Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Sufficient Amount of Service

I’m now reading Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s second book, Awareness Alone Is Not Enough, and encountered something in it while in Michigan that was really helpful. I’d fallen again into trying to be aware of awareness directly, and had also decided that maybe I’m not advanced enough of a yogi to notice my mental attitude all the time or to actively investigate my experience via questions—maybe after 24 years I’m still at the stage where it would be most helpful to choose an object and notice it as often as possible (which, after all, as Eugene Cash says, will take you all the way to enlightenment). Awareness Alone Is Not Enough is a collection of brief dialogues between SUT and various students, illustrated with handsome black and white photos.

Here’s the particularly helpful exchange:

SUT: Put your hands together like this. Can you feel the sensations?

Student: Yes.

SUT:  Do you recognize that you know the sensations?

Student: Yes.

SUT: That’s awareness of awareness.

Oh! Very helpful reminder that, just as Steve Armstrong said at Spirit Rock in April, we can’t know awareness directly, but only in relationship to an object.

The book also includes this enticement to would-be lucid dreamers: “If you can be aware of every thought that comes into your mind, you will automatically be aware of your dreams too.”

On falling asleep at night: “Don’t ever think of wanting to go to sleep.” Instead, we can be aware of our mind and bodies until reactions in the mind cease and we naturally fall asleep. Or, if we don’t, we can have a nice night of mindfulness practice! Less than a week after I started taking this approach at bedtime, I had my first definitely lucid dream in about eight months, though quite often, I’m generally aware that I’m dreaming: I know I don’t have to worry about events that occur in many dreams, because I know it’s just a dream, but there’s not enough lucidity to allow choosing actions or making things appear.


A couple of Tuesday nights ago, as almost always, I went to Howie’s. Parting from Charlie outside afterward, I said, “Cycle safely,” and he assured me, “I’ve been psycho-ing safely for a long time.” 


Lately it was once again time to find someone to cut my hair. My most recent stylist, a young lady I liked a lot, got pregnant and thus had to leave the Bay Area. Living here on a hair stylist’s salary is challenging, I imagine, and having a family out of the question. Thanks, real estate speculators, and tech companies who don’t encourage workers to live near their jobs but instead offer San Francisco residency as a corporate perk, driving rents through the roof.

I went to see a stylist recommended by a friend and found her shop (which says “Full Service” on the front door) colorfully decorated, with a huge TV on at top volume, and quite dirty, with hair all over the floor and grubby implements of beauty strewn here and there. I decided that if I didn’t end up with an infection, at a very modest $25, I’d consider it a fair trade. I knocked on the door at 4:00 sharp, was let in at 4:01, waited until 4:03 for A. to get off her cell phone, and explained I wanted a trim—there was a language barrier that precluded anything more elaborate and also precluded nitpicking.

A. spritzed my hair with water—her long fingernails make shampooing difficult, so it’s discouraged via a $10 additional fee—made a few strategic strokes with her scissors and pronounced the job done. She said, “You have too much hair,” but added that its salt-and-pepper color is good. I prefer to think of it as burnished mahogany and platinum, but that was nice to hear. At 4:07, I retrieved cash from my backpack and thanked her, and at 4:08, I was back on the sidewalk, leaving plenty of time for a walk, and my hair looks perfectly fine. In fact, one of the guests at the soup kitchen said, “I like your hair,” so if I don’t actually get an infection, A. is my new stylist.

The guest was one who took an instant disliking to me on our first meeting several weeks ago. He gave me on that occasion a symbolic punch on the arm along with a discouraging look and word, so my hair must really look fantastic.

Also at the soup kitchen was one of my favorites, the fellow who was grooming his beard with the needle-nose pliers several weeks ago. He was carrying a bowl of chili, in the center of which was firmly planted a plastic cup half full of water, in which floated several lettuce leaves. A plastic bag was tied around one of his ankles and one eyepiece of his sunglasses had been replaced with a random piece of metal tubing. After being outside for what sounds like a long time, he is working on getting housing. He said he thinks his time is short and he doesn’t intend to die on the sidewalk. He told me he gets so tired that he passes out very suddenly, sometimes coming to with half a mouthful of unchewed food.

