Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen"...

"My, my, my, my, my, what a sight for my poor eyes...": A friend of mine posts art to FaceBook. He posts other worthwhile things as well, and rarely offers anything that is not worth looking at (if only the rest of the world wold use FaceBook so judiciously and positively). But his most frequent posts are part of a series of hundreds upon hundreds of images of art doled out slowly for the rest of us to consume and wonder at...

"Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole...": Picasso reportedly said "The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls." My soapboxing, wise, musical, wordsmith of a friend has helped me wash off quite a lot of dust over the years, through wit, kindness, and beauty. What hallmarks of the season we are in. Christmas time, regardless of ones religious pinnings, is a special time. It provokes some stress in many (as we try to uphold that specialness we know to be the point of it all), but also seems to bring out the best in most of us. We cozy into the cold, and light our lights in the darkness. We gather in groups in the name of celebration, and strive to give more than we receive. What a time!...

"If you're fond of sand dunes and salty air, Quaint little villages here and there...": We are in the home stretch here in my household preparations for next week, but there are many miles to go before I sleep. So today, for my weekly post I offer a little art as poetry and a little poem as a painting (Leonardo DaVinci gets credit for today's title.) 

I live in a "quaint" small town in New England where "Main Street" is about a hundred yards long. I love it here. So who better to represent my daily life than Norman Rockwell and Robert Frost? Who better to help wash off the dust of daily life by showing how special that daily life is?...

Christmas Trees
By Robert Frost

(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

                              “You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand."...

“The only thing necessary for the is for good men to do nothing.”: I am thinking about bullying, and cornering, and grasping, and squeezing, this morning. I am thinking of each of these words in the context of desperation, each in the way that causes harm, each in the way that feels how the moments before an uncontrollable and unstoppable ugliness is set into motion feels. It is not so much the motives for these things that I am contemplating this morning, so much as observing the mechanism of the cause. Regardless of why, the rise of evil leadership is not set into motion by inaction, but it is empowered and enabled by it. It is our fear of our immediate circumstances and a desire for a quick fix from the perception of doom that drives that acceptance of the wrong sorts of leaders. The desperation of the crowd pushes for machiavellian resolution without question and scrutiny. And sadly, the mob fails to respond to the ugliness stemming from their choises as a result of getting what they asked for, as if a reversal would be too much an admission of their complicity...

Defined not by the number of victims, but by the way they die: I am thinking about absolutist power, and totalitarianism, and the rise of fear as a consequence of restrictions contained within the offered promise of security. I am thinking about crime and police action and fairness. I am thinking about control and knee-jerk reaction to those things we find unsettling, or threatening, or immoral. I am thinking about my grandfather and his criticism of fascism. I am thinking about how those societies of the mid 20th century (in line with a long human history of similar conditions) turned to harsh and strong leaders and systems in their desire for change on promises made with  terrible costs hidden in the fine print. Sartre wrote "Fascism is not defined by the number of its victims, but by the way it kills them."...

Desperate people do desperate things: In the second installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman series, Heath Ledger's monstrous character, the Joker, has unified the criminal element of Gotham and is spreading terror throughout the city. Bruce Wayne (Batman) expressed to his butler/guardian Alfred some wonder at a shift in Gotham's crime and the resilience of the Mob's resolve to target him (Batman). Alfred says "You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand." Their desperation gave them unity and power, but also allied them with a sociopath who could not be controlled nor directed to serve the interests of the mob bosses. The full text of tis conversation between Bruce and Alfred is below:

Batman/Bruce Wayne: Targeting me won't get their money back. I knew the mob wouldn't go down without a fight, but this is different. They crossed the line.

Alfred: You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand.

Batman/Bruce Wayne: Criminals aren't complicated, Alfred. Just have to figure out what he's after.

Alfred: With respect Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man that you don't fully understand, either. A long time ago, I was in Burma. My friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So, we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never met anybody who traded with him. One day, I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away.

Batman/Bruce Wayne: So why steal them?

Alfred: Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

It takes time for the seeds of goodness and hope to grow and bear fruit...: I watched two movies this weekend, The Help and Race. Both dealt with prejudice in American history. Both dealt with (in my opinion) evil people in positions of power. Both dealt with whole groups of people being cornered, bullied, squeezed; and  in each, both dealt with heroes who actively worked to expose evil. Good people did something. It may not be immediately beneficial, but good always wins eventually...
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.” --Gandhi

Sunday, December 4, 2016

On a gathering in the morning....

A gathering over food: This weekend my son and I were invited to a breakfast birthday celebration. As a child I was always impressed with Bilbo Baggins and community's practice of giving away gifts on their birthdays. It seemed noble and such a communal good. Our breakfast had tinges of such a practice. The following is part of the text of our invitation:
How about a father/son breakfast?  On me, of course. Would you and [your son] do me the honor of attending?

P.S. I do ask for one and only one type of gift:  I would appreciate if each person attending--both father and son, separately--would choose one poem to read out loud at some point during our gathering.  It could be funny or serious.  My dad, who passed in 2015, wrote dozens of poems and
also loved reciting poetry. I realize I don't have enough poetry in my life, and what better time to start than on my birthday? However, If you or your son prefer to share something other than a poem, that's fine.  You can read a passage from a book. Or a political commentary. Or even tell a joke. Whatever you and he choose to share.  Please do not bring any other card or present. 
A sharing of pleasantries: So we gathered at a local diner, all ten of us, with the birthday man in the center, and ordered our fare while we talked and shared. Puzzles and jokes, laughter and polite conversation transitioned to taking turns reading our gifts. Whimsical poems, poignant and witty quotes, selections from grandfathers' rhyme and wisdom. Our host read an original poem about the value of the life of a personal hero. What a story! I chose to read the following poem by Rumi (whom I have been on a binge lately):
Don’t worry about saving these songs!
And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn’t matter.

