Tuesday, December 30, 2008

'Twas the snow before Christmas

I'll let the beauty of the snowflakes speak for itself for the majority of this entry, and save my readers from the normal flakiness found here. The following pictures were taken on December 24, 2008, when Sumas, Washington was blessed with a foot and a half of snow by the time the snow stopped falling. If you'd like a bigger, better quality version of these images, please, just say the word.
















I hope you had a wonderful and blessed Christmas. My day was quiet and rather uneventful. I opened my few presents from friends and family in the morning, and later, my neighbor and I enjoyed a holiday meal together. She had salad and the turkey she had prepared, and I had a concoction of rice, peppers, onion, and Yves Meatless Ground that was quite yummy, if not your traditional holiday fare. Then I watched my cat, Tetley, play with the prezzie that Sandy Claws brought her, and gave thanks for having her in my life. She's a wonderful companion.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. I plan to ring it in by myself (by choice), surrounded by candles while sitting in meditation. Instead of focusing on a world torn apart by escalating violence, suffering, pain, and sorrow, I choose, instead, to see the earth blanketed by healing compassion, abundance of all that is good and necessary, and peace. I can make personal resolutions later, but as Buddha said, "What we think, we become."



Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. I plan to ring it in by myself (by choice), surrounded by candles while sitting in meditation. Instead of focusing on a world torn apart by escalating violence, suffering, pain, and sorrow, I choose, instead, to see the earth blanketed by healing compassion, abundance of all that is good and necessary, and peace. I can make personal resolutions later, but as Buddha said, "What we think, we become."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Snow Business

I've been in Washington state now just shy of two years. I moved here on my own from the deep south but that's a tale I've told before (though not here), and will tell again when the time comes. It rarely snows in the south, and on the odd occasion that it does, it either doesn't stick, or doesn't stay around long. As someone who grew up loving the snow, I missed it immensely. It has a way that seems to purify everything; it's the great equalizer, the concealer that makes the less-than-beautiful simply exquisite, sparkling, and brand new. It absorbs the harsh sounds of man but amplifies the calls of the birds and whispering of the wind.

I didn't know how much snow I'd get this winter; I moved to my flat here in the valley of the Sumas Prairie in August. My neighbors insisted that we would see some snow, but not much. A few inches might fall and be gone in a few days. I was ready for that, even though my former residence got quite a bit more than it seemed I would see here. Then again, since my arrival in the Pacific Northwest, there has been more snow than normal for some inexplicable reason. My former landlord/friend/roommate (heretofore referred to as The Froomlord) thinks I have a pretty effective snow call.

December 17 brought the first real snow of 2008 to TinyTown...three or four inches, just as the locals told me to expect. I was thrilled. It doesn't matter that I have no one to go sledding with, or to build snowpeople with, or to help me create a peaceful army of snow angels. I bundled up against very cold temperatures, put my camera in my pocket, and wheeled my bicycle out of my flat and into the pristine landscape. I'm sure I must have attempted to ride my bike in the snow as a child, but I can't imagine that I was any more successful back then as I was now. It doesn't take much snow to create enough friction to make it difficult to ride a bike. With the roads plowed.... perhaps "scraped" would be more accurate...I quickly discovered that there was still enough snow that I had to ride in the tracks made by the few cars that had traversed the side roads of this tiny town.

Does your town have a local eccentric, someone who is often seen exhibiting peculiar behavior? Like, say...riding a bicyle in the snow while laughing out loud at the exercise in futility? I'm fairly certain that that's how the residents see me, the woman who rides her bicycle everywhere instead of walking or driving, who stops every 50 yards to take a picture of something. I'd just about get going well when I'd hit a slippery patch or deeper snow and have to slide to a stop. And giggle.