He had been nearly incommunicado for several weeks before this chat, but on this day he was back to his old self, and explained that someone had advised him that he’d have better luck with women if he talked less, so he’d been giving that a try.

I met another guest for the first time, someone I hadn’t spoken with before, an extraordinarily fast-acting and aggressive matchmaker. “Are you married, divorced or single? Single? That fellow over there is handsome, isn’t he? Do you like to go to Opera Plaza? Why go through life alone? What’s your phone number? I’m going to go tell Dennis you think he’s handsome and that you want him to have your phone number.” I had to leap up and scurry off before I found myself standing before a justice of the peace.

As it happens, the guest named Dennis is extremely handsome, and charming and affable. He also says all sorts of entertaining things. For instance, he thinks it would be good if the soup kitchen, along with offering showers, massages, basic first aid and other medical services, clean needles, clothing, and assistance with a large array of bureaucratic needs, could be a medical marijuana dispensary. He told the executive director that offering marijuana to guests would be a meaningful step toward “simplicity and peace.”

He’s also weirdly sweet and generous. The first time I spoke with him, he said, “For you?” and gave me a section of newspaper he was done with, and another week, he gave me a small pin featuring a sinister pair of eyes peering out of the blackness, which I affixed to the back of my hat.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Hard Concrete Heart

Switching to new email addresses is basically complete now except that my Dubai email does not return an error when I send it a test message. Since that company is incompetent bordering on criminal, I’d feel better if those old email addresses were verifiably gone. Hypothetical situation: A merchant sends an email to my old address with an enticing, clickable offer. An evil-doer at the email company clicks on it and arrives at the merchant’s website, where my login is, of course, the email address that received the offer, and my password is ... the same as my email password. (I know ellipses are to be used to indicate missing words, not to build suspense, but there’s no other punctuation mark that quite does the job.)

Actually, my current email password is unique, but it used to be the same password I use for a number of websites, and the email company may still have that old password listed somewhere. It is particularly important, by the way, to have a very strong email password, because if someone gets your email password, they can go to Amazon or some other site where you log on with your email address, where your credit card information may well be stored, indicate a forgotten password, and receive an email letting them change the password to whatever they want.
So, anyway, then the person at my email company (if they think of trying my former email password) orders up a lot of expensive stuff, the charge appears on my credit card, I dispute the charge, and that’s the end of that, most likely. I guess that’s not the end of the world, and I started to think that maybe I should just forget about whether my old email returns an error or not, and that whether I forgot about it or not, I’d probably have to live with it, because I’ve called them three times to try to get them to properly delete those accounts, without success, plus I got into a fight with the “customer service” person during one of those calls, making it now three times I’ve lost my temper in the course of this whole thing, once being with Treasury Direct, the world’s worst website.

The email customer service person said the accounts were fully deleted and that she didn’t really feel like talking much, quote unquote, and things degraded from there. “You don’t feel like talking?!” I would be unemployed about five minutes after my boss learned I had said to someone I was assisting that I didn’t feel like talking. Fortunately, the next time the email customer service person and I spoke, I easily remained civil and she seemed to have no recollection whatsoever of the prior exceedingly unpleasant conversation, but I still wasn’t getting an error after sending myself a test message.

By the way, the reason she didn’t feel like talking is that she was sick with bronchitis and the reason she didn’t stay home is that she’s the only person in her department now. I think there used to be a number of people working there, but it’s starting to seem as if there are just two, the owner/engineer and her. That really didn’t pacify me in the moment: if you’re at work, you should be more or less able to work. But later of course I felt ashamed of myself (and, for the record, I was actually calm again by the end of that same conversation). Yes, to me it sounds wacky that a customer service person should travel to work, answer the phone and announce a desire not to speak, but I guess that’s the old paradigm and merely reveals the privilege I enjoy as the employee, at the moment, of a large company.

