen and indeed Buddhism itself is merely a setting which although formative is set aside, to some extent, once the point of direct perception through zazen is reached, might not another setting do? or be better for the products of another culture such as ourselves. It seems so, or at least seems worth a shot. But what would that setting be? Surely not the pervasive Christian and post-Christian culture, the taint of which is the hardest to eschew for anyone wanting to confront the reality of existence -- nor that of its sister religions.

It finally occurred to me that the native culture and spiritual traditions for Americans of northern European descent, is that of the Norse and Germanic gods, which although largely wiped out by the insidious Christianity of the Dark Ages by about the ninth century, formed the basis of the northern half of Western culture in its formative years. In the years before Christianity, Europe was dominated by Greek and Roman cultures in the south, and the religion of the Aesir and Vanir in the north. When the cult of the desert god Yahweh was adopted by the Roman Emperor Constantine and established by conquest of Europe by the Romans, the extant Norse religions were all but obliterated.

So why did I find myself, in the last few months, find myself inexplicably and inexorably drawn to the Norse religion, and to its present re-incarnation as Asatru? I have never at any time considered giving up my Zen practice, but I found myself being lured by the Norse mythology. It made no sense to me; what could have less to do with Zen than the worship of Odin?

It finally came to me last night when I discovered a description in an early Pali, Theravada text (in translation, on the internet -- don't think for a second that I read Pali!) to Gautama as a tall man with brown hair and blue eyes! And suddenly I was reminded of my college studies from thirty years ago or more, of the history of world religions and I realized: Buddhism is not a religion of Asian cultures at all, but the culmination of the myths of the Aryans, which are common to the mythology of Scandinavia and to the pre-Hindu Vedas!

The Aryan tribe (and please not let's mistake the real Aryans for Hitler's concept of the race of Supermen!) are first seen in the mists of pre-history somewhere in what is now Eastern Europe. From there they spread into northern Europe, but also through the Middle East and ultimately to India, to the banks of the Indus River, where their fiery conqueror's religions intersected with the ascetic and mysterious (because not documented) practices of the Dravidians, a race? tribe? of dark-skinned people who were there when the Aryans arrived. Thus the myths of the Vedas flowed into the period of the Upanishads, and ultimately formed modern Hinduism.

But along the way, about 600 B.C., a prince named Gautama brought this evolving religion to its culmination as Buddhism. Buddhism is, thus, the culmination of the Norse religion! And zazen is the essence of Buddhism; it is the true and original practice of the Buddha, despite the cultural accoutrement's which it has picked up through its long Asian sojourn. So that perhaps the jewel of zazen, set in the rich culture which is most accessible to us now through the Eddas and Asatru, is the true legacy and flowering of Western spirituality. It could be our recourse from the maddening, yin femininity of the desert religions which engulf us. It could be what we need.

But this is too long, and I need to sit. I'll flesh this out later. This was truly enough to keep me up all night, last night, and too exciting a realization to put down soon. So you'll be hearing more, I promise. This is evolving thought, so if you have contributions, please make them; my head is spinning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Guest Blog: Jim Lydecker on the Economic Crisis


For those of you about to watch the debate between two guys who are NOT the best this country could do for a leader; take this pill first, from my friend Jim. Then see what comes out of their mouths, our yours....


I lifted this whole from the Napa Valley Register.



Economic crisis is all about the dollar

Friday, October 03, 2008
By Jim Lydecker

For those of you counting, we are about to pass another dubious milestone and reach the unheard debt amount of $10 trillion. Adding another trillion in record time prompted the Economist to dryly remark, “at least it hasn’t hit a zillion yet.” Maybe it will. Bush says we need to print up a quick $750 billion in order to save the economy, though many feel it will be closer to $3 trillion.

The problem here is that printing paper money may help in the short term but will hasten the collapse of the economy. An economic collapse brought on by debt is like an organism infected by cancer. On the other hand, a fiscal collapse is more like a massive coronary. Uncle Sam may be dead before he hits the floor.

