Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Last night I was going to go to the first session of Paul Haller’s Zen in Action class at the Zen Center, but, unrelated to that, decided to fix the links on my blog, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary tomorrow. I guess checking one’s links once every five years is not overdoing things. I got rid of a few, added a few, sort of put them into clumps here and there.

Pursuant to that, I looked up the website for Howard Cohn, my beloved first and always teacher, whose Tuesday night sitting group in the Mission I began attending in 1991, my initial exposure to Buddhist meditation. I had drifted away, however, in recent years because it meets from 7:30 to 9 p.m., meaning there would be little hope of being in bed before 10. I get up at 5:30 a.m., so I like to go to sleep at 8:30 p.m. I also had ventured elsewhere because I was actively in search of dharma buddies, which Howie’s group had not afforded.

Some groups are very social (e.g., Eugene Cash’s), but Howie’s was more of a deep, quiet refuge. You went there, you sat, you heard a talk and/or Howie answered questions, and then you went home (or wherever).

It always left me uplifted and inspired, and I learned many things that I still think about all the time, but it didn’t give me meditation friends to have tea with—which is what has been wonderful about the Zen Center, which overflows with sangha opportunities. (A sangha is a community of meditators. It can be a particular group, or you could also think of the sangha as being every meditator worldwide. Sometimes when I’m meditating, I like to remember that someone half a world away is doing the exact same thing.) The Zen Center also happens to do things much more on my schedule: at the crack of dawn, right after work, Saturday mornings.

I didn't even have a link to Howie’s website here, partly because it only recently came into existence, I believe. (He told me last night that he had nothing to do with it. Some of his devoted students put their heads together and, in time, told him, “You now have a website!” It’s beautiful and simple.)

As it happened, yesterday was Howie’s sangha’s very first Bring Your Own Burrito night! I discovered it just in time, and was delighted, as it will potentially add the exact dimension I had been in search of.

The related web page said: “There comes a time in every community for joining together and sharing food. Mission Dharma has pondered the question, ‘What makes us so inspiring?’
1) We meet on a weeknight after work to awaken together AND
2) We have yet to have a potluck!”

I thought that was very funny—that not having yet had a potluck was one of the extra-inspiring features of the group.

There was no way I was going to miss this event, so I pedaled furiously home after work in the not-quite-searing-but-still-plenty-hot heat, walked, practically dripping sweat, to El Toro to obtain my burrito, and on to 15th and Julian. Julian Ave. gives a very fine flavor of those gritty aspects that have vanished from my own immediate area.

In the charming courtyard of the church where Howie’s group meets, a woman had set up a booth with various flavors of chai, and a man next to her had empanadas on offer, while another fellow walked around sharing slices of his homemade bread, which was delicious.

When Howie arrived, we had a happy reunion and a giant hug. It was so fantastic to see him.

Now and then over the years, when certain things became clear, I would think, “For goodness’ sakes, why didn’t Howie just say so?” Well, he probably did, for one thing, but I believe also that he wasn't setting out to browbeat us head-centered
types with logic, convincing us that a certain thing is true the way it's true that two plus two equals four. Ultimately, it's probably that once something is clear, now you're someone else: a person to whom that particular thing is clear, and it's hard to remember back to the dark ages, yesterday, before.

Anyway, Howie was just himself, immensely warm and kind, funny, relaxed, extremely well grounded in the dharma, which seems to permeate every aspect of his being, and he simply invited us in and shared Buddhist teachings with us, trying to give us a hint of why we might find this exploration worthwhile. It was his being such a very lovely person that brought me back week after week.

His sangha has grown to 80-100 people, of whom I recognized maybe 10, and there was a fine turnout for BYOB. We ate together in the courtyard and then we meditated out there, too, in the warm dark, and Howie gave his dharma talk, on the Four Noble Truths, as we sat under the Mission sky, surrounded by the Mission sounds.

In his talk, I could hear what sounded like a hint of Phillip Moffitt’s book Dancing With Life and I heard the word “stress” once, as Thanissaro Bhikku uses it, in place of “suffering.” I have been interviewing with Phillip at retreats for 10 years as of this year, and I also utterly and completely adore him. And when I go on the concentration (samadhi) retreat each year at Spirit Rock, I bring along a little stack of Thanissaro Bhikku’s writings on this subject, which I have found so helpful and encouraging, so when I heard what seemed to be these other two floating in the air above Howie’s talk, it gave me a very nice feeling of the whole vast community interweaving, coming and going.