Not long ago, KQED’s Forum program was about older people, some of them homeless, struggling to find jobs. The guest host asked at one point something very close to, “Why don’t they just go golfing with their old colleagues and get hooked up with new jobs?” It was also mentioned how brutal Amazon warehouse jobs are, with employees walking for miles on hard concrete floors, and the host said dismissively, “Well, I guess they know how hard the floor is before they apply for the job.” As if, in this ageist society, 50-, 60-, 70- and 80-year-olds have tons of choices and take those crappy Amazon jobs just for fun, or to kill some time until they see their golfing buddies and get jobs as highly compensated, perk-drenched corporate attorneys.

That is to say, there can be a moment of cluelessness bordering on callousness now and then, including by Bugwalk.

It occurred to me that maybe the old email company just doesn’t have error handling in place, so the next time I sent myself a test message, I also sent one to ginger.sri.streepado at the same domain, and didn’t get an error for that one, either, so I have decided to let the whole thing go. It’s not that some remnant of my email address necessarily remains—they assure me it doesn’t—it’s that they didn’t set up error handling. (Or else Ginger Sri Streepado is wondering why I sent her a blank email.)

So that was the end of that, just in time to have to change all my financial account passwords due to the Russian hackers. I’d heard about the giant theft of passwords, but figured that with 1.2 billion people involved, it might take them a while to get around to my accounts. They might not even notice my accounts! But a close associate immediately changed all his financial-company passwords, and when I checked with another person whose judgment I trust to see if she was changing her passwords, she said it hadn’t occurred to her until I mentioned it, but now she was going to go ahead and do that, so then I had to do the same, and then I lost my temper once again. With Treasury Direct. And that’s the computer news.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Change Is Bad

For starters, at Rainbow. When I started shopping there, about 1985, at the corner of Mission and 15th, it was entirely the province of hippies stocking up on granola and bulk peanut butter. It’s now a much larger place at Folsom and Duboce, and lately, as the neighborhood has shifted, so has its clientele. It is common now to see Mercedes (Mercedeses?) and BMWs in the parking lot, and to see their owners in the store, but when I was there most recently, it seemed as if it was only their owners in the store, and me. Where did all those people who used to shop at Rainbow go? Have they left San Francisco entirely? I guess so, or they’d be at Rainbow. The workers are still mostly the same, though that is as seen by my uncalibrated shopper’s eye. My favorite cashier informs me that a shift is underway in that population, as well.

Lately I went to Cole Hardware downtown to stock up on masking tape, of which I go through about two rolls a month. Whenever Tom and I go away overnight, I say, “Don’t worry, I have the masking tape,” for the pleasure of seeing him roll his eyes. So handy for removing cat hair and random pieces of lint, but perhaps I’m in the minority on that, as well: Cole has moved the masking tape to a hard-to-reach top shelf. Soon it probably won’t be there at all.

Fortunately, after the hardware store, I planned to go to the Patrick & Co. on Mission St. to see Shirley, as I have been doing for years. She is a reliable source of good cheer and positive thinking.  Every time she sees me, she says, “Isn’t that a great hat? I love that hat!” Patrick & Co. sells office supplies: a million little interesting, colorful things. Therefore, it was exceedingly disorienting to walk through the door and see nothing but a long, bland, beige counter, with several young strangers standing blankly behind it. Surely Shirley could not be gone, along with the stickers, paper clips, pen refills, calendars, note pads and all the rest!

Signs overhead advised that office supplies were in the back, and indeed they were, plus Shirley. I said, “Thank god you’re still here!” Beaming, she agreed, “Thank heaven I’m still here,” which probably referred both to still being employed and still being alive, as she must be nearing 90. Her hair was freshly red—a welcome sort of change—and otherwise she was just as ever, though her two co-workers were gone. She explained that they had leased the front portion of the store to Copy Central. No doubt a smart and necessary move, but how long can it be before the stickers and Shirley just aren’t there?

Delta Air Lines’ new funny safety videos, like Shirley
’s fresh coiffure, are a welcome sort of change. I saw one in March and a different one on my recent trip to Ypsilanti. The latest video, when explaining how to buckle a seat belt, shows a large doughy white guy in a plaid shirt, with stubby polished red fingernails. He’s not someone we’re supposed to feel contempt for. There are many quirky characters in this video, like a fellow in a chef’s hat who grumpily closes the lid of a grill in the aisle next to him after hearing the instruction “No smoking.”  The seat belt guy is just another of them, which is a giant step up from being someone who should be beaten to death for not being just like everyone else. Delta is trying to keep people’s attention using humor, but also, I think, making the point that there are all kinds of people in this world. If Delta is smart, they want to see many kinds of people on their airplanes, not just heterosexual white ones.