It has been said that “He who holds the gold rules.” Throughout the ages, when gold was used, and laws protected honest commerce, productive nations thrived. However, when wealthy nations — those with powerful armies — lived beyond their means, they had to use fiat money.

The terms "fiat currency" relates to types of currency whose usefulness results, not from any intrinsic value or guarantee that it can be converted into gold or another currency, but instead from a government’s order (fiat) that it must be accepted as a means of payment. Those nations and their economies always failed.

Today gold no longer rules. Instead, “He who prints the money makes the rules.” And the rules are similar: Compel foreign countries to produce and subsidize the country with military superiority and control over the monetary printing presses. Dollar dominance began in 1944 at the Bretton Woods agreement. Due to our political and military muscle, and because Fort Knox held a mountain of gold, the world accepted the dollar as the reserve currency. With no controls, the Federal Reserve printed more money than we had gold for the next 27 years. This sham was exposed in 1971 when the French wanted to cash in their surplus dollars only to find there wasn’t enough gold.

To rescue the dollar, it had to be backed by something of value before becoming interchangeable with Monopoly money. In 1973, the Nixon Administration struck a deal with OPEC to price oil in and only accept dollars for all transactions. We, in turn, promised to protect various oil-rich kingdoms from any internal or external threat. Thus the birth of the petrodollar. The agreement with OPEC has allowed tremendous artificial demand and strength allowing the Federal Reserve to print money at will. Since most nations need to import oil, they needed dollars. This arrangement kept the Third World mired in poverty. To get dollars, they had to keep their natural resources and labor cheap. There are several ways to bring these ethereal days to an end and one is if OPEC decides to accept currency other than the dollar for oil. This could bankrupt us in a very short time.

In November 2000, Iraq demanded euros for oil. The first Bush Cabinet meeting (January 2001) was dominated by how to get rid of Hussein and Iraq back on the dollar. There was no concern of his military or terrorism prowess. It was instead about his attack on the integrity of the dollar.

Another example was when Venezuela floated the idea of switching to the euro in mid-2001. Immediately there was a coup attempt against Chavez, reportedly with CIA assistance.

Real threats come from countries who are incapable of threatening us militarily but able to dismantle us economically. This is the threat we see from Iran. Since 2004, Iran has been talking of switching to the euro and we have repeatedly put Teheran in our cross-hairs. The fear is not a fundamental Islamic revolution causing Middle East countries to fall like dominoes, but that there may be a domino effect where they will all stop taking dollars.

And now matters are made worse because we are essentially printing money to rescue an economy that has gone down the wrong path. The arrangement between the Federal Reserve printing money backed by Treasury notes, both worthless, is check-kiting at its worse.

Warren Buffett put it in perspective last week when he said, “No one knows who is skinny-dipping until the tide goes out.”

The truth of the matter is this: Our currency is backed by our military in the sense that anyone choosing to not accept it will get a thumping by our armed forces. Dollar superiority depends our strong military, and our strong military depends on the dollar. Ironically, no outside military force is needed to tear this relationship apart and with it would go the economic engine that powered what was the American Century.

There’s a new world waiting and it is not promising.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Nashville Buddhist Festival, Oct. 4, 2008


"Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching.

















Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words.
















Rely not on theory, but on experience.

















Do not believe in anything simply because you
have heard it.


















Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
















Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.

















Do not believe in anything because it is
written in your religious books.


















Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and
elders.
















But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

















Text from the Kalama Sutra. Pictures by Paul Felton, Bob Jarrell, Susan Warner, and Ana King. For more pictures from the 2008 Nashville Buddhist Festival, go here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

More Edie: A Short Film



I regret that when I did my prior blog post on Edie Sedgwick, I didn't give you a glimpse of her personal presence except by description, and I just stumbled across this on YouTube. This short film features a montage of stills and video set to a recording of Edie speaking, recalling her life during her short two years of fame. She indicates that she was 27 at the time she speaks, so her life was just about over. Remember when you listen that she sounds soggy because she was heavily sedated, in the name of what passed for medical practice in the late '60's and early '70's, which was just as barbaric as today's equivalent.

