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September 2019

Post image for No Moment Can Be Saved For Later

Last week I went for my midday walk first thing in the morning, because by noon it was supposed to be hot and muggy.

The feel of that particular morning was so sublime and strange I have nothing but clichés to describe it with. It was the day before school started, and the neighborhood was both supernaturally quiet and uncannily beautiful. The sky was orange and still, and the air was so thick it seemed to filter out traffic noise, leaving a soundtrack of only birds. September-stage trees and gardens glistened in July-like morning heat. Boulevard flowerbeds billowed over the sidewalks.

Aside from the apocalyptic implications of such warmth coming so late in the year, the walk was a unique and remarkable experience, and I know I have absolutely no way of conveying that specialness to you or anyone else.

I did try though. I took a half dozen photos, and a few videos panning over the trees and gardens, hoping to somehow capture I’m not sure what—the sweetness of the air, the alien combination of summer humidity and dry leaves, or whatever unique quality made me want to document it.

Of course, I ended up with nothing but flat photos and videos of trees and sidewalks and flowerbeds that will excite nobody, and which contain not even a speck of the experience I was trying to capture.

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Post image for Feel The Air Fully

The Shingon monks of Japan have a very pragmatic way of encouraging the development of inner calm. They expose themselves to extreme cold, such as by squatting under an icy waterfall, while attempting to remain as present and composed as they might be in a warm, dry meditation hall.

Shinzen Young, my favorite Western meditation teacher, endured a version of this when he trained with the Shingon in the 1970s. Starting on the winter solstice, he spent 100 days in isolation, emerging three times daily to break the ice on a frozen-over cistern and dump several bucketfuls of its water over his head.

Being a California native, he found this task excruciating, but quickly learned the secret to getting through it without abject suffering. Before going to the cistern, he would meditate intently enough that he could be completely present for the experience. If any part of him was unwilling to embrace the full extent of the cold, it went from unpleasant to horrific.

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Post image for Care Deeply, Not Passionately

Sometime around my grade four year—1990 or so—it suddenly became very popular to talk about saving the planet.

I remember an explosion of environment-focused messaging, especially about whales, recycling, and ozone holes. It was on our classroom posters, TV shows, t-shirts, even school supplies.

But it was the tropical rainforest, at least to us fourth-graders, that became the central icon of this abstract thing adults called “the environment.” Saving the world meant saving the rainforest. We drew posters of endangered monkeys and tree frogs, with rhyming slogans at the top.

The energy felt really positive. Even things like shampoo bottles started having rainforest imagery on them, which seemed to be a good thing. Everyone was joining the fight!

What I don’t remember is when that energy went away. I didn’t decide to stop caring, but I guess I did. I don’t think it occurred to me until I saw a gag on the Simpsons, five years later, when Homer referred to “that rainforest scare a few years back.”

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