Also, Wells Fargo lately sent all of its employees a link to information about planning one’s gender transition in the workplace, resources for its transgender employees. That is astonishing and wonderful. Wells Fargo, like Delta, understands that inclusiveness is a sound business strategy. Their main goal isn’t to make transgender employees and customers feel welcome. Their main goal is to make money, but it’s nice that one smart way to do that is to make as many people as possible feel welcome. Good for them.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Shale Oil Deposits Discovered Under Blogger's Cat

Toward the end of July, I went to visit my parents in Michigan and had a very nice time. They are extremely generous about letting me use their car, so besides enjoying their company, I got to have lunch with Ginny in Ann Arbor, and go out to see Amy’s new house on ten acres in the Irish Hills and meet her new husband, Jim. They’ve been together for several years now, but he has always been at work on the days I’m visiting. Amy made us black bean and sweet potato burritos. The next day, Amy and I got together again for lunch at Café Zola in Ann Arbor. They have a superb salmon burger served with inventive condiments, including pickled ginger. My sister came over that afternoon and we had family togetherness time around the dining room table.

Later in the week, I drove to Grosse Ile, an island near Detroit, to see Uncle Rick and Janet, and my second cousins Ben and Luke, and Ben’s darling girlfriend, Emma. Ben and Luke are 17 and 14, respectively. I’ve only seen them three or four times in their lives, but always remember their birthdays and get nice notes and photos from them in return. They are handsome and personable young men. Ben plans to go into the Marines, followed by college, after finishing high school, and Luke is an aspiring actor.

It’s fun to drive to a certain place to see a certain person, but
because I dont do it often, it’s also fun just to drive, period, in the warm summer sun, with the car windows open and the wind blowing in, lush green for miles in all directions. No drought there. I also like to smell the summer night air, a vivid, particular scent that magically erases 35 years.

During that week, I and one or both parents watched these movies, on TV or from Netflix: 12 Years a Slave, Philomena, Night of the Hunter, The Thomas Crown Affair (the older one), In the Heat of the Night, Gasland Part 2, Bullitt, Selena, King Solomon’s Mines, and Cloud Atlas.

Gasland Part 2 is a rather horrifying examination of fracking: drinking water poisoned, property values erased, children dripping blood from their noses, splendid landscapes uglified, tap and garden water that can be set on fire with the flick of a lighter and then burns steadily, oil companies of course denying any problems and paying people to move somewhere else—once they’ve signed the agreement not to discuss what happened to them. A map was displayed showing where the shale oil deposits are. The entire lower peninsula of Michigan (the hand) is one big shale oil deposit. Another substantial deposit is in California’s Central Valley, where so much of the nation’s produce is grown. If the water there gets poisoned, the results will almost certainly be catastrophic.

Plus, should we really be locating every possible drop of oil so that we can burn it, putting those emissions into the air? Methane, the gas emitted during natural gas operations including fracking, is the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide, and is 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

After I got home, I heard on the radio that Oklahoma now has more earthquakes than California does, presumed to be the result of fracking, which forces water into the earth. This is just a staggeringly bad idea all around, so it was disheartening to learn, in Gasland Part 2, that President Obama and Hillary Clinton have been encouraging other countries to start fracking, and offering assistance. Are they stupid? Woefully ill informed? Deliberately trying to kill us all? No, I suppose it’s politics—the art of the possible: We can’t get people to stop driving, or over-consuming in every area of life—the best we can do is maybe switch from burning coal to fracking. But after seeing this movie, it was clear that fracking is actually more damaging, given its threats to our food and water supplies and how much worse for the environment methane is than carbon dioxide.

Given the immense amount of bad news in Gasland Part 2, I couldn’t imagine what Gasland had been about—does fracking also cause enormous cream-filled zits? Flatten bike tires? Eat the last of the marinated tofu? Leave empty toilet paper rolls for others to replace? I asked my parents what Gasland was about and they said the same thing as Gasland Part 2. I highly recommend seeing one or the other of these.