It was truly a magical evening.

So it appears the cost of the Zen in Action class may end up being just a contribution to the Zen Center, which is fine. I know I would have loved being there and hearing everything Paul has to say—I’m also very fond of him, though I know him much less well—but, at least on Tuesday nights, I’m going home. (At least, that’s my thought right now. Who knows what the thought will be by next week?)

As long as I'm listing revered teachers, I can't leave out Sally Armstrong, who I have also interviewed with at many retreats, and who has given me much sage advice that comes back when needed. Most particularly, she was there when intense fear arose in the middle of a month-long retreat, and she saw me safely through to the other side. I've had occasion to employ what she told me many, many times since then, and I so appreciate her brains and her wonderful sense of humor.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guam and Vacaville

Lest anyone think I never see anything other than the inside of my own head, which does seem to be most of what I see, I thought I’d start reporting more on sights observed and people encountered, such as, on Market St. this morning, Alexis, who is soon off to Guam for six months with her boyfriend. We have a running joke about how I’m the law-abiding cyclist and she’s not so much that.

I was riding behind a slow-moving yellow truck when she joined me today, and I think she felt obligated to take the lane and not squeeze by in the little crack on either side of the truck. We ended up being stuck behind the truck for a few blocks and if indeed she has the opinion that taking the lane is not the way to go, I was sorry that this experience might have confirmed that.

I ran into Dave S. a few days ago, for the first time in what must be a year. I remarked on not having seen him in ages, and he said he sees me often, because many mornings he sits with some buddies in a café on Market St. watching cyclists go by. Now every time I pass that café, I wonder if Dave is sitting inside it.

At work, I went into the garage and rang my bicycle bell to get the attention of Yonas at the front desk, and we waved to greet each other, as usual—there's a glass wall between the freight area and the lobbyand then I continued into the freight elevator, which already contained a workman; another cyclist followed me in. I said to the workman, “It’s warm today, eh?” and he told me that in his neck of the woods, it was 102 yesterday.

He lives in Vacaville, and he said he drives to San Francisco every day, which takes him 55 minutes, which sounded surprisingly fast to me. I think of Vacaville as being in the middle of nowhere north of Sacramento, but Google has just informed me that it’s just north of highway 80, southwest of Davis, which is in turn southwest of Sacramento, a thing I should know, given regular driving trips to Sacramento (in a City CarShare car!).

We used to take the train to Sacramento as a rule, but lately it has often seemed more convenient to drive a shared car. Then you can go exactly when you want and come home exactly when you want: “We must move the car west.”

Anyway, I guess 55 minutes is quite plausible, then. It further developed that in Vacaville, this man has a swimming pool, which he and his children like to go in, which does sound very nice. He called me “hon.” I don’t mind that. I guess I like it. Really, the only thing I don’t like to be called is “ladies,” as in, “How are you ladies today?"

This morning I heard on the radio about a shooting at the University of Texas at Austin. A student said they were in class and they heard this thing was happening and hastened to Facebook to look at people's updates. I wondered how long it will be before Facebook is part of some institutions' official emergency policies: "In the event of startlingly loud noises, locusts, or 12 thousand eggs accidentally spilled on the freeway, proceed to Facebook immediately. And also cover your head."

Several days ago, I passed a diminutive evidently homeless man near the foot of Powell St. He was asking for money, and I murmured, “I’m sorry; I can’t right now,” which never means I literally can’t afford it. I don't want to ignore someone who has spoken to me, and “I’m sorry; I can’t right now” is shorthand for “I just gave the three people before you money” or even “I don’t feel like stopping right now,” which I consider to be permitted.

Now that I think about it, sometimes I just say "I'm sorry," perhaps on the theory that, like clerks in Walgreens and people in general, homeless people don't have time to stand around all day listening to strangers speak a whole sentence. Or then again, I do know that "I can't right now" is disingenuous to some extent.