Though there wasn't a blizzard, there was plenty of snow to cover everything, so I had to take photographs of everything just because it wasn't the same. The house across the street became the subject of a Norman Rockwell setting, a Christmas postcard. My bicycle, its burgundy and pinkness electrified against the whiteness, became my ATV, albeit with a lot of help from me. I took well over 100 pictures of my feet in the snow and the tracks they made, park benches, trees, and snowflakes unable to escape a spider's web. I don't think I've ever been as impressed by the way normally harsh and angular structures were softened by a blanket of forgiveness. The fuzzy edges of everything made the whole world feel insulated and protected. A kinder, gentler place to just be. And I was being...being the only one outside playing and taking pictures and just enjoying the wonder of this event, knowing that, like everything, it would not last. Its permanence would be even more fleeting than the moments of every day because it's not every day it snows like this.

And I was certainly the only person I saw on a bicycle. The people at the post office seemed amazed that I'd ridden my bike at all. When I say amazed, I mean that they looked at me like I'm just not quite altogether there. But it occurs to me...they couldn't be more wrong. For the first time in my middle-aged years, I feel like I'm completely here. Present. What has wrought this change in me; what part of me embraces riding a bicycle even in the snow, and why? That's rhetorical, of course...I don't need an answer. I welcome the opportunity to fully experience events like this, to truly taste and feel and see and smell what life gives us. And what better way to do that than to completely immerse yourself...to jump in with both feet?

Join me next time when I tell you about the Christmas Eve snow, with more pics (and video!) to accompany my verbosity. My favorite irascible curmudgeon has asked me to stop doing my snow dance; he seems to think I have it down to a science. Personally, I think it's a fine art.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fatten the people and entertain them.

Not able to sleep, I'm playing Bubblet, mindlessly clicking on colored spheres; this is a nightly routine to help me gear down in preparation for sleep. I have the tv on, listening to the "Gladiators: Blood Sport" episode of Cities of the Underworld on the History Channel. It appears that the ancient politicians of Rome, in an effort to keep revolt of the people to a minimum, would appease its citizens by offering not only the bloody "entertainment" in venues such as the Coliseum, but also gave away free wheat. An archaeologist explained to the show's host that this served to propitiate the people of Rome, to keep them in control. She spoke a phrase, then translated it as, "Fatten the people and keep them entertained."

Some things never change. For quite some time now, I've been sorely disillusioned by the overabundance of insipid banality on tv. We're offered titillating tales of Paris Hilton's love life and the tragic train wreck of a life as lived by Britney Spears. On how many channels and numerous times of day are we able to watch "Deal or No Deal", with all the pretty lights and captivating sounds, Howie Mandel as big as life and as gregarious as any family member from the wall-to-wall tv screens in Fahrenheit 451? Naughty housewives and schemes for dirty, sexy money. Should the fact that we're smarter than a fifth-grader make us feel good about ourselves? It just all feels like such a smoke screen to me, a magician's sleight of hand to keep our attention from what's really going on. The war. Global warming and a planet in peril. Politicians who have never been a loyal servant of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

While we're watching such quality programming...would you like fries with that? And why stop at one burger when you can get another for only 39 cents more? Try the super combo meal. You can always work it off by playing tennis or 18 holes of golf on the Wii in your living room. Whatever happened to going outside to play, even as an adult? Technology is a wonderful thing, but it's no substitute for biking or hiking a trail through a forest...or even the perimeter of a local park. Did you know that P.E. has disappeared in many educational institutions? But that's okay, because I've seen commercials for the "minimally invasive" bands that surgeons can place around your stomach...we don't need to be responsible for our weight because we now have doctors who can do that for us.

Maybe I'm nostalgic for the time when an American education was something to be proud of. For the day when kids were safe (and more fit) on the local playground. For a time when we didn't have to work 16 hours a day to earn a living, leaving time only for a fast food meal vice one that is healthy and less expensive, cooked at home. For an age where PSAs ran on tv urging us to "Keep America Beautiful", and reminding us that "It's nice to share" (it truly ooly ooly is). Nostalgic for the era when we weren't being led down the path to "Fat, dumb, and happy". How have we, as a nation, allowed this to happen? And why? Have we been that blind, or have The Powers That Be just been so subtle at fattening and entertaining us that we just haven't noticed the changes until we've become like the humanoids in Wall-E, spoiled by our superstores, megameals, and media that does all of our thinking for us, so we don't have to?