We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and even if the whole world’s harp
should burn up, there will still be
hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive
from a slow and powerful root
that we can’t see.

Stop the words now.
Open the window in the centre of your chest,
and let the spirits fly in and out.

We received the gift: What a great idea for a special day. Just the guys... reading and listening to words offered by the other, back and forth, between two generations and invoking a third. I had a great time at this gathering of friends. There were smiles all around. My son and I got into the truck to leave, and as we pulled away from the event, he remarked what a nice time it was...

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Every morning a new arrival...

Abandoning ones nafs:
We are guests here and we are stewards. We are transient and we are liminal. We are never alone and yet such effort must be made to maintain connection...

There will be no lengthy introduction for today's post. Rumi was a 13th c. Persian poet whom I adore. I have been reading through a collection of his poems on and off all day today and have settled on a single piece of his for today's post.

Read it once, perhaps twice, and if you feel joy, maybe a third time...

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Sunday, November 20, 2016

In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving... gratitude

I woke up today. I am grateful for the chance I have again to make the best of a day. If I should fail to meet my or others' expectations, I will hopefully get another chance tomorrow to again, wake up, and feel grateful...
Every day, think as you wake up: Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry, or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can. --The Dalai Lama
At times today I have felt desire. I have so many desires. I think the good news is that I have few needs, and none are unmet. I am grateful for my wellbeing and an awareness of my desires...
When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, 'Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.' -- The Dalai Lama
At mealtime my family expresses gratitude for the day and what is before us. I am grateful for my friends, and family and the tremendous prosperity that surrounds me...
The creatures that inhabit this earth – be they human beings or animals – are here to contribute to the beauty and prosperity of the world. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, have not just dropped from the sky. This is why we should be grateful to all our fellow creatures. --The Dalai Lama
I have been reading from David Whyte's Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. His meditation on gratitude is particularly excellent. The emphasis is mine. I am grateful for wise men like Whyte and the Dalai lama to point out the things the good and positive people all around me have been telling me for years...
Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a-priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.

Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously, part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.

To see the full miraculous essentiality of the color blue is to be grateful with no necessity for a word of thanks. To see fully, the beauty of a daughter’s face in the mountains, of a son’s outline against the sky, is to be fully grateful without having to seek a God to thank him. To sit among friends and strangers, hearing many voices, strange opinions; to intuit inner lives beneath surface lives, to inhabit many worlds at once in this world, to be a someone amongst all other someones, and therefore to make a conversation without saying a word, is to deepen our sense of presence and therefore our natural sense of thankfulness that everything happens both with us and without us, that we are participants and witness all at once.

Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We sit at the table as part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege. Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention.  --David Whyte

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On dealing with my FaceBook feed since last Tuesday...

So on this Sunday I wish to climb upon my soapbox and will finish with an appeal. No clever writing, links to song lyrics, nor allusions to favorite poetry. No pretty pictures, nor witty nuggets of wisdom from my favorite authors and thinkers. Just a realist's opinion that might seem optimistic and perhaps naive to some...

The world has never been as good as it is now. I know it does not feel that way. I know those who hurt today, or who were hurting yesterday, or even those who will hurt more tomorrow, will cry "optimist" and ignore my claim. But here is my thesis: The world is a hard place; it is not good enough yet for us to not fight harder than ever before for further improvement; BUT it IS better than ever before...

Fewer cops are being assaulted and killed today than 30 years ago in America. Knowledge and new developments are being enjoyed by a population with the highest levels of literacy in human history. Violent crime is on a 30 year downward trend. More people have access to better health care than ever before (globally). Extreme poverty is on a steady decline world wide. Fewer people will be directly affected by the violence of war as a percentage of the population than ever before...

Sigh. The environment IS suffering from 7 billion of us consuming. But we have never been better poised to mitigate the damage as it becomes ever more a necessity to do so. Good god, the inventions that our children have yet to invent will astound us! Our awareness of the world's suffering has never been so great (thank you Facebook and cell phones and 24-hour cable news coverage, and internet). But it is our awareness only that makes things seem worse and out of control...

So this past week we were all surprised by the elections. Ok, Michael Moore was not surprised, but the rest of us, conservative and liberal alike, were shocked. And the news is filled with reports of protests, riots, racial graffiti, and worse. The uncertainty of the next steps is driving people to extremes and the debate on FB has stopped. The name calling continues and there is a lot of "see I told you so" from both sides. The misleadingly edited videos and inaccurate memes are damaging our ability to debate real and hard truths. It has become a full time job to just sort through the misdirection and smoke that all sides are offering in their mis-guided passion...

I do not wish to ask people to come together and sing a round a camp fire; that would be absurd. What would be helpful is to acknowledge that we are the same people we were last week. We have work to do. We have deeply divided values and interests and perspectives in this country and we need to figure out how to strive for excellence so we can continue to be a positive force for ourselves, for our communities, and for the world. It starts with a heathy home. And in America health comes from spirited and passionate debate, from hard conversations which even cause us to walk away at times, but we must remember to return for more. It does not come from holier-than-thou-hand-to-the-face rhetoric...

So my appeal is this. Please stop posting anything other than the message that we WILL be ok. It will take work, as all great things that matter do. The sun did come up today; water ran out of my faucet; and I am hear to listen, argue, debate, and change. It will NOT be easy, but I am willing to continue to put opinion and freedom ahead of all else and I AM willing to fight for that, no matter the cost. I am hoping the few friends and acquaintances who read this and got this far in today's inglorious post will consider only adding forward moving noise to the web-sphere. Truth and hope. These things are not naïveté and they matter. This is my appeal...