Despite all that, Edie seems to have matured into a very healthy personality by the end of her short days; perhaps she always was. Who are we to say? That someone can have the perspective she had by the end of her life, despite the fact that that life was little other than abuse of one kind or another, despite having been a shining star -- there's a lesson there for you whiners and moaners. Seize the day!

There's a bunch more of this stuff at girlonfire.com; check it out!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Joan of Arc: The Power of Deep Practice?


I just finished re-watching The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. I was drawn back to this excellent movie by way of a renewed interest in the Middle Ages and their talismans, via the TV series Witchblade (as opposed to its anime sister series, which is also great in its own right). I'm also reading Spear of Destiny by Trevor Ravenscroft, a faintly fantastical account of Hitler's journey into dark magic, especially with regard to the Spear of Longinus, which I haven't quite decided how to take yet, except as account of spiritual practice gone badly wrong. And while I'm at it, I have to mention the book that brought me to the magic of the late Middle Ages, particularly the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, years ago, Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, surely the most readable and fascinating history book I've ever come near, which I heartily recommend.

The Messenger is a film by Luc Besson starring Milla Jovovich, surely one of the most underrated actresses of our time. Milla's performance is entrancing; if you've only seen her as Leeloo in The Fifth Element and as Alice in the Resident Evil movies - both of which are fine performances - you owe it to yourself to see her as Kat in .45 and in The Messenger. The most intriguing thing about this latter movie (although with excellent performances by John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman and Milla) is that the source of Joan's visions is left ambiguous. Do they come from God? From the Devil? From some sort of schizophrenia, from Joan's own unconfessed ambition, or from some other source.

It appears to me that in the movie, at least (the historical facts are too vague to even speculate), Joan is entirely convinced (at least until the end) that the voices come from God, and I don't doubt that they did. Which sounds like a strange thing for me as a non-theist to say, but it is obvious that Joan has a profound conviction, of which she was dead certain, which turned out to be true and accurate and led her to great victory.

You have to remember that Joan of Arc was an ignorant (in the non-pejorative sense of the word; she could of course neither read nor write and had no education at all beyond the indoctrination of the fifteenth-century Church) peasant, and any experience she had was solidly in the context of the deep Christian fear in which she would have been raised. I think even modern Christians would have to admit that the Church of the Middle Ages, although the only source of political stability in the Western World before the rise of the nation-state, was a dreadful entity. It occurred to me, thinking about this fictional depiction of Joan, which I think expresses deep truths, that the experience of direct communication from God, of which she was absolutely certain, was virtually indistinguishable in context from the direct perceptions of absolute certainty one can have after a few years of zazen, or perhaps any other direct and deep practice. And thus I can empathize.

I have dedicated myself to the practice of zazen only for about four years, a pittance of time compared to some of my friends and fellow Zen students, but I can tell you (those of you who don't already know) that there are moments of insight at which time the defensive barriers with which we surround our non-existent (though all too apparent) selves drop away, and one for a moment is clearly able to see what is, or what things are, to eschew Zen terminology for a bit. Certain things can be seen as absolutely true, and if one can bring back an accurate enough perception or description of that moment, even to oneself (because the event has to be interpreted and to some extent verbalized to be stored in the "mind"), those clear truths can be made the basis of right actions.

As adamant as I am about my practice of zazen, and my constant battle against what I see as a watering of the practice by those who value the context more than the content, please don't think I think everyone needs to be a Zen Buddhist. First, it's just not a path that's going to appeal to that many people. It's hard work, the promised rewards aren't much in comparison to what most religions promised, and the only ones who find the true practice are those who come looking for it. Which is why I get really annoyed when a bunch of metaphysical crap is passed off as Zen, because people will encounter that, realize what bullshit it is, and go away disappointed. This is why I won't be involved in the Nashville Buddhist Festival after this year; most of the people who come there are seeking some sort of comfortable delusion, and it's a violation of the Fifth Precept to sell it to them.