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." ~George Santayana

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use." ~Galileo Galilei

"Go outside and play. Or read a book. And, no, you can't have another cookie...you'll ruin your dinner. " ~Mom

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The eagle has landed

From my last post, "The first man in the moon" to "The eagle has landed". Last night, I was able to capture detail of the moon with my new camera for the first time ever. Today, I was exceedingly fortunate to capture the catalyst for ordering my new camera. I'll get there, but first...

It never did snow yesterday but the forecasted winter storm finally blew in with a vengeance, bringing plummeting temperatures and powerful winds, resulting in a wind chill factor of below 20 degrees. I almost didn't go out today...I almost let the ego with its toes under a heating pad and a fuzzy blanket wrapped 'round its shoulders talk me into staying home. I won't quote the conversation here, but rest assured, it wasn't an easy battle. Once again, I'm enigmatically happy that I have to go and get my own mail since it's not delivered; it gives me a reason to get out, even [especially] when staying in would be the easy thing to do.

After bundling up warmly, feeling not unlike Ralph's little uber-layered brother in A Christmas Story, I headed toward the post office, camera in my pocket. Whoa, was it ever cold out there! Bitter cold...there's a reason they call it that. Granted, I'm just not used to that kind of cold, living in a surprisingly temperate climate with few weather extremes. It hadn't occured to me that, as easy as it was getting to the post office, it would be that much more difficult facing the wind that was initially at my back.

Sometimes, living in the moment can possess one to do peculiar things. Like going for a bicycle ride, looking for eagles, even in frigid temperatures and howling winds. The lump in my coat pocket reminded me that I had a new camera, and having a new camera reminded me of why I'd bought it...because I hadn't been very successful at taking photographs of the eagles in a nearby nest. While my ego sat at home, nice and toasty warm (relatively speaking) and drinking a lovely cup of tea, I made my way the mile or so to the eagles' nes
t. Against the wind. It proved to be as difficult for me as riding up hills; I had to stop frequently because I'd run out of pedal power. And my eyes were watering from the wind. And my nose, hidden beneath my scarf, threatened to undo my efforts of sniffling its runny contents back into my sinuses. I'd stop, rest for a few minutes, take care of my orifices, then carry on. Side note: the contents of a tissue freezes extremely rapidly on days like today.

Whew...I finally made it to the spot where I take most of my pictures, thanks to both the anticipation that I just might see an eagle or two and to the lack of common sense. From this particular spot, on a clear day, I can see Mt. Baker and the surrounding hills. This is also where the two bald eagles' nests are. It's a pretty spot...let me sho
w you.From this perspective, Mt. Baker is to the right, the mountain range in Canada is to the left, and the two eagles' nests are behind me at, say, seven and five o'clock.

The wind was whipping me around, preventing me from holding my camera steady, which was a good test for its shake-reducing feature. I perservered, with some of my shots coming out better than the others, depending on the gusts of wind that were coming at me from between 15 and 35 miles per hour. And then...then it was time to focus on the nest. One is more new and more active than the other; this is the one where I only just missed the eagles flying when I was here last.

I approached the grove of trees where the nest sits high above the ground. The trees were swaying, making me a bit dizzy to look up. I was in the process of snapping photos of the nest in between stronger gusts of wind when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something. Looking away from my camera, I saw him! The male eagle of the pair was trying fervently to get to the nest, but was experiencing much technical difficulty with the cross winds blowing him to and fro. It was an amazing show to watch him maneuver, get close, then fall back because a gust would send him off course. Even though I could see him in the viewfinder, it was so windy that my focus kept losing its course, as well. Luckily, I was able to snap a few captures of his approach...and then it happened.