Thank you.

-peace & compassion

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Buddhist Un-still life... alone

1. Once upon a time, forever now,  there was a short-haired monkey with long braids who lived at the edge of a desert near the flatlands where the big water meets the broad sky amidst the tall trees of the jungle in the highlands of the craggy plateau. Now you might imagine that the certitude of this space was fantastical in its nature, and there, you might be correct in your disbelief of the thought required to accept that which is most certainly ambiguous...

2. That is to say, quite circuitously, nothing is as it seems to be; and all that is, is a function of its proximity to that which isn't—in its being—there...

3. Now "all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town," but this isn't great literature, nor is it even much of a story, and it isn't even about a man... therefore our primate of discussion will neither travel nor be visited in this moment... for no destination is distant to him (as he is there already), and no stranger will come to visit him (as all who might arrive are not strangers, and as he is already present despite being a stranger to himself)...

4. The monkey is alone and he is afraid. He does not know his fear and so is happily, spastically, hyper-ly reflective in his calm tranquility of speedy unaware introspective being...

5. He runs about his clearing, visiting with all those who are not there and chattering away to each in their own tongue, babbling and cheetering while waving his hands—with elegant opposable thumbs—about the sky as if painting something profoundly mundane in the air with pigments of his own imagination...

6. The monkey is not aware of the fear of being alone that lingers in his hairless core, as his self-awareness is tied to his self-compassion. If he were to place thought to this, he would realize a deep reluctance to being left to himself in that jumbled clearing of mind...

7. It is a noisy life of seclusion in the cluttered no-space where the chorus sings voicelessly to the monkey—who would seek peace if he were only able to grasp the no-monkey nature of his non-monkey mind. "For a solitary life to flourish...aloneness asks us to make friends of silence." And the monkey chatters away waving his hands until he becomes exhausted with the volume of the lack of other-sound...

8. And then, in that tiredness, in an instant of immense improbability the self-condemned monkey stumbles upon the random idea of non-monkey-ness and chooses to swim. He dives deeply into he nearby pool to drown out the cacophony of silence. And there in the pressure of the depths—a clamorously muffled murky green—choosing replaces sentencing and the silence mingles with the chatter. The monkey-fish emerges from the settled sediment-less waters and settles himself upon a nearby white lotus... prepared to sit in the stillness and watch his monkey-mind alone. Ah, the lotus, though! He seems to fit upon it as if it were fashioned to be just so... (and yet we know that too to be just perception, as fit is more in the mind than in reality)...

•. And the monkey sits fitted with the lotus in the silence. And to describe that fit, upon the lake, seated in the afternoon light, in the space between the extremes, while connected to everything and nothing (all at once and in succession) would defy words, save one, right. And the monkey, aware, raises his head, lets loose a quiet squeak of immense contentment and peace, and he lowers his eyes to gaze upon nothing in its perfection...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Where trouble melts like lemon drops...

Pot of Gold:
Driving a truck on a gravely old road—tires spinning in 4 wheel drive—on a warmish fall day is exhilarating. Pressing forward over the crest of a hill through a little rain and fog—visibility diminished to only a few hundred feet—is mysterious. To turn onto the smooth newly-paved surface of a downward slope and be confronted by a harvested field—adorned with the light of a full rainbow, tip to tip—is joy. Such is a Berkshires moment in late October as experienced by a middle-aged man driving like a teen-age boy down a country road in search of nothing and happening upon something (it's a metaphor, yeah?)...

There is so much exhilaration, mystery, and joy in each day that contrast the shadowy elements. I am not sure what the lesson is for me today—or my purpose—beyond sharing the feel-good emotion I have deep in my core. So, on this Sunday I offer up a picture of my rainbow and include Bruddah Iz to help spread a little bit of that feel-good thing that I have in my core. Enjoy, and let the sweet sounds of the voice of Hawaii fill you today...

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
And the dreams that you dreamed of
Once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow
Blue birds fly
And the dreams that you dreamed of
Dreams really do come true ooh oh
Someday I'll wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney top
That's where you'll find me
Oh, somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
And the dream that you dare to,
Oh why, oh why can't I?
Well I see trees of green and red roses too,
I'll watch them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Well I see skies of blue
And I see clouds of white
And the brightness of day
I like the dark
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people passing by
I see friends shaking hands
Singing, "How do you do?"
They're really singing, "I, I love you."
I hear babies cry and I watch them grow,
They'll learn much more than we'll know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world world
Someday I'll wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney top
That's where you'll find me
Oh, somewhere over the rainbow way up high
And the dream that you dare to, why oh, why can't I?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The donative heart: An implicit promise for the future...

The quirks that give us away: It is not so strange when we acquire language from others that is unique, quirky, identifiable as such by those who pay attention to language; I say wicked (Boston), and ya'll without a drawl (Mid-Atlantic). I make my A's long (Can't and Aunt sound like Ant), and turn my T's into D's (Baltimore is BALL-di-more, hon). The web is full of question and answer games that place your linguistic footprint, or try to guess your location from these clues. [Here is a really interesting one from the NYTimes. The graphics are such fun.]

Of acorns and trees: But it is a little more strange when we acquire words—or more importantly word usages—from individuals (that is not so regionalized), and are able to gain an insight into where we picked up that usage...

The heart of the giving: One such word is my love of the word donative. I've used it for years, preferring it to it's kin, charitable. It seemed normal to use, yet I have realized that others around me do not always understand how I use it. This summer as I was speaking with my father about kindness and giving while using the word donative my father pointed out to me that he likes how I use the word; I realized then that I use his word. I had not specifically thought that it was his, but realized that I have long heard him use it; it makes sense that I picked it up from him. He pointed out to me that the word is not used much anymore, and I laughingly told him it is a good word anyway...

