Friday, February 21, 2020

A MACKEREL SKY

I went out early with Jake for his morning pee and poop walk and was delighted with the spectacle of a rare and beautiful mackerel sky over Los Angeles.


With the nation and the world falling into chaos, it behooves us to remember how beautiful our home is, here on Earth, and how greatly we, as merely its current and provisional stewards, are obligated to protect it for the benefit of our descendants.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

FEELING BLUE

To disconnect, or stay connected? That is the question. It's a familiar, perennial one. As usual, my Buddhist wisdom tells me, I am too attached to outcomes for my own peace of mind...

Last night I made the mistake of watching the debate between Democratic candidates in Las Vegas and was appalled by the disharmony, the rabid hostility, the focus on issues that really matter little, in my view, in the context of blatant, rampant, unbridled and now surely undeniable corruption at the highest levels of our government.

This morning I saw a felon strutting unrepentantly from the courthouse, where he had just been sentenced for political offenses. He wore a big grin on his face, as though secure in the knowledge that he would shortly be reprieved by his patron, the president of the United States--who now appears confident, for good reason, in the knowledge that he can indulge in any corrupt or vile behavior with impunity.

Beyond this seemingly endless national tragedy, I look out at a world in disarray, with whole populations on the move, desperate to find refuge from war, oppression, from hunger and insecurity, all caused by an over-populated and inexorably heating planet. I see populist and nationalist autocrats seizing power, enabled by supporters driven by fear.

When I look about me it becomes harder by the day to place my trust in the resilience, even the self-interest of my fellow human beings. We seem bent on self-destruction. We have become so fixated on the protection of our own personal well-being that we neglect that of others, forgetting that the health of a whole body is dependent on the health of even the remotest of its parts.

"All is for the best," asserts Candide's fatuous itinerant teacher Pangloss repeatedly, in Voltaire's biting parody of Leibnitzian philosophy, "in this best of all possible worlds." All very well, responds his no longer quite so gullible student in the book's closing line, "but we must cultivate our garden."

Wise words today for those who, like myself, are otherwise confronted by despair. But conscious disconnection from reality exacts its own cost, too--a sense of abdication of responsibility for a situation that affects my life, the life of those around me, and, more seriously, the lives of those younger than myself who will live with the consequences of my inaction, if I fail to make my voice heard when it is required of me.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

PETER PAN

The experience of long years working with both myself and other men has taught me that in every man there is an impish little Peter Pan who refuses to grow up. The lively side of our Peter Pan is the cheerful adventurer who lives with a band of other boys in NeverNeverLand and whose friend, inspiration and guide is Tinkerbell, the peripatetic fairy disguised as a dancing ball of light. This Peter's destiny in life is to do sword-and-dagger battle with the wicked Captain Hook, in a perpetual battle with his Bad Dad. In every man he's the spirit of adventure and rebellion against everything in life that seeks to control us. More than anything, our Peter Pan asserts our freedom.

But there's a dark side to the refusal to grow up. Without some serious adult supervision, that rebellious little Peter Pan can easily become a tyrant. Instead of bringing joy and independence into our lives, he brings intransigence and the stubborn fear of change. He becomes an intemperate narcissist, and at his worst he makes his presence known in sullen brooding, temper tantrums and violence toward those within his reach, even those he loves and those who love him in return.

I found myself reflecting on both aspects of this Peter Pan today in my morning meditation. We need on the one hand to nurture and protect his impish spirit and his sense of freedom. Without adventure our lives descend into rote and dull routine. But we also need to guard against allowing his childish narcissism to rule our lives--and ruin other people's. Love him and hold him close when he needs comfort and understanding, but don't trust him to make good decisions or serve interests other than his own.

My own Peter (strange, is it not, that I share his name!) is the timid little boy from boarding school who learned how best to armor himself against bullying and abuse. His escape was going off by himself to chase butterflies and catch them with a net. My job as a man is to encourage little Peter to have fun chasing butterflies, and at the same time to remind him that he no longer needs the armor he once so successfully created. His grownup self is at his best when he feels safe in the knowledge that to open the heart is to invite love, and that vulnerability is a human asset rather than a liability.

Over the years I have had the privilege of encouraging other men to meet, sometimes to confront, and to come to terms with their Peter Pan. From time to time I find that I have slipped back into the spell of my own and need to remind myself that it is important to be vigilant and attentive to his wiles. Otherwise, even in my older years, I catch myself behaving like that little boy again, all tight and closed. And it's not to my advantage.

Monday, February 17, 2020

THE BEST FILM THAT YOU'LL LIKELY NEVER SEE


It’s called “Glasses”, or Megane in its original Japanese, and it was written and directed by Naoko Ogigami. It was shown briefly in the US, at the Sundance Film Festival on its release in 2007, but is virtually impossible to find today. We saw it at the home of our friends Matt and Nadja, because Matt had managed to get his hands on a copy of a film he had so greatly admired when he first saw it.