The wind died just enough to allow him to fly right over th
e top of the nest, into easy view of my camera. I held my breath, made a wish, said a prayer, and pressed the button. At that instant, I saw that he was looking down. At his nest? At the crazy interloper who was watching his air show? I can't tell, but I'm elated that I got the shot. No, it's not professional quality, but as I stated in my last post, it's not about the picture or the equipment. It's about the experience, of being there to appreciate all that was necessary to make the events of that very moment possible. My brisk venturing and roaming in weather not fit for man nor beast (save the eagles), fighting the wind and runny nose and achy bones from the cold ceased to matter. What mattered was being here, right now, to watch this noble creature battle the elements to return safely to his home.

Brace yourselves, here comes the lesson. And isn't there always a lesson?

If I'd have stayed home, where I would have been relatively warm and comfortable, I'd have missed this. Not just the shot, but the experience of watching the eagle's triumph against a force greater than the both of us. Had I stayed home, I would never have known that I missed the shot. Yes, there are times to be still, but not just because it's easier than going out into the cold. Have a good, hard think the next time it occurs to you to ride your bike, or take a walk, or just get out and move. Do you make excuses to avoid it, or do you follow through? The easy way rarely affords one the majestic view, the journey that makes all the difference and the spirit-lifting experience of doing what isn't necessarily easy. Who knew that Nike's slogan of "Just do it" actually has the potential to create new neural pathways, to change our lives for the better, if we keep following the calling to get off of our arses and open our eyes...to do the right thing instead of the easy thing.

The goal doesn't have to be grandiose. I merely set out to attempt to accomplish one of the goals I'd set for myself, taking amateur photographs of eagles. I could have done that tomorrow, but I did it today. And because it was a hard thing to do, I think I appreciate what it took for both me and the eagle to be at the right place at the right time. My ego missed that opportunity, but my consciousness was awestruck.

The First Man in the Moon

I knew my camera was on the familiar brown truck the night before last, and I was giddy with anticipation of receiving it. With snow in the forecast, I was anxious to start taking pictures, knowing that I'd actually be able to see my subjects in the viewfinder. I freakin' LOVE the snow, and love to take pictures of it. When the buzzer sounded informing me that someone was at the common door to my apartment building, I almost stepped on my cat in my hurry to press the button and let them in.

In less than five minutes, I was taking pictures. I could read the manual later (and have done since). Tetley, the aforementioned cat, was my first subject. Not totally willing, it didn't take her long to realize that this bloody contraption flashes in her face just like the other one. I managed to capture a few nice shots, even in the dim lighting of my flat.

The next day, I was at it again, pointing and shooting. With the promise of afternoon snow, I occupied myself indoors until the flakes began to fall. Sadly, there were but a few snowflakes that showed up to waltz amongst the cold raindrops that fell all day. I went for a ride on my bike, but the rain hitting my face was like tiny needles; needless to say, I didn't ride far. After coming home and warming up with a nice cup of tea, Tetley seemed a bit more willing to sit for a few portraits.

While I'm impressed with the quality of the images, I recently learned of a technique using Gimp, free photo-imaging software, to enhance photographs, allowing the user to enrich the color and add a soft Gaussian blur to accentuate the subject. I think the photo of my little Namaste' cat is probably one of the best pictures I've ever taken. Call me biased, I understand. I'll even agree.

I took pics of the quirky things I have here in my little abode. A whimsical PVC Buddha sitting atop a miniature mountain. Origami cranes my brother made for me sitting atop miniature mountains. A beaded ornament my mother made for me. One of two of my Hello Kitty alarm clocks. The giraffes who live on my living room window sill. And then, when I realized that the rain had stopped, I took my camera outside in the very chilly nightime dark. Except, it wasn't very dark. The moon was extraordinary, appearing 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than normal, according to Yahoo News. 'Twas worth the cold and discomfort to look upon such a sight. I've never had any success photographing the moon. Sure, I get a round, glowing circle, but I've never been able to capture any detail with the amateur equipment I can afford. Still, hands shaking in the cold, I kept pushing that shutter button, mesmerized by the magical light in the sky and hoping a little magic might appear in my computer when I transferred the images from my camera.

