Archives – April, 2008

Zen thoughts . . .

For years I’ve been moving towards eastern philosophy for the answers to my questions. I tried to find my place in conventional western belief systems, but I just couldn’t get past the invisible man in the sky thing. The Force, Universal Consciousness, call it what you will, but that’s what made sense to me. I wanted to cut through the BS, to get to the point. 

A friend gave me a copy of The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. In this book I saw the question phrased in a way I understood it, and the open ended answer seemed to point directly at me.

Born and breed Irish Catholic the idea of a non-theistic religion took a long time to sink in. Over the next few years I read voraciously on the subject. I read the popular books; The Celestine Prophecy, The Alchemist, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and even The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. I also read dozens no one’s ever heard of. I went to workshops on “Realizing Your Chakra Energy,” participated in Drum Circles, and other like-minded New Age-y things.

I did a lot of meditation, but I wasn’t very consistent. It was this style one week, this tape the next and so on. No matter how much I sat I didn’t realize any realizations, skies opening or enlightening, but there was something there, something I couldn’t quite grasp, something that kept me coming back.

So, when I moved to Brooklyn last July I made it a point to go to the Zen Center Of New York City to see what they had going on. I wrote about my experience that first Sunday on this site, but not much since. There’s a Buddhist saying: He who knows does not speak, He who speaks does not know. So read further at your own risk.

People always ask, “What do you do there?” Well, we mostly sit, there’s some chanting, and some great teaching.

“You just sit?” Well not exactly, we do Zazen, a form of sitting meditation which is hard to explain, you just have to do it.

“Do you chant prayers to Buddha?” No, chanting isn’t praying, and Buddha isn’t a god.

For something fairly simple it’s very hard to explain. Zen Buddhism is experiential in nature, and it takes time for the clouds in your mind to part for it all to start making sense, and even then it only comes in glimpses. There is something about the practice of sitting quietly and doing nothing, to sit with your own mind, which opens a whole realm of possibilities. 

All the books I’d read pale in comparison to an actual thirty-five minute session of sitting. As it was told to me that first Sunday in beginning instruction after describing the mechanics of sitting Zazen; a very easy to say, but to truly enter into it is the most challenging thing you will ever do.

The challenge is the question, “What is this life?” and for twenty-five hundred years people have been coming to The Buddha for a path to the answer. An answer that can’t be given to you, one you must figure out for yourself.

More to come…

Vinny (~~)

Leave a Comment April 20, 2008

Hands On New York Day

Upon hearing about Hands-On New York Day, a friend of mine said, “Ya know, that’s one of those things that when you hear about it you and think, ‘Hey I’d like to do something like that someday’, but you never actually do it.” And for a long time that was my position too. I’m not averse to doing this sort of thing, it’s just that such opportunities rarely cross my path at an opportune time, but in this case the stars aligned.

My roommate Chris was the Site Captain meaning he set-up and helped run the event. The hard work was done, so all I had to do was show up. Once I committed I got pretty excited, so I wrangled up some family, friends, and co-workers to help out. The Saturday before the event I had six definites with a few possibles waiting in the wings, but of course when the day came only two were able to make it. I didn’t care as they were the two I really wanted to spend the day with anyway.

And wow, what a special day it was! I had been so focused on the outcome that I hadn’t put a moments thought into the process, the actual doing of the thing. I expected a freshly painted fence, and a lunchroom with brightly painted murals. I didn’t plan on the camaraderie and sense of purpose seventy or so eager volunteers would engender. Very un-Zen of me I know.

The day was all about the process, the experience. The care and goodwill this disparate group of strangers put into beautifying this little elementary school in Brooklyn warmed the cockles of my heart. It was so much of a Coming Together my inner cynic was forced to do a double-take. Could it be there really are this many good people in the world? And this was only one of a hundred plus events that day; seventy-five hundred people fanned out across the city planting trees, fixing up schools, cleaning playgrounds, and generally doing good.

Did I mention it was really fun too? I’m no painter, but I painted for hours. Kristine and I did a lot of sky work, while Diana painted a super-hero elephant. The sky is important in mural painting, theres a lot of it, and the chances of screwing up are slight. Kristine and I also did about an hour of fence scraping, less glamorous than mural painting, but it had to be done. I was impressed how the crayola blue fence brightened up the whole school.

Im proud to have been a part of Hands-on New York Day. So proud in fact that this Thursday evening Im going to Borough Hall in Brooklyn for orientation on becoming a full-fledged member on NYCares, the umbrella organization which Hands-On New York Day is a part. My little crew is excited to do more volunteering, and as members there is literally something going on every day, so finding a monthly project to work on shouldn’t be tough.

I’d like to thank everyone who made this day possible; Christian for all his hard work, Kristine and Diana for making the day even more special, and every other person who worked at Public School 94 on April 12, 2008.

Vinny (~~)

1 Comment April 15, 2008


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