Anyway, as I walked away, he said, “Even just a penny?” which kind of broke my heart, so then I stopped and went back, which happens not infrequently. I hasten to say that I fairly often give people money right off the bat, but quite regularly, too, after I hear myself say “I can’t,” a little voice inside me says, “Yes, you can,” and I turn around. So I went back and gave him $20—now and then I like to give an amount I'm pretty sure will delight the recipient, which makes me happy, too—and he beamed at me so sweetly, with such kind and tender eyes, that I felt like standing at the foot of Powell St. all day just looking at him.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Perfectly Neutral Day in the Zendo

I’ve quit writing down all my dreams again because I hate to waste all that paper, knowing I’ll never look at most of it again, and also to save the time in the morning, but I’ve had a few lucid dreams since then—which I do write down—so I think keeping a dream journal is not essential for lucid dreaming, though many will swear it is.

I can’t recall ever having a non-lucid dream where I flew without a plane, and in just two lucid dreams, I’ve managed to do so, but just off the ground, puttering slowly along, so it was quite a fine night when I dreamed, non-lucidly, of going on a special mission with Angelina Jolie on the slenderest of sticklike flying apparati, way up high in the air. It made me think of Harry Potter and quidditch: flying brooms.

In the very next dream that night, I was lucid, again sailing slowly along just off the ground, and I thought, “I probably can’t get any higher than this. But you know what? I could try!” So I sort of arched my (dream) back and sailed way up high in the air! I could see a high school down below, and an expanse of silvery blue water glittering in the sun. (Hmm, maybe I saw a “high” school because I was high in the air.)

I’ve had three lucid dreams in September so far, all brief. I have much to learn about stabilizing and prolonging lucidity, but I think I’m getting the hang of inducing it. The most recent lucid dream was my 25th.

This is my current method: When I’m going to sleep at night, and when I’m awake during the night, on an in-breath I visualize a sight from a recent dream and on the out-breath I think, “I’m dreaming.” Over the course of the next in-breath and out-breath, I say a metta phrase. “May I be happy” is as good as any. Then I do the first thing again, and so forth, alternating. At all times, I feel my body and focus on relaxing it. And if I find I’m getting more wired instead of sleepier, I quit the visualizing part.

I lose very little sleep doing this, and what I do during the day to encourage lucid dreams is almost nothing at this point. Now and then, I say to myself, “I’m dreaming,” and consider if it could be true. I know the day is going to come when I’m awake, say “I’m dreaming,” and discover I’m in fact asleep. That’ll be weird, man.

I did finally go ahead with a letter to my next-door neighbors about smoking in the common area, but I didn’t include my newest neighbor, who absolutely does not appear to be smoking there. The neighbor who has long sent his friends out back to smoke is still doing that, ditto the person who lives below him as of about a year ago, and they are the ones I wrote to.

I’ve gone out there however many times over the years and in the mildest possible manner have asked the smoker to maybe smoke out front, and he or she has generally been extremely nice about it. I kept thinking that eventually my neighbor would conclude he should send his friends elsewhere to smoke, after the tenth one came back inside and said, “Your neighbor just asked me not to smoke there,” but it never happened, and now that it actually is illegal, I felt reasonably comfortable about going on the record.

I put my name and address on the letters, and have not heard anything back, which is fine. I’m not prepared to take it much farther because I don’t want to feel uneasy or besieged in my own apartment. It would be great if smoking out there never happened again, but merely less would also be fine, so I think my efforts here are done.

This week Tom turned 50, so I took him out for a birthday dinner at The Old Clam House, on Bayshore, which he had always wanted to try. We were seated in the bar area and it was extremely loud, but Tom loved his seafood dish, and my pasta was good, too. Their décor centers around license plates, football, and motorized vehicles. We had a pleasant evening.

In February of this year, I did a one-day sit at the San Francisco Zen Center which was extremely difficult. I was very physically uncomfortable, and I also let myself get off onto a distressing and sorrowful train of thought that became self-perpetuating and caused feelings of aversion toward this and that. I spent much of the day in tears and/or mild irritation. Mostly tears.