Zen is definitely the place for me, but if you're one of those people like me who, from the first realization of your human existence, have demanded to know the answer to the question: What is this? then I really want to believe that over time your quest will lead you through the illusions and obstacles to some form of deep practice which will enable you to perceive things directly and truly. In between my Zen periods, I tried other things. Strangely enough, the chanting of the Nichirens was a very powerful practice for me, although the context was absurd enough ultimately to drive me away. Conversely, my brief flirtation with Tibetan Buddhism left me with nothing but a distaste; it is a devotional practice based on illusion, not much different from what I perceive the Black Arts to be.

But there are experiences outside religion or spiritual practice that can take you there; although I wouldn't advise anyone to try it because of the inherent risk factors, drugs can blow open those doors of perception; I know a lot of people with deep current practices and development who got their first glimpse of reality without filters this way. Unfortunately, drugs, like occult practices, can leave the door open for a bunch of other stuff you don't want. Having those doors opened without proper guidance can take you to some strange places. Madness and egotistical delusion spring to mind. Some of us were lucky to come through as intact as we did, and to this day I question my own sanity, as defined by the modern world.

There are probably a lot of other things that can kick those door open: hunger, trauma, all sort of privations. Anything that strips you of your social context and removes you even for a moment from consensual reality can, I think, enable you to see things as they are. But the failing of asceticism is that without context, either from yourself or a mentor of some sort, these experiences can't be brought back into "everyday life" once participation in such is regained. Some are prepared, and some get lucky. Personally, I feel like some of the nasty experiences I've had have enabled me to remember, even when things seem fine, that there are no guarantees. You'll die alone, and things will be about like they are right now. Sorry.

The experience of Joan of Arc led her to reject the Church, the only voice of authority in her day, and the only context she had ever had, in favor of the content of her own experience, which to her was the voice of God. This is of course the common factor of mystical experiences throughout the history of the world; they do not come through organizations. A teacher can be helpful to get you there, but once you have the experience, you must rely on your own truth. But how to know truth, whether seen as divine communication or just direct perception, there's the rub. Because you won't know it until you see it. You will know it when you do see it, but you can be fooled by all sorts of stuff before you get there. There are logical problems with this proposition, I see all too well, but they're just artifacts of the language, and remember, you have to get beyond language to see what's real.

As a footnote, in Soto Zen, a "mystical revelation" or "moment of enlightenment" is seen as just another experience not to be dwelt in. At worst, they are seems as delusions; at best, they cannot be grasped and held onto and should be let go just like any other perception or experience. When Joan's voices stopped, she carried on doing what she thought had been the last command of the voices, and wrong-headed herself into downfall. It's the moment we have to act in, not a great experience of the past, which is where so very many mystics go wrong, so enraptured by their experience that they can't let go of it.

So I understand the experience of Joan of Arc and I think she did hear the voice of God. Because the power of understanding comes not through grasping, but through letting go.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Edie at the Peak


As America stands on the brink of its inevitable devolution into a Third World country, those of us old enough to remember the peak of our culture-- when, to paraphrase Hunter, the tide rolled in, crested, and rolled back -- should periodically be excused for the nostalgia indulged to do so. And when we do, it's hard not to envision that one lonely waif of a girl who was the first of so many things, but who was truly unique, the victim of everyone who is in many ways the icon and the emblem of whatever it was we became in the 'sixties, Edie Sedgwick.

Edie died in 1971 at the age of 28, a year later and a year younger than Jim Morrison, and right on the heels of the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in 1970, whose deaths were themselves the sad cultural echoes of the shooting of Robert Kennedy two years earlier. Edie, like Jim, Jimi, and Janis, died of drugs, except in her case she did so as much at the hands of the society which simultaneously tried to save, enclose, enwrap and suffocate her. I first became aware of Edie in about 1979, through Edie: American Girl, an oral biography by Jean Stein. Although I lived through the sixties, I was a child and was in my early twenties still scrambling to retain my culture; I don't think I had any acquaintance with Andy Warhol's Factory before this other than the wisps of mention on the evening news and in the mainstream press. So I hadn't heard of Edie although I was 13 at the time of her death. But something about her powerful presence reached out to me through the words of the interviews in the book and the grainy photos.