Popularity of the word "Donative."
Donative shows up in writing in the 16th century, but has Latin roots. The oldest Latin is just "to give," and over time came to be a formal giving tied to an organization. I realize my father and I use it incorrectly. The definition of the word is:

It seems so formal, this definition. It is not how we use it. We use donative in a way that describes the spirit of the gift, the heart of the intent as a selfless act. There is a purity implied in the way we both use the word to describe, that reflects our deep value of the charitableness that we are all capable of when we place the other ahead of ourselves—the love that is implied in the act of giving. It is not about merely cutting a check for a charity we like. It carries with it the baggage of Kindness (with a capital K), the example that he might attribute to the love of Christ, or I, the full understanding of a bodhisattva's compassion...

An implicit promise for the future: I have been blessed with such a wealth of positive relationships in my life that I am at times overwhelmed with the gift of it all. I continue to grow and see more and become more as a result of these people in my life. One good friend recently sent me a book of meditations on everyday words by a poet named David Whyte, Consolations. The following are excerpts from his entry on giving. Although I have stripped these lines from their larger linear context, I believe what I offer below represents good wisdom. It captures what I see as part of the heart of that word donative that my father and I use so similarly...

Giving is a difficult and almost contemplative art form that has to be practiced to be done well; to learn to give is almost always the simple, sometimes heartbreaking act of just giving again.

...all gifts change with the maturation of their recipients.

...it means getting beyond the boundaries of our own needs, it means understanding another and another's life...

Giving means paying attention and creating imaginative contact with the one whom we are giving, it is a form of attention itself, a way of acknowledging and giving thanks for lives other than our own.

...to surprise the recipient by showing that someone else understands them and through a display of giving virtuosity, can even identify needs they cannot admit themselves. The full genius of gift giving is found when we give what a person does not fully feel they deserve...

To give is also to carry out the difficult task of putting something of our own essence in what we have given. 

...but to give appropriately, always involves a tiny act of courage, a step of coming to meet, of saying I see you, and appreciate you and am also making an implicit promise for the future.

Quotes from David Whyte's Consolations. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Touching the Divine...We are the stories we tell ourselves...

The Virgin Queen: In 1998 Shekhar Kapur directed Elizabeth, one of my favorite historically oriented films. It is not accurate historically, but rather is accurate in how it captures human endeavor; it is a political/romantic drama loosely based upon the early life and struggles of one of the greatest Monarchs in history. Cate Blanchett plays an attractive, desirous, intense, educated Elizabeth who grows into her role as an effective power broker in a political world dominated by men and in a period of uncertainty for England. IMDB, Roger Ebert, and Rotten Tomatoes all give it solid, but not astounding, ratings. Nonetheless, it is one of my favorites. I have a lot of favorites. Movies are such amazing vehicles for telling stories...

Laterna Magica: Movies are magic. They are magical. They can bring the stories we tell ourselves that craft of image of what we believe right before our own eyes. These stories we tell and watch are ours for our collective inspection, and although the film and sound are the same each time shown, the reception and perception of those stories is as varied as the viewers who watch them. Anything we think can become reality, and those various realities can be shown to us through all sorts of the stories we tell, including film. Walsingham, in Elizabeth, says "All men need something greater than themselves to look up to and worship. They must be able to touch the divine here on earth." We are compelled to find meaning and expression for our beliefs. We hold in our hearts and mind beliefs about the world and the divine, and we construct stories for them that are meaningful, fanciful, mundane, irreverent, whimsical, and so much more. But deep within our stories lie our core beliefs, and in those core spaces might lie the capital "T" truth and the divine that we seek to touch here on earth...

Panic, Chaos, The Source, Waiting to be hit by the universe... Touching the Divine: So today's "meditation" is borrowed from one of these storytellers, the director of Elizabeth, Kapur. These comments about how he approaches his story telling are from his TED talk "We are the stories we tell ourselves." The comments that follow are just a taste of his presentation. If you like what you read you should take the 15 minutes to watch his whole talk. He says:
When I go out to direct a film, every day we prepare too much, we think too much. Knowledge becomes a weight upon wisdom. You know, simple words lost in the quicksand of experience. So I come up, and I say, "What am I going to do today?" I'm not going to do what I planned to do, and I put myself into absolute panic. It's my one way of getting rid of my mind, getting rid of this mind that says, "Hey, you know what you're doing. You know exactly what you're doing. You're a director, you've done it for years." So I've got to get there and be in complete panic. It's a symbolic gesture. I tear up the script, I go and I panic myself, I get scared. I'm doing it right now; you can watch me. I'm getting nervous, I don't know what to say, I don't know what I'm doing, I don't want to go there. And as I go there, of course, my A.D. says, "You know what you're going to do, sir." I say, "Of course I do." And the studio executives, they would say, "Hey, look at Shekhar. He's so prepared." And inside I've just been listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan because he's chaotic. I'm allowing myself to go into chaos because out of chaos, I'm hoping some moments of truth will come. All preparation is preparation. I don't even know if it's honest. I don't even know if it's truthful. The truth of it all comes on the moment, organically, and if you get five great moments of great, organic stuff in your storytelling, in your film, your film, audiences will get it. So I'm looking for those moments, and I'm standing there and saying, "I don't know what to say." So, ultimately, everybody's looking at you, 200 people at seven in the morning who got there at quarter to seven, and you arrived at seven, and everybody's saying, "Hey. What's the first thing? What's going to happen?" And you put yourself into a state of panic where you don't know, and so you don't know. And so, because you don't know, you're praying to the universe because you're praying to the universe that something -- I'm going to try and access the universe the way Einstein -- say a prayer -- accessed his equations, the same source. I'm looking for the same source because creativity comes from absolutely the same source that you meditate somewhere outside yourself, outside the universe. You're looking for something that comes and hits you. Until that hits you, you're not going to do the first shot.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Buddhist Still Life... sunday monkey mind