The first day of any period of intensive practice is bound to be rough, but if you can hang in there, once you settle in, there turns out to be more to it than misery. But with a one-day sit, all there is is that hard first day, so I vowed never, ever to do another one-day sit at the Zen Center.

But after the two retreats at Spirit Rock, it occurred to me that I might enjoy a day of sitting, so I signed up for the one-day sit this past Saturday, entirely forgetting that I was on call for work. (I was able to arrange a trade.)

On Friday evening, I went for oryoki training at the Zen Center and stayed for dinner. I was in bed by 9 p.m., which meant I would get just seven and a half hours of sleep, which meant my neighbors were outside chatting every now and then until about 3 a.m., which meant I actually got mighty little sleep.

Weirdly, the next day I felt completely haggard, but not sleepy per se. While I now and then sleep soundly through an entire period of sitting in the meditation hall at Spirit Rock, I cannot imagine sleeping in the zendo. It just doesn’t seem like the place.

I had very little discursive thought, and practiced metta all day. Sometimes metta can arouse very pleasant feelings, but it didn’t on Saturday. Perhaps the general challenge of sitting all day in the zendo is exactly counterbalanced by the pleasure of practicing metta, resulting in an almost perfectly neutral experience.

I think it also helped that I know more people there now, so I feel more that I'm sitting in a friendly group. Also, as Paul Haller correctly said in his talk that day, few people could sit like that all day on their own, so I'm conscious that I'm sitting to support the people around me, and that they are likewise supporting my practice.

I slept in today and went to Rainbow and cooked up a pot of lentils, brown rice and fresh tomatoes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How VERY Amusing!

I have had some nine or ten sore throats since late May, three of which developed into actual colds, and I could now almost open my own cold remedy store, between Lisa’s cold protocol, Jeff’s cold protocol, what my father used to use back in the 1970s, and what the Internet says.

The last three times I got a sore throat, I tried something I’d read about online, and it worked like a charm all three times: I squeezed the contents of an oil of oregano capsule into my throat, let it linger there for half a minute or so, poured in some water, gargled, swallowed the water and oil, and voila! Oregano oil tastes truly terrible, but is purportedly a powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral, and it sure seems to do the trick. (It’s also part of Jeff’s cold protocol, but he didn’t say to squeeze it into my throat.)

I’ve been ingesting a bit of black elderberry extract and umcka daily as a preventative measure, and maybe that is helping, too.

A pleasant social event or two occurred in recent weeks: I had dinner with Tom and a friend of his from Lake County one Sunday night at Herbivore on Valencia St., and Tom and I went to see Ann and Mac on Labor Day, in a black City CarShare Mini Cooper that Tom enjoyed driving. Steve and Julie came over, too, and Ann made us an array of beautiful summer salads.

This may count as a positive social event, too: I have left Facebook. I was always uneasy about being a part of it, and had disquieting experiences on both ends of the spectrum: people I would swear I had never encountered who wanted to be “friends” and, even more worrying, a couple of people I actually do know who ignored my friend requests.

It was overwhelming and also wonderful to have elementary school, junior high and high school all come flooding back at once. The thing I most enjoyed when visiting Facebook: seeing what people I knew long ago now look like, and what their children and backyards look like.

The thing that was most irritating, on a low level: how Facebook could never figure out that my email address is actually a valid email address, and therefore asked me to confirm it every time I visited. Of course, the upside of that was that they were unable to send me notifications about this, that and the other, which allowed Facebook to fade quickly and easily from my mind between visits.

The most perplexing thing: Completely out-of-context sexual propositions.

The thing that was absolutely the most wonderful: having four dear friends from decades ago restored to me: Sally, a very close friend when I was seven. (There were three of us: Wendy, Sally and me.) Now we send floods of email back and forth, and have found we share a few major interests. Angela, my dear friend when I was eight. We have a lovely, satisfying chat on the phone every three or four weeks now. She grew up to be exactly who I would have predicted, a writer and artist, smart, peaceful, kind.

And Helen and Ginny. We may not do better than an email now and then, or maybe a visit when I am in Michigan, but I love having these extraordinarily gentle and decent human beings, sisters, back even to that extent. I still have little tiny decorated cards Helen made for me when I was about 10. (And thank you for reading my blog, Ginny!)