Night of the Hunter was the only movie ever directed by the actor Charles Laughton. It is full of poetic, haunting images, particularly while the children drift down the river by night. At the time, it was received very poorly and Laughton vowed never to direct another movie, which was unfortunate, because it is now considered a masterpiece.

On my last morning there, a chipmunk sat on the back deck for quite a time considering, with evident satisfaction, its successful hiding of several peanuts in my mother’s geranium pots, the telltale sign being the little piles of dirt kicked out of the pots. My mother doesn’t mind the peanuts, but isn’t crazy about cleaning up the dirt over and over.

I was driven back to the airport by a friendly Frenchman at the wheel of a black limo. I signed up for a shuttle at Custom Transit, but lately they often send a limo, which must be cheaper to operate than a van, and feasible if there is just one passenger. Sitting at the gate, I was pleased and also alarmed to see a little bird right near me: was it trapped inside forever? I asked at the counter and was informed that there are many birds living in the terminal and that they have a fine life: they are not killed, and they have plenty of scraps from travelers to eat, and a controlled temperature (no freezing winter weather). I was relieved to hear the birds aren’t harmed (though I’ll bet some are), but sorry that once they’re inside, it’s probably for life.

During the boarding instructions, I heard this over the loudspeaker:  “If you’ve come to Michigan with an Ohio State shirt, you’ll be boarding last today.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Suitable, Civilized Hobby

For a number of years, I’ve renewed Tom’s subscription to Air & Space magazine for his birthday. This year I told him I’ve finally seen the light—this periodical is a pernicious influence that adversely affects my sleep, referring here to the aviation videos he often watches online at night, in his apartment directly above mine.

Here are the dumbest two words I ever uttered in my life, several Christmases ago:

Tom’s brother: “Tom likes music. Let’s get him some super-powerful speakers for his laptop. Then it will double as a sound system.”

Me: “Great idea!”

This year, I told him I got him Crochet Today! instead, and that I’m looking forward to how nice and quiet it will be as he seeks to master the basics with the aid of his new subscription.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Needle Nose

I celebrated Independence Day by going to volunteer at the soup kitchen, where I saw a favorite guest lying on the ground in the sun, with his lunch arrayed across his chest—a piece of bread here, a spoon there—as he used a curved needle-nose pliers to groom his beard.

I had dinner that evening at Esperpento with Tom and his girlfriend, and the next day, I took a lovely long walk with a friend around the Mission and to Dolores Park. In the evening, Lesley and I had dinner at Savor on 24th St.

Howie was still away the following week, so, for the first time, Spring Washam, of the East Bay Meditation Center, came to teach at Mission Dharma. A delightful young lady with an enthusiastic and encouraging style of teaching, she trained with Jack Kornfield and is on the Spirit Rock teachers’ council.

Later that week I heard a riveting discussion on KQED’s Forum show about the Internet and privacy, during which someone remarked that there’s no getting away from Google. I called in to put in a plug for Duck Duck Go, the search engine that doesn’t track its users or their searches. The person who answered the phone at the radio station said, more or less, “State your name and topic.”

After I’d made my remark on the air and the show was over, I called my mother to tell her, since she told me about Duck Duck Go in the first place, and she (this is the absolute truth) answered the phone by saying firmly, “State your name and topic.”

I recounted verbatim what I’d said on the radio and heard what sounded suspiciously like a raspberry. I said, “I think this phone’s broken—it’s making a farting sound.”

“We Ypsilantians don’t like bragging,” my mother explained.

I wanted to jot down “State your name and topic” before I forgot it (for this very blog post) so I paused in order to do that, and my mother advised helpfully, “Also write down ‘Who is this??’”

Last Saturday I did my cooking and in the evening, I watched Populaire, starring Romain Duris, a French romantic comedy about an insurance salesman who enters his secretary in a speed typing competition. It’s set in the 1950s and is utterly delightful. Duris is perfect in his role, struggling to contain five or ten too many teeth behind his lips. I’ve seen him in several movies now and liked him in all of them. I see he has one newly out in the United States: Mood Indigo.