            To call the action of "Glasses" minimal is frankly a gross understatement. Perhaps this is the reason for its neglect in the US, where action—the more of it, the better—seems the obsession not merely of the movies but of our lives in general. All the more reason to see a movie where it is reduced to its bare essentials.
            Here’s what “happens”: a woman, Taeko—we never know more about her than that in her other life she is a “professor”—arrives on vacation at the tiny airport of a remote island off the Japanese coast. Like every other character in this enigmatic movie, she is inscrutable. We suspect, we know, that she brings a lot of baggage with her, the emotional baggage made manifest in the large roll-along suitcase to which she appears initially tethered, and which she drags tenaciously behind her even through the soft white sand of the beach.
            It is spring time, a time for rebirth, yet Taeko is seeking disconnection. Escape. From herself, from others. We discover later that she wants to be where there is no cell phone reception. She is dismayed, then, in her polite, understated way, to be offered nothing but connection at the beachside inn at which she is the only guest. At mealtime she is invited to join the politely attentive innkeeper, Yuji; his enigmatic guest Sakura, a woman of uncertain age who projects the quiet, mysterious  authority of a mother hen, or guru; and the pert, somewhat irascible Haruna, a young woman who, we learn, teaches biology at a nearby school where she laments the absence of cute boys in her class.
            Taeko declines the invitation with a bare veneer of civility. But wakes on her first morning to find Sakura kneeling at her bedside, wishing her a good morning with warm concern for her well-being. She is dismissed rather rudely by Taeko, sleepy, and irked by this intrusion. Outside on the beach, though, she finds Sakura leading  a group of local citizens—they appear from nowhere—in a comically balletic exercise class that seems to be an idiosyncratic blend of yoga, tai chi, and modern dance movements. Sakura calls it “merci.” She also operates a shaved ice shack on the beach, where she accepts no payment. Taeko is again aloof, spurning the offer of a treat that is obviously enjoyed by Sakura’s handful of regular customers.
            Asking what sights there are to see, what things to do, Taeko learns that the sole occupation of folks in these parts is “twilighting.” At a loss as to what that might mean, she dithers around for a while before demanding, abruptly, to leave. Her hosts express grave reservations about the alternative local accommodation, the grandly named Marine Palace, but respect her wishes when she insists. Haruna drives her there.
            It’s a long drive, through flat marshlands and dunes. When Taeko arrives—the Marine Palace turns out to be a stark white building that more closely resembles a prison block than a hotel—she is warmly greeted but handed, immediately, a pitchfork and instructed to go to work help the other guests who are laboring in the fields, cultivating food for the hotel’s dining tables. This, she is told, is the “philosophy” of the establishment. Indignant, Taeko grabs the handle of her roll-along suitcase and starts the long trek back to where she came from.
            We follow her for an interminable trek, on foot. She drags her baggage, she tires, she flags, she falters. When she finally comes to a halt, exhausted, who should happen by, ineffably slowly, on a tricycle with a passenger seat behind, but Sakura, as enigmatic as ever? There is room for Taeko on the back seat—but no room for the baggage, which she must now finally, reluctantly, abandon in the middle of this remote country lane. It is, for her, a turning point. From this moment, she begins to learn… to drop all expectations and all needless sense of self, to learn humility, non-attachment, to indulge fully in the exquisite taste of Yuji’s food and Sakura’s shaved ice. She learns that it's possible to accept connection without judgment, to be in touch with the interdependence of all things. She learns, in a word, to “twilight.” By the time she leaves the island, she has found a contentment that surprises her. She smiles. And as the last scene of the movie hints, it will not be long before she’s back.
            I have obviously taken more words to describe it than the action warrants. But that is precisely the point: action is, in its essence, the movement between past and future. It matters little here. Not at all, in fact. What matters is our learning, along with Taeko, to “twilight”—to see without seeing, to do without doing, to be, precisely and exclusively in the what-is of the present moment. What matters is the white of the sand and the turquoise shades of the sea and the soft blue of the sky. What grabs our attention, constantly, and holds it, is the detail of color and shape, texture and movement; the individual sounds of music (it’s delightful!), of sea birds, the wind, and of ripples breaking on the shore. Along with the film’s characters, we enjoy the luscious taste of lobster, feel the warmth of sheets on the bed, of sand between our toes. 
            You will find online references to “Glasses” as a comedy, and you certainly find yourself laughing at the gentle, insistent way it exposes human foibles along the way. But “comedy”? Not exactly. It’s a profound reflection on the way we see the world, the way we experience it—or too often fail to. It takes its title from the curious fact that every one of its characters wears glasses, the very accoutrement of "seeing." Yet every one of them is inscrutable—impossible, in other words, to "see." It's the paradox at the center of this movie--and it's only in learning to live in the paradox that we can "see" what it's about. Twilight is the place where vision becomes moot, the place between day and night, between the conscious and unconscious minds. Where knowing and not-knowing are both suspended in the moment of pure experience, the act of simply being-there.
            It is a sad reflection on our culture that a movie such as this is so easily overlooked and rendered, in fact, virtually unobtainable. I’ve looked to find it online and on streaming television services, but to no avail. So it will likely the remain forever the best film that you’ll never see.
           


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

THE APPOINTMENT (a dream)

I have made an appointment with a psychiatrist. Or rather, it seems he has made the appointment with me. Apparently I did not listen too closely to the location, instead assuming it to be in a building on Sunset Boulevard with which I was familiar. Nor did I pay close attention to the doctor's name, but Ellie recognized him as being married to a well-known movie actress.

I leave for the appointment in the car before realizing that I'm not exactly sure which building on Sunset I'm going to. There are a number of high-rises in the area. Even if I find the right building, I realize now, it will have many floors and many doctors' offices. Without knowing his name, how will I ever find him?

I have an idea. If I call Ellie, perhaps she will remember his famous wife's name and can look her up on the Internet. Her biography might mention the husband's name. Then I could find it by searching though the building directory. If I have the right building, which is by no means certain.

But this does not look like the Sunset Boulevard I know. There is now a light rain coming down. A woman is play ball, or perhaps frisbee, right there on the street, and doesn't even bother to step out of the way of my car. I have to drive around her.

And I now realize that I have no way to honor the appointment, and I feel bad about this. I am usually more attentive to details,