It is a rainy day, damp face, warm sweater, wrap your arms around yourself and smile kind of day. Glowing fire in the stove. It is a climb a mountain with the one you want and shuffle though damp leaves sort of morning. Hot tea on the sill. It is a sit in the clutter, sorting the chaos, putting things in boxes, letting go of the old, kind of solitude. Calming music from the speakers. It is a steam bath, sweat brow, skin cleanse, day-dream, deep sigh sort of sit on a marble slab. Fresh laundry on the shelf. It is a half-mast eye gaze, mind open, heart slowed, listen to the world sort of afternoon. Good book in the lap. It is a smell of baked bread and wood smoke mixed with sandalwood wisps and musky fall dew kind of space... ahhhhhhhhh!

"My eyes already touch the sunny hill. Going far ahead of the road I have begun. So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp; it has inner light, even from a distance and changes us, even if we do not reach it, into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are; A gesture waves us on answering our own wave... But what we feel is the wind in our faces."  --Rilke

[I am reminded of a post two years ago, by the way... A quiet pleasant melancholy Cycles and patterns eh?]

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Butterfly Effect...

"Look deeply: every second I am arriving...": I've been thinking about "chaos" this morning. All morning, in fact. I've been struggling to find my way to articulate an understanding of a system that I admit I can only understand through my own perception—a perception that seeks to find concept in the concept-less-ness of that very thing I wish to articulate meaning about. I'm out of my league here...

"I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry...": But I perceive a world of chaos around me, and perceive that that chaos disturbs many people for their need to find definition and order... I am like that too. But the chaos and entropy that swirls around my thoughts about the universe I experience feels comforting. It is my lack of ability to find the words to express my appreciation of that universe that causes me angst...

"I am a mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river...": I know that there are those who look into the abyss and see something that they find great beauty in, that there are those who gaze into the random nature of a system and see pattern where most of us see mess, that there are those who "know" that order exists in all things, in all ways, all at once. I yearn for that certainty. Does the entropy of a system reverse itself if given enough time to move towards chaos? Does the chaos itself have an order all of itself that is beautiful? I suspect yes, and seek to see it. Yet I have no answers today, a lot of questions and a willingness to continue to just listen to the universe and listen for the sound that its found in the the white noise of the distant stars...

... ... ...

“I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art.”

― W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil

... ... ...

"There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns. If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself. What we call chaos is just patterns we haven't recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can't decipher. what we can't understand we call nonsense. What we can't read we call gibberish.
There is no free will. There are no variables."

― Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor

... ... ...

“Real love is always chaotic. You lose control; you lose perspective. You lose the ability to protect yourself. The greater the love, the greater the chaos. It’s a given and that’s the secret.”

― Jonathan Carroll, White Apples

(Poetic headings borrowed from the poverty of Thich Nhat Hanh.)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

To live...

At the suggestion of a friend who knew I loved The Seven Samurai by Kurosawa I recently watched Ikiru.
Ikiru (生きる?, "To Live") is a 1952 Japanese film directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa. The film examines the struggles of a minor Tokyo bureaucrat and his final quest for meaning. The script was partly inspired by Leo Tolstoy's 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, although the plots are not similar beyond the common theme of a bureaucrat struggling with a terminal illness.[1] It stars Takashi Shimura as Kanji Watanabe.  
The film has a 100% positive rating based on 30 reviews from critics at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.[2]
Ikiru ranks 459th on Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.[3] Ranked #44 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[4] 
Roger Ebert included it in his Great Movies reviews in 1996, saying: "Over the years I have seen Ikiru every five years or so, and each time it has moved me, and made me think. And the older I get, the less Watanabe seems like a pathetic old man, and the more he seems like every one of us."[5] In his Great Movies review of Seven Samurai Ebert called it Kurosawa's greatest film.[6][7] --Wikipedia
I would like (but will choose to fail) to downplay the effect the film had on me, as too strong a review will only hurt other's chance of loving it as I did, but I was delighted by my experience of this film and overwhelmed (in a positive way) by its message...

"The best way to protect your place in this world is to do nothing at all":

What a sad place to start a story. A seemingly peaceful man, Kanji Watanabe, has maintained a boring and patterned life that is by some measure successful. But it is clear there is nothing dynamic nor alive in his existence. He goes to work each day and does the same thing he's done for years, nothing, and in his meek way this this is a good thing.

I am reminded of what Edmund Burke the 18th c. political philosopher said, that "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." I am certain that doing nothing in the face of evil is a crime, but what is it when good men do nothing in the face of living? Is it also a crime? Is idleness the devil's workshop? Or is doing nothing in the face of living just sad? (It is not lost on me that doing "nothing" purposefully can lead to insight and enlightenment as well.) I am not completely sure, but I am starting to realize how terrible it is to not at least try to live each day, to search for the light and turn ourselves to face it, to strive to grow though forward movement and doing!

"What would you do if you had only six months left to live, like him?":

And a sad story of a man who does nothing quickly gets more sad. Watanabe is shuffling through life—widowed and distant from his son—when he discovers from a doctor's visit that stomach cancer will soon take his life.  