Every time I logged on, I saw at least one photo I liked, but the whole experience also always left me with sort of a yucky feeling. The final straw was the profile of Mark Zuckerberg in the latest New Yorker. I was already in bed for the night, under the covers, but shot out of bed and turned on the computer to delete my Facebook account when I read about him smirking about how foolish we are to trust him with our information, calling us “dumb f*cks.” These remarks were made when he was younger and he has said that he regrets making them, but I’m not convinced his heart is in the right place even now.

My final act before signing off was to do a save-as of 20 of other people’s photographs, mostly of Walt, who I thought was quite the glamorous older man when he was 18 and I was 16, as noted when I joined Facebook last November. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for him.

Then I emailed a few people to tell them I was leaving and had some very nice exchanges. Undoubtedly a few people will think I unfriended them, but if they search for me, they’ll see I’m not there at all and know it wasn’t personal.

I have seen some DVDs:

Brothers, The Wrestler (excellent!), Precious, A Serious Man, The New Daughter (terrible, but Kevin Costner was in it), The Road (Viggo!), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (extremely beautiful), Chaos (Jason Statham), Cellular (Jason Statham), Dragonfly (same as The New Daughter; this was the better of the two), Rage (Sally Potter—highly experimental—what a gorgeous vision of Jude Law), Welcome (a moving tale about a Kurdish refugee in France who tries to swim to England to reunite with the girl he loves), The Class, Little Fish, and Elegy.

I will make special mention of these films: Transporter 3, starring Jason Statham, the third in the franchise. I’m going to say Transporter is still the best, then 3, then 2. Tom watched it with me and spent practically the whole time trying to convince me that we’d already seen it together, but by the end I had persuaded him that I was seeing it for the first time.

Sin Nombre is a searing look at the Mara Salvatrucha and one young man’s attempt to begin anew.

Taps, about the goings-on at a military academy, features Tom Cruise and Sean Penn in their first movie roles.

In The Women (1939), Joan Crawford, working at a perfume counter, says to Rosalind Russell something like, “I’m afraid that perfume may not be a good fit with your personality. It’s called ‘Oomph.’”

“How amusing,” replies Rosalind Russell, in a tone that about made me fall on the floor laughing. By the way, there is not one single person of the male persuasion in this movie.

Finally, The Lovely Bones. It did not get good reviews. The only reason I saw it was that Mark Wahlberg was in it, though I couldn’t figure out what he would be doing in such a movie. The book didn’t do that much for me, and the movie absolutely knocked me out.

The young lady in the lead role, Saoirse Ronan, was perfectly cast. The second you see her, you can’t bear that something terrible will happen to her, and days later, I was still crying over the ending, where she says, in a voiceover, “I was here for a moment. And then I was gone.” I could probably cry over that right now if I put my mind to it.

In between the immediately sad beginning and the haunting ending were many scenes of dazzling beauty, imagined views of heaven, and also creepy things you see in dreams, a couple of which I have dreamed almost verbatim. The whole film was slightly stylized—a little too perfect, the colors a bit too saturated—which made the violence (not shown explicitly) a bit easier to bear. It was brave of Stanley Tucci to play the part of the predator. He did a very good job in that part. I loved this movie.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Have Met the Enemy and She Is Me

If I may continue in curmudgeon vein for another post:

A great thing (this isn't the curmudgeonly part) happened recently. Not far from my living room/bedroom/office window is another building, on the top floor of which lives an older couple. Below them is a youngish couple who are generally very quiet, except that every several months, one of them stays up until 3 a.m. blasting old R&B albums.

On the ground floor is a whole crowd of twenty-somethings who used to have extremely loud parties fairly often, but someone must have convinced them to knock it off, because they never do that anymore, but they do stand outside all the time smoking and hacking loud smokers’ hacks. The smoke comes directly into my place
—in fact, right into my face when I'm lying in bedbut I haven’t decided what, if anything, to do about it. Maybe they’ll move out one of these days.

Many times over the years I’ve caught sight of the lady on the top floor doing some chore or other outside, and I’ve always thought it would be nice to say hello to her, so when I saw her shooing away pigeons recently—we have many, many pigeons these days, and much pigeon poop, and much eau de pigeon excretions—I stuck my head out my window and said, “These pigeons are something, aren’t they?” and we bonded a little.

