Saturday, October 31, 2015

Moby-Dick; or, The WhaleMoby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"This is an odd book, professing to be a novel: wantonly eccentric; outrageously bombastic; in places charmingly and vividly descriptive." - Literary Gazette, 1851.

Moby-Dick is as odd a book as it was when it was first published in 1851. It's a big, sweeping novel that circles the globe. But it's also quite intimate, diving into the details of character's daily lives and motivations. It's a fictional story of one man's obsession with revenge on a whale and a historical chronicle of the times. When Herman Meville wrote Moby-Dick the oceans were crossed by whaling ships, merchant ships, navy ships, pirate ships, and slave ships. Whales were still thought to be fish. Melville paints a detailed, textured mosaic of the life of seamen and those around them.

Although Melville didn't rise above the times, he denounced hypocrisy but not slavery, he identified strongly with the common man and men of all positions and colors. At the beginning the narrator, Melville's voice in the novel, starts a bromance with an aboriginal prince from the south seas. But Captain Ahab is a classist, believing in democracy for everyone of his station and higher but disregards the humanity of those under him.

The prose of Moby-Dick is lyrical, liquid, almost poetic at times making it a joy to read. Though a long novel, the chapters are short and easily digestible. Melville was highly intelligent, read widely, and drops names and references throughout his text. In the past I've preferred reading hard copies of novels, but this book is actually a good one to read on an electronic device. Reading it on my phone gave me the ultimate annotated edition. Looking up all of the archaic terms and obscure geographical references helped bring the novel to life and revealed the scope and sweep of the story. But I am thinking a nice hard back edition from the Library of America will be my Christmas present to myself this year.

I loved Moby-Dick and I'm looking forward to reading it again and again, uncovering details I missed the previous times. This novel is to be read and re-read. Read it as many times as you've read Lord of the Rings. Read it like you've read Harry Potter.

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Impenetrable Japans

Herman Melville describing the Pacific Ocean:
" The same waves wash the moles of the new-built Californian towns, but yesterday planted by the recentest race of men, and lave the faded but still gorgeous skirts of Asiatic lands, older than Abraham ; while all between float milky-ways of coral isles, and low-lying, endless, unknown Archipelagoes, and impenetrable Japans." - Moby Dick

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Practice Not Causing Harm

What to Do When the Going Gets Rough


Pema Chödrön on four ways to hold our minds steady and hearts open when facing difficult people or circumstances.

The most straightforward advice on awakening enlightened mind is this: practice not causing harm to anyone—yourself or others—and every day, do what you can to be helpful. If we take this instruction to heart and begin to use it, we will probably find that it is not so easy. Before we know it, someone has provoked us, and either directly or indirectly, we’ve caused harm.

Therefore, when our intention is sincere but the going gets rough, must of us could use some help. We could use some fundamental instruction on how to lighten up and turn around our well-established habits of striking out and blaming.

The four methods for holding our seat provide just such support for developing the patience to stay open to what’s happening instead of acting on automatic pilot. These four methods are:

1. Not setting up the target for the arrow
2. Connecting with the heart
3. Seeing obstacles as teachers
4. Regarding all that occurs as a dream.

First, if we have not set up the target, it cannot be hit by an arrow. This is to say that each time we retaliate with aggressive words and actions, we are strengthening the habit of anger. As long as we do this, without doubt, plenty of arrows will come our way. We will become increasingly irritated by the reactions of others. However, each time we are provoked, we are given a chance to do something different. We can strengthen old habits by setting up the target or we can weaken them by holding our seat.

Each time we sit still with the restlessness and heat of anger we are tamed and strengthened. This is instruction on cultivating the root of happiness. Each time we act on the anger or suppress it, we escalate our aggression; we become more and more like a walking target. Then, as the years go by, almost everything makes us mad. This is the key to understanding, at a completely real and personal level, how we sow the seeds of suffering.

So this is the first method: remember that we set up the target and only we can take it down. Understand that if we hold our seat when we want to retaliate—even if it’s only briefly—we are starting to dissolve a pattern of aggression that will continue to hurt us and others forever if we let it.

Second is the instruction for connecting with the heart. In times of anger, we can contact the kindness and compassion that we already have.

When someone who is insane starts to harm us, we can easily understand that she doesn’t know what she is doing. There is the possibility of contacting our heart and feeling sadness that she is out of control and is harming herself by hurting others. There is the possibility that even though we feel fear, we do not feel hatred or anger. Instead we might feel inspired to help this person if we can.

Actually, a lunatic is far less crazy than a sane person who harms us, for that so-called sane person has the potential to realize that in acting aggressively he is sowing seeds of his own confusion and dissatisfaction. His present aggression is strengthening future, more intense habits of aggression. He is creating his own soap opera. This kind of life is painful and lonely. The one who harms us is under the influence of patterns that could continue to produce suffering forever.

So this is the second method: connect with the heart. Remember that the one who harms us does not need to be provoked further and neither do we. Recognize that, just like us, millions are burning with the fire of aggression. We can sit with the intensity of the anger and let its energy humble us and make us more compassionate.

Third is the instruction on seeing difficulties as teachers. If there is no teacher around to give us direct personal guidance on how to stop causing harm, never fear! Life itself will provide opportunities for learning how to hold our seat. Without the inconsiderate neighbor, where will we find the chance to practice patience? Without the office bully, how could we ever get the chance to know the energy of anger so intimately that it loses its destructive power?

The teacher is always with us. The teacher is always showing us precisely where we’re at—encouraging us not to speak and act in the same old neurotic ways, encouraging us also not to repress or dissociate, encouraging us not to sow the seeds of suffering. So with this person who is scaring us or insulting us, do we retaliate as we have one hundred thousand times before, or do we start to get smart and finally hold our seat?