Every month, the soup kitchen invites all the volunteers to a potluck dinner, held at the house where the intentional community lives. Last Sunday I went for the first time. The people I work with are so great—kind, friendly, devoted—that I was excited to meet everyone who does the eight or so weekly shifts other than mine. But as it turned out, the only people who go to this potluck, though all are invited, are those on my own shift! Ergo, I basically didn’t meet anyone new—I met two people from my own shift whose names I hadn’t learned yet—but on the other hand, I felt right at home and had a good chat with Phyllis.

It was the best kind of party, just sitting around eating and talking, and the food was wonderful, especially the homemade bread made by one of my fellow volunteers, stuffed mushrooms, and a fantastic sun-dried tomato and walnut pesto. I’m looking forward to future potlucks.

I went to see my gum doctor earlier this week for a recheck and I told him that I like him very much, as I’m sure everyone does, and I like the toothbrushes he recommended, and I like his method of brushing, but I do not care for having brown teeth—brown is a lovely color for skin and for many other things, but not for teeth—so after my dentist had to polish them three times in the course of just a couple of months, I broke down and got another Sonicare, which I plan to use once a day with very non-abrasive toothpaste.

He didn’t scream at me, but he did sign me up for gum surgery, so I think we can say he won that round. I’m psyched about the gum surgery. That will be an interesting new experience, and it’s in the service of making sure all teeth remain firmly in my head.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Email Tale

So, that week’s worth of email never turned up and my contacts listed in webmail never returned, though if new mail is sent to my old email address, I get it. (But don’t use that address! Use the new one.) I also get, every day, a quarantine report that offers to update a list of trusted senders and then doesn’t do it. I indicate that mail from a certain sender is welcome and the next day receive a quarantine report about the exact same sender.

However, with much self-congratulatory back patting, I was able to configure Entourage, my email client, to both send and receive an AT&T email address attached to my Internet service. Did you know that AT&T is a well-respected, even revered, American company that has been around for at least a hundred years?

I determined that I could establish additional free AT&T email accounts for various purposes, just as I have had with my Dubai email, but first I wanted to get rid of a no-longer-applicable nickname attached to the AT&T email. It wasn’t something I set up when I configured Entourage, so I searched my email account online high and low but could not find any sign of this setting.

I finally had to call AT&T, which nearly always results in a complete enraged meltdown (on my part, not theirs). I was offered a phone number for fee-based assistance and managed to retain a pleasant tone of voice as I shared my personal feeling that, since my Internet service now costs $46 a month (not including phone service or cable TV), I’d like not to have to pay anyone to make a very minor change to a setting. Keeping my temper paid off, as I was then offered a number for free assistance, but no one there could find any sign of this nickname.

Then I searched my Internet service account (different from the email account) as advised, and still couldn’t find it. Could it somehow be specified in Entourage, after all? I went back there to search every single possible modifiable thing and, yes, there it was, something I put there years ago when I first switched to AT&T for Internet service, easily changed. But all the poking around online was worthwhile, in that I now know what settings are there, and I had the satisfaction of successfully keeping my temper and remaining friendly.

Next I set up additional AT&T email addresses and configured Entourage and tested them and gave as many email correspondents as I could think of a new address to use. Next issue: this very blog, owned by an account that has a Dubai email address. Naturally you can’t just go to Google and update the email address associated with the account. I had to create an additional Google account and send it an invitation to become an author of the blog, which I did over and over without seeing the new author turn up, and getting email after email saying something like, “An unexpected entity accepted your invitation.”

I finally figured out how to get the second author added, and then I made that author an admin, made Bugwalk just an author, and then took Bugwalk off Bugwalk’s own blog. (Frowny face here.) However, I did not delete the Google account for Bugwalk, because then every single photo Bugwalk ever posted would have disappeared, so that Google account has to exist permanently. I had now succeeded in transferring my blog to an account called Hear Morehere, because I had to put in something for first and last name when I made the new account.