She pointed out a couple of pigeon nests besides the one on my own fire escape. I told her my name and she told me her name is Mary. After all these years, now I know that is Mary! I’ve been in this apartment for 12 years and I think she’s been here the whole time. I think she does not necessarily enjoy her younger neighbors, either. Once in the era of the very loud parties, she came out and pleaded for quiet, to no avail. The celebrants probably couldn’t even hear her.

Sometimes I have wondered what will happen when she and her husband are very old. Will they be trapped here, like I already am? This neighborhood has gentrified to an extraordinary degree. Tattoo parlors have been replaced by upscale dining establishments. We have a place you can take your Jaguar to be serviced! Instead of scruffy motorbikes, we have people driving Mercedes Benzes and BMWs. The people in leather garments have been replaced by people in button-down shirts and trench coats who look shocked when you say “good morning” to them.

I have thought now and then of moving to the Tenderloin. There is much more crime there than in my neighborhood, and I have noticed that I feel very alert when I walk there, which is a good feeling. I used to have a friend who lived there, and sometimes, when we were on the phone, I’d hear gunshots in the background. I suspect that most people there are very aware of who is nearby, yet they also seem very respectful of others, allowing plenty of space. I find, anyway, that I tend to avoid initiating conversation with someone who might prove to be a ticking mental health time bomb.

However, I cannot afford to move to the Tenderloin! I moved to my current area of the Mission 27 years ago, when it wasn’t safe to walk here at night. Once I saw a man push a woman through a plate glass window. (When the police arrived, he explained, “It’s OK—she’s my sister.”) Now when I tell people where I live, they say, “Oh! Nice!” This is hugely embarrassing. I feel I have to explain, every single time, that I’ve lived here since it was not particularly nice at all.

But to move to a not-nice area of San Francisco now, I’d have to spend at least 150 percent of what I currently spend on rent, and probably more like 200 percent. I like the idea of living somewhere more congenial, but I don't like it that much.

In general, I notice that I have morphed inexorably from a hippie into a yuppie while doing all the exact same stuff I’ve done for decades. It used to be that the non-rich shopped at Rainbow, bringing bags from home to visit the bins of bulk rice and beans, whereas now it’s full of the relatively affluent, and the parking garage holds BMWs and SUVs.

The Mission was full of creative types. Now it’s evidently full of fund managers and software engineers. Riding a bike meant you were maybe too poor to have a car. Now it means you’re rich enough to live in San Francisco at all.

The only thing that cools my chagrin about what’s happened to my neighborhood is remembering that I’m just the latest in a long line of groups to wonder “What are they doing here?” Someone thought the exact same thing about us when we arrived with our trumpet cases and easels 30 years ago.

And one of these days, some other group will arrive and my well-heeled neighbors will think the same things. I don’t know what group that will be. Maybe it will be thugs with guns trying to find and loot community gardens, the last food on the planet. Or maybe it will be even richer people, people with Bentleys and Lamborghinis and live-in servants and armed guards.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Happy Fiftieth Anniversary!

My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in early September. I sent a card, and, on the day itself, placed a congratulatory telephone call during which my mother observed, “Staying married is one thing. Staying alive is the other thing.”

In mid-August, my co-worker Emily and I had lunch at Marnee Thai. We’ve been working together for eight or nine years, and talk on the phone just about every day and sometimes two or three times in the same day, but this was the first time we’d ever gotten together outside work. After lunch, we took a walk at Ocean Beach, which was really nice. Usually it’s overcast near the water even when it’s beautifully sunny everywhere else, but that day it was exactly the opposite.

Not long after that, Emily got something she had really, really wanted for months but had despaired of getting, so if there’s something you really, really want, I’d be willing to have lunch with you at Marnee Thai. Maybe it’s some sort of magic charm.

Also in August, I went to Spirit Rock again for the nine-day concentration retreat, for the sixth year in a row. Usually this is the only retreat I go on, but this year, I went on the metta (lovingkindness) retreat a month earlier, and the combination turned out to be quite a powerful one-two punch, if I may employ boxing terms when speaking of meditation.