Glowing circle, circle, oblong circle, glowing circle, streak of fuzzy light, circle, glowing circle, man in the moon, circle, glo...wait! Go back...did I see what I thought I seed? Wahooo! One small step for man, a giant leap for amateur photographers who just want a moon pic with even a wee bit of detail visible. It probably won't mean much to anyone else, but it will remind me of the night right after I got my new camera and stood shivering in the freezing temperatures, snapping photos of the most majestic moon I've seen in a very long time. And these are the things that are more precious to me than anything material, including a new camera. Sure, the camera is a wonderful thing to have, especially when it paints these amazing memories of moments when I have been aware of just how miraculous the things in and of this universe truly are. But it's the experience itself that is special; of knowing that this moment will never, ever happen again. A camera just can't capture that profound feeling of being a part of it all, of being connected on a quantum level to that which is on the other side of the lens.

However comma...that doesn't mean I'll stop trying.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More on pictures and thousands of words, etc.


As I said down there somewhere, things will work out; they always do. And just like that, they have. There's a reason the former name of my blog was "Synchronicity". I won't go into details, but just know that the new camera, never much of a worry to begin with, became another indication that whatever I'm doing, I'm doing it right. I'm constantly made aware of fortuitous happenstances that are just too wildly connected to be coincidences. Have you received your daily recommended dose of magic? Have you looked for it?

Picture, thousand words, 99 bucks, revisited. Or, proof that Tee needs a new camera.

I went for a ride today in the drear. Regardless of the weather, I have a daily reason to ride; the town has an ordinance which states that no dwelling within a half mile of the post office is allowed a mailbox and residents must collect their mail at the post office. If I want my mail every day, I have to trek the quarter mile to get it. When I first moved here, I thought that would be a nuisance, an annoyance, a real inconvenience. The opposite is proving to be true. Even on days when I don't particularly feel like getting out of bed, let alone my apartment, if I want my mail, I get on my bike and go. Somedays, that half-mile round trip is as far as I'm able to go.

I thought that today might be one of those days. After I picked up the mail for myself (I got prezzies from Japan, via Canada!) and a neighbor (I'm happy to make mail runs for my friends), I decided I hadn't adequately moved my bones. So, I rode another mile or so to where I know the eagles are. I'd only been there a few moments when one came flying by, circled, then landed in the newer of two nests not far from one another. I grabbed my camera, switched it to video mode, and made a funny chirping noise that I hoped would entice the eagle to pop his head up so I could see him. He did more than that; he flew from his nest while I was filming. I was hoping...hoping I had him in frame, hoping he wouldn't be mad at me for disturbing him, and hoping I hadn't made him think twice about moving into that particular neighborhood...nosy neighbors!

One of the border patrol guards came driving by as I was putting down my camera and asked if I'd got the shot. I explained to him that I wouldn't know until I got home because of my camera's foibles. He wished me luck and drove away. I saw Mr. Eagle flying back and began filming again.

videoAs you can see, I managed to film him. Not in the first video; all you can see in that are trees and sky whizzing by, and there's not an eagle in sight. The second video captured his regal eagleness, however. Not very well, and not for very long, but he's there. And after he landed, I saw Mrs. Eagle pop up her head. I can safely say that I believe there will be fledgling eagles in this nest. I consider myself so very fortunate for being given the opportunity to watch them today. Such majestic creatures.

So much for drear, eh? There's always a reason to ride my bike. Always. Namaste'.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, one thousand words are worth...99 dollars.