I decided to do the whole thing over again so I could have an account with a name more or less equating to Bugwalk—that’s why it now shows Bug Walk as the owner—and I set out, with some trepidation, to delete the Google account named Here Morehere. I thought it was obvious how to do that: when you’re logging into your Google account, there is a button to add another account, and one that says “Delete.” On that login page, I could see my three accounts: Bugwalk, Hear Morehere, and Bug Walk. I clicked “Delete,” figuring it would then ask me which account I wanted to delete. Instead, it said something like, “Your changes have been made!” That was a bad moment.

Thank goodness, my blog was still here, and nothing actually seemed to have been deleted or changed. So then I looked up (using Duck Duck Go!) how you properly delete a Google account, held my breath, deleted Hear Morehere, and was relieved to see no ill effects. Hear Morehere didn’t own the blog long and didn’t post any pictures, but catastrophic results wouldn’t have surprised me.

Finally, in the coming week, I need to figure out what online accounts need updating, such as my bank account. The whole thing has been pretty painless, but time consuming. The worst parts, of course, have been those having to do with Google. For a while, I thought maybe that week’s worth of missing email would turn up and I’d just stick with my old email rather than go through all the steps to switch, but it didn’t, and, anyway, what happened  was unacceptable. For one thing, they should have notified their customers of the upcoming change, explaining exactly what was going to happen and when delayed email would turn up. And they should not have made themselves unreachable by phone, which they still are.

The final step will be to get these “providers” to stop billing my credit card, by whatever means necessary. I
’ve checked my credit account an extra time or two, to make sure extra charges from this biller aren’t appearing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Proven Method for Clearing the Street of Luxury Autos

One evening late in June, on the spur of the moment, I decided to join the Trans March, which, like much else, can be found a block from where I live. I consulted the FAQ first, which said that anyone can participate, that friends and supporters are welcome. I remember how touching it was to see a ragtag bunch of about 150 people go by just two or three years ago (or 10 or 20, but I think it was just two or three), and was impressed at how large the group was this year. It filled two lanes of Dolores St. for maybe four blocks.

I appreciated that, if nothing else, BMWs were prevented from driving up and down the street for 30 minutes or so, and of course it’s always fun to walk where normally only cars are permitted. It was also nice to be with so many people who don’t look exactly like everyone else. We passed a number of condo developments for the wealthy—it’s impossible to go anywhere these days without doing that—but with very few people on their balconies or looking out their windows. I did see three men on a balcony who appeared to be straight; possibly they were smirking, or not. But if they were, that’s OK. Here, unmistakably and in the flesh, were a whole bunch of transgender people and their supporters (some naked). I thought about the trans woman beaten so badly her face was basically removed, sorry she couldn’t be with us, or anywhere, ever again.

At times, various chants sprang up, one of which included the line “F*ck the cops.” While I have no doubt many transgender (and gay) people have been beaten and abused by police officers, all the ones in sight that evening were there to protect the marchers, so that seemed rather ungracious. I’m sure the officers don’t care that much—they hear it all the time, and they are probably collecting overtime, but it also can’t feel great to hear yourself spoken of that way, so when I broke away from the march, near Market and Powell, I thanked the nearest couple of officers for keeping the marchers safe. One responded with a pleasant smile and a few words; the other ignored me.


On a sunny late afternoon weekend walk, I got to thinking about the Dalai Lama, who has famously said his religion is kindness. I have read he tries to treat everyone he encounters as if that person is an old friend of his. I have also read he gets up very early to meditate, possibly for hours, bolstering his intention to be kind that day. He must do some form of metta, or lovingkindness, practice.

I pondered what it would be like to feel that everyone I saw was my old friend. What if I felt toward each person as the Dalai Lama would? Is there anything really stopping me (other than not doing two hours of metta practice every morning)? I tried on the idea of piggybacking on the Dalai Lama’s two hours of metta practice each morning, whose benefits I am sure he would be happy to share. What if all that metta practice gives him the ability to be kind to every single person he meets, and also me?

But then, just as I was channeling the Dalai Lama, feeling kindly toward everyone I saw, someone did something irritating, I forget what. At that moment, feeling kindly would have meant applying will power to push away what I actually felt, which doesn’t seem wise, so then I turned my attention to my physical experience, dropping any words to describe what had happened or what should have happened, just asking myself, “What does this feel like?”, and after noticing that for a few seconds, “What name would I give this feeling?”