My father and I have had a discussion more than once about foreknowledge of death. He asks, "If the time and date of your death were stamped on your heal, would you look?" I have asserted always that I would. I am not sure of his answer, but suspect his interest lies more in how that choice is made, the effect of knowing the stamp is there more than the information itself. For me, not knowing something is a burning itch I struggle to not scratch. I value truth more than illusion, even if that truth is painful. I suspect knowing when my death would arrive would temporarily cripple me, but perhaps (I hope) would galvanize me to live more fully. Do we not get a second wind at the end of a race when we know where the finish line is?

"Because misfortune teaches us the truth.":

Watanabe meets a writer, full of profound ideas and intensity, and the two of them proceed to live wildly in a stumbling trip through Tokyo's nightclubs filled with women, drink, and song. It is a smokey and pleasurable adventure, although not sustainable.

When I was a junior in high school I visited five colleges on a midwest tour with my father. Notre Dame: too big. Dennison: too Greek. Wooster (my mom's college): too nice. Oberlin (my first choice): too "left". And Kenyon (my dad's college): just right! Everything from the feel of the campus, the visual aesthetic, and even the interview process (Oberlin's interview went so poorly I am convinced that had I applied, I would not make it onto even the large pile) fit like a glove...

"We only realize how beautiful life is when we chance upon death.": 

The interview question at Kenyon was "If you found out the world was going to end in a few days what would you do?" What a fun question! I was a little tired of trying to put on a likable face by that part of our college trip and felt comfortable enough in the Kenyon setting, that I just relaxed conversationally and answered honestly. [There is a lesson there perhaps about trying too hard rather than just being ourselves, eh?] I told the woman that my first impulse might be to behave recklessly and party like there was no tomorrow, but that idea did not sit well with me. I would realize quickly that people around me would be panicked and sad, and that although scared, the world around us is still beautiful. So I would try to calm them down, tell them it would be ok, but to quickly move on to find the people that I loved the most and try to spend some last good moments with them. there would not be much time for fancy adventures, but plenty of time to just sit and talk and "be" with those we care the most about. She seemed surprised at my answer, and commented that she had been asking that same question all day, and that each student had talked about selfish things like driving fast on highways, or breaking things for the fun of it. She smiled and told me she thought my answer was thoughtful and nice. I told her my answer was selfish too, to be with people I cared about comforting them and being comforted by them would be the best way to cope with such a short end. To lose the world and life would be tragic and devastating, but with the right mindset, knowing the end was near might make those last moments so, so, sweet, as long as it was with the right people.

"Besides, It's time to buy a new hat to switch to a new self.":
Realizing that the fast life of Tokyo did not fill the hole in his lifeless gut, Watanabe tries to come to grips with his emptiness by attaching himself to youth. He platonically courts a young woman who seems to be filled with an exuberant joy of living. His lesson from her as he grasps and clings to her energy in the end is that he needs to find his own purpose, his own living.

And so I left my disenfranchised punk self behind in my high school days of Baltimore and embarked on the best four years of my life, adventures that led from that hilltop at Kenyon College in central Ohio: thriving in an academic playground, finding new fields of study, understanding the guidance of a mentor, finding love, working with the homeless, tempering my sobriety, finding my soul in Asia, and learning to express myself effectively. What a "new hat" I tried on in college. I worked for myself, and success snuck up on me when I wasn't paying attention to results, but rather, was just interesting in living. [Hmmmm, another lesson, perhaps?]


"The point is, the world is a dark place if his dedication was pointless."
"It is a dark place."
"But anyone of us could suddenly drop dead."
"We have to act like we're doing something but do nothing.":

Watanabe's colleagues grapple with his death and see in themselves the lack of purpose that he had also lacked for much of his professional life. They lament the darkness of the world, and drink, and bolstered their sadness and grief. They feel shame for their embrace of "nothingness," contrasted by  Wannabe's last months where he lived for a purpose. In the end the men around him ARE changed and vow to sacrifice for the greater good of society.

If we see great people do great great things, and talk about how great they are, without changing ourselves, we are just drunks crying in our glasses. It is not enough to just try. We must do! Yoda's great admonition to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back is "Do. Or do not. There is no try." I love the idea that we try new things, and we show up and "give it our best." This is doing. It is in fighting our inertia that trying is not enough; paraphrased: Shit, or get off the pot!

Turning to the light:

And so Watanabe did something meaningful for himself that improved the life of others around him, and affected still others who reflected on his efforts. He did not do it for recognition. While he worked, tirelessly in his illness that no-one knew about, he turned toward the light. He faced the shining sun and found life! He saw the world around him and became something more than he had ever been before. At one point when he is rebuked in his efforts, a subordinate pushes Watanabe to be angry. His response: "I can't afford to hate people. I haven't got that kind of time." As he moves quickly through his day he stops to look at the sky, the light pushing through the clouds, and remarks "How truly beautiful."

We all stumble. We all have those moments where darkness closes around us and we live in shadow. We have moments and perhaps years where we protect our place in the world by doing nothing. We all have moments where hate might seem like it could feel good. But the light is always there, the capacity to try on a new hat for our new selves is always there; and we do not need to be confronted with our impending death to see it; perhaps just a story of another who is, can compel us to live.

"Life is brief.":
Perhaps the most beautiful scene in the film comes near the end when we find Watanabe on a swing in a park—that for a select few, matters dearly—singing a song that he had sung while drunk in Tokyo's night clubs. It was a popular song in Japan in the nineteen-teens. It starts "Life is brief..."

The name of the film is Ikiru (To live) by Akira Kurosawa. It is a story about living in the face of death. The bookend usage of a song that is is about the brevity of life and which encourages us to love is  fittingly beautiful and poignant...