Right at the point when we are about to blow our top or withdraw into oblivion, we can remember this: we are warriors-in-training being taught how to sit with edginess and discomfort. We are being challenged to remain and to relax where we are.

The problem with following these or any instructions is that we have a tendency to be too serious and rigid. We get tense and uptight about trying to relax and be patient.

This is where the fourth instruction comes in: it is helpful to think about the person who is angry, the anger itself, and the object of that anger as being like a dream. We can regard our life as a movie in which we are temporarily the leading player. Rather than making it so important, we can reflect on the essencelessness of our current situation. We can slow down and ask ourselves: “Who is this monolithic me that has been so offended? And who is this other person who can trigger me like this? What is this praise and blame that hooks me like a fish, that catches me like a mouse in a trap? How is it that these circumstances have the power to propel me like a Ping-Pong ball from hope to fear, from happiness to misery?” This big-deal struggle, this big-deal self, and this big-deal other could all be lightened up considerably.

Contemplate these outer circumstances, as well as these emotions, as well as this huge sense of me, as passing and essenceless, like a memory, like a movie, like a dream. When we awaken from sleep we know that the enemies in our dreams are an illusion. That realization cuts through panic and fear.

When we find ourselves captured by aggression, we can remember this: there is no basis for striking out or for repressing. There is no basis for hatred or shame. We can at least begin to question our assumptions. Could it be that whether we are awake or asleep, we are simply moving from one dreamlike state to another?

These four methods for turning anger around and for learning a little patience come to us from the Kadampa masters of eleventh-century Tibet. These instructions have provided encouragement for fledgling bodhisattvas in the past, and they are just as useful in the present. These same Kadampa masters advised that we not procrastinate. They urged us to use these instructions immediately—on this very day in this very situation—and not say to ourselves, “I will try this in the future when I have a bit more time.”


From The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. © 2001 by Pema Chödrön. Used by permission of Shambhala Publications.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Answer is No

"(It's) about rejecting those who want your physical presence in order to pour into those who need your emotional presence."  - Todd Brison

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Surge of Power

This weekend I went to L.A. to help my friend Vinny shoot Surge of Power; Revenge of the Sequel. I was just a driver gopher guy but it was so much fun.  After 5 trips I'm more familiar with LAX than I ever thought I'd be; and I may never complain about San Diego traffic again; but I had a ton of fun and met many nice people, especially Maria Ria Zullo and Beverly LJ Hartman. Besides Erik Roberts I met John Newton. I didn't meet but did see Robert Picardo. Who knew holographic doctors showed signs of age? But they age very well. Thank you Vinny Roth for including me in your project.


Teach Your Sons

Be careful to leave your sons well-instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant. ~ Epictetus

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Dining Out in LA

Vegan Glory in West Hollywood.

Find Your Teachers

Thought of the day: GO FIND YOUR TEACHERS.

Dearest dear ones -

I was lucky enough to spend the day yesterday at the Emerging Women conference in San Francisco with my friend here, Brené Brown. I love Brene as a friend, because she is kind and honest and loyal and funny. But I also need her as a teacher.

What Brene has to teach me, through her books and talks on vulnerability and courage, is of vital and mind-altering importance to my life. I need what she is teaching. When I was growing up, I never learned how to have to the kind of emotionally honest (sometimes terribly frightening) conversations with myself and others that Brene teaches us to engage in.

The fact that I never learned all those skills as a child is not the fault of my parents; they never learned all those skills from their parents, either. My parents taught me literally everything they knew, but people cannot teach you what they do not know. People cannot give you what they themselves never had.

We all have gaps in our comprehenion of the world and we all have holes within ourselves, because we were all raised by people who had gaps in their comprehension, and holes in themselves, too. This is a story as old as time. Whether you came from a dysfunctional family or a (fairly!) functional one, you simply didn't get all that you needed. Nobody did.

This is why we all need great teachers.

There is a time in your life to mourn and grieve what you were not given as a child — and maybe even to compare yourself to other people you perceive as having been luckier than you. There is a time to process your pain, perhaps in a professional therapeutic setting, about how you wish life could have been, and what it cost you not to get what you needed. And then there comes a time in your life when you must stop mourning, and you must take accountability for going out there in the world and filling in your own gaps.

You must find your teachers.

I sit at the feet of so many wise people who have information that I do not have. Brene Brown is one of them. Also: Pema Chodron, Rob Bell, Iyanla Vanzant, the psychoanalists Adam Phillips and Pilar Jennings, the poets Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver and David Whyte, the late Richard from Texas, Ticht Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield, the long-dead mystics Rumi and Hafiz, and a few of my wisest personal friends whom you've never heard of — these are just a few of the faculty members of my university.  They can be yours, too...and there are more of them out there.

I say to my teachers (whether I ever meet them in person or not, and most of them I have not met): "Teach me. Walk me through this. Show me how you do that. Rub a little of your grace off on me. Give me exercises, and I will do them. Explain to me how it is. Reveal to me what you have learned. Show me how to fill in the parts of myself that I am missing."

It is my job to contiune being a student forever, because I am still figuring out how to live in this life, in this body, in this community of humans, at this moment in history.  I'm still working out the glitches in my own software, and still trying to grow.

It's your job to be a student, too — because the alternative is so dreadful. The alternative is to never stop saying, "Oh well, I didn't get what I needed in life," and to just surrender into self-pity and stagnation, and to never go looking for what you need. And that would be a great shame, because what you need can still be found. You have a human mind that is incredibly elastic, and still capable of learning and healing.

Go looking, then.

It's out there, you guys. Find your teachers, and learn from them. They are accessible and available. It's not too late.


Green Heron

Photographer Peggy Coleman.

Miss Amina

Photographer Troy Davidson.


By photographer Nick Jans.