The latter question frequently has a surprising answer: I think I’m angry, but quite often discover the feeling is actually sorrow, or sometimes fear. It’s also surprising how quickly the experience is over and forgotten when approached this way. So I think we
’re closing in on a method here: be kind when possible, and when not, notice what’s happening.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The King and the Commodore Seek to Apprehend the Nature of Reality

Lisa C. was lately in town from Seattle, so we had dinner at Café Ethiopia, sharing three or four (well, four) tasty vegetarian dishes, two of which were the same mushroom dish, and then we went over to Howie’s for a spot of meditation. It was Lisa’s first time being there, and it was delightful to have her along. Howie said he was going to talk about the four foundations of mindfulness, but had to abort his mission after the first two, when time ran out. The first is mindfulness of the body, and the second is noticing whether a sense object is pleasant, unpleasant, or neither.

The third, which we didn’t get to that night, is mindfulness of the mind: noticing if some flavor of grasping, aversion or delusion is present, or if our minds are flitting from object to object or shrinking away from all objects. Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s style of practice is very involved with this third foundation of mindfulness, particularly noticing liking and disliking—if we want something to happen or keep happening, or if we want something to stop happening. Liking can solidify into craving, which often leads to strategizing about how we will get this thing that we believe will make us happy: a vacation, attention from a certain person, loss of X number of pounds, money, winning first prize, etc.

It may be a very small thing: when the water boils for my tea, I’ll be happy. Or huge and far away: after I finish my book and it’s on the New York Times bestseller list.

The means we choose to get the desired object can range from doing nothing whatsoever and hoping someone will read our minds to, on the other end of the spectrum, committing murder, and many other strategies in between. What is so interesting is that we rarely question our original idea that whatever it is will make us happy, mainly because we don’t even notice it as a thought. The thought occurs, and we believe it implicitly and set about actualizing it.

So being able to notice, “I’m having the thought that if Bob asked me out on a date, that would really make me happy” is incredibly useful, for at least two reasons. One is that if I’m noticing I’m having the thought, I can’t be one hundred percent caught in its thrall. The second is that, and here I think fondly of SUT once again, and also of Ezra Bayda, it eventually becomes obvious that the experience of wanting something consists of nothing more than—yep—a set of thoughts and some sort of visceral experience. Nothing more.

At this point, having done all this noticing, I’m free to inquire, “By the way, would this really make me happy?” It is fine to seek out and have pleasurable experiences, to enjoy amazing meals, wonderful trips, fun times with others, warm moments with those we love the most. There is nothing wrong with savoring the excellent things that come our way, but attempting to prolong any such pleasure is futile, and no matter how many agreeable experiences we manage to line up, we are all subject to what is called in Buddhism “the eight worldly winds” of praise and blame, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disrepute. Every last one of us sometimes doesn’t get what she wants and sometimes most definitely gets what she most definitely does not want.

More and more, it comes to mind: pleasure is not the same thing as happiness. (And, for that matter, displeasure doesn’t have to be the same thing as unhappiness.) I even reminded myself of this while asleep not long ago. In a dream, I was planning to have a certain agreeable experience, and told myself, “Yes, that will be very nice. But pleasure is not the same thing as happiness.”

As I understand it, Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s practice is to, at the least, notice some sense object as often as possible, and also to check frequently to see if we’re relaxed, and if not, to relax. Then, if possible, we can notice what we like and what we don’t. But if tuning in to the attitude of mind is not possible in a given moment for whatever reason, we can simply notice an easily recognized sense object: our feet on the floor, for instance. Doing that as many times per day as we can remember to will transform our lives.

Noticing thinking, in my opinion, eliminates approximately 95 percent of our problems, because it largely prevents excursions into the golden or miserable past, or into the annoying or frightening future. Relaxing the body and mind washes out the residue of past believed thoughts and makes it harder for new ones to take hold. Noticing liking and disliking has the miraculous and potent properties described above.

So if pleasure is not happiness, what is? More and more, it seems to me that simply being aware and awake in this very moment is. And that’s exactly what Howie was going to say, if he’d only had the time.