Gondola no Uta 
life is brief.
fall in love, maidens
before the crimson bloom
fades from your lips
before the tides of passion
cool within you,
for those of you
who know no tomorrow
life is brief
fall in love, maidens
before his hands
take up his boat
before the flush of his cheeks fades
for those of you
who will never return here
life is brief
fall in love, maidens
before the boat drifts away
on the waves
before the hand resting on your shoulder
becomes frail
for those who will never
be seen here again
life is brief
fall in love, maidens
before the raven tresses
begin to fade
before the flame in your hearts
flicker and die
for those to whom today
will never return 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A ramble about memory (memorial and celebration)...

[The soundtrack for today's blog is a montage of news items edited over REM's Everybody Hurts. It is an emotional rollercoaster and in no way is required to appreciate the entry below. The lyrics that are important for my entry are in the text of the blog. Nonetheless, I listen to this song every year on September 11th and thought I would share.] 

When your day is long and the night
The night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough of this life, well hang on
Don't let yourself go
Everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes... 
It seems appropriate to have my first blog back from hiatus to be one of historical relevance and particular import to me. Fifteen years ago some terrible things happened on 9/11, and those of us that were there—present in the moment—know how time can stretch out into a terrible breath holding exercise of amazement, terror, and anticipation. Sorrow flooded in as the disbelief dissipated, and anger with despair pressed the sorrow down to places where it might fester, only later being flushed out slowly and patiently in a world-wide session of collective grief. Terrible things happen all the time in history, but that they would happen in the US to so many of the privileged made the whole world pay especial attention, including me...

Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it's time to sing along
When your day is night alone (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go (hold on)
When you think you've had too much of this life, well hang on...
It hurts me still, the feelings that arise when I think of that day fifteen years ago. I remember identifying with the 343 firefighters especially, even though I had yet to turn in my application for the local fire department; that identification is what finally pushed me to join the local hose company.  I have strong memories from that day that I can play back in my mind with cinematic clarity. I can feel what I felt and see faces of confused and distraught children quietly wandering the halls of my school that was no longer following the bell schedule. It was a quiet chaos that burned like hot iron, but there was no noise; the quiet was disquieting. When exploring those cinematic moments hurt me too much [forgetting that I can choose to not watch my own mind's screen] I choose to retreat to a moment at the end of the day when I was emotionally drained having been a teacher for the entire day a with wide-eyed and shocked students around me for the entire news cycle from first impact to 4pm: I have picked up my five months old son from day care and have NPR on the radio. I am thinking I want to cry for the loss of innocence I am projecting on him, and for the realization that the news he does not know will change his world. I worry that he might be taking in the raw emotions of the newscasters as they lose their ability to be objective in reporting the events of the day, and I choose to for the first time that day to turn off the radio. It's time to shut off the feed. It's the good parent thing to not allow this hurt to pour around the air space of my firstborn, my millennial born, my beloved progeny. I pull into the Duncan Donuts that has since become The Donut Man and ritually buy my son and me our Tuesday blueberry cake donut to share for the 1/2 hour ride home. And as I glance back in the rear view mirror and hand him his first piece, he smiles and laughs and my world is whole again for that moment...

Everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts
Don't throw your hand Oh, no
Don't throw your hand
If you feel like you're alone, no, no, no, you are not alone
And here I am on another anniversary of 9/11 reliving some of those feelings again, allowing the hurt in, as a strange form of respect for those impacted more than me, a tribute(?) for those who have suffered more than I do. I allow the feelings in to witness the hurt, and perhaps to defy the hurt by feeling sad and then rising out of that sadness with a glow in my heart and compassion for those around me who persist; living today seems to spit in the eye of the feelings that were sought by angry men who wished to injure us fifteen years ago. Living today feels like laughter and smile from a baby, innocent and full, and wonderful!...

ABRUPT SHIFT IN BLOG FOCUS (but still following a thread of though about Septembers and memories... 
...Nine years before the attacks on Washington and New York I traveled to a Buddhist monastery in India to study near and under the grandchild-tree that the Buddha sat under so many seasons before. I allowed my eyes to open while studying in Asia. I woke up... It was the pinnacle four months of the most transformative four years of my life, and I am grateful for the person I have become as a result of my experience there. This is not the Sunday to process the lessons I received while on that trip, but suffice to say, I was not only transformed, but continue to receive the fruits of the seeds that were planted back then so long ago...

Living in the past vs. remembering...
I bring up my trip to India today, as it is in my mind a lot lately and has me thinking about the differences of living in the past vs. remembering the past. The former is stale and speaks of a soul no longer growing; the latter is fruitful and reflective, allowing for comparison and subsequently for me, gratitude. I recently joined a public group on FaceBook that is comprised of people who have visited that place in India and learned from the same teachers, and perhaps who have experienced the same sorts of transformation I did. It is a group that helps connect people who share a location connection from the past only, but so many who go there seem to open in similar ways, share similar growth, at a similar time in their searching lives. If the impulse to join such a group is only to relive the past, then the present is ruined. But if the desire to revisit the past in order to find a better present, then the future opens in a way that was not possible moments before. What glorious potential!...

Finding Things (like new friends who feel like long lost ones...):
So to be silly I asked Google how to find something lost. WikiHow toped my search results and listed the following steps: Method: Calming down. 1: Breathe in and out. 2: Empty your brain. 3: Remember that is is not the end of the world. 4: Put it in context. 5: Be confident.  How interesting...  How almost Buddhist, how apropos! ... So, to get back to FaceBook: I found a new friend from my Buddhist Studies past. I have been breathing lately and emptying my brain; I have been reversing any catastrophizing (sp?!) in my life and placing my experiences in context. I am working on my confidence... and then like magic, I stumbled on a new friend with old ties in the most implausible of circumstances... like "it" (this discovery) was meant "to be" even though I do NOT believe in fate! Coincidences happen all the time as long as we are open to observing them as they happen...