Toward the end, I had the emotional storm that I’ve had on pretty much every retreat besides the metta retreat, and once again, teacher Richard Shankman saved the day. We had an an hoc meeting the night before the retreat ended, after the evening dharma talk, and chatted for an hour, during which he said some extremely helpful things I wrote down and have thought of many times since.

The next day, during the closing, he repeated many of these things almost verbatim. On our way home, I mentioned this to the friend who gave me a ride to the retreat and she joked that after Richard told me all those things, he correctly realized “That was some good stuff!” and didn’t let it go to waste.

One thing he said was that aversion knows how to do only one thing: be aversive. As he correctly said, my own aversive feelings can just as easily be directed against me as against anything or anyone else. Also, one unexamined aversive thought conditions the next, until just about everything seems worthy of criticism or irritation.

I had a horrible example of the momentum of aversion within the past week. On that fateful morning, before I left for work, I heard Steve Inskeep “joking” on NPR about why a certain toxic mortgage bond was referred to as “she.” Ha. And ha. I immediately felt like sending NPR an email saying why I objected to that, decided to get over it, and then decided I couldn’t get over it.

Within the half hour, I was cycling to work when another cyclist passed me on the right, which happens every day, but then her friend inserted herself between us, about two inches to my right. I exclaimed, “Jesus Christ! That’s really too close,” which was ignored. I encountered them about six more times as we made our way along Market St., and I felt like making a few more remarks in that vein—this is partly why I never refer to myself as a Buddhist—but I knew I would vastly regret it, so I didn’t. That was something, anyway.

Unfortunately, there was to be a third episode of Angry Citizen before I made it to work. Oracle OpenWorld had started the day before, so Howard St. between Third and Fourth was closed, and traffic in the area had been redirected in a variety of ways, including that the left lane or two of Howard was blocked off with orange cones starting a half block east of Third St., at Hawthorne.

The entrance to my garage at work is in the area that was blocked off, so I was going to have to ride through it one way or the other. I could have waited until I was as close to the garage as possible before going into the blocked-off area, but just for the heck of it, I started into that area right at Hawthorne, despite the presence of a police officer, who stopped me, saying, “Whoa, whoa,” or some such.

I was already in a thoroughly bad mood, so while he was lecturing me about how cyclists are supposed to use the lane just like any other vehicle operator, I mumbled an oath (I can’t bring myself to type it here, but it started with "f") and walked off, wheeling my bike toward work. He called after me, with either sarcasm or good humor, “You’re free to go,” and I just barely stopped myself from yelling back, “I was always free to go!” (Yes, there may be some authority issues in my psyche.)

I felt aggrieved because I certainly know I’m entitled to a lane of traffic, and I take the lane in that very spot every day (except during Oracle OpenWorld), which means that a certain percentage of the time, I have someone driving right behind me, leaning on his horn. And then does a police officer run over to tell that motorist he’s out of line? Of course not. Is the police officer who instructed me that I must use the lane still there now that the vast tent city has been dismantled, or am I on my own again? I’m on my own again.

With the traffic all snarled up and motorists frantically jockeying for position, you could even make the case that the safest thing was for cyclists to get into the blocked-off area as soon as possible. But for those who are thinking that it’s unwise to swear at and otherwise be surly to someone carrying a big stick, I agree—for practical reasons, if nothing else—and am certainly glad that person didn’t bury his baton in my skull. The whole thing was Steve Inskeep’s fault.

All levity aside, I did reflect later on the sequence of events and how things could have been different. Maybe I don’t have enough serenity to start the day by listening to the news. Maybe I would have been in a calmer mood if I’d hadn’t been mentally drafting my note of disapprobation to NPR. Basically, my ability to go from really annoyed back to really calm on the fly isn’t that well developed.

Nothing untoward happened the rest of that day, after the morning of unusual ill temper. I don't normally go around swearing at people, let alone twice in one day. I did send a note to NPR apprising them that the reflexive linking of women with evil is old and tired and not really all that hilarious. Emily agreed that NPR needed to hear my opinion on this.

I walked to the library at lunchtime that day to pick up some books. Calm was restored at some point, and after work I meditated at the Zen Center.