I take a lot of pictures. I mean, a lot of pictures. There are two reasons for that. The first is that, since I started a journey on a spiritual path that includes meditation, I've become much more aware of my surroundings. As a result, it seems as if I'm always seeing something in a new light that strikes my fancy. A single blue hydrangea among November's flowers otherwise void of vivid color. A lonely dandy lion. A field full of cheery, yellow dandy lions. A woolly worm racing down a country road. Things I might never have noticed in a previous life not as rich as this one I'm now living have a life of their own, drawing my attention, and my camera lens, to them.

The second reason that I take so many pictures, an average of 75 on a day when I may only ride my bike a mile, is because my camera's LCD screen is broke and it doesn't have an optical viewfinder. I can tell neither that a shot is framed properly nor the setting at which I'm using to take the picture is appropriate. To be safe, I try and capture five shots: high, low, left, right, and centered. This way, I figure I'm bound to get a decent image. There have been days when I've been out on an extraordinarily beautiful day, snapping photos right and left, appreciating all that I see and enjoying myself immensely while also looking forward to being home later, having a lovely cuppa and going through my pics of the day.

And then, if I were the type to allow disappointment to set in, it probably would; I'm often lucky to get a couple of decent images out of the 75 I take. I'm not a professional photographer, and don't even have "the eye for photography" that some do. I realize, too, that no photo can capture the beauty one sees through one's peepers. However comma...when I only get half of a beautiful German Shepherd (even if the shot looks intentional) or an image of absolutely nothing but blue, cloudless sky (may as well be a wall painted robin's-egg blue), or the fuzzy white cone of what I think is a mountain, or half a mountain...well, it's a bit disheartening, especially when I look forward to sharing my day with my sons, my friends, my family. Not in a "Nanny nanny boo boo" way...but to show them how much meaning life has for me now. How precious every day has become to me.

What to do, what to do? The bald eagles have made their nests, but I can't get a decent shot of those, let alone the eagles which will soon be in the area in droves. And the snowline is falling, meaning those first snowflakes will be dancing my way very soon. And there's my lovely girly-pink bicycle, my flaky OCD cat, Tetley, and the birds that have decided they like the restaurant right outside my window, all posing for portraits that I keep missing.

I needed a new camera. And, while I really can't afford one, I bought one today with plastic money. I know that things will work out...they always do. I believe it's because I try to follow the Noble Eightfold Path in the Buddhist philosophy: right understanding, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. By staying on my path, I've been able to shelf the worry that used to plague me, like, where is the money going to come from? My finances look pretty bleak right now; the "old" me would be wringing her hands, crying "woe is me". That me certainly wouldn't buy a new camera.

This new me, however, worries about very little, actually. It's an insightful feeling to know that worrying about the outcome of a situation accomplishes absolutely nothing other than compound the negativity one is already feeling. Just keep on, keeping on, doing the right thing, and things fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle solving itself. It was in that frame of mind that the new me found a great deal on a very nice camera. TopChoiceDigital.com is selling the Canon A590 for $99.00, averaging a cool $30 less than many stores, both online and brick-and-mortar. This is the camera I've been looking at for a few months now, primarily because it's one of the few models of digital cameras that still has an optical viewfinder. With my current camera, a Nikon Coolpix L11, the LCD screen is the viewfinder, and the menu options can only be seen on the screen. I haven't been able to change the flash, macro, or any exposure settings since the screen broke. The A590 has a manual dial for its settings, too, which means that, even if the LCD screen bites the dust, I'll still have a camera I can use. A camera I can capture some of the magic and majesty I see while out and about on my bicycle.

A hundred dollars may not sound like much to some of you (Hello? Is there anybody out there?) but for someone who shops at resale establishments out of necessity (though I love the treasure hunting feeling of the experience, too), a hundred bucks is a great deal of money. But, ya know what? 'Tis the season...Merry Christmas to me. Why, thank you! It's just what I wanted!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fonts of Fancy

See that whimsical font used to spell out "beansprouts" up there? I have to thank Mr. Kevin King for that. I was brainstorming for ideas that would spark a change in direction in my blog (the results of which you see on your screen before you). As soon as I saw this font, "Kingthings Annex", I could see it in the new header I was designing in my head. Kevin is quite a creative dude; check out his site for some fantastic fonts, and have a peek at his brilliant artwork. Such talent, and he's a right nice chap. Polite. Genuine. Took the time to email me back after I sent him a slightly eccentric note regarding his web site. I tend to get really silly in the wee small hours of the morning, which is when I happened across his work. I gushed and probably embarrassed him. I embarrassed myself. But, ya know what? Life is too short not to say what you feel, even if it is a bit silly. If you appreciate something, or someone...show it.