Realization and reflection:
So I wrote the following on the group page on FaceBook: "What is it about finding someone randomly in the world who just happens to have been on this program that feels exactly like finding a long lost friend? " You see, the threads of those memories back in 1992 continue to criss-cross in my life and it is rich and wonderful. I continue to find new friends as a result of my time in India, each time provoking me to revisit those cinematic memories that do not cause me to retreat, but rather, help me emerge. Our pasts explain our paths, reveal our progress, and provide a context for who we are. Buddhism does not deny the past and the future while it encourages us to embrace the moment; it merely places the past and future in a context that allows the moment to be the place where we live. And on this 9/11, as I reflect on my past, both fifteen years ago and twenty-four years ago, I have have my body turned toward the future, and I am living right now... glory be!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"I want to take a ride..."

"Pick me up. Let's take a ride. Let me see the city from the passenger side tonight.": This is how my last blog entry for the summer begins, not with wisdom, but with a request; a request to be picked up, to take a ride, to let me see the world from somewhere other than the driver's seat. It is perhaps about turning my will over to "the flow" more, trying less to control what is not in my reach, and finding the beautiful zen in throwing my hands up over my head and shouting "yeeeee haaaaa" at the top of my lungs...  I think today's entry is to be about trying new things and stepping outside of my comfort zone. I found a quote online that I think applies, "I have realized; it is during the times I am far outside my element that I experience myself the most."...

Baked Goods, Pt. 1: Muffins...: What a thing a year can be. A year ago today (Father's Day) my daughter was trying to make me muffins as a surprise. I could hear her from upstairs that she was struggling, and there were tears as mistakes were made down in the kitchen...  I quietly waited for my gift to arrive, hoping my daughter wouldn't throw in the towel, wouldn't give up... she didn't and they were good, both batches, each different, both good.

So last year for my last post I wrote about muffins, reflected on wisdom from Batman Begins and The Legend of Korra, and I made note that I was uploading post #43, when I was 43 years old. It was a post about falling down, getting back up and moving through the struggles that we inevitably move through...
Alfred Pennyworth: Took quite a fall, didn't we, Master Bruce?
Thomas Wayne: And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.
In Season 4 of The Legend of Korra, the Avatar is suffering from the anime equivalent of PTSD. She asks the healer of her village "And ... what am I going to find if ... I get through this?" Katara, the healer, answers "I don't know. But won't it be interesting to find out?"... 
Well, 43 was a rough year for me in some ways, and the advice I hoped for my daughter should have been directed at me had I been able to see the road ahead. I fell down, I stood back up. I wondered what I was going to find "if I get through this;" I worried and stressed and raged and melted; and I grew fatigued. And as spring arrived and warmed into summer, I feel new life, I am ready to find out what there is to find...

Baked Goods, Pt. 2: Cookies...: The metaphor I need to use here lies again in baked goods, not in muffins this time, but in cookies. [Muffins are baked with love. Cookies are the reward from love.] In The Matrix, Neo goes to visit the Oracle. He is convinced he is master of his own fate and is extremely distrustful of what he will hear from an oracle. And yet he goes anyway. [Such doubt from one so sure.] Although I am not one for fate, I do revel in the symbolism of the world around me. Fate is predetermination, symbolism is what value we ascribe to the patterns we find in the chaos. I also spend a lot of time trying to stay in control of my own life. That control has caused me so many successful moments and so many failures. And it takes energy, too. It's the "trying to figure it all out" that is so draining; rehearsing the script, watching out for pitfalls, trying to make sure everyone is OK, including me, but especially the others around me. So Neo is told his good friend will sacrifice himself for Neo's life and that Neo has a choice to make:
The Oracle: Oh, don't worry about it. As soon as you step outside that door, you'll start feeling better. You'll remember you don't believe in any of this fate crap. You're in control of your own life, remember? Here, take a cookie. I promise, by the time you're done eating it, you'll feel right as rain.
The cookie is, like all other things in The Matrix, symbolic. Neo takes the cookie, but is already pondering the script. Was his choice to take the cookie ordained or free will? He missed the point entirely! It was offered out of love. It is just what it is. Much later Neo visits the Oracle again when he realizes the danger of a potentially all-knowing force in his life.
Neo: I suppose the most obvious question is, how can I trust you?
The Oracle: Bingo! It is a pickle, no doubt about it. The bad news is there’s no way if you can really know whether I’m here to help you or not. So it’s really up to you. You just have to make up your own damn mind to either accept what I’m going to tell you, or reject it. Candy?
Neo: D’you already know if I’m going to take it?
The Oracle: Wouldn’t be much of an Oracle if I didn’t.
Neo: But if you already know, how can I make a choice?
The Oracle: Because you didn’t come here to make the choice, you’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand why you made it. I thought you’d have figured that out by now.
Neo: Why are you here?
The Oracle: Same reason. I love candy.
Neo: But why help us?
The Oracle: We’re all here to do what we’re all here to do. I’m interested in one thing, Neo, the future. And believe me, I know – the only way to get there is together.
"I want to take a ride.": I've been driving for a long time now, and may have lost my way a bit. "Fate" might just have to take the wheel while I'm seeing double; I'll still pay the tickets when we speed. I think I have often gotten stuck in the conundrum that Neo finds himself, trying to figure it all out and forgetting to just eat the cookie. So when "Fate" comes knocking, I think I'll throw my hands up over my head, yell "yeeeee haaaaa," grab that cookie if it's offered, and just try to enjoy the ride...