I'd almost forgotten about Edie until Factory Girl, starring Sienna Miller as Edie, came out a couple of years ago. I recommend the movie for the myth, if not the truth, but in this case the former points to the latter. Sienna Miller is a beautiful woman, but she looks nothing like Edie Sedgwick, who was waif-like yet dancer-strong and powerful in a frail way that no one else has ever equalled, not for the lack of trying. Edie was the offspring of a wealthy and degenerate West Coast family; she was a multiple incest victim from within that nuclear family, her only anchor being her gay brother, who was shamed by the father into killing himself when Edie was a teen. The family's reaction to Edie's trauma was not to punish the offenders, but to put Edie into treatment; she was in the modern version of the asylum as recently as the year before she shot to stardom.

In 1965, Edie, recently arrived in New York City, became the first and really only Warhol girl to become a superstar; she was the It girl for two years, dominating the covers and contents of fashion magazines and society pages. In the Factory, or thereabouts, she met with the drugs that led to her destruction, if not the ones that killed her. If you think meth kills now, think what it did then to an innocent generation. The entire Factory was overrun and overpowered by the stuff; dispensed by the infamous Dr. Robert from the Beatles song in the form of powerful injections in combination with some vitamins, and then of course supplemented by the "patients" with their own syringes, Speed ran rampant through the above-ground underground of the Factory. With no cultural awareness of what the stuff really was or what it could do, brains were blasted and lives were lost, much as today, when the populace has less excuse. But in that era, meth started at the top of the cultural food chain.

Edie was indeed a shooting star. By the spring of 1967, her brain had begun to fry, her immaculate balance to fail. By Memorial Day she was toast. Warhol's people washed their hands of her, and the once-rich trust fund heiress struggled, borrowed and stole to get by in the Chelsea Hotel. At about the end of that year, she disappeared, to reappear later in the grasp of her family in California, where she underwent shock treatment and drug therapy which was itself abusive; she died of her tortures in 1971, in her bed one night.

But like Warhol's art, Edie's life became enwrapped in and indistinguishable from a film which began as just another Warhol pic and became her biography and her eulogy. To understand Edie, it is essential to watch Ciao! Manhattan. When you do, make sure you watch the interviews included on the DVD. Ciao! was originally written for another Warhol starlet, one of the many with whom he tried to fill Edie's shoes when she had become lost. The actress' name was Susan, but she became unavailable as the crew went to filming, and the filmmakers John Palmer went to the Chelsea scavenging, to bring in Edie.

The early part of the film, in black and white, made no sense at all; it was produced in an amphetamine haze that left it plotless and clueless. But it does feature invaluable and irreplacable footage of Edie at or near her peak. Such elegance in a human being has never been captured on film. The film was abandoned in the cans, but then Edie was rediscovered in California and was found to be charming and heroic even in the face of the abuses she was enduring in the name of treatment, and she was adamant that the film go on. And so it did, although almost all of its original cast was dead, missing, or in jail. It became a five-year project which in turn became Edie's life. Her life became the film, and her life ended a couple of weeks after the film wrapped. Warhol couldn't have hoped for a more perfect ending.

I saw Ciao! year ago and only saw it as the mess that the film, as a film, is. But I watched it again as the artifact of a culture which has disappeared. Today's illiterate, jaded and moronic audience will never be able to appreciate what happened in the 'sixties, when literacy met fantasy, destiny and death and entwined in the stranglehold embrace which has choked our culture to death. It is impossible for anyone who remembers, to see this movie without longing for the spirit and the spark which will never come again.

Edie, I never knew you, but I miss you. I miss all that you and we could and should have become. As we die up to our necks in Lindsay and Paris and the flotsam and jetsam of a directionless and mindless lack of culture, I will always know there was you, and that in some way, you make it all worthwhile.