It's 3:30 a.m. I'd best get to bed before I prove to any potential readers just how silly I can get at this hour.

The best laid plans of mice and men...

I have the best intentions to keep a blog updated, but always fall short. I started this a year ago, and posted a whopping two times. Lately, however, I keep experiencing situations that, while not proper material for the books I'm writing, still weigh on my mind and it occurs to me that I should be writing about them. Somewhere. Sometimes they're random thoughts that pop into my head, other times, they're deep and profound, things I believe the world should know. Things that I think could save the world if everyone believed as I do. Ha! Not bloody likely.

So, in changing the name of my blog from "SynchroniciTee" to "Bicycles and Beansprouts", mayhaps I'll be more apt to keep the world informed of what it looks like from my bike...which is primarily powered by beansprouts. Not a bad way to live...not bad at all.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"I"

Brad Warner is a Zen Master, a punk rocker, and works for the Japanese producers of "Ultraman". He is also the author of "Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and the Truth About Reality". I like the way he defines who "I"...well...is.

"Your desires are not what you really are. Not even close.

Your thoughts aren't the real you, either. They're just electrical energy bouncing around in your brain. If you do lots of zazen you often end up going for longer and longer periods where very few thoughts occur. The brain goes quiet and Descartes' old axiom "I think therefore I am" makes no sense anymore because you're not thinking, yet existence still is. (But be patient with this: most folks have to do zazen many years before anything like this happens.)

What is existence then? Sit zazen and see for yourself.

Your opinions and preferences are not you, either. A famous Zen poem called "Faith in Mind" begins, "It's easy to follow the Buddhist way, just avoid picking and choosing." Opinions, preferences, and other such mental crap are just thoughts that have been reinforced so often they've become unconscious and nearly unavoidable habits.

Your personality isn't you, either. It's just a collection of very deeply embedded opinions and preferences. Again, if you do enough selfzazen there will come times when even your personality ceases to function - at least in the old familiar way. Things you'd taken for granted as unique to you are seen as facets common throughout the universe.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Everyone has a self-image, an ego. You have one, I have one, Nishijima has one, Dogen, Nagarjuna, and Guatama Buddha had one, too. The difference is the way a Buddhist views his or her self-image. When a person who understands Buddhism uses the word "I", the word is just a convenient way of locating something. The word I is used by Buddhists in the same way people use any other designating phrase, the phrase "Les Paul guitar" for instance. You don't have any really strong attachments to the guitar (well, if it's a Les Paul, you may - but that's not what I'm talking about). You know it's just a bunch of wood held together with screws, and that the wood had its origins as parts of trees, and that the tuning keys, frets, and screws were once parts of rocks in the ground. The guitar will come apart eventually (and it'll come apart really quick if you take it to a hardcore gig at a redneck bar in Dover, Ohio). But none of its components will ever really disappear. They just change form. And though they don't disappear, there comes a time when they can no longer be called a guitar. After this point you can never reassemble that Les Paul guitar no matter how hard you try. The thing that the word "I" refers to is just like that.

It's very difficult to reach this kind of understanding when it comes to your sense of self. We've been taught implicitly since birth that our "self" is something fundamental and important and real. But our self-image is nothing other than the sum total of those particular things about universal human nature we've chosen to emphasize in our own lives. Some teachings like to differentiate between "self" spelled with a little "s" and "Self" with a big "S", but this just obscures the problem with unnecessary complications. No matter how you spell it, self is an illusion."